Monday, April 30, 2018

Keeping Our Promises

Psalm 66

Promises.  We all make them, and unfortunately many people break them. Children promise to clean their rooms after school. Husbands promise to mow the lawn after work, wives promise to sew the buttons on the suit.  At the end of the day, even the week, the task is still left undone. Even more serious promises are often left unfulfilled. Vows are more solemn promises.  We make vows on our wedding day to our spouses. We also often make vows to God, promising Him that we’ll do this or that, if only He will do what we so desperately wish.  So often, though, as soon as we get what we want, we forget all about what we promised God.

Our psalmist today has not forgotten what the Lord God has done for him, nor has he forgotten what he has promised to the Lord.  Today’s psalm is a song of tribute to God for all of His awesome works and deeds. He wants everyone to know and remember, and he publicly makes sure that he will fulfill to God what he has promised Him he would do.

The first half of this psalm is a recounting of many of the wonderful deeds the Lord has done for His people (vs. 1 - 9), particularly when He brought the people out of captivity in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry ground.  He remembers that there were times when the people were going through some difficulties, some hard times, but God brought them through, as well (vs. 10 - 12). He pictures them being put through a refiners fire. Fire refines silver when it is being smelted.  It removes all of the impurities. In the same way trials refine our character. It helps in bringing wisdom, in discerning truth and falsehood, and in disciplining us to do right. Verse 12 is reminiscent of Isaiah 43:2, where God promises to walk with us through the waters and fires, and we will not be harmed.

It is often in these difficult times that people make promises and vows to God. “Please help me get through this, and I promise that I will do such and such for you, God!”  God takes vows and promises seriously. The keeping of promises is a sign of one’s character and integrity.  When someone continues to make promises, and then fails in fulfilling them, we soon lose trust in them. God always keeps His promises to us.  He is a God that we can trust to the uttermost.   Our psalmist had made some vows to God when he was in some sort of trouble.  God delivered him, and now he is fulfilling the promises that he made to Him (vs. 13-17).  If we make God any promises, we should be people of our word, and be just as diligent in keeping those promises.

Our psalmist closes his psalm with a reminder that sometimes there are times when our prayers are not answered (vs. 18 - 20).  He reminds us that if we have deliberate and unconfessed sin in our lives, God will not regard our prayers. Deliberate and unconfessed sin in a believers life puts up a barrier between that individual and the Lord.  Just as a parent who punishes their child and “does not listen” to the child when they protest and throw tantrums, so God “does not listen” when we sin and then attempt to pray. Since as humans we will continue to sin after we have been saved, we must continue to confess. When we do sin, we must repent and avoid repeating it. Refusal to confess sins hinders our prayers.

Our psalmist has kept his prayer line unobstructed by deliberate and unconfessed sin.  He has made sure that he keeps a repentant heart, so he knows God will hear his prayers (vs. 19-20).  Our desire and aim should be the same. When we know that we are in a right relationship with the Lord, we can be assured that He does hear our prayers.  As our psalmist has given the example, we should always continue to pray and to give thanks to the Lord (Colossians 4:2).

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Philip's Witness

Acts 8:26-40

Nestled into one chapter in the Book of Acts we have an account of some of the ministry of the Apostle Philip, and today we’ll take a look at how God used him in a special way.  Just prior to our passage Philip and his companions were holding some very successful evangelistic meetings in Samaria, and many people were being saved (Acts 8:5-8). However, right in the middle of that work the Holy Spirit summoned Philip to another assignment He had for him, and that’s where our passage today picks up.  Philip is immediately obedient, though he might have wondered why he was being directed to leave a successful ministry so suddenly. God had other plans, and He would keep the work going in Samaria without Philip.

God knew what He was doing, for on the road that Philip was lead to, there was a lost soul, a soul that was searching, but did not yet know Jesus.  God knew that He could use Philip here as a witness, and let’s see how we, too, can be a witness for God by his example. First, Philip was available.  When God needed Him for the work in Samaria, he was available for that. Now when God wanted him to reach the soul of this man traveling from Jerusalem back home to Africa, Philip was ready (vs. 26-28).

Secondly, Philip was obedient to being led by the Spirit.  God instructed him to approach the man, an Ethiopian court official, who was riding in a chariot down the road (vs. 29-30).  He didn’t argue with God, saying that this might be rather awkward, impolite, or embarrassing to just intrude like that. Sometimes the Lord needs us to step out of our comfort zone and do something for Him that we might not otherwise feel comfortable doing.

Thirdly, Philip used an appropriate opening to start a conversation with this gentleman.  He heard this man reading from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, saw that the Ethiopian was already interested in spiritual matters since he was reading Scripture, so Philip asked if he understood what he was reading (vs. 30).  When we wish to talk to people about the Lord and give them a salvation witness, particularly if they are not close friends or relatives, we need to pray that the Holy Spirit will open up a good opportunity for us.

A fourth point, and a particularly important one, is that Philip was tactful when he started to tell him about the Lord Jesus (vs. 31-35). He didn’t whack this man with his Bible, telling him that he’d better get saved right now or he’d burn in hell. No, Philip respectfully and thoughtfully started where he was in the Bible and explained to him how Jesus was a fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies. This is important, as some people get very overzealous, get very pushy in their witnessing, and unfortunately turn people off and away from the Lord. Philip was kind, considerate, and sensitive, and the results paid off.

Next, Philip was also very specific when he was talking to this gentleman (vs. 35).  He didn’t give some vague and generalized dialogue about various religions. No, he was quite specific and clear in his witness for Jesus, and how He was the Messiah.  Though he was polite and courteous in his approach, Philip didn’t worry about being politically correct. His message was Jesus, and he would speak that, not something “flowery and feel-good”.  Finally, when Philip had lead this Ethiopian court official to the Lord in salvation, he followed up by baptizing him (vs. 36-38).

