Wednesday, November 29, 2023

A Good Inheritance

I Corinthians 15:20-28

Most of us can think of some things that we have inherited from our parents, or our ancestors even further back.  Often inheritance might be money, personal belongings, or even property.  Then there are personal characteristics that we can inherit.  We might have inherited our hair or eye color from one or the other of our parents or grandparents.  Maybe they had dimples and so do we.  Sometimes it may be a less positive trait.  Someone might inherit a relative’s tendency for depression, or their quick temper.  In our Scripture for today, from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, we read of something else we all inherited from a very distant relative.  Let’s see what that is.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul spoke about the resurrection of Jesus, how important that is for our faith, and the hope for a future resurrection of all believers.  In the early church there were a lot of questions about the resurrection of believers - would there be one, when would it happen, had those who already died miss out on it, etc.  Paul begins this passage by stating that among other things, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus was a sign for our own resurrection one day (vs. 20).  First Fruit offerings were familiar to most Corinthians, both those from Jewish backgrounds, and many of the Gentile believers.  These were offerings brought to God of the very first of the crops, given as a thanks to the Lord for the crops, and His promise for more crops to come.  Paul was teaching here that Jesus and His resurrection were the first fruits, the guarantee that all believers who die will also be resurrected.

No one likes the thought of dying.  Many people refuse to even talk about it, as it is something they fear.  We have many euphemisms for the word, as for many the words “die”, “dead”, and “death” are uncomfortable.  The Bible declares that death is a curse, something that we all face since the day of Adam.  As descendants of Adam, we have all inherited that curse (vs. 21-22).  He is the “man” in verse 21.  Adam, through his sin, brought death to the whole human race.  Just as we inherit physical traits from our parents, we all have inherited death from him.  We have not only inherited physical death from Adam, we have also inherited spiritual death, separation from God.

That is bad news, and not a welcomed inheritance.  However, Paul doesn’t just have bad news to give us. He has some very good news to share. Christians, those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior, have inherited something else.  This doesn’t come from Adam.  Instead, it comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, as once we are saved we become part of His family.  One thing that we inherit is that, just as He was raised from the dead, so shall every believer!  Jesus is the “Man” of verse 21, and He brings us the resurrection of the dead.  Adam brings us death, but Jesus brings us life, both physical life again when He returns, and spiritual life, as well.  Jesus’ death atoned for all sin, making it possible for man to be united again with God, guaranteeing the resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus was the first fruits, giving an assured promise that we, too, will one day be resurrected (vs. 23).  That will occur right at the beginning of the Rapture, when the dead in Christ are raised, and all believers who are alive will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Paul concludes this Scripture passage by telling us that at the end time, Jesus will deliver His kingdom to the Father, and that all enemies, including death, will be put under His feet (vs. 24-28). This will happen at the end of Jesus’ Millennial reign, when Satan is completely defeated.  Satan has held the power of death over us since the day that Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden.  However, Jesus broke the power of Satan at the Cross.  As we read here, the resurrected Jesus will conquer all evil, including death! (vs. 26).

Some false teachers and cults say that these verses indicate that Jesus is not equal to God the Father, and that He is somehow subservient.  That is a false teaching.  God the Father and God the Son, the Lord Jesus, are equal, but each has a special work to do, and an area of sovereign control.  Jesus is not inferior to the Father, and His work is to defeat all evil on earth.  He defeated sin and death on the cross, and when He physically returns to earth, Jesus will once and for all defeat Satan.  At the end of His Millennial reign He will present to the Father a perfect, new world.

That is a time that all believers can look forward to!  All those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior will have new, resurrected bodies, and a new world to live and worship the Lord in.  Will you be there?  If you are not sure, call upon the Lord Jesus today!

