Wednesday, August 30, 2023

A Doxology Of Praise

Romans 11:33-36

When we know someone who is marvelous, just absolutely spectacular, and has so many wonderful qualities, we will often tell others about this special person.  This is especially true when that one is the Lord God!  Christians should want to tell others how great a Savior we have.  The Book of Psalms is full of Scripture that brings praise to the Lord.  And here in the Book of Romans, as in several other places, the Apostle Paul breaks into praise of the Lord God.  Let’s look at some of the characteristics of God that Paul celebrates as he closes this chapter.

Earlier in the Book of Romans, Paul had been teaching how God’s plan of salvation was opened not only for the Jews, but also now for Gentiles, as well.  Because of the majesty, grandeur, and wisdom of God’s plan of salvation, Paul broke forth in praise to Him.  There were several characteristics of God that Paul enumerated in his praise of Him, and that being His knowledge, His judgments, and His ways (vs. 33).  God has all wisdom and knowledge.  He is omniscient, knowing everything.  There is not a thing, whether modern, ancient, or anywhere in between, that God doesn’t know everything about.  God’s judgments are His purposes and decrees.  And His ways are the methods with which He chooses to accomplish everything He purposes or desires.

God’s ways cannot be found out by our intellect.  They come only by revelation of the Holy Spirit to us, through His Word, the Bible.  Although God’s methods and means are beyond our comprehension, God is not arbitrary.  He governs the universe and our lives in perfect wisdom, justice, and love.

Sometimes it is hard to understand what our friend or loved one is thinking.  No matter how close we are, it is difficult to fully understand them.  Imagine then, is there anyone who can fully know the mind of God?  As Paul tells us here, no one has fully understood the mind of the Lord (vs. 34).  No one has been His counselor, or been able to give Him good advice, guidance, or instruction.  He knows every side of every situation inside and out, and every event, past, present, and future.  God surely doesn’t need to consult us about any plan, situation, or event!  Because none of us can give God anything to help Him out, whether physically or through any counsel, God owes nothing to any one of us (vs. 35).  On the contrary, we owe God everything, and He has already given us more than we can ever repay.

As the Apostle Paul concludes this doxology of praise to God, he reminds us that all of us are absolutely dependent on the Lord God (vs. 36).  He is the source of all things, including our very selves.  God is the source, the sustainer, and the rightful end of everything that exists.

In closing, knowing all of these magnificent qualities and characteristics of the Lord God, we should rightfully give Him glory.  Giving God glory should be the desire of every Christian.  Some false “Christian” teachers indicate that our priority should be seeking our own prosperity, and of attaining more abilities.  However, giving God praise and glory is our primary purpose.  As His Blood-bought children, we are “of Him and through Him” (vs. 36).  We need to start living our lives “to Him”, making God our only object of desire throughout our lives.  As Paul closes, we can echo his final words - to whom be glory forever!  Amen!

Monday, August 28, 2023

God's Plans For Us

Psalm 138

As we got started in our life, most of us had plans for what we wanted to do with our careers, our family, our many interests.  Often, though, our plans don’t come to pass.  Our education plans change, and sometimes the path we wanted to take with our career gets sidetracked.  Our desires for our marriage and family may fall to pieces.  Parents make plans for their children, as well.  We like to imagine them growing up to become a great attorney, maybe a judge, perhaps a skilled surgeon, etc., but often those plans, nor our plans for ourselves come to pass.  For some, that can lead to depression and discouragement.  For believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, God has plans for us.  He has great plans that have been specifically crafted just for us.  Can those plans get sidetracked, just like the plans we make for ourselves?  Let’s look at what our psalm for this week has to say about this.

Psalm 138 was written by King David.  What plans did he have for his life?  As a child, the youngest of several brothers, his father did not have very great plans for him.  He was assigned the task of helping the hired hands care for the family’s sheep herds.  Then the prophet Samuel anointed him to be king in the place of Saul.  However those plans did not come to pass for quite a while, and at times didn’t look like they ever would.  Eventually, though, God’s plan for David did come to pass.  He learned over the years that he could trust the Lord with what He had proclaimed for his life, and this psalm praises Him for that.

As David opened the psalm, and throughout most of this Scripture passage, he sings the praises of the Lord.  At the start of the psalm, David gave a statement showing ridicule to the pagan gods and idols of other nations (vs. 1).  David knew that these false gods were not real, and did not really exist.  However, as a show of mockery to them and those who follow them, he brings worship and praise only to Yahweh.

Though God’s plans for David were being fulfilled, that didn’t mean that his life was free from all trouble.  David declared that though he walked in the middle of trouble, God’s right hand would reach out and save him from his enemies (vs. 7).  God is mighty to save us, and will quiet us with His love, as the later prophet Zephaniah would state (Zephaniah 3:17).  We can rest in this. No matter what our circumstances are, no matter how insurmountable the odds are against us, God has promised to save us in the very midst of our trouble.  We know the trials that David went through, and the Scriptures attest that God carried him through them all.  He had a great plan for David, and He would bring that to pass, no matter what roadblocks the enemy would try to throw.  He has great plans for us, as well, and no matter what, God will bring those to pass.

As we continue in this psalm David declared that God would fulfill all of His purposes for his life, because His love endures forever (vs. 8).  This is not only for David, but God has a purpose for our life, as well.  With all of His love God formed us with His own hands, and He promises to never leave us.  He has a unique plan for each of us that He has promised to fulfill.  Our own plans may never come to pass, but we can trust that the plans God has for us will.  Paul stated the same thought centuries later when he stated that God began a good work in His children when they got saved, and He will bring that work to completion (Philippians 1:6).  God has His plans for our career and relationships, and those plans will not be sidetracked.  We may make a big mistake in those areas of our life when we choose to go our own way, but God’s plans are never a mistake.  He begins the work in us when we accept Jesus as Savior.  He then carries out that work, and will finish it, bringing it to completion.  God has promised to work everything out in our life for our good, not to harm us (Romans 8:28).

Our confidence should be grounded in the Lord Jesus Christ.  If it is in someone or something else we will fall to ruin, sorrow, and confusion.  We can rest in God’s promise to take care of us.  David knew, and we should know from Scripture, as well, that the Lord will fulfill His purpose for us, because His mercy endures forever.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

God's Nature Will Never Change

Isaiah 51:1-6

The Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer brings us this week to a portion of Scripture from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  Here we can learn several spiritual lessons, including one that we might have learned back in school in our science class, a lesson in physics.  Let’s look into the Bible reading for today.

As our Scripture opens, the prophet Isaiah is speaking to the Jewish people of the Kingdom of Judah.  He called upon the people to look back at where they had come from.  They were to look back to their ancestors Abraham and Sarah (vs. 2).  The people of Israel descended from an aged man and a barren woman.  These were two people who God called out from an idolatrous family who originally lived in Ur, a city whose citizens worshiped a moon goddess.  Abraham and Sarah were not perfect but they had faith, strong faith in Yahweh, the true God.  God made those two into a nation.  Yet now the vast majority of the people, including both the political and religious leaders, were deep into idolatry.

