Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Nothing Can Separate Us From God

Romans 8:31-39

Most of us have experienced times when problems are mounting faster than you can handle them.  Everywhere you turn people wish you harm and there are only enemies.  Friends can’t be found anywhere.  Your life seems to be going downhill faster than an Olympic bobsled run.  In times like this you feel so alone with nowhere to turn.  Even family may be against us, compounding the loneliness.  For believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, though, we can take heart.  There is no pit so deep, no problem so difficult, no hours so lonely, but that we have Someone there with us to lift us up.

The Apostle Paul was quite familiar with problems.  He had plenty of enemies, both in the government and religious authorities.  Many times those he thought were friends turned against him.  He frequently traveled and experienced problems there, as well.  Life was not easy for Paul, but he knew that the Lord Jesus was with him, and no one could take Him away.  Let’s look at some of the truths God taught Paul throughout the trials of his life.

We may have enemies and people who wish us harm.  There may be people who cause us trouble, sometimes big trouble, and even pain, but nothing can ultimately triumph over us when we are believers in Christ (vs. 31).

Someone may feel that they are just not good enough to be accepted by God.  If God was willing to give His Son to die for us, He would never hold back His gift of salvation for you (vs. 32).  No one is “too bad” to be saved.  Since Jesus gave His life for you, He won’t turn around and condemn those who call upon Him for salvation.  Nor will He withhold what we need to live for Him.  God has judged those who have accepted His Son as “not guilty”.  We are acquitted. Satan is the one who accuses us.  Jesus is our advocate, and He stands at God’s right hand defending us (vs. 33-34).  When we pray we are never praying alone, as Jesus is praying for us.  We don’t have to be eloquent.  Jesus speaks to the Father on our behalf.

No matter what may ever happen to us God will always love us. When going through desperate trials don’t turn away from God, instead turn toward His love.  In the midst of our trials we may feel like we’ve been abandoned by God. That is impossible, as nothing can separate us from Him (vs. 35-39).  His presence is always with us.

Paul went through all of the various trials he listed in this passage, so he knew first hand that God will be with us and carry us through them.  None of these will separate us from Him.  All of the trials in life couldn’t take Jesus from him. His enemies would try to kill him, and eventually they did.  Even death couldn’t take Jesus away.  All the demons in hell (the principalities and powers in vs. 38) would never ultimately win.  The same goes for us if we have Jesus as our Savior.  With Jesus on our side we are more than a conqueror (vs. 37).  We have eternal victory.

Human love can, and often does, fail.  It is fickle and changeable. How many people heard vows on their wedding day, only to be betrayed and forsaken a while later?  God’s love is unchanging and unconditional.  Once we are saved nothing can break our bond to him (John 10:29).  Nothing can separate born-again believers from God’s love (vs. 39).  He won’t love us any less if we sin. God doesn’t like that sin, and we need to confess, repent, and forsake it, but He still loves us.  Nothing in life’s path, from beginning to end, can separate us from Christ’s love.

Throughout all of our troubles, remember God will always meet our needs.  He is always with us, and will never leave (Hebrews 13:5). Trials often make us feel like we’re all alone, but God’s love is forever, and we are never truly alone. Like a parent taking a child across a busy street, He has a firm grip on our hand.  It’s not the child’s grip on the parent’s hand that counts, it’s the parents. God’s grip on us is secure, and He will see us safely into His presence.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Joy And Security

Psalm 16

Our psalm this week is one that King David wrote.  In it he expresses believers view and outlook of trust and faith in God, both in life (vs. 1-8) and in death (vs. 9-11).  Despite everything that David went through during his life - the wars he fought in, death threats from enemies, betrayals from both friends and family, and the general stresses of his position - he trusted in God.  He knew that his well-being was entirely dependent upon God (vs. 2).

Do you look forward to receiving an inheritance?  Some people may receive money or property when an elderly relative dies, while others may receive no inheritance from anyone.  Scripture doesn’t say much about David’s parents or family, or how financially secure they were, but we know he had several older brothers who would likely be more in line to receive any inheritance.  We also know that his father, Jesse, didn’t take David much into account, failing to even include him when Samuel asked for all of the sons (I Samuel 16:5, 11).  David didn’t worry about whether or not he would get an earthly inheritance.  He knew that God was his inheritance (vs.5-6) .  He would provide David with everything he needed here on earth, and so much more in heaven.  An earthly inheritance may be a big disappointment, and can cause rifts in families, even destroying relationships.  God’s inheritance, for those who trust in Him, is always a good one.

In spite of how busy and active his life was, David spent time pondering and thinking about God and His Word (vs. 7).  He found that one of the best times to think of God and His faithfulness was when going to sleep.  When it’s quiet, such as bedtime, it is easier to focus on God and to hear Him.  If we are going to walk with the Lord, we must also be listening to Him.  Do we have some decisions to make?  Some people tend to make their own plans, and then ask God to bless them.  Rather, we should seek God first, for His will.  Pray and meditate on God and His ways.  He will help us make those right decisions.

No matter what David faced, he felt secure in the Lord (vs. 8). Believers in the Lord Jesus can have that same sense of security. We are not spared from the regular day-to-day circumstances that everyone faces.  Neither was David. Unbelievers, when faced with trials and problems, often have a sense of hopelessness about life. Believers can have confidence that God is guiding and leading them with His hand.  The way we view circumstances that we go through is more important than the circumstances themselves (Philippians 4:11).  God can give us contentment in all circumstances.

David had found the secret to joy (vs. 9).  True joy is deeper than happiness. We can have joy in spite of deep troubles.  Happiness is temporary because it is based on external circumstances.  Joy is lasting because it is based on God’s presence with us.  God’s daily presence will give us contentment.  We have joy because of the future He has for us.  Our life should be based on God, not on whatever we are going through.  David realized this, and could sing God’s praises everyday, in spite of war, threats, and betrayal.

