Monday, July 30, 2018

God Moves In Mighty Ways

Psalm 114

When God does something wonderful and mighty in our life we want to shout for joy.  We might be rejoicing so much that we feel that all of nature is rejoicing with us too.  In our Psalm reading for today the author remembers one of God’s most mighty miracles of deliverance, and how, not only did the people rejoice, but nature did as well.

The glorious event that the psalmist is recounting here is God’s deliverance of His people from their captivity in Egypt.  They had been slaves of the Egyptians for several hundred years. Then, through God’s powerful hand, He brought them forth out of bondage (Exodus 13:3).  Then, as the people were making their escape, they come upon a barrier, the Red Sea. This is no problem for God, as He divides the water to the right and left, allowing the people to walk across on dry ground (Exodus 14:21-22).  Nature obeys when the Creator speaks.

Shortly afterwards God leads them to the base of Mt. Sinai, where He gives Moses the Law, another momentous event for the people. When the Lord God came down to deliver His Word to Moses, the mountain quaked or trembled at His presence (Exodus 19:18-19). Several times during the wilderness wanderings God miraculously provided the people with water from a rock (Exodus 17:3-7; Numbers 20:11).  There was also a second time where God parted the waters for His people to pass over, and this time it was at the Jordan River. Forty years after their deliverance from Egypt, the people were on the banks of the Jordan, ready to enter the Promised Land. God provided another miracle by parting the waters of the river (Joshua 3:1-17).

Nature was going against the natural order at the command of God, in response to His Word.  The psalmist spoke out and asked the waters of the sea and river why they acted as they did.  He asked the mountains why they moved. It was a rhetorical question, as he knew the response.  They moved as they did both in obedience to God’s command, and also they were leaping for joy in response to His great power and glory.  The psalmist knew that even the most fixed of geographic features cannot resist God’s power and will. Even with all of our scientific advances, we cannot control nature.  Only God can do that. From the mountains to the oceans, all is in His hands. Their majesty is a tribute to His glory and power.

What should our response be when God moves in a mighty way in our life, and we see His majesty displayed in nature?  Our psalmist today advises us to not only give Him praise, but to also tremble (vs 7). We should tremble, or show a holy fear before God, both because of the overwhelming glory of His presence, and because of ours and all of mankind’s sinfulness.  For born-again believers, there is also joy in His presence. Just as all of nature does, we should fall before Him in adoration and worship.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Elijah And Elisha

II Kings 2:1-15

After Jesus, I would have to say that Elijah is my favorite person of the Bible. He faithfully preached and served the Lord in the northern Kingdom of Israel during a time of great apostasy, where the overwhelming majority of the people actively worshipped Baal and other pagan gods.  God’s answer to Elijah’s prayer in opposition to the pagan priests on Mt. Carmel is one of the most exciting and victorious passages in Scripture. In our passage today we will read of God taking Elijah bodily to heaven.

Elijah knew that his time here on earth was short, so he and his protege, Elisha, began to journey towards the Jordan River.  As they traveled they went from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho (vs 1-6). Along the way Elijah tried to get Elisha to stay behind so he could make this final journey alone.  Elisha, however, knew that Elijah would be taken and he insisted on accompanying him.

At both Bethel and Jericho there were gatherings of the “sons of the prophets”. The sons of the prophets were a group of true servants and ministers of Yahweh, who resided in both of these cities.  This association of prophets met, and possibly lived, together for study, encouragement, and service, possibly like an early type of school or seminary.  They had been in existence since the days of Samuel, several hundred years earlier. These groups of prophets helped to stem the tide of complete moral and spiritual decay in the nation of Israel.  It was through their ministry, along with that of Elijah and Elisha, that there were at least 7,000 people in the nation who had not succumbed to worshipping pagan idols (I Kings 19:18).

The sons of the prophets also knew that Elijah would be taken by God, and wanted to be sure that Elisha knew.  Elisha knew, and he wasn’t going to be discouraged. When they reach the Jordan River they knew this was where Elijah’s journey would end.  His ministry would end on the east bank of the Jordan River, opposite Jericho, near where Moses’s ministry also had ended.

In their last moments together Elijah asked Elisha if there was any final request he had (vs 9).  Elisha answered boldly. He didn’t hold back when possibly one of the greatest men of God ever asked if he could do a favor. Elisha requested that a double portion of the Holy Spirit that had been on Elijah come upon him. During the days of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit only came upon believers temporarily.  It wasn’t until the day of Pentecost, after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension, that the Holy Spirit would permanently indwell believers.

Elisha was asking to be Elijah’s spiritual heir and successor.  He wanted to continue his work. Elisha, throughout his time with his mentor, had come to know the Lord’s power.  He wanted to do big things for God. Elisha was willing to be God’s prophet, no matter the cost. Many times throughout Elijah’s ministry his life was threatened, and he had to run.  What mighty things could God do through us if we would only ask Him for His power to work in us?

Elijah was taken up bodily into heaven without dying.  A flaming chariot came and caught him up, taking him to heaven in a whirlwind (vs 11).  There has been only one other person to whom God granted the privilege of going to heaven without dying, and that was Enoch, several generations after Adam and before Noah (Genesis 5:21-24).

In answer to Elisha’s request, Elijah told him that if he witnessed his transport to heaven, his request would be granted.  It was not Elijah’s decision. Only God could grant that. He did grant Elisha’s request because his motives were pure. He didn’t want to be better or more powerful than his mentor.  He wanted to accomplish more for God.

Elisha saw the chariot catch Elijah up, and also received his mantle (vs 12-13). The mantle or cloak was a symbol of his authority as a prophet, and since he now had Elijah’s, it showed that he was his legitimate successor.  Let’s go forth today, seeking God’s power, desiring to do big things for Him, as Elisha desired!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Obedience In Spite Of The Impossible

Mark 6:30-44

The last several weeks had been very busy for Jesus and His disciples.  Jesus had come to His hometown of Nazareth to preach, only to be rejected by those He grew up with.  His disciples had gone out for several weeks on a preaching mission around Galilee. Then they all had to deal with the emotional blow from hearing of the arrest and execution of John the Baptist.

