Friday, June 30, 2023

Of More Value Than Sparrows

Matthew 10:24-33

Our Scripture today is from the Gospel reading from this past Sunday, the last one in June.  In this passage from Matthew’s Gospel today, the Lord has several things for us to learn and let sink into our head and hearts.  Let’s take a quick look at what God wants us to understand.

As Jesus begins in our Scripture, He reminds us of our correct position with Him, that of the Teacher and the disciple, the Master and the servant (vs. 24-25).  Naturally, we are the disciples and servants, and Jesus is our Teacher and Master.  Throughout His ministry, Jesus was continually attacked, first verbally, and then later physically, by the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders.  Sometimes people think that once they become a Christian their lives will then be problem-free.  However, the Savior instructs us that if the Teacher, the Master has suffered and was attacked, so will His disciples.  If He was persecuted, so will we be, as well (John 15:20).  The Master, the Teacher is not treated one way, and then the disciple and servant treated better.  Satan hates Jesus, and he certainly hates His followers, and will go after them, just as he did the Savior.

One thing that the Pharisees and religious leaders called Jesus was Beelzebub, and they said that He performed His miracles and received His power from Beelzebub (vs. 25).  Beelzebub was a pagan Philistine god, and meant “Lord of the flies”.  It is also a name of the prince of demons.  The Pharisees accused Jesus of using Beelzebub’s power to drive out demons (Matthew 12:24).  I don’t know of anyone who likes flies!  They are nasty, filthy creatures, and we don’t like them in our house.  Flies are attracted to decaying food, dead animals, and also other filthy waste.  Who in their right mind would worship flies, or a demon who is lord of flies?!  As a deep insult, and rejection of Jesus, His enemies called Him Beelzebub, and that His power came from a major satanic demon, or from Satan himself.  Today we often see that God and His power, His Word, is called evil.  If Jesus was called evil, His followers should expect the same.  If you are a follower of Jesus, and maintain a consistent Christ-like walk and behavior, you must expect to experience persecution and rejection.  If we are more like Christ, we will be more hated by His enemies.

Jesus goes on to tell us to not be afraid, but to continue to preach His message to others (vs. 27).  Just because we know that we have enemies out there, enemies who want to hurt us, we should not hide, but need to keep preaching the Gospel.  In the last number of years, Christianity and the Bible has been coming under even more attack in many countries, including my own and others that were once stalwart defenders of the Faith.  Speaking out for Jesus and the Bible can sometimes bring very harsh backlash, and even become dangerous.  Some believers may be afraid, and choose to stay quiet for their own safety.  The Lord Jesus, though, told us that we do not need to be afraid of those who come against us and attack us.  What is the worst that our enemies can do?  As Jesus said, they can kill our body (vs. 28).  Our enemies are only able to take our physical lives.  They cannot touch our souls.  We do not need to fear them.  We should not refrain from speaking from God’s Word, the Bible, just because our enemies don’t like it.  We are not to fear them.  Instead we need to fear and obey God.  He, alone, has the authority over the soul as well as the body, and He alone can bring both to eternal condemnation in hell.

This statement is quickly followed up with some words of Jesus to assure us of God’s love and care for His Blood-bought children, those who have trusted His Son as Savior (vs. 29-31).  Jesus pointed out how God is aware of everything that happens.  He controls the timing and circumstances of everything, even insignificant events, including such things as the death of a sparrow.  We are far more valuable to God than they are.  Since He takes care of them, He can be trusted to take care of us.  God even has each and every hair of our head numbered.  Since He controls the smallest details and mundane matters in our life, we can trust that Jesus will take care of everything about us.

In closing, the Lord Jesus tells us that we should not be afraid to stand up and be counted as a Christian, as a follower of His (vs. 32-33).  When anyone, including enemies, ask if we are Christian, we should never fear or be ashamed to openly state that we are, that we believe in and love the Lord Jesus.  The person who acknowledges Jesus in life or death is the one whom the Lord will acknowledge before God as His own.

Do not be surprised when opposition and persecution comes.  Jesus endured it, and so will we.  Don’t be afraid to proclaim that you’re a Christian, as Jesus will then acknowledge you.  Remember, God cares about even the tiniest details about us.  He will take care of you!

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Adam Versus Jesus

Romans 5:15-19

One school assignment, usually in Middle School, is to compare and/or contrast certain items.  This might be an essay assignment, or perhaps in science class, where the student makes observations, and writes down the comparisons or contrasts.  Comparing is when one  identifies the similarities between two or more objects, and contrasting identifies their differences.  In our Scripture today from the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul did this.  Perhaps remembering back to his own school days, Paul sought to instruct his readers by mostly contrasting two different people, and how the one did a certain action, bringing about a certain result, and the other did another action, bringing about a different result.  As we look into our Scripture we will see the two people, their differences, and what it means for us.

The two people who Paul was contrasting in these verses today are Adam and Jesus.  Adam committed an act of sin when he disobeyed God and ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thus bringing sin into the world.  Jesus also did one act, when He came to earth and died upon the cross for our sins, thus bringing salvation to all who believe.  As we look more closely at these two, we will see the contrast between the condemning act of Adam and the redemptive act of Jesus Christ.

When Adam decided to disobey God, and eat the forbidden fruit, his willful disobedience didn’t just affect himself.  That act of sin was passed down to all of his descendants for generations to come.  All men bear the guilt of sin because of Adam’s one act, and are subject to death (vs. 15).  Now we contrast that act with the one act of Jesus.  Jesus had an act of obedience, an act of sacrifice and grace, when He died upon the cross for mankind’s redemption.  Through that act, all who believe and accept Jesus as their Savior, receive eternal life.  The One Man, Jesus, nullified the offense of the one man, Adam.  Jesus’ one act of redemption was immeasurably greater than Adam’s one act of condemnation.

Paul continues on in stating that Adam brought upon all men condemnation for only one offense - his willful act of disobedience (vs. 16).  The contrast here is that Jesus delivers all believers from condemnation of many offenses.  Those who accept Jesus have all their sins forgiven, not just one or two, or just sins just like what Adam’s was, but all.  Looking back over a lifetime, most of us can say we have sins too many to count, yet each and every one of them are forgiven through the one act of Jesus.

Adam’s sin brought universal death (vs. 17).  Jesus’ sacrifice brought righteousness and salvation to those who believe in Him.  Salvation and righteousness are gifts from God which come solely through Jesus Christ, and are received by faith.   Jesus’ one act, in contrast to Adam’s one act, also brought us grace, and not just grace, but an abundance of grace!

The judgment of condemnation came to all men because of Adam’s sin, but the gift of eternal life came through Jesus (vs. 18).  This verse does not mean that all men will be saved.  All men are condemned in Adam, but only those who believe and accept Jesus are saved.  Why do some people want to pay for something that is freely given to us?  Salvation was paid for by Jesus, and given freely to those who receive Him as Savior.  Some want to do something to earn salvation, but we can’t afford it, as the price is perfection.

Adam was humanity’s representative.  When he sinned, all sinned.  Sin passed on to the human race.  We have all reaped the results of Adam’s sin.  We inherited his sinful nature, guilt, and God’s punishment.  Through the obedience of One, Jesus, we can be declared righteous.  Because of Jesus, those who call upon Him receive His forgiveness and His righteousness.

In closing, I will mention a little sideline.  Bible scholars agree that the Apostle Paul was a very educated man, with an advanced education.  In reading through the Book of Romans, we see that Paul spoke of Adam as a real and literal person, not as some mythical or fairy tale character.  Paul spoke of Adam in the same sense as he spoke of Jesus, both as real and literal people, not as some myth.  Paul believed the Bible as literal.  So did Jesus, when He mentioned some people that nonbelievers hold as myth, such as Noah and Jonah.  Since they believe the Bible, we ought to as well!

