Monday, November 30, 2020

Is Your Fence Falling Apart?

 Psalm 80

Many people who own their own homes have fences around their property.  Perhaps if they have a garden, they will have a fence around that.  They might have a picket fence made of wood, or a chain-link fence.  A very elegant, though more costly fence is one made of wrought-iron.  Some people use thick hedges to fence in their property.  One thing in common, though, is that these fences are used to keep trespassers and criminals out, and pets and young children in.  Garden fences are to keep hungry, scavenging animals out.  Another thing in common is that all of these fences need to be maintained.  Wooden fences need to be painted, and the wood treated so it won’t rot as easily.  The metal fences have to be checked for rust and other damage.  The hedges need to be clipped and cared for.  In our psalm for today, the psalmist speaks about a figurative fence that surrounded his country, and what happened to it.

Like many Old Testament passages, the Psalmist Asaph has pictured the nation of Israel as a vine that God had brought out of Egypt, and planted in the Promised Land (vs. 8-11).  The vine prospered and grew, and Asaph pictured the Lord putting a hedge around the garden, like a fence, to keep it safe from any harm or danger.  However, now Asaph sees the country being ravished by enemy nations, as if the hedge has been broken down, and wild animals can come in and destroy the vine and garden (vs. 12-13).  This whole psalm is a prayer that Asaph makes.  He pleads with the Lord God, that He would restore the people, replant the vine, and let His face shine again upon them.

If we take a walk through our neighborhoods we might see some people’s fences that are falling apart due to lack of care and maintenance.  There might be some holes or gaps, and perhaps the gate is falling off.  The owner of the property has failed to take care of his fence, and now it is falling apart.  In the case of Israel the figurative fence symbolized the care that the Lord God put around His people.  When the people fell away from God, and instead turned to worship the false pagan gods, the Lord removed His protection, and the figurative fence was torn down.

Unlike fences around our property which might fall apart due to our own lack of care, the fence of God’s protection and care did not fall apart due to any fault of His.  God’s people had removed themselves from His favored protection through their apostasy.  The people needed to be restored and revived.  When that happened, God would turn again to the people, and shine His face upon them again in love and care (vs. 3, 7, 19).

It’s not just the people of Israel that need restoration with the Lord.  In a broader sense, we all need restoration to God, both initially when we get saved, and then for forgiveness from our daily or periodic sins.  Before restoration is possible, we must have repentance from our sins. Repentance involves humbling ourselves, turning away from our sins, and instead turning to God, and receiving His forgiveness.  Then we will see ourselves and our sin more clearly.  When we do, we will be restored to God’s favor and there can be spiritual revival.

We each need to take a look at our life.  Have our spiritual fences been broken down?  Have we neglected to take care of them through daily reading of God’s Word, and fellowship with Him in prayer?  Just as our literal fences keep out enemies or those who seek us harm, our spiritual fences can help to keep the enemy of our soul at bay.  When those fences become weak or damaged, the devil and his minions will come and make havoc in our lives.  A broken down fence will allow sin and the devil to come and draw us away from God.  Let’s be sure that our spiritual fence is strong and in good order, and that God’s face will shine down upon us.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Filthy Rags

Isaiah 64:1-9

Today marks the first Sunday of Advent, the season in the Church’s calendar leading up to the festival of Christmas, where we honor the birth of Jesus the Messiah, and His first coming to earth.  It is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Christ, both at His nativity and also His Second Coming.  Our Old Testament reading for this first Sunday of Advent comes from the Prophet Isaiah.  He has an important message for us, as we seek to prepare our hearts for the coming Messiah.

So many people are under the mistaken belief that their good deeds and good works will earn them a place in heaven.  They like to look at their good works, things like donating to favorite charities, giving a tithe of their income at church, helping out at the local soup kitchen or homeless shelter, helping handicapped or mentally challenged children, and they think they are impressing God.  They take their good deeds out and polish them up like nice shiny silver and gold coins, hoping to present them to God at the end of their life, saying “See!  Look what I’ve done!  I deserve heaven.”   However, as Isaiah says in our passage, all the good deeds we do are in comparison to God as filthy rags (vs. 6).

Isaiah used very strong and graphic words in this passage to describe exactly what all of our good deeds amount to.  They aren’t just like dusty or dirty dust clothes we use to clean up the house, as unclean as that may be.  The Hebrew words Isaiah used were referring to bloody and contaminated bandages and rags soaked in blood and body fluids.  Something that we would cringe at and want removed immediately from our sight.  Isaiah tells us that is what all of our good deeds amount to in God’s sight.  No amount of good behavior can make us righteous in God’s eyes.  Our good behavior only amounts to dirty, polluted rags or bandages in God’s eyes and nothing more (vs. 6).  Something we want to quickly toss away.  Sin makes us so unclean that we cannot approach God, no more than a beggar in rotted rags can come to a king’s table.  The best we do is infected and polluted with sin.

If we come to God, demanding acceptance on the basis of our “good deeds”, God will show that our “righteousness” is nothing compared to His infinite righteousness.  God’s appearance is so intense that it is like a consuming fire that burns everything in its path (vs. 1-3).  Our sins make us so impure that it is only by God’s mercy that we are saved.  If our salvation depended on the good we do, no one would be saved.  Our salvation cannot be bought or earned by us.  It comes by grace alone.  When we see the awe-inspiring character of God, we realize our own condition and need of salvation.   Our only hope is faith in Jesus Christ.  Only He can cleanse us, and bring us into God’s presence.

Isaiah also shared with the people in this passage that there is no other God besides Yahweh, who will act on behalf of those who have put their faith and trust in Him, and who wait upon Him (vs. 4).  The Apostle Paul quoted this verse in his letter to the church in Corinth (I Corinthians 2:9).  When we wait for God in faith, He will act on our behalf, often in ways we cannot even imagine.  The process of seeking guidance from God can be slow, so waiting is important.  Running ahead or manipulating circumstances is a mistake.  The Lord acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.  He has our best interests in mind.  God won’t give His children bad things, only good.  We don’t like to wait.  However, God brings His blessings on those who do.  He is the Divine Potter and we are the clay (vs. 8).  He molds us and shapes us in ways that sometimes hurt.  However, He always deals with us in love.

As we close, we need to remember that no amount of good works will ever make us acceptable in the eyes of God.  It is only by faith and trust in the Lord Jesus that we have acceptance with God.  When we have called upon Jesus as our Savior, then we can trust that God will act on our behalf.  Let’s stop trusting in our own efforts, and instead trust God’s love and mercy for us.

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Sheep And The Goats

Matthew 25:31-46

Do you ever have to divide things into groups?  On laundry day we divide the clothes into light colors, dark colors, and delicates before we wash them.  When it comes time for “spring cleaning”, or before a move, we may go through a lot of our belongings and divide those things we may wish to give to charity or the resale shop from what we want to keep.  We sort through our recipes, keeping the ones we like, and tossing the ones we’ll never try again.  In our Scripture passage today from the Gospel of Matthew, we read of Jesus dividing the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the unrighteous.   Let’s look at the spiritual lessons we can learn.

