Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Becoming More Like Christ

II Corinthians 3:17-4:2

Who do you look like?  Do you have your father’s eyes, or your mother’s hair? When a baby is born, everyone is quick to look for similarities in the child with relatives.  As we get older, there are some characteristics we hope we may have inherited - father’s intelligence, or uncle’s athletic ability, but hopefully not our maternal relatives weight problems!  As believers who have given our life to Jesus, we are to start looking like the Savior. Our passage today from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church gives us encouragement as we seek to become more like Jesus.

Many wonderful things occur when we accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, one of which is liberty and freedom (vs 17).  What are we set free from? For one, we are set free from the power and control of Satan and the kingdom of darkness. We are free from sin, and also the futile attempts to keep the Law as a means of earning righteousness.  So many people try so hard to follow and keep all sorts of religious rules and rituals, thinking that if they are good enough they can make it to heaven. The fact is, no one will ever be good enough. By accepting Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf, we are released from that overwhelming burden of trying to earn heaven on our own through our own works and efforts.  It is the Holy Spirit who works that in our life the moment we accept the Lord Jesus as Savior. He is the 3rd Person of the Trinity, and though not spoken of as often as the Father or the Son, He is equally important.

What else happens to believers after they have accepted Jesus as Savior, and been given liberty from trying to earn salvation by keeping the Old Testament Law or other religious rituals?  Paul continues on in our passage by saying that we believers are being transformed into the image of Jesus (vs 18). We are continually and progressively transformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; Romans 12:2).  Can someone as rotten, selfish, and sinful like me start to look and act like Jesus?! Yes! As we continually focus on Jesus the Holy Spirit will transform us to conform to His image. This doesn’t happen all at once, but progressively as we yield to Him.

As followers of Jesus, we have nothing obstructing our vision of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture (vs 18).  During the days when the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness, whenever Moses went and conversed with God, his face would then glow with the glory of God’s presence.  This frightened the people, and they insisted Moses wear a veil until the glowing disappeared (Exodus 34:30). They did not want to see it. Now we come to God with an unveiled face through Jesus.  We reflect His glory and are transformed into His image. Mirrors in Paul’s day were polished metal, and gave a far from perfect reflection. Even though our vision is unobstructed, we do not see a perfect sight of God’s glory now, but we will one day.

Paul finishes up this passage with an encouraging word for his readers to not lose heart or surrender, despite attacks from enemies or their own personal failings (vs 1).  Our task is too important for that. God called Paul for his task and us for ours. He is not going to abandon it. As believers we are to renounce all of our hidden sins, immoralities, and hypocrisies hidden deep in our life (vs 2).

There were false teachers both then and now who twist and pervert the Word of God.  Paul warns us to not distort the message of the Gospel to please our audience! Proclaim the truth!

In closing, we see the truth of Jesus in the Gospels, and it will transform us as we believe and apply it.  If we are saved we have freedom. We are free, but we have to choose to accept it. We have to choose to believe it.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Sons Of Korah

Psalm 85

Revival.  That is a word that many Christians, particularly those who are serious about the Lord and their relationship with Him, like to hear.  It is something many Christians pray for. Our psalm today speaks a prayer to God for revival. Let’s take a brief look at this psalm to see what we can learn and apply to our life.

This psalm was written by the Sons of Korah.  They were a branch of the descendants of Levi, and were gatekeepers and musicians in the Temple.  The Sons of Korah were also descended from the rebel Korah, who was swallowed up alive in the earth with Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16).  These descendants, though, loved the Lord, and were by no means rebels like their ancestor. We may have some unsavory people in our lineage, but God does not hold their sins against us, and we should never hesitate to serve Him because of family background.  The Sons of Korah didn’t, and they wrote eleven psalms.

Spiritual revival is restoring a right relationship with God (vs 6).  It is returning to a place where He is our chief delight, and where we celebrate His goodness, love, and mercy.  Revival begins with restored and renewed believers, and then spreads to the lost coming to salvation. When Christians start taking their spiritual life seriously, and start obeying His Word, the world starts to notice, and the revival spreads to them.  Souls are drawn to the Lord and are saved.

The Sons of Korah remind us in the first three verses that we need to always remember God’s mercies to us (vs 1-3).  Remembering what God has done, and then thanking and praising Him for it is an important step for revival. Another thing is that, contrary to what some may say, God is angry with sin and those who persistently follow sinful ways, including believers (vs 4-7).  There are some who believe God winks at our failings (they won’t even call them sins), and treats us like an indulgent grandpa. That is not how God is. When God’s people turn from any persistent sin in their life, return to Him, He will forgive and restore (vs 8-13).  The way for revival is open.

In verse 10 we read that mercy and truth have met, righteousness and peace have kissed.  Mercy is God withholding the just punishment we deserve. We have peace with God. Truth, on the other hand, states that we are sinners, and deserving of any wrath from God because of His righteousness.  There have been preachers, particularly in the past, who would solely emphasize the one side, truth and righteousness, while rarely mentioning God’s mercy and peace. Today the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, where they only speak of God’s love and mercy, and say nothing of God’s righteous judgment of sin. Both are equally wrong.

How can the truth of our sinfulness, and God’s righteous anger at that sin be reconciled with His mercy and peace?  That can only be accomplished through the sacrificial death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He, who had no sin, took the punishment for our sins.  His sinless Blood satisfied the righteous judgment for truth of our sins. God could no bestow His mercy and peace on all who have accepted Jesus sacrifice on their behalf.

How about you?  Have you accepted Jesus as your Savior?  There isn’t a better moment than now to do so!  If you are a believer, let’s join together and pray for revival in the church.  Christians need to be woken up from their slumber. Revival will come and spread across our countries, and lost souls will be won for God’s Kingdom.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

God's Restoring Love

Hosea 2:14-23

An adulterous wife leaves her husband to run off with her many lovers.  She then finds herself in a mess of trouble and is sold on the open slave market. Who comes to buy her back, but her forsaken and estranged husband. While you might think I am describing an episode on a soap opera or a Hollywood movie, this is in fact the background story of the book of Hosea the prophet.

