Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Complaining Spirit

Numbers 11:4-15, 18-23

Complainers and whiners.  We all know a few. Children are prone to that behavior - they complain they don’t like what’s for dinner, they don’t like their teacher, they’re bored, on and on.  It’s not very pleasant to listen to, and hopefully their behavior matures as they get older. Complaining and whining is an even sorrier sight when it repeatedly comes from adults.  It’s not pleasant to be around, and God is not happy with that behavior, either. Our Old Testament reading this week comes from the Book of Numbers where we’ll see how a whole nation fell to complaining and whining against God.

As our passage begins, we read of the people of Israel complaining about what God was providing them to eat (vs 4-6). From when they left slavery in Egypt till when they entered the Promised Land, God had miraculously provided them with manna to eat.  They did not have to go out and hunt for it. They did not have to plant or harvest it. God provided it free of cost, every single day regardless of the weather or season. Yet the people started to complain. It was boring, every single day. They wished they had the food they had eaten while as slaves in Egypt.  The Israelites had a growing contempt for God’s provisions, given to them at no cost. They lost their taste for the gifts God had given.

Too often we focus more on what we don’t have, and stop being thankful for what we do have.  How about the house or car I have? Am I thankful to God for them, or do I complain and whine that they aren’t what I’d rather have?  We can say the same thing about our jobs, clothes, anything we have. People can always find something to complain about. Instead of looking around for something to moan about, look for something to praise God for.  Count your blessings (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). God blesses an obedient spirit, but will judge a complaining one. We can’t grumble and honor God at the same time. Remember all of the blessings He has given us.

We should be careful to not hang around with complainers.  In our account today, the complaining first started out with a smaller group of people.  They were complaining and whining, and then over a short period of time, it spread all around so that soon the majority were complaining to Moses about the food. If we are always hanging around with complainers soon we will be singing their song. Complaining poisons the heart with ingratitude, and is contagious. God has to judge it, which He did with the Israelites.

Another thing that our complaining does is it makes other people, those who have to hear our whining, very miserable (vs 10-15).  The people were continually moaning and crying to Moses, and soon he couldn’t take it anymore, and he poured out his heart in grief to God. God was tired of it, too. He answered Moses’s prayer for relief, and that of the people with their complaining, and told Moses He would give them meat to eat, so much meat that they would be sick of it (vs 19-20).

All of this complaining had worn Moses down, and this great servant of God had a moment of disbelief that God could do what He said He would do (vs. 21-22).  How could God possibly get enough meat to feed over 600,000? Moses was looking at the creature rather than the Creator. God’s promises don’t depend on man for their fulfillment (vs. 23).  God’s power will never diminish! What He says He will do, He will do!

Let us remember the fate of the Israelites.  Because of their unbelief in God and His power, and their continual complaining and whining, they had to wander through the wilderness for 40 years until that generation died.  When we say that what God has given us isn’t good enough, we reject Him. Let us remember to praise and thank Him for all that He has done for us, and all of His blessings.

Friday, September 28, 2018

True Greatness

Mark 9:30-37

How many people over the years have thought themselves the greatest around? We have seen sports figures, business people, politicians, movie stars, and even religious leaders that act like they believe they are the greatest. Sometimes we may even be tempted to think we are great and deserve a place of honor. Pride and ambition often rises up in our hearts. It did in the disciples, as we read in our Scripture selection for today.

As we begin our passage, Jesus is telling His disciples about His coming death and sacrifice for sin, and resurrection three days later (vs 31 - 32).  The disciples, however, did not understand or really hear His words. How many times have we said something to our children, spouse, or someone else, and though they heard, they didn’t really hear a word we said.  The same goes for ourselves - someone is talking to us, we hear their voice but our mind is somewhere else, and we didn’t hear a thing.

Why didn’t the disciples understand what Jesus was saying?  His words seem quite clear to us. He said very plainly that He would be betrayed, killed, and rise from the dead three days later.  What was confusing about what was said? Some of the twelve might not even have been listening to Him, their mind somewhere else. For many of them, though, they might not have wanted to hear that message for fear, or that it conflicted with their own ideas of Jesus’s kingdom and plans for greatness.  For so many of the Jewish people at that time, the Messiah was to be a great king who would come and deliver the nation of Israel from their oppressors, namely at this time, the Roman Empire. So for them to hear that Jesus was going to be killed by His enemies went against all they had been hoping for. They did not yet understand what His death and resurrection really meant.

Are there times in our life when God has been speaking to us, but we choose not to hear Him?  Maybe what He is saying goes against what we want to believe, or we’re afraid of what He is saying.  Just as the disciples needed to, we need to open our ears and really hear God’s words to us.

Later, Jesus questions what the disciples were discussing among themselves while on the road (vs 33 - 37).  They were too ashamed to tell Jesus what it was, but He knew. They were debating among themselves which one was the greatest.  Though they were confused as to what kind of kingdom Jesus had come to bring, they believed He was a king and had a kingdom. They wanted a place of prominence in that kingdom.  They had pride and ambition. They wanted that spot of honor and power, where they would be looked upon with respect and admiration. Many of us, if we had the opportunity, would love to be boss, be king of the hill.  Ambition itself isn’t wrong, but when it causes us to disobey God, or work more for our own praise and glory rather than God’s, it has become sin. Our pride causes us to overvalue position and prestige. We should be ambitious for God’s Kingdom and His glory, not our own.

God does not measure success the way the world does.  Many of His faithful servants in the Bible had a very difficult life and ministry. The world would not have called them successful, yet God does. The disciples’ concept of greatness and leadership, common both then and now, needed to be revised.  It is not those who lord their position over other that are great in God’s Kingdom. Instead it is those who humbly serve others. Jesus, who is God incarnate, is our example.  He is God, yet He was willing to wash the feet of the disciples, one of the humblest tasks there is (John 13:1-15).

Jesus taught His followers to welcome children (vs 36-37).  This was a new concept, as up until just a couple of generations ago, children in just about every culture were treated as second class, of no value except to work and care for their parents in their old age, and often abused in every way.  Jesus treated them with love and value. We should value and treat children well, and most importantly, tell them about Jesus.

