Friday, December 31, 2021

My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation

 Luke 2:25-38

As we begin a new year, let’s take a look at two characters in the New Testament who appear only once, and that very briefly, in the narrative of the life of Jesus.  These two are an elderly gentleman and an elderly lady, Simeon and Anna, who each had insight into who the infant Jesus was when they met Him.  Let’s take a look at who these two were, and their special encounters with Jesus.

As our Scripture begins, Joseph and Mary had brought the newborn Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the Law.  As they were leaving the Temple, a very elderly gentleman approached them and requested to hold the Baby.  This man, Simeon, was a devout follower of the Lord God.  He loved the Lord, believing and obeying His Word.  As he would go to the Temple to pray, he probably frequently prayed that God would send His promised Messiah to the people.  Because of his devotion to the Lord, Simeon had received a special message from God that the coming of the long-awaited Messiah would happen soon, and that he would not die until he had seen Him (vs. 25-26).

The Scriptures do not indicate exactly how long ago this promise had been made to Simeon, but now he was an elderly man, so it could have been many years earlier.  However, Simeon did not give up the hope that he would get to lay his eyes upon the promised Messiah.  Now, on this day, he heard the Holy Spirit speaking to his heart, compelling him to go to the Temple (vs. 27). As he stood there, watching the many people coming and going, the Holy Spirit somehow indicated that the Babe in this one couple’s arms was the One. 

As Simeon took the Baby Jesus into his arms, he gave a short prayer of praise and thanks to God.  This brief song is known as the Nunc Dimittis, from the first two words of the Latin translation.  He thanked God for keeping His promise to him, and that now he can die in peace, as he saw God’s Promised One, the One who would bring salvation to the world, the One who would be the Light, not only to the people of Israel, but also to the Gentiles, all other nations, as well (vs. 29-32).

What a blessing this must have been to Simeon, to finally hold in his arms the One who would redeem from their sins all who would come to Him!  In order to have received that promise God had made specifically to him, Simeon needed to be listening and alert to God each and every day.  He was not told in advance exactly what day this would happen for him.  Simeon needed to keep in communion and fellowship with God each day, waiting in hopeful anticipation.  And he needed to be ready to act when the word came.  He couldn’t say to himself that he was feeling his age, and didn’t want to make the hike to the Temple that particular day.  If he had, he would have missed the only chance he would have to see the Savior.  No, Simeon was listening and ready to act.

Following his prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God, Simeon spoke directly to the Virgin Mary, Jesus’s mother.  He told her that Jesus was going to bring about the fall and the rising of many, and many would be against Him.  He also told her that she would experience grief, as well (vs. 34-35).  The Virgin Mary would, indeed, experience great personal grief as she would watch her Son, Jesus, be crucified.

With Jesus, there is no neutral ground.  People either joyfully accept Him, or totally reject Him.  To all those who reject Jesus, He is a stone of stumbling (I Peter 2:8).  Today, many are turned away by the un-Christian like conduct of some who claim to be Christians.  Though there were some in Israel who accepted Jesus, He was “spoken against” by the vast majority (vs. 34).  They rejected, hated, and crucified Jesus, their Messiah.

As our Scripture passage concludes, Luke mentions another elderly person who recognized the Baby Jesus as the promised Messiah, and gave praise and thanks to God, and that is the prophetess Anna (vs. 36-38).  She was an 84 year old widow, whose husband had died after 7 years of marriage, undoubtedly many years earlier.  Anna spent her days in Temple, in prayer and fasting.  She, too, was actively awaiting the coming Messiah, and the Holy Spirit revealed to her, in addition to Simeon, that this Baby was the Promised One.

Both Anna and Simeon believed God and His Word.  They were actively awaiting the Messiah, and were ready to act upon His Word when the Holy Spirit revealed to them that He was there.  Had they slacked off, and not been actively listening for His Word, they would have missed this great opportunity.  Let us always be ready and waiting upon God in His Word.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

In The Fullness Of Time

 Galatians 4:4-5

Do you like to wait for things to happen?  I am not always very patient.  If we have been promised something, we don’t want to wait years and years for the promise to be kept.  We want them to keep the promise right now, today!  How about a promise that has been made, that took multiple centuries to be kept?  We might give up hope that this promise would ever be kept.  Today’s Scripture from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians speaks about the promise God made, and when it was fulfilled.  Let’s look at this passage.

Throughout the Old Testament, we read of the promise of the coming Messiah.  The very first prophecy of the Messiah was given to Eve at the time when she and Adam were cast out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15).  The promise continued to be given all throughout the Old Testament, to Abraham, Moses, David, etc.  The promise was not fulfilled until the birth of Jesus, which happened in approximately 4 BC., which would have been about a thousand years after King David, and about two thousand years after Abraham.  We might wonder why God didn’t send the Messiah back in their day?  Why not at the time of David or Abraham?  Why not even earlier, perhaps shortly after Noah disembarked from the ark?  The world sure could have used a Messiah at any of those times.  And why necessarily in Israel?  Why not in any other location on the earth?

As our Scripture passage opens, we read God’s Word through the Apostle Paul, and he begins with the words “the fullness of the time had come”.  God sent Jesus in the fullness of time, at just the right time.  Not too early, nor too late, but just at the right time.  What made approximately 4 BC the right time?  To give an answer, we need to look back into our history books.  Throughout ancient history we see various civilizations come and go all throughout the world.  Most of these civilizations were localized, and remained isolated from the rest of the world.  There were hundreds of different languages and even more dialects spoken all around the world.  There was no “lingua franca” or language that could be understood by many people, across many countries.  That is, not until the days of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC).  As he conquered land from the Balkan peninsula and southeastern Europe, northern Africa, and to the borders of the Himalayan mountains, he brought Greek culture, and more importantly, the Greek language to everyone there.  By the time of Jesus’s birth, just about everyone could speak Greek, in addition to their own native language.

When Jesus was born, the world was right in the middle of the reign of the powerful and mighty Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, and the beginning of the Roman Empire.  The Romans considerably expanded upon Alexander’s empire.  Latin quickly became a second common language, along with Greek.  The Romans brought stability to the land with their laws and government, and importantly, brought paved roads throughout the empire, some of which can still be seen today.  Travel was now swift and safe.  Add these together, two common languages, swift and safe travel, and the Gospel message of Jesus could easily be spread all around the world.

Had Jesus been born at the time of Abraham, or even David, His message of salvation would not have been able to be spread to the rest of the world.  However, when He was born, at the “fullness of time”, within a few short years after the Resurrection, His message was spread all throughout the Mediterranean world, and by a few more years, it had gone to the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire, into Britain, throughout the Middle East, Armenia, down into parts of Africa, India, etc.  That could not have happened earlier.

If Jesus had been born outside of the Roman Empire, or what once was the Greek Empire, in any other location, His message of salvation would not have been able to be spread throughout the world, either.  Think of any other location on the globe, and at the time of 4 BC, would His message have been able to be spread throughout the world like it was from Jerusalem at that time?

In God’s timetable, when the exact religious, cultural, and political conditions of His perfect will were in place, Jesus came into the world.  He came when the message of the Gospel could be effectively carried to the ends of the earth.  God knew when just the right time was, and where the best place was.  We can trust His timetable.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Praising God This Year

 Psalm 147

Our psalm for this week, the last one for this year, is a call to praise God, especially as He made and controls all of nature.  I picture this anonymous psalmist as wanting to sing a song of praise to God, and then proceeds to make a list of everything he can think of to thank and praise Him for.  He doesn’t just thank God for the usual, for his health, food, and protection.  He looks around him and sees different things, and knows that God can be praised for them, as well.  As we come to the end of another year we should pause for a moment, and make our own list of anything and everything that we can think of to praise God for.

