Saturday, September 30, 2023

Answering For My Own Sins

Ezekiel 18:1-32

Our Old Testament reading this first week of October, from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer, brings us to the Book of Ezekiel.  Here the prophet confronts a proverb or saying that was popularly spoken during the days of the Babylonian exile.  Because this proverb was being spoken of as truth, yet was not, the Lord wanted His prophet to confront and correct the people.  Let’s look at this proverb and why it was not true, though some claimed it was.

The proverb was “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” (vs. 2).  The point of this proverb was that children suffer for their parent’s sins.  This proverb was being used as a lame excuse for their own sinful condition.  They were saying that God couldn’t hold them responsible for their sins and the condition of their lives right now, because their parents had sinned, not them, and thus brought these problems upon them.

However the Lord said that this was not the case.  They were taking a proverb which had a measure of truth in it, and distorted it into a falsehood.  It is true that sometimes children suffer inadvertently for what their parents did.  If a parent drinks or gambles all of the household money away, the children suffer.  If a mother drinks alcohol or uses drugs while pregnant, the child may suffer birth defects.  God said, though, that He will not punish a good child for something sinful that their parents did, nor will He punish a good parent for something sinful that the child did.  God plays no favorites.  He holds each individual accountable for their own sins.  Judgment is according to individual faith and conduct (vs. 4).  The prophet Ezekiel gave them God’s Word.  The people were suffering for their own sins, not the sins of their fathers.  God judges each person for his own actions, not for the actions of others.

Our Scripture goes on to explain how this proverb was not accurate.  If someone loves the Lord and follows His ways, obeying what God has said, he would be blessed by God (vs. 5-9).  However, if he has a son who is wicked, the Lord will hold that son in judgment for his own sins (vs. 10-13).  It doesn’t matter that his father was a believer and follower of the Lord.  The godly father is not responsible for the sins of the son, nor will the wicked son reap the blessings of having a godly father.  The righteousness of the father does not atone for the wickedness of the son.  However, if the wicked man in turn has a godly, believing child, that one will not be punished for the sins of his father, nor the father reap the blessings of having a godly son (vs. 14-18).  (This whole passage is not a promotion of salvation by works, but that if one has genuinely repented and asked Jesus as Savior, they will show that by their lifestyle.)

This proverb was a very popular belief in the later Old Testament days and by the Pharisees of the time of Jesus.  They liked to hold the parents of wicked adult children guilty, along with the children of wicked parents.  At the same time they felt in their own case, if they fell into sin and wickedness, yet if their parents were righteous, the righteousness of their parents would excuse their own sins.  Ezekiel brought them God’s Word, that this teaching was wrong.  We cannot claim the merits of someone else’s righteousness.  Each person is responsible for his own personal sin.  Each person will give account for themselves, irrespective of their father, whether righteous or unrighteous.

It does not matter whether your parents or grandparents were pastors, deacons, founding members of this or that church.  You will not merit salvation because your mother or father were godly Christian people. It won’t matter how many times your grandmother read her Bible, or if your son became a priest and missionary.  In the same way, it won’t count against you if your parents were the worst criminals of the last hundred years.  An ungodly son is not saved as a result of a godly father, nor an ungodly father saved as a result of a godly son.  Salvation is entirely an individual, personal matter.

When the people of Ezekiel’s day heard this they were not happy.  They claimed that God’s ways were not right.  They didn’t like it that He demands the same of all, irrespective of their status or position.  They wanted to gain a free ride on the spiritual coattails of their godly ancestors, with no accounting for their own wickedness.  They also wanted the right to cast out someone for the sins of their parents.

The prophet proclaimed to them that it was their own ways that were wrong (vs. 29).  He called upon the people to repent of their sins.  God takes no pleasure in condemning the wicked (vs. 32).  He does not want anyone to perish, but that all should come to repentance (II Peter 3:9).  God desires that everyone should accept Jesus as their Savior and be saved (I Timothy 2:4).  Unfortunately not everyone does, and then their eternal fate is sealed.  Don’t let that be you!  Come to the Lord Jesus today and receive eternal life!

Friday, September 29, 2023

The Vineyard Workers

Matthew 20:1-16

“It’s not fair!”  How many times do we hear that lament?  Children make that complaint against their teachers and their parents.  Adults say that about their boss.  Whenever someone thinks that they are being picked on, that someone else is getting something good that they didn’t get, or that they are getting something bad that the others aren’t, they cry that it isn’t fair.  There’s no complaint if we see we’re being treated special, but at the very least we want what we perceive as equal treatment.  In our Gospel passage today, Jesus tells a parable of a group that complained of unfair treatment.  Let’s look at the lesson the Lord seeks to give.

The parable begins early in the morning.  A man who owned a presumably very large vineyard went out to hire some day laborers.  It was probably time to harvest the grapes, and he needed workers (vs. 1-2).  A typical day laborer in New Testament times would work from 6 am till 6 pm.  They would usually gather in the marketplace early in the morning in hopes of being hired for a day’s work.  A denarius was a typical and fair day’s wage at that time, so these workers were not being cheated by any means.

By the ancient Roman time system, the first hour of the day was 6 am., or generally sunrise.  The first group of workers that the landowner hired started work at 6 am.  By the third hour, or 9 am, he must have realized that he needed to hire some more workers, so he went back to the marketplace to hire more.  He told them that he would pay them what was right (vs. 3-4).  The landowner goes out again at the sixth hour (noon), again at the ninth hour (3 pm), and the eleventh hour (5 pm) to hire more workers.  Each time he tells these new workers that he will pay them “whatever is right” (vs. 5-7).

These last several groups of hired laborers probably did not expect to get a full day’s wage, as they knew they had only worked part of the day.  They would have been glad, though, that they were hired at all, and to receive any wage.  There were no unemployment benefits back then, nor any welfare system.  So imagine their surprise when the owner of the vineyard tells his steward to hand out the wages, starting with the 5 pm hires, and give them each a denarius! (vs. 8-9).

The hires who were hired at 6 am saw what was being handed out, and they felt that since they had worked all day, they thought that they would get more.  That would only be “fair” in their minds (vs. 10).  They were quite upset when they, too, only got a denarius, and complained to the landowner (vs. 11-12).  “That’s unfair!”  He told them, though, that a denarius was what they agreed on, that was the standard wage, and they were not being cheated in any way.  He was just being generous to the unfortunate ones who had not been able to find a full day’s work (vs. 13-15).

So what does this parable have to teach us Christians today?  This is obviously more than just a tale about a kind boss who wanted to treat the unfortunate ones in a generous manner, more than a tale of what’s fair or not fair.  Jesus is again speaking about the Kingdom of God.  There are people who get saved when they are young, as children or as teenagers.  They go to a Christian university and become a pastor or a missionary, or do some other work for God’s Kingdom, spending their whole life serving the Lord.  Some become Christians in early adulthood or middle adulthood, and then spend some years serving Him.  Then there are those who may  have had no interest or time for God, maybe lived a riotous life, and then as an elderly person, perhaps even at their deathbed, turn to Jesus and accept Him as their Savior.  So, when they are all in heaven, should the ones who spent 70 - 80 years serving Jesus get a “better place” in heaven?  Should the ones who spent 30 - 40 years get an average one, and then the ones who have a deathbed conversion just get a dingy corner?