Verse 10 of our psalm is a prophetic one, one that prophesied the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  This verse was quoted by the Apostle Peter in his first great sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:25-36).  David had died, and his body was buried, where it eventually decayed.  That happens to everyone. Jesus, though, did not see corruption, as He was raised from the dead on the third day. That was a key point in Peter’s first sermon, which saw three thousand people accept Jesus as their Savior that day.

Do we want to be full of joy? (vs. 11).  Pour out all of “self” from our lives, so that we are an empty vessel for God to pour His anointing into us.  No matter what we are going through, know that God is with us.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Testing of Abraham

Genesis 22:1-14

Being asked to give up something you love dearly can be very difficult.  Perhaps it is the house you have lived in for many years, with many happy memories. Maybe it’s a job you’ve really enjoyed, or a loved belonging you own.  But what if God were to ask you to willingly give up your most beloved and only child?  I have two children, and I can honestly say I don’t think I could.  In today’s Lectionary reading from the Old Testament, Abraham was given such a test. Let’s look at how he handled it.

As our passage begins we read in verses 1 -2 that God tested Abraham.  This was no ordinary test.  He was to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to God.  God was examining Abraham’s heart - was it true, steadfast, and trusting in Him?  He tested Abraham to deepen his capacity to obey Him, and develop his character. Just as fire refines ore to extract the precious metals, so God refines us through difficult circumstances.  This test wasn’t to show God something.  He is omniscient, and knew Abraham and his faith better than Abraham even did. It was to show Abraham, his family (especially Isaac), and all of us who read this, the level of his faith.

Abraham’s obedience was immediate, complete, and unquestioning. He didn’t argue with God, or try to barter with Him.  It is approximately 50 miles from Beersheba, where Abraham was currently residing, to Mt. Moriah, which was near where the future city of Jerusalem would be.  When they arrived at the mountain that the Lord had told him of, Abraham told his servants to wait at the base, while he and Isaac would go up the mountain, and then they both would return (vs. 5).  Abraham was confident and could assure his servants of their both returning.  He had such trust in the permanence of God’s promises (Hebrews 11:17-19).  He believed that if Isaace were to be sacrificed, somehow God would raise him from the dead again, or He would provide a substitute sacrifice.

Why would God ask this of Abraham, especially since He vehemently condemned the pagan practice of human sacrifice (Leviticus 20:1-5)? God did not want Isaac to die, but for Abraham to sacrifice him in his heart.   Did Abraham love the gift of God, or God Himself?  God wanted Abraham to love Him more than he loved Isaac, or the promise of the long-awaited son. Abraham knew three facts.  One was that Isaac was the vehicle of God’s promise to him, so Isaac must continue to live.  Secondly was that God always keeps His promises. And lastly, in light of both of the previous facts, God’s power is absolute, even over death.

Verse 8 is the pivotal verse in this passage.  Abraham trusted God, and told Isaac that God would provide.  Little did he know how prophetic his words would be!  God would, indeed, provide a lamb for the sacrifice.  Not only did He provide one for a substitute for Isaac, but years later He provided a Lamb, the Lamb of God, His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be the sacrifice for all of mankind’s sins.

Abraham, still not seeing, in light of this current command of God, how He would fulfill His promise to him, proceeds to build a rough altar, and tie up Isaac.  What must have been going through his mind right then?  Was there a battle raging between faith and fear?  There would have been for me! Thankfully in Abraham’s case, faith won out, for at the last moment God stopped the hand of Abraham from killing his son (vs. 11-12).  When we give to God what He asks, He returns far more than we could dream.

In verse 13 we see that God provided a ram to be the sacrifice.  This ram was a substitute for Isaac.  Jesus was offered on the cross as a substitute sacrifice for us.  God stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, but He did not spare His Son, Jesus, from dying for us!  God will always provide!  We may not always understand how.  He may make us wait, but He will always provide exactly what we need when we need it (vs. 14).

Friday, February 23, 2018

Facing Temptations

Mark 1:9-13

Temptations come at us every day.  Whether it is to lie, break a traffic regulation, or even something more serious like dealing drugs or killing someone, everyone deals with temptations.  As our reading from the Gospel of Mark today shows, even Jesus dealt with temptations.  As we study this we can get some inspiration as to how to handle them in our own life.

Our passage begins with Jesus leaving Nazareth, the village He grew up in, and heading southeast to the river Jordan where John the Baptist is baptizing. Jesus requests to be baptized by John.  He would seem like any of the other dozens of people getting baptized by John that day until He comes up out of the water.  It was then that the Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove.  Also at that moment a Voice from heaven spoke out, and said to Jesus “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  (vs. 9-11).  The Father proclaimed His approval of Jesus, the Son, and He sent the Holy Spirit in a figure as a dove.  All three members of the Trinity are represented here.

Immediately Jesus is lead by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He remains for 40 days in prayer and fasting, preparing for His imminent ministry.  It is here that Satan gives an all-out assault with temptation, as well (vs. 12-13). Mark’s account of the temptation is brief, with few details.  We can also read of Jesus’s temptation in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-12, which give more details. Let’s look at these temptations and see if we can learn anything we can apply to our own lives.

The first assault of temptation that Satan gives Jesus is for Him to turn some of the large rocks around Him into bread, as He is hungry from long fasting (Matt. 4:2-4).  Because Jesus was hungry, he saw an opportunity where he could try to get Jesus to use His powers to satisfy and gratify a need.  In our life Satan can get us to doubt whether God will provide our needs.  Jesus responded to this with God’s Word.  He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3.  God’s Word is even more important than food.  It benefits us for eternity.  We should never satisfy a normal desire in the wrong way.

