Monday, February 27, 2023

Whiter Than Snow

Psalm 51

With Spring a few weeks off, there is still always a chance for more snow.  Though I really don’t like snow, it can look nice right after a snowfall, very clean and white, covering up any spots of dirt we might have in our yards.  When we have dirt and spots on our clothes, we throw them in the wash, and use a good detergent and maybe even stain removers.  The sooner we get them washed the better, before the stain sets in.  We like clean clothes, dishes, and yard, but how about our soul?  What can clean that?  Our psalm today speaks of the time when King David needed to come to the Lord for a special cleansing.

We don’t know the specific background of many of the psalms, however that is not the case with Psalm 51.  As the heading clearly states this psalm was David’s confession of his sin of adultery with Bathsheba (II Samuel 11-12:14).  King David had taken and slept with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his chief military officers.  When Bathsheba found out that she was pregnant, David had Uriah deliberately killed in battle, and he took her as one of his wives.  This was a major, serious sin, and for over a year David tried to ignore it, yet God didn’t.  Finally, the Lord sent His prophet Nathan to confront David, and he does genuinely repent of his sins, which this psalm gives evidence of.

In addition to this psalm being a confession of David’s sins, there are several things we can learn from God’s Word here.  Let’s look at them.  First, we see that David showed repentance from his sins (vs. 3).  Repentance includes taking full responsibility for our sin.  When we blame someone else for our sin, our repentance is incomplete.  We are ultimately the one who chose to sin.  Another thing to consider is, are we really asking for forgiveness, or are we just asking to be excused, claiming it wasn’t our fault, that we couldn’t help it, and we aren’t to blame?  God’s Word urges us to admit our sin in all of its wretchedness.

As David prayed, he spoke how this sin was against the Lord God (vs. 4).  All of our sins are against God.  Though others may be involved and certainly affected, like they were with this sin, our sins are against God.  All sin is a departure from God’s ways to man’s ways.  As such, He is always justified in any actions that He takes, and His judgment is always perfect.

Could David find forgiveness?  Though his sin made his spiritual life look hopeless at the time, he turned to God in hope.  David brought his sin and pain to the Lord.  He asked the Lord to purge him with hyssop (vs. 7).  The hyssop of the Bible was a small herbal plant with many small, little branches.  It was used by the priests to dip in and sprinkle the blood of sacrifices.  If one was sprinkled with the hyssop, it symbolized that one’s sins were cleansed.  In the same verse David asked to be washed clean from his sin, washed whiter than snow.  That snow I mentioned at the opening can look so white and clean.  It can be so bright that if one steps outside and looks at a large expanse of snow in the sunlight, it can be so bright it almost hurts one's eyes!  David asked to be cleansed that clean.

Another thing we learn in this psalm is that God is pleased if we come to Him with a contrite heart and broken spirit (vs. 17).  That is the sacrifice He wants.  We can never please God by outward actions, no matter how good, if our inward heart attitude is not right. Psalm 34:18 says that He is close to the brokenhearted.  When we feel the farthest away from God, He is the closest.  He does not abandon us at our lowest point if we turn to Him in repentance.  One thing we need to remember, though, is that though God can and will forgive us of any sin, He does not always erase the consequences of them.  David’s family suffered tremendously because of this sin he committed.

Two more important things we learn in this psalm.  One is that when we sin, no matter how grievous it may be, if we are already saved, we do not lose our salvation.  David didn’t pray for God to restore his salvation.  He prayed for God to restore the joy of his salvation (vs. 12).  We do not lose our salvation when we sin, but we can, and often do, lose our joy.

The other thing that we can learn here that we clearly see in verse 13 is that those who have failed God may be restored to the service of the Lord.  Many churches will take the genuinely repentant sinner and relegate them to the sidelines, saying they can never serve the Lord again.  God did not do that with David, nor did He do that with Peter or many others.  Truly repentant sinners who return to the Lord should not be pushed aside for the remainder of their lives, branded a sinner.  God still has use for each of His children.

In closing, is there some unconfessed sin in your life that is blocking your fellowship with the Lord?  Don’t let it continue.  Come to the Lord in repentance, just like David did, and be washed clean, whiter than snow.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Temptation's Lie

Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17, 3:1-7

For this first Sunday during the season of Lent, our Old Testament reading given in the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer takes us right to the beginning of Genesis, the second and third chapters.  Here we will see the accounts of God’s creation of the first man and woman, His creation of the beautiful Garden of Eden for them to live in, and how they ruined it all when they fell into sin.  Let’s look at what God can teach us from His Word.

The first chapter of the Book of Genesis gives a broad account of God’s creation of everything over six days.  As we open here the second chapter, this section of Scripture fills in the details of mankind’s creation.  Chapter 2 examines Day 6 of creation with a magnifying glass.  As we read here, God took special care as He created man (vs. 2:7).  He didn’t just snap His fingers and man appeared, though He could have done that.  Instead, God formed him, just as a potter forms the bowl or pitcher that he makes from the clay.  God is the Master Craftsman at work, shaping a work of art to which He gives life.

God also created a beautiful, lush garden, where He placed Adam and Eve to live and tend (vs. 8-9).  The Garden of Eden was a magnificent garden paradise, where God had fellowship with those He created in His image.  We read here of two specific trees, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  These were real trees.  The Tree of Life had special properties to sustain eternal life.  Such a tree will be in the new heaven and new earth at the end of time (Revelation 22:2).

When God placed the humans He created in the Garden, He gave them one command, and that was that they were not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (vs. 16-17).  Rather than physically preventing Adam from eating from the tree, God gave him a choice.  Adam chose wrongly.  God gives us choices and a free will to choose wrong, which we often do.

As Chapter 3 begins we read of Adam and Eve’s response to the one command of God, their temptation by Satan, disobedience, and fall into sin.  Satan was a fallen archangel, and here in the Garden he had possessed the body of a snake.  This possessed creature was deceitful.  Satan tempted Eve to doubt the goodness of God.  He got her to doubt the truth of His Word.  Satan wanted Eve to feel that God was stingy, selfish, and overly strict.  He made her forget all that God had given to her and Adam, and to focus on the one thing that she didn’t have.  Satan tried to make Eve think that sin is good, pleasant, and desirable.

These are all temptations that Satan still throws at people today, and which we see people frequently falling for.  Satan hates God’s Word, the Bible, and he has gotten the majority of people today to doubt its truth, unfortunately even in many churches and denominations.  He has succeeded in getting many people to doubt that God is good.  Satan is a master at getting people to think that sin is good and desirable, and this favorite trick of his has brought down countless people over the ages.

As Satan had Eve’s attention with his temptations, and her interest in everything he was saying, he told her a direct lie (vs. 3:4-5).   Believing this lie, and following through with their disobedience to God, led to Adam and Eve’s spiritual death, and eventually to their physical death.  As Jesus rightly said, Satan is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44).  Eve was deceived.  She believed Satan’s lie  Adam deliberately transgressed, not being deceived (I Timothy 2:14).

