Saturday, July 31, 2021

Complainers And Whiners

 Exodus 16:2-15

Have you ever had to spend some time with a chronic complainer?  Nothing is right in their opinion.  This isn’t good enough!  That is not the right type!  You’re not doing it correctly!  Complain, moan, groan, whine, whine, whine!  Even an hour is too long to be with a complainer, let alone a whole day!  Have you ever been on a road trip with a complainer?  That is the worst!  Moses was on a very long “road trip” with the people of Israel, and they were nothing but complainers and whiners the whole time.  This wasn’t just one or two moaning children in the back seat of the car, this was a whole nation of whining and complaining people.  Our Scripture today from the Old Testament book of Exodus gives us a picture of one such episode.

As our Scripture opens, the people of Israel had just been delivered from slavery in Egypt, and God had only just a few days prior parted the Red Sea for them to cross, as the armies of Egypt came after them.  In the weeks leading up to their deliverance, God had performed many miracles in the form of the Ten Plagues, working against His enemies and providing protection for the Israelites.  All of these miraculous events should have been fresh on their minds.  These should have shown the people that Yahweh was a great and powerful God, in reality the only true God.  They should have known through these events that He loved them and would care for them, but their actions proved otherwise.

Literally just a few days after miraculously crossing the Red Sea, the people started complaining and murmuring that they had no fresh water, that the water around them was bitter.  God miraculously provided good, fresh water for them (Exodus 15:22-27).  Now, just a few days past that event, they are complaining and whining again.  They were hungry, they wanted something good to eat.  With having had more miracles provided for them in just a matter of several weeks, more than anyone else would ever see in a lifetime, these people quickly forgot it all.  Those miracles, God’s mighty provision, didn’t register with them on a spiritual level.  How quickly they forgot!  They failed to see, to trust, to believe in God’s power to provide, or in His loving care.

As we continue reading in our passage, we see something amazing.  In the middle of all their complaining, the people actually said that they would rather be back in Egypt as slaves, would rather have died as slaves, then to be led by God on to their promised land! (vs. 3).  Even after God’s mighty deliverance, they preferred to die as slaves in Egypt, rather than follow Him through the wilderness!  Everyone complained.  The negative and self-centered ones convinced all of the people to murmur and complain.  In their sinful minds, the country which had enslaved them looked good in comparison to the wilderness. Negativity and ungratefulness is contagious.  We need to be careful that our bad attitude does not lead others onto a similar, sinful path.

In response to the people’s complaints and Moses’ prayers, God provided the people with manna.  Manna is a word in Hebrew that means “What is it?”  No one knows for sure what this was, other than a miraculous supply of food from God.  It appeared every morning at dawn, and appeared in abundance to supply the nutritional needs for the multitude.  They were to gather it every morning, and if left for the next day it would get wormy, except on the Sabbath, when it remained fresh.  The manna stopped appearing the very day they entered into the Promised Land.

The people may have thought that they were complaining to Moses, however, when we complain and moan to others about circumstances in our life, we are really complaining to the Lord (vs. 7-8).  He hears and sees all that we say and do, and will hold us responsible.  Discontent causes us to forget all of God’s blessings in our life, turning us into ungrateful people.  Because the people of Israel continued in this complaining and ungrateful attitude throughout the whole 40 years in the wilderness, God needed to discipline the people over and over again.

Jesus is a figure of that manna which came down from heaven.  Jesus told us that He is the Bread of Life.  When we come to Him, we will never hunger again, and will have eternal life. (John 6:30-58).  As believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we need to develop a grateful and thankful heart, always remembering all He has blessed us with.  God provides for everyone who trusts in Him.  Do we feel lost, abandoned, alone?  God will never leave us or forsake us, and He will always provide for our needs.  Like the old-time hymn says:  “Count your blessings, name them one by one.  Count your blessings, see what God has done!”

Friday, July 30, 2021

Going Through A Storm

 Mark 6:45-52

“Nobody knows the difficulties and problems I am going through, and if they do, they sure don’t seem to care!”  Have you ever felt like that?  Most of us have at one time or another.  Sometimes we might even think that God doesn’t see, or that He doesn’t care.  Such thoughts can be very discouraging, particularly if they persist throughout a difficult time.  We can feel like nothing we do is working out, no one is helping, and that there is no more hope.  In our Scripture today from Mark’s Gospel, we find the disciples in a similar situation.  However, as we shall read, Someone was watching.  Someone did see them.  Someone would come to their help.  Let’s take a look at this narrative from the Bible.

After Jesus fed the multitudes, multiplying the few loaves of bread and fish, we read that He told the disciples to get into their boat and head across the Sea of Galilee to another village.  It was evening, and Jesus was going to go off by Himself and pray for a while (vs. 45-46).   The disciples proceed to row across the large lake, which is about 13 miles long (north to south), and a little over 8 miles wide (east to west).  While out in the lake the wind was against the disciples as they rowed.  They were trying to get to Bethsaida, which was the hometown of Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1:44), yet as hard as they rowed while out in the middle of the lake, the strong winds made it a difficult struggle, and they were getting nowhere.  They were expecting to meet Jesus at Bethsaida, probably the next morning.  He had told them to take the boat there, yet how would they reach their destination, where He had told them to go, with these winds?  With the winds and waves, the boat could possibly start flooding over.  It was getting dangerous!  What could they do?

Have there been occasions where you were obeying God and His Word, following what you believed was His will for you, and found that everything was in opposition, everything was a terrible struggle?  This is what was happening with the disciples here.  They were doing what Jesus had told them to do, and yet this big storm came up, hindering them and putting their safety at risk.  Where was Jesus?  Why wasn’t He there helping them?  As the Son of God, why did He allow the storm to come to begin with?

Despite what they may have thought at the time, the disciples were not alone in their struggles.  Jesus had not abandoned them to the storm.  He was aware of what they were going through.  As we read, Jesus saw them from the hilltop where He had been praying to the Father (vs. 48).  He saw the disciples struggling with the boat from where He was on the shore.  Jesus could have commanded the storm and winds to cease from there, allowing them to finish the journey, and then meet them in Bethsaida as planned.  However, Jesus went to be with them out on the water in the middle of the storm.  He did not leave them to struggle all on their own.

As Jesus approached the boat, the disciples saw Him, but they did not recognize Him (vs. 49-50).  Fear had distorted their sight.  All they saw were the waves and the storm, and fear caused them to believe it was a ghost, as people cannot walk on water!  The disciples had quickly forgotten all of the miracles they had seen.  They had forgotten who they were coming to believe Jesus was, and cried in fear.  Jesus had not forgotten them, though, and came into the boat (vs. 51).  It was only after He had gotten into the boat that He commanded the winds and waves to be still.

When we go through struggles and difficult times, sometimes even situations that could have dire consequences for us and/or our loved ones, we need to remember, just as the disciples needed to, that Jesus will help us when we are in trouble.  Though the disciples had lost sight of Jesus, just as we might, He had not lost sight of them.  Jesus sees our struggles, and what we are going through.  He sees and cares.  He will come near us, and get in our boat with us.  Jesus will calm the winds and waves that seek to overwhelm us, and go through whatever struggles we have with us.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

One Body Of Believers

 Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16

When there is a group project, whether at work or in leisure, it is important that there is unity between all participants.  If participants are at odds with one another, the project will likely fail, or certainly not be as successful as it could be.  Unity within the group is also important if everything is supposed to run smoothly, each one working together to achieve their goals.  The same goes with the church, as we read in our Scripture from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  Jesus gave us a mandate to fulfill the Great Commission, to bring the Gospel to the world.  The church was established to fulfill that commission, and to encourage and build up believers in the faith.  However, if we have no unity among ourselves, we will have a difficult time doing that.  Let’s look at what our Scripture says.

