Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Call Of Elisha

I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

Every once in a while we hear of a man or woman who leaves a good job to go into ministry, either becoming a pastor, missionary, or some other ministerial career.  We might wonder why they would leave a promising good career, maybe as an attorney, an architect, or some prestigious business position, to become a pastor of an inconsequential church or travel to the jungles of a foreign country as a missionary.  We might even be critical, believing that they aren’t thinking of their family or their future financial security.

In our Scripture passage today we read of the calling of the prophet Elisha, and how he responded to that calling.  Prior to the opening of our passage, the prophet Elijah had victoriously defeated the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel (I Kings 18:19-40), and then traveled to the wilderness near Mt. Sinai where the Lord encouraged his falling spirit (I Kings 19:4-14).  While there, the Lord instructs Elijah to travel to Syria to anoint a man to become the next king in Syria, another man to become the next king of Israel, and a third man who he will train to become the next great prophet in the land.

Elijah obeys the Lord’s instructions and travels from the wilderness near Mt. Sinai, far south of the nation of Judah, to the village of Abel Meholah, located by the Jordan River, a little south of the Sea of Galilee.  Elisha was a young man still living with his parents who were wealthy landowners, owning a large farm. The farm was large enough that they needed at least 12 yoke of oxen to plow the fields. That would be a substantial farm.  Oxen are big, strong animals, and Elisha’s family were wealthy enough to own at least 24 of them. Elisha was the son in this family, and was possibly going to inherit the place when his parents died.

On this day when the prophet Elijah showed up, Elisha was hard at work out in the fields handling one of the twelve yokes of oxen, servants probably handling the others.  Elijah came up to Elisha and placed his own mantle around his shoulders. That was a symbolic gesture signifying that he was to be Elijah’s successor. Elijah was a well known prophet and preacher of the one-true God.  As a believer and worshipper of God, Elisha must have known who Elijah was when he arrived. He knew this was God’s call upon his life to go into full-time ministry with the great prophet.

Why did God pick Elisha, we might wonder.  Elisha was definitely a believer who worshipped God, not any of the myriad of other false gods so many Israelites had fallen into the worship of.  Nor did he mix the worship of God with any of the false deities. His worship was true and pure. Elisha was a hard worker. When Elijah came he was out in the field working.  Even though he was a rich man’s son, he didn’t lounge around the house, letting the servants do all the work. He worked hard himself. God doesn’t use lazy people.

What was Elisha’s response?  Here he was, the son of a wealthy landowner and farmer, likely to inherit the property later.  Many young men in his position would tell the prophet, “Thanks for the thought, but no. I’m staying here.  I have too much to lose.” That was not the response Elisha gave. He readily accepted the call of God upon his life, no matter what the cost.  Elisha didn’t ask Elijah to wait awhile for him to get used to the idea, or to go on vacation first. No, he went to his house to tell his parents and say goodbye to them.  Elisha then offered his yoke of oxen as a sacrifice to the Lord. Not only was that a sacrifice to God, it also showed Elisha’s complete acceptance and dedication to God’s call upon his life.  There was no turning back.

Have you heard God’s call upon your life, calling you to some type of service for Him?  If you have, is there a hesitation because of what you might have to give up? Or will you willingly accept like Elisha did?  God used Elisha in a mighty way because he was willing to obey the call upon his life. What can He do with your life if you willingly give it to Him?

Friday, June 28, 2019

Take Up Our Cross

Luke 9:23-25

A message that is repeatedly being told to people today by the advertising world, psychiatrists, many authors, and even some ministers, is to put yourself first.  They tell us to think only about and satisfying our own wants, needs, and desires. In our Scripture passage today from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us that is not to be the way for His followers.  Let’s read His message and see what the Lord says to us.

The world and today’s society constantly tells us to put ourself first.  We should take what we want and promote our own interests. However here in today’s Scripture, Jesus tells us the opposite.  Instead of thinking about making sure we get everything we want and need, believers need to trust that God will provide all that we need (Philippians 4:19).  Jesus said to deny ourselves and follow Him. The humble, not the proud, will receive honor from God (James 4:10).

What does following Jesus mean?  For one, we are to imitate Jesus’ life, and obey all of His commands.  When Jesus said, in approximately 30 AD, to take up one’s cross (vs. 23), that meant to carry the cross one was going to be executed on to the place one would be crucified.  Crucifixion was a horrific form of execution. Jesus did just that through the streets of Jerusalem to Calvary. We are to identify completely with Jesus’ message, even if it means our death.  We must deny our own selfish desires, wanting our own way, including with our time, our money, and our desires, and instead follow Jesus.

We aren’t called to give God “a try”.  He calls us to fully surrender. We cannot continue to live as we please.  If we are truly God’s children, Jesus should be our whole life. He wants a commitment from us.  Are we willing to give it? Contrary to what society tries to push, we need to quit focusing on ourselves.  Focus on God, following His priorities, and focus on others. This calls for taking up our cross daily. Jesus frequently taught on self-denial.  He wants His followers to obey His commands, serve one another, and if need be, to suffer or die for His sake.

Some of the spiritual things we do are rooted in self.  Our motive could be to be seen by men, or to feel important.  Wrong motives do not please God. A follower of Jesus should never seek after any form of self-glory.  Jesus can liberate us from our need to boost our self-worth. He can fully satisfy our need for love and belonging.  Whatever we are dealing with today, Jesus can help us with it by us taking a single step at a time. We are to take up our cross and take that step.

How much do we treasure this present life?  If it is the most important thing, then we may not want to do anything that might endanger our safety or comfort, even if it is for the Lord.  However, if following Jesus is the most important, we will be willing to do anything He asks (vs. 24-25), including going somewhere dangerous to bring His message, or speaking out for Jesus at the risk of our safety, or leaving our comfortable home and job for what He asks us to do.  Nothing material can compensate for the loss of eternal life. A faithful Christian should not use their own life on earth solely for their own pleasure. They should spend their lives serving God and others.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

By Faith Alone

Galatians 3:23-29

Sometimes wrong teachings and beliefs can creep into a church.  This can happen to a young, new church, or one with a young pastor.  It can also happen to an older church, as well. Whenever this happens, it is important that someone well-grounded in the faith step in and get the believers back on track.  In today’s passage from the New Testament Book of Galatians we see where false teachings were being deliberately taught to some young believers, and how The Apostle Paul had to set them straight.