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Sheep Of God's Pasture

Psalm 95:1-7

Referring to believers as sheep, and the Lord as our Shepherd is a familiar and popular theme in the Bible.  The most prominent and most favorite Scripture of sheep and Shepherd would be Psalm 23, a psalm that many memorize when a child.  Then we have the referral of Jesus, Himself, as the Good Shepherd in John 10.  Several of the prophets refer to God’s people as sheep, and God as their Shepherd.  Another psalm that is popular to many is our psalm for today, Psalm 95.  Let’s take a brief look into this psalm.

Though this psalm does not list its author within the book, when referencing this psalm, the author of the Book of Hebrews identified it as one of David’s psalms.  This would be fitting, as we remember that David was once a shepherd as a youth, guarding his father’s flocks of sheep.  The psalm is also frequently used in various liturgies, often as a call or invitation to worship.

As our psalm opens, David is full of praise to the Lord.  We can almost see him dancing in joy before the Lord.  He calls the Lord here the “Rock of our salvation” (vs. 1).  Numerous times throughout the Book of Psalms we read of God being called a Rock.  They aren’t referring to a small stone, or even a rock that one can pick up and toss.  The type of rock that the psalmists refer to are large boulders, as tall or taller than a man, ones that cannot be moved.  These are rocks that can give a man safety, hiding and protecting them from the enemy.  They can be rocks that they could find shelter from the heat of the sun or from storms.  The Lord is our Rock.  He gives us safety from enemies, and shelter from storms.

When referring to God as the “Rock of our salvation”, David is referring back to the rock that Moses struck, where water came out to provide for the people to drink in the wilderness (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:1-13).  Paul later referred to that spiritual Rock as being a type of Jesus Christ, who indeed is our salvation (I Corinthians 10:4).

As mentioned, this psalm is often used as a call to worship.  David encourages us to sing joyfully to the Lord.  Most worship services will include singing hymns and songs of praise to the Lord, which we can do either publicly in church, or privately at home when we pray and worship the Lord.  Another thing to note is that giving thanks is the proper prelude to worship (vs. 2).  We cannot properly worship without a joyful and thankful heart to God.  We can get away from worries, woes, and concerns when we start naming out loud what we are thankful for.  Our focus will shift to God’s graciousness and love.

David then shifts his focus to the truth of God being the Creator of all (vs. 4-5).  Yahweh is not a local god, like the imaginary pagan gods of the surrounding heathen nations.  They would place their idolatrous shrines in the high places, along river banks, and elsewhere, marking out where each god or goddess held power.  However, Yahweh, the only true God, is the Creator and Ruler of the whole earth, from the deep places of the earth to the heights of the hills, from the sea to the dry land.  God created it all, not some “big bang”, or random dividing of cells in a swampy bog, and He deserves worship by all.

David then invites us again to come and kneel in worship to God, for He is our Maker (vs. 6).  He made us, we didn’t make ourselves.  He is our Creator.  We didn’t just appear randomly.  However, God doesn’t want to remain a distant Creator, He wants to have a close and personal relationship with each of us.  He wants to be our Shepherd.  He wants us to be His sheep in His pasture (vs. 7).  We become God’s sheep when we accept the Lord Jesus as our Savior.  The Holy Spirit brings us into the fold of the Great Shepherd.

One quick final look at this psalm.  David makes a special and touching note, when he says that “He is our God” in verse 7.  No other false god among the heathen religions of the past or the present desires a close and personal relationship with men and women, except the one true God, Yahweh.  What a privilege to be able to say “He is our God”, and that “we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.”  Can you say today that you are one of the sheep of His pasture?  Can you say that He is your God?  If not, do not wait another day.  Turn to the Lord Jesus and accept Him as your Savior.  Then you can have the joy and peace of knowing that He is your Good Shepherd, and you are one of His sheep!