This discourse from Matthew describes the judgment or separation of the saved from the lost.  This will occur when Jesus returns to earth, right before His millennial reign on earth.  This passage is reminiscent of the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, found in Matthew 13:24-30, where the good grains of wheat are separated from the useless and bad grain, or tares.  Here the sheep, which represent the saved, are separated from the goats, which represent the lost, just as the wheat (the saved) are separated from the tares (the lost).  The saved are invited to come and share the blessings of God’s Kingdom, while the lost are cast into everlasting punishment.

Some people mistakenly believe that this passage describes a “works salvation”, and that it is by doing the works described here that one is granted or merits heaven or not.  That is not so, as all throughout Scripture we read that salvation is by grace alone, and not by any works we do.  Salvation is a gift from God when one accepts Jesus and His sacrifice on our behalf, not something merited by the deeds described in vs. 35-36.  Those good deeds that were commended are the fruit not the root of the believer’s salvation.  The deeds are not the basis for their entrance into the Kingdom.  It is a manifestation of God’s grace in their lives.  These works are evidence of saving faith (James 2:14-26).

How do we treat others, both other believers and needy people in general?  Jesus said that the way we treat the least of His brethren is the way we are treating Him (vs. 40).  When Jesus spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus, He said that when Paul was persecuting Christians he was persecuting Him (Acts 9:1-6; 26:13-15).  How we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, and prisoner reflects our relationship to Jesus.  When someone insults us, or when we help or hurt another, Jesus takes it personally.  Acts of kindness done for His followers will be noted and rewarded.

Verses 34-40 describe the acts of mercy that we all can do everyday.  It doesn't take great wealth or intellectual intelligence to perform these good deeds.  These are simple acts, freely given and freely received.  Jesus wants our personal involvement in caring for others, for us to serve where service is needed.

Jesus then continues, and describes the rewards for those who helped others when there was a need, and the punishment for those who turned a blind eye to someone in need (vs. 34, 46).  God’s Kingdom has been prepared for His people since the foundation of the world.  Jesus said in verse 34 that it was prepared for each believer.

For those who are inclined to believe that God would never send anyone to hell, Jesus was very clear here in describing the lost being sent into everlasting punishment (vs. 46).  The punishment of the wicked is as never-ending as the bliss of the righteous.  The wicked here are not given a second chance, nor are they annihilated.  Those who are there will know that their punishment is just, and that they alone are to blame.

What we do with the Good News of Jesus has enormous consequences.  Both heaven and hell are eternal.  How well do our actions separate us from the pretenders and unbelievers?  When it comes time for Jesus to make the division, on which side will we be put?  The choice is ours, and the results are permanent.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The First Fruit Of The Resurrection

I Corinthians 15:20-28 

Every farmer or gardener likes to see that their crop is growing plentifully, and that the prospects of a nice harvest is good.  It is a happy day when that first fruit of his crop is seen.  Often the farmer or gardener will break off that first fruit, whether it is an apple, a berry, ear of corn, or whatever it is, and sample it, to see if it is good, to see what the prospects of the remainder of his crop will be like.  In our New Testament Scripture passage for this week, Paul speaks of Jesus being our spiritual first fruit.  Let’s look into these verses and see what he means by this.

In Biblical times the people of God had a Festival of First Fruits, which was when the people brought some of the year’s first crop to God with prayer that He would make the rest of the crop bountiful.  Paul tells us that in the same way Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection (vs. 20).  We can have full confidence  that just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we can be sure that we, as believers and followers of Him, will be raised as well (Romans 8:23).

Jesus was not the first to be raised from the dead.  The prophet Elijah raised a widow’s son (I Kings 17:17-24).  The prophet Elisha raised the Shunamite woman’s son (II Kings 4:18-37).  A man was raised from the dead when his body touched the bones of Elisha (II Kings 13:21).  Jesus raised several people from the dead, including His good friend Lazarus (John 11:1-44), Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:49-56), and the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:11-17).  However, Jesus was the first to never die again.  Each of the others had to die again a second time.  Jesus is the forerunner for us, proof of our eventual resurrection to eternal life.

Sin came into the world through Adam’s fall (vs. 21-22).  Adam’s sin brought death to all people.  That is a curse which we all inherited from him.  Death came to each of us because of Adam’s sin.  However, we have eternal redemption through Jesus Christ, who gave His life for us.  Jesus’s resurrection will bring resurrection to all who believe Him.  We can choose to remain in sin or accept the forgiveness Jesus offers.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, we can trust that God will also raise our bodies again when He returns a second time (vs. 23).  Jesus was the firstfruit from the dead, a sign of a bountiful harvest to come.

God hates sin.  He also hates death.  God hates it so much that He sent His Son Jesus to destroy death by dying and rising again.  Satan has held the power of death ever since the fall of Adam in the Garden.  Jesus has broken the power of Satan, who held the power of death, at the Cross (vs. 26-27).  The resurrected Christ will permanently conquer all evil, including death.  Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross, and in the Last Days He will defeat Satan and all evil (vs. 24-26).  Death is called our last enemy.  The Lord will have the last word on this fight.

The fruit that led to the Fall of man was hanging on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  That fruit was beautiful to look at, and led to Adam and Eve’s temptation, sin, and their fall.  The tree that led to our redemption was brutal and certainly not pleasant to look at.  That was the Cross of Calvary.   Jesus hung upon that Cross, bloody and bruised, as He suffered a horrific death.  That was certainly not a pleasant sight, so different from the Forbidden Fruit in the Garden of Eden.  The one fruit, though pleasant to look at, brought death.  The other, from Calvary’s Cross, brought salvation and life.

Monday, November 23, 2020

A Hard Heart Or A Thankful One

 Psalm 95

This week, here in the United States, we will be celebrating our national Thanksgiving holiday.  Despite it having been a difficult year for so many people around the world, there is always much that each of us, everywhere, should be grateful to the Lord God for.  Giving of thanks is not something that we do only one day of the year, but instead should be something done 365 days of the year.  Our psalm selection for this week is a call to the people of God to give Him thanks and praise.  Let’s take a look.

Occasionally we all experience times when we don’t feel like praying or giving thanks, and we don’t know what to say to God, especially if we are going through a very difficult and trying time.  For many people, this whole year has been like that.  At those times we can start by actually counting all of our blessings.  No matter how difficult or trying circumstances we may be in, there is always something that we can be thankful for.  Counting our blessings will carry us away from our worries, trials and concerns.  When we count the blessings we have been given, including even the little, everyday blessings and things we are thankful for, our focus will shift from our problems on to the Father’s graciousness and love.

