Saturday, January 30, 2021

God's Word On The Occult

 Deuteronomy 18:9-20

Today’s Scripture passage is one that you aren’t likely to find preached much upon in too many churches today. It concerns activities involved with the occult.  It’s a topic that many preachers shy away from. Perhaps they feel that the activities mentioned in the beginning of the passage are just harmless pastimes, and as such, people have the right to do as they choose.  However, as we read these admonitions from God’s Word, we see that He is serious about the wickedness of such practices.  Let’s study what the Lord has to say to us today.

Moses and the people of Israel were encamped just on the east side of the River Jordan, ready to pass over and enter into the Promised Land.  The Book of Deuteronomy contains a rehearsal of the laws and words that God had given the people earlier, along with the final words that Moses gave the people before they entered the land and he passed away.  Among these instructions were admonitions against following the pagan and wicked practices of the people who currently inhabited the land.  They were not to worship their pagan gods or indulge in any of their evil behavior.  Yahweh warns the people through His servant Moses to not get involved in or practice any of the occult practices of the people.

The first practice that is mentioned was sacrificing one’s child to the pagan gods as a burnt sacrifice (vs. 10).  The pagan people would occasionally sacrifice one of their children to gain their god’s favor, particularly prior to a war, or when there was famine or drought.  That’s not one that is generally practiced today.  Notice, though, human sacrifice, as abhorrent as we believe it to be, is classified right in there with all of these other occult practices.  In God’s eyes they are all equally detestable to Him.

After mentioning the pagan practice of sacrificing children to pagan gods, Moses goes on to mention several occult practices, most of these many people today occasionally or often get involved in, including sometimes Christians.   These include witchcraft and sorcery, soothsaying, interpreting omens, casting spells, visiting a medium who calls up the dead, and spiritism.  Soothsaying would be all practices that involve trying to predict or read the future.  This would include things like reading horoscopes, palm reading, having one’s star charts drawn up, and reading Tarot cards.  Spiritism includes practices involved with speaking with “other-worldly spirits”, which in actuality are evil spirits or demons.  One common practice of this is through the Ouija board.  Other ways can be with mind-altering drugs.

Many people today, including some Christians, say that these practices are generally just harmless fun.  What could possibly be harmful about reading one’s horoscope?  They say that the Ouija board or Tarot cards are just a game.  And when a grieving husband or wife tries to contact their dead spouse, or parent their dead child, some people might argue, saying that is just a comfort to them as they mourn.  Satan is behind everything involved with the occult.  God forbids His children from having anything to do with it.  They are not just harmless games.  When we crack the door open just a tiny bit for Satan, like with a little “game” on the Ouija board or checking our star charts, he will slam the whole door down and off its hinges!  Such practices grant him ground in our life, and he will come into our life, taking up more and more ground.  Is that something a Christian should do?  Not at all!  Satan is still dangerous.

People today wish to know and control the future.  God tells us all that we need to know about what is going to happen through His Word, the Bible.  The will of God is found through His Word, not through any horoscopes, fortune tellers, Ouija boards, or contacting the dead.  Moses ends this passage with a prediction of the coming Messiah, and how He will bring God’s Word to His people (vs. 15-18).  It is to Him that we need to turn to, not evil spirits conjured up by sorcerers and mediums.  Jesus is the Mediator between God and man (I Timothy 2:5), not Tarot cards or palm readers.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Whatever The Cost

 Mark 1:14-20

We can often tell a person’s devotion to something or to someone by how much they are willing to give up for that person or object.  Are they willing to part with a good deal of money?  Will they give up their job, their home, sacrifice their family?  Historians may remember about 84 years ago a man giving up his throne for “the woman he loved”.  In our reading today from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, we see several men called to give up the jobs they had, and to follow the Savior.  Let’s take a look.

As our Scripture passage opens, Jesus had just been baptized and spent over a month in the wilderness, being tempted by Satan.  Now Jesus has gone to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where He calls two sets of brothers, the first four of His apostles.  The first two are the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew.  The other two are the brothers James and John.  Peter and Andrew had their own boat and fishing business.  James and John were in business with their father Zebedee.  Zebedee’s business seemed to be a rather prosperous one, as they even had other hired employees.  As John later alludes to in his Gospel, he knew the high priest’s family personally (John 18:15-16), so perhaps the family fishing business was so successful that they had some rather well-to-do customers, that of the high priests in Jerusalem.  Why else would the family of the high priest in Jerusalem know common fishermen in Galilee?

Jesus began His ministry by echoing the words of John the Baptist, that of the need of repentance and believing in the gospel (vs. 15).  The call for repentance from sin was a major point in John the Baptist’s messages, and contrary to what many people today think, it was also a message that Jesus preached (Matthew 4:17).  Right after the ordeal of the temptation and His victory there, Jesus sets to work proclaiming the message of repentance and salvation.  “Repent and believe” were the words He spoke to start off His earthly ministry, breaking the power of sin and beginning God’s personal reign on earth.

These pairs of brothers were familiar with John the Baptist’s ministry, having gone to hear him preach, probably on more than one occasion, and through him, they knew who Jesus was, having seen Him baptized and heard the Baptist’s testimony.  When Jesus called the men, He was not a total stranger to them.  These men had faith in Jesus and believed His message of salvation, enough so that they were willing to abandon their jobs and follow the call of God on their lives (vs. 18, 20).  Jesus called them to be “fishers of men”, to evangelize, tell others about Him and about salvation.  That is the most important job of a Christian - to tell others about Jesus.

It cost the disciples to follow Jesus.  Not just these four, but also the other chosen men, as well.  They each would have had a job, too.  They heard God’s call on their life, and forsook all to follow Him.  It cost them their jobs, along with time with family and friends.  It cost them a reputation with many of their neighbors and kinfolk, and eventually it cost them each their lives.  It will cost us today to faithfully follow Jesus and His Word, the Bible, as well.  A faithful follower of Jesus is usually not too popular.  It may cost us many of our friends, and frequently our families.  In some countries, it may cost some their job and/or their lives to become a Christian.

At the beginning of our passage we read that John the Baptist was put in prison (vs. 14).  He was put in prison by King Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod the Great who had ordered the slaughter of the young children of Bethlehem.  Herod Antipas had put John the Baptist in prison because John took a stand for godliness and righteousness.  He was not concerned with being popular and making a good impression with people.  When he saw sin, he called it out.  Herod had an affair with his brother’s wife, and then took her to be his wife, and John called him on that sin.  For that, John paid a price, and ultimately was beheaded.  Each of the apostles paid a price for following Jesus.  All but the Apostle John were martyred, though he suffered plenty, as well.

What about us?  Are we willing to give up anything to follow Jesus?  Some Christians have a hard time just getting out of bed on a Sunday morning to go to church.  And to tell others about Jesus?  They have a thousand excuses why they can’t do that!  Are we willing to take a stand for God like John the Baptist did?  Yes, it may be difficult.  It may cost us some popularity in town.  Some of our friends or family may turn away from us.  However, Jesus is still calling us to become fishers of men, to tell others about Him, whatever the cost.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Three Traps

I John 2:15-17 

Faithfulness and loyalty.  Those are two virtues that we like to see in others.  The wife likes to know that her spouse is faithful to her.  A company wants to know that the employees are loyal to them, and not giving “company secrets” to the competitor.  A country wants its citizens faithful and loyal, as well.  In our Scripture passage today, we will learn how we cannot pursue another love, that of the world, if we as believers are to be faithful and true to the Lord.  Let’s look into our passage.