Paul and his companions had brought the Gospel to several towns and villages in the region of Galatia, which was in central Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).  Many of the believers here were from Gentile background. Shortly after Paul had left, traveling on to bring the Gospel to other areas, people from the Jewish faction of the church came in, telling them that they first had to become Jewish, and then that they had to keep all of the Mosaic Law in order to be saved.  When Paul heard about this he naturally became quite upset. This teaching that was being spread by the “Judaizers” was completely contrary to the Scripture teaching and doctrine of Justification by Faith alone.

In his letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul sought to set them straight about the false teaching that one must keep the Old Testament Law in order to be saved.  Some of these false teachers argued what the purpose of the Law was then, if they didn't have to keep it now. As Paul taught, the purpose of the Old Testament Law was to lead people to a complete realization of our inability on our own to live up to God’s holy and righteous standards.  It was to show us that we can never make ourselves acceptable to God by our own efforts. We are absolutely dependent on God to provide righteousness for us. God did that through Jesus Christ. The Law teaches us the need for salvation.  God’s grace gives us that salvation.  We cannot be saved by keeping the Law.  We must trust Christ.

To help the Galatians understand this, Paul pictured the Law as a jailer of guilty, condemned sinners (vs. 23).  They are on death row, awaiting God’s judgment (Romans 6:23). Since the dawn of time only faith can unlock that prison door.  Faith in Christ alone releases people from bondage to the Law.  Paul also used the example of a child under a tutor (vs. 24). When a child is young, they often have a tutor to instruct them and watch over them until they are old enough to be on their own.  The Law was our tutor, which, by showing us our sins, was escorting us to Christ. Believers who have accepted Jesus through faith, have now come of age, and do not need that tutor anymore (vs. 25).

Paul proceeded to teach these young believers that they did not have to worry that they were not “blood descendants” of Abraham (vs. 26).  Only those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ are God’s true children (John 1:12). If we are saved, we are just as much the child of God as Peter and Paul were, just as much as Abraham and Moses were.  God has the same tender heart towards all who have accepted His Son, regardless of their blood lineage.

Not all of the physical descendants of Abraham are true spiritual children of him.  Gentile believers, though not physically descended from Abraham, are his spiritual children because they followed the pattern of his faith (vs. 29).  All believers who have accepted Jesus as Savior, whether Jewish or Gentile, are heirs of the spiritual blessings that accompany the Abrahamic Covenant of Justification by Faith.  Through faith in Jesus we are accounted as God’s children, regardless of our physical lineage, and have all the privileges of His children. We are joint-heirs with Jesus.

When we stand at the Cross of Jesus we are all equal - male, female, rich, poor, no matter what race, country, or continent one is from (vs. 28).  Do you feel welcomed by Christians? If you are already saved, do you welcome everyone in your church, or are willing to tell everyone, regardless of race, about Jesus?  Everyone needs salvation, and Jesus died to provide that for everyone. We are saved through faith, by His grace (Ephesians 2:8). God doesn’t play favorites, either before or after salvation.

Monday, June 24, 2019

A Thirst For God

Psalm 63

A desert is no place to get caught without plenty of water.  The hot dry air, with the sun beating down and no shade in sight, can quickly dry up any moisture in one’s body.  To be without any water can be dangerous or even fatal. Someone coming in from a hot, dry place will quickly drink up water to quench his parched body.  David knew what it was like to be out in the wilderness, as he had fled there many times. Our psalm today, Psalm 63, is one that he wrote while in the wilderness.

Many Bible scholars believe that David wrote this psalm during the time of the rebellion of his son Absalom.  We read about this in II Samuel 15 - 18 where David’s third son, Absalom, attempted to take the throne away from his father, and reign instead.  David was forced to flee Jerusalem, and was in the wilderness for awhile as his army fought to regain the throne. As we have seen, he was no stranger to trouble throughout his life, yet he fully trusted in God.  During these stressful and dangerous times that David faced off and on throughout many years since his youth, he thirsted for God and His presence in his life (vs. 1). David had spent much time in the wilderness as a young man when he was fleeing King Saul, and now with Absalom, and he knew how thirsty one can get.  Here he compares his need and desire for God as being as strong as one seeks water in the desert.

David was eager to be in communion with the Lord God.  He came to God first thing in the morning every day (vs. 1).  David woke up hungry for Him. He would fill his soul, and then spend time in thanksgiving and praise (vs. 5).  When we are really hungry, isn’t it a pleasure to walk into a room and see a table filled with delicious food that we can partake of?  Just standing there and breathing in the aroma is a pleasure, yet how much better to take a plate and fill it up! That’s how David felt about spending time with God.  He wanted to be as satisfied with God’s presence as one is satisfied at an abundant banquet.

It wasn’t just early in the morning that David spent time with the Lord.  He would end each day with God, as well (vs. 6). In ancient times the night was divided into three watches.  Before the days when most people would have clocks, in some villages or cities there might be someone who would call out the hour as they traversed the streets.  If you were awake for all three watches it was a sleepless night for you. With the troubles came upon David at this time, with his son’s attempted insurrection and coup, he might understandably have had difficulty sleeping.   A key for insomnia and when problems arise giving us trouble sleeping, is to focus our thoughts on God. When David couldn’t sleep he spent the time in reflection and worship of the Lord.

