Monday, August 31, 2020

Choose The Right Path

 Psalm 26

Hiking through the woods can be an enjoyable time, that is, as long as you know where you are going.  Staying on the correct path in remote areas is important.  If you make the wrong choice when you are at a fork in the path, it can lead to trouble further down the way.  A couple more wrong choices, and you can be thoroughly lost, which in the wilderness could be dangerous.  We may not realize it right away, but wrong choices can lead us down the wrong path in life, and the end result is equally dangerous.  In our psalm for today, King David shows how he tried to stay on the right path, God’s path, throughout his life.

As we read through this psalm, we see that King David’s enemies had brought a false accusation against him.  The psalm gives no indication as to what these accusations were, but since the lies distressed him enough to write this psalm, it must have been something of some significance.  We also do not know when this occurred, whether before David became king, or during any time during his reign.  David sought that the Lord would vindicate him, to judge and prove him innocent from the lies brought against him.

When King David said that he had walked with integrity, that he had walked in God’s truth, and that he washed his hands in innocence throughout this psalm, he was not saying that he was sinless.  One thing David knew and acknowledged was that he was a sinner before God, and that he made many mistakes.  However, David was consistent in his fellowship with God.  When he did sin, he always came to God for forgiveness.

As David penned this psalm, and reflected on his desire to follow God throughout his life, he was personally putting into practice the principles that are found in Psalm 1.  Psalm 26 is similar to Psalm 1 in its instructions to keep ourselves from the wrong company, from evil-doers, from those who would lead us down the wrong path away from God’s ways.  Psalm 1 instructs us not to walk with the ungodly, stand with sinners, or sit with the scornful (Psalm 1:1).  David kept the same practice in his life.  He would not keep company with idolatrous people, nor with hypocrites (vs. 4).  He avoided people who practiced evil and wickedness (vs. 5, 9-10).  David made sure that these types of people were not his companions.

As Christians, this should be our practice, as well.  Ungodly people and their lifestyle and practices will lead us down the wrong path, away from God.  They will lure us to go one way, when we should go the other.  As they continue to do that, drawing us slowly further away from God’s path, we will soon find ourselves quite lost from where we should be.

Does this mean that we should never speak with someone who isn’t a Christian and living for the Lord?  No, that isn’t the case.  Christians shouldn’t totally avoid the lost.  We need to be witnessing to them, telling these folks about the Savior who died for them.  The best way to do that is to be friendly with them, get to know them, and develop a pleasant relationship with them.  However, there are some places Christians should not go, and some things that a Christian should never do.  If an unsaved neighbor invites one to an ungodly place, or to take part in a questionable or sinful activity, the Christian should decline.  There is a difference between being with unbelievers and being one of them.  The latter will harm your witness for God.

Just like King David, Christians should not get lost in life by wandering off of God’s path of truth (Proverbs 4:26).  Reading and studying God’s Word will keep us pointed in the right direction (John 8:32).  Even when life throws many stumbling blocks our way, just as it did with David, we need to remember the hikes through woods, and the need to stay on the right path.  Our best decision is to stay on the correct path, or get back on it as soon as possible before one gets hopelessly lost.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

God's Answer In Times Of Discouragement

 Jeremiah 15:15-21

Life can get discouraging at times.  Especially when we are trying to do good, following and obeying the Lord, and then we get beaten down for doing so.  This was the case with the prophet Jeremiah.  In our Scripture passage today, the Old Testament reading for this week from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer, we will take a look at a time in the life of this prophet when he was disheartened, and of the encouragement the Lord gave him.

Jeremiah was a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah during the final years before the Babylonian Empire conquered them, and also during the terrifying time when they went into captivity, including the days of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple there, which occurred in 586 BC.  For a prophet who preached the true Word of God, and not just what the people wanted to hear, this was not a pleasant time, and Jeremiah was not a popular man.

For years, truly for centuries, God had sent His prophets to the people, encouraging them to both follow His Word and also worship only Him, not mixing His worship with that of the pagan gods of other nations.  The prophets warned them that if they continued to disobey God, and flaunt His Word, there would be punishment coming from Him.  By the time Jeremiah came on the scene, God had had enough of the people’s sin and idolatry, and He gave the prophet His Words that they were going to go into captivity because of their evil ways.  Jeremiah’s message only angered the people instead of turning them from their sinful ways.  They only wanted to hear good news, that everything was going to be okay, that they were good people and God wasn’t going to punish them, which was what the false prophets told them.

For daring to be faithful to the true message from God, Jeremiah was often severely punished by the king and ruling elders.  He was frequently put in prison, physically assaulted, starved, and his writings burned.  Naturally this was discouraging for Jeremiah.  Why, if he was obeying God and faithfully preaching His true Word, and not some phony, “feel-good” message, was he being treated so?  Did God really care about him?  Had He forgotten about him?  These were thoughts that went through the prophet’s mind.  Jeremiah reminded God of his faithfulness, his bearing reproach for Him, his love for God’s Word, and his life practice of separating himself from evil men (vs. 15-18).

Jeremiah had felt that God wasn’t helping him when he desperately needed His help.  Jeremiah was angry, hurt, and afraid.  God responded by helping him rearrange his priorities.  As God’s prophet, Jeremiah was to influence the people, and not let them influence him (vs. 19-21).  He was to seek to draw them back to the Lord, and not let them either bring him down in discouragement or to forsake God himself.  Jeremiah learned that he could open up his thoughts to God, and God would hear and answer.  God wants us to completely trust Him.

One way that Jeremiah found that would lift him back onto a higher plane with God was to make the Scriptures his number one priority, the most important thing in his life (vs. 16).  We need God’s Word as much, or more than we do our physical food (Matthew 4:4).  The Scriptures provide spiritual guidance, joy, and strength.  One of the main reasons that the people were now being punished by God, and on the verge of going into captivity was because they had ignored God’s Word.  They didn’t read it, and if they did hear it preached, it went in one ear and out the other.  They also sought out preachers who would twist it into “feel-good” messages they liked to hear.

Many people today are just like that.  They do not want to hear the Word of God preached to them.  They do not want to hear that they need to repent of their sins and turn from their wicked ways.  Those preachers are publicly reviled in the media.  False preachers who tell people everything is fine with them and tickle their ears are lauded.  Who are we going to listen to?  Despite periods of depression and discouragement Jeremiah remained faithful to God, bringing the people His true message whether they wanted to hear it or not.  Like the prophet, we are to continue to spread God’s Word and message to others, whether it’s popular or not.  We are here to influence others for God, and not let them pull us into their ways.

Friday, August 28, 2020

What Is Your Answer?

 Matthew 16:13-20

Our Gospel reading for this week takes us to the passage where Jesus asks His disciples a very important question.  As we read the responses that they gave, we need to also consider what our response to that question is, for this is a question that will one day be asked of each and every one of us, as well.  Let’s open our Scripture passage, and see what we can learn from God’s Word.

