Saturday, March 30, 2019

What Are These Stones?

Joshua 4:19-24

Most countries have various memorials in places throughout their country.  I have visited my nation’s capital, Washington D.C., several times, and seen the many memorials and monuments there to remind us of people and events in the past.  Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields have memorials to remind us of historic events. Families have various ways to remind themselves of important events in their past, as well.  In our Old Testament reading from this week’s Lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer we read of a memorial that the people set up to remind them of what God had done for them.

As our passage opens, the people of Israel are ready to enter into the land of Canaan, the land that the Lord God had promised them.  God had rescued them, bringing them out of captivity in Egypt, and they had spent many years journeying through the wilderness. When they had left Egypt, and the whole Egyptian army was in pursuit of them, the Lord God provided a great miracle of deliverance for them by parting the waters of the Red Sea for them to pass safely over (Exodus 14:13-31).  Throughout the years of wandering in the wilderness, the Lord provided for their every need. Now they had arrived on the west side of the River Jordan, preparing to cross and enter the Promised Land.

The Jordan River is approximately 156 miles long, starting in the north near the border of Lebanon, and ending in the Dead Sea in the south.  It is not generally a big river, varying in depth from 3 to 10 feet deep, and about 100 feet wide. However, when the Israelites were to cross the river it was during the spring flooding season. What were the people to do? They were just opposite the river from the city of Jericho. They couldn’t journey many miles north to a smaller crossing. Nor did they want to wait until the flood stage passed, as the Lord wanted them to celebrate the Passover in the Promised Land.  It was here that the Lord God provided them with another miracle, similar to the one He provided them at the Red Sea. He parted the Jordan River for the people to pass over to the other side (Joshua 3:14-17).

How quickly we forget the blessings, answers to prayer, and even miracles from the Lord.  Joshua did not want the people to forget exactly how God brought them into the land of Canaan, so he instructed one man from each of the twelve tribes to retrieve a large rock from the river.  They were to set the rocks in a tower-like monument to remind the people exactly what had happened here, when the Lord stopped the waters of the Jordan River in order for the people to cross on dry ground. Years later, when their children and grandchildren would ask what was the meaning of the tower of rocks, they would be told how God provided a miracle for the people to cross the river and enter the Promised Land.

How do we remember special blessings from the Lord in our lives? Many people keep a prayer journal where they write down things they have been praying for, and then the answers to these prayers, along with the date. Perhaps it would be good to have something even more concrete to remind us of some special answer to prayer, one that people could even look at and ask what it means.  That way we could say, just like the Israelites of old did, that this is here to remind me of how God answered this or that certain prayer, or remind me of how God provided this or that for me when I had a real need.

It is so easy to forget the Lord’s blessings.  The people of Israel so quickly forget, even with various monuments there to remind them. They forgot and quickly fell into idolatry, bringing judgment upon themselves. We, too, quickly forget when God answers our prayers, and start into grumbling and moaning our situation in life or fall into worldly living.  God wants the whole world to know Him. If they hear us tell of His mighty deeds, then they will be drawn to want to know this great God we have. God will glorify Himself, and make His activities known through us. Let’s be sure to remember what God has done in our life, and then tell the generations to come about Him.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Tragedy And Judgment

Luke 13:1-9

When we see or hear about a person that had a tragic accident or illness, what’s the first thing that comes to our mind?  For some people, the first thing that they think is “what did they do in their life to deserve this punishment?” Many people equate tragedies with God’s punishment or some sort of negative cosmic karma, and good things with God’s pleasure.  In today’s Scripture from the Gospel of Luke we read what Jesus had to say about this matter. Let’s take a look and see what we can learn today.

Jesus was with His disciples and some people told Him about a current news item at the time.  Pontius Pilate, the Roman appointed governor of Judea, had some Galileans executed while they were in Jerusalem (vs. 1).  There is no further reference to this incident in either Scripture or other historical records. The occupying Roman army would frequently execute people for infractions of the law, so this was not unusual. They also mentioned another incident that had recently happened, that of the collapse of the tower of Siloam, killing 18 people (vs. 4).  The disciples questioned why these events happened. The Galileans had gone to Jerusalem to worship God and offer sacrifices, and for some unmentioned reason, they were executed. Then a tragic accident happens, killing a number of people.

As is common among many people, the disciples must have started to speculate what these people must have done or not done for God to allow this to happen. The disciples had asked the same thing when they had come across a man who had been born blind, and they questioned who had sinned to allow this to happen (John 9:1-3).  It has been the assumption for ages, that bad things only happen when someone has grievously sinned. Jesus immediately set that thinking straight by saying this is not always the case (vs. 2-3).  Sometimes a person’s sinful or wrong behavior will bring about a tragic event.  A person gets drunk and then drives, causing a tragic accident. A hot temper can cause a fight with bad results.  A gambler can gamble away his finances and lose his house. However Jesus says here that tragedies happen, and we should never judge and say that the people were sinners and getting God’s judgment. Victims of tragedies are not necessarily recipients of divine judgment.

Jesus proceeds to give His listeners, and us today, a warning (vs. 3, 5).  We need to be focussing on our own souls. Accidents happen. Death can come unexpectedly to anyone.  Are we ready to meet God at any moment? It can happen. No one is guaranteed tomorrow, or even the next hour.  Jesus said we all need to repent and be prepared for eternity. We are not guaranteed time to prepare for death, thinking that death won’t happen until some time after age 90, so we can wait and take care of our souls then.  Now is the time for repentance.  This is a dangerous world, where tragedies occur without warning. We need to always be ready to meet God.

Jesus then tells His listeners a parable, which at first glance seems to be a change of subject (vs. 6-9).  However it does have a connection to what He was telling the disciples. Jesus talks about an unfruitful tree and how the owner wished to have it cut down.  The gardener says to wait, as he will give it special attention, and then if it doesn’t produce fruit, it can be cut down. In the Old Testament a fruitful tree was often used as a symbol of godly living (Psalm 1:3; Jeremiah 17:7-8).  While we are here on earth, our life is to be fruitful to God. Believers are to be bearing much fruit. Jesus showed what happens to the other kind of tree - a worthless life which produces nothing of value for God’s kingdom. God will not tolerate forever those who do nothing for Him.