God does not operate by our merit system.  Those who turn to Jesus in their twilight years, perhaps literally moments before they die, will have just as good a welcome into heaven as the one who spent 80+ years serving Him.  The thief on the cross who was saved in the last minutes of his life will enjoy the full blessings of heaven alongside those who were saved for decades.  Such is the grace of God.

We should not begrudge those who turn to God in the last moments of life, because in reality, no one deserves eternal life.  This is a lesson in grace - we do not obtain salvation from God by merit.  Instead of grumbling that “it’s not fair!”, we should be rejoicing that someone in their later years or at their deathbed, turns to Jesus.  Rejoice that their sinful soul was snatched from the brink of damnation, and is now redeemed and going to heaven!  Rejoice with the angels that a new name is written down in glory!

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Living And Dying For Christ

Philippians 1:21-27

Several years ago I read something that was rather sad.  Some of you might remember Carl Sagan, a rather famous astronomer, and astrophysicist in the latter half of the 20th century, who was also an author and who made a very popular TV series that helped explain astronomy and outer space to the general population.  He died in 1996 in his early 60’s.  Though he had a brilliant mind, Carl Sagan had no belief in God.  After he died, some people asked his widow if, as he lay dying of pneumonia, he ever turned to God or believed in an afterlife.  She said that he didn’t, and that she would never see Carl again or be reunited.  He believed that this life was all that there was, and afterwards there was no afterlife, nothing.  How terrible to have no belief in the Savior or belief in an afterlife, and no hope of ever seeing one’s loved ones again.

This was not the case with the Apostle Paul.  When he wrote this letter to the church in Philippi, he was in prison for his faith in the Lord Jesus, and he did not know what his fate might be.  However, Paul knew that no matter what might happen, all was good.  If he lived, that was good, as his life was in the hands of Jesus, and if he were to die, that would be even better, as he would be with Jesus (vs. 21).

For Paul, life was summed up in Jesus Christ.  Jesus was his reason for living, and death would free him from earthly burdens, where he would spend eternity glorifying God.  Paul’s entire purpose in life was to boldly speak forth God’s message to others, and to become more like Him each day.  He disciplined himself, setting goals and priorities to glorify God.

If Paul lived longer, that would make it possible for him to preach Jesus and win more believers.  Paul’s only reason for remaining in this world was to bring souls to Jesus, which was the fruit of his labor, and to teach them to do the same.  Paul felt confident that this was what God had planned.

However, if Paul had his way, he would rather die and be with Jesus.  This was not some sort of suicidal death-wish by any means.  Paul was not suicidal or depressed.  He knew, unlike Carl Sagan, that there was a life beyond this one, one that was far more glorious and wonderful than anything anyone could imagine.  For Paul and all believers, death is a graduation to something better.  It is a promotion to be in the presence of Jesus, and have perfect fellowship with Him.

As Paul sat in prison, not knowing what the result of each day might bring, he didn’t know which outcome he wanted more (vs. 22).  Living was attractive because it has the possibility of preaching the Gospel to more people, and winning more souls for Jesus.  Dying, though, would be a gain for him, because then he would be with Jesus.  All of the trials and tribulations of life would be past, and he would have the glory of an eternity with God.

Paul knew, though, that his remaining alive, and especially if he were set free, would be more helpful for the Church (vs. 24-26).  There was still more work to be done, more people who needed to hear the Gospel.  So Paul yielded his personal desires in order to build up the Church.

The Apostle closed this passage with a reminder for us believers to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel (vs. 27).  We are to have integrity, honesty, and morals.  Believers all need to live their lives consistent with God’s Word.

In closing, I sadly think back to Carl Sagan, the astronomer, author, and TV personality who died with no hope of an afterlife, no hope of anything good.  For those who don’t believe in God, life on earth is all there is, and they will strive for this world’s values.  However, when they pass on into eternity, they will sadly find out that they were tragically wrong.  Christians know that there is an eternal life in one place or the other.  We should develop eternal values, and seek to tell others about Jesus.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Jesus Is Our True Source

Psalm 145:13-21

Who or what is the source of our physical or financial security?  That is a key question, as what we are trusting in to make it through life is important.  It is important to know whether that source is dependable.  Can we safely depend upon that source, or will it come crashing down?  In our psalm for this week we see who, or what the psalmist was trusting in for everything, whether his safety, his daily needs, or anything in his life.

As our Scripture passage from part of Psalm 145 opens, the psalmist declares that the Lord God upholds him when he falls or is bowed down (vs. 14).  Now if the psalmist were to trip and fall down, perhaps hurting himself, he knew that the Lord would bring him healing, and he could trust that He would watch over him so that such accidents did not happen often.  However, there are more ways to fall.  He could suffer from a business failure, a break-up in a relationship, any number of things that fall down around him in his life.  When these happen in our life, God doesn’t just leave us there to wallow in our misery.  Instead, the Lord upholds us and raises us up.

When the problems start to pile up, the load of them bears down heavily upon us.  It is a load that is heavy to carry, and we can seem bowed down under the weight of it.  When these problems are heavy, and the stress comes, we can often get depressed, and this can actually, physically affect our posture.  We are literally bowed down under the weight of our troubles.  That is a burden that we don’t need to bear, and the psalmist knew it.  Psalm 55:22 tells us to cast those burdens upon the Lord, and He will sustain us.  We can cast our cares upon Jesus, for He cares for us (I Peter 5:7).  As we see here, He will raise us up.  Jesus is the Great Burden-bearer.  He lifts us out of every problem.

The psalmist knew that there were other circumstances where we need to look to God as our source, and that is for our daily sustenance (vs. 15).  I don’t know about in your corner of the globe, but here the price of food has gone through the roof!  I don’t know too many people with an unlimited bank account, so this hits everyone hard.  Jobs are not giving salary raises, senior citizens are often on a fixed income, so when prices go up, what can people do?  Too many people are finding their cupboard is bare!  They can barely afford the essentials.  When people are in need, who do they look to?  Little children look to their parents.  Who do the parents look to?  Do they turn to their boss?  He isn’t giving any raises!  Sometimes those bosses even cut work hours, so their paychecks are even smaller!  Do they look to the government?  Politicians are cutting back on aid benefits, so there is no help there!  There is only One whom we can rely on, and that is the Lord.  We can look to Him, and He will provide for us!  He opens His hand and freely provides for His children (vs. 15-16).  The Lord is our Source.  He is our provider.  He gives us everything we need (Acts 17:25).  We can put our hope in Him because He loves us.

When we are bowed down with troubles and have fallen upon hard times, when we have daily needs, such as food, that need to be supplied, we need to turn to our Source.  Not the bank or our employer.  Not a friend, or even the government.  Remember, our true Source is the Lord Jesus.  We turn to Him in prayer, calling upon Him, for He is near to His children when they pray to Him (vs. 18).   When we come to God in prayer, it doesn’t matter what our background is, how small we are in comparison with others, or how low in station we are.  No one is given priority treatment.  Jesus is near to His children who call upon Him.