Shortly prior to this event, Jesus and His disciples had returned from a brief excursion to the Gentile area of Tyre and Sidon, where He had cast a demon from a woman’s daughter.  Jesus performed more healings to many sick folk in Galilee, and also fed a second large group with a few loaves and fishes.  After further harassment from the Pharisees, Jesus took the disciples and journeyed to the city of Caesarea Philippi, which was about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee.  This was a Roman city that was very heavily influenced by both Greek and Roman culture, and was extremely steeped in pagan worship, particularly to the Greek god Pan, the god of wild areas, fields, groves, and shepherds.  There were multiple shrines and temples there for worship of that pagan god.  It was here, in the midst of this pagan idolatry, that Jesus asked His disciples two questions.

First Jesus asked the twelve who people were saying He is (vs. 13-14).  This brought several responses, including that He might be a reincarnation of John the Baptist, or Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other prophet.  These were common beliefs and ideas that were filtering through the people and general population.  Jesus then asks them who they think He is (vs. 15).  Jesus didn’t ask this question because He had any doubts about Himself or His mission.  Jesus knew who He was, who His Father was, and what His mission was.  Since Jesus was building His Church, He wanted the disciples to know exactly who He was.

Peter was the first to speak up and declare his belief that Jesus was the Messiah (vs. 16).  During the many months that Peter had spent in the company of Jesus, listening to His teachings, God had opened Peter’s eyes, and revealed to him who Jesus really was (vs. 17), the Savior of the world.  He opened Peter’s heart to a deeper knowledge of Christ by faith.

The name Peter, “Petros” in the Greek, means a “small stone”.  Here Jesus called him “Petra”, which in Greek means a “large foundation stone “, more like a boulder, not a pebble (vs. 18).  A boulder-like truth came from the mouth of one who had initially been called a small stone.  The rock or foundation of the church is the confession that Peter had just made, and which ultimately became the doctrine of the apostles, and that is that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah sent to be the Savior of the world.  Peter would later become one of the main leaders of the early church.

Jesus then spoke about the keys to the kingdom of heaven (vs. 19).  Jesus gives the keys to His kingdom to those who acknowledge Him as Lord of the kingdom, and who submit to His Lordship within that kingdom, to those who believe and make the same statement that Peter had just done.  To be a citizen of His kingdom, one must be born again.  When we are given the keys to a house, we have access to all of its resources, and we are responsible to take care of them.  The power of the Holy Spirit, and His fruits are some of those resources.  As a citizen of God’s kingdom, we have protection from the enemy.  We have the authority to defeat evil in the Name of Jesus.

As our passage closes, Jesus instructs the disciples to not proclaim Him as the Messiah yet (vs. 20).  This was because they did not yet fully understand the kind of Messiah He was.  Jesus was not going to be a grand military leader, as many of the Jewish people wanted their Messiah to be.  Instead, Jesus was the Suffering Servant that Isaiah had prophesied (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

In closing, as I mentioned above, one day each of us will be asked, when we are face-to-face with God, who we think that Jesus is.  What will your answer be?  Do you think that Jesus was just a good teacher and philosopher?  Someone who went around doing good deeds for people?  Do you feel that He is just one of many acceptable gods?  Or do you believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of the one true God, Yahweh, the second Person of the Trinity, who came to earth to die for our sins, rose again, and ascended into heaven where He is seated at the right hand of the Father?  This is something that we each must settle before we pass from this life, and our answer will determine where we spend eternity.  Be sure to choose wisely!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Wisdom and Knowledge Of God

Romans 11:33-36 

In our Scripture reading today, which continues the study from the Book of Romans, we find right in the midst of teachings about doctrine and faith, a short pause where Paul gives a brief hymn of praise to God.  Let us also take a pause in the middle of our busy lives, read through this passage, and also give our praise to God, as well.

If we were going to make a list of all the characteristics and virtues of God, the list would be endless.  We could include His omnipotent power, His love, His mercy and grace, His righteousness, and His eternal Being.  We could go on and on.  In these few short verses Paul gives praise to God, primarily here for the characteristics of His wisdom and knowledge.  God is omniscient, meaning He knows everything.  Nothing is hidden or unknown from Him.  God is also the source of all wisdom.  He never makes a mistake or does anything foolish.  All of His thoughts and decisions are done in perfect righteousness, understanding, and discernment.

When we try and look at a situation in order to come to some decision or understanding of the matter, our thoughts and appraising of it are never perfect.  We can’t know every side or angle perfectly.  God, however, is infinitely wise.  He knows every side of any situation, inside and out, in addition to every event, past, present, and future (vs. 33).

Throughout the ages, men have tried to figure God out, to understand everything about Him, and write best-selling books boasting of their knowledge about Him.  Paul, who was a very intelligent man, and who had an outstanding education from the very best available scholars of the Greek and Hebrew world, knew that being able to completely understand God was not possible.  We can never completely understand His ways, or why He does what He does (Isaiah 55:8-9).  God’s purposes, decrees, and the methods He uses to accomplish them, are beyond our human understanding.

As Paul continues on in this hymn of praise to the Lord, he asks a rhetorical question, wondering if there is anyone who knows God’s mind.  The answer, of course, is no!  God has never had to get advice or counsel from someone else, as there is no one greater or wiser than Him.  No one has fully understood the mind of the Lord.  No one has been His counselor (Isaiah 40:13-17; Jeremiah 23:18).  God owes nothing to anyone of us (vs. 35).  We owe God everything, and He has already given us more than we can ever repay.

God is the source, the sustainer, and the rightful end of everything that exists.  In verse 36 we read “of Him” - God is the source of all things.  “Through Him” - God is the channel of all things.  “To Him” - God is the goal of all things.  The only proper response that we can give God is to worship Him.  We are all absolutely dependent upon God.  He is the source of all things.  He, alone, is worthy of our praise.

No human could ever have imagined the way God chose to save us.  He did not use great flashy power, but instead, chose weakness and suffering on the cruel cross of Calvary.  This was not accomplished through human wisdom, but by a way that man would count as foolish - God becoming man.  Yet this was the only way to bring us eternal life.  God’s wisdom, though considered foolish by so many, brought us salvation (I Corinthians 1:21-25).

Verse 36 should be the single desire of every Christian.  All other of our wishes and desires should be flowing into this.  Our talents, our business, all of our desires should serve for the goal to bring glory to God.

Monday, August 24, 2020

On Our Own Or Not

Psalm 138 

“Well, you’re on your own now!”  Those are words that can often bring a dread into our hearts sometimes.  When we were younger, and were learning a new skill, our parents or an older sibling might have given us a few basic instructions, and then they told us to learn the rest on our own, complete it by ourself.  In school or at work the teacher or boss might have given us brief outlines for assignments, and left us to figure it out by ourselves.  They brought us only so far, and then dumped us to find our own way and figure out how to finish.  Is this something that God will also do?  As we look into Psalm 138 for this week, I would like to take a special look at this, and how the Lord answers this question in the closing verse 8.