However, the prophet Isaiah knew, and certainly God knew, that there was still a faithful remnant of people who did not bow their knee to false gods, who remained true to their faith in Yahweh.  Abraham and Sarah were just two, out of a whole family, who were faithful to God.  They were a remnant, yet He increased them.  The faithful remnant in Isaiah’s day may have felt alone because they were few.  If the faithful few would remain true, even more could come from them.  If the loyal few, but true Christians today remain faithful, think of what God can do through us?

The nation was on the verge of being overrun and destroyed by their enemies.  How could they possibly recover from that?  When the powerful Assyrian empire destroyed countries, they did not recover.  Now the Babylonian empire was rising.  Could they withstand and recover from that?  That seemed impossible.  The prophet, though, reassured the people. The same God who fulfilled His promises to Abraham would transform Israel’s desolation into a paradise, both nationally and spiritually (vs. 3).  It is important, though, for us to be hearing and listening to God, and obeying His Word (vs. 4).

Then as Isaiah continued, he spoke of the righteousness and salvation of God being near (vs. 5).  God’s salvation was through His Son, the Messiah Jesus, yet His Son was still several centuries off.  However, God called it near.  God’s timing is not our timing.  As the Apostle Peter tells us, one day with the Lord is like a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (II Peter 3:8).  Jesus has come near, with salvation and righteousness.  He is near, within reach of all who come to Him, sincerely seeking Him.  If men and women will only turn to Jesus, they will find exactly what He has promised.

As our Scripture draws to a close, Isaiah speaks of how both the heavens and the earth will grow old and wear away (vs. 6).  These are two things that seem like they will be here and last forever.  However many of us learned in school, in science class, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, which basically states that everything will eventually break down and deteriorate.  This is called entropy, which is a gradual decline into disorder.  People who are homeowners know this only too well!  If someone buys a house, they know that they will need to keep on top of all repairs and maintenance, otherwise their home will deteriorate after a few years.  The same goes for owning a car.  Without proper care, it too falls apart, even more quickly.  Everything eventually falls apart, including our bodies, as we all discover as the years pass by!  This world may seem stable.  It certainly did in the days of Isaiah.  But one day it will be destroyed, and then made new again.

Isaiah closes this passage with proclaiming the truth that God, His salvation, His righteousness, and His Word shall be forever, and shall not be abolished.  God never changes!  He is not subject to entropy.  He will not decline into a state of disorder!  Yahweh is not subject to any laws of thermodynamics, as He is the one who made or ordered these laws of physics to begin with!

God never fails.  Every promise of God has been fulfilled (Joshua 23:14).  His compassions never fail (Lamentations 3:22).  No Word of God will ever fail (Luke 1:37).  God’s unchanging nature is our rock-solid source of hope!

Friday, August 25, 2023

O Woman, Great Is Your Faith!

Matthew 15:21-28

Having persistence, resolve, and tenacity are often good qualities to have.  Giving up too quickly can mean losing out on something we really want or need.  Perhaps you know someone who just won’t give up on achieving what they need, even when it becomes annoying.  In our Gospel reading for this week, we are introduced to a woman who was very persistent, a woman who was not going to give up trying to get what she needed, despite any roadblocks that came up, or any people who tried to stop her.

As our Scripture passage opens, Jesus and His disciples sought to escape the huge crowds that had been following them, seeking healing and other miracles to help their lives.  They traveled to the area of the cities of Tyre and Sidon (vs. 21).  These two cities were along the coast of the Mediterranean in what is today southern Lebanon.  These two cities, a few miles apart from each other, were Gentile cities, heavily influenced by Greek culture.

While there a Gentile woman came up to the Lord Jesus, requesting that He cast out a demon from her daughter (vs. 22).  We don’t know exactly what was happening with her daughter, but since this was a demon possession, it undoubtedly was something severe and frightening.  What loving and caring parent wouldn’t be quite concerned about their child, especially if they knew demons were afflicting them?  When this woman heard that Jesus was in town, she wanted Him to cast these demons out, bringing the child relief and deliverance.  Undoubtedly she had heard of Jesus, and had faith that He would be her only hope.

The problem, though, was that she was a Gentile, and the disciples wanted her to leave (vs. 23).  Most devout Jews had nothing to do with Gentiles, or non-Jews, and held them in deep contempt.  The disciples had no compassion for this woman or her needs.  They wanted Jesus to tell her to leave them, but she was very persistent.  This was her beloved daughter.  Without Jesus’ help and healing, there was no hope, and she wasn’t going to leave.  He had healed countless others, including casting out demons, and she wanted, she needed, His attention for her child.

What did Jesus do, though?  As our Scripture says, Jesus did not answer her at first.  And then when He did answer, He said that He had come for the lost sheep of Israel (vs. 24).  However, this didn’t deter this Canaanite woman.  She knew that Jesus had ministered to Gentiles before.  He had healed the Roman centurion’s servant when he came to Jesus (Matthew 8:5-13).  He healed a Samaritan man of leprosy (Luke 17:12-19), and ministered to another Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42).  And the man with a legion of demons in the area of the Gadarenes was quite possibly a Gentile, as that area was mainly populated by Gentiles (Mark 5:1-20).  She pleaded with Jesus for His help (vs. 25).  This was her daughter, and her mother’s-heart was breaking!

What was Jesus doing?  Why would He seemingly ignore her?  Jesus was telling the woman that Jews were to have the first opportunity to accept Him as Messiah because God wanted them to present the Gospel to the rest of the world.  Then He seemingly called her a dog! (vs. 26).  The Jews frequently called Gentiles dogs as a derogatory term.  Jesus used the word “kuhariois” which meant “little dog”, a household lap dog pet, not another word which would mean a wild, scavenging, mean dog.  Rather than being offended, which too many people are today, she replied that if she was a dog, she was Jesus’ lap dog pet! (vs. 27)  She knew what could be hers, even as a Gentile.  This woman knew that there is an abundance at God’s table.  Even though her need was great, she knew that for Jesus and His power, her need was but a crumb from that table.  This woman opened her needy soul very wide, expecting great things of Jesus, and He filled it with His love.

The Canaanite woman’s prayers were not answered right away, and she did not receive her blessing right away.  Yet she had great faith.  Her prayers were good.  She certainly was needy, and she was sincere.  Sometimes one’s faith is tested rather than instantly rewarded.  Jesus wanted to test her faith, and to teach that faith is available to all.  God’s message is for all people (Psalm 22:27; Romans 15:9-12).

Do you have faith like this woman, faith that will hang on to Jesus until you receive what you need?  Sometimes that is what we need, a persistence that will not take no for an answer.  There were only two people that Jesus spoke of as having “great faith” (vs. 28). One was the Roman centurion mentioned above, and now this woman.  Both were Gentiles.  This woman didn’t lose heart.  She didn’t let others discourage her, nor did she get all offended and walk away in a proud huff.  She hung on to Jesus, crying out to Him to have mercy on her and her little girl, and she received her request. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Confess And Believe

Romans 10:8-17

One day, either at work or in your school classroom, you are told that an important assignment is due.  However, the fact is, you were never told about this assignment.  Your boss, your teacher, your fellow co-workers and classmates, no one ever told you about it.  How could you possibly know to do that work?  What about if some new traffic laws were put in the books?  If the police or government never told anyone, how would the people know to do or not do certain things when driving?  You need to be told about these assignments and new traffic laws.  Important information needs to be shared!  In our Scripture today we read the same thing, how important information needs to be shared, and how Paul did his part to be sure that it was.