Running at full speed with no break is physically and emotionally exhausting. Jesus knew that they all needed a break, and He instructed the group to get away from the crowds (vs 30-32).  The crowds kept following them, though, and their break quickly ended. When people come to us with needs, how do we react?  At first we are probably happy to help. However if it goes on, we may get irritated, and wish they’d go away. When Jesus looked out at the people what did He see?  He saw people who were like sheep without a shepherd, and He had compassion on them (vs 34).

Compassion is having sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others.  Sheep are easily scattered. Without a shepherd they are in grave danger. These people who were coming to Jesus then, as well as people today, were spiritually helpless and starving.  Without Jesus Christ in one’s life, people are lacking any spiritual guidance and protection that only He can give. Without the Good Shepherd people, like sheep, wander thru life aimlessly.  Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit they are exposed to the perils of sin and spiritual destruction. Jesus is the One to teach mankind what we need to know, and to keep us from straying from God.

After spending a full day teaching the crowds, and meeting their spiritual needs, the Lord sought to meet their physical needs as well. The crowd had gone all day with nothing to eat, and now it was late in the afternoon. The disciples idea was for them to all head home, and they could get food on the way (vs 35-36).  Jesus had other plans. “You feed them.”, He told them. What?! There were at least 5,000 men there, and that wasn’t including any women or children! To provide enough food for a crowd that size the disciples reasoned it would take 200 denarii to provide just a small amount of food for everyone (vs 37).  A denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer. 200 denarii would be about 8 months of salary. As they wondered aloud, how were they going to provide that amount of food?

Jesus then speaks another puzzling word to the Twelve.  He asks them how much food they have with them. They must have wondered to themselves what good that would do.  Food for twelve or thirteen when they needed to feed multiple thousands. They didn’t even have enough food for themselves, as they only had five small loaves and two fish (vs 38).  The disciples still did not realize that Jesus could provide for them. They were so concerned with the immensity of the task, they did not see what was possible with God. They obeyed the Lord, and He performed one of the most well-known miracles of the Gospels  (vs 39-44).

What is our response when we, as believers, are given an impossible task?  It seemed impossible with human eyes, but all things are possible with God.  The disciples did what they could, which was to gather together the available food, and then organize the people into groups.  Prayer was then made by the Lord Jesus to the Father, and He answered by multiplying the loaves and fishes to feed the multitude.  An impossible problem was answered by God performing an impossible miracle when they looked to Him for help and an answer.

That is all Jesus asks.  Look to Him for help. We do what we are capable of doing, then go to Him in prayer, and He will do the rest, even if it is providing an impossible miracle.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Part Of The Body Of Christ

Ephesians 2:11-22

Have you ever felt left out of a group, made to feel like you don’t belong, and are not welcomed?  Children in school and around the neighborhood sometimes make clubs, where some are allowed in and others are kept out. Though it isn’t as common today as it used to be, adults sometimes do the same thing. Hurt feelings and anger can follow.  Our churches should never be a place where one feels less than welcome because of their background.

In our passages today, Paul is is addressing converted Gentiles in Ephesus. These people had recently been followers of pagan gods, or were without any real faith at all.  The true God was completely foreign to them, and they were seemingly without hope and on the road to damnation.

However, the message of Christ had been preached to them, and they accepted. They were now part of the Body of Christ. The barrier that had kept most Gentiles from coming to a belief in the true God had been broken down, and Gentiles were converting in significant numbers. Though they came from a background completely void of any belief in the one true God, they no longer were to be considered outsiders.  They should no longer be looked at as the feared and despised others. They were now part of the household of God.

The same is true for those who convert today from a non-Christian background. Those who were raised as a Christian or are from a Christian background should not look at them as what they were, or as less of a Christian.  Those who converted from a non-Christian faith or background should not look at themselves in that manner either. Once one is a part of the body of Christ, their old self is dead, and is no longer seen by God. We should have the same mindset as well.

Sin has separated everyone from God, regardless of their race or background. In Jesus the Law was fulfilled and our sins were forgiven (vs 14-16). Those who believe in Jesus have been reconciled to the Father and grafted into the covenant He made.  Before we were saved we were spiritually dead in sin, and could not have fellowship with God. When we received Jesus as Savior, we could then come to the Father anytime (vs 18).  Jesus’s sacrifice on Calvary procured that for us.

Jesus has offered salvation to everyone.  He has broken down the wall of prejudice, and reconciles all believers to God, unifying us in one body. Through Jesus we all have access to the Father. We are no longer foreigners or aliens to God.

Let us not be proud of our own upbringing, for we are all sinners. If we have accepted Christ, we are saved by grace through His death on the cross. No one is saved or damned as a result of their heritage. There are no strangers, foreigners, or second-class citizens in God’s kingdom. Redeemed sinners all become members of God’s family.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Forsaken By God

Psalm 22

Forsaken.  It is one of the saddest and most depressing words ever! A wife or husband is left forsaken when their spouse walks out on them.  The little baby left forsaken, wrapped in a blanket on the steps of a church.  The elderly parent, left all alone as their children and grandchildren have forgotten them. It is terrible to be forsaken.

Our psalm today, written by King David, speaks about feeling forsaken.  David spent many years running from the murderous wrath of King Saul. He knew what it was like to feel alone and friendless.  Though David had a deep and personal faith in God, at times he felt as though God, too, had forsaken him. This psalm, probably written on one of the most discouraging days of his life, was also one of the most prophetic psalms, pointing directly to the suffering that our Savior, the Lord Jesus would go through for us.

During the worst days of our life, when the spouse and children are gone, when our friends are nowhere to be found, and even the church is a lonely place, we are not truly alone.  God has never truly forsaken one of His children (Hebrews 13:5). It may feel like it on those dark days, but He is always there, just as the sun is still there during the storm, always shining behind the clouds.

There was a day, though, when God did turn His back on, and close His ears to the cries of someone, and that was to His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus sacrificed Himself for our salvation, He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world. Every dirty, nasty sin ever committed was laid upon Him. The pure and holy God could not look upon sin, and thus had to turn His back on His beloved Son during those hours He hung upon the cross at Calvary. As Jesus hung, nailed to the cross, with all of our sins upon Him, He cried out, quoting verse 1 of this psalm (Mark 15:34).  Jesus was sinless, yet He took upon Himself the sin of the whole world (II Corinthians 5:21). He experienced the full penalty of all of our sins, including the separation that sin causes between man and God. Being separated from His heavenly Father was the heaviest weight Jesus bore for us!