As we have seen the example Philip set with his witnessing, he didn’t immediately jump right in, just to get another number to add to his “soul tally”. He was concerned about this gentleman, caring personally about him, and showed him courtesy and compassion. Philip also didn’t engage in an intellectual dialogue.  That may be interesting and politically correct, but it does not lead someone to the Lord. If Philip had, when he left, the man would still be in the same condition - lost and on the way to hell.  Philip opened the Bible, which is the only spiritual truth. Nor did he say that “I will let my life be a silent witness.” Jesus said to preach the Gospel, not be silent witnesses.

As we go about our life, daily seeking to serve the Lord, let’s be open and willing to be used, like Philip was, in bringing others to salvation in Jesus.
I pray that you have enjoyed and benefited from these Bible meditations that I have written for this blog.   I hope you will prayerfully consider donating as the Lord might lead you. This blog is not run through a large ministry with a wide funding base.  I am an individual with limited financial resources.  Thank you and God bless.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Good Shepherd

John 10:11-16

One of my favorite pictures of Jesus is of Him as the Good Shepherd, standing with a flock of sheep gathered around Him, and in His arms is a young lamb. Several times throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus makes statements declaring “I Am the …”. I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35); I am the Light of the World (John 8:12); I am the Door of the Sheep (John 10:7); I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11); I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25);  I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6); and I am the True Vine (John 15:1). This one, though, is possibly the most beloved and comforting of those statements.

Unlike most other domesticated animals, sheep need more attentive care, and the shepherd needs to watch over them more carefully. The shepherd and his sheep develop a strong and close bond. Here in our passage Jesus stated that He is that Good Shepherd (vs. 11). One of the reasons that He is a good shepherd is that He will lay down His life for His sheep.  Who are God’s sheep? Everyone who has accepted Jesus as their Savior.  Jesus loves His sheep so much that He died for them (vs. 11, 15). A good and caring shepherd will sometimes find it necessary to put his safety at risk while out in the fields caring for the sheep.  However, not that many would actually sacrifice their life for them. Jesus, though, actually did.

Jesus then continues on in this discourse to contrast Himself, the Good Shepherd, with others who have been assigned to look after the Father’s sheep. They are the hirelings, hired hands, or under-shepherds (vs. 12 - 13). These hired hands were appointed and employed to look after the sheep, but unfortunately they didn’t care for them.  As Jesus stated, those uncaring hirelings saw the wolf coming and fled, leaving the sheep to be caught and killed.

Centuries earlier God spoke through His prophet, Ezekiel, against the hired shepherds who failed in their duty to watch over and protect His sheep (Ezekiel 34:1-10).  The wolf is symbolic of the devil, who is always on the prowl looking for people, for victims, he can snatch. It is the hired shepherd’s job to watch over and protect the sheep under his care, keeping them safe from the wolf. God has assigned pastors and other religious leaders to watch over His people. Too many of them are lax in their duties, and their people are at risk of attack from the enemy of their soul. They are more concerned for themselves and do not care about God’s sheep.  False teachers and leaders do not have the commitment to the sheep that the Good Shepherd does. For them this is only a job and money-making opportunity.

One sign of the bond between a shepherd and his flock is that he knows each sheep, and they know him and can recognize and respond to his voice.  Jesus knows His sheep, those who have called upon His Name for salvation (vs. 14). We are not some anonymous head in the masses. Jesus knows and loves each and every one of us personally.  Our Shepherd wants us to know Him closely and intimately, as well. How can we do that? The best way is by getting into His Word, the Bible.  The closer we get to our Shepherd through prayer and Bible study, the safer we are from any false shepherds and wolves.

Jesus spoke these words to His disciples, who were Jewish believers. He proceeds to tell them that He has “other sheep” which must be brought into the fold (vs. 16).  These are the Gentiles, who are not yet believers. God has always intended that Gentiles hear His message of salvation and be included as His children.  Jesus clearly states that He is also their Shepherd. He loves and cares for them, as well, and we are to be one flock.

Jesus willingly gave His life for us, His sheep, so we can trust that He will not keep back from us anything that will benefit us.  He knows all of our problems, and He cares for us. He is our Good Shepherd.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Barnabas - The Encourager

Acts 4:23-37

Our reading from Acts today begins with the Apostles Peter and John being let go after having been taken into custody by the Jewish religious leaders and authorities for preaching the Gospel and healing a crippled man.  The two returned to the other believers who immediately gathered together for prayer. They saw this as fulfilling prophecy, that rulers and those in authority had opposed Jesus, and now were opposing them and the message of the Gospel they were proclaiming (vs. 23-28).  When the believers prayed they first praised God, then they prayed specific prayers for their need. Praise then requests. They prayed for boldness to proclaim the Gospel (vs. 29-31). Boldness comes from the Holy Spirit. We need boldness and strength to witness effectively.

I would like to focus now on an often overlooked disciple - Barnabas. He is first mentioned here in Scripture in verse 36. His first name was Joses or Joseph. He was soon given the nickname of Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement”. What a wonderful thing to be known for - an encourager! Everyone needs encouragement at some time or another in their life, and what a blessing we can be to people if we are there to give that uplifting word and reassuring arm around the shoulder to bolster them on.  Let’s look at some examples where Barnabas was an encouragement to others.

Some time after our meeting Barnabas here, he was of great encouragement to the newly converted Paul (Acts 9:26-28).  Before he became a believer, Paul (at that time known as Saul) was a devout Jew, a Pharisee, and violently opposed the early church.  He hunted down Christians, turning them over to the religious authorities, casting his vote to have them put to death. He was present at the martyrdom of Stephen.  All that changed when Jesus appeared to him in a vision on the road to Damascus where he was going to hunt down more Christians. After this conversion most of the early church were afraid to believe that this feared opponent was now a believer and hesitated to meet with him.  Barnabas, however, was willing to risk his life and reputation to meet with the newly converted Paul, and he convinced others that his conversion was legitimate. He encouraged Paul, who was probably nervous and afraid, too, at what might happen. Barnabas was an encourager and help at this crucial time.