Monday, June 26, 2023

Stuck In The Mud

Psalm 69:1-13

Getting stuck in the mud is no fun!  We could be out driving in our car, and for whatever reason, we go off the road and we get our tires stuck in the mud in a ditch or side of the road.  Sometimes we might be out hiking in the woods or other rugged areas, and being off of any well-defined path, we might need to walk through some muddy, boggy spots.  That brings the possibility of sinking down into the mud, possibly to where it might be difficult to get out, or at the least losing a shoe or boot.  These situations can quickly ruin the day, or possibly put one into a bit of peril.   King David was no stranger to troubles, and in our psalm today we read of some distressful times he faced, including getting stuck.  Let’s take a look.

As we look at the first half of Psalm 69, we read of some type of dangerous situation that David found himself in.  Numerous times in his life, David had been in difficult and serious trouble.  When he was a young man, David spent many years living out in the wilderness on the run from his enemies, particularly King Saul.  Earlier, as a youth, he had spent a lot of time as a shepherd outdoors watching his family’s sheep.  David knew what it was like living outside including in some desolate areas.  He knew the dangers, including swampy, boggy, muddy places, and areas prone to floods.  He knew the dangers, and perhaps had on occasion gotten stuck.

Now, as he writes this psalm, King David is in some sort of trouble, trouble that he compares with being in a flood, with water that is up to his neck, ready to engulf him.  This trouble has him so trapped that it is like he is stuck deep in the mire (vs. 1-2).  We don’t know what this circumstance is, but the Bible has recorded that he faced many problems, some of his own making.  Our troubles, and also our sin, can be so consuming that there seems to be no way that we can extricate ourselves.  We are over our head, like a flood; so terribly stuck, like in boggy mud.  Without the power of God, we stand no chance.  When devastated by tragedy, we don’t need to despair, because we can turn to God and ask Him to save us and help us (vs. 3).  Only Jesus can help us from the deep mire we find ourselves in.

David had been a believer and follower of the Lord God his whole life.  He knew that the Lord could help him, and trusted that He would.  David knew that his enemies were closely watching him.  In addition to their relentless attacks on him, he knew that they were watching to see if God would come to his aid or not, to see if the Lord was capable.  David did not want the Lord’s reputation to suffer on account of him (vs. 6).  He knew that God was capable, and he wanted his rescue to bring Him glory.  David prayed that his dismal situation may not be a stumbling block to others.

David also knew that all of his actions and behavior were also being watched.  That is true for believers today, as well.  The unsaved, particularly those who are actually hostile against Jesus, closely watch those who make professions of faith in Him, just waiting for the Christian to slip up in any way.  What we do and how we live has a profound effect on those around us.  People are watching us, even when we don’t realize it.  We need to represent Jesus well at all times.  Not only should we pray that we are not led into temptation, we need to be careful that we not lead anyone else there because of our behavior and actions.

Sometimes a Christian’s suffering comes because of their steadfast commitment to God (vs. 7-9).  This was the case in David’s life.  Though he wasn’t perfect, he chose to follow God, and often his enemies rebuked and reproached him.

David’s situation was in such a bad spot that even drunks were making up little ditties about him! (vs. 12).  Things looked bad.  When we are completely beaten down, and the situation seems hopeless, we need to continue to pray to God, just as David did, and He will hear and rescue us (vs. 13).  As the great Christian Corrie ten Boom said, “There is no pit so deep, that He is not deeper still.  With Jesus, even in our darkest moments, the best remains and the very best is yet to be.”

Saturday, June 24, 2023

I Must Speak His Word

Jeremiah 20:7-13

Have you ever tried telling some very vital news to some people, only to have them turn around and slam you down?  Maybe you were telling them an important truth, but they ganged up and attacked you, so now you feel like just keeping your mouth shut.  If that’s how they act, forget it!  You won’t say anything more.  The great prophet Jeremiah felt like that.  Let’s look into this week’s Old Testament Scripture to see what was happening in Jeremiah’s life, and how the Lord encouraged him.

Jeremiah was called to the ministry from a very early age.  He deeply loved the Lord, and sought to follow and obey Him.  Like all of the prophets before him, Jeremiah would bring God’s Word to the people regardless of what that word might be or how welcome it was.  For centuries before Jeremiah’s day, the prophets had warned the people that if they failed to obey the Lord, if they would not follow His Law, and if they started to worship false, pagan gods, He would bring judgment upon them.  Now, in Jeremiah’s day, that future judgment was right upon them.  That warning was now to become fact.  Jeremiah spoke of the judgment that would come upon the people because they had chosen to ignore God’s Word (vs. 8).

What was the people’s response to the message the Lord had given Jeremiah?  Did they act sensibly and fearfully, choosing to now obey God?  No, the people only turned on Jeremiah, deriding, mocking, and reproaching him and his words (vs. 7-8).   Being mocked and derided by others is very painful, especially when you know that what you have spoken is the truth.  This treatment wasn’t unique to Jeremiah. Many times, both in Biblical times and even today, God’s servants proclaim His Word, yet only receive persecution and sorrow from others.

Jeremiah’s treatment was harsher than most.  He was physically assaulted, imprisoned, and even put into the bottom of a slimy, muck-filled pit or well.  Jeremiah lamented all that he was having to go through because of his ministry.  Many of the prophet’s enemies denounced him, and tried to entice him to step into sin or speak something false (vs. 10).  At times he felt like quitting.  Jeremiah was feeling so dejected, so depressed, that he wanted to stop preaching (vs 9).  He actually made that decision, and for a while he stopped preaching altogether.  If preaching in the Name of the Lord only brought mistreatment and persecution, he would just stop.

Have you ever felt like that?  Perhaps a ministry you do for the Lord, or just by your following Jesus has brought some type of persecution or mockery from others.  Maybe your boss or co-workers who know you are a Christian give you mistreatment or scorn.  Maybe your family has turned against you.  Maybe a sermon you give from the pulpit, faithfully preaching the Bible, has people in the community all upset.  In some parts of the world there is actual, physical persecution and imprisonment for bringing God’s Word, just like what happened to Jeremiah.  Do you decide to stop, to keep quiet, and speak no more in His Name?

Jeremiah, in the midst of despair, made that decision.  However, God was not going to accept Jeremiah’s resignation, and His Word became like a burning fire within him (vs. 9).  Try as he might to go about his own private life, Jeremiah could not keep quiet about the Lord and His Word.  Like a small fire within him, the longer he kept quiet, the stronger the burning became, and he had to return to preaching God’s message.

The Lord did not abandon Jeremiah.  He always had been there with him, and the prophet realized this (vs. 11-13).  Early in his ministry God had promised Jeremiah that He would be with him to deliver him from all his enemies, and He was true to His Word (Jeremiah 1:19).  Jeremiah prayed to God for His help, praised Him, and found encouragement.  When the opposition we may receive for following Jesus and speaking His message becomes overwhelming, we can receive the same encouragement that Jeremiah received.  God will faithfully help us as we endure hardship.  He is with us as a mighty, awesome One.

Friday, June 23, 2023

The Harvest Is Ready, But Laborers Are Few

Matthew 9:35-38

When you have a job to do, there are often several things that you might need in order to successfully complete that job.  For one, you will need to know exactly what it is that you have to do, to understand your job assignment.  Another thing is that you will need all the tools necessary in order to properly do that job.  And then there is the need to have all the workers required.  If you don’t have all the needed workers, the job will be slow in getting finished, or perhaps not even finished at all.  Our Scripture this morning from the Gospel of Matthew, tells of a job that all believers have been given, but need more help in getting it done.

