Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Following The Example Of Jesus

 Philippians 2:1-13

Often young people, and older folks as well, have someone they really look up to, and admire.  They try to emulate them, trying to be like them if they can.  This might be a sports hero, a TV or movie star, or some other well-known personality.  For Christians, Paul tells us there is One that we should try to be like, and that is the Lord Jesus.  There are many virtues of His that we could model for ourselves in our life.  In our Scripture passage for today Paul brings out two that he said we should strive for - humility and obedience.  Let’s look into our verses today from Philippians.

As Paul begins, he tells the Philippian believers that there should be unity and love between themselves (vs. 1-4).  Paul urges them, and us today, to have the same values and goals as believers.  There should be no one thinking they are better than anyone else, and instead, each one looking out for the needs and care of the others.  Rather than being ambitious and conceited, be humble and look out for the other person.  As believers we should care for the problems of others as if they were our own problems.  Focus on others more than ourselves, as being self-absorbed leads to selfishness.

As Paul continues on in this passage, he gives us the perfect example that we should be following in our life, that of Jesus Christ (vs. 5-11).  Jesus is the ultimate example of selfless humility.  He set aside His rights and position in order to be obedient to the Father, become man and a servant.  At the Incarnation, the pre-existent Son of God assumed a human body and human nature without ceasing to be God.  When Jesus became a human being, He did not give up His deity.  He has eternally been God.  Jesus always existed with God, and is equal with God, because He is God (John 1:1; Colossians 1:15-19).  Though Jesus had all of the rights, privileges, and honors of deity, His attitude was not to cling to those things, or His position, but to be willing to give them up for a season (vs. 6-7).

Jesus became man in order to fulfill God’s plan of salvation for mankind.  He chose to lower Himself to come to earth to save our souls.  Jesus died a horrible death for our sins (vs. 8).  He submitted to dying, not just a normal death, but by being crucified like a criminal, which is one of the most torturous deaths ever devised.

Because of His obedience, God glorified Jesus.  Jesus was raised from the dead and returned to His original position, seated at the Father’s right hand (vs. 9-11).  He is at this position today, interceding for us as our Great High Priest.  The entire universe is called to worship Jesus Christ as Lord.  All of the angels, the souls of the redeemed, believers on earth, the unsaved and rebellious souls in hell, all will one day acknowledge, willingly or unwillingly, that Jesus Christ is Lord.  At the Last Judgment, even those condemned will recognize Jesus’ authority.  Mankind can choose to willingly acknowledge Him now, or be forced to later.  Everyone, willingly or unwillingly, will one day bow to the supreme authority, power, and dominion of the Name of Jesus.

Because of all that Jesus has done for us, we have a serious responsibility to actively seek and submit to God (vs. 12-13).  When Paul speaks of “working out your own salvation” in verse 12, he is not speaking of a salvation by works. He is telling us believers to actively pursue the process of sanctification, of becoming more and more like Jesus.  God has a plan and a purpose for each of us, and He’ll get us where He needs us to be in His timing.  In the meanwhile, we are to give careful attention to our actions and behavior, making sure that we represent the One who saved us, with honor and humility.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Looking For A Good Guide

 Psalm 25

Frequently life is compared to a journey.  We travel through our years from birth, through youth, middle age, and then through our senior years, on to death. And just like with journeys we go on, it is best to have a map or guidebook with us, instructing us on the best ways to take.  On trips we want to avoid going the wrong way and getting lost, avoid bad roads that can do damage to our car, or costly delays.  Similarly, through life we would like to avoid these mishaps, many of which can be harmful or costly.  Choosing what we follow to guide us through life is important.  In our psalm today, King David shares with us who he turned to as his guide.

This world is difficult to navigate.  We are frequently being attacked by enemies (vs. 2).  We run into snares that entrap us (vs. 15).  All throughout life there are afflictions and anxieties (vs. 17).  We are also having to deal with our sins and iniquities (vs. 7, 11, 18).  Who can help us through all of these roadblocks in our life?  David shares with us that it is Yahweh, God of heaven and earth, who will give us guidance and leading throughout life (vs. 4, 9, 10, 12).

David knew he needed God’s guidance all through each hour of each day (vs. 5).  David needed His direction.  There are lyrics that go with the chime of the clock Big Ben, in London.  “All through this hour, Lord, be my guide.  And by Thy power, No foot shall slide.”   We need to take every decision we are facing to the Lord in prayer, seeking His direction.

David knew from experience that when he did not seek his Heavenly Guide, he strayed on to the wrong paths, the pathways into sin.  Yet when he returned to God in repentance, David received His unlimited grace for his sins (vs. 8).  God could have condemned David completely.  Instead, He allowed David to repent, and to relearn God’s ways and reapply His truths.

Just like on many trips we take, some of God’s paths for us through life are rough and rugged.  Others are tedious and boring.  However, all of the paths the Lord leads us on are filled with His love and faithfulness (vs. 10).  Our path may have obstacles, but God will lead us.  His plans are always best for us.

Another hindrance along our path through life are enemies.  72 of the psalms speak of enemies.  Our enemies are those who not only oppose us, but also oppose God and His Word.  Temptations are also our enemies.  Our greatest enemy is Satan.  David prayed that God would prevent his enemies from overcoming him because they opposed what God stood for (vs. 2).  He felt that if they succeeded, people might think that serving God was futile.

How can we try to keep our path straight and sure, without straying off into harmful ways?  One way is to check where we are fixing our eyes.  To make a straight line of footprints in the snow or sand, one needs to focus their eyes on something in the distance, not on one’s feet.  Looking at one’s feet will lead to making a crooked line.  Spiritually, if we focus on ourselves, we will go astray.  Keeping our eyes on Jesus will bring a straight and trustworthy path (vs. 15).

An additional help on our pathway is to have a good and healthy fear of the Lord (vs. 12).  To fear the Lord is to recognize God for who He is - holy, almighty, righteous, pure, all-knowing, and all-powerful.  When we regard God correctly we get a clear picture of ourselves - sinful, weak, and needy.  When we see God for who He is and ourselves for what we are, we will bow before Him in humble respect.  God offers intimate and lasting friendship to those who revere Him and hold Him in highest honor (vs. 14).

In traveling along roads sometimes we  run across delays.  The same happens on our life journey.  Sometimes God delays in answering our prayers (vs. 20-21).  He sees the whole picture all at once.  He knows exactly how every little detail will impact our lives.  God does not want to bring something into our lives that would destroy us.  Something that might be a blessing for us later would ruin us if we had it now.  He also seeks to grow integrity and uprightness in our lives throughout our journey (vs. 21).  Uprightness leads us to learn God’s requirements, and strive to fulfill them.  Integrity is being what we say we are, being a person of our word.  It keeps us from claiming to be upright, while instead living like the lost.