Later Barnabas went with Paul on his first missionary journey, and they took along a young man named John Mark.  While on this missionary trip John Mark dropped out and returned back home (Acts 13:13). This was possibly due to his young age and immaturity, along with some fear and nerves, as we read all throughout Acts that Paul’s missionary journeys were not easy-going trips, and faced a lot of opposition and danger.  Later John Mark wished to join Paul and Barnabas on their second missionary trip. Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance. but Paul wouldn’t allow it because of his defection earlier. That must have been a stinging blow to John Mark, and actually split up the team of Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas didn’t give up on the young man, but was, again, an encourager to him.  So much so that later in Paul’s ministry, he gives testimony as to how much of a help John Mark was to his work (II Timothy 4:11).

We all need to be an encourager to others, especially to those in the faith. Everyone has a burden they are carrying, and often need someone to come along side and help carry it.  If Barnabas had not been there, the early church may have never welcomed Paul into their fellowship. What would have happened then?  If Barnabas hadn’t been there to encourage John Mark, he may have dropped out of the ministry and never written his Gospel. The encouragement you give to someone may be just as vital.  Be an encourager today!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Sheep Of The Flawless God

Psalm 100

Our psalm for today is possibly one of the most upbeat and positive psalms in the Bible.  Look at some of the words throughout this passage, and see if you agree - joyful, gladness, singing, thanksgiving, praise, thankful, bless, good, mercy, truth.  All of that in a short psalm of only five verses. It is certainly not a psalm for any whiners.

There are always days when our troubles surround us, and life doesn’t look very pleasant or chipper.  No one is immune to problems, and that would include this psalmist. How could he manage to stay so upbeat?  The message that he gives us is to give the Lord praise and thanksgiving. A sure cure for the blues is to be grateful and thankful to the Lord for all that He has done for us, and to give Him praise.

When we come into the presence of the Lord, whether it is in group worship at church, or it is in our own private prayer and devotions, it should be with thanksgiving and praise in our hearts (vs. 2, 4).  We should start each day with praise. God wants to hear our praises and our singing to Him. I know that isn’t always easy. I have a collection of hymn books, and I go through one hymn each day with my morning prayer and Bible time.  As the psalmist said in Psalm 118:24 - “This is the day the LORD has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Thanksgiving is what opens the door to God’s throne room (vs. 4). That is what will bring God’s glory into our life.

We see a lot of ungratefulness going around today.  So many people have an entitlement attitude, thinking they are owed a good life and pleasant things. When they are given a blessing in their life, they are not thankful, thinking it is only their due.  Being ungrateful is not only selfish and a sin, it is contrary to Scripture. Paul states that being unthankful or ungrateful is one of the signs of the last days (II Timothy 3:1-5).

Our psalmist also emphasises here that God is a good God (vs. 5). His love for us who are His blood-bought children, goes on forever. God is absolutely perfect and holy. All God does is just and right. This cannot be said of the false gods of the heathen.  First, they don’t really exist. However, in the way their devotees would portray them they were not good or loving to those who worshipped them.  They were often fickle, harsh, and cruel, and had to be appeased with sacrifices, sometimes including human sacrifices. They often are portrayed as having the vices humans are prone to, only in gigantic proportions.  Rarely are they portrayed as having true love and compassion on mankind.

Contrariwise, Yahweh, the Lord God, is a good God.  All that He does is good. There is no spot or wrong or evil in Him.  Even when He must give discipline to us when we go astray, it is not done to crush us.  Rather it is to restore the broken relationship. He has love and mercy upon His creation, so much so that He sent His only Son to die for the sins of man.  And His truth, which is contained in the Scriptures, will never end.

My final observation from Psalm 100 is taken from verse 3.  The psalmist here speaks a reminder to people to keep a proper perspective in their lives between God and themselves.  This is a good admonition today, as well, since arrogance is so common. Our psalmist reminds us that God is the Creator, and we are His creation. God is our God, our Father, and we are His children. He is the Shepherd, and we are His sheep. Too often people seem to get that reversed, thinking they are in charge, and can walk up to God and tell Him what to do. Yes, God is a good and loving Creator, Father, and Shepherd, and He loves us. All the same, though, He is in charge, He is God, not us.  We are not the center of the universe. Everything is not all about us, but rather, it is all about Him.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Pick Your Shepherd Wisely

Ezekiel 34:1-10

When we hire someone to watch over and care for our children or pets we expect them to do a good job and care for those entrusted to them.  We don’t want to come back and find the caregiver has spent all their time with their nose in a smartphone, or our pet not fed or walked, and we especially don’t expect them to do any harm to our children or animals.  If we’ve hired tutors for our children we want them to teach the truth, not nonsense. Similarly, God had placed spiritual shepherds to guide His flock, His people, who were teach them the truth, to watch over them spiritually, to guide and keep them close to Him.  Instead, they failed terribly in this task. Our passage today from the prophet Ezekiel, is God’s response to these irresponsible and false shepherds.

In Old Testament times, the shepherds were the religious and spiritual leaders such as the priests and prophets who were to lead the people in worship and teach them the Word of God and His truth.  Their kings were also supposed to be a godly example and lead in following God’s Word. Instead, what was happening? As God said through His prophet, the shepherds who were supposed to be caring for His people, were instead caring only for themselves (vs. 2-4).  They were fleecing the flock. Instead of caring for the people in their flock they cared only for making a profit off of them.

Not only had these shepherds turned their duties into one of primarily making a financial gain, they were leading the flock down the wrong paths.  The priests, prophets and Levites were not instructing the people in the Scriptures (vs 5-6). As a result, the people were now prone to follow after the false gods of the surrounding countries.  When a shepherd fails to watch over the sheep, they will wander away from the safe fields, and are prone to fall into danger. They can find poisonous food to eat and get sick. They can fall into rivers and drown, fall off of rocky cliffs, and especially fall victim to predatory animals. It’s the shepherd’s duty to watch over them, feed them good and wholesome food, and keep them safe from danger. The religious leaders in the Old Testament times were miserably failing in this duty, and God was pronouncing judgment (vs. 7-10) .

