Monday, October 31, 2022

A Guilty Conscience

Psalm 32

How many of you are familiar with Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Tell-Tale Heart?  Very briefly the story tells the tale of a man who kills the old man who lives with him, and hides his body under the floorboards.  However, his guilty conscience keeps attacking him, making him think that he can hear the heartbeat of the dead man’s heart under the floor.  His sense of guilt grows so strong, as the sound of the heartbeat gets louder and louder, and he eventually confesses his crime.  Our psalm for today tells of a similar attack of guilty conscience when one doesn’t confess one’s sins.  Let’s take a look.

Psalm 32 is a companion psalm to that of Psalm 51.  Both psalms were written in response to King David’s sin of adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed.  As we recall this incident in Scripture, David committed adultery with the wife of one of his military officers.  Then when they find out she is pregnant, he deliberately orders her husband, Uriah, put in a dangerous spot in the battle, and then has the other soldiers withdraw, leaving him to die.  David then took her as one of his wives.  That was a horrible and grievous sin.  About a year passed and David did nothing about confessing this sin, and getting his life right with God.  Yet, we know that his conscience must have been greatly bothering him, as God will not let one of his children go unconvicted of their sins.

After he took Bathsheba as his wife, month after month passed, and David refused to confess the sin.  This guilt that lay upon him, though, started to take its toll on his health (vs. 3-4).  An unforgiven conscience can be just as unrelenting as the pounding and maddening heartbeat in Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.  David was in just such a situation.  The longer he refused to confess his sins, the more he became physically ill and emotionally distraught.  Only God’s forgiveness can remove that.

No load is heavier to bear than that of unconfessed sin.  The longer we wait, the heavier it gets.  Old wrongs have a way of catching up with us, and old sins that have not been dealt with can lead to serious consequences.  Through confession, though, we can enjoy God’s forgiveness.  When Nathan the prophet came to King David and strongly confronted him about these grievous sins, David  humbly and honestly confessed them.

We are sometimes reluctant to confess our sins to God because it makes us feel like a failure.  However, confession is an expression of faith.   Confessing sin is agreeing with God, acknowledging that He is right to declare what we have done is sinful, and that we were wrong to do it.  It is to affirm our intention of abandoning that sin, and following Him more faithfully.  When we confess we find the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds us.

Though a lot of our mistakes can never be undone, such as the sins David committed by having Uriah killed after committing adultery with his wife, God can, and will forgive our sins if we come to Him through His Son Jesus Christ.  Although we are guilty, the Lord will not impute iniquity to us, providing our faith is in Jesus Christ, because He took the guilt of penalty upon Himself on the cross.  Then, in God’s eyes, it is as if those sins had never been done.

We all commit sin throughout our life.  Some may be quite serious, like David’s, and many may not be.  However, all sin is an affront against God, and they all need to be dealt with.  The best thing is not to prolong our confessing those sins.  Don’t carry the burden around till it affects our walk with the Lord, till it affects our health, till the pounding of the heartbeat drives us mad.  Come to Jesus for forgiveness, and He will cleanse us from every sin.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

What Can Wash Away My Sin?

Isaiah 1:10-20

Do you have an item of clothing that has a terrible stain on it, one that has just been impossible to remove?  Perhaps you spilled red wine on a white dress or light colored suit.  Or maybe tomato sauce dripped on a shirt or blouse, or blood stains on an article of clothing.  All of these stains are difficult to remove, and sometimes the best one can do is just lighten the stain, as it will never completely come out.  Today we will read about another type of stain, not one from food, that is impossible for us to remove.  Let’s take a look into God’s Word.

As our Scripture begins in the first chapter of Isaiah, the prophet is bringing the message from God to the people of Judah and Jerusalem.  Rather than calling them Judah and Jerusalem, he calls them by the names of Sodom and Gomorrah, two ancient cities that God had destroyed because of their sinfulness (Genesis 19:1-29).  Both Judah and Jerusalem thought they were the pinnacle of holiness because of the Temple, yet God called them Sodom and Gomorrah, cities so sinful that God had destroyed them (vs. 10).  God was repulsed by Judah and Jerusalem’s religious rituals because they practiced these rituals but they also persisted in sin.

The people of Judah and Jerusalem continued to practice some of the rituals of the Old Testament Law, such as offering the animal sacrifices in the Temple, and keeping the religious festivals, however their hearts were not right with God.  They mixed their religious practices with that of pagan religions, and worship of their false gods.  They also randomly broke God’s Law, doing whatever felt good and what would profit themselves.  Sacrifices are meaningless and abhorrent to God if the person is not obedient (vs. 11-15).  Gifts, offerings and sacrifices mean nothing to God if they come from someone with a corrupt heart.  He hates hypocritical religious activity if one is in sin.

God then, through the prophet Isaiah, called the people to wash and cleanse themselves from the sin that was making them spiritually filthy (vs. 16).  When a child gets dirty after playing outdoors, or someone gets filthy after hours of physical work, they always take a bath or shower to wash off all the dirt.  God wanted the people to cleanse themselves from all of the sins that were making them even more filthy and abhorrent than just dirt from play or work.  They were doing evil.  They were not practicing justice in their daily lives.  They oppressed others, and were unfair and unjust to those who were unable to defend themselves, such as widows and orphans (vs. 17).

As God looked at these people, He saw that not only were they dirty with sin, they were permanently stained (vs. 18).  Their sins were as stained as a red wine stain on a white dress or spaghetti sauce on a white suit, red, bold, and even more impossible to remove.  Some food stains are difficult to remove, but sometimes we can find a good solution or a skillful cleaner that can remove them.  However, our sin stains cannot be removed by anything we do.  God’s Word describes them as being red like scarlet and crimson, bold and noticeable, and impossible to get out.  No amount of good works can scrub those stains clean.

Only God can remove the sin that separates us from Him.  He does this through His Son, Jesus Christ.  If we are willing to turn to Jesus, calling upon Him for salvation, He will forgive and remove even the worst of sins.  The sinner must accept the cleansing offered by the Lord, a cleansing of the heart, resulting in true repentance.  Only the Blood of Jesus can take away those sin stains.  Come to Jesus!  Apply His Blood to your life, and be cleansed from your sin.

As the old-time hymn says:

What can wash away my sin?

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again?

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.

O precious is the flow,

That makes me white as snow;

No other fount I know,

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Who Went Home Forgiven?

Luke 18:9-14

Feeling proud of oneself to the extreme where one believes that they are better than others has been part of fallen human nature from the beginning.  We see this characteristic a lot in the business and academic worlds.  Unfortunately we also see it in the religious community, as well.  We don’t have to look too far in church to see some people who feel they are the spiritual elite.  They are always so busy, figuratively speaking, polishing their halos, thinking they are God’s special little angels and so much better than their neighbor.  Jesus had something to say about these folks, which is the subject of our Gospel reading today.

Jesus frequently visited the city of Jerusalem, and was often in and around the Temple, where He would teach the crowds.  While being around the Temple so often, Jesus would observe the people who came there, and especially noticed their attitudes.  All throughout His ministry, the Lord had pointed and called out the Pharisees on their hypocrisy and religious pride, and this short parable was another instance where He showed their true character before God.