True greatness is measured not on earth, but in eternity.  When we are before the Judgment Seat of Christ, He will be looking for humility, not earthly accomplishments.  A humble person uses whatever the Lord has given them in a way that glorifies Him and benefits others.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

God's Wisdom Or The World's Wisdom

James 3:13 - 4:6

Our New Testament reading this week continues from the letter James wrote to fellow believers, giving practical instructions on Christian living.  James starts out today with comparing two types of wisdom. We all need wisdom in our lives if we want to have a good and effective life, but the key is where our wisdom comes from.  As James describes, there is heavenly, godly wisdom, and there is earthly wisdom which comes from the devil (vs 13-18). Naturally, most of us would like God’s wisdom, but how can we tell which type of wisdom we are developing in our life?  Let’s look at James’s description of each.

James describes the wisdom of this world as filled with envy and self-seeking or selfish ambition (vs 14-16).  Envy is desiring to have something that another has. When we don’t have that item we want, especially seeing our neighbor with a brand new one, we become filled with bitterness.  The advertising world knows this, playing up and feeding our desires, which leads to a selfish, or worldly ambition, striving to do whatever we can to obtain our desires. This wisdom is self-centered, often causing strife, taking our eyes off of God and onto ourselves and desires.  This is not from God, but rather it comes from an unsanctified heart and unredeemed spirit, generated by Satan.

God’s wisdom, on the other hand, will lead to harmony and peace (vs 17-18). James describes this type of wisdom as being pure, peaceful, gentle, merciful, and without partiality.  True, godly wisdom is measured by the depth of a person’s character. We identify trees by the fruit it produces.  We can evaluate our wisdom by the way we act. The wisdom of the world leads to disorder and chaos, whereas godly wisdom leads to peace and goodness.

James goes on to describe how the wisdom of the world, filled with its unrestrained desires for material goods and lusts, will lead to conflicts, fighting, and war (vs 1-2).  Conflicts, quarrels, and disputes result from evil desires battling within us. We fight in order to fulfill those desires. Thwarted desires can even lead to murder. We should submit to God, and receive His help to get rid of our selfish desires, trusting Him to give us what we truly need.

When we have desires in our life, why don’t we bring them to God in prayer, James asks.  He says in verse 2 that we do not have because we do not ask. We serve a prayer-answering God.  However sometimes we need to take stock of our prayers and our life. Maybe the motives of our heart are wrong (vs 3).  We need to get our heart in the right place.

The most common problems in prayer are not asking, asking for the wrong things, and asking for the wrong reasons.  Our prayers will become more powerful when we allow God to change our desires so they correspond to His will for us.

The cure for evil desires is humility (vs 4-6).  Pride makes us self-centered. To release us from our self-centered desires, we need to humble ourselves before God.  All we really need is His approval. If we seek to embrace and follow the world system which is opposed to God and His Word, then we are resistant to and in defiance to Him. We cannot continue with one foot in the world and one with God. The Scripture here says that if we are a friend with this world system, we are thus God’s enemy. Let’s forsake this world, for all it has to give us is only a cheap substitute for what God offers. Let’s seek His wisdom and ways for our life.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Unjustly Persecuted

Psalm 54

Our psalm today is one written by David.  He authored about half of the psalms, many of them being prayers and/or praise to God for help as he fled from his enemies.  Today’s psalm reading is one such psalm, written by David as he was hiding from King Saul in the wilderness and forest around the city of Ziph, in southern Judah. While hiding there the residents of Ziph betrayed him, telling Saul he was there. In the midst of these dire troubles, David writes this short psalm of prayer to God.

The occasion for this psalm is found in I Samuel 23:14-29.  Why did David have to spend several of his young adult years fleeing King Saul?  Hadn’t David killed the nation’s enemy, the Philistine Goliath, sparing the country defeat and slavery?  Following that, David had become Saul’s personal court musician, in addition to further military duty. He also became the king’s son-in-law, marrying Saul’s daughter, Michel.  What went wrong, causing Saul to turn against David, causing David to flee for his life? Following becoming king, Saul’s spiritual life and relationship with the Lord God took a drastic downward plunge.  Throughout the book of I Samuel we read how he consistently disobeyed what he knew to be God’s will. Finally God decided to take the kingdom from Saul and his descendants, and give it to another. Saul realizes this will be David.

As Saul drifts further and further from God, he sinks deeper and deeper into depression and paranoia.  Saul’s jealousy rages out of control when he hears songs people have written, praising David’s victories in battle against the country’s enemies.  Several attempts on his life were made while he stayed with the royal court, and David finally had to flee for his life while Saul hunted him down.

When we deliberately and knowingly drift from God, consciously disobeying His Word, we cannot expect our life to go smoothly. When Saul came to the throne, he never would have thought, no one would have thought, that he would so violently seek the life of an innocent man.  Departing from God can lead us to do things we never would think ourselves capable of. Jealousy and bitterness are two ugly feelings. Left unchecked they can lead us right into the devil’s hands, as they did with Saul.  Now we have David and his band of guerrilla fighters fleeing in the wilderness for several years.

While hiding out near the city of Ziph, the townsfolk there betray David to Saul.  Why did they do that, we wonder. Perhaps they were looking for a royal reward, money for themselves and the city. Maybe a tax-free status for Ziph. Hiding David could only bring a promise of a reward in the future, if he became king, which was no sure thing in their eyes.  People knew, though, that David had done nothing wrong to the king, and was being unjustly pursued. Money and earthly rewards can tempt us to take an easy way, however wrong or hurtful to others it may be.

What did David do at this time?  Did he take matters into his own hands?  No, David prayed to the Lord as he always had, trusting Him to answer and protect him.  The residents of Ziph did not know him, as David said in verse 3, yet they were willing to turn against him. He prayed to the Lord to deal with his enemies, both Saul and his men, and also the Ziphites, as He saw fit.