The Apostle John begins our brief passage with the statement that believers cannot love both the world and the Father, or God, at the same time.  Scripture is very clear in teaching us that we cannot pursue worldly goals and still follow Christ.  The term “world” that is used here would refer to the world system.  We should take care of the physical world, and not pollute or destroy it.  God made it and declared it good.  However, the world system and its philosophies are a different matter.  This is the domain of Satan.  Because we belong to God, our loyalty and love should be with Him, not with sinful lusts and possessions.  A person who truly wants to follow Jesus will desire to be more holy than he desires to be happy.  He will love God more than he loves worldly things.

This life is not the end goal.  As Christians, we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and are not to love the world or what it offers (vs. 15).  An absence of love for this world’s system, philosophies, and mind-set should characterize those who are born-again and belong to Jesus.  If one has a love for the Satanically-controlled world system, then they can’t truly have a real love for God.  There is no middle ground.

Worldliness has three attitudes, as we see in verse 16.  First, lust of the flesh, a preoccupation with gratifying physical desires.  Second, a lust of the eyes, in craving and accumulating material things, and bowing to the god of materialism.  And thirdly, a pride of life, an obsession with status and importance.  God values self-control, generosity, and humility.

Satan tempts us with whatever physical senses we are too preoccupied by.  Our senses are good, but when we venture outside God’s intentions for them, they become an attempt to get our needs met outside the will of God.  Satan also flashes all the things of the world in front of us.  He tempts us to think they will make us fulfilled, and that we must have them in order to be happy.  He also tempts our pride.  We try to elevate ourselves over others, wanting people to notice us, commend us, and stroke our pride.

The world’s philosophies and ideologies are deceptive (vs. 16).  They are raised up against the knowledge of God, and hold the souls of men captive (II Corinthians 10:3-5).  The “flesh” is the sin-nature of man, the rebellious self dominated by sin, and in opposition to God.  Satan uses the world system to incite the flesh.  Our eyes are an avenue to incite wrong desires.  And the “pride of life” is the arrogance and haughtiness we use to impress other people.

The world is the enemy of Christians.  It is in rebellion and opposition to God, and is controlled by Satan.  The world will pass away, (vs. 17), but God’s will is permanent and unchangeable.  Possessions will pass away.  However, those who do the will of God, who have accepted the Lord Jesus as Savior, will live forever.

If we constantly listen to some music that is out of tune, we too will sing out of tune.  We copy the people with whom we associate.  We take thoughts from the books we read, the TV shows we watch, and radio programs we listen to.  God tells us not to love the world, but instead to love His Word.  When we follow His Word we can detect the false teachings of the world.  Do not love and follow the world.  Love and follow Jesus.  There is only room for one master in our lives (Matthew 6:24).

Monday, January 25, 2021

Out Of The Depths

 Psalm 130

Sometimes the problems in our life can seem so overwhelming, as if the floods of our troubles keep washing over us, and we feel like we are sinking under them.  We can picture ourselves with wave after wave coming upon us, and we can’t seem to come up to fresh air.  Or maybe we picture ourselves down in a deep pit with no way out.  There is nothing to grab on to in order to climb out, and no rope to hang on to.  We are down in the depths, and the only hope we have is to call upon the Lord to rescue us.  This is where our psalmist for today found himself.  Let’s look at what he says.

Today’s psalm is one of fifteen psalms, Psalms 120 - 134, that were called “Songs of Ascent”.  They were mostly short psalms that pilgrims going up to Jerusalem would sing or recite together.  They were called songs of ascent, as Jerusalem was on a higher elevation, and when coming to the city, one was ascending or climbing from just about any direction they came from.

The author of this psalm was in some sort of severe distress, as he felt like he was sinking, that he was down in the depths, with no way out (vs. 1).  Either he has no friends willing to help him, or they are unable to, and he can’t help himself.  There is no one but God, and he is crying out to Him (vs. 2).  How many times have we all felt like that?  “God, help me!  Hear my voice!  Hear my cries to You!”  That is what our psalmist is crying today.  Despair makes us feel distant from God and isolated.  However, this is when we need God the most.  When we are overwhelmed, crying out to God will turn our attention to the only One who can really help us.

Perhaps the problem that the psalmist found himself in was brought about through some sin he had committed, or that he isn’t exactly as he should be.  It isn’t specifically mentioned, but in verses 3 and 4 he mentions that if God listed every sin a person committed, no one could stand before Him.  Thankfully, though, God will bring His forgiveness to those who confess and repent, to those who fear Him, giving Him the reverence and honor that is due Him.

One thing that is so wonderful about God is that when we confess our sins to Him, He forgives and wipes our record clean.  He doesn’t keep a list of all of our past sins and failings like so many people do.  He forgives us completely.  People are not like that, though.  Many people will say that they forgive you for something that you did, but will bring it up again later, throwing that fault back in your face.  They are like a dog burying a bone in the yard.  It’s buried and out of sight for a while, just like the fault your spouse, relative, or friend said they forgave.  Yet when it suits them, like the dog with his bone, they dig it back up again to throw it at you.  God, though, does not throw former sins in our face.  When He forgives, it is forgotten (Psalm 103:12; Micah 7:19).

As our psalmist recounts, sometimes we have to wait upon the Lord for His answer.  We never have to wait for His forgiveness, though.  That is instantaneous, from the moment we confess the sin.  However, sometimes we need to wait for deliverance from a problem we may be in (vs. 5-6).  Sometimes the Lord has a lesson that He wishes us to learn, or perhaps He is waiting for just the right time.  God waits until the very best moment to intervene.  He doesn’t spring into action on our timetable.  Our psalmist knows not to rush God’s answer, but to wait patiently for him.  Though it may seem like a long time, he knows not to be impatient.  He is eagerly waiting for God's response, just as someone waiting for the dawn of a special day (vs. 6).  When there is a certain day we are waiting for, maybe a holiday, a wedding, or an awaited party, we can get impatient for that day to come.  Like eager children, we can’t wait for the day to finally dawn.  That is how the psalmist is waiting for God’s response.  He knows it is coming, and he waits in anticipation.

In closing, I ask us all the question, where is our hope and trust placed?  When we are down in the depths of that pit of trouble, in whom are we placing our trust?  Is it in our friends, our relatives, the government, our bank account?  The psalmist knew where to put his hope and trust.  He put it in the Lord and in His Word, the Bible (vs 5).  He is the only One we can truly trust.  We can have a sure hope because God’s Word cannot fail!

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Tending The Garden Of Our Heart

 Jeremiah 3:21-4:4

Having a successful and bountiful garden or field of good crops takes a lot of special preparation and care.  It takes a lot of work, and a good gardener or farmer needs to put in that work.  One doesn’t just throw some seeds out of one’s back window into their yard and expect a prize-winning garden.  One of the first steps in having a good garden is to properly prepare the soil.  One cannot plant seeds on rock-hard dirt, such as ground that is hard and packed down, like where a path is.  The dirt has to be broken up and plowed.  One also has to remove all the rocks and stones, along with old, dead roots and any other foreign objects.  Only then can one begin to plant.  In our Scripture passage today from the prophet Jeremiah, he makes a parallel between preparing the ground for planting, and preparing our hearts for God.

For many, many years the people of Israel had been turning their backs on God and His ways and Word.  Jeremiah was one of the final prophets that was sent by the Lord to the people before they went into captivity as punishment for their sins.  Jeremiah pronounced God’s message of judgment to the people, but he longed for them to return to God in repentance and restoration (vs. 21-25).  God was going to bring judgment, but He would rather that the people stop their backsliding and return to Him for spiritual healing and restoration.

