Monday, October 30, 2023

Walk, Stand, And Sit

Psalm 1

Who we get our counsel and advice from, and who we choose as our friends and companions is important.  We don’t want guidance from someone who will lead us down a wrong path. Listening to the wrong person’s suggestions or instructions, and having the wrong companions can have a very bad outcome.  It is especially important if we are a believer and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Our psalm for this week stresses how important the Lord thinks this is.  Let’s look at where He feels we should be getting our advice and instruction from.

Everyone, I’m fairly certain, would like to be blessed or happy, rather than cursed or troubled.  Right in the opening psalm in the Bible, God tells us how we can have a blessed life (vs. 1).  The word blessed here refers to happiness many times over.  The cause of this blessedness is the uncompromising purity of a righteous walk with God.  A dedicated follower of Jesus should never be walking in step with unbelievers and the wicked, nor going along in their direction or on their chosen way.

The psalmist doesn’t waste any time, nor beat around the bush in letting us know how a godly person should conduct themselves regarding who they keep company with.  First, he says we need to watch out whom we walk with.  He instructs us to not to walk with, or to imitate the life of the ungodly.  An ungodly person is someone who doesn’t follow the Lord, who doesn’t love Him, or obey His Word.  We need to refuse to listen to ungodly advice, counsel, and false philosophies popular in the world.  This would certainly include those who are unsaved.

Next, our Scripture warns us against standing with sinners.  We should not be taking a stand with the wicked and their lifestyle.  Instead, a Christian should take a firm stand for righteousness and for God’s Word and His message and commands therein.  We are warned against being with the scornful.  This is someone who mocks and scoffs at God and His Word.  They make light of that which is sacred.  This is the blasphemous crowd.  We should not be going around and associating with such people.

Are these types of people our good friends?  Are these the ones we go to when we need advice?  When we want to get together with friends, invite some people over, or spend the day with someone, are these the ones we call on?  Why would a Christian even want to be friends with, or associate with someone who mocks the Lord Jesus?  Such friendships only drag one down to their level.  True friends should help, not hinder us to draw closer to God.

Instead of walking, standing, and sitting with the unbelievers, God tells us that the one He will bless is one who delights in His Word, reading and meditating on it (vs. 2). This is a person who chooses to live a godly life. He resists compromise, and is wary of anything that would erode his commitment to the Lord.

God compares such a blessed person as being like a tree that is planted by the river, one that is well-watered, growing, thriving, and bearing fruit (vs. 3).  Those who study God’s Word and obey it will be like that fruitful tree.  Dry times may come in our life, but our faith can be strengthened if we are deeply rooted in Scripture and prayer.  When the storms of life strike, we are perfectly secure because God is our eternal shelter.

Jesus told us that we can know people by their fruit.  A good tree will bear good fruit, and a bad tree will bear bad fruit (Matthew 7:17-20).  When we abide in Jesus, we can’t help but bear fruit in our life.  God calls His followers, His children, a good, fruit-bearing tree.  However He calls the unsaved and ungodly, chaff, which is the worthless outer shell of grain that is blown away (vs. 4-6).  That person’s destiny will be judgment.

Lot and Samson are two examples of men who did not follow this godly advice, and their lives were shipwrecked.  Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, was one who did follow the advice of this psalm, and he was abundantly blessed.  There are two paths that we face in life.  One is God’s way of obedience.  The other is the way of rebellion and destruction.  Which path do you choose?

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Jochebed's Faith

Exodus 2:1-10

Suppose a law has been made in your country that is completely immoral.  Not just immoral, but absolutely wicked.  And what if this evil law would directly impact you.  What would you do?  The penalty for breaking this law might have some very serious consequences.  This is what faced a woman named Jochebed in our Scripture for today.  Let’s see what she did.

Jochebed was a Hebrew woman who lived in ancient Egypt several generations after that of the great Joseph, the son of Jacob, who had risen to great heights in Egypt.  The new Pharaoh intensely hated the Jewish people, and wanted to see them eliminated.  So this Pharaoh made a law that all baby boys born to Jewish families were to be killed, thrown into the Nile river (Exodus 1:22).  Shortly after this law was given, and the power given to enforce it, is where our Scripture account begins.

As our Scripture passage opens, Jochebed had just given birth to a son, who would be Moses, the great leader of the Jewish people.  Being of the Jewish people, she knew that this beautiful baby boy of hers would be executed, cast into the river and killed.  However, being a God-fearing woman, and a mother who deeply loved her son, there was no way that she was going to obey this law!  Jochebed kept her little boy Moses hidden for three months, but she knew that that couldn’t last much longer (vs. 2).  As he grew, his cries were becoming louder, and soon enough he would be crawling and then walking around.  How was she going to accomplish and follow through with her determination to keep her son Moses alive?  Jochebed was going to need help, Divine help.

When we are faced with a dire situation, what do we do?  Do we panic and get ourselves worked up into a full-blown anxiety attack?  Do we throw our hands up in the air and say that there is nothing we can do, and resign ourselves to a bad outcome?   Jochebed did neither.  She was a woman of great faith in Yahweh, and she turned to Him (Hebrews 11:23).  Even though she knew that she was no match against Pharaoh and his police force, she knew Someone who was!  Jochebed entrusted her son to the Lord, knowing that He would protect him.

Jochebed had faith, but she also took action.  During the three months that her son remained with her, hidden in her house, she must have been both praying and coming up with an idea of how to spare this child’s life.  When we are facing a crisis, we need to do all we can to prepare ourselves for the battle, understanding that the outcome rests with the Lord.  To trust God does not imply becoming lazy or apathetic.  Acting foolishly or thoughtlessly, and expecting God to bail us out if things go wrong isn’t faith, it’s presumption.  When we are out of work, we need to pray for a job, but also prepare our resume, actively look for open positions, and go to interviews.  God may send us a job, but He won’t just drop one in our lap if all we’re doing is playing games on the computer and streaming movies online.  We may pray to graduate with honors, but that won’t happen if we don’t study.  God won’t give us good grades if we’re goofing off!  In many cases, faith, and then effort on our part such as the careful efforts that Jochebed took, go hand in hand.

As this young mother prayed, God gave her an idea, a plan which she started to carry out.  During the early weeks of Moses’ life, Jochebed began to weave a basket of reeds that were gathered from the swampy shores of the Nile.  They were woven together and then waterproofed with tar.  Then, when she could no longer hide him, she put him in the basket, and placed the basket among the reeds in the Nile river (vs. 3)  She set her daughter, who was about seven years older, to watch and see what would happen.

Jochebed had done her part.  Now she would trust and rely on God to do His part, to protect and save her child.  She had to trust that He would protect the baby from crocodiles, hippopotamus, and deadly snakes, which all live in the Nile river.  God was faithful, and very shortly afterwards, Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river to bathe.  She heard the baby crying, and went to investigate (vs. 5-6).  God had Jochebed place the basket in just the right place and at the right time.  He also had the child start crying, and just loud enough for the princess to hear.  And He moved upon the princess to have compassion on the child, even though it was a Hebrew baby, as she took the child and raised him as her own.  Jochebed was allowed to care for the baby until he was weaned, which in those days would have been till he was around the age of four, and she was paid by Pharaoh’s household for doing so! (vs. 7-9).