Thanksgiving is nothing less than the proper prelude to worship.  Psalm 95 places thanks before worship.  We cannot properly worship without a joyful and thankful heart towards the Lord.  Thanksgiving is the act of dressing properly to be in God’s royal court.  We should not go into the presence of God without praise and thanksgiving to Him.

The psalmist begins his praise by using a metaphor for God, by calling Him the “Rock of our salvation” (vs. 1).  This hearkens back to the time in the wilderness, after leaving Egypt, when the Lord God used Moses to bring water out of the rock (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:1-13).  Paul informs us that the Rock in the wilderness was a type for the Lord Jesus (I Corinthians 10:4).  The psalmist continues on in verse 4 by proclaiming that God holds the “deep places of the earth”.  Yahweh was not a local god like the false, pagan idols, who were often just local deities, and which were usually put up in high places.  He is the Creator and Ruler of the whole earth.

It is good to remember that the Holy Spirit has brought all believers in the Lord Jesus into the fold of the Great Shepherd (vs. 6-7).  The psalmist calls for us to bow and kneel before God.  Sometimes it is good to get into a humble posture (if one physically can), to remind us of the Lord’s majesty.

The psalmist then warns us to abandon our stubborn ways with the call that God gives, “Today, if you will hear His voice” (vs. 7).   He reminded his readers of the Israelites' past. They had rebelled against God at Meribah, in the wilderness (vs. 8-9).  They had been complaining over and over about the lack of water, and they had no faith in God to provide for them.  They tested Him there, desiring to go back to Egypt.

The “rest” mentioned in verse 11, was originally the Promised Land, at the end of the 40 years wandering in the wilderness.  In the New Testament it is applied to salvation by grace (Hebrews 3:7-4-11).  Ungrateful hearts will keep us from God’s blessings and entering His rest.  Also this happens by not worshipping Him, hardening our hearts against Him, and testing Him with our doubts.  God sternly warns us against having a hardened heart (Hebrews 4:5-11).  A hardened heart is useless and dangerous to have.  Nothing can restore it and make it useful.  The Israelites were so convinced that God couldn’t help them that they lost all faith in Him.  A hard-hearted person is so stubbornly set in their ways.  They resist God long enough, and they won’t turn to Him.  An artist or sculptor does not want to come to their studio and find their clay has gotten hard.  They cannot work with it or use it.  If we leave bread out it gets hard and cannot be eaten.  It is then thrown out.  God cannot use a hard heart.

This week, let us follow the pattern of Psalm 95.  Let us come to the Lord God with worship and thanksgiving for all that He has done for us.  And let us also heed God’s warning to not fall victim to a hardened heart.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Our True Shepherd

 Ezekiel 34:11-17

If you were lost and were missing, wouldn’t you want someone to notice and be concerned?  Most people would want someone to start searching for where you were, and bring you back to safety.  Maybe some of you can remember back to when you were lost as a child, and your parents had to search for you.  Perhaps as a parent one of your children wandered off, and you were now the one doing the searching.  In our passage today from the prophet Ezekiel we read of how God, as a shepherd, is searching for His sheep, His people.

The shepherd is a familiar image all throughout Scripture.  David was a shepherd in his youth, and then was a type of shepherd as the king of Israel.  The prophets frequently compared the priests and religious leaders of the country to shepherds for the people.  Some were compared as being good shepherds for the people, but the prophets called many more of them bad shepherds for leading the people astray rather than properly instructing them in the true ways of the Lord.  In the New Testament the apostles, when writing the Epistles, calls the pastors and leaders of the church shepherds, and like the prophets of the past, instructs them to lead the people faithfully in the ways of the Lord.

As Ezekiel opens his message, he lets us know that God is our true Shepherd (vs. 11).  He will search out and find His sheep, all true believers.  Like sheep out in the field which have wandered away from the safety of the flock, God will search them out and bring them back into His fold.  This passage of Ezekiel is very reminiscent of Psalm 23, where the Lord is portrayed as our Shepherd.

Just as in the past when there were false religious shepherds leading the people astray, there are these same false shepherds today.  These self-indulgent religious leaders seek only their own good and profit, and not the care of the sheep.  We even have a term taken from the image of a shepherd, “fleecing the flock”, when pastors or other religious leaders take advantage of the people, especially when they become rich at the expense of the people they are to be spiritually leading.  God has promised He will judge these false shepherds.  He will meet the needs of His people, His sheep.

The ultimate fulfillment of these verses can be found in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is called the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-14).  The Lord acts for our benefit and His glory.  He feeds us what will give us health and carries us in His arms (Isaiah 40:10-11).  Jesus is the Great Shepherd who gave His life, shed His Blood, to establish an everlasting covenant for us with God (Hebrews 13:20).  He is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, leading those sheep who have gone astray back to the Father (I Peter 2:25).  Today’s pastors and other religious leaders, who are in a sense under-shepherds, are to follow the example of the Chief Shepherd in caring for God’s sheep (I Peter 5:1-4).

For a brief while our wandering from God may bring some kind of thrill, but not for long, just as a wandering sheep may find some seeming pleasure away from the flock, but it ultimately is dangerous.  We need to repent and ask forgiveness, and instead focus on God’s directions in the Bible so we are better able to walk the right path.  When we stray, God will guide us back to safety.

The Good Shepherd is watching over the sheep of His flock.  Just as sheep don’t always see the shepherd, we cannot see Him, but He sees us.  We can trust in God’s watchful care.  The Lamb who died to save us is the Shepherd who lives to care for us.

I close with the words of a much loved mid-19th century hymn by Henry Baker:

The King of love my Shepherd is,

Whose goodness faileth never,

I nothing lack if I am His,

And He is mine forever.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Well Done, Good And Faithful Servant

 Matthew 25:14-30

Every once in a while a parent or teacher will give a child a work assignment to do while they are out of the house or classroom.  They expect them to work on it while they are away, and that it will be completed when they return.  Sometimes that happens with your boss at work.  He may be away on a business trip for a while, and expects a certain job assignment to be done and ready when he returns.  A good worker or student will be diligent, and ready to present their work when the boss returns.  Today’s parable contrasts this worker with one who has nothing to present to the boss when called.  Let’s see what we can learn today.

Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples this parable.  It is a parable illustrating the tragedy of wasted opportunity.  The servants of the master represent believers who are given levels of responsibility with the work they are to do for the Lord (vs. 14-18).  The man going on the journey is Jesus, who has returned to heaven for a time.  He expects faithfulness from the believers while He is away.

Each servant is given a certain amount of talents.  A talent was a measure of weight, designating a value of money.  A talent of gold was more valuable than a talent of silver.  The master divided the money among his servants according to their ability.  No one received more or less than they could handle.  Their failure to bring a return to the master with increase could only come from their willful disobedience and dislike for the master.