Most of the religious leaders of the day were not faithfully teaching the people in the ways of the Lord.  We find the same problem today with many so-called preachers and religious leaders.  They only want to bring pleasant, feel-good messages.  No mention of sin or the need to change one’s life.  Instead they focus on building up one’s self-esteem, and doing whatever makes one feel good.  That’s not the message God gave Jeremiah to tell the people.  Sin needs to be seen for what it is. It is Satan’s deception, deceiving us until we are caught in his trap.  When trapping an animal, one must hide the trap, disguising it with the surrounding.   Make the animal think there is no trap, so it is more likely to step into it, and then it’s too late for him.  When we are never told our ways are wrong, and are never instructed fully from the Word of God, we will fall into Satan’s trap.

Jeremiah called upon the people to return to the Lord by preparing their hearts for him, just as a gardener or farmer prepares the soil (vs. 3).  This is a message that we need today, as well.  We need to weed out present sinful practices and break up the fallow or untended ground in our heart.  We then need to sow new seeds of fruitfulness for God.  Repentance and a broken heart precede renewed spiritual life.  Mere outward conformity to God’s Word is insufficient.

When Jesus told His listeners the Parable of the Sower, He spoke of what happens when the seed of God’s Word falls on unprepared soil (Mark 4:1-20).  Satan snatches the seed away, or if a plant does begin to sprout, it will wither and die.  In order to bring revival into our spirits, which is what we so desperately need, we need to break up the hardness of our heart like a plow breaks up the hard soil.  In Jeremiah’s day the people’s hearts were hardened to God’s will.  We, too, need to remove the sin that has hardened our hearts, before the good seed of God’s Word can take root and grow.

The people the prophet Jeremiah preached to were adept at looking outwardly good and spiritual, following some of the outward rituals, such as circumcision, without understanding or following the spiritual meaning behind the ritual (vs. 4).  Jesus also spoke about how what’s in our hearts is more important than just outward conformance to God’s Law (Matthew 15:1-20).  There is a need for the heart to be cleansed from sin’s deadly disease.  The surgery needs to happen on the inside, where God takes away from our heart what keeps us from being spiritually devoted to Him.

Let’s dig out of our spiritual toolshed the spiritual plows, hoes, rakes, and shovels.  Let’s get to work on our hearts, plowing and tilling them so that we can readily accept God’s Word and teachings in our lives.

Friday, January 22, 2021

The Wrong Side Of The Tracks

 John 1:43-51

There’s an old saying of somebody coming from “the wrong side of the tracks”, or, in other words, the wrong part of town, the bad, or poorer, or rougher part of town.  Parents didn’t want their children making friends with “those people”, and they certainly didn’t want them ending up marrying “one of them”!  Sometimes a whole village is looked down upon as being that type of community.  A more affluent village will look down their noses at a poorer, more working class community, and scoff at the residents.  They are less educated, dress in less stylish attire, drive older vehicles, etc.  In our Gospel reading for today, we read of such a scorning, and how one person’s opinion and attitude was immediately changed.

As our Scripture passage opens, Jesus has just invited a young man named Philip, to come and join Him.  Philip had been present when John the Baptist had baptized Jesus, and had heard him call Jesus the Lamb of God.  The first thing that Philip did after Jesus called him, was to go and tell his good friend Nathaniel, and invite him to come too.  Philip knew he had met someone very special, someone he believed to be the Messiah that was spoken of in the Scriptures, and he didn’t want to keep that news a secret (vs. 45).  If he found something wonderful, he wanted to share that with his good friend.  Philip goes and finds his good friend Nathaniel, and tells him that he has found the One he believes to be the Messiah that the prophets had foretold, Jesus of Nazareth.

However, as soon as Nathaniel hears the word “Nazareth”, he scoffs at the idea (vs. 46).  Nothing good can come from Nazareth!  Nazareth was a community that many in the province of Galilee looked down upon.  It did not have the benefit of being along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, so there were no fishing businesses and the benefits to the economy that they brought.  Nazareth was looked down upon as a small, rural, nothing village.  Some historical scholars also believe that a Roman military garrison might have been there.  If so, that would also contribute to reasons people would have disliked the place, as the Jews hated the Romans.  This was more than just school or sports team rivalries, and Nathaniel held the popular belief that nothing good could possibly come from that village.  Sometimes we, too, make rash judgments.  We sit as judges of everyone and everything around us, jumping to conclusions about people without knowing their whole story.

What was Philip’s response?  Did he try and argue with him?  Did he just shrug his shoulders and say that it was okay, if he wasn’t interested that was fine?  No, he urged his friend to come and see.  He didn’t argue and make Nathaniel angry.  He also didn’t just let Nathaniel off the hook, since he knew this was of eternal significance.  Philip gave his friend a simple invitation, “Come and see.”  He knew that Jesus would shatter Nathaniel’s false judgment.  Fortunately, Nathaniel did take up Philip’s offer, and came to see who Jesus was!  We, too, should never give up in urging our friends to come and meet Jesus.

When Jesus met Nathaniel, the first thing He pointed out was that he was a man without any deceit (vs. 47).  He was someone without any duplicitous motives, who was willing to examine for himself the claims being made about Jesus.  Nathaniel had an honest, seeking heart, and Jesus saw and took note of that.  He knew about Nathaniel before the two ever met (vs. 47 - 48).  Jesus pointed out to him that He had seen him when he was under a fig tree.  When available, many Jews in Old Testament times would pray and meditate under fig trees.  He was probably referring to a specific time that Nathaniel understood.  Perhaps he had actually been praying about the promised Messiah, which could explain his sudden confession of the deity of Jesus and His Messiahship (vs. 49).  Jesus had knowledge of this event that was not available to men.  His display of supernatural knowledge, along with Philip’s witness, removed Nathaniel’s doubts.  For Nathaniel, here was One who could not be described merely in human terms.

Jesus knows all about us, as well, knowing what we are really like.  We can try to fool others, put a fake mask on to disguise our true character, but we cannot fool Jesus.  He knows what is in our hearts.  Jesus liked what He saw in Nathaniel.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Our Body Is The Temple Of The Holy Spirit

 I Corinthians 6:11-20

Most everyone was shocked and saddened when they heard that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was severely damaged during a fire in April of 2019.  When we hear that any church or cathedral is damaged or desecrated we are naturally shocked and angered.  Imagine nasty graffiti sprayed on the walls of a church sanctuary, paint poured on the altar, the pews, Bibles, and hymn books overturned.  Nobody wants to hear that a house of worship has in any way been treated in a disrespectful manner.  In our Scripture passage today Paul addresses this in a special and different way.  Let’s look at what God’s Word says.

One of the spiritual truths that Paul taught in the various churches that he started, including here in the city of Corinth, was that when anyone accepted the Lord Jesus as their Savior, not only did they then become a child of God and a part of His family, but also that the Holy Spirit came to indwell them.  This was a new concept.  Before, God’s Spirit had only dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem.  Now, ever since the Lord Jesus’ death upon the cross and His resurrection, the Holy Spirit indwells each and every true believer.  Their bodies in a very real sense become the temple of the Holy Spirit (vs. 19).

Because of this, Paul had a very strong message that he gave the Corinthian believers, which is just as applicable for believers today, as well.  A Christian’s body belongs to the Lord (vs. 13), is a member of Christ (vs. 15), and is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, sexual sins that are committed by a believer are in the sanctuary where God dwells.  No one would tolerate immoral behavior to be done in any church or cathedral.  In like manner, immoral behavior practiced by a Christian should be just as abhorrent.