Perhaps on the day that our author wrote this psalm he was feeling a bit down.  Knowing that making a list of things to be thankful for can help lift one’s spirit, he begins by praising God for the fact that He is there for those who are brokenhearted (vs. 3).  Perhaps he had recently experienced the death of a loved one, or perhaps a spouse walked out and left him for another.  This verse is echoed in the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1), and Jesus also quoted it, speaking about Himself (Luke 4:18).  Whatever the reason, whatever the emotional blow, God is there for the brokenhearted, and He will heal those wounds.  God is there for the humble, for those who know that they are not the greatest thing that ever walked the streets (vs. 6).  He is there for those who know that they need a Savior, but He has no place for the proud.

Next, our psalmist looks around at nature, and sees numerous things that he can praise God about.  Perhaps recently he had been outside at night, observing the innumerable stars that could be seen.  Astronomers estimate that there are well over 200 billion trillion stars in the universe. That’s a 1 followed by 42 zeros.  Yet, as our Scripture says in verse 4, God knows the exact number, as He created them, and He has named each one of them.  If God cares enough about the stars to give them each a name, don’t you think that He cares about you, who were made in His image, and that He will take care of all of your needs?  We can surely praise God for that!

As the author continues on, looking throughout nature for more things to praise God for, he sees the clouds which are scattered across the sky (vs. 8).  As I write this, it is a very foggy morning in Chicago where I live.  The clouds coming right down to the earth.  It makes a very eerie, but beautiful sight, something to praise God for!  He knows that the clouds bring the rain, growing the crops and plants, which brings food, both for man and animal (vs. 8-9).  The animals know they are dependent upon God, and cry out to Him for their needs, but people often think that they are strong and smart enough that they don’t need Him.  However, they soon find out that we are all dependent upon God for His mercy in providing for our needs (vs. 10-11).

The psalmist continues on with his list of things to be thankful for, and remains on a weather-related theme with the different seasons.  In verses 16 and 17 he lists snow, frost and the cold.  To be perfectly honest with you, those are some things that I am not often too thankful for, as I do not like winter or the cold!  Yet, I will admit that if I don’t have to go out into it, a snowy scene can be beautiful.  Sunlight sparkling on the snow crystals can look like diamonds scattered across the landscape.  The patterns of frost on windows are beautiful, as well.  And though the winter always seems long, we can trust God’s promise that it will not last forever, and that He will send His word to melt the snow and ice (vs. 18).  There is nothing more refreshing after a cold and hard winter than the warmer breeze of the coming spring!

What are you thankful to God for this past year?  What are some things that you can praise Him for?  Though we certainly shouldn’t wait for just the end of the year to thank and praise Him, this is always a good time to especially look back and think of the many blessings the Lord has given to us.  Like the psalmist of Psalm 147, let’s stop for a moment and think of some of the many things we can thank and praise the Lord Jesus for.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Given A Robe Of Righteousness

 Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3

Have you ever gone to a gathering of people, perhaps a party or some type of elegant affair, and felt totally out of place because you weren’t dressed properly?  Everyone was dressed in dignified or luxurious clothing, while you were there in jeans, casual shirt and sneakers.  Or perhaps after you arrived, you found that your clothes were terribly stained or torn.  If you are anything like me, you’d head straight for the door, and try to get out as quickly as possible!  However, what if the host comes to our rescue, and provides us with something more than suitable to wear?  That would spare us from shame and embarrassment!  In our Old Testament Scripture passage for this last week of the year, we will read of how we have been provided with the proper garments to wear into God’s presence.

As we know, having the proper clothes on for where we go is important.  Shorts and a t-shirt are not proper at a formal dinner for the head of state, nor a tuxedo or evening gown for a day at the beach.  When we come before God, we must also be properly clothed.  We must be clothed in garments of pure righteousness, without a single spot or stain of sin.  How are we going to be able to do that?  Speaking for myself, I know that every single day I do or say something that is wrong.  My feeble efforts at trying to do something good or righteous on my own can never achieve God’s standard.  My garments are not righteous, but instead are completely filthy!  As Isaiah said just a few chapters later, all of our righteousness, all of the good things we try to do in our own effort, are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

However, as we read in the opening verses of our Scripture passage, Isaiah tells us that we can rejoice and be joyful, because God has provided us with the proper garments to wear!  These are garments that have been bought and paid for with the Blood of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  If we have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, then we have a garment of salvation and a robe of righteousness that He has covered and clothed us with (vs. 10).  Not only that, but the Lord provides us with costly jewels and ornaments to wear, such as would have been worn in ancient wedding feasts.

Isaiah is describing here a picture of imputed righteousness.  None of us have any righteousness of our own capable of meeting God’s holy, sinless standard.  We are all sinners.  As Scripture says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  We deserve death and hell.  Jesus, though, has never sinned, yet He took our punishment, bearing the wrath of God, which should have been ours, and dying upon the Cross of Calvary.  He took our punishment and gave all who believe His righteousness.  When a penitent sinner recognizes he cannot achieve his own righteousness by works, and repents and calls upon the mercy of God, the Lord covers him with His own righteousness by grace through faith.

This is not news that we should keep to ourselves.  As our passage continues, we read that God wanted Jerusalem to be a light to shine forth all throughout the world (vs. 1-2).   As believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are to be that light, shining forth and telling others of how they, too, can be clothed with salvation and righteousness.  His message and offer of salvation is for all, both Jews and Gentiles alike, to bring them out of darkness and into His light.  This world is in hopeless darkness, with terrible sin and crime running rampant all around.  Everyday one hears of awful things happening.  It is indeed dark days.  When it is dark we stumble and fall.  We need a light.  Jesus is that Light which we need.  We are to reflect His light to others, directing them, just as a lighthouse does, safely to His shore.

When we accept the Lord Jesus as Savior, and when we, to the best of our ability seek to reflect that light to others, not only does He clothe us in garments of salvation and righteousness, but He will also crown us with a crown of glory and a royal diadem, and will give us a new name (vs. 2-3).  With the new year just a few days away, let’s be sure that we have the correct clothes on.  Be sure you have the garments of salvation and righteousness from the Lord Jesus, along with a crown of glory and royal diadem.  And let us also be a light to others, pointing them to the Lord Jesus.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Have You Any Room For Jesus?

 Luke 2:1-14

Over the past several years, my devotional Scripture study nearest to Christmas has been a look at a particular character associated with the Christmas narrative.  In keeping with that, today’s look at the nativity Scripture will focus on one who has sometimes been cast in a negative light as the Christmas account is told, and that is the innkeeper.  Let’s take a quick look today at the innkeeper, and see what we can learn from what could have been his story.

As we read the familiar Scripture verses from Luke’s Gospel, we see that the innkeeper is not even specifically mentioned.  He is only a part of the account by inference, as we know that Joseph went to an inn, and was turned away because of lack of room.  It is thus implied that an innkeeper spoke with him.  As we read the Scripture, Mary and Joseph needed to travel to Bethlehem because of the census that Caesar Augustus had ordered.  When they arrived, the inn in Bethlehem was full (vs. 7).

Bethlehem was located just a few miles southeast of Jerusalem, and was not a big village at this time.  There was likely only one inn there, and probably not a very large one, at that.  With more people than usual traveling at this time due to the census, the few rooms it had would have filled up quickly with the people who had come to Bethlehem to register there for this census.  With Mary being nine months pregnant, the couple had to travel slowly, and Joseph had no way to reserve a room ahead of time.  By the time that they arrived in town, evening had come, and Mary’s labor had begun.  They desperately needed a room.