Our passage today is not necessarily a soft and comforting one.  Not everything that Jesus said and taught was warm and fuzzy. Sometimes His lessons were strong ones.  Time here on earth is not guaranteed and tragedies happen every day. Are you ready to meet the Lord? Jesus tells us to repent and turn to Him. Do not wait another day to do that. Jesus also tells His followers to be sure that we are making our lives count for Him. He wants us all to be a fruitful tree, bearing fruit for His kingdom.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Heed The Warnings

I Corinthians 10:1-13

It is always wise to pay attention to warnings.  It’s the beginning of tornado season around where I live, and when one hears the tornado sirens going off, it is important to pay attention and get to a safe part of the house.  Warnings on railroad crossings, on medications, and on power tools are important to heed for one’s own safety. As children we are often taught to follow the good examples of others, and taking warning from their bad examples.  In today’s Scripture passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, he instructs us to take warning from the examples of the people in Israel’s past.

As our passage begins, Paul reminds the readers of how God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, parting the Red Sea for them to escape, leading them through the wilderness by the pillar of cloud, and miraculously providing them with both food and water (vs. 1-4). Every day they had food to eat and water to drink. Their clothes did not wear out (Deuteronomy 29:5), and the Lord protected them from all of their enemies. However, as Paul warns, the Israelites actions and behavior displeased God (vs. 5). After being freed from several centuries of slavery, being led to the promised land, and having all of their needs provided for, the people immediately fell into rebellion against God. They began worshipping idols, engaged in immoral practices, and were extremely ungrateful.  Other than Joshua and Caleb, everyone who was an adult when they left Egypt would not enter the Promised Land, but died in the wilderness.

What were these sins that the Israelites so quickly fell into after they left Egypt, and ones we need to be careful to avoid?  There were four major ones that Paul highlights in this passage: idolatry, sexual immorality, testing God, and complaining. The people were barely out of Egypt when they started worshipping idols (vs. 7-8).  They provoked Aaron into making the golden calf to worship (Exodus 32:1-28), and throughout the wilderness wanderings there was much sexual immorality (Numbers 25:1-9). God’s judgment fell upon them for these sins.

A short while later the people of Israel started complaining against God and testing Him, questioning His goodness (vs. 9).  As a result the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people as a punishment (Numbers 21:5-9). When a group of people complained against the leadership of Moses (vs. 10), God opened the earth up beneath them and swallowed them down alive (Numbers 16:1-32).  Then immediately afterwards, rather than taking warning, many more people complained against Moses about what had just happened, and the wrath of God fell upon them, as well (Numbers 16:41-50).

Paul told his readers, and to us today, that these weren’t just written down to be a history lesson.  They were written down to be a warning to us on how to live, and to not follow their bad example (vs. 11).  Do not forget the lessons of the past. We need to remember them so we can avoid repeating their errors. Everything in God’s Word exists for our example, warning, and admonition (Romans 15:4).  Paul warns that we need to be careful to not think this could never happen to us. He knew that anyone can easily fall (vs. 12). Paul knew he could, and we certainly can, as well, so we need to heed the warnings of the past.

Wrong desires and temptations happen to everyone (vs. 13).  No one is singled out with extra-strong temptations. Others have resisted temptation, so we can, too.  God will help us resist them, so turn to Him for help. If we have asked Jesus to be our Savior, then we have the Holy Spirit living in us.  He will give us power and wisdom to overcome our sinful impulses so we can obey Him. God will help us when we’re tempted to keep running back to the mud puddles of life.

The power of sin was defeated at the Cross.  As we pray to God for His help, He will help us run from what we know is sin (II Timothy 2:22).  As we study the Bible regularly, we remember the lessons of the past and are reminded of how God wants us to live.  Worship only the Lord God. Keep ourselves pure. Be grateful to God for His blessings. Don’t make the same mistakes that the Israelites did!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Why Do The Ungodly Prosper?

Psalm 73

Most of us, at one time or another, have looked around at the world and wondered why those who live wicked lives seem to sail through life without a problem.  They never seem to have many problems, and when they do, they always have the money to fix them, or the right connections to other scoundrels who can “fix” the problem for them.  We look at ourselves, trying to live righteously, and we struggle day by day to get by. This is the theme of the psalm that Asaph wrote, which we will look into today.

Sometimes, even when we have tried to do what is right and help others, life is unfair.  Sinful behavior gets rewarded, and godliness goes unnoticed, it seems. However, God does pay attention.  Though it took a little while, Asaph came to see this.  Initially Asaph looked around and all he could see was the prosperity of the rich and ungodly (vs. 1-9).  They seem to go through life with few problems, with good health and good jobs, and then they die a peaceful death. People seem to drink in every wicked thing they say (vs. 8-10). They live and act as if God doesn’t see their behavior and life.  Sometimes we feel as if He doesn’t, either (vs. 11).

Sometimes, when we see how easy the wicked have it, we wonder if it’s worth it to live righteously.  Asaph was beginning to feel this way (vs. 13). However, as Asaph came to God in prayer and meditation, when he came to worship Him, it was then that he began to understand God’s perspective on the fate of the wicked (vs. 17).  Our obedience to God is never in vain. We will reap a harvest in eternity. Do not grow weary of trying to do good for the Lord. He will provide a harvest. We reap what we sow, more than we sow, and later than we sow (Galatians 6:9).

While he pondered this distressing dilemma Asaph knew that he would always remain with the Lord, and that the Lord would be there by him, holding his hand (vs. 23).  If we are a believer, we are always with God. He is never far from us. If we give our hand to God, He will reach out and take it. His eye is always on us, and we are continually on His mind.

