Saturday, February 29, 2020

Vigilance For Satan's Traps

Genesis 3:1-7

We all face decisions every day.  Many of those decisions aren’t all that important, such as what we will wear, or whether to listen to this or that radio station as we’re driving to the store.  Other decisions we face are vitally critical, and will affect us for the rest of our lives, even affecting our descendants after us. For that reason, those decisions need to be carefully thought through before we decide what we’re going to do.  We need to make sure we have good and reliable information before we decide, and know that our source is trustworthy. In our Scripture passage today, a very familiar one from the Book of Genesis, we see a decision that was made that affected not only the people that made it, but all mankind from then on.  A free decision to listen to and follow the wrong words, the wrong way.

We all know the familiar account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  It was a paradise given by God to the couple to live in and tend. They had everything they could possibly want or ever need.  There was only one restriction - they were not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:16-17). God used that tree to test Adam and Eve’s loyalty and trust.  He gave Adam and Eve a warning, that if they were to eat from that tree they would die. God wanted them to obey, but He gave them freedom to choose. With that tree and its fruit they could decide to obey and gain God’s blessings and rewards, or they could decide to disobey and reap the consequences.

As our passage opens, Satan had come on the scene in the guise of a serpent.  When he steps into our life, Satan doesn’t usually announce who he is, telling us exactly what he is up to.  He is very cunning, wily, scheming, and manipulative. And most importantly, as the Scripture says, he is a liar and murderer from the beginning (John 8:44).  That day in the Garden, the serpent began a conversation with Eve. The first thing he did was to question God’s command, getting Eve to doubt God’s love and care for her (vs. 1).  He implied that God was stingy, strict, and selfish. He caused her to forget God’s blessings. He lured Eve to focus on the one thing that she didn’t have, rather than all of the things she did have.  Satan suggested to her that obedience to God’s Word is not necessary. Satan even told Eve that God’s Word was not true, that it was a lie (vs. 3). These are the same ways that he tries to tempt us into sin, as well.

Temptation is about whether we trust God’s intentions for us or not.  Satan tried to raise doubts. He lured Eve to crave physical gratification.  He lured her to try and acquire it at any cost. Eve looked at the tree with flesh-focused eyes.  The forbidden fruit appealed to her in three ways. It was good for food, nice to look at, and desirable to make her wise.  Those were normal, good desires. However, Satan took those desires and corrupted them. Eve lusted after the fruit and became controlled by desire to have it.

God warned Adam and Eve that when they ate the fruit of that tree they would die.  When the couple ate, they didn’t immediately physically die, though that did come later.  Instead, immediately afterwards their spiritual connection was severed. Their hearts were hardened.  They stopped trusting God. Their fellowship with Him died. God’s presence brought panic, not peace. Fellowship with God ceased, and separation began.  Sin broke Adam and Eve’s relationship with God. They no longer walked with Him, but instead they hid themselves.

Satan also feeds us with the lie that obeying God takes away our freedom.  True freedom comes from obedience, and knowing what not to do. The restrictions are given for our well-being, just as a good parent won’t let their child play with fire or out in the middle of traffic.  Obedience is necessary, and will bring God’s blessings.

We need to be alert for the temptations of Satan.  Animals are always vigilant and watchful for any signs of danger approaching.  Adam and Eve should have been alert to the traps of Satan. We need to be just as alert and vigilant (I Corinthians 16:13, I Peter 5:8-9).  Let us be sure that we follow and obey the One who loved us enough to die for our salvation.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Polishing Our Halos

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Do you know anyone whose favorite pastime seems to be polishing their own halo?  I can think of one or two such religious hypocrites that I’ve known in my lifetime. Jesus ran across plenty of these people during His ministry, and in our passage today He addresses the issue of religious hypocrisy, and how we should counter that in our lives.  Let’s take a look at our Savior’s words.

The type of hypocrites that Jesus was addressing here in His Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, are those people who do good deeds for appearances only.  Their actions may be good, but their motives are empty. Some people like to appear “holy” to get attention. They desire that other people think they are especially devout and pious, and try to show this by drawing attention to their giving, their prayers, and fasting.  God sees through that self-righteousness. If we pray only where others see and hear us, our audience is not God, but only to be seen and praised by people.

As Jesus teaches, these people perform their pious acts out of greatly desiring the approval and praise of other people, not out of sincere devotion to God.  Jesus said that their reward will only be that people saw them, nothing more. The empty acts they perform will be their only reward. God does not reward hypocrisy or self-righteousness.  God will reward those who are sincere in their faith. We should not boast or advertise our good deeds or acts of piety. God’s reward is the only one that matters.

Jesus is teaching in verses 1 - 6 of this Scripture passage that our motives for giving to God and others, for helping them, for praying and fasting, should be pure motives.  None of these should be done just to gain the applause of others. Don’t give with the hope and desire to be praised. Jesus says our good deeds should be done quietly or in secret, with no thought of any reward.  Acts of generosity, prayer, and fasting should not be self-centered, but God-centered. They should not be done to make ourselves look good, but rather so that God looks good. God doesn’t give rewards to those who seek them.

Fasting is going without food in order to spend time in more concentrated prayer.  People fast when they pray (Ezra 8:21-23), when they repent of sin (Nehemiah 1:4-7), when they ask for God’s blessing (Acts 13:2-3), and as an act of worship (Luke 2:36-38).  Fasting is not dieting. It is not trying to earn any rewards from God. Fasting doesn’t serve to change God’s mind, to speed up His answer, or manipulate His will. It helps us focus our attention on God alone, in order to hear Him clearly.  Fasting should be done to honor God and help us focus as we enter His presence.

Jesus is not condemning fasting in verses 16 - 18, only condemning hypocrisy.  Are we fasting in order to get public praise and pats on the back? Are we doing it to impress others with our supposed holiness?  Fasting should be done quietly and sincerely. It should be private between one’s self and God. He will give us any reward we might receive.