Psalm 138 was written by David, though it is not certain when in his life he wrote it.  Perhaps when he was a young man living out in the wilderness while running for his life from King Saul.  Or maybe after he had become king, and was dealing with the many challenges he faced then.  David was a youth when the prophet Samuel had anointed him to become king.  That was God’s plan for him, later indicating that his son would build the Temple, and from his descendants the Messiah would arise.  God had a special plan for David’s life, and David knew that God would not call him, and then lead him only so far, and then abandon him to make it on his own.

The word “perfect” in verse 8 means “to complete” or “to bring to an end”.  God had a plan for David’s life, and He was going to complete that plan.  That plan would be fulfilled when David’s life came to an end.  God would not fail in completing that plan.  David could confidently say that the Lord would perfect, to bring to completion, that which concerned him.

What about us?  Have you ever felt that, though the Lord brought salvation to your soul, and maybe through a few difficult times in your life, but now has just dumped you to fend on your own, to make it through the rest of your life on your own?  David could say with assurance that this is not the case.  He was not on his own when he faced the enemy of God’s people, Goliath, on the battlefield.  David did not have to manage by himself when he was on the run from King Saul, and forced to live out in the wilderness.  The Lord took care of him then.  When David became king the Lord did not say that he was now capable enough to take care of himself, that as king he now had ample resources, and God no longer needed to spend His time looking after him.  God continued to perfect and bring to completion His plan for David, even then.

This truth is also echoed by St. Paul in the New Testament, in Philippians 1:6.  Paul tells us here that God began a good work in the Philippian believers when they accepted Jesus as their Savior.  He had a plan for each and every one of their lives, and He would complete it, fulfill it, bring it to completion by the time that Jesus returns.

That is true in our lives, as well.  God has a plan for your life and for my life.  We don’t just get saved and then God tells us, “Well, you’re on your own now!  I hope you make it through to the end when I return!”  That is not what He says!  God does not help us through a few difficulties in our life, and then tell us we’ve used up our limit of His help, and now we are on our own.  Paul spoke with confidence that God will complete the work He has begun in us.  David knew that God is merciful, and He would not forsake him.

This is a promise that God has given us in His Word.  David spoke earlier in Psalm 138 just exactly how significant God considers His Word, the Bible.  In verse 2 of our psalm we read that God has magnified His Word above His Name.  One’s name is important to most everyone.  It signifies our person, and we generally like it treated with respect.  That is even more the case with God.  In the Ten Commandments God gives the commandment to not take His Name in vain.  Yet here, God tells us that He has magnified, extolled, and glorified His Word above His Name.  That is how important He considers the Bible.  We can depend upon His promises, every one of His promises.  If God has said that He will bring the plans He has for our life to completion, we can surely rely upon Him to keep His Word!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

When The Anointing Breaks The Yoke

Isaiah 10:24-27 

Have you ever seen a pair of oxen, or perhaps some other animal, with a yoke around their neck?  An old-fashioned yoke is made of heavy, strong wood that goes around the neck and shoulders of beasts of burden.  They keep the animal under the control of the human master, and are used when a heavy burden must be moved.  Even an animal much bigger and stronger than the human is unable to do what he might want when a yoke is put on them.  Do you feel like a yoke is on you?  In our Scripture passage today from the Prophet Isaiah, we will see what God says about being under a yoke, and what He promises to those who follow Him.

Throughout the history of the people of Israel and Judah during the days of the Old Testament, many nations came against them to put them in subjection.  Prior to the time of King David, many nations, particularly the Philistines and Moabites, periodically kept the people under oppression.  Years later, during the time of the Kings of Israel and Judah, the nation of Assyria came against them numerous times, putting them under tribute, and eventually taking the northern Kingdom of Israel into captivity.

In ancient times when a stronger country would conquer, or threaten to conquer another country, the stronger country would exact tribute from the other in exchange for allowing them partial self-rule.  This tribute would often be in money or other riches, food supplies, and often slave labor or soldiers for their armies.  This was usually a very heavy burden for the country to bear, but they would have no choice.  The heavy yoke was put upon them.  When a country was taken captive, the people had no choice but to be carried off captive if they wanted to live, and usually be put into slavery, an even heavier yoke of bondage.

Isaiah speaks in our Scripture passage about the nation of Assyria coming against the people.  God allowed this to happen as punishment because of their unfaithfulness to Him by worshipping the false gods of the people around them.  However, God promised that if the people would be faithful in their worship of Him, His punishment would not last forever (vs. 25).  The yoke that the enemy put upon them would be broken, would be destroyed because of the anointing (vs. 27).

Has the enemy come upon you, and put you under his burden, under his heavy yoke?  We may think that our enemy might be a domineering boss, a neighbor who is nasty to us, even someone in our family.  We may think that the burden or yoke we bear is some financial difficulty, some persistent illness, or problem in our house or family.  However, who is behind every yoke or burden we have?  Satan!  He is our true enemy.  He is the one behind every burden of sin we have in our life.  He is the cause of the fallen world that we live in.  Just like the Assyrian, he is exacting tribute from us, and putting us under his yoke of bondage.

We do not need to stay under his yoke, though.  When we turn to God in repentance, accepting the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ on our behalf, and taking Him as our Savior and Lord, we are set free from Satan’s power. The anointing is the manifestation of God’s power, which destroys every yoke, every bondage in every area of our life.

The anointing of God comes from the throne of heaven.  It comes full of power, full of energy to root up, to pull down, and to destroy every yoke of bondage the devil tries to put on us.  God’s anointing should be desirable to us.  Elisha wanted a double portion of the anointing that Elijah had when he took over Elijah’s ministry (II Kings 2:9-14).

Do we want the power of God’s anointing in our life, like Elisha did?  God’s anointing will not happen unless we surrender to God, return to His sovereignty, and declare Him the center of our life.  He, alone, has the power to set us free.  No yoke of bondage can withstand God’s presence and power.  The anointing of God’s presence is what will set us free as we seek Him. God's anointing will break the yoke!

Friday, August 21, 2020

O Woman, Great Is Your Faith!

 Matthew 15:21-28

When someone says something that might be construed as a little harsh or seemingly hurtful, how do we react?  Are we very sensitive and act offended?  Do we shut down and turn away, our sensitive feelings hurt?  Are we quick to take offense with other’s comments to us?  In our Gospel account from Matthew, we read of a woman who would have lost out on a significant blessing from God if she had been overly-sensitive and turned away offended like so many of us.

As Matthew begins our Scripture passage, Jesus and His disciples have left the land of Israel briefly, going to the vicinity of the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia (vs. 21).  This was about a 45 - 50 mile trip away from the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus was probably seeking a couple of days away with the disciples for a time of seclusion, to rest away from the crowds.

While here a Gentile woman of Canaanite descent sought the help of Jesus for her daughter who was possessed by a demon.  Word of Jesus’ healing and teaching ministry had traveled far, and people along the coasts, as far as Lebanon and perhaps further, had heard of Him.  When this woman heard that Jesus was actually in town, she quickly sought Him out.  Her heart ached for the terrible condition her daughter was in, and she knew that Jesus could help her.