As our passage opens, Paul reminds Christians that we need to live in a manner that honors and pleases Jesus (vs. 1).  Believers are called by the Lord to bring His salvation message to others, and in order to do that, we need to live lives worthy of that calling.  People are watching us.  Can they see Jesus in our words and actions?

As Paul continues, he stresses another important thing for believers to have as they seek to fulfill the Great Commission, and that is to have unity among themselves.  All believers in Christ belong to one body.  We are all united under one head, which is Jesus, Himself.  Paul emphasizes that believers are one.  We aren’t multitudes of believers going at it alone, we are one.  Unity should be a characteristic of the church.  But to do that every believer needs to be wholeheartedly obedient to God and to His Word, the Bible.

As we read in verses 4 - 6, we have one body - the body of Christ, the Christian Church.  There is one Spirit - the Holy Spirit.  Believers all have one hope - the same future certainty and the same heavenly destination.  We have one Lord and submit to the same divine ruler, the Lord Jesus.  True believers have one faith, as we have placed the same trust in Jesus for salvation.  There is one baptism - the Holy Spirit’s baptism at the time of our salvation.  And there is one God and Father which all believers have.  God is over all.  He has over-ruling care of all.  He is through all and in all (vs. 6).  He is actively present in the world, and in the lives of all believers.

Paul continues on in our passage, teaching us that though we are one in the Body of Christ, we each have different gifts which He has given us.  These gifts were given to help with the work of the ministry, to build up the church, and to further His mission of bringing the message of Jesus to the world.  Just as in most businesses, different people have different assignments and tasks to do, so it is with the church.  Paul lists a few of them here in verse 11.  The apostles were called by Jesus, had seen Him following the resurrection, and were sent out to bring His message to the world.  Prophets are those who speak God’s message to the people.  Evangelists are those who go out, bringing the salvation message of the Gospel to the lost.  Pastors are the shepherds of a local church, feeding the sheep God’s message.  And teachers are just that, teaching others God’s Word.

These gifts and abilities, along with others that Paul mentions elsewhere in other epistles, are given for the equipping of believers for the work of the ministry (vs. 12).  People’s differing gifts, talents, and abilities can help the church as it brings God’s message to others.  We are all called to do the work of ministry, not just the church leaders.

As Paul closes this passage, he urges us to not be as children in our faith or behavior (vs. 14).  Children are the opposite of mature believers.  Spiritually immature believers, who are not grounded in good Scriptural teaching, are inclined to accept every sort of beguiling doctrinal error and false teaching.  Satan has his own preachers who sneak in and present a way, other than the Cross, which seems to be right.  We need to be anchored in Jesus and His Word.  Otherwise we will be tossed to and fro, drifting in every direction, away from Biblical truth and moral standards. 

As we seek to follow Jesus and tell others about Him, let us show love and unity between ourselves and other true believers, encouraging each other to use their gifts to build up His Church here on earth.

Monday, July 26, 2021

When Mountains Tremble

 Psalm 114

When we look at a great mountain, we see something that is solid and steadfast.  To completely remove a mountain, such as one in the Rocky Mountains of the western U.S., or one in the Alps or the Himalayas, would be an astounding, possibly impossible feat.  The oceans of the world, along with large lakes and major rivers are also rather sure and steadfast.  We aren’t going to wake up one morning and find the Atlantic or Pacific ocean missing. It would take a mighty and impossibly costly engineering feat to divert or reverse the flow of the Amazon, the Nile, or the Mississippi Rivers.   However, what is impossible with man is not impossible with God.  As we read this week’s psalm, we see that all of nature is subject to its Creator.

Psalm 114 is a short psalm, only eight verses long, giving a brief account of the exodus from Egypt, but one filled with much poetic imagery.  God’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt is perhaps the greatest, and most pivotal event in the Old Testament.  It is referenced again and again, both in the Book of Psalms and the prophets.  It is also frequently mentioned in the New Testament, as well.

As our psalm opens, the unknown psalmist describes the Israelites coming out of captivity, of slavery to a people of “strange language”, a foreign people.  When they had come into Egypt a few hundred years earlier, they were just a very large family - elderly Jacob, his eleven sons (Joseph was already in Egypt), their spouses, and all of their children.  Some of Jacob’s grandchildren could already have been old enough to have already had children themselves.   When they left at the time of the exodus, they were multiple thousands.   They knew that they were God’s chosen people (vs. 2).   God was with His people from the beginning of the exodus, when He parted the Red Sea, to the end when they entered the Promised Land, when He parted the Jordan River (Exodus 14:15-31; Joshua 3:1-17).

The parting of the waters of the Red Sea was an extraordinary, miraculous event for God’s people.  With the final of the 10 plagues God brought down upon the Egyptians, the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh told the people to leave.  Shortly afterwards he changed his mind, and sent his army and chariots after them.  There they were, the Red Sea before them, the armies of Egypt behind them.  What were they to do?  That is when God stepped in and did what man could not do, He parted the waters and allowed the people to cross on dry ground.  God performed a similar miracle right prior to the people entering in the Promised Land when He parted the waters of the Jordan River, right at its peak during flooding season.

During the time that they traveled through the wilderness, God also spoke to the people through Moses upon the top of Mt. Sinai, where the mountain shook in an earthquake, with lightning and fire appearing (Exodus 19:16-18).  He also provided water for the people from the rock which Moses struck with his rod (vs. 8; Numbers 20:8-11).

The psalmist describes these events in words filled with poetic imagery.  The waters seeing God and His people, and fleeing back (vs. 3, 5).  The mountains skipped like lambs, trembling at God’s presence (vs. 4, 6).  The most fixed of geographical features, the mountains and hills, the oceans, lakes and rivers, cannot resist the power and will of God.  To tremble at God’s presence means to recognize God’s complete power and authority, and our frailty by comparison (vs. 7).  The mountain at Sinai trembled when God, its Creator, descended upon it.  Nature must tremble before the omnipotent God.

The God who delivered His people from bondage, and provided for their needs, is our God today.  All people who have put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are His children, and He will always care and provide for us.  As we have seen, all of nature, including the most fixed of geographical features, are under His control and command.  He can still unfurl His power any time He chooses.  The world needs to take notice and tremble at His presence.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

A Double Portion

 II Kings 2:1-15

If a wealthy person, one with seemingly unlimited resources, told you they would grant you a request, would you ask a big request, or only a small, insignificant, paltry one?  There is a legend about Alexander the Great, that once a courtier came, asking a great, even audacious request of him.  Rather than getting angry, Alexander graciously granted it, saying that the man honored him by asking for something great, as it showed that the man thought of him as a great ruler.  One asks great things from a great ruler, but only meager things from a puny ruler.   In our Scripture passage today we read of someone who asked a bold request when given the opportunity, but as we shall see, it was not done with any selfish motives.

As our Scripture begins, it is the last few days of Elijah upon earth.  Elijah was one of the greatest prophets in the Bible.  He brought God’s Word to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel during very difficult and dangerous times, particularly during the reign of wicked King Ahab.  At this time, Elijah’s life on earth was going to come to a close.  God had revealed to him, though, that he would not depart life in the normal fashion, and he was to journey to the eastern banks of the Jordan River with his protégé and companion, Elisha.  As the two journey to that destination, they leave Gilgal, passing through both Bethel and Jericho, to the banks of the river (vs. 1-7).  In each of these villages there was a fellowship or school of prophets, where religious leaders or students met to worship, pray, and learn.  There these true believers in Yahweh would get mutual encouragement in the days of terrible paganism and idolatry.