The rich may have their thick bank accounts, fine houses, and shiny cars, but Asaph knew he had the Lord (vs. 25-26).  The Lord is our portion (Lamentations 3:24). He is not just a part of our portion, but He is all of it, our all-sufficient portion.  He, alone, can truly satisfy our needs and desires.  When everything in life is falling apart, God is our strength and our portion.  When we find our strength in God, His power is perfected in our weakness (II Corinthians 12:9-10).

Asaph made several observations in this psalm he wrote.  He saw how the wicked prospered, and that the godly wonder why that would be.  The wealth of wicked seems so inviting that the godly might want to change places.  But the Lord let Asaph know that the smooth life and wealth of the wicked will suddenly come to an end. The rewards of the godly will come.  Their wealth was a waste, and the life of the godly will get eternal rewards.  Those who abandon God to live like they choose, and worship who and what they choose, will face eternal death and damnation.

When things confuse us, like they did Asaph, we need to look at life from God’s perspective.  Unbelief is a sin, but honest questioning, like Asaph had, is accepted by God. Sometimes when we don’t get an answer to our “whys” it is because we don’t have the capacity to understand the answer.  Let us be reassured by the Lord, as Asaph was, to keep sowing seeds of righteousness, because one day the harvest will come.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Qualified For The Job

Exodus 3:1-15

When we look for a new job, one of the things that we check while reading the job descriptions is the qualifications that the employer is looking for.  There is nothing to be gained in applying for a job if we don’t have any of the qualifications. However, if the employer says he will train and help us each step of the way, then that’s different. That would be a job we should apply for. In our Scripture passage today from the Book of Exodus, God had a job He wished Moses to do, yet Moses did not feel he could handle it, and wanted to pass on the opportunity.

Most of us know the story and background of Moses.  The descendents of Jacob, who had come into Egypt, were now slaves. Pharaoh had given an order for all male children to be killed at birth. However, Moses’ mother saved her baby son by making a watertight basket and putting him in the Nile.  There he was found by the daughter of Pharaoh and brought up as her son in the royal courts of Egypt. Later Moses kills an Egyptian guard who was beating a Hebrew slave and flees the country, where he spends the next 40 years as a shepherd.  It is here in the land of Midian, while watching sheep, that God appears in the burning bush to Moses.

When Moses saw the burning bush that was not consumed by the flames he turned aside to see it (vs. 2-3).  He wasn’t too busy to bother, nor did he just shrug and keep on going. God was able to get his attention.  We should never be too busy or apathetic to hear when God speaks to us. When Moses came closer to check this out, God spoke to him, and the first thing He said was for Moses to remove his sandals (vs. 5).  Taking one’s shoes off was a sign of reverence, showing one’s unworthiness before God. God is a holy God.  To approach frivolously shows a lack of respect and sincerity. He is a holy God. It is true that if we’ve accepted Jesus as our Savior, He is our Friend, but He is also our Sovereign Lord.  We need to rediscover having a holy awe, respect, and reverence for Him.

God then proceeds to tell Moses what He would have him do, which is to go back to Egypt, to the courts of Pharaoh, and bring the people of Israel out (vs. 10).  When God called him, Moses didn’t think he was up to the job. Though he had been raised in the royal courts, and lived there until about age 40, it had been at least another 40 years since he had been there.  The Pharaoh was currently the most powerful man on earth, and Moses wasn’t pleased with the idea of going in and telling Pharaoh that he was going to free all of the slaves! In addition, Moses wasn’t much of a public speaker, possibly having a problem with stuttering (Exodus 4:10).  He felt that he was not qualified and was the wrong man for the job, telling God so (vs. 11).

What was God’s response?  He told Moses that He would be with him every step of the way (vs. 12).  Moses didn’t need to be filled with fear over this. It didn’t matter who Moses was, what mattered was who God is.  God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. We are qualified, not because of our talents or vast education, but because God calls us and is with us.  It didn’t matter who Moses was, nor what he felt he could or couldn’t do. It only matters who God is. Today we may feel unqualified for some task that God has called us to do.  If we believe God, and move forward in obedience, He will show us what He wants us to do, and energize us to get it done. We never have to take on His work in our own strength. God will never ask us to do anything that He will not enable us to carry out.

When Moses asked God what His proper name was (as all the false gods have names), God told him “I AM” (vs. 14).  I AM is a name describing God’s eternal power and unchangeable character. God will always be who He has always been.  God never changes (Hebrews 13:8). In the world, values, morals, and laws constantly change. The God who appeared to Moses about 3,500 years ago is the very same God today.  He will help us with the same wisdom, love, and power as He has helped all those before us. God is whether anything else remains or not.

Friday, March 22, 2019

What Road Are You On?

Luke 13:22-35

I live not too far from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, one of the largest and busiest airports in the U.S.  Hundreds of planes are taking off and landing there each day, along with thousands of people coming and going.  Traffic is very hectic around that busy airport. One needs to be a very confident driver, and know ahead of time exactly where one is going, and what lane to be in when driving there.  There are basically four roads that border that airport: Mannheim Rd. to the east, Irving Park Rd. to the south, York Rd. to the west, and Touhy Ave. to the north. Yet none of these roads will get you access into the airport.  The only entrance is on Interstate 190, a short, slightly over 3 mile leg of Interstate 90.  If one wants to get into the airport to park and take a plane anywhere, or to pick up or drop someone off, you have to go on that short highway.  You can drive around on the other four roads, see all the planes arriving and taking off, often right over your head, see them loading the baggage, but you have no access.  If someone tried to climb over the fence, they would be promptly arrested.  One has to enter through the one and only approved entrance.

In today’s Scripture passage from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus speaks of the narrow gate which one must enter to gain entrance into heaven (vs. 24). Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had spoken of this narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14), and reminds His listeners again today. This was not a popular statement then, and is even less popular today.  Many like to believe that there are many roads, many paths, one can take to get access into heaven. However, Jesus’ words are quite clear - there is only one, narrow road.