Who will be your guide through life?  What map or guidebook will you turn to?  Let’s strive to take the Lord Jesus as our Guide, and follow His guidebook, the Bible.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Sins Of Our Fathers

 Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

Have you ever been blamed for what someone else has done, been held responsible for what your parents were like, or your grown children’s actions?  This can be hurtful, especially if the judgment is coming from a church community.  On the other hand, there are people who like to share in the acclaim for one’s parents' good and noble character.  Our Old Testament Scripture passage this week comes from the prophet Ezekiel, and he speaks on this topic.  Let’s see what lesson the Lord would teach us from his words.

Ezekiel opens his passage with a proverb that was commonly said in his day, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”.  The parents have done something, and the children are paying for it.  It was common Jewish belief in that day that children would have to pay, have to suffer, for the sins of their parents.  Not only would the individual be accountable for their sins, but their offspring would, too, and often for several generations.  It wouldn’t matter how good the character of the individual was, if their father or grandfather was a notorious criminal or sinner, then they were also scorned, and sometimes even banned from community worship.  They felt it only proper that children should suffer and pay for the sins and mistakes of their parents.

Now, in the time of Ezekiel, there were some who used this as an excuse for their own bad behavior.  They were saying that since their ancestors had sinned, they couldn’t be blamed for what was happening to the nation.  It wasn’t their sins that brought God’s judgment, it was their ancestor’s fault.

God, through the words of Ezekiel, told the people that this was not so.  God does not hold us accountable for what our parents do, nor can we blame them for our own behavior.  He will hold accountable the one who sins, and them alone (vs. 4).   God plays no favorites with anyone.  He holds each individual accountable for their own sins.

As our passage continues, when Ezekiel brought God’s Word to the people, they complained that this wasn’t fair.  They didn’t want to hear that if a once good man turned and became a sinner, that his previous goodness wouldn't cover for his now bad behavior.  Nor did they want to hear that a one-time bad man could turn and become a righteous one, and his bad behavior would now be forgiven (vs. 25-28).  They said that this wasn’t fair.  However God rebuked that thinking, saying that this was not His thinking or way (vs. 29).  Judgment will be according to each individual’s faith and conduct.

This type of thinking can still unfortunately be found today in some churches today.  There are many people today who are thinking and hoping that their parent’s righteousness and faith will carry them on into heaven.  Their parents or grandparents might have been strong Christians, and they feel that, no matter their own behavior, their ancestor’s righteousness will spill over onto them.  God’s Word here shows that is not the case.  Our father could have been the greatest preacher since Paul, but God will not hold that to our credit.  Nor will anything our children do count for us.  They may become powerful preachers or missionaries, but it is our actions, not theirs, that we must answer for.  When we stand before the Lord, He will not ask us about what someone else did, even if they were relatives.  He will ask us about what we did.

We also see in some Christians the thinking that one must penalize an individual for the sins and mistakes of their parents or grandparents.  There are the whispers when someone comes into church, maybe for the first time, that his mother was a harlot, or her father is the town drunk, holding them forever accountable for their parents.  Or maybe someone comes into church and the whispers are that their daughter is a drug addict, or their son committed some unspeakable act.  Jesus says that we aren’t to hold someone accountable for the acts of others, whether good or bad.

As we close the passage from Ezekiel, God pleaded with the people then, and pleads with us today, to turn and repent from our sins.  God won’t hold anyone answerable for someone else’s actions, but He will hold us accountable for our actions.  He does not desire anyone to perish in their sins.  God desires that we repent and receive the free gift of eternal life that He offers to us (Romans 6:23; II Peter 3:9).  As God says, “Therefore turn and live!”

Friday, September 25, 2020

Is It Fair?

 Matthew 20:1-16

“It’s not fair!”  How many times have parents heard that wail from their children?  If we are honest, as adults we frequently cry that out, as well.  Children complain of how unfair it is when one of their siblings gets a privilege that they don’t also get, or neighborhood playmates can do something that they aren’t allowed to.  Adults complain that it’s not fair when a co-worker gets a promotion or raise that they don’t get, or can afford a better house or car than they can.

If we aren’t careful, that complaint of “It’s not fair!” can creep into our spiritual lives, as well.  Maybe we see the Lord blessing another Christian, and we look at our life, blind to our own blessings, and cry about how unfair it seems.  Perhaps we look at a notorious sinner who finally, at the end of their life, accepts the Lord Jesus as their Savior.  We look at the many years we’ve toiled for the Lord and compare it with their years of riotous living, and feel we deserve a better spot in heaven than they do.  It is just such thoughts that our Lord addresses in the parable He told in today’s Gospel reading.  Let’s take a look.

As our passage begins, Jesus describes an owner of a large vineyard.  He needs a number of workers, as perhaps it is harvest time, so he goes to the marketplace early in the morning to hire some day laborers.  As the day progresses he realizes he will need more workers if he is going to get the job done, so he goes back several times to hire more.  He hired men at 6 am, 9 am, noon, and 3 pm.  Now it is 5 pm and even though there is only one hour left in the workday, he hires another group.  When it comes time to get their wages, the owner starts with the last group hired, and gives them a whole day’s pay.  The ones hired first think they will get more, since they worked longer.  However, they also get a day’s pay, which starts them complaining.  “It’s not fair!”  The owner says that is what they agreed to, so why are they complaining?  It was the owner's privilege to extend the same generosity to all.

We can make the comparison of the vineyard owner and workers to the Lord and believers working for His kingdom.  There are some Christians who came to faith in the Lord Jesus when they were young, many even as children, and have spent their whole lives living for Him.  Some came to faith as young adults, and some in their middle ages.  Then there are some who didn’t accept Jesus as Savior until their old age, and a few literally on their deathbeds.

There are some who look a little resentfully at those who come to faith at the end of their life, feeling that if they served their whole life for Jesus, maybe 50, 60, or 70 years for Him, they deserve a greater place.  Some may feel that those who come to faith late in life should have to atone somehow for their life of sin, that it’s not fair that they could live sinfully, and then at the last minute accept Christ and get heaven.

In Jesus’ teaching, He showed that no matter how long the vineyard workers worked, each received a day’s wage.  Similarly, anyone saved in their last days or hours of life, will enjoy the full blessings of heaven, along with those who were saved at an early age, and worked for God all their lives.

This parable is not about any rewards that one will receive in heaven, but is instead about salvation.  Those who have labored long for Jesus will receive a reward (I Corinthians 3:10-15; II Corinthians 5:10).  However, getting into heaven is not earned.  Salvation is received by grace through faith, not through works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Grace cannot be earned or deserved.  God is free to bestow His favor however He chooses.  Jesus could have looked at the thief on the cross and told him that he had messed up for too long, and now it was too late.  He didn’t, though.  When that thief, with his dying breath, acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, and asked Him to remember him, Jesus promised him a place in heaven (Luke 23:39-43).  He had no opportunity to do any good works, yet he got into heaven as assuredly as any saint.

We need to be careful about when we cry out that it’s not fair.  None of us deserve heaven.  We never know who might accept Jesus in the last moments of life, and we may be surprised with who we may see in heaven.  It is only through God’s love and mercy that we will find ourselves there, at whatever age we come to Christ.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

What Is Your Purpose For Living?

