Friday, March 31, 2023

The Resurrection And The Life

John 11:17-44

Holy Week, the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, is right upon us, beginning tomorrow.  Several days before Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, which we remember on Palm Sunday, He performed perhaps His greatest miracle.  In our Scripture for today, we read of this miracle and learn some very important spiritual truths.

Just prior to the opening of our Scripture passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus’ good friend Lazarus had become ill.  Lazarus’ two sisters, Mary and Martha, were also good friends of Jesus.  They sent Him word that their brother was quite ill, beseeching Him to come (John 11:1-7).  Surprisingly, Jesus delayed leaving to go to Bethany, the hometown of these friends.  When He finally arrived, it was several days later, and Lazarus had already died and been buried.  This is where our passage for today picks up.

When the sisters Mary and Martha heard that Jesus, whom they had asked to come about a week earlier, had finally arrived, we can imagine some of the disappointment they must have felt (vs. 20-21).  Sometimes we pray to God for some desperate need, and we find only silence.  Does Jesus care, we might wonder?  Why doesn’t He come and help?!  When Martha came to Jesus she very plainly told Him that if He had been there, as she had asked Him, her brother wouldn’t have died.  We often think the same thing - if God had answered my prayer, some terrible things wouldn’t have happened.  However, just like Mary and Martha, we don’t see the whole picture.

It is here, in the middle of the sisters' grief over their brother’s death, that Jesus gives one of His most precious promises for all believers - “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (vs. 25-26).   Jesus has power over life and death.  He, alone, can raise the dead, not just at the Last Day, but bring life at any time.  He who is life can restore life.

Jesus asked the sisters where they had buried their brother Lazarus.  As the group walked to the grave site, Jesus heard the sorrowful and sad comments made.  This caused Him to groan and then to cry (vs. 33-36).  Why did He cry?  Many people believe that He wept because He was sad over Lazarus’ death, and that He loved this small family. Yes, most certainly Jesus loved them.  However, I don’t believe Jesus wept because of sorrow.  Jesus knew what He was going to do.  That was the reason why He delayed coming to begin with.  I believe it was because Jesus was grieving for a fallen world, entangled in sin, sin which since the time of Adam has caused sickness, sorrow, and death.  Jesus was a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3).

When they arrived at the grave, Jesus told them to roll the stone away from the grave entrance.  The terrain of that part of the world had a lot of very rocky hills and cliffs, and many people would bury their loved ones in small caves dug out of these rocky cliffs, and a large stone or rock placed in front.  The Jews did not embalm a dead body.  They would wrap them in strips of linen cloth, and anoint with spices and perfume.  However, after four days, the body would long since have started to decompose (vs. 39).  Jesus, though, instructed the sisters to believe, just as He does to us today (vs. 40).

Jesus gave a brief prayer to the Father (vs. 41-42).  He knew that the Father heard His prayer.  When we’ve accepted Jesus as Savior we can be assured that He hears us, too, and will work all things for good.  Jesus then called out to Lazarus to come forth out of the grave (vs. 43), and as we know, that is exactly what happened.  Lazarus, after four days of death, came forth from the grave alive again.  This was a command from the Creator.  He is the Resurrection and the Life.  If Jesus had not called Lazarus by name specifically, every other dead body would have risen!

The Savior did not look at the situation through the eyes of natural man, but through the eyes of faith.  Death fled when He looked past the natural and operated in the spiritual.  The Lord Jesus looked death square in the face without fear.  Death and grief did not win the day here.  They don’t have the last word.  Jesus does.  When Jesus enters a hopeless situation, like a man being dead for four days and already decomposing, He fills it with hope.  Jesus turns tragedy into triumph, and death into resurrection.  Have you accepted Him as your personal Savior?  If not, do not wait another day!

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Who Is Your Master?

Romans 6:16-23

In most places around the world today, slavery is illegal.  People are no longer forced to work against their will with no pay, and belong to their master.  When someone was a slave they had to obey the master, and were not free to do what they wished.  None of us would ever want to be a slave.  In our Scripture today, from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, he speaks of all of us as being slaves to one thing or another.  So I’m a slave?  You’re a slave?  Let’s look at what God’s Word is saying.

So if I’m a slave, who is my master?  Who or what am I giving servitude to?  As Paul opens our Scripture, he tells us that we are slaves to either sin or to righteousness (vs. 16).   All unbelievers, all those who have not given their lives to the Lord Jesus, are slaves to sin and to Satan, whether they know it or not.  Satan is their master.  Those who have been born-again, and given their lives to the Lord Jesus are slaves of righteousness, and He is their Master.  Before salvation, we were slaves of sin and part of Satan’s kingdom of darkness.  After we called upon Jesus to save our souls, we are now part of His kingdom and belong to Him.  Ownership and allegiance has been transferred.

However, sometimes believers do not realize or live like they have been bought and purchased by Jesus, and are no longer slaves of Satan.  They still live and follow their sin nature.  Paul questions his readers as to who they are obeying.  Are they obeying and continuing to live as slaves of sin, or are they following righteousness?

Picture a slave who has a harsh and cruel master, one who is very wicked, and mistreats his slaves.  Then one day someone who is kind comes and purchases that slave, and ownership has been transferred to this new owner, who actually makes him a part of the family.  Why would the slave continue to stay with the wicked and cruel former owner?  Yet that is what we see happening to so many believers today.  They still choose to serve sin and Satan.  When we believe what Jesus has done for us, a relationship with God begins, and sin no longer has dominion over us (vs. 18).  We are set free from bondage to Satan and sin.

Christians were once slaves to the sin nature, but are now servants of Jesus and righteousness.  We are not free to do whatever we want.  We are free only to do that which is consistent with the character of God.  True freedom is freedom from sin.  However, there are many Christians who think they can get real close to the edge of sin, and that they will be okay.  But then they slip and fall.  Their life and testimony, and often the lives of others are destroyed.  Sin’s appetite only grows when it is fed.

Absolutely nothing of any value can come out of sinful experiences.  There is no good fruit there, only spiritual death, and possibly physical death too (vs. 21).  Being a servant of Jesus and of righteousness brings good fruit and eternal life.  We had been slaves to sin, but through salvation, we have been set free.  We should never go back to our old ways of sin.  Sin is no longer our master.  Jesus is.  He should control our life, not Satan.  Unlike being a slave of Satan, we discover that Jesus’ yoke is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

Paul wraps up this portion of Scripture by speaking of wages and a gift (vs. 23).  A wage is what we get, what we deserve for something we do.  We usually think of it positively, equating it with a job and a salary.  However, it can also be a punishment, as it is here.  Our sinful behavior has earned us something, and that is spiritual death and separation from God.  A gift is something good that we get for free.  Someone gives us a gift because they like or love us.  We don’t work for it.  It is freely given.  Paul tells us here that when we accept Jesus as Savior, God has given us the gift of eternal life.

Every sin that has ever been committed must receive a just punishment, and the penalty for sin is death.  That has been the case since the Garden of Eden, and God warned us of that then, and continually does to this day.  However, because of His deep love for us, He provided a substitute to pay the penalty for everyone, Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God.  It cost Jesus His life to pay the penalty for our sin.  God gives us eternal life on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness, not according to what our sins deserve.