Hosea had married a woman named Gomer, who was unfaithful to him from the start.  She leaves him, and is eventually sold as a slave. God used the tragic events in Hosea’s life to picture what was happening spiritually with the nation of Israel and their relationship with God.  Throughout Scriptures God frequently pictured His relationship with His people to that of a husband and wife. The people were “married” to Him, and they were to be faithful, just as He is faithful.  Instead, the people of Israel continued repeatedly to forsake God and run after the other false gods of the nations around them. God called this spiritual adultery.

Gomer was not unfaithful to Hosea just once or twice, but repeatedly.  Most husbands would have divorced their unfaithful wife after this. However, Hosea deeply loved his wife, despite the pain and heartbreak she caused.  Again this is a picture of God’s love for His straying and unfaithful people. Hosea tried repeatedly to woo his wife back, just like the Lord does. This is where we pick up our passage today from the Book of Hosea.

When a man tries to woo a woman to himself he doesn’t use harsh or critical words.  Instead, he speaks words of love. That is how God is with us (vs 14). He wishes to restore His people to Himself. Sometimes, though, He must take us into the wilderness to lead us back to Him. God will use our negative experiences to help draw us to Him.

When Hosea came across his unfaithful wife now upon the slave auction block to be sold, and he bought her, he was now technically also her master.  That was not what he wanted, though. He wanted to be her husband. A husband should be loving, caring, and tender, whereas a master often rules harshly. That’s the way God wants to be with us - loving, caring, and tender (vs 16).

Israel had forgotten her true God (vs 17).  Now God says they will forget the false gods that they have been running after.  He will give them a new, regenerated heart with the New Covenant, through Jesus. What false gods, whether literal or figurative, have lured us away from Yahweh?  He wants us to forget their names, return to Him, and be faithful.

A “betrothal” is another word for wedding engagement.  In Biblical days, and actually until just a century or two ago, betrothals were much more serious than today.  In most cases they were just as binding as a marriage. God has betrothed us to Himself forever (vs 19-20). This shows the intensity of His restoring love for His people. No longer is she an adulterous prostitute, she is restored to her marriage. God provides her dowry and all she needs. When we turn away from God, He doesn’t wait for us to decide to return to Him. He eagerly pursues us to be reunited to Him.

When we think of what the unfaithful wife deserves, we may think she deserves to be sold into slavery.  We may think Hosea deserves a better, more loving wife. By the same token, what do we deserve from God?  We are all wretched sinners who deserve hell. What did God do, though? He bought us back from the slavery to sin with the Blood of Jesus.  He bought us, cleaned us up, and we are His forever. Have you accepted Jesus as your Savior, and gone from being a slave into His loving arms?  Do not hesitate a moment longer!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Living Water

John 7:37-39

Have you ever been really, really thirsty?  Maybe while out working outside in the hot sun, or hiking a trail, and your water supply runs out.  All you can think of is that next gulp of cold, refreshing water! Water is essential to life. Go without it for just a little while and your thinking starts getting confused.  A little longer and your organs start to shut down. A person can survive several weeks without food, but only 3-4 days without water.

We’ve all been physically thirsty, but how about spiritually thirsty? Our soul and spirit needs a connection with God, and when that is not there we become spiritually dried and withered like a wasted corn husk on a hot day.  The only way we can find refreshment is by coming to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

As our Scripture reading today from the Gospel of John begins Jesus was in the capital city of Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Tabernacles.  This festival was held in the fall, generally in October, so the timing was about 6 or so months prior to the crucifixion. The Feast of Tabernacles commemorated when the Jewish people were wandering in the wilderness for forty years.  One of the ceremonies performed during this festival was to commemorate God providing them with water from out of the rock. The people were so thirsty then they felt like they would die, and were even threatening Moses. Moses prayed to the Lord and He provided them water from a rock (Exodus 17:1-7).  It was probably during these water ceremonies that Jesus stood up in front of the crowds and spoke the words of our passage.

Jesus stood in front of the crowds gathered that day and cried out to the people, saying that whoever was thirsty to come to Him and drink (vs 37). “Thirst” - “Come” - “Drink”. These words summarize the Gospel invitation. First we see and recognize that we have a need. We are lost and spiritually thirsty.  The only one who can satisfy our thirst is Jesus. When we hear God’s call to our soul, we come and approach where we can be satisfied. We need to go to where we hear the Gospel message.  We then receive what can quench our thirst. We accept the Savior. Come to the Savior and drink! Receive the salvation He offers!

Man was made to have a close and personal relationship with God. All of our deepest needs can only be met in God, and through no one else.  Without Him our souls are wilted and will get beyond parched. We try to satisfy this desire with many other false thirst quenchers. Some of these activities aren’t particularly harmful, like hobbies, sports, etc. Others can be harmful, like drugs, alcohol, or false religions.  Salt water will not quench one’s thirst. Instead it only makes it worse. These other activities, both good and bad ones, will not quench our spiritual thirst any more than salt water will.  Jesus, and only Jesus can satisfy our spiritual thirst.

The living water Jesus spoke about here in verse 38 is referring to the Holy Spirit.  Jesus used that term, living water, earlier in His ministry when He was speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, where He was meaning eternal life (John 4:10).  If we have the Holy Spirit we have eternal life. All who have been saved receive living water eternal life, as promised the Samaritan woman, and receive the Holy Spirit living water, which Jesus promised here.

Even though the religious establishment, and even His own family, opposed Jesus, He never faltered from His mission of bringing the Water of Life to thirsty souls.  Are you thirsty today? Turn to Jesus and quench the thirst of your soul!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Joint Heirs With Jesus

Romans 8:14-17, 22-27

Imagine your surprise if upon opening some mail you read that a huge inheritance was waiting for you!  For most of us that is unlikely, as we have no surprise millionaire relatives or benefactors waiting to bequeath their riches on us.  Or do we? In our Scripture passage from the Book of Romans today we read that for those who have accepted the Lord Jesus as Savior, they are now the children of God, and joint heirs with Jesus.  Let’s look at this passage together, as this is exciting news!