Let’s picture the scene.  Tired and hungry from the journey, they have just arrived at their destination, Bethlehem.  With no Google Maps, they look up and down the few streets, perhaps asking around, and finally locate the small inn.  Mary’s labor pains are coming periodically, and I’m sure she’s concerned about where she will be giving birth.  Joseph enters the inn, inquiring about a room.  Here we meet the innkeeper.  He only has a few rooms.  Normally Bethlehem is not a big travel destination.  Most people passing through are heading to Jerusalem, which is only a very short distance away.  No real need to stop in Bethlehem.  He tells Joseph that his rooms are unfortunately already filled.  Sorry, mister.  Joseph must have told him that his wife, Mary, is in labor, and they really need a place to stay.  Because we read that when Jesus was born, His parents laid him in a manger, an animal feeding trough, we believe that He was born in a stable or barn of some sort.  This was perhaps given to them for use by the innkeeper.  That way, Mary would have a private place to give birth, rather than out in the open where other people, coming for the census, would be camping.  And it is quite possible that the innkeeper provided fresh hay, and perhaps even some blankets for the couple to use.

Throughout the years, the innkeeper has suffered some rather unfair scorn because he turned Joseph and Mary away, thus allowing Jesus to be born in a stable, rather than a respectable room in an inn.  However, the innkeeper would have had no way of knowing that this baby was the promised Messiah.  And would it have been right for him to kick an already paid customer out of their room?  I don’t feel that the innkeeper should be looked down upon.

What about us today?  Have we turned Jesus away from the door of our heart?  Is there any room for Him in our life?  The innkeeper had no way of knowing who this couple were, and Who their Baby would be.  However, we do.  There is no excuse we can give.  What is taking up the space in your heart, in your life, where there is no room for Jesus to come?  Money?  Possessions?  Job?  Other people?  So many folks seem to have plenty of room for these, but for the Savior who died for us, there seems to be no room.  Jesus is knocking, and asking for admission to your heart this Christmas.  Have you any room for Jesus?

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

From The Manger To The Cross

 Hebrews 10:5-10

Many people send Christmas cards out to family and friends.  If your cards are at all religious, they will have scenes of Jesus in the manger, with Mary and Joseph, or of the shepherds with the angels, or perhaps the three magi.  I remember several years back getting a religious Christmas card that was quite different.  The card showed a close-up drawing of the Baby Jesus in the manger, and in particular His hand.  There was a second drawing.  This one was just of the Baby’s hand, and in the hand was a large nail or spike going through it.  Light from a window in the manger cast a shadow on the ground in the form of a Cross.  The message of that Christmas card was to show that the real reason that Jesus came to earth and was born was to give His life as a sacrifice for our sins upon the Cross.  Our Scripture passage today from the New Testament Book of Hebrews highlights this truth.

From the earliest chapters of the Bible we read of the Fall of Adam, how our relationship with God was broken, and how man has been a sinner ever since.  In order for that relationship to be restored with God, a sacrifice is needed.  Throughout the Old Testament, man brought animal sacrifices, sheep, goats, cattle, to the Temple.  However, these sacrifices could never fully atone for the sins of man.  As Scripture says in Hebrews 10:4, the blood of an animal cannot take away sin.  The men who made the sacrifices, the priests in the Temple, were sinners themselves.  What was needed was a sinless sacrifice, a perfect sacrifice.  That sacrifice would be made by the sinless Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, offering Himself as the sacrifice upon the Cross.

The opening verses from our Scripture (vs. 5-7) are a quote from Psalm 40:6-8.  Animal sacrifices were not sufficient to cover the sin we have.  For man to be redeemed, it has to be through the sacrifice of Jesus, His sinless Body upon the Cross.  The Cross was always the purpose of Jesus coming to earth.  God became man with the full intention that His Body was to be offered up in sacrifice upon the Cross.

What Jesus accomplished on the Cross was enough to save us (vs. 10).  Nothing has to be added to it.  Nor do we need to accept Jesus as Savior multiple times, over and over again.  Every time we commit a sin, which we all do, we do not need to go and get “re-saved” again and again.  Jesus has redeemed us “once for all”.

The old, repetitious sacrificial system was removed to make way for the new, once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus, who had obediently done God’s will (vs. 9-10).  Jesus came to offer His Body on the Cross for us in a sacrifice that is completely acceptable to God.  The only way to please God is by coming to Him in faith to be forgiven, and then following Him in loving obedience.

Bethlehem is just under six miles southeast of Jerusalem.  The hill of Calvary is just outside of Jerusalem on the north side, so about six miles northwest of Bethlehem.  As we look at the beautiful nativity displays this Christmas, thinking of the wonderful, miraculous birth of our Savior, let us not forget the real purpose and reason that He came.  Jesus went from the manger to the Cross.  Six miles northwest, 33 years later, He would give His life a perfect sacrifice for our sins.  Have you accepted that sacrifice for yourself?  Have you asked the Lord Jesus to be your own personal Savior?  If not, do that today.  Accept the gift that God gave for you, the gift of His only begotten Son, Jesus.

Monday, December 20, 2021

God's Mighty Deliverance

 Psalm 76

Have you ever faced an army?  Most reading this have probably not faced a literal army, though a few might have.  There are always armed conflicts happening in some part of the world, armies rising up against each other, and countries going to war.  It would be a very frightening thing to realize that an armed military enemy is proceeding to come into your community.  Though we might not have ever faced a literal army, most of us have faced other problems that might have seemed like an army of sorts at the time.  We may have faced an “army” of health problems, or an “army” of financial difficulties.  Maybe on our job so many co-workers opposed us that they seemed like an army.  Where can we turn for help when either the literal or figurative army comes marching in?  Our Psalm today gives the answer, and tells of the rejoicing and relief we feel when we have been delivered.

Though not specifically indicated, many Bible scholars believe that Psalm 76 was written to celebrate the destruction of King Sennacherib of Assyria’s army, and his later assassination.  This occurred during the reign of King Hezekiah, king of Judah, and King Hoshea of Israel.  If you could be transported back to this time, you would quickly see that this was a very fearful time in both nations' history.  King Sennacherib of Assyria was on the march throughout the Middle East, and he had probably one of the most powerful armies at the time.  One kingdom and nation after another fell to his conquest, including the northern Kingdom of Israel.

There were no humane “rules of war” that were followed then.  Soldiers did not care one bit about civilian casualties.  Whole villages were plowed under, and everybody, including women, children, and the elderly, was slaughtered.  Now the Assyrian army stood at the border of the Kingdom of Judah and the gates of Jerusalem.  King Hezekiah, who was one of the godly kings of Judah, along with all the people were fearful.  As Sennacherib and his generals stood outside of Jerusalem, they called out to the people and the king.  They mocked Yahweh, the One true God, saying that none of the gods of the other nations helped them against his might, so neither would Yahweh have the power, and other such mocking (II Kings 18:19-37).

When our heart is fearful, maybe even for our very lives, when whatever sort of army is right at our doorstep, what do we do?  Hezekiah went into the Temple and fell flat on his face before the Lord in prayer.  He knew God heard the terrible, blasphemous things this enemy said.  He prayed for God’s help, the only One who could possibly help at this desperate time.  Contrary to what Sennacherib and his generals said and thought, the gods of the other nations were just wood and stone.  They were no gods.  However, Yahweh is the One true God.  He could, and He would wipe them off the face of the earth!  (II Kings 19:32-36).

Psalm 76 was written in praise of the great deliverance that the Lord God brought to His people.  He destroyed the enemies weapons (vs. 3).  The army of Assyria seemed like a mountain coming against God’s people, but He destroyed them (vs. 4).  God crippled the Assyrian army, either literally or figuratively (vs. 5).  He shatters the attitude of all proud governmental leaders who rebel against Him (vs. 12).