When faced with such sexual temptation, Paul warns the believer to not stay and linger around trying to fight it, but to flee, to bolt, to run as fast as one can (vs. 18).  This is a temptation that not many are able to just ignore and withstand.  In the Old Testament we see the example of Joseph.  He had been sold into Egypt and ended up working in the household of Pharaoh’s chief general, Potiphar.  Potiphar’s wife had eyes for Joseph, and kept trying to get him to sleep with her.  Finally, when she had trapped him in the house while all alone, he knew the only way out of this temptation was to flee, to get away (Genesis 39:7-12).  Paul warns us to do exactly what Joseph did - Flee!

There were some in the Corinthian church that believed that because their sins were covered by grace that they could now indulge their flesh.  We find the same thinking and rationalizing today.  There are those today who say we shouldn’t judge what anyone does, that everything is fine to do.  Do we not consider the price that was paid for our salvation?!  The cost was very expensive, more than silver or gold (vs. 20).  Jesus gave His life, His precious Blood, a very high price to pay to make me a part of His family.  Illicit relationships are especially reprehensible for believers because they profane Jesus, with whom believers are one (vs. 15 - 17).

Just because Jesus has taken away our sins does not give us the freedom to go on doing what we know is wrong (vs. 12).  God expects His children to have high standards and not repeatedly fall back into their old sins again.  The One who holds the authority over all of the universe now lives inside each believer.  We are walking temples of God.  The glory that resided inside the Holy of Holies now resides in us.  If God’s presence is inside of us, so is His power to deliver us from the power of the enemy.  His power is able to deliver us from any of the devil’s temptations.  Satan will do whatever he can to take our attention away from the Lord.  The Lord Jesus paid a price to purchase us.  We are valuable to Him, and if we trust Him, He will deliver us from temptation.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Thirsting For God

 Psalm 63

Most of us can probably remember a time in our life when we were extremely thirsty.  Maybe we were out hiking on a hot day, and ran out of water.  Or perhaps we had been working outside and hadn’t taken a break for awhile.  Being out in a wilderness area without any water can be dangerous.  Water is important.  When we are very thirsty, quenching our thirst becomes fixated in our minds and all we can think of is getting that cool drink of water.  This is something that our psalmist today, King David, knew about.  Let’s take a look at what he wrote.

Spending many years of his life outdoors, David knew what it was like to get thirsty.  As a youth, his father sent him out to watch the family’s sheep herds.  Then as a young adult David spent several years on the run against the jealous rages of King Saul.  Most of that time was spent in the Judean wilderness, which is a very dry and rocky area.  When David became king, he probably thought that his days on the run in the wilderness were over.  Then he had to go on the run again when his son Absalom attempted to take over the throne.  Some people believe that it was during this time that David wrote Psalm 63.

Out in the wilderness with hot days and cold nights.  There aren’t an abundance of rivers or streams, and very few wells to be found.  It is very easy to run low on any water that one brings with.  David knew what it was like to be very thirsty.  He also knew what it was like to be alone, and fearful for one’s life at the hands of enemies.  It was during those times that he developed a thirst of a different kind, a thirst for God, who he knew was the only One who could help him.  Just as cool, crisp water was what was needed for a physical thirst, God’s presence in his life was what was needed for his loneliness and fear.

Now that David was on the run again, he desired God’s presence as much as he desired anything else in his life, including life-sustaining water.  We should be eager to be with the Lord in every situation.  David longed to be with Him just like a wanderer in the desert longs to find water.  David knew through his life experiences that there were few people he could really trust, and he knew there was only One who could satisfy and fill his soul and spirit.  Only God can satisfy our deepest longings.

We need to seek God first, not wait until things get bad.  David didn’t just turn to God when trials came his way.  He sought God every day of his life.  Just like David, we should be seeking God earnestly, and pursuing Him throughout our day, not just at one specified time during the week.  Only God can fill the hunger and thirst of our souls.

In addition to being thirsty while being pursued by his enemies in the wilderness, David also dealt with many sleepless nights.  Sleeping on hard, rocky ground would be difficult in any circumstances, but especially when one is hungry and thirsty, and having to fear for one’s life.  There were generally three watches in the night.  David mentions often being awake during several of the watches, so he knew what it was like to have a restless night.  However, David learned that sleepless nights can be used for times of worship and prayer (vs. 6).

David did not dwell on the negatives in his life.  He was filled with love, thankfulness, and praise to the Lord.  He knew that God’s hand was upon him (vs. 8).   Many times throughout the Bible we read of God’s hand reaching out to help us.  God’s help is like a hand of support in times of trouble.  God offers His comforting hand throughout our life, in good and bad times.  We are never beyond His reach.  Every day let us drink fully from God’s Word and His presence, and trust in His loving care.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Raising Our Children In The Lord

 I Samuel 3:1-20

I’m sure that most of us have heard of various Christian men and women whose children, instead of following in their parent’s footsteps and leading a good and godly life, instead live degenerate lives.  We shake our heads and wonder what went wrong.  There are a number of examples of this found in the Scriptures.  King David is one example.  We find another example in our Scripture passage today with the priest Eli and his sons.  Let’s take a look at what the Word of God says.

When our passage opens we read of the boy Samuel and the elderly priest Eli.  Samuel was the boy whose barren mother Hannah had pleaded to the Lord for a child, and when he was young she brought him to the Tabernacle to serve the Lord.  Eli was a high priest who served at the Tabernacle in Shiloh, long before the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem or the Temple was built.  From his early childhood Samuel was raised by Eli.

Eli had two sons of his own, Hophni and Phinehas.  However, like many parents, Eli did not exert any effort to raise his sons in the ways of the Lord.  Scripture called them “sons of Belial”, they were very evil, and that they did not know the Lord (I Samuel 2:12).  They took what was offered to the Lord for themselves (I Samuel 2:13-17).  They also would take the women who came to worship and had improper relations with them right by the doors of the Tabernacle (I Samuel 2:22-25).  Eli knew that all of this was going on, but refused to do anything.  He gave his sons an occasional scolding, but refused to remove them from priestly duties or in any way discipline them.

This has been a problem for many parents throughout all ages.  Parents who are in the ministry often feel that their work for the Lord is too important, and do not spend much, if any time in properly raising their children.  Parents who have secular jobs will often do the same, and neglect to properly raise or discipline their children.  This is one of the biggest mistakes parents can ever make.  Scripture emphasizes over and over how important it is for parents to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

From the time of the death of Joshua until this time of Eli and the close of the time of the judges, there was little word from God (vs. 1).  The people kept falling into idolatry and away from the Lord.  Few walked closely with Him.  The priests of Israel were corrupt, as we saw with Hophni and Phinehas, and had lost their spiritual sight and hearing.  As a result, the people drifted further and further into sin and idolatry.  However, God still had a small, faithful remnant, and would raise up Samuel to be His prophet.

Eli surely failed in properly raising his own sons, but he did make a good effort in raising young Samuel.  Samuel spent his whole childhood living in the tents of the Tabernacle, learning God’s Word and taking part in worship.  At one point during his childhood, the Lord God called Samuel, as he had an important message to relate to him.  Samuel was alert and ready to listen to God, though at first he didn’t recognize His voice (vs. 4-10).  Listening and responding is vital in a relationship with God.  Today God speaks clearly through His Word, the Bible.  To receive His messages we must be ready to listen, and to act upon what He tells us.  Samuel was ready to hear and obey the Lord (vs. 10).

The message that the Lord gave to Samuel was of the impending destruction of Eli’s family (vs. 11-14).  Though Eli was a believer in Yahweh, he had not raised his sons in the ways of the Lord.  His sons were wicked.  Eli was implicated in the sins of his sons because he didn’t intervene with judgment.  The saying “boys will be boys” is really unbiblical and very ungodly.  It is so vital that Christians raise their children in the Lord, and not leave it to happenstance.