Unfortunately this isn’t just something that happened ages ago in Old Testament times.  We see the same thing in many so-called religious leaders today. We have people who have set themselves up as spiritual leaders, as shepherds of God’s people who are doing the same thing as their Old Testament counterparts.  God’s judgment will fall on them, as well.

What is the first duty of a shepherd?  It should be to feed the flock under his care, feed them good and nourishing food.  Likewise, a spiritual shepherd or pastor should be feeding his flock the food that God gave him to give the sheep, namely straight from the Word of God, the Bible, and not false, or even heretical, doctrines and teachings.  How many shepherds today are neglecting to give their sheep God’s Word, and instead are allowing them to feed in fields with food that is not good, often dangerous and poisonous?

A shepherd is supposed to care for their sheep, not take advantage of them. There are so many pastors today who are primarily or even only concerned with making money off of their flock, whether it is in a church or on TV. Instead, their concern should be in caring for the people under their care, and being sure they are instructed solely in the Word of God.

Another primary concern for shepherds is to keep them safe from predatory animals, especially the lurking wolves.  How many spiritual shepherds or pastors today are allowing their sheep to become victims to the wolves of false teaching, cults, and unbiblical, false religions?  They are allowing the sheep under their care to be torn to pieces by these ravening wolves. In some cases these shepherds who claim to follow God are actually handing the sheep over to these wolves, leading them directly into their jaws.

What does God say?  He is against them and will pronounce judgment on them (vs. 9-10).  We do have some advantages over literal sheep, who have no choice but to remain with whatever shepherd they have.  If we see that our spiritual shepherd or pastor is not feeding us from the Word of God, or is leading us towards the wolves, we need to find one who is faithful to the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Not A Ghost

Luke 24:36-48

Have you ever thought that you saw a ghost?  For most of you, probably not. I’ve never seen one.  In our Gospel reading today we see that some of the disciples thought that this was what they were seeing when Jesus appeared to them following His resurrection. Let’s look at our passage and see how their doubts turned to faith that the Savior had risen from the dead.

The disciples all knew beyond any doubt that Jesus had died.  The apostle John had been there at the foot of the cross and had seen Him die.  Several of the women disciples were there, as well. Joseph of Arimathea and the women had buried Him, so there was plenty of proof that Jesus had died.  Now, all of a sudden, several days later, various of their group were saying that they had seen Him. Though Jesus had repeatedly throughout His ministry told the disciples that, after He was put to death, He would rise again, they still didn’t comprehend that.  In their clouded minds what else could this be but a ghost? Suddenly He appears in a closed room, and suddenly He disappears! It must be a ghost, they thought.

Jesus had risen from the dead, and if His followers needed extra encouragement to help their faith, then He would provide that.  He came to His disciples and gave them His blessing of peace (vs. 36). Seeing that they were afraid that He was a spirit or ghost, Jesus sought to calm their fears and give their faltering faith some evidence (vs. 37 - 42).  He called the disciples over, offering to let them touch Him. No one can touch a ghost. Ghosts do not have solid bodies. No one can go up to a ghost and grab ahold of it. Jesus had His followers come up and feel and handle His body to prove that He was not just a spirit.  He had risen from the dead, and was now alive in an actual body.  As further proof, Jesus asked them for some food, which He proceeded to eat in front of them (vs. 41 - 43). Ghosts don’t sit down at the dinner table and eat a meal with anyone! Jesus, however, did just that.

This was important, not only to boost the faith of the early disciples, but to serve as proof for later times when heresies would arise, which would say that Jesus had not actually, bodily risen from the dead. Part of John’s first letter addressed just such a heresy. There were also heresies that came which said that Jesus’ resurrection was only figurative, a spiritual resurrection, not an actual, literal bodily resurrection.  This heresy is still around today where its followers say that Jesus didn’t physically arise from the dead, but that His spirit is “alive” in His followers, and that this is a type of resurrection. They say that is the only resurrection that happened.  It is similar to how we might say that the “spirit” of some great political leader like John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King is still “alive” through people who carry on their message, or that of some great musician or artist’s spirit is still “alive” through his work.  The proof that Jesus gave His disciples, by allowing them to touch and handle His body, and by eating food in front of them, was solid evidence that He was alive again, and the disciples used this evidence to put to silence those who put forth contrary arguments.

Following His providing evidence that He was physically alive again, Jesus opened the minds of the disciples so that they could understand the Scriptures, particularly passages that spoke of Him (vs. 44 - 45).  Before we are saved, often the Bible seems very confusing, and we don’t understand a lot of it. After we come to faith in Jesus, though, His Holy Spirit indwells us, and many Scripture passages that previously made no sense start to become clearer.  This doesn’t happen all at once, and frequently requires study with competent Bible teachers. Jesus gave the disciples here a clearer understanding of Scripture, and there was a specific purpose for this. Not only would their understanding of the Bible be a strength, comfort, and encouragement for them, but they had a commission from Jesus to go out and be witnesses for Him (vs. 46 - 48).

We have the truth that Jesus has, indeed, risen from the dead. Salvation from sin is available for everyone who will accept Him as their Savior.  We are to go forth and spread that message. As the last verse in our passage says, we are His witnesses.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Living In The Light

I John 1:1-2:2

Our Scripture passage today is from the first letter the Apostle John wrote to the early, first century Christians.  There are three major points that the Apostle makes in these opening verses. The first point was to verify to the readers that Jesus truly did come in the flesh to this world.  The second was to contrast the light of God with the darkness of sin that is in the world. The third point in these verses is that we are all sinners, but with Jesus there is forgiveness.