We are free to choose between two masters, but we will bear for eternity the consequences of our decision.  We can choose to serve sin and Satan, which will bring death and separation from God for eternity, or we can choose to serve Jesus Christ, and have eternal life with Him in heaven.  Everyone must make a choice by the time they die.  Who do you choose for your master?  The choice is yours.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Deep In A Pit

Psalm 130

Not many of us can say that we have ever been at the bottom of a pit, needing to be rescued.  There are times, though, when some people have gotten into a dangerous situation and needed to be rescued.  Mountain climbers have fallen into crevices, unable to get out.  Hikers have fallen off the edge of cliffs, and children into wells, again, unable to get out on their own.  If able to, these unfortunates need to call out for help, as that might be the only way they will get out.  Though many of us haven’t been in such circumstances, we may be deep in some other type of pit, and also need to be rescued.  Our psalm for this week speaks of crying out to God to be rescued from any type of pit.

Our unknown psalmist writes of crying out to God from “the depths” (vs. 1).  What type of depth was he in?  Perhaps he was in a literal deep spot, such as having fallen into a pit, and he needed to be rescued.  He prayed to God for help.  It is also very likely that the depths that the psalmist found himself in were some other dire situation.

We speak of being “deep in debt” or “in some deep trouble”.  The psalmist may have been in some type of trouble for which he felt that he couldn’t get out of.  This was deep trouble, deep in distress, perhaps deep in pain.  The psalmist was in the depths of despair.  Perhaps he had turned to some friends or family for help, but received none, or at least nothing that was able to improve his situation.  God is the only one who can help, and he cried out to Him, pleading for Him to hear his voice (vs. 1-2).

The psalmist remembered that Yahweh is a God that forgives us from our sins, as we all are prone to sin (vs. 3-4).  As he wrote, if God marks down each time we sin, nobody would be able to stand before Him.  However, he knows that God does forgive, and because He does, the psalmist knows he can turn to Him for help at any time.  Not all of our suffering, or the problems that we have, are due to sin, and we should be very careful before we go pointing the finger at others, claiming their problems are due to some sin they committed.  However, sometimes the mess we are in was brought about because of sin, or just not using wisdom or common sense.  Yet we can be reassured that there is always forgiveness, never-ending forgiveness with God if we turn to Him.

Sometimes we seem to be in our “pit” for a long time, for longer than we would wish to be.  Our psalmist knew that he needed to wait for the Lord (vs. 5-6).  That is a message that we frequently read throughout Scripture - wait on the Lord.  Psalm 27:14 and Proverbs 20:22 are just some verses that instruct us to do that.  God doesn’t jump into action on our timetable.  He waits for the best moment to intervene.  Waiting for God helps us build a stronger faith.  As we wait, we learn to trust Him.

The general tone of this short psalm is one of hope and faith.  Sometimes when we are in a dire and desperate situation we might feel in despair.  Despair can make us feel isolated and distant from God.  However, this is when we need Jesus the most.  He is the only one who can help us.  As the psalmist knew, and we can too, God’s Word cannot fail, and we can safely hold on to it (vs. 5).

Sometimes when in a pit, whether literal or figurative, we may feel we are so deep in that pit that no one can hear us, including God.  Yet God’s Word tells us that we are never so deep into the pit of trouble and despair that God cannot hear us.  Whatever we are waiting for, whatever situation we find ourselves in, we can remember that God is on the throne.  There is nothing too difficult for Him to handle.  He is always in control.  We can have confidence in Jesus.

When we are in the depths of that deep pit, crying to God for help, we need to remember that Jesus didn’t just reach into the depths to rescue us.  Though that would have been wonderful enough, Jesus did even more than just reach in.  He Himself descended into that pit to rescue us.  If that is where you find yourself today, if you are in some pit that seems too deep to ever climb out of, turn to Jesus.  He will come into that pit and bring you deliverance.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

When Dead Bones Come To Life

Ezekiel 37:1-14

If you came upon a huge pile of bones, what would be your reaction?  Would you be scared?  Perhaps if you had a medical or scientific background you might be a bit interested.  However, if those bones were to get up and join together, that is the stuff of spooky movies!  We know that such a scary event would not happen.  Yet as we read our Scripture for today from the Prophet Ezekiel, we read his account of just such an event that the Lord showed him.  Let’s take a look.

The Prophet Ezekiel’s ministry was primarily during the time when the people of Judah were in captivity in Babylon.  The Lord God brought about the Babylonian captivity, when the majority of the people were taken out of the land that God had given them because of their faithlessness to Him in worshiping false gods and idols.  The people were spiritually dead, as dead as a pile of bones.

One day during the ministry of Ezekiel the Lord brought him into a valley that was filled with bones.  This valley was in a desert wilderness, and the bones were completely dry.  There was no possible living cell in them.  These bones were all scattered, as well.  A skull here, a femur there.  Ribs and vertebrae all mixed up together.  The Lord showed Ezekiel the valley of bones, and asked him whether the bones could live.  They were bare bones, bones that were totally dried out, and that were separated from each other.  Ezekiel, though, didn’t just answer back, “No way!”  He knew that Yahweh could do anything, and that if He wanted to, He could bring them to life.  Ezekiel answered that God knew if they could or not (vs. 1-3).

God then told the prophet to preach to the bones, and for the bones to listen to God’s Word, and as the man of God spoke to them, the bones came together.  Muscles and tendons came upon the bones, and skin covered them.  They now looked like people, yet they were not alive.  There was no breath in them (vs. 4-8).  Yahweh told Ezekiel to speak His Word again, calling for breath to come into the lifeless bodies, bringing them life.  As Ezekiel obeyed God, the bodies came to life (vs. 9-10).

Naturally, God wasn’t just showing the prophet some spooky scene, something with skeletons and zombies.  There was an important lesson in this which He wanted to show the prophet, and in turn for the prophet to bring to the people of Israel.  As God showed the prophet, the bones represented the Jewish people.  Like the bones scattered all across the valley, the people were scattered all across the Middle East, and eventually they would be across the whole world.  But they are lifeless, without any spiritual life, spiritually dead.  They had rejected Yahweh and His Word, so God had scattered them out of the Promised Land.  The bones may come together with skin and muscle, just as the Jewish people have come back to the land of Israel, but they are still spiritually lifeless, which is how they remain to this day.  Only when God’s Spirit comes upon them will they regain life again (vs. 11-14).

It is only when the Holy Spirit, sent from God, comes upon a person, that one gains spiritual life.  That only happens when one is saved, when one accepts the Lord Jesus as Savior.  Throughout the centuries since the time of Christ there have been some Jewish people who have been saved.  The very first Christians were mostly of Jewish background.  However, as time passed, fewer and fewer Jews accepted Jesus as Savior.  Yet there still are some today who do turn to Jesus and accept Him as their Messiah.  The nation of Israel today, though, is in unbelief, and does not have spiritual life.  They are like the bodies standing there that Ezekiel saw, but were without breath.  Anyone, Jewish or Gentile, who has not accepted Jesus the Messiah, are spiritually lifeless, without breath.  We can even see some of them standing in church on Sundays.

