Saturday, October 31, 2020

A Faithful And True Message

 Micah 3:5-12

No one likes to be misquoted, or have someone tell others that you said something, but you had said nothing of the sort.  Sometimes one of your children may tell the others that you said something, but you never said anything.  Or maybe the boss gets misquoted by an employee.  People of honor want to have their words quoted correctly.  This is especially true with the Lord God.  Reading through the Bible, we often see where God got upset with false prophets and other religious leaders who spoke words in the name of God, words that He had never spoken.  In our Scripture passage for today, the prophet Micah brings God’s Word against such false prophets.

We should expect that our religious leaders bring us the truth about the Lord God.   God expected that from His servants, as well.  However, many of these prophets spoke words that they did not get from Yahweh.  Sometimes the message that He had for the people was a difficult one.  When the people failed to obey His laws, and when they turned instead to the worship of the false, pagan idols, God gave stern warnings, warnings that if they didn’t change their ways, His punishments would follow.  Naturally, no one wants to hear messages like that.  People do not like to hear bad, negative, or depressing news.  Instead, people like to hear good, positive words.  They like upbeat news, and to hear that they are good.  They like pats on the back and being told that their actions don’t matter to God.

This is what the false prophets and religious leaders throughout the Old Testament were doing.  Over the years God had sent His word through the true prophets that because of the people’s disobedience, dire consequences would happen, including war and captivity.  Naturally the people did not want to hear that.  Thus, in order to please their audience, the false prophets spoke only words of peace (vs. 5), contrary to what the true prophets of God spoke.  God warned, though, that He would put them to shame.  They would get no words from Him (vs. 6-7).

Though God would cut off the ministry of the false prophets, the true and faithful servants of His, like Micah, would have His power and wisdom.  God has given His servants His power (II Timothy 1:7; Acts 1:8).  The false prophets were leading the people astray.  Not all those who claim to have messages from God really do.  The false prophets spoke what would please certain people, who in turn, would pay them well.  The false prophets would prophecy peace or “good” messages when they received gifts from the people.  But when they weren’t paid well, they would not bring the messages that were popular to hear.  They were guilty before God of not giving them His Word, and instead were motivated by greed.

God’s Spirit gave Micah power (vs. 8).  Micah warned against the religious leaders accepting bribes for what they would say and preach (vs. 11).  Pastors today accept bribes when they allow those who contribute much to control the church.  Some pastors keep silent over matters that are wrong, or keep silent on certain issues for fear of losing money or members of their congregations.  These pastors are wrong, and the people who manipulate the religious leaders through their money and offerings are equally wrong.

God’s power will also enable us to be His witnesses, especially when we might need to speak against today’s false prophets.  We can’t witness effectively if we rely on our own strength.  Fear will keep us from speaking out for God.  However, like Micah and the others who spoke God’s Word truthfully, we need to trust Him, and expose these false messages.  The best way is to know God’s Word, and the truth contained therein.  That way, when someone comes with a message contrary to the Bible, we will recognize it and can fearlessly expose it as falsehood.

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Greatest Commandment

 Matthew 22:34-46

Which is the best?  We often take polls to find out which novel, which movie, or which restaurant in the neighborhood people think is the best.  People compose their favorite “top ten” lists of all sorts of things.  The top ten favorite dogs.  Top ten favorite television shows of the season.  The list could be endless.  In today’s Gospel passage we read of someone who came to Jesus, asking what He thought was the most important of all of the laws of the Jewish people.  Let’s take a look at His answer.

Throughout the last week of Jesus’s life before His crucifixion, the religious leaders from both the Pharisees and Sadducees had been trying to entrap Him with their trick questions.  They wanted to trick Jesus into giving an answer whereby they might accuse Him of heresy, blasphemy, or even treason so that they could turn Him over to the Roman authorities.  Today’s Scripture passage contains another attempt the Pharisees made.

A lawyer from their group came to Jesus with another trick question, asking which was the greatest commandment in the law (vs. 34-36).  This fellow was not a lawyer or attorney as we would know today, but instead an expert in the Old Testament Jewish laws, a scribe or a “doctor of theology”.  He was not honestly questioning Jesus, but wanted to trap Him with the Pharisees, and get Him into an argument with them.  The Pharisees and religious leaders had over 600 laws they expected people to keep, and even they couldn’t agree among themselves as to which they felt was the most important.  Various Pharisees and rabbis spent hours upon hours discussing, debating, and arguing between each other as to which was most important, which was next important, on down to the least important ones.

Jesus didn’t ignore his question, and gave an answer.  His answer was “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  And then He added, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (vs. 37-40).  Jesus quoted from both Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18.  The first four of the Ten Commandments relate to our love for God.  The last six relate to our love for others.  Love for God and love for others is the backbone of all God says in His Word.  Paul says that “love is the fulfillment of the Law.” (Romans 13:10).  By keeping the two laws that Jesus quoted to this lawyer, a person keeps all of the others.

The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the scribes had all tried to trick Jesus into religious controversies in order to trap Him and then have the opportunity to arrest Him.  Now Jesus had a test for them (vs. 41-46).  Jesus asked them who they believed the Messiah was the son of.  They answered that they believed the Messiah was the “son of David”.  The term “son of David” was a popular term for the Messiah in Jesus’s day.  They believed in a human Messiah, not a divine one.  Their conviction was that the Messiah was no more than a man.

Jesus gave them a reply by quoting Psalm 110:1.  All of the Pharisees believed that Psalm 110, which was written by King David, was a Messianic prophecy.  Jesus then asked that if the Messiah was only human, and not divine, why would David call Him Lord?  David would not have addressed a mere human descendant as “Lord”.  Jesus was pointing out that the Messiah was not just a son or human descendant of David’s.  The Messiah was also the Son of God and divine.

Jesus was giving them the opportunity to acknowledge Him, and also showing His deity.  The Pharisees, and all the people there, had the opportunity to accept their Messiah, and the Son of God, but they rejected Him.  Today we all have the opportunity to accept Jesus as our Savior, as well.  Jesus is not just a good teacher who lived an exemplary life that we should try to copy.  He is the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity.  If you have not called upon Him as your Savior, accepting His substitutionary death on your behalf, please do so today.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Whose Approval Do We Seek After?

 I Thessalonians 2:1-8

Many people spend their whole lives seeking to get the approval of other people, or trying to please them.  It isn’t always bad to want the approval of others, or to try to please others.  We certainly want to have our boss’s approval.  It is also nice to please one’s parents or spouse, or to get their approval.  However, when seeking to please or get the approval of anyone means we change our actions or behavior from what we know is right to what we know is questionable or wrong, then their approval is certainly not worth it.  In our Scripture today the Apostle Paul shares with the church in Thessalonica about getting approval and pleasing people.

An account of the Apostle Paul’s ministry is recorded throughout the Book of Acts.  We read there of his various missionary journeys around the Mediterranean world.  Frequently he ran into conflict with the Jewish religious leaders, and often had to flee for his life.  This occurred right prior to his arrival to Thessalonica, when he left Philippi, and then again when he had to quickly flee Thessalonica, and then again in Berea.  Paul certainly hadn’t twisted his message to gain these opponents approval.   As he testifies in his Epistle here, he only cared about what one “Person” thought about him, and that was God (vs. 4).  Everything Paul did revolved around what the Father wanted, what He liked, valued, and asked him to to do.

