Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Watch Out For Satan's Lures!

James 4:7-10 

When I was younger there were a few times that I went fishing with some other people.  Though often they used live bait, a few times they used lures.  A lot of those lures were rather pretty to look at, nice and shiny, flashing in the sunlight.  From Mr. Fish’s perspective they might look interesting.  So he comes closer.  Perhaps he thinks it might be something tasty.  The temptation of that bright, shiny, flashy lure is too much to resist, so Mr. Fish decides to take a bite.  Alas, now it’s too late for him.  He has a hook in his mouth, and he’s being reeled in.  He can struggle and fight as much as he wants, but that usually gets the hook in deeper and more secure. He is caught, and his doom is determined. We set similar traps for other animals.  Even the spider weaves a tantalizing and alluring trap, which catches the curious bug.  In our Scripture today from the Epistle of James, we see someone who sets a trap for us, and how we can avoid becoming his victim.

The enemy that we have, who has set his traps all around to catch us, is of course, Satan.  The devil will go after anyone, but he is particularly interested in snaring Christians.  Sometimes his traps are hidden, like the bear trap under a pile of leaves.  Other times they are right in the open.  The temptation and our curiosity are so strong that we fall right into it.  Satan dangles temptation right in front of us.  It looks tantalizing, just like that flashy fishing lure.  But there’s a hook in there to catch us.  God tells us to say no, to resist Satan’s bait (vs. 7).  When we stand in Jesus’s Name and power, Satan will flee.  We need to listen to God’s warnings, and submit to Him.

So how do we resist the devil, keeping free from his lures, traps, and webs?  James tells us we need to draw near and submit to God, and to humble ourselves before Him.  Throughout our Scripture passage, James gives us some ways to draw near to the Lord God, and thus stay out of the traps.  First we need to submit to God.  Just as a soldier submits to his commanding officer, we must yield to God’s authority, committing our life to Him and His control.  James then tells us that we need to resist the devil.  Don’t allow him to entice us with his seemingly attractive temptations.  Do not submit to or fear Satan, but rather, stand against him (I Peter 5:8-9).

Another step that we are told to do in order to draw near to God and avoid temptations and traps is to have clean hands and a clean heart (vs. 8).  We need to lead a pure life, and be cleansed from any sins we do commit.  The cleansing of one’s life must involve both outward deeds and inner thoughts (Psalm 24:3-4).  When we recognize what an affront our sins are to the Lord who died for us, and what they do to us and our walk with Him, we will grieve and mourn for our sins in sincere sorrow (vs. 9).  God will not turn away from a heart that is broken and contrite over sin (Psalm 51:17).

The final thing that James tells us in our passage today to do is to humble ourselves before the Lord God (vs. 10).  Humbling ourselves means to recognize that our worth comes from God alone.  To be humble involves working with His power and not our own, throughout our life.  We realize that on our own, we cannot accomplish anything of value, but are wholly dependent upon the Lord.  We do not deserve God’s favor, but He reaches out to us in love, and gives us worth and dignity, despite our human shortcomings.  A truly humble person will give his allegiance to God, obey His commands, and follow His leadership.  When we humble ourselves before God, He will lift us up (I Peter 5:6).  The humble, not the proud, will receive honor from God.

God promises us that when we draw nearer to Him, He will draw nearer to us.  Moses reminds us that God is near whenever His children call out to Him (Deuteronomy 4:7).  Jeremiah personally had evidence for this (Lamentations 3:57).  God brought him comfort in his day of trouble, when he called upon Him.  God is not unmoved when we humbly come to Him.  His welcoming response is always near.

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Heavens Declare The Glory Of God

 Psalm 19

After a long stretch of cloudy days, days when all you see in the sky is a blanket of gray clouds completely covering east to west, it is a joy to finally see the sun again.  Opening the curtains and letting the sunshine in is welcomed.  Lately I have been enjoying many very lovely sunsets, with brilliant colors splashed all across the sky.  I’ve always enjoyed looking up into the sky, looking at clouds, and at night looking at the moon, the stars and constellations.  King David also enjoyed looking at the heavens, probably from his earliest days guarding the sheep at night.  In our psalm today we read how the heavens clearly point to our Creator God.

It is difficult to imagine people looking up into the heavens and not believing in a Creator God, yet many do.  The universe gives evidence of God’s existence, His power, His love, and His care.  The design of the universe, its intricacy and orderliness point to a Divine Creator.  Even as a young girl, before I had actually accepted Jesus as my Savior, I still believed in God, and knew without any doubt that He created all that I could see.  Not only the sun, moon, and stars, but also the many beautiful flowers, birds, animals, and all I could see.  I didn’t need a theological degree to know that.  As David stated in our psalm, nature itself proclaims this truth (vs. 1-4).

The voice of creation loudly proclaims its Creator.  Throughout the day, everything we see, plants, animals, and the wonders of nature, speak this truth, and at night the stars, planets, and the whole universe tell the same.  The heavens are God’s preachers in the sky, who proclaim 24 hours a day the truth that He exists.  As David said, there isn’t a person on earth that can’t know this, as its language is universal.  As the Apostle Paul later writes, all mankind is without any excuse in not believing in God, as His creation clearly points to Him (Romans 1:19-23).  Everyone can see some part of nature, whether the mountains, the ocean, jungle, prairie, flowers, insects, stars at night.  Whatever we observe, it all points to God as its Creator.  All people, all nations are without any excuse for not believing in God.  The testimony of the universe about God comes forth consistently and clearly, but sinful mankind persistently denies Him.

Some people might think that because nature proclaims the existence of God, we don’t need to tell others.  However, it’s not enough to just say that nature will lead people to God, or that we don’t need to get involved or speak up.  Nature will show His existence, but God’s Word must still be shared, telling about salvation found only through His Son, Jesus Christ.

As the psalm continues, David switches from highlighting nature and its proclamation of God, to highlighting God’s Word, and how it naturally points to Jesus and His truth (vs. 7-11).  Do you want to be wise, to be enlightened?  Do you want to rejoice?  Most people do!  How about knowing enduring truth?  Not just something that is temporary, but truth that endures forever. Would you like something that is delectably tasty, like honey?  I don’t know anyone who would turn down gold!  Our psalm tells us that the Word of God is all of the above.

God’s Word is perfect and will both enlighten us with the truth and give us wisdom.  It’s truth is pure and endures forever.  We can rejoice as we read and study the Word of God, just as one would if they had fine gold, and as those of us with a sweet tooth would when eating honey.  God’s Word, the Bible, is not some chain to weigh us down, but rather gives us guidance and light for our path through life.

David switches gears one last time when he closes this psalm, as he wishes to be clean and forgiven from all of his sins before God (vs. 12-13).  As we know from reading Scripture, David was not perfect.  Like all of us, he committed sins.  However, just as we all should, he dealt with his sins, and did not deny them.  David confessed his sins, both the known ones, and even sins he may have inadvertently and unknowingly committed.

As our Scripture closes, God’s Word in our psalm tells us we need to make sure that the words out of our mouth are pleasing to the Lord (vs. 14).  We need to be speaking positive and good words, both to others and to ourselves.  Words that bring life, not negative words that bring death.

In closing, Psalm 19 shows us that God reveals Himself through nature, where we learn about His power and our finiteness.  We also see how God reveals Himself through Scripture in the Bible, where we learn about His holiness, our sinfulness, and about Jesus Christ, His Son, who paid the price for our sins.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Quit Your Complaining!