God gave Adam and Eve just one rule.  They had plenty of choices for delicious fruit to eat, and only one was forbidden.  They had fellowship with God, and no reason for insecurity, concern, or fear.  God gave them the choice to obey or not, as He does not want mechanical, robot-like love.  He tested their faith, and at the first opportunity they broke the rule.

Temptation’s appeal always comes beautifully wrapped in a false promise.  However, its reward leaves us with a bitter taste.  Satan tempted Adam and Eve to take and eat in order to draw them to death.  Jesus invites us to take and eat from Him, and He points us to another “tree”, the Cross, in order to give us eternal life.

Friday, February 24, 2023

What Is My Motive?

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

As Lent is beginning to get underway, many Christians might decide to devote some more time to prayer, Bible reading, charitable giving, or even fasting several times every week.  All of these are good spiritual disciplines.  However, some of us might be inclined to want others to know all about how much we are now praying, giving, and fasting.  Just like people like to brag about how much weight they’ve lost while attending Weight Watchers meetings, or a body-builder likes to flex their muscles in front of others, we might be inclined to flex our supposed “spiritual muscles” for others to see.  What does the Lord Jesus have to say about folks like that, who want others to see just how religious they seem to be?  Let’s take a look.

In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke to His listeners about any desires they have for others to know about the spiritual practices they might have.   At this time in Jewish history there was a religious group known as the Pharisees who, among other things, were extremely diligent in keeping the Mosaic Law, and following many other religious traditions that had been handed down over the centuries.  They also were very strict in enforcing these practices among other people, such as worshipers at local synagogues and the Temple in Jerusalem.  Many of the Pharisees wanted others to know how “holy” they were, by performing their prayers and giving in public, and letting others know how often they were fasting.  They wanted to impress everyone in town.  They even thought they were impressing God.

Jesus had some rather strong words to call these groups of Pharisees.  He called them hypocrites.  They were sanctimonious phonies.  He told the crowds listening to His teachings that these folks weren’t doing their giving, praying, or fasting for God, but were really only doing it to be seen by others in order to seem holy.  If they thought that they were going to be rewarded by God, they were mistaken.  Jesus said that the only reward they would get would be that others saw them.  That’s it.  If and when they got to heaven, God wasn’t going to pat them on the back or give them extra jewels in their crown because they weren’t doing it for Him, rather only for themselves.

Jesus certainly wasn’t condemning prayer, charitable giving, or fasting.  What He was speaking against was their motives.  These Pharisees’ motives were only to be seen by men (vs. 1-2, 5, 16).  Their motives were hollow, not genuine.  When we do these things, it needs to be for God alone, not for others to see.  If we want God’s blessings, we need to be sure our motives are pure and not selfish.  We should do our good deeds quietly, in secret, with no thought of reward (vs. 3-4, 6, 17-18).  The reward that God promises is not material, and it is not given to those who seek it by outward shows of supposed holiness.

Our charitable deeds, prayers, and fasting should all be acts of worship given to God, never as a display of self-righteousness, or to gain the admiration of others.  The essence of true prayer is not public style, but private communication with God.  If we want others to notice us when we pray, our real audience is not really God, but man.

Among the Jewish people, fasting was required for them once a year, on the Day of Atonement.  The Pharisees around the time of Jesus would fast about twice a week, and with many of them it wasn’t with the intention of drawing closer to God, but rather to impress people with their holiness.  Jesus said that all of our acts of self-sacrifice should be done quietly and sincerely.

Praying and giving should be something that all Christians do on a regular basis, and many believers also occasionally fast.  Fasting doesn’t serve to change God’s mind, speed up His answer, or manipulate His will.  Fasting helps us focus our attention on God, alone.  Fasting can be carried out in several ways.  Due to health reasons, not everyone can abstain from food, though that is the most common way.  We can also fast by eliminating some activities, or forgoing a little sleep from time to time in order to seek the Lord.

These spiritual disciplines mentioned in our Scripture today are all good ones, when done with the right motive.  Christians should make a habit of giving to the Lord and to others.  They should spend time in prayer each day, and fasting is good, as well.  However, we need to check why we are doing them.  Is it for others to see and think good of us, or is it for the Lord?  As Jesus taught here, it is wrong to do a good deed for the wrong reason.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Like A Kangaroo Or Emu

Philippians 3:7-14 

I was reading something rather interesting several days ago.  Did you know that neither the kangaroo, nor the emu, can walk backwards?  Most other animals can walk backwards without turning around if they need to, but not these two.  These two animals, both endemic to Australia, are on the coat of arms of that nation.  One reason they were selected was because of the fact that they can’t walk backwards, only forwards.  With their eyes always looking forward, they are making progress, which symbolizes the goal of the people and country of Australia.  Looking and moving forward, not backward, is what our Scripture for today encourages us to do.

The Apostle Paul, who wrote this letter to the Christians in Philippi, had a rather distinguished background in the Jewish religion.  He was from the tribe of Benjamin, and had been educated by the renowned Jewish scholar Gamaliel.  He was also a very devout Pharisee who strictly followed the Mosaic Law.  Before getting saved, Paul was very proud of how zealous he was for the Jewish faith.

As our Scripture begins, though, instead of being proud of all of his religious accomplishments, Paul was just the opposite.  Instead of thinking that all the things he had done would deserve gold stars and medals, he said that he counted them as a loss, as garbage, as a waste (vs. 7-8).  All of Paul’s Jewish religious rituals that he once thought were a spiritual profit to him, were actually worthless and damning.  He counted them as actually a spiritual loss.

So what did Paul think was important?  What did he count as being worthwhile in his life?  Paul threw away, both literally and figuratively, all his past religious accomplishments for the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Having a knowledge of Jesus is not simply to have an intellectual knowledge of Him.  It is to know Jesus personally as one’s Savior.  Being saved is infinitely more important than any religious rituals or practices one may have ever followed, whether Paul as a Pharisee, or us today.  Having a personal relationship with Jesus, and striving to know all we can about Him, patterning our life to be like His, should be our ultimate goal.  As Paul believed, and taught others, next to Jesus, everything else is nothing.

Paul continued on, stating that all of his righteousness, all of his good and religious deeds, and there were a lot of them, was worthless (vs. 9).  What about all the money we might give to the church?  What about the hours we might put in practicing with the choir or preparing Sunday School or Bible study lessons?  We might want to count them on our profit side, but as the Scripture teaches us, we are made righteous only by trusting in Jesus.  All of our works amount to nothing.  As Paul said, they are rubbish, or garbage.  When we are saved, we exchange our sins for His righteousness (II Corinthians 5:21).

Now that Paul was a believer, he wanted to forget all the things he once thought were so spiritually important, the self-righteous works that he had once been so proud of.  Now his goal was to be more like Jesus.  He wanted to forget all the things he had done in the past, both the good and the forgiven bad things, and progress forward, to reach his goal of being more like Jesus (vs. 12-14).  He energetically, aggressively pursued this goal.