As our brief Scripture begins, Jesus was traveling around the various cities and villages of Galilee.  The Savior would preach and teach the people from local synagogues, bringing the message of God to them.  Jesus also was healing those who were sick, and came to Him for His touch (vs. 35).  Jesus banished all illness, and cast out demons, giving evidence of His deity.

While Jesus ministered to the large numbers of people who came to Him each day, we read that He was moved with compassion for them (vs. 36).  The word compassion means to have sympathy and pity for others, and to have concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others.  This world is filled with people who are going through difficult, sometimes catastrophic circumstances.  These serious and critical problems can often just wear us down, the burden being so heavy.  We can become so physically and mentally tired and worn out from having to deal with our issues.   Sometimes we might be hard pressed to find anyone who really and genuinely cares.  Who really cares?

The answer is that Jesus does.  He was moved with compassion for the crowds of suffering humanity that kept coming to Him.  As Matthew records, He saw them as being like sheep without a shepherd.  When there is a flock of sheep out grazing in the pasture, and if there is no shepherd, they will soon get themselves into all sorts of trouble.  The sheep will wander away from the fold.  A good shepherd will see that the fields the sheep are in are ones with plenty of good grass.  They will also ensure that the sheep are safe from any predator.  However, without a shepherd the sheep will wander off into unsafe, even dangerous territory.  They may start feeding on poisonous plants.  They will wander near rivers and be in danger of drowning.  They will wander near cliffs and dangerous crags.  And most certainly they will be in danger from wolves, coyotes, bears, etc.  These people had no spiritual leadership, no spiritual shepherd.  Because of that, they did not know the Lord God and His Word, and were spiritually lost.  The phrase that Jesus used, “sheep without a shepherd” echoed the words of Numbers 27:17.  God’s people have always needed a good, strong, godly spiritual leader, one who closely followed the Lord.  When they did not have such a person, they were so quick to fall into sin, false teachings, and idolatry.  These people had no spiritual leadership.  Their spiritual needs were even more desperate than the need for physical healing.  Meeting that need would require more laborers.

Jesus saw the need, and that in order to get His message out to all the people, not just in Galilee and Judea, but also throughout the whole world, there would need to be more people than just the disciples He had around Him then.  These people were ready to hear God’s message.  They needed that message!  They were like a field with plenty of ripe grain or other crops, but not enough workers to bring it in.  Jesus told the disciples that they needed to pray to the Lord for more laborers to bring in the harvest of souls (vs. 37-38).

Things are no different today.  Our neighborhoods, our cities and villages, our country, and the whole world is filled with people who need to hear God’s message of salvation through Jesus Christ.  They are certainly like those sheep without a shepherd.  They have problems and needs that only Jesus can help and solve.  However, they need to hear about Him.  God needs people to bring the message of His Son to them, to tell them that there is a Savior who died for their sins.

Jesus proclaimed that the crowds then were spiritually ripe for harvest.  They are today, too!  Many people are ready to give their lives to Him if someone would tell them.  There are souls to be saved, but not many spiritual leaders or preachers of righteousness, not many who are willing to go out into the fields and bring in the harvest.  We need to pray for more to bring the Gospel, and for hearts to respond.  Jesus has told us what work needs to be done, and He has given us everything we need to accomplish it.  He just needs more workers.  Will you be willing to work for the Lord’s harvest?  Will you be a laborer for Jesus, and help to bring in a harvest of souls in these last days?

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The Amazing Love Of God

Romans 5:6-11

There is one question that many would not really like to think about, but I’ll ask it anyway.  Is there anyone who you might be willing to die for?  Plenty of people would answer right away that they would willingly die for their children, or perhaps their spouse, a sibling, or a parent.  Some people have a very close and dear friend, one that they might consider giving their life for if such a dire situation occurred.  What about just an acquaintance, or a stranger?  Not too many would willingly die for them, even if they were very good people.  I don’t think that anyone would be willing to die for an enemy, or someone who had been totally disrespectful to us or done us wrong.  In our Scripture passage today, we read about a Person who did just that.  Let’s look into the Bible, into the Book of Romans, and see what God tells us.

As one reads through the Bible, we quickly learn that because of our sin, our relationship with God has been broken.  The punishment for sin is death, eternal death and separation from God (Romans 6:23).  There is nothing that we can do to repair that.  We are weak and helpless, because we can do nothing on our own to save ourselves (vs. 6).  Someone has to come and rescue us.  As the Apostle Paul continues, there was a Person who was willing to step in and do what was necessary to reconcile us to God, which was to pay the price for our sins, and that price was death.

Again, we ponder exactly who we would be willing to die for (vs. 7).  Like mentioned, perhaps we would for a relative.  However, if that relative had grossly mistreated us, we might not be willing to.  A non-relative would probably have to be someone quite special, someone who had done great good to many.  But considering that such a person is quite rare, the number we would be willing to die for is probably very low.  As we read in the next verse, we see that God loved us so much that He willingly died for us while we were sinners (vs. 8).

Take a look into any nearby prisons.  Would you willingly die for any of those prisoners, those convicted of murder, armed robbery, child abuse, etc.?  What about the gang members in our cities, those who are drug addicts and drunks?  The corrupt politicians and business people?  Though the particulars are different for each of us, we all are in a desperately sinful condition before we accept Jesus as Savior.  And yet, despite being sinners, actually being God’s enemies and in rebellion against Him, Jesus willingly died for us.  He died for those who bitterly hated him.

God sent Jesus to die for us, not because we were good enough, but because He loved us.  He loved us even before we turned to Him, when we were rebels.  Jesus did not die for only the nice or good people, which undoubtedly would be the only condition before we would even consider such a thing.  Jesus gave His sinless life for everyone, the wretch lying in the gutter of the alley, the most vile criminal in prison, and the corrupt businessmen.  He did this because of His amazing love for all of mankind.

God didn’t wait for us to clean ourselves up.  He didn’t wait for us to become good, righteous, or holy, as that would be impossible.  No, He died for us while we were still sinners. He did not die just for our benefit.  He died in our place.  All sin deserves punishment.  However instead of punishing us with the death we deserve, Jesus took our sins upon Himself, and took our punishment by dying on the cross.   Jesus’ death was a substitutionary sacrifice.  It is the Blood of Jesus that saves us from the wrath of God against sin.  Since Jesus 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? (vs. 9).  We are justified now, and the Blood of Jesus stands as the guarantee for that justification.

Many of us have a hard time feeling loved by other people, and with some people it might be because of some rather rotten things they have done.  However, God didn’t choose to love us because we were especially lovely.  He loved us, and then we became lovely.  God thinks you are very special, so much so that Jesus died for you.  None of us deserve that, but thankfully deserving it isn’t the basis for God’s love!  If this news from God’s Word doesn’t make you feel loved, I don’t know what will!

Monday, June 19, 2023

Singing Praise And Giving Thanks

Psalm 100

Most of us know someone, perhaps several people, who always seem to have a frown or scowl on their face.  Perhaps that person is even yourself.  They never seem to be happy or joyful about anything.  Sometimes we even run into these people at church, where neither joyful hymns or praise songs, reports of answered prayers, nor times of greeting others brings a smile to their face.  Though there may be certain times when we might be sad or grieving over something, the Lord doesn’t want His children walking around looking like they always have sour pickles or lemons in their mouths!  Our psalm for this week gives a call for believers to bring joyful praise and thanksgiving to the Lord.