Are you being unjustly attacked, people unfairly turning against you? Follow David’s example and turn the matter over to the Lord to handle. He can repay our enemies far better than we ever can (vs 5). As far as Scripture records, David never took vengeance on Ziph. He knew to leave vengeance to God (Romans 12:19). Instead David gave praise and sacrifices to the Lord (vs 6-7). We can know, as David did, that as long as we stay in His will, He will watch over and protect us. Let’s trust the Lord God in all of our trials and persecutions.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Battle Is The Lord's

I Samuel 17:17-51

Today’s Old Testament reading is one that most people are rather familiar with, having heard it as a Bible story when a child. However, there are many Biblical truths and lessons that we, as adults, can learn and apply to our lives today. Let’s jump right in.

As a little background before our passage begins, the people of the Philistines have been attacking the nation of Israel off and on for many years.  Currently the armies of each country are facing each other, with a valley between them. Rather than having a traditional battle, the Philistines declare they want a battle by champion, or single combat, where two individuals fight rather than two armies, winner taking all.  Their champion will be Goliath, a giant of a man, head and shoulders taller and bigger than anyone else. The Israelites have no one who could come close in size or strength, and they felt doomed. Do you have some giant problems in your life that you feel you can’t face in your own strength?

As our Scripture passage begins, a young, teen-aged David has been sent by his father to bring some provisions to his brothers in the army.  While there he hears the challenge and blasphemous cursing of Goliath (vs 20-24). He observes that no one from Israel is willing to stand up to him, to defend the Name of Yahweh.  Seeing this, David is righteously indignant! How dare that heathen defy the army of the living God! (vs 26). His brothers, however, get angry at him. David responds by declaring, “Is there not a cause?”  (vs 29). Isn’t the name and honor of God worthy enough to fight for? A good question today as well as back then.

David was brought into the tent of King Saul, where he declared he would go and fight Goliath. When Saul saw David he must have laughed, a scrappy teenager verses a giant who was a trained, lifelong soldier!  Saul was out of options. He knew that if he didn’t make a move soon, the army and nation would be lost, so he was willing to listen to David, and what he said was important, even to us today.

David had complete trust in God.  He anticipated divine help and victory.  As David faced Goliath, he remembered God’s help when in the past he had faced other dangers with a lion and a bear (vs 34-37). David had the right view of God, so he had the right view of Goliath. Goliath may have been the tallest person alive then, but he was small compared to God.  David’s confidence was not in himself or any weapons, it was in Who was with him - God.

As David approached Goliath on the field of battle, Goliath called out mocking, derogatory comments, trying to intimidate him (vs 42-44). David chose to listen to God’s words, not Goliath’s. Goliath’s words were from the enemy of our soul. In our trials who are we choosing to listen to?  God told David to trust in Him, and look at the results!

David was not intimidated when he stood before Goliath.  He knew where his power was going to come from (vs 45-47).  His eyes were not on Goliath and his strength or size. David’s eyes were on God, and His strength and size.  He knew the battle was the Lord’s, not his (vs 47).   We don’t fight battles like the people of the world do, with violence, anger, maliciousness, slander, etc.  We fight in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ (vs 45). There is authority in the Name of Jesus! When we call upon the Name of Jesus, heaven will back us up.

David was decisive.  He didn’t wait for Goliath to make the first move (vs 48-49).  He struck the first blow and won. Don’t let Satan make the first blow in our life, either.  Depend on God’s Name and strength, not our own. Before a battle, we need feed our faith with the Word of God.  We need to be alert to the devil’s tricks (I Peter 5:8). God wants us to depend on Jesus’s strength (Philippians 4:13). Also be sure to put on our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:10-18).

God magnifies His Name when we rely on Him.  He has us covered, for the battle belongs to Him, not to us! The victory is assured. David was able to stay brave in front of Goliath because he feared and loved God more than he feared anything else. Who or what are the “Goliaths” in your life today?  Look beyond what you see, to see what God sees. Look through the eyes of faith, as David did.

Friday, September 21, 2018

If You Can Believe

Mark 9:14-29

In today’s Gospel reading we meet a man that I can truly relate to. He is a despairing father who desperately needs a miracle. He has some faith, but at this moment it seems rather ragged.  Many of us have possibly faced a crisis of one sort or another, and can relate to this man’s trouble. Let’s take a look at Mark’s account.

Immediately prior to our passage Jesus had been off with His three closest disciples.  While He was away, the remaining nine disciples were ministering to the people in the area.  In the midst of the crowd a father comes with his terribly sick son, seeking healing for him. Not too many weeks before, Jesus had sent all twelve out with the power and authority to heal and cast out demons (Mark 6:7-13). This man’s son had been quite sick since he was a young child, having severe seizures, could not talk, and on top of it all, he was demonically possessed (vs 17-18, 21-22).  The demon was always trying to kill this young man by throw him into water and fire. The father brought him to the disciples, hoping for a miracle, but they were unable to cast out the demon or heal him (vs 18).  It was at this moment that Jesus returned, and heard what was happening.

Here we see this father at his most desperate and despairing moment.  He was tired, and felt he had nowhere else to go. His prayer to Jesus was not a confident, courageous, or strong one.  “If you can.  Have pity on us.  Help us.” (vs 22).  This father would soon find out that no problem, absolutely nothing is too difficult for God to handle.  The father had wondered if Jesus could or would help. Jesus gently let him know that the “if” was in the wrong place.  Not if Jesus can.  It is if we can believe (vs 22-23).

The father admitted the imperfection of his faith, mixed with doubt. He pleaded with Jesus to help him to have the greater faith the Lord demanded (vs 24).  No matter how much faith we have, we never reach the point of being self-sufficient. It is not stored away like money in a bank.  Growing in faith is a constant process of daily renewing our trust in Jesus. God doesn’t wait for us to have tremendous faith before He will answer our prayers, though.  All He requires is a little mustard seed size of genuine faith.

Jesus then turned to the young man, and addressing the demon, cast it out of him, and He healed him.  Jesus has absolute authority over demons. Jesus is the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. He is God.  Jesus has power over both the natural world and supernatural world.