God promised, though, that there would be a revival among the Jewish people when Jesus, the Son of God returns.  The breath of life will come into them.  When they see Him whom they pierced, they will accept Him as their Messiah, and come to life (Zechariah 12:10-14).

We can and should pray for a revival today.  Pray that people everywhere, both Jewish people and Gentiles, will turn to Jesus, and accept Him as their Savior and Messiah.  Only then will the dead bones come together and have life, spiritual life in them.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Open Eyes Or Blind Eyes?

John 9:1-13, 28-38

How much evidence does it take for someone to believe that something has happened?  Even with evidence right in front of their eyes, though, there are still some people who are so stubborn, hard-headed, and close-minded to accept what is presented right in front of them.  Our Scripture from the Gospel of John gives us the account of one of Jesus’ great miracles, and how it was received by the public, especially by one group who would not believe.  Are we sometimes equally close-minded to God’s work?  Let’s look into this Scripture passage.

Jesus and His disciples happened to pass by a young man who was blind from birth.  The disciples saw this unfortunate young man, and asked Jesus whose fault it was that he was born blind - was it his fault or his parents’ fault (vs. 1-2).  The people of that day believed that if something bad happened to someone or their family, it was due to some sin that was committed.  They believed that they deserved their problems, and that sickness was always related to sin.

The response that Jesus gave left no doubt as to what was the truth regarding this man, setting them straight.  Jesus said that in this case, the man was blind so that God could show forth His power and work through him (vs. 3).  We should not always assume that sin is to blame for a physical ailment.  Sometimes it is, but many times it is not.  There is no such thing as “Christian karma”.  Regardless of the reason for our suffering, Jesus has the power to help us deal with it.

Jesus then took the young man, put clay on his eyes, and told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam (vs. 6-7).  When he obeyed Jesus, his eyes were healed.  Had the man not obeyed the orders Jesus gave, had he just wiped the clay off after a moment or two, I don’t believe his sight would have been restored.  He had to go to that certain pool and wash his eyes there.  Obedience to God brought this man healing.

Then came the controversy.  People began to notice that this man, whom they had seen blind for many years, was now walking around with his sight restored.  At first, some doubted that he was the same man (vs. 8-9).  When he assured them that he was the same man, they wanted to know how he was healed.  This gave the man the opportunity to give a witness for Jesus.  Though he didn’t know Jesus’ Name, or exactly Who He was, the man told them exactly what He had done (vs. 10-12).  Because this healing took place on the Sabbath, some people were concerned, so they brought the man to the Pharisees to see what they would say.

Throughout the country the Pharisees had set themselves up as the arbitrators of what was good and right, especially when it came to religious laws.  In their mind, healing on the Sabbath, including the eyesight of a man born blind, was definitely not right.

There were four different reactions to Jesus’ healing of the blind man.  The neighbors showed surprise and skepticism.  The man’s parents believed, but kept quiet due to fear of the Pharisees.  The Pharisees did not believe, and were jealous.  And then the healed man showed consistent, growing faith.

Restoring the sight of a blind person back then, especially someone born blind, was a great miracle.  Though the Pharisees couldn’t really deny it, they didn’t like it.  At first they tried to deny it, but when they saw they really couldn’t deny the fact, then they tried to tear Jesus down, calling Him a sinner for doing this on the Sabbath (s. 28-34).  The formerly blind man may not have had any formal education, but he was still a bright man with common sense.  He debated with the Pharisees, asking how a sinner could bring about such an obvious miracle.  He asked why God would answer the prayers of a sinner, as it was obvious that God did hear Jesus’ prayers, and answered Him.

The Pharisees did not want to see or acknowledge what was right in front of their eyes.  To do so would be to have to acknowledge that sometimes their prejudices and judgments were wrong, and they never wanted to do that.  They were blinded by their pride, jealousy, and sin.  Their anger prevented them from seeing the truth.  We, today, need to be careful that we don’t ever fall into such stubbornness.  We do not know better than God.

We don’t know the name of the man healed of blindness, and after this account, he is not mentioned again.  This man made a profession of faith in Jesus, and told those around him who would listen what Jesus did for him, even to the point of getting kicked out of the synagogue (vs. 34-38).  This healed man showed more spiritual insight and common sense than the Pharisees and religious leaders who sat in judgment on Jesus.

What about you?  Are you open to the workings of the Lord around you, or are you stubborn, hard-headed, and blind?  As an old-time hymn says, “Open my eyes that I may see glimpses of truth Thou hast for me!”

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Walking In God's Light

Ephesians 5:8-14

Walking in the dark can sometimes be dangerous.  Many years ago, back when I was a teenager, I was going through a dark hallway late at night.  I was feeling along the wall for a light switch, and went tumbling down a stairway.  Fortunately I only suffered several bumps and bruises, and nothing worse.  Having light would have spared me that fall.  Not only can darkness be dangerous, but it is often used to portray evil.  Movie directors sometimes use darkness to portray danger or give a sinister feeling.  The Bible also speaks of darkness in portraying sin, such as being in spiritual darkness.  That is what we will be reading about today from the Book of Ephesians.

Our Scripture passage today speaks of being in darkness versus being in light, spiritual darkness and being lost, versus spiritual light and being saved.  As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he reminded the folks in this church that they were once living in darkness.  When we were unsaved, our life was one of darkness.  Many of the believers who lived in Ephesus were involved in all manner of sin before they were saved, as that city had a history of being a center for occult practices.  One does not have to be involved in terrible, heinous sins, though, to be in darkness.  Just being unsaved places us in the kingdom of darkness, under Satan’s authority.  However, as Paul stated, once these folks were saved, they were now in the light.  They were now part of the kingdom of light, and Paul wanted them to behave like that, to walk like that (vs. 8).  Darkness describes the character of the life of the unsaved person.  They are void of truth and virtue, and do not have light in them.  Jesus pointed out that sinners love the darkness (John 3:19-21).

All those who are believers, followers of Jesus, are children of the Light, and our actions should reflect our faith.  We should live above reproach.  Those who are saved, and who are walking in the light, will be walking in the Spirit, and will show righteous behavior and truthfulness (vs. 9).  We now have the light, and do not need to stumble around in the darkness of sin anymore.  When someone is walking through a room that is dark, they can’t see something on the floor that could trip them, and down they go.  They fall and get hurt.  With the spiritual light we now have through Jesus, we don’t need to fall into the trap of sin anymore, either.  As we walk in the light of the truth, we will know what the Lord’s will is, what is acceptable to Him, and we can follow that path, rather than one that leads to danger (vs. 10).

As Paul continued on in his instructions to the Ephesians, he warned these believers to not have anything to do with those who continue to live in darkness (vs. 11).  They are to live in righteousness and purity, and have nothing to do with the evil ways and works of Satan and the world.  God’s ways and Satan’s ways are opposed to each other.  Just as a country does not like its citizens, and especially its soldiers or members of the government to fraternize and associate with the enemy, neither should believers, those who are in the light, consort with those who are part of the kingdom of darkness.  Instead, we are to expose what they are doing as evil, especially when they try to infiltrate the church with their evil beliefs and doctrines.  God needs people who will take a stand for what is right, and who will speak out for what is true and right.