Every one of us were physically born into one family or another. Some are kind, others not so kind, some richer, many not at all. Spiritually we are all lost and separated from God from the day of our birth.  When we receive Jesus as Savior, we become children of God (John 1:12). We are the adopted children of God, with all the rights and privileges that go along with that!  We are no longer cringing slaves, but the Master’s children!

Many of us had earthly fathers who were not all that pleasant.  As adopted children of God, we can come before Him without fear.  As verse 15 says, we call Him “father”, a term that implies tenderness, free from fear or anxiety. Just as adopted children become legally the real children of the family, God is not just a father-figure to us, but our real father.  With God as our Father, we can come into His presence at any time, all because of the Blood of Jesus. Someone outside the family doesn’t have that close, privileged access.

A possible fear of an adopted child might be that the adoption is not real, and they really aren’t a part of the family.  How do we know for sure that this adoption is valid? In verse 16 we see that the Holy Spirit confirms the validity of our adoption by the fruit He produces in us (Galatians 5:22-23), and the power He provides us with.

Not only have we been adopted, but we are also joint heirs with Jesus!  (vs 17). What exactly is a joint heir? A joint heir receives the exact same inheritance as the other person.  Whatever Jesus has through inheritance has become ours through the very same inheritance.  He is pleased to share His inheritance with us! Unlike Jewish law where the first-born son received the vast majority of the inheritance, Roman law divided the inheritance equally between the children.  The law protected what had been inherited. We are fellow heirs with Christ, and have access to God’s riches, including joy, love, and peace.

Another cause for rejoicing in our Scripture passage today is the promise that when we don’t know how, or what to pray for in a certain issue or need, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (vs 26-27). Many of us might, at one time or another, just not know what to say in our prayers, especially in a crisis time, or when our heart is so crushed. As a child of God, with the Holy Spirit indwelling us, He prays for us when we have no words.

When we don’t know how to pray, the Holy Spirit leads us to communicate in a new way.  He hears our inner cries, guides us by applying Scripture to our lives, and instructs us on how to do His will.  We should be daily so filled with the Spirit that He is praying through us when we pray. Our prayer will be according to God’s will, as it is guided by the Holy Spirit.  Even when we don’t know the right words to pray, the Holy Spirit prays with and for us, and God answers. No words are necessary, because the Father understands, and agrees with the Holy Spirit.

Joint heirs with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to intercede - what wonderful blessings to those who have become children of God!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Palm Trees And Cedars

Psalm 92

If you have ever looked around and wondered why many wicked and evil people seem to have no problems in their life and are prospering, while those who follow the Lord are struggling, you are in good company.  Many of the psalms address this, including our psalm today. As our psalmist draws closer to the Lord, He opens his eyes to see the reality of the way things truly are, not the way things look from our human perspective.

As our psalm opens, we are encouraged to give praise to the Lord, both in the morning and the evening (vs 1-2).  God wants us to walk in His presence and enjoy His company all the day long. Having a prayer and Bible time in the morning is good, the same with saying some prayers at bedtime.  How about all those hours in between? God wants our whole life to be in constant communion with Him, walking and talking with Him all the day through. One way to keep us walking with the Lord throughout each day is to regularly recall His provisions for us.  When we are in circumstances where there is seemingly no reason to give thanks we can remember His faithfulness (vs 1-5).

Our psalmist now recalls the question that so many believers have pondered, and that is why the wicked, those who oppose God and His ways, seem to prosper, while those who live righteously struggle so.  This world is not all there is, and the psalmist realizes this (vs 6-11). The wicked seem to be prospering and flourishing now, but their end is coming.  If they refuse to turn to the Lord, He will destroy them. It is not the Lord’s desire that anyone perish because they refuse to turn to Him.  He wishes all to be saved (II Peter 3:9). Unfortunately not everyone turns to the Lord Jesus for salvation. During this life their way may seem to prosper, but God has promised that wickedness will be destroyed.

In contrast, those who have turned to the Lord for salvation and who maintain a close relationship with Him will flourish.  Again, it may not appear so from the world’s perspective. As believers, though, we have the Holy Spirit indwelling us, and the Lord has promised to be with us through any trial. Though the world may batter the Christian, our end is the opposite of the wicked.

Our psalm today describes believers like two types of trees that were very familiar to those living the Holy Land, both at that time and today - the palm tree and the cedar tree (vs 12).  Trees generally live many years, and the palm tree is no exception. We’ve all seen palm trees, either actually or in photos, on sandy beaches along the oceanfront. They are able to stand against the ocean storms, including hurricanes of immense strength.  To flourish like a palm tree is to stand tall and live long. There are cedars in the Holy Land, and especially to the north in Lebanon, where they are the national tree. Cedars are solid, strong, and immovable. Believers, as well, should be upright, strong, and unmoved by the winds of circumstance.  These trees stand strong and steady, despite conditions around them. That’s the way we are to be for the Lord, palm trees and cedars, flourishing by the courts of God (vs 13).

Finally, as our psalmist closes up our passage, he urges his listeners to continue bearing fruit for God into old age (vs 14).  God wants us to be bearing fruit for Him as long as we live, regardless of our age. There is no retirement from serving the Lord.  Our type of service may vary and change with age, but there is still always something we can do for Him. As you read through the Bible, you see many servants of God working and serving Him well into their senior years - Moses, Abraham, and Caleb just to name a few.  None of them said it was time to quit because they were over 100! They didn’t go seeking out the nearest rocking chair!

In closing, don’t get discouraged when it looks like wicked people have it made. God will deal with them if they don’t repent. Stay true to Him, standing firm like a tree, bearing fruit to the end.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Heed God's Warnings

Joel 2:28-32

Our Scripture reading today comes from the Prophet Joel, and is one that is frequently the Old Testament passage churches read on the Day of Pentecost. The festival of Pentecost celebrates the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the first Christians. In a way this is the birthday of the Church. Immediately following this first outpouring of the Spirit, and the non-believing crowds started to take notice, Peter quoted this Old Testament prophecy to those wondering what was going on (Acts 2:16-21).  Prior to Pentecost the Holy Spirit had only come upon certain people at certain times. Now, however, from this day of Pentecost on forward, the Holy Spirit indwells every believer.