As our Scripture passage winds up, Jesus teaches us about where we should be storing up treasures (vs. 19 - 21).  Just like the empty praise we receive if we do our good deeds for men, if our treasures are only earthly things, they will quickly crumble and fade away to nothing.  We need to store our treasures in heaven because this life is but a breath. Storing up treasure in heaven is done by all of our acts of obedience to God. Believers should loosen their grip on earthly things.  We should have the same perspective that King David had about everything he owned. He knew that everything he had came from God (I Chronicles 29:14).

Acts of giving, prayer, and fasting are to be worship given to God, not displays of self-righteousness to gain admiration from others.  To do acts of piety for the wrong reason will not receive God’s blessings. The reason for which we act is critical.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Pressing On

Philippians 3:7-14

It is only natural for one to be well-pleased or proud of the accomplishments they have achieved in their life.  When we write up a resume for ourselves, we are careful to put in all of our past achievements. The more great or noteworthy things we can list, the better we look to others, particularly future employers or those we seek to impress.  There were things in the life of the Apostle Paul that he could rightfully be proud of, and some things that he was ashamed of, as well. Rather than get all puffed up with pride, or on the other hand, hang his head in shame and give up, let’s look into today’s Scripture and see how Paul looked at his past.

If Paul had wanted to, he could have been very proud of his spiritual credentials, his “Jewish resume”.  He had been a very observant Pharisee, following the Law to the letter. Paul had also been educated at the best school under Gamaliel, the greatest Jewish teacher of the day.  All of Paul’s religious credentials, all of his achievements that he had at one time thought was a profit, were actually worthless. He now knew that all of this was nothing, was a loss, since coming to know Jesus (vs. 7-8).  When he thought of all that he had accomplished in his life, he counted it all “a loss” when compared with the greatness of knowing Jesus. A person’s relationship with Jesus is more important than anything else. Knowing Jesus, as Paul was referring to here, is not just an intellectual knowledge of Him, but to know Him personally through salvation, a shared life with Christ.

Paul had come to know that all of the religious and holy deeds that he had performed while a Pharisee did not amount to anything, nor make him right with God.  Nothing we do, no matter how good or holy the deeds are, will ever make us right with God. Our righteousness comes only from Jesus (vs. 9). Paul’s own righteousness was the proud self-righteousness of external religious rituals and good works.  That is produced by the flesh, and cannot save us from sin. Faith in Christ is depending on and trusting Jesus. When we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, we die to sin and His crucifixion puts to death our old sinful nature. Jesus’ resurrection gives us the power to live for Him, morally renewed and regenerated lives (vs. 10-11).  When we apply His crucifixion to our life, we can know the victory of His resurrection.

There was one single-minded goal that Paul had in his life, and that was to know Christ more, to be more like Him, and to be all Jesus had in mind for his life (vs. 12-14).  Paul pursued this goal like an athlete preparing to win the gold medal, laying aside everything that would distract him. Several times throughout his various epistles, the Apostle Paul compared the Christian life to running a race.  He pressed on like a runner trying to achieve the goal, which to him was to be more like Jesus.

There were things in Paul’s past that he was ashamed of and felt bad over, particularly his hunting down and persecuting Christians.  However, Paul knew that God had forgiven him for it all, and he was not going to let past guilt stand in the way (vs. 13). He let it go, and looked forward to what God would help him do.  We should never dwell on the past, either celebrating our spiritual victories, or mourning our defeats. We must press on forward with Jesus.

Christ has guaranteed our position with God through faith alone, not by anything good or spectacular we have done.  As we grow in our knowledge of Jesus, we see how insignificant our worldly treasures and achievements are. Never let past achievements get in the way from completely relying on faith and trust in Jesus alone.  Paul gave up everything, having a family, old friendships, and often his freedom, in order to know Jesus.  What are we willing to give up in order to know Him better?

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Blessing Of Forgiveness

Psalm 103

This week’s psalm, as we get ready to enter the season of Lent, is Psalm 103, one of my favorite psalms.  This psalm, written by King David, calls us to praise and bless the Lord, listing many reasons for which to do so.  During the period of Lent, when many believers seek to develop a closer, deeper, and more intimate relationship with the Lord, it is good to meditate on the many reasons we have to praise the Lord.  Let’s look into this psalm, and bless and praise the Lord along with David.

Scriptures say that we were created for a purpose, and that is to praise God and to glorify Him (Isaiah 43:7).  We should be mindful of all of God’s benefits, everything He has done for us and given us (vs. 2). As we read the opening verses of our psalm, we see many things that came to David’s mind as he penned this song of praise.  A few of the blessings that he praised God for were His forgiveness of sins, healing of illnesses, redemption, blessings of loving kindness and mercy, food, His righteousness and justice (vs. 3-6). We should remember to praise God for His character, and His works in our lives, both past, present and future.

David had many reasons to praise the Lord.  God had protected him from the murderous attacks from King Saul, and had raised him up from being a shepherd all the way to being king over Israel.  Most of all, though, David praised the Lord for his forgiveness of sins. Though David was a believer, one who loved the Lord deeply, and was even called a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), there were several times when he fell into sin, some rather serious sin.  He needed God’s forgiveness, and he was most thankful for that blessing.

David acknowledged when he sinned, and he came to the Lord, asking Him for His forgiveness.  He knew that the Lord was merciful, and did not punish us as we deserve (vs. 8-14). God is patient and merciful, and He does not punish us as we deserve.  However that does not give us a free pass to act any way we wish, and feel there are no consequences.  He still disciplines His children (Hebrews 12:6).

Another reason we can praise the Lord is that He not only forgives us of our sins when we come to Him confessing them, He also takes those sins completely away from us, not holding them to our account (vs. 12).  God forgets them. When we think of forgetting, we might think of forgetfulness as a flaw. With God and our sins, that is a good thing. People like to hold our sins and mistakes over us. They never forget them.  However, God does. They are as far removed from us as the east from the west, which never meet. He casts them to the bottom of the sea (Micah 7:19). When God looks at believers, He doesn’t see their sins, He sees Jesus (Galatians 3:27).