The second temptation that Satan launched against Jesus was to take Him to the pinnacle of the Temple, and dare Him to jump off (Matt. 4:5-7).  Then Satan quotes a Bible verse back at Him, (Psalm 91:11-12), saying in essence that God’s angels will protect Him, daring God to rescue Him.  Satan twisted the Scriptures to suit his purposes.  The intention of Psalm 91 is to show God’s protection of His people, not to incite them to use God’s power for sensational displays.  This temptation was for security, casting doubt as to whether God would protect. Satan does the same to us today.  Jesus responded that one is never to test God. Again, He used Scripture - Deuteronomy 6:16.  Don’t manipulate God by asking for signs.

The third temptation Satan used against Jesus was to promise Him all of the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would worship him (Matt. 4:8-10).  It was a temptation of power, authority and significance, casting doubt in the mind as to whether God really does rule.  Satan exploits our human desire for quick per, easy solutions, and a human desire to be equal with God.  Jesus’s response was one of no compromising with evil, and again He used Scripture against Satan - Deuteronomy 6:13.  We read several times in the Gospel of John that Satan is called the “ruler of this world”, and thus has power in the world - John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11.  Paul also calls him the “god of this age” - II Corinthians 4:4.

Jesus didn’t spend time arguing and debating with Satan.  He gave firm and authoritative responses, and always used Scripture to back Him up. Temptation is only a sin if we give in to it.  It is through inner testing that God strengthens our character, and valuable lessons are learned.  When Satan comes against us with temptation, remember how Jesus responded.  He used God’s Word, the Bible, against him and was victorious.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Jesus, Our Ark

I Peter 3:18-22

Our New Testament reading from this week’s Lectionary is from the first letter the Apostle Peter wrote to Christians who were scattered around Asia Minor and elsewhere.  These new Christians that Peter was writing this letter to were suffering various degrees of persecution for their faith.  Some suffered from their families and former friends, whether Jewish or pagan.  Some suffered from the government and other municipal authorities, and these persecutions varied in intensity.  Whatever the source of persecution, or how strong it was, Peter wrote to encourage them to stand strong and to continue to share their faith.  This still holds true today.  Because Christ died for us, we should be ready to share our faith with everyone.  We should be ready, if necessary, to suffer for, or die for our faith.

Suffering can be discouraging, and Peter reminded his readers that even our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ suffered unjustly, which was God’s will, to bring salvation to mankind (vs. 18).  Jesus, however, triumphed to being exalted to the right hand of God.  The demons who were behind Jesus’s suffering are forever subject to Him.

The Jewish people, in their religious observances, offered sacrifices for sins over and over again.  These, though, could never take the sin away.  Jesus’s one sacrifice for sin is forever and eternally valid.  It was sufficient for everyone, and never needs to be repeated.  As Peter said in verse 18, Jesus “suffered once for sins”.

Jesus was sinless.  His death was substitutionary for us, as Peter said, “the just for the unjust”.  His death was an atonement for our sins.  Jesus never sinned, but nonetheless, He took our place, taking our punishment.  He satisfied God’s just penalty for sin, and because of that, He opened the way to God for all who repented and believed.

During the time between Jesus’s death and resurrection His spirit went to the realm of the dead to accomplish several things.  While we are not given specific details of what He did during this time, there are passages, like verse 19, which give us some hints as to what occurred.  One thing Jesus may have done was preach to and give the spirits of the dead, who had died before He had come to earth, the opportunity to hear and accept Him and His substitutionary atonement for their sins.  The other may have been to proclaim to the demons bound in the abyss that, in spite of the crucifixion, He had triumphed over them (Colossians 2:15).   These demons are fallen angels who were permanently bound because of grave wickedness.  All demons eventually will be sent to the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10).  These demons are bound in the abyss since the days of Noah because of wickedness (vs. 20). They filled that era with their iniquity, evil doings, and rebellion against God. It was so bad that even with many decades of Noah’s preaching, he had not one convert.  Noah’s family were saved and spared in spite of the water of judgment.

An “antitype” is an earthly expression of a spiritual reality, a symbol or picture of a spiritual truth (vs. 21).  Eight people were inside the ark, and they went through earth’s judgment unharmed.  That is analogous to what Christians experience in salvation - being in Christ, the ark of our salvation.  We are united with Christ as an ark of safety from the just judgment of God.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, this shows that God accepted His substitutionary death for the sins of those who believe.  The believer who is “in Christ” are thus in the ark of safety, sailing over the waters of judgment, into eternal glory. Those in Noah’s ark who were saved from judgment prefigures those in Christ, saved from eternal damnation.

After Jesus’s death and resurrection, He entered back into heaven, to an exalted place of majesty, authority, and power (vs. 22).  We are saved, not by some external rite, but by agreeing with God that we need to “get into the ark of safety”, which is the Lord Jesus, by placing faith in His death and resurrection.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Lord, Be My Guide

Psalm 25:4-10

One of the most famous landmarks in England is the Clock Tower at the Palace of Westminster in London, which contains the Houses of Parliament.  The Clock Tower is more affectionately known as Big Ben.  The sounds of the clock as it strikes the hours are perhaps one of the most familiar sounds in the world. What many might not know is that there are lyrics inscribed inside Big Ben that go along with the chimes notes.  They read:  “All through this hour, Lord, be my guide; And by Thy power, No foot shall slide.”  Those sentiments are ones that King David knew and could relate to, especially as we look into Psalm 25, which he wrote.

Verses 4 - 7 of our portion of this psalm is a prayer that David wrote, and verses 8 - 10 give a description of God, as David came to know him throughout his life.  Throughout the ups and downs of David’s life, he came to know that God’s ways are always better than his own (vs. 4-5).  We need to depend on God for direction and guidance. Going our own way, depending solely on our own thinking, can lead to trouble, sometimes quite serious trouble.  Turn to God for His leading and truth.  His ways won’t lead us into the mud and mire of sin if we follow Him.  Even if we do find ourselves there, if we call upon God, confessing and repenting of our sins, (vs. 6 - 7) He will reach down and help us (Psalm 40:2).  David experienced that several times throughout his life, and knew first-hand that following God’s ways are always best.