With the very real threat of danger to his life, David still felt that God’s love was more valuable than life itself (vs. 3), and he was going to be in praise to Him.  He was going to lift his hands in prayer to God no matter what happened to him (vs. 4). Lifting hands in prayer pictures both the ascent of the prayers to God, and a readiness to receive God’s good gifts.  Prayers going up and blessings coming down. It is a posture of trust in God alone.

During our troubles, God reaches His hand out to help us in our time of need (vs. 7 - 8).  No matter where we are, our desire should be for God because He alone can satisfy fully when we are lonely or spiritually thirsty.  Do we seek after God earnestly, and pursue Him throughout our day? Go to God often with confidence. David learned this throughout his life, starting in his days as a humble shepherd, through his days fleeing those who sought to kill him, fighting the enemies of God, and reigning as king.  God called David a man after His own heart (I Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). David knew, and we should learn, too, that only God can satisfy the hunger and longing of our soul.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Mourning The One They Pierced

Zechariah 12:8-10, 13:1

Have you ever, at some earlier point in your life, done something very terribly wrong for which, years later, you truly and sorrowfully regretted? Perhaps as a child you were a terrible bully to some other classmate.  Maybe you shoplifted items from some stores and were never caught. It could be any number of wrong things, and now you realize how terribly wrong you were. In today’s Old Testament Scripture passage we read of a whole nation who at one time did something terribly wrong, and will come at a future time to realize this, and will grieve and mourn their mistake.

Our passage comes from the Old Testament prophet Zechariah, who was from the priestly line.  Zechariah wrote his book of prophecies and messages from the Lord after the Jewish people’s return to the land of Israel following years of exile in Babylon.  This was also during the time of the rebuilding of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem.

As our Scripture passage opens, Zechariah tells the people that the Lord God will defend His people (vs. 8).  Throughout all history, people who have been faithful and true to God have been attacked from His enemies. God is not oblivious to this, and as the prophet says, He promises to defend those who are His faithful children.  The Lord will make the feeble like David, who was Israel’s greatest king and warrior. The “house of David” and “Angel of the Lord” are references to the Messiah, Jesus. He will be the strength of His people.

In verse 10 we read of another prophetic word from the Lord that Zechariah speaks.  One day in the future, the nation of Israel will come to salvation when they accept Jesus as the Messiah and Savior. The Apostle Paul spoke of this day in Romans 11:25-27. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Grace and Supplication that is spoken of here. He brings saving grace. That grace produces sorrow which will result in repentant prayer to God for forgiveness. Israel will repent when they see the physical Jesus before them when He returns.  He is the One they have rejected and crucified (I Corinthians 2:8). At that time they will know the One they rejected truly is the Messiah. They will mourn and grieve that they had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, and that they had him crucified.  They will mourn as strongly as anyone mourns for the death of their only child.

God, in His Word here, speaks of them having pierced “Me”.  This verse is definitely affirming the incarnation of deity in Jesus.  Jesus was the One pierced when He was nailed to the cross. His hands and feet were pierced through with large nails or spikes.  In addition, His side was pierced when the soldier thrust the spear into His side. God says “Me”, thus clearly showing in Scripture that Jesus is God.

Not only will the Jewish people see the Pierced One, but all people throughout the world will, as well.  All those who have opposed Him throughout their lives will see and be forced to acknowledge that He is Lord and King.  Those Jewish people who are alive that day will see and believe.

In chapter 13, verse 1 we read that on the day when the Lord returns, He will open a fountain for cleansing.  This is a cleansing from sin. The cleansing that God brings is for everyone, from royalty (the house of David) down to the commoner (inhabitants of Jerusalem). The fountain symbolizes the cleansing and purification through the atoning death of the Pierced One, Jesus. Jesus is the Fountain of Life (Psalm 36:9) and our source of salvation (John 4:10).  He, alone, can wash us from our sin and impurity.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Sin, Righteousness, And Judgment

John 16:5-15

After Jesus rose from the dead, He remained on earth for approximately forty more days, instructing His disciples, before ascending into heaven.  When Jesus first spoke of going away, His disciples were distraught. They did not want Him to leave. We might feel the same way. Why couldn’t Jesus, now risen and not needing to die again, have remained on earth forever?  Wouldn’t that have solved a lot of the world’s and our own problems? In our Scripture passage today, Jesus gives a response to the disciples distress, and our own question as to why He would have to leave earth. Let’s take a look and see what the Bible says.

Our passage today is another segment from the teachings Jesus gave His disciples that last night of His life, following the Last Supper. Periodically through His three-year ministry, Jesus told the disciples that He would die, be resurrected, and return to the Father. As they saw that this was now imminent, they were sorrowful (vs. 5-6).  This was necessary, for if Jesus did not die, He could not remove our sins. He could not rise again and defeat death. It was also necessary for Him to return to heaven, for if He didn’t, then the Holy Spirit could not be sent to indwell believers (vs. 7).  This is exactly what occurred after Jesus ascended into heaven. A little over a week after the Ascension, the Holy Spirit descended upon the believers on the Day of Pentecost. As Jesus gave this promise to the disciples in His talk to them that final night together, He also spoke of some of the activities that the Holy Spirit will work in the world and their lives.

One of the activities that Jesus said the Holy Spirit will do is that of convicting the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (vs. 8).  As we all see every day, this world is filled with sin, and is a fearful place to live in. The Holy Spirit moves in those whose hearts are softened, calling them to repentance and salvation.  The sin that the Holy Spirit convicts of is that of not believing that Jesus is the Messiah (vs. 9). It is the sin of unbelief that sends people to hell. Every other sin can be forgiven when one repents, but if one does not believe in Jesus, then they won’t repent and be saved, which is what condemns them.

The Holy Spirit also convicts the world of righteousness (vs. 8, 10). He shatters the pretensions of self-righteousness and hypocrisy by exposing the darkness of people’s hearts.  He reveals God’s standard of righteousness to anyone who believes. Holy Spirit will also bring judgment (vs. 8, 11).  He will bring judgment on this world which is under Satan’s control. He makes righteous judgments, unlike the world which has judged Jesus and His believers.  He demonstrates Christ’s judgment over Satan.