Our psalmist knew that He could trust and depend upon the Lord in his time of need, whatever that need might be, and we can too.  That is because all throughout Scripture the Lord has promised this.  We might think that anyone can make a promise, and we have all had people promise us things, but they did not keep that promise.  God has made us promises, and when He makes a promise they will be accomplished (Numbers 23:19).  He is trustworthy, dependable, and reliable.  We can count upon God to fulfill His promises.  He doesn’t just keep them some of the time, or only when He wants to.  He is faithful.  Look to Jesus, for He is our only true Source.  He is near to all those who call upon Him in time of need.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Angry At God

Jonah 3:10-4:11

Have you ever been angry at God?  Most of us, if we’re honest, will admit to having been at one time or another.  And also, if we’re honest and god-fearing, will admit that God is right, and His ways are always correct and unerring.  If we have something that is upsetting us about the ways of the Lord, it is us that are off-base, not Him.  One Old Testament character, one that most of us are familiar with, found himself quite angry at God, and was stubbornly refusing to bend his feelings.  Let’s take a look at our Scripture today.

Our angry Biblical character is none other than the prophet Jonah.  Most of us know the account of his ministry, how the Lord called him to journey to the city of Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, and bring His message to the people there.  The Assyrian Empire was the bitter enemy of the nation of Israel, and Jonah had a deep-seated hatred for the Assyrian people.  He had no intention of going to Nineveh to tell them about Yahweh, so after hearing God’s call, Jonah planned on getting as far away as he could.  He took a ship to the furthest destination he could find.  God wasn’t going to let Jonah get away that easily from His plan for him, so He sent a storm.  Jonah soon found himself overboard, and in the belly of a large fish!  (Jonah 1).   After spending three days there, Jonah reluctantly changed his mind, obeyed God, and went to preach where God sent him.

Despite his virulent hatred of the Ninevites, Jonah was a gifted preacher, and a great revival broke out in the city, with the whole city repenting and turning to the Lord (Jonah 3:4-9).  Because the people repented and turned to Him, God spared Nineveh, and did not bring judgment down upon the city.  On the basis of their repentance, God could deal with them in grace rather than in judgment.

This is where Jonah’s great anger developed.  He had preached that unless the people repented of their sins, God would destroy them, and because of his immense hatred of the Ninevites, Jonah wanted a front row seat to watch their destruction (vs. 5).  The thought of that happening must have filled him with glee.  However, when he saw that the people repented, and God did not destroy them, Jonah was furious.  The prophet was very open and honest with God.  He spoke right up, telling Him that this was what he had feared would happen, and why he had tried to flee to begin with.  Jonah knew that God was a merciful God, and that if someone repents, He spares them (vs. 1-2).

Rather than getting angry at Jonah for his terrible attitude, God tried to teach him an object lesson.  With the hot Middle East sun beating down upon Jonah as he sat there, God quickly made a vine grow, sprouting large leaves, which brought him shade (vs. 6).  Jonah was very thankful for that.  However, overnight God brought a worm to eat up the vine, causing the plant to die.  The next morning, with the hot sun beating down upon him, Jonah was angry that the plant had died (vs. 7-9).  The heat made him wish he was dead, and he complained to God about this.  God then proceeded to give the prophet a good scolding.  He told Jonah that if he could have pity on the death of the plant, something he had not created, why couldn’t He, the Creator and Lord of all, not have mercy on the city of Nineveh, especially when they repented? (vs 10-11).

Anger isn’t always sinful or wrong, as when Jesus was angry in the Temple.  However, Jonah’s anger here was not commendable, justifiable, or honorable.  It certainly didn’t glorify God.  Here we see that a man of God was indifferent to a whole group of people’s potential damnation!  Jonah was happy when God spared his life in the fish, but angry when the Ninevites got saved.  As in the case with the prophet, God uses both blessings and trials to challenge and change us for the better.  He prepared a storm, a fish, a plant, and a worm to confront Jonah’s heart problem, to try and reach him to make him more compassionate.

God will spare no extreme to get His message to the lost, even if the messenger is deliberately disobedient.  As we see, Jonah’s anger towards God was completely wrong and out of place.  His hatred for another nationality was a sin.  God didn’t love only Jonah’s people, the Jews.  God has love for everyone, and wants them to repent and get saved.  His forgiveness extends to all who repent and believe.  He is slow to anger and abounding in mercy (Psalm 103:8).

The Book of Jonah ends abruptly.  Jonah is silenced.  He can make no reply to God’s Words.  His only appropriate answer would be to confess that he is entirely wrong, and that God is entirely righteous.  Did he do that?  We don’t know, but hopefully he did.  Who is God calling you to love that you do not want to love? 

Friday, September 22, 2023

Forgive As We Have Been Forgiven

Matthew 18:21-35

Each of us have had people who have done us wrong to some degree or another.  And each of us have done some things to others that weren’t right, either.  In both cases forgiveness is needed.  We need those we have done wrong to forgive us, and we need to forgive those who have harmed us, as well.  Much as we crave others' forgiveness, it isn’t always easy to be the one who should do the forgiving.  However, that is one thing that the Lord will not let slide.  Today’s Scripture recounts the parable that the Lord Jesus told us about how important forgiving others is.  Let’s look into this, and learn the lesson the Lord wishes to teach us.

As our Scripture opens, Peter is talking with Jesus, and he asked the Savior how many times did he need to forgive someone who keeps on doing him wrong (vs. 21).  Thinking that he is being super-spiritual, Peter asks if seven times was enough.  The rabbis at this time thought that since God only forgave Israel’s enemies three times (Amos 1:3-13), it was unnecessary to forgive more than three times.  Peter thought that by forgiving seven times he was being very generous.  Jesus answers Peter with an astounding reply.  He said to forgive not just seven times, but seventy times seven (vs. 22).  There must be unlimited forgiveness (Luke 17:4).  We shouldn’t even keep track of how many times we forgive someone.  We should always forgive those who are truly repentant, no matter how many times they ask.

Jesus then tells His disciples and the crowds that always surrounded Him a parable that explains exactly the degree of forgiveness that God expects of us (vs. 23-34).  In the parable, we read of a king who had a servant who owed him 10,000 talents, an extraordinary amount of money. If the talents were gold, it would be approximately 4 billion dollars today.  If they were silver, it would be approximately 80 million, an incomprehensible amount of money.  This example of the servant owing such a huge amount of money represents the sinner who cannot hope to ever pay back the transgressions of sin that he owes God, no matter what he does.

This servant, with no hope of ever paying the king back, and with the prospect of him and his family being sold as slaves until the debt was paid, falls on his knees and begs forgiveness.  The king, a kind and gracious man, forgives him his whole debt.  However, the servant then goes out and finds a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii, about $300 today, a pittance compared to what the first man owed.  When that second servant didn’t have the cash to pay back his debt, the first servant had him immediately thrown into debtors' prison.  There was no forgiveness, no mercy.  The first servant did not show the compassion that he had been shown, and others immediately noticed, and told the king.  The king is furious, and severely reprimands that servant, reminding him of how much he had been forgiven.  He then delivers him up to pay all that was due.