Being forsaken is a terrible feeling, and being humiliated and scorned is not pleasant, either.  None of us like the shame and embarrassment of being publicly mocked. In verses 6 thru 8 we read where David’s enemies were mocking him when he was down, and again, this was a prophecy of the events of Good Friday.  As Jesus hung on the cross, the Pharisees, chief priests, and other religious leaders publicly mocked and derided their Messiah (Matthew 27:41-43). When we feel humiliated by people who look down on us, remember that Jesus went through the same thing (Hebrews 4:14-15).

Verses 14 thru 17 are further prophetic verses describing the crucifixion and physical suffering that Jesus went through for our sins.  In verse 18 we read of the further humiliation and indignity Jesus endured by having His clothes taken from Him and given to His executioners.  In times of despair and feelings of abandonment, in our times in the darkest of night, God is always there for us because of what Jesus went through.  When we feel like less than a worm (vs 6), know that Jesus did, too. God’s love and concern for us goes back to even before we were born (vs 9-10).

As children of God, bought with the shed Blood of His Son, we have a very real responsibility to tell the next generation about Jesus and His salvation message (vs 30-31).  As David proclaims, we can trust in Him and be delivered. Because of Jesus, we are never forsaken!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Return To Me

Isaiah 57:14-21

“Return to me!”  That’s a plea we might hear from a husband or wife to their estranged spouse, or a parent to their child.  In today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah we read God’s urgent call to His people to stop their backsliding and return to Him.  All of mankind is separated from God because of sin, and many of the people who have come to God for salvation have since drifted away from Him.  To both groups God calls out to return to Him.

What are the barriers keeping people from returning to God, or coming to Him in the first place?  In verse 14, He says to us to remove the stumbling blocks out of the way of the people. One barrier might be fear, the fear of punishment for one’s sins.  They might not know or believe that when we come to God for salvation, He forgives our sins and buries them in the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). Another barrier is pride.  Pride will always keep a person from God. Sometimes He will bring some events into a person’s life to humble them, and bring them to their knees before they will turn to them.  Unfortunately that doesn’t even always work. A third stumbling block to people coming to God is other people. Are we being a barrier to people finding God? Do we have a superior, haughty attitude, ready to pick up a stone and cast it towards “those sinners”?  Do we say one thing, but behave the other way? Are our churches friendly and welcoming to everyone, regardless of their race or economic background? God says to get those stumbling blocks out of the way!

Though God is the High King of Heaven, the Creator of the universe, and all-holy, He wants us to have an intimate relationship with Him (vs 15).  He wants to bring revival into the hearts of His people. God is the one who sends true revival. It will come to those who are humble and contrite.  Pride is a major barrier in our relationship with God. In order to truly accept God’s salvation, we must humbly acknowledge our sinfulness and inability to save ourselves, and turn to Him in repentance and contrition.

When we do come to the Lord in repentance, He does promise to forgive us and take us as His children (vs 16-18).  This whole passage in Isaiah tells how God relates to those who are humble and repentant. The high and holy God came down to our level to save us because it is impossible for us to go up to His level and save ourselves.

One blessing that the Lord gives to those who are humble and contrite, who now have a relationship with Him, and that is the blessing of peace (vs 19). God calls to everyone, both far and near. Salvation is open to all, and to those who come to Him, He will bring peace and spiritual healing.

What about for those who do not turn to God?  We all wish for and seek peace, but true and lasting peace cannot be found outside of Jesus Christ (vs 20-21). God compares the lost to that of a troubled sea. The waves crash here and there, and are wild and untamable. It certainly is not peaceful.  As the Scriptures say here, there is no peace for the wicked. The unsaved, who have not experienced God’s forgiveness, do not have eternal peace.  No earthly possessions will give lasting peace. That is only found through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1; Philippians 4:7).

Listen as God calls to you.  He is calling for you to return to Him.  He promises He will not always be angry, and if you are humble and without pride, He will dwell with you and give you peace.  We all want that, don’t we?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Going Forth, Two By Two

Mark 6:7-13

Being prepared is a good thing.  When we head out on a vacation it is nice to know we have packed all we will need - toothbrush, plenty of clean clothes, swim suit, sunglasses, flashlight, etc.  Some people pack light, just tossing a few things in their bag, while others make a careful list. In our Scripture today, we read of the twelve apostles as they prepare to set off on a mission trip.  Let’s read the instructions that Jesus gives them.

Jesus and the disciples had just left Nazareth, where He had been rejected by His hometown.  Jesus knew that His total time of ministry on earth, prior to His crucifixion, would only be a little over 3 years.  In order to reach more towns throughout Galilee, He sent the Twelve out ahead of Him to minister to the people and bring the message of repentance.  Prior to sending them out, Jesus had instructions for them. First, He gave directives about what they were not to take with (vs 8).  Jesus didn’t want them to take a bag, something with which to carry extra supplies.  They were not to to carry food with them, nor a wallet filled with money. Jesus did permit them to carry a staff or walking stick.  They were also instructed to wear sandals, but not an additional change of clothes (vs 9).

Why send the apostles out on a mission assignment for several days or weeks with no food, money, or supplies?  When I travel I want to be sure there is plenty of food and beverages for the road, as well as enough money and clothes. Jesus, however, wanted His followers to trust completely in God’s care, to depend on Him, and not in their own resources. When there would be a need for food, or if they would need something requiring money, Jesus wanted them to trust Him to supply that need.  Jesus did allow the sturdy leather sandals of that day, along with walking staffs, so that His men would be able to keep going on the road and get His message out.

On this preaching assignment Jesus wanted them to go out in pairs (vs 7). They were going out as Jesus’s representatives into the villages of Israel. He didn’t want them to go it alone.  Going out in pairs helps to strengthen and encourage each other, especially when faced with opposition.

When going into these villages the disciples were to carefully select where they would stay (vs 10).  They would look around, see if there was a man who was open to the Lord. They would also pray and rely on the Lord to direct them to someone who would also be lead to offer them hospitality.  This way they would stay in one place and focus on ministry.