When Elijah and Elisha crossed the Jordan River, Elijah asked Elisha if there was some request that he could grant his assistant (vs. 9).  Elisha had been Elijah’s personal disciple, companion, and aide for several years.  Elisha had known for several days now that God was going to take his teacher, mentor, and friend away.  Now what could he ask?  As we read in the Scripture passage, we see that Elisha asked that a double portion of Elijah’s spirit would be upon him.  He didn’t ask for fame or fortune, but instead he asked for more spiritual power than Elijah had during his life.

Elisha made a bold request because he knew God’s power, and knew and believed what God could do.  He wanted to accomplish more for God.  He wanted a double portion.  In Jewish culture, the firstborn son always inherited a double portion of the inheritance, along with the right of succession.  Elisha was asking Elijah to succeed him as prophet, and to have spiritual powers beyond his own capabilities to meet those responsibilities as successor.  He desired Elijah’s mighty power to continue to live through him.

We should not be afraid to ask boldly, to ask great things from God (James 4:2).  When we know we serve a great God, we can make great prayers and great requests.  Our God is a great, a mighty, and powerful God.  Nothing is too big for Him to handle.  If something we desire is within the will of God, and not contrary to Scripture, we do not need to be afraid to ask.

As we continue in our Scripture, we read of an extraordinary event, one that would have been very amazing to see.  Elijah did not leave this life on earth like everyone else by dying.  God desired to take His servant up to heaven both body and soul, without him going through death.  As we read, a chariot of fire, drawn by horses, took Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind (vs. 11).  A whirlwind is a strong storm with lightning, thunder, and strong wind, similar to a tornado.  God is occasionally seen and connected with such storms (Job 38:1; Jeremiah 23:19; Jeremiah 30:23).

God picked Elijah up with a chariot and horses of fire.  A chariot with horses was the fastest means of transport at that time.  A chariot was the most powerful means of warfare then, too.  This symbolized God’s power and His protection of His people.  Elijah’s mantle was a symbol of his prophetic office (vs. 13).  Elisha picked up Elijah’s mantle, showing the people he was his successor.  Elijah was not the first one to be taken bodily to heaven without dying.  The first was Enoch, as we read in Genesis 5:21-24.  Jesus also went to heaven bodily after His resurrection (Acts 1:9).

When a mighty servant of God passes away, nothing of God dies.  As God told Elijah when he complained that he felt he was the only one left who believed and followed Him, God had 7,000 who had never bowed the knee to Baal, ready to serve Him (I Kings 19:18).  Elisha is an example.  God is never caught short-handed.  There is always a faithful remnant, however small it might be.  Let’s not be afraid to pray bold prayers to God, and never be discouraged when a mighty servant of God is called home.

Friday, July 23, 2021

The Compassionate Heart Of Jesus

 Mark 6:30-44

Do you know any truly compassionate people?  That is a good and godly Christian trait to have.  The definition of compassion is to show sympathy and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.  Unfortunately many people, including some Christians, are too impatient or wrapped up in their own concerns to show much care and compassion for those in need.  They may give some money or direct them to some social agency for help, but don’t really want to get involved with a needy person.  They have their own problems to worry about.  Others are too judgmental, and choose not to help because they believe it’s the person’s own fault that they got into the trouble they are in, and to help would only be excusing that person’s sin.  In today’s Scripture reading from Mark’s Gospel, we see the compassionate heart of the Lord Jesus, with His love and care for everyone.

As our Scripture passage opens, Jesus and His disciples have gathered together.  The disciples had recently returned from their own brief mission and teaching trips throughout Galilee.  Also, they had just heard the news that John the Baptist had been executed by King Herod (Mark 6:14-29).  That would have been sad and disturbing news to Jesus and His disciples, and He called the twelve to take a short time to get apart into a secluded area to rest and refresh themselves (vs. 30-32).  However, the crowds saw them leave by boat and immediately wanted to follow them.  Most of the people were looking for healing and miracles, though some may also have been wishing to learn from Jesus’s teachings.

Before they were even able to disembark the boat, the crowds had gathered and there was no opportunity to rest.  The disciples, tired as they were, probably were somewhat irritated.  Couldn’t they just have a day or two to rest and recoup?  How do we feel when a needy person or group keeps wanting more and more of our time, energy, and resources?  Do we feel like yelling out, “Stop already!”  Let’s look at what Jesus’s reaction was to this interruption of His desired time away with the disciples.  In verse 34 we read that when Jesus saw the crowds gathering He was “moved with compassion” for them.  He had sympathy and concern for them.  Jesus could have told them to go away and come back in a couple of days, but He didn’t.

Mark described the people as being like sheep that do not have a shepherd.  Sheep are easily scattered if they do not have a shepherd guarding and guiding them.  Without a shepherd they are also in grave danger from both predatory animals and accidents.  Other cattle need much less attention, however sheep need the constant care and diligence of the shepherd.  These people gathering around Jesus and the Twelve were helpless and spiritually starving, lacking spiritual guidance and protection.  They were exposed to the perils of sin and spiritual destruction.  Right then, the nation was more religious than ever before, but they had few true shepherds.  Jesus presented the only true Gospel.  He was the Good Shepherd to the people (John 10:1-16).

In addition to spiritually feeding the people, bringing them the teachings from God’s Word and the Gospel message of salvation, Jesus was also concerned with their physical needs.  The day was ending, and He knew that they had not had any time to eat.  He cared that the people had some nourishment before they would head home, mostly on foot, and many from several miles.  The disciples wanted the people to just head off and buy some food themselves, but Jesus told them to feed them themselves.  With the size of the crowd, that looked like an impossible task, and would cost an enormous amount of money (vs. 37).  There were about 5,000 men there, and with women and children, could easily have been 10 - 15,000 people.

This was not an impossible situation for Jesus!  When the loaves and fishes were in Jesus’s hands, the miracle began (vs. 41).  Jesus looked into heaven, where all blessings come.  His blessing guarantees everything.  The miracle took place between the breaking and the giving.

A situation that seems impossible with human resources is simply an opportunity for God.  When facing a seemingly impossible task, do what you can, then pray to God to do the rest, and trust Him to do so.  Little is much if God is in it!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Welcomed Into God's Household

 Ephesians 2:11-22

Nobody enjoys feeling left out.  It is never pleasant to be in a group of people, yet feel unwanted or unwelcome.  This might happen at a social gathering, or among co-workers.  Sometimes this even happens in families, and unfortunately, even in churches.  This is something that should never happen among Christians, and is something that our Scripture passage today addresses.

In some local gatherings of the early Church there were different groups that were making others feel unwelcome, making them feel like they were a lower status believer because of what ethnic group or nationality they were from.  In particular, some believers who came from a Jewish background had been making those who came from a Gentile background feel that way.  In the early Church there were some who believed that Jewish Christians were better than Gentile ones because they followed the Old Testament Law, they ate kosher, they had been circumcised, etc. (vs. 11-12).