This parable was told to illustrate just how important God believes our forgiveness of others is.  Just as the first servant could never possibly pay back the debt he owed, we can never pay back to God what we owe Him.  Because God has forgiven all of our sins, we should not withhold forgiveness from others.  We must never forget how much the Lord has forgiven us.  We need to show the same spirit of forgiveness towards others, who owe us much less than we owe the Lord.

Forgiveness is often more of an act of our will, than an act of our heart.  It means giving up the resentment we feel, and the right to get even with the other one, even though we were the one wronged.  The foundation of our forgiveness of others is God’s forgiveness of us.  When the first servant did not forgive, the king gave him to the tormentors.  Unforgiveness torments us, not the wrongdoer.   Forgiveness doesn’t negate the wrong done to us, but it lets go of the right to get even.

Unforgiveness often turns into bitterness, which can affect every part of our life.  It can affect our family, our job, and our health.  It also causes spiritual turmoil.  Thus, a lack of forgiveness should be offensive to believers.  It certainly offends God, who will chasten His unforgiving children.

God’s forgiveness, though freely given to repentant sinners, is nevertheless conditional.  He forgives us as we forgive others.  We need to remember the words of Jesus.  He said that if we forgive others for what they have done to us, God will forgive us.  However, if we don’t, then God won’t forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15).  We do not want to be like the first servant, who ended up being handed over to the tormentors.  We should always be keeping our spiritual accounts in order, and forgive others.  Forgive as God has forgiven us!

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Eat This! Don't Eat That!

Romans 14:1-12

“Why are you doing that?  You sure aren’t much of a Christian if you are doing that!”  Has another Christian ever said that to you?  Or perhaps you are one that has said, or perhaps thought that about another Christian.  There are many that think that their personal opinions are right, and cast judgment on others.  This has been an issue in many churches among different believers, and has been happening since the early church.  Our portion of Scripture today from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans teaches us how God wants us to handle this problem.

In the early church, there were differences in personal beliefs about several issues, among them were what should be acceptable to eat or not eat, and also about what days, if any, should be considered holy.  Among early believers, there were a number of those who came from a Jewish background who still felt compelled to follow the Old Testament dietary laws.  They were still meticulous in eating only foods that were kosher, and some of them sat in judgment on their fellow Christians about their diet.  There were also some believers, both from Jewish or Gentile background, who were very careful about not eating certain foods, particularly meat, which had previously been offered to pagan idols.  During the 1st century in the Mediterranean world, some meat or other food items were offered to pagan idols, and then quickly taken to the marketplace where they were often sold at discounted price.  There were some in the early church who took advantage of these bargains.  However, some other believers were harshly judging them for eating such food.  There were also some factions that felt the Jewish religious holy days still needed to be observed, while others didn’t.  These were issues that the Apostle Paul sought to resolve.

As our passage opens, Paul speaks of those who were weak in the faith.  He is referring to these believers who felt compelled to still follow the Jewish dietary laws or to avoid certain meats offered to idols.  They felt that to be a true believer, or a “better” Christian, one must follow these dictates about what to eat, or what days to worship on or not.  Paul said that these folks were weak in the faith, and those who didn’t bother with such dietary rules were stronger in the faith (vs. 1-2).  The mature believer’s faith knows that he has freedom to eat either meat sold in the pagan meat markets or eat non-kosher meat.  The weaker believer, in caution to avoid contamination, eats a vegetarian diet.  They were also very careful in observing various holy days.

Among some Christians today we see similar issues.  It’s not generally about whether one group eats a kosher diet, and it’s not likely we face any issue about food being offered to pagan idols.  However there are some groups that say one should or shouldn’t do this or that about issues that the Bible has not given very specific teachings on.  Is it okay for a Christian to drink wine or beer?  Is it okay for women to wear slacks?  Should Christians be vegetarians?  There are a number of issues that one group of believers sit in judgment of the others over.  Sometimes it gets to the point where the one despises the other, and has contempt and disdain for them (vs 3).  The stronger ones judge the others as weak, legalistic, and self-righteous.  The weaker ones judge the others as irresponsible and depraved.

Paul teaches us that this should not be the case from either side.  Jesus is the only one who can honestly judge anyone (vs. 4,).  In matters, such as what we eat or don’t eat, matters that are not clearly laid out in the Bible, that are not the fundamentals of the Faith, each Christian must follow the dictates of their own conscience.  The strong believer eats what he wants, and thanks the Lord.  The weak believer eats cautiously, and thanks the Lord (vs. 6).

The weaker or immature faith is one that has not yet developed the spiritual muscle it needs to stand against external pressure.  We honor God when we help other believers to grow in the faith.  We should make an effort to do everything in love, to influence others for good, and our motive should be to please the Lord.

Paul closed this Scripture passage by reminding both groups of believers that one day we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (vs 10-12).  At the Judgment Seat of Christ every believer will give an account of themselves, and the Lord will judge the decisions they made.  We will be accountable to Jesus for what we do, not for what others do or don’t do, what they eat or don’t eat.  When we stand before God’s court of justice, we won’t be thinking of what others have done, only about ourselves (II Corinthians 5:10).

In closing, while the Church must be uncompromising in its stand against activities that are expressly forbidden by Scripture, it should not create additional rules and regulations, and give them equal standing with God’s laws.  In those matters that are not expressly spoken of in God's Word the Bible, let us show love to one another.

Monday, September 18, 2023

The Best Father

Psalm 103:8-13

Did you have a good father?  Many people did, and if you’re fortunate, your father is still around.  However there are some people who did not have a good father.  Some had abusive fathers, knocking them around like a punching bag, or mistreating them in other ways.  Perhaps their father was an alcoholic or used illicit drugs, and the family suffered.  Maybe their father was never around, always working or involved with his friends or hobbies, or their father just got up and walked out.  When these folks hear the word “father”, nothing but hurt and angry thoughts come.  Sometimes it can even hinder their relationship with the Lord God, especially when He is frequently referred to as our Father.  In our Scripture today there is reassurance that God is not an abusive or neglectful father, but instead one that loves His children deeply.

One thing that some people found difficult in their relationship with their fathers is how hard he was on them when they were children.  They remember their father as always angry, having no understanding and no mercy on their childhood frailties.  Their father was a stern man, always quick with the belt or the fist, and now they have transferred these feelings to God.  The term “father” means an angry and unforgiving man, and they feel that is what God must be if He is a “father”.  Our Scripture passage from Psalm 103 shows us that this is not the case.

We open in verse 8, where God’s Word tells us that the Lord is merciful, gracious, and slow to anger.  Even a casual, quick read-through of the Bible shows us that perhaps one of the greatest characteristics of God is His mercy towards us.  Mercy is when God withholds the just punishment for our sins that we deserve.  When we sin, which we all do, God is not quick to strike us down in punishment for what our sins deserve (vs. 10).  That is something that many can relate to with their earthly, physical fathers.  If they slipped up, their father’s anger and wrath would come raining down upon them.  Sometimes for the slightest infraction the punishment would be way over the top.  However, the Bible tells us that God is slow to anger, and when He does punish, it isn’t as much as we would deserve.  God’s anger does not last forever.  It is quickly past.  If we genuinely confess our sins to Him, He will forgive (I John 1:9).  God does not hold grudges.