The Lord can take the evil of men and use it for great good.  God took Pharaoh’s edict to kill the Jewish boys, and He used it to get Moses, their deliverer, into the royal courts, where he would get the best education in the world at that time, and all the skills he would later need to lead God’s people.  This, all because Jochebed knew not to follow an evil law and was willing to trust God to help her when she would need His help.

Friday, October 27, 2023

The Trap

Matthew 22:15-22

No one likes to run into someone who tries to trick or trap them, getting them to do or say something that might incriminate them, and bring them down.  We see this frequently in politics.  One side plots and connives, and often they get the media to also try to trap their opponent.  This also sometimes happens in the business world, and sometimes among religious leaders, as well.  This is what we see happen to the Lord Jesus in our Gospel Scripture passage this week.  Let’s look at what was said and how Jesus responded.

Those who are godly and righteous will frequently face opposition and attack.  It was no different for the Lord Jesus.  As we read through the Gospels we see the Pharisees always coming against Him in disapproval, and sometimes even in very strong opposition.  This time two groups of enemies joined forces to plot and scheme to trap Jesus (vs. 15-16).  The Pharisees were a religious party that most Bible readers are familiar with.  They were a very strict, conservative group that rigorously followed every item in the Law of Moses, even adding more laws than God ordained in the Scriptures.  They also strongly opposed the Roman occupation of their homeland.

The Herodians were a Jewish political party, not a religious party, like the Pharisees or Sadducees were. They supported the Roman-backed Herodian dynasty. Since the Pharisees hated Rome, the Herodians probably consisted mainly of the Sadducees, which were a more liberal group, which did not believe in angels, the resurrection, or many miracles.  The fact that these two groups conspired together to entrap Jesus shows how deeply they both hated Him, and thought Him a threat.

When the representatives of the Pharisees and Herodians came to the Lord, they first sought to flatter Him.  Frequently when one group tries to entrap and bring down someone, they will use flattery to put them at ease, and perhaps unsuspecting of the treachery to come.  The Pharisees were not motivated by love of God, nor the Herodians by love or loyalty to Caesar or Rome.

The entrapment they came up with consisted of whether Jesus supported paying taxes to Rome, and they asked Him if taxes to the Emperor was right or not (vs. 17).  Israel, being an occupied land, had to pay heavy taxes to Rome.  The Pharisees didn’t like that, and only reluctantly paid.  They felt anyone who supported that was a traitor to God and the Jewish people.  The Herodians, on the other hand, felt if someone opposed the taxes, that was treason against Caesar.  So whichever way Jesus answered, He would be in trouble, and one group or the other could bring Him down.  If Jesus answered “no”, the Herodians could charge Him with treason.  If He said “yes”, the Pharisees could accuse Him of disloyalty to the Jewish nation, and He would lose support among the people.

Jesus was not gullible or na├»ve.  He knew what they were doing (vs. 18).  He asked to see one of the coins used to pay the taxes.  They brought Him a denarius, which would be equivalent to a day’s wage for a laborer.  That coin showed the face of Tiberius Caesar (Roman emperor from AD 14 - AD 37) on one side, and him seated on the throne on the other side (vs. 19-21).  If their commerce, and the money they used each day came from Caesar, then he could have some of it back.

Our citizenship in the nation they live in requires that we pay money for the services and benefits that we receive.  Our citizenship as believers in the Kingdom of Heaven requires that we pledge to God our primary obedience and commitment.  Caesar’s image is stamped on the coin.  God’s image is stamped on the person.  The Christian is to render obedience to Caesar in Caesar’s realm (Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-17).  However, the things that are God’s do not belong to Caesar, and are to be given only to God (vs. 21).

These two enemy groups were silenced by Jesus’ answer.  They were silenced, but their evil hearts were not changed.  They would continue to look for opportunities to entrap Jesus and to destroy Him.  

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Sending A Good Message

I Thessalonians 1:1-10

How are you known around your neighborhood?  If someone were to come to town and ask around the neighborhood about you, what would they say?  What kind of reputation do you have?  Are you the woman with the ear and tongue for gossip, or the cranky old man who chases the neighborhood children away?  Would they even know whether you are a Christian?  How about your church?  Does it have the reputation for solidly preaching the Word of God, or is it more like the neighborhood country club?  The church in Thessalonica had a reputation in the area.  Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the believers there, and see what these believers were like.

Prior to coming to town, the Apostle Paul had been in Philippi preaching the Gospel, where he was promptly whipped and beaten, and then thrown in prison.  After finding out that Paul was a Roman citizen (it was illegal to beat or imprison a Roman citizen prior to having a trial), the city ran him out of town.  Paul then traveled further west and came to the city of Thessalonica where he proceeded to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus there.  Paul was only in the city a few weeks when word got to his enemies, those who opposed the spreading of the Gospel, and they came to town to cause trouble and bring further persecution.  Again, Paul needed to flee for his life (Acts 16:35 - 17:10).

Thessalonica was the capital and largest city of the Roman province of Macedonia.  It was a thriving seaport, and being on a busy highway, made it one of the wealthiest and most flourishing trade centers in the empire.  With the thousands of people coming and going every day in the city, the church Paul started in Thessalonica had the ear of the world.  Travelers could hear the Gospel, and then take it back and share it with their own community.  In order for others to hear, though, the believers needed to preach the message of Jesus, which they did (vs. 8).

When Paul and his companions were run out of the city, fleeing for their lives, the enemies of the Gospel turned their attention on the brand new converts, and they, too, began to experience persecution.  However, despite the harsh opposition, the Thessalonian believers remained faithful to the Lord, and they enthusiastically shared their faith with others.

Paul wrote this epistle not that long after he left the city, and it was quite possibly the first epistle that he wrote.  He was sure that their faith was genuine, as they stood true to the Lord despite the harsh persecution.  They faced opposition from former friends and relatives.  But the more that Satan afflicted, the more the Holy Spirit poured in His joy (vs. 6).  By remaining firm in their faith, they became a powerful witness to others.

People throughout the city could look at their new Christian neighbors, and they saw changed lives.  A quarrelsome, disagreeable, and cursing neighbor was now a peaceful one, filled with the joy and love of the Holy Spirit.  The one who went out carousing till all hours, coming home drunk and fighting with their family, no longer lived like that.  They were living examples of what the Gospel of Jesus could do in a person’s life.  Nothing advertises the Gospel like changed lives.

What about us?  What kind of message are we sending out to our neighborhoods?  Are we “good advertising” for Jesus?  Despite all the persecution they faced, the Thessalonians were.  There are some parts of the world where persecution and attacks against Christians are openly done, and even approved of by the government.  In other places, those who believe in the Bible and are faithful Christians are mocked by the news and on social media, including in many parts of the U.S., Canada, and Europe, even making things difficult for them at work and in school.

Will we trust in God and remain true, or will we hide our faith under a bushel so that no one will know we are Christians?  Will we stand out for Jesus, or try to blend in with the heathen?  Let us be like the Thessalonians, where our changed lives will be noticeable.  Let us tell others, and despite what may happen, just like those in our Scripture today, let the Gospel sound forth, and word of our faith will go out to others.