Many preachers today, and throughout history, have twisted the Gospel message they preach in order to please their audience, and also in order to avoid conflict with anyone.  We also know many preachers who have tailored their messages in order to gain big offerings.  That wasn’t the case with Paul.  He was not looking to gain money, fame, or popularity by preaching the Gospel (vs. 3).  Rather, both Paul and his companion Silas had suffered persecution for preaching the Gospel.  His message was true, not false or full of errors.  His lifestyle was pure, not wicked.  His methods were authentic, not deceptive.

In order to avoid the harsh opposition and often life-threatening persecution he faced, Paul could have changed his message in order to gain his opponents approval.  By doing that he could have stayed in one place much longer.  He could have avoided many a beating, stoning, and imprisonment.  He may have gained many more people willing to follow him.  However, Paul was not going to change his message to make it more acceptable.  He did not seek the praise of anyone.  Paul was not some smooth-talking preacher, trying to make a favorable impression.  Nor did he try to get rich in the ministry or seek his own personal glory.  How many ministers today can we say that of?  All too many ministers, especially so many televangelists, are doing exactly that - tailoring their messages for the audience, promoting their own glory, and getting rich.

Do we find ourselves doing the same?  Do we water down the Gospel message in order to make it seemingly more palatable to some we might be talking to?  Are we changing the Gospel message in order to make sure that we do not offend anyone?  As the Apostle Paul said, the only one’s approval that matters is God.  To receive His approval, we need to turn from seeking the approval of others, and allow the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus.  The Lord Jesus did not water down His message.  He did not care whether what He said offended the Pharisees and other religious leaders of His day.  Nor did Jesus preach messages that would bring in big offerings so that He could live a comfortable life.  Rather, Jesus preached God’s message exactly as it was, whether that pleased others or not.  Paul followed that example, as well.

This did not mean that Paul was harsh with the people he ministered to.  On the contrary, Paul treated them with love and gentleness, just like a mother does to her little children (vs. 7-8).  Paul had a gracious spirit.  He was tender and had compassion.  People aren’t likely to believe our message if our lives do not show the love of Jesus.  Our life should reflect His.

If we are pleasing God and living for Him, we don’t have to worry about whether people like what we do or what we say.  Like Paul, let’s be sure that we are seeking God’s approval, and not that of others, when we tell others the truth from the Word of God.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Two Paths, Two Choices

 Psalm 1

Two very important things in life are, one, which path we choose to go on throughout our life, and two, who we go on that path with.  When we choose those wisely, our lives can be very blessed.  But if we make a bad choice with either, the results can be quite tragic.  In our psalm for today, the Word of God counsels us to be sure to make the right choice in both our path through life, and in whom we associate with.

Psalm 1 is a short, brief psalm, but it contains a lot of godly instruction and wisdom, and is one that every believer should heed throughout their life.  In life there are two roads we can choose from to follow.  We can choose to follow the way of the wicked or the way of the righteous.  God will provide, protect, and nourish those who choose to follow the way of the righteous.  Following God’s way has rewards that supersede the seeming benefits of the way of the wicked.

We also have the choice of who we associate with in life, and that choice is equally important to the believer (vs. 1).  The danger of making close friends with those who do not follow God, those who mock His ways, is the real chance of becoming indifferent to God and His will.  We need to have friends who build up our faith, not tear it down.  Friends should help us spiritually, not hinder us.  They should draw us closer to God.

Making close friends with the ungodly has just the opposite effect.  Walking with the ungodly erodes our spiritual life, leading to spiritual compromise.  From casually walking with them, before we know it, we will take an ungodly stand.  That will lead to sitting with the scornful, a permanent settling down, dwelling, and abiding with them.  It becomes a way of life.  The scorner and scoffer makes light of what is sacred.  They are a blasphemous crowd.  If we begin walking with the wicked, it is easier to slip into the habitation of the scoffer and scorner.  We must refuse to listen to ungodly advice, or the false philosophies so popular in the world.

The spiritually blessed person will instead, read, study, and meditate on God’s Word (vs. 2).  He is deeply rooted in Scripture and in prayer (vs. 3).  In order to follow God closely, we need to know what He says.  The blessed man is one who has accepted the righteousness of Jesus.  He avoids evil influences and delights in God’s Word.  He is, as Jesus says, one who abides in Him.  When we abide in Christ, we can’t help but bear good fruit (vs. 3).

If our life is filled with worthless things of the world, it bears bad fruit and is discarded (vs. 4).  The psalmist says that the ungodly are like chaff.  Chaff is often used in Scripture to represent the lost that will be blown away.  Good grain represents the saved, who have a fruitful life.  Chaff is without value.  It is only good to be thrown away.  The ungodly are like worthless chaff.  His destiny is God’s judgment.

When we apply God’s wisdom to our life, we will bear good fruit and we will receive God’s approval.  God judges us on the basis of our faith in Him and His revealed will.  Those who obey His will are blessed, like a healthy fruit-bearing tree (Jeremiah 17:5-8).  Those who don’t, have meaningless lives that blow away like dust in the wind.

As we see through studying this psalm, there are two paths in life.  There is God’s way of obedience, which leads to blessings and eternal life in heaven.  Then there is the path of rebellion which leads to destruction.  If we want God to protect us, provide for us, and nourish us, why pursue the way of the wicked and unsaved, which leads to God’s judgment?  Everyone has to choose one or the other path, so we need to choose carefully which path we take.  One leads to an eternity in heaven, the other to an eternity in hell.  The choice is ours to make.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Some Words Of Wisdom

Proverbs 25

Most of us could use more wisdom in our life.  God placed in His Word, the Bible, a book of wise and godly sayings that if we heed and follow will help keep our life on a good and wise course.  Many of these were compiled by King Solomon.  Let’s open the 25th chapter of the Book of Proverbs, and look at several verses, seeing what we can learn today.

In verse 2, we read that it is the glory of God to conceal a matter.  Throughout the Bible we see that God often reveals things to His children, often through the prophets, and then through His Son, Jesus Christ.  God reveals Himself through His Word, through nature, and through circumstances.  But sometimes He chooses to conceal Himself, too.  God did not reveal everything to His prophet Elisha when the Shunamite woman’s son had died (II Kings 4:27).  Moses knew that God sometimes keeps things hidden (Deuteronomy 29:29), as did the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 45:15).  There are times God intentionally hides His face from us.  He does this so we will learn to trust Him and to live by faith, instead of relying so often on our feelings.

We have a warning against pride in verses 6-7.  Jesus echoed these words when He ate at the house of a Pharisee, and saw how people tried to get the best seats at the table (Luke 14:7-11).  We should not think so highly of ourselves all the time, trumpeting our accomplishments.  Self-seeking and pride will only bring one down.  Don’t seek honor for ourselves.  Instead, quietly and faithfully accomplish the work that God gave us to do.   We should be more concerned with what God can accomplish in us, through us, and even despite us.  God promises to exalt the humble, but bring down the prideful (I Peter 5:5-6).