As the parable begins, Jesus told of two men who came to the Temple to pray (vs 10).  One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector.  As most of us know, the Pharisees were a Jewish religious group, and they were very meticulous in following the Old Testament Law.  They were often very quick to point out anyone who failed to keep the Law as strictly as they did, and they were also very critical of Jesus and His disciples.  The Pharisees had a lot of power and authority in the local synagogues and among the people.  They were held in high esteem and considered very righteous, religious, and spiritual.   Tax collectors, on the other hand, were generally despised by both the Pharisees and local people.  They were known for being corrupt, and looked upon as traitors to the Jewish nation because of their association with the Romans.

As Jesus told this parable, the listeners would have expected the Pharisee to be extolled, and the tax collector condemned, not the other way around.  Jesus described the Pharisee, pointing out how he came into the Temple, and gave God a review of how good and holy he was, and how scrupulously he kept the Law, even to the smallest matters (vs. 11-12).  Jesus told of how proudly the Pharisee felt, as he compared himself with others, particularly the tax collector who entered at the same time.  Then Jesus described the tax collector’s actions when he came into the Temple.  This man, with his head bowed and contrite, knew and readily admitted to God that he was a sinner (vs. 13).  He cried out to God for His mercy.

The Pharisee did not really come to pray to God.  He came to talk about himself, not to thank God.  He came to declare how glad he was that he was not like other people.  The Pharisee went home just as he had come, unrepentant and full of himself.  The tax collector’s action showed deep contrition, and a sense of personal unworthiness.  He did not look for any good works of his own, but rather he looked to God for His mercy.  He alone of the two went home forgiven and justified.

The Pharisee revealed that his entire hope lay in his not being as bad as someone else.  He lacked any sense of his own unworthiness and sin.  A sinner, utterly devoid of personal righteousness, may be declared righteous before God instantaneously through an act of repentant faith, such as with this tax collector.  Even the most fastidious of human righteousness, such as the Pharisee’s, falls short of the divine standard.  Sinners are justified when God’s perfect righteousness is imputed to their account.  That was how the tax collector was saved and the Pharisee was not.

Don’t fall into the comparison trap.  Self-righteousness leads to pride, causing a person to despise others, and prevents them from learning from God.  A sense of personal superiority is not a good reason for thanking God.  The Pharisee thought that because of his “good” life, he was justified before God.  His posture demonstrated his pride and arrogance.  In contrast, the tax collector humbly confessed he was a broken man and a sinner.  D. L. Moody rightly said, “He who kneels the most, stands the best.”  Only those who come to God with an authentic, repentant heart will obtain a right standing with the Lord.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Paul's Final Thoughts

II Timothy 4:6-18

How many of us, when the end of our life comes around, will be able to look back and say that we have no regrets, that we have “fought a good fight”? As we look into today’s Scripture, we see Paul at the end of his life.  In a matter of a very short time he faced being executed for his faith in the Lord Jesus, and it was at this time that he wrote his final letter to his frequent missionary companion Timothy.  What words would we say at that time?  II Timothy is Paul’s last known epistle, and our Scripture is the final words of that letter.  Let’s take a look at his final thoughts that he shared with Timothy.

Paul had been imprisoned several times during the years that he brought the Gospel message throughout the Mediterranean world.  During many of those times the imprisonment was not very harsh, but rather more like being under house arrest with a guard, and he was able to receive visitors.  This time, however, was very different, being in a cold, dank cell, probably with shackles.  At other times, he expected to be released from prison, and he was.  This time, though, he knew the end was near.  Paul was able to look back on his life without regret or remorse (vs. 6-8).  He was ready for death.  He had been faithful to the Lord since the day he was saved, and he looked forward to his heavenly reward.  Paul had been faithful in carrying out that which had been assigned to him by God.  Throughout his missionary journeys and preaching he had been beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and stoned and left for dead, but Paul never lost his faith.

Paul wrote and shared with Timothy his loneliness and disappointment in some people he had counted on to stand with him during his time of need (vs. 9-16).  Some, like Crescens, Titus, and Tychicus were sent by Paul to their respective locations for further ministry.  Then there were others that were a disappointment or hurtful to him, such as Demas (vs. 10).  Demas had at one time been a close associate with Paul (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24).  Now he had forsaken Paul, utterly abandoning him, because he loved this world.  He loved worldly values and worldly pleasures.  He loved what the world had to offer.  He was a fair weather disciple, who never counted the cost of genuine commitment to Jesus.

Another person who was causing grief to Paul was Alexander.  He opposed Paul’s teachings, and possibly spread his own false doctrines (vs. 14-15).  He possibly was instrumental in Paul's arrest and/or bore false witness against him.  Paul was going to leave all vengeance in God’s hands.  All he had now was faithful Luke, and desired to have Mark, as well (vs. 11).  Mark had, as a young man, gone with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but had backed out part way through.  Paul had not been happy about that, and even separated with Barnabas over that issue.  Now, years later, he had forgiven Mark of that immaturity, and saw that Mark was a valuable partner for the Lord.

Paul realized, though, that even if literally everyone forsook him, all he would need would be the Lord Jesus.  He will always stand with the believer, especially in their hour of need (vs. 16-17).  Though friends and family may leave us, Jesus will never abandon us.  Just as He promised, God never leaves nor forsakes His children (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Hebrews 13:5).  When all else fails, the Lord stands solidly at our side.  He gives us strength.  He steps in and helps us to finish what He gave us to do.  He is faithful, and will never leave us.

Sometimes in our Christian life, we may find a Demas who disappoints us, or an Alexander who opposes us and even does us harm.  We may find that other Christians have moved on to other ministries for the Lord, such as Crescens, Titus, and Tychicus did.  We may feel abandoned and alone.  However, we need to remember, like Paul did, that as long as we are doing His work, the Lord will always be standing with us.

When our final hours are coming upon us, and we are able to say like Paul did, that we have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith, we can then know that the Lord has a crown of righteousness waiting for us (vs. 8).  That crown is given to all those who live each day, loving and anticipating Christ’s imminent return, to all those who conduct their earthly lives with eternal values in view.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Where Do You Want To Be?

Psalm 84

Is there some place that you have been wanting to go to for years, some place that you would give anything to visit?  Perhaps you’ve really been wanting to go visit Hawaii or perhaps to England, and the opportunity never came about, either for financial or health reasons.  Perhaps the place you have been wanting to go has been to take a long trip to visit some friends or family you haven’t seen in awhile.  How about going to church, and being in a place to worship the Lord God?  What?!  If there was one place somebody could go to, how many would choose going to church?  As we read our psalm today, we find that is the one place the psalmist wants to be, in the house of worship.  Let’s take a look.

As our psalm opens the author expressed to us how deeply he longed to be at the tabernacle, worshiping God (vs. 2).  He longed, he fainted, his heart cried out to be with God in worship.  Compare that with how many of us feel about going to church.  We have hundreds of excuses all lined up and ready to use to keep from going.  We’re too tired!  Sunday is our only day to sleep.  We have loads of ailments, some of them legitimate, but so many that wouldn’t keep us from going anywhere else.  Yet here our psalmist was, longing, fainting, and crying out to be in the place of worship.

His desire was so great that he even envied the birds who were able to nest by God’s tabernacle (vs. 3).  Solomon’s Temple was built during the 10th century BC.  Prior to the great Temple building of Solomon in Jerusalem, the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Tabernacle, in tents, primarily in the city of Shiloh, until the time of David, when it was moved to Jerusalem.  Depending on when this psalm was written, the psalmist could be referring to either the tents containing the Tabernacle, or the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.  Birds could easily fly in and out of tents and build their nests there, or they could easily build a nest in some rooftop corner of the Temple.  Either way they would be close to the Lord, and that was where the psalmist wanted to be.