Monday, October 23, 2023

A Time Of Celebration

Psalm 96:1-9

When special events are scheduled to happen, often those planning these events will have music written for the celebrations.  We see this frequently at political rallies and conventions.  One real famous song used for a politician and campaign was Happy Days Are Here Again which Franklin Roosevelt used during his campaign during the Depression.  We have music for graduations, weddings, and other big events.  Our psalm for this week was a song written to celebrate a special event.  Let’s look at this celebratory psalm.

Psalm 96 was written to celebrate the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant by King David into the City of Jerusalem, and was possibly written by him, as well.  This was a momentous event, and worthy of a great celebration.  For many years, the Ark of the Covenant had been in the hands of the Philistines, Israel’s pagan and idol worshiping enemies.  Then when it was returned into the Israelites possession, it stayed in the house of a Hebrew named Abinadab for about twenty years (I Samuel 7:1-2).  Finally David decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem, his capital city.   This was not going to the great Temple in Jerusalem, as that was not built yet.  David would be making plans for this later, and his son Solomon would actually be the one to build that.  At this time, the Ark was housed in the Tabernacle, which was a tent-like structure.  Yet this was a great time of celebration, especially for King David, as he loved the Lord, and wanted to ensure that the Ark of the Covenant was safe and in a place of honor.

On this day of celebration, King David wanted all of the people of Israel to bring praise to God.  He wanted them to sing forth, as the Ark was back in their land, and was now coming to the capital.  It was not being held by their pagan enemies, and since it was now coming to Jerusalem, it would hopefully never be in threat of that again.  Not only should Israel praise the Lord, but David proclaims that the whole earth should, as well, along with all nature.

Genuine praise includes a testimony to others of God’s plan of salvation (vs. 2).  Because God is so great we cannot help but tell others about Him.  We should tell of His marvelous deeds to all people.  David certainly spent his whole life telling others about the marvelous works of Yahweh, and how He had saved him from his sins.  Certainly on a day like this, when the Ark was returning to His people, and to the great city of Jerusalem, David wanted to proclaim the might and power of the Lord.

It was important to David that everyone knew that Yahweh was greater than any of the false gods of the Philistines and other surrounding nations.  Of course, none of their false gods really existed.  There was actually no true deity of Baal, Astarte, Dagon, or any of the other myriads of pagan gods and goddesses they worshiped.  However, since these pagans believed in them, David wanted them to know that beyond any doubt, Yahweh was above and totally superior to their idols.  He, alone, was God, and their gods were nothing (vs. 4-5).

Today there are still some religions where people bow down to false, pagan gods, which are in reality demonic spirits.  Most of the world is deep into false religions, whether they have actual idols they bow down to or not.  They follow after ungodly philosophies and beliefs that reject Jesus, salvation in His Name alone, and belief in His Word, the Bible.  However, one day, when the Lord Jesus returns, they will all finally know and acknowledge His Glory.

David continued on in this psalm by describing the beauty, honor, and majesty of the sanctuary where the Ark of the Covenant would rest in the Tabernacle (vs. 6).  A sanctuary is a holy place, where God’s people can find refuge and safety.  This world has many “sanctuaries”, places where they go when searching for a place of safety.  However, they will find them all ineffective and useless.  There is only one place that is a true sanctuary, a true place of refuge and safety, and that is with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Every place else is futile.

As our Scripture closes, let us follow the words of King David, and worship the Lord God (vs. 7-9).  Be humble before Him, and bring an offering of praise.  Give the Lord Jesus the glory that is due His Name!

Saturday, October 21, 2023

A Tool In God's Hand

Isaiah 44:28 - 45:7

If you were reading in some recently discovered papers from several hundred years ago, and saw written the name of a contemporary person, you would be surprised.  You might think the author was some type of a prophet.  Imagine if someone at the time of the American Revolutionary War, around when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, spoke of a coming president, one two hundred years later, and named a name, that of Jimmy Carter, president in 1976!  Giving a specific name, and then having the prediction come to pass shows that the prophecy is true.  Rarely is this ever done.  However, in our Scripture today we see this exact occurrence.  Let’s take a look at this rare prophecy.

The Old Testament prophets did two things.  First they spoke God’s Word, admonishing the people to follow and obey God, proclaiming blessings if they did, and punishment from God if they didn’t.  Secondly, the prophets often spoke of coming events.  They prophesied the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus.  They prophesied of coming judgments from the Lord God, often in wars, famines, and droughts.  The key point to know if they were a true prophet of the Lord God Yahweh was if their words came true and were fulfilled.  A false prophet, one not sent from the Lord, would not have their words fulfilled.  They were speaking their own words, or that of the devil, and people were not to listen to them (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).

Isaiah spoke the Words of God, we can be sure.  When he spoke to admonish and reprove the people for turning to their own ways, and would direct them back to the ways of the Lord, that was Yahweh’s Words.  When he spoke of the coming of the Messiah, each of those prophecies came true, along with those of God’s coming judgments for their wicked ways.  And there was one particular prophecy that Isaiah gave which was very specific, and its fulfillment showed that he, indeed, was speaking the Words of the Lord.

Beginning in the last verse of the 44th chapter of Isaiah, and continuing on in the first several verses of chapter 45, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of a certain political and military leader by his specific name, that of Cyrus.  Cyrus was the great military general and then later emperor of the vast Persian empire.  The Persian empire spread across 2,000 miles, including both the areas of the earlier Assyrian and Babylonian empires, and then even more, and was the largest empire of the world at that time.  When Isaiah gave his prophecy it was at least 150 years before Cyrus was born, and 200 years before the events came to pass that he spoke of.

God, of course, knows all world events, from the dawn of time until the end, as He is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.  God knew of Cyrus long before he was born, just as He does with each of us.  And He set Cyrus apart for a divine purpose.  God chose Cyrus to be a tool to do a job, which was to send His people back to the land of Israel and to rebuild the Temple.  Nearly seventy years after the Temple was destroyed and the last of the people of Judah were brought into captivity, Cyrus, who had defeated the Kingdom of Babylon, gave the order for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple.  God gave His prophet Isaiah this message, nearly 200 years prior, and specifically had him speak of Cyrus by name, so that this pagan emperor would be aware that the God of the Jews was the One in charge of everything, and it was He who was giving him victorious conquests (vs. 3).

God is the power over all powers on earth, both back in ages past, and even today.  When we see events unfolding in the world today, countries rising and falling, political leaders growing strong and then being defeated, we do not need to fear if we are one of God’s children.  He anoints whom He chooses for His special purposes.  As Cyrus and the people of that day saw, the God of Israel is in control of human events.

Isaiah spoke these words to give the people reassurance, and we can also take reassurance as we see major events unfolding around the world.  God will take care of the situations that concern us.  We don’t have to worry.  God is omnipotent.  He is all-powerful and in full control.  Whatever He allows into our life is for a reason.