How high is the sky above us?  If we climb to the highest mountain top, there is still sky above us.  Up in an airplane, there is sky above the plane.  Even in a spacecraft, there is sky or the heavens above that.  We can keep going and going, and never reach a place where there isn’t something still above.  The psalmist uses that metaphor to describe how great God’s mercy is to those who fear, or show deep respect towards Him (vs. 11).  Perhaps our father did not show us any mercy or love, or maybe just a little, but then it quickly ran out, but that is not the case with our Heavenly Father.

Maybe our father was one to always bring up our mistakes and failings, continually reminding us of when we did wrong here, and failed there.  They may have said they forgave us, but they continually brought it up again and again.  That is not the case with our Heavenly Father.  When He forgives us, He removes that transgression from us as far as the east is from the west (vs. 12).  It is impossible to bring the east and the west together.  Even so it is impossible to bring the forgiven sinner and his forgiven sins together.  When God forgives our sins, He separates it from us, and doesn’t even remember it.  We need never wallow in the past, for God forgives and forgets.  He wipes our record clean.  He is a good and loving Father.

A good father will observe his young child struggling with something, have pity on them, and seek to help them out.  They will listen and try to help out if their child is dealing with a difficult problem.  They try to make things easier for them.  And if they are sick or feeling bad, they have pity and do whatever they can to make them better.  A good father has compassion on his children, considering their weaknesses, immaturity, and ignorance.  They won’t require more from them then they are able.  They will have patience and mercy.  Even more so, the Lord has pity on His children (vs. 13).  God is the best of fathers, even better than the best of earthly fathers.

As we see, many people may have had a difficult relationship with their fathers, some even wishing they could forget him altogether.  Some may have looked at other neighborhood fathers, seeing how kind and loving they were to their children, and wished they could have had a father like that, one that they could have run lovingly into the arms of.  However, they do not need to hesitate to call God their Father.  God is the perfect Father.  He loves us completely, and infinitely better than the best earthly father ever could.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Too Sinful To Be Saved?

II Chronicles 33:1-20

Everyone knows of some people, either famous and well-known people, or else just more locally known, who are so wicked, who have done such terrible things that we believe that they could never, ever get saved.  Think of people who have committed atrocious murders, perhaps of a number of people.  They blaspheme and publicly scorn God.  They are beyond His mercy, we think.  They could never get saved.  Or could they?  Our Scripture today from the Second Book of Chronicles, will tell the account of such a person.  Let’s see what God’s Word tells us.

Following King Solomon, during the reign of his son Rehoboam, the kingdom of Israel split into two, the northern Kingdom of Israel, and the southern Kingdom of Judah.  There were 19 kings of the northern Kingdom of Israel, none of which were good or godly.  The Kingdom of Israel was overthrown and went into captivity in 722 BC.  The southern Kingdom of Judah had 20 kings, and only 8 of them were good and godly.  The other 12 turned their back on Yahweh, and worshiped pagan gods, setting up the heathen idols throughout the country, including Jerusalem.

Of all the evil kings of Judah, those who had forsaken Yahweh, King Manasseh was the most wicked.  His father was the godly King Hezekiah who had loved and served the Lord, yet Manasseh had turned his back on the faith of his father.  He came to the throne at age 12, and within a very short time he turned to follow all of the pagan practices of Canaanite nations, setting up the idols and shrines that his father had destroyed (vs. 1-5).

Manasseh reinstated the worship of the Canaanite god Baal, the goddess Asherah, along with many other lesser gods and goddesses, including the moon and stars.  That was bad enough, but he had the temerity to set their idols and altars up within God’s Temple.  Manasseh also promoted the practice of astrology, witchcraft, seances and calling forth spirits.   The worst practice that Manasseh took part in was the sacrifice of babies and young children to pagan gods (vs. 6).  This was generally done to the god Moloch, who had the head of a bull.  Often the idol was large, with outstretched arms, where the baby or young child was placed and then rolled into a bonfire or burning furnace.  Manasseh took part in these child sacrifices, including sacrificing some of his own children.

This wickedness was worse than any of the kings before him, and was worse than what was practiced by the nations that the Lord had destroyed (vs. 9).  The Lord sent several prophets, including the prophet Isaiah, to condemn what Manasseh was doing (vs. 10), but he ignored their words.  These actions were not anything that Yahweh could just disregard.  He sent the foreign army of the Assyrians into Judah, and they took Manasseh captive, though the country itself was not overtaken.  It was during this period of imprisonment with chains, fetters, and hooks that Manasseh saw his evil, and repented of the wickedness of his ways (vs. 11-13).  He turned in sorrow and repentance, crying out to God for forgiveness.

Manasseh’s sins were the worst of any of the kings of Judah, before or after him.  He was wicked, an idolater, a murderer of his children, and a desecrator of the Temple, all of which were an affront to Yahweh.   Should God forgive such a person?  Most of us would say no way!  Fortunately we are not God, for He will forgive anyone who genuinely repents of their sins.  Manasseh had no hope of ever returning to his throne, and quite possibly felt he might be executed.  This wasn’t some bargain he was trying to do.  According to the Scriptures, his repentance was genuine, and the Lord forgave and saved him.  Manasseh was restored to his throne, and he did what he could to change his life, and that of the country.  He tore down all of the pagan altars, and repaired the altar and cleansed the Temple of Yahweh (vs. 15-17).

God showed justice to Manasseh in warning and punishing him for his sins, but He also showed mercy in responding to his genuine repentance by forgiving and restoring him.  Despite the harsh consequences of his sins, Manasseh learned from them.  Many people who have sinned terribly, and then suffer the consequences of those actions, do not learn from them.  Instead they harden their hearts against God, shaking their fist at Him.  For all the heinous wickedness of Manasseh, God was able to reach his heart, and he repented and forsook his wickedness.

God will go a long way to get someone’s attention.  Forgiveness is limited not by the amount of sin, but by our willingness to repent.  One must humble themselves, repent, and call upon Jesus, as Manasseh did.  If God can forgive Manasseh, he can forgive anyone!  Until death, no one is beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Handling Church Discipline

Matthew 18:15-20

In the last several decades conflict resolution has become a much used method to bring about a peaceful end to disagreements between two or more people.  Employers often use various ways of conflict resolution to work out problems between employees.  The legal courts also employ people skilled in this field to resolve disputes and strife between people, often in divorce cases when children are involved.  Conflict resolution is nothing new, though, as Jesus gave us instructions on this when a problem would develop within the Church.  Our Gospel reading for this week teaches us how the Lord wishes us to resolve problems.

As our Scripture opens, Jesus was teaching His disciples, and gave us here a pattern to follow when conflicts developed between believers within the Church.  Though Christians are redeemed and have become children of God, there are still occasions when disagreements develop between one another.  God’s Word gives us four steps to follow to resolve these problems as they arise.