When believers turn and seek God’s guidance, He will lead us, and He will lead us in truth, for He is the Truth (John 14:6).  He comforts, teaches, and bears witness to the truth (vs. 13). The Holy Spirit gives us discernment and wisdom to recognize God’s voice, and to walk with Him, and He always gives glory to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit indwells believers to meet our needs in a way that honors God. He regenerates us, convicts us of our sins, and teaches us to live righteously. He seals us for redemption, and equips us to do whatever God has called us to do.

Jesus concludes this portion of Scripture by telling us that all that belongs to the Father belongs to Jesus, and all that belongs to Jesus belongs to His believers because we are one with Him (vs. 15).  The Holy Spirit reveals and discloses the truths of God to us.

Believers sometimes might wonder, if the Holy Spirit is supposed to lead them, why they often get into messes.  The Holy Spirit’s leadership is always right, however our reception isn’t always clear. Yielding to the Lord is an essential part of receiving His direction. We cannot tolerate sin and go our own way in one area, and expect to receive His guidance in another. It is just like when you put a magnet near the needle of a compass and it messes it up so that it won’t point to true north anymore.  So, likewise, sin will mislead us and block the reception of the Holy Spirit’s voice. When we are unclear about a decision, ask if Christ will be glorified by what we would do, and if we could truly do this thing in Jesus’ Name. May we always have our hearts attuned to hear the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Christian's Crowns

Revelation 4:1-11

At awards ceremonies, whether they are at school, work, or something big like the Oscars, we often hear the person receiving the prize give thanks and a lot of credit to other people.  They might say that they wouldn’t have been able to gain the award without the help or work of their parents, or co-workers, a spouse, etc. In our Scripture today we read of people who have received awards, what they do with them, and why.

As our passage from the Book of Revelation opens, the Apostle John has a vision where he is in the throne room of God in heaven.  John describes the throne and the room as like several gemstones he was familiar with (vs. 1-3). Around the throne of God were an additional twenty-four thrones with elders seated on them, clothed in white robes, and having on their heads crowns of gold (vs. 4).  These twenty-four elders represent the Church, now complete and glorified. They are the overcomers who have their crowns, and live in the place that Jesus has prepared for them.

When believers are gathered in heaven, one thing that will occur is that we will each receive rewards for what we have done for God with our lives while on earth.  The Bible makes perfectly clear that we do not get to heaven through our works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  However when we are in heaven, we will be rewarded for what we do for the Lord after we are saved.

The Bible speaks of five different crowns that believers could receive. The first is the Crown of Life which is awarded to those who have persevered under heavy trials or persecutions, including those who were martyred (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10).  The second is the Incorruptible Crown which is awarded to those who have shown self-denial for the Lord (I Corinthians 2:25-27). The third crown that believers can be awarded is the Crown of Righteousness which is given to those who love and eagerly anticipate Jesus’ second coming, which shows a great desire for a closeness with God (II Timothy 4:8). The fourth crown is the Crown of Glory which is awarded to those who shepherd God’s people, faithfully teaching them, and showing a good example with their lives (I Peter 5:4). The fifth crown is the Crown of Rejoicing which is given to those who seek to win others to the Lord (I Thessalonians 2:19; Philippians 4:1). The Apostle Paul also alludes to other rewards that are given to believers for the work they do for the Lord during their life (I Corinthians 3:12-15).

What will we do with these crowns and other rewards?  Will we brag and gush over them? Strut around like proud peacocks?  As John continues to observe these events before the throne of God, he sees the twenty-four elders, representing the Church, fall down in worship before the Lord God, and cast their crowns before the throne in praise and adoration (vs. 10-11).  They know that they, on their own, do not deserve anything from God, and that Jesus is the only one deserving of praise. On our own, without Jesus, we would only be deserving of damnation.  God, in His mercy, sent Jesus to die for our sins. Even after we have accepted Him as our Savior, we have no ability within ourselves to accomplish anything for Him on our own merit.  All we can accomplish for God that is worth anything is done through Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. Knowing this, we give Him the glory, and cast those crowns down at His feet. Just like those who acknowledge that others have helped them win an award here on earth, in heaven we know that God alone is responsible for the rewards that we will receive, and we humbly cast them at the feet of Jesus.

Jesus is the Name above all names.  There is power in His Name to save us.  He is the only one who is able to bridge the gap between us and God (I Timothy 2:5).  His Name carries the power of the most precious Man, and His most precious action, that in dying for our sins.  John sees many other angelic beings that surround the throne of God, all singing praises to His Name (vs. 6-9). All creatures in heaven and earth will praise and honor the thrice-holy God because He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Sovereign God Of All Nature

Psalm 29

Our world is filled with many natural storms and phenomena, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, hail, and thunderstorms with lightning, wind, and downpours of rain.  Despite all of our scientific advancements today, we still cannot control any of these events, perhaps only being able to give some advance warnings of their coming. Many people find these types of storms frightening.  This has been the case for ages, as in the past, with less understanding of storms, people were even more afraid. David was no stranger to strong and powerful storms, especially during the years he roamed the wilderness being chased by King Saul, and during his youth as he was shepherd to his father’s flocks.  Our psalm for today, Psalm 29, was written by David as he recalled the powerful storms of his past, and Who it was that brought these storms to pass.

In most pagan religions their false gods were given “control” over natural events such as lightning, earthquakes, rainstorms, etc. Whenever these storms occurred, the fearful people would pray and make sacrifices to appease these angry gods, as they thought these false gods had conjured up these storms or occurrences.  Many of the Hebrew people, after they entered the Promised Land, were tempted into following these pagan gods, and made sacrifices to them. King David wrote this psalm, not only to extol the power and majesty of the one true God, Yahweh, but also to explain that He, and He alone, had power over the powers of nature.