 Philippians 1:21-27

If asked, most people would say that they don’t want to talk or think about dying.  That is generally not a favorite topic of dinner table conversation.  The unsaved have a very understandable fear of dying, as they have no sure hope for beyond the grave.  Many of them believe that after death they just cease to exist.  For others it is a gamble of whether their good deeds will outweigh their bad actions.  For them, death is something to fear. Believers, those who have placed their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus, have a sure hope of the resurrection and our eternal home in heaven. Death is not something to fear.  In our Scripture passage today from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we read a few of his thoughts about death.

Paul was in prison because of his preaching the Gospel when he wrote his letter to the Philippians.  This was not his first, nor his last time to be imprisoned for spreading the message of Jesus Christ.  Paul would be released this time, but he could very easily have been executed, and eventually he was.  While he sat in prison, knowing that at any moment the word could possibly come that he would be taken out and executed, his thoughts would have occasionally thought of his impending death.  For many people, the thought of a looming execution would bring fear.  However, what does the Apostle Paul say?  He does not fear death.  Death means being with Jesus, his Savior, and that is something he desires (vs. 21-23).

Jesus was Paul’s reason for being (vs. 21).  Death would release him from his earthly burdens, which were many and heavy.  Death would bring him into the presence of God.  Whether Paul lived or died, he wanted to exalt Christ.  To the unsaved, life on earth is all there is.  They spend their time seeking pleasure, power, wealth, and popularity.  For Paul, who knew Jesus and had assurance of a home in heaven, life here on earth meant one thing - serving God and winning souls for Him.  Paul knew the only reason he should remain on earth was to bring souls to Jesus, and build them up in the Lord (vs. 22).  Heaven was most desirable, but as long as God had work for him to do, Paul would seek to stay (vs. 24).  Only faith in Christ could sustain Paul in the horrible conditions of some of the prisons he was in.

Paul was not afraid of death.  He knew that once it occurred, and he was “absent from the body”, he would be at home with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:6-8).  Paul knew that for the believer and follower of the Lord Jesus, heaven was wonderful beyond imagination.  He knew that all pain and sorrow would be gone, and he would fellowship with the Lord forever.  As desirable as that was, Paul knew that God still had work for him to do here on earth, and he yielded his personal desire to be with Him for the necessity of soul-winning and building up believers (vs. 24).  Paul knew that as long as God had work for him to do, his death would not be forthcoming (vs 25).

This passage concludes with Paul giving the Philippians a word that Christians need to have integrity, and live consistent with what the Bible teaches (vs. 27).  Believers need to conduct themselves worthy of the Gospel.  We need to stand up for the Christian faith.  Believers are called to live in a way worthy of their calling.  This does not mean that God’s call depends upon the way we live.  Rather, we live the way we do because we remember that we belong to Jesus.

In conclusion, Paul knew that God would keep him on earth as long as he had work to do for Jesus and His kingdom.  That is the same for us.  We may be suffering any number of physical ailments, and death would be a release from the burden of our worn-out bodies.  We may have lost a beloved spouse of many years, and really desire to be with them in heaven.  However, as long as God has something He wishes us to do, something He wants us to accomplish for Him, He will keep us here on earth.  Paul’s purpose for living was to preach salvation, win souls for Jesus, and start local churches.  What purpose has God given you?  Prayerfully find out what the Lord wishes for you to do, and then keep doing that until He calls you home.

Monday, September 21, 2020

God Is Good

Psalm 145 

We all know some good people.  They are nice and helpful to their neighbors.  They always speak a kind word to and about others.  Most of us would hope to be known as a good person in our neighborhood.  What about God?  Would we consider Him good?  Good to us, to the world, and creation?  I have heard some people question whether He is, with the many things that are happening in the world today, especially just in this past calendar year, with the pandemic, riots, wildfires, hurricanes, etc.  In our psalm today, written by King David, we read a hymn of praise to God for His goodness, majesty and love. David had many trials and troubles throughout his life.  Some were of his own making, and others that came upon him through others, yet he could still say that God is good.  Let’s read through and briefly study this psalm together.

One of Satan’s tactics that he often uses against people is to try and get them to question God’s goodness.  In the Garden of Eden, Satan came to Eve in the form of a serpent, and enticed her to sin by getting her to question God’s goodness (Genesis 3:1-6).  He told her that if God was really good He wouldn’t keep the tree of knowledge of good and evil from her and Adam.  Satan is using the same tactics today.  He whispers in people’s ears that if God was really good, why wouldn’t He stop such terrible things from happening.  David could have wondered the same thing.  He could have thought that if God was good, if He really loved him, why was he always having to run for his life from his enemies.  In all of his difficulties, David never doubted God’s goodness or mercy (vs. 9).

In today’s psalm David celebrates the King of Eternity for who He is, what He has done, and what He has promised, all of it good.  Every day God showers His compassion on all of us.  All we have to do is look around and see all of creation, and see the goodness of God.  David gives four key reasons to praise the Lord:  the Lord is great (vs. 3), He is gracious and merciful (vs. 8-9), He sustains all who fall (vs. 14), and He is righteous in His ways and kind in His deeds (vs. 17).

David found that the best way for meeting troubles and perilous times was to meditate on God's sufficiency and His will for us.  When we focus our mind and spirit on the Lord, we see all He has done for us and others in the past, and that will give us strength and hope. Focusing on praising God will put our problems in perspective. God is always at work, bringing joy into our difficult situations.  The Bible calls us to meditate on God and His majesty.  To do that, we should recall the victories He has given us.  We should ponder God’s attributes, and see His glory in nature.  Most importantly, we can focus on His Son, Jesus Christ.

God is a good God.  For one thing, He is our provider.  Because of His great love for us, He gives us all that we need (vs. 15).  The Lord is kind in all of His works, especially as He knows our every step, word, and deed, and He forgives us all our sins when we come to Him through His Son, Jesus.  His fatherly divine provision extends throughout our life, and into eternity.

God is a good God because He is near to all who call upon Him (vs. 18).  No one is given preferential treatment.  God has no favorites.  All of His children have equal access.  Because of that we can come boldly to His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).  When God does provide for us, especially in a special way, and when we know He hears us, we need to speak up in praise and thanksgiving, and tell others (vs. 21).

When our troubles, and the events in the world seem more than we can bear, David tells us in this, and so many of his psalms, that we can go to a very good and loving God.  God lifts us up because His greatness is unsearchable (vs. 3).  God is good because He has done great and awesome works throughout every generation (vs. 4-6).  He is good, because He is righteous, gracious, compassionate, and patient with us (vs. 7-9).  God is a good God because He is the source of all of our needs (vs. 15-16).  He is good because He is close to those who call on Him (vs. 18), and He hears our cries and saves us (vs. 19-20).