There is coming a day when the whole world will know that Yahweh alone is God.  World leaders throw their bombs and missiles around, thinking that they are in charge, but they’re not.  Other world leaders speak bold words, thinking they are the ones to be listened to, but they aren't.  When Cyrus became aware that a prophet of Yahweh had mentioned him by name 200 years prior, did he turn to the God of Israel in belief, and become a child of God?  We don’t know.  We do know that he was a tool, used by God.  Tools get used and then put away.  A child, though, lasts forever.  Are you just a tool, or are you a child?  Turn to the Lord Jesus today, and become a part of His family, a child of God.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Wearing The Proper Garments

Matthew 22:1-14

If you were invited to a big wedding, would you go dressed in the clothes that you had cleaned out the basement or garage in?  Most assuredly you wouldn’t.  Especially if it was a royal wedding!  Imagine going to a royal wedding and someone came dressed in dusty, old work clothes.  No one would even go to a dinner party dressed like that, let alone a fancy wedding.  Our Scripture reading today from the Gospel of Matthew talks about just such an occurrence.  Let’s see what this passage means for us today.

Our Scripture is another parable that Jesus told His followers and the crowds that gathered around Him, including the Pharisees and other religious leaders.  Just as with all of the parables that Jesus told, this one wasn’t just a story told for entertainment.  There was a spiritual message that He wanted to teach His audience.

In order to fully understand this parable, we need to know a little bit about the wedding customs of the Jewish people back in the days of the New Testament.  Most weddings today in many countries are just one day affairs.  There are weeks, even months of planning and preparation for many weddings, especially larger, fancier ones, but the actual ceremony and reception following are almost always just one day.  However, in the days of the New Testament, wedding celebrations usually lasted at least a week. Invitations would be sent first, and then later, when all the preparations for the wedding were completed, those invited were notified that the wedding was ready, and to come.  The family of the groom would also provide wedding robes for all of the guests to wear.  These were nice robes, and ensured that everyone was properly attired for all ceremonies and celebrations.  It also showed if there were any uninvited people trying to sneak in.

As Jesus began His parable, He told of a king who planned the wedding of his son.  The invitations were sent, and then servants sent out to notify that all was ready to come.  However, most of those invited would not come.  When told again that all was ready, many of the invited mistreated those servants (vs. 1-6).  The king was rightly furious about this.  Who wouldn’t want to go to a royal wedding?!  And it was just wrong to mistreat, even kill those servants.  The king then told other servants to invite others.  The first group was not worthy to attend (vs. 7-10).  Then while at the festivities, the king saw a man who did not have one of the special wedding robes on, and asked how he got in.  Because he did not have on a wedding garment, he was cast out (vs. 11-14).

This was more than just a story about not wearing proper wedding attire.  There is a much more important spiritual lesson.  The king, naturally, is God, and His Son is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom.  The first invited guests were the Jews, and those on the highways, those invited secondly, are the Gentiles.  The wedding robes represent the robe of righteousness that we receive at salvation (Isaiah 61:10).  One cannot enter heaven wearing our own righteousness.  We are given the righteousness of Jesus when we are saved.  Without that we will be cast into darkness or hell.

If one is to be accepted into heaven, it is imperative that they be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  Our garment of self-righteousness is never good enough. It is spotted and stained with sin.  Only the righteousness of Jesus is good or acceptable for heaven, just like the wedding garments provided by the groom.  Jesus is the sinless Son of God.  His garments are pure and holy, without a stain of sin upon them, unlike our filthy, sinned-filled garments of self-righteousness.

The one man in the parable who did not have on a wedding garment represents those who want to enter heaven, but want to do it on their own terms, clothed in their own righteousness.  They try to get into heaven on the basis of their own works.  There are those who identify with the kingdom of God externally, professing to be Christian, and belonging outwardly to a specific church.  However, they spurn the garment of righteousness that Jesus offers, and try to establish their own righteousness.  They will not enter heaven, and just like that one man, will be cast out.

God instructs us to share the Gospel with anyone who will listen.  We do not know who will respond and who won’t.  We are to make our appeal to everyone we can (vs. 9).  The most unlikely candidates often come to faith.  The “good” need salvation, as well as the “bad” do (vs. 10).

As Jesus closed this parable, He reminded those who were listening, that many are called, but few are chosen (vs. 14).  The call to attend the marriage feast of the Lamb is given to all, both Jew and Gentile alike.  It is extended to all who will hear the Gospel.  Many hear it, but few respond.  Have you responded to God’s invitation?  Are you accepting the proper wedding garment, the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, by accepting Him as your personal Savior, or are you trying to get to heaven by your own works?  Our works of self-righteousness will get us nowhere but cast out into outer darkness.  Accept the Lord Jesus as your Savior today!

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

From Fear And Anxiety To Peace

Philippians 4:6-7

Having fear and anxiety is a common affliction among many people today.  Both world events, the declining economy, and personal problems can really stoke the anxiety in people.  Worry and anxiety can not only ruin your day, but continued anxiety can put a damper on one’s family and relationships.  Ongoing or persistent anxiety can even be bad for your health.

As we know, stress, anxiety, worries, and fear can ruin what could be a good day.  A trip to the grocery store with the high price of food, the bills piling up at home, especially with winter coming and knowing how costly the heating bill will be, and fear that your income might not continue.  These can ruin a day , and even cause us to snap out at our family and friends. Many people turn to psychiatrists, but seeing one costs an exorbitant amount of money.  Plus they don’t always help.  The problems happening all around the world are distressing, and also cause worry and fear.  Is there anything we can do to bring some peace into our lives?  We can find God’s answer in our Scripture for today.

The church in Philippi faced persecution, which could include economic deprivations in addition to personal assaults.  Paul knew that this would cause stress and worries to his fellow believers there.  The apostle knew all about living with trials and problems that would normally bring anxiety in most people.  However he never seemed to succumb to those feelings.  What was his secret?  How come so many people, including believers, can’t seem to find any peace?  Paul shares what the Lord taught him here in the middle of the final chapter to his letter to the Philippians.

No one wants more worries in their life.  We all want to worry less.  God’s Word says that in order for that to happen, we need to pray more.  We should turn our worries into prayers.  Fretting and worrying indicates a lack of trust in God’s wisdom, sovereignty, and power.  Instead, we should delight in the Lord and meditate on His Word.  He is the only One who has the power and wisdom to deal with every issue perfectly.  When we are submitted to God, who always works in our best interests, we have absolutely nothing to fear.

When we bring our prayers and petitions to the Lord, trusting in Him to answer us, they should be accompanied by thanksgiving (vs. 6).  Even though we may not see the answers to our prayers immediately, we should always thank God, knowing He will bring them when the time is right.  Be thankful for what God has done in the past, what He is doing in the present, and shall do in the future.  Be thankful for all things - material, physical, and spiritual.  As Paul emphasizes to us, gratitude should always accompany prayer.

When we have a grateful attitude and unwavering trust in God, He promises us inner calm and tranquility (vs. 7).  His peace will guard us from anxiety, doubt, fear, and distress.  It is the promised result of bringing our prayers to God and being thankful.