What about us?  Are we striving for that same goal?  Or are we looking back on all we have done in the past?  Are we counting our past works as something to be spiritually smug about, or excessively grieving over past mistakes we have already confessed?  Like a runner in a race, we need to continue to strive towards the goal.  The runners won’t make good progress if they are continually looking back.

We should not let anything take our eyes off of our goal of knowing Jesus.  With the single mindedness of an athlete in training, we must lay aside everything, and forsake anything that distracts us from this goal.  Like the kangaroo and the emu, we mustn’t go backwards.  Instead we need to keep progressing forward, forgetting what is behind, and looking and striving for the goal, for the prize we have in Christ Jesus.

Monday, February 20, 2023

God's Mercy

Psalm 103:8-14

Have you ever had someone angry at you, very angry?  Maybe you slipped up, did some things that you shouldn’t have, and now you have to face the wrath of this person.  And what if this person is not one to ever show any mercy, any forgiveness?  That is a very dismal, very discouraging thing to deal with.  This is the portrait that many people have of God, a stern, even harsh Deity, who is quick to clobber us when we fall into any sin, no matter how contrite we might be.  Let’s look at some verses in Psalm 103, one of my favorite psalms, to see what the Bible says about the Lord God.

Psalm 103 is one of the many written by King David.  As we read throughout the Old Testament, though David was a faithful believer and follower of Yahweh, he also had a number of occasions where he fell into sin, just like we all do.  Several times throughout his life David fell into serious sin, and needed to come to God in repentance and seek forgiveness.  What would he find when he came?  In most of the pagan religions, their myriad of gods were not forgiving deities.  One slip up, great or small, would bring their wrath down.  What would David find from Yahweh?  What will we find from God when we are in the same condition of needing forgiveness for our sins and failings?

David tells us in the middle of this beautiful psalm of his, that the Lord God is a merciful God (vs. 8).  Mercy can be defined as withholding the punishment that is due us.  David had sinned throughout his life.  We all have.  He knew that some of his sins would have merited very harsh punishment if he got what he deserved.  However, as he experienced, Yahweh is merciful and gracious.  Rather than give him what he deserved, He showed David mercy (vs. 10).  God has shown us unlimited mercy, but it is with a condition.  The condition is that we “fear Him” (vs. 11).  We must show Him the honor, reverence, and respect that is His due.

Not only is the Lord merciful, He is also slow to anger.  When He does get angry, He doesn’t hold on to that anger forever (vs. 9).  If the believer will humble himself and confess his wrongdoing, the Lord will discontinue His reprimands and cool His anger.  Unlike so many people, God doesn’t hold a grudge.

As we continue on in this psalm, we read a very blessed promise, and that is found in verses 11 and 12.  We have seen that Yahweh is a merciful God, and here we read that His mercy is as high as the heavens.  David wouldn’t have known this, but we know that if a rocket is shot out into outer space, it can keep going and going and going.  There is no end to the heavens above the earth.  Thus, there is no end to God’s mercy.

We also read here that God has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west.  Not as far as the north is from the south.  If we walked to the north pole, when we got there we would then have to go south.  Once we got to the south pole, we would have to start heading north again. However, if I head east, there is no point where I begin to head west.  I keep going east around and around the globe.  The same with heading west.  We have a forgetful God.  When we come to Him in repentance of our sins, He takes them from us, removing them as far as the east is from the west.  He forgets them.  This blessing from the Lord is equivalent to the ones mentioned several times in the Bible, where He tells us that our sins have been blotted out.  The Prophet Isaiah tells us that on two occasions in Isaiah 43:25 and in Isaiah 44:22.  Peter also spoke of that in one of his early sermons after Pentecost (Acts 3:19).  They are erased better than any man-made eraser can do!

When we sin, which we all do, the weight of the guilt of that sin can be a heavy burden to bear.  However, it is a weight that can be removed if we humble ourselves before God, acknowledging our sin, and embracing by faith that the Lord has forgiven us.  In turn, God expects us to conduct ourselves towards others as He has conducted Himself towards us.  He wants and expects us to show mercy to others, and to be quick to forgive.

Looking back over these verses, we can see how precious they are.  We all sin, and our sins deserve punishment.  Yet the Lord is merciful to us.  He pities us as a good, loving father does to his children.  When we come to Him, He forgives our sins, and does not punish us as we deserve.  How can we ever thank and love Him enough?

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Fasting God Desires

Isaiah 58:1-12

As one follows the Christian Liturgical calendar, this Sunday is the last Sunday during the period of several weeks that fall between the Feast of Epiphany (January 6th) and Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.   One practice that many people follow throughout Lent is that of fasting.  The Lord, through His prophet Isaiah, had something to say about what the practice of fasting had become.  Let’s look at what the Scriptures say.

The Lord God had a lot to tell the descendants of Jacob, and He wanted Isaiah to give them His message.  The prophet Isaiah was to proclaim God’s message forth just like the loud sounding of a trumpet blast (vs. 1).  Unfortunately for the people, this message was not a joyous one, but one to point out their sins.

One of the indictments that God had against the people was how, over the years, their worship of Him had become merely ritual, and not from the heart.  Many of the people still followed all of the prescribed religious practices given in the Law of Moses, however, their hearts were far from God.  They followed what was convenient for themselves, for their own benefit, and what would make them look good in others’ eyes.  True worship is more than just going through religious rituals.  For some people, both back in Isaiah’s day and also today, their religious acts are just going through the motions.  Their supposed righteousness is merely pretense.

There were many people who acted very self-righteous, following the letter of the Law, but treating others, those they felt were beneath them, with contempt.  They felt that as long as they were going through their religious rituals, that God was happy with them.  However, God wasn’t.  When they questioned why He wasn’t, God told them quite plainly.  They acted wickedly.  They exploited people, oppressed them, and mistreated the poor (vs. 3-7) .  God does not want us acting pious when we have unforgiven sin in our hearts.  We need to show compassion for the poor, the oppressed, and the helpless.

In ancient Israel, many who would fast would make a big show of it, with wearing sackcloth, pouring ashes over themselves, and beating one’s breast with loud wailing.  This was all for show, so that others would think they were pious.  Today people may not be so dramatic, but many still do things to make themselves seem pious and holy in the eyes of others.  God saw through their act, and He still sees through people’s acts today.  He calls them hypocrites.  Instead of repenting of their sins, they oppress others, they fight, and they ignore the poor and needy.  In God’s eyes, caring for others, particularly the poor, the orphan, and the widow, is more important than religious rituals (vs. 9-10).  Jesus cited this portion of Isaiah when He rebuked the false worship of the scribes and Pharisees for their outward show, but hardness of heart (Mark 7:1-13).

God wants true fasting, not just going through the motions.  The fasting He wants will bring penitence for our sins, humility, ceasing of oppression, feeding the hungry, and meeting others needs.  Ritualistic observances should be secondary to the weightier matters of the Law, such as true and honest judgment, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23).  As James said centuries after Isaiah, it is not enough to just wish the poor and needy well, or say that we will pray for them.  We must also act upon our words (James 2:15-16).