Troubles may mount, days may be dark, and Satan may try to tell us otherwise, but we can trust that our God is a good God.  He will take care of His children until He brings us to our eternal home with Him in heaven.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Four Sins On David's Downward Path

 II Samuel 11:1-27

Many of us are familiar with the saying “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop”.  If we are not kept busy in some productive activity it is easy for the devil to lure us into some sinful activity.  Today we’ll take a look into one of the darkest chapters of King David’s life, one that could easily have been avoided if he had kept busy in the work that the Lord had appointed for him.

David, like most kings of that era, was a military leader, and was almost always with his army.  In ancient times, wars were often postponed during the winter months due to weather and lack of available food.  Battles would resume when the weather began to warm up.  In one particular springtime, King David got his army together for battle with the Ammonites, and sent them out with General Joab, but he remained back at home in Jerusalem (vs. 1).  He was negligent in his duties as the Commander in Chief of his army, and that led to a series of four sins that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

One evening, David was up on a terrace on his rooftop and observed a beautiful woman bathing in her courtyard next door (vs. 2).  It wasn’t a sin to catch an unintended glimpse of Bathsheba bathing.  It was a sin when David failed to take his eyes off of her.  Without his mind fixed on God, his imagination took over.  David was filled with lust.  He should have left the roof and fled temptation.  Instead, he entertained temptation (vs. 3-4), and had her brought to the palace where he slept with her.  That was the first sin.  David focused on his own desires.  When temptation came, David looked into it rather than flee from it.  He deliberately sinned.

Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, who was one of David’s “mighty men”.  These were a special band of top-notch soldiers of the king.  She was also the daughter of Eliam, another of his “mighty men”, and the granddaughter of Ahithophel, one of David’s chief counselors.  This adultery was all the more sinful, as it was an insult to three of David’s close associates.

When David heard that Bathsheba was pregnant, he tried to cover his sin with deception (vs. 6-13).  David had Uriah brought back from the army, and tried by subtle means to have him sleep with his wife Bathsheba, thus making it look like the child would be Uriah’s.  This deception and lying was the second sin.  David even tried to make Uriah drunk so he would go home and sleep with his wife (vs. 13), the third sin.  However, Uriah wanted to be a loyal example to his fellow soldiers in the field.  He had more honor than the king.

When all of these deceptive and lying tactics didn’t work, David became desperate.  After allowing Satan to lead him down this path of sin so far, he topped it off with the worst sin, and wrote to General Joab to have Uriah put in the heat of the battle, and then retreat the other soldiers, leaving him to be killed by the enemy.  And to top it off, David had Uriah deliver this death sentence himself to Joab! (vs. 14-17).  David had Uriah murdered, the fourth sin.

David could have chosen to stop and turn from evil at any stage along the way.  Once sin gets started, it is difficult to stop (James 1:14-15).  The best solution is to stop sin before it starts.  Sin begins to take root in our life with a thought.  When we dwell on our sinful thoughts, they take root in our imagination, and then to uncontrollable desire.  From there we then consent to the sin.  By taking his eyes off of God and all that He had provided, David ended up experiencing great heartache.  It took David over a year to confess and repent of this sin.  Unconfessed sin can make us callous (vs. 25).  It deadens the spirit and distances us from God.  We descend even further into sin.  Throughout this whole narrative, David did not think of God.  However, God observed it all, and as verse 27 states, “The thing that David had done displeased the LORD.”

One thing we need to remember is that, no matter who we are, we are never out of the reach of temptation.  It is just as easy for us to fall into any type of sin.  We should never go forth into the day spiritually unarmed.  We need to stay away from people, places, and situations that may tempt us.  One way to do that is to memorize and meditate on Scriptures that address our specific weaknesses.  Jesus told us to pray in order to avoid sin (Matthew 26:41).  Just when we think we can do no wrong, we can fall prey to Satan’s lies.  When we come to that key moment when we must make a decision that will have lasting consequences, will we be ready?

Friday, September 18, 2020


 Matthew 18:21-35

Many people have some particular person who they have a very hard time forgiving for some past offense that this person committed against them.  It may be some big offense that was done, or perhaps only a smaller transgression, however they just can’t get over it, and forgiveness is very difficult.  Quite often forgiveness is difficult to give.  In our Scripture passage for today from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us a parable to teach us about the necessity of forgiveness.  That is a lesson we all need to learn.  I know that I do!

Our passage opens with Peter asking Jesus a question.  He knew that as a believer, one who tried to closely follow God each day, that forgiving someone who committed a fault against you was important.  The Jews required one to forgive three times, and that was all.  Peter asked Jesus that if he doubled that, and then even added an extra time for good measure, would that really please God? (vs. 21).   Jesus responded with no, not just seven times.  Instead, seventy times seven (vs. 22).  Jesus wasn’t saying to forgive 490 times, but on the 491st time we can clobber them.  He is saying that His followers are to forgive an infinite number of times.  We shouldn’t even be keeping a count.

Jesus then proceeded to tell a parable about two servants who owed some money.  The first servant owed the king a huge amount of money, the equivalent today of multiple millions of dollars.  The king wanted the money paid back, and since the servant couldn’t pay, he ordered the servant and his family sold as slaves.  The servant begged for time to pay his debt, and the king had compassion, and forgave the man all he owed (vs. 23-27).

So what does that servant go and do?  Does he extend to others the mercy that he just received.  Let’s read further.  That servant goes out and finds a fellow servant who owed him a minuscule fraction of what he had owed.  That man didn’t have the money right then, and begged his fellow servant to have patience, and he would pay his debt.  Instead of showing mercy, he threw him into debtor's prison (vs. 28-30).  Those who observed this knew that this behavior was not right, and went and told the king.  When the king heard this, he called the unforgiving servant in and chastised him, saying that since he didn’t show mercy and forgiveness to others, he would be delivered to the tormentors until his debt was paid (vs. 31-34).

The king represents God, and the servants are us.  We owe a sin debt to God that we cannot possibly pay, it is so great.  However, God sent His Son to die for us, to pay that sin debt.  He did that when we were still sinners, forgiving all who come to Him through Jesus (Romans 5:8). What the servant owed, an insurmountable amount, represents our debt of sin, which we cannot pay on our own.  The king had compassion and mercy, and forgave the debt.  Likewise, our sin debt has been paid by Christ, and we are set free.

If Jesus could forgive us while we were still a sinner, He expects us to be able to forgive just as fully and completely.  We are to forgive as He forgave us.  Believers don’t lose their salvation when they refuse to forgive.  However, they break fellowship with God.  He cannot ignore sin.  Forgiveness is an act of will more than an act of the heart.  The one who refuses to forgive, the Christian who harbors grudges and bitter feelings towards others, will be turned over to tortuous thoughts, feelings of misery, and agonizing unrest within.  Unforgiveness causes spiritual turmoil that hinders a believer’s growth.  Prayer is stifled because of harbored sin that should be confessed.  Worship is dry and hypocritical.  And our witness is damaged.