This was not an easy message for Samuel to share with Eli, and he was actually afraid to (vs. 15-18).  Yet it was something that needed to be told.  When we learn God’s message from His Word, we must be faithful in sharing it, even if it is a hard message.  Many people only want to share or hear the light, fluffy, feel-good messages from the Bible, and nothing that might be strong or containing judgment or discipline.  Yet these are messages that must be told as well.  Samuel and others throughout Scripture were faithful to the Lord, and would bring each message, whether good or hard, to the people.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Obeying God Without Delay

 Matthew 2:13-18

When someone tells you to do something, something that is important to do, do you do it right away, or are you one to procrastinate and put it off for awhile because you are busy right then?  Yes, you tell yourself, you’ll get it done, and hopefully soon, but right now you are just too busy doing something else that you feel is important.  Or maybe what they told you just seems a bit confusing.  It doesn’t make sense, so you feel like waiting a bit to ponder it over in your mind exactly what to do.  In our Scripture passage today from the Gospel of Matthew we read about a command given to Joseph that might have seemed very perplexing, but one that would have had very dire consequences if it wasn’t followed, and followed immediately.

In last week’s Gospel study, we read of the coming of the Magi, and the gifts they brought to the Lord Jesus.  When the Magi stopped in Jerusalem to obtain more information about the birth of the new king, they had met with King Herod.  As we saw, Herod was a very paranoid man, with terribly murderous tendencies.  He had people put to death on a whim, including several of his own sons and one of his wives.  Now there were reports of a new king of the Jews, and Herod was not going to sit idly by and let someone else claim his throne.  When the Magi did not return to Jerusalem with information for him, Herod decided that he was going to put an end to any potential threats.  Ascertaining from his scribes that the Messiah was supposed to be born in Bethlehem, he ordered his soldiers to go into the village and put to death all male children ages two and under (vs. 16).

God, being omniscient of course, knew that this order was going to be given, and He protected the child Jesus.  He warned Joseph in a dream that he needed to get up, take Mary and the little child Jesus, and leave.  Get out of the house now!  Grab a few items, pack up the donkey and leave, now!  No time to wait!  No time to question, to make detailed plans, no time to procrastinate!  Get out now, or else Jesus will be dead!

Joseph remained receptive to God’s guidance throughout his life.  When God revealed to him what to do, he did it.  He didn't delay or put off obeying, asking all sorts of questions.  He got up and moved.  To have delayed would have been deadly.  He had obeyed God when He told him to marry Mary, even though she revealed she was pregnant, and he obeyed now.  Mary obeyed, as well, when Joseph woke her up.  She didn’t complain that the baby was asleep, and argue that they should wait until the morning.  She got up, grabbed what she could easily carry, took a sleepy little Jesus, and was ready in a matter of minutes.

The only guidance God gave Joseph was to go into Egypt.  That was all that was necessary.  He didn’t tell him what to take with, what road to take, or where in Egypt, as that wasn't needed.  Joseph packed what little was necessary so the donkey wouldn’t be burdened and slowed down.  They left town within probably less than an hour and headed for Egypt.  There was a Jewish population in Egypt at this time, particularly in the coastal city of Alexandria.  Many of these Jews had come during the last years of the prophet Jeremiah’s ministry at the time of the captivity (Jeremiah 43 - 44).  Perhaps they went there.

By the next day, Herod’s soldiers arrived and on orders of that demonic king, they slaughtered all of the boys aged two and under.  Bethlehem was not a large village, and there may have been between 1 - 2 dozen young boys killed.  Perhaps a few mothers or fathers as well, as they tried in vain to protect their child.  When people continually turn their backs on God, and scoff at Him and His Word, the door is opened for Satan to come in and have his way. The depths of utter evil are the result of that.  Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31:15, which was fulfilled here.  Jacob’s beloved and favorite wife Rachel died in childbirth and was buried in Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19).

Herod was afraid that the newborn king of the Jews would take his throne.  The mission of Jesus was not to gain an earthly throne.  He didn’t want Herod’s throne.  He wanted Herod to come to Him, and to rule in his heart and life.  Jesus wanted to give Herod eternal life.  Jesus doesn’t want to mess up our lives, but instead to love us and give us a better life, and to give us eternal life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Carry The Light To All

 Ephesians 3:1-12

Imagine someone in your family bringing home a wrapped package which they don’t open right away.  They say that it will be opened at some future time, at just the right moment.  There are some hints given, some that are seemingly rather clear, but no one seems to understand.  It remains a mystery until the time is appointed.  At that time it will be revealed.  In our Scripture from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians we read of a mystery that was also hid by God until the appointed time.  As we read, God used the Apostle Paul, and others, to reveal this to the Church.  Let’s look into His Word.

The pattern that the Apostle Paul usually followed when he went on his missionary journeys throughout the Mediterranean world, and which he followed in Ephesus as well, was to first search out the local synagogue in whatever village or city he went to.  Paul would go there on the Sabbath day.  Synagogues at this time would often invite a traveling guest to share any word or message they might have with their congregation.  At this time Paul would always open the Old Testament Scriptures and begin preaching and teaching to those gathered together, showing them from the Word of God that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah.  Generally at each village and city Paul was in there were some Jews who believed his message.  However, many did not.  Paul would continue at his location, usually for several weeks.  When he started to get opposition, though, he would turn to the Gentiles and seek to reach them.  Many of these Gentiles would accept Jesus.  Many of the Jews found that difficult to comprehend, that God would accept Gentiles, and they found this even more difficult to accept.

When Paul used the word “mystery” in this Epistle to the Ephesians, and in his other Epistles, he was not using the word in the sense of a “who done it” mystery.  It is referring to something that was hidden in former times, but now is made known.  Here the mystery is that God would provide salvation for the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and bring them both together in one body in Jesus.

Though many of the prophets, particularly the Prophet Isaiah, had spoken of salvation for all races, it was not really comprehended or understood until this time with Paul and the other apostles.  This mystery is that those who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior are one united body, with no racial, social, or spiritual distinctions.  Both the Jewish people and the Gentiles are fellow-heirs of God (vs. 6).  They have an equal share in the heavenly inheritance, and have the same equal standing before God.  Both are now intimately related to the Lord, and both are just as much loved by Him.  As believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we need to accept all of those who also are born-again and follow the Savior, even if they are of a different race or background than ourselves.

At the time of his writing this Epistle to the church in Ephesus, Paul was in prison for preaching the Gospel (vs. 1).  Even though he was under arrest, he knew that God was in control of all that happened to him.  No matter what happens, God directs the world’s affairs.  Paul did not pick his calling and ministry (vs. 2).  This was not something that he decided to do on his own.  It was given to Paul by God.  It was God who commissioned him to preach the Gospel, and He gave Paul the particular ministry to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles.  Paul always remembered that even though he once tried to destroy the Church out of ignorance, the Lord forgave him and gave him the privilege of helping to build the Church (vs. 8).

This mystery, now revealed to us, shows us the riches of the bountiful mercy and love of the Lord.  The riches of Christ are unsearchable (vs. 8).  They are more than we could ever know.  They are beyond calculation of arithmetic.  His riches are beyond the measurement of reason, beyond the dream of imagination or the eloquence of words.  Jesus is more willing and able to supply all of our needs than we are to confess them.  For this we should always be giving the Lord God our praise and thanksgiving.