In this brief psalm, the author instructs us all to bring to the Lord both praise (vs. 1-3) and thanksgiving (vs. 4-5).  As we begin, the psalmist doesn’t want us to just mumble a soft or quiet, half-hearted “praise God”, but instead he calls us to give a “joyful shout”.  We like to shout during sporting events.  And when our favorite team wins a championship, and the city has a victory parade for the team, we can surely hear the shouting for joy among the crowds lining the streets!  We cheer loudly at some parties, or when we hear a favorite speaker give a speech we agree with.  If we can energetically give our vocal support to these others, why not to the Lord God?  Make a joyful shout, a shout of loyalty and homage to God.

Some people have stated that the reason they rarely attend church, is that the worship services are more like attending a dour, somber funeral.  Nobody smiles or seems happy to be there.  Everything is stiff, severe, and forbidding.  Yet here the Lord is instructing that we come before Him with joy, with gladness, and singing.  I don’t think that He is referring to singing a funeral dirge sounding song, either!  He is our Heavenly Father who loves us dearly.  Children who have such a loving daddy give shouts of happiness when their daddy comes home, running joyfully into his arms.  The Lord wants just such joy and happiness expressed from His children.

The psalmist continues with reminding us that we are God’s people, created by His hand (vs. 3).  To counter the claims of atheists and humanists, the author wants us to know, to experience, and be completely assured of the truth of the existence of God. Jesus Christ is God, not Buddha, Mohammed, or any other of the myriad of false, pagan deities.  God has created us, we didn’t evolve from some ape or pond algae.  Since we are His special creation, we are His people.  We are His sheep, and He is our Shepherd.  God intimately cares for each one of us.

There are some gates, some doors that are closed to us.  We aren’t able to just walk up to them, open the door or gate, and just walk in.  However, the gates of God are always open, inviting us to enter His presence, and to come in and worship (vs. 4).    Praising God is the first step towards entering the presence of the Lord.  When we come into God’s presence, is it with a joyful and thankful heart, or are we just going through the motions?  We should always remember His goodness and faithfulness, and praise Him everyday, from waking till bedtime.  We need to beware of ever becoming unthankful and ungrateful to the Lord for all that He has done for us (II Timothy 3:1-5).

We are called to bless God’s Name (vs. 4).  That means recognizing it is higher than any other Name.  We affirm His power and goodness, and commit ourselves to joining His cause.

Believers who are still dour and sour need to be convinced of God’s great goodness (vs. 5).  He is the source and perfect example of goodness.  The Lord is not a distant, angry, wrathful God.  He is love and goodness itself.  God’s mercy and unfailing love is everlasting.  He is faithful, and keeps his promises.  God’s goodness is revealed in His actions.  All that He does is just and right because He cannot violate His own nature.  God cannot and does not change.  Every breath we take is given to us by Him.  He loves us beyond all knowing, and watches over and provides for all of our needs.

If we know and truly believe all this, can we continue on with a scowling, sour demeanor any longer, especially in our church and worship services?  I hardly think so!  We need to be joyful, filled with gladness, praise, and thanksgiving to the Lord Jesus, each and every day!

Saturday, June 17, 2023

On Eagles' Wings

Exodus 19:2-8

Have you ever seen an eagle soaring in flight out in the wild?   Of course there are no eagles flying around where I live in Chicago, however about 150 miles west, at the Mississippi River, bald eagles come to spend the winter months.  That is a very special sight to see.  They are strong, majestic birds.  There have been stories of them picking up small animals.  The eagle has also been considered the king of the skies, and has been the chosen symbol of emperors and their mighty armies.   The eagle is mentioned a number of times in the Bible, sometimes comparing its swiftness to an enemy nation swooping in for a prey, or as a promise to believers that those who trust in the Lord can be strengthened like that mighty bird.  Today’s Scripture describes God’s special care for His children with reference to the eagle.

Our Scripture today comes from the Book of Exodus, and occurs a few short months following the Lord parting the Red Sea for the people of Israel to cross on dry land, and escape the Egyptian army and slavery.  They had journeyed through the wilderness, and were now at the base of Mount Sinai, where the Lord would shortly give His Law to Moses.  Mount Sinai is also frequently called Mount Horeb throughout Scripture.  It is one of the most sacred places in the Bible, and it was from here that God had called Moses from the burning bush less than a year earlier.  Several centuries later the great prophet Elijah would seek refuge there, and the Lord would speak His Word to him in a still, small voice (I Kings 19:7-18).

The Lord’s first message to Moses and the people here at Mt. Sinai was to tell them how He had watched over them, bringing them safely out from the bondage they had known in Egypt.  One image that the Lord gave was that of an eagle.  Eagles have always been a greatly admired creature.  Strong, powerful, and mighty.  They fly higher than most every other bird, and there are few, if any, predators who can harm an eagle.  Ancient people told mythological legends of eagles so large that they could carry a man on their back.  It was just such an image that God used to describe how He brought His people out from Egypt (vs. 4).  If someone were to step into a legend and actually ride upon a giant eagle, that person would be safe from just about any harm.  That eagle could whisk us away from all danger.  He could carry us swiftly across the land, and mount higher than all but a few other birds.  There are stories that speak of an adult eagle sometimes carrying its babies on its wings, and God also spoke of that, and how He carries us in such a manner (Deuteronomy 32:11-12).  God’s care for us is just like that.  He bears us on eagle’s wings, with loving care and protection all through our life, and we can feel as safe as if we were on a giant, legendary eagle.

As our Scripture continues, the Lord told the people that if they would obey and follow Him, they would be His special treasure, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (vs. 5-6).  Do you have something that you own that is very special to you?  If you do, you find a special place in your home for that item, keeping it safe.  It is a special treasure to you.  Christians, God’s Blood-bought children are a special treasure to Him.  God sees us as a special jewel to be protected and loved.  He sacrificed His Son to redeem us from sin.  He loves us so much that we can trust Him to keep us safe from harm and danger from our enemies.

We are also to be a holy nation for the Lord.  Something that is holy is sanctified, set apart to God for His purpose and use.  We are to be just such sanctified people for Him, not something ordinary, common, or crude.  We are to be priests, interceding on behalf of others to God.  The Apostle Peter said a similar thing in his epistle in I Peter 2:9.

These words of protection and care were a promise that the Lord was giving to His people.  However this was a conditional promise.  God’s promises in the Bible fall into two categories, those that are unconditional and those that are conditional.  Unconditional promises are guaranteed no matter what man does.  The promise made to Noah that He would never destroy the world again with a flood is one.  The promise of sending the Messiah is another.  Most promises, though, are conditional.  If we obey Him, He will do this or that.  This was a conditional promise that Moses brought back from the Lord to the people, who readily agreed to follow and obey Him (vs. 7-8).  Unfortunately the people of Israel were very fickle and quickly strayed from the Lord to follow false gods and their own way.

How about us?  Are we willing to trust and obey the Lord?  Do you want to be God’s special treasure, loved and protected by Him?  Do you want to be carried by Him throughout life, like on the wings of an eagle?  Turn to Jesus in trust and become His special treasure, and be borne up on His wings like an eagle.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Matthew Comes To Faith In Jesus

Matthew 9:9-13

We all know of someone who could easily be called a “dirty, rotten scoundrel”, a real rat, a wretch.  We may feel that there is no hope that they will ever change.  They seem beyond any redemption.  The people who lived in the village of Capernaum all knew someone like that.  But then one day something happened, and the man who everyone felt was a scoundrel changed.  Was it real?  Could that really happen?  Let’s look at our Scripture for today.