God will punish all evildoers.  Even man’s angry revolt will be used by God to bring glory to Himself (vs. 10).  The railings against God and His people are turned into praise to Him when He miraculously intervenes to bring the wicked down.  Hostility to God and His people gives Him the opportunity to do great deeds.  Another example in Scripture that most are familiar with is Pharaoh of Egypt, when he refused to free the Hebrew people.  God worked many mighty miracles then.  He will always turn the tables on the wicked, and bring glory to Himself from the foolishness of those who deny or revolt against Him.  God’s wrath, expressed in judgment, brings praise from those who have been delivered.

As believers, we must never lose our reverence for God, because when we do, we become weak, compromising, and complacent.  God is Judge and King, and He deserves nothing less than wholehearted commitment and obedience.  Sennacherib mocked the Lord and was destroyed.  Hezekiah loved the Lord and was obedient, and Yahweh brought him deliverance.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

O Little Town Of Bethlehem

 Micah 5:2-4

Our Scripture today, for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, gives the prophecy of where the Messiah was to be born.  Micah was a prophet from the southern Kingdom of Judah, and his ministry was from approximately 737 to 696 B.C., during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

With Christmas just days away, we hear Christmas carols on the radio, and they are sung in church.  One favorite of many is O Little Town of Bethlehem, reminding us all of where the Lord Jesus was born.  This was something that was prophesied at least 700 years before he was born (vs. 2).  God worked the details of this out just perfectly, and in His own perfect time.  The Virgin Mary, His mother, was not from Bethlehem, but rather lived in the village of Nazareth, about 70 miles to the north of Bethlehem.  How was she, a young woman in Nazareth, going to have her baby born in Bethlehem?  In those days people didn’t just move to a new village on a whim, nor travel around to have their babies born in one town rather than another.  Yet God worked this out perfectly by having Caesar, over 2,000 miles away, issue a decree in his empire, that everyone was to return to their ancestral home for a census.  Mary, newly married to Joseph, went with him to Bethlehem, the home of his ancestor, David.  It was while there for the census, that she gave birth to Jesus, thus fulfilling the ancient prophecy (Luke 2:1-7).

God worked it out that the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, and not in Nazareth, or even anywhere along the way there, as she was fully 9 months pregnant, and could easily have gone into labor at any time.  Yet God ensured that she was definitely in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, thus fulfilling the prophecy.  Since He worked that out, we can surely trust that He can work out any seemingly difficult or complicated problems that we might face in our own lives.

As we look further at verse 2, we read of the One who is to be Ruler in Israel, and that His “goings forth are from of old, from everlasting”.  This verse shows that Jesus was not a created being that came into existence at the time of His birth in Bethlehem.  Jesus has always existed as One with the Father, since before time began.  Jesus the Messiah is the eternal God.  He testified to this in John 8:58.  “I Am” is the Name that God gave Himself when talking to Moses (Exodus 3:13-14), showing that He has always, and will always exist for all eternity.  Jesus told the Pharisees that He existed before Abraham, and called Himself by the same Name, “I Am”, as God did.  As Micah testified here, Jesus was not a created being.  Jesus is God, and has existed for all eternity.

Micah continues, describing the coming Messiah as a shepherd (vs. 4), as One who will feed His flock.  Jesus is called the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-15).  That is perhaps one of people’s favorite titles for Him, certainly one of the most well known.  We love to see pictures of Jesus as a Shepherd, cradling a lamb in His arms.

Let’s take a quick look at shepherds.   A shepherd has several tasks he has to perform as he cares for the sheep.  They guide the sheep from one field to another.  They watch over them, making sure they don’t wander off or get into danger.  The shepherd protects the sheep from any predatory animals.  He also will give medical treatment, restoring them to health when ill or injured.  And lastly, the shepherd will naturally feed his flock.  As our Good Shepherd, we can see and testify that Jesus does each of these for His children, the sheep of His flock.

In closing, as we sing the Christmas carols that speak of the town of Bethlehem, as we look at the manger scenes that remind us of where Jesus was born, let’s remember this special prophecy, spoken many hundreds of years before Jesus, and know that God can, and will, work everything out according to His good purposes.

Friday, December 17, 2021

A True Child Of Abraham

 Luke 3:7-18

“Do you know who my father is?  Do you know who my family is?”  We might hear someone say this, expecting that their family name will get them some influence or power they wish, believing that mentioning the name of their father will keep someone from picking a fight, or clashing with them.  They might also hope that stating their family name or connections might get them a better position, better table and service, or move them to the head of the line.  We see this sometimes in spiritual circles, as well.  “My grandfather built this church, so the pastor and board better do what I say!”  They may think that because their father or other relative was a pastor or a missionary, they should have special privileges, even with God.  This thinking is nothing new.  People around the time of John the Baptist were talking like that, and he had something to say about it.  Let’s look into our Scripture today from the Gospel of Luke.

As John the Baptist began his ministry as the forerunner to the coming Messiah, he preached a message of repentance, calling upon people to turn from their sins and follow the Lord God.  Though John had a significant following among many people, a large number of the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders who heard him preach felt they did not need to make any changes in their lives, that they needed no repentance because they were descendants from Abraham (vs. 7-8).  They felt that their bloodline gave them all the influence and standing they needed with God, and their behavior didn’t matter.

However, as John the Baptist heard this from many of the Pharisees, he challenged that thinking in his preaching.  As he told his audience, God values true repentance above ritual.  Just going through the religious rituals of the faith, but not having a changed heart, was not enough.  Just saying that Abraham was their father was not going to impress God.  Abraham’s true children are not merely physical descendants, but those who follow his faith, believing God’s Word the way he did.  Later the Apostle Paul preached this message as he brought the Gospel to the Gentiles.  He showed that God did not regard one’s blood-line as making one a true descendant of Abraham.  Instead it was having the saving faith that Abraham had that made one his true descendant (Galatians 3:6-14).  To trust one’s physical ancestry is to shift the focus of faith away from God.

There are many people today who feel that they can get into heaven riding on the coattails of their parents and grandparents, or perhaps also their spouse.  They feel that since their parents or grandparents were good Christians, active members of this or that church, that this is good enough, and should get them some points with God.  Or that since their wife was such a good Christian, that should count enough with God.  However, someone else’s faith will do nothing for us when we stand before God on Judgment Day.  Your mother or grandmother’s faith won’t matter for you then, nor will your wife’s faith.  It is only your faith, or lack of faith, that will matter.  If your parents were children of God through faith, that’s great.  However, God does not have any grandchildren.  Everyone must come to God through Jesus on their own, not depending on someone else’s faith.

John the Baptist continues on, telling his followers that a true, genuine repentance and saving faith will be evident by a changed life.  Good works do not save us.  However, a changed life is a sign that there is true, saving faith in one’s heart.  Some of John’s followers were men and women who had lived disreputable lives before, among them tax collectors who at that time would collect far more money from the people than Rome asked for.  John told them to show their new faith by stopping cheating the people.  He told the soldiers to treat the people kindly (vs. 10-14).  A life that has truly turned to God in repentance should show a change in behavior.

As our Scripture for today comes to a close John the Baptist leaves us with a picture of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, who would come and bring the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  John also stressed how Jesus would come bringing judgment, how He would separate the chaff from the good grain, the true believers from those who are not (vs. 16-17).  Those who refuse to live for God are like chaff, the useless outer husk of the grain.  Those who repent, come to faith in Jesus, and live for Him are like the full grain of wheat.  The chaff is discarded, as it has no value.  The grain has value and is kept.