Have you ever had someone deny the truth of something that you were a first-hand eyewitness to?  John did, and he had to counter that, as we see this in the opening verses of our passage (vs. 1-4). Very early in the church age a false teaching started circulating that denied Jesus’ humanity. Simply put, they denied that Jesus’ physical body was real, but only seemed to be real.  They denied that Jesus was both truly God and truly human. This heresy is known as Docetism. John clearly refuted this false belief. He had seen Jesus with his own eyes, touched Him, and knew that He was real.  This is important, because if Jesus wasn’t both truly God and truly man then His death on the cross would be meaningless, and He could not atone for our sins. John, however, knew for a fact that Jesus did truly come in the flesh.

Walking in the dark is not a safe thing to do.  Stumbling around the house in darkness can bring many stubbed toes or worse.  As a teenager I once ended up at the bottom of very steep stairs because I didn’t have a light.  Spiritual darkness is even worse as John tells us in verses 5-7, contrasting light and darkness. Light is Biblical truth. Darkness is error and falsehood. Light is holiness and purity. Darkness is sin and wrongdoing. God is truth, holiness, and absolute perfection.  Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light, nor can sin exist in the presence of a holy God. There is nothing sinful or imperfect in God’s character.

When we have a relationship with God, we must put away our sinful way of living.  To claim salvation and then go out and deliberately sin is hypocrisy. One cannot claim to be a Christian and live in evil and immorality, continuing to willingly walk in deliberate sin. Habitual, deliberate sin is not practicing the truth of God.  A true Christian desires to walk in the light, following Jesus, not following darkness.

However, John knows that even though believers have accepted Jesus as their Savior we all continue to sin.  Anyone who says that they do not sin anymore, or have never sinned, are liars (vs. 8-10). There are two types of confession that are needed in our life.  The first is the confession that we are sinners, and we ask Jesus to save us. That is only done once. If someone never admits that they are a sinner, then salvation cannot occur.  The second type of confession is a regular coming to God, confessing the sins that we all do each day. “Confess” means to say the same thing about sin as God does, to have His perspective about it.  Failure to do that will build up a barrier between us and God. We don’t lose our salvation, but we can hinder the fellowship we have with God. We all need to make a practice of confessing our sins to God.

Becoming a follower of Jesus doesn’t automatically make us perfect and sin-free.  The devil, however, frequently will attack us with guilt and make us believe that if we fall into sin we are lost and cannot be forgiven.  John ends our Scripture passage in verses 1-2 of Chapter 2, with a word of good news and hope for us when we see we have sinned. I’ve enjoyed watching the old-time courtroom drama TV shows Perry Mason and Matlock.  Satan is our prosecuting attorney, bringing up to God everything we’ve done wrong. Having a lousy attorney can be very devastating. John tells us we have the best advocate or defense attorney, better than any TV one.  Jesus, truly, has never lost a case for one of His children. Not only is He our Advocate, but He is our High Priest. Propitiation means appeasement or satisfaction.  Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross satisfied the demands of God’s holiness. Jesus guarantees an acquittal for us! Let us be sure that when we are in the courtroom of heaven, standing before God the Judge, we have taken as our Advocate or Defense Attorney, the Lord Jesus Christ!

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Fair and Righteous Judge

Psalm 98

Whenever we watch news reports on TV or read newspapers or other online news it seems we are confronted with stories of injustice. People taking advantage of others, the rich over the poor, business owners over their workers and customers, medical companies over the sick, and one nation over another. This can become rather discouraging when we see bullies of all ages and types continually prospering. When will this ever end, we ask. Will what is right ever prevail? Our psalm for today is a psalm of praise to God for the day when Jesus will return and bring judgment to this world.

The majority of this psalm is one of praise to God.  Everyone is called upon to sing forth unto God. We are told to praise Him with all sorts of instruments, from the harp to the trumpet (vs. 1, 4-6).   In addition, all of the natural world is instructed to praise God, as well. The mighty ocean waves are a praise to Him, along with the rivers and hills (vs 7-8).

Why all of this praise?  We all know that God is always deserving of praise just for who He is.  In addition, He is worthy of praise for all that He has done for us, for mankind in general, and for each of us specifically.  There is, however, a specific reason the psalmist gives us for the praise to God in this psalm of his. The reason is found in verse 9, the key verse of our psalm.  This verse reads: “For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity.”

Jesus is coming back to the earth again.  The world may scoff at that, saying that Christians are just dreaming, weaving fairy tales, and deluding ourselves with wishful thinking.  However, this is a promise that is repeated numerous times throughout Scripture, and we can rely on it with certainty. The first time that Jesus came to earth was to be God’s sacrificial Lamb for the sins of the world.  When He returns a second time it will be as the victorious King and Judge. It is this second coming that our psalm today is speaking of.

At this time, when He returns, Jesus will judge the world.  God appointed Jesus to be the Judge of everyone who has ever lived (Acts 10:42).  Everyone, all nations and rulers, and all people, from the richest to the poorest, will be judged by Him, and they will all be judged with righteousness and equity. Nations will not be judged based on their military power or size. The wealthy and powerful will not be shown favoritism. All will be done righteously and fairly.

What does this look like in our own lives?  Have any of us suffered oppression of any type?  Perhaps in the workplace from an unjust and unfair boss.  There is no recourse, no other jobs due to a bad economy, and you are forced to take his bullying.  Maybe there is a ruthless landlord, and you just cannot afford to move to a better place. Perhaps you are stricken with a chronic illness needing special medication, and the giant pharmaceutical company has raised the price of your medication to such an astounding amount that you just cannot afford the medication anymore.

There is injustice and unfairness everywhere we turn, and often there isn’t much we can effectively do about it.  Our psalmist promises, though, that there is reason to praise God, as He will judge everyone with both equity and righteousness.  If He doesn’t bring us relief at this time, we can trust Him that He will in the future.  No one, neither nation or people, will have any excuse when that day of judgment comes. God has made known His salvation and His ways to everyone (vs. 2).  No one can say that they just didn’t know about Jesus and His truth.