Saturday, November 25, 2023

God Searches For His Sheep

Ezekiel 34:11-17

Have you ever been lost?  I don’t mean just having taken the wrong turn on the road, which your GPS can quickly help correct.  I mean really, seriously lost, maybe while hiking in the mountains or wilderness.  Maybe you have had a young child wander off, maybe in a large mall, or wander from the yard, and you had no idea where they are.  In these cases we hope that there are people who are looking for us, if we are the one lost, or for the child or other loved one who is lost.  Our Scripture for today, this last Sunday before the start of Advent, tells of the lost flock of God, and how He will search for them.  Let’s take a quick look at this passage.

Our Scripture comes from the book of the Prophet Ezekiel.  Ezekiel was from the tribe of Levi, and of the priestly line of Aaron.  He lived and ministered to the people during the time of the Babylonian captivity.  This was a time of great hardship and distress for the people.  Not only had they lost their homes and their homeland, they were taken away into captivity into the land of Babylon.  Because they knew that this had happened to them because of the sins of the nation, many felt that the Lord had turned His back on them.  Since the days of Moses, God had called them His sheep, but now they felt like they were lost sheep, sheep without a shepherd.

Ezekiel had some encouraging news for the people, words that the Lord had given him, and which he passed on to the people, words that can also be encouraging to us believers today.  This passage speaks specifically to the people of Israel, and God’s message to them.  However, it also can speak broadly to Christians, as the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, called His followers His sheep, and that He was their Shepherd (John 10:11-16).

Sheep need a shepherd who cares for them.  The Israelites had been led by bad shepherds.  Instead of the priests and religious leaders caring for their flock, they exploited them, profited from them, and left them to wild animals, just as a bad shepherd does with the sheep that he fails to care for.  Many of the leaders had been self-indulgent, and took advantage of them.  Because the people followed these false leaders, they ended up in the strongholds of sin, and were scattered from their land.  However, Ezekiel prophesied and promised that the Lord God will come and gather His people again, meeting their needs, but also judging those who will not turn to Him (vs. 15-16).

God, the true Shepherd, will search out and find His sheep, in order to restore Israel to their land for the kingdom which the Messiah leads.  This is a literal regathering and restoration of Israel to their land.  Since the scattering was literal, the regathering will be literal, as well, and will be complete when Jesus returns to set up His kingdom.

Just as God is the true Shepherd to His people Israel, and has promised to search them out and restore them, Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and He also carefully watches over the Christians, who are His flock.  Even though we cannot see Him, He can see us.  He knows us by name, and knows everything about us.  We are the sheep of His pasture.  Jesus will seek us out, feed us in good pasture, and bind up the broken.  He has tender care for us, the sheep of His flock  He cares for each one of us individually.

Are you a sheep who has strayed somewhat away from the flock, from the Shepherd?  God said He will seek what was lost, and bring back what was driven away.  He will not allow His sheep to remain lost.  He will search and find all of His children who may have wandered away, bringing them safely back into the fold.

Are you part of God’s flock today?  If you are not sure, turn to the Lord Jesus, confess and repent of your sins, and call upon Him as your personal Savior.  Then you can know that God is your Shepherd, and you are part of His flock.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Well Done, Good And Faithful Servant!

Matthew 25:14-30

A missed opportunity can be a big disappointment, or it can even be a tragedy.  If someone has been given an opportunity to do something good, and been given all that was necessary to accomplish it, they should never let laziness or indifference hold them back.  It is terrible to see someone be given something great, but then they throw away the opportunity.  The Lord Jesus told His disciples, and us, a parable about just such a thing, a parable about the tragedy of wasted opportunities.  Let’s see what the Lord has to teach us.

Jesus tells of a man who had to leave for an extended trip, and he leaves his goods to three of his servants in order for them to carry on his business, and make money for him.  When he returns, he calls the three servants to see what they have done with what they were given.  Two of them have multiplied the goods that they were given, but the third has not.  The master commends and rewards the productive servants, but punishes the slothful and negligent servant.