As we look around the world today, it isn’t that difficult to see that sin is becoming more rampant, and more out in the open with no shame whatsoever.  Things that would barely even be spoken of in hushed whispers back when I was young, are now openly flaunted in our face.  Today, even some Christians just turn a blind eye and have begun to become desensitized.  There are some sins that are so despicable that they shouldn’t even be talked about, except to oppose them (vs. 12).  Even talking about them can be morally and spiritually corruptive.  However, the light of God’s Word will expose sin (vs. 13).

As our Scripture passage closes, Paul gives an invitation for salvation to the unsaved, so that they can be transformed from children of darkness to children of light (vs. 14).   It is also an encouragement for believers who have slacked off in their walk with the Lord, to wake up and to start living as those who are in the light.  As Jesus taught in Matthew 5:14-16, believers are to be a light to others, leading the lost safely out of darkness.  Christians should be beacons of light to the dark world, showing the way to spiritual safety for all those who are lost.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Goodness And Mercy

Psalm 23:6

Knowing that you are being followed can be a scary thing to a lot of people.  If you’re walking down the street, particularly at night, and you look over your shoulder, you don’t want to see some people following behind you.  Thoughts immediately jump to thinking they are criminals, out to harm you.  However, what if they were following with good intentions, possibly to keep you safe?  Our Scripture verse today speaks of believers being followed.  Let’s look at who or what is following us.

Today we’re looking at the final verse of probably the most well-known Psalm, that being Psalm 23.  This short psalm is possibly one of the most well-known parts of the Bible, as well.  There is so much that we can learn from the psalm, so let’s just look at the final verse, verse 6, today.

As mentioned earlier, frequently if we are followed, it could be criminals, someone out to do us harm.  But occasionally it might be someone who is there to protect us.  If one is rich or famous, there might be bodyguards there to protect.  The president not only has Secret Service agents following him, but his wife and younger children do, too.  They try to stay back and be unobtrusive, but they are there to protect.  As we read in Psalm 23, believers have two protectors following close behind them.  These are goodness and mercy.

The word “follow” here, in Hebrew the word “radap”, means to pursue, to chase, to hunt, or to run after.  It is not following after at a leisurely pace, but like a hunting dog, rapidly running after.  Picture walking down the street, and a little distance ahead is a gentleman walking at a brisk pace.  You see that he unknowingly drops his wallet.  Being the good person that you are, you pick it up and start to run after him.  You don’t just stroll along, as the man will soon be gone.  No, you run.  You chase after him in order to catch up and give him his wallet.  As the word in verse 6 says, you radap.  In like manner, goodness and mercy are relentlessly hunting us down all the days of our life.  They are never stopping, never ceasing in their pursuit of us.

What are these two that are following after the believer?  They are goodness and mercy.  Goodness is defined as moral excellence, virtue, and excellence of quality.  It is not just appearing to be good, it is the essence of a person’s character.  We can never be good on our own.  It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives which can make us good.  Goodness is one of the chief characteristics of God.  Yahweh is a good God.  Many of the pagan and heathen gods are often pictured as being malicious, wreaking havoc in the lives of their worshipers on a whim.  Some are described as even being evil. That is not what the only true God, Yahweh, is like.  He is good, and He loves us.  His goodness is following us all throughout our life.

The other thing that follows after us is mercy.  Mercy is withholding or holding back the just punishment that we deserve.  We are all sinners, deserving of God’s just wrath, but He, in His mercy, sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to take that punishment for us.  God has mercy on all those who call upon Jesus for salvation, and that mercy follows us throughout our life.

God, the perfect Shepherd and Host, promises to guide and protect us through life, and to bring us into His house forever.  We are sinners in need of mercy.  We are fragile, in need of goodness.

God’s goodness gives us green pastures and still waters.  His mercy retrieves us when we foolishly leave the paths of righteousness.  Jesus is the Shepherd, leading His flock throughout life.  Goodness and Mercy are like two sheepdogs, guarding the rear of His flock.  These are followers that we can trust and rejoice in.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

I Samuel 16:1-13

We’ve all done it.  We’ve met someone for the first time, or even seen someone from across the room, and we make a judgment on their personality, their character, and whether we would even want to know or like them.  We make these judgments based solely on what they look like.  We see someone who is overweight, so we think they must be lazy and have no self-control.   We think someone has shifty or beady eyes, and decide they are dishonest.  We see someone with a nice tan and well-toned body, and we immediately have good and positive thoughts.  We want to be friends with the person dressed in expensive, designer clothes, but shun the person with more worn clothes.  In our Scripture to start off the fourth week of Lent, we read of someone who also started to make judgments based on a person’s looks, and what the Lord God had to say.

As our Scripture from the Old Testament Book of I Samuel begins, God had rejected Saul from being king over Israel.  This was due to the stubborn, unrepentant disobedience of King Saul.  So the Lord sent His prophet Samuel to anoint a new king.  Samuel was initially afraid to carry out this order from the Lord.  Though Saul had been told several times before that his disobedience to God would cost him and his family the throne, he didn’t want to accept that.  Samuel knew there would be trouble if Saul knew what he was doing (vs. 1-3), but nonetheless, he obeyed and headed to Bethlehem.

The Lord had told Samuel to call together the family of Jesse, a resident of Bethlehem, and that he and his sons were to be at the sacrifice, as one of his sons would be anointed king.  Now Samuel began to do what we all have done, and that was to make judgments based on what each son of Jesse looked like.  When Samuel saw Jesse’s son Eliab, he thought that he would be a good choice for king, making that judgment based solely on the way he looked.  Perhaps he was a tall, handsome young man.  However, God wasn’t going to pick His man based on what they looked like (vs. 6-7).  Seven sons of Jesse came before the prophet, and all seven were rejected.

Jesse had eight sons, and he only had seven of them in attendance, as the youngest, David, was out in the fields tending the sheep.  One wonders why Jesse didn’t include David, as Samuel had told him to bring his sons.  (Psalm 27:10 hints that Jesse wasn’t the most loving or caring father to David.)  Samuel indicated that God had not chosen any of the seven, and insisted that David was to be included (vs. 8-11).

When David arrived, God spoke to Samuel and told the prophet that he was the one that He had chosen to lead the nation in place of Saul.  God chose the youngest of the eight sons.  God chose the one that the others had left out and had not even thought to include.  Jesse hadn’t called David to the sacrifice and ceremony.  Maybe he felt David wasn’t important, and that he didn’t matter.  However, it didn’t matter what Jesse thought.  It only mattered what God thought.  God had chosen David.

When people judge by outward appearance, they may overlook quality individuals who lack the particular physical attributes that society currently admires.  Appearance doesn’t reveal what people are really like.  God judges by faith and character, not appearance. God does not choose anyone because of physical attraction.  He doesn’t pick people because they weigh the right amount, or are the ideal height.  He doesn’t pick them because they have the looks to be on a magazine cover or in the movies, or wear the best clothes.  None of that is important to God.  He looks at what’s inside, which is where we need to look, too.