Our Gospel reading for this week gives Matthew’s own brief testimony of how the Lord called him from a life of sin and dishonesty to become one of His apostles, and also the author of one of the four gospels.  As we read in the Scripture, Matthew was a tax collector in Capernaum.  Matthew was also known as Levi in other Gospels (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27).  In the days of the New Testament, tax collectors were one of the most despised people in society.  The reason for this scorn, contempt, and even outright hatred from the “respectable” Jewish people was that tax collectors were looked at as agents or collaborators with the enemy occupying Roman government.  They were considered traitors as they sought to collect revenue for the Romans.  And, of course, no one likes to pay taxes, so a tax collector would not be popular even in the best of circumstances.  In addition, though, in the days of the New Testament, under Roman rule, the Romans gave the tax collectors a rather free hand.  If the tax collectors took more money than was asked for by the government, the Romans didn’t care, as long as they got what was required.  Thus, many tax collectors were extortioners, trying to collect more taxes than was required, and pocketing the extra.  As a result, these were hated people.

As our Scripture opens, Jesus was passing through Capernaum, a Galilean village that Jesus frequently spent time in.  As we read, Matthew was busy working in his tax collection booth.  Capernaum would have been a rather lucrative place to be a tax collector.  Many goods would pass through Capernaum, coming from Damascus and the Mediterranean ports, and also goods leaving Galilee heading to those locations.  All would need to be taxed, and Matthew was right there collecting all he could.  Jesus saw him and called Matthew to come and follow Him (vs. 9).

When Jesus called Matthew from his tax collector's booth, he immediately got up and followed Him.  He didn’t hesitate a moment.  He likely would have heard some of Jesus’ preaching, though from a distance, and the Holy Spirit had been speaking to his heart.  When Matthew left his tax collector’s office, this guaranteed his losing the profitable job he had.  Many of the other disciples, such as the fishermen, could return to their secular professions if they wished (though none did), yet there was no turning back for Matthew.  When he turned to Jesus, he gave his all, his whole life.

As a tax collector, people kept their distance from Matthew.  Everyone that is, except Jesus.  Jesus called him to be a disciple, and he gave up that job and his former life, and followed the Savior.  Within the next day or two, Matthew hosted a dinner for Jesus  (vs. 10-11).  He invited his friends who were also outcasts from proper Pharisaical society, the only ones who would associate with him.  Matthew wanted them to hear Jesus and be saved as he had.  The Pharisees criticized Jesus for attending this dinner. The Pharisees believed that anyone who associated with sinners, or even came near them, must also be sinners. They were more concerned with their own appearance of holiness than with helping people and bringing them to God.

Jesus responded by saying that healthy people don’t need a doctor, that the sick do (vs. 12-13).  Jesus came to call sinners to repentance.  Those who are sure that they are righteous in themselves can’t be saved because one needs to acknowledge one's own sinfulness, and call on Jesus for mercy.  Matthew did just that, however the Pharisees didn’t.  Matthew received salvation, and the self-righteous Pharisees would not.  God wants our hearts, not just lip-service.  Dutiful religious activity means nothing without personal surrender to the Lord.  The keeping of rituals and sacrifices won’t save anyone, but asking for God’s mercy will.

Can a dishonest scoundrel or wretch find redemption?  Can the cheat, the prostitute, the drug addict, the drunk, and any other sort of rotten person truly change their life around?  They can if they truly come to the Lord Jesus and give their life to Him.  That is what Matthew did.  When Jesus called him, he gave up everything in his past and followed Him.  Church tradition says that in addition to writing his Gospel, Matthew spent some time ministering in Persia, and also went to Ethiopia to preach the Gospel where he was martyred.  Are you willing to get up and follow Jesus, and leave all behind, just as Matthew did?  Jesus calls each of us to “Come, follow Me!”

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

The Faith Of Abraham

Romans 4:13-18

Imagine sitting down with one of your friends, and you were talking about heaven, and how one might know whether they would be able to get to heaven when they die.  Some people, actually quite a few people, feel that they can gain entrance to heaven by their works, things that they do, and that God would be impressed and grateful, thus granting them entrance.  In our Scripture today we will see just when God made His promise to Abraham, whether he merited the promise due to what he did, or what be believed.

As we know, the Bible clearly teaches that God’s promise of eternal life does not come to us by our works, but by our faith, by believing and accepting what the Lord Jesus did for us.  In the days of the very early Church, there were a group of some of believers of Jewish background who went around to all the churches that Paul and other of the apostles had started, telling the new Gentile believers that they needed to be circumcised and meticulously follow the Law of Moses in order to truly be saved.  This teaching by those who came to be called Judaizers, was contrary to all that God taught through several of the New Testament epistles.  Today’s Scripture from Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome is one where the Lord makes clear that it is not through works that we obtain God’s promises, whether works of keeping of the Law of Moses which those early Jewish believers wanted the Gentiles to follow, or works that some in church today want us to keep.

Both Christians and Jewish people consider Abraham as the Father of their Faith.  One thing that God’s Word commends Abraham for was that he believed God, and that was accounted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6; Galatians 3:6-9).  Abraham was not justified by anything that he did, not by circumcision or by keeping the Law of Moses, two things that the Jews prized so highly (vs. 13-15).

Abraham pleased God through his faith alone, long before the ritual of circumcision was given to him to follow.  This was also centuries before the Law was given to Moses.  Both in the days of the early Church, and also today, we are saved by faith plus nothing.  We are not saved by any rituals we might follow, nor by doing any good deeds.  We are saved only through faith in Jesus Christ, trusting Him to forgive our sins.  Justification is through faith alone.

God gave the Law to Moses several centuries after the days of Abraham, and not fulfilling all of the Law has a penalty, which is the wrath of God.  However, Jesus satisfied the Law, and thereby took away that penalty for all who believe and trust in Him.  God will declare all believing sinners to be righteous, even though they are not, by imputing Jesus’ righteousness to them (vs. 17).  If only those who keep the whole Law (which no one can fully) receive the promises of God, then faith has no value.

Only those who have the same type of faith that Abraham did, that of trusting in God, and not trusting in any works of their own, are the spiritual heirs of Abraham, whether they are of Jewish or Gentile background.  Anyone who has accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior have become part of His spiritual Body, the Church, and become heirs of the promises of God.

What are you trusting in?  What have you put your faith in?  If your faith and trust is in the good works you do, or in any religious rituals you are following, then that cancels out what Jesus has done for us (vs. 14).  The object of our trust is important.  If we are putting our trust for salvation in our works, or in some false, pagan god, we are doomed.  If we are placing our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and His death on the cross, we will be saved, just like Abraham was.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.  Believe, don’t work.

Monday, June 12, 2023

What Does The Lord Want?

Psalm 50:7-15

A good employee will try to do what his boss expects of him.  He learns what they want, and then does what is necessary to please the boss.  It is best to know what your teacher or professor wants, as well as your parents or spouse.  When you know what they want and expect, and then do that, they should each be happy.  How about God?  Do we know what He wants?  We might think that we do, but then find out that wasn’t it.  In our Scripture today, a portion of Psalm 50, the Lord tells us what He wants from us.  Let’s look into what God’s Word, the Bible, has to say.

As our Scripture passage opens, the Lord God speaks to His people.  He is not too happy, as He testifies against them (vs. 7).  They might have wondered why God was angry.  They could point to all of the sacrifices that they had given to Him over the years (vs. 8).  Bulls, goats, lambs, these were continually offered as sacrifices, and God wasn’t complaining about that.  However, He didn’t need that.  He wasn’t about to go into the people’s barns and cattle stalls to take animals for sacrifice for Himself (vs. 9).