One wrong road that many travel on, thinking they will get to heaven, is the road of good works.  However that is a wrong road, as we cannot save ourselves. There is no way we can work ourselves into God’s favor (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Other wrong roads are those of following different false gods, religions, or philosophies. Jesus said that He is the door, the pathway to God (John 10:9).  He also clearly said that He alone is the only way to God (John 14:6). Later, the Apostle Peter, in a message he preached, stated quite emphatically that there is no salvation except through the Name of Jesus (Acts 4:12).

Jesus continued on in His talk to the people by saying that many people will be outside heaven, calling out to God, wondering why they are on the outside (vs. 25-27).  They thought that just because they tossed about the Name of Jesus in their speech that this constituted a relationship with Him. However that is not the case. Some people, including religious leaders, that we expect to be in heaven will not be.  Many people know something about God. Only a few have acknowledged their sins and accepted His forgiveness. Just admiring Jesus and His Words is not enough. We must turn from our sins and trust in God to save us.

Jesus was right outside the capital city of Jerusalem when He spoke these words.  It broke Jesus’ heart as He beheld the groups of people, knowing that so many would not turn to Him for salvation (vs. 34). God has sent His prophets and preachers to the world, both in the past and certainly today, to tell His message of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, and most often they are not accepted.  Sometimes they are killed, and very often they are mocked and ridiculed.

Just as there is only the one road to get on in which to get into O’Hare Airport to get on a plane or pick up an arriving passenger, there is only one road, one gate, that will lead us to heaven.  Not all roads lead to God and heaven. God offers salvation to everyone, but it is only through His Son, Jesus Christ that we have that salvation. If we come to God through Jesus, He will never turn us away. Jesus is the only door to heaven, and the only way for us to know the Father. Do not put off making the decision to get on this road because one day it will be too late for you.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Role Models

Philippians 3:17-4:1

As a boy picks up his baseball bat and practices hitting the ball, he tells his friends he is going to be just like his favorite baseball player. The little girl might dress up in her mother’s clothes, trying to be like her. Maybe she comes home from school and pretends to be like her teacher to her dolls.  Many of us have, either consciously or subconsciously, followed role models. Our teachers encouraged us to be like the best student in class. Our parents told us to be like such and such a person.  Even as adults we might try to act like someone we admire. In our Scripture today the Apostle Paul writes to the Philippian believers, encouraging them to follow godly examples in their Christian walk. Let’s look at this portion of the Book of Philippians and see what we can learn.

After we accept the Lord Jesus as our Savior, there should be a notable change in our behavior and conduct.  We have become a new person, and both our outward and inward actions should reflect this. Writing to the Philippians, Paul urged these “baby Christians” to follow godly examples (vs. 17).  When I was a young Christian there were a couple of older, very godly people whose Christ-like walk I wanted to follow. Paul encouraged believers to follow his example. Not that he believed himself to be perfect, but he knew the focus of his life, his striving, was to be like Jesus.  Could we ask people the same thing - to follow our example to be more like Christ? New Christians should look for other godly believers whose conduct is worthy of following, and older Christians should strive to be that example.

Paul warns that not everyone who carries the name “Christian” is worthy of following the example of (vs. 18-19).  Many do not live up to Jesus’ model. They want to satisfy their own desires, and don’t even think of the needs of others.  There is a danger of false teachers that we need to beware of. They pose as true followers of Christ, but really they aren’t.  Paul speaks quite plainly, and doesn’t mince words. He calls these people “enemies of the cross”. Jesus’ cross exposes us for who we really are - hopeless, helpless sinners who need a Savior.  On that cross Jesus paid the price for our sins. Don’t be an enemy of the cross.

Paul writes on in his letter to the Philippian church, reminding them that heaven is a believer’s true home, not this earth (vs. 20).  Our names are registered there (Luke 10:20). Our inheritance awaits us there (I Peter 1:4). This world has so fallen into sin. People may persecute us for our belief in Jesus, and for our stand for what is right.  We should not get discouraged as we are not home yet. Do not be so tied to this world that we really don’t look forward to Jesus’ return, thinking that it would “interrupt” our worldly life.

Paul continues by telling of the new bodies that we will receive in heaven (vs. 21).  When we believers die, we are immediately in the presence of God, and we are given a brand new body.  There will be no sickness, no deformity, no failings. Our minds and bodies will be completely purified in God’s presence. The bodies we receive when we are raised from the dead will be glorious, like Jesus’ resurrected body.

Paul closes this passage by urging us to “stand fast” in the Lord (vs. 1).  We shouldn’t let the unbelievers and “enemies of the cross” knock us over with their ungodly actions and examples.  I think of American football players who try to stay standing and seek to get to their goal, while the opposing team keeps trying to knock them down and stop them.  We need to stand firm like them. To stand firm we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. Remember that this world is not our home!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Does God Hear Me?

Psalm 28

“You’re not listening to me!  You’re not hearing a word I say!”  How many people say this to their spouse, or parents say these words to their children each day?  This can be very annoying. It can also make us think that the other person doesn’t care, or perhaps doesn’t love us anymore.  How discouraging it is to feel that God doesn’t hear or listen to us! Most Christians at one time or another have felt this way, including King David from the Old Testament. Today’s Scripture passage from the Book of Psalms relates a time in David’s life when he felt that God just wasn’t paying any attention to him. Let’s take a look at this psalm and how David responded, and see what help we can get for those times when we, too, feel this way.

There are times for many Christians when God seems very distant. Some people have called this a “desert” time. You want to be close to God, but you feel like He is not there for you. It feels like you are in a desert, with no refreshment or relief.  Your prayers seem to just bounce off of the ceiling. Though we don’t know the exact circumstances behind this psalm, this is how David was feeling.

Despair is a natural feeling in response to the silence of God.  David wondered where God was while His enemies cause suffering, exploit the poor, and the godless rule over believers (vs. 1-5).  He cries for God to stop being silent. If God continues to be silent, David feels that he might as well be dead (vs. 1). He wants God to show mercy and rescue His people, the believers, and to repay His enemies.