In spite of the fact that this Scripture passage is often cited as a warning to not make superficial judgments, Christians still often do about how people look.  A look into many congregations will show that it’s the “beautiful people” who are the most popular.  People may look good on the outside, but are rotten on the inside.  Many of us may have bitten into an apple that looked fine, but we instantly spat it out because underneath the shiny skin the fruit was rotten.

Never judge by externals, like looks, wealth, popularity, or position.  God knew that there was nothing genuinely appealing about David’s brothers.  He knew that they were not men He could use.  It was the youngest, the overlooked and forgotten one, that God wanted.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Lookin' For Love

John 4:1-26

There is a country song from several years back called Lookin’ for Love, sung by Johnny Lee.  There is a line repeated in the chorus that goes “I was lookin’ for love in all the wrong places, Lookin’ for love in too many faces.”   This is a secular song, and naturally it doesn’t have any real answers to those who are searching for genuine love.  In our Scripture passage today from the Gospel of John, we meet a woman who was also looking for love, and as we will see, she was looking in all the wrong places, too.  Then she met Jesus and her life changed!  Let’s look into our Scripture.

As our passage opens, Jesus had come to a well to rest as His disciples went into town to buy some lunch.  While they were gone, a Samaritan woman came to get water from the well, and Jesus asked her for a drink of that water.  The woman was surprised that this stranger would speak to a Samaritan.  He then led her in a discussion that would change her life.  Though Jesus had initially asked water from her, He told her that He could give her living water, water that would forever quench one’s thirst, and bring everlasting life (vs. 1-10).

The Samaritan woman asked for that water, thinking it was some kind of special water, so that she would never have to go out to the well again (vs. 15).  She probably didn’t want to run into people anymore, as she had been terribly hurt in her life.  Jesus told her to go get her husband, and she revealed she didn’t have one.  Being the Son of God, Jesus knew that, and told her that she had already been married 5 times, and was now just living with someone (vs. 16-18).  This woman’s life was all messed up with multiple divorces and was now living with a man.  This woman had dipped her bucket repeatedly into the well of human love to get the acceptance that she hoped would make her whole.  However, each experience left her thirsty.  As the country song said, she had been looking for love in all the wrong places, and she really needed Jesus and the salvation He offered.  Standing before Jesus, she was a broken soul and social outcast.

Many religious leaders, both back then and today, would have turned and condemned this woman for multiple divorces, and branded her a sinner.  That would only make her feel more worthless and bad.  Though Jesus would not approve of sin, He did not tear into her for her sinful past.  As with us today, He sees beyond our failures and offers us a faithful future.  We can’t do anything so bad that it will cause God to love us less.

Satan tries to convince people that happiness and fulfillment can be found only by getting enough love, success, revenge, etc.  The truth is that only a relationship with Jesus can make a person whole. He can meet our every need in this life.  The Living Word, Jesus Christ, and the written Word, the Bible, can satisfy our hungry and thirsty soul.  The things of the world, the “water of the world”, can never satisfy the human heart and life.  Only Jesus can do that (vs. 13-14).  When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, our spiritual thirst is forever slaked with His perennial fountain.  He is the source of all wisdom, and the fountain of all comfort  He is a spring of water, welling up to eternal life.

Rather than condemning this woman, turning her away in disgust for her sins, Jesus welcomed her to turn to God in true worship.  As He told her, God wanted her, and everyone, to worship Him in spirit and in truth (vs 23).  God wants true worship, not lip-service, or worship done in any way we might choose.  He wants worship that is Biblical.

God is not a physical being, limited to one place.  He is present everywhere, and He can be worshiped anywhere, at any time.  It is not where we worship that counts, but how we worship.  It is only through Jesus, the Messiah, not any other religious leader or pagan god, that the world can find salvation.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Dying For Sinners

Romans 5:6-9

What would you do for a good friend or loved one?  If they are someone we care about and love, we would do anything for them, do any favor, or grant any wish that we possibly can.  How about dying for them?  We might be willing to donate a kidney, or certainly give blood for them if we are a match, but die for them?  Possibly for a devoted spouse or child, but not everyone would willingly die for even a good friend, let alone anyone else.  In our brief Scripture passage for today we read of Someone who did just that.  Let’s look into what God has to say in His Word.

As we open our passage from the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus died for us.  What was amazing to Paul was that Jesus died for us, not when we were righteous or godly, but when we were ungodly, when we were sinners.  He tells us that we were “without strength” (vs. 6).  As humans we are helpless, unregenerate sinners, and are spiritually dead.  In our sinful condition, we are incapable of doing anything to help ourselves.  We cannot make things right with God, whom we have sinned against.  This is what Paul meant in saying that we are “without strength”.

We couldn’t do anything on our own to help make things right with God.  However Jesus could and did.  He died for us, paying the price for our sins, paying the debt that we couldn’t pay.  What is amazing is that He did that for the ungodly, for sinners.  He died for those who were in reality rebellious enemies of God.  Yet He died for us.  God’s love for mankind is unwavering.  It is not based on how loveable we are, but on His character.  God’s supreme act of love came when we were at our most undesirable.

God loved us even before we turned to Him (vs. 8).  He didn’t choose to love us because we were loveable.  He loved us, and then we became loveable.  Our value comes from His inherent value.  Jesus did not merely die for our benefit, He died in our place.  The penalty for our sins was death, yet Jesus came to pay our penalty by dying on the cross in our place. The death of Jesus on the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice.

For all those who turn to Jesus, and personally accept His death on their behalf, they are now justified.  The Blood of Jesus stands as the guarantee for that justification (vs. 9).  We are saved only through the shedding of Jesus’ Blood on the cross, a violent and brutal death.  Since He died for us while we were yet sinners, how much more will He do for us now that we are redeemed and reconciled to Him?

As mentioned at the beginning, we might do many things for those we love, for family and good friends.  We will do favors for those who are nice to us, but not likely for those who treat us badly.  We probably won’t help out the nasty trouble-maker in the neighborhood, nor even the relative that says terrible things to us each time we talk.  However as we have seen in our Scripture, who did Jesus die for?  He died for sinners.  He died for those who hated Him.  As I said earlier, most people might only die for their spouse or child, but probably no one else.  Would you die for the drunk on the corner?  How about for the criminal in prison, including the ones who have done unspeakable things?  Yet these are the ones that Jesus died for, not just the “good” people.

Jesus’ death on the cross not only paid the price for our sins, and brought us eternal life in heaven with Him, it also reconciled us to God.  We were once God’s enemies, alienated from Him.  Jesus died for His enemies, and because of that we are reconciled with Him.  We are no longer His enemies, but are now His friends, in truth His brothers and sisters, children of our Father God.

Monday, March 13, 2023

A Hardened Heart

Psalm 95

Do you have a hard heart?  The definition of being hard-hearted is someone who is uncaring, unfeeling, not being moved to tenderness for others.  The Bible warns us about being hard-hearted, especially against God, and our psalm for this week is one of those warnings.  Let’s take a look at what the Lord says in this psalm, what this warning was about, and what we can learn.