In a different way we sometimes find people in church who act like that today.  They look down on others because of their race or nationality.  They act superior because they have more education or a bigger bank account and dress better.  Maybe we know someone’s past, and feel they are unworthy to sit with us in church.  In today’s Scripture Paul reminds us that everyone is a sinner before God.  We are saved by grace alone, not national heritage or keeping of the Old Testament Law.  Both Jewish and Gentile believers have been brought near to God through Jesus’s Blood.  It doesn’t matter where on the globe you are from, or what color your skin is, it doesn’t matter whether you have a lot or no school education, Jesus died to save them all, and all are welcomed to accept Him as Savior.  Christians of any and all backgrounds are no longer alienated from God, but enjoy the same intimate relationship with Him, and the same spiritual blessings.

Before our salvation, there was an unscalable wall between us and God (vs. 14).  When we accept Jesus as Savior, He broke down that wall, bringing peace between us and God.  Christ is our peace with God and with others.  The Old Testament Law divided people, and sin separates us from God.  In Jesus, the Law is fulfilled and our sins forgiven.

Jesus took the two antagonistic groups, Jews and Gentiles, and made a single new group, the Church.  Jesus removed the middle wall of partition, the Mosaic Law.  That Law was intended to keep the people from pagan practices, but they instead felt superior to Gentiles.  Jesus abolished this enmity, and brought Jew and Gentile into one Church.  This should be the same today for us, where we should be one and welcoming to everyone in our church, regardless of race, nationality or any other factor.

At salvation, we went from being foreigners and aliens to being children of God (vs. 19).  Our Creator has become our heavenly Father.  He hears our prayers because we have been made family through the redemptive work of His Son, Jesus.  The Holy Spirit within us proves we are one of His own, members of His household.  When we are a member of a household, we feel comfortable in the house.  We can kick off our shoes and make ourselves at home.  That isn’t the case in someone else’s house.  When we became saved we became a member of God’s household and family.  We have full access to His house.  It is our house, too.  It is a safe place where we truly belong.  We are not strangers looking through the window from the outside.  We are joint heirs with Jesus.

As Paul continues in our Scripture passage, he picks up a theme often used in the Bible, that of a foundation with Jesus as the cornerstone (vs. 20).  In former days the cornerstone was very important.  The orientation and angle of the cornerstone determined how the rest of the building would be built.  If things weren’t aligned with the cornerstone, the building would be askew.  Jesus is our Cornerstone.  He is our right and true foundation.  When we build our lives in alignment with Him, our life will be right and true, too.   We are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets”.  The Church is not built on modern ideas, but rather on the spiritual heritage given to us by the apostles and prophets of the Bible.

In closing, let us remember that Christ breaks down the walls of prejudice, reconciling all believers to God, unifying us in one body.  No one should feel unwelcome or left out among fellow Christians.  Spiritual pride blinds us to our own faults, and magnifies the faults of others.  Don’t become spiritually proud, but instead, thank God for what He has done in your life.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Praise Even On The Darkest Of Days

 Psalm 22:22-31

It is often rather difficult to be thankful and give praise in unpleasant events.  When you’re driving to an important business dinner, and the tire goes flat on your car, and you have to get out and change the tire while all dressed up in your best clothing, what’s to be thankful for?  And how about if it is pouring rain, and you arrive late and soaking wet?  Events like that are unpleasant, but often we can later find some humor in them, and maybe even see how it might have been beneficial or seen some good in it.  What about the really terrible or catastrophic events that sometimes happen to people, events that bring death and destruction, events that could have devastating consequences for several generations?  How can one give praise or thanks?   Our Scripture passage today highlights just such a situation.

Our psalm passage comes from the final third of Psalm 22.  This psalm is very well known to many Christians, as it is a Messianic psalm, prophesying and graphically describing many of the events that would happen when the Lord Jesus was hanging upon the cross.  The first two-thirds of the psalm are most familiar to us, with its accurate description of what Jesus went through while on the cross.  Jesus quoted the first verse, as He felt God temporarily forsaking Him while all of our sins were laid upon Him.  In verses 6-8 we find prophecies of what the enemies of Jesus, the Pharisees, High Priests, and other religious leaders scornfully shouted out to Him while He hung dying.  These enemies are described as being like bulls and lions in verses 12 and 13, animals that can be violent and very dangerous.  Verses 14 through 17 give a prophecy with physical descriptions of what Jesus’s death was like, including the very specific prophecy that His hands and feet would be pierced, indicating He would die by crucifixion.

Most people focus on the first two-thirds of the psalm because of these prophecies, and the last third gets less attention.  Yet here, David, the writer of this psalm, turns his focus away from the prophetic descriptions of the Messiah’s crucifixion, and instead begins to give praise to God.  This is where we might wonder how anyone could be thankful and give praise after such a horrific event!  What is there to be thankful for when the religious leaders so brutally murdered the Messiah?  Yet that is exactly how David closes out this psalm in the last ten verses.

After reading and meditating on the first portion of the psalm, knowing that it was the Lord Jesus Christ who David is talking and prophesying about, we can give God praise and thanksgiving.  We can thank God because Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, and His death provided salvation for all who turn to Him.  David might not have understood all the details of what he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but it is for this we can and should give unending praise!  David knows that God is deserving of public praise for all that He has done (vs. 22).

When Jesus was hanging on the cross for our sins, God had to temporarily turn His face away from Him.  That was because at that time all the sins of the world were laid upon Him, and a holy God could not look upon that sin.  All of His righteous wrath was poured out upon Jesus.  Yet that was only temporarily for the time while He hung upon the cross, as God would raise Jesus from the dead, and He now sits enthroned at God’s right hand.  Because Jesus took our punishment, God always hears believers when they call to Him for help (vs. 24).  He will never hide His face from us, like He needed to from Jesus on Calvary.

Another thing that we can thank and praise God for is that He is sovereign, ruling over all of the nations of the world (vs. 28).  When we look at this world today we can easily panic and get depressed when we consider the wars, the hatred between different peoples and races, the social unrest, and the natural disasters and diseases that have been relentlessly coming.  David reminds us that God is in absolute control of this universe, both the natural and political worlds, including each of our lives.

Our Scripture today closes with an admonition to tell our children about Jesus (vs. 30-31).  Unborn generations are depending on our faithfulness to tell the Gospel.  We need to teach our children about Jesus, so they will tell their children, and they their children.  If we fail, we break the chain of God’s influence in generations to come.  When we are faithful to God by telling our children about Him, we can influence many generations to come.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Remove The Stumbling Blocks

 Isaiah 57:14-21

Have you ever tripped and fallen over anything?  We laugh at clowns who take pratfalls.  Falls can be quite serious, and clowns learn how to fall without getting injured.  Otherwise one can get critically injured in a fall.  It is a most unkind and terrible thing to do if someone deliberately sets something in another person’s way, so that they will trip and fall, and I’m sure none of us have ever done that.  Or have we?  There are different ways in which we can cause someone to stumble.  Let’s look at our Scripture passage and see what God’s Word tells us today.

As our Scripture passage opens, the Lord is telling us, His people, to prepare the way (vs. 14).  We are to prepare the way for Him to come to us, for His message to be sent forth to others.  The Lord wants us to remove the stumbling block out of the way of the people.  What is a stumbling block?  It is exactly what its name implies, something someone would trip over.  Naturally God does not want us to place physical things in the way for others to trip over, and if we can, to remove, or at least warn others of dangerous hazards.

However, there are other types of stumbling blocks.  These are things that hinder the way to the Lord, and hearing His message.  God tells us here that we are to remove all barriers so that people can come to Him.  Quite often the behavior and actions of Christians puts a stumbling block in the way for the unsaved to come to Jesus.  They see how we are acting, or the things we are saying, and they decide that they want nothing to do with Jesus because of that.  Is our behavior, the things we say and do, being a barrier, a hindrance for people to seek out God and find Him?  If we are causing anyone to fall spiritually, that is terrible business!  God tells us here to remove all the stumbling blocks we are putting in the way of others to find Him.