In verses 8 - 10 we read that the man with a contentious spirit is quick to go to court.  King Solomon tells us that instead, he would be better off to talk his problems over with the other person.   Otherwise by being quick to file a lawsuit, he exposes himself to public shame in court when everything comes to light.

Next in this chapter we read that “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (vs. 11).  Fitly spoken words are right words, precise words needed for the occasion.  They are not words spoken that stab us or crush us.  Rather, they are words that uplift us, fill us with hope and courage, and that make us feel loved.  There are words that can purify our thoughts, and bring us into God’s presence, and then words that tempt us into sin.  Fitly spoken words are the former, not the latter.  The right words will enter into our hearts and help us to bear fruit for God.

Have you ever made the mistake of putting your faith and trust in someone, only to have them let you down?  They proved very faithless, and probably never even cared about your need to begin with.  Solomon tells us here in verse 19 that faith is only as good as its object, and an unfaithful man is useless.  When we put our faith and trust in Jesus we will never be let down.

Generally it is uplifting to hear good, cheerful words from others, or to listen to a cheerful song.  However, there are some times when our hearts are just too heavy, and those words or songs are not really welcome.  Solomon compares it to pouring vinegar on baking soda.  Maybe you did science experiments as a child, making a home-made volcano by adding those two ingredients.  If you did, you know what happens then!  Solomon’s word of wisdom here is to be sensitive to others with untimely cheerfulness.

As the chapter closes, we have one more important word of wisdom in verse 28.  When we don’t bother with self-control, we leave ourselves wide open to our enemies, especially spiritual enemies, just as a city without a good strong wall was in times past.  Don’t let the walls of our character start to crack and the bricks to start to fall.  If we don’t keep a careful check of our temper and our character, before we know it, our life starts to crumble and fall apart.  With God’s help, we need to keep our spirit and character under His rule.  The best way to do that is to study and keep His Word in our heart, and a daily chapter from the Book of Proverbs is a good practice to follow.

Friday, October 23, 2020

An Enemy's Trick Question

Matthew 22:15-22 

How many of you like to pay taxes?  Let me see a show of hands.  I don’t see too many hands raised!  There is probably a universal dislike of paying any type of tax, whether it is income tax, real estate tax, a sales tax, or any other type.  No one likes having to pay it, and this dislike has been around for countless centuries.  In the Gospels we read of a particular abhorrence for the tax collector.  He was grouped in with some of the worst of sinners.  In today’s Gospel reading we read of a trick question some of Jesus’s enemies asked that has to do with the paying of taxes.  Let’s take a look, and see how Jesus responded.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus had been opposed by both of the religious groups of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  They both tried to entrap Jesus in His words with trick questions, whereby they might have grounds to arrest Him, and possibly execute Him.  As our passage opens, Jesus had finished telling several parables which the Pharisees felt were directed towards them, and they were definitely not happy.  In order to get some more support, the Pharisees decided to join forces with the Herodians (vs. 15-16).  The Herodians were a political party of the Jews who supported the Roman-backed Herodian dynasty.  The Pharisees did not like them because of their support of Rome.  The fact that both of these groups were working together to bring Jesus down showed just how much they hated and feared Him.

Representatives from both groups came up to the Lord Jesus, having decided on a question that they felt, no matter what way He answered, either group could ensnare Him.  They decided to ask Jesus a question about taxes.  Should the Jewish people have to pay taxes to Rome?  (vs. 17). As we all know, no one likes paying taxes, even if they support and like their government.  However, the Jewish people hated that they were under Roman rule, and paying taxes to Rome was even more odious to them.  The particular tax that they were referring to here was a poll tax, taken annually, where each person was to pay a denarius.  This money was then used to finance the occupying army, something the Jews hated as well.  If Jesus answered “no”, the Herodians would charge Him with treason.  If He answered “yes”, the Pharisees would accuse Him of disloyalty to the Jewish nation, and the people would look less favorably on Him, which they wanted to see happen.

These two groups could not out-smart the Lord Jesus.  Being the second Person of the Trinity, He knew what was going on in their hearts and minds.  He asked to see the coin that was used in payment.  The denarius was equal to a day’s wage for a Roman soldier, and it had the image of Tiberius Caesar on it (vs. 19-21).  Jesus answered that they were to give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to give to God what belongs to Him.

The Christian should give obedience to Caesar in Caesar’s realm.  The things that are God’s are things that do not belong to Caesar, and should be given only to God.  Jesus acknowledged Caesar’s right to assess and collect taxes, and Christians should pay them.   The Roman government did bring some benefits with it.  They built the best roads the world had ever known at that time.  The standard of living went up a degree in countries under their rule, and the people were protected from foreign invasion.

As Christians, we have two citizenships.  Our citizenship in the nation we live in requires that we pay money for the services and benefits we receive.  Our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven requires that we pledge to God our primary obedience and commitment.  We are to give the civil magistrates all that is due to them, as long as it does not interfere with the honor and obedience that is due to God.

The answer Jesus gave stumped both groups (vs. 22).  They would not be able to use this against Jesus to bring Him down.  It is also an answer for us, as we grumble about taxes and obedience to our own governments.  Give to Caesar what belongs to him, and give to God what belongs to Him.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Enthusiasm In The Midst Of Persecution

 I Thessalonians 1:1-10

When people take a new course of action in their life, and then start to receive a lot of negative feedback from others, those people will often turn back and stop what they had started doing.  They especially do if violence or persecution results. We don’t find too many who rejoice in that persecution, and jump wholeheartedly into this new course in their life. As we take a look today into the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, we will see how these new believers proclaimed their faith in Jesus, despite persecution, and were telling the whole world about Him.

The Apostle Paul, along with his companions Silas, Timothy, and others had come to the city of Thessalonica from the city of Philippi.  In Philippi they had been beaten and imprisoned for preaching the Gospel, and then told quite plainly to leave town (Acts 16:11-40).  The missionary team headed down the road and came to Thessalonica, where they began again to tell people the Good News about Jesus.  Paul and Silas established a vibrant church in this city.  They stayed for only a few short weeks, at most a month or two, before they had to leave again because of strong persecution against them, fleeing for their lives (Acts 17:1-10).  It was not that long after this, in approximately 50 AD, that Paul wrote this Epistle to the believers there, to bring them encouragement.

These new Thessalonian believers who remained living in the city faced their share of persecution, both from the Jews and the Gentiles.  Paul encouraged them by reminding them of their faith, love, and their hope (vs. 3).  Despite persecution, the Thessalonians continued to serve God with gladness, their testimony spreading all over the Mediterranean world (vs. 6).  A life of faith in the Lord Jesus may bring adversity, but through it we gain a deeper relationship with Him.  If we, like them, remain firm in our faith, we can become a powerful witness to others, just as they did (vs. 7).  Everyone who heard of their testimony despite being persecuted were inspired, and they became an example to imitate.

These new believers had joy in the midst of suffering.  That is one evidence of the reality of their salvation.  Like seed sown into good ground, their faith grew and blossomed.  They were not like seed sown in the thorns, or seed sown in shallow soil, where their cares, worries, or troubles would choke them out, or they would wilt and die.  Instead, they were passionate about their love for Jesus, and told everyone about Him, regardless of the consequences (vs. 8).