In case anyone might think that this is promoting a works-based salvation, it is not.  We cannot be saved by our works without faith in Jesus Christ.  However, our faith lacks sincerity if it doesn’t reach out to others.  True fasting is more than what we don’t eat.  It is pleasing God by applying His Word to our daily actions with others.

In closing, Isaiah gave some promises that the Lord made to those who truly follow Him and His Word.  When we follow and obey the Lord, He promises to watch over us.  He will be our rearguard (vs. 8).  He’s got our back (Romans 8:31).  The Lord will guide us (vs. 11).  Not some other human, nor even an angel, but the Lord Himself.  As He promised in Hebrews 13:5, He has not, and will not ever leave us!

Friday, February 17, 2023

Needing A Change Of Heart

Matthew 5:21-28

Most of us could probably say that we have never committed an act of murder.  However, we all can honestly say that we’ve been unjustly angry with someone from time to time.  Would any of you ever cheat on your spouse, breaking your marriage vows?  But what about what we might have thought was an “innocent” fantasy about a gorgeous movie star, or even someone we know?  In our Scripture today from the Gospel of Matthew, continuing with the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has something very important to say about this.

We all know that one of the Ten Commandments forbids committing murder.  Murder is against the law in probably every country in the world.  Committing adultery is also forbidden in the Ten Commandments, and though it may not be on the legal books as breaking an actual law, adultery is generally not accepted in decent society.  There would be no question that both of these are serious sins.  As Jesus spoke to His followers in the middle of His Sermon on the Mount, He told them some shocking news.  According to the Lord, if we get angry with someone without a cause, we have committed murder in our heart (vs. 21-22).  If we look lustfully at someone who isn’t our spouse, we have committed adultery in our heart (vs. 27-28).  So now how many of us could be called murderers or adulterers?  Let’s take a closer look at both of these.

When Jesus spoke about the commandment against murder, He immediately connected anger to this commandment.  Anger is the emotion and inner intention in our hearts that leads to murder.  Unjust anger and refusing to forgive are acts of murder that we commit in our hearts.  We “kill” others by holding grudges, hatred, and anger towards them.  We tear down others with our words and gossip, speaking death over their lives.

The word “Raca” is Aramaic, and means “idiot” or “stupid”.  When we say that, or “fool” to someone, we are being judgmental and condemning, questioning the mind and character of others.  Angry speech is destructive against others.  It can push someone into shame or self-loathing, rather than godly repentance.  It can also create a cycle of retaliation and escalating anger.

Anger violates God’s command to love.  It is a dangerous emotion, so easy to leap out of control.  We are hypocrites if we claim to love God, but hate others.  Our attitudes towards others reflects our relationship with God (I John 4:20).  Self-control is good, but God wants us to control our innermost feelings.

God doesn’t even want our offerings if we haven’t made an attempt to reconcile with someone we have hurt or offended (vs. 23-24).  When we come to worship God, and we remember that there is a problem between us and another, we need to stop, and go seek to be reconciled with that person, and then return to worship the Lord.  Jesus felt it was that important.

The Lord continued on, giving another example of how important our thoughts and hearts are with respect to another commandment, that being the commandment against adultery (vs. 27-28).  God sees the heart behind the things we do (Jeremiah 17:10).  Even if a married spouse doesn’t actually cheat on the other, they can still have impure and cheating thoughts.  Wrong desires easily lead to wrong actions.  If the act is wrong, so is the intention.  It is wrong to deliberately and repeatedly fill one’s mind with fantasies that would be wrong if acted out.  Gratifying desires lustfully is not seeking the righteousness of God.  It is using others to satisfy one’s selfishness.

These verses in today’s Scripture are very black and white.  Jesus is very clear as to what is right and wrong.  There are no gray areas here. God does not just want outward compliance to His commands.  He wants an inward change.  We have to go deeper than just the surface.  We have to focus on the state of our heart.  We need to change our hearts, not just our outward actions.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Milk or Meat

I Corinthians 3:1-9

When a newborn baby is brought home from the hospital, everyone knows that the baby will eat only his mother’s milk or baby formula for the first number of months.  Nobody would ever think to give him anything else!  When the baby is five or six months old, then he starts with some solid foods, such as baby cereal, and then on to pureed fruit or vegetables.  If the mother made a steak or pork chops for the rest of the family, she wouldn’t set one before a six month old and expect him to eat that!  Likewise, she wouldn’t put pureed banana and infant cereal in front of her teenager or husband!  Babies eat baby food, and older children and adults eat solid food.  There is something wrong if an adult is still wanting mashed peas and Gerber rice cereal!  This was a problem, spiritually speaking, that the Apostle Paul needed to address with the church in Corinth, and which we read about in our Scripture today.

When a person is first saved, born-again, they are spiritually babies, just like a human when born.  They generally know very little, if anything, about the Bible, God, and spiritual matters.  That is why it is important that a newly saved Christian attends a Biblically strong and solid church, and is hopefully mentored and taught in a good Sunday School or Bible study, to learn more from God’s Word.  It is a terrible tragedy if a newborn baby is just left by themselves, and not fed or cared for.  In the same way a newborn Christian should not just be left on their own and not fed and cared for by older, more knowledgeable Christians.

When the Apostle Paul first arrived in Corinth, he preached the Gospel to the people, and saw many men and women come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus.  He stayed on in the city for a while, establishing a church there.  Paul then needed to move on, to bring the Gospel to other places, and he left the church in the capable hands of a believer named Apollos, and some others.  Now, several years later, he hears that many of the believers in Corinth are still only at a very elemental stage of spiritual development.  Basically, they are like grown-ups who are still having baby formula to eat (vs. 1-2).

As we read in our Scripture, Paul was scolding these believers because many of them were acting “carnal”.  To be carnal is to be controlled by the fallen flesh nature, and not living a life that is controlled by the Holy Spirit.  All believers have the Holy Spirit, but many still live controlled by the flesh.  They are carnal.  Carnal Christians are very immature. Immature Christians are worldly, controlled by their own desires.  A mature Christian is in tune with God’s desires.  Our goal should be to let God’s desires be ours.

How can a Christian grow from being a carnal one to a more mature believer?  They grow and mature by getting into God’s Word every day, studying and spiritually digesting it.  A brand new believer is fed milk, or basic truths and doctrines that a new believer learns.  But over time, they grow and move on to more solid foods, just as a young child, then older child, and an adult would.  Someone who has been a Christian for a while shouldn’t be stuck in just knowing the Christmas story, Psalm 23, and Noah’s Ark, which a brand new Christian would know.  That is milk.  Time to move on to solid food, dig into the Bible and chew on some solid meat!