As our Scripture passage continues, we read that the Lord desires to send revival into the hearts of His people (vs. 15).  As I mentioned in writing about this past week’s psalm, a spiritual revival is a renewal or resurgence of one’s faith, especially when one has drifted away from the Lord, becoming spiritually asleep or apathetic.  Revival will come when His people are humble before Him, and contrite for their sinful behavior.  The Lord longs for an intimate relationship with those who come to Him in humility and contrition.  When Christians really start believing and obeying God’s Word, are sorry for their sins and turn away from them, removing the stumbling blocks in their lives, then there will be revival in the Church, and the lost will be drawn to Jesus.

Instead of bringing stumbling blocks to hinder someone from coming to Jesus, we should bring forth the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  The Scriptures here tell us to bring “fruit of the lips” (vs. 19), in other words, something good that comes forth from our mouth or speech, such as praise and thanksgiving to God.  We can also have fruitful lips when we preach and tell others God’s message of salvation and peace.

When we come to God in humility and with a contrite heart, He will not hold His anger forever towards us (vs. 16).  If He did, we would never be able to find His love and forgiveness against His Divine fury.  We would all perish.  God inhabits eternity (vs. 15).  He has lived in all eternity past.  His Name and nature are holy.  Yet He has chosen to descend to dwell with those who are humble and have a contrite spirit.  The Lord God has patience, love, and compassion, and will forgive us when we come to Him through the Blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.

In contrast to a spiritually revived believer, who has the love and peace of God, the wicked will never enjoy God’s peace (vs. 20-21).  A person who has not experienced God’s forgiveness does not have eternal peace.  Earthly possessions or relationships cannot provide true or lasting peace.  Eternal peace can only be found in salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Instructions For The Mission

 Mark 6:7-13

If I am going somewhere, whether on a trip for several days, or just several hours, I like to plan well, and be prepared for anything that could happen.  Take a sweater in case I might get chilly.  Bring a book in case I might have to wait for a while somewhere.  If the trip is more than one day, I make sure that there is clothing appropriate for any event that might occur.  I like to know exactly where I will be staying, and have the route carefully planned out.  I am not one who likes to be caught by surprise with anything.  In our reading today from the Gospel of Mark, we read of Jesus sending His apostles out for several weeks to bring His message.  His instructions to them are quite different from how I like to plan.  Let’s read what Jesus says.

As Mark records his Gospel, Jesus called His twelve apostles together to send them out on short mission trips to villages throughout the country.  Jesus has some instructions He wanted them to follow, which He told them before they left.  First, Jesus sent the apostles out in pairs (vs. 7).  He did this because going in pairs would give each of them mutual help and encouragement.  If there was a problem, one would be there to help the other.  No one would be alone.  Also, this would meet the legal requirement for an authentic testimony, as the Law stated, there always needed to be two or more witnesses.

Jesus’s next instructions were for what the disciples were to take with them, and for what not to take (vs. 8-9).  Jesus said they could take with them a staff, or walking stick, to wear sandals, but no bag, no food, no extra clothing or extra money.  The walking stick was allowed, as the countryside was very rocky and hilly.  A walking stick would help them in being better able to get around.  This, though, indicated that they were to go on foot, not go on donkey, horse, camel, cart, or wagon.

Another instruction was to not take a bag, such as a travel bag for extra clothes or extra items.  No extra sweater or book, such as I like to have.  No games, nothing to weigh them down or distract them from their mission.  Jesus also didn’t want them to bring along a food sack or carry extra money with them.  They were to depend on others' generosity, and especially to depend on and trust in God for Him to provide for their needs.  Jesus instructed them to wear sandals, but not take two tunics.  In Biblical times, only wealthy or more affluent people wore actual shoes.  The common people wore sandals.  A tunic was an outer garment.  Wealthier people’s tunics might be more elaborate, and sometimes they would wear two at one time, just to show their wealth.  Jesus said for them to only bring one.  He wanted them to identify with the common people, and only bring the minimum.

Jesus gave further instruction for when they entered a village (vs. 10).  The disciples were to carefully select where they would stay.  However, once they were invited and agreed to stay in a home, they were to remain there, even if a better, more comfortable place became available.  Even if they found out that the place down the road served much better dinners!  They were to be content with their accommodations.  The sole focus of this trip was to be on ministry, not a vacation.

Jesus’s final words of instruction to the disciples before they were sent off was on how to react when their message might not be well-received (vs. 11).  He told them that if the people of the village would not listen to the Gospel message they were bringing, if the people rejected it and rejected them, they were to “shake off the dust” from their feet.  This was a practice from the ancient Middle East, and showed a complete renunciation of further fellowship with those who rejected them.  The people who were rejecting them, were in reality rejecting Jesus, the Son of God. The fate of rejecting Jesus is that He would reject them.  It also shows that those who have been given the Gospel message will be held responsible for what they do with it.

As our Scripture passage closes, Mark shares that the disciples went out and preached that people should repent of their sins (vs. 12).  They didn’t go out and tell them that everything was fine with them just the way they are, or that God wanted them to be rich if they gave them a donation.  The message was to repent, turn from their sins, and follow God’s Word.  That is the same message that people need to hear today, but not one that is well received at all.  Yet this is what Jesus sent His disciples out to do.  Are we ready and willing to go out and bring God’s message to a needy world?  And are we trusting Him to provide for us as we do that?

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Blessings For Here And Now

 Ephesians 1:1-14

There is an old story that is told of a poor couple who lived in the first half of 20th century on some property in West Texas, several acres not good for much of anything.  They were very poor, and could barely pay their bills and have enough to eat.  After they died, their property was sold to pay off their remaining debts, and lo and behold, underneath their property was found vast oil fields.  The couple had lived all their lives in poverty, like paupers, yet they had untold wealth right beneath their feet.  While this is probably just a tale, it could be applied to many Christians today.  In our Scripture passage today, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we read of the many spiritual riches believers have in Christ, riches that many don’t know of, and live as if they don’t exist.  Let’s look into our Scripture.

Right away at the start of this letter, Paul lets us know that God has already given us every spiritual blessing that there is (vs. 3).  He has secured them for us in heaven.  They cannot be taken away or lost.  We might obtain something that is very valuable, or have an envelope filled with money, stash it away somewhere for safe keeping, and then forget where we put it or have it stolen.  That cannot happen with the riches believers have been given by God.  They are ours forever, and we do not need to live like spiritual paupers.  God gave them to us to enjoy.  In order to do so, we need to delight ourselves in Jesus.

We have many riches in Christ that are bestowed on us when we get saved.  These are blessings like righteousness, freedom from legalism, an unbreakable union with God, and all of the fruits of the Spirit, such as joy, unconditional love, joy, and peace beyond understanding.  These riches are for us now, not just when we get to heaven.  Too many believers sit in spiritual poverty because they do not make use of God’s riches now, as they could.  They know God saved them and someday they’ll get to heaven, but that’s it as far as their life shows.  There is no reason to wait until heaven to enjoy God’s riches.  We can live joyful, contented lives, overflowing with God’s blessings now.

Before the foundation of the world was created, God set a plan in motion for our salvation (vs. 3-6).  He saw each of us, and made provision for us to turn to Him for salvation, and be born again into His family through His Son, Jesus Christ.  God desires that everyone would turn to Jesus, accept Him as their Savior, and be adopted as His children.  Those who do will have their sins forgiven, receive spiritual insight, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Believers can enjoy these blessings now, not just when we get to heaven.