Some people have a very difficult time forgiving themselves of sins they have committed.  They have come to Jesus, asking for His forgiveness, which He gives, yet they cannot forgive themselves.  If we refuse to forgive ourselves, are we saying that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for our sins was insufficient?  Is our standard of righteousness higher than God’s? Both Peter and Paul forgave themselves, Peter for denying Jesus, and Paul for persecuting Christians.  They regretted their actions, but accepted Jesus’ forgiveness. By not forgiving ourselves, we are focusing on ourselves, not on God, and by making our feelings superior to God’s Word.  We need to trust in God, not on our feelings.

God is a Father to believers, and like a good father, He takes into consideration His child’s immaturity and weaknesses (vs. 13-14).  God doesn’t give them more than they can handle. When God examines our lives, He remembers our human condition. As we reflect on this psalm, we need to remember all that God has done for us.  We should fear Him, obey His commands (vs. 17-18), and do His will (vs. 21).

Saturday, February 22, 2020

What Type Of Fast Will Please God?

Isaiah 58:1-12

This week marks the beginning of Lent in many Christian denominations, with Ash Wednesday midweek.  Lent is a period of approximately 6 weeks, or 40 days, prior to Holy Week, leading up to the festival of Easter.  It has been a time for many Christians to develop a deeper relationship with God through spiritual discipline. Lent has been a traditional time to give up certain pleasures, and also to fast or partial fast, such as giving up sweets.  In our Scripture passage today, the prophet Isaiah addresses the custom of fasting, looking more deeply into why some people fast, and what exactly God is looking for.

Throughout his ministry, the prophet Isaiah, and other prophets as well, preached to the people, calling them on their hypocrisy.  The people loved to appear religious and pious to others, going through religious rituals, yet their hearts were far from God. They had no real relationship with Him.  As Isaiah pointed out, their fasting was only half-hearted, without genuine prayer to God (vs. 3-7). It was only an outward ritual, without any real repentance over sin, or real humility.

If we decide we will fast or other religious observance during Lent, what are our reasons?  Isaiah wanted the people to take a good look at themselves, and question their motives. Some people seem to be religious, but are only going through the motions.  Their holiness is merely pretense. When they fast, they want the applause of men for their piety. They want God to pile up rewards for them for their religious observances.

Jesus spoke out against this kind of hypocrisy, addressing the Pharisees, and also ourselves, as well.  He pointed out that when fasting, we shouldn’t be letting the whole world know in order to get their approval and commendations for our religious piety.  Rather our religious practices, such as fasting, should be for God, not man (Matthew 6:16-18). We should not fast and pray to prove we are godly. Instead we should do these in order to grow closer to God.

True worship is much more than religious ritual.  God, speaking through His prophet Isaiah, condemned the people for going through their religious rituals, yet having strife and anger with their brothers (vs. 4).  They would act pious, yet treat their fellow man cruelly. They oppressed the worker and let the poor, the widows, and the orphans go hungry. All of our fasting, church attendance, and singing in the choir means nothing to God if it lacks sincerity, if we don't reach out to others with kindness, charity, justice, and generosity.  God told His people that their fasting should also bring others a release from oppression, it should include feeding the hungry, and helping those in need (vs 6-7). Without showing concern for others we are missing a true relationship with God. How can one act pious, yet be unforgiving or committing sin? Even more important is compassion for the poor, the helpless and oppressed.

When we are obedient to God, He promises to be our rear-guard (vs. 8).  He will not only protect us from attacks on our front, He will stand behind us, protecting us from those who try to sneak up from the rear.  This is reminiscent of God protecting the Israelites when they crossed the Red Sea, and He protected them from the oncoming Egyptians (Exodus 14:19).

God promises us that when we follow Him, He will guide us continually (vs. 11).  He promises that it will be Him, not another person or an angel, but God, Himself.  The Lord said that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  He guides us continually, not just part of the time.

As we enter into the season of Lent later this week, let’s bring the Lord the type of worship that will truly honor Him, where our acts of fasting and prayer are accompanied by treating our brothers and sisters with love and kindness.  Then we can truly know that the Lord will be with us, protecting us on every side.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Sins That Begin In The Heart

Matthew 5:21-30

Most of us are probably glad that our thoughts are not broadcast for all to see!  We might feel that as long as our thoughts are hidden, then everything is okay, that hidden thoughts are fine as long as we don’t act upon them.  And how many of us feel that it was okay when we got angry at someone, as long as we didn’t go out and clobber him? We start to feel proud of ourselves that we didn’t break any of the Ten Commandments, particularly the ones against murder and adultery.  As we read our Scripture today from Matthew’s Gospel, as Jesus continues His Sermon on the Mount, He sets the bar much higher. Let’s look into what our Savior says to us.

In our Scripture passage, Jesus first addresses the issue of our anger (vs. 21-22).  We might be tempted to think that there is nothing wrong with getting angry, as long as we don’t physically hurt anyone.  When we have anger against someone, or a deep-seated bitterness against another, we are breaking God’s law of love. Anger is a dangerous emotion that can easily leap out of control.  Jesus states that having unjust anger and refusing to forgive are acts of murder that we commit in our hearts. We “kill” one another by holding grudges of hatred and anger against others.  Not only does He not want us to actually kill someone, but He doesn’t want us to destroy someone with our words. Destroying someone with our mouth is a form of killing. When we tear another one down with our words, when we spread lying gossip, we are speaking death over their lives.  Life is sacred to God. As believers we should be speaking uplifting words, words of blessing to speak life about others, not death.

Thoughts are the forerunner of deeds.  The way we think shows who we really are (Proverbs 23:7).  In verses 27-28 Jesus instructs us to keep a check on what we allow our thoughts to dwell on.  If the act is wrong, so is the thought and intention. If left unchecked, wrong desires will lead to wrong actions.  God doesn’t want just outward compliance, but more importantly, He wants inward change. He does not want religious fanatics who give an outward show of piety, but spiritually transformed people.  God sees the heart behind the things we do, so we need to keep our thoughts pure.

Some people get troubled by verses 29-30.  Jesus doesn’t want us gouging out our eyes, as even a blind man can have lustful thoughts.  Lust is a problem of the heart. We need to examine our life for anything that causes us to sin, and then take all necessary action to remove it.  It was Samson’s wandering, lustful eyes that got him into trouble, and without them he triumphed over the enemy! His eyes caused him to sin, and he was more blind then, than when the Philistines put out his eyes.