As our psalm opens, the psalmist calls upon us to bring praise to the Lord, and come to Him with thanksgiving and joy (vs. 1-2).  We read here that we are called to shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.  This is a metaphor for God. This hearkens back to the Old Testament Scripture passage for this week, and my previous blog, where the people were thirsty and came against Moses, and actually against God demanding water, and the Lord brought forth water from the rock.  That rock was a type of Jesus Christ, and in our psalm, He is referred to as the Rock of our salvation.

Throughout this psalm the Lord God is pictured as the God of all creation (vs. 3-7).  Yahweh is not a local god, like the gods of the heathen people.  Most pagan gods have one particular area or thing that they are god over.  The heathens would have a god of the mountains, a god of the valleys, a god of the oceans, one for the rivers, and so forth.  They had gods who supposedly controlled the rain, one who would control the harvests, one for shopkeepers, one for metal workers, etc.  These false, pagan gods do not really exist, but are only lifeless idols.  Yahweh, the one and only true God, is not limited to any one place or thing.  He is God over everywhere, the deep places and the heights, the sea and the dry land.  He is over all.  He is the universal Creator, and Ruler of the whole earth.

The message of the psalmist here is an admonition that we are not to worship creation.  This includes any worship of earth goddesses that modern pagans do.  Yahweh is the only Creator of all, and we are to worship Him alone.  From the earth’s deepest valleys and ocean depths to the highest mountains, the earth belongs to the Lord because He created it all.

The Lord God, through the psalmist, continues with an even sterner warning to the people at the closing of the psalm.  This again refers back to the Old Testament passage where the people murmured against God, demanding water, and He provided them with water from the rock (Exodus 17:1-7).  The “rebellion” and “tested” mentioned in verses 8 and 9 refer to Massah and Meribah, where the people of Israel rebelled against God and His servant Moses.  There were times throughout their journey to the Promised Land that they even spoke about wanting to return to Egypt, returning to their former life of slavery.  Do we also doubt God and seek to return to our former life of slavery to sin?  The psalmist warns against this.

We are warned against having a hardened heart like the people of Israel did.  A hardened heart is useless to God. Nothing can restore it and make it useful. When someone’s heart becomes hardened, that person is stubbornly set in their ways.  They will not turn to God.  They choose to disregard His will.  The people of Israel had hardened their hearts against God.  They lost their faith in Him.  They were so convinced that God couldn’t deliver them.  Do not allow this to happen to you, to where God will toss you aside as a useless hardened piece of bread.

Because of their hard and straying hearts and unbelief the people were sentenced to wander through the wilderness for forty years before they would be allowed into the Promised Land (vs. 10).  God swore that they would not enter into His rest (vs. 11).  The “rest” was originally the Promised Land.  It was analogously applied in the Book of Hebrews to salvation by grace (Hebrews 3:7-4:10).  If our hearts are equally hardened, where we are filled with unbelief and are testing Him with our doubts like the Israelites did, we cannot enter into that rest either.

Our psalmist gives us one way to combat ever growing a hard heart, and that is to be thankful to the Lord God for all of His blessings (vs 2).  If the people of Israel had been truly thankful to Him after their deliverance from Egypt they would not have tested and rebelled against Him.  When we realize all Jesus has done for us our hearts will remain soft and open to Him.  All of our worries, woes, and concerns will flee when we start naming out loud the things we can be thankful to the Lord for.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Massah And Meribah

Exodus 17:1-7

Today’s Old Testament reading from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer for the Third Sunday of Lent brings us to the Book of Exodus.  The setting takes place not too long after the people of Israel had crossed the Red Sea, yet already they were complaining once again to God.  Let’s take a look at what they felt they had to complain about, and what we can learn for our own lives.

As chapter 17 begins in Exodus, it had only been a little over two months since the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, where Yahweh had held back the water on either side, and the people crossed on dry ground, saving them from Pharaoh and his army (Exodus 14).  Only days before that He had performed the miraculous ten plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians, yet sparing the Israelites from those judgments (Exodus 7:14-12:36).  All of the people here had been eyewitnesses to all of that.  Within a few days, the people ran out of fresh water in the wilderness, finding only bitter and undrinkable water available.  The Lord provided a miracle for them, making the bitter water drinkable (Exodus 15:22-27).  Then they complained to the Lord about wanting fresh meat in their diet.  In answer to their moaning and grumbling the Lord sent quails, and then manna every day for the people to eat (Exodus 16:12-31).  With so many undeniable miracles of the Lord shown to the people, all within just a handful of weeks, one would think that their faith and trust in Yahweh would be strong, yet that was not the case.

As we read in the opening verses of chapter 17, the people were without water again, and they came to Moses to complain.  They wanted water, and they wanted it right then.  Their anger and protesting was so strong that Moses feared they might kill him (vs. 4).  When the people faced a problem, such as lack of water, what did they do?  They complained and protested, and then threatened God’s servant.  When Moses had a problem, such as his own physical safety at the hands of the violent crowd, what did he do?  Moses turned to the Lord God, bringing the problem to Him (vs. 4).  Do we complain about our problems, or do we bring them to God in prayer?  Complaining only raises our level of stress.  Prayer quiets our thoughts, emotions, and prepares us to listen to God.  Murmuring always exhibits unbelief.

The people were thirsty, and Moses prayed to the Lord for them.  God would provide them with water, but not in the normal or usual way.  He told Moses to strike a large rock there with his staff to bring water.  The obedience of Moses here shows his great faith and trust in God.  If God told us to do something that would seem completely fantastic like what He told Moses, would we believe?  Would we obey, especially with an angry mob surrounding us?  Moses believed and obeyed, and water gushed from the rock.

God had led the people to a place where there was no water so that they would come to see the unbelief in their hearts, and to know the unfailing faithfulness of God’s heart.  God can quench our spiritual thirst in the most unlikely circumstances.  When by faith we believe the promises of God’s Word, we can experience rivers of living water (John 7:37-39), and grace for our daily needs.

Our Scripture passage is more than just an account of God providing water to the people.  We see several types, or patterns of Jesus in this account.  The rock that Moses struck at God’s command was a type of Christ (I Corinthians 10:1-4).  The rock was smitten to provide for the people.  Jesus, the Rock, was smitten for our salvation (Isaiah 53:4).  The water coming out of the rock was a type of the Holy Spirit, the living water that Jesus sent.  The water (the Holy Spirit) was not available until the rock (Jesus Christ) was smitten (crucified) (John 14:16-20).

This place where the people demanded water was called Massah and Meribah (vs. 7).   The word Massah in Hebrew means “temptation” because the people tempted God.  The word Meribah in Hebrew means “strife” or “contention” because they fought against God and against Moses, God’s servant.  Do we test God with our complaints and murmurings against Him?  Are we fighting against Him and His will in our life?  In a desert situation we are totally dependent upon God for everything.  The people were not given the water because they were righteous, but because of the grace of God.  Without God, we have nothing.  With God we have everything.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Religious But Lost

John 3:1-16

We all know some very religious people.  We see them at church on Sundays.  Perhaps one of our neighbors, or maybe a co-worker is very religious.  They talk about God frequently, and they perform various religious rituals.  Maybe they have a statue of Jesus or one of the saints in their yard, or they have a Bible at their desk or work station at work.  As is sometimes the case, there are a number of religious people who are unfortunately as lost as any heathen.  As we look into our Scripture from the Gospel of John, we will meet someone who was religious but lost.