Later the disciples asked Jesus why they had been unable to cast the demon out.  We are not really given the specific reason. They had been able to before. Some demons are more powerful and obstinate, thus more resistant to being cast out.  The battle with Satan is a difficult and ongoing one. Victory over sin and temptation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, not through our own efforts. Jesus said that these serious cases must be thoroughly covered in prayer. Often fasting should accompany the prayer (vs 29). Prayer is the key that unlocks faith in our life. Effective prayer needs complete dependance on God, and we need to come to Him and ask. There is no substitute for prayer, especially in circumstances that seem impossible.

When the disciples failed to bring healing, the father could have taken his son and left, but he didn’t.  He came then directly to Jesus. Don’t let the failures of other Christians destroy your faith in God. Look beyond their failures and Satan’s antics.  Also never cease to pray for loved ones. No case is hopeless with Jesus.

This man was a parent with a sick son. His prayer to Jesus wasn’t much, but the answer was.  The power is not in the prayer, but in the One who hears it. The devil cannot come up with a problem in our life that God cannot solve.  It’s not a question of what God can do, but of what you believe He can do. Let’s take our eyes off of our circumstances, and look to the Lord.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Showing Favoritism

James 2:1-18

Have you ever been snubbed?  Perhaps in high school you didn’t fit with the “in crowd”.  Or at work you were never asked to join the others in your department for lunch.  Whatever the situation, it is not pleasant. It is most hurtful if this occurs in church, where we would expect to feel welcomed.  Unfortunately sometimes this is the case. Our New Testament reading comes from the Book of James, one of the earliest books written in the New Testament.  Here he addresses the issue of favoritism towards the wealthy in church, so it’s been a problem right from the start.

Showing partiality in church should be unheard of, but it’s still seen today, as it was in the early church.  James addresses this, telling us we should not judge others by wealth, position or appearance (vs 1-4). Every person, regardless of how they look, or their bank account, is someone Jesus died for.  We should love all of our fellow believers (I John 4:20).

Why do people in some churches favor the rich over the poor?  One apparent reason is that they dress better. Affluent people will attract a “nicer” group of people to the church.  A homeless person will only repulse that “nice” set. Perhaps the wealthy can do something to help me. They are successful, winners in life, not losers.  Of course, they can give bigger donations to the church. We are often partial to the rich because we mistakenly believe that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing.  As we read through the whole of Scriptures, we see that God never promises us earthly rewards or riches. All throughout Scripture the poor are of special concern to Him.

Earthly riches do not indicate spiritual wealth.  Those who love God and obey Him are rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom (vs 5). Someone can have all of the money in the world, and still be lost, unsaved, and end up in hell, just as Jesus’s account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).  This does not mean the rich automatically are lost, or the poor automatically go to heaven. The poor usually are more aware of their powerlessness to save themselves.  It is easier for them to acknowledge their need for salvation. A barrier for the rich is their pride. For the poor it is bitterness. God doesn’t want us to ignore the rich, but neither should we favor them.  Treat everyone equally (vs 8-9). Let us be sure to welcome everyone to our church.

One key attribute in a believer’s life should be the mercy he shows others (vs 13).  A person who shows no mercy and compassion for people in need demonstrates that he has never responded to the great mercy of God, and will receive strict judgment.  If I want mercy for myself, I had better be a dispenser of mercy to others.

The remaining verses in our passage today, (vs 14-18), have caused some people confusion, thinking it contradicts other passages of Scripture.  James’s teaching does not contradict Paul’s teachings of salvation by faith alone. Paul emphasises the purpose of faith - to bring salvation. James emphasises the result of faith - a changed life.

We show our love for God by our acts of love to others.  Those acts, such as feeding and clothing the poor, do not earn us salvation, but they will show that we are saved.  The good works we do does not earn our salvation, but are evidence of it. They are evidence that the Holy Spirit is present in us, and moulding us into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  Right actions are the natural by-products of true faith. A genuine Christian will have a changed life.

When someone claims to have faith, but their actions or lifestyle belie this, what they may have is intellectual consent, agreeing with a set of Christian teachings, but that’s it.  That is incomplete faith. True faith changes our conduct, as well as our thoughts. If our lives remain the same, unchanged, we don’t truly believe the truths we claim to believe.

Faith without good deeds doesn’t do anybody any good.  It is useless. True faith always results in a changed life and good deeds.  True faith involves a commitment of our whole self to God.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Deliverance From Death

Psalm 116

The Bible is a very practical book, speaking to us right where we are in life, and the Book of Psalms is especially so.  The various authors of Psalms write honestly and openly about all sorts of different life experiences. The author of today’s psalm speaks of a time when he came close to dying, coming right up to death’s door, and how the Lord delivered him, bringing him back from death. That is something that some of you might be able to relate to. Let’s take a look at what our psalmist says about this experience, and what we can learn from it.

Our psalmist doesn’t specify exactly what happened that brought him so close to dying.  Perhaps it was a grave illness or a terrible accident. Whatever it was, it was serious.  He describes death coming and entangling him with its cords (vs. 3). We can almost see the spectre of death coming to him, and stretching out his long, dark fingers to grab him, and drag him off to the place of the dead. He was down, unable to get up anymore, and all he could do now was to cry (vs. 8). Have you been there? The fear of death is a strong one, and even believers shrink back from it.

Our psalmist, though, did not lie in total despair.  Instead he cried out to the Lord God in prayer (vs. 1-2, 4).  He knew that only the Lord could deliver him. He directed his prayers to Him in faith and trust, beseeching the Lord to rescue him and bring deliverance.  As we read throughout this psalm, the Lord did hear and answer his prayers. The whole psalm is a song of thanksgiving to the Lord for bring him back from the point of death.

God hears His children’s prayers.  We may often think that He is not there, or that He doesn’t care.  Our psalmist declares that this is not true. God does hear and care.  When we are quite afraid, what does that fear do? It eats away at our trust in God’s goodness.  We ask why He doesn’t come and protect us, whether it is deliverance from impending death from an illness, or rescue us from an enemy or financial difficulties.  We ask whether He cares or loves us? We are so quick to forget what God has done in the past. God turned His ear to the prayers of our psalmist, and He brought him deliverance from what had brought him close to death.  For this he gave the Lord unending praise and thanksgiving.