The Lord, Yahweh, is the sole Creator and supreme Sovereign over all forces of nature. He is God over everything.  In the introduction (vs. 1-2) David tells of how He is supreme over all heavenly beings. The “mighty ones” he refers to here are angelic beings.  The main portion of the psalm (vs. 3-9) tells of how Yahweh is supreme over all forces of nature. And the conclusion (vs. 10-11) speaks of how He is supreme over all of humanity.  Yahweh is the only true God in comparison with any of the false pagan gods of the neighboring nations.

Throughout this psalm David speaks of hearing the “voice” of the Lord in the forces of nature.  His voice is frequently associated with thunder. The sound of rolling thunder during a storm is quite majestic, and if the lightning strike is nearby, the thunder can be almost deafening.  The same with a storm at sea, where the waves crash against the shore, or the sound of the great waterfalls. God, alone, controls these.

Have you ever seen lightning strike a tree, breaking off large limbs, or even splitting the tree in two?  David must have observed this in his lifetime, as he describes this in verse 5. The noise of this, along with the immediately following crash of thunder was quite impressive to him, and he ascribes this to the voice of the Lord, as well.  The cedars of Lebanon have been famous for milleniums. They are very grand and impressive, growing to be over 120’ tall, and 30’ in circumference. These cedars are represented on the flag of Lebanon, and are protected as a national symbol.  A voice which breaks cedars is very powerful. Only the voice of God can do this.

In addition to natural storms, there are other types of storms that we go through in our life.  These can be just as turbulent and scary. As David concluded this psalm, he told how when we truly trust God with our problems, He will bless us with His peace (vs. 11).  Heavenly peace is a state of tranquility and quiet in the midst of turmoil and the storms raging around us. It is more than just getting our bills paid, which is a relief.  Or when we achieve our goals, which is gratification. Trusting in God alone can bring us true peace (Isaiah 26:3; John 14:27).

God will continue to show the world His power.  Paul spoke of how great God’s power is in Ephesians 1:18-23.  The same power that raised Christ from the dead is available to help us in our needs.  The power that controls creation, and raises the dead, is there to help us when we pray.  God controls all of nature, yet He loves each one of us enough to send Jesus to die for our sins and bring us salvation.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Here Am I! Send Me!

Isaiah 6:1-8

Many of us have heard or read the testimonies from great men and women of the faith of when they felt called by the Lord to serve Him. Our Scripture passage today tells of the call of Isaiah to serve the Lord and bring His message to the people, and his response to this call.  Isaiah lived during the 8th and 7th centuries BC, and preached God’s Word to the people and rulers during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.  It is thought by some Biblical scholars that Isaiah may have been related to the royal family, but not in line to ever take the throne. As our passage begins today, Isaiah relates that it was during the final year of the reign of King Uzziah, the year 739 BC, that he had a vision of the Lord God, and received his calling to serve Him and bring His message to the people (vs. 1).

In this vision of Isaiah’s, he saw God’s throne, high and lifted up, exalted above everything else in the world or universe.  God is above everything else. There is nothing or nobody who is higher or greater than He is. Even His garments or royal robes filled the whole room. Surrounding God’s throne were seraphim, a powerful and high ranking angelic being which have six wings.

What were these seraphim doing?  They were crying forth of the holiness of the Lord God (vs. 3).  Each time they repeated the word “holy” three times, as God is a trinity, three Persons yet one God. They cried forth that the world is full of His glory. It is a display of His immeasurable glory, perfection, and attributes. Most importantly, though, was their proclamation of God’s holiness. God is absolutely holy, utterly perfect in His holiness, absolutely pure, completely separated from sin, and wholly righteous, just, and spotless.

In a time when moral and spiritual decay had peaked, it was important for Isaiah to see God in His holiness.  The same is true today. We need to observe through God’s Word His absolute holiness, that He is high and lifted up.  We need to see ourselves for what we really are, and then look at the Cross of Calvary, and see God’s love for us. God wishes us to also be holy, separated from sin (I Peter 1:16).  The only possible way we can achieve this is through the cleansing Blood of Jesus.

When Isaiah had this vision, bringing him into the presence of God, his immediate reaction was to realize and acknowledge how unworthy and sinful he was (vs. 5).  He didn’t boast and swagger about being granted this vision of God upon His throne, as some “religious” leaders might. No, he fell on his face, acknowledging his unworthiness, and begging for mercy.  Then a seraph came to Isaiah bringing a coal from the altar, touching his lips to cleanse them (vs. 6-7). If the lips are unclean, so is the heart (Matthew 12:34-35). We speak forth what is inside of us.  Isaiah realized how unworthy he was, and deserving of judgment. The coals represented God’s purifying work. True repentance is painful.

It was then that Isaiah received his call to serve God and bring His message to the people of Judah (vs. 8).  We should note that in verse 8 God speaks of Himself in the plural - “who will go for us” not “who will go for me”.  He is a Triune God.  God prepared Isaiah for this service, and then Isaiah offered himself to Him.  God will never call us to do something for which He hasn’t equipped us.

Before we accept God’s call to speak for Him to those around us, we must be cleansed as Isaiah was, confessing our sins and submitting to His control.  We must be purified so that we can truly represent God, who is pure and holy. God loves us and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). Then we can serve Him with joy, humility and devotion (vs. 8).  God has commissioned each one of us to tell others about Jesus and His plan for salvation (Matthew 28:18-20). May we each respond as Isaiah did, “Here am I! Send me!”

Friday, June 14, 2019

In Jesus' Name

John 14:8-17

Our Gospel passage today continues with the Upper Room discourse and teachings that Jesus gave to His disciples the night before He was crucified. With only hours left to spend with His disciples, these last lessons were very important. In this portion of that sacred discourse our Savior speaks about His relationship with the Father, answered prayer, and His promise of the Holy Spirit.