God’s peace is different from the world’s peace.  It is not found in diplomatic talks by world leaders, or in the absence of conflict.  We don’t get it by having positive thoughts or good feelings.  It comes from knowing that God is in control.  Jesus promised Christians this peace in John 14:27.  We can get this only when we put everything in His hands - our lives, our worries, and our future.

God’s peace is one that is beyond anyone’s understanding, and He will bring it to us when everyone else would be collapsing under stress and worry.  When we are rooted in a deep relationship with the Lord Jesus, we can have a peace which is beyond explanation.  Everything can be chaotic around us, but we will have peace.  Come to Him in prayer today, casting all of your burdens upon Him.  He will then bring you His peace.  The Lord is with us, and we have nothing to fear.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Who Is Following You?

Psalm 23

Suspecting that you’re being followed is not a pleasant feeling.  That can be a scary, nerve-wracking experience, especially if it is night, and especially if you are walking alone.  If you are actually being chased, that is even more terrifying.  However, there are some times when having someone following you is not scary.  It can even be comforting, such as when it is a parent looking after a child from a distance.  Another time when someone following can be a comfort is if they are a bodyguard or Secret Service guards for some important figure.  They can make you feel very safe.  In a portion of today’s Scripture we read of being followed.  Let’s see if it is good or not.

Psalm 23 is perhaps one of the most beloved psalm, or even portions of Scripture in the Bible.  It is the psalm given in the Lectionary for this week.  There are so many sermons and teachings that one can glean from Psalm 23, that one could study it for weeks on end and never run dry.  Today let us focus just on the final verse of the psalm, verse 6.

Psalm 23 seems to speak of a journey that the believer takes.  He is led by the Lord, who takes him to some nice and pleasant places, the green pastures and still waters, and also a banquet table.  They also travel through some more fearful places, such as the valley of the shadow of death.  As the psalm closes it introduces us to two who have been following us all through our life, and they are Goodness and Mercy.

Both goodness and mercy are part of God’s character.  They are who He is.  God is all good and He is all merciful.  They are also two of the fruits of the Spirit which Christians should bring forth in their own lives, as well.  God’s goodness shows forth in all of the blessings that He bestows upon us all throughout our life, giving us provisions, health, and life itself.  It is goodness that gives us the green pastures that God has us lie down in, and the still waters we are led by (vs. 2).  It is God’s mercy that retrieves us when we foolishly leave the paths of righteousness (vs. 3).

The word “follow” here is “radaph” in Hebrew.  It means a bit more than to just leisurely follow.  It means more to run after, to chase, to eagerly pursue.   If we are being followed, “radaph” by those who seek to harm us, that is not good!  But look, who is it that we find “radaphing” after us - it is goodness and mercy!  God’s goodness and mercy are relentlessly hunting us down all the days of our life.  They will never stop, they will never cease.

We cannot always see goodness and mercy ahead of us.  Sometimes our path in life may look rather grim, sometimes even dark.  We may fear, especially when we are going through those shadowy valleys.  Goodness and mercy seem to be hiding themselves.  However, when we look back, we can see all of the ways that God has helped us.  Wherever the Lord leads us, our ultimate destination is an eternal dwelling place of joy.

The whole path that the Lord leads us through in this psalm and through life has its ultimate destination being the house of the Lord.  All believers, those who have put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus as their Savior, will dwell with God.  He is the perfect Shepherd and host.  He promises to guide and protect us through life, and to bring us into His house to be with Him forever.

In closing, remember that Jesus is our Good Shepherd (John 10:11), and we who are believers are the sheep of His flock.  He leads the flock, and it is like He has two sheepdogs guarding the rear.  Goodness and Mercy are the names of His two sheepdogs who guard us all through life.  Goodness to supply every need, and Mercy to forgive every sin.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Finding A Refuge Today

Isaiah 25:1-9

As a young child I remember playing the outdoor game tag with other neighborhood children.  Perhaps you do, too.  One child was “it” and had to run and tag the other children before they made it to the “safe place”, which might be underneath a large tree or the bottom step of a neighborhood house.  Everyone kept their eye on the safe place, and would run like a flash to it as soon as they could.  It was a place of refuge.

Someplace that we can look at as a place of refuge is something that is often necessary in life.  In numerous places throughout the Bible we read of the Lord God being a place of refuge for His people, and we see that in our Scripture today.

When have you needed a place of refuge?  One time that we like to have a safe place to run to for shelter is in a storm.  When the rain starts pouring down, we will run indoors, whether it’s our own house, a store, a vehicle, or even just a canopy.  Tornados are a frequent thing around where I live, and we all know where the safest shelter is when the warning sirens go off.  When a child senses that there is danger, either real or imagined, they quickly will run to the safety and refuge of their parents.  Storms and danger don’t disappear as we get older, and we still frequently need to find a safe place of refuge to run to.  Where or to whom do we run to?  Our parents may be long gone, and they might not have been of much help anyway.  Not everyone has a helpful or supportive spouse, either.  Self-help books are generally scams.  Drugs or alcohol?  Where is our refuge?  Isaiah reminds us that our true source of refuge can be found only in the Lord God.

When the enemies of God’s people come against them, the Lord promises to be their strength.  He will bring down the cities and palaces of those who come against them (vs. 2-3).  They will see that the Lord God is the one to be feared and glorified.   He will provide for the needs of the poor (vs. 4).  When they need someone to turn to and lean on, the Lord is strong to their aid.

We can face literal storms from the weather, which can often bring devastating effects, or any number of other types of storms, but the Lord is our refuge in all of them.  We also deal with all types of heat, again from weather, or when we are “in hot water” from troubles we are in and fainting under.  The Lord can be our shade and refuge (vs. 4-5).

When we turn to God, and make the Lord Jesus our Refuge, He will prepare a feast for us (vs. 6).  We may have faced a terrible storm that destroyed all we had, may have financially been wiped out, may have gone through a war or terrorist attack, but with God as our Refuge, we are promised a feast with the choicest of food.

He will also destroy whatever veil of trouble that has been cast over us, including the literal shroud of death (vs. 7).  There is a shroud of ignorance and evil that covers the world, blinding us to God’s love, obscuring our vision, making us unable to see God clearly.  Left to ourselves, we experience only darkness, confusion, and despair.  God will destroy that shroud for those who come to Jesus.

We face literal enemies of those who want to harm us.  We face other types of “enemies” from the trials and troubles we go through, and from each of these we seek a refuge.  The final enemy we all face is that of death.  Is there any refuge from facing our own death or that of loved ones?  Jesus won the victory over death when He died on the cross and rose again on the third day (I Corinthians 15:54).  Isaiah promises us here in verse 8 that death, the ultimate enemy, will be defeated.  We read that elsewhere in Scripture, too, such as in Hosea 13:14.  Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have the hope of eternal life and one day seeing God face to face.  On that day He will wipe every tear from our face (Revelation 21:4).

Our trials and burdens may have brought buckets of tears from us, but no matter how difficult our circumstance, or how hopeless our situation may seem, we can find refuge in the Lord Jesus.  We have the promise that God will wipe those tears from our eyes.  We can know and trust that Jesus is our refuge, our safe place!