We read in verse 12 that the psalmist asked what he could do to repay the Lord for the blessings He had bestowed on him.  The answer is that we could never possibly pay back the Lord for all that He has done for us. He not only answers our prayers, like He did for today’s psalmist, bringing health and other blessings, but He also gives us all we see around us each day.  Most importantly, the Lord gives us something of immeasurable worth that we can never possibly pay back, and that is our salvation, which was bought with the Blood of His own Son, Jesus Christ. We can never pay back to the Lord for our salvation, or for His mercy and blessings.  The only thing we can give Him is our obedience and thanksgiving (vs 17-19).

What about those believers whose prayers for rescue or healing were not answered with deliverance, and they succumbed to death, sometimes prematurely?  Was it that the Lord did not love or care for them? No! We read in verse 15 that “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints”. Believers who have come to the Lord through the Blood of Jesus, called here as “saints”, are precious to God.  We grieve when a loved one dies. God also hurts when we are in sorrow. However, God also rejoices when a believer comes home to Him in heaven. God carefully chooses the time they will be called into His presence. The life of the believer is valuable to Him. If God is attentive to the death of sparrows (Matthew 10:29) isn’t He all the more attentive to the death of one of His Blood-bought children? For someone who has placed their faith and trust in Jesus, death is not the end, but really the beginning!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Steadfast Savior

Isaiah 50:4-11

Our Old Testament reading for this week comes from the prophet Isaiah. Throughout his writings, Isaiah wrote four times specifically about the coming Messiah as God’s Servant, who is the Lord Jesus Christ.  In addition to our passage today, the other three can be found in Isaiah 42:1-9; Isaiah 49:1-13; and Isaiah 52:13-53:12. In today’s passage, Isaiah has the Messiah speaking for Himself.  The Messiah/Servant talks of being perfected by His obedience to God the Father.

In verse 4 we read that the words that Jesus, the Messiah/Servant spoke were the words that the Father gave Him to speak (John 14:10).  As we read His words in the Gospels, they are, indeed, words to uplift the weary and beaten down. They are the Words of Life (John 6:68).

Jesus was obedient to all that the Father gave Him to do.  He was not rebellious, no matter how difficult it may have been (vs 5).  As we know, the opposition Jesus faced was not easy. All throughout His years of ministry the leaders fought against Him.  Jesus, the Servant, was obedient to God, even though His enemies, who treated him horribly, tried to provoke Him into rebelling against the Father (vs 6).  Jesus remained submissive to His will. We read in this verse just some of the physical torture He went through before the crucifixion - the scourging across the back with the Roman whips, the beatings across the face, including pulling out his beard, and the humiliation of being spat upon.

Jesus knew, as the Son of God, that He had come to be the sacrifice for our sins, yet the human dread of what He would have to go through did not deter Him from going forward (vs. 7).  Jesus resolutely determined to stay the course, obeying the Father no matter the cost, as Isaiah said, setting His face like flint, steadfastly determined. The Gospel of Luke describes this in Luke 9:51.  Even though Jesus knew what awaited Him in Jerusalem, He set His face to go there anyway. How was He able to do this? It is certainly not easy to go ahead, knowing the torture one would face. Jesus, the Servant, knew He had the Father’s support (vs 8-9).  Because He was obedient to the Father’s will He could face any adversary.

As believers and followers of the Messiah Jesus, we can take heart with the trials and opposition we might face for our faith.  When we know that God is for us, then we can set our face like flint, as well (vs. 7). We can be, as the Apostle Paul said, steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (I Corinthians 15:58).  We can endure the trial without wavering.

Isaiah closes up this passage with a warning (vs 10-11).  This is a warning to those who try to escape moral and spiritual darkness by trying to light their own fire through their own works of righteousness and following man-made religions.  That will end in eternal torment. Don’t try to be self-sufficient in trying to walk in our own light, our own attempts at trying to work our own righteousness. Our own intelligence and accomplishments will fade away, and our own strength will wane, with the results being torment.  If we trust in God, instead, He will always help us, and always succeed.

When dark and difficult times come, as they always do, we who have trusted Jesus, do not have to grope around in despair like the unsaved without hope do.  We can take God’s hand, and trust Him to lead us. I repeat the call to the unsaved that Isaiah gives at the close of this passage - come to God through His Son, Jesus, and believe.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Ephphatha - Be Opened

Mark 7:31-37

In our Scripture reading today from Mark, we read the account of Jesus healing a deaf-mute man, bringing him out of a silent and isolated world.  Let’s open up this passage of God’s Word and see what we can learn, and also apply to our lives today.

Immediately prior to when our passage takes place Jesus had been in the area of the cities of Tyre and Sidon, which were northwest of Israel, along the Mediterranean coast, and also a predominantly Gentile area.  It was here that Jesus cast a demon out of the daughter of a Gentile woman, hearkening to her desperate prayers (Mark 7:24-30). From Tyre and Sidon, Jesus and His disciples traveled to the east, to the area east of the Sea of Galilee, the area of Decapolis (vs 31).  Decapolis was a group of ten cities east of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, and were also predominantly Gentile. Though Jesus was with His disciples, teaching them throughout this time, He was there for the Gentiles, as well. Throughout His three years of ministry on earth, Jesus ministered to the Gentiles as well as the Jewish people.  In this way He was preparing the disciples to their job of bringing the Gospel message of salvation to all people.

While in the Decapolis, a man was brought to Jesus who was both deaf and mute (vs 32).  The Bible does not say whether this man was Jewish or Gentile, though Gentiles were in the majority in this area. We also do not know for how long this man was deaf. The fact that he had great difficulty in talking might indicate he was either born deaf or became deaf at a very early age.  We learn to speak by imitating the speech of our parents, siblings, and other adults. Therefore if we can’t hear them speak, it is very difficult, often impossible, to learn to speak understandably.  In Jesus’s day the deaf had very little means of communicating with the hearing world. They would have had limited way to receive an education or training, and unless they came from a wealthy family, were doomed to a life of struggle.