Both anger and lust can lead to estrangement from others, so Jesus also addressed the need for us to make efforts for reconciliation with our brothers and sisters (vs. 23-26).  If we have a problem or grievance with someone, we need to resolve it as soon as possible. It is important to resolve differences before anger can cause more trouble (Proverbs 25:8-10).  Small conflicts mend more easily than larger ones.

Reconciliation is important.  We need to make an effort at it in order to have an unobstructed relationship with God.  Jesus said to forgive others before prayer or worship, otherwise our prayers will be hindered.  He wants us to let go of the grudge. The other person may not be receptive. However, that is not our responsibility if we have made the attempt, but we need to do our part in trying to reconcile.  Our attitude towards others reflects our relationship with God (I John 4:20-21).

In closing, our Scripture today shows that thought control is just as important as bodily self-control.  Jesus says that we will be held accountable for our thoughts, as well as our actions. As St. Paul advises, let’s keep our thoughts on what is good, pure, lovely, true, and noble (Philippians 4:8).

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Are We Growing Up?

I Corinthians 3:1-9

Everyone loves a newborn baby!  They are small and adorable, and everyone loves to hold and rock the baby.  Nobody, though, wants the baby to remain a baby. The parents eagerly watch for their newborn to achieve the next growth milestone, such as rolling over, beginning to crawl, signs of the first tooth, etc.  As the child gets older, parents still look for signs of growth. Many parents make marks on a wall showing how tall their child is getting. They also expect their child to learn to read, and advance from grade to grade in school.  If their child fails to learn to stand and walk, or learn to talk, they know something is wrong. No one wants their child to remain a baby or little child forever. This is true, not only in the physical world, but also in the spiritual world.  Believers each have a time and day when they came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. That is when they were spiritually born. From that time onward there should be signs of spiritual growth. Our Scripture passage today from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians addresses this issue with the church there.  Let’s take a look at what he says.

Paul begins this chapter with some scolding of the Corinthian believers.  He had founded the church several years earlier, and many of the believers there had been saved for a number of years, yet they had not matured much during this time.  They were like children who had stunted growth and development. Paul compares them to babies who could only take milk, and now several years later, instead of advancing on to solid food and meat, they are still only on milk (vs. 2-3).

If a young child doesn’t advance from milk to soft food, then to more solid food, and eventually to eating meat, something is wrong.  The same is true in the spiritual realm. The Corinthian believers were spiritual infants, even though the church was several years old.  They were not spiritually healthy or mature. Immature Christians are worldly, allowing their desires to control them. Mature Christians seek to follow God’s desires.  Many of those at the Corinthian church were saved, but they were not spiritual.  They were not fully controlled by the Holy Spirit.  They were “carnal”, controlled by their fallen flesh nature.  They were spiritually immature. The “milk” that Paul and his companions gave the new believers were easily understood, easily “digestible” truths and doctrines given to new believers.  The “solid food” would be deeper doctrines of Scripture.

To grow as a Christian,  one must read and study their Bible on a regular basis.  This would entail more than just a casual reading of a chapter every so often, but getting into the Word, digging into the Scriptures with a reputable teacher or study guides.  It includes hearing the preaching of the Word by men and women of God. It includes spending time in prayer and communion with God. This will advance us beyond milk and on to the solid food and meat.  Signs of being spiritually immature include jealousy and quarreling between fellow believers (vs. 3), being lured by false teaching (Ephesians 4:14), and failing to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14).

One issue that Paul brought up that showed that the Corinthians were spiritually immature was their arguing among themselves over their favorite preacher (vs. 4).  Some were calling Paul the greatest, some claimed Apollos, some others. Paul was the one who had founded the church, Apollos was their pastor (vs 5-6). Paul had planted the seeds of the Gospel.  He was a missionary. He started churches. Apollos’ role was to water, to pastor the church, to help the church grow. Paul laid the foundation, Apollos built upon it.

God’s work involves many different individuals who have a variety of gifts and abilities (vs. 7-9).  There should be no superstars, only fellow team members doing the work of the Lord. Don’t be looking for praise from people.  Instead, look for approval from God. God promises He will not overlook either the sower, the one who plants, the one who waters, or the one who reaps.  All will be rewarded.

Monday, February 17, 2020

When Afflictions Work Out For The Best

Psalm 119:65-72

We have all heard at one time or another people question why God would allow this or that tragedy to happen to them, or to someone else.  “If God loved me, why did He let this happen to me?” “I never did anything to deserve this!” are comments we hear. Perhaps we have even made similar statements.  Today’s Scripture passage comes from Psalm 119, the longest Psalm in the Bible, and also the longest chapter in the whole Bible, as well. The psalmist might have wondered the same thing as he went through various trials.  However, as we shall see as we look at two verses in this Psalm, verses 67 and 71, he learned that this was for his good.

People, particularly unbelievers, argue that if God is all-powerful and all-good and loving, then He should prevent any suffering.  These folks often come to the conclusion that God is either not powerful, not good, or both. The Bible does not indicate who wrote Psalm 119, so we don’t know what afflictions the author went through, however he does indicate that he went through something that was significant, which left a deep and lasting impression upon him.  Rather than letting these experiences make him bitter and angry at God, he let them teach him some important lessons.

God allows afflictions to come upon us for various reasons.  They can be a result of the general sin that is in the world, which came as a result of the Fall.  They can also come upon us as a result of sin in our own life, or through the sin in the life of others near us.  Afflictions can work out for the best. Through his trials, Job learned more about God, and developed an even closer relationship to Him than he had before.  God used the afflictions of Joseph, from the brutal treatment at the hands of his brothers, to false imprisonment in order to prepare him for the special task of becoming prime minister of Egypt.  The apostle Paul became an even more effective witness for the Lord Jesus through the many afflictions he went through.