What is the meaning of this parable?  Just as with every parable Jesus told, He had an underlying meaning to teach, as the parables were not told just for entertainment.  The man who left town going on a long journey represents the Lord Jesus.  He departed the earth just at the dawn of the Church Age, and has promised to return at an undisclosed time.  Professing believers are the servants who are given different levels of responsibilities.  God has given each believer gifts to be used for His kingdom.  These gifts include our abilities or talents, along with any personal wealth we may have.

In the parable we read that Jesus said that the goods were divided to each servant “according to his own ability” (vs. 15).  God gives talents, skills and resources to us according to our abilities.  He is the One who decides what is given and to whom, and no one receives more than they can handle.  This way if they fail, their excuse cannot be that they were overwhelmed.  The only reason to come back to Jesus with empty hands would be laziness, indifference, or even antipathy of the Master.

The man gave the goods to the servants, left, and was gone for a long time (vs. 19).  They did not know when he would return, just as we do not know when Jesus will return.  The wise and productive servants immediately set to work with the goods, doing what they could to increase what was given them.  The third just stuck what he received in a hole (vs. 25).  What has Jesus given you?  Every Christian has something they can do for the Lord.  Musical ability?  Teaching ability?  Good with children?  Cooking?  Sewing?  Office or administrative skills?  Did He bless you with a car?  Legal ability?  Each of these, and so much more, can all be used for His kingdom.  Maybe you are not physically able to get out and do specific things, but if you have a phone or can write notes, you can encourage other believers.  And everyone can pray.  Jesus gave each of us some type of talent and ability, and He wishes us to use it for Him.

When Jesus returns, He wants to see that we have been faithful in what we’ve been given.  We will have to give an account of what we have done with whatever He has entrusted to us.  This is not referring to salvation, but with rewards.  All who are faithful will have been fruitful to some degree.  Jesus will reward those who were faithful in what they were given.  Both of the faithful servants were given the same reward.  Rewards are based on faithfulness, not in the size of the results (vs. 20-23).

When we invest our time and talent to serve God, we will be rewarded.  If we squander what God has given us, and disobey Him, we will be punished.  God rewards faithfulness.  Was that third servant even a true believer?  When the master returned, he cast the slothful servant out into outer darkness, which seems to imply that he was not.  Christians should want to be serving the Lord.  Don’t make excuses to avoid doing what God has called you to do.  Instead, obey willingly.  What we have is not really ours to begin with.  We are caretakers of our talents and belongings, not owners.

One day each of us believers will be standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ (unbelievers will go before the Great White Throne of Judgment).  We will be judged for what we have done, or not done, for the Lord.  Again, this is not judging salvation.  Instead it is for rewards.  More than anything on that day, I want to hear the Lord Jesus say to me what was said to the first two servants in that parable.  I want to hear Jesus say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  Don’t you?

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Are You Ready And Prepared?

I Thessalonians 5:1-10

Have you ever had a thief break into your house, and steal some valuable or precious items of yours?  Thankfully I have not.  However, living in the metropolitan area of Chicago all my life, I have heard about this on the nightly news all too often.  With their valuable items gone, and often irreplaceable items of sentimental value as well, the people are angry.  If they had only known it was going to happen that night, they would have installed an alarm system, or gotten a large dog, or just stayed home or awake.  If we knew that there was a thief waiting at the corner to mug us, we wouldn’t go down that street.  If we knew that there was a carjacker on a certain street, we wouldn’t drive down there.  These things happen suddenly and unexpectedly.  Some other things happen suddenly.  Our Scripture for today also talks about something that will happen suddenly and unexpectedly.  Let’s see what this is.

One popular topic with many Christians is when they think that Jesus will return.  They like to speculate when they think the Rapture and His Second Coming will occur.  People were guessing about this back in the days of Paul, and have been, off and on, since then.  I know that throughout my lifetime, many people have speculated about this, some even setting dates.  Paul, though, says that no one will know the date of this event.  Jesus even told His followers that no one, not even the angels, will know when that will be (Matthew 24:36).   Paul stated that those who knew these words of Jesus, and those of the other apostles, should not need to be reminded that they cannot know the times or the seasons (vs. 1).  Anyone who sets a date is a false teacher.