Yes, today all true believers have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. However not all believers allow the Holy Spirit to control, lead, and direct their lives.  As followers of the Lord Jesus, we need to permit Him to empower us by submitting to God and being obedient.  The more we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us, the more our lives align with Him and His Word. When we’ve been out in the hot sun all day, and come in for a break, do we only want a partial glass of our favorite, cold beverage?  No, I want the glass to be all the way full with nice, cold lemonade. Likewise, I want to be filled with the Holy Spirit each day. We need to be filled with the Spirit by allowing Him to work in and through our life each day.

As Joel’s prophecy continues, he speaks of the day of the Lord (vs. 31-32).  The day of the Lord here is one of judgment. As children we learn to dread being sent to the school principal’s office for punishment.  As adults, those we may be hauled in front of for punishment are more serious, e.g. police, judges, government officials. As dreaded as these may be, it is far more serious to come before the judgment throne of God!  As distressing as this may be, however, Joel gives us some very good news here!  We can be spared God’s judgment if we call upon Him for salvation. God’s intention is not to destroy, but to save.  We must, though, accept His salvation or we will perish with the unrepentant.

It is always wise to take heed to warnings.  Whenever I see a warning light flash on in my car, I had better be certain I pay attention to it or I might find myself beside the road with the car not running.  Failing to heed warning signs while hiking can be dangerous or possibly fatal. Only a fool fails to heed the warning signs when around high voltage electricity. God gives us warnings all throughout Scripture, and through His prophets and pastors.  Do we heed His warnings or ignore them? The folks in Hawaii right now really need to heed the warnings about the volcano that is erupting there. Ignore God’s warnings and your eternal destiny is at stake. He has promised, though, that whoever calls on Him will be saved (vs 32).

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Prayer Of Jesus

John 17:11-19

Do you sometimes feel out of place in this world?  Perhaps you feel as if you don’t belong. This shouldn’t be cause for worry, as Jesus said this would happen to those who follow Him.  As we read in our Scripture passage today, Jesus said the world would hate us because we follow Him (vs 14).

This passage is part of a larger prayer that Jesus prayed to God the Father.  It shows His heart of love for us. Jesus prayed specifically for the apostles, and for us believers today, as well.  Let’s take a look at some of the things He prayed for in this passage.

Jesus knew He would be leaving this world real soon.  In a matter of hours He would be executed by His enemies.  Though He would rise again three days later, a little over a month following that Jesus would leave earth and return to heaven.  He would be physically parted from His followers. Jesus and God the Father are always in perfect agreement and harmony. In verse 11 we read that He prayed for unity, harmony, and love between all of His followers.  Parents do not like to see their children, at any age, squabbling between each other. It breaks their heart if it is a serious rift. This is the same with God when He sees His children fighting.

All who come to the Lord for salvation are safe in Him, and will never be lost again (vs 12).  Once one is saved, they are safe.  We have Jesus’s word here. Jesus speaks of Judas being lost, but he was never truly saved to begin with. Being safe in Jesus is cause for joy! Jesus prays that we all will have His joy (vs 13). The key to having joy is living in close contact and communication with Jesus, who is the source of joy.

In verse 14 Jesus warns us that if we are following Him, the world is not going to be our friend, but will hate us.  It hated Jesus, and the closer we are to Him, the more it will hate us. Why does the world hate Christians? It is because our values differ from the world’s values.  We don’t cooperate with the world by joining in their sins. Our way of life stands in contrast to their immorality. They follow Satan, who is the enemy of Jesus and His followers.  Since Jesus said this would be the case, it should not be a surprise, nor should we be overly disturbed by it. The Apostle John remembered Jesus’s words here, and wrote the same in his first Epistle (I John 3:13), and he also warned his readers not to love or follow the world and the philosophy it espouses (I John 2:15-17).

Sometimes when troubles pile up and life seems so difficult, some Christians wish that God would have taken them to heaven right away when they were saved.  That is not God’s plan for His followers. Jesus prayed in verse 15 that while we remain in the world, God would keep us safe from our enemy, Satan. That should be a comforting hope for us.

As Jesus continues His prayer for us, He prays in verse 17 that God would sanctify us.  The word sanctify means to set apart for God’s purpose and use. Many households have special china to be used only for special occasions or company.  We have been set apart from the world for God’s special use. God’s Word, the Bible, is what keeps us sanctified and holy. The more we read, meditate, and obey the Scriptures, the more we can be used by God.

We remain in this world, even though it is hostile to us, for a specific use.  We are here to go out into this world, bringing God’s message (vs 18). Believers are to be Jesus’s witnesses to the lost.  We are to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Let’s let our Lord’s prayer for us be both a comfort and an encouragement to us, knowing He prayed for you and me today!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Eternal Life

I John 5:9-15

We like to believe that we can rely on the sworn testimonies given by witnesses in court.  However, there are some people who would lie under oath if they knew they could get away with it, and they felt it served their purposes.  It all depends upon the integrity of the witness. How about the witness of God? In our Scripture passage today from the first letter of the Apostle John, he gives us the witness, the testimony, of God regarding His Son.  Will we believe and accept it?

The Apostle John tells us very clearly in verse 11 what the testimony of God is - that He has given us eternal life, and that this life is in His Son.  Though many have taught that our life today is all there is, there is in fact a life beyond this one. There is either eternal life with God or eternal separation from Him in hell.  This is God’s testimony. He also states in this testimony that eternal life with Him is only through His Son, Jesus Christ. As we read, it does not say through His Son and any good works or goodness on our part.  Nor does it say through His Son and any other religious or spiritual leader. Eternal life is only available through God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Many people go through their life hoping and wishing they knew whether they had eternal life, whether they would “make it” into heaven.  The next two verses in our passage, verses 12-13, give believers assurance to know, really know for certain, that they have eternal life.  Verse 12 states quite clearly that if someone has the Son, has accepted God’s Son, Jesus Christ as Savior, they have eternal life. On the flip side, if one does not have the Son, Jesus Christ, they do not have eternal life.  There is no other way.