God has given to each of us Christians resources to use to the best of our ability for Him.  God has a plan for every believer to pursue, and He has gifted each of His children specifically for that purpose.  There is no place for laziness.  The question we must put to ourselves right now is, how will we use what we’ve been given?  The two wise and diligent servants put what they were given to good use, and they had something to show when the master returned.  The lazy one, the one who was content to just sit back and do nothing while the master was away, had absolutely nothing to produce when he returned.

When the Lord, our Master, returns He will want to see what we have done for Him with what we have been given.  The diligent and faithful workers were commended and given rewards (vs. 20-23).  The one given the five talents and the one given the two talents were each given the same reward because they were each faithful in working with what they were given.  The reward is based on faithfulness, not on results.  Some Christians have been given the resources to be great, world-wide evangelists or famous Christian authors.  Others are just a Sunday School teacher in a tiny church.  One may win thousands upon thousands of souls to Christ, the other maybe one or two.  The reward we each will receive will be based on faithfulness with what we have been given, not on the number or amount of results.

Even though our place, as believers, in heaven is secure, the way we live our lives does greatly matter.  We will have to give an account of what we have done with whatever God has entrusted to us.  Everything we have is a gift from Him, such as our time, skills, spiritual gifts, etc.  How are we investing them?  We must not make excuses to avoid doing what God calls us to do.  We really must obey willingly.

Those who invest the resources the Lord has given them by serving God well will be rewarded.  Those who don’t will be punished (vs. 29-30).  God rewards faithfulness.  Those who bear no fruit for God’s Kingdom cannot expect to be treated the same as those who are faithful.

Will we hear a commendation from Jesus?  More than anything, I want to hear Jesus say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  Let’s be good and faithful servants!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Light And Darkness

 I Thessalonians 5:1-10

Have you ever been caught totally by surprise by an event or occurrence?  Sometimes these surprises can be pleasant, like a surprise birthday party or an unexpected visit by a dear friend.  Other things that take us by surprise can be very unpleasant, such as when you find that you have been robbed, either while you were out or overnight while you were asleep.  You come home from an evening out, or wake up in the morning and find that your valuables have been stolen.  If only you had known in advance that the thief was going to hit your house, you would have made sure that your doors were locked, maybe even getting stronger locks.  You would have made sure that the windows were all closed and tightly locked.  You would also have been ready there to catch the crook, alert and prepared!  In our Scripture passage today Paul warns us of the need to be ready when our Lord returns, and not be caught off guard and unprepared.

Many believers in the very early church thought the Lord Jesus would return in their lifetime.  Paul taught them that no one knows when He will return.  However, with that in mind, he also warned that we all need to be expectantly waiting and ready.  Just as we don’t want to be caught off-guard when the thief comes, we don’t want to be caught unprepared when Jesus returns.  We are to be living godly lives in light of His coming judgment on the world.  Paul urged the Thessalonians, and us as well, to live each day prepared to welcome Christ’s return.

Just as in the Old Testament days, some preachers in Paul’s day preached only warm, fuzzy, feel-good messages to the people, rather than the need for repentance and to get one’s life right with God.  We find the same today.  They only speak of God bringing love and peace.  There is love and peace for the believer and follower of Jesus, but when He returns there will be judgment for the lost (vs 3).  That day will come suddenly, just as when a woman goes into labor.

Paul then contrasts the two groups of people that exist - children of the light and children of the darkness or night (vs. 4-5).  We are all in one group or the other.  Believers in the Lord Jesus are children of the light, as Scripture says, not of the darkness.  Those of the night have not accepted the Lord Jesus, and engage in practices consistent with the domain of darkness.  Believers have been delivered from the domain of darkness, and transferred into the Kingdom of Light (Colossians 1:13).  Believing in Jesus removes a person from spiritual darkness (John 8:12, John 12:46).  Unbelievers are called children of Satan (John 8:44), who is the power of darkness (Luke 22:53).

There is a difference between those who expect Jesus to return and those who do not, and live as such.  Jesus is the Light of the world (John 9:5).  He illuminates the path of believers.  We need to walk as children of the light (Ephesians 5:8).  Christians are in the light, and should not sleep in spiritual indifference and a life of ease (vs. 6).  The unsaved are in darkness, and will be jolted out of their deep sleep on the Day of the Lord.

Those who belong to Christ do not need to be afraid of the future, or the coming Day of the Lord.  We can approach it with a sense of confidence because we will not endure the wrath of God (vs. 9).  Christ’s coming will be a time of judgment and woe for the unbeliever, a time of His wrath.  At the time of the Day of the Lord, God will intervene directly and dramatically in world affairs.  Christ will judge sin, and set up His eternal kingdom.  Believers are children of the Light, and will not face His wrath.  God’s wrath will include times of agony and tribulation.  Believers are spared this.

Knowing all of this, believers should be watching for Jesus’s return and living with that end in view, serving Him faithfully.  In the meantime as we wait, the Savior’s return should inspire us to keep living for Him and working, not slacking off feeling that it won’t happen for ages.  Just like that unexpected thief, it could happen at any time.  Are you prepared?

Monday, November 16, 2020

A Thousand Years Or One Day

 Psalm 90

As I write this, it is mid-November, and I realize that the year is winding down.  There are only a handful of weeks left till this year is over.  Most of the trees have dropped their leaves, and they are dried and being blown up and down the street.  The grass on people’s lawns are drying up and losing their bright green color, typical of the northern climate I live in.  It is like the plants go to sleep for the winter months.  The old year is passing, and a new one comes, only for it to quickly pass, as well.  People, like the plants, grow older, get frailer, and pass. It is a never ending cycle.  This is the subject of our psalm for this week, a subject that shouldn’t be a depressing one, but rather an incentive to make our brief time here to be of value for the Lord.

There are several psalms in the Scriptures that are favorites of mine, and Psalm 90 is one of them.  This psalm was written by Moses, and is the only psalm that he wrote.  It  is the oldest psalm in the Book of Psalms, and one of the oldest passages written in the Bible.   The psalm is written as a prayer to God, with Moses talking to the Lord, speaking aloud his thoughts, particularly about the eternalness of God and the frailty and briefness of man on earth.  As he opens the psalm, Moses acknowledges to God that He is eternal, having been in existence since before His creation of the world.  God has no beginning and no end, and He is our sanctuary for protection, for sustenance and stability (vs. 1-2).

God is infinite.  He has existed from all time past, and will forever.  He is not bound by the same constraints of time that limit us.  Moses made the comparison of time in relation to God and to man.  For God, a thousand years are like one day or a watch in the night (vs. 4).  The watch length for guards on duty at night in Biblical days was between 3 - 4 hours.  That is what a thousand years for God is like, like a snap of one’s fingers.  For us, though, a thousand years is quite a long time.  Think of what the world was like in the 11th century.  It’s a long time, yet for God, it is as nothing.  Man’s life is like a blade of grass, Moses says.  Here one day and gone the next (vs. 5-6).