One of the great riches we have through Christ that Paul tells us of here in this Scripture, is the forgiveness of all of our sins, past, present, and future (vs. 7).  The sin-debt that we had is cancelled through the Blood of Jesus.  Those who call upon Him as their Savior are redeemed forever.  We do not need to live any longer enslaved by our sins.  We have the riches of His grace through the Cross, and lasting freedom forever.  This is something we have, here and now.  Though we cannot always undo our actions, we can know that we are forgiven.  No matter what we’ve ever done, when we come to God through His Son, Jesus, we will then be completely forgiven.  Because of that, we have peace with God, along with His joy. Peace and joy now, not just later when we get to heaven.

The moment we were saved, we were given the Holy Spirit, who will remain with us forever (vs. 13-14).  The Bible describes it as that believers are sealed with the Spirit.  The seal was an official Roman mark placed on a letter, contract, or document.  That mark meant that the document was officially under the authority of the one whose seal it was.  We are sealed with the Holy Spirit by God Himself when we get saved, and we have eternal security, guaranteeing our relationship with Him for all eternity.  The word “guarantee” means the down-payment.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is an installment, or down-payment of our salvation inheritance.  We have been sealed, showing that we belong to God.  The Holy Spirit, which all believers are given, is God’s deposit, guaranteeing that He will do what He has promised.  God assures us that the rest is forthcoming.

Let us not be like that West Texas couple, living in poverty when in reality we have riches.  We can live in the reality of God’s love and His forgiveness.  We can know His peace and joy each day, and live with the power of the Holy Spirit and His fruits in our lives.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Justice Or Mercy

 Psalm 85

Most people like to see justice done, and truth to prevail when something wrong has been committed.  If someone has done something wrong, then justice needs to be meted out.  On the other hand, there are those who want mercy to be shown, especially if a loved one or friend is involved.  It seems that those two, mercy and justice, can never come together.  Either the truth is shown and justice is meted out, or mercy is shown, but not both.  In our psalm for this week we will see where God has made this possible, where true justice is served, but also mercy is shown.

Psalm 85 is one of several psalms that were written by the Sons of Korah.  The Sons of Korah were Levites, and descended from Moses’s cousin, Korah, who led a rebellion against Moses (Numbers 16:1-33).  God caused the earth to open up, and all those involved in the rebellion were swallowed up.  However, Korah’s children did not die in this rebellion (Numbers 26:11).  They continued to serve the Lord, and later their descendants were gatekeepers and musicians in the Temple, and wrote several Psalms.

As the Sons of Korah observed, the people were prone to falling into sin.  We all are today, just as they were in the past.  They saw the cycle - the people sin, God forgives, they sin again, God forgives again.  Would He continue to forgive the people?  The psalmist knew that God was a God of truth and justice.  When the people broke His law, God’s justice would demand punishment.  Yet they wanted and needed His mercy (vs. 4-7).  Mercy is God’s loyal and unfailing love.  It is when He holds back from giving us what we really deserve.

How can God’s justice be met and His mercy be shown at the same time?  Under the Old Testament Law “mercy” and “truth” could not meet.  “Righteousness” and “peace” could not kiss or greet each other.  Yet that is what the Psalmist says will happen (vs. 10-11).  How could it?  The Sons of Korah unknowingly were looking ahead to the time of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, where these two, justice and mercy, would meet.  Jesus satisfied the Law, and did so in every capacity.  He did so at the Cross.  At the Cross, truth and righteousness judged sin in the Person of Jesus Christ.  At that time the barrier between God and man was settled.  Mercy and peace can now flow freely to all believers, those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.  Only those who renounce their sins and put their complete trust in God will participate in salvation, and His future Kingdom (vs. 9).

There is another message that the Sons of Korah spoke of in this psalm.  In our Scripture the psalmist makes a prayer to God for revival (vs. 6).  He sees in the people a continual swinging back and forth from sinning to trying to do right, from following after the pagan practices to following the Lord.  He also sees apathy in the people.  They may not be openly practicing evil, but their fervor for the Lord has died down to barely a flicker.   He prays to the Lord to send a revival among the people, a renewal and resurgence of their faith.  Just as a person who is deathly sick comes back to health and they are “revived”, so too a person who has drifted into apathy in their faith, needs to be revived.

Revival begins with the Holy Spirit working in individual hearts, bringing a return to God with passion and zeal.  True revival is based on truth found in the Bible.  We need to pray for revival, both in our own individual life, and for revival in our churches.  Too many believers have grown cool in their faith, bored, unconcerned, and listless.  Too many churches are asleep, or are drifting into dangerous waters with their beliefs.  We need to be brought back to spiritual life, as so many churches and communities are spiritually deathly ill or even dead.

Spiritual revival is not only about restoring a right relationship with God, it is also about returning to a place where we can delight in Him, and celebrate His goodness, love, and mercy.  Let us pray, as the psalmist did, that a great revival would sweep among God’s people!

Saturday, July 10, 2021

God's Plumb Line

 Amos 7:7-15

A few months ago, I got to watch a new house being built just a few doors from us.  When a new building goes up, the construction crew needs to make sure that certain things are done very carefully and correctly, such as laying down a good, secure foundation.  Another thing is that they must make sure that the walls are straight.  If the walls are leaning one way or the other, even if it is barely perceptible, they are in danger of falling.  To ensure a good, safe, and strong building the walls need to be straight and proper, and line up properly.  That is the message that our Scripture passage for today brings.  Let’s look at what God says in His Word today.

Amos was a prophet of God, who brought His message to the northern Kingdom of Israel.  His preaching ministry would have been sometime around 762 - 755 BC.  Before God called Amos to bring His message to the people he was a sheep herder and a farmer of sycamore figs (vs. 14-15).  He did not come from the wealthy elite, nor was he from a priestly background.  God calls whoever He chooses, regardless of any special background.  It doesn’t matter what occupation we may have, God can use us to bring His message to others.

As our Scripture passage opens, God gave Amos a vision, where he saw the Lord upon a wall with a plumb line in His hand (vs. 7-9).  Plumb lines have been used since ancient times to ensure straight and level construction, and are made of a lead, stone, or metal piece attached to a string or line which is held out to show if the wall is straight and upright, not leaning to either side.  A wall that is not straight will eventually collapse.  God used this analogy with the Prophet Amos to show that He wants people to be right and straight with Him.  He wants the sin that makes us crooked to be removed.  God’s Word is the plumb line that helps us be aware of our sin.

Just as a plumb line ensures the straightness of a wall, God would employ a plumb line to carefully evaluate the hearts and behavior of His people.  Occasionally construction workmen find that a wall has not been put up correctly, and that it is leaning.  If it can’t be corrected properly, then the wall needs to come down. Unfortunately that was the case with the people of Israel.  This vision let the Prophet Amos know that all hope for Israel had been exhausted, and that judgment would come (vs. 8-9).  God’s judgment against Israel was irrevocable.  Their sin had gone too far.  The purpose of the plumb line was to illustrate how far Israel had strayed from God’s righteousness, and that it must be destroyed.

Naturally the people of Israel were not happy to hear this message.  Nobody wants to hear a message that speaks against the sin in their life, and that God will bring judgment upon them because of this.  People like to hear soft and fluffy messages that make them feel good, and the people of Israel were no different.  They wanted to hear peace, and that God thought they were terrific.  That is the same today.  Preachers who bring messages against sinful behavior quickly become unpopular.  They may even become publicly ridiculed and shamed in the media.