At this time in David’s life there were some who pretended friendship with him, but were really only seeking to further their own goals (vs. 3).  Many of us have had this type of experience, having people who pretend to be our friend to our face, but then turn around and secretly stab us in the back.  David had plenty of people in his life like this, especially being king. With God seemingly being silent, this was particularly distressing. Instead of taking matters into his own hands, though, David continued to pray and leave these false and wicked people in God’s hands.  As king, he could have had these people destroyed, but instead he waited for God’s judgement, which he earnestly prayed for (vs. 3-4). Just like David did, when we have been attacked by others, whether physically, verbally, or in any other way, we should leave their fate in the hands of God.

Beginning in verse 6, and through the remainder of this psalm, David acknowledges that God was there, listening to his prayers and cries, all along. David knew, and we can as well, that God is our strength, and that He will be a shield for us from all attacks of the enemy (vs. 7). When we trust in God, relying on His strength and not our own, our heart will rejoice.  Our faith is strengthened because God is still there, loving His children. He has always been there. God always hears the prayers of His Blood-bought children, and will answer them in their distress. Just like a little child gets scooped up by a loving parent, out of some predicament that they find themselves trapped in, so the Lord comes to our rescue when we call out to Him.

David ends this psalm with a prayer that the Lord God be a Shepherd to His people, and that He will bear them up in His strong and protective arms (vs. 9). David had spent his youth watching over his father’s flocks of sheep. He knew first-hand the loving care and protection that a good shepherd will give the sheep under his care. He knew, as well, that there are times that a shepherd will lift up and carry a lamb when needed. David saw that God gives this type of care to His people, and he prays that He will continue to do so.  God blesses us with His presence every moment, not just in eternity. He will lead us and sustain us every day on earth.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Waiting For The Promise

Genesis 15:1-18

How many of you ever had a promise made to you, perhaps by a parent, a spouse, or a good friend, yet you didn’t see that promise being kept?  Your faith or trust in that person might diminish after that. In our Scripture passage today from the Book of Genesis, we read about Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham) and the promise that God made to him.  Though it took many years before he saw that promise come to pass, Abram never slacked in his faith in God.

Abram and his wife Sarai (later renamed Sarah) were an elderly couple who never had any children.  A couple of chapters prior to our passage for today, God had promised Abram that he would have a child, and that he would be the father of a nation (Genesis 12:2-3). Abram was 75 and his wife 65 at that time. Now he was well into his 80’s, and still no child. After rescuing his wayward nephew Lot, who was held hostage in the middle of a battle between several kings, the Lord appeared to Abram in a vision, promising that He would always be his shield and reward (vs. 1).  God would always protect him and bless him. Abram thought on this, and though the Lord had abundantly blessed him financially, as he was an extremely wealthy man, he was still childless. Abram knew that God had promised him descendents, but that was about ten years ago, and at this time his heir was his chief steward, Eliezer, a servant.  Abram loved God, and had a strong enough relationship with Him that he felt free to remind God of this fact (vs. 2-3).

God did not get angry at Abram for bringing up the fact that after many years, the promise He made to him is still unfulfilled.  God takes Abram outside and shows him the myriad of stars in the night sky, and promises that his descendants will be as many as all the stars in the sky (vs. 4-5).  Here is Abram, now in his mid-eighties, and his wife, Sarai, is in her mid-seventies, both well beyond any natural expectation of having any children. Yet God is renewing His promise of children to this elderly couple.  This is seemingly beyond credibility, yet what does Abram do? In verse 6 we read that Abram believed the Lord. He had faith. He took God at His word, even though he and his wife were well past child-bearing age.

Verse 6 continues, saying that because Abram believed Him, God counted it to him for righteousness.  It was Abram’s belief in, trust in, and faith in God that made him right with Him. It wasn’t any actions or works that did this.  Abram didn’t need to give any huge offering or go on any pilgrimage. He didn’t need to start a homeless shelter or any other good work.  Abram’s right relationship with God is based on faith - believing that God is who He says He is, and does what He says He will do. Even when Abram did not see how God would fulfill His promise for an heir, he trusted the Lord anyway.

This is the same way that we get saved.  It is not any good works that we do that makes us righteous in God’s eyes.  It is through belief and faith in God (Titus 3:5; Romans 4:6). When we have faith, like Abram did, God saves us and we are brought in to His family.

To show that He was assuring this promise to Abram, God made a suzerain covenant, which is a treaty between two unequal parties, one party being a superior (such as a king or lord), to the other party (such as a subject) (vs. 9-17).  In ancient Biblical times with this type of covenant the animals would be brought for a sacrifice, and they would be cut in half and placed in two rows. The superior would walk between the sacrifice, publicly declaring he would keep the covenant.  If he failed to, he would become like the slain animals. God performed this to guarantee His promises to Abram. Centuries later, God made a covenant with mankind when His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, became the sacrifice for us when He shed His Blood and gave His life on the cross of Calvary.

God’s timetable and ours are often different.  We want things right away. We do not like to wait.  God does not share our urgency for having something immediately.  He often makes us wait for answers to our prayers. Like Abram, we need to practice faith and trust.  He had waited about ten years already, and it would be another fifteen before the promised son, Isaac would be born.  Like faithful, trusting Abram, let’s trust and believe.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Temptation of Jesus

Luke 4:1-13

Everyone feels temptations at various times.  It is a human condition. We read in I John 2:16 that temptations come from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Temptation itself is not a sin.  It is only a sin to give in to that temptation, something we’ve all done too many times. There is someone who was tempted, but who never gave in to sin, the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:15).  Today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke tells of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness. Let’s see what we can learn from this account.

Shortly after His baptism, Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where He was seriously tempted by Satan (vs. 1-2).  For Jesus to be truly human, He had to face temptations. Jesus also had to be tempted in order to undo Adam’s fall. Adam gave in to temptation in the Garden of Eden and passed sin on to the whole human race. Jesus resisted temptation and Satan in the wilderness, and His victory brought salvation.  Sometimes God leads us into the wilderness or into situations that are difficult. If we trust and obey Him, as Jesus did, asking Him to strengthen us for the testing, we will see victory.