What is this important information that Paul wanted to give to others, to be sure that they were told, and were not left in ignorance about?  As you could probably guess, he wanted others to know how to be saved, about salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul opens this passage with saying how his life has been spent in preaching the Word of faith, and that message is that if one confesses, if they agree with and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, in all that He said and did, especially His dying for their sins, and believe that God raised Him from the dead, that they would be saved (vs. 9).  It is really that simple!  Confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved.

God wants us to know that salvation is promised to those who confess with their mouth and believe in their heart that Jesus is Lord.  We are saved when we genuinely trust in Jesus as Savior.  We can trust what God’s Word says.  He has given us what we need to know in order to be saved, and we can trust Him.  God has never broken a promise.  The promise is to whoever puts their faith in Jesus.  They will be saved, and will receive eternal life.  This is an absolute guarantee (vs. 13).  When Satan comes against us with his lies about our eternal destiny, we can go to this promise and rest assured that if we follow what God says, we have salvation.

Salvation can only come through faith in Jesus Christ.  Confessing with our mouth puts our faith in action.  Believe in our heart that He triumphed over death.  Confess that Jesus is the Lord of Glory and Savior of mankind, and that He died on the Cross that we might be saved, and that He rose from the dead (vs. 9).  Jesus not only has the ability to save us, but the authority and wisdom to transform us.  One is not saved just by saying any old set of words.  Rather, the mouth testifies of the grace of God in Jesus, which has been received by faith (vs. 10-11).  We have a deep, personal conviction that Jesus is who He says He is.

However, what if we haven’t heard this good news?  What about family members, friends, and neighbors who have not heard?  As we look around our cities and neighborhood, how many truly know how to be saved?  I’m rather certain that it is not that many!  Paul lets us know that it is our responsibility to tell them (vs. 14-17).  Our loved ones and neighbors will not hear the Gospel unless someone tells them.  God calls and sends believers to preach His message.  Christians need to obey the call and proclaim His Word.  When people hear that message, faith can then be born in their hearts to believe.

People need to hear this message.  Our Scripture passage closes with the verse stating that faith comes by hearing the Word of God (vs. 17)  .  We are to verbally witness for Jesus.  No where in Scripture does it ever say to be a silent witness.  Many people like to say that they will be a “silent witness” for Jesus.  They say this so they won’t have to speak up.  They don’t want to get into any awkward conversations, they don’t want to be “pushy”.  They feel that their neighbor will just see how good they are, and then that will lead them to Jesus.  However, that doesn’t happen.  Few, if any, people ever get saved just by seeing how “good” their neighbor is!  Faith comes by hearing.  Someone needs to be speaking the Gospel in order for others to hear it.

Faith comes about by what is heard, but it doesn’t come by hearing just anything, but by hearing God’s Word, and believing that Word.  Preaching of the Word of God can give birth to faith.  The seed of the Word of God gets planted by someone verbally telling others the message of Jesus.

In closing, Paul reminds us that people can’t believe unless they hear the message, and they can’t hear the message unless people tell them.  Those people are you and me.  Of course, we have to be sure that we are saved, ourselves.  Have you personally confessed that the Lord Jesus is Lord and Savior, and believed in your heart that He died for your sins and rose again from the dead?  If so, then you are saved.  If not, do not hesitate one minute more.  We are not guaranteed the next hour, let alone the next day!  And then, spread the news to your family, friends, and neighbors!

Monday, August 21, 2023

When God's Face Shines Upon Us

Psalm 67

When I was a young child, I remember drawing pictures with my box of crayons, and whenever I drew the sun, I often put a nice big smile on that sun.  Sometimes if I drew the moon, I even put a smile there.  I even remember back in my teen years when wearing a smiley button was a fad.  Seeing a smile makes people happy, it makes them feel good.  A smile from one’s boss is always good to see, and when we want that special someone to notice us, it is a joy when we see them look up and smile at us!  A smile on the face of one we love is what we wish to see.  In our psalm for this week, we read about seeking God’s smile.  Let’s see what our psalm can teach us.

When the sun is out, we talk about a sun-shiny day.  The sunshine usually makes us happy.  Constant overcast days week after week, going on over a month, can make some people depressed.  We like to see the sunshine!  That is why youngsters like to draw a smile on their drawings of the sun.  The smile of a jury towards the defendant is a good sign they found him not guilty. It’s good to get a smile from the judge or the king. And it is especially good to know that God is smiling on us!

Our psalmist opens Psalm 67 praying for God’s mercy and blessing to come upon His people (vs. 1).  He felt that if the Lord was happy with us, His face would shine, He would smile towards us.  Our faces “shine” when we look with love on our family, friends, and those in our good graces.  When a king smiles on a supplicant with pleasure, the petitioner is likely to receive his request.  God’s smile towards us shows that we have His favor.  We have His mercy and blessing.  When we have God’s favor, we can readily sing His praises (vs. 3, 5).

When God’s face shines on us, He is looking towards us, and looking on us with favor.  How do we gain the favor of God?  As the Bible teaches, we can’t earn God’s favor by any works we do (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9).  We receive God’s favor, we cause His face to shine upon us, when we accept His Son Jesus as our Savior, acknowledge that it is His shed Blood that washes away our sins.  The favor of God is seen as Jesus fulfilled the purpose for which He came.  Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), and turned His face to the Cross.  The face of God shines on us, because of Good Friday, the day that the face of God turned away from His suffering Son.

Of course if we don’t have the favor of someone we wish the approval or benevolence of, we also can often see that in their face.  A scowl from a policeman or a judge usually doesn’t mean good news for us!  Children don’t like to see a frown on their parent’s face, or an adult to see his boss frowning at him!   To make sure that God doesn’t change His shining face to one that is angry, we need to make sure we are following and obeying His Word, the Bible.  However, first one needs to be sure that they have accepted Jesus as Savior.  Without having asked Jesus as their personal Savior, no one can have God’s blessing, nor His face to shine upon them.  Those who do not have His shining face will instead have His terrible wrath (Psalm 34:16).

When God’s shining face is turned towards us, we can reflect His glory to others.  This is just like the moon, which does not produce its own light, and instead reflects the light of the sun onto the earth.  Sometimes the reflective light of the moon can be so bright that it can even cause us to cast a shadow.  After a very long and hot day, it can feel good to rest in the coolness of the moonlight!  That is why sometimes as a child I would also put a smile on the moon!  As believers, we need to reflect God’s light, His love, and His mercy to others.  We can reflect God’s blessings in acts of love and service.  We should proclaim the message of Jesus to a world lost in darkness.

Do you want God’s face to shine upon you?  Do you want His mercy and blessing?  I’m sure we all do.  For God’s face to shine, for His smile to beam down upon you, first be sure that you have asked Jesus into your heart as your Savior.  Then, be sure that you are obeying His Word.  Then you can be sure that His face will shine upon you, with His love, mercy, and blessings!