As our psalm continues, the author described the pilgrimage, the journey he took to worship at God’s altar (vs. 5-7).  If he was traveling to the pre-temple location in Shiloh, that location was just under 20 miles north of Jerusalem.  More likely he was traveling to Jerusalem.  Depending on his home location, the journey could be long and possibly dangerous.  The days could be quite hot, the nights chilly.  There could be roaming bandits, and possible encounters with some dangerous animals.  And the trip was often taken on foot, or if lucky, on the back of a donkey or mule.

He described the trip as going through the Valley of Baca (vs. 6).  The word “baca” means weeping.  The psalmist’s spiritual journey was often through a valley of weeping, a valley of tears.  There are times of struggle and tears through which we often must pass on our way to meet God.  Growing strong in God’s presence is often preceded by a journey through difficult times, or barren and desert times, just like the pilgrimage the psalmist made to God’s Temple.  However, our psalmist turned that difficult and barren journey into a festival of worship.  He turned the valley of weeping into a place of joy in the Lord.

When the psalmist arrived at the Temple or Tabernacle of the Lord he took notice of the Temple workers, and desired to be one of them (vs. 10).  Not only did he envy the birds, whose nests are by God’s altar, but he also had some envy for even the doorkeepers of the Temple.  Being a doorkeeper is not a grand job.  We see them at some fancy hotels or apartment buildings.  They hold the door open for the wealthy to enter, a rather humble position.  However, he would rather have that job at the Temple, than any more prestigious position somewhere else.  That way he would be in the courts of God every day.  A few moments in the presence of God is greater than anything Satan or the world would have to offer a thousand times over.  A humble place of service with God is better than an exalted position of power or fame in the world without Him.

The psalm closes with a promise that the Lord will be our sun and shield, and bless us with grace and glory (vs. 11).  God’s promise to provide here has a condition.  It is given to those who walk uprightly.  We need to make sure that there is no unrepented and unconfessed sin in our life, and that we are walking with Jesus, obeying His Word.

Until man finds God, and God’s dwelling place, they will have no real home.  That home can only be found by trusting in Jesus Christ.  Since God did not spare His only Son for us, why would He withhold anything good and needful for us?  So once we are a part of His family, He will bless us with grace and glory, and be our sun and shield.  

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Standing In The Gap

Jeremiah 14:7-12, 19-22

Our Old Testament reading from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer for this week comes from the prophet Jeremiah.  The prophet Jeremiah preached to the people of Judah shortly before and during the days when the Babylonians came and carried the Jewish people away captive, burning the capital city of Jerusalem, and destroying the Temple.  This was one of the darkest times in the people’s history, with war, destruction, famine, and death all around.  Even though this was a heavy burden due to the severity of the message, and though he faced personal danger from the people, Jeremiah remained faithful to the Lord and the calling he had to bring God’s message to the people.

Ever since the days following the death of Joshua, the Hebrew people had been prone to falling into the sin of idolatry, worshiping pagan idols, and disobeying God’s Law.  There were periods of revival, particularly during the reigns of David, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah, but following those times the people went back to their idols and evil ways.  Many pretended to worship Yahweh, but He knew that their hearts were not true to Him.  God has never, and will never accept worship of Him along with the mixing in of false and pagan practices.  The nation had continued in sin now for so long that their punishment and destruction was inevitable, and Jeremiah brought that message to them.

Jeremiah did not gloat knowing that the people were to be grievously punished for their persistent sins.  He had been told by God earlier to not pray for the people of Judah because of their sins (Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14), as God would not hear.  However, he couldn’t help but to pray for them, even in spite of the terrible things they had personally done to him.  He prayed for God’s mercy on them, as they were a nation called by His Name (vs. 7).

God, though, rejected Jeremiah’s prayer (vs. 10).  The Lord said that it was useless to pray for such obstinately sinful people (vs. 11-12).  It was not that God would not respond to a truly sincere and broken heart, crying to Him for mercy and forgiveness.  God was rejecting Judah’s heartless formalism and insincerity.  For centuries the people would sin, be punished, then return to the Lord, only to go back to their pagan idols and reject His Word again and again.  They could follow all of the religious rituals they wanted, but it was meaningless if their hearts were not right with God.

The prophet proceeded to pray for the people anyway.  He stood in the gap for them, vicariously confessing their sins, as if he and they were one.  Jeremiah had not fallen into idolatry himself.  He had not cast God’s Word aside, refusing to accept or obey it, yet he confessed as if he had.  We see that several times in the Bible, where a man of God vicariously confessed for the sins of the people.  Ezra did that shortly after some of the people returned to the land following their captivity (Ezra 9:5-15), and the prophet Daniel did, as well (Daniel 9:3-19).  Jeremiah pleaded with God not to destroy His people for the sake of His own reputation among the nations.  He reminded the Lord that His reputation was tied up with what happened to His people.  Jeremiah also pleaded because of God’s Temple in Jerusalem, and on the basis of His covenant with the people.  The Lord, though, had to judge the people of Judah for their chronic sinfulness.  Unrepentance needed to be punished.  Jeremiah would see with his own eyes the nation go into captivity and the Temple destroyed.

Are we praying for our own nation and the world, as they head further and further away from God and His Word, the Bible?  Do we plead for them with tears, as Jeremiah did?  The false prophets and religious leaders of Jeremiah’s day repeatedly told the people that everything was alright, and that God would never judge them, just like so many preachers do today.  The Bible is clear, though, that the day of judgment is coming.  We need more men and women like Jeremiah today, who will pray and plead with tears for their people.  It was too late for the people of Jeremiah’s day, but is it too late for my country, for your country?  Can we be another Jeremiah, or another Ezra and Daniel who will stand in the gap and pray for our people and nation?

Friday, October 21, 2022

Be Persistent!

Luke 18:1-8

Nag!  Nag!  Nag!  Nobody likes it when someone nags them over something, and probably a lot of people don’t enjoy nagging others, either.  I certainly don’t.  However, with some people, that seems to be the only way to get them to do something that they had either promised to do, or were supposed to do.  You have to keep after them, telling them over and over again to do what they need to, before they finally get up and act.  In today’s Gospel passage we read of a woman, who persistently kept after someone, nagging if you will, till she got what she needed.

Sometimes we might feel that nagging seems to be necessary.  A spouse or older child promised that they would attend to something, but days pass and it never gets done.  Or a parent has to nag their child to get a chore done, their room cleaned, or their homework done.  Maybe workmen you have contracted to do a project aren’t getting it finished promptly, and you have to repeatedly call them about it.  We’ve all had situations where we’ve done some nagging, and maybe, if the other person is hard-headed enough, we might just give up.  We ask.  They don’t respond.  We ask again.  Still no response.  We nag.  We nag again.  Still no response.  We finally give up.

Do we ever feel that way about God?  We come to Him in prayer over some important or urgent need, and we get no response.  We pray again, and still see no answer.  Do we just give up?  Jesus told His disciples a brief parable about such a scenario.  In His parable there was a widow who had someone who was bothering her.  The specific problem wasn’t told, but this person was an adversary, coming against her unjustly about something.  So the widow took the matter to court to seek justice.  However, the judge at first didn’t do anything.  After her repeated pleas and nagging, though, he finally decided to attend to her case, if only just to get her off his back (vs. 2-5).