Monday, January 11, 2021

A Special Coronation

 Psalm 72

A coronation is a grand event that doesn’t happen too often.  The last time there was a coronation in the United Kingdom was back in June of 1953, some 68 years ago.  That was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and was the first time such an event was allowed to be televised.  Being able to watch such a ceremony is a special event, and so much more special to be one of the privileged few to be able to attend the ceremony.  Today’s psalm is a coronation psalm, written for the coronation of King David’s son and heir, King Solomon.  Let’s briefly look into the Scripture passage.

The psalm begins as a prayer for the new king Solomon, praying that the Lord would bring His blessings upon him.  The author of the psalm beseeched the Lord that the new king would faithfully mediate God’s justice and righteousness upon the nation  (vs. 1-4).  He also prayed for his prosperity and peace for the land, and that the Lord would increase the dominions of the new king (vs. 5-11).  The people desired and prayed that their new king would be a merciful king and that he would help the poor and needy (vs. 12-14).  With the beginning of Solomon’s reign, they prayed that this would usher in a new golden age for the nation (vs. 15-17).

In addition to being a psalm for and about the coronation and new reign of King Solomon, this is also a messianic psalm, speaking of the crowning and coming reign of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  The reign of Jesus, the Messiah, will come when He returns.  At this time He will bring the justice and righteousness the psalmist prayed for.  There will also be prosperity and peace, along with no more poverty, all that the psalmist desired to happen with the new king.

In this psalm the psalmist speaks of many nations coming to offer gifts and homage to the new king.  Though during the reign of Solomon trade was extended to many far-away places, his reign was not universal.  This psalm mentions several ancient kingdoms whose kings would come and offer gifts to the new king (vs. 10).  They mention the land of Tarshish.  Some believe that this was an ancient kingdom located in present-day Spain.  Others have hypothesized that it was much further, possibly ancient Cornwall in southwest England, or even ancient Sri Lanka.  These would be places that would be some of the farthest that traders from Israel would travel to and from.  Sheba was thought to be The Horn of Africa (present day Ethiopia and Somalia) and across the Gulf of Aden to the southern Arabian peninsula (present day Yemen).   It is unclear where Seba was located.  Though these places were far and distant in that ancient time, they would not encompass “all kings'' and “all nations” as spoken of in verse 11.  However, the Messiah’s reign will be universal, as all nations will worship Him.

Solomon reigned over the nation for forty years, approximately the same length as his father King David.  The longest reigning king in the Old Testament was King Manasseh, with 55 years on the throne.  None, of course, lasted forever.  That is not the case with the Lord Jesus, as His reign will last forever.

Though King David was a greatly beloved king, his reign started out with much fighting and struggle to keep the throne, and was filled with many wars with neighboring countries.  It was not a peaceful time.  People were filled with hope for a peaceful and prosperous time under Solomon, and it was, indeed, a golden age for the nation.  However, due to Solomon’s desire to please his many foreign wives, the nation also fell headlong into idolatry and pagan worship.

When the Lord Jesus returns to set up His reign on earth, all false, pagan worship will be destroyed.  He will govern with justice and compassion.  He will care for the needy, afflicted, and the weak.  Much as we hope for good at the start of a new reign of a king, or the new term of office of a president or prime minister, true peace and prosperity, true righteousness and justice will only come from the Lord Jesus, and as believers, we look forward to that time.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Light Has Come

 Isaiah 60:1-5, 9

Have you ever been lost in the pitch dark?  Perhaps you were out hiking in the woods and night came quickly upon you.  With no map and no guide, you quickly lost your way in the dark.  Getting lost in a cave or mine with little or no light can be both scary and dangerous.  No matter where one is, fumbling around in the dark can cause a mishap.  How relieved we are when we finally see some light in the distance!  If we follow that light we might make it out of the dark woods or cave.  The light brings hope.  This is the message that the Prophet Isaiah brings us today as we look into the Scriptures.

At the time of Isaiah, the world was in great darkness.  It wasn’t a literal darkness, as if the sun had suddenly gone dim.  It was a spiritual darkness.  Most of the world was deeply entrenched in pagan worship, and the people of God weren’t spreading His good news and message to others.  Spiritual darkness is much worse and ultimately more dangerous than physical darkness.  So many people in Isaiah’s day, and even today are in spiritual darkness, wandering hopelessly around trying to find their way, but getting more and more lost.  Unless someone comes with a light, there is no finding one’s way.

That is Isaiah’s good news.  A Light has come! (vs. 1).  The people can arise and now follow that Light to safety.  They were in deep darkness, but the Light arrived (vs. 2).  The light that Isaiah was speaking of is the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Through Jesus the Gentiles now have full access to God the Father, their sins forgiven, and are adopted into His family.  They are now His sons and daughters (vs. 4).  Those who accept the Lord Jesus as their Savior become God’s children, and they come from all around the world.  The prophet tells how Jesus will bring sons from afar to the Father (vs. 9).  They will come to the light of Jesus from all over.

This is the real message of the Church’s holy day of the Epiphany, which is celebrated on January 6th, shortly after Christmas.  Jesus came as the Messiah for the Jewish people, but He also came to be the Savior of the whole world, both Jews and Gentiles.  The Magi who came to worship the Lord Jesus after His birth were Gentiles.  After the shepherds, they were among the very first to worship Him.  They followed the light of the star to find Him.  When the Magi saw the light of the special star, be it the conjunction of some planets or some other astronomical event, they arose and followed it, and found the Messiah, the Savior (vs. 3).  When anyone, Jewish or Gentile, sees and acknowledges the light of Jesus and comes to Him, they will find salvation and be accepted as His sons and daughters.

Those who are already in the light have a responsibility to share that light with those who are still in darkness.  When we hear of someone who is lost in a forest or in a cave, a call goes out for people to come and help find them.  They bring out the rescue dogs, and if it is getting dark, they bring flashlights and torches.  Everyone goes to try and help rescue the lost one, calling their name and shining their lights in the hope that the lost one will see it.  Everyone hopes that the lost one will see the light, hear the calls, and be found and rescued.  As Isaiah tells us, the lost need to see the light and come out of the darkness they are in.  We who have the light of Jesus need to share that light with those who still remain in spiritual darkness so that they, too, will be rescued and saved.  We need to tell the world that is sitting in darkness to arise and shine for there is hope, the Light has come!

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Magi

 Matthew 2:1-12

This past week the Church celebrated the holy day of the Epiphany, the day the Church honors the coming of the Magi, or wise men, to worship the baby Jesus.  Our Scripture passage for today from the Gospel of Matthew tells of the Magi’s visit, and as we look into this account we’ll see that it is more than just some figures in a Nativity scene or Christmas card, or a mention in a Christmas carol.

Who were these men who are only mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel?  The “wise men” were Magi, who were of the priestly caste of the Persians and Babylonians, possibly Zoroastrians.  Their duties would include studying the stars.  They were also very familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, as this priestly caste traced its lineage back to the days of Daniel.  Tradition has set their number at three because of the number of gifts given, though Matthew never indicated a number other than that there was more than one.  When these Magi saw the sign in the heavens, possibly a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Venus, they believed that this was the star that Balaam had prophesied would announce the arrival of the Jewish Messiah (Numbers 24:17).  They immediately set off to do homage to this Messiah.

As we read the account of the Magi, we read of King Herod, along with the chief priests and scribes.  Herod was a very psychotic, paranoid and dangerous ruler.  He had even murdered several of his own sons, along with his favorite wife, Mariamne.  In an attempt to please the Jewish people, he had made extensive and grand renovations and enlargements to the Temple in Jerusalem.  He could rebuild the Temple, yet he did not know the Lord God whose Temple it was!  The chief priests knew the Scriptures foretelling the coming of the Messiah, and were even able to tell both Herod and the Magi the prophecy of where He would be born (Micah 5:2).  These men from faraway lands recognized Jesus as the Messiah when most of God’s chosen people in Israel did not.  God’s chosen people, who should have been anticipating the Messiah’s coming, were largely oblivious to the sign of His coming.  However, the Magi were alert and responsive.