David saw God as always patient and willing to forgive sinners.  He helps repentant sinners to start over again (vs. 8).  God could have condemned David completely many times, just as He could us, as well.  Instead, He allowed David, and allows us to repent and relearn His ways.  We, as Christians, have the opportunity to be forgiven through the Blood of the Lord Jesus.

I’ve known some people who decided that once they got out of school, that was it, they were never going to learn or study another thing.  They rarely, if ever, willingly cracked open a book again.  That is sad, and makes for a very dull person.  It is always good to continue learning, and that is especially true in our Christian life, as well.  It is crucial, and so important to by faith accept Jesus as Savior.  However, we can’t just stay there.  We must allow God to grow our faith.  As David expressed in vs. 8 - 9, he wanted the Lord God to teach him. We can’t just learn religious concepts in a partial or half-way.  We must experience the truth of God’s Word in a total, transformational way.  As Christians, we should not just skim through the Bible, but study it, internalize it, and apply it to real life situations that we have.

Some of the paths that God has placed us on are rough ones.  They might not be ones that we would have selected ourselves.  If we faithfully trust and follow Him, we will find it is the right road after all (vs. 10).  Some of the most rugged hiking paths lead to the best views.  Our path may have many obstacles and rugged ruts, but trust God to lead you.  The end result will be well worth it.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Promise Of The Rainbow

Genesis 9:8-17

When powerful thunderstorms come crashing in, they bring with them large, fierce, angry-looking clouds, strong winds, and plenty of lightning.  For some, like myself, these are fascinating to watch, and we go out on porches to watch them come by.  For others, though, they prefer to be inside, as far away as they can be.  Too much rain in a short period of time can bring much destruction and even death to communities in an area.  In our reading today, from the Lectionary for the First Sunday in Lent, we read of the promise God made to Noah and his descendants.

Prior to where our account picks up, Noah and his family had lived through to the most powerful storm this world had ever seen.  There had never been rain before, let alone a terrifying storm.  Prior to the flood, Noah went through the world was watered by mist that came up from the ground (Genesis 2:5-6).  God had destroyed everything living with a flood, because of the immensity of the sin of man except for Noah and his family.  When Noah came off of the ark, he and his family were the only humans on earth.  That might have been a bit scary, and they might understandably have been afraid that there might be another massive flood.  God immediately set that fear to rest by making a covenant with Noah and to every one of his descendants, which would be all of us.

The covenant that God made with with Noah and all of his offspring had three parts.  The first part was that He would never again destroy the whole world, nor all of mankind, with another flood of water (vs. 11).  That was not to say that there wouldn’t be devastating and deadly local floods anywhere around the world, but there would not be one that would destroy everything, like the one Noah had just witnessed.  This covenant promise was an unconditional one, meaning that there is nothing we have to do on our part.  God has promised, and that is it.  There are also covenant promises that are conditional, meaning we have to fulfil our part, and then God will fulfill His.  This one, though, is an unconditional one.

The second part was that there would be a token of God’s promise as a reminder for all of us to see, and that was a rainbow in the sky (vs. 12 - 17).  The rainbow is a perpetual, symbolic reminder of this covenantal promise promise. The rainbow will be visible when it rains, as a sign of God’s promise.

After a storm, when the rainbow appears in the sky, God has said that He will look at the rainbow, and He will remember the promise He made to us (vs. 15 - 16).   As humans, we can be a forgetful bunch. Not only do we forget where we put our keys, or forget an anniversary, or an important appointment, but we often forget the promises God has made us.  Fortunately God has said that He will remember!  He remembers His commitment to keep the promises He makes.

The third part of this covenant promise is that the seasons will continue, unceasingly, as long as the earth remains (Genesis 8:22). There will always be a spring, summer, autumn, and winter.  The time for planting, and then for harvesting will always come.  There will always be morning and evening. Sometimes it seems that winter lasts so long and will never end, but God has promised that it will, as spring will follow.

Rainbows are usually only seen after storms and rain.  We love seeing the rainbows, but don’t like the storms that bring them.  In order to see rainbows in our life, sometimes God needs to bring us through the storms.  Every rainbow we see should remind us of God’s covenant.  All of His promises are equally unbroken and unending.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Transfiguration

Mark 9:2-9

Our Gospel reading for today gives Mark’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  This event was mentioned in my previous devotional, as the Apostle Peter told how he was an eyewitness to this event, seeing the Lord Jesus in His heavenly glory, and hearing the voice of God the Father.  This event was one of the most singular moments in Peter’s life, one that he would never forget a minute of. Let’s take a moment to look at the Transfiguration, which happened about 6-8 months prior to the Crucifixion, and see why this is a pivotal moment in the Gospels.

The word “transfigured” comes from a Greek word meaning “to change in form” or “be transformed”.  At this moment, when Jesus was transfigured before three of His chosen apostles, He manifested some of His divine glory to them (vs. 2).  This was a glorious event to behold, and we might wonder why Jesus only chose three of His apostles, Peter, James and John, to witness this, and not all twelve, or even more of His followers.  No real explanation is given in Scriptures.  Perhaps because these three were one of the earliest disciples to decide to follow Jesus and respond to His call.  Peter, James and John are always the first three listed when the disciples names are given.  They also were present at some healings when the others weren’t (Luke 8:51).

Just prior to this event in the Gospels, Jesus and His disciples had journeyed to Caesarea Philippi, a city in the far northern parts of the Holy Land.  Peter had just given his declaration that he believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah.  Now He brings the three, Peter, James and John, up on one of the mountains in the area.  While on top of this mountain, Jesus was transfigured, revealing His divine nature.  His clothes became brilliantly white and shining, more than any whiteness we have ever seen (vs. 3).  Matthew’s Gospel also records that Jesus’s face shone like the sun (Matthew 17:2).  Light is often associated in Scripture with God’s visible presence.