Just like Jesus was not always well received, His disciples weren’t always either.  He warns them ahead of time, and gives them instructions on what to do, and how to react when this happens (vs 11).   Their instructions were to shake the dust off of their feet as they leave town. This visual gesture of shaking the dust off one’s shoes at the time of Jesus was a vivid action to show one’s separation from a place’s influence and practice.  It was a complete renunciation of further fellowship with those who rejected them. These people weren’t just rejecting the disciples, they were rejecting Jesus, their Messiah. The people who rejected Jesus in those villages the disciples visited will face a fate worse than those who had divine judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah.

Listeners are responsible for what they hear and do with the message of the Gospel.  The disciples were not to blame if the message was not received, nor are we if we faithfully and carefully deliver it.  Just as Jesus sent forth the Twelve to bring the Gospel, He is sending us forth, as well. Trust God to provide our needs as we do His work. Also, do not lose heart when some do not receive our message. They have received their warning, and the Lord promises us our reward.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Chosen, Accepted, and Adopted

Ephesians 1:1-14

Being chosen is a special thing, whether it’s being picked to play on the football team, or being asked to the school dance.  It shows that someone thinks well of you, and that you are accepted. There are some who go through life never being chosen for anything, never feeling accepted by anyone.  In our Scripture from Ephesians today, Paul gives us some good news. We have been chosen, we are accepted, and on top of that, we have a wonderful inheritance! Let’s look into our passage.

The Apostle Paul starts off his letter to the church in Ephesus by telling them, and us, that the Father has given us “every spiritual blessing”. (vs 3)  What are some of these blessings that we have through Christ? We were chosen by God before the foundation of the world (vs 4). We were adopted as His children (vs 5).  Jesus provided our salvation through His death and resurrection, and forgiveness of our sins (vs 7). We have the Holy Spirit residing within us, giving us power and hope (vs 13).  These blessings aren’t just something for the future, as God has already given us believers total blessings.  His blessings are “in Christ”, belonging only to believers who are His children by faith in Christ. As believers we can enjoy these blessings now and for eternity.

In verse 4 we read that we were chosen by God.  God chose us, but we have the responsibility to believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We are saved, not because we deserve it, but God graciously and freely gives it.  All we have to do is accept God’s free gift of salvation.

In addition to being chosen by God, He adopted us as His children (vs 5).  As opposed to the laws of some other countries at the time, in Roman law, an adopted child had all the same rights and privileges as a biological child.  Each child, regardless of birth order, was equal. Our salvation is to the glory of God (vs 6). Because of Jesus’s death and righteousness we are accepted, accepted by God as His children. Jesus’s death on the cross, His shed blood, paid the ransom to God (vs 7). We have been bought and paid for.

Another blessing we can be thankful for is that God has given us an inheritance (vs 11).  Having an earthly inheritance may be nice, especially if one is fortunate to come from a wealthy family.  Here we have been promised an inheritance from God! We have a divine inheritance that is so certain that Paul spoke of it as if already received.

How can we be so certain of this inheritance, or that we are chosen, accepted, and adopted?  In verse 13 we read that if we have accepted Jesus as our Savior we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit comes to indwell believers when they are saved. He secures and preserves their salvation.  The Holy Spirit is given by God as His pledge of the believer’s future inheritance in glory. He is like the down payment, a deposit, the validating signature on the contract. The Holy Spirit in us shows the genuineness of our faith, proves we are God’s children, and secures eternal life for us.

Would you like to know that these blessings are yours, both now and in eternity?  God loved us so much, that when we were lost, wallowing in our sins, Jesus shed His Blood and died on the cross for us.  The moment you ask Him to forgive you of your sins and come into your heart as your Savior, you become a child of God, and all His blessings are yours.  As the Bible says in our passage today, God chose us, He accepted us, adopted us as His own children, and has given us an inheritance.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Revive Us Again

Psalm 85

Someone is rapidly wheeled into the emergency room in critical condition. Elsewhere a person is on the operating table, and the surgeon is doubtful of the outcome.  In both cases the heart monitor begins to register a flatline. The families of the patients begin to sink into despair as it looks like their loved one has died.  Then something changes. Perhaps the ER staff uses a defibrillator, or the surgeon injects a new medication, and life returns. We’ve all seen this on medical dramas on TV, and perhaps even faced it in real life.  Once thought dead, a person is revived, and is now alive. As wonderful as that is, it is even more so when there is revival in the soul! In the middle of our psalm today we read the prayer the psalmist makes for revival (vs 6).

What is revival?  We all know what it is in the physical realm.  A person, animal, or even a plant comes near to death, from all outward appearances looks dead, but is revived back to active life.  In the spiritual realm when a person accepts Jesus as Savior, they are born again to a new life in Christ. Some believers, however, after a while start to drift away from the Lord and begin to live like they did before they were saved.  From all outward appearances they look like the lost. They need to be brought back into a right relationship with the Lord. They need a spiritual defibrillator!

Revival is restoring a right relationship with God, where we delight in Him, and celebrate his goodness, love, and mercy.  Revival comes when the Holy Spirit begins working in individual hearts, bringing a return to God with passion and zeal, and is based on Biblical truth. Revival is not the same as salvation. If something has never been alive, it cannot be revived. If one is spiritually dead, they need to accept Jesus and the salvation He offers.  Revival is bringing a straying child of God back into the fold, and this is what the psalmist is praying for God to do in verse 6. When we were first saved, God forgave us our sins, and turned His wrath and anger away from us (vs 1-3).  Some Christians, though, begin to drift away from the Lord, and need to be restored into a right relationship again (vs 4). If we return to the Lord, He promises to revive us after we have strayed (vs 6-7).

As we look around, we see that specific believers need a revival, and also churches do, both individual congregations, and also whole denominations. Whole countries also need revival, as there are some countries who were once solidly Christian, but have now strayed so far away from their Christian roots. Revival begins with strong Christians praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They pray for the believers who have strayed, and for the churches who have grown cold and lifeless to be revived.  When this happens it will slowly spread from church to church, and an actual Revival can break forth, turning churches, neighborhoods, and cities around for the Lord. When believers return wholeheartedly to the Lord, and begin truly living for Him, the lost take notice.  The Holy Spirit begins to move in their hearts, as well, and many souls come to salvation.