The first step believers are to follow if they find that a fellow Christian has perhaps done them wrong, or a disagreement develops, is to go to them personally, one on one, and privately talk to them, seeking to resolve the issue (vs. 15).  Hopefully that would be all that it would take to bring peace between the two parties, and harmony is restored between the two Christian brothers or sisters.

However, sometimes one person will not listen or resolve their issues.  In that case, if the wrongdoer remains unrepentant, the Lord instructs us to bring in another mediator or two to try and help bring about a resolution (vs. 16).  This fulfills the principle of Deuteronomy 19:15.  These mediators should hopefully be impartial members of the church, not anyone who is in any way connected to either party, or the issue at hand.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work, either.  The person causing the trouble refuses to resolve the issue, and remains steadfastly unrepentant.  That is when the third step must be taken.  If the person that one is trying to seek peace with, with whom one is trying to resolve a conflict, is determined to remain implacable, then one must bring the issue in front of the church deacons, elders, and leadership (vs. 17).  This is not to be done vindictively or with the desire to spread gossip about that person.  Instead it is to be with the goal of restoration, not in a lynch-mob mentality.

The fourth and final step would be taken if the sinning party still refuses to abide by the church leadership’s decisions.  That step would be excommunication (vs. 17).  The obstinate sinner is to be cut off, at least temporarily, from Christian fellowship.  The idea is not merely to punish the offender, or to shun them completely, but to remove them as a detrimental influence from the fellowship of the church.  Some examples in the Bible of excommunication are found in I Corinthians 5:4-5, and I Timothy 1:20.

The Bible says we are to treat them as a heathen (a Gentile or unbeliever) and a tax collector.  But how did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors?  He loved them. He died for them. Jesus told them the good news of forgiveness of sins.  When someone sins against us, and refuses to listen to us, we must treat them as a non-believer.  We should treat them with the same urgent love, concern, and prayer that we would someone who has never believed or heard the Gospel.  We don’t pretend the sin never happened, but we refrain from hating them.  Instead we pray for them.

Continuing on, verses 18-19 refers to the decisions of the church in conflicts.  The church’s decisions should be God-guided, and based on discernment of His Word.  We are to bring our problems to the church, and they are to seek God’s guidance in resolving conflicts.  If the believer conducts themselves Scripturally, the decision reached will be honored and verified in heaven.  The “anything” is conditional on it being the will of God.  God will never allow His Word to be used against Himself.  Two or more believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, will pray according to God’s will, not their own.  Thus their requests will be granted.

When two or three believers are gathered in Jesus’ Name, and in this context it is for Church discipline, Jesus is there in the midst (vs. 20).  Jesus’ Spirit lives in each believer, but He promises to be with them in a unique and special way when they gather in His Name.

Church discipline is never easy or enjoyable.  Too often the church leadership just chooses to ignore these problems.  They don’t want to deal with any possible unpleasantness or publicity.  Some may feel that they have no right to call out anyone’s sins, feeling they “shouldn’t judge”.  Yet right here in our Scripture passage Jesus gives us very plain steps He wants the Church to take, if necessary.  The church that ignores its members who are in sin is not acting in love.  If they truly care about the members, they will confront sin in this laid out manner.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

How Do We Treat Our Enemies?

Romans 12:14, 17-21

How do you feel when someone does you wrong?  Perhaps they have done some really dirty deal at work, or maybe a so-called “friend” lies about you to others, or does some other act of betrayal, which really scars your reputation.  Maybe a spouse or family member does something terrible towards you, which hurts you deeply.  When these, or so many other types of treachery happens, how do we react?  We might be tempted to think up something to really clobber them good!  Why not give them back just like they did you?  That might only seem right and fair, especially since they were the ones who acted nasty and hurtful first.  Let’s look at what God’s Word says, and see if He might give us a pass.

The Apostle Paul sure knew about being attacked unfairly, when enemies said and did some very nasty and even threatening things against him.  It would have seemed only fair and natural for him to finally have had enough of that, and to turn around and give them equal treatment.  Perhaps there were times that he felt exactly like doing that, and he might have before he came to know Jesus.  Yet now that Paul was a believer and follower of the Savior, he knew that Jesus had another way that He wanted His children to act when they had been treated wrongly.  Our Scripture passage today is one place in the Bible that details this way.

In the middle of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, he gives some instructions from the Lord to these believers.  As our Scripture opens, Paul tells us that God wishes us to bless those who persecute us (vs. 14).  When we bless someone, we say and think kind words to and about them.  We aren’t speaking or thinking evil, or calling down damnation upon them.  This is generally contrary to what we would want to and normally do in this situation.  However, as believers, we have the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

As mentioned, for many of us, our first reaction is to give our enemies back exactly what they did to us.  If they destroyed our reputation, we’ll destroy theirs.  If they caused trouble for us at work, we’ll do the same.  God’s Word tells us that they may have done us evil, but we are not to repay them in a like manner (vs. 17).  Jesus wants us to give them the opposite, to give them goodness and kindness instead.  Our behavior towards those who mistreat us, in reality, our whole manner of life is to conform to an honest representation of a child of God.

As Christians, most of us know how the Lord wants us to behave and lead our life.  We are to be peacemakers, not those who go around causing trouble (vs. 18).  Paul tells us here to live peaceably with everyone, but he adds the phrase “if it is possible”.  Sometimes, with some people, it just isn’t possible to maintain peaceful relations with them.  They just don’t want it.  When someone has something against us, we should try to reconcile (Matthew 5:23-24).  We can only do that if they are receptive.  Otherwise we can only do so much.  We have no control over the conduct of others.  The cause of disturbing the peace, though, is never to come from a Christian.

Paul continues in verse 19 by reminding us that only God has the right to avenge, and He will avenge (Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 32:35).  We can keep evil, injustice, and mistreatment from ruling over us by responding with goodness, not bitterness.  Paul tells us to treat our enemies with goodness, and gives a reference to one of the proverbs in the Old Testament (Proverbs 25:21-22).  This refers to a sense of shame or remorse which may be produced when we treat an evildoer with kindness.

Don’t meet evil with evil.  That will only breed more evil (vs. 21).  When someone wrongs us and we retaliate, we put ourselves on their level.  We do not have the right to avenge ourselves.  That is God’s right and duty.  Instead, be like Jesus, who forgave those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34).

When we’ve been deeply hurt, we sometimes resist offering forgiveness, thinking that a pardon excuses the wrongdoer, and downplays the severity of the wrong done to us.  But that’s not what forgiveness is.  Forgiveness is letting go of both the offense and our right to demand payment, with the acknowledgment that vengeance is God’s responsibility, not ours.

If we love someone the way Jesus loves us, we will be willing to forgive.  If we have experienced God’s grace, we will want to pass it on to others.  By treating an enemy kindly, we are not excusing their wrongdoing.  We are forgiving them, and loving them in spite of their sins, just as Jesus did for us.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Teach Me Your Ways

Psalm 119:33-48

This week’s psalm comes from the longest one in the Book of Psalms, and actually the longest chapter in the Bible.  In each verse we read something about God’s Word, His commandments, statutes and precepts.  Scripture can teach us many things as we study it.  Most of the 176 verses make a concise and succinct statement, and have something that can teach us about God’s Word and how we should be living our life for Him.  Let’s take a quick look at a few of these verses, and what we can learn from this portion of Psalm 119.