Here on the mountain, two people joined Jesus while He was in His divine form.  These were Moses and the prophet Elijah.  Moses represented the Law, and Elijah represented the prophets.  The two important figures from the Old Testament, coming out of heaven to meet with Jesus, spoke to Him about His coming death (Luke 9:30-31), perhaps to give Him encouragement.  As we’re seeing here, Jesus was divine, but He was also fully human, and knowing that the crucifixion awaited Him, He would need courage.  Peter was so overcome with what he was witnessing, both seeing two of the greatest Old Testament personages, and also the Lord Jesus in His divine form, he wanted this literal mountaintop experience to go on forever (vs. 5-6).

While Peter was expressing his desire to remain here on the mountain, a cloud from heaven comes and covered them all, and God’s voice spoke (vs. 7).  The cloud was the cloud of God’s Shekinah glory, which appeared on many occasions in the Old Testament, particularly over the tabernacle.  Here God repeated His affirmation of Jesus that He had given at His baptism, that He was the Father’s beloved Son, and we are to listen to Him.  Listen, not just to hear, but to actually respond to and follow what He is saying.  Jesus was the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament Law and prophecies.  He was not merely another great prophet.  As the Son of God, He surpassed both Moses and Elijah, and all other prophets in both authority and power.

As our passage concludes, Jesus didn’t want Peter, James or John to tell others about what the had witnessed until after the resurrection (vs. 9).  They would not fully understand.  After the resurrection they would know that only through dying could Jesus show His power over death, and authority to be king over all.

As God has said, “This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!”  He is the one we’re to listen to and obey!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Attacks From False Teachers

II Peter 1:16-19

Have you ever been at a big event, a one-time occurrence, whether it was something great or something tragic, and some other people deny your eyewitness account?  You were there.  You saw it.  You were an eyewitness. Now there are people going around saying that what you saw did not occur the way you recount, or didn’t even occur at all.  That can be very aggravating, even angering.   This is what the Apostle Peter was facing, and our Scripture passage for today is his answer to them.

After the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and His ascension back into heaven, Peter and the other apostles were spreading His message of salvation throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean world.  The good news of Jesus met with much opposition from false teachers and religious leaders wherever they went. One of the accusations they threw at Peter was their claim that the Gospel, or parts of it, were a myth, just like the myths of other false and pagan religions (vs. 16).  The false teachers tried to discredit Peter.  He was accused of making up fables and myths so people would follow him, and that way he could gain power, money, prestige, etc.  They claimed that Jesus was no more than an ordinary man, not the Messiah, and that He, and now the apostles, were spreading fables, nothing more than myths.

Peter’s response to them, and to those who were listening to their false message was that he and the Apostles John and James had been eyewitnesses to Jesus’s glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. Approximately six to eight months before the crucifixion, Jesus took three of his disciples, Peter, James and John, up a mountain, and there He was transfigured into His heavenly glory.  There He also met with Moses and Elijah, speaking with them about His coming death for the sins of the world.  This was one of the most dramatic events in Peter’s life, one that he would never forget, and now he is stressing this to those false teachers.  This wasn’t just a fable!  Also, it wasn’t just him, but James and John saw this as well.  Not only did they see this with their eyes, but they also heard the voice of God as He told them “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. (vs. 17 - 18).  God the Father affirmed the deity of the Son, Jesus Christ.

These false teachers had not been there on the Mount of Transfiguration to see Jesus’s glory, as Peter, James and John had been.  What they were saying came from the twisted lies and deception of the devil.  Peter and his companions had been there. They were eyewitnesses, just as they were of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Peter never stopped preaching this gospel because he knew the truth!  He and the other apostles knew that Jesus was not just an ordinary religious teacher and leader.  Jesus is the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, not just a good religious leader, as many people today teach and believe.  Jesus is the only true religious leader, and He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6).

The eyewitness accounts confirmed Scripture (vs. 19).  Scripture ranks over any eyewitness testimony.  The Word is more complete, more permanent, more authoritative than anyone’s experience.  The Word of God is more reliable. Everything that Peter had been preaching, whether it was of Jesus’s death and resurrection, His second coming, or any other doctrine, his words were backed up by Scripture.  He wasn’t relying solely on his experiences, however all of his eyewitness accounts were backed up with God’s Word.

When false teachers bring their teaching, go to God’s Word to expose them, just as Peter did.  The light of God’s Word will shine into their darkness.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ambassadors For Christ

II Corinthians 5:20-6:10

Today’s Scripture reading comes from the Lectionary for the observance of Ash Wednesday, signaling the start of the  season of Lent, which leads to Holy Week, Good Friday, and ends with Easter or Resurrection Sunday.

As our passage from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthian church begins, we read that as believers, we are ambassadors for Christ (vs. 20).  An ambassador is an official representative from one country to another foreign country.  An ambassador is there in the foreign country to promote diplomatic relations between the two countries, and also acts as an intermediary between people of his country in residence or traveling to the other country. The ambassador works for peace between the two nations.  As ambassadors for Jesus here on earth, we are His official representatives.  We are to lead the people we come in contact with in the world to desire a personal relationship with the Lord we represent, bringing peace between them.  Another thing an ambassador does is looks out for the best interests of his country.  As Christ’s ambassador, do we just sit back when we see or hear of Jesus being maligned, or do we stand up and take a stand for him?  Serving as Christ’s ambassador, Paul was working for others to be reconciled to God, which is what we need to be doing, as well.