As the third chapter of the Gospel of John begins, we are introduced to a man named Nicodemus.  This gentleman was a prominent Pharisee.  He was also a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the Jewish ruling council, somewhat like a “supreme court”.  As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was a devoutly religious Jew, and would have been very careful about keeping the Old Testament Law.  He had heard about Jesus and His message, and wanted to speak with Him and learn more.  However, since the majority of the Pharisees and members of the Sanhedrin were opposed to Jesus, he did not want to be publicly seen, so he came to speak to Him at night (vs. 2).

As this important Pharisee sat down with Jesus, the Lord lost no time in getting to the most important spiritual message that He had.  Jesus did not waste any time with philosophical or deep theological discussions, even though Nicodemus was undoubtedly a very intelligent man.  He came right to the point, right to the most important matter, and told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again, to be saved (vs. 3).

Most people might think that a gentleman like Nicodemus would have a sure ticket right into heaven.  He was a devout Jew, who was very careful to keep all of God’s Law. He was also part of the Sanhedrin, and was respected by the Jewish leaders.  Yet here Jesus was saying that Nicodemus needed to be born again to enter God’s Kingdom, and that at this moment he wasn’t. He wasn’t yet assured of a spot in heaven.  God’s kingdom, salvation, would come to the whole world, not just to one group, but no one can be a part of it unless they are personally born again.  The kingdom is personal, not national, and requires repentance and spiritual rebirth.

Fortunately Nicodemus did not take offense at Jesus’ comments and walk away, like many religious people do when they are told that just being “religious”, going to church or practicing certain rituals won’t get them into heaven, and that they need to be born again, or saved.  Nicodemus wanted to know more about what Jesus was talking about.  Being born again is an instantaneous spiritual experience when the Holy Spirit leads a person to understand that Jesus Christ died on the cross to provide forgiveness for our sins, that He is the only One who can redeem us, and confess Him as Savior and Lord.  The new birth is not something gained by religious rituals or good works, but by an act of faith.  When we are born again we become children of God (John 1:12), and rightful heirs to every good thing that He has to offer.

Every man, woman, and child on earth are sinners, and as such, are separated from God.  This includes the religious as well as the worst of lawbreakers.  There is no possible way for man to redeem themselves from their sins.  However, God has such a great love for the evil, sinful world of humanity that is in rebellion against Him, that He gave His one and only beloved Son to die on behalf of sinful men (vs. 16).  In this verse, when the Bible speaks about “believing” it is more than intellectual agreement that Jesus is God.  It means to put our trust and confidence in Him, that He alone can save us.  It is to acknowledge and accept for oneself that He died for our sins.  Jesus Christ is the only salvation for the world.  There is no other.

Salvation, the chance to be born again or saved, is offered to everyone.  As we read in verses 15 and 16, it says that “whoever believes” will not perish, but have everlasting life.  This destroys the false, heretical, and damning belief that some are predestined to be saved while others are predestined to be lost.  Jesus said whoever, meaning anyone can come, none are excluded!  They just must make the choice to come to God through Jesus.

Nicodemus was very religious, but none-the-less he was lost, just as many today are.  Fortunately he believed what Jesus told him that night as they talked, and accepted Jesus as the Messiah.  He took the step to be saved, to be born again.  We read where he defended Jesus against the chief priests and other Pharisees who wanted to destroy Him (John 7:50-52), and later he risked his life and reputation by helping give Jesus a proper burial (John 19:38-42).  What about you?  Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, and are born again?  Or are you religious, but lost?

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Faith Alone

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Over the years we’ve all held various jobs, some we like, and some maybe not so much.  However, there is always one thing that we like, and that is when payday comes around.  We all sure enjoy getting our paycheck.  After all, we work hard for our salary.  That paycheck is our due for all the work we give our boss.  Though bragging is never really right, some people might boast about their paycheck, about how hard they work for what they get, and that they deserve every cent of it.  Yet if we get a sum of money that wasn’t for any work we did, then it is not a paycheck.  We didn’t do anything to earn it, it is a gift, given because the other person cares about, or even loves us.  Our Scripture today speaks about something we can receive, something that we can never work for and earn, but receive as a gift.  Let’s look into the Book of Romans to see what God will say to us.

Earlier this week we read from the Book of Genesis about how the Patriarch Abraham believed God, had faith in Him and His promises, and it was counted to him for righteousness, and he received the gift of salvation.  The Jewish people in Paul’s day, and both Christians and Jews today, look to Abraham as the father of faith, as someone who is greatly revered in the faith.  Paul teaches that since Abraham is someone we look up to with great respect, then we should learn from his example.

One problem that so many people have with regards to their religious or spiritual beliefs is that of believing that it is their good deeds, their acts of charity, and their religious or good works that will get them into heaven.  They believe that, at the end of their life, if their good works outweigh anything bad they’ve done, they will get into heaven.  So they attend church faithfully, receive Holy Communion, get baptized, give to charitable causes, act kindly to others, teach Sunday School, or lead a boy or girl scout troop, etc.  However, Paul told us, as we read in our Scripture, that Abraham was not made righteous because of anything that he did.  He was made righteous because of his faith in God, by believing the promises He made.

Scripture makes it very clear that justification is by faith alone, as modeled by Abraham, and not by any works of righteousness.  If our works were what justified us, we would be tempted to boast to God (vs. 2).   If salvation were on the basis of one’s own effort, God would owe salvation as a debt (vs. 4).  We would wrongly feel that we could go up to God and tell Him that He owed us salvation because of all the good things we had done.  But we can’t ever do that.  Salvation is always a gift of God’s grace.  Jesus offers us salvation as a gift because He loves us, not because we have earned it.  Faith is believing and trusting in Jesus, and reaching out to accept His gift of salvation, just as Abraham did (vs. 5).

Our spiritual father, Abraham, was justified centuries before God gave the Law to Moses.  He could not possibly have obeyed all the points of the Law, as it hadn’t been given then.  Some of the Jewish believers in Paul’s day were still intent on keeping the Law, feeling that this went along with salvation.  Many Christians today feel that baptism, church attendance, or other acts of charity will help them “earn” heaven.  However, as Abraham teaches us, it is faith, and not works, that will justify us.  If only those who perfectly keep God’s Law (which is an impossibility) will receive the promise of salvation, then faith has no value (vs. 14).

We don’t have to be part of any specific nationality or race to receive the gift of salvation.  As long as we show the same faith that Abraham did, we will be made righteous, like he was centuries ago.  We become his spiritual seed, whether we are of Jewish or Gentile heritage (vs. 16-17).

In closing, let us remember that we are saved by faith plus nothing.  Not faith plus baptism.  Not faith plus good works, or even faith plus love.  Salvation comes through faith alone.