Some people have difficulty in forgiving, because they feel that if they do forgive, that implies that what the other one did was okay.  Or they say they won’t forgive because the other person never apologized.  Forgiveness does not mean finding reasons to justify or excuse someone’s behavior.  It is not about forgetting what happened, or pretending it never occurred.  By forgiving, we choose to release the offender from any obligation towards us, and surrender any perceived right to hurt them back.  Forgiving someone means giving up resentment and the right to get even, even though we were wronged.

Because we have been the recipients of maximum mercy, who are we to suddenly demand justice from others?  God has forgiven us our huge sin-debt that we could never have atoned for.  Can we not forgive someone the tiny, in comparison, offenses they have done to us?  Jesus teaches us to extend mercy, just as God has done towards us

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Lifting The Weak

Romans 14:1-12

Have you ever met someone who is spiritually prideful?  They feel that they are better than others, because of the religious rules and regulations they follow.  Or perhaps they feel better than others because they don’t feel they have to follow those rules.  We can often find one, or both of these types in any congregation, each one judging the other.  This was a problem in the early church as well, and something that the Apostle Paul needed to address.  As we look into our Scripture passage from the Book of Romans, let’s also look into our hearts and see if we might also have a little of this attitude in ourselves.

Paul’s life ministry was to bring the Gospel to the lost and establish churches wherever he journeyed.  Another part of his ministry was to follow up with these new believers, helping to keep them spiritually on track.  One issue that Paul sought to address in our passage today was the disputes that were arising between strong Christians, those who believed that the Lord had freed them from the need to follow all sorts of regulations about what they ate or what days they worshipped on, and weaker believers who felt they still needed to follow the dictates of diet and days of worship.  Each group felt that they were right, and looked down on the other, feeling that they were less spiritual.

On the one hand there were some who carefully followed a kosher diet, being careful not to eat anything that wasn’t allowed in the Old Testament Law, some even going so far as to follow a vegetarian diet, eliminating all meat (vs. 2).  The other group, remembering the words of Jesus, felt that there were no restrictions on diet anymore (Mark 7:14-19).  The one group was very particular about days of worship, worshipping only on the Jewish Sabbath, and the other not holding to that restriction, and worshipping on Sundays.  These divisions between believers had become strong, and Paul rightly felt that this was not good and needed to be addressed and ended.

God wants us to live by faith.  Our personal convictions should be based on our ongoing personal relationship with the Lord, and not be bound and entrapped by legalism (vs. 5).  However, we are to show love to the weaker brother, not condemnation and a spiritually superior attitude.  The church should be known for how we love each other, not how we judge each other.  The strong believer eats whatever he pleases, and thanks the Lord.  The weak believer eats a restricted or kosher diet, and thanks the Lord.  In either case, the believer thanks the Lord, so the motive is the same (vs. 6).  We should accept our spiritually weaker brothers, helping them to grow as believers, and not putting them down, as long as they are not violating any belief or practice specifically commanded or prohibited in Scripture.  We honor God when we help our brothers and sisters in Christ to grow in their faith.

Everything we do should be to please the Lord.  Our daily actions should reflect well on the Lord.  Every moment of every day we belong to Him.  Paul considered it impossible to compartmentalize Jesus’ Lordship.  He knew his life belonged wholly to Jesus (vs. 7-8).  He is Lord of all, including us.  He should be Lord of our choices, our priorities, activities, attitudes, and our words.  He is not to be just a part of our life.  Jesus demands full surrender.  If we are truly His, then Jesus is our life.

Paul concludes our passage with a reminder that each one of us will give an account of himself to God, and the Lord will judge the decisions we make, including those concerning issues of conscience (vs. 10).  We aren’t called to be the judge.  That is the Lord Jesus’ position.  Every person will one day stand before God in judgment. The Judgment Seat of Christ is for believers, and is not punitive  (II Corinthians 5:10).  It is for the sake of rewards, and every believer will be there.  We will answer to Him about how we have lived, and be given rewards as to our service for Jesus (I Corinthians 3:10-15).  Some will be awarded more, some less.  The Great White Throne Judgment is for the unsaved (Revelation 20:11-15).   Our greatest desire should be to please Him.

In closing, we need to remember that it is not for us to judge our fellow believers, not to hold superior attitudes over them for any issues of conscience.  Instead we need to uphold them in love and instruction in God’s Word.  Also, knowing that we will one day be standing before the Lord, we should be living our lives in service to Him.

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Eternal God Is Always There

 Psalm 102

A number of years ago there was much talk about the philosophical idea that “God is dead”.  That statement meant several different things to different people.  One was in response to the major rise in atheism in the last hundred years or so.  Another was that with the rise of secular humanism, many people felt that there wasn’t a need for a God anymore.  Mankind can help themselves.  Many felt that perhaps there may have been a need for some type of god in the past, but with the advancement of mankind, there isn’t that need anymore.  Thus, “God has died”.  Also, some feel that somehow God must have died, as they look around at all the terrible things happening, wars, floods, famines, etc. and believe He sure isn’t helping anyone anymore.  In our psalm for this week, the psalmist is in great distress.  He is burdened with some undisclosed problems, and he cries out to God.  Does he fear that God is no longer there, that perhaps He has died, or just doesn’t care anymore?  Let’s take a look.

The psalmist does not indicate what troubles he was going through, but it was very distressing to him.  It was so upsetting to him that it was taking an emotional and physical toll on his health (vs. 3-5).  Sometimes when our problems become so overwhelming, we don’t care about even our own basic needs.  Many people can attest to some times when they were so distraught that they couldn’t eat, they couldn’t sleep.  Doctors have verified the terrible toll that stress can take upon both our physical and emotional health.  We also often feel very alone, perhaps even vulnerable, when we are going through terrible troubles.  Our psalmist compared himself, while going through his problems, to a bird out all alone in the wilderness or desert.  Even to a small bird, alone and vulnerable to predators on a rooftop (vs. 6-7).  He was feeling desolate and lonely.

Though his trials are distressing, our psalmist does not give up his belief and hope in help from the Lord God.  This psalm was given a subtitle - “A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed and pours out his complaint before the Lord.”  The psalmist speaks for all of the afflicted, who must rely totally on God for relief.  He reflects on the unchanging nature of God, especially in how He deals with mankind.  Our psalmist would not be one of those people who in the last several decades have declared that “God is dead”.  He declares that God endures forever (vs. 12), and His years have no end (vs. 27).  After declaring his prayer to God for help, he shifts his focus from off of his problems and on to God.  He turns his eyes from off of himself and from off of earth, and onto God and heaven.

Our psalmist knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that God existed, that He was alive and active, not only in his life, but in all of creation.  God is eternal, which is one of his many magnificent characteristics.  He has always existed, having had no beginning, and is eternal, with no end.  He will never die.

In all that eternalness, we do not need ever fear that God will forget us.  He will protect and help His people today, as in the past.  God is always the same.  He isn’t one way towards us today, and then has a personality change tomorrow (James 1:17).  We can depend on Him being the same to us as His Word declares (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 13:8).