Saturday, August 19, 2023

A House Of Prayer For All People

Isaiah 56:1-7

Have you ever been left out of some group or organization because of who you were, your nationality, race, or even because of a handicap or disfigurement you had?  For some people this exclusion starts back in childhood with neighborhood clubs, and then continues on through college and university groups, and then into adulthood with country clubs and other exclusive organizations.  Sometimes this exclusion even extends into the church as some people are made to feel left out, unwelcome, and even unwanted.  Our Scripture today from the prophet Isaiah speaks of some people who were excluded from worship, and how the Lord promised to change that.  Let’s take a brief look at this.

As we read through God’s Word, the Bible, we see how important it is that we obey His commands, follow after righteousness and justice, and set aside a day to rest and worship the Lord (vs. 1-2).  In the days of the Old Testament, God’s Temple in Jerusalem was the focal point for worship among His people.  However, there were some people who were excluded from coming there to worship Yahweh.  Though there were several groups, two are mentioned in our passage, foreigners (or Gentiles), and eunuchs (vs. 3).  These groups, and others, were excluded from Temple worship by the Old Testament Law (Exodus 12:43; Deuteronomy 23:1, 3, 7-8).  However, God speaks out here that in the coming kingdom of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, all such exclusions will be removed (vs. 4-7).

The Jewish people, to whom the revelation and truth of the Lord God had been revealed, were to spread this truth to others, and be a beacon, a light to the rest of the world.  However, they became possessive of God, and felt that His truth and salvation was to be only for them, and the rest of the world was to be left out and lost.  The Jewish people as a whole despised Gentiles, and they were certainly not welcomed in the Temple, even if they had come to believe in Yahweh, and accept Him as the only true God.  This exclusion and despising of Gentiles carried over into the New Testament.  As we read throughout the Book of Acts, the Apostle Paul and his companions were frequently persecuted by local Jewish congregations because of their spreading the message of Jesus to Gentiles.  Eunuchs and other people with deformities, whether they were born that way or became deformed due to an accident, were also excluded from coming into the Temple to worship.

Gentiles, eunuchs, and other “deformed” people were treated at best as second class people by the general population in the time of the Old Testament.  Often they were treated worse than that.  They had to stay in the outskirts of the Temple and were not allowed to join in the worship.  After the return of the people following the Babylonian exile, local synagogues became more prevalent in the villages around the country and in foreign countries where there was a Jewish population.  Yet, even in the synagogues worship by a Gentile follower of Yahweh or a deformed person was forbidden.

The Prophet Isaiah brings us God’s Word where he states that this was not the will of God.  Through Jesus, believers of any race, any shape, or any physical ability are welcomed to come to Him and be accepted.  Jesus will not exclude anyone, no matter what their ethnic or national background is, and no matter what their physical condition may be.  If they accept Him, they are welcome.

Do you or the church you attend welcome everyone no matter what their race or nationality may be, or what type of deformity or disability they may have, or are there people from certain ethnic backgrounds, economic level, intellectual ability, or handicapped that are not genuinely welcome?  As our Scripture today states, whoever loves the Lord Jesus and obeys His Word the Bible, will be accepted at His altar, for His house is a house of prayer for all people.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Look To Jesus, Not At The Waves

Matthew 14:22-33

Have you ever been told “No, you can’t possibly do that, it’s impossible!”  Maybe this is something that you felt that the Lord called you to do, maybe some ministry that you felt led to start, but some nay-sayers say that it is impossible, that you can’t do that.  Our Gospel reading for today gives an account of Peter doing something that we all would believe was impossible, but since the Lord called him, he was able to do what the Lord said he could.  Let’s see what it is, and how far faith would take him as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus.

As our Scripture opens, Jesus had just fed the multitudes of people, and then He sent the disciples across the Sea of Galilee in a boat while He went off by Himself to pray (vs. 22-23).  While out on the boat that night a very strong storm came up, and the disciples were having a difficult time getting the boat across the lake to their destination (vs. 24).  Though Jesus was not with the disciples, He knew where they were every minute, and what they were experiencing.  In the middle of the night, in the middle of the storm, Jesus came to His disciples walking on the water.  There is no darkness that can hide us from the Savior, no trial can obscure His vision.

The Sea of Galilee is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide.  Compared to many other large lakes around the world, it is not very deep, but still a respectable 141’ deep.  The disciples were several miles from shore, and yet, as they looked out at the waves that were tossing the boat around, they saw something moving across the water.  That couldn’t possibly be a person, as they were far from shore, and yet that is what it definitely looked like.  They feared it was a ghost, and yet it looked like Jesus, as well! (vs. 25-26).

Picture yourself on this boat with a storm raging all around you, and then you see something, someone moving on the water towards you!  Just as the disciples were, I’m sure we all would be afraid.  Jesus knew they were afraid, both of the storm, and from seeing Him walking on the water, so He called out to them with reassurance that He was there (vs. 27).  The worst of storms cannot stop Jesus from coming to offer help, hope, and assistance.  He comes in the midst of our troubles, and says “Take comfort, it is I!”

It was then that Peter, seeing his beloved Savior out there walking on the water, called out to Him, asking that if it really was Jesus, and not a ghost that some of them were afraid it was, that He would allow him to also walk on the water and come to Him (vs. 28-29).  Peter wasn’t putting Jesus to the test.  He was the only one in the boat to respond in faith.  The others did not believe that Peter or themselves could walk on water.  Peter did.  He moved to the side of the boat, and put one leg over, and then the other.  His feet touched the water, and felt that it was solid under his feet.  Peter let go of the side of the boat, and took a few steps away.  Would you have the faith to do that?  Would I?

Peter taking that first step required courage, faith, and risk, especially when a storm was raging.  Peter knew God was there, and he left the comfort of the boat.  However, Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and put them on the waves (vs. 30).  That caused him to panic.  He would have suddenly realized that he’s several steps away from the boat, actually walking on water, doing something that is impossible in the natural realm.  He can’t be doing that!  It’s not really possible!  Look at those huge waves!  He’ll die!   Peter’s faith wavered when he saw the waves.  When his faith faltered he reached out to Jesus, the only one who could help.  He hadn’t prayed first before he set out, but when he began to sink, he did pray.  Though it was late, it was not too late.  Peter’s prayer was short.  Short prayers are long enough.

Peter doubted, and started to sink. There is a difference between doubt and unbelief.  Doubt says “I wonder if it could be.”  Unbelief says “I know it is not.”  Like Peter, we doubt when we take our eyes off of Jesus.  We see misfortunes and disasters, like waves.  We sink and cry to Jesus.  Jesus was there to lift Peter up (vs. 31-32), and He’ll do the same for us.

When adversity strikes, we sometimes forget our knowledge of God, just as the disciples who had been with Jesus for a while did.  We struggle to recall past answers to prayer and lessons learned in prior crises.   Fear and faith cannot go together.  Fear and faith cannot live at the same time.  The minute we begin to fear, we are forgetting our faith.  When we turn in fear, we begin to sink in our trials.  When we focus on the waves of trouble, rather than looking to Jesus for help, we might despair and sink like Peter did.  Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus and His power.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Pulling Down Strongholds

II Corinthians 10:3-5

If you’ve ever watched war movies, or historical epics with battle scenes, one of the most exciting portions of the movie is when the good side attacks and overpowers the enemy’s fortress, and the battle swings to their favor.  Sometimes that fortress is very strong and well-armed, and it takes a lot of strength and well-planned battle strategy to subdue it.  Though you may not realize it, if you are a Christian, you are in a battle, a battle against a formidable enemy.  In our brief Scripture today from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives us some important instructions for this battle.