Satan often likes to torment new believers into doubting whether or not they have truly become a child of God.  He also goes after believers after they’ve committed some sin, and messed up, making them doubt their salvation.  John states here in verse 13 that we can know for sure. If we have the Son, we have eternal life. He has given us a “new birth” birth certificate here.

The remaining two verses in our passage can give us assurance that, now as believers, God will hear our prayers.  Our confidence in prayer is not in how earnestly or passionately we pray, not in how eloquent our words are, or in the length of our prayer.  Our confidence is in who we are praying to, and our relationship with Him.  Our confidence needs to be in God’s power, love, and wisdom.

Prayer is not demanding our will.  It is aligning our prayers to His will (vs 14-15).  “According to His will” - pray in accordance with what God would want, not what we would desire or insist that He do for us.  It depends on obedience to God’s Word and avoidance of deliberate sin. When a believer yields to Jesus they will discover the right prayer requests to pray, and the best possible answers.  God will hear us.

Have you ever been given directions to a specific location, but find yourself lost?  You are wandering around and wandering around but are not getting there. We have been given directions to eternal life through Jesus Christ. Many people are lost, and don’t know it or believe it. They think they are on the correct road, but are way off. People can also be lost as part of a large group. More people doesn’t make the way correct. We cannot trust feelings or hunches (Proverbs 14:12). We need help from Someone else.

God has provided that way in our Scripture passage today.  Do you trust His testimony and witness? It is the witness of Almighty God. It is reliable. Trust His Word today and receive eternal life in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Loaded With Blessings

Psalm 68

It’s a day of national celebration and everyone is in the streets rejoicing.  There are shouts of joy, and even dancing. This is the scenario for our Psalm today, which was written by King David.  The Ark of the Covenant had been captured by the Philistines and held captive. King David had recaptured it, and now he was returning the Ark to Jerusalem amid great rejoicing (II Samuel 6:12-19). Throughout this psalm, David gives many reasons to praise God, and we can look at a few of them here.

God is victorious over all of His enemies.  When the Ark was captured, the people of God may have thought that was it, all hope was gone, and that God was defeated.  That could not be farther from the truth. God can never be defeated!  Satan and his minions will never have the victory.  Verse one is reminiscent of what Moses said when the Ark of the Covenant was being lifted and moved to a new location during the wilderness wandering (Numbers 10:35-36). There will soon come a day when all of God’s enemies will flee and scatter before Him when He comes to bring judgment to this world.

Another thing that David praises God for, and which many can relate to, is that the Lord God cares for the most vulnerable in society, the fatherless and widows (vs. 5).  Many people have grown up without a father, perhaps because he died or he walked out on the family. Maybe someone’s father was physically there, but he never showed love or cared for his family.  God is there to be a Father to the fatherless. He also especially cares for those whose husbands have died or walked out on them, as well. Everyone needs God’s protecting love!

In verse 10 we read that God provides for the poor, who are also among the most vulnerable in society.  Jesus knows what we need, and when we will need it. He knows our needs long before we’ll even need them, and has provided for it.  Jesus is equipped to take us through any emergency we will ever face.

On the cross of Calvary, Jesus defeated two of mankind’s biggest enemies, enemies that Satan has used against us since man was sent out of the Garden of Eden.  Salvation through Jesus Christ sets us free from the enemies of sin and death (vs. 20-21). Those who refuse to trust Jesus as their Savior will be crushed by sin and death.

Verse 18 is also quoted in Ephesians 4:8.  This verse in Ephesians celebrates the ascended Christ’s victory over evil.  By trusting in Jesus, we can overcome evil as well.

Who would not want to exchange our load and burden of trials, worries and troubles for a load of blessings and benefits?  God has promised to take and carry all of our burdens if we only cast them on Him (I Peter 5:7; Matthew 11:28-30). In verse 19 of our Psalm, we read that our God pours blessings on us.  He loads them, heaps them on us. Sometimes, though, we are just too encumbered with our worries and problems to notice those benefits that God has poured on us. Let’s give Jesus our burdens, and start praising Him for our benefits!

Just like a rooster who has been through a huge storm, seemingly beaten, feathers missing, the hen house and yard destroyed, will struggle to climb the fence and crow to announce a new day, we need to continue to give God praise, even in the storm.  The rooster knows that the new dawn brings new blessings and benefits. If a rooster knows that, we should remember that as well.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Seeking God's Guidance

Acts 1:15-26

At one time or another in our lives we are likely going to have to make some important decisions.  We have to decide which university to attend, or what job to apply for. We have to make decisions about who to marry or not marry, about where to live, etc.  How do we go about making these decisions? Many people make a list of pros and cons. Often we ask others’ advice and thoughts on the matter. As we open the Book of Acts today we have the disciples gathered together, and preparing to make an important decision.

Several verses earlier Jesus had ascended into heaven, and His parting words to the disciples were that they wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit. As they gathered together, praying and waiting, the original chosen apostles must have noticed a glaring absence. Jesus had chosen twelve of them. Now there was eleven. Judas Iscariot had turned traitor and defected, betraying Jesus the Savior to the Jewish leaders. Peter saw this as a fulfillment of prophecy (vs. 16-20), and he knew that another man was to be selected to take the vacant spot left by the traitor, Judas.

This was an important decision, and the eleven didn’t want to pick just anyone to fill this significant spot.  There were two important criteria that any candidate for the office had to fulfill. One was that whoever was selected had to have been with the group since the very start.  The other was that he had to have witnessed the resurrection and seen the risen Savior (vs. 21-22).

How did they go about selecting from the candidates?  The most important thing they did was to pray for God’s guidance (vs 24-25). That is something we all should do before any important decisions. Prior to Pentecost the Holy Spirit did not permanently indwell the believers.  Just as was often done in the Old Testament, in order to know God’s direction, they cast lots, which instructed them to choose Matthias (vs. 26). Today we have the Holy Spirit indwelling us, and when we earnestly pray, we can have His direction.  After this occurrence there is no more mention of casting of lots in Scripture. We have God’s guidance and leading available for any decisions we need to make, and should always pray for His help.