Jesus gave us this parable to encourage us to not give up when we are praying.  How often do we come to God with a prayer need, not one which is misguided or selfish, and we pray and pray, but get no answer or response?  What do we often do?  We just give up.  Jesus, though, tells us not to give up (vs. 1).  Despite the afflictions and hardships of life, we should continue to pray and not lose heart.

This judge was a godless man, even by his own admittance (vs. 4).  He is not given as a symbol of God, but rather, in contrast to Him.  If an unjust man would respond to persistent pleas, would not God, who is just, loving, and merciful?  Since we know He loves us, we can believe He will hear our cries for help.  God, who always does right, and is filled with compassion for believers who suffer, will certainly respond to their cry for help (vs. 7).

To persist in prayer and not give up does not mean endless repetition or long prayer sessions.  Always praying means keeping our requests constantly before God and living for Him each day, believing He will answer.  When we live by faith, we are not to give up.  God may delay answering, but His delays always have good reasons.  There may be many reasons why God does not answer our prayers quickly.  But until He lets us know that we should stop praying about something, He calls us to persevere in faith and keep asking.  Sometimes it may take years of praying before a prayer is answered, especially when praying for the salvation of someone.  One on one communication with God is how we strengthen our relationship with Him.  Prayer can bring cataclysmic changes in heaven and on earth (Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4), and can turn any situation around.

The issue and point of the parable is not so much God’s faithfulness.  It is whether believers will persist in supplication, or whether their patience and perseverance will give out by the time Jesus Christ returns (vs. 8).  When Jesus returns, those holding to the true faith will be comparatively rare, as in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37-39).  It will be marked by persecution of true believers, apostasy of most denominations, and outright unbelief.

It is precisely when tempted to give up that Christians ought to be strong in their resolve to pray.  Don’t lose heart!  Believe and keep praying!

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Counterfeit Or The Real Thing?

II Timothy 3:14-4:5

When training bank tellers and other people who handle money on a daily basis how to spot counterfeit money, the instructors often have them study the real thing, handle true money over and over and over again.  The reasoning being that the more they see the real thing, the easier it will then be to spot a fake.  This goes for the Bible, God’s Word, as well.  Let’s look into our Scripture for today, which continues on in the second letter that Paul wrote to Timothy.

For quite a while, many people have been looking for churches and preachers, either on TV or online, who preach “feel good” messages.  They find the true Gospel message offensive.  They don’t want to be called a sinner, or be told that what they are doing offends God.  They don’t want to hear or believe that there will be a judgment day coming.  Instead, they want to only hear about love and acceptance, not the whole Gospel.  They also want to be entertained at church, with a band up front, perhaps skits, interpretive dance, and other things to entertain them, and not a hard-hitting Gospel message.  They do not want sound Biblical doctrine, preferring nice sounding, happy, esteem-building messages.

We also find many today who claim to be Christians, but who reject the truth of God’s Word.  They pick and choose what to believe, based on their own desires, and on what today’s society says.  They are following false doctrines of ungodly preachers.  Just like someone who has been passed counterfeit money and doesn't realize it, they have been fed counterfeit or false messages from the pulpit and take it in, believing it is true. Sometimes they even know that the message which the false preachers are giving is contrary to God’s Word, but they don’t care, just like the criminal who knows he has counterfeit money, and deliberately passes it on as true.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, telling him that all Scripture is inspired by God (vs. 16).  The word inspire here means that the Scriptures were “God-breathed”.  Though written by the pen of Paul, or Matthew, Isaiah, David, or any of the other human authors, they were not their words.  These are the words of God, as He inspired and divinely guided those who wrote them.

God inspired the whole Bible, not just segments or certain passages, which many false teachers and preachers say today.  His Word is given to us for instruction to guide our lives, and as an anchor to hold us steady in times of storm.  The Bible teaches us what is true, and to realize what is wrong in our lives.  The Holy Spirit works through Scripture to rebuke and correct us when we sin, and to train us in righteousness.  It will equip us to do God’s will, and to conform us into the image of Jesus.  The Bible is the final authority for our faith and what we believe.

The Bible is not a collection of stories, fables, myths, or human ideas about God.  That is what some modern preachers and teachers would have us believe about God’s Word, but that is counterfeit teaching.  The Bible is not a human book.  It is God’s Word.  Every word was inspired by God.  It is our standard for testing everything that claims to be true.  It is our safeguard against false teaching, and is our source of guidance on how to live.  It is the only place to learn how to be saved.

Scripture warns us of revisionist teachings, one’s that replace sound doctrine with human doctrines.  There is stern warning against those who add to His Word with their own words, or for those who take away parts of the Bible that they might find “offensive” (Revelation 22:18-19).  These teachers can be highly deceptive, so we must be careful to check everything against Scripture, just like the bank teller must check every bill given to them.

When we follow a leader just to hear what we want to hear, we will end up in a ditch, just like the blind leading the blind (Matthew 15:14).  The more time we spend in the Bible, studying God’s Word, the more we will become knowledgeable about sound doctrine, and will be better able to spot falsehood when it is presented, just like a counterfeit bill.  Remember, when Scripture speaks, God speaks.

Monday, October 17, 2022

The Lord Neither Slumbers Nor Sleeps

Psalm 121

When we are facing some problems or difficulties and need help, we don’t want to find the person assigned to help us off in the corner taking a nap.  In a dangerous neighborhood, we don’t want to see the police officer snoozing in his vehicle, nor do parents want to come home and find the babysitter asleep on the job, either.  We want those who are supposed to be there to help us to be awake and alert.  Our psalmist today wanted to know the same thing.  Was the One he was depending upon awake and alert to help him in his time of need?  Let’s take a look.

The land of Israel had many high hills, particularly in the southern kingdom of Judah.  Pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for the holy days would have to cross many in order to get to the Holy City, which also was high upon some hills.  As the psalmist looked to these hills, he knew that he was seeing the handiwork of Yahweh, the Master Creator of all that he saw.  Perhaps on this day, he was facing a problem, some difficulty in his life that was distressing him.  Where could he look for help? (vs. 1).  His friends may have been of no use, as this may not have been a problem they could assist with, or they weren’t able or willing to help.  Whatever the issue may have been, he may have run out of options or places to turn to.  Where was his help going to come from?

As this pilgrim psalmist passed through the various high hills throughout his country, he would have come upon many “high places”.  These were altars and other places of worship that the people had set up to worship Baal and other pagan gods.  As we read through the Old Testament, God’s prophets were continually condemning the people for setting up high places to worship and sacrifice to false gods, along with groves, another place in the woods where pagan worship was also practiced.  (I King 11:7; II Kings 23:15).  The psalmist knew that his help was not going to come from these false, pagan gods that the people worshiped on the hills.  He was looking to the Creator, not some god of the mountains, for his help.  His help came from Yahweh (vs. 2).

The pagan gods that so many of the Israelites had fallen into worshiping had many human characteristics, such as needing to eat and to sleep.  If one approached these pagan gods at the wrong time, they would not be attentive to their prayer.  The prophet Elijah mocked the pagan priests about this when he challenged them and their gods to answer by fire (I Kings 18:27).  This is not the case with Yahweh.  He is almighty, and has absolutely no human frailties.  He does not need to sleep, and never takes a nap (vs. 3-4).  He is always alert, available, and attentive to our cries, even when our feelings seem to tell us otherwise.