There have been several great revivals in the United States in the past, often called the Great Awakenings, and revivals in other countries around the world. Revivals like these begin when Christians seriously beseech the Lord for their fellow believers, the church, and the lost. As the great old-time hymn, “Revive Us Again”, says, written by a man who had strayed but returned to the Lord, we need to be in prayer for the Holy Spirit to come and revive the sleeping church and bring the lost to salvation.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Spiritual Plumb Line

Amos 7:7-15

Our Old Testament reading this week is from the Prophet Amos. Prior to being called to preach God’s Word, Amos was a shepherd and a farmer of sycamore figs.  Though he was from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, most of his preaching was to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Our passage begins with God giving Amos a vision of a wall being measured with a plumb line (vs 7-9).  A plumb line is a device used by builders to ensure the straightness of a wall. A wall that is not straight will throw off the whole building, and eventually collapse. God is telling Amos that the people of Israel are out of line, they are a leaning and tilting wall. From the time the two kingdoms split, Israel has been in deep idolatry, worshipping Baal, Astarte, and a host of other gods, in addition to Yahweh.  The true spiritual nature of Israel is tested and found wanting by God’s plumb line of righteousness.

As Amos goes through the kingdom preaching against the country’s idolatry and failure to follow Yahweh’s Word, warning them of His judgment, he came to the attention of the priest Amaziah (vs 10-13). Amaziah was chief priest in Bethel at this time, representing Israel’s official religion, which had long fallen into pagan practices. He was not interested in hearing God’s Word. Amaziah actually reported to King Jeroboam that Amos was speaking traitorously when he said God would bring judgment on the country if they didn’t turn from their wickedness.  Many prophets, like Amos, were thought to be traitors because they preached against the actions and behavior of the king and other political leaders. They were thought of as enemies rather than God’s spokesmen. Amos’s words cut into the leadership of Israel. His preaching caused them to accuse him of conspiracy against the king.

How does Amos’s words apply to us today?  If God set a plumb line among our lives, how straight would our spiritual lives line up?  We are to live by God’s standards. He wants us to be right with Him, and to immediately throw out the sin that makes us crooked.  God’s Word, the Bible, is our plumb line, showing us where we aren’t straight. God will accept nothing short of holiness. The only way we can achieve that by accepting Jesus, the sinless Son of God, as our Savior.

Amos kept true to the calling that God had given him, even though it could have been dangerous.  Amaziah and other pagan religious leaders were viciously opposed to Amos and his message. By accusing him of treason, and trying to turn the hearts of the people against the king and the worship of idols, Amos was in danger of imprisonment or even execution.  However, our prophet did not let that scare him from following the mission God had given him.

Nor did Amos let his lack of “official” training keep him from serving God and obeying his calling.  God didn’t care that Amos was a shepherd and sycamore fig farmer, without multiple theological degrees.  God used him in a special way, and his message has been contained forever in Scripture. If we are faithful in spreading God’s Word, we will find opposition from His enemies. We may also find those who attack if they feel we aren’t qualified to serve God. Remember Amos and his faithfulness to God and His calling, and let us be just as faithful and true.

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Spirit Of Unbelief

Mark 6:1-6

When we return to our hometown after having been gone for a couple of years, we would hope for a pleasant greeting from our neighbors.  Jesus would have hoped for the same, as well. As we begin chapter 6 in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has come to Nazareth, the village He grew up and lived in until He began His ministry a couple of years prior.  Here Jesus was hoping to bring His message of salvation as He had elsewhere in Galilee.

The reception Jesus received was not the kind one would have wished for. Jesus started the Sabbath day off by going to the synagogue for the worship service.  The custom in the synagogues was frequently to let visitors to speak, and since Jesus had been away awhile, He got up to teach from the Scriptures (vs 2).  As Jesus began to comment on the passages He had just read, He spoke as no one else could. Jesus is the Son of God, the Divine Author of the Scriptures, and the commentary He would give would be from the very One who wrote it.  Instead of gratefully receiving His message, the people went on the attack. His neighbors saw Jesus as only the former local carpenter, no better than they were. Who was He to “preach” to them? They were offended that other villages were impressed by Jesus.  Instead of allowing their astonishment at His words to lead to belief as those in Capernaum had, the Nazarenes let it lead to skepticism and a critical attitude.

The folks in Nazareth looked at Jesus as just another local boy.  He had only a limited education, not a wall of framed diplomas from various universities. Nor did He hold an officially sanctioned religious position. Then the attacks started to become more personal  - “son of Mary”. Usually someone was called the son of his father, even if he was dead. These people were referencing rumors about Jesus’s birth, the rumors that He was illegitimate, and father was unknown.

The people’s pride and unbelief kept Jesus from performing any miracles in Nazareth (vs 5).  They refused to accept His message or believe He was from God. It was not that Jesus’s actual power was somehow lessened because of this unbelief.  They had steadfast unbelief and hardened hearts. God doesn’t show partiality. Jesus came to Nazareth to do what He had done elsewhere. However, they were offended and rejected Him.   Not many in town would have bothered to come to Jesus for healing. Miracles belong among those who are ready to believe.

A worker for God is never honored in his hometown (vs 4).  Some believers who, before they came to Christ, lived a wild or disreputable life, and when they return home find their new message is not accepted.  Jesus never did anything wrong in His youth, and He still wasn’t accepted. We don’t need to be respected or honored for God to use us. Nor do we need fancy credentials, either.  The Nazarenes scorned Jesus for being a common laborer, not qualified to teach them. Don’t let rejection keep us from serving God.