 Numbers 11:1-6, 10-16, 24-25

There is nothing worse than going on a trip with a bunch of complainers!  They complain about their accommodations, about how hot or cold they are, how bored they are, and very often, about the food.  The food tastes awful, the cooks don’t know how to prepare it, there’s no variety, and they wish they had this or that to eat.  Traveling with complainers can certainly ruin the whole trip.  This was what Moses was having to deal with in our Scripture passage today.

As our passage opened, we immediately read that the people were complaining.  Throughout the whole journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, the Hebrew people complained.   They complained about not having enough to eat, not having enough to drink, and that God only brought them out into the desert to kill them.  God then miraculously provided them with manna to eat each day, but now they were tired of that and wanted something new and different to eat (vs. 1-6).  They wanted the food that they ate in Egypt.  They were turning up their noses at the food God gave, wishing for onions from Egypt!

When people continually complain, it displeases God.  Complaining is also contagious.  One person’s complaint can lead to another one joining him, then three or four, and more and more.  When we start hearing someone complain, it’s best to get away from them before we are tempted to join in. Complaining shows we are not satisfied with what God gives us.  It shows a lack of faith and trust in Him.  It signifies unbelief, and unbelief will lead to spiritual death.  When sin continues it will be judged.

God destroyed those on the outskirts of the camp, those who dwelled far away from the tabernacle, where God dwelt.  The farther away we are from God, the more likely we are to fall into sin.  Those on the outskirts of the camp were the complainers, who listened to words of unbelief, who desired the things of Egypt and the world.  Those who were closer to God were not destroyed.

God will bless an obedient spirit, and He judges a complaining spirit (I Corinthians 10:10).  We cannot grumble and honor God at the same time.  Instead of looking at what we don’t have, and start yearning for it and complaining that we lack it, like the Israelites were doing, we need to instead look at what God has blessed us with.  The manna came every day, with enough that no one ever went hungry.  Yet the Israelites had grown to detest the manna, God’s gift, something that one psalmist described as food of angels (Psalm 78:25).   They forgot that manna was God’s gift to them.  Complaining poisons the heart with ingratitude.  God has to judge this.

As our Scripture continues, we read that Moses, too, was displeased with the people’s complaints.  He was weary with the load and burden of leading these people by himself (vs. 10-15).  The people’s constant complaints were tiresome, and on more than one occasion they had even threatened Moses’s life.   Then Moses started to complain to God.   He prayed to God, telling Him that these weren’t his people, he wasn’t their father.  He told God that he couldn’t supply their needs, and that this burden was too much for him.

The people complained and Moses complained.  However there was an important difference between the two.  The people complained to each other about God, about Moses, and about their provisions.  Their dissatisfaction fed off of each other, increasing their complaint.  Moses took his complaint to God, who he knew could help him.  Moses prayed about the burden of leading the people, that it was too great for him alone.   The people just complained to each other, getting each other all worked up into a rebellion.  Rather than being a murmurer and complainer, Moses reacted in prayer, bringing his honest emotions and upsets to God.  He prayed about his problems, and the Lord honored that.  God answered him by giving him 70 elders to help deal with the burden of the multitude of people.

Our lesson here should be to be satisfied with what the Lord has given us, rather than looking at and complaining about what we don’t have.  Be thankful and grateful with what He has blessed us with.  And if we do have a legitimate complaint, take it to God in prayer as Moses did, rather than murmuring and complaining with each other, as the Israelites did.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Who Is The Greatest?

 Mark 9:30-37

Most of us know someone who always wants to be the head, the leader, the “top dog” in the group.  This is particularly seen in the office.  Though ambition is sometimes good, these folks go overboard.  Their ambition knows no bounds.  We all know people who also want to be the center of attention.  They aren’t content to be just one of the group.  They want the spotlight always on them.  Neither person shows much, if any, humility.  They want to be on top, front and center.  In our Gospel reading today from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus responds to some of the disciples who wanted to be considered the greatest.  Let’s look at our Scripture and see what the Lord can teach us.

As our passage opens, Jesus and His disciples are making their way south through Galilee, on towards Jerusalem.  This will be His final journey into Jerusalem, for Jesus knows that this time He will be betrayed and crucified.  Jesus wanted this time to be a separate time, just Him and His disciples, so that He could teach them privately about the crucifixion, and His sacrifice for sin (vs. 30-32).  However, every time Jesus spoke to them about His approaching death, His words did not sink in.  Their eyes and ears were closed to what Jesus was saying.  When His crucifixion, and then later the resurrection happened, they were all surprised, as if they had never heard anything about it.  Are there some lessons that the Lord is trying to teach you, but the message just doesn’t seem to sink in?  We need to be open and really listen to His Words to us.

Instead of listening to what Jesus was teaching, the disciples were instead arguing among themselves as to which of them were the greatest (vs. 33-34).  Not only weren’t they paying attention to what Jesus was trying to teach them at that moment, but they hadn’t really learned or applied any of His teachings on humility, or considered patterning their behavior to His example.

Having some personal ambition isn’t wrong in and of itself.  Making goals to better oneself is not wrong.  There is nothing wrong with getting a job within a company, and then desiring and seeking to advance to a better or more important position.  That is normal.  However, if we do that at the expense of others and treat others wrong, or seek to lord our promotion over others, that is when there is a problem.  What is important is God’s Kingdom, along with humility and service to others.  In God’s Kingdom, those who lord themselves or their positions over others are not considered great.  Rather, God considers the greatest those who humbly serve others.

Jesus knew, without even needing to ask, exactly what the others were arguing about.  In response, He proceeded to tell the disciples that if they wanted to be considered great in God’s Kingdom, they need to be a servant to the others, to not seek to be the head, but rather show lowly humility (vs. 35).  Do simple, humble acts that show compassion towards other people, acts which display the character of Jesus Christ.  Do acts of service that are not done for personal gain, but are done out of an overflow of His love in us, and are done for His glory, not our own.

Jesus then took a little child and stood him in the middle of the group.  In that day children were the lowest on the totem pole.  They were considered second or third class citizens, and had no rights like they do today.  Yet Jesus, the Son of God, received them, showing them love and care (vs. 36-37), and He wants His followers to do the same.

Jesus is our perfect example of humility and service, rather than pomp and grandeur.  He left His throne of glory in heaven to come to earth, live a humble life, and die a tortuous death on the cross.  Even on His last night before His death, Jesus took the role of the humblest of servants, and on His knees He washed the disciples feet (John 13:1-17).  Rather than insisting on being treated as the greatest, which the disciples were doing, Jesus became our servant.  With Him as our example, we should do the same.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Submitting To God In Prayer

 James 3:16-4:6

Have you ever talked with someone about prayer, and they tell you that they don’t really pray any more because they don’t feel that God answers their prayers?  They tell you how they prayed for this or that, and never received what they wanted, so they have given up on the whole idea of prayer.  In our Scripture passage today, James discusses this issue, and gives some reasons why sometimes people’s prayers do not get the response they were looking for, and why we get envious of those who do seem to get answers to prayers and are blessed by God.  Let’s see what the Word of God says about this.

As our Scripture opens, James brings up a sin that so many of us get caught up in, and that is envy (vs. 16).  Envy is more than just wanting something that another person has.  It also involves resentment, resenting that God hasn’t provided for us what He has given to someone else.  A person prone to envy becomes greedy.  They are discontent with what God has given to them, and they want what other people have.  This type of thinking and behavior brings confusion and eventually can lead to evil.  When we envy others, Satan is successful in shifting our focus away from God, and onto our circumstances.  We are prideful and covetous.  We focus on our circumstances and what we feel we deserve.