God is our keeper (vs. 5).  This is the same Hebrew word that was used in Genesis 4:9, when Cain questioned God as to whether he was his brother’s keeper.  Cain had no regard for his brother, but God watches over His children, to guard and protect us every step of the way throughout our life.  He provides us guidance so we’ll grow in godliness.

God’s children, those who are in relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, have around the clock protection with Him (vs. 6-8).  The pilgrim psalmist knew how weary one can get in the hot wilderness sun, or the chilly desert nights.  Yet he also knew that God was always with him, protecting, pointing the way, and teaching him.  We have assurance and hope in God’s protection, day and night.  In pagan belief, their gods only had power and jurisdiction over certain areas or things.  One was a god of this valley, or that hill, or that forest.  Or they were the god of the clouds, or the fish, etc.  That is not the case with Yahweh!  He not only made the hills, but heaven and earth, as well.  We should never trust a lesser power than Yahweh.  He has us covered and protected from every side.  Our help is completely wrapped up in the attributes of our sovereign God.  His protection will never cease.

We can depend upon God for help.  As we travel through life we are protected, not by anything created, but by the Creator of everything.  As long as our foot is anchored on the path of God’s Word, He will see to it that nothing can move it off.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

A Biblical Wrestling Match

Genesis 32:3-12, 22-30

Most of us have seen true wrestling matches, such as those seen in the Olympics, or Greco-Roman style wrestling.  If the two contestants are closely matched in strength and ability, every ounce of their strength, all of their muscles are put into the struggle.  One wonders who will finally overpower the other, and win the match.  In today’s Scripture we read about a very special wrestling match, special in regards to who the two wrestlers are, and what the outcome was.

As our Scripture opens, Jacob had recently taken his two wives and their children, along with his two concubines and their children, and left his untrustworthy and deceitful brother-in-law.  They were now heading back to the land promised to his forefathers.  Jacob also knew that he was going to be meeting up with his brother Esau, and was fearful as to how that would go.  It had been approximately twenty years or more since he had last seen Esau.  At that time, Esau had vowed to kill Jacob because he had cheated him out of his birthright (Genesis 25:33), and also his blessing (Genesis 27:27-40).  Esau had been known for his anger, and because of that, Jacob was quite afraid, especially when he heard that his brother was coming with a large group of men (vs. 3-8).

After dividing his company into several groups to keep them safe, Jacob went off on his own to pray to God (vs. 9-12).  Yes, he was terribly afraid and worried, but he also knew what to do in such situations.  He knew to turn to God and pray.  Jacob learned to pray effectively by basing his prayers on the promises of God (vs. 9).  He knew that the only way he could come through this battle was through prayer.

Later that evening, Jacob went off alone to pray again.  This time his prayer was more fervent. This was a time of very intense supplication to God.  Jacob was wrestling all night with God in prayer.  He was persistent.  He would not let go until God blessed him.

This Man that Jacob wrestled with that night was, most Christian Bible scholars believe, a Theophany, a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ (vs. 24).  Later, in verse 30, Jacob said that he had seen God face-to-face, so this wasn’t just an angel that he wrestled with.

As the two continued to wrestle, and Jacob told the Lord that he will not let go until He blessed him, the Lord asked Jacob what his name was (vs. 27).  Why would He do that?  God obviously knew Jacob’s name, of course.  The Lord wanted Jacob to say his name - Jacob, which means a deceiver and supplanter.  That name had fit him, considering what he had done to deceive his brother Esau and also his father Isaac, and take his brother’s birthright and blessing.  The Lord wanted him to admit who and what he was.  God then gave Jacob a new name - Israel, which means a prince of God, one who struggles with God, and to have power with God (vs. 28).

The new name Jacob now had was a symbol of how God had changed Jacob’s life.  He was not the same man who had fled some 20 years earlier.  Jacob, the ambitious deceiver, had now become Israel, the one who struggles with God and overcomes.  True faith requires that we admit what we are before we can receive what God has for us.

Sometimes we need to go to God in a prolonged time of prayer over some situation or circumstance in our life.  We need to pray, and pray again, and then yet again.  As some old-time Christians called it, to “pray through”.  It is not that we need to convince a hard-hearted God, for He is a prayer-answering God (Isaiah 65:24).  But we need to conquer our own laziness, unbelief, or indifference.  Sometimes we need to wrestle with God as Jacob did, even if we end up with a limp, such as he did.  We need to press through our obstacles that hinder our prayer, such as the woman who had the hemorrhage did, pressing through the crowds that blocked her way to Jesus (Matthew 9:20-22).  We need to pray, and pray again, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46), and as Paul did regarding his thorn in the flesh (II Corinthians 12:7-10).   Sometimes we may need to say to God that we will not let Him go unless He blesses us.

Friday, October 14, 2022

One Out Of Ten

Luke 17:11-19

In addition to the death toll that occurred during the recent worldwide pandemic, one thing that many found distressing was the fact that the lockdowns separated friends and loved ones from each other.  During those early weeks and months many people only saw those that lived in the same house as themselves, or those they encountered on an occasional trip to the supermarket, and then everyone needed to keep 6 feet apart, and people hesitated to even talk to each other.  Isolation from others can take a toll on people, with no going to work, school, church, and other events, which is why as soon as some of the restrictions were lifted, people wanted to get together with others.  In our Scripture today we read of some people who had a much worse isolation than we had a couple of years ago, and then Jesus stepped in.

As our Gospel passage begins, Jesus and His disciples were heading to Jerusalem, passing through Galilee and Samaria.  Outside of one village they encountered ten men who had leprosy, which was a painful and disfiguring disease that had no cure at that time.  Fear of contracting leprosy was great which is why those who had the disease were banished from the community, having to spend the rest of their lives living out in the wilderness, all alone, or if lucky, with another leper.  They had to call out “Unclean!” if anyone came near.  With no means of support, unless the leper had a family who loved them and would leave food and clothing for them at the edge of the village, they would live in rags and hunger.  It was a hopeless and lonely existence, as their body rotted away with no medical help.

These ten lepers were fortunate in that they found each other, and at least had some mutual companionship despite their miserable disease.  Then one day they heard that Jesus was coming through their area, the prophet who had healed many, including lepers.  They must have heard about Him, and how He had even come up to lepers, touching them and bringing healing.  So when they saw Jesus passing by, they called out to Him for His mercy (vs. 12-13).  Jesus told them to go to the priests in order to be officially declared leprosy-free (vs. 14).  Those who had leprosy, if they thought they were free from the disease, were to go to the priest to be declared clean.  Jesus told the men to go show themselves to the priests, and it was while they started to go that they were healed.  Their healing didn’t come first.  It was after they took the first steps of obedience, and then the healing came.

When these ten men saw that they were healed, when they saw their skin clear up, the disfigurements and pain disappear, they all continued on their way, except for one man.  He was a Samaritan, an ethnic group that was despised by the Jews, and only he turned back to Jesus to offer Him thanks and praise (vs. 15-16).