There is another important lesson to learn from this Scripture passage.  Be careful not to have a spirit of unbelief, as that limits what God can and will do. Unbelief stops the power of God. A doubter usually is seeking the truth, and open and willing to accept it.  An unbeliever, however does not believe, is not open to look, and is already convinced to the contrary.  God can work with a doubter, if he is honestly seeking truth, but not one steadfast in his unbelief. Nazareth was in unbelief, even Jesus’s own family. At this time His siblings (vs 3) did not believe. After the resurrection, His brothers, James and Judas (Jude), came to faith, and even wrote two books included in the Bible.  No record is ever given of Jesus’s other siblings getting saved. Be careful that you do not have a spirit of unbelief.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Thorn In The Flesh

II Corinthians 12:2-10

Society tends to pick their champions from the best and most physically fit crowd.  That would seem to make sense, right? We want our athletes top-notch, our political and business leaders brilliant, and movie stars gorgeous. We know that if our resume isn’t the best, we shouldn’t expect to get the job. God has a surprise for us, though, in our Scripture for today. He turns this whole thinking upside down, for He says He can best use us when we are weakest! Let’s look into this passage.

Paul opens this passage by describing a vision he had several years prior. These visions possibly took place when Paul lay near death after having been stoned (Acts 14;19-20).  There were other times Paul came near death (II Corinthians 11:23-25), but he does not specify the exact occasion.  In this vision Paul was taken up into the third heaven, and shown spectacular things (vs 2-4). The 1st heaven is the atmosphere around the earth, producing rain, snow, etc. The 2nd is outer space with the planets, stars, and galaxies. The 3rd heaven is paradise, where God dwells. Many of the religious leaders in Paul’s day, and certainly today as well, like to boast of their qualifications, education, and achievements. Paul could have boasted, as well, especially that God honored him with this vision, but he wouldn’t (vs 5-6). Instead he would boast in his infirmities. We would think that this makes no sense! Paul goes on to explain, though.

This vision Paul had, where he was transported up into heaven, where he was shown such wonderful things, could easily have led to boasting, and thinking too highly of himself.  In order to keep him humble, Paul was given what he called a “thorn in the flesh” (vs 7). God had given him extraordinary revelations and spiritual truths that could lead to pride, and he felt this affliction would remind him how dependent he was on God.  Sufferings kept him close to God. This thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, was never specifically identified. It might have been a physical affliction, a temptation, or it could have been an outward torment like a demonized enemy who followed him, trying to destroy the work he was doing for the Lord.

Whatever the thorn was, it was distressing, and Paul went to the Lord 3 times in special, fervent prayer asking for it to be removed (vs 8).  God denied his request, but gave him grace to endure the ordeal. Sometimes our own prayers for healing or deliverance from some other affliction are not answered.  Like with Paul, if we turn to, and lean on God, He will give us the grace we need, as well.

God’s divine grace is constantly available (vs 9).  Though the thorn was never removed, Jesus continually supplied Paul with grace.  The weaker the person, the more His grace shines forth. When we are really helpless and without any help, resources, or power, we must depend on God’s help and power.  Only through Jesus can we triumph, and then all glory and praise belong to Him. God works in our weaknesses. When we are weak His strength accomplishes what we need to do.

Paul embraced the hardships and struggles that God brought into his life.  He knew God’s love and grace was more than sufficient when he was at his lowest, where pride cannot survive (vs 10).  Paul knew that thinking we are strong in our own abilities and resources tempts us to work in our own power rather than God’s.  That will only lead to pride and disaster. When we are weak we will turn to God’s power and strength, and He can then work mightily through us.

Are any of you dealing with any sort of affliction or setback, and feel that God can’t possibly use you?  God’s power is displayed by using weak people. That should give us hope and courage. Recognize our limitations and rely on God. Weakness helps develop Christian character, and draws us closer to God in dependence. God will supply us with all the grace we need for whatever the trial.  The God who has been sufficient until now can be trusted to the end!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Look To The Master

Psalm 123

Would you take your car to the grocer to be repaired?  What about if you needed surgery, would you go to the person behind the counter at McDonald’s? Most people who know me would know to never come to me for help with arithmetic! It is important to always go to the right source for our help.  This is the message our psalmist gives today, to keep our eyes focused on God.

Psalm 123 is a short psalm of only four verses, and people might overlook it, as at first glance it doesn’t seem to say much.  This psalm is one of the fifteen “Psalms of Ascent” (Psalm 120 - 134). The Psalms of Ascent were frequently sung by pilgrims enroute to the Temple in Jerusalem.  The city of Jerusalem is situated on top of Mount Zion, at a much higher elevation than the surrounding areas. Any pilgrim coming to Jerusalem would literally be climbing higher, or ascending, and thus the title to these psalms were “Songs of Ascent”.

Our psalmist is looking to God, praying to Him to hear his prayers and have mercy upon him.  Who do we turn to when the troubles start to surround us? Doctors don’t always have the answers we need, that is if we can afford them. The same is true with the lawyers. Friends and family will sometimes let us down, and may even turn against us. Some people turn to tarot cards, horoscopes, and other occult practices, thinking that will give them the answers they seek. That is seeking help from the source of evil, and will ultimately only increase your troubles.

So who did our psalmist turn to?  In verse 1 he tells us he is looking to the Lord God.  Not just any of the worthless, false, pagan gods of the surrounding nations, but to the only God, who dwells in heaven. In verse 2 he compares those who look to, and trust in God to that of a servant looking to their master. A servant is always attentive to what the master wants, ready to respond.  A human master may at times be harsh, and the servant grudgingly or unwillingly giving their service. That is not how it is with God. He loves us so much He sent His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ to die for us.  The psalmist lifted his eyes to God, waiting and watching for Him to send mercy. He knew that evil and proud men do not bring help. He is crying to God, his only real source for help.

There are many reasons why God does not immediately answer our prayers.  It may be He has a better plan. Perhaps He delays because there are greater blessings He wishes to bestow.  God might not immediately answer our prayers because He knows something we don’t know, which makes the delay imperative.  Jesus has instructed us, though, to not give up hope, but to continually keep on praying until God responds (Luke 18:1-8).  Our eyes should always be looking to the Lord, for Him to mercifully meet our needs.