Jesus had mercy on this man.  He took the deaf man aside, and touching both his ears and mouth, healed him (vs 33-35).  As Jesus touched him, He spoke the word “Ephphatha”, which is Aramaic for “be opened”. Jesus opened this poor man’s ears so he could hear, and opened his mouth, so he could speak. Now this man could hear the sound of his family and friends voices. He could hear the sound of the birds, music, and laughter. He could speak now, and effectively communicate for the first time.

Jesus is saying the same word to us today.  He is saying to us, “Ephphatha”. We may not be physically deaf, but do we hear what God is saying to us?  Are our ears opened to His Words? God speaks to us through His Word, the Bible, and through the words of His servants.  Frequently we can be as hard of hearing as someone who is deaf, and we do not listen to God. Jesus says to us, “Ephphatha, be opened”.  He wants us to open our ears, hear His Word, and respond to it.

Jesus is also telling us to allow our mouth to be opened.  Opened for what? Scripture is very explicit in warning us to watch out what we say, so what is our mouth to be opened for?  Jesus wants us to “be opened” to spread the Word of God and His message of salvation. Again, like with our ears, often our mouth is shut. It’s a common problem that our mouth is open, speaking when we shouldn’t, and closed when we should speak out.

The man that Jesus healed, bringing him out of a world of silence, would have been open to hearing what Jesus had to say.  I am sure that he would have been eager to tell others about Him, as well. We need to open our ears to listen to all God is telling us.  We need to be open in telling others the message of Jesus and what He says in the Bible. Jesus says to us today, “Ephphatha”. Be opened!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Look Into God's Mirror

James 1:17-27

Our New Testament readings for the next few weeks from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer take us to the Epistle or Letter from James.  Most Bible scholars believe that the James who wrote this was the half brother or step-brother of Jesus. Though he was undoubtedly a devout and religious Jew, during the years of Jesus’s public ministry James did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, nor did he follow Him (John 7:1-5).  Shortly after His resurrection from the dead, however, Jesus met with James, at which point he became a strong believer (I Corinthians 15:3-8). James became the leader, or bishop, of the church in Jerusalem, and is believed to have been martyred shortly before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  James’s letter to fellow believers is a practical one, giving us direction and counsel on Christian living.

As our passage begins, James reminds us that every good thing we have in our life, every blessing, comes from God (vs 17).  This includes not only the good things specific to our life, like our family, friends, home, job, food, but also all of the beautiful things we see in creation.  These are all gifts to us from our Heavenly Father. He is a wonderful Father, who never changes.

Next James gives us some advice that we could all benefit from following, and that is to be quick to hear, but slow to speak, slow to anger (vs 19-20).  So many of us are just the opposite. We open our mouth and blurt out whatever we think when we should have kept it shut, and we are often quick to lose our tempers. Because our anger is so often self-centered and not upstanding, it doesn’t serve God’s purposes, and leaves a poor testimony.  James tells us, in light of this, to get rid of all immorality and evil in our life (vs 21). The best thing to help us is to receive God’s Word in our heart. God’s Word, the Holy Bible alone, is what can save our souls.

James’s next instruction to his readers is a very important one, both then and now, which is to be a doer of the Word of God, not just one who hears or reads it, and does nothing (vs 22-25).  This is a very important lesson that God wants us to hear. When we look into the mirror each day, our purpose is to see how we are. Does our hair need a touch-up brushing? Does a little of our last meal still linger around our mouth?  Are our clothes on nice and straight? It would be foolish to look in the mirror, see this, and then walk away doing nothing. Are we that way with what we read in the Bible? We read of how the Lord wants us to act, the things that, as believers, we should be doing, we agree with Him, but then walk away and do nothing.  James says that we are deceiving ourselves if this is what we are doing. Though the Scriptures are most unequivocal and explicit in stating that we are saved by faith and not works, it is also clear that if there is no fruit, there is no root. In other words, our believing faith will show forth by our actions. James says here that if we are reading or hearing God’s Word, but not putting anything we hear into action, is our faith really genuine, or are we deceiving ourselves?  God promises that if we look into His perfect Word and follow it, we will be blessed in all we do.

Next James gives us another warning about our mouth and our word (vs . 26). I know that I can’t be warned enough about that! Here in this verse he is quite blunt, and tells us to put a bridle on our tongue. Just as a horse is brought under control by the bridle we put on him, we need to bring our tongue under control. How often we need to pull back on the reins of our tongue and stop what we’re about to say!

In closing our passage for today, James gives us a couple of good, practical examples of what we, as believers should be doing for the Lord (vs 27).  James says that if we say we are Christians, then show it by helping the most needy in society.  In his day those were widows and orphans. He also says to not let the corrupted conduct of the world soil us with its sins.

How are we doing?  Let’s take a good look into God’s mirror, His Word, see what needs to be done in our life, straighten it up, and then go out into the world and serve Him.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Our Real Source Of Help

Psalm 146

As we go through life, there are a few things we find to be major concerns for many people, and those are our financial state, the state of our health, and the peace or lack thereof in our country and world. With those usually being big concerns, who are we looking to for our help and support in life? Who is the source for our finances, for our health, and peace? In our Scripture reading for today from the Book of Psalms, we read the answer of who we should be looking to.  Let’s spend a moment to take a brief look into this psalm.

To whom or to what are we looking to for our financial well-being? Some may think that it is their job, their boss. They may be trusting in bank accounts, investments, or retirement accounts.  Others may be depending on government assistance. As many have seen, these can come crashing down. Our job can be lost in a day, often with no warning.  Financial markets and banks can collapse and fail, and our investments with it. Government assistance is never dependable, and can be withdrawn in a moment.  None of these can be confidently relied on.