Today leprosy is not as common, and there are medical treatments for the disease.  However, there is a “leprosy” of the spirit that we see a lot of today, and that is ingratitude, being unthankful and unappreciative.  It is a “disease” that is increasing among people.  God even told us that as time goes on, more and more people will be unthankful of their blessings (II Timothy 3:1-5).  People are both unthankful to God foremost, and also to others, as well.

In both a real and a figurative sense, Jesus gave these men their lives back.  They were healed from a terrible disease that brought horrific disfigurements, for which there was no cure in those days.  He also gave them back their lives in another real sense, as they could now rejoin their family and friends, and also be a part of society.  They could go back to their jobs.  No longer would they have to live outside of the community, calling out “unclean” in order to keep everyone far away.  There would be no more isolation and loneliness.  Yet only one out of the ten thanked Jesus!

Only one out of ten offered God any thanks.  Today do we even see 1/10 of the population giving God thanks for all of the blessings He bestows upon us each and every day?  What about each one of us?  Are you or I like the nine who hurried on to enjoy the benefits of their healing, but would not pause for just a moment to give thanks?  Or are we like that one man, that 1/10th, who was grateful enough to pause and give thanks to the Savior.  As verse 19 indicates, the Samaritan's gratitude showed that he not only had physical healing, but was spiritually whole, as well.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Good Soldier Of Jesus Christ

II Timothy 2:3-15

Many centuries after its day, the ancient Roman army is still considered one of the greatest armies in history, and the Roman soldier one of the most disciplined and dedicated warriors the world has ever seen.  They were loyal, steadfast, unwavering, and committed to the goal of their commanding officers and the Empire.  Even enemy countries, and those who were conquered would admire the Roman army, and would try to incorporate such discipline in their own soldiers.  The Apostle Paul frequently saw Roman soldiers during his missionary journeys across the Empire, and as we read in our Scripture today, he saw some admirable qualities that he felt Christians should imitate.

Scripture often compares the Christian life as a battle.  Believers are soldiers in a very real sense (vs. 3).  We are in a war against an evil world system, against sin, and against Satan.  We are soldiers for Christ, and our enemy is real.  However, the enemy is no match for God.  But if we fail to take up our position in Christ, we will feel overwhelmed and defeated.  This is where Paul urged Timothy and those in the churches he has ministered in to step up and follow the example of the Roman soldiers they all were familiar with.

A good Roman soldier was separated from civilian life (vs. 4).  In like manner a good soldier of Jesus Christ does not allow the things of this world to distract them.  The Roman soldiers always obeyed their commanding officer without question.  We, too, should also be focused and obedient to the Lord Jesus.

Paul also compared the Christian life to that of a well-trained athlete.  Christians at this time were familiar with Olympic athletes, as the ancient Olympic games were played until the year 393 AD.  A serious athlete is as equally disciplined and dedicated as a soldier.  This was an analogy that Paul often used in his Epistles, and here he remarks that the athlete’s hard work will be wasted if they don’t compete according to the rules (vs. 5).  We, too, must obey the Word of God if we wish to see spiritual victory.

Like soldiers, we have to give up worldly security, and endure rigorous discipline.  Like athletes, we must train hard, and follow the rules.  Like farmers, which Paul also mentioned, we must work hard and be patient.  We keep going despite suffering, because we desire victory, winning the reward, and the hope of a harvest.  A Christian serving the Lord should not be lazy or slothful, but work for the Lord with a view to the harvest, souls for the Savior.  Whatever the Lord calls us to do, He will also provide the resources and strength to accomplish it.

As Paul continued in his letter to Timothy, he wanted to be sure that the true Gospel was being preached in the churches.  There were some false teachings spreading even then, and they continue to be preached today.  One that was taught said that Jesus was not both fully divine and fully human.  Paul declared that Jesus was both (vs. 8).  He is fully man, as He was descended from David.  He is also fully God, as was prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 9:6).  There is salvation in no one else, except the Lord Jesus Christ (vs. 10).  Those who deny Jesus Christ as both fully human and fully divine give evidence that they never truly belonged to Him.  Unbelievers will ultimately deny Jesus because their faith is not genuine.

Sometimes in the struggles of life, our faith might waver and weaken.  Even when we have doubts, and our faith seems to falter, Jesus remains faithful (vs. 13).  God will remain faithful to us, even when we are not faithful to Him.  Don’t give up, because God won’t give up on us.  He promises to remain faithful, even when we’re not.

As Paul concludes this passage, he instructed Timothy, and us as well, to avoid senseless arguing with false teachers, and deceivers who use “reason” to subvert God’s Word (vs. 14).  Such arguing is foolish and futile.  False teachers love to cause strife.  We need to handle the Word of God correctly, and to do so we must study what the Bible says (vs. 15).

What kind of worker are we for God?  Are we as diligent and disciplined as a Roman soldier was, or as an Olympic athlete?  The tool for our training is the Bible, God’s holy Word.  As we study His Word, applying it to every area of our life, we will never need to be ashamed as a soldier or athlete for Jesus. 

Monday, October 10, 2022

From Rags To Riches

Psalm 113

We all know some “rags to riches” stories, people who have come from very poor backgrounds to become very wealthy people.  We’ve read about Andrew Carnegie, born into a poor Scottish family, who left as a teenager to come to the U.S., and became one of the richest men in the world at the time.  Or Charlie Chaplin, who had an extremely impoverished childhood on the streets of London, to become a world-famous movie star.  Charles Dickens wrote several rags-to-riches stories, particularly Oliver Twist.  In our psalm for this week we read of how we can become one of these rags-to-riches stories.

Psalm 113 is one of many psalms which call upon God’s children to bring Him praise, which is only right, especially in light of what we will be reading in this Scripture.  The psalmist declares that we should be bringing the Lord praise from the rising of the sun to its going down (vs. 3).  This includes everyone from the east to the west, from one border of the country to the opposite border, from one seashore to the next, one coast to the other.  Everyone, from every race and nationality are to call upon Yahweh as their God, and to bring Him praise.

Not only is every person to bring the Lord praise, but we should be praising Him from morning till night.  Praise shouldn’t just be limited to Sunday mornings in church, but each day throughout the week.  It also shouldn’t just be one moment of the day, when we say our morning prayers, or right before we go to bed.  We should be praising the Lord our every waking moment, all throughout the day, for anything and everything that we experience.  From the rising to the setting of the sun.

Yahweh is the one true God of the universe, of all creation.  He is far above and exalted above all that He has created (vs. 5-6).  Though the Lord God is more powerful and exalted than anyone in the universe, yet He has compassion and love for the poor, the powerless, and the broken.  In God’s eyes, a person’s value has no relationship to their wealth or position on the social ladder.

How many of His children have come from the poor and the outcast?  As verse 7 says, God raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap.  What king here on earth, or any wealthy businessman or person of society would pick a beggar from a dirty alley to be a member of their family, equal in every way to their own “blue blood” children?  Very few, if any, would.  Yet that is exactly what the Lord God has done for every one who has called upon His Son, Jesus Christ as their Savior.  Before we were saved we were spiritual beggars and outcasts.  If one were to look with “spiritual glasses” at a Christian before they were saved, they would look like filthy beggars dressed in rags (Isaiah 64:6).  Yet because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, because of His shed Blood, whoever calls upon Him as their Savior are then lifted out of the ash heap and are seated with princes (vs. 8).  We go from rags to riches!

God sets us with princes!  Through the Lord Jesus we are now children of God, the King of the Universe.  We are a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9).  He gives us all we need from His vast wealth.  We also have direct access to the throne of God, just as a prince would.