As our passage begins, the Apostle Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. Jesus’ response is that if one has seen Him, they have seen the Father (vs. 8-11).  Here Jesus is saying that He and God the Father are one. He isn’t just a “good teacher or philosopher” as some believe.  He is God.  Jesus is more than just a representation of theological attributes.  He is God in the flesh. Looking at Jesus is looking at God. He is the visible, tangible image of the invisible God. Jesus is the complete revelation of what God is like. To know Jesus is to know God. This is not true of any of the other “religious leaders” of other false religions.  To know Jesus is to know God. Over and over again the Apostle John emphasizes this in his Gospel.

Jesus continues on in His discourse by telling the disciples of the works that they and we would do in His Name (vs. 12).  When Jesus said those who believe in Him will do greater things than these, He was not confining such works to the physical realm.  After all, what is greater or more amazing than raising the dead? Instead, the emphasis is on spiritual, rather than physical miracles. Through the power of the Holy Spirit the disciples would carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Down through the ages believers have led multitudes of souls to salvation in Jesus’ Name.  What greater miracle could there be than that? We cannot do this in our own power, but rather in the power of the Holy Spirit, which could not be sent until Jesus returned to the Father.

Next Jesus gives us a promise that whatever we ask in His Name He will do (vs. 13-14).  Many people believe and act as if this was some kind of magic formula, that all they have to do is tack “in Jesus Name” to any prayer and they will get their wish.  Asking “in Jesus’ Name” is not a magic formula to say and expect it to “work”. Our prayers should be for God’s purposes and Kingdom, and not for our selfish reasons.  Our prayers should be on the basis of Jesus’ merit, and not our personal merit. They should be for His glory alone. What we ask must be fit to be asked in His Name, according to God’s character and will.  He will not grant requests contrary to His Nature or His will.  We cannot use His Name as a “golden ticket” to fulfill our selfish desires.  Our requests need to be in line with what Jesus would wish and stand for. When they are, He has given us the authority to petition God (Hebrews 7:25).  We can then come and ask for what we need.

The final thing Jesus speaks of in this passage of Scripture is His promise of sending the Holy Spirit (vs. 16-17).  That promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, and since then, whenever someone accepts Jesus as Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to immediately indwell them. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God within all believers, helping us live as God wants us to, and helping to build His Church on earth.  By faith we can appropriate the Spirit’s power each day. He will be with us forever, living with and in us. The world cannot and will not accept the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (vs. 17).  He is the source of truth, and communicates the truth to believers.  Apart from the Holy Spirit men cannot know God’s truth. He is all that we need.  Some other names the Scriptures give the Holy Spirit are advocate, guide, helper, comforter, and counselor.  He is all of that to us.

When we follow Jesus and keep His commandments, we will be able to do many great works in His Name, see our prayers answered, and live in fellowship with the Holy Spirit which dwells within us.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Our Inheritance In Christ

Romans 8:14-17, 22-27

Back in the days when orphanages were more common, it was the hope of every young child to one day be adopted.  The child would pray that they would be adopted by nice and loving parents, and what good favor if those parents were also wealthy!  This was especially true if the orphanage was a harsh place, run by an unloving staff. In our Scripture passage today we read of a very special adoption that has taken place, which you are a part of if you have accepted the Lord Jesus as Savior.  Let’s take a look at this together.

The very moment we are saved, not only are we guaranteed a place in heaven and have escaped hell and judgment, but we are adopted into God’s family and become His children (vs. 14-17).  We are given the Holy Spirit at that time to dwell within us, as well. He lets us know that God has made us His children. We can come to Him without fear, as He is our beloved Father. The word “Abba” is an ancient Aramaic word meaning daddy or papa.  He is not a stern, unloving, uncaring father, but a beloved daddy. The unsaved are held captive to their fear of death and the final judgment. We do not need to have that fear anymore. We might wonder if we are truly God’s children (vs. 16), and for this reason the Holy Spirit confirms to us that we truly are by the fruit He produces in us (Galatians 5:22-23) and the power He gives us for service (Acts 1:8).

Another wonderful benefit of being adopted into God’s family is that now we are not only His children, but we are also heirs of God, and a joint heir with Jesus! (vs. 17).  We will receive by divine grace the full inheritance that Jesus receives by divine right. In our laws, if one is a joint heir of an inheritance, than each party receives an equal portion.  God’s Word states here that we are joint heirs with Jesus! Whatever Jesus has through inheritance has become ours through the very same inheritance. Jesus is pleased to share the richness of His Father’s inheritance with us believers!  I am an heir of God and joint heir with Jesus! If you have accepted Him as your Savior, you are too!

With the way our lives are sometimes, we might wonder if all of this will ever happen.  As Paul says here in Romans, we groan and labor throughout life (vs. 22). God has given us His promise, and provided the Holy Spirit for us as a first fruit (vs. 23).  First fruits in nature are a guarantee that there will be more fruit following. The first fruits the Holy Spirit produces in us provides hope that we will one day be like Christ.  It is the first installment, or down payment as a guarantee of our resurrection life. God never makes a promise that He won’t keep. It may take longer than we care for, but we need to put our confidence in His goodness and wisdom (vs. 24-25).

Paul speaks of another blessing in this Scripture passage that the Holy Spirit gives His children.  Have you ever faced some times when you, a friend or loved one had a major crisis and you just couldn’t find the right words to pray to God?  It is then that the Holy Spirit steps in and prays for us (vs. 26-27). Even when we don’t know the right words to pray, the Holy Spirit prays with and for us, and God answers.  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us in accordance with God’s will.

Sometimes our prayers just come out in a muddled mess.  We just don’t know what to say to God for some important matter.  The Holy Spirit knows how to reshape our prayers and to present them to God perfectly.  There may be times when we have been urgently asked to pray for someone, but we don’t know any details, whether they are sick or hurt, or what.   We don’t know what’s wrong. Thankfully the Holy Spirit does. He knows everything about us and about the people we are praying for. In these times no words are necessary because the Father understands and agrees with what the Spirit thinks.  He is always praying what is best for us.