Jesus had been fasting for forty days, and naturally was hungry. That was the first temptation that Satan used against Him (vs. 2-3). When Satan said “if you are the Son of God”, he knew that Jesus was God’s Son.  He wanted to get Jesus to go against God’s plan, and to use His divine power to satisfy His own fleshly needs and desires. Satan was trying to get Jesus to immediately solve discomfort at the expense of God’s long range goals, and comfort at the sacrifice of discipline.

Satan tried to lure Jesus with the promise of giving Him all the kingdoms of the earth if He would bow down to him (vs. 5-7).  Satan is the ruler of this world right now (John 12:31), and the god of this age (II Corinthians 4:4). Right now the world is in his power (I John 5:19).  Jesus did not give in. He knew that if He waited, all this would be His anyway. We next read that Satan tried to get Jesus to use His divine power by jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple (vs. 9-11).

Jesus responded to each of Satan’s temptations with Scripture, in each of these cases with quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 8:3; 6:13-14; and 6:16).  We should never use our own strength to battle Satan. Instead, use God’s Word. God’s Word, the Bible, is the only offensive weapon in the Christian’s armor (Ephesians 6:17) .  To use this sword, the Word of God, we must first know it. Then we have to have faith in the Scriptures, and must also obey it. Christians need to read the Bible daily and apply it to our lives to have victory over Satan’s temptations.

Sometimes we find that people will use the Bible for their own crooked purposes.  Satan did this in his temptations against Jesus (vs. 10-11). He totally twisted the meaning of these verses from Psalm 91:11-12, which he used to counter Jesus’ replies to temptation.  We are to trust God, not test Him. By careful study and application of the Bible we can recognize when people are misapplying Scriptures, and avoid that mistake ourselves. Satan will twist Scripture, so learn God’s Word well.

Satan looks for opportune times to tempt us (vs. 13), often when we feel weakest or most discouraged.  He will tempt us when we are vulnerable, hungry, sick or tired. Satan tells us God can’t be trusted, or to do things our own way.  These were the types of temptations he threw towards Jesus. To fend off Satan’s attacks we need to walk daily with God, pray, study the Bible, and stay strong in the faith.

Satan does not tempt us with his many lures because he loves us and wants us to have a better life.  He does this because he hates us, and wants to trap and control us. He strikes at our weakest moments, so we need to always be on our guard against his attacks by using God’s Word.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Confessing The Lord Jesus As Savior

Romans 10:8-13

As we read through Scriptures, we see that one needs to be saved in order to enter heaven when one dies.  Many people have mistakenly thought that one gets to heaven by living a “good” life and performing “good” deeds, but the Bible is clear that it is not good works that ensures heaven.  It is salvation through God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. How does one get saved? Paul, in our passage here from the Book of Romans, gives us a clear answer. Let’s take a close look, and my prayer is, if someone reading this has not taken this step, that they will do that today.

In verse 8, the “it” that Paul refers to is the Word of God, the Bible, and he quotes from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy 30:14. God has clearly revealed the way of salvation through His Word, Bible. God’s way of salvation is right in front of us. It is not something hidden from knowledge.  We need to respond to it, and accept His gift of salvation to us. And for those of us who are already saved, we need to be preaching the Word of God in our churches today. The lost do not need “feel good” messages, but old fashioned salvation through the Blood of Jesus.

Verse 9 tells us very clearly that salvation can only come through faith in Jesus Christ.  No amount of good works can ever be sufficient to earn God’s approval, nor following any other religion. Confessing the Lord Jesus is not simply acknowledging that Jesus is God. Even the demons acknowledge this (James 2:19).  It is having a deep, personal conviction, without any reservations, that Jesus is one’s own personal Savior. It includes repentance from sin, trusting Jesus for salvation, and submitting to Him as Lord.

Paul also states in verse 9 that one must believe in their heart that God raised Jesus from the dead.  Belief in the resurrection is necessary for salvation. The resurrection proved that Jesus was who He said He was.  It also showed that God the Father accepted Jesus’ sacrifice in place of the sinners. Without the resurrection, there is no salvation.

The “confession” in verse 10 means to be in agreement with someone.  If we confess Jesus is Lord, we are in agreement with God the Father.  This is a promise of God to us, but one that is a conditional promise. We have to do our part, which is to confess and believe.  Then God will do His part, which is to save us, and take us to heaven when we die. We can trust that God will keep His side of the agreement (vs. 11).  If we call upon Him for salvation, He will save us. He will never fail to provide forgiveness and salvation to all who ask.

Verse 11 gives us a reference from Isaiah 49:23.  Salvation by grace through faith alone has always been God’s plan.  No one, including Gentiles, was ever to be excluded (vs. 12).  The word “whoever” includes everyone. There is no distinction made by God to whoever comes to Him for salvation.  All are welcomed and accepted, whether Jew, Gentile, male, female, any race, any nationality.

Paul concludes this passage in verse 13 with a quote from the prophet Joel 2:32.  Salvation is available for everyone of all nations and races. To call on the Name of the Lord is calling to the one, true God as He has revealed Himself in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Salvation is as close as our own mouth and heart.  It is not a complicated process. If we believe, not just head knowledge, but with our heart, that Jesus is God’s Son and Savior, and believe that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved.  Come to the Savior today! He has shown you the way.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Where Is Our Refuge?

Psalm 91

Fear. Terror. Worry. Problems that are so deep and unsurmountable. Many of us have faced some of this at one time or another. This is what our psalmist today was facing.  We’re not talking about an overdue library book or even a flat tire type problem. Our psalmist is talking about major, life and death problems.  Going into battle against an overpowering foe. An enemy who is plotting and laying traps against our life. Facing a deadly disease. Problems that we have no resources on our own to handle.  Sometimes we may face such situations in our life. How do we deal with this? Where do we turn? Our psalm for today gives us an answer.