The psalm closes with a plea for God to bring relief from the contempt that is heaped upon us (vs 3-4).  Who are those who are giving us scorn? They are the unbelievers, the pagans, those who do not turn to, or trust in God.  Proud and evil people only have contempt for God, and thus, feel the same way towards us, His children. Notice that our psalmist didn’t take things into his own hands when faced with this contempt.  He didn’t decide to clobber those who scorned him. He didn’t holler back some choice nasty words. Instead, he brought the matter before God in prayer, and let Him handle it. Look to God for mercy, and be attentive for His leading.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

A Hostile Audience

Ezekiel 2:1-7

Have you ever tried to talk reason to someone, but they were just too stubborn and hard-headed to listen?  That can be aggravating and frustrating, especially if what you are trying to tell them is important. Our Old Testament reading today is from the Book of Ezekiel, and in the selected passage the prophet is facing just such people as he brings God’s message.

The Prophet Ezekiel’s ministry was to the people of Judah while in captivity. Due to the people’s sin, worship of false idols, and rebellion against God, He had allowed the Kingdom of Babylon to overtake and conquer the land of Judah, destroying both Jerusalem and the Temple.  In spite of this, many still did not want to hear God’s message. God, however, had a message for them, and He wanted Ezekiel to bring it.

When God called Ezekiel, he stood up and was ready to serve Him (vs 1-2). God was sending him to the exiled people of Judah, a people who were rebellious, and who did not want the message (vs 3-5). That would not be an easy task. Picture a teacher coming into a classroom of older students who do not want to be there.  They sit there sullenly, glaring at the teacher, silently daring him to give the lesson.  Some bolder students might even call out rude remarks to the teacher. Many of the people that Ezekiel witnessed to treated him this way, and some were even more audacious.  This had the real potential to be a dangerous task, and God encouraged him to not be afraid (vs 6).

God provided Ezekiel with His Holy Spirit to give him both the words and the boldness to bring the message (vs 2).  When God gives a command for us to do, He gives us His Spirit and power to do so. Has God given you an assignment that you might not feel qualified for, or you’re afraid to do?  He will always give us His Spirit and power to carry out His work.

Ezekiel was to give God’s message to the people whether or not they wanted to hear it.  We have the message of God to give out, as well. Many may not want to hear or receive it, but just like with Ezekiel, that should not deter us. Sometimes their rejection may be harsh. Our Scripture passage here describes them as like briars, thorns, and scorpions (vs 6). The people of Judah’s rejection of God’s Word was like the jabs of thorns and the stings of scorpions. When we tell the message of Jesus, some who hear are rebellious and hard-hearted, as well. They turn their stoney hearts away from the Lord, and are like a briar patch with scorpions. God still wants us to keep bringing His Word.

Another question we should ask ourselves is how well do we receive and respond to those who bring us God’s message from His Word? Are we rejecting any message we don’t want to hear? That’s what the people did who Ezekiel went to. They wanted no preaching about sin or judgment.  Let’s be sure we are not becoming rebellious or stubborn either, stopping our ears from hearing a message that may step on our toes.

Ezekiel’s success lay not in how well the people responded, but in how well he obeyed God.  God will judge us for how faithful we’ve been, not on how people respond to our message of the Gospel. God’s truth doesn’t depend on people’s positive response. Many of God’s messengers, both in the past and today, have faced those who do not want to hear their words.  God told Ezekiel then, and us today, to not be afraid of them (vs 6-7), and to continue to speak His words, whether they listen or not.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Jairus And His Daughter

Mark 5:22-24, 35-43

When most of us need help, we don’t wish to be brushed off or pushed aside while the one who can help us turns to someone else. Maybe we’ve called the doctor’s office, and get put on hold while they take other calls. Perhaps we’ve been in a store, and when we’ve finally found a clerk to help us, they turn to assist someone else while we stand there helpless.  In today’s reading in Mark’s Gospel, we read of a man named Jairus to whom this happened. However, in Jairus’s case it was a lot more important than being ignored by a store clerk or being put on hold during a phone call.

Jairus had a young daughter, and in a culture that put real strong emphasis on male children, he loved her very much.  She fell very ill, and he decided to find Jesus and request Him to come to his house and heal her (vs 22-24). Mark describes Jairus as a ruler of the synagogue.  One who held this position was in charge of arranging the worship services in the synagogue. He would also oversee most other synagogue affairs. This was a prominent and important position.  For Jairus, going to Jesus could easily put him at odds with the Pharisees, and could risk his position and standing in the community.

Jesus agrees to come with Jairus, but on the way He is interrupted by another person who desperately needs His healing.  We won’t get into the story of this woman today, but throughout their encounter Jairus stands at the side, waiting for Jesus to resume their trek to his house.  How patient would you be if your child lay dying, and someone else grabs Jesus’s attention? I know I would probably say, “Hey! Wait your turn! I was here first!”  Jairus, though, waits and receives a wonderful miracle in God’s time!

As he waits, though, Jairus receives some really bad news.  While this delay was happening his little girl has died! (vs 35)   Rather than comfort the man upon hearing of the girl’s death, or even offer an apology for the delay in coming, Jesus challenges Jairus on to stronger faith.  Jesus does that to us as well - move away from fear and on to faith. We need to look at our problems from Jesus’s point of view. He, alone, is the source of all hope and promise.

When Jesus and Jairus arrived at his home they were met by a number of mourners, proving the messenger was right and the girl dead (vs 38).  Loud mourning, weeping, and wailing was a sign of love for the deceased in the ancient Middle East. The louder, the more love. Frequently professional mourners were hired.  Jesus asked them why they were mourning, as the girl was only sleeping (vs 39). Jesus used the image of sleep to indicate the girl’s condition was only temporary, and that she would be restored.  He knew she was actually dead, not in a literal sleep or coma.

Imagine coming into a funeral home and telling the mourners there something like Jesus did?  You would be considered certifiably crazy, or at the least laughed at. This is how everyone in the house reacted to Jesus.  They laughed Him to scorn! (vs 40) This was ridiculing, humiliating laughter, with not a iota of faith or trust.

Jesus was not going to have that type of spirit present.  He put out all who had no faith in order to perform His miracle.  Faith, trust, and obedience are needed, and all doubt and scorn cast out.  Jesus brought into the room those who had faith - three of His closest disciples, along with Jairus and his wife. With a spirit of faith present, Jesus went to the body of the young girl, took her by the hand, and brought her back to life.