All of the creatures of the earth are God’s, and if He had any need, He could just take of His own bounty.  Have you ever seen, either in person or in a photo, a vast herd of cattle?  They are scattered all across a vast field of grass, maybe stretching out towards some hills in the distance.  If you were to count them, they could easily be several hundred.  Yet here, as we read on in our psalm, the Lord says that the cattle upon a thousand hills belongs to Him.  God has no needs.  He has no deficiencies that we need to fill with our service (vs. 10-12).  Unlike the pagan gods, Yahweh doesn’t need us to “feed” Him every day.  Those who followed the pagan religions would bring food, drink, and other items to their pagan altars in order to provide their myriad of gods and goddesses with food and supplies for the day.  Yahweh never needs anything like that from us.  As He tells us, He doesn’t eat the flesh of sacrificial animals (vs. 13).

So what does God want from us?  As our Scripture passage today continues, He tells us what He is looking for from His children (vs. 14).  God wants a thankful heart from His people.  He has given everything we have to us.  Look around you right now.  Do you have a roof over your head?  Did you have something to eat today?  Are there clothes on your back?  Are you able to pay your bills?  All of that was provided for you from the Lord God, and we should be thankful to Him for giving them to us.  If it wasn’t for Him, none of us would have anything.

God also said that He wants us to keep the vows, the promises that we have made to Him.  How many of us have made any number of promises to God over the years, especially when we are in any sort of trouble.  “Dear Lord, if You will only get me out of this problem, I will do ……” we often pray.  Maybe we promise to attend church more faithfully, or give more to the church and to charities.  We promise Him all sorts of things, but then when He delivers us, we frequently forget.  God wants us to keep our promises to Him.  True worship does not consist of mere sacrifice, but of sacrifice offered with thanksgiving and faithfulness.

As our passage closes, God makes a promise to us (vs. 15).  God promises His children that when troubles come their way, and they call upon Him, He will deliver them.  Troubles will come.  We can expect them.  However, we do not need to despair, for God is with us to help and strengthen us.  God lovingly provides whatever we need from His limitless resources and power.

Everything we work for here on earth doesn’t really belong to us.  It all comes from God.  All our possessions are His.  Will we thank Him for them, or will we get swelled with pride, thinking our cleverness and ability got them?  And will we willingly share our bounty with others, so that their lives might be better?  Thanksgiving, love, and faithfulness is what the Lord God really wants.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Return to the Lord

Hosea 5:15-6:6

What does a good parent do when one of their children willfully disobeys?  A good and caring parent will give loving discipline when their child steps out of line.  They don’t want to see their child get deep into trouble or sin, which disobedience will lead to.  God is no different.  He is more loving than the best of parents, and He does not want to see any of His children go down the path of willful disobedience.  In our Scripture today the Lord speaks of how sometimes it is necessary for Him to bring discipline.

Our Old Testament Scripture this week comes from the prophet Hosea.  Hosea was one of the Minor Prophets. (The term “minor prophet" means that their books were shorter than the books of what are called the “major prophets”, such as Isaiah or Jeremiah.  It does not imply that their message was any less important.)  Hosea preached and ministered to ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the mid-to-late 8th century BC, shortly before the fall of that kingdom to Assyria, and the people being taken captive.  Shortly after the nation of Israel split into two (during the reign of Rehoboam, son of Solomon), the country fell into idolatry, worshiping the pagan, Canaanite gods, and never returned to the true worship of Yahweh.  Hosea used the analogy of an unfaithful wife to that of the unfaithfulness of Israel against the Lord God.  In our passage, we see that the Lord is disciplining the people, with the hopes that they will mend their ways and return to Him.

As our passage opens, the Lord God is speaking (vs. 15).  He says how He will go and return to His place, He will step aside, or remove Himself, until the people acknowledge their offense.  Sometimes the Lord needs to do that to us, as well.  When we fall into willful sin, and we do not heed the conviction of sin that the Holy Spirit brings, speaking to our heart, the Lord might step aside, and our prayers are not answered.  We read in Psalm 66:18 that if we regard iniquity or sin in our heart, God will not hear us.  If we are willfully sinning, God steps aside.  He turns away until we acknowledge and repent of that sin.

God does not afflict, discipline, or punish us because He enjoys it (Lamentations 3:33).  He allows adversity because sometimes that is the only way to get our attention, and it is the only warning that we will heed.  A good parent will warn their child when they see them starting to stray towards disobedience.  They may give them a couple of warnings, but if the child remains willful, then the punishment comes.  If the child had listened, they wouldn’t be punished, but they refused.  A good parent doesn’t enjoy punishing the child, and neither does God.  However, sometimes that’s the only thing that will sink into their brain.  When the Lord gives discipline, it is for the purpose that we repent and return to Him.

After having been punished, a wise child will learn from the discipline, and will return to being obedient (vs. 1).  After we receive discipline in some manner from the Lord for misdeeds and sins we commit, hopefully we also repent and return to the Lord, we get our lives right with Him.  Then He will heal and bind us up from the sins and waywardness we have followed.  Israel, as a nation, has never come back to the Lord Jesus in the fashion represented here.  However, when Jesus returns at His Second Coming, the nation of Israel will turn to Him.

Many times, both during Biblical days and today, people’s repentance is insincere.  They “return” to the Lord only with lip service and meaningless sacrifices, rather than true repentance (vs. 4).  These people profess loyalty, but like the dew or morning fog, it evaporates easily and has no substance.  They maintain the appearance of being committed, but without deep and sincere loyalty to Jesus.  Their spirituality is mere rituals which mean nothing.

God does not dislike sacrifices or religious rituals, however they are only helpful if they are carried out with an attitude of love for, and obedience to the Lord (vs. 6).  If a person’s heart is far from God, rituals and sacrifices become empty mockery.  God wants our hearts first, not empty rituals.

The prophet Hosea spent years preaching to the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  He sought to call them back to true worship of the Lord, but they would not turn from their sinful ways, no matter how many times God sent various types of discipline.  Have you strayed from the Lord, and know that He is trying to call you back to Him, but you haven’t yet heeded His persuasion?  Don’t let your faithfulness to God be as fleeting as the people of Israel’s was!  Acknowledge your offenses and seek His face.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Does He Know Me?

People say a lot of things, sometimes things that are not necessarily true.  Sometimes people stretch the truth about their education or their careers.  Sometimes they claim to know some celebrity, a special friendship with someone that they have never even come close to meeting.  That lie might not really matter, but imagine how embarrassed or shame-faced they would be if, in their presence, that celebrity denied knowing the person.  There is Someone that many will claim to know, but will be told, quite emphatically, that this Person does not know them at all.  That mistake will have a much more serious, eternally serious result than just embarrassment!  We read about this in our Scripture today from the Gospel of Matthew.

Our Scripture today comes at the close of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus gave.  The Sermon on the Mount contains very important teachings of the Lord Jesus, and these verses are ones that people need to take seriously.  Let’s take a good look at what Jesus says here.

As our passage opens, the scene Jesus describes looks to be on Judgment Day, when people will stand before Him and receive judgment.  The Lord tells His audience here that there will be some who claim to know Him, but He will respond that they were mistaken, that even though they went around claiming to know Jesus and be His followers, that their claims are wrong, that He doesn’t know them (vs. 21-23).

Not everyone who talks about heaven really belongs to God’s kingdom.  This includes both those at church who stand behind the pulpit, and those seated in the pews.  A genuinely saved person is one who believes and follows God’s Word, which we find clearly in the Bible, and then does what His Word says.  Many people who call themselves Christians, including “Christian” leaders, rewrite the Word of God, replacing it with a humanistic gospel, filled with many good-sounding lies.  Or they preach a perverted gospel, saying one can have both sin and salvation.  Jesus will cast these ones out.