One way that Paul knew that some of the believers in Corinth were spiritually immature was the way that they were fighting and squabbling among themselves over silly, ridiculous matters, just like little toddlers in the nursery would.  One matter they were fighting about was who was the better, more important Christian leader - Paul, Apollos, or someone else (vs. 4-9).  Paul goes on to say how each person’s work in the church is important.  Paul came and planted the seed of the Gospel message in the people’s hearts.  He founded the church in Corinth, bringing the message of salvation.  That was the work God gave him.  Apollos’ role was to water, to help the believers grow stronger in the faith.  Apollos built on the foundation that Paul had laid.  God gave each one a role, an assignment to do, and each one was important.  A mature Christian, one who had moved from milk to solid food, would see and understand that.

Where are we in our spiritual development?  Are we still only drinking milk?  Are we languishing in a stage of only pureed food?  Or have we grown and are enjoying a nice steak or prime rib?  If someone has only been saved a few weeks, then of course they need to learn the basics, the “milk” doctrines.  But as time goes on, we need to grow and mature spiritually, and we can only do that by reading and studying the Bible, climbing to new spiritual heights.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Thy Word Have I Hid In Mine Heart

Psalm 119:9-11

After a long, hard day we often find ourselves dirty.  In order to get clean again, we need to wash up.  In order for our clothes to get clean, we need to wash them, as well.  With some clothes we might need to read the labels to check for special washing instructions.  We not only get physically dirty every day, we also get spiritually dirty through sin on a regular basis.  How do we get cleansed from that?  Jumping in the shower won’t work here.  In our Scripture from Psalm 119, the longest psalm and also the longest chapter in the Bible, God has given us the instructions for how to get cleaned up from sin.  Just as it is important to follow instructions for how to clean clothes, it is important to follow God’s instructions for how to get cleansed from sin.

As we begin our short Scripture today, the psalmist asks an important question - how a young person can cleanse his ways (vs. 9).  This actually would apply to anyone, male or female, and of any age, young to elderly.  As everyone goes through life each day, we face any number of temptations to sin, and we all slip and fall into some of them.  By the time we go to bed at night, every one of us has some sins that we need to confess to the Lord.  The psalmist wonders how he can get cleansed, and how he can avoid and keep from getting really dirty from day to day, how he can keep his way clean.  This world is a dirty one, not only physically, but especially spiritually. Every time we walk outside we face a sinful environment, so it is important to know how we can keep clean.

God gives us an answer in our Scripture.  He tells us that we can cleanse ourselves from sin, and also avoid sin by taking heed to His Word, the Bible.  The way to stay spiritually pure is by reading God’s Word and doing what it says.

The key here is that we must spend time reading and meditating on Scripture in order to know what it says and means.  We can have a whole cabinet filled with soap and shampoo, but unless we actually get in the shower and use them, they can’t clean us up.  In the same way, we can have a whole bookshelf filled with Bibles, but unless we actually open one up, read, and study it, it will do us no good.  Just having a Bible, but not reading it, is not going to guard us from sin.  We must read and obey it, taking heed to what it says.

Internalizing God’s Word, or as the psalmist says in verse 11, hiding God’s Word in our heart, is a believer’s best weapon to defend against encroaching sin.  Hiding or keeping God’s Word in our heart is a deterrent to sin.  One good way is to memorize Scripture verses.  It is also very important to not only memorize, but to make sure we put it to work in our lives, having the Bible guide everything we do.  The power of hiding God’s Word in our hearts can help to keep us from sinning.

Since temptation usually comes unexpectedly, we must be prepared for it, even when we can’t grab a Bible.  That’s why having Scripture stored in our mind and heart is so important.  When sin, temptation, and troubles come, we can only use what we have stored in our arsenal to combat them.  We can only use what we have stored in our heart.  If Scripture chapters and verses haven’t been placed there ahead of the attacks of temptation and troubles, it can’t help us.  God’s Word is often referred to as our sword, to use in attacks of the devil (Ephesians 6:17).  However, if our sword isn’t kept sharp, or it isn’t within quick reach, it does no good.

Sometimes as we grow older, our memory starts to lag.  That need not worry the child of God with regards to Scripture we’ve memorized.  Even when we begin to notice memory slips, God’s Word, memorized years earlier, is still there, stored up and treasured in the heart.  Even when our mind isn’t as sharp as it used to be, we know that God’s Word, hidden in our heart, will continue to speak to us.  Nothing, not even a failing memory, can separate us from God’s love and care.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Stand In The Gap

Ezekiel 22:23-31

When there is war between two or more nations, the capitals and important cities, along with other strategic locations are kept protected.  The army will set up their defenses around these sites to protect them from enemy attack.  In ancient times larger or important cities would have walls built around them for protection, in addition to having an army.  What would happen if there developed a hole or a gap in the wall?  Or what if, within the defensive line of the army, some soldiers went down, leaving an open gap?  The people would be in serious risk.  Even if our country may not be in a literal war with another, and we aren’t in any immediate risk of being physically overtaken by any enemy, as believers, we are in a spiritual war.  How is our safety then?  Let’s look at a Scripture passage from the prophet Ezekiel, and see what God’s Word has to say.

When the enemy is advancing, the generals select their best soldiers, cavalry, and infantry to guard the strategic spots, whether an important city or geographic location, such as a hill or a harbor.  Guarding such spots was an important duty, and it was vital that these soldiers be strong and fearless.  The safety of the city and its residents depended upon them.  If one or more slacked off in their duty, then lives were at risk.  The same would go for the city wall.  When building such a wall to surround and protect the city, it was important to use good, strong building materials.  They needed strong rocks and solid bricks.  The mortar had to be top quality.  The doors to the city entryways needed to be especially strong, and the hinges made and attached just right.  Those who stood guard at these entryways needed to be alert.  No gap could be allowed to form in these lines of defense.

In the days of the Old Testament, God had given the people priests and prophets to speak to them and teach them about Himself.   They were to guide and protect the people from spiritual danger. The political leaders, such as the kings and princes, were to be godly men, closely following the Lord and being spiritual examples to the people, as well as keeping them safe from other nations.  However, as we read in this portion of Scripture, the priests, the prophets, and the princes were not standing in spiritual defense for the people.

When soldiers are sent to defend a city from the enemy, we don’t expect to see them turn around and attack those they are to defend!  The same should hold for the spiritual leaders of people.  Yet here Ezekiel describes the prophets, who are really false prophets not truly representing Yahweh, like a roaring lion, devouring the people (vs. 25).  They have taken their treasures and valuables, greedy for money and luxury.  He describes how the priests have broken God’s laws and profaned the things that are to be held sacred and holy (vs. 26).  The political leaders are also like wild animals, like wolves tearing at the prey, destroying people, and also seeking after money (vs. 27).  All of the religious leaders are speaking lies and false messages to the people, leading them spiritually astray and away from God’s Word (vs. 28).  With leaders like that, the people themselves have fallen into sin, oppression, robbery, and mistreatment of the poor and needy (vs. 29).

We see the same thing today.  So many of our political leaders are corrupt, seeking financial riches, backroom corrupt deals with businesses, and how to get re-elected.  They don’t really care about their constituents or the poor and needy.  And so many of the religious leaders are no better.  They have forsaken God’s Word, the Bible, and preach falsehood and messages just to please the congregation, rather than what God really says in His Word.  So many promise blessings if the people just send them money.