What went wrong with Judas?  He was with the other apostles, sitting with Jesus, hearing the same words, the same lessons.  Judas never applied the messages he heard to his own heart and life. He was never saved. He had never really repented.  When Judas heard the Lord’s own words and did not accept them, he left his heart opened to Satan to move in and do his evil work. Judas rejected Jesus’s mercy too many times, and finally he took his own life. Matthew’s Gospel says Judas hung himself (Matthew 27:5).  This seeming contradiction with verse 18 can be explained in that the hanging rope or the tree branch broke after Judas hung himself, and that his dead, partially decomposing body fell on the rocks below, bursting open.

There are some who go to church every week, sing in the choir, or serve on church committees, and are not saved.  They hear the Gospel every week, but their ears and heart are closed. There are those each week who play at being Christian, just as Judas played at being a disciple.  They aren’t easy to detect, just as Judas wasn’t. We need to pray they turn from their ways before it’s too late, like it became for Judas.

Prayer is the lesson here.  Fervent prayer for God’s guidance and leading in making serious decisions.  Also prayer for those who masquerade as Christians, but who are fooling both others and themselves.

Friday, May 11, 2018

What A Friend We Have In Jesus

John 15:9-17

Friends - we all want to have some.  This world, and our life, is a very lonely place without any friends.  The desire for friends starts early, as one of the first thing most children do when they begin school is search out friends, particularly a best friend.  There are many people, though, who go through life without many, sometimes even any, friends. Sadly, this is sometimes even the case with Christians. Our Scripture passage today has good news for believers who feel alone and without friends.  Let’s take a look.

Our verses today come from the talk that Jesus had with His eleven apostles after the Last Supper (Judas having departed already to betray Him).  Right in the middle of His discourse Jesus speaks the heart-warming message to us, “I have called you friends” (vs. 15). Jesus is my friend! Imagine that!  The Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, the Creator and Master of the Universe wants to be my friend!

What kind of friend is Jesus?  Many of us have had friends that have failed us, or turned their back on us when we most needed them. Our friends may often be unavailable to us when we so desperately need someone. That is never the case with Jesus.  He is always there for us, just a prayer away.  He will never turn His back on us, but will stick closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).  He knows everything about us, the good, the bad, the ugly, and still loves us and wants to be our friend.   Jesus loved us so much that He laid down His life for us (vs. 13).

How do we become a friend of Jesus?  First, you must have accepted Him as your Lord and Savior.  Then, as we read in verse 14, Jesus says that we are His friends if we do whatever He commands. Obedience to God is important. Many people today think we can act any way we want and do anything we wish, that it’s all okay because Jesus is my buddy.  That’s not what Jesus said. He said we are His friend if we do what He says. Jesus is our Lord and Master, and could rightly call us His servants (vs. 15).  However, Jesus chooses to call us His friends. Because He is Lord and Master we owe Him total obedience.

Why did Jesus choose us to be His friends?  Jesus not only saved us, but He wants us to play an important part in His Kingdom (vs. 16). He created us for a purpose and wants us to fulfill that (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus wants us to bear fruit for Him.  He wishes us to spread the Gospel and make disciples. That is why He chose us.

Our passage has another word of comfort for us.  Sometimes life can beat us down so much, and everything looks gray, or even black. Jesus has promised His children His joy (vs. 11). Believers who are in obedience to God will experience the same joy Jesus did.  God’s joy transcends circumstances. He walks with us through trials, and leaning on Him, we won’t sink into despair. A lack of joy in a Christian’s life can often be traced to a lack of devotional time in God’s Word.  God’s joy will stay with us as we stay in His Word.

Friendship with God and His abiding joy, two wonderful blessings for the children of God.  One of my favorite hymns, and perhaps one of yours as well, goes “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!  What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!” May each of us have His joy and enjoy His friendship each day.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Love of God

Sometimes God puts certain people into our lives to grow our faith (Proverbs 27:17).  Everything in our lives can be used by God for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28).  Every relationship is an opportunity to grow as believers, and for God to express his love (vs. 20).

As we become more like Christ, we should reflect his love in our behavior and attitude.  If we are not becoming more loving, we are falling short in our efforts to become more like Him, and need to make corrections (vs. 8). Are we neglecting our relationship with God, and living in disobedience?

God is love, but not all love is God.  The world has turned this around and contaminated our understanding of love.  Popular culture usually portrays love a purely an emotional feeling. In reality, love is a choice and an action. The world has told people that the notion of love portrayed in popular culture is what makes people feel good. People sacrifice moral principles and other’s rights in order to obtain that “love”.  That is selfishness, not love. Real love is from God and is holy, just, and perfect. Those who know Him will love like Him. God is the source of our love, Jesus is our example of love, and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to love. He helps us become more like Jesus (vs. 7-8).

Nothing that is evil or sinful can exist in God’s presence.  He cannot overlook, condone, or excuse sin. God’s love does not make him morally lax.  Those who have trusted Jesus do not have to bear the penalty of their sins. They are acquitted (vs. 10).

It’s easy to say that we love God, when it doesn’t cost us much.  The test is how we treat those we come in contact with every day, such as our families, co-workers, and neighbors (vs. 20-21).  Those who are saved receive God’s nature. Love is a characteristic of God. His children will also reflect that love (vs. 7). A Christian’s love must be as self-sacrificing as God’s is (vs. 11).  The only demonstration of God’s love in this age is through the Church and His children, who comprise the Church. Love originates with God, was manifested in Jesus, and is to be demonstrated today by his people (vs. 12).

God’s very nature is love and all love originates in God (vs. 16). We should show this love to others, both in word and deed (vs. 11).  His love for us is strong and true. He will never abandon us (vs. 9-10).