Friday, October 13, 2023

Parable Of The Wicked Vineyard Workers

Matthew 21:33-44

Throughout His approximate 3 ½ year ministry Jesus told many parables.  Some were longer, telling a whole story, and others were much smaller, giving His point in only a few sentences.  Most of the common people listened to Jesus and His teachings gladly, but some people, the Pharisees and other religious leaders in particular, got angry at Jesus’ parables and teachings because He often called them out for their hypocrisy.  In today’s Scripture from the Gospel of Matthew, we have one of the last few parables that Jesus told, one that particularly angered the Jewish religious leaders.  Let’s look at this particular parable of the wicked vinedressers.

Most of the Scripture readings from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer for this week have focused on vineyards, God’s vineyards.  Today’s parable is also about a vineyard.  As Jesus begins this parable, we read about a landowner who planted a vineyard.  Just like the parable told by Isaiah that we read earlier in the week, the landowner, the One who planted the vineyard, is the Lord God, and the vineyard is the nation of Israel (vs. 33).  The Lord, vineyard owner, took great care when He developed the vineyard, just as He does with everything.  The vinedressers, the workers who the owner leased the vineyard to, are the religious leaders.  The religious leaders were assigned by the Lord for the task of caring spiritually for the people of Israel.

When it was time for the harvest, the vineyard owner sent servants to the vinedressers to receive the fruits.  The servants represent the prophets that the Lord had sent to the nation over the years.  However, the vinedressers attacked these servants, wounding them, even killing some (vs. 34-36).  As Jesus was telling this parable, He was referring to the treatment that many of the prophets of the Lord received at the hands of the religious leaders.  Many were treated violently, including even martyrdom.

After hearing what had happened to all of the servants that he sent, the landowner decided to send his son, thinking that the workers would respect him.  However, that was not the case.  The vineyard workers conspired together and put the son to death (vs 37-39).  Naturally, since the vineyard owner is God, the son and heir is the Lord Jesus Christ, who the chief priests, including the High Priest, had put to death.

Here Jesus paused in the parable, and asked His audience what the owner of the vineyard would do?  Should he be conciliatory to the workers, be understanding, and try to placate them?  Or should he come into his vineyard, punish them, and cast them out?  They answered Jesus by saying that the owner should destroy the wicked vinedressers and lease the vineyard to other workers who will treat him and the vineyard better (vs. 40-41).

The reason that the Pharisees and other religious leaders in the audience were so angry after hearing this parable was that they knew that it was spoken of with them and the nation of Israel in mind.  The kingdom and spiritual advantages were to be taken from the nation of Israel and given to other vinedressers, symbolizing the Church, which is composed mainly of Gentiles.  Ignoring God’s gracious gift of His Son is rejecting God Himself!

Jesus continued speaking and teaching His audience by giving reference to Psalm 118:22-23, which refers to Himself.  Jesus is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to unbelievers (Isaiah 8:14).  He is the stone which the religious leaders and people rejected when they crucified Him.  At the resurrection He became the Chief Cornerstone.

Jesus, the Stone, affects people differently, depending on how we relate to Him.  We can build our life on Him, or we can trip on Him.  Jesus is the building block or the crushing stone.  He offers mercy and forgiveness to those who build on Him.  Jesus will also bring judgment later to those who reject Him.  Those who oppose Jesus will be destroyed when He returns.

Everything hinges on Jesus.  He is the plan of God.  What is your response to Him?  Do you accept Jesus as the Cornerstone in your life?  Or do you reject Him, as the wicked vineyard workers did, as the Pharisees did?  Turn to Jesus now, as He alone, is the Chief Cornerstone!

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

A Godly Example

Philippians 3:17-21

Do you have a hero or someone you greatly admire?  Often they are movie stars or some other public figures.  Children frequently love superheroes.  That doesn’t always leave when they get older, as we see with the abundance of superhero movies.  If they are into sports, they might have a baseball or basketball star that they want to be like.  Role models can help to encourage practicing or studying to become like them.  Sometimes, though, a hero we or our children pick out ends up not being all that admirable.  Rock musicians are often into drugs, and movie stars frequently live rather immoral lives.  We have to be careful who we set up as role models for both ourselves and our children.  In our Scripture for today the Apostle Paul touches on who we should follow as examples.  Let’s see what God’s Word has to teach us.

As mentioned, we all like to have heroes.  As Christians, we need to be careful with who we pick to be our or our children’s role models (vs. 17).  They should be good and godly examples we choose to follow, not those the world sets up, such as Hollywood or social media influencers.  As Paul wrote to the church that was in the city of Philippi, he told them to be careful whose example they were following.  What kind of life did those role models they picked live?  Were they following the Lord Jesus Christ?  As Paul pointed out, not everyone in Christian circles in the early church, and certainly not today, are true followers of Jesus (vs. 18-19).

Paul warns us that there are those who claim to be Christians, but they aren’t.  They are only posing as Christians.  Rather than following Jesus and His example, they only seek to satisfy their own desires.  Paul calls them enemies of the Cross.  How can one be an enemy of the Cross today?  These are people who talk a lot about Jesus, but do not look to the Cross of Jesus for their salvation.  Many of these do not believe in hell or any damnation, feeling that God is all love, and that He would never condemn anyone.  They believe that everyone is going to heaven.  If that was the case, there would have been no need for Jesus’ atoning death on the Cross, and His sacrifice for our salvation.  There are some who do not like a “bloody religion”, and thus want to eliminate any mention of the Cross and the shed Blood of Jesus.  These must be labeled as enemies of the Cross.

Others who pose as Christians, but who are not to be taken as good or godly role models are, as Paul stated, those whose god is their belly, and who glory in what should be their shame (vs. 19).  They are controlled by their earthly nature, following sensual desires, gluttony, and immorality.  They glory in what is really shameful.  These so-called “Christian” leaders attempt to pervert the Gospel for their own personal gain, as their lives revolve around material things.  God’s Word says that these false leaders, and those who follow them, will find that their end is destruction, eternal damnation.  If they ignore the Cross of Christ, and His sacrifice thereon, they will find that the loss of their own soul is their ultimate destiny.

As our Scripture continues, Paul reminds us that heaven is our true home (vs. 20-21).  That is where our citizenship truly is.  If we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, heaven is where our name is registered, and where our inheritance waits.  It is in heaven where we will receive a body just like the body of the Risen Savior, one that no longer struggles with pain, disabilities, or physical limitations.

So, as believers, who are our role models, our examples?  Sadly some continue to look to the world for their examples, or to false “Christian” teachers.  If we must have a role model other than the Lord Jesus Christ, let’s be sure that he or she is truly following God’s Word, and are not enemies of the Cross.  We need to live like a citizen of heaven, and not be so tied to this life that we would be sorry to see Jesus return.  Don’t get discouraged.  We are not home yet!

Monday, October 9, 2023

God's Vine

Psalm 80

Vines and vineyards are mentioned periodically throughout the Bible.  Earlier this week we looked at a passage of Scripture from the Prophet Isaiah which spoke of God’s vineyard, the nation of Israel.  Now today we see that the Lord speaks again about His special vine in our psalm for this week.  We see how He cared about the vineyard, and what happened with it.  Let’s take a quick look at our Scripture.