What does God have to say about this?  As we read in verse 30, He tells us that He is looking for someone to make a wall and stand in the gap.  Our religious leaders, those who were supposed to protect us spiritually, have left a gap wide open for the enemy of our souls to come in and wreak havoc with us.  Spiritually, our cities, our nation, and our world are sliding down the slippery slope to doom.  What are our children being taught in schools today?  What do we hear on the news each night?  And when we go to church, looking for spiritual guidance and nourishment, what do we get?  Not a message to turn us to righteousness, back to Jesus and His Word!  We get fluff, philosophical nonsense, or downright lies to tickle our ears!

God is looking for someone to stand in the gap, and stem the tide of total corruption that will bring destruction.  This world is in desperate need of people who will stand in the gap and pray.  Pray for our children, our families, schools, universities, neighborhoods, cities, leaders, and nation.  Is there anyone who will speak up for God and His Word, and to lead people back to Him?  Is there anyone to stand in the gap?  God didn’t find anyone back then.  Will He find anyone today?  Are you willing to stand in the gap for Him? 

Friday, February 10, 2023

Salt And Light

Matthew 5:13-16

Most people like their food seasoned, and they like to be in a well-lit room.  Not too many people like bland food, or want to sit in dark rooms.  When we’re making our meals, imagine the disappointment if we find that what’s in the salt shaker is only something that looks like salt, but is only a tasteless look-a-like.  When we go to turn on a light in a dark room, we don’t like to find that the bulb is burned out, or there are no batteries in the flashlight.  In our Scripture, which continues in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Lord tells how His followers are to be both salt and light.  Let’s look into what Jesus has to say.

In our rather familiar Scripture today, Jesus describes faithful believers as being both salt and light.  What did He mean by this?  How can believers be like either of these?  We’ll take a quick look at both salt and light, and how we can be like each one of these in our life.

Salt is often used as a preservative.  In the past, before our modern refrigerators and freezers, meat was often heavily salted so that it wouldn’t spoil and could last for many weeks.  As Christians wanting to be like salt, we should ask ourselves whether our words preserve God’s Word, or are we turning people away from Him?  Are we helping to improve a situation and keep spiritual decay from happening?  Another thing that salt does is to purify and soften.  Are our words and actions pure and truthful?  Are they soft and kind, or harsh and hostile?

We all know that salt can cause thirst.  When we handle our suffering with calmness, endurance, and hope, others will thirst to know how we do it, and can be drawn to the Lord Jesus.  Salt is also used to melt ice.  Many communities in northern regions put salt on the roads to prevent slippery and dangerous conditions in the winter.  The way we talk and act should melt icy conversations and situations, and bring out the best in others.  Salt prevents infections in a wound.  We should do what we can to help heal relationships and prevent further hurt from happening.

In the past, salt was very valuable.  Do our words add value to the conversation, or are they empty and worthless?  A seasoning that has no flavor has no value.  If Christians make no effort to affect the world around them, they are of little value to God.  We should not blend in with the world.  Instead of blending in with the world, we should be affecting them positively.  Only a genuine believer is salt, and can help meet the needs of the world.

The second thing that the Lord Jesus told us, His followers, to be is light (vs. 14-16).  We are to be a reflector of the light which comes from Jesus.  As we can readily see, a light shines best when it is not hidden.  We should never hide our testimony and Christian witness from others.  A light is brightest when the lamp is clean.  If we want the light of our witness to shine, we need to get rid of hypocrisy, along with sinful attitudes and practices.  Light warns of danger, and it guides us to safety.  That is what our Christian witness and testimony should also do.

The preserving, taste-giving bite of “salt”, mixed with the illuminating, hope-giving ray of “light” may seem feeble and needless.  But no society can exist without active, faithful Christians who are acting as salt and light.  A society that is assaulted by violence, depravity, and deception, will, without a preservative, deteriorate and ultimately self-destruct.  Our Christian influence is essential for society.

If we live for Jesus, we will glow like lights, showing others what He is like.  We need to show everyone, especially our enemies, that we are different because of our faith.  Don’t let sin, other people, or fear dim our light!

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

The Preaching Of The Cross

I Corinthians 2:1-5

If a student has a very important, critical exam coming up, that student should be sure to study his books and notes that pertain to what will be on the exam, and not wasting his time going through notes on other topics.  If he gets a tutor to help him with that subject, the tutor needs to focus on that one subject, and not other areas, no matter how much the student might want to talk about something else.  Again, how important is it that the weathermen here in my city of Chicago warn us of a tornado bearing down upon us, and not chatting about the weather in Miami?  When there is important information, an important message to get across, it is essential that the messenger speaks about that, and not get side-tracked with something else, no matter how much the listener might rather hear it.  The Apostle Paul knew how important that is, as we see in our Scripture for today.

If we look into the background of the Apostle Paul, we see that he was a very well-educated man.  Paul had studied under some of the premier scholars of his day, and knew his theology and the Old Testament backwards and forwards.  With so much knowledge and education, one might think that Paul’s preaching would be deep, theological, and quite intellectual.  Many of the Greeks during that day were quite intellectually sophisticated, and if Paul wanted to impress them, and try to persuade them to accept his argument, one would think that he would preach a heavier and theologically more complicated sermon than that of the salvation message of Jesus dying on the cross to save us from sin.  Paul certainly had the intellectual capability to do that.  So why did he only preach about the cross of Christ? (vs. 2).

The answer to that question is that Paul knew what was important, and that was the salvation of the souls of men and women wherever he happened to be preaching.  He wasn’t preaching to try to impress anyone with his own powerful speaking and intellectual abilities (vs. 4-5).  What was important?  Seeing people get saved, or impressing them with his intellectual prowess, a spectacular resume, and showing off a string of degrees after his name?

We see some of that today, where some churches or some denominations want their preachers to focus on great theologically deep and heavy sermons, to match their grandiose theology degrees that they have.  One would rarely, if ever, hear a salvation message about Jesus dying on the cross to save you from your sins, never an invitation to come and accept Jesus as your personal Savior.  They would feel that’s too common, too low-class or simple, not what any refined church or reverend would do!  If Paul had wanted to, he could have fit in with that type of group, but he didn’t.

Paul did not want to trust in his intellect or speaking ability, but in the power of the Holy Spirit and His guidance, and the Holy Spirit guided him to speak only of salvation through Jesus and His death on the cross.  Paul did not want to glorify himself, his wisdom and education, or his abilities.  He only wanted to glorify Jesus.  Man’s wisdom, and the highbrow sermons of the intellectual and sophisticated churches will not save anyone.  They won’t set them free from sin or keep them from hell.  Paul knew that, which is why he was determined to only preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified (vs. 2).  That may have seemed “weak” to many of his critics, but God shined through Paul’s weakness with His power, and saw many get saved (vs. 5).  In Paul’s weakness he was powerful (vs. 3).  There were no theatrics or techniques to manipulate people’s response.  Paul preached salvation through the Blood that Jesus shed on the Cross for our sins, and people were saved.