What are we depending upon to bring us to heaven?  Perhaps our name or family line might have some prestige here on earth, but it carries no weight with God.  Someone else’s faith will help them, but will do us no good.  Turn to the Lord Jesus today in repentance and faith, as the day will come when He will return, and all those who have not repented will be discarded like the chaff.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Worry Less And Pray More

 Philippians 4:4-9

Life today is filled with so many worries, so many cares.  The world has been dealing with a pandemic for about two years now, with new variants frequently popping up.  There are shootings every day on the streets of big cities, and we continue to hear of them in schools.  Natural disasters with killer tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes happen with great frequency.  Then there are our own, personal problems we deal with - financial issues, health concerns, problems on the job, and relationship issues.  These, and so many others, plague us every day, and have even become a concern for young people.  Knowing this, how can we possibly heed the message that Paul has for us today from the final chapter of his letter to the Philippians?  How can we possibly rejoice, as he tells us?  Let’s take a look.

The Apostle Paul endured many trials throughout his life.  He was no stranger to all sorts of difficulties and hardships.  The Philippians saw this firsthand, as both Paul and his assistant Silas were unjustly scourged and imprisoned in the city of Philippi (Acts 16:12-40).  Yet in the middle of those circumstances, they rejoiced and sang hymns.  So when Paul tells us to rejoice no matter what, he knows what he’s talking about (vs. 4).

Our inner attitudes do not have to reflect our outward circumstances.  Paul was full of joy because he knew that no matter what happened to him, Jesus was with him.  Ultimately, joy comes from Christ dwelling within us.  We don’t necessarily rejoice for all things, but we can rejoice in all things.  We can praise God no matter what, because we know the Lord will redeem our situation for our good and His glory if we trust Him.

As Paul continues on, he urges us not to be anxious or worry about anything (vs. 6).  Fretting and worrying indicates a lack of trust in God.  When we struggle on our own with problems, worry and anxiety will creep in.  We will become tired and exhausted struggling with these issues on our own.  Instead, we need to lift our concerns to God in prayer.  He, alone, has the answers, and will set us free.  Delighting in God, and meditating on His Word are a great antidote to anxiety.  We do not need to worry, because God has promised us that he will supply all of our needs (Philippians 4:19).  And we know that God’s boundless blessings will never run out.

Faith-driven prayers to God are never a wasted commodity.  The Lord encourages His children to come to Him, and call on Him.  He will not turn us away, nor will He think our need is too trivial.  God cares about every single detail of our life.  Nothing is too big.  Nothing is too small.  We can tell God what we need, thank Him, and receive His peace.

When we put our trust in God, and stop worrying about our problems, He promises to give us His peace, one that is beyond our understanding (vs. 7).  Inner calm and peace is promised to the believer who has a thankful attitude, and an unwavering confidence that God is able and willing to do what is best for them.  When we are trusting in Him, we can be confident and calm, even in the midst of turmoil.  God’s peace will guard us from anxiety, doubt, fear, and distress.  Paul chose to give his anxieties to Jesus in exchange for His peace. This is a choice we should make, as well.

Where do our worries come from?  They come from our mind, our thoughts.  Paul tells us to instead, keep our thoughts centered on good and positive things (vs. 8-9).  If we dwell on negative or sinful thoughts, our thinking degenerates.  We need to fill our minds with the holy and acceptable things of God.  What we put into our minds determines what comes out in our words and actions.  We need to program our minds with thoughts that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report.  Replace the harmful and impure with something wholesome.  It is not enough to just read or hear God’s Word.  Paul tells us that we need to put it into practice (vs. 9).  Scripture must lead to obedience, and then He will bless us with peace.

The key to having a mind full of peace, instead of one full of fear and anxiety, is to first have a trusting heart (Isaiah 26:3).  If we are truly trusting Jesus, we don’t need to spend all of our time thinking about problems.  Instead, we can be thinking of the good things He blesses us with, and letting His thoughts and Word occupy our mind.  We can worry less by praying more.  Let’s turn our worries into prayers!

Monday, December 13, 2021

Mercy, Truth, Righteousness, And Peace

 Psalm 85

Can two opposites come together, two diametrically opposed positions?  One would think that could not happen.  In our psalm for today we have two opposing positions that the Lord will bring together.  Let’s take a look, and see how this can happen.

As we read Psalm 85, we come upon two opposite positions one can have.  On the one hand there is mercy and peace, and the seemingly opposite position of righteousness and truth on the other hand (vs. 10-11).  A person who is obediently following God’s Laws is considered a righteous person.  They are practicing righteousness.  The truth would reveal anyone who was not obediently following the Law.   By that Law there would not be any mercy given to that person.  There would be no peace between the righteous and the unrighteous, nor peace with God.  Showing mercy would seemingly be contradicting or opposing the truth of righteousness.

How could these two sides ever come together?  Under the Law, mercy and truth could not meet.  Righteousness and peace could not kiss or greet each other.  How discouraging that is for all of us, for there is not a single one of us who can keep all of God’s Law perfectly.  As Scripture says, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10).   We need to be righteous in order to come to God, but alas, we are incapable of that.  We need mercy!  We need some way to have peace with God.  Since there is no way to accomplish this on our own, is there any hope?

Through our own efforts, the answer is definitely no.  However, there is hope, because God, Himself, provided a way.  That way is through His Son, Jesus Christ.  In Jesus Christ these two opposing sides meet.  Jesus was righteous in every way, having never sinned.  Thus, He, alone was able to satisfy God’s righteousness, and pay the price for our salvation through His death on the cross.  Only a heaven-born righteousness could undertake the justification of sinners.  Jesus satisfied the Law in every capacity at the Cross.  Truth and righteousness judged sin at Calvary.

With that settled through Jesus’s sacrifice, mercy and peace flow freely to sinners.  God is able to show His great mercy to all who come to Him through His Son, Jesus.  We can now have peace with God.  Now, very importantly, we who have had mercy shown to us, can and should show and extend that mercy to others, instead of being judgmental and self-righteous.

When this happens, when we accept the Lord’s salvation and His righteousness, and we experience His mercy and peace, we are spiritually brought to life, and have a spiritual revival (vs. 6).  A spiritual revival restores us to a right relationship with God.  It also returns us to a place where we can delight in Him, and joyfully celebrate His goodness, love, and mercy.

So many Christians today, though they are saved, are just lukewarm in their faith.  They are just going through the motions.  Some find it difficult to rejoice in the Lord when they are going through tough times. Others see no need for God when their life is going smoothly.  They need a spiritual revival.  They need to turn away from the sins they have become complacent about, and return wholeheartedly to the Lord.

This world desperately needs a spiritual revival, as well.  We need another great awakening.   As believers, we need to be praying for a great revival, both in the Church and in the world.  When we get right with God, and the spark of revival from the Holy Spirit gets reignited within us, that little flame can grow and spread.  It will spread from one believer to another within our churches, and then like a fire, it will spread into the neighborhoods, and on and on, bringing the lost to Christ.  As the psalmist does, we need to pray for revival in ourselves, our neighborhoods, in our country, and in the world.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Be Glad And Rejoice

 Zephaniah 3:14-20

One of the best feelings anyone can have is that of being forgiven, especially by someone we love, and the broken relationship restored.  Sometimes we may fear that we have gone too far, done too much, perhaps that too much time has passed, and we will never be forgiven.  Then the miracle happens, and the pardon is granted.  In our Scripture today to begin the third week of Advent, the prophet Zephaniah tells of God’s love and forgiveness of His children, and the joy and gladness we can know at that time.