Some of the Thessalonian believers came from a Jewish background.  Others came from a Gentile background, where they had previously worshipped many false gods and goddesses.  Only the work of the Holy Spirit could show the people that the Lord Jesus is not one deity among many in a pantheon, but that Jesus alone is the Savior of the world, and the only true God (vs. 9).

There are still some people around the world who bow to actual idols and worship them.  There are many more who have “modern idols” in their life, which can also be worshipped.  These can be hobbies, food, family, work, fitness, and sports.  Are we very passionate about any of these, but silent about Jesus?  Do we get anxious about these, but indifferent about lost souls?  Do we always make time for these interests, but not for Jesus?  The Thessalonians turned from their idols, whether literal or any other, and turned to serve God with enthusiasm.

As Paul closed this first chapter in his letter to these very passionate and enthusiastic group of new Christians, he reminded them of the imminent return of the Lord Jesus (vs. 10).  He told them, and us as well, to wait with expectation, looking ahead in faith to the fulfillment of His promise to return.  How faithful are we in eagerly waiting for Christ’s return? Does the thought of its approaching ever cross our mind?  Let’s be like the Thessalonians, enthusiastic about our faith, and also eagerly awaiting the Savior’s return.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Different Ways To Sing God's Praise

 Psalm 96

Today’s Scripture brings us to our weekly psalm.  The Book of Psalms has often been called the Bible’s hymnal.  Just as many hymns are ones of praise, so too are many of the psalms.  Today’s psalm is one that calls on all of God’s people to proclaim their praises to Him.

Truly praising the Lord requires us to concentrate on His character.  It would be rather difficult for us to praise someone that we don’t know anything about.  We have to get to know someone before we are able to say anything accurate and honest about them.  When we meet someone that we begin to become very fond of, we want to learn everything we can about that person.  As we learn more and more about the Lord God, we see that every aspect of His character is worthy of all of our praise - His love, His mercy, justice, truth.  The list would be endless.  As we look out upon God’s majestic creation, we cannot fail to give Him praise.

What are some of the many ways that we can show forth our praise to the Lord God?  One way is to sing our praises to Him.  We often do that during church services when we sing the hymns and worship songs.  Of course this doesn’t have to be limited to just our time at church.  We can sing praise hymns wherever we are, and can even make up our own.  Another way is during our time of prayer to the Lord.  Prayer includes intercession, or prayers for the needs of others and ourselves, confession of our sins, thanking the Lord for what He’s done for us, and then also prayers of praise and worship.  None of us would be happy if the only conversation someone had with us was when they came to ask favors from us.  If the only time our children spoke with us was when they wanted or needed something, we might feel hurt or even annoyed.  In the same way it is good and proper to speak words of praise and worship to the Lord when we pray.

Another form of praising the Lord is by repenting from what is wrong in our lives, giving up all of the self-sufficiency we cling to, and also forsaking all of the fears we  hold in our hearts.  Living a life that honors the Lord is a type of praise to Him.  Most people would not want to do anything that would bring shame or dishonor to their family, or the family name.  Some people even feel that same way about bringing shame to their university, or even their high school.  Instead, we wish our actions to bring a sense of pride to our family.  This should be even more evident for the Lord.  When we live godly, Christ-honoring lives, that brings a type of praise to the Savior.

There is an additional way that we can show our praise to the Lord, and that is by telling others about Him.  Frequently young people who are in love, and even older folks too, can’t stop talking about their sweetheart.  All those around are soon told everything wonderful about their loved one.  There is no escaping all the tales of this spectacular, one-of-a-kind love.  As great as this person may seem to be, they are only human, and do have some flaws.  However, we have a Savior who has no fault in Him.  He even gave His life for us at Calvary.  Yet so often Christians are silent about their faith and their love for the Savior.  The Psalmist today is overwhelmed by all that God has done in his life and the lives of others.  When we see how great God is, we need to tell others about Him.

Genuine praise includes a testimony to others of God’s plan of redemption.  Twice in his psalm, the author tells us to tell “the nations” about the Lord God (vs. 3, 10).   That doesn’t mean that we have to go and become foreign missionaries.  We don’t have to travel around the world in order to tell others about Jesus.  However, we should tell our family, our friends, our neighbors, and anyone we come into contact with.  We are instructed to tell others of the good news of God’s salvation each day (vs. 2).  God has chosen us to declare His wonders among all people (vs. 3).

The psalmist closes with a reminder that one day soon the Lord will come (vs. 10-13). He will reign over the world then, judging the people with righteousness.  All of creation awaits that day, and that is something that we, too, can sing praises to Him for.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Peace For The Future

Isaiah 44:28 - 45:7

None of us can say for certain what will happen in our life.  We can make plans, such as what we will study at the University, what career path we wish, where we want to live, etc.  Often, though, those plans don’t come about.  We cannot look down the path of the future.  Sometimes we can make an educated guess as to what might happen, such as warning that if people keep acting in a specific way, this or that event will happen.  But we can’t know for certain.  However, the Lord God does know everything that will happen.  Nothing takes Him by surprise.  He is never caught off guard. God knows who will win my country’s next presidential election in a few weeks.  He knows who will be ruling various countries in ten years, in a hundred years.  In our Scripture passage today from the Book of Isaiah, God named a ruler several hundred years before he was even born.  Let’s take a look.

Isaiah was a prophet from the southern kingdom of Judah.  His prophetic ministry to the people was from approximately 740 BC to 681 BC.  Many of the messages that God gave Isaiah were to admonish the people, exhorting them to repent and return to worshipping only Yahweh, and following His ways and Laws.  Some other of his messages were prophetic in nature.  Isaiah didn’t just make these predictions up.  They came to him by inspiration from God, as God knows the future from the past.  He has existed from all eternity, and will exist eternally into the future.  He sees and knows all, and chose to reveal some future events to His prophets.  God gave Isaiah the prediction of the fall of Jerusalem more than 100 years before it happened in 586 BC.  He also revealed to His prophet the rebuilding of the Temple over 200 years before it happened.

In our Scripture passage today, Isaiah spoke God’s prophetic message which revealed the name of a ruler of a great world empire centuries in advance, an empire that didn’t even exist at the time.  God called the name of Cyrus II, known as Cyrus the Great, the ruler of the great Persian Empire (vs. 44:28, 45:1).  Isaiah made this prophecy over 150 years before the time of Cyrus.  The main world power at the time of Isaiah was the Assyrian Empire.  They would be superseded by the Babylonian Empire, which had yet to become a major power at this time.  They, in turn, would be supplanted by the Persian Empire, which did not exist at the time of Isaiah. At over 2,000 miles across, the Persian Empire would become the largest empire the world had known by that time, but would later be supplanted by the Greek Empire. There is no way that Isaiah could have known any of this with his own knowledge.  Yahweh knew this, though.  He could call the very ruler by name who would give the royal decree that the Jewish people could return to their homeland and rebuild Jerusalem and Temple, hundreds of years before it would happen.  Cyrus issued a decrease to rebuild the Temple in 538 BC, well over a hundred years after Isaiah would have died.