James then proceeds to describe godly wisdom, which can lead a person away from this envy (vs. 17-18).  There are two types of wisdom in this world.  One is from God, which is pure, and promotes peace and leads to righteousness.  The other is demonic, with jealousy, ambition, strife, evil living, and confusion.  A believer showing godly wisdom will have spiritual, moral integrity.  They will be peace loving, kind, teachable, and obedient to God’s standards.  They will show mercy and concern for those who suffer, and will not make unfair distinctions.  There will not be hypocrisy in their life.  They will practice godly living both in public and in private.

As our passage continues into chapter 4, James gives us some reasons why our prayers may not be answered.  First, we have unaddressed sin in our life (vs. 1-2).   James’s readers were filled with strife, coming from their unsatisfied, selfish desires.  Discord among believers is not God’s design.  When we want our sinful desires badly enough, we will fight to get them.  Not only to literally kill, but also destroy the reputations of another in order to gain advantage.

A very common problem in prayer is simply not asking God (vs. 2).  Additionally, proud people feel that they can handle everything in their lives all on their own, which is why they do not come to God for help.  Sometimes we also feel that a possible “no” to our prayers is unacceptable.

Another reason James gives is that we often have wrong motives in our prayers.  If we come to God in prayer with the right motives, putting first the Kingdom of God, and if we live for Him, He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4).  When our wants and desires line up with what we know God’s Word teaches and with His will for our lives, we can pray, expecting Him to answer.  Expectant prayer demonstrates confidence in God’s goodness.

As our Scripture continues, James uses some rather strong words, calling his readers adulterers (vs. 4).  Why did he do that?  Were they actually cheating on their spouses?  No, that wasn’t the case.  Just like Israel was spiritually married to Yahweh, but was unfaithful to Him by turning to other gods, and God called them adulterers, the Church is called the Bride of Christ.  When we show a love for the ways and things of the world and its mindset, we, too, are adulterers.  Being a friend of the world is not compatible with being a friend of God.  A friend of the world acts, thinks, and speaks as the world does.  He values the same things the world does.  What God wants and what the world expects are diametrically opposed to each other.

A cure for evil desires is humility (vs. 4-6).  Pride makes us self-centered, feeling we deserve all we can get.  When we seek God, we see that the world’s seductive attractions are cheap substitutes for what God has to offer.  If we live our life trying to please other people or ourselves, we will be at odds with God.  If we live for Him, the world will be hostile to us.

Who would not want to be friends with God?  The key is to refuse to pursue worldliness.  We cannot play both sides.

Monday, September 20, 2021


 Psalm 54

Betrayal is a very painful event.  To have someone that you felt you could trust turn around and betray you to your enemy or to your opponent is not a pleasant thing to go through.  It might jeopardize your job, it might destroy friendships, or even ruin your family.  In some circumstances it could cost you your safety, or even your life.  Today’s very short psalm has a dangerous betrayal as its background.  Let’s take a look into Psalm 54.

In the years following David’s victory over the Philistine giant, Goliath, King Saul brought him to his royal court.  He made David one of his chief military leaders in his battles against the Philistines and other enemies.  However, rather than rejoicing over the victories that David brought, King Saul became jealous over his popularity.  His jealousy became so overwhelming that David had to flee for his life.  Many years and much manpower was spent by Saul in trying to bring down his supposed rival.  Though God protected David from the harm Saul intended for him, there were several close calls.  Our psalm for today describes one such time.

Over the course of several years, David traveled all throughout the land of Israel and the neighboring countries while fleeing Saul’s murderous jealousy.  One time found David in the far southern part of Israel.  At this time he hid out in the woods nearby the village of Ziph, which was about four to five miles south of the city of Hebron, in southern Israel (I Samuel 23:14-21).  Neither David nor his men had ever harmed or treated the people of Ziph poorly, and he thought that he could safely stay there for a while to rest and regroup.  However, the people of Ziph had other ideas.  As soon as they saw that David was in the woods nearby, they sent word to King Saul that he was there, a totally unprovoked betrayal.

How did David respond to this betrayal?  He had a band of men with him who were very skilled fighters.  After fleeing Saul yet again, David could have come back and wiped that small village off the map.  He certainly could have done that after he became king, but he didn’t.  David had delivered them and the whole area before from the Philistines, and this was the treatment they gave him!  But no, David did not take this matter into his own hands.  Instead of seeking vengeance on his own, David took the problem and situation to the Lord.

As Psalm 54 begins, David sought the Lord God, and found power and strength in His Name (vs. 1).  The Name of the Lord, Yahweh, is a stronghold for us.  Elsewhere in the Bible we are told that the Name of the Lord is a strong tower, which we can run to and be safe (Proverbs 18:10).  David knew he could depend on God’s Name, and we can, too.  Satan and his minions must bow to the Name of Jesus!

When David found out that he had been betrayed by the residents of Ziph, he had to hightail it out of there to save his life and the lives of his men from Saul.  He prayed to God, asking Him to deliver him from both “strangers” and “oppressors” (vs. 3).  Saul was oppressing David over several years, chasing him across the country, trying to kill him.  Now these strangers of Ziph, people he didn’t even know, people he had protected from their enemies the Philistines, rose up against him by betraying him to King Saul.

By leaving this distressing situation in God’s hands, and not his own, David knew that the Lord would repay his enemies in His way (vs. 5).  God will repay His enemies.  Those who cause trouble will reap trouble.  What those folks have intended for God’s child may blow up in their own faces.

When we are faced with some distressing situation where everyone has turned against us, when we find that those we thought were our friends are not, we need to take that problem to Jesus.  Remember one line in the favorite old-time hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”.  It reads: “Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?  Take it to the Lord in prayer.  In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, thou wilt find a solace there.”  David was not afraid to come to God and express his true feelings and needs (vs. 3-4).  Thus his spirit was lifted.  He was able to praise God, his Helper, Protector, and Friend.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Slaying Giants

 I Samuel 17:1-11, 20-49

Today’s Scripture is one that is very familiar to most people.  Even people who are not Christians, who have never even opened the Bible, will be familiar with the account of David and Goliath.  Before anyone brushes this passage aside, thinking that it is only a story for children, let’s take a closer look, and see the lessons that God has for all of us in this well-known passage of Scripture.

We all know the account of David and Goliath.  David, a small shepherd boy, goes up against the giant Goliath, and brings him down with a stone out of his sling-shot.  However, it is not just a lesson in courage, positive thinking, or in the smaller bringing down the bigger.  There are many important spiritual lessons we can learn.  David knew that God could use him to defeat Goliath, just as He had defeated the lion and the bear from attacking the sheep under his care.  It shows us that the victory belongs to God, who is greater than all.

We know how the Scripture account begins - Israel and the Philistines are at war, and in one battle it is decided to fight “single-combat”, one man from each side, winner take all.  The Philistines send Goliath, an immensely tall and strong soldier.  The Israelites have no one who could defeat him.  This challenge goes on for several days, yet no one is found who will fight Goliath (vs. 4-11).

David came to camp one day to deliver some food to his older brothers, and heard the taunts and blasphemies that Goliath shouted out.  He was defying Yahweh, the one true God.  This disturbed David.  It disturbed him that no one in their army would stand up and defend the Name and Honor of God, trusting in Him to defeat the enemy.  David took that challenge.  The Israelite army saw a giant.  David saw a mortal man defying almighty God.  He would stand up for God against His enemies.  He would shut that blaspheming mouth!  We need more men and women who are willing to stand up for Him against the enemy!