However, instead of bringing healing and deliverance to her and her daughter, Jesus seemingly ignored her.  As she continued to plead with Him, the disciples were annoyed and wanted Jesus to send her away (vs. 23).  She was a Gentile, and they wanted nothing to do with her.  At this time the disciples were prejudiced against her background, and also had no compassion for her need, thinking she was bothering them with her persistent pleading.

When Jesus finally does respond to her, He tells her that He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (vs. 24).  Did that mean that she shouldn’t expect any help from Him, that she was nothing to Him, and she best just go home?  Jesus was saying that the Jews were to have the first opportunity to accept Him as the Messiah because God wanted them to present the message of salvation to the rest of the world.

This woman had faith and was not going to be put off.  She knew Jesus was her only hope, calling Him Lord (vs. 25).  However the response she was next told is one that would have offended many, leading many sensitive people to give up and turn away.  Jesus told her that the children’s food should not be given to dogs (vs. 26).  Many Jews of that day thought of Gentiles as dogs, the type of canine that roamed wild in the streets, like jackals, not household pets.  The word here was one of a household pet. Jesus reflected, momentarily, the Jewish attitude towards Gentiles, so as to contrast it with His own.  The woman didn’t argue, or take offense, going away angrily.  She would be willing to be considered a puppy dog as long as she could receive God’s blessings for her daughter (vs. 28).  Jesus’ comments, though sounding harsh and insensitive, were said to test her faith.  She knew what could be hers, even as a Gentile.  Jesus then commends her faith, though she is a Gentile, just as He commended the faith of the Gentile centurion in Matthew 8:5-10.

This woman knew that Jesus was Master at the abundant table of grace.  She knew His table was abundantly filled, more than enough for the children, that ample crumbs and pieces could fall from the table onto the floor for the puppies.  Though her need was a great one, she had such high esteem for Jesus that this would be no problem for Him.  Only a crumb was needed.  She opened her needy soul wide, expecting great things from Jesus, and He filled it.

Some genuine prayers do not obtain the blessings right away.  Her prayers were good.  She had much need.  She was sincere, and she had such great faith, enough that Jesus marveled.  Sometimes He is silent for a while so that our faith grows.  Even though Jesus gave her nothing but silence at first, this woman persisted.  She did not give up, defeated.  Nor did she take offense at a remark that Jesus made.  She was not super-sensitive.  Had she been, she would not have received her blessing, and her daughter would have continued to suffer.  Are we missing out on blessings because we get too offended or misinterpret people’s words?  Let’s keep our faith strong and remember that Jesus loved this woman as much as He did anyone, and He loves us, as well.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Hearing The Word Of God

Romans 10:8-17 

Did you ever miss out on something important or special because you were not told of it?  Or maybe proper instructions were never given to you in order to do something correctly.  One has to be told about the free give-away at the local store in order to get the item, or told about the party in order to attend.  The instructor needs to tell his class the proper way to do the assignment if it is to be done correctly.  In our Scripture passage today from the Book of Romans we read how important it is to hear the Word of God in order to believe and be saved.  Let’s take a look at this passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

As our portion of Scripture today begins, we see that God has clearly revealed the way of salvation to man (vs. 8).  It is not something hidden, revealed to only a select few.  It is the message of faith that is the way to God.  In verse 9 Paul states to us very clearly what is necessary in order to be saved - confess that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God raised Him from the dead.  “Confess” here means to say the same thing, to be in agreement with someone.  To confess the Lord Jesus means we agree with God’s declaration that Jesus is Savior and Lord.  Salvation is pledged to those who confess with their mouth and believe in their heart that Jesus is Lord.  We are saved when we genuinely trust in the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  We can have assurance that God will do exactly what He promised and bring us salvation.

Belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is necessary for salvation because it proved that Jesus is who He claimed to be, and that the Father had accepted His sacrifice in place of sinners.  If people deny this, they have rejected the Gospel, and cannot be saved.  The resurrection proves that Jesus is the Son of God who overcame death.  It affirms that God was satisfied with His Son’s death as the sacrifice for mankind’s sins.  The disciples considered the resurrection an essential part of the Gospel.  Nothing could dissuade them.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, we have assurance of both God’s forgiveness and our own future resurrection.  Without the resurrection there can be no salvation.

In addition, just an intellectual belief in the existence of Jesus is not enough.  Even the demons acknowledge Jesus to be God (James 2:19).  This belief must be that Jesus died on the cross to be their personal Savior, and rose from the dead.

Salvation is open and available to everyone (vs. 11-13).  No one, Jew or Gentile, was or is excluded from God’s salvation plan.  Paul gives several quotes from the prophets to back this point, namely in verse 11 he quotes Isaiah 49:23, and in verse 13 he quotes Joel 2:32.  God will keep His promise - those who call on Him will be saved.  Jesus is the Savior for everyone, and everyone who calls out to Him in faith will certainly be saved.

Paul continues on, and asks the question that is just as valid today as it was then - How will the world’s people know to place their trust in Christ?  They need someone to preach the Gospel to them (vs. 14-15).  Faith comes from hearing the message (vs. 17).  A clear presentation of the Gospel is needed for people to hear and believe.  Again, Paul backs his words with quotes from the Old Testament - Isaiah 52:7, and Isaiah 53:1.

Faith comes by hearing (vs. 17).  Just being a “silent witness” is usually not enough to see people saved.  They have to hear the message of Jesus.  When someone preaches the Word of God, it can give birth to faith, which will grow in that person.  Faith will start and grow through hearing God’s Word, the Bible.

The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Pray that the Lord sends more workers into the field (Luke 10:2).

Monday, August 17, 2020

When God's Face Shines

 Psalm 67

We can often tell a person’s mood by looking at their face and the expression that they wear.  It’s helpful to know if our spouse is happy or sad, or if our boss is pleased with us, and their face will often show that.  Depending on the face they are showing, we know whether it is the best time to approach for a favor, or instead, to steer clear of them for a while.   Phrases such as wearing a stormy face or that one’s face shined came to indicate what disposition or spirit the person was in.  When drawing pictures that have the sun in the sky, little children often put a smiley face on the sun.  A smiling face shining down upon the world.  In our psalm for today the psalmist is looking for God’s shining face.  Let’s look at this psalm together.

Nobody wants others to be angry with them, and we especially shouldn’t want the Lord angry with us and our behavior.  We read throughout Scripture that when God’s people went astray and into a pattern of sin over and over again, God’s anger and wrath came down upon them.  The psalmist would have known of many occasions throughout his people’s history when this was the case, and he prays that instead, God’s face would shine down upon them (vs. 1).  This is reminiscent of the Aaronic blessing that was prayed over the people found in Numbers 6:24-26.  The people prayed for God’s love and mercy to come upon them, not His anger.  They wanted His shining face, not a wrathful, stormy one.   Since we all have the tendency and inclination to sin, we need God’s mercy.  It is only because of His love and mercy that He will shine His face upon us.  When we think of the face of Jesus, what do we picture?  It is a face of love, one that is shining down upon us.