What makes this so special?  Seeing this in Scripture can be reassuring to us that God knows the future.  Nothing takes Him by surprise.  He is always in control.  Events that can cause us fear or anxiety can happen, but we can rest assured that Yahweh is still on His throne.  God is Power over all powers.  He anoints whom He chooses for His special tasks (vs. 1).  He is omnipotent.  Yahweh is in full control.  Whatever He allows into our life is for a reason.  God has a purpose for everything He does or permits (vs. 5-7).  He is sovereign (Psalm 22:28).  He is in absolute control of the universe, nature, and the political world, along with each of our individual lives.  He is ruler over light and darkness, over prosperity and disaster.  God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).

God spoke this prophecy, not just for the Jewish people, letting them know what would happen with them, but also for Cyrus so he would know that Yahweh, the one and only true God, was giving him victorious conquests (vs. 3).  Cyrus would know that the God of Israel was with him.  These prophecies show the whole earth, letting them know that the Lord God, alone, is the true and only God (vs. 6).

In the world lately there have been pandemics, catastrophic storms and natural disasters, and political unrest, but we don’t have to panic or live in fear.  God will take care of the situations that concern us.  We don’t have to worry.  He has the future in His hands.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Clothed In Jesus's Righteousness

 Matthew 22:1-14

Have you ever gone to a social gathering of some sort, and found yourself dressed totally inappropriately?  Perhaps this was a casual, backyard affair, yet you came dressed in a formal suit and tie, or evening dress. Or even worse, it was a very formal social gathering, but somehow you came dressed very casually in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops.  How embarrassed and ashamed you would feel!   In our Gospel passage for today, Jesus tells a parable of a wedding, and what happened to the guest who was not dressed in the appropriate manner.  Let’s take a look, and see what the Lord would teach us.

As Jesus addresses the crowds a few days before He would be crucified, He tells them the parable of the wedding feast.  A king had arranged a wedding for his son, and had sent out invitations to attend.  On the day of the wedding he sent his servants out to call the invited guests to come, yet those initially invited wouldn’t come (vs. 2-3).  The king sent some more servants to tell those invited that all was ready and the feast prepared, yet these were also ignored.  Some of the people beat up those servants, and even killed some of them (vs. 4-6).  The apathy and rejection of this royal invitation was a slight and terrible affront to the king.  His righteous and indignant response to these people was to send his soldiers to destroy them (vs. 7).

The king still wanted guests at the wedding, and since those initially invited had so rudely and violently rejected the invitation, he sent servants to invite others.  Many came, and the wedding hall was filled (vs. 8-10).  However, as the king was surveying the guests, he saw one who was not properly attired.  When questioned, the guest had no answer, so the king had him thrown out (vs. 11-13).

In order to properly understand the parable, we must first know something about the customs of a wedding in Biblical times.  Invitations would be sent out way in advance, and then when the actual day arrived, servants of the wedding host would come to escort those invited.  They would also be provided with the proper wedding attire, usually an elegant robe to put on.  To refuse to wear the robe provided was an insult and slight to the host.  Without the proper attire, they weren’t allowed in, and if they somehow did manage to enter, they would be escorted out when found dressed in the wrong clothing.

The king of this parable is God, and the wedding feast is that for His Son, in the heavenly kingdom.  The invitations were first sent to the people of Israel.  God sent His servants, the prophets, to the people telling them to come, yet they rejected the invitation, attacking the prophets and killing some of them.  Despite this rejection, God had patience and forbearance with those who deliberately spurned Him.  He continued to extend the invitation (vs. 4).  Finally God’s vast patience was finally exhausted, and He judged them (vs. 7).  The invitation to the wedding feast of the Son, the Lamb of God, was then extended to others.  The free offer of the Gospel of salvation, is extended to all indiscriminately (vs. 9).

The wedding garments were supplied by the king.  There was one man who rejected the king’s gracious provisions, which was an insult (vs. 11-13).  This man represents those who identify with God’s Kingdom externally, who profess to be Christians and attend or belong to a local church, yet spurn the garment of righteousness that Christ offers.  They boast of their own righteousness.  They believe their own good works are enough, rejecting Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for them personally.  The wedding clothes picture the righteousness needed to enter God’s kingdom.  Jesus has provided this garment of righteousness for everyone, but each person must choose to put it on in order to enter God’s banquet, which is eternal life.  No one could enter wearing their own clothes.  They had to put on what was provided.  We cannot enter the kingdom with our own righteousness.  We have to put on the righteousness that is provided by Jesus Christ.  We have to accept His righteousness, His sacrifice on the cross for us.

As Jesus ends this parable, He tells us that many are called, but few are chosen (vs. 14).  Many people hear the Gospel message, but few respond.  As I close, I am reminded of the words of a great old-time hymn.  “Are your garments spotless?  Are they white as snow?  Are you washed in the Blood of the Lamb?”

Wednesday, October 14, 2020


 Philippians 4:10-13

A very peaceful scene is that of a happily contented child.  They are peacefully content with what they have, not clamoring for more or something different.  He or she is trusting their parents, and all seems right in their world.  A discontented child, on the other hand, is like a storm that has broken out, whining, crying, and in a terrible temper.  Nothing is making them happy, and they sure are not pleasant to be around.  Unfortunately adults can, and often are just like that as well.  Being content with what we have is the lesson that the Apostle Paul seeks to teach us in our New Testament Scripture passage for this week.

As Paul was closing his letter to the church in Philippi, he spoke about being content in whatever circumstances the Lord brought him to.  At the time of his writing this letter, his circumstances found him sitting in a prison cell because of his preaching the Gospel.  That is not a circumstance that would typically lead to contentment.  Most of us would be whining and clamoring to God as to why He was allowing that to happen.  Over the years of his ministry, Paul said that he had learned to be content no matter what condition he found himself in (vs. 11-12).  If he was in lowly circumstances or luxurious ones, he was content.  If he had a full plate of delicious food, or hardly a bite to eat, he was content.  It didn’t matter to him if he was sleeping on the ground or in the house of a wealthy companion.  Jesus gave him the strength and contentment to be happy in Him (vs. 13).

How can we live like this?  Maybe the plumbing is falling apart in the little ramshackle house we have to live in.  Maybe the job we have is miserable, and doesn’t pay enough.  Maybe we have an inattentive and unloving spouse.  How can we be content in our life, like Paul was?  Paul’s key was to focus on Christ, rather than on the circumstances.  Focus on what God is doing through the situation.  Focus on the omnipotence and goodness of the Lord.  If we spend all of our time looking down at our circumstances, we will forget to look up at God, from whom all blessings flow.  No one enjoys going hungry, or sleeping outside in a rainstorm, or sitting in jail.  However, Paul focused his thoughts on the Lord, not on his outward circumstances.  When we do that, we will have joy and contentment in every situation, like he did.

The way we view our circumstances is more important than the circumstances themselves.  We can be content, no matter what happens in our life, because we can draw our ultimate satisfaction from God, who never changes.  Lasting satisfaction can be found only with Him.  Paul was content because he could see life from God’s point of view.  He focused on the mission that God had given him to do, not on what he should have in life.  Paul had his priorities straight, and he was grateful for everything God had given him.