The Book of Zephaniah is one of the minor prophets in the Bible, a short book of prophecy with only three chapters.  The prophet Zephaniah was descended from royalty, being a descendant of King Hezekiah.  He preached God’s message to the people during the earlier years of King Josiah, probably from around 635 - 625 B.C.  This would have been before the great religious reforms of King Josiah.  Zephaniah was also a contemporary during the early years of the ministry of the prophet Jeremiah.

As our passage begins, the prophet Zephaniah tells God’s children that they have great reason to rejoice.  They are to sing and shout.  They are to be glad and rejoice with all of their heart (vs. 14).  What was the reason that they were to be so happy and rejoice?  For centuries, both the northern Kingdom of Israel, and the southern Kingdom of Judah had strayed from the Lord God, worshipping the pagan gods and goddesses of neighboring countries.  Naturally, this angered God, and would bring His judgment upon them.  Knowing this, why should they rejoice?  One would think that they should be told to weep and mourn, which we read at many other places in Scripture.  As Zephaniah tells, the reason the people could and should rejoice was that God would forgive the people.  He would take away their judgment (vs. 15).  This would happen, individually when one accepts the Lord Jesus as Savior, and nationally to Israel when they will finally as a people accept Jesus as Messiah at His Second Coming.

God is the Mighty One.  He will forgive and save all those who come to Him through the Blood of His Son, Jesus.  He is always with us, and He is mighty to forgive and save.  No matter what one may have done in their past, if they came to God, accepting the Lord Jesus as their Savior, they will be assured of full forgiveness.

As Zephaniah continues, he tells the people that the Lord will rejoice over His people (vs. 17).  Wouldn’t you love to have someone rejoice over you?  Young couples relish the love and attention that their spouse gives them.  God’s Word proclaims that He loves His redeemed children immeasurably.  Just as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so God will rejoice over His redeemed children with gladness and songs.

Though we do at times walk in the midst of trouble, God’s right hand will reach out and save us from our enemies.  God is mighty to save us, and He will quiet us with His love.  When a young child seeks their parent’s love and comfort, especially after a time of upset, they will climb into their parent’s lap, and the parent often rocks them back and forth, calming them down with soft words, and even songs and lullabies.  It is the same with God.  He delights in us, and loves us each so much that He sings melodies of love, and rejoices over us because we are His.

One of the names that the Messiah has is Emmanuel, which means “God with us”.  This is a special truth, and one that Zephaniah speaks of in this passage, that God is in our midst (vs. 17).  The gladness that the prophet says God’s children can have results when we allow the Lord to come into our lives and be with us.  We do that by faithfully following Him and obeying His commands.  God’s love for us is stronger than anything that would try and come against us.  He is bigger than any opposition that comes against us.  God will be with His children, rejoicing over us with singing.

Friday, December 10, 2021

John the Baptist

 Luke 3:1-6

Advent is the time of year when Christians prepare themselves spiritually for the coming holy day of Christmas, the remembrance of the coming of the Savior into the world as our Redeemer.  It is a time of spiritual renewal, along with hope and preparation for His Second Coming.  As we finish up the second week of Advent, let’s take a look at a figure that is frequently featured in Gospel passages during this season, John the Baptist.  Let’s see what we can learn from his short life.

As our Scripture opens, John the Baptist has appeared on the scene, preaching a message of repentance from one’s sinful life, and to prepare for the coming of the One the prophets have foretold.  Earlier in the Gospel of Luke we read of John’s rather special birth.  His parents were Zechariah, who was a priest in the Temple, of the line of Aaron, and Elizabeth, who was related to the Virgin Mary.  They were an elderly couple, who had been unable to have any children, despite their prayers.  Then one day, while Zechariah was performing his priestly duties in the Temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him, and told him that they will have a son who will be the forerunner to the Messiah.  Zechariah doubted this, as they were way past the age to have any children.  His lack of faith caused him to become mute until John was born (Luke 1:5-25, 57-80).

John the Baptist was six months older than his cousin, Jesus, and sometime during his adult years, he left Judea, where he had been born and raised.  John abandoned the rather affluent life he had lived as a member of the priestly class, and went into the wilderness east of the Jordan River, to live a life of prayer and meditation, drawing closer to the Lord.  John forsook the fine clothes and good food that he had all his life, and instead dressed in clothes made from leather and camel hair, and ate a diet of locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4).

John’s public ministry began several months before Jesus came on the scene.  He came out from the wilderness and began preaching, staying mainly by the Jordan River, east of Jerusalem.  John preached a message primarily of repentance and turning from sin to the Lord God.  He also spoke of the coming of the Messiah, which he believed would be soon, and to prepare for His arrival.

John had an important job to do for God, that of announcing the coming of the Savior.  He put all of his energy and all of his dedication into this task.  John preached with irresistible authority and truth.  He challenged the crowds to turn from their sins, and he baptized them as a symbol of their repentance.  However, he never forgot that his main role was to announce the coming of the Savior.

One thing that distinguished John the Baptist from many of the preachers of his day, and especially most preachers of today, is that he fearlessly spoke out against sin.  He didn’t cater to the crowds, preaching only what would please them.  He didn’t tiptoe around their feelings, seeking not to offend anyone.  He preached God’s Word with power, whether it offended anyone or not.  John was fearless in confronting sin, even in the king.  He was uncompromising.  He knew that standing for the truth was more important than life itself, and it ultimately cost him his life.

In our Scripture, Luke quotes from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3-5; Isaiah 52:10), indicating that John was fulfilling these prophecies, that he was the voice crying in the wilderness to prepare for the coming of the Lord (vs. 4-6).  When a monarch in ancient times traveled around his kingdom, he had men go ahead of him to make sure the roads were safe and smooth.  John the Baptist was calling on people, both Gentiles as well as Jews, to make sure and prepare their hearts for the coming of the Messiah.

How well are we preparing for the coming of the Lord Jesus?  Many of you might be busy decorating your house for Christmas.  You may be busy shopping and baking, but are you taking any time to be sure your heart and life are prepared for the Lord Jesus?  John the Baptist, along with the Lord Jesus, preached repentance, a turning away from sin and turning towards God.  The crooked and rough ways in our life must be made straight and smooth.  We can’t say that we believe and then go and do anything we choose.  John was uncompromising in his message against sin, and we must be, as well, to prepare a place for the Lord in our hearts. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

God Finishes What He Begins

 Philippians 1:1-11

Everyone has made mistakes at some point in their life.   We’ve all done things wrong or have failed.  Sometimes we fail in a really big way.  When we fail and really mess things up in a big way, we might feel that we have let our family and friends down, and that we have failed God.  Sometimes, if this happens more than once, some friends might give up on us and turn away.  That might even happen with some families.  One too many goof-ups and people might not want anything more to do with us.  Could this happen with God, as well?  If we fail Him in a big way, or too many times, will He wash His hands of us?  Will He say that He is finished with us?  Our Scripture reading today from Paul’s letter to the Philippians will give us an answer to that question.

Paul had brought the message of Jesus to the city of Philippi several years prior to this letter, and now he is writing to them while sitting in prison for having preached the Gospel.  Though his time in Philippi wasn’t long, he remembered back with fond and thankful thoughts of those who came to saving faith while there (vs. 3-5).   Now Paul wanted to remind them of something important, something that is also just as important for us to know, as well.  When we first came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, God began a work in us.  That work is to conform us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).  And Paul tells us here that when God began that work, He will complete that in us (vs. 6).  This is a promise that we can depend on.

What if we have failed God, and let Him down?  Some of us have started projects, made some mistakes, and then scrapped the whole thing.  Maybe we started to draw something, or write something, and felt it wasn’t right, so we tossed it out.  Maybe a meal we attempted to make didn’t turn out good, so we threw it away.  Perhaps God might do the same with us, we think.  Maybe we have failed in our Christian walk, and in life.  Our former experiences in life have led us to believe that failure will bring rejection, even from God.  As Paul tells us here, that is not the truth.  God will finish the work He has begun in us (vs. 6).  He will forgive (I John 1:9).