While in the midst of afflictions we may question why God is allowing this to happen to us.  Afflictions can help to refine our faith, making us more like Jesus if we allow them to. God may be trying to protect us from worse harm, and draw us closer to Him.  His goal is never to hurt us. The pain and afflictions we go through can be a good thing. If we never felt physical pain we wouldn’t know when we’ve been injured and get help.  God has used specific trials, illness, or grief in some people’s life to draw them to Him in salvation. He also uses them in our life in order to lead us to seek His help throughout those trials.

Sometimes afflictions help to correct us when we have sinned and gone astray from God.  God deals with our sins and wanderings with discipline. The type of discipline will vary, but it is designed to lead us away from the sin which trapped us.  In those instances, how do we react? We can get angry at God, shaking our fist at Him. Or we can try to learn from the discipline. Stay close to the Lord through His Word.  Then thank God that He loves us enough to discipline us.

We have a choice for how we respond to trials and afflictions.  We could blame God or others. We could also become bitter and resentful in our life.  We also have the choice to turn to God, and ask Him what His purpose has been for allowing the affliction into our life.  If we allow Him, God can use these afflictions to teach us, and help us grow into great servants for Him.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Following A Godly Path

Proverbs 16

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of many different thoughts and sayings, a large number of them being written by King Solomon.  A major theme throughout the book is to seek after and obtain the wisdom of God. The different authors seek to instruct the reader with godly values, moral behavior, right conduct, and to develop a proper fear of the Lord.  This morning let us take a brief look at one chapter, and ponder some of the wise sayings collected there.

Right at the start of our chapter we come across a very wise proverb (vs. 1).  We humans always make plans, plans for our day, plans for vacations, for the remainder of our lives.  However, the final outcome of the plans we make is in God’s hands. His plans don’t always line up with ours.  Yet, God’s plans are always better than ours. We should always ask for His guidance as we plan, and before putting a plan into action we should always ask whether our plans line up with God’s Word (vs. 2).  When we set our course for God, He is always there to direct our path (vs. 9).

Our author continues on by instructing us to trust God, totally submitting to His will, knowing that everything depends on Him (vs. 3).  “Committing” our work to God is devoting ourselves completely to His plans before, during, and after all we’ve done, not just asking for His blessing once we’ve finished our work.  When we do, He will fulfill our righteous plans.

Continuing on in the chapter, I have a few brief thoughts on several more of the many proverbs here.  Prideful people say to others, to themselves, and even to God that they feel their way is best. They feel that they can do things without His help, but they will quickly and sadly find they are wrong (vs. 5).  Proud people never feel they can fall, but again, God shows they are wrong (vs. 18). Success by the world’s definition is achievement of wealth, prominence, and fame. Success by God’s definition is a relationship with Jesus, following Him obediently, growing in Christlike character, and spiritual maturity.

God demands honesty and fairness in all that we do, especially in our workplace, not in just trying to make a profit (vs. 11).  God knows the motives we have for whatever we do. He judges our motives as well as our actions. No one finds real happiness by disobeying a clear command of God (vs. 20).  God’s wisdom is a fountain of life, that will bring happiness, health, and eternal life (vs. 22). Living by God’s Word washes away sins. We have a choice to either be enlightened by His Word or be dragged down by our foolishness.

A godly person, one seeking to live for the Lord will watch their tongues and words, using them to heal people, and not to hurt others (vs. 24).  Being patient is more important than being a victorious warrior (vs. 32). Self control is better than conquest. Peacemakers are slow to anger. All of our success can be ruined by losing one’s temper.

In conclusion, let’s look at probably the most important verse in this chapter, verse 25.  Finding the right path is important. People try many ways to get to God, but only one way is the correct path.  All the others lead to destruction. Jesus, and only Him, leads to God (John 14:6).

Friday, February 14, 2020

A Good Influence

Matthew 5:13-20

When my children were younger, like most parents, I was concerned with whom they associated with.  Who were their friends in school and in the neighborhood? Parents want their children to be around those who are good influences, who help to influence them in good, moral behavior, not a friend who will lead them into wrong decisions and behavior.  Parents also want their children to be a good influence for others, as well. Being a good influence doesn’t end once you become an adult. In our Scripture passage today, which continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we read Jesus’ words to us of the type of influence He wants His followers to be in this world.

As our passage opens in verses 13-16, we read the familiar words of how believers are to be salt and light to others.  The importance and use of salt by people goes back many thousands of years before Christ. One of the most well-known uses of salt is that of a flavoring.  Without salt, many foods would be bland, and recipes would not work out well. Salt adds flavor and taste. Having a Christ-like character by our words and actions can flavor our witness to others.  Before the days of refrigeration and use of canned goods, food was frequently dried and salted to preserve it. Without salt, meat and fish would need to be eaten right away. Salt would keep the putrefying effects on food away, and keep the meat safe to eat.  As Christians, we should have that effect on the world, as well. Jesus wants our lifestyle to be an alternative to the corrupting ways of the world, and should point people to Jesus.

Salt impacts what it touches through chemical reactions.  In the same way what we do to others should bring a positive impact.  Try to give someone the right word at the right time. An act of kindness to a hurting soul goes a long way.  Taking a stand for godliness may affect someone for Jesus. Salt also causes thirst. Does our life draw people to the Lord, or turn them away?  Through both good days and bad ones, our life should bring a thirst for Jesus in the lives of the lost. If we fail to be salt to the lost, we are useless.  We should not blend in with the unsaved.

Jesus told us that we should also be a light in this world (vs. 14-16).  Our light shines best when we are not hidden. How do we hide our light? We hide it if we are quiet when we should speak up.  Also when we go along with sin. Sin always dims our light. Our light is brightest when it is clean from sin (Luke 11:34). Lights warn of danger and guide to safety, which is what our life should do, directing people to Jesus (Ephesians 5:11-14).  Christians should be known for their good and moral life and Biblical values (vs. 16).

As Jesus continues His message, He speaks about the validity of the Scriptures (vs. 17-18).  We should not pick and choose what Bible verses we like, and reject the rest. Jesus affirmed the inerrancy and absolute authority of the Old Testament as the Word of God.  All of God’s word is truth (Psalm 119:160), and all is inspired by Him (II Timothy 3:16-17).