As our Scripture passage begins, Paul tells us that this battle is not a battle in the flesh.  Although we are human, and still remain here on earth, our battle is not a physical battle, but a spiritual one, fought primarily in the mind.  It is a battle against the forces of evil, against Satan and his minions.  Satan’s goal is to destroy us.  Paul taught that we cannot fight spiritual battles using human ingenuity, worldly wisdom, or clever methods.  These methods are powerless against the forces of darkness and satanic assaults.

Paul continues by reminding us that the weapons that we use are not the weapons of the world (vs. 4).  We aren’t armed with physical guns, knives or grenades.  Nor are we armed with other types of “weapons” that the world might use against believers and followers of the Lord Jesus, such as worldly wisdom, philosophies, or intellect.  The Bible lists our spiritual weapons in the Book of Ephesians (Ephesians 6:10-18).  We need to always be equipped with our spiritual armor, and ready to wield these weapons, not just on Sundays, but every day of the week.  We need to stand guard against our enemy, the devil, and not give him a place of entry into our life.

Paul had many enemies throughout the years of his ministry, enemies that were guided by Satan and the spiritual forces of evil.  They fought against him with bullying, belittling, gossip, lies, and also physically with beatings, floggings, and imprisonment.  Paul knew not to fight with the same actions.  His weapons were the meekness and gentleness of Jesus, his testimony, prayer, giving thanks, and obeying God’s will.

We are instructed to pull down the strongholds the enemy has set up in our life.  A stronghold was another name for a fortress.  Here, Paul refers to a stronghold armed by demonic forces, and can only be demolished by spiritual weapons wielded by godly believers.  Ancient cities set up walls to keep things out.  Satan will get us to try to set up walls around our mind, a mental barrier, to keep God and His Word out.  These strongholds are areas of our life that are held in the grip of the enemy.  God tells us to take captive every thought that doesn't line up with His Word.

Thoughts, ideas, worldly reasoning, human philosophies, and false religions are types of strongholds or forts in which we can barricade ourselves against God and the Gospel (vs. 5).  What we focus our mind on has spiritual ramifications.  Thoughts lead to actions, actions lead to habits.  Habits will affect our character, and our character will lead to our destiny.  We are to reject everything in our thoughts that does not honor Jesus.

How are we to bring our thoughts into God’s captivity?   One way to take captive our thoughts is to read and meditate on God’s Word, and to dwell on the good in our life (Philippians 4:8-9).  We need to guard our heart (Proverbs 4:23).  When a negative, condemning, self-centered, and unredeemed thought comes into our mind, through the power of the Holy Spirit take that thought and bring it into submission to Jesus Christ.  When we take the thoughts in our mind captive, we will have power over them.  When we do, that will also bring our behavior under His control, because thoughts lead to behavior.

As we have learned in this Scripture, we are all in a warfare against the forces of evil, and a lot of that battle is fought in the mind.  As believers, we do not wage warfare like the world does.  With God’s power we are to bring into captivity every thought that opposes God and His Word, the Bible.  God’s Word has the power to demolish strongholds within our mind.  Let’s take up the weapons the Holy Spirit has given us, and take captive every thought to make it obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 14, 2023

The Voice Of The Lord

Psalm 29

The past several months have seen some rather severe and strong thunderstorms in the Chicago area where I live.  Lots of heavy rain with plenty of lightning and loud thunder.  There have even been several tornadoes popping up in the general area.  Some people, like myself, enjoy watching these storms.  Frequently my son and I will sit out on my front porch and watch the storm go by.  Others, like my daughter, don’t like storms at all, and retreat inside somewhere where they feel safe.  Strong storms have a lot of power which can strike fear, or at least valid caution, in people.  Our psalm for this week gives a description of strong storms, how powerful they are, and where that power comes from.

Psalm 29 was one of the many psalms written by King David.  From the days when he was a shepherd watching over his father’s flocks of sheep, to the days when he was in the wilderness on the run from King Saul, David must have seen a number of very strong storms.  He also knew that the pagan nations around Israel had a multitude of gods that they had assigned to each facet of storms.  They had gods and goddesses of rain, gods of lightning, of thunder, of the wind, etc.  However, David knew that it wasn’t any false pagan idols that controlled the weather.  He knew that it was Yahweh, the Creator of the universe, and that He, alone, deserves the glory and worship (vs. 1-2).  The Lord Yahweh is Creator  and Supreme Sovereign over all nature and weather phenomena.

As many of us can attest, strong storms can often be noisy.  When the rain pours down, we hear it hammering on the roof and streets.  When lightning hits a tree or a building, there is a sound, the cracking of tree limbs splintering.  And of course, thunder will follow the lightning, and the closer it is, the louder the thunderclap.  Strong winds, especially that of tornadoes, can have a terrifying sound.  David described the sounds of these storms as being the voice of the Lord (vs. 3-9).  The Scriptures frequently associate thunder as being the voice of God (I Samuel 7:10; Job 37:4-5; Psalm 18:13).

God’s voice spoke creation into being, as we read in the first chapter of Genesis.  He spoke, and there was light.  He spoke, and there was dry land, there were fish and birds, there were animals.  God spoke, and He created mankind.  God’s voice also brings life to the dead.  When Jesus spoke, He called forth Lazarus from the grave (John 11:43-44), and a little girl from the dead (Mark 5:41-42).

Yahweh is supreme over all of the forces of nature.  David spoke of the mighty cedars of Lebanon (vs. 5).  These cedar trees that grow in Lebanon have been known to grow to 120’ tall, and be 30’ in circumference.  A voice that could break trees this big would be a mighty and powerful voice!

As indicated above, Scripture often calls thunder the voice of God.  In order for there to be thunder, lightning has to always occur.  Thus God is also the Creator and power of lightning.  About 100 bolts of lightning strike the earth’s surface every second.  Each bolt of lightning can contain 1 billion volts of electricity  It travels at 200,000 mph.  When a lightning bolt flashes through the sky, it will heat the air five times hotter than the surface of the sun.  Lightning surely shows the power of God!

We all go through literal, weather-related storms no matter where we live.  And we all go through storms in our own personal lives, those of either sickness, financial struggles, problems on our jobs, and relationship difficulties.  Sometimes these storms can be just as powerful and even as destructive as a physical storm.  This is when we need to turn to the Lord for His help.  He will protect us during physical storms, and also carry us through our personal storms.  We can trust God to bear us in His arms and give us the strength to weather each and every storm in life.  Then when He has brought us through those storms, the Lord will give us His peace, just like the peace and sunny blue skies that appear after the wild thunderstorm.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

From The Belly Of A Fish

Jonah 2:1-9

Can you think of a time when you were in such a bind, such trouble, that there was just no way possible for you to get out?  No way, that is, unless the Lord brought a miracle of deliverance for you.  Perhaps you have faced such circumstances, but I will wager that none of us have ever faced as dire a predicament as faced by the prophet Jonah in our Scripture today.  Let’s take a quick look at what happened to him.