When Jairus knew there was nothing he could possibly do, then Jesus was free to step in and bring a miracle.  When we come to the end of ourself, the end of our strength and ability, God will move on our behalf. Reach out to the Hand that is bigger than ours, the nail-pierced Hand.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Be A Blessing To Other Believers

II Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15

The Scriptures teach us that all saved believers are brothers and sisters.  This is regardless of where we live, or what race or nationality we are. We are all members of the Body of Christ, and when one part of the Body is in need or suffers, we all suffer (I Corinthians 12:25-27).  In our Scripture passage today, Paul is urging the believers in Corinth to step up and help some fellow believers in another land.

At the time of Paul’s writing of his second letter to the Corinthians there was devastating famine in the land of Judea (Acts 11:27-30). The church in Jerusalem was hit really hard. Believers there were overwhelmingly from a Jewish background. One reason an event like this would be particularly hard-hitting for them is that when they became Christians, accepting Jesus as the Messiah, very many would have been disowned by their families, and/or lose their jobs. Becoming a Christian was costly for them. This famine, lasting a number of years, hit very hard for the members of the church in Jerusalem, and there was nowhere for them to turn.

Paul, keeping in close contact with the other Apostles in Jerusalem, knew about the terribly desperate condition the believers were there, and he wished to do something to help.  As he traveled on his missionary trips throughout present day Greece and Turkey, he told the newly formed churches about the condition of their believing brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.

While Paul was in Corinth establishing the church there, the believers made a pledge to collect money to help.  On Paul’s third missionary journey in that area, in addition to bringing the Gospel, Paul was collecting what the various churches had given, and that is where our narrative picks up.  The church had made a pledge a year or so before, but had yet to collect it, and Paul is urging them to do so. He told the Corinthians that the churches in Macedonia (namely Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea) had given generously, even though they were poor (vs 1-2).  Macedonia was a more economically depressed area, whereas Corinth was a prosperous port city. The Macedonian believers begged Paul for the opportunity to be partners in supporting the church in Jerusalem (vs 4). They saw it as a privilege, not an obligation. Macedonia gave sacrificially.  Paul urged the Corinthians to follow their example.

An important point is not so much the amount we give when helping others or giving to the church, but how and why we give.  God doesn’t want us to grudgingly give. We should give to help others out of dedication to Christ, love for fellow believers, and the joy of helping those in need.  In verse 3 we read that our giving should be according to one’s ability. If you don’t have much, naturally you can’t give as much, and no one should look down on that.  Paul also said that one’s giving should be done freely. Church leaders should not coerce, intimidate or otherwise make one feel guilty to give. It should be done freely from the heart.

God wishes us to actively show our love towards others, not just talking about it.  Right then the Corinthians had just been talking about helping their brothers and sisters in Judea.  Now they needed to act, and follow through with their words. We, too, should help those who are suffering and in need.  This will glorify God and draw the lost to Jesus. God has given to us so that we can share with others.

Jesus has given us the perfect example (vs 9).  He, as the second Person of the Trinity, is God and had all  the splendor and glory of heaven, all of creation, and the universe at His disposal.  He willingly gave all that up to take on a lowly human body and come to earth, all for love of us.

Some people might be afraid to give because of fear we might not have enough for ourselves.  Our finances do not depend on the world’s economy, but on the economy of God. Show the devil we are people of faith, not people of fear.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Faith To Conquer Fear

Psalm 112

Bad news is everywhere we look.  Turn the evening news on television and we are bombarded with it.  We get the same from any internet news source, the newspapers or magazines.  There are also times when we get personal bad news - an illness or death of a relative, job problems, some major damage on the house, etc.  How do we hold up under bad news? Of course no one likes to hear this, but when we hear of another shooting, natural disaster, or accident, do we fall apart in fear, or do we trust in the Lord and rest in His peace?   This is one thought our psalmist touches upon today, and a point I would like to look at in today’s psalm.

The main theme of today’s psalm is the blessings of obedience (vs 1-9) and the emptiness of sin (vs 10).  God gives blessings to those who revere and gladly obey Him. Some blessings He might bestow, which are spoken of here, are honor, prosperity, security, and freedom from fear.  We read throughout Scripture how God loves to bless those who are obedient to Him (vs 1-2). He promised in the Law that He would bless generations of those who obey Him (Exodus 20:6).  Any Christian parent can attest to how blessed it is to know that one’s children, grandchildren, and descendants know the Lord, and are following His ways. When this is the case, then it is especially true that our generations will be blessed.

The main point I would like to focus on is found in verse 7, and that is “he will not be afraid of evil tidings”.  Fear. This is something that affects many people. I can admit that it is something I deal with frequently. When we hear of the latest terrorist attack or multiple shootings, or massive earthquake, how do we handle it?  The unsaved have no one to turn to and nothing to lean on for support. When bad news comes their way, especially if it comes often, wave upon wave, where can they turn? Sometimes that’s just the way it comes, too - repeatedly, one bad thing after another.  Those who do not know the Savior will often turn to alcohol or drugs to bolster themselves. Many will live in a state of panic or fear.

How about those of us who have put our faith and trust in Jesus? When the bad news comes knocking, how do we respond? The unsaved are watching us. Does Jesus make any difference in our life? Do they see similar panic, fear, and no real trust in the Savior we proclaim?  A believer should not be afraid with the arrival of bad news, whether it is in their own personal life, or the world at large. We are to be different from others. We have the Lord God to turn to, and hasn’t He always proved faithful in the past? We have the Holy Spirit to uphold us during the difficult, and often scary times, and He gives us peace and a living hope.  When we fear God, respect and revere Him as almighty Lord, trusting Him completely to take care of us, all of our other fears will subside.

Our response to illness, death, and accidents, to loss of home or job, and to other major tragedies can be instrumental to drawing the lost to the Savior, or it can lead them to feel that there really is no hope. If they see us falling apart, even though we claim a mighty Savior, then they will think He is as powerless as we make Him out to be. As we trust and obey, as the old-time hymn says, God promises us that we can never be shaken (vs 6).  He promises that we do not need to be afraid, and our heart can remain steadfast (vs 7).

The unsaved are running to the wrong things to escape when bad news comes, and their fears overwhelm them.  Let’s let our response to the same bad news, as we all go through our share of trouble, be a beacon to lead them to the Lord. Let’s show them that Jesus truly is an Anchor in the storm.