Jesus Christ, and Him crucified is the only needed message which will save the sinner, and set the captive free.  It is the only message that will give the believer victory.  That was the focus of Paul’s preaching and teaching to unbelievers.  His only focus was on Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for sin on the cross.  Today and always, the preaching of the cross should be dominant.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Whom Shall I Fear?

Psalm 27:1-6

What are you afraid of?  Children are often afraid of the dark, or a monster under their bed or in their closet, or of ghosts.  Adults have a different set of fears.  They are afraid of things like losing their job, financial difficulty, health concerns, losing family members and loved ones, and things like war or natural disasters.  Most children outgrow their fear of the dark or monsters.  However, what do adults do with their fears?  Many people fall into worry, panic, and anxiety.  King David was faced with many things that could have triggered fear, some of them great fears, yet he didn’t fall into panic.  What was his secret against fear?  We find that in our Scripture today.

Whether as children or as adults, our fears often grow overnight, when it is dark.  Darkness seems to be conducive for the growth of fears.  That’s when we often lie awake and worry about our troubles, watching them balloon in our mind.  This didn’t happen to David, though, as he knew that the Lord God was His light, and he had no need to fear (vs. 1).  Do we have the same light in our life that David had?  He knew that only Yahweh could bring the light that would conquer any fears.  He, alone, brings a light that saves us.  Through God’s Word, the Bible, He illuminates the dark path in life, showing us where to step (Psalm 119:105).  David knew he was safe as long as he remained in the presence of God.

David knew that God was not only his light, but also that He was his salvation (vs. 1).  Jesus is our salvation, and not just spiritual salvation, but also when we are in a bad situation.  He has the power to save us from harm.  The light that we receive through salvation in Jesus is in contrast with the darkness of sin and condemnation.  We can conquer our fears by using the bright, liberating light of the Lord, who brings us salvation.

One thing that some people are afraid of is an enemy, someone who comes against them to bring them some type of harm.  It could be physical harm, or it could be some type of financial harm, or just someone who makes their life so miserable that they fall into despair.  David had plenty of them, and he calls them the wicked, enemies, and foes (vs. 2-3).  However, with the Lord on his side, bringing him light, strength, and salvation, it was those enemies that stumbled and fell, not him.  We don’t need to fear our enemies when we walk in the power of God’s Spirit.  We can have literally a whole army encamping against us, and we can have a war rise up around us, but our heart can be at peace, and we can be confident of the Lord’s help.  We are secure because we know God’s perfect love protects us, no matter what our circumstances may be.  Yahweh is our Stronghold, our Protector, a fortified place of safety against attacks of any sort, from any type of enemy.

As we continue in our psalm today, we read how there was one thing that David desired, and that was to dwell in the house of the Lord, to always be in His presence (vs. 4).   David was king, and as such, he could ask and receive anything he wanted.  So what was it that he asked for?  Not more money, jewels, castles, or more land.  David wanted more of God!  David’s greatest desire was to live in God’s presence each day of his life, and also to live by His purpose.  Those who desire to live in God’s presence each day will be able to enjoy that relationship forever, throughout all eternity.

In closing, when troubles arise, we need to remember the words of our Scripture in Psalm 27, remember what David did, along with what many other believers before and since then have done, and that is to stand on the Rock of God’s promises, taking shelter under His wings until the storm passes.  God’s truth will defeat fear.  He is almighty.  Jesus is always with us, and is actively involved in our lives.  Remember, if we spend all of our time looking down at our circumstances, we will forget to look up to God.  We can always hide ourselves in Him, safely protected from all enemies.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

When Catastrophe Strikes

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Not too many people are still around who have strong memories of the 1929 crash of Wall Street and the Great Depression that followed for many years throughout the 1930’s.  Most of us, though, have heard the stories of hardship and deprivation from our parents and grandparents.  There have been several big stock market crashes since then, and other periods of economic hardship.  Many of us know what it is like to go through difficult times, sometimes for many years.  Sometimes the hardships are caused by natural disasters or even war ravaging the country.  During these times, when we fear for how we will pay our bills, or where our next meal will come from, how do we respond?  Is it with trust in the Lord or in fear?   Our Scripture today shows us how the prophet Habakkuk responded in catastrophic circumstances.

Habakkuk was an Old Testament prophet in Judah, possibly sometime around 612 - 597 BC.  Throughout the history of the nation, the people had known times of hardship, with famines, droughts, and enemy invasion.  Many of these had been brought on themselves because of their forsaking Yahweh and turning to pagan gods.  Yet still the people suffered, including the righteous.

The prophet Habakkuk wrote of the Lord having revealed to him some of the punishments that He was going to bring upon the people because of their disobedience to Him, including the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the nation, and captivity in Babylon.  Such tragedies would also bring about famine, sicknesses, and death for many.  The knowledge of what had been happening to the people, and what was yet to come, horrified Habakkuk, and he brought his feelings to the Lord.  Yet, in spite of what tragedies and devastation he faced, Habakkuk never lost faith in the Lord, as we see in our Scripture verses today, which close out the prophet’s brief book.

As we look at verse 19, we see economic tragedies coming to the nation, something similar to some of the days of the Great Depression during the 1930’s.  All of the crops have failed.  In a country, and at a time when most of the people were rural and depended upon an agrarian economy, such a thing would be devastating.  It meant a loss of income for people, and if this continued for more than one season, it would bring starvation and sickness to everyone.  A loss of crops would also mean that the livestock would not have much to eat, and they would soon get sick and also die.  What could the people eat?  Where would they get money with which they could buy the items they needed?

Many people crack when faced with a catastrophe.  How do we respond when we lose our job, when the bank account is empty, when any government assistance gets cut?  How about when we lose our homes, or even an enemy army stands at the border and the bombs and missiles come flying and exploding in our streets?  This is what the people of Habakkuk’s day faced.  Did Habakkuk shake his fist towards heaven?  Did he accuse God of not keeping His Biblical promises?  Our answer is in the next verse, verse 18.  Habakkuk’s response was to rejoice and continue to praise the Lord!  He may be facing the worst possible of times, but he would not lose faith in God.  He would not curl up in a heap and go to pieces.  Habakkuk would stand up and praise the Lord.  No matter how bad things got, he would trust in the Lord.  His trust in God was not controlled by the events around him, but by his faith in the Savior.

Even though Habakkuk did not like the thought of God’s judgment, he knew God’s ways are best.  He knew God was at work, and would bring good out of what seemed like terrible circumstances (Romans 8:28).  Habakkuk’s security and hope were not based on temporal blessings, but on the Lord Himself.  Just as the sure-footed deer could climb to dangerous mountain heights without falling, so Habakkuk’s faith in the Lord would enable him to go through the terrible hardships he would face (vs. 19).