Jesus exposes those who sound religious, but who actually have no personal relationship with Him.  On Judgment Day, only our relationship with Jesus, our acceptance of Him as our Savior and our obedience to Him will matter.  All sorts of “religious talk”, and even loads of good works, will not mean anything on that day.  These people can claim all they want that these works were done in His Name, but if they have never accepted Jesus as the only way to get to heaven, and believe that His Word is true, Jesus will say to them “Depart, I never knew you!”

As we continue on in our Scripture passage, Jesus speaks about what we are building our spiritual house, our life upon (vs. 24-27).  Obedience to God creates a firm foundation for our life.  Those who love and obey God build a solid life of strength and endurance.  They are building upon the Rock, which is Jesus Christ.  Terrible storms may hit them, but they can never destroy them.  Only the one who builds on the foundation of God and His Word, the Bible, will stand.

Those who have never turned to God, and those who rely on their own devices, build their house on sand.  What happens with that house?  It comes crashing down!  Outwardly these houses look the same, but the foundations, which is what matters, are different.  While the sun shines, both houses look good, but when adversity comes, only genuine faith in Jesus will stand.

Although the world may change and crumble, God’s Word and His promises remain forever.  They are the rock on which we need to build our future and hope.  God and His Word will not fail.

Don’t be deceived about your salvation!  There are those who appear to be walking the narrow path (Matthew 7:13-14), but have never truly made a genuine decision to accept Jesus as Savior.  Jesus is calling everyone to do some self-examination.  Is my faith genuine?  Am I on the right path?  Do I really know Jesus?  Does He really know me?

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

For All Have Sinned

Romans 3:23-25

Have you ever known someone who honestly felt that they never did anything wrong, that they did everything correctly, and never ever sinned?  Not too many people think that way, as most admit that they occasionally do the wrong thing, but I’ve known a couple of just such individuals who felt they never did anything wrong.  Then there are some folks who are genuinely good people, who seem to never do anything wrong, dishonest, or underhanded.  Are they really as good as they look?  As we look at today’s Scripture, we will see whether there are people who are always good, who never do anything wrong or bad.

The Apostle Paul comes right to the point with the opening verse of our Scripture passage today.  Here he plainly says that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (vs. 23).  God states here that even the most righteous among us have committed some sins.  If we look closely at some people that we think are just about perfect, those that we even count as saints, we will see that somewhere, at sometime in their life, they did some sin, even if it was “small” sins.  Even the best of people, the most righteous among us, continue to come short of the glory of God on a continuing basis.

All sins make us sinners.  One doesn’t have to commit big, huge, grievous sins to be a sinner.  When God describes in the Book of Revelation those who will be cast into the lake of fire because of their sins, He lists liars right there with murderers and other sinners (Revelation 21:8).  One doesn’t have to commit a dozen murders to be a murderer.  Just one murder makes them one.  Likewise one lie makes one a liar, and God says all liars will be cast into the lake of fire.  All sin cuts us off from our holy God.  All sin leads to death, regardless of how great or small it may seem to be.  It disqualifies us from living with God.  So as we see here in God’s Word, we are all sinners, and the penalty for sin is death and separation from God for eternity.

That is bad news, but God doesn’t just leave us there in that terrible condition.  As our Scripture continues, we see how God has provided redemption and remission of our sins through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (vs. 24-25).  Jesus shed His Blood on the cross to pay the penalty that our sins deserve.  God poured out on Jesus, His sinless Son, His wrath for those sins, and all who believe and accept Him as Savior are given the gift of eternal life.

Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22).  Without forgiveness of sin, there is no relationship with God.  Without a relationship with God, there is no eternal life.  To receive that forgiveness, we must choose to come to God for it.  We must accept the fact that we are sinners, and need God’s forgiveness.  It is a free gift, offered to all by God, but it is only granted to those who have faith in Jesus Christ.  We must accept the truth of our sinfulness, repent, and turn by faith to the work of Jesus on the cross.

God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins, and to satisfy His anger against sin.  We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed His Blood, sacrificing His life for us.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, sacrificed Himself, and shed His Blood.  He became the sacrifice for our sins.  He makes us righteous, which places us in a right relationship with God.  Being right with God is a gift from Him.  The Blood of Jesus shed on the cross is God’s way to save us.  The only permanent forgiveness for sin is the Blood of Jesus.

Calvary is proof of God’s righteousness, not only for our past, but also for our present and our future, as well.  Faith in the shed Blood of Jesus makes us righteous.  It means protection and provision in our daily walk.  Salvation is a free gift, offered to everyone who confesses Jesus as their Savior and Lord.  However, for God it was a very costly transaction.  We need to never take our salvation lightly or for granted.

If you haven’t already taken Jesus as your Savior, I plead with you not to put off that decision one more moment.  Acknowledge that you are a sinner, and the judgment for sin is hell.  Believe that Jesus, the sinless Son of God came to earth, took our sins upon Himself, and died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.  Call upon Jesus now as your Savior.

Monday, June 5, 2023

A Place Of Safety And Protection

Psalm 31:1-5, 19-24

The enemy is coming, and their weapons are out and ready to strike.  Today we might run to a bomb shelter or underground bunker to protect us from bombs and missiles.  In the past, when the enemy armies approached, the villagers would run to the fortress if they lived close enough.  They wanted to be within a strong building that would withstand the attacks of the enemy.  Sometimes a fortress wasn’t always within reach, or a bomb shelter today.  Where do we turn then?  Where can we find a fortress or strong protected shelter today from enemies, either physical or spiritual?  Our psalm today, one by the sweet psalmist of Israel, King David, speaks about his desire to find a good, strong fortress.  Where will he find one?  Let’s look and see.

Today’s Scripture comes from the opening and closing verses of one of King David’s many psalms.  Like some of us, David was no stranger to enemies and to problems.  Where could he go to find help?   As he begins this psalm, David declares where he is putting his trust when the problems come his way.  David boldly declares that he has put his trust in Yahweh (vs. 1).  He is going to depend upon Him for any and all help, and he asks the Lord that He will not abandon him, nor let him down.  David knows that God would never let him down, but he asks that in prayer, anyway.

Though the background of the psalm is not completely certain, it was probably written during the years when David was fleeing the attacks of King Saul.  During those years there were a number of occasions when he was in serious danger, and his very life was threatened.  At these times David cried out to God.  He cried out for God to listen to him (vs. 2).  Sometimes we might think that God is not listening to us, especially at times when the problems are big, and the stress is heavy.  So we come to God like a little preschooler does to their parents, pulling on their pants or skirt, and crying “Mommy, Daddy, listen to me!”  David cried out, “Bow down Your ear to me”, listen to me!  Help me!

David knew that God was a refuge for him, and so can we.  He is a fortress, a stronghold of defense and protection.  God is like a strong rock that we can safely hide behind.  Out in wilderness areas, we often come across large rocks and boulders, ones we could safely hide behind, and God is like that.  Yahweh has a secret place where He will hide us from our enemies (vs. 20).  The author of Psalm 91 felt the same way (Psalm 91:1).   We, like David, can turn to Yahweh for protection when we face trouble, when an enemy, either physical or spiritual, comes against us.  When David called upon God, he made his requests based upon what he knew of God’s Name and character.  Because God is righteous and loving, He loves to deliver His children.

As we read in verse 5, David committed his spirit, his life, into God’s hands.  This was also a prayer that Jesus prayed right at the moment of His death (Luke 23:46).  The first Christian martyr, Stephen, also prayed a form of this prayer as he was stoned to death for his faith in Jesus (Acts 7:59).  This prayer conveys complete trust in God, passing from His earthly care into His eternal care.  We can commit ourselves into His care, both all through life, and at death, as well.