Because God is eternal, we can depend upon Him.  He knows the future, and He loves us.  We may think that God is delaying in answering our prayers, or delaying in events we wish to happen, particularly for His return, but we need to remember that God sees time from an eternal perspective, and He is always on time.

Moses continues in his psalm by reminding us that not only is God eternal, but He is also omniscient.  He knows everything, including all of our sins and those actions of ours that we like to hide from others (vs. 8).  Moses reminds us that it is futile to try and cover up our sins or hide them from God.  He knows all of our sins as if they were spread out before Him.  If our friends and acquaintances knew everything about us, particularly our sins, we might not have too many friends left.  However, while God knows everything about us, He still loves us and wants us to come to Him for forgiveness and salvation.

As we see through this psalm, life passes in the blink of an eye.  God sends us opportunities to serve Him all of the time.  Do we make excuses and spend our time on frivolous activities that won’t matter in eternity, or are we busy spending our brief time here serving Him?  We should use what little time we have more wisely, and for eternal good (vs. 12).  Joy and gladness should fill our days, to be an example to the world of God’s goodness and mercy (vs. 14).

We are only here for a brief time.  We should ask God to help us wisely make use of each day.  Don’t live just for this moment.  Live with our eternal home in mind.  Because of the brevity of life, we should make what we do here count for God.  Time is ticking.  We need to get busy for God, and make the most of the time He gives us.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

A Dire Warning

 Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

What picture comes to mind when thinking about God and His attributes?  You might picture Him as the all-powerful, mighty King of the Universe that He is.  Many also think of the love and mercy He has shown through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Others think of Him as an indulgent grandfather who is not really powerful, and who would never bring judgment on anyone.  That is not the picture that we get in a reading of the Book of Zephaniah and today’s passage from the Bible.  Let’s take a look at this passage of Scripture from one of the more obscure books of the Bible.

Zephaniah prophesied to the southern Kingdom of Judah during the years 640 - 620 BC., which was during the reign of King Josiah.  Zephaniah was related to the royal family, as he was a great-great grandson of King Hezekiah.  The prophet, along with his contemporary Jeremiah, and so many other prophets before him, preached to the people, warning them to repent of their sins and turn back from faithless worship of pagan idols.  Their wicked idolatry had been getting worse and worse over the last years.   In another few decades the country would be overrun by the Babylonians, the people taken into captivity, and Jerusalem with the Temple destroyed.

As our passage opens, Zephaniah instructs the people to be quiet before God.  They are to keep quiet because judgment is coming (vs. 7).  None of their pleas or complaints will be heeded any longer.  When a child deliberately disobeys their parents clear instructions, and then are going to be punished, often they will protest, make excuses and promises, or try to wheedle out of their punishment.  This is what the people were doing with God. Many did not believe the prophets’ warnings that God was going to bring punishment. Others who did believe protested, saying they didn’t deserve punishment, or hadn’t done any wrong.  They made excuses and promised to obey, but they never did.  Just as many parents will tell their children to stop their complaining and whining, God was telling the people to be quiet. He was not going to listen to their complaints, excuses, and false promises anymore.  They had refused to be humble and repent, and the time for talking has passed.  If words are going to be spoken, God will speak them!

God also tells us to be quiet so that we can better hear what He has to say.  When we are so busy telling God what we want, and what our plans and wishes are, we can’t hear what He needs to tell us.  Most of us have probably had the experience of trying to tell someone else some important news, but we can’t get a word in as they keep on talking, and talking, and talking!   Often that is the case with us and the Lord.  We never let Him speak to us.  The prophet tells us to “be silent in the presence of the Lord God” so we can hear His voice.

As Zephaniah continues his message to the people, He warns them that God will search through the city of Jerusalem, and throughout the land, searching out those who have refused to repent and obey His Word (vs. 12).  When we want to find something that we’re looking for, we will turn on a light in order to see, and often even use a flashlight to search every nook and cranny.  God will search just as carefully for those who have flaunted His Word, and who think they can hide from Him.  They feel that He doesn’t see what they do, and that He doesn’t care.  They feel that God is just like that nice grandfather, kind but slow and dim-witted.  Zephaniah warns that God will search the city and punish those who deserve punishment.  Since they refused to search their own hearts, were content with the moral chaos around them, and were indifferent to God, He promises the punishments described in the rest of the passage.  No one will escape God’s judgment.  There will be no place to hide.

Some people believe that God is inactive, and won’t respond to either the good or evil people do.  However, He does see and will respond.  To sit back and be complacent is wrong and a dangerous thing to do.  God is holy.  He will judge and justly punish everyone who is content to live in sin, and who is indifferent to Him.  As Zephaniah warned, the great Day of the Lord is near.

Lest I end on a discouraging note, though we all find ourselves in the place of the sinner and deserving of His punishment, God provided us a way out through the Blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus died the sinner’s death on the cross, taking our punishment for us.  All who accept Jesus as their Savior, need no longer fear God’s just wrath, but are now accepted into His family as His children.   Do not wait, turn to Jesus today!

Friday, November 13, 2020

Be Prepared!

 Matthew 25:1-13

Being prepared is an important thing.  You don’t want to leave for a long car ride without enough gasoline in your tank.  When there are blizzard warnings, you want to make sure you have plenty of food in the house and your snow shovels aren’t out in the garage.  As important as these may be, being spiritually prepared is even more important.  “Be Prepared” should not just be the Boy Scout’s motto!  In our Gospel reading today, Jesus tells a parable whose lesson warns us of the importance of being prepared and ready for the sure and certain coming event of His return.  Let’s look into this lesson.

In the last few days of Jesus’s ministry He told His disciples the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins.  It’s good to know a little background of weddings in Biblical days in the Middle East.  They usually started with the groom coming to the bride’s house for the ceremony.  Then there was a procession to the groom’s home for a feast and party, often lasting several days.  This party was not open to just anyone to come in.  After the bride and groom arrived with their attendants and guests, the doors were shut and locked.  These virgins in the parable would have been like bride’s maids, a part of her attendants.  They were waiting to join that procession.

At this wedding ceremony that Jesus spoke about, the groom was delayed for some reason in arriving.  The bride’s maids were waiting and waiting, and started to doze off (vs. 5).  Half of the maids brought some extra oil for their lamps, and half didn’t.  They undoubtedly did not expect that the groom would be delayed, and were thus unprepared when he was.  When the call finally came that the groom was coming, the maids suddenly woke from their slumber and needed to tend to their lamps.  The wise, prepared women had extra oil to get their lamps well-lit.  The unprepared ones didn’t have anything, and the light of their lamps was quickly going out.  There wouldn’t have been enough oil to go all around, so they had to run to the store and get oil for themselves (vs. 6-10).  This delayed them, and they were unable to get into the wedding party, as the doors were shut and locked, which was the custom and protocol of that day.  Being unprepared caused them to miss out (vs. 11-12).