The psalmist continues on in this psalm, praying that God’s ways, His truth, and His Word will go forth and be known all around the world (vs. 2-4).  These verses ultimately found their fulfillment with the Great Commission that Jesus gave in Matthew 28:18-20.  At that time Jesus commanded His disciples and followers to spread the Gospel message to all nations around the world.  God always wanted and intended that the Gentiles hear of Him, and that they come to salvation.

When we first heard the message of Jesus, believed it as truth, and accepted Him as our Savior, how did we feel?  Many people felt great gladness and joy (vs. 4).  When people have the message of Jesus brought to them, there will be gladness and joy.  Joy comes from spreading the news about God and salvation through His Son around the world.

As our psalmist continues, he praises God for the physical blessings that He bestows on the people, particularly with the abundance of crops and food from the earth (vs. 6).  Every good thing we have comes from the Lord God.  Sometimes we might wonder where our blessings from God are.  When we plant a seed in our gardens, the plant does not start sprouting within the hour, or even within the first day.  It takes several days, sometimes a week or more before a small plant begins to appear.  Just as plants take time to develop and grow from a seed to a mature plant, so often God’s blessings sometimes take time to develop in our life.  We need to wait patiently, knowing God is working on our behalf and the behalf of those who wait for Him.

As our psalm closes, the author reminds us of God’s blessings upon us, and of all the nations of the world coming to fear the Lord Jesus, to give due honor and reverence to Him (vs. 7).   As the twice repeated verse in this short psalm says, we need to give God all praise.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Salvation Is Open To Everyone

 Isaiah 56:1-8

Being rejected and left out is a pain that many have felt at some point in their life.  For some it is a life-long pain.  And for what reason have they been rejected?  Often it was not because of any bad thing that they did, such as being a brat or bully.  Perhaps it was the way they looked, they were too fat or too thin, the clothes they wore, the way they talked, or the color of their skin.  Or maybe it was because they had a physical handicap or physical defect, and for that reason they were left out.  People are often cruel in this way, and rejection hurts.  How about if it is God?  What if we are told that God has also rejected us because of something we can’t control, such as our looks or handicap?  In our Old Testament Scripture passage today we will see what God has to say about this subject.

During the time of the Old Testament, there were certain people who were not allowed into the Temple, or who could only go in to a certain point, and then were barred from entering further.  Their ability to worship Yahweh was hindered by the rules and regulations imposed upon them.  These included women, Gentiles (non-Jewish people), and people with physical handicaps or disfigurements (vs. 3).  If a Levite or a member of the priestly families, who were to lead and assist in the worship at the Temple, were born with a handicap or disfigurement of any type they, too, were barred from taking part.  Anyone else with such a handicap or disfigurement was also barred from the Temple.  Also, a Gentile, even if they feared and loved the Lord God with all of their heart, was similarly hindered or limited in taking part in worship there.

Is that what God really wanted?  If one is born with a physical disfigurement, should that prevent them from taking part in worship?  Today if one is born with some type of handicap, such as a cleft palate or a club foot, that can often be repaired through surgery.  However in those days there was no surgery to help any type of physical handicap.  There was also very little kindness shown to anyone with mental or emotional challenges, either.  In addition, should one be limited in their ability to worship the Lord God because of what gender they were born, or what nationality or race they are?

As the Lord speaks through the prophet Isaiah in today’s Scripture, He tells us that everyone, no matter what country they are from, no matter what physical challenges they have, is welcome to worship Him (vs. 4-8).  Anyone who obeys the Lord, following what He has proclaimed through His Word, the Bible, is accepted by Him.

God is not like the many people a lot of us have known from childhood on, who might have rejected us because we didn’t look like them, or talk like them, we were too fat or had some disfigurement.  Perhaps this has even happened to some of you within a church.  Maybe you were made to feel less than welcome because of how you looked, or where you came from, a lack of education, or size of one’s bank account.  God does not reject us because of any of those reasons.  He does not reject someone because of physical or mental limitations, because of the color of their skin or what nation they or their forebears came from.  What He looks at is our heart, whether we love Him and obey His Word, whether we have accepted His Son, Jesus Christ, as our personal Savior.

God has declared that His house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations (vs. 7).  Jesus repeated this when He cleansed the Temple (Matthew 21:13).  The Church, God’s house, is composed of all those who have accepted the Lord Jesus as Savior, and is made up of people from all nations, both male and female, and people regardless of how they look or whether they have physical or mental challenges.  Our churches that we attend in our local neighborhoods should be the same way, and be a welcoming, accepting, and loving place for everyone, as well.

Friday, August 14, 2020

When Our Eyes Are On The Waves

 Matthew 14:22-33

Most of you have heard the saying “like a deer in headlights”.  It implies being frozen in fear or panic that one cannot move or even think, just like a deer that stands in the middle of the road when the headlights of a car come.  The poor deer is so surprised, bewildered, and struck with fear that he doesn’t move, despite the danger of the oncoming car.  Sometimes we have experiences like that.  Some situations hit us suddenly, and we panic.  We don’t think properly or do anything rational to get through the trouble.  In our Gospel passage today we read about Peter and his “deer in the headlights” experience, and how ultimately he did the best thing to help his situation.

After Jesus had fed the multitudes, He sent the disciples across the Sea of Galilee in a boat while He went up the hills to be alone and pray.  However, a storm came up while the disciples were crossing, and they were in danger.  Even though Jesus was not nearby, He knew what was happening, and came to their aid, walking on the water (vs. 25-26).  At first the disciples feared, thinking it was some type of ghost or spirit.  What else could it be, as no one can walk on water!  However, Jesus called out to them, telling them to be of good cheer, it was Him (vs. 27).  The worst of storms cannot stop Jesus from coming to offer us help and hope.  Because of Jesus, we can be of good cheer.  Even when we do not see Him, we can take courage.

When the disciples realized it was Jesus, they knew they were not helpless or alone anymore.  They realized that Jesus’ presence could not be driven away by the storm.  Peter, inside the boat, wanted reassurance it was really Jesus, and asked that if it really was Him, could he come out and walk on the water, just as He was.  Jesus told him to come on out (vs. 28-29).  Peter found the courage and boldness to obey Jesus, and stepped out of the boat.  He had faith that Jesus could keep him up above the water.

Peter was the only one in the boat to respond to Jesus with faith.  However, he started to sink when he took his eyes off of Jesus and instead focused on the storm and waves (vs. 30).  His faith wavered when he realized what he was doing.  When Peter saw the large, towering waves crashing all around him, and realized he was standing outside the safety of the boat, he panicked, and started to sink.  He doubted the Lord’s ability to keep him up upon the water.  There is a difference between doubt and unbelief.  Doubt wonders if it could be.  Unbelief says that it is not.  Peter doubted when he took his eyes off of Jesus.  When he saw the waves and felt the wind, fear set in.