Most of us are familiar with some of the events in the life of the prophet Jonah, but let’s briefly review them again.  Jonah was a prophet of the Lord in the northern Kingdom of Israel.  The Lord had called him to bring His message of repentance from sin to the people of the city of Nineveh.  Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, and was the largest city in the world at that time.  (Today the ruins of Nineveh are in the city of Mosul, in northern Iraq.)  The Assyrian Empire was a major and cruel enemy to Israel, and Jonah wanted nothing to do with them, certainly not offering Yahweh’s mercy and love to them if they repented of their evil.  As the Lord continued to call him to this assignment, Jonah thought he could run away, and thus escape going there.  He took the first ship he could, heading out across the Mediterranean (Jonah 1).  However, as we know, one can never run away from the Lord.  There is nowhere on the earth, or even in the whole of the universe, where we can escape from God’s presence (Psalm 139:7-10).  The Lord knew exactly where Jonah was and what he was trying to do, and He was not going to let him get away.  God sent a violent storm, and Jonah was tossed overboard from the ship.

God was not going to let His servant drown and sink to the bottom of the ocean.  Instead, He prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah (Jonah 1:17).  Many people seem to think he was swallowed by a whale, but Scripture does not specify.  It says this was a great fish, who the Lord prepared for this purpose.  This is the place where we find Jonah in our Scripture.  The prophet spent three days in the belly of this fish, and as we see, he was conscious.  Picture for a moment being swallowed whole and alive by a giant fish, and being in its belly!  Can you imagine the fear and terror that Jonah must have felt!  And as we see, he knew exactly why this had happened.  He knew that it was because of his disobedience to God’s orders.

As we can imagine, the first and only thing that Jonah did was to call out to Yahweh in prayer (vs. 1).  In the midst of his trials, Jonah did not just get angry and curse everyone and everything.  Nor did he roll over and get depressed and discouraged.  Jonah prayed to God, and even from inside the fish, Jonah’s prayer was heard by the Lord.  We can pray anywhere and at any time, and God will hear us.  Our sin is never too great, and our predicament is never too difficult for God.

God will never turn away from a truly repentant heart (vs. 2).  He often uses afflictions, not to punish us, but to bring us back to Him.  While trapped inside this giant fish or sea creature, in such a terrible situation, Jonah acknowledged that his circumstances were judgment from the Lord.  Sometimes it is only when we hit rock bottom that we are truly ready to repent (vs. 7).

Sometimes the storms in our life come because of our own foolish choices.  They may be the harvest of what we have sown in the past.  Jonah had refused to obey what God had told him to do, so He brought a corrective storm into Jonah’s life.  God may disrupt our plans when we insist on going our own way instead of submitting to His will.

Our troubles should cause us to cling tightly to God, and not to attempt to bargain our way out of the pain.  Jonah knew that he was in no position to vainly try to bargain with the Lord.  Instead, he would repent and submit to Him (vs. 9).  Crying out to the Lord is the best response in a storm.  We need to humble ourselves in the midst of our circumstances.  We should submit to God’s dealings with us, turn from our spirit of rebellion to one of obedience, and yield to God’s will for us.

Jonah repented, and the Lord caused the fish to spit Jonah out.  The prophet heeded God’s call, and journeyed to Nineveh, where he preached a message of repentance to the people there.  The people’s response and the prophet’s response are a whole other study.  Right now, though, Jonah’s lesson was that he learned he could never run from God, that he needed to obey Him, and that when he prayed and repented, the Lord would hear him.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Jesus Is Moved With Compassion

Matthew 14:13-21

There are some times when we just want to be alone, away from the clamoring world, sometimes even from our good friends and family.  Maybe it is the stress of our work that draws us to seek solitude.  Perhaps it is a deep sorrow, like the death of someone we loved.  We want to be alone, perhaps to pray, to meditate, and be alone with our thoughts.  If we get interrupted, if someone invades our privacy and that desire to be alone, we might not be too happy.  We actually might be quite irritated.  When we want to be alone, we want to be alone!  In our Gospel reading for this week, we see a time when Jesus also wanted to be alone. Let’s see what happened.

Just prior to our portion of Scripture for today, there was the account of the death of John the Baptist, the cousin of the Lord Jesus.  King Herod had the prophet executed, and when Jesus heard about it, He wished to be by Himself for a while to grieve and pray (vs. 13).  However, the crowds and multitudes of people that He had been ministering to, the many people who had heard about the healings that Jesus had performed, wanted to see or receive more miracles for themselves.  They found where the Lord had retreated, and followed Him there, demanding more of His time and attention.

What did Jesus do?  Did He send the crowds away, saying He wanted to be alone at this time?  Did He complain that they were really being selfish and insensitive to Him at this time of sorrow?  Many of us might have felt that way, and actually felt we would have been justified in such a response.  That was not the Lord’s response, though.  As we read, Jesus had compassion on the crowds (vs. 14).  Instead of chastising them for being inconsiderate, and for their selfishness, He healed their sick.  As Matthew described them earlier, they were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).

We read that, rather than only thinking of Himself and the needs He had at the time,  Jesus had compassion on the people.  Compassion is God’s natural response to human suffering.  When these crowds searched Him out and followed Him, Jesus ministered to them, refusing to ignore the needy.

After Jesus spent the whole day caring for the people and the sick who came to Him, the disciples came to the Lord in the early evening, saying that it was time to send the crowds home (vs. 15).    The people had gone all day without food.  If they were going to find any at the markets, they would need to leave before dark.  Jesus’ compassion wasn’t just limited to healing the sick and teaching about God and His Word.  It extended to feeding physical hunger, too.

As we read on, Jesus instructed the disciples to give them some food.  That was an astonishing surprise.  How would the disciples find enough food to adequately feed the huge crowd?  They only had food for a small meal for one person, just a fish sandwich (vs. 17).  Jesus took that small meal, and performed a miracle, by multiplying the food so that it was enough for the crowds. Everyone had enough!  So much so that there were twelve baskets of leftovers after the people ate their fill (vs. 20).  Matthew records here that there were about 5,000 men in the crowds.  That number didn’t even include the women and children.  There easily could have been over 15,000 there, when you count wives and children.  The Lord Jesus had compassion on each and every one of them, so much so that He made sure that they each had enough to eat, rather than going home hungry!

Are you facing a situation where you do not have enough?  Perhaps your pantry and refrigerator are empty, and there are hungry mouths to feed.  Perhaps your wallet is empty, and your bank account just doesn’t have enough to get by for the month, the week, or even the day.  Jesus’ compassion wasn’t just limited to the people that followed Him around.  He sees that you are hungry.  He sees that you have bills to pay and not enough funds to get by on, and He has compassion on you! 

The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle that is recorded in all four Gospel accounts.  (Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:1-13).  What Jesus was originally given, the five loaves (probably not much bigger than a dinner roll), and two small fish, seemed insufficient, but in His hands, it became more than enough.  Our contributions to Jesus may seem meager, but Jesus can use and multiply whatever we give Him.  When we give what we have to Jesus, He can multiply it.  We may think that what we have to offer God is small, but we should bring it to Him anyway.  Little is much if God is in it!