In verse 21 we read a short, concise explanation of the gospel message of salvation.  God will not allow sin in His presence. Jesus took the sins of the whole world on Himself, even though He had never committed any, so that we wouldn’t have to pay the penalty for our own sins. Jesus gave His life so we could have His righteousness.  When bartering, people usually exchange goods of relatively equal value.  God gave His righteousness, which is of infinite value, for our sinfulness, which is of worthless, or no value.

Receiving God’s grace in vain is failing to use His power to live in a godly way, and persisting in our sinfulness (vs. 1).  It is also trying to earn our own salvation, even though it is freely given to us.  Another way to receive God’s grace in vain, is turning away from God through turning to false teachings. There were people, both in the Corinthian church, and in other churches at the time, that were falling victim to many false teachings being spread, such as that it is necessary to follow various traditions or religious observances in order to be saved.  Paul pleaded with them then, as God’s Word does with us today, do not let God’s Word come to you in vain.

Paul also pleaded with those who heard his message, both in Corinth, and everywhere he went, that “now is the day of salvation” (vs. 1 - 2).  He didn’t want people to put off accepting Jesus as their Savior.  That is something that we should not want anyone to do, either.  So many times, when being witnessed to, some people say that they will come to God later in their life, after they’ve done this or that, when they are older and have accomplished whatever they want to.  That’s not a wise decision to make, as we never know what a day may bring.   Tomorrow is not promised to us.  In light of that, one should never put off a decision to accept God’s salvation!  How tragic to have put off that decision one day too many, for after death it will be too late, and you find yourself eternally lost!

As Paul knew, every day non-Christians are observing us (vs. 3).  We must not let a careless or undisciplined action lead others to reject Jesus Christ.  As our passage closes, we are reminded that when we suffer and are inadequate, we show our dependence on God.  As His ambassadors, we should not spend time pursuing worldly happiness, riches, or power.  They will not bring contentment.  We already possess these things through our relationship with Jesus.  His presence will give us the joy and power we need to face anything. Paul, the apostles, and so many Christians who have gone before us were faithful to God whether people praised them or condemned them.  Be firm and stand true to God, refusing to compromise.

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

Monday, February 12, 2018

God's Love And Protection

Psalm 27

This psalm is one of my favorite ones, and the first chapter of the Bible that I memorized completely.  As we look at this psalm, let’s break it into several segments.  The first segment we’ll look at speaks of God’s deliverance from enemies and those that seek our harm. This is in verses 1-3, 5-7, and 12. David, the author of this psalm, knew from immense experience that God was his protector.  As a youth when he was taking care of his family’s flocks of sheep, God protected him from dangerous animals, and possibly from marauding bands of thieves.  David was protected by Him when he faced the giant Philistine warrior, Goliath, and following that in numerous other military battles.  For many years David had to flee from the murderous plots of King Saul, and later from his own son, Absalom.  He knew that God could be depended upon to keep him safe.

There are many different types of danger that we may face from day to day. Some may live in dangerous neighborhoods, and face the fear of muggers or worse.  Some people’s jobs have a certain element of danger.  Then there are some who are forced to live with violent spouses, parents, or other family members.  Whatever the reason for the dangerous conditions, we can find, just as David did, that when we place our lives and troubles into the hands of God, trusting in Him, He will protect and deliver us.  We can walk without fear.  We have nothing to be afraid of because God is for us if we belong to His family.

The next segment would be found in verses 4, 8, and 11.  These verses speak of David’s desire to draw close to God.  He spoke of his deep wish to dwell in God’s house, beholding His beauty, and to seek His face.  David wanted to be taught God’s ways, and to be led down His path.

Do we seek to live in God’s presence each day of our life?  This should be the greatest desire of Christians, but sadly it isn’t for many believers.  David was basically saying he wanted to move right in to God’s house, not just make an occasional visit, or stop by on a vacation.  What is our desire for God like in our lives?  Do we want to be with Him so much that we’d like to move in with Him, or do we prefer the shacks and slums of the world?

The next segment can be found in verses 9 and 10.  This is a prayer of David, beseeching God that He not forsake him.  Throughout his life, David experienced both friends and relatives that forsook him, turned their backs, and abandoned him.  When he was younger David’s father, Jesse, didn’t even consider him worthy of including or even mentioning when the prophet Samuel came and asked Jesse to gather his family together (I Samuel 16:1-13). His father-in-law, King Saul, continually sought to kill him.  Later his own son, Absalom, also sought to kill him, and several of his friends joined with Absalom.  David did know what it was like to feel forsaken, and he did not want God to also turn away from him.  We may see friends and family turn against us, just as David did, and there may be times we feel as if God has, as well.  God never did forsake David, and He won’t forsake us, either.  God promised in Hebrews 13:5 that He would never leave us, nor forsake us.  We can trust His promises.

The last segment of Psalm 27 is verses 13 and 14.  David had a strong belief that God would answer, and would deliver him.  We will see His goodness in the land of the living.  We need to wait on God, though, wait for His answer.  We are an impatient people today, wanting everything instantly.  God is not that way.  He often wants us to wait on Him for His answer.  That way God develops faith and perseverance in our character.  We need to be sure we don’t outrun God.  He wants us to slow down to His timing and His pace.  God always comes through for those who wait expectantly for Him.

Circumstances change, but God’s promises do not.  God loves His children, who have a covenant with Him through the Blood of Jesus, and He will protect us no matter what our situation may be.  If our circumstances have gotten bad, stand on the rock of His promises.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Still Small Voice

I Kings 19:9-18

Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of the Lord God in the Old Testament. He was such a mighty man of God that he was one of only two people that the Lord took to heaven without their seeing death (II Kings 2:1-11).  Even great men and women of God, though, have times when fears, worries, and depression attack, and their trust and faith waver.  This is where we find Elijah today.