What about our health?  Who are we looking to for that?  Some may be fortunate, and have a very good doctor and excellent medical insurance.  As we know, though, even the best of doctors do not know, and cannot cure everything.  Just as our job can disappear, so can that medical insurance. We cannot even rely on always having good health.  That can change overnight. As for trusting in our country and government to keep us safe from harm and danger, history shows that is never reliable.

So who can we look to as our source for our financial stability and health?  Our psalmist today tells us very clearly that man cannot be relied upon for help (vs 3-4).  Putting our hope in any man to really help us is futile. Even the best of men are limited. God is the only true hope and help of the needy.  God is the Creator of the world and all therein, and as thus, He is both omnipotent and omniscient (vs 6). Since that cannot be said of any man, God is infinitely a better choice to look to for help.  Man’s trust is best placed in the Creator of heaven and earth.

In verses 6 - 9 the psalmist lists just some of the ways in which we can rely on God to be our source, our help, in every area of our life. First, in verse 6, He is truthful. We all know that is frequently not the case with man. Our bosses often cheat us, and how often is any government truthful to its people?  We can count on God for justice, as well (vs 7). That, too, is something we frequently cannot get from neither man nor government, but we can from God. He gives us both literal and spiritual food and freedom.

We can also look to the Lord for our healing (vs 8).  That is not to say that we should never see or trust our physicians or the medical field, but our ultimate faith and reliance should be in God.  Verse 8 speaks of God opening the eyes of the blind. Restoring the sight of the blind was one miracle never performed in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, performed that many times, both physically and spiritually.

What about the “little people”, the downtrodden, helpless, and those who have nothing or nobody to help them?  Who can they turn to? Verses 8 and 9 assure us that the Lord God watches over them. He is their source for help.  He lifts up those who are bowed down from any type of oppression, and brings relief to those who have no means of support.  Man often cannot or chooses not to help these helpless ones, but God reaches out and helps those in need.

Our psalmist both began and ended his psalm with praise to the Lord God. When we spend time praising God, it takes our focus off of our problems and on to Him.  We meditate on and appreciate God’s character. Our eyes need to turn from here on earth to God in heaven, who is our real source of help.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Never Abandoned Or Forsaken

Isaiah 35:3-7

Have you ever been really down and discouraged?  The world looks very bleak and grim. It’s especially difficult when you know the bad situation you are in is due to your own fault.  The prophet Isaiah had come to the Jewish people, and told them that God was going to judge them because of their sins. Many other prophets had said the same thing.  The majority of the people individually, and the nation as a whole, corporately, had sinned against God by following after the pagan gods of the neighboring nations. Now God was bringing deserved judgment, and they had every reason to feel defeated and discouraged.  As our Old Testament passage opens for today, Isaiah brings a ray of hope to the people. They may have messed up badly, but God would not completely forsake them.

When we feel depressed and discouraged sometimes it is difficult to get up and do anything.  It might feel like our body doesn’t want to even move. Isaiah’s message today was to bring encouragement to the weak, feeble, and fearful (vs 3-4).  In the midst of difficult days and judgment, God had good news for His people, and He wanted Isaiah to bring them this hope. The author of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament also used this verse to bring encouragement to the Christians who were suffering persecution (Hebrews 12:12).  He gives hope to any who accept Him. Are there those around us who could use similar encouragement, who we could give strength and hope to?

What was this message of hope that God wanted Isaiah to give the people?  It was the message that God would come to them and save them (vs 4). He had not forgotten them in their troubles.  Maybe the situation they found themselves in was their own fault, but God still loved them. We see this fulfilled in God sending His Son, Jesus Christ to pay the price for our sins, and bring salvation to those who accepted Him.   God did not abandon His people. He has not abandoned us, either. He sent the Messiah to them, just as He has for us. His desire to redeem us was so strong, He did it with a vengeance, to reverse all that Satan and sin had done to mankind.

There are many around us who are blind and deaf to God’s message of redemption (vs 5).  This was the case during the days of Isaiah, the days of Jesus, and today. We need to pray and work to reverse the spiritual condition of those around us.  The day will come in the future when everyone’s eyes will be opened and their ears unstopped. Isaiah closes this passage with giving us a brief glimpse of that day.  When Jesus returns to earth to set up His Kingdom, spiritual blindness and deafness will be opened, and all will see and recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord and King (Philippians 2:9-11).

Not only that, but the physically blind and deaf will be healed then. Their eyes will be opened, and their ears unstopped so they both hear and see.  Those who are crippled will be able to run and leap (vs 6). All physical ailments will be gone for those who live in God’s Kingdom.

There are many parts of the world where water is a scarce commodity.  It is a necessity to life, even more so than food. When Jesus returns, Isaiah say that the desert areas on earth will have springs of water flowing through them (vs 6-7).  To all those who are who have a covenant with God through the Blood of His Son, Jesus, He will give Living Water, the Holy Spirit. He is much more precious than water in a desert.

Be strong, because God has not abandoned us.  He will rescue us, redeem us, and set us free.  Sometimes we are fearful, especially when times are tough. Remember, though, God says to be strong, and fear not.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Religious Hypocrites

Mark 7:1-23

Most of us have run across hypocrites in our life, and we can say they are an irritating bunch, pretending to be something that in reality they are not.  We find them quite frequently in religious circles, often trying to act as if they are better than everyone else. On several occasions Jesus came across religious hypocrites, and in today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel we will see what He had to say to them.

As our passage begins, some of the religious leaders and Pharisees were watching Jesus’s disciples sit down to eat, and they saw that the disciples did not go through the elaborate, ritual hand washing first (vs 1-4).  This wasn’t standard hand washing that everyone would do before eating. This was a man-made law; a ritualistic tradition that the religious leaders years earlier had come up with, along with the way they washed dishes, and many other traditions.  Over the years there came to be multiple hundreds of man-made ritual traditions that the Pharisees and religious leaders set up over God’s Law. By the time of Jesus’s day, all of these man-made rules had supplanted God’s Word. Following these traditions, even above the Bible, made them feel more holy, more righteous, than other people, and they tried to force others to follow them ahead of Scriptures.