Perhaps some believers have no one to pray for them.  They may be permanently home-bound, or live somewhere where there are no churches or even where Christianity is illegal.  They do not need to despair. The Holy Spirit is praying for them, too.

What a blessing to know that when we are saved, God has adopted us into His family, and promised us a glorious inheritance!  And not only that, while here on earth we have both Jesus interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25), and the Holy Spirit taking our feeble prayers, making them perfect, and presenting them to the Father for us!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Pride Versus Humility

Psalm 131

Today’s psalm, though not the shortest in the Bible, is one of the shortest, consisting of only three small verses.  Charles Spurgeon, the great British preacher of the 19th century, said that this psalm was one of the shortest to read, but one of the longest to learn.  What is the message that God has given us in this psalm? Let’s take a look at it together.

Psalm 131 gives us a picture of a young child who has been weaned and is no longer being nursed by his mother.  This young toddler is at peace, and is not anxious, worried, nor concerned about matters of the world or life. At this young age a child is not proud or arrogant.  Those are bad character traits that come soon enough, but are not generally seen in someone so young. A newly weaned child is generally a toddler, just learning to walk and newly exploring his world.  With no worries, he is at peace, fully trusting his parents. A weaned child comes into his mother’s lap, not for need of nourishment, but with a desire for closeness and comfort.

Like a young child, our psalmist King David wants to be humble and at peace, not haughty or concerned with great matters, and able to rest and trust in God’s comforting care.  This is something the Lord Jesus has promised those who turn to Him in trust. He promises calm and quiet for our souls (John 14:27). David had trained himself to trust in God to supply all he needed, just as a weaned child trusts his mother.

God loves a humble spirit, a person who doesn’t think that he or she is the greatest one around.  King David was humble. During the years that King Saul was pursuing David there were several times when Saul’s life was in David’s hands, and he could have killed him. He didn’t, though, and instead, when talking to Saul, David called himself a flea and a dead dog (I Samuel 24:14). He could have told Saul that God had chosen him to replace Saul on the throne, which would have been the truth.  Instead David remained humble. Moses was also a most humble man despite being in such a high and powerful position (Numbers 12:3). God promises us that a humble spirit will obtain honor (Proverbs 29:23).

Pride is the result of overvaluing ourselves and undervaluing others. It makes us dissatisfied with what we have and concerned with what everyone else is doing.  Pride makes us crave more and more attention and adoration.

Humility, on the other hand, puts others first, and is content to let God lead in our lives.  We no longer have to prove ourselves to others, and can be content. Humility is not a character trait that we can openly announce that we have.  It is like a rare and delicate flower. When we put it in the limelight it wilts and dies. Impatient arrogance is a very dangerous habit to let develop in our lives.

The Lord is instructing us in this very short psalm to let our spirits remain calm and quiet, trusting in Him to bring us peace and rest. Be like that carefree young child who completely trusts his parents. I would sure like to be like a little child and climb into God’s lap in trust, where I can rest and find calmness and comfort.  Wouldn’t you? When we do, God promises to bring us peace.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Tower Of Babel

Genesis 11:1-9

The Old Testament reading today from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer brings us to the account in Genesis of the Tower of Babel.  Many think of this as the account as to the origin of the many languages we have, which it is. However, there are also some lessons we can learn from this Biblical account.  Let’s look into the Book of Genesis, and see what the Lord might teach us.

Genesis 11 tells of the first major event that occurred following Noah and the Flood.  In Genesis 9:7 God repeated the command He had given man in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:28), that being to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.  However, here we read that the people did not want to be scattered throughout the earth (vs. 4). They wanted to stay together. They wanted to become mighty and powerful.  They wanted to build a great city with a tower “whose top is in the heavens”. This account tells of man’s pride and arrogance, and God’s response to that.

The tower and city of Babel were built to be a monument to the people’s own greatness.  The building in and of itself was not sinful. Nor was it sinful just because it was tall.  The sin was in why it was built.  The tower was built to glorify man rather than God.  There are many great Gothic cathedrals built in the Middle Ages in Europe that are quite tall, especially considering they were built centuries before modern skyscrapers.  These soaring cathedrals were built to glorify God, not man. We don’t even know the individual names of the men who built them. Our work should always glorify God, and not ourselves (I Corinthians 10:31).

These people at Babel were so united in their folly that they would have been able to do all that they sinfully desired to do.  Because the people were refusing to go out and fill the earth as God commanded, and their arrogant rebellion of Him was rising, God confused their language. He put an end to this arrogant behavior by causing everyone to speak different languages.  This caused them to have to separate and be with those who spoke the same as they did, and they began to scatter all over the earth. God took the gift of language that He had given, and divided and confused it because of the apostate worship that was beginning at Babel, where man turned against God in pride.

God will always oppose pride.  He will not permit us to replace Him with anything, including ourselves, as supreme in the universe. These people in Babel thought and concentrated only upon themselves, and not the Lord. In two verses, verses 3 and 4, the words “us” and “we” occur 4 times.  They did not seek to find out what God wanted, only what they wanted.  If we want to advance God’s kingdom, we must not try to make a name for ourselves, but instead humble ourselves and exalt Jesus (I Peter 5:6).

What “monuments” have we built to ourselves to try and call attention to ourselves and our greatness?  Do we want the biggest house possible or the fanciest and most expensive car? Do we shop for the most expensive designer-label clothes, shoes, and handbags? Do we strive for the most important and prestigious job we can get? These things may not be wrong in themselves, but when we use them to give ourselves identity and self-worth, they take the place of God in our lives.  When this happens, our pride and arrogance can easily take over, and God’s importance in our lives shrinks down to nothing. Let’s remember to keep our pride in check, and that whatever we do, we do it to the glory of God!

Friday, June 7, 2019

Jesus' Prayer For Us

John 17:20-26

It is a comfort to people going through a difficult time if they know that someone is praying for them.  I know that it is an encouragement and comfort for me to know that someone is praying for me. In our Scripture for today we read the very blessed news that Jesus is praying for us!  Let’s see what He says.