God is victorious over evil, and this will be clearly shown that day. All those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior will also be victorious with Him when He brings justice to this world.  For those who are His children, this is not a day to fear, but one that should bring rejoicing and praise, as our psalmist today declares.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

No Other Name

Acts 4:5-12

When we have good news to tell others, we might think that we would be well received.  Particularly if our good news was accompanied by having done something good, something to help someone else.  Unfortunately that is not always the case, especially if that good news is the message of Jesus. The apostles found that out very quickly, as we read in our passage from the Book of Acts today.

Shortly after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the believers on the day of Pentecost, we read in Acts 3 that Peter and John were by the Temple.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit they healed a man crippled from birth. Many people gathered around as a result of this miracle, and the two apostles proceeded to share the message of Jesus with them.  As soon as word of this reached the Jewish religious leaders, they quickly came and arrested Peter and John.

As our passage today begins, it is the next day, and the two apostles are being brought before the religious leaders and council, a group of very powerful men, for a hearing as to what had happened (vs. 5-6). These leaders were the same men who had “tried” Jesus and put Him to death. They were disturbed by what the apostles were saying and teaching. Their teachings threatened their authority as religious leaders. It did not please the high priest and his family that the man (Jesus) they thought they had sacrificed for the good of the nation (John 11:49-51) had followers who were just as persistent and troublesome. And now they were saying this Jesus was alive again, and they were performing miracles just as He had done!

These religious leaders were more interested in their reputation and position then they were in God.  Peter spoke boldly to them (vs. 8-12). He went on the offensive rather than being in a defensive position.

In verse 11 Peter quotes Psalm 118:22, which Jesus had also quoted to the people in Matthew 21:42.  The Jewish people for the most part, had rejected Jesus, but God has made Him the capstone of the church.

The key verse in this passage and in the message that Peter and John gave to the Jewish leaders is verse 12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” There are two religious paths (Matthew 7:13-14). The first is the broad way of works salvation. That leads to eternal death. The other, the narrow way, is faith in Jesus. That leads to eternal life.

This is also a specific teaching of Jesus, as He said in John 14:6 that “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.” We cannot be open minded on how and through whom we are saved from sin. No other religious teacher could die for our sins. No other religious teacher came to earth as God’s only Son.  No other religious teacher rose from the dead. No other religion, religious leader, or philosophy will get anyone to heaven except the Lord Jesus Christ.  There is no other name or way.

God only provided one way of escape in the days of Noah, and that was by getting on the ark.  He has provided only one Name to turn to for salvation, and that is the Name of His only Son, Jesus Christ. The apostle John tells us in I John 5:12 that if you do not have God’s Son, Jesus, as your Savior, you do not have eternal life.  It’s that simple.

Many people don’t like to hear this.  They say it’s politically incorrect, that it’s exclusive and offensive.  By proclaiming this message we could lose friends, and in some countries even your freedom or life.  Jesus said that the world would hate us for this (John 15:18). However, the message remains the same. Salvation is found in no other Name.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Believing Without Seeing

John 20:19-31

Are there times when part of you acknowledges that God will keep the promises He made in the Bible, but you still are unable to overcome the feeling that the issues that you face are simply too great for God to handle.  You know that God has made a promise to His followers, but unless you see the evidence right before you with your own two eyes, you find it hard to have faith and believe. This is the place where the Apostle Thomas is in our Scripture reading from John’s Gospel.

Ten of the remaining apostles had been gathered together after Jesus’ crucifixion, hiding from the religious leaders who had Him put death, afraid for their own lives.  The betrayer, Judas was dead. The other apostle, Thomas, was hiding somewhere else, probably wishing to grieve by himself. When the other apostles told him that they had seen the Lord, Thomas said he couldn’t believe unless he saw Jesus with own eyes.  There have been times when my faith has wavered when I don’t have the solid evidence right before me. God has promised to meet all of my needs, but my bankbook looks empty. My faith struggles unless I can see the evidence. The storms are raging outside, either literally or figuratively, and are we cowering in fear, or trusting that the Lord will take care of us?

Jesus did not chastise Thomas when he finally saw Him, instead He invited Thomas to check the evidence with his own eyes.  Gideon was another that needed help with his faith and believing that what God said was true and could always be relied upon (Judges 6:36-40). God acquiesced, and showed Gideon and responded to his request. When the man who had a demon possessed son came to Jesus for help for his son, He asked the man if he believed.  The father answered “I do believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:23-25). So often I feel that is my prayer. I do believe, but my faith wavers and struggles, like when Peter stepped out of the boat onto the water, and then saw the waves.  Like He did with Thomas, Gideon, and this father, Jesus gently leads us to where our faith becomes stronger.

The essence of faith is that even when we don’t see God at work, we still have confidence in Him.  We are blessed if we believe without having to see. Today we have the Bible, which the earliest Christians did not have.  The Scriptures contain the Words of God, which is all the proof we ever need. We should trust God even when we can’t see. Trust Him and His work, as He has never failed us.

Another verse in this passage that I would like to touch on is verse 23.   This verse does not give authority to forgive or not forgive others their sins.  Rather, we can tell a sinner who has come to Jesus for salvation that now their sins are forgiven.  The same would hold for someone who refuses to come to Christ that their sins are not forgiven.

God doesn’t give any excuses here or elsewhere for not forgiving others what they have done to us.  No excuses are allowed, such as what they did was too terrible, or that they did it deliberately, or even that they didn’t ask for forgiveness.  God knows what they did, and He still tells us to forgive. Our unforgiveness will put a roadblock in the way of our relationship with God. They may not deserve our forgiveness, but neither did we deserve God’s forgiveness.

In closing, the scars that Jesus showed Thomas in this passage that day, the nail prints in His hands and feet, and the spear hole in His side, are all proof of His love for us!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


I John 5:1-5

Do you look at yourself as an overcomer, as one who succeeds in gaining the victory over some problem or difficulty?  I’m sure we would all like to think of ourselves as such, as we all have troubles, obstacles, and people causing us difficulty.  No one wants to think of themself as a loser! In our Scripture reading for today, the Apostle John talks about overcomers, who they are and what they can get the victory over.