In verse 19, Jesus is referring to those who are saved, or claim to be, not the obviously lost.  These are those who, despite claiming to follow Jesus, still hold the Bible with little regard. Those who practice or teach disobedience to God’s Word are least in the Kingdom of Heaven.  If we hold His Word in low esteem, God will hold us in low esteem. Those who keep and teach God’s Word will be great in God’s Kingdom.

As Jesus concludes this passage, He speaks of the Pharisees, who obeyed the Law outwardly.  However, they did not allow God to change their heart and attitude. The quality of our goodness should be greater than the Pharisees.  They looked holy, but were far from God’s kingdom.  We are judged by our hearts, as well as our deeds.  We should be just as concerned with our attitudes, which aren’t always seen, as with our deeds, which are seen.

As we have learned from Jesus’ teachings, we should live in a way that will draw others to the Lord, preserved for heaven.  When others look at us, does what they see reflect well on God? We should live in a way that others will want to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

God's Power And Wisdom

I Corinthians 2:1-11

If your church was in need of a new pastor, what would they look for?  Many years ago, the church I was attending was looking for a new pastor.  Various candidates came, and in addition to meeting with the board of elders, they preached the sermon on Sunday morning.  Many churches want their preacher to be very intellectual, one who can preach a sermon filled with so many theological terms and phrases.  Frequently churches want a pastor that will preach messages that make them feel good about themselves, that will boost their ego and self-esteem.  Or they are looking for a pastor that will keep them entertained, like a television talk show host, with music comparable to a rock concert. In today’s passage the Apostle Paul shares with the Corinthian Church what he was like when he first came, and the types of messages he gave.  Let’s take a look at our Scriptures for today, and see if our church would be happy with Paul.

The Apostle Paul was an extremely intelligent and well-educated man.  He had been taught by Gamaliel, who was one of the greatest teachers of that era.  Yet as Paul stated in verse 2, he wasn’t going to preach grandiose and intellectual sermons and teachings.  That would only glorify himself and puff himself up. Paul presented the Gospel of salvation in plain and simple terms for all to understand.  His messages focused solely on God, not on his own intellect.

What was the simple message that Paul brought?  It was of salvation through the death, the shed blood of Jesus.  He didn’t preach messages that tickled people’s fancy, that fanned their egos.  He preached the simple message of the Gospel, that men were sinners and needed to turn to the Lord Jesus for salvation.  That’s a message that doesn’t always please people, and wouldn’t impress a number of churches today. It didn’t impress a lot of people then.  They wanted fancy, worldly wisdom.

The world does not understand God’s wisdom, and that Jesus, God’s Son, had to die in order to redeem sinners.  God reveals that mystery to us when the Holy Spirit opens our spiritual eyes to understand. The simplicity of the Gospel confounds man’s wisdom, which wants something more complex.  Many believe that salvation should be through the good works and deeds, or religious rituals we perform, and today many believe that one doesn’t even need salvation, that God doesn’t judge us.  They want messages of love and great sounding sermons.

The power of the Gospel doesn’t come in our fancy rhetoric, but in the resurrection of Jesus, and His power to draw men to Himself (John 6:44; John 12:32).  Paul did not want people to be impressed with his ability, but rather with God’s power (vs. 4-5). The Gospel message is full of the power of God. We should not fall for image-conscious leaders who wish to exalt themselves.  Those with a servant's heart will exalt the Lord.

Paul’s enemies spread the word around that he was a weak man, that he was not a strong preacher, nor with an impressive resume.  When he first arrived in Corinth, Paul had recently been beaten and imprisoned in Philippi, run out of Thessalonica and Berea, and then scoffed at in Athens.  That, in many people’s eyes, was not an impressive preacher. Many churches today would not select for their pastor someone with these as his credentials. They didn’t want someone with a questionable background and simple, fundamental preaching.  Yet this is the wisdom of God in a mystery (vs. 7). The “mystery” here is not something puzzling. In Scripture it means a truth known to God before time, that He has kept secret until the appropriate time for Him to reveal it.

Paul preached with God’s power, not man’s, and wanted his churches to rely on God’s power, not man’s wisdom (vs. 5).  God’s power is available to us over every attack of the devil. Jesus defeated Satan and death with His resurrection, and then sent His Holy Spirit to us.  The power of the Holy Spirit overcomes the work of the enemy (I John 4:4). Through Jesus Christ we have the power to invoke His Name and overcome evil. What are we looking for in our churches and preachers, man’s wisdom or God’s power?

Monday, February 10, 2020

Jesus - Our Light In The Darkness

Psalm 27

Everyone has some things they are afraid of in life.  There are the phobias that some people have, like fear of heights, of spiders, or of crowds.  Then there are the fears that people have of things that might happen in their life, like an illness, an accident, or financial loss.  Children often have a fear of the dark. When we get older we aren’t afraid of the monster under the bed or in the bedroom closet anymore, but our fears often bring a sense of darkness in one’s life.  David had fears in his life, yet he knew where to turn with those fears, as we read in our Psalm for this week.

Darkness is one fear that often stays with us as we grow older, though for different reasons from when we were children.  Darkness can hide dangers that we don’t see. We can trip over things that we don’t see in the dark, and hurt ourselves. Darkness can hide criminals.  We are well-advised to be careful in the dark, and use light when we can. King David knew the dangers of darkness, and he also knew where to look for help.  He knew his help came from the Lord God (vs. 1).

Throughout the Bible, God is often pictured and portrayed as light, and sin and evil portrayed as darkness.  Jesus is the Light of the world as we read in the Gospel of John (John 8:12; John 12:46). The Apostle John tells us that God is light, and that there is no darkness in Him (I John 1:5).  The prophet Isaiah also told us that God is light (Isaiah 60:1, 19-20). God will bring light into our life, and bring deliverance from sin and freedom from our fears.

Sometimes people’s fears become so overwhelming that they cannot even function well.  For several years David had to flee for his life from King Saul, and as king he had many enemies.  He had reason to have fear, but he wasn’t going to give in to that. Instead, he was going to trust God, and we should follow his example.  God doesn’t want us to live in fear. We can live in safety. We can have security knowing that He loves us and is for us (Romans 8:31). We don’t need to be afraid.  When we have the Lord as our Savior, we can know that He will protect us from any circumstances.