The psalmist prays to Yahweh in verse 35, asking that He would direct him to walk in His paths.  The unsaved do not know God’s commandments or His Word, and thus cannot truly follow His path.  So often even a believer’s heart is turned away from the paths of God.  It takes the Holy Spirit’s power to bring conviction to the unsaved, and direct them to the way of God’s truth, and to also to lead believers onto His correct path.

In the next verse, verse 36, we read of the psalmist’s desire to keep covetousness away from him.  Covetousness is greatly desiring something that someone else has, something that we want but don’t have.  Most people desire to get rich.  However, more valuable than wealth is obedience to God.  The psalmist prays that his heart would be turned to God’s Word and to the treasures that are eternal in heaven, rather than transient earthly wealth.  The Bible, God’s Word, is more precious than gold.  Money cannot bring us to heaven, but the Bible can!

Continuing on in verse 37, we read how the psalmist doesn’t want to be spending his time looking at worthless things.  That is a very good point for us today.  What are we spending our time looking at?  How many hours a day are we spending watching TV or streaming programs on our computers?  How about the time spent looking at things on social media?   Are we learning anything worthwhile?  Is it strengthening our walk with the Lord?  If we are watching a lot of things that are at odds with the Bible, we need to start filtering out these impure things and guard our mind through Scripture and prayer (Philippians 4:8), instead of spending time with worthless, meaningless, and trivial things.  Instead we should be spending our time in what is of the greatest eternal value, such as God and His Word.

Throughout this long psalm we see that many of the characteristics of God are also characteristics of the Bible, God’s Word.  We read that God’s judgments, (which here is also a synonym for all of the Scriptures), are good (vs. 39).  As we know, one of the characteristics of God is His goodness (Psalm 25:8).  God’s Word is trustworthy (vs. 42), as He is, Himself (II Samuel 7:28).  The Bible is true (vs. 43), and Jesus said that He is the truth (John 14:6).  God is faithful (Lamentations 3:23-24) and so is His Word (vs. 86).  God does not change (Malachi 3:6), and neither does His Word (vs 89).  God’s Word is eternal (vs. 90) and so is He (Revelation 22:13).  This psalm speaks of the characteristic of God’s Word being light (vs. 105), and we also read that God Himself is light (I John 1:5).  And we read that both God and His Word are pure (vs. 140; II Samuel 22:27).

A few more quick thoughts from verses in our portion of Psalm 119.  In verse 41 the psalmist desires both God’s mercy and His salvation according to His Word.  Any salvation that is not according to God’s Word, found within the Bible, is a false salvation.  Many people and religions give us their idea of a way that will save us, but if it doesn’t come from the Bible, it is not a true salvation.

Those who speak God’s Word and trust in it will often suffer reproach from the world (vs. 42).  But we know that the Bible is our only hope in this life (vs. 43), and certainly for our eternity.

Obeying God’s laws does not inhibit or restrain us (vs. 44-46).  Instead, it frees us to be what God designed us to be. Jesus and His salvation give us freedom from sin and oppressive guilt.

In closing we see in verses 47-48, and all throughout this psalm, that the psalmist truly loves the Scriptures.  Our greatest love and delight should not come from material things of this world, but should instead come from God’s Word.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Sound The Warning!

Ezekiel 33:1-11

When a potential disaster is heading your way, you like to be warned ahead of time in order to take precautions against it.  When a hurricane is headed to a populated coast, those living there want to be warned ahead of time so they can evacuate to a safer area.  I live in an area that often gets tornadoes.  My village has tornado sirens that go off when a tornado has been sighted.  That warns us to immediately head to the basement or an inner closet.  When there is a danger of war and bombings, sirens go off.  There are tsunami warnings, wildfire warnings, etc.  If those warning systems aren’t working right, or the person working them isn’t paying attention, they could be responsible for the consequences.  However, if someone ignores the warning, their life is their own responsibility.  Do you heed warnings when they are given?  Today’s Scripture talks about warnings given, and whether they are heeded or not.

God has a warning He wishes to give to mankind.  That message is to turn from their wickedness, turn to Him, accept the Lord Jesus as Savior, and they will then live eternally with Him in heaven.  However, if they do not listen to His warning, if they choose to continue on in the way they have been going, if they reject the Lord Jesus and His Word, then their doom is their own fault and responsibility.  The people, though, need the warning given to them.  They need the watchmen to bring the warning, just like the watchmen in our Scripture, who stood upon the city walls watching for the approaching enemy.

Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the other prophets and preachers, were spiritual watchmen.  They sounded the warning that God would bring a sword on His people so that they had the opportunity to prepare and be safe.  Today preachers and Bible teachers are to be the present day watchmen to bring the warning from God’s Word, urging people to take heed, and do what is necessary to save their eternal souls.

Right now as I write this, there is a very powerful hurricane, Hurricane Lee, out in the middle of the Atlantic.  So far the meteorologists don’t believe it will hit the Caribbean Islands or the eastern coast of the U.S.  However, if it were to suddenly change course, warnings would need to be issued.  What would you think if they didn’t issue a warning?  What if all they talked about were how beautiful white puffy clouds are?  That would be terrible, as tens of thousands of lives would be at stake!   That is the case with the preachers of today.  They have a warning to give, one that the Lord God has given them.  They are to warn the people of the coming Day of the Lord, of future judgment, and of salvation through the Blood of the Lord Jesus, yet so many just like to preach soft, warm, fuzzy messages that tickle the ears of the listeners.  They are like the watchmen who see the sword coming but do not blow the trumpet.

Once the watchman warned the people, the responsibility passed to each person.  They are now accountable for their own response to God.  The prophet who warned was not judged.  But the one who failed to deliver the message was held accountable.  The preacher is to give a certain and sure message.  When they speak God’s truth, what the people do with it is upon their own head.  Those who do not respond, the loss of their soul is their own responsibility.  The prophets of old, and the preachers and Bible teachers of today are not responsible for anyone’s response or lack of one.  However, they are responsible to deliver the right message.

God, through His prophets, had faithfully warned the people of Israel, but by and large they did not pay attention.  It’s no different today.  Those preachers who remain true to God’s Word are sounding the trumpet, but how many are listening and heeding the warning?  God has no pleasure in seeing the wicked go to eternal death in hell for their sins, but instead desires them to repent and live (vs. 10-11).  There is forgiveness if people repent.  God wants everyone to turn to Him, but so few do.  We have the opportunity to turn to God if we take it.  Those who do will be eternally secure.  Those who don’t will die in their sins.

The watchmen have seen the danger approaching and have sounded the trumpet.  The sirens are going off!  Are you listening?  Are you taking heed?  The faithful watchmen will not be responsible for your response or lack of one.  That responsibility is yours.  Heed their warning and accept Jesus as your Savior today!

Friday, September 8, 2023

Get Behind Me, Satan!