Contentment is feeling comfortable and secure with where we are and who we are.  Happiness, on the other hand, depends upon circumstances.  Contentment for believers is possible in any situation, because it is anchored in God.  Even though Paul’s circumstances were horrible in prison, and he had endured much abuse, he didn’t complain.  Instead, he was filled with rejoicing, having learned to be content.  Christian contentment is a state of heart in which we would be at peace if God gave us nothing more than He already has given us.

There are some false teachers who teach that a sign of God’s favor is getting everything that we want.  This is never taught in the Bible.  God places us where we need to be in order to do His will and reflect His glory.  We need to trust Him.  He knows what is best for us.  God will always give us the strength to bear the trials in our life.  When those around us know our trials and weaknesses, and can still see God working through us, He is magnified even more through us.

Instead of pleading with God to take away our difficulties, ask for strength and a new perspective.  God may not always deliver us from trials, but we can count on Him to help us learn contentment.  Faith is the way we get out of the negative valley of focusing solely on our circumstances, and find courage and calmness for our life.  When all we have is God, we have all we need.

Monday, October 12, 2020

A Prepared Table

Psalm 23

In the last 3 ½ years since I have been writing these devotionals about the Scripture passages from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer, we have looked at the 23rd Psalm several times.  Psalm 23 is one of the world’s most beloved passages of Scripture.  It is one passage that even unbelievers are usually familiar with.  Today I would like to focus on the last two verses, verses 5 and 6.  We will see how God not only protects and provides for us, but He does so right in front of our enemies, as a testimony of His love for us.

One characteristic of an enemy is that they sure don’t wish us good. They aren’t looking out for our well-being.  On the contrary, they want to see something bad happen to us, and rejoice when it does!  They enjoy kicking us when we’re down, and certainly don’t care or want our needs to be supplied.  David knew plenty of this kind of treatment.  For many years he had to live on the run from King Saul and his men, and also from the armies of Israel’s enemies.  David couldn’t even depend on help or care from his own family.  His brothers put him down, and his own father Jesse didn’t even consider him when the prophet Samuel asked Jesse to have all of his sons gathered.  To his own father, David was a no-account, and wasn’t even considered worth calling to that gathering.

As David penned this psalm, he recounted how on many occasions the Lord had come through for him, and vindicated him in front of his enemies.  God not only delivered him from their hands, He prepared a table for him in his enemies presence (vs. 5).  Would the table set by God be one with paper plates and a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?  I wouldn’t think so!  The table set by God would be a banquet with the best china!  Sometimes this comes in our lifetime, when God will pour His blessings upon us right in front of those who are knocking us down.  God made sure that Samuel had David summoned in front of his family, and there anointed him Israel’s future king.  Later when he actually took the throne, his family was present, as well.  In heaven, all believers will be called to God’s banquet table, and those who were our enemies will see this, as well.

God also anoints our head with oil, and not just a little, but a dousing.  The imagery of anointing is frequently associated with blessing.  Someone who is anointed with oil is sanctified and set apart for a holy purpose, as David was when Samuel anointed him with oil.  Anointing oil is also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, which all believers receive when they accept Jesus as their Savior.  We don’t receive just a tiny portion of the Holy Spirit, He comes to dwell within us.  Our cup runs over.  In the ancient Middle Eastern culture, it was customary to anoint a person with fragrant oil at banquets.  Hosts were expected to protect their guests at all costs.  God offers protection as our Host, even when enemies are surrounding us.

In addition, shepherds of the past would often pour oil on the heads of the sheep to soothe and cleanse any wounds they may get while grazing.  It also often would keep some insects away.  Yahweh is the God of more than enough, providing for our every need.  Our enemies witness the goodness and faithfulness of God poured into our lives.

God is the perfect Shepherd and Host, promising to guide and protect us through life, and bring us into His house forever (vs. 6).  Knowing he was God’s child, David knew he would have close fellowship with Him to the end of his days and beyond.  During life we may not always see goodness and mercy ahead of us.  When we look back, though, we can see all the ways God has helped us.  We can know that wherever the Lord leads us, our ultimate destination is an eternal dwelling place of joy.

The Hebrew word for “follow” in this psalm is “radaph”, which means to run after, chase, hunt, or pursue.  That is how David describes goodness and mercy would go after us, relentlessly hunting us down like a hunting dog going after prey.  That is how God’s love goes after us.  God doesn’t give just goodness alone, for we are sinners and need His mercy.  He doesn’t give mercy alone, for we are fragile, and need His goodness.  Goodness to provide for us, and mercy to pardon us.  They follow us, not just some of the time, but all of our days.  We are securely held in our Shepherd’s nail-scarred hands.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Faithful To His Promises

 Isaiah 25:1-9

There are many things that people fear or dread happening throughout their lives.  People fear an enemy’s attack, whether a personal enemy, or that of a foreign nation in a war.  People fear poverty and the needs that go along with that.  We fear storms, especially here in the U.S. in the last month with the numerous strong hurricanes that have come.  The ultimate fear people have is that of death, whether for ourselves or for loved ones.  In our Old Testament Scripture for this week, the Prophet Isaiah touches on each of these fears, and gives God’s promises to His children.

When people give us a promise there is always the chance that they will fail to keep that promise.  Some people are better at keeping their word then others are, but as fallen humans, no one keeps their word each and every time.  However, we can depend on God to keep His Word, as He is faithful and true (vs. 1).

The people of Israel had many enemies who boasted about how strong and powerful they were, and about their mighty, fortified cities that would never fall.  All through history we have heard the same boasting from various powers, but where are they now?  Ultimately the cities of mankind will fall into ruins, and nations of the earth will be brought low and humbled before God (vs. 2-3).  When Jesus reigns on earth, all the nations from the whole earth will bow before Him giving Him glorification and fear (Philippians 2:10-11).

Other fears that many people have are those of poverty, or of terribly destructive storms that can often lead to poverty (vs. 4-5).  The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God is concerned for the poor, and He will be a refuge for them.  God is a refuge.  He is Someone we can run to when life has become overwhelming, we are in distress and are sinking in our problems.  Jesus never turned a poor person away.  He stated that the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor, to those who rely on God for everything, rather than on themselves (Luke 6:20).   God alone is a refuge from the storm.  He gives strength to the weak, shelter to the homeless, shade to the fainting.  Jesus assumes full responsibility for our needs when we obey Him.

The final fear that people face is that of death.  That is one thing that no one can escape.  Death comes for each and every one of us.  However, that is an enemy that Jesus Christ has defeated, and if we have put our faith and trust in Him, we do not need to fear that, either.  As Isaiah concludes this Scripture passage, he tells us that God will swallow up death, that enemy of ours which has been swallowing up human beings since the days of Adam and Eve (vs. 8).  As followers of Jesus Christ, we have an amazing hope.  It is the hope of eternal life.  One day we will see God face to face.  Death will be swallowed up, and He will wipe every tear away.  The Apostle Paul spoke of the fulfillment of this promise in the resurrection of believers (I Corinthians 15:54).  God will remove all of the sorrow that is associated with death (Revelation 7:17; 21:4).

A veil of ignorance and evil covers the world (vs. 7).  It covers the eyes, like an old-time funeral shroud, blinding us to God’s love.  It is a cloud of gloom.  Without God, we have only darkness, confusion, and despair.  We grope and stumble, unable to see our way.  God promises that He will destroy this shroud.  He will not leave us hopeless.