We need to know, and truly believe, that God is a good God (vs. 19).  When we worry and stress over problems, even serious ones like David faced when his life was in danger, are we really believing that God is a good God, and that all He does, including for ourselves, is for our good?  Because He is good, good God, He gives hope to the hopeless, and help to the helpless (vs. 24).

We can trust in the Lord to preserve the faithful, those who have put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus as their Savior (vs. 23).  As we serve Him, He will protect us, and bring us blessings.  However, those who do not trust or turn to Him, He will judge.

Do you have a sure and safe place of protection to turn to when you face the enemy?  For those who know and follow the Lord Jesus, we have in Him the strongest fortress and the safest shelter to hide in for protection.  He is the only One we can trust to help.  In the face of the enemy, the Lord has promised He will strengthen and protect His children.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Choose A Blessing Or A Curse

Deuteronomy 11:18-28

Imagine that before you are two clearly labeled containers.  One of the containers is filled with blessings, and the other filled with curses.  Whichever one you open, the contents will be given to you.  Which container will you open?  Just about everyone would choose the container of blessings.  No one willingly wants a curse!  Every day in life we come across choices between blessings or curses.  We’ve been given plenty of indications of which actions bring which results, yet how many times have we gone ahead and chosen curses for our life rather than the blessings.  In our Scripture from the Book of Deuteronomy, we come across one of several guides in the Bible to help us make the better, the wiser choice.  Let’s take a quick look.

The Book of Deuteronomy was the final of the five books which Moses wrote, containing the Law of God.  At the time he wrote this book, the people of Israel were on the far side of the Jordan River, ready to enter the Promised Land.  Moses knew that his time on earth was almost over, and that he would not be crossing the Jordan to enter the land with the people.  He wanted to give them some final words, to go over the Word of God with them one more time, to give them words of exhortation and encouragement to follow and obey God.  This was an important time for the people of Israel.  The decisions they would make would have consequences, ones that would not only affect them personally, but would carry on down for multiple generations to come.

God made His people a promise, and we know that when God promises us something, He will keep that promise.  God promised the people that He would give them the land that they were preparing to enter.  He would defeat their enemies, and He would pour out His blessings upon them.  However, this was a conditional promise.  The promise was based upon the condition that they obey God and His Word.  If they kept up their end of the covenant, the agreement, He would keep His end.  However, if the people turned away from following and obeying God and His Word, He promised that curses would come upon them. The decision was up to them.  Choosing and following one way would bring one result, choosing the other and the other result would come.

This choice for blessings or curses wasn’t just for the people of Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land.  This is a choice for people all through history, and it is a choice that we each have every day.  God has given us some instructions, that if we follow, will make it easier to follow and obey His laws and Word.  It is always easier to follow something if we are very familiar with it and know more about it.  This applies to God’s Word, as well as anything else.  God knows this, and He has told us to keep His Word in front of our eyes and in our hands, to keep it in our hearts and mind (vs. 18).  We should keep our Bibles out and ready to pick up and open, rather than stashed away in a dusty bookshelf.  We can even have Scripture framed and on the walls of our house, perhaps as a cross-stitch or embroidery, or painted as part of some artwork (vs. 20).

Moses also emphasized to the people how important it was that they teach God’s Word to their children and grandchildren (vs. 19, 21).  This is equally and vitally important today.  A person who was raised as a child attending church and Sunday School, and hearing the message of Jesus from a young age is more likely to accept Jesus as their Savior.  The older one gets, having rarely, if ever, attended church or opened a Bible, the less likely they are to give their life to Jesus.  Of course, some older adults do thankfully get saved.  However, as one gets older, one’s heart does tend to get hardened against God, especially in this day and age.  Christian parents really need to be instructing their children in God’s Word.  They certainly are not going to hear about Him in school or out in the world!  Don’t we want our children to have blessings in their life, rather than curses?  Of course we do!  So it is important to instruct them in the ways of the Lord so that they will make the choice for blessings rather than curses.

Our Scripture closes with the Lord laying the choice clearly out before us.  We can choose blessings, which will come if we obey His Word and follow His way in obedience.  The other choice is that of God’s curse.  That will come upon those who turn their back to Him, to those who toss His Word behind them, to those who have no place for Jesus in their life or heart.  The choice is freely ours.  Blessing or curse.  Which do you choose?

Friday, June 2, 2023

In Jesus' Name

John 14:13-17

Many of the prayers that we say end with the phrase “in Jesus Name.”   We place that on the end of prayers, whether prayers at church or ones we say at home, but do we know what it really signifies?  Do we know what it means, and what it doesn’t mean?”  Our Gospel reading from the Bible today speaks of asking things in Jesus’ Name.  Let’s look into that, and what that phrase means.

This Scripture passage is part of the teaching that the Lord Jesus gave to His disciples on the night before He was crucified.  Moments earlier He had told the disciples how He was going to prepare a place for them, and that He was the way, the truth and the life.  Jesus told them how He and the Father are one (John 14:1-11).  Now He was instructing them in one point about prayer, and how the Father is glorified by answering prayer asked in Jesus’ Name.

As mentioned above, so many of our prayers end with the phrase “in Jesus Name”, and here Jesus tells us twice that if we ask anything in His Name, He will do it (vs. 13-14).  What a great promise!  But lest we think that we have been given something like Aladdin’s magic lamp, we need to see what Jesus was talking about, what He meant.  “In Jesus Name” is not a magic charm.  These verses do not mean that any request ending with those words will automatically be fulfilled.  For the Lord to hear and answer prayer, we must first be saved through Jesus Christ.  Once saved, God will hear us only when we walk in righteousness before Him.  If we knowingly continue to sin, and do not repent, God will not listen (Psalm 66:18).

By saying “in Jesus Name” we cannot force God to do anything.  Our prayers must be consistent with Jesus’ character.  He won’t grant a prayer that will hurt us or others, or derail His purpose.  We need to check our motives.  Will our prayer glorify God?  Will it let others see Him?  Are our prayers selfish, greedy, or impure?

When Jesus said to pray in His Name, it could also be said that we would be asking as His agent.  Sometimes a boss gives a trusted employee authority to do something in the boss's name.  The promise of answered prayer is based on the disciple’s acting as the agent of Jesus’ will.  Our prayer should be for God’s purposes and kingdom, and not for our own selfish reasons.  It should be on the merits of Jesus, and not any supposed personal merit or worthiness.  Our prayer in Jesus Name should be in pursuit of God’s glory alone.

The glorified Christ is now seated at God’s right hand.  He is our Great High Priest.  He tells us to come and ask for what we need (Hebrews 7:25).  As believers, we have the right to use His Name  But to use the Savior’s Name, we must agree with God’s purposes.  We must ask in agreement with His character, and our priority must be to obey Him and His will, not our own.

The Name of Jesus is not just any old name.  The Name of Jesus is the only Name that saves. It is the only Name that brings God’s Good News.  The Name of Jesus forgives, heals, and casts out demons.  His Name validates prayer.  The Name of Jesus reigns supreme!

Jesus has promised to give us the Holy Spirit, “another Helper” to be with us always (vs. 16-17).  The Holy Spirit is Someone like Himself, who will take His place and do His work.  He is the Comforter, an Advocate, Someone called alongside for aid in the time of trouble.  Jesus has promised to give us everything we need to make it to the end.  We have His continued aid through the power of the Spirit, who lives inside every believer.  We are never alone, as the Holy Spirit will be with us forever.