David continues his psalm of faith and trust in Yahweh, and he shares a deep wish he had.  When one is king, and naturally quite wealthy, they can have just about anything they want.  If money was no object, what would you desire? In our passage today, David revealed the one thing that he desired from the Lord, and that was that he could dwell in God’s house forever (vs. 4).  When he could have anything he wished for, David wished to be with God all the time. He loved God that much, that was his greatest wish. David didn’t want just an occasional visit. He wanted to live with God, in His house forever.  Seeking God’s face (vs. 8-9) is the same as desiring to be with Him. As believers, we should desire times of fellowship with Him. God wants that from us, as well. Jesus tells us that to be able to dwell with God forever we must love Him and obey His Word (John 14:23).

As David concludes his psalm, he shares some instructions that we should surely follow.  Sometimes situations can get so bad that we feel like giving up (vs. 13). Yet God’s help and deliverance is always there for us.  He will defend us if we follow Him in obedience. David did not give in to despair. David knew that if he waited, he would see God’s goodness.  Often, God makes us wait for an answer to our prayers (vs. 14). God is never in a hurry, but He’s never late. He is always in complete control, and is always fair.  God always comes through for those who wait. Abraham and Sarah waited for the birth of Isaac. David waited to be crowned king. The apostles waited for the Holy Spirit.  We are waiting for Jesus to return. God is never late, and He never forgets His promises.

Jesus defeated our two greatest enemies and fears, Satan and death, at the Cross.  He is always with us (Matthew 28:20), and nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39).  Hold firmly to God’s hand, and we will have no reason to fear. Let the light of Jesus illuminate our path.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

When Everything Seems Hopeless

Habakkuk 3:2, 17-19

Just about everyone has gone through some difficult times in their lives.  Some people’s problems are more serious than others, but very few people have completely smooth sailing throughout their lives.  What about when the worst possible things happen, when the bottom suddenly drops out in our life? When we look about and there is nothing, nobody, no support system?  It is easy to sing praise when the bank account is full, the harvest is plentiful, and we’re blossoming in health. What about when life is the opposite? Can we sing God’s praises then?  This is what Habakkuk, our prophet from today’s Scripture passage, faced, along with his countrymen. Let’s look at his words as he faced hopelessness and despair.

Habakkuk was a contemporary of the more well-known prophet Jeremiah, and they both preached to the southern Kingdom of Judah during the mid-600’s BC.  God had revealed to His prophet the coming severe judgement of the nation and people of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians. The nation would be destroyed, many people would die, many others would be deported to a foreign country.  There would be destruction, famine, and drought. A complete economic collapse, with no resources or help to turn to. Habakkuk knew that this was God’s just judgment on His people who had consistently, for hundreds of years, turned from following His ways, going their own way and worshipping false gods.

God had shown Habakkuk what would happen.  He had heard God’s Words, and he was afraid (vs. 2).  Who wouldn’t be? However, did Habakkuk give up all hope, curl up in a ball and hide?  No. He prayed for God to show mercy. He knew that in this case God was judging the people for their sins.  He accepted God’s will, and asked for His help and mercy. Habakkuk knew that even when God has to act in judgment upon us, judging our sins, He still shows mercy.

As we continue in our passage we come to a hymn of praise to God.  Praise in the midst of devastation, in the midst of starvation and death.  Habakkuk was going to praise God no matter what happened. Verse 17 describes a time of complete economic collapse.  Crops have failed, the countryside has been destroyed with the coming enemy armies, the flocks and cattle killed and taken by the enemy.  Yet Habakkuk continued to trust God’s wisdom and faithfulness, no matter what happened.

How about us?  How do we react when we lose our job, the bank account is empty, and we have a family to feed and support?  Maybe a fire, flood, or tornado has destroyed your property, perhaps you or a loved one has a chronic or incurable illness.  Or maybe you come from a part of the world where war, famine, or drought has devastated the country. What do we do then, when God doesn’t respond the way we think?  Do we shake our fist in anger at heaven, or turn our backs on God? Do we have confidence in Jesus no matter what is happening in our life? Habakkuk trusted God, even when the Babylonians were going to destroy everything, and all he had was gone.  He would still trust God and depend upon His Word. Habakkuk knew that God was in control of whatever happened, and He could be completely trusted, even in the times of no food, starvation, and loss.

When our situation seems hopeless, we need to look past what we see to view the situation as God sees it.  We need to have faith in God, and glorify Him. God allows disappointments so that we can learn to rely on Him more fully, walking by faith, not by sight.  We should not let circumstances control us, and instead let Jesus control our life, knowing that God holds our future in His hands.

Habakkuk knew that God is in control of this world, and all that happens.  We don’t see everything, but God does, and He will do what is right. If we trust in Him, He will give us sure-footed confidence through our difficulties, just like the deer upon the high hills (vs. 19).  Trust in God, and He will give you songs in the night (Job 35:10).

Friday, February 7, 2020

Who Are The Blessed?

Matthew 5:1-12

Today’s Gospel passage from this past week’s Lectionary Scripture readings comes from Matthew’s Gospel, and contains some very familiar verses that have come to be known as the Beatitudes.  The Beatitudes were the opening message from a series of teachings that Jesus gave in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The word “beatitude” comes from the Latin, meaning “blessed”. Nine times in our passage, Jesus calls those who hold certain virtues and behaviors in their life as being blessed.  To be blessed is more than just being happy. It is the state of those who belong to God’s Kingdom. The Beatitudes do not promise pleasure, laughter or prosperity. To be blessed is more than surface emotion. It is a divinely-bestowed well-being that only God’s faithful can have. Following Jesus will bring hope and joy, apart from our outward circumstances.  Let’s take a quick look at these virtues that the Lord spoke of, which should be evident in His children.