God is the Creator of all things (vs. 25-27).  He is eternally with us and will keep all of His promises, even though at times we may feel so alone.  God, alone, is our comfort and strength.  Even when we are too weak to fight, we can lean upon Him.  Because God is living, eternal, and unchanging we can trust Him to help His children in this generation, just as He helped His children in past generations.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Failing To Pass On Our Faith

 Nahum 1:1-7

Some people can look back on their family tree and see several, perhaps many, good, strong, godly ancestors there.  They might be tempted to think that with a godly lineage, they were spiritually safe and secure.  Perhaps there had been a great spiritual revival in the not too distant past in the area you live in.  However, that doesn’t last into the next generation.  Each generation must dig their own spiritual well.  As we look into the Prophet Nahum’s message today, we’ll see God’s Word to the great city of Nineveh.

Nahum is a small book in the Old Testament that is often overlooked, but today we will take a quick look into it.  He preached his message from the Lord during the 7th century BC, between 663 - 642 BC.  Nineveh was a very large city, and the capital of the kingdom of Assyria.  A little over a hundred years earlier the prophet Jonah had been sent by God to preach there, and a great revival had broken out.  Nearly all of the city had turned to and accepted Yahweh as their God and Savior.  However, once that generation had passed, the people had returned to their pagan gods and wicked, evil ways.  Not that long before Nahum, the Assyrians had conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel, and now they were threatening the southern Kingdom of Judah.

As Nahum preaches, God is not happy with the Ninevites and the people of Assyria.  The faith that the Ninevites accepted with Jonah was not passed down to their children or grandchildren, and at this time with Nahum, about a hundred years later, His anger has been aroused.  Yahweh is omnipotent.  He is a holy and jealous God, who will punish the wicked and avenge His own.  Though the Assyrians are threatening the southern Kingdom of Judah, He will not let them conquer them.  In a very short while, the Kingdom of Assyria would topple, as the Babylonians rise to prominence.  Nineveh had forgotten their repentance and revival under Jonah.  Now the prophet Nahum prophesied that the Babylonians would so utterly destroy Nineveh that no trace of it would remain.  The exact location of this once great city would remain unknown for 2,500 years.  It is guessed to be near the modern day city of Mosul in Iraq.

Just as a spouse is jealous when their partner will flirt or cheat on them, breaking their vows, so God is when His people forsake Him for other gods.  Throughout Scripture this is portrayed as spiritual adultery.  God punished the northern Kingdom of Israel through the conquest by the Assyrians.  Later He would do the same with Judah by the Babylonians.  This is not a sin that God takes lightly, even today.  God is jealous of our love (vs. 2).  He chose us, and bought us with His Blood.  He does not want us giving our love to pagan gods or worldliness.  It is just and right for God to insist on our complete allegiance, and for Him to punish unrepentant evildoers.

God is not quick to anger (vs. 3).  He is long-suffering.  It took many years following the short-lived revival of Nineveh before He would topple to Assyrian kingdom.  Although patient, God’s justice will eventually punish the wicked.  God is slow to anger, but when it comes, even the earth trembles.  Nature is the theater in which God’s power and majesty is often showcased (vs. 3-5).  God gives His true followers time to share His love and truth to the wicked (II Peter 3:9).  However, we need to be warned that judgment will come.  He will not allow sin to go unchecked forever.

Over the centuries there have been many kingdoms and empires, along with powerful rulers, who have conquered large areas of the world, but all have fallen after awhile.  No person or nation can defy God (vs. 6).  All people and nations rise and fall, yet God is omnipotent and eternal.  Those who have accepted the Lord Jesus as their Savior will find God a compassionate Father.  He is a fortress against every attack of the enemy to those who put their hope in Him (vs. 7).  He is good, and a stronghold in the day of distress.  God knows those who take refuge in Him.

In closing, we need to remember that a faith that those in our past once had will do us no good if we, too, do not share that faith.  Just because God had mercy on the Ninevites when they repented, doesn’t mean He would overlook their sins now.  It is also so very important for us to pass our faith down to our children and grandchildren.  If the Ninevites who came to faith at the time of Jonah had done that, God would not have had to judge them at the time of Nahum.  We all need to remember that God will not always hold back His judgment.  He will judge sin and wickedness.

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Difficulty Of Church Discipline

 Matthew 18:15-17

When faced with a task that might make us feel uncomfortable, we often try to avoid doing it if at all possible, just sweeping it under the rug, so to speak.  It might be something important, but if it is something we dread doing, and we can get away with not doing it, we will.  In our passage of Scripture today from the Gospel of Matthew, we read about church discipline for erring members, which is something that is not a popular topic, and something that many churches avoid doing. Yet this is something that our Lord spoke about, and is part of His Holy Word, so it is something that we should look into.

Jesus knew that within the Church there were going to be times when believers were going to have differences among themselves which might develop into larger, unresolved conflicts, or a fellow believer might fall into unrepentant sinful behavior.  These issues would need to be resolved in a proper manner if the Church was going to grow and thrive, so the Lord gave us a proper process to follow.  This passage is referring to Christians, those in our personal church fellowship, not to unbelievers.  This passage gives us the way God wishes us to resolve any significant conflict or issue between fellow believers, or the one who has fallen into major sin.

There are certain steps which the Lord Jesus gave us to follow.  If, within the church fellowship, there develops a conflict between two members, Jesus tells us that the one who has been sinned against is to go to the one who wronged them and try to resolve the conflict between the two of them.  Sometimes that is all it takes, two people calmly talking it out together, and any misunderstanding or grievance is peacefully worked out.  However, if that doesn’t work, if the other person won’t listen and wants to hold on to their grievance, then the Lord instructed that the one go and get someone else, someone godly and wise, to come with and talk with them (vs. 16).  This person could perhaps be a deacon, elder, or pastor of the church.  That person can act as an impartial mediator, and help to work out the differences.

What if that won’t work, either?  Jesus then instructed that this problem be brought before the whole church body (vs. 17).  Hopefully, with godly and loving counsel from fellow believers, the erring one might repent of their ways.  However, if they continue to be obstinate, the Lord instructs that this one be removed from the church fellowship, hopefully only temporarily until they repent.

This is where many Christians and churches tend to back away.  People don’t mind the first step.  That’s quite acceptable.  They might not even mind the second step.  The other two, and especially the last one, are most often avoided.  The Apostle Paul, though, spoke of several instances when he had to follow these steps all the way to the end.  In the church in Corinth, a member had fallen into terribly immoral behavior, and had to be removed from fellowship (I Corinthians 5:4-5).  He instructed Timothy to remove both Hymenaeus and Alexander from Christian fellowship (I Timothy 1:20).  And in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church, he tells them to cast out any who do not obey God’s Word (II Thessalonians 3:14).  This removes these unrepentant ones as a detrimental influence to the other believers.