God has promised a banquet in His heavenly kingdom to all believers and followers of Him (vs. 6).  All people, both believing Jews and Gentiles, will be at God’s heavenly feast.  He always intended for His saving message to go out into the whole world, to all people.  The people who are at this feast are all those who have been saved by faith.  God will remove that veil of ignorance, that death shroud, from those at His banquet.

In closing, we need to remember that God promises to act on the behalf of those who wait for Him.  Believe the promises of God, and trust Him to fulfill them all.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Jesus's Parable Of The Vineyard

Matthew 21:33-46 

The Scripture readings from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer for this week, with the exception of the Epistle selection, have all focused on the image of the vine or vineyard.  Today’s Gospel reading is no exception.  The Old Testament reading earlier this week, from the Prophet Isaiah, focused on God planting a vineyard hoping for good grapes, and instead it brought forth sour or bad grapes.  The psalm reading also spoke of a vineyard, whose walls have been broken down, and the garden trampled.  Each of these pictured the people whom God had chosen to bring His message to the world as the vines, but had instead forsaken Him, so He allowed the vineyard to be uprooted and torn down.  Today’s Gospel reading is a parable that Jesus spoke along the exact same line, about the vineyard workers who rebel against the vineyard Owner.  Let’s see what we can learn from our Lord’s Words.

In brief, the parable speaks of an owner of a vineyard and winepress, which he leases out to workers to tend to, and bring forth fruit and wine.  When the harvest and vintage time comes, the owner sends servants to receive the harvest.  However, those workers beat up the servants, even killing some of them.  He sends more servants, and they get the same treatment.  Finally he sends the son and heir, which they drag out of the vineyard and then kill him.  As mentioned earlier in the week, the Scriptures have frequently used the image of a vineyard for the nation of Israel.

Jesus told this parable during the last week of His life, a few days following His entry into Jerusalem on what we celebrate today as Palm Sunday.  Throughout His ministry many of the Pharisees and other religious leaders had been trying to stop His work, and this accelerated during that final week.   This parable that Jesus told echoes the same message that the psalmist and Prophet Isaiah had given.  The landowner represents God the Father, and the vineyard is Israel.  The workers or vinedressers were the religious leaders of the nation (vs. 33).  The Owner, or God, expected fruit from these workers, or religious leaders.  This represents spiritual evidence of true conversion, which should be the end result of the work of the religious leaders (vs. 34).  The servants sent by the Owner represent the Old Testament prophets sent by God (vs. 34-36).  These were all rejected by the people, particularly by the priests.  They were abused, and many of them killed.

Finally, the Owner of the vineyard sent His Son, which is the Lord Jesus Christ (vs. 37-39).  The religious leaders, like the vineyard workers, took the Son Jesus, brought Him out of Jerusalem, and had Him executed.  Jesus is God’s final emissary.  He has not sent anyone else since Jesus.  When He returns again, the Jewish people will finally recognize Jesus as their final prophet and Messiah sent by God.

Jesus then turned to the Pharisees and asked them what the Owner should do (vs. 40).  These religious leaders pronounced their own judgment, which was also Jesus Christ’s judgment (vs. 41).  The kingdom and all spiritual advantages given to Israel would now be given to “other vinedressers”.  These other vinedressers are the Gentiles, and symbolize the Church, which consists primarily of Gentiles.

This Son, who was killed and thrown out of the vineyard, is also the “chief cornerstone” in God’s redemptive plan (vs. 42).  Jesus quoted to those He told this parable to from Psalm 118:22-23, which relates to His present rejection and His ultimate triumph.  They rejected the real Cornerstone of God who is Jesus, the true Cornerstone of the Church.  Although Jesus was rejected by many of His people, He will become the Cornerstone of His new building, the Church (Acts 4:10-12).  The Church is the “nation bearing the fruit of it” (vs. 43).  The Apostle Peter called the Church a “holy nation” (I Peter 2:9).

Jesus is a “stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” to unbelievers (Isaiah 8:14-15; Isaiah 28:16; I Peter 2:7-8).  Jesus offers mercy to those falling on this stone, to those who fall upon Him in repentance and faith (vs 44).  However if they don’t, He will fall upon them in judgment, and will grind them to powder.  Ideally people should build on the Cornerstone of Jesus who was sent by God.  However, many will trip over this Stone.  At the Last Judgment, God’s enemies will be crushed by the Cornerstone.  Jesus will then become the crushing stone.  He offers mercy and forgiveness now, and promises judgment later.

The question falls to each of us today.  Will we accept God’s Son, Jesus Christ, whom He has sent to redeem us?  Or will we reject Him and fall into judgment and eternal damnation?  Don’t wait to make your decision.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Knowing Christ

 Philippians 3:7-21

Back when I was about 11 or 12 my teachers taught my class a brief course in personal accounting.  This was decades before personal computers, and for one of the lessons we were given ledger books with columns for gains and losses.  We were to record income from an imaginary job, along with imaginary expenditures for several weeks, and hopefully at the end we would not be in the red.   Many people practice a sort of “spiritual accounting” where they tally up all sorts of good deeds, religious rituals, and practices, hoping at the end to balance out.  In our passage today we read what the Apostle Paul came to learn about this.  Let’s take a look.

Prior to coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, Paul had been a very devout Pharisee, meticulously keeping the Old Testament Law.  That was what he felt would earn him a place in heaven.  In his “spiritual accounting books”  things like eating kosher, keeping the Sabbath, being circumcised, obeying every item of the Law would be tallied in the “gains”  or “profit” column.  However, Jesus had shown him that this was not the case.  All of his previous religious rituals were not a profit as he thought (vs. 7-8).  They were in his loss column.  They were worthless and damning.  The only thing that would be in the gain column was knowing the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  Paul knew that his own righteousness, that of religious rituals, ceremonies, and good works, can never save (vs. 9).

To “know” Jesus, as Paul speaks about in verse 10, is not an intellectual knowledge, such as knowing about a historical person, but a knowledge that leads to belief in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection to save us from sin.  Only those who have a saving knowledge of Jesus can become children of God, and dwell eternally with the Heavenly Father.  Nothing will ever be as important as our salvation, and of knowing Christ.

Paul knew that he, like all believers today, was a work in progress (vs. 12-14).  We are to be growing in Christ, seeking to draw closer to Him, and be more obedient.  None of us have reached the goal of perfect Christ-likeness, but like a runner in a race, we pursue that goal.  Our goal, like Paul’s was, should be knowing Christ, and to be all that He has in mind for us.  Just like an athlete in training has a single-minded goal, that is what ours should be.

Paul had made some serious mistakes in his past, particularly having participated in putting Christians to death.  However, he knew that when he accepted Jesus as Savior, those sins were forgiven.  Paul was not going to dwell on his past (vs. 13).  Just because we might have done bad things in our past doesn’t mean that God can’t use us.  Don’t let past mistakes make us discouraged.  Neither should we let past glories make us puffed up.  Instead, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus, and let Him guide us to the finish line.  While it is wise to learn from the past, we shouldn’t live in the past.  We cannot redo or undo past mistakes, but we can press forward and serve God faithfully today, as we become more like Christ.