The first one is to be “poor in spirit” (vs. 3).  One who is poor in spirit shows deep humility. It is the opposite of self-sufficiency, and knowing that apart from God one is spiritually bankrupt.  It doesn’t mean that we have low self-esteem. It means we understand we’re sinners, in need of God’s grace and mercy. People who are poor in spirit know that without God they are lost and hopeless.

The second beatitude Jesus speaks of is that those who mourn will be comforted (vs. 4).  He is speaking specifically for those who mourn over sin, showing a godly sorrow which will lead to repentance and salvation (II Corinthians 7:10).  Jesus says that those who mourn over the wrong in the world and their own sinfulness will be comforted. The comfort we receive is with forgiveness and salvation.  Next is that of meekness. Meekness is not weakness, but supreme self-control empowered by the Holy Spirit (vs. 5). The Scriptures, particularly in the Book of Proverbs, warn us to watch out that we do not lose our tempers or our self-control.

In verse 6 we read about those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  This is to desire and yearn for God. Those who genuinely seek God, and not their own desires, will find Him.  They are not promoting their own self-righteousness, which is what the Pharisees showed. Our own righteousness will get us nowhere, and certainly cannot bring us into God’s Kingdom.  Taking the righteousness of Jesus upon us, we can receive a right relationship with God.

We next read that we are blessed if we are merciful, and shall also obtain mercy (vs. 7).  When God shows us mercy, He withholds giving us the punishment that our sins deserve. When we have received God’s mercy, He wants us to extend mercy to others.  Those who give mercy will receive mercy, He says. How much mercy do I need? I need all that I can get. If I want mercy for myself, I need to give mercy to others.  The amount of mercy I need is the amount of mercy I should show others.

Jesus says those that are pure in heart will see God (vs. 8).  The purer our heart becomes, the more of God we’ll see, and the more of God others will see in us.  To be pure we must set ourselves apart from the world and it’s ways. Next are the peacemakers who work to settle quarrels, not start them (vs. 9).  They find no pleasure in being negative. Peacemakers build people up, watch their tongue, and heal rather than hurt.

The final beatitude speaks of those who are persecuted for the Lord (vs. 10-12).  How can we rejoice in persecution? Persecution takes our eyes off of earthly rewards and strengthens the faith of those going through it.  It also weeds out superficial “believers”. Those who endure persecution are examples to those who follow. Persecution can bring endurance, strengthen our character, build hope, and deepen our faith.  Christian joy comes with a deep sense of peace and comfort in the midst of persecutions and trials.

Living the way God says, is in direct odds with the way the world says.  When we follow God’s way, we give when the world says take. We help when the world abuses.  A follower of Jesus will give up their “rights” and serve others. The Beatitudes are the values of the Kingdom of God, in contrast to the values of the world.  They are not multiple choice. We cannot pick what we like and leave the rest. When we live according to Jesus’ ways, we will have the blessings He promised.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

God's Wisdom And Man's Foolishness

I Corinthians 1:18-31

Have you ever talked to someone, trying to tell them something important, and they looked at you like you had lost your mind?  They responded like you were crazy, and a raving lunatic. Perhaps they put you down, spouting off with their supposed intellectual superiority.  This often happens when Christians discuss salvation and the Bible with the lost, particularly if the person is more “intellectually minded”. The responses we get might cause us to hesitate in sharing the Gospel, for fear of being labeled a fool.  In our Scripture passage today Paul addresses the topic of those who are wise in the eyes of the world, and who call the Gospel of Jesus Christ foolish. Let’s look and see who God thinks is truly wise and truly foolish.

When the intellectuals and worldly-wise hear the message of the Gospel, and that Jesus died upon the cross to save us, they scoff and reject that.  They do not want a crucified Savior. If they want to believe in a God in this day and age, they want something that is inoffensive. One who shed His Blood to save man from their sins, doesn’t fit their ideas.  The worldly-wise don’t like to hear about sin, and the need of a sacrifice for those sins. They feel that so much of the Bible is myth and fairy tales, and Christians who believe the Bible are weak-minded in their opinion.  It is dangerous to trust in human intellect rather than trusting in God. Since we are not all-knowing or all-powerful, placing our confidence in man can lead to trouble. The message of the Cross is foolishness to the unsaved (vs. 18).  It makes no sense to them because Satan has blinded their eyes to the truth.

Contrary to the words of intellectuals of this world, we have to come to God through only one way, and that is through the Cross of Jesus.  All other ways lead to eternal destruction (Proverbs 16:25). We can spend our whole life gaining human wisdom and not accept Jesus as Savior.  What good was all that knowledge? It did not gain us eternal life.

The Jewish people thought the Cross of Jesus was a stumbling block (vs. 22-24).  They wanted a conquering Messiah/King, who would destroy their enemies and let them rule, not someone who would save them from their sins.  The Greeks thought that a God who would die upon a cross for sins a foolish deity, not like their pantheon of mighty gods and goddesses.

Salvation through the Blood of Jesus shed on the Cross seems foolish to most people.  Society worships power, fame, and wealth. Jesus came as a humble and poor man, who served others.  He welcomes to His kingdom those who have faith in Him, not the powerful, wealthy, or beautiful. That seems foolish to the world, but we come to God through His Son, not our own means.

Ever since the days of the early church the world has wanted to eliminate the Cross of Jesus Christ.  The world doesn’t want anyone to hear about the Cross. They don’t want the Gospel message of the sacrifice of Jesus’ Blood upon the Cross shared with others.  They want us to take down the Cross. In response to this, we must never make the Gospel message “seeker friendly”, watering down the message. We must not soften our message, taking out the Cross, and that Jesus died for our sins, trying to make it seem more inviting.

Accepting Jesus might sound too simple and easy for many.  They want to do something.  “Foolish” people who accept Jesus are actually the wisest, because they are the ones who gain eternal life.  No amount of human knowledge can bypass the Cross of Christ.  If it could, only intellectuals could gain heaven, not ordinary people or children.  Salvation is so simple, anyone can understand it. Just admit that you are a sinner who deserves God’s punishment, and that God paid that punishment upon Himself when Jesus died upon the Cross.  Acknowledge that Jesus did that for you, and ask Him into your heart as your Savior. That is the message of the Cross for all.