The overcomers John talks about in our passage are those who have placed their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. As a result, they can have victory over the world, the world system of beliefs and values that Satan has dominion over, and that is in opposition to God.  There are several characteristics of the overcomer that are brought out in our passage here that we can look at.

The first characteristic is that the overcomer must have saving faith. They believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah sent by God (vs. 1, 5).  This saving faith not just a head knowledge about Jesus, but wholehearted dedication to Him.   When we have placed our faith and trust in God’s Son, God says that we are His beloved children, and joint heirs through Jesus.  If we are born of Him we overcome the world. Our victory was won on the cross with the Blood of Jesus. Our faith gives us the victory to stand in difficulty. When the world and the devil tries to knock us down, we can keep getting back up. We do this by faith in Jesus. He provides all we need to be that overcomer. Jesus is greater than Satan (I John 4:4).

The second characteristic of an overcomer is that they love God and fellow believers (vs. 1-2).  When we put our trust in Jesus we became children of God. As such, all fellow believers are our brothers and sisters.  John says that a believer will both love God and also his brothers and sisters in the Lord. This was a big theme of John’s in this epistle, that as believers we have love for one another (I John 3:10-23; I John 4:7-11, 20-21).  No one can have truly saving faith and not love God. Even though there may be times when two Christians disagree over something, even firmly, an overriding love for our brothers and sisters in the Lord should still be evident.

A third characteristic of the overcomer John talks about is that they are obedient to God (vs. 2-3).  One proof of our love for God will be our obedience to Him. If we love Jesus we will want to love, serve, and obey Him.   The world wants us to believe God’s commands are stifling, ridiculous, or hateful. However, John tells us here that God’s commands are not burdensome, and if we love Him, we will strive to keep His Word.  Man-made religious traditions are burdensome.  Also, when we try to obey God in our own strength and power we will fail, and then it does become a burden.  Instead we need to rely on the Holy Spirit who will empower us. We need to come to Jesus and cast our burden and struggles upon Him, and instead take His yoke upon ourselves, for it is not burdensome (Matthew 11:28-30).  Jesus’ yoke will lead us away from sin, and into eternal joy. We cannot say that we love Jesus but not be obedient to His commands.

Saving faith, love for God and other believers, and obedience are three characteristics of a Biblical overcomer.  Satan has a worldwide system of deception and wickedness. He operates a system of demonic and human evil in this world.  This world is a battleground, not a playground for the believer, but through Jesus and His provision of salvation we are a victor.  Our faith and dedication to Him makes us an overcomer. An overcomer has victory and conquering power. They overthrow the enemy for all to see. Because we are united with Jesus, we partake in His victory over Satan.

Monday, April 9, 2018

What Is The Source Of Our Wisdom?

Psalm 111

Wisdom is a very admired commodity, and most of us would like to have a good measure of it.  It’s important to be sure that one is seeking wisdom from the right sources. God identifies in His Word two sources of wisdom - the wisdom that comes from the world, and wisdom that comes from God (I Corinthians 1:19-25).  As believers and followers of the Lord Jesus, we have a choice to make. Are we going to follow after the wisdom of this world and what it has to offer, or that of God?

The wisdom of this world that we’re talking about here is not just getting an education at a university.  It is the philosophy and the values that the world puts forth that is in opposition to that of God and His Word.  The wisdom of this world tells you to put yourself first, doing whatever feels good and makes you happy, regardless of the consequences to yourself or others. “Eat, drink, and be merry.” “You only live once, so go for all you can get!” In business it tells us to put financial profits above everything and everyone else. The entertainment world pushes everything vile and vulgar, so much so that it isn’t even considered shocking anymore.  Years ago we could see on television families saying grace at the dinner table, or a mother giving godly, Biblical counsel to her young son. Today on television, Christians and the Bible are openly mocked and ridiculed. Our secular educational system teaches values that are contrary to God’s order, from the kindergarten class all the way through the university level.

Are we going to seek our wisdom from the world, or are we going to seek it from God?  For those who have given their lives to Him, we should look to see where He says true wisdom can be found.  Verse 10 of our psalm today says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. When we fear the Lord we will be on the correct path to gaining His wisdom.

What exactly is the “fear of the Lord”?  It is a reverential awe of God. It is a healthy respect for God’s power, and submission to His authority.  When we fear God we will have respect for His commandments. We will learn what pleases Him, and then do what pleases Him.  When we have a proper fear of God, it is a joy to obey Him. Verse 10 of our Psalm, and also in Proverbs 1:7 we read that to be truly wise one must fear or revere God.

The inventor or designer of a machine knows best how it works and operates. The author of a book knows best what his story is all about. The same with someone who writes a song or paints a work of art. God is the Creator and Designer of the universe, our world, and all of creation, so it only makes sense that He alone is the source of all true wisdom.   We cannot be wise by academic knowledge or by personal experience alone. God is the source of true wisdom.

The best way to start on the path of gaining this true wisdom from the Lord is by studying His works (vs. 2), and to do that one must get into His Word, the Bible.  When we love the Lord we will want to be in His Word, studying all there is to know about Him.

Our psalm today mentions how God has redeemed His people (vs. 9), which is the greatest work of the Lord that we read about in His Word.  Redemption means to recover something or someone following the payment of a ransom. All people are held in slavery by sin. Jesus paid the price to free us.  He gave His life as a sacrifice, paying for us with His Precious Blood.

That is one thing that those who hold to the wisdom of this world mock and ridicule the most.  The Blood of Jesus is mocked and maligned by this world and its philosophies. That, however, is where true wisdom lies.  As Paul tells us, God’s wisdom is in the cross of Jesus, and the Blood He shed there (I Corinthians 1:18, 23). By developing a reverential fear of the Lord, studying His Word, and putting our faith and trust in the Blood of Jesus, we can find true wisdom.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Searching For Peace?