Paul had been through many physical trials, beatings, jail, and shipwrecks, but the one thing that affected him most, that brought him to tears, was knowing that some people were enemies of the cross (vs. 18).  These people despised the symbol of what happened on that cross - that it was there that Jesus suffered and died for our sins.  Jesus’ cross exposes us for who we really are - hopeless and helpless sinners in need of a Savior.  Paul warned the Philippians, and warns us today, to watch out for these people.  They are false teachers.  Often they pose as friends of Jesus, but teach spiritually dangerous doctrines.  Instead, Paul urges us to follow godly teachers, those who hold to God’s Word, the Bible, in everything they say and do (vs. 17).

In closing this Scripture passage, Paul reminded Christians that our true home is in heaven, not here on earth (vs. 20-21).  We may have very little here on earth, but if we are followers of Jesus, then our real wealth is with Him in heaven, as His co-heirs.  Paul focused his life on striving to be like Jesus, and so should we.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Restore Us, Lord God!

 Psalm 80

In my previous blog, the one I wrote just prior to this, we looked at a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, where he likened the people of Israel to a vineyard that the Lord had planted.  In today’s psalm, written by a man named Asaph, we see a similar comparison, where he pictures the people of Israel as a vine that God has planted.  Let’s look into our psalm for this week.

As our psalm opens, Asaph is praying and calling out to God to come and save the people.  The nation is in some type of crisis, perhaps due to attacks from their enemies.  Asaph prayed that God would rouse Himself, and with His unlimited power and strength, come and rescue His people (vs. 1-2).  He knew that the crisis the country was in was due to the sin and disobedience of the people (vs. 4).  When we go against God’s ways, He is naturally not going to be happy with us.  When we have unconfessed sin in our hearts, God cannot justly respond to our prayers (Psalm 66:18).  Disobedience to God’s Word brings judgment, and throughout the nation of Israel’s history, God was compelled to bring just chastisement upon them.  Asaph compared that to the nation being given bread made from tears to eat (vs. 5).  He pictured the surrounding nations as laughing at Israel because of the difficulties they were going through, perhaps even being overrun by their enemies (vs. 6).  When believers fall into sin, we can be sure that God’s enemies will be laughing.

Asaph then made the comparison of the nation of Israel to that of a vine, which is a common picture throughout Scripture (vs. 8-16).  He pictured God bringing the vine out of Egypt, removing the pagan, idol-worshipping nations, and carefully planting it where it took root and flourished.  However, then the hedges that had surrounded the vineyard had been broken down, and wild beasts had been allowed in to root up the vine, to devour and destroy it.  The vineyard which God had planted had been broken down and burned.  This is the same picture that the Prophet Isaiah gave in his parable of the vineyard, comparing the nation of Israel to a vine that God had planted, but which was then broken down because of their sins (Isaiah 5:1-7).

Both Asaph and Isaiah knew that this happened because of the people’s sins.  The people had turned their back on God and had spurned His Word.  They had made a mockery of all of His commandments, and also had turned to worshipping pagan idols.  God cannot tolerate and bless sin, either back then, nor today.  God will not turn a blind eye to sin today in His Church, either corporately, nor in individual believer’s lives.

Asaph knew this, which is why three times throughout this psalm he called  upon the Lord God to restore His people (vs. 3, 7, 19).  He prayed, “Restore us, O God; Cause Your face to shine, and we shall be saved!”.  This Scripture is a prayer for revival and restoration after the people had fallen away and experienced God’s judgment.  When the people of God, today as well as back then, have fallen into sin, whether individually or as a whole, God cannot look upon them with a pleasant and smiling face.  Before restoration can occur, one must repent  and turn away from sin.  Only then can we be restored to fellowship with the Lord.

Today the Church needs revival.  So many have become complacent and careless to sin, believing that God is accepting and satisfied with their lives and anything they do.  They do not believe that God judges anyone today, and that He is only a God of love and approval.  The Church today, just like the people in Asaph’s day, needs to return to the Lord and to follow His Word.  We do not want to become like the vine described in our psalm, uprooted and torn down, and trampled on by the enemy.  Satan is doing a lot of trampling on the children of God today, and we need to return to the Lord so that His face will shine upon us once more.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Bad Fruit

 Isaiah 5:1-7

I love beautiful flowers and plants, but unfortunately I have no real talent for gardening.  I leave that to others with more ability.  In our Scripture passage for today, from this week’s Lectionary readings from the Book of Common Prayer, the Prophet Isaiah gives a parable about the vineyard which God planted, and unfortunately came up with very disappointing results.  As we look into this message from Isaiah, let’s apply its teachings to our lives.

Isaiah recounts in our passage a message from the Lord of the vineyard that He planted in a garden.  God prepared the ground in a choice area on a fruitful hill, and there He planted His special vineyard.  With all of the care given the plants, the Lord expected it would bring forth good grapes.  However, that was not the case.  Instead of good grapes, ones that would be nice and sweet both for eating and for wine, wild and sour grapes, inedible ones grew.

This parable of Isaiah’s is a parable of judgment.  God is the Gardener, and the nation of Israel is the vine.  Several times throughout Scripture God uses the image of a vine for the nation of Israel.  God had chosen Israel to be His special people in order to bring His message to the rest of the world.  He had carefully brought His people out from slavery in Egypt, and planted them in the very fruitful land of Canaan, delivering them from their enemies, and providing them with all they needed.  However, despite all of God’s love and care, what did they do?  Did they remain faithful to Him?  No, even before they were settled into the Promised Land, they were turning to the false, pagan gods and idols of the surrounding nations.

God’s chosen nation was to bear fruit, to carry out His work of being Yakweh’s emissaries to the world, and to uphold His truth and justice to everyone.  Israel did bear fruit, but it was bad fruit.  They were not spreading the Lord’s message to anyone.  Instead they were becoming idol-worshipping pagans like their neighbors.  They were becoming just as corrupt and wicked.  The good grapes that God had planted had now become wild, sour grapes that no one could eat.

God, the vineyard Owner, had made every conceivable provision for the vine to be productive with good fruit.  He had given the nation of Israel a good, choice area in which to live.  It was their Promised Land.  And just as He had provided for all of their needs throughout the wilderness wandering, He continued to provide for them when they settled in the land.  The Lord was as nurturing and caring towards them as a loving parent is to their child.  As Isaiah said in verse 4 - “What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it?”  The fault did not lie with God.  It lay with the vineyard, which was now giving wild, sour, and useless grapes.

People who own vineyards or orchards, or any other vegetable or fruit garden, when they have a vine, tree, or plant that is not producing, they cut it down.   The Lord God tells us through His prophet Isaiah, what He was going to do with the vineyard (vs. 5-7).  As punishment for her unfruitfulness and unfaithfulness to Him, became desolate and open to any nation to invade her.  Babylon was just one instance.

This message can be applied to believers today.  Today the Lord God has given the Church the responsibility to spread His message to the world, and to be people of truth and justice.  What kind of fruit are we bearing?  Jesus said that “By their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:20).  We are to be known by our fruit.  Are we, for all practical purposes, like wild, sour grapes, grapes that are totally useless to God?  Or are we the type of grapes the Lord desires, sweet and tasty, good for His use?