When Jesus heard the criticism the Pharisees were leveling at His disciples, He responded to them by quoting a verse from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13). Even in Isaiah’s day there were those who set up man-made rules and traditions ahead of God’s Word, having thoughtless conformity without a pure heart. The Pharisees were hypocrites because they worshipped God for the wrong reasons. They were not motivated by love for God, but by desire to appear holy, and increase their status.  Some people act religious by their actions, but their hearts are not true to God. We too are hypocrites if we follow certain religious practices while allowing our hearts to remain distant from God.  Traditions do not make us acceptable to God.

Jesus then brought up one tradition that was frequently practiced, which was particularly abhorrent to Him, and that was the practice some followed of taking money or goods that should be used in taking care of elderly parents, and instead say it was holy, or sacred to God, (Corban), and thus the elderly parents had no means of support (vs 9-13).   If a son became angry at his older parents, he could declare his money or goods “Corban”, and then not have to take care of his parents. Jesus strongly condemned the religious leaders because they were cancelling God’s Word (specifically here the command to honor parents) with their own man-made rules.

There are those, who like the Pharisees of old, like to set up religious rules and have others obey them, as well, even though these are not found in Scripture. It is important that we not set up our own man-made religious rules and regulations that have no basis in the Word of God. Jesus condemned it back then, and He would now.

Our passage today closes with Jesus admonishing the crowds around Him about what really defiles someone (vs 14-23).  The Pharisees and religious leaders were very particular about what they ate, being sure everything was kosher and prepared properly.  Jesus had some important words for those around Him about food, and thinking that what one ate made them righteous and better than others.  What a person eats and drinks cannot defile him, but any ungodly words and actions can. It is more important what is in our heart and mind than what particular diet we have or choice of food we eat (Acts 10:9-29). Our diet doesn’t make us holy or any better than any better than anyone else. The core issue comes down to what is in the heart.

Evil actions begin with thoughts.  By letting our minds dwell on lust, envy, hatred or revenge, they will lead us to sin.   Instead, think of what is right, pure, and good (Phillipians 4:8). A person’s defiled heart is expressed both in what he says and does.  External food cannot defile a person internally. External ceremonies and rituals cannot cleanse a person spiritually. Only what is in us will spill out. If it is anger, bitterness, and such, that will come out. If it is the fruits of the Spirit, such as love, joy, and peace, that will come out. Let’s be sure that is what is in us.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Spiritual Armor

Ephesians 6:10-20

Our New Testament reading for today is a passage many might be familiar with, that of the spiritual armor the Lord has provided us with.  You might wonder why we would need armor, as that is for soldiers in battle. The Christian life is not one of ease. We have a powerful and organized enemy. The battle we are in is real, not figurative, and so is the enemy. God has not left us defenseless. He has given us the Holy Spirit, and has provided spiritual armor in our battle against Satan.

Even though Satan has been ultimately defeated through Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection, there are still fierce battles that Satan fights against believers. We must be prepared and equipped, using every weapon God has given us (vs 10-13). Satan uses crafty and clever methods. He is cunning and deceptive. His ways are used by the evil system of the world over which he rules through sinful and immoral practices, worldly enticements, and false theology and religions.  The demons under Satan’s control and leadership have the goal of defeating the Church. Those we fight against are the powerful evil forces of the fallen angels who united with Satan (vs 12). They try to turn us against Jesus, and back into sin. Satan is constantly battling against all who are on the Lord’s side.

Now that we know we are in a real battle against a powerful and hateful enemy, what are we to do?  What chance do we have? God has given us some very special armor and weapons. We must be ready and willing to use it, though. To withstand the attack of the forces of evil, we must put on and use every piece of armor God has given us. We mustn’t fight in our own strength, but in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.  The word “stand” is repeated in this passage three times. We are to stand firm against our enemy without wavering or falling.

The first piece that God has given us is the Belt of Truth (vs 14).  A belt goes around the waist, keeps excess clothing from getting in the way, and holds everything up and together.  In just the same way, God’s truth will hold everything together.

The second piece is the Breastplate of Righteousness (vs 14).  For a Roman soldier, a breastplate was a fitted piece of armor, constructed in segments, and protected vital organs.  God’s righteousness and holiness is what protects us. It is our chief protection against Satan. A lack of holiness leaves us vulnerable. The breastplate was not heavy or cumbersome. Jesus’s righteousness is an easy yoke (Matthew 11:28-30).

Our third item are the Shoes of Peace (vs 15).  Soldiers need good, sturdy boots. They provide a good foundation, and ability to carry out the soldier’s duties. Our foundation is the good news that through Jesus we have peace with God, and He is on our side. This allows us to stand firm against Satan, knowing we have peace with God through our salvation.

God has also provided us with the Shield of Faith (vs 16).  Roman shields were large enough to shield the whole body. The soldiers could crouch behind them and be safe.  The word “faith” here is not the body of doctrine, but basic trust in God. Trust and faith is absolutely necessary to protect us from temptations, which are the fiery arrows Satan shoots at us.  Doubt and fear are some of the fiery darts of Satan, and they can wound us. Faith is our strongest defense against them. Faith and trust in God keeps us safe.

Our fifth item is the Helmet of Salvation (vs 17).  The head is a major target, as hitting it is often a death-blow.  Paul is speaking to people who are already saved, so this is not attaining salvation. Satan seeks to destroy a believer’s assurance of salvation with doubts and discouragement.  Knowing we are saved keeps us secure against doubt and despair.

The last item is our only offensive weapon, and that is the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (vs 17).  God’s Word is our only weapon against Satan. It is used both to fend off Satan’s attacks, and offensively to destroy the enemy’s strategies.  As good soldiers of God, we need to really learn the Word of God, just as a Roman soldier had to learn to use his sword.

Satan does still put up a fight, but the battle has already been won by Jesus.  It is easy to forget that an invisible war is raging around us. Our inattention makes us prime candidates for attack.  We need to recognize Satan’s attacks, and know his goals. Be trained for battle, and don’t give the enemy a foothold. Christians need to hold on to the Word of God, standing firm in righteousness. Evil will not prevail!