Matthew 16:21-27

“He meant well.” someone tells us about the bad advice that another gave us.  Perhaps he did mean well, but the advice or comments were not good.  If we listened and followed their words, it could have led to terrible consequences.   No matter how good the intentions may be, sometimes we have to cast aside advice or comments that others bring to us.  This was the case between Peter and Jesus in our Gospel reading for this week.  Had Jesus listened to Peter, the results would have been catastrophic for all of humanity for all time.  Let’s take a look.

Shortly before our Scripture began, the Apostle Peter had just made a great statement of faith.  He was the first of the twelve apostles to openly proclaim his belief that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God (Matthew 16:16).  That was a special moment for Peter.  It helped to solidify his position as one of the leaders of what would soon become the early Church.  Now, shortly after that momentous occasion, Jesus was sharing with the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem where the religious leaders would capture Him, violently treat Him, and put Him to death, but on the third day He would rise again (vs. 21).

When Peter heard this news, he thought that it was terrible, that such a thing should not be allowed to happen.  Peter knew that the Pharisees and religious leaders were opposed to Jesus and His ministry, but he could not let them accomplish what Jesus was predicting here.  The apostle took Jesus aside and chided Him for speaking of suffering and death.  He couldn’t believe that death would be part of God’s plan.  How many preachers today continue to do the same, as they reject the cross?  In many churches today we never hear any mention of Jesus’ shed Blood and death on the cross for our sins.

At this moment, Jesus had a choice.  He could listen to Peter, listen to his words to reject the plan that led to His death on the cross, or He could reject Peter’s well-intentioned words and go on to Jerusalem and His death on the cross for our salvation.  It didn’t take any time for Jesus to make His choice.  Jesus knew that the sole reason He came was to sacrifice His life for the salvation of mankind.  If Jesus did not go to the cross and die, there would be no salvation or forgiveness of sins, and everyone who ever lived would die in their sins and spend eternity separated from God.  Jesus turned around and spoke directly to Peter.  He rebuked the plans that Peter had, realizing that these plans were from Satan, and He spoke so very seriously (vs. 23).

Peter had just recognized Jesus as the Messiah, yet here he forsook God’s perspective, and evaluated the situation from a human one.  Peter was being a mouthpiece for Satan.  Jesus’ death on the cross was part of God’s sovereign plan.  He had come with the express purpose of dying as an atonement for sin.  Those who would thwart His mission were doing Satan’s work.  All denial of the Savior’s death for atonement of sin is of Satan, and Peter was being used by him.

After Jesus rebuked the words that came from Satan through the mouth of Peter, He turned to the rest and gave them some very important words, words that spoke of His determination to follow God’s will, which is what His disciples need to do, as well (vs. 24-25).  Jesus told us that if we are going to follow Him, we need to take up our cross each day.  Condemned criminals had to carry their cross through the streets to the execution site.  Following Jesus means a true commitment, the risk of death, and no turning back.  We take up the cross of Jesus any time we suffer in some way for identifying with Him and His cause.  It might mean affliction or persecution.  It could also be denying what we desire in order to do the will of God.  Real discipleship implies real commitment.

There is nothing more important than the soul, because our soul is eternal (vs. 26).  This life is just an introduction to eternity.  How we live our brief time determines our eternal state. What we accumulate on earth has no value in purchasing eternal life, which no one can do.  There is judgment and reward for both the saved and unsaved (vs. 27).  One leads to heaven, the other to hell.  If someone ends up in hell, there is nothing that they can buy back their soul from hell with.

If we are being persecuted for Jesus, we can take comfort in His words in Matthew 5:10-12.  Jesus tells those who are persecuted for His sake that they are blessed, and that their reward in heaven will be great.  Will we still follow Jesus if He leads us down a road of sacrifice, self-denial, suffering, or even death?

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Transforming Our Mind

There are many things that can be shaped into various forms by being poured into a mold.  There are various foods, such as cakes, candies, or jello that can be shaped by fancy or fun molds.  The manufacturing world also uses molds a lot when making all sorts of things from toys to tools.  How about people?  Though we aren’t poured into a literal mold, in a figurative way we are frequently molded into the pattern of one thing or another.  Whatever we allow to influence us will mold us into their pattern.  Sometimes that can be a good thing, such as when godly parents guide their children to grow up to become good, upstanding young men and women.  However, other things can mold or influence our life, and often not in a good way.  In our brief Scripture for today, Paul speaks about this.  Let’s see what we can learn.

The Apostle Paul begins this brief passage by urging believers to present themselves as a living sacrifice to the Lord (vs. 1).  In Old Testament times, the Jewish people would bring animal sacrifices to the Tabernacle, and later, to the Temple.  These could be sin offerings, sacrifices for thanksgiving, or on holy days.  After Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice of Himself on the cross for our sins, we no longer bring animal sacrifices.  Instead, Paul says that we should give our lives as a living sacrifice to the Lord.  The only acceptable worship is to offer ourselves completely to the Lord.  We owe God our highest form of service.

Many Christians do not live lives that honor God.  Paul tells us to turn ourselves over to God each day, lay our wills on the altar before Him, and ask Him to use our lives for His glory, and the good of His people.  It is a spiritual act of worship by giving ourselves fully to the Lord.  This is a definite act of presenting ourselves to God.  We daily lay aside our own desires in order to follow Jesus.  We put all of our energy and resources at His disposal, and trust in Him.  Our life should be an ongoing process of submission and separation, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us.

To follow God’s plan, we need to surrender our rights to Him, and embrace His ways.  When the Old Testament believers presented a sacrifice at the Tabernacle, it became holy.  There was total commitment, as the sacrifice could not turn around and go back.  We need to choose every day to let Jesus rule in our life.

The second verse brings us to the idea we began this study with - who or what we are allowing to mold our lives after (vs. 2).  Paul does not beat around the bush here.  He comes right out and states clearly that believers should not conform themselves to the standards of the world, but instead to transform our minds, and follow the perfect will of God.  We need to resist being poured into the mold of the world’s thinking, its value system, and its conduct.  Since we are saved, Jesus Christ now lives within us, and our decisions should not be made in conformity to worldly values.

Transformation of our minds begins with our thinking and consciences, when we commit to listening to and obeying God.  We renew our minds by studying God’s Word, the Bible.  Our hearts are changed as we submit to Him.  After we become believers, God restores our conscience as we read His Word and grow in our understanding of His commands and desires.

When we spill something on clothes or the carpet, we immediately try to clean the spot off before it stains.  The same should be with our minds.  We cleanse our minds and renew them, changing them for the better by removing the filth of this world, along with all defeat and discouragement.  Our minds can be changed from worldly to godly only with steady application of Scripture.  We replace all of the old, erroneous thought patterns with the truth found in the Bible.  The Holy Spirit will change our thinking through consistent study and meditation of Scripture.  A renewed mind is one that is saturated with and controlled by the Word of God.

If we would like God’s blessings on earth, and who wouldn’t, we must not live as a friend to this world.  We should not be in close association with those who influence or mold us into the world’s pattern.  Let’s give ourselves wholly to the Lord, and allow His Word, the Bible, to transform our mind and life to be like that of Jesus.