When King Saul heard David, he admired his bravery and was willing to let him go, as there was no one else willing.  Saul believed they would be defeated anyway, so why not let David go?  Saul had forgotten how to see through the eyes of faith.  He only saw through the eyes of flesh.  Trusting God means looking beyond what we can see to what God can see.  David could proceed with confidence because he knew God would be victorious!  David didn’t look at externals.  He didn’t see a giant.  The only giant David ever saw was God!  With the omnipotent God on his side, he couldn’t lose!

As David approached the giant Goliath, he picked up five smooth stones to use with his sling-shot.  He didn’t use the traditional weapons, as he was not used to them.  While in the fields protecting his sheep, David used a sling-shot, and he knew that God would protect him no matter what he used.  David’s trust was not in his weapons, it was in God.  It was not in what he had, it was in Who was with him.

Goliath came to battle in his own name.  David came to battle in the Name of the Lord of all the hosts, or armies, of heaven (vs. 45).  He was motivated by the honor and glory of God’s Name.  Goliath jeered at David, the army of Saul, and God.  David, however, spoke one sentence of truth.  With his words of truth, he did not need his own power, intellect, or weapons.  No man-made weapons were a match against God.  David was a living example of what Isaiah said centuries later, when God promised His children that “no weapon formed against you will prosper” (Isaiah 54:17).  David knew God was with him, and he knew what God could do!

David fought in the Name of the Lord, and for the glory of the Lord, whose Name and glory will extend to the uttermost parts of the earth.  Goliath didn’t realize that in fighting David he wasn’t just fighting a youth, but he was also really fighting God.

We must all face giants in our life.  Yet we do not need to face them alone.  From a human perspective, Goliath was invincible.  However, David knew that Yahweh was with him.  That made all the difference!  Focus first and foremost on God, not the giant, just as David did.  That is how he was able to defeat Goliath, and that is how we will defeat any giants the devil sends our way, too.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Deliverance For A Demon Possessed Boy

 Mark 9:14-29

One of the most painful and distressing things a parent can go through is when their child is very sick or has something terribly wrong with them, and there is nothing that they can do to help them.  Such trials will really test one’s faith.  In our Scripture for today, Mark tells of the account of a father and his son who had a demon who was binding him in a terrible condition.  Let’s take a look.

As our passage opens, the Transfiguration had just occurred, while Jesus was away with three of His disciples, Peter, James, and John.  As He came back into the village, He saw the remainder of His disciples arguing with the scribes.  Jesus proceeded to ask them what was going on (vs. 14-16).  At that time a very distraught father came up to Him, and told Him about his son (vs. 17-22).  His son had been possessed by a demon for many years, which would throw him into a terrible state.  This terrible demon often even tried to kill him by throwing him into water and into fire at times, possibly leaving him badly disfigured.  The father had brought his son to the disciples to have them cast it out.  Despite having previously cast out demons on a number of occasions, the disciples were unable to do so this time.  Not only did this leave the father and son in the same terrible condition, it stirred up arguments with the scribes.

This father loved his son.  He so desperately wanted and needed help for him, but the disciples had failed.  He came begging Jesus for help.  “If you can do anything, help me!” he said.  The faith that he had when he first came to the disciples had taken a terrible beating, and was dropping now.  Could Jesus do anything?  His disciples had failed.  The problem is not in what Jesus can do.  Jesus can do everything.  He is God.  The problem is in what we believe He can do.  Don’t let the failures of other believers destroy our faith in Jesus.  We need to look beyond their failures, Satan’s antics, and our disappointments.  The devil can’t come up with a problem in our life that God can’t solve!

The father knew that his faith was faltering right then (vs. 24).  His son was growing worse by the moment, and his hopes had been dashed with the disciples' failure to help.  Now, face to face with Jesus, he acknowledged that his faith was weak.  The father had some faith, mixed with doubt.  He did believe, but was not strong, and not always certain, like we often are.  He prayed that Jesus would strengthen his weakened faith, and Jesus was not put off by the man’s humble and honest plea.

As Jesus came up to possessed son, with the crowds gathering around, He commanded the demon to leave.  Jesus is God, the second Person of the Trinity.  He has absolute power over the demonic world.  The demon had no choice but to obey Jesus (vs. 25-26).  As that strong demon left the boy, he tried one last time to kill him, leaving him lying, seemingly lifeless on the ground.  Many thought he was dead.  However, Jesus took him by the hand and raised him up (vs. 27).  This was more than just a helping hand to get up.  Healing power flooded the boy’s body, healing what the demon had damaged.

When they were alone with Jesus, the disciples asked Him why they had been unable to cast this demon out.  They had done so before, why had they failed this time?  Jesus answered them by saying that this one needed prayer and fasting in order to be cast out (vs. 28-29).  Some demons are more powerful and obstinate than others, and more resistant to being cast out.  Serious prayer, and often fasting, are needed with some problems, trials, and attacks of Satan in our life.  The battle with Satan is a difficult, ongoing struggle.  Victory over sin and temptation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, not through our own effort.

Prayer is the key that unlocks faith in our lives.  Prayer, often along with fasting, demonstrates our reliance on God as we humbly invite Him to fill us with faith and power.  We must spend time in deep prayer, often partnered with fasting, to gain victory over difficult problems we sometimes face.  The demon had been in this boy a long time, and there was lack of faith present in the onlookers, and to a lesser degree, with the disciples and father.  Facing the evil one requires much prayer and great faith.

There is no question with Jesus’s power.  How is our faith?  Do we believe?  In order to grow stronger spiritually, we must take our eyes off of our circumstances, and look to the Lord.  By trusting in His character, and believing in His promises, we can overcome anxiety and develop greater faith, just as this father did.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Favoritism And Faith

 James 2:1-18

One Sunday you decide you will attend a different church in your neighborhood.  When you arrive, the usher leads you to a seat in the back corner, despite there being plenty of other seats, and even though you had asked to sit towards the front.  As you wait for the service to start, you see the usher leading other people to seats further to the front and center.  You notice that they are dressed in fine suits, fur coats, designer dresses and jewelry.  Now you know, as you hang your head, why you were seated in the back far corner.  Though you are clean, your clothes and shoes are several years old, plain and worn.  Your hair is combed, but not styled, your hands rough from work.  The affluent members here don’t want anything to do with you.  We may think that this doesn’t happen in today’s churches, but I know that it does.  It was a problem in the early church, as well, and was something that was addressed by James in our Scripture for today.

As James opens the second chapter of his Epistle, he immediately confronts the church with a problem that seemed to be going on for some time, and that was showing favoritism among members and visitors to the church group he was writing to (vs. 1-4).  James describes a scenario quite like the one I opened with.  Two people, a wealthy person well dressed in expensive clothes, the other a poor person in clothes that may have come from the charity drive.  The poor person is ignored, treated as invisible, while the wealthy person is fawned over, queen of the social scene.

God tells us quite plainly in His Word that we are not to show favor to someone on a superficial, external basis, such as appearance, race, wealth, rank, or social status.  Throughout the whole Bible, the poor are objects of God’s special concern.  The sin that James points out is not the actual act of dressing in expensive clothes or jewelry.  It is when the people of a church show favoritism to the rich over the poor, in catering to the rich and socially prominent, while shunning the poor, common people.  In an honest assessment, does your church do that?  We should never make appearance more important than character.  We should also never cater to rich people just because they are better able to financially support the church and its programs.  Jesus never showed partiality to anyone, and neither should we.