God views every mess in our lives as a masterpiece in the making.  When He looks at our lives, He sees the beauty He is creating, not the turmoil.  He will not stop mid-design, or call it quits.  God will finish the good work He started.  He won’t give up. As we accept God’s work in us, He will transform us to become more like Jesus.  In a steady and faithful progression to become more and more like Jesus, we can be confident that He who began a good work in us will continue it until it is finally finished on the day when He returns.

As God’s work in our lives continues, and as we grow more to be like Jesus, our knowledge, discernment, and other fruits of righteousness should also grow (vs. 9-11).  As Jesus increases in us, and as we grow and mature as Christians, His loving nature should intensify within us.  We should have a growing love for God, that includes knowledge and insight.  This would include spiritual discernment to avoid false teachings (vs. 9).

We also need moral discernment to maintain our Christian morals and values, to differentiate between right and wrong, good and bad, and vital and trivial (vs. 10).  We need to discern the things that are excellent, things that really matter.  We need to distinguish the vital and worthwhile things in life from those that are not.  Paul also encourages us to live our lives without offense, having nothing in our life that would give cause for someone to stumble.

In closing, we need to remember that though our parents, teachers, spouse, family, and so-called friends may give up on us, God never will.  He has a purpose in view when we were saved, and that purpose will neither be abandoned nor unrealized.  God is always faithful to finish what He begins.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Half Empty Or Half Full

 Psalm 126

There is a saying that has been around for ages, that asks if the glass is half full or half empty.  A person who says that the glass is half full is an optimistic person, a hopeful person.  They look for the positive in things.  Contrarily, the person who says the glass is half empty is more pessimistic and negative.  People frequently become “glass half empty” after going through difficult times, particularly if that lasts a long time.  However, remaining “glass half empty” doesn’t make it any easier.  Striving to have a “glass half full” attitude will help, even in the worst of times.  Our psalm for today records some feelings of the people of Israel after having spent years, decades even, as captive in a foreign land, but have now been allowed to return to their homeland.  Are they half empty, having spent years as captives, and knowing their homeland lies in ruins?  Or are they half full, trusting in the Lord to raise them up again with His blessings?

The people of Israel had persistently and continually strayed away from Yahweh, disobeying His laws, refusing to follow His Word, and turning instead to false gods.  After repeated warnings from the prophets that the Lord had sent, He finally allowed the nation to be overtaken by their enemies, and the people taken into captivity.  Now, the people are allowed to return.  Has the years of captivity beaten them down, causing them to be pessimistic about the future?  Perhaps even afraid that the Lord will never truly forgive them?  Or, instead, are they joyful and hopeful for what the Lord has in store for them in the future?  Either one would be an understandable feeling.

As our psalm today begins, the psalmist and his group said that this time was like a dream (vs. 1).  Was this a glass half full, good dream or a half empty nightmare?  As we continue on in the psalm we see that the people were filled with joy and laughter, so they were definitely optimistic and happy people! (vs. 2-3).  Instead of dwelling on all the bad things that had happened to them and their families over the last 70+ years, they instead were praising God for what He was doing for them right then.  The Lord was bringing them back to their native land.  They were focused on the love and mercy God was bestowing on them, not on past trials.

The glass half empty person would be worrying about what they would find when they arrived in their homeland.  He would be fretting about having to rebuild their homes and cities, worrying about how they would accomplish all that they needed to do.  He would be fearful of the enemies nations they would have to deal with.  The glass half full crowd, the ones who wrote this psalm, instead chose to focus their thoughts and words on praising the Lord and recounting all that He had done for them, both in the past, now, and into the future.  They chose to concentrate on the great things that the Lord has done for them.

It is true that we have trials, but it is equally true that God delivers us.  We have sin, but we have a Savior who overcomes sin, and delivers us from sin’s dominion.  The deeper the trouble, the louder our thanks to God should be.  God does do great things for us.  His power not only releases us from sin’s captive hold, but brings us back to Him.

The last two verses of our psalm speak of going forth sowing seed, and returning with the crop (vs. 5-6).  They are reminiscent in a way of the parable of the sower that Jesus told of the man who sowed the seed and of his harvest, referring to bringing the Word of God to others, and reaping a harvest of souls for God’s Kingdom (Mark 4:2-20).  Most of us have unsaved family members and friends, those who we would love to see accept Jesus, but as of yet they have resisted.  We grieve over knowing they are spiritually lost.  When we sorrow over the lost, and faithfully bring God’s message of salvation (the seed), we will later rejoice when that seed bears fruit, and our loved one is saved.

We can also have tears of repentance over sin in our life.  By sowing those tears, we can reap a harvest of the return of God’s blessings.  Our tears can also be from the tragedies we go through.  Those tears can then become seeds that will grow into a harvest of joy because God is able to bring good out of tragedy.  Be patient as we wait.  God’s great harvest of joy is coming.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Consider Your Ways!

 Haggai 1:3-13

Children often get frustrated when activities of theirs don’t seem to succeed for them.  They wonder why, and frequently the answer is because they aren’t doing things correctly, they aren’t following instructions, or doing what they were told.  All too often we see the same with adults, including Christians.  They wonder why their efforts don’t succeed.  Our Old Testament Scripture this Second Sunday of Advent comes from the prophet Haggai, and addresses this problem.

Haggai is one of the twelve minor prophets.  The term “minor prophet” does not mean that their message was of lesser importance or value.  It strictly refers to the size of the book.  There are four books referred to as major prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.  Their books are significantly larger than those of the minor prophets.  Little is known of the prophet Haggai’s background.  He was a post-exilic prophet, and preached during the time of the building of the second Temple. Haggai 2:3 implies that he may have been around before the destruction of Solomon’s Temple.  If that was the case, Haggai would have been a very elderly man at the time of this book, well over 70 years old.

As the book of Haggai opens, the Jewish people had been released from captivity in Babylon, and allowed to return to their homeland. Construction of a new Temple was initially planned, but was not being built.  Now the people had become content and complacent about continuing with its building, as they focused now on their own homes and lives (vs. 4).  People had misplaced priorities.  They were concerned with making sure their careers were right on track, and that their own homes were nicely built.  However, God’s house, the Temple, remained in ruins in the center of Jerusalem.

Haggai observed this, and it disturbed him.  He knew that it disturbed God.  What were the people thinking?  He called upon them to look at themselves and to consider their ways (vs. 5).   Because of this, God was sending them economic distress (vs. 6).  They were working hard, but their wallets were empty, their bank accounts were bleak.  Now there wasn’t enough food or drink, and their clothes were getting worn thin.  Yet the people were not making any connection between their difficulties and their neglecting of God, so Haggai admonished them to look at what they were doing.

Their selfish lack of concern for God’s house was causing them hardship.  Because the people had not given God first place, their work was not fruitful or productive, and their possessions did not satisfy (vs. 6-11).  While they concentrated on their own homes, God’s blessings were withheld.  The people were more concerned that their own homes were finely built, rather than being concerned that the Temple was built.  They were no longer putting God first.

“Consider your ways!”  That was a phrase that the prophet used a number of times throughout his book.  Look at what you are doing.  How does it measure up to what God has told you to do?  Look at your heart’s attitude!  We need to take note of what we are doing, and amend our ways accordingly.  We need to measure our lives against the light and truth of God’s Word.