The Magi traveled vast distances to find the Messiah.  They followed by faith, not really knowing exactly where the star was leading them, just as Abraham did (Hebrews 11:8). When they finally found Him, they responded with joy, worship, and gifts.  That is so different from people today.  People today expect God to come looking for them, to explain Himself, and prove who He is, and then to give them gifts.

Three different gifts were given to the Lord Jesus by these Magi - gold, frankincense, and myrrh (vs. 11).  The Magi knew they were looking for a king.  They acknowledged Jesus as sovereign ruler.  Gold is a gift for someone of rank and authority, a gift of great value, fit for a king.  They were willing to give all.  Frankincense was burned in the Temple to God.  Incense in Scripture often represents our prayers rising up to God.  The Magi acknowledged Jesus, not only as king, but also as Deity, as God.  Myrrh is an aromatic spice that was used in ancient times for embalming the dead.  It also had medicinal uses, such as being an analgesic.  The fact that the Magi brought this as a gift signified how important the death of Jesus would be.  Gold for our King, frankincense for our God, and myrrh for the One who died for us.

In verse 11 we read that the Magi worshipped Jesus.  They recognized the deity of Jesus, in addition to acknowledging Him as a newborn king.  After giving Jesus their gifts, the Magi took a different route back to their homeland, as God warned them that Herod was not planning on coming to worship Him, but intended to kill Him.  Often, after we find Jesus, we also must change the direction our life is going.

People without ready access to God’s Word, if they are sincerely seeking God, will find Jesus just as the Magi did.   He will use any means to get their attention (Jeremiah 29:13).  Sadly, many refuse God’s call.  King Herod and the Jewish religious leaders who were in Jerusalem at the time the Magi arrived, weren’t alert or seeking for the coming Messiah, and were not interested in following with them when hearing about the star.  Will we miss out on God’s blessings because we, as well, fail to seek the Lord?  As an old saying goes, “Wise men still seek Him.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Don't Miss Your Blessings

Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-21

Imagine, if you will, a family going through life in poverty when, in fact, they actually had great wealth that they didn’t know of, or claim as their own.   There are stories of some people who were extremely poor, living on their property in Texas, and not realizing that just a couple of feet below their ground were vast amounts of oil.  Or perhaps a couple who live in poverty, not realizing that in their possession is the deed to a bountiful emerald mine left to them by an uncle.  If only either of these people had known it, and tapped into the wealth that was actually theirs.  Could I add your name or my name here?  Do we know of the wealth that we have, but have never claimed?  Let’s look into our Scripture passage today from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.

As the Apostle Paul begins his letter to the church in the city of Ephesus, he reminds them that God has blessed all believers with every spiritual blessing available (vs. 3).  Paul states that these blessings are ours now.  God has given them to us.  Paul didn’t say that He will give them to us at some point in the future, or that they are ours only when we die and get to heaven.  They are ours now.  God’s Word does not say that these spiritual blessings belong only to a few chosen lucky ones.  They are for all believers.

God has already given believers every spiritual blessing that we will ever need.  We have total blessings.  God’s super-abundant blessings belong only to believers, those who are “in Christ”, those who have put their faith and trust in Him.  What Jesus has is ours, as well.  Jesus offers an abundant life now (John 10:10), but many Christians aren’t living it.  Eternity begins the moment we are saved, and there is no reason to wait until heaven to enjoy the Lord’s riches.  We have received righteousness and an everlasting union with God.  He makes it possible to live joyful lives that are running over with blessings.

As Paul lets us know in verses 3-6, in Christ we have all of the benefits of knowing God, such as being chosen for salvation and being adopted as His children.  We have His forgiveness and spiritual insight.  We have the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the power to do God’s will, and the hope of living forever with Christ.  We can enjoy these blessings now, and these blessings are eternal, not temporary.

The plan of salvation, that of Jesus coming to earth to die on the cross in our place, originated in the timeless mind of God long before we existed (vs. 4).  Because of Christ, we are holy and blameless in God’s sight.  When we belong to Jesus, God looks at us as if we had never sinned.  As a result of our responding to God’s call, the unrighteous become righteous, the unworthy become worthy.  We are placed in a holy and blameless position before God.  God makes believers His children, in the image of His divine Son, Jesus Christ (vs. 5).  In His infinite love, God has adopted us as His own children.  Through Jesus, He has brought us into His family and made us heirs with Jesus.  We are accepted by God through Jesus’s death on our behalf and the righteousness He has given us (vs. 6).  Because believers are accepted in Jesus, then they, like Him, are beloved by God.

As believers, we can have godly knowledge and insight (vs. 17-19).  We can grasp the greatness of the hope we have, and the inheritance that is ours in Christ.  A spiritually enlightened mind is the only means of truly understanding and appreciating what Christ has given us.  The hope we have is not a vague feeling that the future will be positive.  Our hope is a complete assurance of certain victory through Jesus Christ.

There is a big difference between having the blessings of God and actually enjoying them.  We must learn what blessings we have, and then lay hold of them by faith.  It would be a shame if we continued to live as spiritual paupers because we don’t develop or strengthen a strong relationship with Jesus.  Let’s tap into the inheritance we have, and not miss the blessings that are available in this life.

Monday, January 4, 2021

God's Glory In The Heavens

Psalm 8 

A little over two weeks ago many people could be found outside at night looking up into the sky, observing the brilliant “Christmas Star”, which was really the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn.  Many people enjoy looking at the stars and planets at night, even getting their own telescopes.  If one can get away from city lights, one can observe the Milky Way, and begin to see how vast and innumerable the stars are.  Our psalm for this week, written by David, speaks of his marveling at the beauty and wonder of the heavens, God’s creation, and his place in all of this.  Let’s look into this psalm, which is one of my favorites.

There were many times throughout David’s life when he spent nights sleeping out of doors under the night’s sky.  As a youth, while caring for his family’s flocks of sheep, he would have been able to sit and observe the stars.  Then there were the many years when he was out in the wilderness, running for his life while being chased by King Saul.  The sight never ceased to bring him to wonder and worship.  David begins and ends this psalm with praise and worship to the Lord God (vs. 1, 9).  As a believer, he knew that God’s Name is holy and awesome.  His Name encompasses all of His attributes, and is one that should be spoken of only with respect and honor, not as a curse word as it is so often today.

As David looked out at the beauty of the night sky, he knew that the universe, the stars, planets, and galaxies were all created by God (vs. 3).  The universe, in all of its vastness, is tiny compared to the magnitude of God, its Creator.  The whole universe is the work of His fingers.  Even though David did not have the benefit of telescopes, and could only see a limited amount of the heavens, he must have known how huge and magnificent it was.  If the whole universe is small in comparison to God, how much less significant must man be?

Like David, when we look at all of creation we can wonder why God would be concerned with mankind, who constantly disappoints Him (vs. 4).  God had made a perfect world, and man messed it up.  Mankind has been mocking and rejecting God since Adam.  Why should, or would God love us?  David was in awe that God, the Creator of all the universe, would love mankind.  Yet He loved us all so much He sent His Son to die for us (John 3:16).

We have worth because we bear the stamp of our Creator. God created man in His own image, a little lower than the angels, and gave him authority over creation (vs. 5-8).  Jesus also became human, just a little lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:9).  Jesus will raise all who belong to Him above the angels when He returns to reign over the new heaven and new earth.  Right now, we have been given tremendous authority to be in charge of all the earth.  With great authority comes great responsibility.  How are we treating God’s creation?