Peter did the best thing at that moment, though.  He cried out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”  Short prayers are just as valid as long ones.  Peter cried out only 3 short words to Jesus, but they were sufficient.  Sometimes all we can do is cry one word, “Help!”  Jesus heard Peter and helped.  We need to lift our soul to Jesus.  He will not allow us to perish.  We can do nothing, but He can do everything.   If we focus on the waves of our circumstances, without looking to Jesus for help, we will despair and sink.  The best thing to do is always keep looking to Him.  When fear has us frozen in our tracks, call on Jesus.  Trust in the Lord.  He hears our prayers and will help us.  Never take our eyes off of Jesus.  He is always with us, doing what is best for us.

Though the disciples had witnessed numerous healings, feeding of the multitudes, and raising a young girl from the dead, they still allowed fear to come into their hearts.  We do the same.  When adversity comes, we forget our knowledge of God.  Instead, we need to maintain our focus on the Lord by keeping our mind in the Word of God.  We cannot trust our sight, reason, or knowledge to steer us through the storms.  We can depend on Scripture.  The Lord will work on our behalf.

Fear and faith cannot go together.  Fear and faith cannot live at the same time.  When we begin to fear, we are forgetting our faith, and we start to sink in our trials.  When Peter’s faith faltered, he reached out to Jesus.  When he was afraid, he looked to Jesus, the only one who could help.  Step out of the boat in faith, and follow Jesus, even when the waves are crashing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

How Much Do We Care

 Romans 9:1-5

Many of us have had the unfortunate circumstance of being hurt or mistreated by someone else, or perhaps a group of people.  Your feelings towards them might not be very loving.  If you’re a good and generous soul, you might not seek to retaliate against them, or even wish anything bad to happen to these people who have mistreated you.  Some people who truly seek to follow God’s ways in their lives might even do something good to these ones who have hurt them.  We should always pray for those who hurt us.  However, can any of us say that we would be willing to give up our eternal home in heaven and instead go to hell for someone else?  Most people can’t truly say that they would be willing to go to hell for someone we love, let alone for someone who has treated us badly.  In our short Scripture passage today from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, we read where he makes just such a declaration.  Let’s take a look.

As the Apostle Paul begins this chapter, he is broken-hearted over the spiritual blindness of the Jewish people, because they have rejected the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  God had called the Jewish people, given them the Mosaic Law and covenant, yet they turned their back on Him, forsook Him, and rejected the Messiah.  When Paul and the other Apostles shared the message of salvation through the Messiah Jesus Christ to the Jewish people, some accepted Him, but the majority did not.  They not only refused Jesus, they became violent and threatening to them.  We read throughout the Book of Acts of countless times Paul had to flee for his life from their murderous intentions.  Many times Paul and the other Apostles were beaten by them for sharing the Gospel, yet here we read Paul saying that he was willing to go to hell himself if it meant they would be saved.

Paul showed a great depth of love for people.  Many of the Jews had attacked him.  They had attacked him verbally, maligning his character, and also fierce physical attacks.  Yet Paul was willing to sacrifice, not only his life, but his eternal soul if they would come to accept Jesus Christ as their Messiah and Savior.

Paul knew that the exchange he was suggesting was impossible.  Paul knew and also taught believers that each and every one of us must make our own decision to follow Christ.  No one can believe on behalf of someone else.   I can’t believe for you.  You can’t believe for someone else.  Everyone must accept Christ for themselves.  However, this was still the sincere expression of Paul’s love for his fellow Jews.

What about us?  How do we feel about the lost around us, those who have not accepted Jesus as their Savior, and are on their way to an eternity in hell?  Sadly there are some people who are so indifferent about the salvation of their own loved ones, or those around them, let alone those who have mistreated them.  Perhaps they think that someone else’s religion is a personal matter between them and God, and one shouldn’t talk about it.  Paul didn’t think so.  Maybe they’re too busy, but can we really use that excuse when it is a matter of their eternal destination?  Or perhaps they don’t know what to say.  We have the Holy Spirit to turn to for the right words.

People are dying and going into an eternity of damnation in hell every day, many of them our friends and relatives.  Do we not care?  Are we willing to sacrifice anything for others, such as time, money, or comfort to bring the message of Jesus to them?  Paul was willing, and did, give his whole life to bringing the Gospel to both his own Jewish people, and to the Gentiles as well.  As we read here, he loved others so much that if he could, he would have allowed himself to be eternally damned if they would be saved.  God does not ask that of us or anyone.  Can we not take a little time out of our day or week and tell someone else, a relative, friend, or neighbor about the Lord Jesus?

Monday, August 10, 2020

God's Voice In Storms

Psalm 29

Living in the Chicago area, my family and I get to witness all types of weather all throughout the year.  We definitely experience all four seasons!  Right now, in the middle of summer, we frequently get rather strong thunderstorms, with lightning, thunder, wind, and occasional hail.  I love to stand out on our front porch and watch these storms, the giant storm clouds, wind, and lightning bolts flashing across the sky!  Powerful storms like these show the might and majesty of the Lord God.  In our psalm for this week, David describes the power of God through a visualization of such a storm.

The early years of David were spent as a shepherd, out in the fields watching over his father’s flocks of sheep.  Then he spent many years out in the wilderness, fleeing the murderous intentions of King Saul.  In both situations David would have witnessed numerous strong thunderstorms.  Rather than looking at them with fear, or just a wet inconvenience, David saw such storms as an expression of God in all of His awesome power and glory.

David looked at these storms as an expression of the voice of the Lord (vs. 2-8).  He speaks of the voice of God breaking cedar trees, and shaking the wilderness. I have seen lightning strike a tree, and that tree, which was once at one second standing tall, is now splintered, smoking, and lying across the ground.  The cedars of Lebanon were famous for their wood.  They are fairly tall trees, with fairly large circumference.  Out in the west of the U.S. there are huge redwoods and sequoia trees.  It takes many men and a lot of time to cut one down, yet God can topple them in a second with just His word!

Lightning and thunder are symbols of God’s voice in Scripture, as Job 37:2-5 is an example.  It speaks of His power, majesty, and awesomeness.  A bolt of lightning contains 1 billion volts of electricity.  They race to earth at 200,000 mph.  The air around lightning is five times hotter than the surface of the sun.  People are right to be concerned when conditions for a lightning strike are present.  Many pagan religions have deified lightning, turning it into a false god or a tool of a false god.  However, lightning and its accompanying thunder are just part of creation.  It is an awesome example of the power and might of God.

The voice of God can snap huge trees.  It can shake the wilderness with earthquakes, making mountains crumble and topple.  His voice will make powerful nations and rulers to tremble and shudder.  They cannot stand and oppose Him when He speaks forth His truth and judgment.  The voice or words of God called the universe into existence (Genesis 1).  Everything created, from the giant stars and galaxies down to the tiniest particles of atoms, all came into being at the voice of God.  He spoke and they were created.  God’s voice spoke to the weak, the blind, the lame, and they were healed.  It called the dead back to life, as with Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter (John 11:1-45, Mark 5:35-43).  On the Cross, the voice of the Lord Jesus called out triumphantly “It is finished!”  (John 19:30).  His voice of victory announced that mankind’s salvation had been achieved!