Just prior to where our reading picks up Elijah had scored a great victory for Yahweh over the pagan priests of Baal and other false religious leaders on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18:19-40).  After Elijah destroyed these pagan religious leaders, Queen Jezebel sought to kill him, and that’s when Elijah started to panic, fear, and run for his life. His strong faith started to waver, and depression set in, so much that he was wishing he was dead (I Kings 19:1-8). Though he felt alone, afraid, and discouraged, God had not abandoned him. Elijah gets back up and continues to flee for his life, traveling a distance south to the mountains of Horeb, in the Sinai Peninsula, hiding in one of the mountain caves there.  It is here where our story picks up.

While Elijah is hiding in a cave, God speaks to him, asking what he is doing there.  Elijah responds with a very discouraging answer. Despite his remaining faithful to God, preaching His Word to the people of Israel, Elijah only sees the fact that the people have forsaken God, torn down His altars, persecuted and killed His preachers (vs. 10).  He felt so alone and discouraged that he felt he was the only one left serving God.  When we are depressed, lonely, and depressed we often can only see the negative.

God didn’t scold or berate Elijah for his fearfulness and wavering faith and trust, but He wasn’t going to leave him in that state, either. God told Elijah to step out of the cave on the side of the mountain (vs. 11).  He was going to give Elijah a special message.  As he stood on the mountainside, a strong wind, then an earthquake, then a fire occurred.  God was not in any of these three events, but the announced His soon arrival to talk with Elijah.  Yahweh’s self-revelation to Elijah came in a soft, quiet whisper.  Frequently His work in the life of a person or nation is done in a quiet, sometimes imperceptible way.  God doesn’t only reveal Himself in powerful and miraculous ways, or only in something big.  There are often times He comes in a gentle, quiet whisper.  Big evangelistic campaigns and revivals are great, and God certainly uses them to win souls and speak to His people, but they are by no means the only way He communicates with us.  More often it is in a still, quiet whisper in our hearts.

When God spoke to Elijah, again He asked him what he was doing, hundreds of miles from where his ministry was, hiding in a cave, and again Elijah gave the same response - the Israelites have forsaken God, and killed His servants.  He repeated the statement that he felt that he was the only one left who believed in Yahweh, and served Him.  He was lonely and discouraged.

God told him that there were others who had remained faithful to Him, even though the nation as a whole was falling completely away from Him (vs. 18). Perhaps we don’t know who or where they are, but there are others who remain true to Yahweh.  Even in the worst of times and most discouraging of places, God always has a remnant of true believers.

Even when we feel like it, God never leaves us alone.  He did not leave Elijah to face Jezebel by himself.  God’s provision and protection is enough for whatever we go through.  Trust in Him, putting everything in His hands.  Remember all of the times He has helped us and others.  Elijah had to just remember back a few weeks prior when God triumphed over the false priests and religious leaders of Baal.  We will know that we can trust Him for the future.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Praying Savior

Mark 1:29-39

Preaching God’s Word, healings, deliverance, and time in prayer. That is how Jesus spent this busy day that we continue to read about in Mark’s Gospel.  A few verses prior to our passage Jesus had been teaching God’s Word in the synagogue (Mark 1:21-22), and then He cast a demon out of a man there (vs. 23-26).  Now as Jesus leaves the synagogue we read of a number of people who turned to Him in their time of need.  They had heard or seen that He was the answer to their problems, and it was to Him they went.  To whom or what do we turn to when we are surrounded by problems?  Our first thought should be to the Savior.

First we read about Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (vs. 29-31).  She was in bed, sick with a fever.  In Luke’s Gospel, he says that this was a great, or high fever (Luke 4:38), so she was quite sick.  All types of home remedies of that time had surely been given to her, but that fever is still raging.  Peter’s family immediately thought of Jesus. They told Him about her at once, as it says in verse 30.  He can help, and He does!  Jesus goes to her, takes her hand, and lifts her up. What does the passage say?  The fever left her immediately!

Later that day, in the evening, many people from the town and surrounding areas come to Jesus with their sick (vs. 32-34) .  Word had gotten around that Peter’s mother-in-law was healed of her illness through the touch of Jesus. Surely He will help me, they must have thought.  That is what Jesus did.  He didn’t tell them to come back in the morning, as His day was over now.  He didn’t tell them that He was tired, that it had been a long day.  No, He ministers to each and every one of them, healing them of their various diseases.

We also read that several people brought to Jesus loved ones who were demon possessed (vs. 32, 34).  Demons, who are actually fallen angels who have given their allegiance to Satan, know the truth of who Jesus is.  However, they have rejected the truth and have rejected God, who is the source of truth.  Jesus commanded the demons to be quiet.  He did not want them to speak out who He was (vs. 34).  Their instant obedience shows that Jesus has ultimate power and authority over them.  They must obey Jesus!  He also didn’t want them to speak out because He wanted people to believe because of His words and deeds, not because of the words of a demon.  Jesus knew when it was the right time to reveal who He was.

Finally, after a very long day of ministering to people and a few hours of rest, Jesus rose up early in the morning, well before daylight, and went out by Himself to pray (vs. 35).   Why would He do that?  Why not take the opportunity to get a full 8 hours sleep? Certainly Jesus deserved it, after the busy day of ministering to the multitudes of people that He had the day before! Jesus knew the importance of spending quality time in prayer, in communion with His Heavenly Father.  Prayer is the vital link between us and God. As Jesus showed, it should be a priority.

Satan hates to see believers on their knees in prayer to the Father, and he will do whatever he can to prevent them.  Prayer goes along with the spiritual armor and weapons that we have been given (Ephesians 6:18).   Many times the Lord went off by Himself to pray, particularly late at night or early in the morning.  Jesus spent the night in prayer before He selected His 12 apostles (Luke 6:12-13). He also spent time in prayer before He walked on the water to the disciples, calming a storm (Matthew 14:22-23).  He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-56) and also while on the cross (Luke 23:33-46).