Jesus emphasized that we need to be prepared (vs. 13).  When He returns we will give an account of our lives and spiritual condition.  Are we waiting and ready?   Our life here on earth can end in a split second (James 4:14).  We don’t know the day or hour when Jesus will return, or when our life on earth will end.  The five foolish virgins or bride’s maids did not feel the need to be prepared.  While going to buy their oil, the groom arrived and the door was locked.  No matter how much they pleaded, the answer was “I don’t know you!”.   When our life is ended or Jesus comes, all that will matter is whether we have been prepared by believing in Him.

Another lesson from this parable is that every person is responsible for their own spiritual condition.  Just as the foolish maids could not get their oil from the wise ones, we cannot claim someone else’s relationship with Jesus for our own.  When we stand before the Lord, it won’t matter whether our grandparents were strong Christians, or a sibling was a minister.  When Jesus returns to take His people to heaven, we must be ready.  Spiritual preparations cannot be bought or borrowed at the last minute.  Our relationship with God must be our own.  We cannot get in heaven by riding on the coattails of someone else.

Despite what some people may claim, no one knows when Jesus will return (Mark 13:32).  That is why it is so important to be ready at all times.  The wise maids were prepared, and that made all the difference.  When Jesus returns, there will be no second chances for the unprepared.  Let us be even more vigilant than any Boy Scout ever was, and be prepared for our Savior’s return.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

When A Christian Dies

 I Thessalonians 4:13-18

In the last couple of years, some friends I know have had loved ones die, some suddenly and unexpectedly, and others after long and lingering illnesses.  This is always a sad time, even for believers.  It is especially tragic for the lost, who have no hope through the Lord Jesus Christ for the afterlife.  In our brief Scripture passage for today, the Apostle Paul gave us some words of comfort to those who have Christian loved ones who have died, to those who have a living hope through Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul and his missionary companions were only in the city of Thessalonica for a few short weeks before they were run out of town by those who opposed the Gospel message they preached.  During that short time, though, Paul taught the new believers many things, one of them being about Jesus’s Second Coming and the believer’s resurrection.  During the ensuing weeks and months after he left, some of these believers started to worry about their loved ones who were also believers, but who had died before Jesus’s return.  Many of them had believed that His return would have been very soon, within their own lifetime.  Thus, these Thessalonian believers were worried that those who had died before He returned would miss out.  In our Scripture today Paul reassured them that all believers, those who have died, and those who will be alive when Jesus returns, will all be gathered together again at that moment.

It has been many centuries since that time in the early church in Thessalonica.  However, we as believers still have a strong belief that Jesus will return.  It could be at any moment, and as things in this world get progressively worse, we eagerly await that moment.  When that day happens, those believers who are alive will join the believers who have died, and meet the Lord together in the air (vs. 15-17).

For some Christians, the grief they have over the death of a loved one is so overwhelming, it is almost as though they fear they will never see that loved one again.  As Paul stated in verse 13, they sorrow as those who have no hope, like unbelievers.  For the unbeliever, those who have never put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus, there is no hope.  There is no being with their loved ones in hell.  Hell is not a party with friends and loved ones!   They have good reason to hopelessly grieve.  Believers, of course, will grieve, but it should not be like those with no hope.  We do have that living hope through Jesus!  Believers will see their believing loved ones again.

Death is not permanent.  Every Christian will experience a bodily resurrection (vs. 14).  Because Jesus has a glorified body, we know that we will also be raised bodily from the dead (I Corinthians 15:20-23).  Because Jesus came back to life, so will all believers, as well.  We do not need to despair when loved ones die.  Though we sorrow for being temporarily separated, we should know that it is only temporary, and know that the believing loved one is with the Lord in glory, which is a good thing for them!  The time may be a wait, but Jesus will not forget either them or us.

When Jesus returns for the believers, it will be a fulfillment of the promise He made in John 14:1-3 to prepare a place for us to be with Him forever.  Also that He would come again and receive us unto Himself.  Like a Bridegroom, Jesus will come for His Bride, the Church.   The believing dead will be resurrected and will participate in the Lord’s coming for His own.  When Jesus comes, the living will be reunited forever with their loved ones.  They will all be with the Lord eternally.  We do not know the exact moment, so we need to always be ready.

We have a reason to be confident, comforted, assured and encouraged about death and the life to come.  We can comfort one another with these words, as Paul said (vs. 18).  For the Christian, death is not the end of the story.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Hurry Up God!

 Psalm 70

Have you ever prayed to God, wondering why He was taking so long in answering your prayers, and asked Him to hurry up?   I believe that most of us could say we’ve done that, probably more than once.  We are in good company, too, as this is the prayer of King David in our psalm for today.   Let’s take a look at this very short psalm from Scripture.

As we read through the Bible, studying the life of King David, one thing that will really stick out is that he was always having to contend with enemies, both before he became king and afterwards.  These enemies weren’t just some folks who didn’t like him, who called him names or told some lies about him.  These enemies were fierce, and who caused him to have to fight or flee for his life.  David wrote at least 73 of the psalms in the Bible.  In many of these psalms he prayed and cried out to God for His help against these enemies.  He prayed for protection, for help, and sometimes even for God to bring these enemies down, bringing His righteous judgment upon them.

When we are faced with our problems in life, whatever they may be, as believers in the Lord Jesus we turn to Him in prayer.  Like King David, though, we may feel that He is not answering as quickly as we might like.  Perhaps we have a health crisis or a financial one, and feel that time is of the essence.  Or maybe, like David was here, we are facing some attack from an enemy, either a literal or a spiritual one, and we need His help now.  At the beginning and the close of our psalm, David pleaded with God three times to “make haste”, and to “not delay”.

When our problems seem urgent, we wonder why God seems to be delaying.  We need to remember that we are looking at the problem from our own, human perspective.  God sees the whole issue from start to finish, from His heavenly perspective.  He knows exactly what to do, and when to move on our behalf.  We may be praying “hurry, hurry, hurry!”, but God will move when the time is just right.  Like David, we need to trust in Him.

From David’s early childhood days of caring for his father’s sheep, his battle against the giant Goliath, many years fleeing from the attacks of King Saul, and then later as king, he knew that his true help came from the Lord God (vs. 5).  His friends and companions may help, just as our friends may help us in our time of need, but they can’t always be relied upon.  There were times when David’s friends and family deserted him.  There are times when people will break our trust or disappoint us.  They may even threaten us.  This may break our spirits.  It is at this time that we need to pray to God to come to our aid.  He, alone, can rescue us and fill our lives with joy.  David knew that God, alone, was his true help and deliverer.

Even in his moments of panic David never forgot to praise God (vs. 4).  Praise helps to remind us of who God is.  As believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we should never forget to thank God for what he has done, and worship Him for who He is.  We should never take God for granted, or treat Him as if He’s only there to give favors to us.