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Nothing Will Take His Love Away

Romans 8:35-39

When difficult times come, sometimes those trials not only distress our lives, but also cause a split or tear in various relationships.  Sickness, legal, and financial troubles can strain a marriage.  Sometimes various troubles can cause some friends to just drift away.  Then there are the times when the troubles might cause a need to move away, whether financial troubles, or even things like a war or a natural calamity that force a move.  Families and friends are split apart by distance, and then lose touch.  How about God?  Though we may be separated from others during major catastrophes, will He turn away from us, or can something or someone come between us and the Lord?  Our Scripture today from the Book of Romans gives us the answer.  Let’s see what God’s Word says.

Sometimes when people try to encourage us in our trials, they give us some positive platitudes, but they might not understand or have any real basis for what they say.  However, this Scripture passage is not just a theory that the Apostle Paul shares with us, but a personal testimony.  Paul had personally survived assaults from enemies, unfair imprisonment, separation from friends, hunger, natural storms, financial needs, and many other calamities.  He could assuredly testify that none of these could separate us from the love of Jesus (vs. 35).

God has a profound love for His people.   No matter what has happened, or will ever happen to us, no matter where we may ever be, we can never be lost from the love of Jesus to us.  It is impossible to be separated from Jesus.  His death for us is proof of His unconquerable love.  Nothing can stop His constant presence with us.

As Paul continues on, he calls believers, those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior, as being “more than conquerors” (vs. 37).  God’s Word tells us that we, through our union with the Lord Jesus, have conquered against Satan, the powers of evil, and those who fight against us.  We conquer completely.  Jesus took the blows for us when He died on the cross for our sins.  He paid the penalty with His Blood, and rose victorious.  Through our union with Him, we do not need to take the blows, making us more than a conqueror.  It is God’s strength and power that has already secured our victory.

What may come against us, and try to separate us from God?  Paul lists several things that may try.  These things may succeed in separating us from family and friends, but as Paul testifies, they can never separate us from God (vs. 38-39).  Paul’s list includes anything in life, he lists death, angels, principalities (which are the fallen angels or demons), and powers (people in positions of authority).  He tells us that nothing happening to us now or in the future, nothing in life’s path from beginning to end, can take God’s love away from us.  We can be on the highest mountain, or at the bottom of the ocean, but that won’t matter.  We read “any other created thing” - Paul added this in case anything or anyone might be left out.  This covers everything but God Himself.  There is not a single created thing that can separate us from God’s love!

All of the unseen forces of evil in this universe can come against us, and God’s love will protect us from them.  We may end up alone, with all friends and family having forsaken us because of some of these attacks, just as Paul sometimes was, but Jesus will always be with us, as nothing will take His love away.

God’s love is unconditional, and once we accept His love through faith in the Lord Jesus, absolutely nothing can ever break our bond to Him (John 10:29).  Only Jesus can help us with our fears.  Only He can stop and defeat Satan.  Nobody can take away the benefits which God has given to His children.  Just as a loving parent will reach out and protect their little and helpless child, God promises to take hold of our hand.  His hand is much stronger than mine, and He will never let go of me.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Telling Our Children

Psalm 78:1-29

Most of us, while growing up, can remember hearing tales from our parents and grandparents, about the family’s past, how great-grandpa did this or that, and how the family traveled from here to there, and especially during a very difficult time, etc.  We might even hear some of the tales of certain mistakes or rotten things they did.  It’s very important to keep the family history alive, passing these accounts down to the next generation.  Our psalm for this week is in agreement with that, especially when it comes to the family’s faith in God.  Let’s take a quick look into Psalm 78

Psalm 78 was written by Asaph, who was the son of Berechiah.  He wrote twelve of the psalms in the Bible.  He was from the tribe of Levi, and was a singer, religious leader, and prominent leader of a guild of musicians in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Psalm 78 is a long one, and it gives a recitation of the nation of Israel’s history.  Today, if we want to preserve our family history, we can have it recorded for our descendants in a variety of ways.  Some of us might have old photo albums of our grandparents or great-grandparents.  In a Christian family, hopefully there are accounts of how the Lord worked in various, mighty ways, and not just tales of dad’s sports records, or mom’s recipes.

Asaph knew how important it was that the people of Israel know, not only past events of bravery and valor from national heroes, but even more importantly the accounts of all that the Lord had done for them.  Without computers, video recordings, or books, with only a limited number of handwritten scrolls, and not everyone even knowing how to read or write, it was important that the record of God’s mighty deeds be passed down from generation to generation.  It was important that future generations knew what God had done for them in the past, and what He could do for them now and in the future.  It was also important that they knew how their ancestors responded to God, either in obedience or disobedience, and learn from their ancestors' mistakes.

In addition to recording some of Israel’s history in Psalm 78, Asaph gave a warning to future generations not to follow their ancestors in unfaithful ways.  Despite all that the Lord had done for them, the nation had taken God’s provisions for granted, and forgotten His mighty works. They had lived for themselves, and did not prepare their hearts to be faithful to the Lord.

We might wonder what the nation of Israel’s history has to do with us, today.  The majority of us reading this can’t trace our physical bloodline back to them, so why would their history be important to us?  This is recorded in God’s Word so that we can avoid the same errors.  Israel’s unfaithfulness to God in their past was recorded to warn the Church, Christian’s today, to be faithful to God (I Corinthians 10:5-12).  Just as we can learn from our parents and grandparents mistakes, we can learn from Israel’s mistakes in their relationship with the Lord.

Throughout their history, from the day they crossed the Red Sea with Moses, on through to the day Asaph wrote this psalm, God brought miracles for the people, but they refused to believe in His sufficiency.  When we look at what God has done for us today, do we believe, and are we faithful to Him?  Do our children and grandchildren know what God has done for us?  It is important for parents to recount the works of God to their children (vs. 4-5).

If the children are not properly taught, the faith of future generations may be lost (vs. 8).  The tribe of Ephraim (the most important tribe from the days of Joshua to Saul) failed in the day of battle because of their forgetfulness of God’s Word and works (vs 9-11).  Their sin was the sin of unbelief (vs. 22)  They rebelled, and were not faithful to God.  That is a reason for lack of victory, both then and now.

Do we want our children to make the same mistakes we made, or our parents or grandparents?  Do we want them to know all about how God took care of our needs during this or that difficult time, and how He blessed us?  To avoid our mistakes, and to learn of God’s blessings, we need to teach them how gracious God has been in the past, even in spite of our sins.  That way, just as verse 7, the key verse and main point in our Scripture today, says, “That they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God.”

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Samson's Downfall

Judges 16:4-30

It’s not very pleasant to be around a spoiled, selfish, and incorrigible child.  What is even worse is when that child grows up and continues with the spoiled, selfish, and rotten behavior.  It’s sad when the child has been raised by good, decent parents, but ends up that way.  Today we’ll look at one man, raised by believing parents, but who turned out making a shipwreck of his life.  Let’s look into our Scripture.

The person we will look at today is Samson.  Samson’s parents, Manoah and his wife, did not have any children, and they had prayed to the Lord God for a child.  One day an angel came and told Manoah and his wife that they would have a son, and that he was to be dedicated to God as a Nazarite throughout his life, and his hair was never to be cut (Judges 13).  Manoah and his wife did their best to raise Samson to love and follow Yahweh.  However as we read about him as an adult, it becomes evident that Samson was spoiled, selfish, and always got his own way.