As the psalm opens, Asaph, who is listed as the author, prays to the Lord, addressing Him as “Shepherd of Israel” (vs. 1).  God is frequently described as a Shepherd, and we, His people, as the flock.  The well-known Psalm 23 of David and many of the prophets speak of Yahweh as a Shepherd.  The Lord Jesus is called the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-15).

Though the word is not specifically used here in this psalm, the Lord is also referred to as a King.  Asaph addresses Him as Lord God of hosts.  The word “host” in the Bible means “armies”, and would often refer to the angelic armies that serve God.  Yahweh has innumerable angels to serve Him and fight for Him and His Church.  Asaph repeats several times the phrase Lord God of hosts, thus the God and leader of angelic armies (vs. 4, 7, 14, and 19).  He also refers to God as dwelling between the cherubim (vs. 1), which was the spot on top of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, the place where God’s special presence was.  That was symbolic for God’s throne, the throne of the Divine King of the Universe.  Yahweh is both our loving and faithful Shepherd, and also our just, powerful, sovereign, and glorious King.

Asaph goes on to describe how God led His people out of Egypt, like a shepherd leading his flock.  God had struck down Pharaoh and the army of Egypt for His people, who He calls His vine, and led the people through the wilderness, providing for them.  He then cast out the pagan nations of the Canaanites and other “ites”, and planted the vine, giving them much room to grow and take root (vs. 8-9).  The people of Israel spread out and grew, just like a good, strong, healthy grape vine does (vs. 10-11).  The land that the Lord intended for them to have was to spread from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates River.

What happened?  Why did the Lord allow the northern Kingdom of Israel to be overrun and led captive by the Assyrians, and then later the southern Kingdom of Judah by Babylon?  The psalmist describes it as the Lord allowing the hedges that surrounded and protected the vineyard to be broken down, allowing scavengers to come and take of the grapes, and permitting wild animals to come in and devour the vines (vs. 12-13).  This was God’s special vineyard.  Most people who have a special garden do what they can to take care of it, including keeping up a well-repaired fence or hedge, yet here God allowed His vineyard to be trampled under.

The psalmist Asaph knew what was wrong.  He knew that the people had turned away from faithfully following the Lord God.  He repeatedly prays that God will restore them.  He prays that God will look down from heaven and restore the vine that He, Himself, had planted.  Right now it is perished, it is burned, and no longer the beautiful and strong plant that it once was (vs. 14-16).  God’s people had removed themselves from His Covenant and its blessings through their apostasy.  Though they have failed in following the Lord, and have sinned grievously, the psalmist reminds God that the vine still belongs to Him, and that if they return to Him, and are spiritually revived, would He not care for it again.

We all falter from time to time, and need to be restored.  We need God’s forgiveness, and in order to receive that, we need to pray, confess, and repent.  When we turn to the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, the True Vine, through faith in Him we become branches of God’s Vine, and will never be cut off.   We need to abide in Him, and then we will bear much fruit (John 15:5).

Right now, the nation of Israel remains in apostasy and unbelief.  They remain a vineyard whose hedge is still down, and the vine trampled on.  As the psalmist prayed, they too need to pray for themselves to be restored.  They need to call upon the Lord Jesus Christ as their Messiah and become a branch of His Vine, just like all people do.  Then God’s face will shine upon them, and they shall be saved.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

A Song Of God's Vineyard

Isaiah 5:1-7

When you have done everything right, no mistakes were made, and still your project turns out bad, it can be a big disappointment.  The fault must lie in something other than yourself.  Perhaps the materials were not good quality.  I am not a gardener, but I know that if someone takes the care to have good quality soil, the right amount of water and sunshine or shade, and the garden is planted in the correct climate zone, along with all the weeds pulled, a good crop should come.  If not, perhaps there is something wrong with the seeds.  Our Scripture passage for today from the Prophet Isaiah, gives a song or ballad that describes a vineyard that the Lord God planted, and what happened to it.  Let’s take a look and see what we can learn from God’s Word.

This song that Isaiah wrote down early in his book is like a parable, as it is intended not for the enjoyment of the listeners, but instead it was written to teach us some important lessons the Lord wants us to learn.  As Isaiah begins, he directs this song or ballad to his Well-Beloved (vs. 1).  This was not the prophet’s wife.  Rather, as he describes, the Well-Beloved is One who has planted a vineyard.  The Well-Beloved is Yahweh, the One who is deeply loved by Isaiah, and He has planted a vineyard.

The Lord God planted His vineyard on the slopes of a hill, where it would get plenty of sunshine, and the rain would wash down the slopes and water the vines.  The Lord cleared away all stones so that the soil was just right.  The Lord built a tower in it and put a hedge around it to protect the vineyard from scavengers, whether human or animal (vs. 2).  He also put in a winepress, as He was expecting a fruitful crop.

However, what type of crop did the Lord get from the vines that He planted?  He planted good vines and expected to get good, sweet grapes, ones good to eat and to make into choice wine, yet it produced wild or sour grapes. There is nothing more disappointing than to have a taste for a nice, sweet grape, pop one in your mouth, and it is sour!  These grapes were good for nothing! (vs. 2).  Perhaps this was just a bad crop, a bad year.  Perhaps He might have given it a couple of years to see if the vine consistently produced sour grapes, which it did.  So, seeing the Lord did everything possible to produce good grapes, but they failed, He tears up the vineyard, breaks down the hedge, and lets it go to waste (vs. 3-6).

Like all parables in the Bible, this was not told just for entertainment purposes.  There is a lesson the Lord wishes us to learn.  The vineyard here is the nation of Israel, the people God had chosen.  God had done all that He could in seeking a people for His own, a people who would be fruitful, and bring His message to the world.  The other nations were to see how God’s people followed Him, obeyed His Word, and then received His blessings.  God’s chosen nation was to bear fruit - to carry out His work and to uphold justice.  However, their fruit was bad.

As punishment for being unfruitful, Israel was to become desolate, and open to invasion, as represented by the protective hedge that was removed (vs. 5).  This parable showed that the judgment of God would bring the opposite of what they expected.  The people Isaiah preached to felt that because they were the descendants of Abraham, God’s chosen people, it wouldn’t matter what they did or how they acted, they were the chosen.  But God said that He looked for justice and righteousness in the people (vs. 7), and found none, so this vineyard would be trampled down and laid waste.  This is a song of disappointment, heartbreak, and judgment.  It is a final warning to those who have repaid God evil for good.

Jesus said “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:20).  He also taught us that He, the Son of God, the Messiah, is the Vine, and those who have accepted Him as Savior and follow Him, are the branches (John 15:1-8).  As we remain connected to Jesus as branches to the Vine, through prayerful reliance on His Spirit, we have direct access to the spiritual nourishment that will produce sweet fruit.