When David was afraid, he always remembered to praise God.  Here he was, in the middle of some unspecified attack by his enemies, praying for God to rescue him, yet he pauses in his prayer to give God praise and glory.  During our time of prayer, no matter how urgent and desperate it may be, we need to do the same.  Pause and remember to give God praise and glory.  When we do, it will be a testimony to others that we know He is our help and our deliverer.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Day Of The Lord

 Amos 5:18-24

We all know of people whose speech is filled with nice, religious sounding words.  They can quote Bible verses with the best of them.  They use all sorts of Christian-sounding vocabulary.  However, their life doesn’t line up with what they are saying.  They can fool many, but they can’t fool God.  This is some of what the Prophet Amos faced, and spoke against.

Today’s Old Testament Scripture passage from this week’s Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer brings us to the prophet Amos.  Amos was from the southern Kingdom of Judah, but his message was primarily to the northern Kingdom of Israel, and the years of his ministry were between 760 - 755 BC.   Many of the Old Testament prophets were of the priestly class, such as Jeremiah, or even related to the royal family, such as Isaiah and Daniel.  However, this was not the case with Amos.  He was a shepherd and a farmer of sycamore figs.  Though all Jewish boys were taught to read, write, and do basic arithmetic, Amos was not from the intelligentsia or an intellectual like the others.  He was a shepherd and farmer.

Amos was hearing many people throughout the land speaking of how they wanted the “Day of the Lord” to come.  They liked to talk with religious sounding words, but they didn’t really understand exactly what the term meant.  In their mind they were thinking of God coming and obliterating their enemies.  These people were calling for the Day of the Lord, thinking it would bring an end to their troubles.  The Day of the Lord, in reality, is when God will bring judgment and wrath on all who oppose Him and have not turned to Him in repentance, for both Jewish and Gentile people.  No one will be excluded, as they were believing they would be.  It will bring justice, and God’s justice will bring the punishment the people deserve for their sins.  For the faithful, “the Day of the Lord” will be glorious.  For the lost, it will be a day of darkness and gloom.

These people that Amos preached to were still having their religious festivals, religious meetings, and singing hymns (vs. 21-23), but they had rejected God’s Word.  They were worshipping pagan idols in addition to their insincere worship of Yahweh.  They oppressed the poor and denied justice to others.  Amos preached to them that they needed to start living like they truly were Yahweh’s people as they claimed.

We see the same today, people who speak “Christian-sounding” words and phrases, people who claim to be God’s children, but who have not repented from their sins.  They do not follow or obey the Word of God that they like to quote.  They believe that God is on their side, but like Amos said, if they aren’t obeying Him, God hates all of their false worship services, their offerings, their hymns and worship songs (vs. 21-23).  Religious activity without a sincere heart is repugnant to God.  It is empty formalism, and angers God.  It does not please Him!

If performed with a corrupt heart, even religious festivals, rituals, and offerings are despised by the Lord.  He hates false worship by people who go through the motions out of pretense or for show.  If we are living sinful lives, but using religious rituals, attending church services, and singing so many “worship songs”, it might make ourselves feel good and holy, but that’s all it will do.  God will despise our worship, and not accept our offerings.  God wants sincere hearts.  This is the message that Amos brought the people.

At the Day of the Lord, God will show Himself the victor over the world.  He will vindicate His claims to be the Lord over all of the earth.  It will be a day of judgment, punishment, wrath, and justice to the sinner.  Hypocrites believe it will be terrible for others, but not for themselves.  Believers in the Lord Jesus, those who have asked Him to be their personal Savior, do not need to fear that day.  Jesus took the wrath we deserved upon Himself on the cross.  We can look with anticipation for the day when the Lord will return, but the lost should fear that day.  With that in mind, believers should be all the more active in telling their friends and loved ones about the Savior. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Fool's Gold

 Matthew 23:1-12

When I was a young child, perhaps 7 or 8 years old, I found a rock that looked like gold, and I thought I had struck it rich!  I was soon very disappointed when I was told that it was not gold, that it was a piece of pyrite, or what is commonly known as “fool’s gold”.   We may think we have found an art masterpiece at the local resale shop, only to find out it is a cheap imitation.  Some people do not mind the imitation, but if you want something of real value you must be sure that you get the real thing, not an artificial imitation.  In the spiritual realm we need to look for the real thing, not something cheap and artificial.  When we want to look for someone to be a spiritual mentor or guide, it is very important that their walk with God is genuine, and not a piece of “fool’s gold”.  This is something that the Lord Jesus addressed in our Scripture passage today.

Any reading of the Gospels will show that Jesus’s greatest opposition came from the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were a strict religious group within Judaism, who appeared to be diligent in keeping every line of the Old Testament Mosaic Law, and also all of the man-made laws compiled within the Talmud, which are numerous volumes of rabbinical commentary on the Law, containing numerous man-made regulations.  The Pharisees thought of themselves as good people who kept God’s Law.  They presented themselves to the public as holy, following God’s Law.  However, upon close examination that appearance was deceiving, like fool’s gold. They failed to see their desire for prominence and respect as evidence of pride.  Pride can show itself in a desire for recognition and validation, and in a superior attitude of self-importance.

The Pharisees took the man-made rules of the Talmud and other sources as seriously as God’s Law, and often even much more so (Mark 7:5-13).   The Pharisees had gone beyond any legitimate authority, and were adding human traditions to the Word of God.  They also told people to obey these regulations, but they did not do so themselves (vs. 2-4).  The “heavy burdens” that Jesus spoke of were human traditions and man-made religious regulations, not from God’s Word.  When they did obey these regulations they did so, not to honor God, but to make themselves look good.

Jesus spoke about the phylacteries that the Pharisees wore, and how big and fancy they had made them (vs. 5).  Phylacteries are like an amulet that devout Pharisees wore, and some Orthodox Jews today still wear when praying.  They contain a piece of paper with certain portions of the Pentateuch written on it, which are rolled up and placed in a small metal cylinder, which is put in a leather case with long leather straps.  These are worn on the forehead and left hand and arm, according to Deuteronomy 6:8-9.  They were usually only worn during prayers, but some Pharisees wore them all the time in order to appear holy, and had made them extraordinarily big and fancy.  The phylacteries, the objects themselves, became more important for the status they gave them, then for the truth, the Word of God, that they contained.

The Pharisees knew Scripture, but they did not live by it.  They did not care about being holy, only just about looking holy, in order to get the people’s admiration and praise.  I’m sure that we all know some people like this, the person at church who carries the biggest Bible they can to church, or who wears the biggest or most bejeweled cross around their neck.  They want to appear holy, but a closer examination of their life will show that it is all luster, not genuine.  Give it a little scratch and it will reveal that it was just a thin outer layer, covering something of inferior value.