Isaiah 26:2-9

Reading the headlines, either in the papers or online, and watching the nightly news on TV, can be very discouraging.  Fighting between countries or ethnic groups, shootings in schools or workplaces, social unrest between people in the cities.  There is no peace anywhere we look. In addition to that, so many people do not have peace within themselves. Psychiatrists’ offices and mental health clinics are booked solid for months in advance with people who are in turmoil. What hope is there with the world in upheaval on the outside and people in confusion on the inside? Let’s look at the answer that the prophet Isaiah gives us in Scripture.

When we find turmoil and problems in our life there are a number of options that the world offers us to try and bring us some level of peace.  We can immerse ourselves with all sorts of pleasures, some safe and relatively harmless, but also others that can be detrimental to our well-being, such as drugs or pornography.  However, everything that we lean on for support in time of turmoil is useless and will eventually fail in bringing real peace. Isaiah gives us the answer to true peace in verses 3 and 4 of our passage.  Lasting peace is found only in the presence of God. Scripture urges us to throw away the vain crutches we have been leaning on and trust in Jesus. He, alone, can give that true peace, and give us real support when the world and our life is reeling and in unrest.

Those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus can have a level of trust and peace in the Lord that the unbeliever can never know. Christ is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).  His presence gives peace within us.  We have peace in Him. This peace is an inner contentment and quietness, regardless of our circumstances.  Jesus said that there would be tribulations in the world, but those who are in Him would have peace (John 16:33).

This peace comes from a trust and confidence in God.  When we are trusting in Him, and not any other earthly supports, we can have joy, even in the middle of hardships and difficulties.  Jesus gives us a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Have you ever observed two people, one a believer and the other not.  Both have had immense difficulties happen in their lives. The one person is falling to pieces as they can’t handle what’s happening, and all of their worldly supports are futile.  The believer, on the other hand, should have a peace that defies any understanding. That is because it is supernatural. It comes from God, who alone can give true peace.

You might wonder how you can have this peace.  First one must have placed their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.  This peace is found only in Him.  Second, one must fully trusting in God, day by day, moment by moment.  As Isaiah said in our key verses from today’s passage, God will keep us in perfect peace when our mind is stayed, or fastened tightly, on Him, trusting in Him (vs. 3-4).  Yahweh is our Everlasting Strength. That expression can also mean “Rock of Ages”. That pictures to me a rocky cliff where I can find shelter from all of my enemies.

I certainly want peace in my life, so I need to focus on God and trust in Him. To keep focused on Him I need to be meditating on His Word. I can either focus my mind on my fears or on God, and allow His peace to fill my mind. When someone wants to plow a straight line for a garden, they should not focus on their feet. Instead they should focus on a focal point in the distance, and keep focused on that.  It’s the same with one’s spiritual life. We need to focus God, not our problems. We need to cast those problems on to God for Him to carry (Psalm 55:22; I Peter 5:7).

There will always be strife and turmoil in the world, but we who know the Lord can have peace.  He will keep us steady and stable. His love and power are unchanging. When the storms of life threaten, run to the shelter of God’s peace.  Run to the Rock of Ages and hide in Him!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Where Have Your Thoughts Been?

Colossians 3:1-4

There is a saying that “you are what you eat” which, for the most part, is probably true.  The same could be said that we are what we think. The path that our thoughts continually go on soon mould and make us the people that we become.  Where have your thoughts been lately? Do they linger on the television show you just watched, or the gossip you heard from your friends at lunch? Or are our thoughts dwelling on things of the Lord and what is valuable to His Kingdom? This is the topic that the Apostle Paul speaks about in today’s passage from his letter to the Colossians.

Paul begins this chapter by telling us that, as believers, heaven’s priorities should become our priority (vs. 1).  Everything on earth, all of the worldly things we involve ourselves in, are temporary. The things of heaven, though, are eternal.  Jobs come and go. Houses, cars, clothes, and other belongings get old and start to fall apart. Everything in heaven, however, lasts forever. Because we are united with Christ, we have spiritually entered His death and resurrection the moment we were saved. We are now alive in Him. The resurrection is not just something that happened in the past.  It affects all believers today. Because of the power His resurrection has on our life, we can set our hearts on things above and let go of things on earth.

The more we focus on Jesus, the more we will become like Him (vs. 2).  As our thoughts become more dominated by Jesus, He will slowly change us to be more like Him.  One way is to look at life from God’s perspective, and seek what He desires. As Christians, our thoughts should be on what honors the Lord.  Paul gives us a pattern to keep our minds set on in Philippians 4:8-9. God has a goal to transform us into the likeness of His Son, Jesus (Romans 12:2).  This all begins in our minds. Our whole character should be pointing towards heaven, just as a compass points north.

When we focus our attention on God, we are able to praise Him despite any circumstances, just like Paul and Silas did while they were put in jail for preaching the Gospel (Acts 16:19-36).  Look what happened then! God sent an earthquake to deliver them!

In verse 3, Paul states that as believers the person that we were before should be dead.  Our citizenship was transferred out of Satan’s kingdom, and into God’s. We should have as little interest in the things of this world system as a dead person does.

Paul states that our life is hidden with Christ in God (vs. 3).  The word “hidden” implies that we are concealed and safe with God. When we want to keep something safe from a thief, we find a nice hiding place where the item can’t be found.  God has hidden us safe in Himself. Satan cannot steal us away from Him, or harm us. We are safe with God. As Jesus said in John 10:28-29, we are safe in His hands, and no one can pluck us out.

When Christ returns to earth to rule, believers will be revealed as His people (vs. 4).  We can now fix our hope on His promise that we will be with Him in glory forever. And because of this, our sights and concerns should be set firmly with the things of eternity.

In conclusion, our relationship with Jesus should be noticeable by our words. As the Scriptures have shown us, our words are affected by our thoughts. Claim the power of the risen Savior every day!