James continues by quoting the very familiar verse of loving your neighbor as yourself (vs. 8).  We are to see to the physical health and spiritual well-being of our neighbors to the same intensity and concern as we do for ourselves.  That includes everyone, not just caring for the wealthy or beautiful (vs. 9).  We may think we’re doing good if we are obeying some of the things God says in His Word, but James responds by reminding us that we can’t pick and choose what to obey or not obey (vs. 10-11).  We may view our sins as not being as damaging or heinous as others, but if we have broken any part of God’s Word, no matter how small, we need Jesus to pay for our sin.

Next our passage speaks of something that is so important, and that is mercy (vs. 13).  A person who shows no mercy and compassion for people in need shows that he has never responded to the mercy of God.  The person whose life is characterized by mercy is ready for the Day of Judgment, because he shows he knows God’s mercy.  I need all of the mercy from God that I can get.  So if I want mercy for myself, I had better be a dispenser of mercy to everyone I meet!

Our passage closes with some words that some people have felt contradicts other parts of Scripture (vs. 14-18), but if we look carefully, we see this is not the case.  James is not saying that works save us, rather than faith.  He is saying that right actions are the natural by-product of true faith.  A profession of compassion without action is phony.

True faith should transform our conduct.  If we continue sinful practices, do we truly believe the truths we claim to believe?  True faith always results in a conviction against sinful acts and desire to do good deeds.  Our actions don’t save us, but they will show our commitment to God is real.  If one’s faith is truly rooted, there will be fruit to show.

James gave us a lot of food for thought in our passage today.  Things to take home and really think over.  And not only to think over, but to take action in our lives.

Monday, September 13, 2021

A Near-Death Experience

 Psalm 116

Coming face to face with death is a very scary thing.  Some of you reading this may have had just such an experience.  A near-death experience can come in a variety of ways.  It could come as a result of a serious illness, or an almost fatal surgery. One can almost die as a result of a terrible accident, or violent force of nature.  Or someone can narrowly escape death at the hands of a brutal criminal.  Following such an event in one’s life, we can imagine the person is so thankful to be alive.  A Christian coming through such an anxious time would naturally give God praise and thanks.  Our psalm today is a psalm recording just such praise and thanks, following a near-death experience.

Psalm 116 is a thank-you song to the Lord for delivering the writer from death.  I have had a few moderately serious accidents, and twice been seriously sick, but not quite at death’s door.  Our psalmist came through some unnamed, but harrowing near-death experience, and then penned these words of praise to God.  The author of our psalm is unknown, but some people have suggested that it could possibly have been the prophet Jonah.  The reason they give for suggesting this is that the last three verses of the psalm are almost identical to the words of Jonah 2:9, where the prophet sings praise to God for delivering him from the belly of the great fish.

We will probably never know who wrote the psalm until we get to heaven, but for a moment, let’s consider the possibility that it was Jonah.  God gave Jonah the assignment to go to the people of the Assyrian city of Nineveh and bring His message to turn to the Lord or the city would be destroyed.  Jonah disobeyed God, going so far as to book passage on a ship going across the Mediterranean.  As punishment, Jonah is thrown overboard in a huge storm, and God has a giant fish swallow him alive, spitting him out three days later on shore.

As we can all imagine, being swallowed alive and whole, whether by a whale, a shark, or some other giant sea creature, would be a very frightening experience.  It is also coming very close to death.  If the creature hadn’t swallowed him he would have drowned.   If the fish or whale would have bitten, rather than swallow him whole, he would have died.  And being digested alive would not have been fun, either!  Jonah had plenty of reasons to praise God, and also to repent and start obeying Him.

Both the psalmist and Jonah knew that they could never repay God for all of the blessings He had given them (vs. 12).  Especially for delivering them from the brink of death.  Whether we have been spared from near death or not, there is so much that the Lord God has given to us.  He has given us countless blessings, especially the gift of salvation to whoever will receive it.  There is no possible way that we can repay God for any of these.  In answer to the psalmist’s rhetorical question, there is nothing we can give to God, except to trust and obey.  In the belly of the fish Jonah had vowed to do what God requested, and he would pay those vows (vs. 14).   Jonah reluctantly set out to obey God’s first command to him and preach His message in Nineveh.  In a time of great distress did you promise or vow to God to do something for Him if He would get you out of your predicament, whether it was an illness, accident, or something else?  If so, then we ought not to delay in fulfilling those vows.

What about the times when a believer’s experience is not near-death, but instead is actual death?  What do we think, especially if it is unexpected and premature, whether from illness, accident, or something else?  Our psalmist gives us a special truth in verse 15.  Though it is human nature to grieve when a loved one dies, and the Lord is compassionate towards us then, when a believer dies the Lord looks on that death as a precious or special moment.

Believers are precious to God.  Each of their lives are valuable to Him.  He carefully chooses the time when they will be called into His presence.  It is a joyous moment in heaven because another one of His beloved children has entered God’s eternal presence! Death is not the end. It is a new beginning.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Set My Face Like A Flint

 Isaiah 50:2-10

Sometimes in life we are called upon to do something that is very difficult, something that we might prefer not to do.  However, we do it anyway because we know that it is the right thing to do, and that it must be done.  Others might try to discourage us and try to turn us away from finishing that arduous task, but we get that determined look on our face and push forward, despite how difficult or painful it might be.  In today’s Scripture, God, speaking through His prophet Isaiah, describes the Lord Jesus Christ in just such a situation, as He prepared to sacrifice Himself for our salvation.

As our Scripture opens, the Lord God is asking why no one is willing to believe and obey Him, even after all they have seen Him do in the world (vs. 2).  This is particularly true with the Lord Jesus Christ when He came to earth to redeem mankind.  During the 3 ½ years of His ministry, only a few believed and followed Him.  The majority of the Jewish people, especially the religious leaders, did not answer Him when He called for everyone to believe and come to Him.

The Lord Jesus came with words from the very heart of God, words He spoke to us, to bring us God’s message (vs. 4).  It was a word coming in season, in just the right time and moment, a word to a world that was weary from sin and sickness.  Jesus knew what He had come to do, to redeem mankind from the power of sin and Satan.  It was not going to be an easy thing to do, as the price for the forgiveness of sin would be the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22).  That blood would have to come from someone who had no sin of their own, and that could only be the Blood of the Lord Jesus.  Jesus knew that He would have to give His life.  Though He was fully God, He was also fully human, and as human, it was not easy knowing the brutal torture and death that He faced.  Yet He did not refuse or turn away (vs. 5).

This was a difficult mission that Jesus faced.  During the last days just prior to His entry into Jerusalem, several of the disciples tried to dissuade Jesus from going to that city.  They knew the dangerous opposition Jesus faced from the religious leaders, and they feared what it would lead to.  Yet Jesus would not be dissuaded.  So sure was Jesus of the Lord God’s help, that He resolutely determined to remain unswayed by whatever hardships would await Him.  As Isaiah said, He set His face like a flint (vs. 7), strong and immovable. He was determined to proceed, knowing He would be crucified, giving His life for our salvation (Luke 9:51).

Jesus was obedient to God.  He did not turn away from what lay before Him.  As Isaiah described, the Messiah submitted to the torture from sinful man (vs. 6).  His back was brutally flogged.  The whips that the Roman soldiers used in that day were strong, having bits of metal, rock, and bones on the tips, designed to tear the skin.  Many strong men would not survive the flogging, their backs being literally torn open.  Yet Isaiah described the Messiah giving His back to those who struck Him.  He did not fight this, as awful as it was.  Jesus endured His beard being grabbed and ripped off, and His face covered by the spit of those who abused Him.  This all before the torture of the crucifixion.