Monday, May 7, 2018

One Whom We Can Trust

Psalm 33

It is safe to say that we all like to be told the truth and want to trust the word and integrity of the people we are dealing with.  I once knew someone who constantly lied to everyone they came in contact with. No one could trust whether what they were saying was the truth or not.  Sometimes it was, but quite often their words were cleverly constructed lies. Very quickly after meeting them, most people knew that they were not someone who could be trusted for anything.  There is One, though, who we can trust implicitly, and know that every word He speaks is the absolute truth, and that is the Lord God.

Our Scripture passage today is Psalm 33, and one of its key verses, verse 4, lets us know that God’s Word is both right and true.  All of God’s Word, the Bible, is true. It is reliable. God does not lie (Numbers 23:19). His Word does not change. Unlike many people that we might know, God does not say one thing one day, and then something totally different another day.  Another thing that we can rely on is that God never goes back on or forgets a promise. Many of us might know someone whose promises mean nothing, as they rarely keep their word to us. However, when God makes a promise to us, we can trust that He will keep His Word to us.

When we have trouble believing a person’s word, it is usually because we have doubts about how reliable they have been in the past with telling the truth.  We doubt their character and integrity. When we struggle to believe that God’s Word is true, we are doubting His character. God has promised to take care of us and meet all of our needs (Philippians 4:19).  He promised to never leave us (Hebrews 13:5). There are countless other equally precious promises throughout the Bible. Do we fully believe and trust them? When we question God’s Word or His goodness, we are agreeing with Satan, who is the father of lies (John 8:44).

We read in verses 6 - 9 that when God speaks a word, the word that He says comes to life. God spoke and all of creation came into being. He didn’t have to spend eons of time pouring over blueprints. Instead He spoke, and it came into being. The author of Hebrews says that Jesus upholds all of creation by the Word of His power (Hebrews 1:3).  Not only that, but God’s Word also has resurrection power, as it can bring to life those who are dead in sin. A lost man or woman who is dead in their sins, living in the control of the kingdom of darkness, has to just open, read, and believe God’s Word, call upon Jesus, and be given new life.

Another theme in this psalm is that of the contrast between man’s plans, which are futile at best, and God’s sovereign plans (vs. 11). There is nothing we can plan that can override what God has planned. No situation or person, nor anything in the past, present or future are hidden from Him (vs. 13 - 15).

In this often scary world, with political conflicts and rumors of war just about every day, where and to whom can we turn to for help?  As we read in this psalm, God rules over every nation on earth (vs. 16 - 17). We should not trust in or rely on any country’s military strength to help us.  There is no army, nor any country’s military equipment and power that can help us. Our hope and trust should only be in God. He alone is our help and shield (vs. 20).  We can safely trust God’s power and His love for us, and we can trust and rely upon His Word to us.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Living Up To The Name

Acts 11:19-30

Many people grow up hearing their parents admonitions to not do anything to disgrace the family name, or to live up to the honor of their family name. “Remember, you’re a ---- . Live up to that name!” Perhaps the person came from a long line of great attorneys or doctors. In the U.S. there have been a couple of prominent political families, and in some other countries there are royal families and people of noble lineage.  No one wants to see a family member bring disgrace to the family name, rather we like to see behavior that honors our family. The same is true with the Christian family. In our passage today from the Book of Acts we read of the first time believers and followers of Jesus were called Christians, as people were taking note of their behavior and conduct.

As our passage begins we see that the followers of Jesus had been scattered throughout the eastern Mediterranean region following the martyrdom of Stephen (vs. 19).  Initially they only shared the Gospel to other Jewish people. However, following the message that the Lord gave Peter, that the Gospel was also meant to be given to the Gentiles as well (Acts 10), believers started sharing the Gospel with their Greek and other Gentile neighbors (vs. 20-21). After the church leaders had accepted Peter’s testimony about God opening the door for Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus, the church growth in Gentile areas started expanding. The city of Antioch was one such area that saw much growth in Gentile conversion.

The ancient city of Antioch, which today is in the farthest southeast corner of Turkey, was a very large metropolitan area.  It was the third largest city in the whole Roman Empire. The first being Rome, and then second was Alexandria, along the northern coast of Egypt. The third was Antioch, which we read about in this Scripture passage. It was also a major pagan city, with many pagan temples and shrines. Christian believers, though, were starting to make an impact in this metropolitan area by their lives and witness.  The church in Antioch soon became the second most important one, following Jerusalem, and played an important role in the very early church at the time.

It was here in Antioch that believers and followers of Jesus were first given the name Christian.  The name implies “little Christs” or “Christ-ones”. They were called this because of all they had in common with Jesus Christ.  Other people, both Jews and Gentiles who were not believers, when looking at these followers of Jesus, could see His likeness in them.  By their life and behavior, Jesus’s message was so evident that people could say they were just like Him. The term was sometimes also used derisively, implying belonging to Christ, such as His slave.  Those believers took that as a badge of honor.

When people see us, do they think we look and/or act just like one of our parents, or perhaps a grandparent?  We may have our mother’s eyes or our father’s height. Sadly we may have our grandfather’s temper, or maybe our grandmother’s weight problem.  We may also have a grandparent’s strong work ethic or honesty. When people look at us and say that we sure are just like our family, we hopefully want them to be saying positive things, not that we are a thief and a liar, just like the rest of the family.

As believers we are part of Jesus Christ’s family, and we bear His Name - Christian.  When others see us, do they say we look and act like part of that family? Do we show Jesus’s love, and pattern our life after His teachings?  Do we follow and obey God’s Word, just as He did? These early believers in Antioch did, so much so that a new word was invented - Christian, one who acts just like Jesus Christ. People knew in Antioch that these people belonged to Him.

If being a believer in Jesus was suddenly illegal in my community, would there be enough evidence in my life to convict me?  Could someone point me out and say, “Yes, she’s a Christian! She belongs to Him!” Or do I blend in with the rest of the world?  Those in Antioch were known, far and wide, as being Christians, followers of Jesus. Are we living up to the Name?