Amos was looked upon as a traitor and a conspirator because he spoke out against the king and his advisors (vs. 10).  He had exposed their sins, and questioned their ways because they were not following God’s Word.  Amos was also accused of being a traitor because he was not a part of their hybrid pagan/Jewish religion.  Amos would not take part in that, and spoke out against the mixing of pagan idols and rituals with their worship of Yahweh, saying that God abhorred this.  Amos preached the Bible, not their false pagan messages.  He did not preach what the king and people wanted to hear, so he was publicly chastised and called an enemy of the people and country.

Amaziah was the chief priest in Bethel, representing Israel’s official religion of a mixture of paganism and Judaism (vs. 10).  He didn’t care about God’s message, and he certainly didn’t want some other prophet coming around preaching the Bible.  We see this today, as well.  When a man of God comes preaching a message straight from the Bible, there are so-called “religious” leaders that might speak out against them and their message.  This was done to Amos, it was done to Paul, and certainly to the Lord Jesus.

Amos, though, did not let these attacks stop him.  He knew that his calling and mission was not of human origin, but was from God.  He remained true and faithful to his calling, in spite of any attacks.  Like Amos, even in the midst of any kind of opposition, we need to be faithful and true to bring God’s message to those around us.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Hometown Rejection

 Mark 6:1-6

If we’ve moved away from the village or city we grew up in, we often wish to go back and visit there again to see how it might have changed, see if people we knew are still there, and see the places we knew as a child.  Such a visit can be pleasant, or it can bring disappointment and sorrow.  Maybe things have changed too much.  Perhaps we don’t receive too much of a welcome.  In our Scripture passage today Jesus made a visit to Nazareth, the village He grew up in.  The visit was a disappointing one for Him, as neither He nor His message was well received.

For a number of months already, Jesus has been preaching and teaching throughout Galilee.  He had brought healing to many, along with casting demons out, and even raising a girl from the dead.  Now Jesus decided to make a visit to the village he had spent just about His whole life in until beginning His ministry.  On the Sabbath day, Jesus went to the synagogue, and as was the custom in many synagogues, visitors were welcome to speak.  Jesus started to preach His message of repentance and salvation. However, unlike in many other communities where He and His message were welcomed, here in Nazareth Jesus was met with skepticism and a critical attitude (vs. 1-3).

The residents of Nazareth started questioning exactly who Jesus thought He was, to come there and teach them.  They questioned what right He had to say such things.  In their thoughts He was not worthy.  The villagers were deeply offended at Jesus’s coming to teach them, as if He were someone special or learned.

Then the people of Nazareth started to dish out some very insulting insinuations about Jesus.  They called Jesus the “son of Mary”.  Jewish practice was that genealogies were always patrilineal.  Genealogies called people as the son of their father.  Women were very rarely ever mentioned in any genealogy.  The people of Nazareth were certainly not trying to bring honor to Mary.  Instead they were probably remembering the rumors that Mary had been unfaithful during her betrothal, and had gotten pregnant, thus making Jesus not the son of Joseph.   They were implying that Jesus was illegitimate, and in Jewish society illegitimate people were scorned and treated as outcasts.

Jesus noted the people of Nazareth’s attitude and reception of Him, and did not stay around very long.  He only performed a few healings before He left the area (vs. 4-6).  Jesus’s power did not diminish because of their unbelief.  He still was all-powerful.  Jesus limited His ministry there because of their hardened hearts of unbelief.  Also, because of their unbelief, not as many people came to Him for healing as in other places, such as Capernaum.  The villagers would rather see their loved ones sick rather than bring them to Jesus for healing.  The few miracles Jesus did in Nazareth had little effect on the people because they did not accept His message or believe He was from God.  If friends, neighbors, or family don’t respect your work for the Lord, don’t let their rejection keep you from serving God.

There is a difference between honest doubting or questioning and unbelief.  Honest doubting is when one wonders if something could be.  Unbelief is a declaration that “I know it is not” or “it can’t be”.  All statements of doubt contain an element of questioning.  A questioning person usually seeks the truth, wanting to know more.  He is usually seeking the truth in a given situation, and wondering if an answer really exists.  When the answer is revealed, he is usually open to accepting the truth.  Someone with unbelief is not open to investigating or looking further.  He is convinced that what he knows is absolute truth, and there could never be any other answer.

Unbelief cancels out what faith can do, and prevents God from working miracles and giving blessings.  The people of Nazareth did not value or believe Jesus’s Words of truth.  They scorned His teaching, were offended, and rejected Him in their unbelief.  Jesus left Nazareth and was not to return.  If someone’s heart is hardened with unbelief, the Holy Spirit will not continue to call upon them indefinitely.  If you have not already accepted the Lord Jesus as your personal Savior, do not continue to stubbornly remain in unbelief.  He will not remain where He is not welcomed, just as He left and never returned to Nazareth.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

God's Grace Is Sufficient

 II Corinthians 12:2-10

When we have a project to do, or problem to work out, we want to be in the best condition possible to handle it.  We want to be strong, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, with no signs of weakness.  When we look for someone to handle a job for us, we also look for the strongest, the best candidate, the one most seemingly fit to take charge.  However, as we read through our Scripture passage today from II Corinthians, we see that this is not always the qualifications that God is looking for to get His work done.  Let’s take a look.

As our Scripture passage opens, Paul describes an event that happened to someone several years prior (vs. 2-4).  This man experienced an occasion where he was bodily caught up into heaven, where he saw and witnessed such indescribable things that he was unable to talk about them.  Most Bible scholars believe that Paul is talking about himself here.  He didn’t want to seem like he was boasting, so he referred to himself in the third person.  Because Paul saw such spectacular things, and witnessed such heavenly glory, things that no other living person had seen, God gave him a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from boasting and becoming proud (vs. 7).

What was this “thorn in the flesh”?  Paul never specifically identified what it was.  It was possibly an illness or physical affliction.  Some have thought it could have been a problem he had with his eyes and vision, but it was never clearly specified.  It could possibly have been a vicious adversary.  Whatever it was, God used this affliction from Satan to keep Paul humble.  The affliction was painful and distressing, but purposeful.  This was to keep Paul from becoming proud, especially because of the many revelations and visions he had experienced.

No suffering is pleasant.  We all know that.  Whenever we are going through something painful or distressing, we pray and beg God to bring us relief.  Paul was no different.  He pleaded with God desperately, with great effort on three very specific occasions to remove this “thorn”, to bring him relief (vs. 8).  God told him “no”, He was not going to remove the affliction.  Now if this was us, how would we respond?  I know that I would probably not be very happy.  With the Holy Spirit’s help, Paul came to understand the Lord’s call to endure in spite of pain.

As we read further, we see that God told Paul that His grace is sufficient, and that he needed to depend on that, rather than his own strength and abilities (vs. 9).  This affliction might have made Paul physically weak, and our afflictions might handicap our natural abilities, but there is a constant availability of God’s grace for each of us to rely on.  God would continually supply Paul, and us, with grace to endure our thorns.  The weaker the human instrument, the more clearly God’s grace shines forth.

Brokenness and weakness is God’s requirement for usefulness to Him.  His power is displayed in weak people, people who cannot and do not rely upon themselves, but upon Him.  We must rely on God, and not our own energy, effort, or talent.  When we admit our weakness we affirm God’s strength.  When we are helpless and without our own resources, we must depend on God’s provisions, and all glory goes to Him.  God will not enable the person who strives in their own strength.  He who relies upon his own abilities for victory has relied wrongly.  It is only by God’s Spirit we can achieve (Zechariah 4:6).  There must be a consciousness of weakness before the Lord will give us victory.