Our passage for today continues on in the Gospel of John, where Jesus gave final teachings to the apostles following the Last Supper. When concluding these final words to them, He prays to the Father which is recorded throughout this whole chapter. In the middle of this great prayer of Jesus, He specifically mentions all future believers (vs. 20).  Everyone who has ever came to faith in Jesus following His resurrection, which would include you and I, along with every believer today, have all come to faith through the words of the Apostles passed down through the ages, particularly what is written in the New Testament.  Therefore, we are included in this prayer of Jesus!

What was it that Jesus specifically prayed here for us?  One main thing He prayed was for unity among believers (John 17:11, 23).  He also prayed for our protection from the Evil One (John 17:15), and for our sanctity or holiness (John 17:17).  Jesus prayed that God would keep us pure, give us abundant joy, peace, unity, and protection from Satan.

Unity is a powerful witness to the reality of God’s love.  When unbelievers look at those who profess Christ, what do they see, particularly within our churches? Do they see church members fighting and squabbling among themselves, so often about ridiculous things? Do they hear Christians gossiping about other members, and putting them down?  There are several different ways that we can show that unity Jesus prayed for us to have. We can pray for other Christians, avoid gossiping with each other, and instead build each other up. We should work with others in humility, and give of our time and money liberally to help each other. We should be exalting Jesus and not arguing over trivial or divisive matters (Philippians 2:2).  When the world sees that in the Church, then they will be more drawn to the Lord.

Our unity with other believers is based on our unity with Jesus and the Father. We will know unity with each other if we are living in union with God. Earlier in His Upper Room talk Jesus had called Himself the Vine, and us believers as branches connected to the Vine (John 15:1-8).  We are a branch in union with the Vine, and we are united with all the other branches who are attached to the same Vine. We are not a branch on our own. Jesus, the Vine, has many branches attached, and we are united together in Him.

Another very important part of Christians being united together as Jesus prayed we would be, is that we be unified in the truth.  We should not be united together in believing and following false doctrine and heresy, but instead in the truth of God’s Word. The basis of unity centers in adherence to the truth of the revelations God gave His disciples and that were received in the Word of God. When someone has strayed from Biblical truth or is openly and consciously living and following a path of sin, then it is not possible to be in unity with them. The Bible says to avoid fellowship with these people, but of course we need to continue to pray for them (II John 1:9-11).

What a blessing to know that Jesus is praying for you and for me! Let’s be sure to do what we can to see that prayer answered by being in unity with other believers who are also seeking to follow and obey God’s Word.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

An Invitation To Everyone

Revelation 22:12-21

Most everyone likes to be invited to a party.  Children get all excited when an invitation to a birthday party of a classmate arrives, and how disappointed they feel if they are left out.  Adults eagerly wait for that invitation to a wedding to come, or that invitation to the boss’s boat or cabin for the day, and feel snubbed if they don’t get one.  How about an invitation to heaven? Do only select people receive that, like with a birthday or wedding invitation? Only the favored ones or the most popular people?  In our Scripture passage today we read of an invitation by God to drink of the water of life in heaven, and it is an invitation for everyone.

As our passage opens from the final verses of the Book of Revelation, the final book of the Bible, we read the words of Jesus, telling us that He will return at any time (vs. 12).  We don’t know when that will be, so we all need to be ready. He promises to reward our works. Works do not save us. Instead, they show that we are saved.  Only those works which survive God’s testing fire have eternal value and will be rewarded (I Corinthians 3:10-15; II Corinthians 5:10).

Jesus also repeats the same title He used when He first appeared to John when showing him these revelations (Revelation 1:8), that He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and ending, everything. Jesus also calls Himself the “Root and Offspring of David” (vs. 16). Jesus is the source, or root, of David’s life, which establishes His deity. He is also a descendant of David’s, thus His offspring, which establishes His humanity.  Jesus is both fully God and fully man. Then He calls Himself the “Bright and Morning Star”. The morning star is actually the planet Venus, which often appears shining brightly in the east, just before sunrise. Jesus is the bright star which will shatter the darkness of man’s night, and bring the Light of God’s day.

After these words from Jesus, we read of the invitation that the Spirit and the Bride give to all in verse 17.  Both give the invitation to “Come”, and to drink of the water of life freely. This is God’s unlimited offer of grace and salvation to all who desire to quench their thirsty souls.  These words echo the words that Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, when He told her of the life-giving water He brings to all who accept Him (John 4:14). Salvation is offered to everyone.  We don’t read of any restrictions to this invitation in the verse. However, only those who choose to come will be saved.  Just as when we receive an invitation to a birthday party or wedding reception, we must accept the invitation, decide whether or not we want to go, and then go to the party or not.  The birthday cake or other favors from the party won’t come to us. We have to accept and go. Jesus’ invitation is given to all, but each person must decide whether or not to accept.  Salvation through Jesus is offered to all, but it must be received in order to be effective to each individual.

Our passage proceeds with a warning against altering Biblical texts (vs. 18-19). There is a similar warning given in Deuteronomy 4:1-4. God is very clear that He does not want anyone to distort the Bible’s message.  We are not to tamper with the truth of Scriptures. That includes falsifying, altering, or misinterpreting the Bible. Those who do will incur God’s judgment.

Knowing that Jesus could return at any moment, we should keep motivated to live productively for Him.  All through the Bible we see that obedience to God’s commands brings blessings, including being able to enter the City of God and access to the Tree of Life (vs. 14). Those kept outside of the City are those who have low moral character (vs. 15).

Sometimes when people read a novel or mystery book, they like to look ahead to the last chapter in order to see how it all turns out. Here we’ve read the last chapter of the Book God has written, the Bible. We know how it will end, both for believers and unbelievers. If you haven’t already, please accept the invitation that God has given you, to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, and quench your spiritual thirst with the water of life that He offers. Do not put it off, as we do not know when He may return. It could be today!