God has never selected only the rich, the powerful, the beautiful, or the physically fit of this world to be His children.  That is often the case in this world.  In this world’s society, in order to belong one must be rich and/or beautiful.  But that is not the case with God.  He exalts the humble and humbles the proud (Matthew 20:16).  We are all spiritual beggars, and many of us are also economically poor, and unattractive to the world.  Yet God lifts us out of the dust and ashes to make us princes, a true rags-to-riches story.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

An Exemplary Mother-in-Law

Ruth 1:1-19

Mothers-in-law have had a rather bad reputation for many centuries.  They have been described as being bossy, nosey, interfering, overbearing, and generally unpleasant.  They have been the subject of many jokes, and the stereotypical mother-in-law is a character in many comedies.  There are some nice and pleasant mothers-in-law out there.  In our Scripture today we will meet one of the best.  Let’s see who she is, and why she is an exemplary mother-in-law.

Our Scripture account comes from the Book of Ruth, and takes place during the time of the Judges, between the death of Joshua till when Saul became king.  This was a very spiritually dark time, when everyone did as he saw fit (Judges 17:6; 21:25).  However, during those evil times, there was still a remnant who believed in and followed Yahweh.

As our Scripture opens, a man named Elimelech, along with his wife Naomi, and two sons leave the land of Israel because of a famine.  They go to the land of Moab, who were enemies of Israel.  While there, Elimelech died, and the two sons married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah.  Then the two sons each died, leaving behind two childless widows (vs. 1-5).  Being left a widow in the past was a very bad fate.  Unless a husband left his wife a large fortune, which very few would have, and unless the woman had an adult son to take her in, the woman was at great risk of becoming destitute, a beggar, and even starving to death.  There were few, if any, jobs available for a woman, nor government assistance programs or charitable organizations to help.  Naomi lost her husband and two adult sons in a short period, and was now left with two foreign daughters-in-law.  They weren’t rich, so what was she to do?

Naomi decided she was going to return to the land of Israel, her homeland.  There was nothing for her in Moab, and perhaps a relative back in Israel might have mercy on her and take her in.  Otherwise her fate didn’t look good.  Her two daughters-in-law decided to join her (vs. 6-7).  That spoke volumes as to the type of woman Naomi was.  These daughters-in-law were young, and could find new husbands to care for them, and could start a family.  What would they find in Israel, since most Israelites hated the Moabites, as they were enemy nations?  Yet these two were choosing to go with Naomi.  Obviously Naomi had been such a kind and loving mother-in-law, more like a real mother, to these two women.  Rather than rejoicing that they were finally rid of their mother-in-law, they were choosing to go with her into a foreign land.  However, Naomi considered the future of these young women, and urged them to go back to their families and find new husbands.  She knew that there was no future for them with her (vs. 8-13).

During the time that Ruth and Orpah had been married to Naomi’s sons, in addition to being a loving woman, she must have often spoken to them about Yahweh, the one true God.  Her testimony and words of witness took root in the heart of Ruth, as she refused to return to Moab.  She would cast her lot in with Naomi and the God of Israel.  However, Orpah chose to return to Moab and their false gods (vs. 15).  Orpah missed the greatest thing that could ever happen to any individual, and that is salvation and eternal life.  She chose false gods, and eventually death and hell.

Ruth, on the other hand, turned her back on the world of idolatry and rebellion against God (vs. 16-17).  She forever cast her lot with the Lord of Glory.  She cut her ties with her pagan past, giving herself to Yahweh.  During her time living with Naomi, Ruth had listened to her speak of the Lord God, and came to believe that He, alone, is the one true God, not the idols she had been brought up worshiping.  Also, the loving character of Naomi helped in turning Ruth to Him, as she refused to leave Naomi, even during desperate times.

Ruth was a Moabite, thus a Gentile.  But God loved her and accepted her as one of His children when she accepted Him as her God.  The Jews were not the only people God loved.  God chose the Jews to be the people through whom the rest of the world would come to know Him.  Ruth would become the great-grandmother of King David, and thus an ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As we see in this account, having a sweet and loving character, even to our in-laws, is important.  Because Naomi was a loving woman, her daughter-in-law Ruth not only became saved, but also chose to remain with her, thus ensuring her survival, as recounted in the rest of the Book of Ruth.  Let’s make a point of having a sweet and loving disposition to all, as we never know what can result.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Increase Our Faith

Luke 17:5-10

Sometimes we hear a Christian speak of another believer, and they say that he or she is a person with great faith, often speaking that statement with some degree of awe and respect.  Then we often hear just the opposite, that this or that person, or even themselves, have very little faith, especially if there is some pressing need that they have been praying about.  A lack of faith can be very disappointing to oneself and to others.  In our brief Scripture passage for today, the apostles desired to have greater faith than they felt they had.  Let’s take a look.

As our Scripture opens, the apostles came to Jesus, desiring to have more faith (vs. 5).  They had been with Jesus now for many months, and no doubt observed His great faith.  When He prayed over people, they were healed.  When He demanded that demons depart, they immediately left.  This was Someone with no lack of faith, and now the apostles wished for more faith than they had.

Jesus responded to their request by stating that even if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, which is a very small seed, we could speak to a tree, that it be pulled up by the roots and be cast into the sea, and it would happen (vs. 6).  The seed Jesus was referring to was a small seed coming from a plant in central and western Asia that grew into a large plant, often at least ten feet tall.  It is not the amount of faith that matters, as even a small mustard seed amount is enough.  However, it is in what our faith is based in that matters.  If our faith is based on our own strength and ability, it won’t get us very far.  The same is true if it is resting on someone else, as well.  Neither will faith in any pagan or heathen god or philosophy.  They will only lead one to an eternity in hell.  Our faith must be placed only and completely on the Lord Jesus Christ and His ability, and nothing else.

Jesus told His apostles that if they had faith even the size of that tiny mustard seed they could do great things.  God does not enlarge our faith instantly.  He begins with what little faith we have, and then proceeds to grow it.  The Lord will provide occasions for us to believe Him and to respond to Him in obedience.  The more we trust and obey Jesus, the stronger our faith becomes.  We may call these occasions problems, but they are opportunities designed by God for the purpose of increasing our faith so that He can then do great things in and through us.

The amount of faith we believe we may have is never anything to be bragging about or to put on show for others.  It is a total dependence on God, not ourselves, and a willingness to do His will.  It is complete and humble obedience to God’s will, and a readiness to do whatever He calls us to do.  It is not how much faith we have, but in Whom we place that faith.

Jesus then continued on by telling of how a servant will do a day’s work, and then prepare his master’s meal.  The servant doesn’t come in from work and have the master wait on him (vs. 7-10).  An obedient servant will do what is expected of him.  If we have obeyed God, we have only done our duty, and we should regard it as a privilege.  Obedience is not something extra that we do.  It is our duty.

In our service to God, if we do not fully obey Him, and instead decide to do our own thing, or think in our hearts, “Look what I’ve done!”, and do not give all the glory to God, then our service is worthless.  Have we forgotten our place before God, who He is and what we are?  If we have done something we think is great, do we begin to get proud, and feel that God ought to commend us?  We are God’s servants, and are supposed to serve Him. What we do for Him is only our duty.  Our obedience to God does not put Him in debt to us, as if He owes us anything because of how “good” we’ve been.