When Samson was an adult, he frequently consorted with Philistines, the enemies of the people of God.  He met a Philistine woman, and came home and demanded that his father get her for him to be his wife.  God had forbidden His people to marry unbelievers (Deuteronomy 7:1-4), yet Samson wanted what he wanted, and demanded such from his parents.   Samson had also been blessed with great strength, a gift from the Lord which he should have used for Yahweh’s glory and to spread His message.  Yet Samson used this unique gift whenever it suited him for his own pleasure, and whenever he lost his temper.  Throughout Judges 14-15 we read of situations in Samson’s life where he allowed his lustful passions to lead him into the arms of pagan Philistine women and away from the Lord, and where he used the gift of great strength he had from Him for his own purposes.

That brings us to our Scripture passage in Judges 16.  Samson had again taken up with a pagan woman named Delilah.  The Philistine leaders wanted to know the secret of his great strength, and bribed Delilah with the offer of a great deal of money if she would find out from him that secret (vs. 4-5).  So Delilah questioned, cried, and nagged Samson over and over again.  Each time he told her a false reason for his strength, and each time she tried to trick Samson, only to find out he had lied to her (vs. 6-14).

Samson had a weakness for women of low character, the unsaved, and on top of that, Philistines, an enemy of Israel.  Samson erred continually by going to Delilah daily, and allowing himself to be entrapped in her deception.  She did not truly love Samson, either, as it is seen that she loved wealth more than she did him.  Samson toyed around with Delilah at least three times, telling her lies, and then he would see that the Philistines were there, ready to try and subdue him.  After at least the second time why did he trust her any further?  His carnal, lustful nature had control of Samson, not the Lord. Although he had super-human strength, he could not smother his burning lust, nor see Delilah for who she really was.

Finally, after he could take her nagging no longer, Samson told her the truth (vs. 15-17).  Samson’s strength came from his unique relation to God, based on his Nazarite pledge.  His long hair was only a sign of it.  When Delilah became more important to him than God, his strength was removed.  Samson’s sin had caused him to forfeit the power of God’s presence (vs. 20).  Samson was so preoccupied with lustful desires, he didn't even know the Lord had departed from him.  How many times do we allow ourselves to be deceived by flattery, and give into temptation and wrong desires?

Now, with his hair shorn from his head, Samson was weak, and was taken in bondage, his eyes put out, and made a slave (vs. 21).  He now had plenty of time to wonder if Delilah’s charms were worth turning from God.  Samson had chosen to be with Delilah, and now he was paying the consequences.  Weeks and months passed, Samson became repentant, his hair grew, and his strength also grew.  Slowly Samson saw what his life of folly had brought him.  God forgave Samson, but a lifetime of sin still had consequences to pay, and that is what happened with him.  Samson ended up paying the ultimate price, his life, for his grave sins, but he did have one final victory, by also destroying many of God’s enemies (vs. 25-30).

As we look at Samson’s tragic account, we might wonder how things might have been if he had lived for the Lord instead of letting sin shipwreck his life.  He never conquered his tendency to lust.  It actually conquered him.  God could have used him in special and wonderful ways.  God still loved Samson.  He heard his prayers of confession and repentance.  No matter how long one has been away from God, He is ready to hear from them and restore them to a right relationship.  However, it is better to not allow oneself to get that far afield from the Lord to begin with.  As we see with Samson, that a believer, if they are governed by self-will and sin, can fall deep into folly.  Let’s be sure to never fall into that trap!

Friday, August 4, 2023

A Valuable Treasure

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-50

That item you’ve seen advertised is exactly what you have wanted for the longest time.  The bad thing is that it costs quite a lot out of your budget.  However, if you really want this item, you will need to save up for it.  But since it is valuable, and something you really, really want, that should not be a problem.  The more that you want something, the more effort you are willing to take, the more sacrifice you are willing to make to get this treasure.  Our Gospel reading today gives several short parables of what the kingdom of heaven is like, examples that Jesus gave us, some of which describe making a sacrifice in order to be a part of this kingdom.

The first, very short parable that Jesus told compares the kingdom of heaven to that of a mustard plant (vs. 31-32).  Several times throughout Scripture, Jesus used the very tiny mustard seed as an example.  Mustard plants were common in the Middle East at the time of Jesus.  They grew to be a very large shrub, growing sometimes as tall as 15’, easily large enough for birds to come and nest in the branches.  Here Jesus told us that though the kingdom of heaven starts out tiny, it will grow and produce great results.

The second example was another very short parable.  This one compared the kingdom to that of a measure of yeast, which a woman would add to flour to make bread and other baked goods (vs. 33).  The measure of yeast would be quite small compared with the amount of flour.  When making the bread, the dough would sit, and during that time, the yeast would multiply quietly, and permeate all of the loaf.  Yeast might seem like a minor ingredient, but it permeates the whole loaf.  The kingdom begins small, nearly invisible just like the yeast, but then it grows and has a great impact on the world.  God’s kingdom is a pervading influence.

The next example Jesus gave was comparing the kingdom of heaven to a treasure hidden in a field (vs. 44).  If we knew that in some seemingly plain, ordinary field there was a hidden valuable treasure, we would likely want to buy that field.  If you knew that there was some valuable archaeological treasure, or a great deal of oil, gold, or valuable gems buried underneath the ground, wouldn’t you try to buy that field, no matter what you might have to sell in order to obtain it?

The fourth example was a parable of a merchant who found an extraordinarily valuable pearl.  Here again, the person sold what he had to in order to buy that pearl (vs. 45-46).  Both examples picture salvation as something hidden from most people, but which is so valuable that people who have this truth revealed to them, are willing to give up all that they have in order to possess it.

Jesus is like the pearl and the treasure in the field.  If we want to follow Him we can’t be stuck on the things of this world.  Like the precious pearl and valuable treasure, it costs everything to follow Jesus.  However, once we do, we realize He is worth more than anything else.  Having Jesus in our life is worth more than everything else.  Nothing this world offers will ever fulfill us as much as a relationship with Jesus Christ!

The fifth and final parable that Jesus told in our portion of Scripture today, gives another example about the kingdom of heaven.  This parable was of a dragnet that people threw into the sea, gathering up objects from the bottom of the water (vs. 47-50).  A dragnet was a weighted net that was dropped to the bottom of a body of water, such as the Sea of Galilee where Jesus frequently sat and taught.  After the net reached the bottom, it would then be pulled in, and the contents sorted out.  Edible fish would be kept, and they were always hoping that something valuable might be found.  Invaluable and unusable junk would be tossed out.

The visible kingdom of God, the sphere of those who claim to be believers, is full of both good and bad, of true believers and those who are faking and pretending.  On the last day, the Day of Judgment, everything will be sorted out.  True believers will enter heaven to be with Jesus forever, while the unbelievers will be cast out into eternal torment.

In closing, the kingdom of heaven is more valuable than anything else we could ever have.  Though we cannot buy salvation or our way into heaven, we must be willing to give up everything to put Jesus first in our life.  This would include our time, our hobbies, our family and friends.  Jesus and His kingdom should have first place in our life.