As we read through our Scripture passage today we see the psalmist mentioning several life and death circumstances (vs. 3-6).  A fowler (vs. 3) is a person who sets traps to catch birds. Sometimes we face people who wish us harm, either financially or physically, and they lay all sorts of traps to catch us, to ruin and destroy us.  The psalmist mentions deadly pestilences (vs. 3, 6). A pestilence is a deadly plague or disease. Throughout history there have been diseases and plagues that have killed multiple thousands or more in a moment. In addition to cancers and other diseases, a great plague is still in the realm of possibility today.  He continues on describing when his life is in danger from flying arrows (vs. 5). This could be either in battle, his city being overrun by the enemy, or a random attack, all of which could happen today, as well. The psalmist also mentions unnamed terrors and destructions (vs. 5-6). Destructions could be anything that destroys what we have, whether by natural disasters or enemies, and terror is anything that brings paralyzing fear.

There may be times when we face problems that are similar to these, problems that are so overwhelming they leave us cowering and trembling in fear.  They could be diseases, financial devastation, or deadly threats. Where do we turn? Our psalmist had faced some unnamed terrifying problems and knew the answer, which he shares with us today.  The answer can only be found in turning to God. He shares with us that first of all, we must “dwell in the secret place of the Most High”, and also “abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (vs. 1).  The secret place is a place and time where we have close and special time with God. We must have a close, personal relationship with God in order to do that. We must also abide with Him, closely following and obeying Him.

Throughout our Psalm we read how God promises His children that He will be our shelter, our refuge, fortress, and shield.  He will guard us and rescue us. God doesn’t promise a world free from danger, but He does promise His help to those who have made a covenant with Him through Jesus’ Blood when they face danger.  He will be our shelter and refuge when we are afraid. God is even more loving than any earthly parent. He is ready to help any of is Blood-bought children.

It is important to realize who is behind all of the attacks, destruction and other terrors that come against us. Behind every enemy is Satan and his demons.  He is a supernatural enemy, coming against us with supernatural strength. To overcome this enemy, we need even greater supernatural strength. Each time we feel an overpowering attack of any type from the enemy we should go to the Cross of Jesus where Satan was defeated (Colossians 1:20; I John 3:8).  There, claim the Blood of Jesus, which was shed for you, to your own life personally (Romans 5:8-9; Revelation 12:10-11). Call upon the Name of Jesus for His help (Proverbs 18:10; Philippians 2:9-11). Finally, to defeat Satan, stand firm on the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).

Nothing can harm a child of God unless the Father permits it.  We can trust that He will carry us through all the dangers and fears of life.  When we entrust ourselves to God’s protection and give Him our devotion as Savior, we will be kept safe.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Don't Forget To Remember

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Our Old Testament Scripture passage for this first Sunday in Lent comes from the Book of Deuteronomy, where we find the people of Israel gathered, ready to enter into the Promised Land.  They are gathered together to hear the final instructions of their leader, Moses, as God has told Moses that he will not be going into the land. In his words to the people today he instructs them to remember two things.  The first is to remember to bring offerings to God of the first fruits of their crops each year. The second is to remember how God has cared and protected them, their families, and their ancestors all the way back to the days of the Patriarchs.

One of the many promises that the Lord God made to the people when He brought them into the Promised Land was that if they obeyed Him, He would bless their crops and harvests.  Moses instructed the people to, at each harvest time, take the first fruits of the crops and bring them as an offering to the Lord God (vs. 1-4).

We might wonder why this is so very important.  If we work hard and there is enough of both sun and rain, the crops will come.  Why bring of the best of the crops to God, as He can’t eat them? The danger in holding back from bringing an offering to God and thanking Him is that very soon we start to think that it is our strength, our resourcefulness and ability that gave us the harvest, the job, the house, and everything else we have.  We see less and less of gratefulness to God for the blessings He has provided for us in the population today.  Thanksgiving Day is just an excuse to have a big meal today. A young boy on a once very popular TV show once questioned why they should thank God for their food, as “He didn’t buy it for them”.  Moses did not want the people to fall into the sin of ungratefulness to God. They needed to remember that God had promised to bless them in the new land if they remembered Him with offerings of the first fruits of their harvests.  We need to give back a portion of what He has provided for us. When we give back to God an offering, we are acknowledging that God is the source of all that we have.

The second thing that Moses wanted the people to remember was how the Lord God had protected and cared for them, their families, and their ancestors (vs. 5-10).  When they brought their offerings to God, the people were instructed to verbally review to everyone how God had cared and provided for their ancestors, all the way back to the days of the Patriarchs.  Their ancestor Abraham had originally come from the city of Ur, near where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers meet. He and his family migrated northwest, along the rivers to the ancient land of Aram (present day eastern Syria and northern Iraq), which is why their ancestors were called “Syrians” or “Arameans” in verse 5. Though not specifically named, this passage seems to highlight the difficulties that the Patriarch Jacob went through, and how God brought him through each one. God had watched over and cared for Jacob when he fled for his life from his brother, Esau. He cared for him when later, with wives and children he had to flee from his unscrupulous father-in-law, Laban.  God cared and provided for them when famine hit the land and they needed to go down into Egypt, and later while they were taken as slaves there. Now, in their recent memory they were protected as they passed through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

Why is remembering what God did in the past so important to us today? Remembering God’s protection and provisions for us, our families, and our ancestors helps to strengthen our faith now.  When we remember how He brought people in the past through some really difficult situations, our faith is bolstered to know that He can and will do the same for us.  Remembering what God did in the past will give us courage now to endure difficult times.

Moses concludes our passage with the encouragement to never forget to praise and thank God for all of the good He has provided for us (vs. 11).  We should never take for granted His provisions, or to fall into the trap of thinking that everything we have came through our own hard work. Just as Moses told the people of his day, the Word of God tells us today to remember.