Jesus is not saying that our service is meaningless or useless.  The Bible does tell us that believers will receive rewards (II Corinthians 5:10).  However, we should not have an over-inflated self-esteem or spiritual pride.  We should never grow proud over the things we accomplish through the Holy Spirit’s power.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Don't Let Fear Take Over

II Timothy 1:6-14

Have you ever let fear stop you from doing something that you wanted to do, or something that you knew that you should be doing?  Maybe you had a fear of failure, or that you were not smart or capable enough to accomplish the task.  Perhaps you were afraid of criticism and other people’s comments and snide remarks.  Or maybe there was even a fear of physical attacks and assault for what you would do, perhaps even a risk of death.  These might seem like reasonable fears, and as we look into our Scripture today from Paul’s second letter to his fellow co-worker in the Lord, Timothy, we see that the young man Timothy also had some fears.  Let’s see what Paul said to instruct him.

As our Scripture opens, Paul urged Timothy to not let the spiritual gifts the Lord had given to him languish unused (vs. 6).  As believers, each one of us has one or more spiritual gifts or abilities that the Lord endowed us with when we were saved.  These spiritual abilities are to be used for the building up and advancement of His kingdom, and to be of benefit to His body of believers.  However, at this time it seems as though Timothy was reluctant to use his gifts.

Paul had left Timothy to help lead the church in Ephesus when he, Paul, moved on in his missionary journeys, and eventually was thrown into prison in Rome.  Timothy was a young man, and quite possibly a rather shy and quiet man.  It seems that there were those in the church at Ephesus that were giving Timothy a difficult time due to his youth.  He might also have had a fear of persecution from the authorities, as Paul and others had been arrested and ill-treated because of the Faith.  The Church throughout the Empire also faced strong opposition from Jewish religious leaders.  For a young and timid man, these were things that brought on fear, and a reluctance to step up and lead in the church in Ephesus.

Paul instructed Timothy, though, that this fear did not come from God, for He has given us power, love, and a strong and disciplined mind (vs. 7).  If Timothy stepped out boldly in faith, and proclaimed the Gospel, the Holy Spirit would go with him, and give him power.  When we use the gifts God has given us, He will give us the power we need.  If we are intimidated in our work for the Lord, we lose our effectiveness for Him.

We should, though, have godly and wise caution in some circumstances that we may face, including when we are witnessing and working for the Lord, but not a godless fear.  Fear does not come from God.  He has given us all of the spiritual resources we need for every trial and threat we may ever face.

Paul urged Timothy to never be ashamed of witnessing for the Lord and His testimony (vs. 8).  He reminded Timothy that God would give him the strength he needed, and if the time ever came when he would have to suffer for the Lord, God would give Timothy all he needed for that moment.  Instead of being ashamed of the Faith, we must fearlessly show before the world that our hope is in the Lord, in His Word, and its promises.

Paul had no fear of persecution or death from preaching the Gospel (vs. 12).  He knew God had sealed his future glory and blessings.  He had total assurance of his salvation, and so should we.  Each experience that Paul had had in his life so far had shown him that God was Someone he could trust and rely on.  His life was like climbing a mountain, and each trial was like reaching another summit, from which he could look back and see the panorama of God’s love and trustworthiness, faithfulness in the One to whom Paul had committed his soul.

The Apostle instructed Timothy, and us as well, to guard the spiritual treasure that God has given us (vs. 14).  If we take into our minds doubt and unbelief, that will stunt our spiritual growth.  Instead, we need to feed our spirit with things of the Lord, like being in His Word and in prayer.

Remember what the Lord God teaches us here, that if things look bleak in your life, give your situation to Jesus.  He will guard your faith, and will safely preserve all you have entrusted to Him until when He returns.

Monday, October 3, 2022

What Strangles And Devours?

Psalm 37:1-8

Worrying and fretting about matters seems to be a favorite pastime of many people.  I will admit that I have had my share of times when the worries just took over my day.  I enjoy looking at words and word origins, and English is an interesting language to do that with, as throughout its long history, the English language has borrowed words from many sources.  Real quick, let’s look at the origins of the words “worry” and “fret”  Worry comes from the Old English word “wrygan” of old Anglo-Saxon origin, and means to strangle, to grab by the throat and tear.  The word “fret” comes from the Old English word “fretan”, also of Old German origin, and means to devour or consume.  To strangle, to devour.  When we are worrying and fretting about problems, we are letting them strangle and consume us.  As we look into our psalm today, the first several verses of Psalm 37, we are repeatedly told not to worry or fret.  Let’s see what the Lord wants to teach us today.

Psalm 37 was written by King David.  If anyone had reason to worry about matters, it was King David.  On the run for his life for several years, then the worries that come with being king and keeping the country safe, along with the problems his children gave him.  However, David learned to turn his cares over to the Lord.  Several times in this psalm he tells us not to fret (vs. 1, 7-8).  It is the opposite of trust, and has ill effects.  Fretting and worrying can take a toll on our physical and emotional well-being.  Feeding worry can lead to wrongdoing.  We may miss God’s best solution to our problems.  Fretting also undermines our witness for the Lord.  We do not reflect His peace or show to the lost that we feel He is trustworthy.

One thing that David mentioned that sometimes causes us to be upset and fret is when we see ourselves and other believers going through difficult times, while the unsaved and wicked seemingly have it easy (vs. 1, 7).  But as God’s Word says, the wicked may prosper for a time, but it is only for a time.  Don’t spend your time looking at them, but rather look to the Lord, and put your trust in Him (vs. 3).

Our psalm then gives us four keys to leading a victorious and worry-free life - Trust, Delight, Commit, and Rest.  These can help us counter worry, pessimism, and discouragement.  First, trust in God, do good, and feed on His faithfulness (vs. 3).  Believe that God will take care of us, and that He has our good in mind.  God calls us to do good to others, so that they might see His kindness in us, and know that He is faithful.

David tells us to delight in the Lord (vs. 4).  When we do, He will give us the desires of our heart.  This is a divine promise, but comes with human obligations.  It isn’t just a golden ticket to getting all we want.  The first requirement is that we are to delight in Him.  Delighting in the Lord means to take pleasure in discovering more about Him, and following His will.  We all need to spend more time with God, learning what pleases Him.  When we do, the Holy Spirit will align our hearts to desire what He desires.  Then we will set ourselves up for receiving His blessings.  When we make the Lord our joy, the desires that grow in our heart will be the ones He plants.

The third key is to commit our life to the Lord. (vs. 5).  When we are dedicated to God, when we commit our way to the Lord, we allow His will and His Word to shape our thoughts, lifestyle, and goals.  When we commit to His plan for us, commit to obeying His Word, God will give the perfect answer to our prayers.

The fourth key is to rest in the Lord (vs. 7).  Sometimes it is hard to wait for God to answer prayer.  However, when we rely on Him, He will work out our problems for our good.  I picture a little child, just resting in their parent’s arms.  They don’t have a worry in the world.  They are safely trusting in their parents to take care of everything.  They don’t worry about the bills, about world politics, etc.  They are trusting.  That is the way we are to be with God.  Parents aren’t omnipotent.  They can’t take care of everything.  But our Heavenly Father can, and we need to trust in Him.

When we follow the steps that God laid out for us in the early verses of this psalm, we can be free from the strangling worry and the devouring fretting we have.  Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.