It is easy to sing when things are going well in the daylight.  But what about when times are bad in the night?  Habakkuk knew that God can give us songs in the night (Job 35:10).  Real faith trusts God in the darkest hours and worst trials.  It awaits His vindication, and looks forward to His promised day of glory.  God is in control.  He can be completely trusted by those who have faith and hope in Him.

Friday, February 3, 2023

The Poor In Spirit

Matthew 5:1-3

This past week’s Gospel reading from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer is from the Gospel of Matthew, and is the Beatitudes, a list of eight blessings God gives to those most would consider unfortunate.  There is not enough time or space today to sufficiently cover all eight beatitudes, so I have selected only one to look at this morning.  Let’s look at the first beatitude - “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The Beatitudes were the opening to the vital Sermon on the Mount, which Jesus preached to the crowds early in His ministry, and we find in Matthew 5 - 7.  The first item on any list is generally an important one, and the first one of the Beatitudes, the first that the Lord Jesus calls blessed, are those who are poor in spirit.

Who are the poor in spirit?  Some people might think that this is referring to those who are depressed, who are feeling down in the dumps, or those who don’t have much self-esteem.  Some might think that this is referring to people who are poor, who don’t have much financial resources.  However, the “poor in spirit” that Jesus was referring to are not any of these folks.

Those who are poor in spirit have a deep spiritual humility, and recognize their utter spiritual bankruptcy apart from God.  Those who are poor in spirit have a realistic understanding of their standing before God.  They know that God is perfectly holy, powerful, and wise.  They also know that they are sinful, not in control, and do wrong, sometimes even terrible actions.  They acknowledge that they are sinners and in need of God’s grace.  They are acutely conscious of their own lostness and hopelessness apart from God’s grace and the gift of salvation through the shed Blood of Jesus.

The poor in spirit have an attitude of total humility.  They are ones who acknowledge their spiritual poverty, that they have nothing on their own to offer God, and who, due to their sinful condition, deserve nothing from Him.  They are honest about being sinful, and come to God empty-handed, turning to Him in total trust and dependence for salvation.

Only when we face the truth of our spiritual condition are we rightly called blessed. Only by letting go of what we try to do in our own strength can we receive what God has done for us.  In order to receive a part in the kingdom of God, we must acknowledge our spiritual poverty, that we can do nothing for ourselves, and that it must all come from Him.  The kingdom of heaven is a gracious gift to those who sense their own poverty of spirit.

To be poor in spirit is the opposite of having a spiritually self-sufficient spirit.  It clashes with the worldly values of pride and personal independence.  Someone who has strong-willed pride will not willingly acknowledge that there is nothing they can do to earn heaven. They will not come to God in humility, acknowledging their sinfulness and need of His mercy and grace.  Those who are poor in spirit will.  A spiritually proud spirit was a fault in the Laodicean church which we read about in Revelation 3:14-17.  They were proud, and blind to their own spiritual neediness.  They were not of the poor in spirit that Jesus was talking about.

In his epistle, James tells us that when we are humble before God, such as those who are poor in spirit are, He will lift us up (James 4:10).  Not only lift us up, but give us a part in His kingdom.  The Old Testament prophet Isaiah also spoke of God dwelling with those who are of a lowly and contrite spirit (Isaiah 57:15).   God loves the lowly in heart, because He is lowly in heart.

Is your spirit filled with pride and self-sufficiency?  Do you feel that you can merit heaven through your own efforts?  Or are you one of the blessed that Jesus speaks of, those who are poor in spirit?  It is to them that the kingdom of heaven is given.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Message Of The Cross

I Corinthians 1:18-31

When we want to persuade someone to accept an idea or thought of ours, we generally would want to give the smartest, most intellectual, and intelligent arguments in our favor.  When heading into a debate, each team seeks to have the most well thought out and intelligent material.  They also want to have the wisest people on their team.  In our Scripture for today we read what the Apostle Paul says God feels is important for His message to the world, and who He picks.  Let’s take a look.

When we think of all of God’s characteristics, one of them is that He is omniscient, He has all knowledge, He knows everything.  He knows everything about science, medicine, psychology, philosophy, business, everything.  We might think that when God wants to get a message of His across to mankind, that He would put it in the most intellectual package, delivered by the greatest of orators and scholars.  Yet how did God bring His message of salvation to people?  It was the message of the cross, a gruesome method of execution, not in any brilliant philosophical and intellectual preaching (vs. 18).

When people think of the cross today, they might think of a nice piece of jewelry, or an ornamental object in a church or on top of a steeple.  Yet when we really consider what a cross is, it was an ancient method of execution.  It would be soaked in blood, and was a tortuous way to die.  Those put to death that way were generally criminals or enemies of the government.  Somebody who died upon a cross would not be looked upon as anyone to admire or follow, but as a failure, someone who didn’t succeed, someone who was put to death.

The intellectuals of the days of the very early Church did not understand why, when trying to persuade people to follow Jesus, they would talk about something as shameful as the cross!  Jesus, and His death on the cross, was considered foolish by the intellectuals of Paul’s day, particularly the Greek scholars.  They thought that a man who had died as a lowly criminal could not possibly be God incarnate (vs. 20-25).  And the death of Jesus on the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews because they were expecting a conquering king who would restore Israel.  They did not want a Savior who would forgive sins through the sacrifice of Himself.

However, that was the message God used to achieve victory and life for all who believe.  God took something shameful and weak, specifically Jesus’ death on a cross, and made it the foundation of wisdom and power.  We see the same feeling in intellectuals and so-called sophisticated society people today.  They do not want to hear about a bloody, gruesome execution of someone, and then think they can be persuaded to accept that as God’s method of salvation.   The message of Jesus’ death on the cross sounds foolish to the world.  The message of the cross makes no sense to the lost, because Satan has blinded their eyes to the truth (II Corinthians 4:4).

God chooses foolish and weak things to show His majesty (vs. 27).  That way all power will be of God, and not ourselves (II Corinthians 4:7).  God’s way of thinking is not like the world’s way (Isaiah 29:14).  God’s view of wisdom and strength are often the reverse of our own.  Human wisdom is foolishness to the Lord, while God’s wisdom looks like foolishness to the world.  The people that God often chooses to get His work done are not usually the ones the world would pick (vs. 26-29).  From the world’s point of view, the twelve apostles were not great or special.  Most were fishermen or common laborers.  None were scholars.  Paul was a great scholar, yet he did not preach scholarly sermons.  Instead, he chose to preach only about the cross of Calvary, just the opposite of what intellectuals then or today would choose.  God does not choose us for our wealth, social status, intelligence, or any other qualities.  We are saved because of God’s grace, not our merit.

In closing, we see that God chose both messengers and a message, that of the cross, which the world would not choose.  What message are we sending out to the world?  It needs to be the message of the cross, and nothing else, as the cross is the power of God.  It was there that our sin debt was paid.  We need to speak of the cross because it is God’s method which saves sinners.  The message of the cross and empty tomb say that we can be saved.