Friday, May 4, 2018

Words Of Promise And Challenge

John 14:15-21

A word of promise and comfort, and a word of challenge.  That is what our passage of Scripture for today gives. Our verses are contained in the great discourse that Jesus gave to His disciples in the upper room right after the Last Supper.  The words of promise that Jesus told the eleven remaining apostles (Judas having already departed to betray Jesus), was that He would be sending the Holy Spirit to them (vs. 16-18). The challenge Jesus also gives is that if we love Him we will keep His commandments (vs. 15, 21).

Let’s start by looking at the promise Jesus has given in our passage. Jesus had been telling the disciples that He would be leaving them, not only when He would be taken and executed, but also after His resurrection when He would return to heaven.  As this was slowly beginning to sink in, Jesus gives them words of comfort by promising to send the Holy Spirit to them, as a Helper, a Comforter, One who is called alongside to aid and assist.  The Holy Spirit is God’s presence within us, helping us to live as God wants. He came down upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, described in Acts 2:1-4, and been with every believer from that day forward.  If we are believers the Holy Spirit is continually with us, actually indwelling us, and we can appropriate His power by faith each day.

When the word “another” is used in verse 16, it means someone just like Jesus, who will take His place and do His work.  The Holy Spirit is equally as divine as Jesus and the Father are. He is also the source of all truth, and He communicates that truth to His own, i.e. all believers (vs. 17).

Throughout this discourse Jesus gives us some truths about the Holy Spirit. First, He will be with believers forever (14:6). He will never leave us, as we also read in Hebrews 13:5.  Next, the world, the unsaved, cannot receive the Holy Spirit, but He lives with and in us believers (14:17).  All believers have the Holy Spirit indwelling them. Thirdly, the Holy Spirit teaches us and reminds us of Jesus’s words (14:26; 15:26).  Next, He convicts us of sin, shows God’s righteousness, and announces His judgment (16:8). Another truth about the Holy Spirit is that He also guides us into truth (16:13), and He brings glory to Christ (16:14).

After one has accepted Jesus as their Savior, and has received the Holy Spirit, we have several things that the lost, unsaved world does not have.  One is that we now have a supernatural Helper (vs. 16-17). We receive eternal life in heaven, which the lost do not have (vs. 19). We now have a union with God (vs. 20-25).  We also now have a divine Teacher through the Holy Spirit, which the world does not have (vs. 26). And finally, all believers, who now also have the Holy Spirit, can have divine peace, no matter what circumstances they are going through (vs. 27).

The second message that Jesus gave us in this passage is a challenge. He told His disciples that night after the Last Supper that if we truly love Him then we will keep His commandments (vs. 15, 21).  We cannot truly love God but live in disobedience to Him. Obedience honors God. It will bring a life that pleases Him. Obedience brings peace.  It brings joy in serving God. Obedience also brings us comfort in our sufferings, relief from guilt, and assurance of God’s blessings.

Obedience is a sign of genuine love for God.  Love equals obedience. We cannot truly love God, but be disobedient to His Word, the Bible. Love for God is shown by our commitment and conduct. If we love God, prove it by doing what He says.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

I John 3:14-24

“Actions speak louder than words” is a saying that most people know, and would probably agree with.  That saying is not actually in the Bible, but in our passage from the Apostle John’s first letter we see that thought spelled out. One theme that John emphasizes in this letter is that of loving our Christian brothers and sisters. Let’s look at our passage here together.

When we get saved, we have passed from death into life (vs. 14). Unless the Lord comes, we will all die a physical death. The lost, however, will also die a spiritual death whereas believers will have eternal life in heaven.  We also turn from hate to love. If we have no love we are spiritually dead. An outward compliance to love others is not enough. Love must be from the heart, otherwise bitterness to others can begin to take root (Hebrews 12:15).  Left unchecked bitterness can turn to hate (vs. 15). Jesus stated that one who is angry with his brother without a cause has murdered them in their heart (Matthew 5:21-22). Allowing ourselves to hate someone is the same as murdering them.  One sign of an unsaved person is their lack of love, compassion, or caring for other people. They will show indifference to other Christian’s needs.

Real love is an action, not a feeling (vs. 16-18).  So many people are quick to say “I love you” to others, but then where are their actions to back up the words? We see this in families where one spouse will frequently say those words to the other, but their actions quickly show the lie.  The same with a parent to child. Saying “I love you” means nothing if there are no actions to back up those words. We also see this in our own Christian communities.  We shake hands and greet each other with hugs on Sunday mornings, but do we care about, or even bother to know about, the struggles someone may be going through in our church family?  It’s not enough to say the words. We must follow up with actions. James also speaks of this in his epistle (James 2:14-17). A genuine Christian will show his love in sacrificial giving to other Christian’s needs, helping others.  If not, is God’s love present?

There are three benefits of love for a true Christian.  One is that they will have assurance of salvation (vs. 19).   They will have answered prayer (vs. 22). Having love for the brethren shows that we are submitting to God.  There will also be the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit (vs. 23-24).

God knows our heart (vs. 20).  We cannot hide anything from Him. If we’ve been hiding our sins from God, the Holy Spirit will bring them to light.  We need to keep our conscience sensitive to His moving. No Christian is perfect or sinless, and we don’t always act in love towards our Christian brothers and sisters.  Sometimes, because of past sins and failures, our consciences will accuse and condemn us, even after we’ve repented and confessed. Satan loves to accuse a Christian, saying that they are no longer truly saved.  God knows those who are truly His. He knows everything about us, and is greater than our self-condemnation (vs. 20-21). God knows our motives as well as our actions. His assurance is stronger than an accusing conscience.  If we are in Christ, He won’t condemn us (Romans 8:1). We need, though, to keep our consciences clear when we pray (vs. 21-22).

As the Apostle John wraps up this passage he urges the readers to believe on the Name of Jesus (vs. 23-24).  “Believing on the Name” means to pattern our life after Jesus’s life, and to become more like Him by uniting ourselves with Him.  John urges us to believe in Christ, love the brethren, and to live morally upright lives. By following this pattern we can be sure that our actions will be just as vocal as our words are, and the two will line up with each other.