This was brutal and humiliating treatment for the Son of God, yet Jesus knew that God would help Him, and that ultimately He would not be disgraced (vs. 7-9).  No matter how Jesus was mistreated, mocked, and repudiated, He had full confidence in God's support, so He welcomed His mission to bring salvation to mankind.

Our Scripture passage closes with a call to believe and be saved (vs. 10).  We do not have to grope blindly in the darkness of life, like those without hope.  We can trust God in the darkness.  We can take His hand when we accept Jesus as Savior.  If we know that God is for us, then we, too, can set our face like flint.  We can be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (I Corinthians 15:58).

When Jesus comes calling to our hearts, will we answer?  Or will we be like the people Isaiah describes at the opening of today’s Scripture?  Jesus is still calling on mankind, standing at the door of their heart, and knocking (Revelation 3:20).  Will you open the door of your heart and let Him in today?

Friday, September 10, 2021

Ephphatha - Be Opened!

Mark 7:31-37 

“Are you listening to me?  Do you hear a word that I’m saying?”  How often does a parent say that to their children, or one spouse to another?  Sometimes we have selective hearing, and only hear what we choose to hear with family members, friends, or co-workers.  Selective hearing is usually not a good thing for having healthy relationships with others.  It is definitely not a good thing to have with God.  Let’s look into today's Scripture reading from the Gospel of Mark.

As our passage begins, Jesus and His disciples had just returned from a brief trip to the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon, where He had cast a demon out of a Gentile woman’s daughter.  They were now back to the regions around the Sea of Galilee.  The people here were familiar with Jesus, and whenever He was around, people brought their sick family and friends to Him for healing.  This day, some people brought to Him a man who was deaf (vs. 31-32).  The man also was unable to speak clearly.  Little children learn to speak by imitating the sounds that they hear.  If they can’t hear clearly, or not at all, then it is very difficult to learn to speak clearly.  Being deaf, this man could only make unintelligible sounds.  This man’s family and loved ones brought him to Jesus, desiring that He heal him.

Jesus took the deaf and mute man off to the side, away from the crowds.  Then He did something that might seem a little odd to readers of the Gospel.  Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears.  Then He spat and touched the man’s tongue (vs. 33).  What was Jesus doing?   This man was deaf, either for quite a while, or possibly from birth or infancy.  He would not have heard anything about Jesus, or know who He was.  His family and friends would have heard about Him, as that is why they brought him to the Lord, but the deaf man would not know who this stranger who took him aside was.  At this time there would not have been anything but very primitive sign language, unlike today where we can communicate fairly clearly with the deaf.  At this time communication would have been just very basic gestures.  This man may very well have been afraid.  What was this stranger going to do to him?  Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears possibly as a sign that He wanted to bring healing to his deafness.  The same with touching his tongue.

As we continue reading, we see that Jesus sighed (vs. 34).  He was saddened by the illness and handicaps that had come to mankind because of the Fall of Adam in the Garden.  All sickness and disabilities have come due to Adam and Eve’s sin.  Jesus felt compassion for this man, stuck in a world of silence, and the great degree of isolation his deafness brought.

Jesus then spoke the word “Ephphatha”, which means “Be opened”.  He commanded the man’s ears and tongue to be opened, to be able to hear and speak clearly.  Immediately his hearing returned, and he could speak (vs. 35).  The crowds all saw what happened, and they proclaimed that Jesus did all things well (vs. 37).  However, Jesus asked the people not to talk about this healing.  He didn’t want to be seen simply as a miracle worker.  He didn’t want the people to miss His real message of salvation and having a relationship with God.

What about us?  We may not be literally, physically deaf, but are we listening to God?  Are our ears opened?  Does Jesus have to say to us “Ephphatha”?  Do we hear what He says to us through His Word, the Bible?  Jesus didn’t want the people at that time to come to Him only for healing, or for physical food, and that is true today, as well.  We must not be so concerned about what Jesus can do for us that we forget to listen to His message.

Are we sitting in church, or while reading the Bible, and our mind does not hear what God is trying to say to us?  Just like someone who is physically present, but not hearing a word that is said to him, we block God’s voice from our ears.  We’ve become spiritually deaf.  Ephphatha!  Jesus tells us today, “Be opened!”  Hear God’s Word of salvation, and then hear what He wants us to do.  Let our tongue be opened, as well, to tell His message to others.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Be A Doer Of The Word, Not Just A Hearer

 James 1:17-27

Most people want to check a mirror before they head out for the day.  We want to make sure our hair is properly combed, and that we don’t have any remnants of our last meal on our face!  Sometimes if we’re too rushed, we end up regretting that we didn’t take the time to check the mirror as we missed a button, or a seam has come open.  The purpose of the mirror is so that we correct anything wrong we see.  It serves no purpose if we don’t notice what’s wrong and correct it.  This is one of several important lessons James tells us in our Scripture for today.

James begins our Scripture passage today with a reminder to us that every good thing that we have comes from God (vs. 17).  Many people like to believe that the good things they have come from their own hard work.  They brag about their nice house, or their beautiful garden, and how their hard work and labor brought them about.  Even their health.  Oh how hard they work out at the gym, and now, look at how healthy they are!  However, that’s not really true.  God is the source of every good thing we have.  When we acknowledge His role in our blessings, we develop the best defense against pride.  We have humble dependence on Him.  God’s work is life-giving, healing, and uplifting.  Everything that steals, kills, and destroys is the work of the devil (John 10:10).

We continue on as James warns us about being quick to speak and quick to anger (vs. 19-20).  We are wise to be careful about what we say, or how much we say in certain situations.  It makes very good sense to guard our words when we are angry.  Difficult situations require silence and patience because talk inflames anger, and anger inflames more angry talk.  Anger also distracts us from listening to God.  Most of us talk way too much, and listen far too little, so it is wise to frequently put the reins on our tendency to talk, talk, talk.  Try being a thoughtful listener more often.  Restraining our words also shows a reverence for God (Ecclesiastes 5:2).

James continues on, telling us that when we find something wrong in our life, we need to make needed changes (vs. 22-25).  How many of us might hear a sermon message or read something in the Bible which then strikes some conviction in us.  We feel like the message is meant for us, yet then later, after the message, we quickly forget what we’ve heard.  We don’t act upon what we’ve heard or read in the Bible.  Unless Christians act promptly after they hear the convicting Word of God, they will forget the changes and improvements that the Holy Spirit indicated they need to make.

God’s Word, the Bible, makes the comparison with looking in the mirror, seeing something we should fix, yet walking away and doing nothing.  No sensible person would do that.  It is important to listen to God’s Word, but even more important to act upon what we hear, and put it into practice.  If we hear God’s Word without taking action, we only fool ourselves.  When we examine ourselves in light of God’s Word, and obey His instructions, God liberates us from all that keeps us from looking like Him.

James proceeds to jump back to another word about our speech (vs. 26).  He talks about people who feel they are religious, good Christians, yet their speech is something else.  He describes it as having an unbridled tongue.  An unbridled horse can run wild, all over the place.  They will jump and kick, and for everyone’s safety, they need to be brought under control.  The same goes for our tongue.  Someone whose words are out of control, yet claim to be religious, are hypocrites, and James says their religious acts are useless.

Our passage closes with a description of what true religious acts should look like (vs. 27).  James mentions helping those who are in need, particularly those who can’t help themselves, like the widows and orphans, and to keep ourselves unspotted by the world.  A Christian should reflect Jesus’s loving, compassionate character in our behavior, especially to the most helpless in our society.  To keep ourselves from being polluted by the world we need to commit ourselves to Christ’s teachings, not the world’s.  We are not to adapt to the world’s value system.  A religious facade means nothing if we are contaminated with such values.