Monday, March 6, 2023

The Lord Is Watching

Psalm 33:12-22

How do you feel if you know that someone is watching you?  It might depend on whether the one watching you is looking out for your welfare, or if they are up to no good, against you, or looking to bring you harm.  Children or the elderly need someone to look out for them, but we don’t want people looking at us with evil intent.  There is Someone who is watching us, as our psalm today indicates.  As we read through the verses, we’ll see how, in this case, it is not a bad thing.

As our Scripture opens we read that the Lord is looking down from heaven, observing all of mankind (vs. 13-14).  God knows all things.  He is omniscient.  No action, person, or situation from the past, present, or into the future, is hidden from Him.  For those who are intent on doing evil, the knowledge that God is watching and seeing what they do can be disturbing, even angering or inducing fear.  However, for those who are His children, knowing that their Heavenly Father is watching over them should bring peace and joy.

There are times when a believer might not feel that the Lord is looking after them, particularly if they are going through a difficult time.  We hear them cry out, “Where is God?” when the crisis happens.  Yet we know, if we read and study the Bible, that God has promised to all believers that He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  When Jesus left His disciples to return to heaven, He promised the believers that He is always with them (Matthew 28:20).  As Jesus has promised again, He numbers the very hairs on our head, and notes even when a sparrow falls from the sky (Luke 12:6-7).  If He cares so much about such details, we can be assured that He cares for us.

As the psalmist said in verse 18, the Lord’s eye is upon those who fear Him.  Fear here is not being afraid, such as when a criminal is upon us, ready to harm us.  When the Bible speaks of “fearing the Lord”, it is speaking about having a reverential respect, honor, and obedience shown to Him.  God will have His eye of mercy and love on those who show Him that respect.  He promises to deliver such a one in their time of need (vs. 19).

On the other hand, for those whose lives are filled with sin and evil intent, knowing that God is watching them should fill them with fear.  They may think that they are getting away with what they are doing, but they aren’t.  God doesn’t just watch over His children, the believers in His Son, Jesus, He is also looking over all the inhabitants of the earth.  No one can hide from Him, no matter where they may try to go.  He sees all, from the people living on the mountaintops, to the scientists or sailors down in the submarines.  He sees the astronauts in the space stations in outer space.  We can’t hide from Him!  King David tells us that in more detail in Psalm 139.

Knowing that God cares so much about us, and that He is always watching over us, we should have full trust in Him no matter what circumstances may come upon us.  The author of this psalm may have lived in a time when there was a threat of some foreign power coming to attack the country.  With the possibility of an invading army it would be natural to fear.  The king would be considering whether his army was strong enough to defeat, or at least hold their own against the enemy (vs. 16).  He may have been out in the army camps counting how many war horses he had.  In ancient times a war horse was a formidable and fear-inducing type of warfare (vs. 17).  Not every army or nation was so equipped.  Some nations may only have had a few, or perhaps none, and only foot soldiers.  But a foot soldier didn’t stand much of a chance against an armed soldier on horseback.

The psalmist, though, instructs not to worry about an army to protect us, as that should not be the source of our hope.  Our hope should rest solely on the Lord.  He alone is our help and our shield (vs. 20).  The Lord is our only sure protection.

Sometimes we may feel abandoned and alone in our struggles.  But we can know that God is, in fact, watching over us all the time.  Even though we can’t see Him, He is there.  Like a loving parent, His eye and His heart are constantly on us, wherever we go.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Stepping Out In Faith

Genesis 12:1-8

There are some people who are very spontaneous.  They don’t need plans made in advance, and don’t mind stepping out into the unknown.  Then there are those who need to have plans written up days, maybe even weeks or months ahead of time.  Which group do you fall in?  I can say with all honesty that I am in the latter group.  Our Scripture today from the Book of Genesis tells of one who was willing to step out in a major move without any set plans in advance.  Let’s see why and how he was able to do that without any hesitation.

One of the major characters that we read about in the Bible is that of the Patriarch Abraham, who has been referred to as the Father of Faith by many.  We first meet him in the last few verses of Genesis 11, and then we read much further about him in our passage today where we see how he was willing to step out in faith, no questions asked.  Abraham, or Abram as he was called in the earlier chapters of the Bible before the Lord gave him a change of name, was born in the city of Ur, which was one of the chief cities of the ancient Sumerian civilization in the south of Mesopotamia near the Persian Gulf.  Ur was also the seat of worship for the pagan Sumerian moon god.  At some point in Abram’s adult life, his father Terah took the whole extended family and left Ur, and moved to the city of Haran, about 650 miles northwest, in northern Mesopotamia (Genesis 11:31-32).  This city was also a primary place of worship of the pagan moon god, so it is fairly safe to say that Terah worshiped this and other pagan deities.  Though raised in a pagan family, at some point in either Ur or Haran, Abram came to believe and worship the one true God, Yahweh.

As we look into the opening verses of Genesis 12, we read that Yahweh called Abram, and told him to leave Haran, leave his extended family there, and go to a land that He promised to give him and his descendants (vs. 1-3).  This is the first time God introduced the Abrahamic Covenant, which He makes again with Abraham in Genesis 15:18-21, and reaffirms in Genesis 17:1-21.  It is an everlasting covenant, promising Abraham that he would have descendants, including the Messiah, land, a nation, and divine blessings and protection.

How would you react if someone told you to pack up your belongings and leave your extended family, leave the city you had been in for several years, leave your home, your job, all that you knew, and move somewhere?  They were not clear at all as to where you were going to go, but just pack up and follow the occasional direction.  Would you be willing to go, to step out in faith?  Like I mentioned at the start, I like things planned out carefully.  If I am going to change jobs, I want the new one already in place.  If I am going to move, I want the next house or apartment waiting.  If I am taking a vacation, I want it planned, map or GPS set, reservations made, car checked over.  None of that was done for Abram.  God told him to leave and travel, leave all he knew, and set forth, and Abram obeyed without hesitation (vs. 4-5).  Abram didn’t know where he was going to, how long of a journey, or any details.  He was just told to go.  Abram stepped out in faith, leaving all known comfort and security.

Abram was to leave his family who had refused to accept the worship of Yahweh, the one true God.  He was to separate from them and leave to receive God’s blessings. He took only his nephew Lot.  Lot had faith in Yahweh, though it was a weak faith, as evidenced later in Genesis 19, but it still was faith.  Abram obeyed God, which is critical in one’s relationship with Him, and Lot followed his uncle’s footsteps, at least for a while.

Abram had faith in God.  Remember, he did not have any of the Bible then, no churches to attend, no preachers or other believers to encourage his faith.  Yet he knew that he could trust God, even when he couldn’t see what lay ahead.  It was this faith that saved his soul, that Scripture says was counted to him for righteousness (Galatians 3:36).   Because Abram had such believing faith, the Lord promised to exceedingly bless him.

When God speaks about blessing someone, it’s a promise to intervene mightily and noticeably in that person’s life.  But to get His blessing, we must have saving faith, and be obedient.  Obedience and blessings are always connected.  In order for us to receive God’s blessings we must obey Him.

When God calls us to do something for Him, when He calls us to a new or different ministry for Him, are we willing to step out in faith, even if the path ahead is unclear?  Will we obey Him like Abram did?  When we do, we can be assured that He will be with us, just as He was with Abram, and we will receive His blessings.