His voice also brings us peace (vs. 11).  When we are trusting in Jesus, we will have a state of tranquility or quiet in the place of anxious thoughts and emotions.  He will bring us freedom from external pressures.  God’s peace should govern our life in all things, and at all times.  God will give us both the peace and strength to weather all of the storms of life.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Jonah And Nineveh

Jonah 3 - 4

Just about everyone knows the Biblical account of Jonah and the giant fish which swallowed him whole, later spitting him out alive.  Many even know the reason that this dubious adventure of his happened, that being because Jonah was disobeying God by running away from the task He had told him to do.  However, not everyone knows what happened after the fish spat out Jonah.  Too often everyone focuses solely on the fish and forgets what comes after.  Today we’ll look at that part of the narrative.

As we read in the first two chapters of the Book of Jonah, God had told Jonah that He wished him to go to Nineveh, the enemy of the nation of Israel, and preach God’s message of repentance and salvation to them.  However, Jonah bitterly hated them and refused, taking a ship to as far away as he could get.  God wasn’t going to let him get away, and had him thrown off the ship in a storm, where a giant fish swallowed him, and spit him off on shore.  God gave Jonah a second chance to obey (vs. 3:1-2).

This time Jonah obeyed God and set off for Nineveh.  However, his feelings for these people hadn’t changed.  Jonah continued to despise and hate the Ninevites, and did not believe that God should show any concern or love for Gentiles.  Though he obeyed and preached a message of repentance to them, it was not with love and concern for their eternal souls.  He preached with hate in his heart for the people.  Despite that, the people believed and responded to Jonah’s message (vs. 3:5).  Pagan sailors on board the ship Jonah had been on and a pagan city responded to Jonah despite his reluctance to preach to them.  This shows the power of God in spite of the weakness of His servant.

Because the Ninevites humbled themselves in prayer, God lifted His declaration, and spoke life, not death over them (vs. 3:10).  God did not change His intention towards the Ninevites.  They changed their attitude towards Him.  Because of that, God dealt with them in grace rather than the judgement He would have brought if they would have failed to repent.  God doesn’t desire to bring judgment upon people, and thus urges us to repent, and why He sent Jesus (John 3:17-18).

God’s love for and forgiveness of the Ninevites was not what Jonah wanted to see.  He hated these Gentile people.  He did not believe that God should ever show mercy or love to Gentiles, so after preaching to them, he went out of town to watch God destroy the city.  Jonah was probably rubbing his hands with glee, hoping to see the destruction of these people.  When that did not happen, he became angry with God, and told Him this was exactly the reason why he hadn’t obeyed the first time.  Jonah understood the gracious character of God, and His great mercy (vs. 4:1-2), but did not want them to receive it.  This despite the fact that he had received divine mercy himself.  Jonah complained that the Ninevites did not deserve God’s mercy.  None of us deserve His mercy.  It is because of His great love for us that we have His mercy and are not consumed  (Lamentations 3:22-23).  God is slow to anger.  When we are stubborn and unrepentant He waits patiently for us to respond to conviction (II Peter 3:9).  Do not wait for his discipline to come.  We need to do what is right, and turn our heart to God.

Jonah was filled with anger.  We need to take a good look at our own anger and see if it is justified (vs. 4:9).  It is good to be angry at sin and evil. Angry, but not falling into sin ourselves.  Jonah was not right in his anger, as it was based on his hatred for a nationality of people not his own.  Jonah hated Gentiles so much that he did not want to see God have mercy on them.  He would rather watch them be destroyed.  He had received God’s mercy, but did not want a Gentile to.

God does not show favoritism.  He cares for everyone.  His mercy extends to everyone, every race of people.  God places value on repentance.  He is willing to delay punishment of sin, but only for a time.  Eventually His justice demands a penalty.

The repentance of the Ninevites was in stark contrast to the stubbornness of the Israelites who refused to repent, despite having the message of all of the prophets and God’s Word.  Jesus said the Ninevites will stand up and condemn Israel for their refusal to repent and believe (Matthew 12:39-41).  Do not be like them.  Instead, repent and believe in Jesus.  Do not be like Jonah, either, and be filled with such hatred of some other people, that you would rather see them be destroyed than saved.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Five Loaves And Two Fish

Matthew 14:13-21

Needy people are all around us.  Whether they have health concerns, financial ones, or a need for the Lord, we see them wherever we go.  Many times people close their eyes to these needy folks.  They feel they have too many problems of their own, are too busy, or feel there are too many people to care for.  Who will help?  In our Scripture passage today from the Gospel of Matthew, we read the account of Jesus meeting the needs of those who came to Him.  With the exception of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, this is the only event that is recorded in all four Gospels.

Immediately prior to the start of our passage we read of the martyrdom of John the Baptist, who was the cousin of Jesus (Matthew 14:1-12).  John had preached repentance to the people, and had proclaimed the coming of Jesus the Messiah.  He had also baptized many, including Jesus.  Now King Herod had imprisoned and executed him.  Jesus loved his cousin John, and knew that his ministry was blessed by God.  After hearing that he had been executed, Jesus wanted to go off and be alone (vs. 13).  However, what did the crowds of people to whom He was continually ministering do?  They wanted His attention and concern, and followed Him.  And what was Jesus’ response to them?  He could have told them to get lost, and leave Him alone to grieve the brutal death of His cousin.  Jesus could have been irritated or even angry at them, since they were so inconsiderate of His needs.  Didn’t they care that His cousin just died?

No, that is not what Jesus did.  As we read in verse 14, Jesus was moved with compassion for them.  He healed the sick that were brought to them, and also met their spiritual needs by teaching them about God and His love for them.  Compassion is God’s natural response to human suffering.  When the crowds followed Jesus, even when He wanted to be alone to grieve, He ministered to the people, and refused to ignore them.  Jesus is a loving, caring, and feeling Person.

After many hours of preaching and ministering to the crowds, the evening was coming, and the disciples wanted Jesus to dismiss the crowds so they could go home and get food for themselves, and the disciples could rest with Him (vs. 15).  However Jesus didn’t want to send the crowds away hungry.  They were all on foot, and some might have come from a distance.  Again, Jesus cared about the people.  He had compassion.  He could have taken the disciples suggestion, and just sent them off, thinking that if they were hungry that was their own fault.  They could have packed some meals with them when they left home.

Instead, Jesus tells His disciples to give them food (vs. 16).  Give the huge crowd dinner?!  There were thousands of people, and even if each of the disciples had packed plenty of food for themselves, that would not be enough for all of the needy people.  And in reality the disciples didn’t even have enough food for themselves, as they only had five small loaves of bread and two fish.  Why even mention that small amount of food to Jesus?  It was a pitifully meager offering.  However, Jesus did not reject it (vs. 18).  He took what they offered and multiplied it so that it amply fed the crowds (vs 19-20).  We might feel that our contribution to Jesus is insufficient, but He can use and multiply whatever we give Him.  When we give to Jesus, our resources are multiplied.