In closing, we see that we need to trust in God, and obey what we read and hear from His Word, the Bible.  As the old-time hymn says, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

Monday, September 6, 2021

Who Can We Trust?

 Psalm 146

Knowing who to call upon when one has a problem is important.  When your car won’t start, you don’t call your baker.  And if you see a fire, you don’t call your dentist.  You call the fire department!  Your baker might know how to make your favorite chocolate cake, but he might not know a thing about your car’s engine.   When there is a serious problem, such as a fire, a crime, or a health crisis, you need to make sure the one you call upon is one you can trust to handle the situation.  Trust in the correct person is always important.  This is one point that our psalmist for this week wants us to learn.  Let’s look into Psalm 146.

Many countries hold elections every few years for presidents, prime ministers, and other political representatives.  We always hope that they will improve things in our country, that they will be the answer to the problems we have.  When the candidate of our choice wins we are elated, thinking that now, finally, things will start to improve.  We hope and believe that this person will be the answer, our hope for better things.  However, how many times have we all been disappointed?  Things remained the same, or even got worse.  Many people have trusted in their local politician to help them personally with problems they had.  He or she made all sorts of promises to us, but we were quickly forgotten and left with no further recourse.  Our trust and hope were sorely disappointed.

Our psalmist warns us to not put our trust in any political leader, whether they are princes, royalty, or elected officials (vs. 3).   He also tells us that leaders aren’t the only ones, but that we shouldn’t put our trust in any person for real, true, or sure help.  The psalmist reminds us that they are only human (vs. 4).  They are fallible, and will eventually pass away.  So who can we turn to?  We all find ourselves in situations that we, ourselves, cannot handle.  Where can we find help?

We find our answer in verse 5.  There our psalmist tells us that those who have put their hope and trust in Yahweh, the God of Jacob, will find help.  Those are the people who are happy and blessed.  If we remember back in the Book of Genesis, Jacob faced a lot of problems throughout his life.  He had to flee from his twin brother Esau and leave his comfortable home.  Later he faced problems with his brother-in-law Laban.  He also had problems between his multiple wives and undisciplined sons.  Jacob’s life was not an easy one, yet as long as he trusted in Yahweh, He brought him safely through each and every problem.  We are told to also put our trust in Yahweh, the same God of hope that Jacob did, and we, too, can be blessed.

The psalmist proceeds to give us several reasons why God is the only true hope and help we can rely on.  For one, He made heaven and earth, everything we see around us (vs. 6).  Since God is wise and powerful enough to create all we can see, whether in the sky, on land, or in the oceans, and to run all of creation smoothly, then certainly He can take care of me!  God is also a God of justice and truth (vs. 7).   He provides and cares for the poor and the oppressed.

Yahweh is also a God who heals (vs. 8).  Several Old Testament prophets performed miracles, such as Elijah and Elisha, but none of them healed blindness.  Jesus healed the blind, both physically blind and spiritually blind.  If we turn to Him, He will raise us up when life is crushing us.  In verse 9 we read that God cares for refugees, which is so important today.  He also provides for the fatherless and widows.  All throughout Scripture we read that He cares for those two groups, those who have no one else to care about them.  God’s values are the opposite of the world’s, so His plans and ways frustrate the ways of the wicked.

Our psalm closes the same way that it began, with praise to the Lord.  Praise takes our minds off of our problems and focuses them on God.  Praise causes us to consider and appreciate God’s character.  It lifts our perspective from the earthly to the heavenly.  Let’s turn to Jesus today in both praise and trust.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

On God's Highway

 Isaiah 35:4-10

When we set off on a trip to a certain destination, it is important to make sure that we get on the correct road.  If we don’t, our trip will be a failure, as we won’t arrive where we want to.  Having a good guide and a safe way is also important.  In our Scripture reading for today the Prophet Isaiah speaks of such a highway that will take God’s children to the heavenly Zion.  Let’s look into our Scripture passage and see what God, through His prophet, tells us.

As our passage opens, God calls out to His children, especially those who are fearful hearted (vs. 4).  I will admit that there are plenty of times when fear comes knocking at my heart.  Problems seem overwhelming, events in the world can be frightening, and where can we turn?  God tells us that we do not need to fear, for He will come and save us.  First, He provided the means to redeem mankind through the shed Blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Thereafter, God is there for His children.  He will come with a vengeance to protect and save us, and bring us along on His highway to our home with Him.

Isaiah speaks of healing that the Lord will bring us, both here on earth and in His heavenly kingdom (vs. 5-6).  When Jesus came to earth He brought healing.  He opened the eyes of the blind, brought hearing to the deaf, and healed the crippled.  His healing is still available today.  Even more important than the physical healing we can have through the Holy Spirit’s power, is spiritual healing.  The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the spiritually blind, and opens the ears to those who have been deaf to His voice.  Are your eyes open to see God moving in the world today?  Are your ears open to hear His voice speaking in so many different ways, trying to get your attention?  God is trying to reach you, and to bring you into His family as one of His children.

Jesus also brought healing to the crippled and to those who were mute.  Many of those who had been crippled and unable to walk, once Jesus healed them they turned around, leaping and skipping for joy.  That would be a natural response for someone who had been unable to move around.  When we turn to Jesus for salvation and are set free from the bondage and the crippling chains of sin and the devil, when we realize what that means, we will leap and sing for joy, too!

As Isaiah continues in our Scripture, he describes a picture of what God’s Millennial Kingdom will be like (vs. 6-9).  We’ve all seen photos of desert landscapes, and perhaps have even been through one.  Everything is very dry, as water is scarce.  Living in such a locale, especially in the past, was very difficult. Plants, animals, and even people could die of thirst.  However in Jesus’s Kingdom there will be water bursting forth in the desert.  When the desert has a rare rainstorm, the cactus and other plants bloom into brilliant flowers.  Jesus gives not only physical water for our physical thirst, but He is the Living Water for our spiritual thirst.  When we drink of Him we will never be spiritually thirsty again (John 4:10-14).

God promises to lead us along His highway, the Highway of Holiness through our life, bringing us to His spiritual Zion, or heaven (vs. 8-10).    The Highway of Holiness is the way that the righteous take.  It is found only by following God.  Along this highway He will protect us from evil and harm (Psalm 91).  The unclean, those who are still in their sin, who have not come to the Lord Jesus and been cleansed from their sin, are not on this highway.  Just like we want to make sure that when we go on a trip, we get on the correct road, in our life we want to make sure we choose the correct road for our eternal destination.  Many people want the fast and easy way, but Jesus tells us to seek His way, the straight and narrow path, which will lead to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14).  God prepares a way for His people to travel to Him, and He will walk with us.  God doesn’t just point the way, He is the Way (John 14:6), and He is always beside us as we go.

As our Scripture ends, we see that in our spiritual Zion, there will be singing, joy and gladness, replacing any sorrow and sighing we had (vs. 10).  In the Messiah’s kingdom, all spiritual evil and physical catastrophe will be reversed, and the land and the people will be blessed.  Gladness will replace sadness across the board in God’s kingdom.  Don’t you want that?  Make sure you are on the correct highway!

Friday, September 3, 2021

What Is On The Inside?

 Mark 7:1-23

As we all know, looks can be deceiving.  Many of us, after the course of several years, might have run across some really outwardly beautiful people.  People who look like they just stepped out of a glamor magazine or movie set.  However, once you get to know them, you find that their personality is nasty.  They are rude, mean to others, demanding, etc.  People found that out with a certain serial killer several decades ago - strikingly handsome on the outside, but an evil murderer on the inside.  It’s what’s on the inside that counts.  The old saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover” is a true one.  The inside is what matters.  This is the lesson that Jesus is teaching in today’s Scripture.