Even though He was the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, prayer was obviously important for Jesus.  If it was that important for Him, we should take time to be in communion with God, and also use this weapon we have against the devil.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Passion For The Gospel

I Corinthians 9:16-23

What is your big passion in life?  For some it might be cooking, or perhaps gardening.  For others it might be antique cars.  As we continue reading in I Corinthians we see that the Apostle Paul’s all-consuming passion was preaching the Gospel and winning souls for Jesus Christ.  Let’s look at this passage and see what we can learn.

Paul was not proud as he talks about his work and ministry of preaching the Gospel message (vs. 16).  This was not his gospel.  It wasn’t his ability that gave him what success he had in preaching. God had given him a divine commission to preach the saving message of Jesus Christ.  Paul knew that he was unworthy for God to have come to him on that Damascus Road and saved him, and then to have selected him to bring His message to others.  This was something he felt he had to do, out of his deep love and obedience to God. Preaching the Gospel was Paul’s gift and calling.  He couldn’t stop preaching, even if he wanted.  He wanted to do what God wanted, to bring Him glory, and lead others to salvation in Jesus Christ.

It is both a privilege and duty to preach the gospel.  God will both supply our needs, and reward us as we obey Him (vs. 17 - 19).  Quite frequently Paul gave up his right to be supported from preaching. He would often work as a tentmaker to provide for his daily needs. Paul did this in order to remove a potential offense to people, and thus be able to win more to Jesus.

As Paul went around the eastern Mediterranean bringing the Gospel to various groups of people, he strove not to deliberately offend anyone (vs. 20 - 23). Within the bounds of God’s Word, he did not want to be offensive to either Jews, Gentiles, intellectuals, those less intellectual, or any group.  Paul would not change Scripture for anyone, trying to make it more “politically correct”, nor compromise the truth, but instead, he would behave and act in ways pleasing to others.  Paul wanted, if at all possible without sacrificing any truth of the Gospel, to make others feel comfortable and at ease, thus making it easier to present his message and win them to Jesus.

The Great Commission has fallen upon us, as well as on the Apostle Paul.  How do we go about presenting the Gospel message to others without offending them or turning them off from Jesus, but also without compromising the truth and twisting it around just to be “politically correct”?  First, Paul tried to find common ground with his audience, if possible, without compromising his convictions.

When we interact with people, whether it’s during a lunch break at work, or across the backyard fence, we should look for good openings to give the Gospel message.  Then when the right opportunity arises, we should strive to make the people we talk to feel accepted, by being sensitive to their needs and concerns. Paul also didn’t go around acting like a know-it-all.  It was true that he was an extremely intelligent man, and had a great knowledge of the Scriptures, but he never went around saying that he could never learn something new from someone else.  He was very humble.

As mentioned, Paul’s passion, ambition, and calling was to save souls.  That should be our goal, too.  Let’s learn from his example. Paul knew that in order to win some, he would need to be winsome, and we should be, as well.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Never Alone

Psalm 142

Caves can be fascinating places to explore.  A number of years ago, when my children were younger, we took a trip down to the State of Kentucky and went on tours of several of the many caves in that state.  King David was familiar with caves, too.  In his case, though, he was not taking a tour to see their magnificence.  David used the caves he was in for hiding, hiding for his life. The heading to our psalm this week gives the information that this psalm was a prayer David said when he was hiding in a cave.

David, the youngest of his father’s several sons, had the job of tending his father’s sheep.  While visiting his brothers in King Saul’s army, God used him to slay the mighty enemy Goliath.  After that, Saul brought David to his royal court as both his personal musician and special warrior in his army.  David’s victories and sudden great popularity caused King Saul to go into jealous rages, rages that were directed against David, and were a threat to his life.  He was very familiar with caves, as there were many of them in the mountains and hills of the wilderness where he was forced to flee for his life.

As we begin this psalm we can easily picture David sitting in a damp, cool, dark cave.  King Saul meant business.  If he ever found David, he was going to kill him, so this was serious.  David was desperately crying out to the Lord God (vs. 1-3).  Just like a mouse or a rat fleeing from a pursuing cat, David was forced to run all over the wilderness, hiding where he could.  He cries out for God to help him. David may be a mighty warrior, but that doesn’t mean that he was never afraid.

What’s even worse, at this particular time David was all alone (vs. 4). All of his friends had abandoned him, possibly out of fear for their own lives.  When the king was hunting for the life of their friend, they might have felt that it wasn’t too safe to be too close to him.  So there he was, totally alone in a cave, hunted like an animal.

We read in the Bible of another great man of God who, centuries later, also had to stand alone in a time of great need - the Apostle Paul.  Paul had been arrested several times for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In II Timothy 4:16-17, we read that when Paul was brought before the court to give his plea, everyone had abandoned him, possibly also like with David, out of fear for their own lives. Our Savior, Jesus, also stood all alone during His time of need, all of His disciples having fled for their lives (Mark 14:50; Matthew 26:56).

There may be times during the greatest trials in our lives when we may look around, and like David, Paul, and even Jesus, we see that there is no one to stand with us.  That is often even harder than the difficulty itself, to see that no one is there.  As David says, to see that “No one cares for my soul”.   It is then that we have to do what David did, what both Paul and Jesus did, and that is to turn completely to God.  As we read in this psalm, though David was feeling utterly forsaken, he knew that though all human help was gone from him now, he had a refuge, a help in God (vs. 5-7).  Paul knew that, as well, since he could tell Timothy that he knew that God was standing with him.

There may come a time when all of our friends and our family turn their back on us.  Our troubles are overwhelming, drowning us, holding us tight like a prison.  David felt like he was in a prison (vs. 7), as he couldn’t freely leave the cave or else he’d be killed.  If we have the Lord Jesus as our Savior, we are never alone.  He has promised us that He will never leave us, nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  David knew that no matter what, God was with him.  Paul knew that, as well.  Most importantly, Jesus knows this, and He promises to be there with us and take care of us.