Some people may feel that this contradicts Matthew 7:1-4, which tells us not to judge, a favorite verse people like to toss around a lot.  Those verses do not tell us to never judge.  It teaches against hypocritical judgment.  God tells us to judge bad companions (I Corinthians 15:33), false teachers (Matthew 7:15-20), and the works of evil unbelievers (Ephesians 5:11).  We must check ourselves and our motives first, and then judge sin and sinners with the goal to rescue and restore them.

The church which ignores its members who are marinating in sin is not acting in love.  The church that truly wants to treat its members in a loving way will confront sin, praying that the wandering sheep will return to the fold.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

How Will A Spirit-Filled Christian Behave?

 Romans 12:9-21

Children and young people are often told while growing up to watch their behavior, especially while out in public. Exhibiting misbehavior would reflect poorly on the family, especially if the family had any degree of prominence.  How we act gives a good name or a poor one to the family.  As Christians, we are part of God’s family, and we carry His Name wherever we go.  In our Scripture passage today the Apostle Paul gives us some instructions on how a Christian should behave, a list of traits that characterize the Spirit-filled life.

Not surprisingly, the first characteristic Paul mentions is the Christian virtue of love (vs. 9).  If we have real love for others, we will focus on the needs and welfare of the one loved, and will do what we can to meet those needs, without self-centeredness or guile.  Godly love will put others' needs above our own, and does not seek personal gain (vs. 10).   Paul mentions another virtue, that of hope, in verse 12.  Christian hope is not a vague wish.  Christian hope is a sure confidence that we will receive what God has promised us.  Because God keeps His promises, we can live with joyful hope.  We can have a hope that perseveres through even the darkest times because of God’s promises, especially the promise of His return.

As Paul continues, he moves on to more difficult conduct, that of blessing those who mistreat us.  When someone does something mean or hurtful to us, our first reaction is to retaliate in some way, trying to hurt them back.  Paul instructs us, though, that this is not the way a Christian should act (vs. 14, 17-21).  Here he echoes the words of Jesus to love and bless our enemies, and do good to them (Matthew 5:44).

We might have the right to be angry with someone, but we don’t always have to exercise that right.  Justice might allow us to be angry, and it is selfishness that requires it.  Selflessness, though, will allow us to be at peace, even when others get what they don’t deserve or have a right to.  When unproductive thoughts of bitterness overtake us, we need to pray for our offender, and maybe, if possible, bless them in some tangible way.

God sometimes calls us to do things that are very difficult, such as blessing those who persecute us, and not repaying them with evil.   He calls us beyond ourselves and our own strength, to actions that require His strength.  He, alone, can give us the strength to overcome evil with good (vs. 21).

When we’ve been hurt, we sometimes do not want to give forgiveness.  We may think that down-plays the severity of what they have done.  However,  forgiveness also does not negate the wrong done to us.  Forgiveness is letting go of both the offense and our right to demand payment.  The foundation of our forgiveness of others is God’s forgiveness of us.  Unforgiveness will bring us torment.  Vengeance is God’s responsibility, not ours (vs. 19).   Difficult as it may be, let go of the right to get even.

When a relationship breaks down, God’s Word urges us to do what we can to restore it, to do everything possible to be at peace with others.  However, sometimes the other person doesn’t wish to be peaceful or to reconcile (vs. 18).  We can only do so much when people aren’t receptive.  We can, though, keep bitterness from attaching itself to us.  We can keep evil, injustice, and mistreatment from making us bitter by responding with goodness.  When believers lovingly help their enemies, it should bring those enemies shame for their hate and animosity (vs. 20).  Retaliation only brings us down to their evil level.  Christians should set the example.

In closing, we may feel that this is hard, maybe even too hard to do.  We may feel that we just can’t do that on our own.  That is right.  We can’t do it on our own.  However, we can do it through the Holy Spirit, by depending on His strength and ability.  As Paul tells us in another of his Epistles, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13).

Monday, September 7, 2020

God's Best For Us

 Psalm 119:33-48

Today, as we look into Psalm 119, both the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible, there are two points I would like to consider.   The first is to avoid having a covetous and acquisitive nature.  The second is how laws, specifically God’s laws, give us freedom, a seeming contradiction.  Let’s look into this passage of Scripture.

As we look around and observe people in our neighborhoods, across our country, and around the world, we see one thing in common with so many, and that is their desire to get rich.  They are not just satisfied with enough to live comfortably, but they have a greedy desire to be rich, wanting more luxurious homes and cars, bigger TVs, the latest computers and cell phones, etc.  However, what does God’s Word say about desiring earthly wealth?  In our psalm for today, the writer prays that his desire would not be to covet or desire more possessions, but instead desire God’s Word (vs. 36-37).  He doesn’t want his eyes to linger on things he doesn’t have and doesn’t need, calling them worthless.  Slick advertising is big business, and companies vie with each other to hire the best advertising agencies, knowing that the best ones can bring in the most sales.

Jesus gave us a word about desiring more wealth and treasures.  In His Sermon on the Mount, He warned us against laying up treasures here on earth, as they will only wear out, get broken, or get stolen (Matthew 6:19-21).  Instead Jesus told us to make our treasures things in heaven, where they are eternally safe.  Obedience to God’s Word is more valuable than wealth, as it is a heavenly treasure, not an earthly one.  Our hearts should be turned towards God, and not in pursuing earthly wealth.

All of our earthly possessions will prove to be worthless on the judgment day of Christ. For those who are saved, earthly possessions will not bring more rewards from God.  For the unsaved, possessions will mean nothing, and cannot save them.  Our salvation and eternal life are of more value.  As Jesus told us, we cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24).  When it comes to pursuing wealth, Christians should be seeking to store up treasures in heaven, not here on earth.

A second important point in this passage from Psalm 119 is something that might seem like a contradiction, and this is that the psalmist says he walks in liberty, with freedom, when he follows God’s Laws (vs. 45).  Many people think of rules and laws as restrictions, something that takes away freedom, rather than promoting it.  That is often a reason some people give for not wanting to be a Christian.  They do not want to be told what to do and what not to do, and they look at the Bible as being a big book of “Don’t do this!  Don’t do that!  You’d better do this!”

As parents, we put restrictions on our children to keep them safe.  We won’t let them play in the street, or go into the deep end of the swimming pool unattended for their safety, no matter how much they might fuss to do so.  People who seek to live any way they wish will often get caught up in drugs, alcohol, adultery, gambling, and other disastrous activities.  What is the end result?  Ruined health, destroyed families, loss of money.  Following God’s laws are there to protect us from such things.  Obeying God’s laws don’t inhibit us.  Instead, they give us freedom from sin and oppressive guilt.  Following God’s instructions allow us to escape the consequences that might come from any wrong choices we might otherwise make.  God’s laws show us that He loves us.  We are free within the loving boundaries He sets.