As our passage from the Gospel of Mark opens, the Pharisees have begun criticizing the disciples of Jesus for not ceremoniously washing their hands before eating (vs. 2-3).  It wasn’t that the disciples came to the table with filthy hands.  Over the years the Pharisees had devised elaborate hand washing rituals involving several steps, and if one didn’t go through this ritual several times a day, they were considered unclean.  This elaborate, ritualistic washing of hands was to cleanse off any supposed uncleanness or defilement they felt they got from contact with unclean or Gentile people.  They had devised other rituals for how to wash dishes, clean tables, etc. (vs. 4).  These were all man-made traditions found in the Talmud, not anything that had come from the Old Testament Law or Scripture.  Yet the Pharisees held to these traditions more closely than they did Scripture.

The Pharisees then turn on Jesus, and question Him why His disciples do not follow their traditions (vs. 5).  The response Jesus gives is to quote from Scripture.  He recites Isaiah 29:13 to them (vs. 6).  This was a problem with the Pharisees.  They placed their man-made rules and traditions ahead of what was in the Word of God (vs. 8 - 13).

Jesus brought up one particular man-made law that a number of the Pharisees were following, which He felt was deplorable, which was called Corban (vs. 9-13).  God had declared in Scripture that children were to honor their parents, which would include that when they were old and infirm, adult children were to care for them (Exodus 20:12).  However, many Pharisees would declare their money and possessions “Corban”, a gift to God, and give it to the Temple.  Then they had a crooked priest absolve them of their vow, and give it back to them for a small percentage.  Their parents would be left destitute.  We should give money and time to God, but we must never use God as an excuse to neglect our responsibilities.  God saw and marked this.

The Pharisees were hypocrites because their worship was not for love of God, but was for wanting to appear holy to others, and to increase their status with the public.  Substituting tradition for real worship of God has been a problem for ages.  Human-created religious traditions can allow people to praise God vocally without having a heart for Him.  Rituals can take the place of genuine faith.  Performing rituals and traditions does not matter.  Instead it’s the condition of the heart which is important, having a heart that is fully devoted to God.  We frequently see seemingly religious people who talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.  They exalt their rituals, but their heart is far from God.

Jesus then continues to teach His disciples and the other people who were gathered around that it’s what’s inside of a person that will make them clean or unclean, not whether they follow man-made traditions or eat certain foods (vs. 14-23).  What is in our heart is what is important, not how we look or what we eat (I Samuel 16:7; I Chronicles 28:9).  Sin begins in the attitudes and intentions of the heart.  We become pure on the inside, not by following rituals or eating or not eating certain foods.

As we conclude our passage today we should take a closer look at ourselves.  Are we overly concerned with beautifying our outward appearance, but neglecting what is inside of ourselves?  What comes out of the heart is what a person is really like, and makes them clean or unclean, pure-hearted or a sinner.  We can scrub the outside of a pot, but until we clean the inside, it is not really clean.  When we come up against temptations and anger, what is inside of us will be what comes out.  How do we react?  Do we react with loving words, patience and kindness, or with anger and retaliation?  Let’s be sure we work on our heart attitude rather than just appearing holy to others.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Full Suit Of Armor

 Ephesians 6:10-18

We’ve all seen in news reports videos of military personnel, whether our own nation’s military, or another nation’s.  One thing we will notice is that, if they are preparing to go on duty, or preparing for battle, they are dressed properly and well-equipped.  No one would ever send their soldiers out without their equipment, whether it is specific clothing or gear.  Not having the proper clothing or gear can be a matter of life or death, and one is a fool to not put it on and use it.  The same is true in our spiritual life.  As we read in the closing chapter of the Book of Ephesians, we are presented with a list of what spiritual weapons we have at our disposal.  Let’s see if we are using them.

We have heard many times that as believers, we are in a spiritual battle.  Anyone who has been a Christian for any amount of time knows how true this is.  Satan is real, and he wants nothing more than to destroy Christians in any way possible.  He has millions of demons at his command, and they attack us in so many ways each day.  It is important that we put on our spiritual armor every day.  Jesus broke Satan’s power through His death on the cross and his resurrection, but conquering the powers of sin and battles of temptation still go on.  We need the Lord’s power and every tool He has given us (vs. 10).  This battle is from now until Jesus returns.  There is no cease fire, no truce, no cessation of hostilities.  It is an all-out war.

The devil is a very clever and cunning enemy, using crafty and deceptive methods to attack us (vs. 11).  He propagates his methods through the evil world system of today. Satan’s goal is our destruction. He will do everything he can to undermine our faith.  We face a powerful army, whose goal is to defeat believers (vs. 12).  Paul tells us that a lot of our battles will be like wrestling.  That gives a picture of hand to hand fighting, very personal in nature.  So much of our battle with Satan is done personally, and it is long and hard.  Thus, we need to always be prepared, with our spiritual armor taken up and put on as our life-long attire.

The first item that Paul tells us of is the belt of truth (vs. 14).  A belt holds everything together.  If we don’t wear a belt, often the other pieces of our clothing get all out of place.  Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6).  God’s Word is truth.  Jesus has no lies, deception, or hypocrisy in Him, and Satan is a deceiver and father of lies (John 8:44). The second piece of armor is the breastplate of righteousness.  That would be like a bulletproof vest that the policemen wear.  As we can imagine, we should never go out without that piece, as it protects our heart and other vital organs.  Jesus’s righteousness and holiness, and not our own, is a Christian’s chief protection against Satan.  When we aren’t living in His holiness and righteousness, depending on Him, we leave ourselves vulnerable to Satan’s attacks.

Though I like to kick off my shoes when I am at home, if I am going out to do serious work, such as a soldier would, I put on good, sturdy shoes (vs. 15).  The shoes in our spiritual uniform enable us to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the peace we have with God when we accept Him as our Savior.  They allow us to stand firm, and to carry that message on to others.

Shields are an important item in a soldier’s protective gear (vs. 16).  Our shield is our faith, which we can use to stop the fiery darts or arrows that Satan throws at us. Faith and trust in God will protect us from Satan’s temptations.  Temptations are like flaming arrows shot by the enemy.  Satan wants to consume us with worry, fear, and doubt.  They are like fiery arrows.  Pick up our shield of faith.  Faith is our strongest defense against fear and doubt.  

We all need to put on our helmet, which protects our head.  Our spiritual helmet is a helmet of salvation (vs. 17).  Satan seeks to destroy a believer’s assurance of salvation with his weapons of doubt and discouragement.  Also, all temptations first come as a thought.  We need to protect our brain, where our thoughts originate.

Our only offensive weapon is a sword, which is God’s Word (vs. 17).  God’s Word, the Bible, and that alone, is the only weapon that we can effectively use to defeat Satan.  Not someone else’s words, or our own ideas or words.  They won’t do a thing, and can end up bringing us down.  Only the Bible is effective, which is what the Lord Jesus used when He was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11).  Paul also instructs us to be sure and be in prayer at all times (vs. 18).  A soldier keeps in constant contact with their superior officers.  So should we.  Send up brief, informal prayers throughout the day.  Also, live so closely with Jesus that our life becomes a prayer.

This armor is as real as the clothes on our back right now.  We need to dress for battle each and every day.  Paul tells us several times in this passage that we need to stand.  We need to stand firm against the enemy, without wavering or falling.  Stand firm when the wicked appear to be winning.  Stand firm in times of crisis.  Stand firm when others compromise.