Neglecting God’s work for our own personal gain will lead to poverty of soul and pocket.  We will miss many blessings from God if we focus only on ourselves.  We need to be careful of our priorities.  By putting God first, He promised that He will be honored in our worship, and will bring His blessings (vs. 8, 13).

If we put God first, He will provide for our needs.  If we put Him in any other place, all of our efforts will be futile.  Caring only for our needs while ignoring God will lead to ruin.  Putting God first in all areas of our life is the secret to obtaining His blessings throughout our life.  As the Scripture tells us here, we need to consider our ways.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Warning Signs

 Luke 21:25-33

When the news reports that a natural disaster is on the brink of happening, many people fly into a panic, with great fear overwhelming them.  If scientists warned that a huge meteor was heading towards earth, fear and hysteria might overtake many.  Even warnings of a strong hurricane or large blizzard heading our way can make some become filled with anxiety.  Fortunately right now being hit by a large meteor is rather rare, and though strong earthquakes happen, several countries that are prone to them try to construct their buildings appropriately.  Meteorologists also try to give us ample warning for dangerous storms.  In our Scripture today from the Gospel of Luke we read of a time coming when nature here on earth, in the sky, and in the heavens will be in an uproar, with catastrophic storms and astronomical events such as has never been seen before.  How will people respond then?  Let’s look at our passage for today.

As our Scripture opens, Jesus is teaching His disciples about what will be happening here on earth right prior to His return.  As we read these verses we see that there will be unusual happenings in outer space with the sun, the moon, and stars, along with storms that seemingly turn the oceans into an uproar (vs. 25).  Things that we’ve never seen happening before.  The ominous sights that are seen in the sky, along with the intensity of the storms and happenings on earth, will cause such fear and anxiety in people like never before (vs. 26).

The increase in the number of and strength of storms can be a result of climate change.  However, who ultimately controls all weather here on earth, and controls the courses of the sun, stars, and planets?  Yahweh, the God of heaven and earth, decides when it will rain, where and how strong the winds will blow, when the snow will fall and when it will melt.  He alone controls all events of nature, in spite of anything man does.

Many will ask that if God controls all of this, why does He allow it to happen?  All throughout Scripture we see that when mankind falls away from God, turning their back on Him, scoffing at Him and His Word, then the Lord brings judgment.  How has mankind been in relationship to Jesus since He returned to heaven, especially in the last century?  As Jesus describes here, the judgment of God will fall upon the nations of the world.  This judgment will have no precedent in past history.

Of course there are many who scoff at the idea of such events ever happening, including even some in the Church.   They say that God would never bring such judgment upon mankind, as He is a God of only love.  God is love, but He also hates sin, and will judge sin on the earth.  Jesus’s words here contain a warning.  This final judgment will be a reality.  The same Jesus who walked this earth in peace and meekness the first time He came, is also the ascended Lord who will return as Judge of all.  All who ever lived will either find their redemption in Jesus, or face God’s wrath.

In the midst of all of these catastrophic events happening in the heavens and upon earth, Jesus will return in glory (vs. 27).  The world will not have to ask if it is really Him.  It will be obvious to all.  All who denied Jesus, who turned to other religions, or other philosophies such as humanism, will have no choice but to admit they were wrong, and that He, indeed, is Lord of all.  They will know that God’s Word, the Bible, is true, word for word.  Yet it will be too late for them.  Everything that God has said in the Bible will happen, just as He said it would (vs. 33).

As our Scripture passage closes, Jesus tells us that we can know when His return will be drawing near (vs. 29-31).  I live in a part of the U.S. which has long, cold, and snowy winters.  Often spring doesn’t make an appearance until mid-April.  As one who doesn’t like winter, I eagerly look for signs of the coming spring, like the appearance of leaf buds on the trees.  Likewise, Jesus said that the signs in these and previous verses of the chapter will indicate that His coming is drawing near.

Knowing of these coming persecutions and natural disasters might seem to be a cause of worry or fear.  On the contrary, they should bring us joy, knowing that the return of Jesus is near.  Don’t be terrified by what is happening in the world today or in the future.  Confidently await Christ’s return to bring justice and restoration.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Love For One Another

 I Thessalonians 3:9-13

If you were the first person to come across a house or an apartment building on fire, what would you do?  Most people would first call emergency to summon the fire department.  Then they might try to notify the residents of the house or building, calling out warnings of a fire so they will safely get out.  It wouldn’t matter that we didn’t know these people, that they weren’t our best friends or family.  What would we think of someone who couldn’t be bothered to try and warn the residents, or someone who said that they didn’t know them and didn’t want to be late for their manicure appointment?  Do they have so little love for their fellow man?  In our Scripture for today Paul urges the believers to increase their love for other Christians and also for everyone.  Let’s look into our passage.

Our Scripture opens with Paul reminding the Thessalonian church of how important they are to him, and how thankful he is for them and their faith (vs. 9).  Are we thankful for our fellow believers, both those in our own individual church, our Christian circle of friends, and also fellow Christians around the world that we do not know personally?

Do we have a love for other Christians?  One way we can show our love for our brothers and sisters in the faith, that Paul mentions here, is to pray for one another (vs. 10).  When we lift other believers in prayer, we show our care and concern as we remember their needs.  Is someone in our church critically ill, someone else needing a job, or having serious financial needs?  As we pray for them, the Lord may put it upon our hearts to put some feet to our prayers, to do what we can to help them out.  Many of the churches who prayed for Paul and his ministry also helped him out financially.  When Paul was in prison, many stood with him in prayer, and also sent him clothing and other items he needed while behind bars (II Timothy 4:13).

Sometimes it is difficult to love some of our fellow Christians.  Sometimes certain members of our church might really get on our nerves.  They argue and are difficult in church meetings, always seeming to be oppositional, wanting things their way.  They may be critical of our own service to the Lord, saying we aren’t doing the work correctly, or are not qualified, etc.  They may even spread rumors and lies about us.  However, nowhere in this passage, nor anywhere else in Scripture does the Lord give us exceptions to His command to love our fellow Christians, including the cantankerous, the mean, and those who are just different from us.

As Paul encourages us to increase our love for each other (fellow believers), he also tells us to increase our love for all others (vs. 12).  Here is where we really show how well we are following the Lord Jesus or not.  Most people don’t have any problem with showing love for their family or friends.  And often it is not difficult to love our fellow believers, as we have a mutual love for the Savior and things of the Lord.  But love other people, the non-believers, the sinful people of the world?  Those who oppose us, the abusers, the cheats, the drug addicts, the criminals?  Those are all people Jesus came to die for, and He wants His children to love them just as He does.

How can we show these others that we love them?  This world is filled with people being selfish, cold, and heartless.  This should not be the case with Christians.  The unsaved neighbors should see a difference in our behavior, a kindness and caring that is so rarely seen in others.  Even little things like giving up that parking spot, or letting someone pull in front of you in traffic.  When shoveling the snow on your sidewalk, shovel the unsaved neighbor’s too, or mow their lawn when you do yours.  They will know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35).

The most important way to show love for the lost is by telling them about the Lord Jesus Christ, by sharing the Gospel message with them.  We need to be telling the world about Jesus and the salvation He offers.  We know that what awaits those who die without the Savior is an eternity in hell.  We know that, and yet so often we don’t bother to say anything because it is uncomfortable or socially awkward.  That is like walking past that burning building and saying nothing to those inside!  How much do we have to hate someone to not witness to them?  How much do we have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible, and yet not tell them that?!

Don’t let your unsaved family, neighbors, and those you are acquainted with perish because you couldn’t be bothered to tell them about Jesus.  Remember that burning building with people inside.  You know what’s happening.  They don’t.  You wouldn’t just turn away without warning them, would you?  Don’t do that for those facing an eternity in hell, either.