Paul rejoiced in his sufferings because they kept him close to God and obedient to Him (vs. 10).  They helped keep him in constant contact with God, and allowed others to see Him at work in his life.  When we are strong in our own ability, we are tempted to do God’s work on our own, which will lead to pride.  When we are weak, God will fill us with His power.  The strength of Christ can be exhibited through us only when we know we are weak.

It does not matter how weak we think we are, or how oppressed or downtrodden.  In God’s hands, our weakness makes room for His strength.  It is through His power, and His power alone, that we can do amazing things.  The grace of God is greater than our thorn in the flesh.  For when we are weak, then, looking to Christ alone in that moment of weakness, we are strong.  We can regard each limitation as a gift that reveals God as our strength.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Our Eyes On The Lord

Psalm 123

I’m going to guess that most people reading this do not have a household filled with servants.  I certainly don’t have any!  However, I do know that one requirement of being a good servant, perhaps a butler or housekeeper, is that they always need to be attentive to the needs and wishes of their master or boss.  They need to keep their eyes on their employer, always ready, always attentive.  A sloppy or lazy servant won’t keep their position long.  This holds true for any job.  The employee needs to be alert to what they are assigned to be doing, their eyes on their boss.  Today’s psalm is a very short one, and believers are compared with being servants who are alert and attentive to their master, keeping their eyes always upon him.

The psalmist of this extremely short psalm makes two statements.  The first is that believers are to always keep their eyes upon the Lord, just as a servant does to his or her master.  As I mentioned, a good servant is always attentive to the one they work for.  The best of butlers, after having worked for their employer for a little while, will anticipate what they may want without always having to be told.  In an office, a good administrative assistant always keeps an eye on their boss in order to be ready.  The good legal assistant always has the papers and folders ready to go to court, without having to be told.  They aren’t lingering around the coffee room, catching up on the latest gossip.  The housekeeper and butler aren’t back in the kitchen, watching the soap operas on TV.

Our psalmist prays to the Lord, telling Him that he is keeping his eyes always upon Him, ready and waiting on the Lord (vs. 1-2).  He has made his prayers to the Lord, and is waiting for His answer.  Now he is waiting, waiting for the Lord to answer His prayers, and waiting for Him to tell him what to do.

What was the prayer of the psalmist?  He doesn’t specifically tell us, though he is requesting mercy from the Lord.  Later in the psalm he speaks of the ill treatment he is experiencing from the unbelievers, so his prayer is likely about that, asking God to have mercy upon him, and bring relief.  His eyes are upon God, waiting for His answer, as attentive as a servant.

Sometimes God does not immediately answer our prayers for help or mercy.  We might wonder why, perhaps thinking that He doesn’t care for us or has forgotten us.  However, God does not forget His children.  He might have a better plan for us, or greater blessings He wishes to bestow on us.  Sometimes His delay in answering is because He knows something that we do not know with this situation we are in.  As Jesus told His disciples, He wants us to keep on asking God until He responds (Luke 18:1-8).  God wants us to be persistent in prayer, to be attentive to Him, our eyes always upon Him, and not upon the world.  We will never find our answer, our help, from the world.

The last two verses of our psalm contain the lament of the psalmist about the contempt he is feeling from the lost, the unsaved (vs. 3-4).  The definition of “contempt” is when a person is felt to be beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.  So often the unsaved show nothing but contempt for believers.  Over the last number of decades this scorn has only increased, and Christians are held in contempt in the movies and media, the butt of late-night comedy and talk show host’s jokes.  A Christian’s unsaved co-workers often heap contempt if the believer does not take part in their behavior or attitude.  It is also often the rich, those “at ease”, and the proud who dish this scorn out.

The psalmist knows that he needs to trust in God despite distressing situations.  He does what we all should do when we get heaped with contempt, and while we wait for God to answer our prayers, and that is lift our eyes to the Lord, waiting and watching for Him to send His mercy.  The more the psalmist waits, the more he cries out to God because he knows the world offers no help.  They only show contempt for the Almighty.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Continue To Speak God's Message

 Ezekiel 2:1-7

Rejection is never pleasant.  Nobody wants to have their words rejected and cast aside, especially if the message is important.  If those who we are talking to reject us, especially if it is done with some anger or even threats of violence, we are likely to just quit talking, give up, and walk away.  This is the situation that the prophet Ezekiel found himself in.  In our Scripture passage for today, we will read what the Lord had to say to the prophet when his message was angrily rejected by the people.

Ezekiel was a prophet of the Lord during the time of the people of Judah’s captivity and exile in Babylon.  As we read in the Old Testament, the people of the southern Kingdom of Judah went into captivity and exile in Babylon because of their persistent idolatry and worship of false gods, along with their disobedience to God’s Law.  The northern Kingdom of Israel had already been exiled and taken captive by the Assyrians because of their sins and idolatry over a hundred years earlier, as well.

God had a message for the people of Judah, now in captivity, and He sent His servant, Ezekiel to deliver it.  In the previous chapter, Ezekiel had seen an amazing vision of the glory of the Lord God.  It caused him to fall face down and prostrate himself.  Now God told Ezekiel to get on his feet (vs. 1-2).  The Holy Spirit helped him to get up, as the glory of his vision might have left him without much strength.  God will never tell us to do something except that He gives us the ability to do it.  When we obey Him, God will provide for our needs to do what He asks.

God gave Ezekiel the Holy Spirit for power to do the difficult job ahead, giving His message to a rebellious people.  One would think that after such a horrible judgment as being sent into exile, far away from their homeland, from their beloved capital Jerusalem, sent to a foreign land speaking a language most didn’t know, that they would repent and forsake their sins.  However, shocking as it may seem, so many of the people remained in rebellion against God, their hearts hardened.  It was to these people that God sent Ezekiel with His message.

The people didn’t want Ezekiel’s message.  They didn’t want to be told that they were sinners, that they needed to repent.  They were self-righteous, just as they were during the time of earlier prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, and they would be later during the days of Jesus.  These people were obstinate and stubborn, despite having gone into captivity in Babylon (vs. 4-5).  They refused to admit their sin, to repent and return to God.  They turned away from the truth.

As I mentioned above, no one enjoys giving a message to those who don’t want it, to those who oppose us.  If the people are angry, if they start to become threatening, we might become afraid and turn away, staying quiet, and keeping the message to ourselves.  God knew this.  He knew that Ezekiel’s safety was possibly in danger, yet He told the prophet to not be afraid (vs. 6).  God encouraged Ezekiel to fulfill the mission that He had given him to complete.  And despite the harsh opposition from a disobedient people, Ezekiel obeyed God, and he gave His message.

The response of the people of Israel to Ezekiel’s message was like briars, thorns, and scorpions.  There was nothing but stinging rejection from these people.  Such was their response to God’s Word.  Yet Ezekiel was told not to fear them.  He was called to give God’s message to the people whether they would listen or not.  The measure of Ezekiel’s success was not how well the people responded, but how well he obeyed God, and fulfilled His mission.

God also wants us to share the Gospel message to people whether they will accept it or not, whether it is convenient or not (II Timothy 4:2).  With the Holy Spirit in us, we can put away our fears of rejection or ridicule when telling others the Gospel message.  God’s strength is powerful enough to help us obey Him, even under heavy criticism.  Wherever the Lord has you today, faithfully be His witness.  Never, out of fear of man, hold back your witness for the Lord Jesus.