God is not a fool, and is not deceived.  He does not want outward luster, but inward devotion and obedience.  We need to let the Word of God change our lives, not just sit in a Bible that we carry around for show, but never read and obey the contents of.  Our religious practices, spirituality and holiness should be for our own relationship with the Lord God, not be done to impress others, making them believe we’re some spiritual Superman.  Let’s make sure our life and relationship with God is genuine, not an artificial imitation.  Let’s be sure our life is real gold for the Lord, and not fool’s gold.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Faithful Through Opposition

I Thessalonians 2:9-20 

Have you ever tried to do something good, and all you faced was opposition?  Perhaps it was a positive civic project in your neighborhood, or something that you believe would be good for your department at work, or any other project.  No sooner do you get started, but then there arises a whole group who wants nothing less than to stand in your path and oppose you every step of the way.  This is especially true for those who work for the Lord in spreading the Gospel.  Opposition will always rear up, often very strongly.  In our Epistle reading for this week, Paul shares about the opposition he was facing when bringing the Gospel to Thessalonica.   Paul knew who was behind all of the opposition he experienced.  Let’s look into our Scripture passage for today.

As our passage begins, Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he had never expected the church that he started to pay his way (vs. 9).  Paul supported himself as a tentmaker so that he would not be a financial burden to anyone where he preached.  Accusations that Paul was trying to get rich off of the Gospel was one tool that his enemies used to oppose his ministry.  There were a few “preachers” back then who were doing that, and we find quite a few today who do just what his accusers were saying.  Some have turned preaching the Gospel into quite a lucrative business, but Paul was not one of them.

His opponents also tried to tarnish his reputation, saying that his behavior and conduct were less than reputable.  Paul turned to the believers in Thessalonica to be his witnesses that he lived blamelessly while among them (vs. 10-12).  He also exhorted the believers there to live a life worthy of the Lord God.  When Christians’ behavior and lifestyle are less than exemplary, it reflects badly both on the pastor, and of course, the Lord.  It gives the enemies of the Gospel ammunition to use against the Church.  We need to live in such a way by our words and actions, that is worthy of God.  We are to live in a way worthy of our calling, remembering that we belong to Christ.

Paul’s enemies accused him of spreading false doctrine and philosophies that were just of his own making, and not from God. However, the believers in Thessalonica did not believe that.  The Holy Spirit, working in their hearts, opened their eyes to know that Paul’s message was not the word of man, but was the truth, the Word of God (vs. 13).  The message of salvation that Paul preached to them was the Word of God.  It was not just some ordinary words of man.  Paul boldly asserted the divine inspiration of his Gospel (II Timothy 3:16).

When we take a stand for Jesus, we will face opposition, disapproval, and even persecution from friends, neighbors, and even family (vs. 14).  There are some people who viciously oppose Christians who follow the Bible (vs. 15-16).  They even actually think they are serving God, but they aren’t.  They displease Him.  If Jesus was not exempt from persecution, His followers should not expect to be spared.

Satan actively opposes God’s work, and we need to be aware of that (vs. 18).  Satan is real, and he works to hinder the spread of the Gospel.  He is called “the god of this age” (II Corinthians 4:4), and “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).  However, Satan’s might is no match for the power of the living God!  Never be discouraged by the enemies schemes.  The ultimate victory is God’s.

Despite all of the opposition he faced everywhere he went, Paul was encouraged to be dedicated to God.  Paul’s greatest reward was the people he had led to the Lord, not money, prestige, or fame (vs. 19-20).  Paul would receive a soul-winner’s crown in heaven.  The Lord gives this crown to those who are faithful to declare the Gospel, and lead souls to Christ.

Will we, too, be faithful to the Lord, despite the opposition we face from His enemies?  Paul knew that the enemy, that Satan, would not make it easy.  He paid the greatest price with his life, yet he knew that God has the ultimate victory.  We need to stand faithful and true to the end.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Hope For The Hopeless

Psalm 43 

Being without hope is possibly the worst and most depressing feeling one could have.  No matter what trial you could be facing, as long as there is hope, you can keep going on.  Without hope, though, when the situation looks completely hopeless, you are at the bottom, and there seems to be no rope one can cling on to in order to be pulled out.  That is the worst and most depressing feeling a person can have.  The writer of this week’s psalm was going through an unspecified difficult time.  Things were probably looking rather hopeless for him.  However, he knew where to look and where to find hope.  Let’s look into Psalm 43, a rather short psalm this week, and find that place of hope, as well.

Psalm 43 is a companion psalm to the previous psalm in the Bible, Psalm 42.  It is like an epilogue or postscript to that psalm.  The psalm closes with the same lament that is repeated twice in Psalm 42, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?  And why are you disquieted within me?  Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The Help of my countenance and my God.” (vs. 5).  Throughout both psalms he feels beaten down with the heavy trials in his life, feeling lost, abandoned, and defeated.  Yet, he sees a beam of hope, and now knows where to turn to.

As our Scripture passage opens, the psalmist feels that the oppression he is enduring is unfair and calls upon the Lord God to be both his divine judge and attorney (vs. 1).  He seeks vindication from his enemies.  Frequently we are no match against our physical enemies, and we are never a match against our spiritual enemies.  When we take things into our own hands, more often than not we only mess things up more.  The One who the psalmist turned to for deliverance is the same One we need to turn to, rather than depending on our own meager strength and ability.   As he discovered, God is the source of all of our strength (vs. 2).

Since the psalmist has made God his refuge and strength, why was he feeling rejected and dejected by Him? (vs. 2).  Isn’t that frequently the case with us, as well?  Sometimes our trials and burdens seem so heavy for us, that we feel that God has turned away from us.  Even though we know the words of countless Scripture verses that tell us otherwise, there are some times when we, like the psalmist, feel as though God has cast us off, and we feel in despair and misery.  To our psalmist’s credit, though, he did not allow himself to stay in this condition.  For a brief moment he gave way to a pity party, but not for long.  The longer we stay in a disconsolate state, the harder it is to get out.  He needed some hope, and he knew where he could find it.

Though the psalmist felt separated from God, he recognized that he should put his hope in the Savior.  In the face of discouragement our only real and true hope is in the Lord God. It is only His light and His truth that will give us the guidance and direction we need in our life (vs. 3).  God’s truth provides the right path to follow (I John 2:27).  God’s light provides the clear vision to follow (I John 1:5).  Believers need to follow the light and truth of Jesus.

We all face times of discouragement in our life.  We may face times when life seems quite hopeless.  It is in those times that we need to diligently seek God, and like the psalmist, we will discover that He will provide the hope that we need.  The Word of God tells us that there is no hopeless situation.  Having the Lord Jesus as Savior means that the hopeless have hope.

Regardless of what life throws at us, we can take heart.  God is still with us.  The psalmist experienced despair and hopelessness, but he did not dwell there. He put his hope in the Lord God. There will be disappointments in our lives, but how we respond to them determines whether we live a life of joy in the Lord, or the despair of the devil.  God is a God of hope!