When out hiking, it is never wise to try to see how close we can get to the edge of a precipice before falling in.  Wandering off the marked path, getting too close to the edge, and a tragic fall can happen.  In the same way, the further we stray from the Bible, the closer to the edge of dangerous sin we get, and we can find ourselves in danger of a tragic fall.  We get close to the edge when we get into sinful past-times and activities, when we get too busy for God in our lives, or are discontent with what we have in life.  As we see, it is best to stay within the safety of God’s Word.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Sound The Warning

 Ezekiel 33:1-11

When there is danger ahead it’s always good to have a warning.  If the bridge is out it’s good to have a warning sign along the road warning us that it is dangerous to continue further.  Tornadoes occur every spring and summer around my part of the country.  Each village has warning sirens to warn if one is coming.  It is the highway department’s responsibility to put up warning signs, and the village’s responsibility to warn of severe weather conditions.  If you saw an apartment building on fire in the middle of the night when all of the tenants would be asleep, wouldn’t you try and warn them to wake up and get out as fast as they could?  As a fellow human being we have a moral responsibility to warn others of a fire or some other danger.  Giving a warning is the important message today from the Prophet Ezekiel.

In ancient times, during the days of the prophets from the Old Testament, most cities and villages had walls built around them.  This gave the residents of the city protection from invasion by an enemy.  It also offered protection from marauding wild animals.  These walls often had several watchtowers built and there were men whose job it was to keep a lookout for an approaching enemy.  If they saw something that looked threatening, they were to sound an alarm to warn the people.  That way there was time to either organize a counter-attack or flee for safety.

What if the watchman was slacking off in his responsibility to watch for danger?  What if he was napping on the job, reading a book, or playing cards with the other watchmen?  Or perhaps he saw the enemy army approaching, but didn’t think it was that serious.  He failed to give a warning, the city was invaded and many people died. The people died because they didn’t flee, but the responsibility lay with the watchman who failed in his duty.  Their blood is upon his hands. However, if the watchman was doing his job, saw a danger, and then sounded a warning, yet the people ignored his warning, their fate was their own fault.  He did his job, and was not guilty of their blood.

God had given the prophets of the Old Testament a responsibility to warn the people of their impending doom if they failed to obey His Word and also worshipped false pagan gods.  Like the watchmen who failed to sound a warning, sometimes the religious leaders failed in their duty to faithfully give God’s Words and warnings to the people.  They preferred to give “feel-good” messages, telling the people there was nothing wrong with their lifestyles and idolatry.  God’s judgment came and these religious leaders would be judged by Him for failing to warn.  There were also some faithful prophets who brought God’s message to the people, warning them of their sins and the need to return to the Lord.  The people ignored these watchmen, and their dire fate was their own responsibility.

Today, God’s faithful messengers again have the responsibility to bring His message and to give people warning.  Just as in the days of the Old Testament where many of the religious leaders were false prophets and did not give God’s message faithfully, there are preachers and pastors who do not proclaim His Word faithfully.  Like a worthless watchman, they fail to give the message, and people will die in their sins.  Fortunately there still are a few good and faithful messengers, who speak God’s Word truthfully.

Will the people heed their warnings today?  If they do not, their fate is their own responsibility, and their blood will be upon their own head.  If we don’t speak God’s message, we will have their blood on our hands.  Once we give the warning, the responsibility passes to each person.  They can heed and repent, or die in judgment (vs. 4).  If we fail to give the warning to the people of repentance for sin, we will be held accountable (vs. 8-9).

In closing we need to know that God has no desire or pleasure in seeing the wicked die in their sins (vs. 10-11).  He desires them to repent and live (II Peter 3:9).  God will never reject anyone with a truly repentant heart.  Will you heed God’s watchmen’s warnings, and repent before your day of judgment comes?  If you are already a Christian, are you being a faithful watchman, faithfully giving God’s message to the lost, or are you letting their destruction come upon them without one word of warning?  God asks His children to warn the people for Him (vs. 7).

Friday, September 4, 2020

What Are You Pursuing?

 Matthew 16:21-27

There are some games where the person who ends up with the most money or pieces at the finish is the winner.  Just last night my two adult children and myself were playing the board game Monopoly.  The purpose of the game is to get the most property, build houses on that property, get the most money, and bankrupt the other players.  Last night the winner was my son.  There are many people who go through life with that as their goal.  They feel that the goal in life is to end with the most money, the most belongings, the most things.  Their physical life, here and now, is what is important to them, but not their soul.  In our Gospel passage for this week, Jesus addresses this matter.  Let’s see what He has to tell us today.

As our Scripture passage opens, Peter had just proclaimed Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the Son of God.  After such a glorious proclamation, Jesus revealed to the disciples that the chief priests and Jewish elders were going to have Him killed, but that He would rise again from the dead on the third day (vs. 21).  Such news disturbed the disciples, and Peter again spoke up for them all, saying that such a thing should not happen (vs. 22).  Peter sought to protect Jesus from this suffering.

Peter did not yet know that if Jesus did not go to the cross, there could be no salvation.  Jesus saw Peter’s words as temptation to turn back from the crucifixion, and rebuked him (vs. 23).  Jesus had come with the express purpose of dying as an atonement for sin.  Those who tried to thwart that were doing Satan’s work.  Peter was looking at this from man’s perspective, not God’s.

Jesus then continued to teach the disciples an important spiritual lesson and truth.  To truly follow Jesus means to deny our selfish goals in life (vs. 24).  A person who was condemned to death, one who was to be executed, would carry their cross to the execution site.  Following Jesus means a true commitment, a risk of death, and no turning back.  We must be willing to give up everything in life, give up our desires to get more money, to own more and more luxuries, and to instead follow Jesus wherever He leads us.

We may be willing to follow Jesus when He is going where we want to go, but how about when He leads us down a road of sacrifice?  What about when that path leads to a place of self-denial, of suffering, or even a path that ends in death?  Will we follow Jesus then?  If we seriously choose to follow Jesus, we must be willing to deny ourselves from everything that stands in the way of our relationship with Him.  We must step up and take up our cross to follow Jesus wherever He leads.

As our Scripture passage continues God teaches us that this life is just the introduction to eternity.  If we put the pursuit of money and possessions first, we will risk our eternal soul.  However, if we pursue God and His kingdom, if we have accepted His Son Jesus as our Savior, we will gain eternal life (vs. 25-26).  So many people spend their life trying to get more and more, yet what we accumulate on earth has no value in our eternal life.

Jesus calls His followers to give their life by following wherever He leads them.  Sometimes that might mean by giving one’s life in death for Him. The blood of thousands of martyrs watered the early church, causing it to grow.  The roar of the lions, the shouts of the angry crowds demanding their death could not stop these Christian’s faith.  Jesus said those who are persecuted for His sake are blessed (Matthew 5:10-12).

There will come a time when death will come for each of us.  At that moment we will be helpless.  The size of our bank account will not stop death, and that money will matter nothing.  Nor will the number of possessions we have matter any.  The only thing that will matter is whether we have accepted the Lord Jesus as our Savior.  If we have asked Jesus to be our Savior, at the moment of death He will welcome us into His home in heaven.  Without Him, an eternity in hell awaits you.  If you have not accepted Jesus as your Savior, I urge you to do so now, as we never know when our last moment will be.