The nation of Israel should have stayed connected to the Lord by obedience to His Word.  Instead they ignored God’s Word and went after pagan gods.  They went their own way, and ended up being wild grapes.  As Christians today, we need to stay connected to the Vine of Jesus, by following Him and obeying the Bible, letting His Words abide in us.  That way we will bear much fruit, good, sweet fruit.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Matthew 21:28-32

When people make a list of good and positive qualities that they like to see in others, possibly when considering a spouse, a friend, or an employee, we often see the quality of integrity listed.  One sign of a person with integrity is, not only are they honest, but they will keep their word.  If they told you that they would do something, then they did what they said they would.  A person with integrity’s word is gold.  We can trust and rely on them.  Our Gospel reading for this week highlights a short parable that Jesus told, a parable that not only speaks about keeping one’s word, but also highlights following the Lord.

As our Scripture opens, the Lord Jesus told a very brief parable.  In the parable we read of a man who had two sons.  The father had some work that needed to be done in his vineyard, and so he asked the first son to go work out in the vineyard that day.  That son sure didn’t feel like spending his day working in the vineyard.  There were so many other, more pleasant ways which he had in mind to spend his day doing.  So this son told his father no, he wasn’t going to do as he was asked.   However, a little later he regretted being so boldly disobedient to his father, and he turned around and went out into the vineyard to do the work asked of him (vs. 28-29).

After his wishes were rejected by his first son, the father then went to his second son and made the same request.  Like a good and obedient son, this one told his father that he would do as his father asked.  However, after he agreed to go, he then regretted giving his word.  Perhaps something so much more appealing than spending a day working in the vineyard came up.  So off that son went to do what he wanted to do, which certainly wasn’t doing manual labor in the vineyard (vs. 30).

The parables that Jesus told the crowds throughout His ministry were not told just to entertain.  Each of them had a spiritual meaning and message that the people were to take away and learn from.  Though this was a brief parable, it also had a lesson.  Jesus asked the Pharisees and crowds a question, which was which of the sons were obedient to the father (vs. 31).  Was it the son who had refused, but ended up going out and working?  Or was it the son who said he would go, but didn’t?  Naturally they answered that it was the first son, the one who initially had said no, but later did obey.  Jesus then responded with some words that shocked most of His listeners, and angered some, especially the Pharisees.  Jesus told them that the tax collectors and harlots will enter into the Kingdom of God before all the Pharisees and hypocritically religious folks.  That first group had repented and turned to God after they heard John the Baptist’s preaching and responded.  However, the Pharisees and other seemingly religious folk had also heard the prophet preach, but had rejected him and his message (vs 31-32).

The idea that tax collectors and harlots would enter the Kingdom before the outwardly religious hypocrites, especially the Pharisees, was frequently spoken of by Jesus, and this infuriated the religious leaders.  Tax collectors were a despised group of people.  In the New Testament days the Jewish people looked on them as traitors and collaborators with the enemy regime, as they worked for the Roman Empire.  Frequently the tax collectors would take more money than was asked for by the government, and they would pocket everything extra after the tax amount was turned in.  Because of both of these reasons, tax collectors were hated and looked upon as being sinners.  Of course, prostitutes were considered one of the worst classes of sinners.  And yet these despised people had found salvation, while the self-righteous religious leaders had not.

The son who said that he would obey, and then didn’t, represented the nation of Israel.  They said they wanted to do God’s will, but they constantly disobeyed, even turning to false gods.  They proclaimed their allegiance to God and His Word, but in reality had no allegiance at all.  The one son who at first refused, and then turned back and obeyed represents those who may have lived a sinful life, making no pretense of religion or salvation, but then one day they hear and respond to God’s Word.  They respond to the Lord Jesus in genuine repentance and salvation.

As the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words”.  The one son said “yes”, but his actions said “no”.  The other said “no”, but his actions later said “yes”.  How many times do we tell the Lord that we will obey Him, but then end up doing our own will?  A person of integrity will keep his word, not just to family and friends, but especially to the Lord.  We should never pretend to obey God when our hearts are far from Him.  Our actions should match our words.  Doing is more important than saying!

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Jesus, Others, Yourself

Philippians 2:1-4

For the last several decades there is one motto that has been spoken a lot by psychologists and counselors, and that is to think of oneself.  We’re told to do whatever makes us feel good, and to consider our own likes, dislikes, and pleasures first.  They tell us that it is good for our mental health to think of ourselves, and what we would like.  What does God’s Word say on this topic?  Our Scripture today sheds some light on what God would have His children do.

Society today is all about “me”.   People take “selfies” every time they turn around.  With the rise of social media, this way of thinking has skyrocketed.  Everything has become about me, me, me.  My thoughts, my plans, my house, my vacation, my hobbies, my playlist of songs, even my menu of my food is constantly being spread on various social media sites.  Not much, if any, interest in what anyone else thinks or does, unless it is to criticize or compare how “my way is better”.  We’re told to do everything with ourselves in mind, everything for me.  However, Jesus said that His followers are to be servants and to give to others first (Mark 10:42-45).

Paul repeated this admonition here in his letter to the Philippian church.  The apostle instructs us to avoid doing anything through selfish ambition, but to be humble and think of others first, instead of always thinking about ourselves (vs. 3).  Conceit is when we try to pursue personal glory.  However personal glory is empty glory, and only motivates our own selfish ambitions.  Followers of the Lord Jesus should lay aside all selfishness, and instead, treat others with respect and courtesy.

Following Jesus will give us an opportunity and desire to focus on others more than on ourselves (vs. 4).  Self-focus leads to selfishness, but that should never be allowed to control us.  Instead, with humility of mind, show an interest in the affairs and needs of others, not just our own.  Instead of always “me, me, me”, consider how we can help others.  What is happening in someone else’s life?  How can I be of help to someone else?  Be there when they need someone to weep with them, or to rejoice with them.  That should be our focus instead of the spotlight always being on ourselves, our life, and needs.

Most of us would like to have joy in our lives.  To find joy, we can use a little acronym with the word: Jesus, Others, Yourself.  Think of Jesus first, others next, and yourself last.  Consider others as more important than yourself.  Support, encourage and build up the other person, and have an attitude that would rather give than receive (Acts 20:35).

Thinking of others rather than always thinking only of oneself will also help in bringing about unity in our churches.  When Christians are united in the fundamental doctrines of God’s Word, and not squabbling about non-essentials, they are a powerful witness to the Gospel of Jesus (vs. 2).  Our purpose is to represent Jesus to the lost, and not be in competition with other believers.

This brief Scripture passage shows us how to live in harmony with other believers.  First, as verse 2 states, we need to have the same love for each other, without partiality.  We need to be of one accord, united in spirit.  We need to have one mind, have the same values and goals with our fellow believers.  There should be no selfishness, conflict, friction, arrogance or pride among fellow Christians (vs. 3).  Instead, with humbleness, consider others first before ourselves.  Be just as concerned for the needs and problems of others, as we are about our own needs (vs. 4).

Many people, even Christians, live only to make a good impression on others, or to please themselves.  This, as we see so often, only brings discord among others.  As believers, the virtues that are in the Lord Jesus should also be developing in our lives.  We need to practice these virtues with each other.  Everyone can agree that Jesus did not think of Himself first.  If He had, He would not have gone to the cross for our sins.  We don’t necessarily have to give up our lives for others, but we can stop with the “me first” mentality the world has, and instead put Jesus first, others second, and ourselves third.