In his psalm, David also speaks of little children bringing praise to the Lord God (vs. 2). Children are able to trust and praise God without doubts or reservations.  As one gets older, that becomes more difficult.  God uses the praise of the most insignificant, weak, and needy, the ones we’d least expect, to silence His enemies.  God has used even babies and little toddlers to silence those who stand against Him.  He did that when Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:15-16).  God shows Himself majestic and glorious in His love for the powerless.

David closed this psalm the same way he began it, with praise to the Name of the Lord (vs. 9).  Everything about God, His character, actions, thoughts, desires, plans, words, and works are magnificent, perfect, and worthy of praise.  The next time you go out and see the night sky, know that the heavens do declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1).

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Maintaining A Proper Balance

 Exodus 34:1-8

When asked to give the qualities of some person we know, we often list those qualities that we like or appreciate the most.  If we think that person is quite handsome or beautiful, we might list that first.  If we have appreciated their honesty in all matters, we might put that on top.  Or perhaps, after having had to deal with others' hot tempers, we might first list their calmness.  To get a complete and honest picture, though, one has to list all of their qualities or characteristics, not just the ones that we like.  In our Scripture passage today from the Book of Exodus, we read some of the characteristics of God, some we like, and some that we might not like to think too much about.

As our Scripture passage opens, we read of the Lord God giving Moses a second set of the Ten Commandments.  Earlier in the Book of Exodus we read where God had first given Moses the tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them (Exodus 20:1-17).  However, when Moses delayed in coming down from Mt. Sinai, the people grew restless and proceeded to carve a golden calf, an idol, to worship (Exodus 32:1-6).  When Moses did return and saw what the people had done, how they had fallen into idolatry, he was so angry and upset that he broke the tablets with the writing of God upon them (Exodus 32:19).  Now, several chapters later, God has made a second set (vs. 1-4).

We might think that Moses was wrong in losing his temper and breaking the initial Ten Commandments, that he should have remained calm and just sat down with the leaders of the people and discussed everyone’s actions calmly.  However, God has never tolerated His people worshipping false gods.  This was breaking two of the commandments - not worshipping any other gods besides Yahweh, and making a graven image to worship.  Worshipping false gods and following after the practices of false religions was what had led the people into sin so frequently throughout their history, and ultimately led to their going into captivity in Babylon.  God will never tolerate that.  Moses’ anger then was a righteous one.

When the Lord gave Moses the second set of Commandments, He passed before Moses and proclaimed His Name and His nature or qualities (vs. 5-7).  In the previous chapter, Moses had asked God if he could see His glory.  God’s glory is His character, His nature.  God’s glory is revealed in His mercy, grace, compassion, faithfulness, forgiveness, and justice.

Focusing on just one of God’s attributes or qualities presents a distorted view of God.  We should never over-emphasize or focus solely on just one.  Over-emphasizing on God’s anger and judgment of sin overlooks His mercy.  Over-emphasizing on mercy ignores His equally important attribute of justice and judgment.  In 17th and 18th century colonial America, the Puritan preachers strongly leaned their preaching and teaching on God’s anger and judgment, and rarely preached on His love.  Now the pendulum has swung the other way, and preachers today never preach on sin or judgment, but only on God loving and accepting everyone and everything.  Both groups accept one attribute of God’s character and reject an attribute they don’t care for.  God is merciful and gracious, but He is also just in punishing the guilty (vs. 6-7).  We should never portray God as having only our favorite attributes.

For some, verse 7 has been a troubling verse, as they interpret it as saying that God punishes children for the sins of their parents.  That is not true.  God does not punish someone for the sins of another.  Each person is held accountable for their own sins.  However, people often suffer as a result of the sins of others.  Child abuse, drug addictions, and alcoholism are examples, as well as selfishness and greed.  Each are frequently passed on from generation to generation, often called a generational sin.

As we study the character and nature of God, let’s try to look at a whole and complete picture, not just one facet that we like to see.  God is love, but He is also angry at sin.  He is merciful and forgiving, but He is also just.  When Moses beheld God proclaiming His Name and nature, he quickly bowed his head and worshipped.  

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Word And The Light

 John 1:1-14

About a week and a half ago the winter solstice occurred, the shortest day and longest night of the year.  Now that this day has passed, the daylight hours are slowly returning.  Most people don’t like the longer nights.  We want more daylight, and look forward to the days when the sun sets later.  Nobody likes to sit in a dark room, which is why the first thing we do when coming home at night is to turn on the lights.  We feel safer in a lighted house or on a lighted street.  In our Scripture passage for today, one of several topics that the Apostle John touches on is that Jesus is the Light. Let’s look into our Gospel reading for this week.

John begins his Gospel with the same words as in the Book of Genesis, yet they take us back in time to long before creation, back to when there was only God (vs. 1-5).  Jesus is more than just a prophet or good teacher.  The Scriptures declare that He is fully God, who created everything, and came to earth to save mankind from condemnation.  Jesus was there before the beginning, as He is God.  He is the source of light and life.  Before the universe began the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, always existed.  Jesus always was.  He was God the Father’s agent involved with creating everything in the universe (vs. 3).  He then willingly gave up His heavenly status, taking the form of a man and became subject to the death on the cross.  And although Jesus took upon Himself full humanity and lived as a man, He never ceased to be the eternal God who has always existed.  Jesus is fully God and also fully man (Colossians 2:9).

Throughout John’s Gospel he portrays Jesus as the Light of the world, which was one proclamation that Jesus gave of Himself (John 8:12).  Satan and sin are darkness, and people who follow his ways prefer the darkness rather than light because their works are evil (John 3:19).  However, darkness is not able to overcome or conquer the light of Jesus (vs. 5).  God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (I John 1:5).  God sent His Son to be our Savior.  Jesus destroyed the power of darkness and rescued us from evil.  Darkness does not have the last word.  Jesus shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome Him.

Whoever follows Jesus will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.  When we are troubled and wandering through the darkness of this life, look to Jesus.  He is the Light that we can follow. When we follow Jesus, the true Light, we can avoid walking blindly and falling into sin.  He lights the path ahead of us, opening our eyes to salvation so we can see how to live.  We can let go of the darkness of our old life and walk in His light.

As our Scripture passage continues, we read that Jesus came into a world that rejected and hated Him, including His own people.  Though Jesus was the Creator, the world He made rejected Him (vs. 10)  Though He was the promised Messiah of the Jewish people and of their own blood, they did not receive Him, despite having all of the Old Testament Scriptures (vs. 11).  Only those who receive Jesus Christ, accepting His claims and placing their faith and trust in Him, are children of God (vs. 12).  God is the creator of everyone, but only those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior are truly children of God.  We are then adopted into His family (Romans 8:16).

Though the Gospel of John does not give any narrative of the birth of Jesus as both Matthew and Luke do, we see in the closing verse of our Scripture passage today a verse that completely describes what occurred on Christmas.  Jesus, the Word, became incarnate, or took on flesh, and became man (vs. 14).  Jesus is the perfect expression of God in human form (Hebrews 1:1-3).  We must never minimize the humanity of Jesus, nor minimize His divinity.  Jesus is both God and man.

We praise Jesus, the Word, for the gift of His Word, the Bible.  We give thanks to Jesus, the Truth, for the truth He has revealed to us.  We glorify Jesus, the Light of the world, for the light of Scripture that guides our way.  All are Jesus, who for the sake of our salvation, took on human flesh.