Jesus knew that the disciples didn’t have enough food to feed such a large crowd.  He wanted the disciples to acknowledge it, so that it would be clear that a miracle by His power had occurred.  This was not just a case of everyone sharing what they had brought among each other.  The only food there were a few loaves and fish, enough for one, maybe two people.  Jesus is both Lord and Creator, and it is certainly within His power to multiply food in order to feed the crowds.

As Matthew records in verse 21, there were about 5,000 men, so with women and children added, it could easily have been 10,00 - 15,000 fed that evening!  Not only were they all fed enough to satisfy any amount of hunger, the disciples collected twelve baskets of leftovers.  The disciples each received a basket full of blessings for having faith in Jesus, and trusting that He would feed them all!  Do we have similar faith and trust in Jesus, that He has equal compassion on us and our needs, and will meet them amply, as He did that day?  God is full of compassion for His children, and His mercy is everlasting!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Nothing Can Separate Us From Christ

Romans 8:35-39

Frequently good friends make a promise to always be there for each other, a “best friend for life”.  Part of most wedding vows is the promise to love and cherish “till death do us part”.  Yet how often this is not the case.  Sometimes a husband or wife will walk out on their spouse and leave them, or a friend, often for some unknown reason, becomes distant and no longer interested in being that friend they once were.  This can be very painful, and the hurt sometimes never really heals.  Trust has been broken, and it becomes difficult to put confidence in other people, sometimes even in God.  We might question whether, if the going gets rough, God will also abandon us like our spouse or friend did, or maybe if we’re just not good enough at all times, whether He will toss us aside.  In our Scripture passage today, Paul shares with us a very precious promise, that should put an end to any such worries that believers might have.

In these closing verses of chapter 8 of the Book of Romans, Paul reassures us that nothing that can ever happen to us, nothing we will ever go through, will separate us from God and His love for us.  He tells us here that none of the things we go through, no matter how difficult or dangerous, can separate us from the love of Jesus (vs. 35).  God has a profound love for His people.  No matter what happens to us, no matter where we are, we can never be lost to God’s love.

These verses spoke a personal testimony, as Paul had personally survived assaults of these types, and emerged triumphantly through Christ’s power and protection.  Paul’s life was not an easy one, as he was constantly under attack by both Jew and Gentile.  However, he knew that nothing, not even his own failings, would ever separate him from the love Jesus had for him.  Nothing can separate us from Jesus, even if our life is ended by the executioner’s sword for our faith.  Paul, who faced even that, knew this truth.

God’s love for us is unconditional.  Too often if we slip up or are going through a difficult time, a spouse, family, or friends may turn their back on us.  That is not the case with God.  Once we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, nothing can ever break our bond to Him (John 10:29). Paul calls us “more than conquerors” (vs. 38).  That means that we over-conquer, to conquer completely, without any real threat to our personal health or life.  As believers, our enemies can hurt our physical body, even kill us, but they cannot harm our soul (Matthew 10:28).   No person in a position of authority, or demon in the spiritual realm, can separate us from God and His love (vs. 38).

The hardships, distresses, and persecutions we go through may cause some to think they have been abandoned by God.  Paul tells us that it is impossible to be separated from Christ.  His death for us proves His unconquerable love.  Jesus suffered so that we will never have to experience separation from the love of God (vs. 39).

God doesn’t always keep us from suffering.  However He will walk with us through the hardships.  We have the Lord’s assurance here in His Word that nothing can separate us from His love.  That includes anything we find in life’s path, from beginning to end.  It is Jesus’ strength and His power that already secured our victory.  We just need to believe it.

In closing, the Lord wants us to know that no matter how lonely we may ever feel, no matter how many people may walk out on us and forsake us, He never will.  No matter what we go through, the Lord Jesus is always there with and for us.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Know Your History

Psalm 78:1-29

There is an old saying that goes “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”   If we don’t learn from past mistakes, whether our own, our parents, or our country, we are likely to keep repeating them over and over again.  That is why it is important to study history.  Both the prophets of the Old Testament, and frequently the psalmists would exhort the people of Israel to look to their past, and the mistakes and sins they had committed, and to learn from these failings so they would not repeat them.  Today’s psalm is one example of a review of the people’s past.  This is a very long psalm, so we will only look at the first several verses.

Our psalm traces the history of the nation of Israel from when they were slaves in Egypt and their exodus with Moses, crossing the Red Sea, and their wandering through the wilderness, and coming into the Promised Land.  All throughout this time God performed many miracles, rescues, and deliverances for the people, showing them His power, majesty, and His love.  In Egypt, the Lord performed miracles to show His power with the Ten Plagues.  At the Red Sea, He performed another awesome miracle when He parted the waters and allowed the people to cross on dry ground, and then closed the waters so Pharaoh’s army could not reach them.  All during their travels through the wilderness, the Lord guided them with the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, and also provided them with food and water each day.

When they finally arrived at the Promised Land, the Lord continued to provide for the people of Israel,  He drove out all of the Canaanites and other pagan people, giving them the land that He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The Lord continually rescued them from their enemies, and provided for them.  With so much love and care shown to them, one would think they would remember, and have faith and trust in the Lord God.  However, the people continually forgot His provisions, strayed from His laws, and were continually lured away to the pagan gods.  For this reason the prophets and psalmists would repeatedly try to remind the people of all that the Lord had done for them.

When we forget what God has done for us in the past, then we are likely to lose our faith and trust in Him to provide for us in the present.  In these times we are likely to turn to other people and things, and trust them rather than God, to provide for us.  We get into a panic and anxiety, and turn away from Him, rather than towards Him.  It is when we are in this state, that we are likely to fall into sin and the traps of Satan.

The key verse of this Scripture passage is in verse 7, which reminds us to put our hope in God, and not forget His works.  We, like the people of Israel, need to learn from our past.  It is important to instruct our children in God’s Word and the past (vs. 5-6), to keep them from repeating the same mistakes as their ancestors have done.

God’s people had forgotten all that He had done for them, and His mighty works.  They lived for themselves, and did not prepare their hearts to be faithful to the Lord.  In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul also reminds us not to fall into this mistake.  He informs us in I Corinthians 10:5-12 that the people’s past, that of the nation of Israel, was recorded in God’s Word so that we can avoid the same errors and mistakes that they made.  If we learn from the past, we won’t be like our ancestors and the Israelites, making the same mistakes.

Being thoughtful of all the many times the Lord has provided for our needs, and having a grateful heart for His love and care will lift our eyes off of the things we lack, so we might see the blessings we possess.  God will bless a grateful and trusting believer.  In order to be one we need to remember the past and all that He has done for us, lest we be ungrateful, selfish, and fall into sin.