Friday, March 8, 2019

A Mountain Top Experience

Luke 9:28-36

Have you ever had a time in your Christian life where God seemed especially close in an extraordinarily spiritual way?  Perhaps it was on a special retreat, or in the midst of some revival meetings your church had, or after some special personal prayer time you had.  You might never have wanted it to end. In our Scripture passage for today from the Gospel of Luke, we can look into just such a powerful experience that the Apostles Peter, James, and John had.  Let’s take a look at this spectacular and unforgettable time that they experienced, and see what we can learn from it.

About a week after Peter had made his great public confession of believing that Jesus was the promised Messiah, Jesus took His three closest apostles, Peter, James and John off by themselves to a mountaintop to pray together (vs. 28). That in itself would be a wonderful privilege, to go off with Jesus on a prayer retreat. It was here on the mountain with Jesus that these three witnessed an extraordinary event, that of the transfiguration of Jesus.

The word “transfiguration” means to have a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.  Jesus underwent a dramatic change in appearance, which enabled the three apostles to behold Him in His glory (vs. 29). They saw Jesus as the glorified Messiah, in all of His heavenly splendor.  Appearing with Him were both Moses and Elijah (vs. 30 - 31). They represented the Law and the Prophets. Both the Law and Prophets had foretold of Jesus’ sacrificial death. This is what the two Old Testament figures came to speak to Jesus about.  Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. The human side of Jesus would naturally have dreaded and feared the upcoming scourging and crucifixion, as that was an awful, tortuous death. Jesus knew and completely accepted that this was God’s plan from eternity past, and that He would be the sacrifice for our sins.  Moses and Elijah were there to encourage Him.

As Peter was beholding the three, he speaks up, not really comprehending what he is saying (vs. 32 - 33).  Peter’s suggested that they erect three booths, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. However, the suggestion to do that was putting Moses and Elijah as equal with Jesus.  Nobody, not even such spiritual giants as Moses or Elijah, could even come near, let alone be equal, with the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is superior to everyone and everything.  He is God’s Son, His only Son (vs. 35),  and the second Person of the Trinity.

Peter also did not want to leave the mountaintop and have this glorious appearance of Jesus, along with the two Old Testament figures, end. Sometimes we may have such a wonderful and inspiring experience, that we don’t want it to end. We don’t want to leave and go back to our regular life and routines, with all our problems and toil.  For Peter, James, and John, this was literally a “mountain top experience”. However, God wants us to go back out into the world to bring His message to the lost. We do need times of retreat and renewal.  Jesus took them. Nevertheless, after these special times we then need to go out and serve in Jesus’ Name.

After Moses and Elijah left, a cloud overshadowed them on the mountain top, and the voice of God came to them from out of the cloud (vs. 34 - 35).  He spoke to the disciples there, telling them that this was His Son, and to listen to Him. This was similar to the words that God the Father spoke at Jesus’ baptism.  The Father publicly declared His great pleasure in His only Son, Jesus, who He identified as such here. Only then, after God identified Jesus as His Son, did the Father tell us to listen to, obey, and follow Him.  We are not to listen to or follow the teachings of any other so-called spiritual leaders that the world highly acclaims. We are to listen and follow the Lord Jesus Christ, the only one that God has called His Son.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Greatest Of These Is Love

I Corinthians 12:27 - 13:13

As we step into the Christian season of Lent, our Lectionary reading for today expounds on the godly Christian virtue of love.   A well known saying goes “Action speaks louder than words”. We all know people who are quick to say “I love you”, but their actions show those words to be false.  In our passage today, God shows us what true, godly love, love inspired by Him, is like.

In the verses prior to our passage, Paul was instructing the Corinthians about spiritual gifts.  The Corinthian church had been comparing spiritual gifts and ministries, and rated a person’s value to the church by that person’s gift.  Paul sought to correct this false thinking, as all spiritual gifts are equally valuable. He proceeds to teach us that love is even greater than all of them combined (vs. 31). The Corinthian church had all the spiritual gifts and had correct doctrine, but love was absent. Rather than being selfish and jealous, they should pursue the greatest thing of all - love.  Love that is more concerned with giving than in receiving. The spiritual gifts we have been given are not for our own self-advancement, but instead, to serve God and enhance the spiritual growth of fellow believers. Everyone can show love.

Paul begins his discourse on love by stating that whatever we do in life, if we don’t have love for others, it amounts to absolutely nothing (vs. 3).  What are our motives for all that we do? Is it for love of the Lord and obedience to Him? Or is it motivated by personal ambition or conceit? If what we do is not motivated by love for God and for others, it is nothing and means nothing.

Paul then goes on to describe what true, godly love really is (vs. 4-7). The world today confuses love and lust. God’s kind of love is directed outward towards others, not inward towards ourselves.  We need God to help us to set aside our own desires and natural inclinations so we can give His love to others. The more we become like Christ, the more love we will show.

Love is action, not abstraction.  Love is patient with people, and gracious to them.  It never envies, brags, is arrogant, rude, or overbearing.  It doesn’t want it’s own way. It is not irritated or angered in a personal offense.  Love also does not find pleasure in someone else’s sin. As followers of Jesus, we ought never to rejoice in evil or injustice, but with His love, rejoice when truth wins out. Love is devoted to truth in everything. It will protect, believe, hope, and endure what others reject. Real, godly, unconditional love will not stop forgiving. It will always seek the good of the other person, always encouraging them.  Godly love puts the needs of others above its own.

The actions of the Corinthian church had been childish.  Paul proceeds to instruct them to put off this childish behavior and thinking, and to replace childish thinking with mature truth.  Just as a child grows to full understanding, believers will come to full understanding in God’s heaven, and spiritual gifts will not be necessary.  One day we will be complete when we see God face to face (vs. 12). We don’t have all the answers now, but one day we will. When we see Jesus in person, then we will see with God’s perspective. God alone knows the whole picture.

Our hope will be fulfilled in heaven (vs. 13).  We will have everything we ever hoped for. Our faith will be complete because we will see Jesus.  Our love will remain forever because love is an attribute of God Himself (I John 4:8).