Paul has told us that this day will come suddenly and unexpectedly, just like a thief who comes in the night (vs. 2).  As mentioned above, no one knows when that happens.  If they did, they would have been prepared.  A wise person stays in a constant state of preparedness, such as with alarms, lights, watchdogs, etc.  Labor pains also come suddenly, and a wise woman has things prepared ahead of time so that when the pains begin, she is ready to go.  Paul’s message is to be prepared, to be ready.

When Jesus returns, He will bring judgment.  Many preachers today like to give only “feel good” messages, ones of peace and love.  They preach that God will never condemn what we do, as long as we have that peace and love.  These false prophets forecast a bright future for everyone, in spite of the imminence of God’s judgment (vs. 3).  That time will come suddenly, and it will be inescapable and painful for those who are not ready.

The important thing is, are you ready?  As believers, we need to live godly lives, in light of the coming judgment on the world.  When Jesus comes, He will judge sin, and set up His eternal kingdom.  Christians, those who have personally accepted the Lord Jesus as their Savior, belong to the kingdom of light.  Unbelievers are in darkness, both mental, moral, and spiritual darkness because of their sin and unbelief (vs. 4-5).  True believers are children of God their heavenly Father, who is light and in whom there is no darkness (I John 1:5-7).

Paul warns us to not be spiritually asleep at this time, just like people wish they weren’t asleep when that thief broke into their home (vs. 6).  Do not sleep in spiritual indifference and comfort, but instead, be alert.  Don’t sleep like the sleeping, spiritually dark people are.  Jesus is coming again, and each day brings us one day closer.  Those who are in spiritual darkness have no idea what is coming upon them and the whole world (vs. 7).

Living with the end in view requires spiritual vigilance and self control (vs. 8).  We need to be sober, have a clear and alert mind, filled with faith and love, and most importantly sure of our salvation in the Lord Jesus (vs. 9).  Are you ready for that day, or are you living as if that day were a long way off?  It could happen at any time.  A faithful Christian will live each day prepared to welcome Christ.

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Swiftness Of Life

Psalm 90:1-12

Back when I was a young child I thought that time went by so slowly.  Waiting for recess time in grade school seemed to take all day.  And then waiting for summer vacation to start or Christmas to come seemed to take forever.  However now that I am an adult, actually getting up in years, time seems to just fly by, weeks, months, and years are gone in the blink of an eye.  As I look back, it has been many years since those days, but it seems like yesterday.  Our psalm for this week speaks of how quickly time goes by, and asks us whether we are spending that time wisely.

Psalm 90 was written by Moses, the great man of God, chosen by Him to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness up to the shores of the Jordan River for forty years.  Moses lived a long life, 120 years, which could be divided into three groups of forty years each.  The first forty were spent living as a prince of Egypt in the courts of Pharaoh.  The second forty were spent as a shepherd in Midian, where he had fled for his life.  The final forty were spent leading the people of Israel in the wilderness, right prior to their entering the Promised Land.  Moses probably wrote this psalm during his final years as he looked back upon his life and how it was spent.

As Moses looked back on his life, was he satisfied with how it was spent?  Was he feeling that he could have done more for the Lord, perhaps during those years in Midian, or while he was a prince?  He knew that time was fleeting, and how important it is to be living for the Lord and for ourselves or in sin.

Think about the time that has elapsed in our own lives.  Have we been wise with those years?  I am a senior citizen now, and I know that I could have done way more for the Lord during those years that have passed.  Knowing that, I want to focus the remaining time I have in life on the things God would want me to be doing.  As Moses records, and we all know, time goes by swiftly.  We must not miss the opportunities that God sends.

When writing this psalm, Moses could look back at well over 100 years.  He knew from experience that God would protect and carry him through whatever he would face (vs. 1).  I can also look back over my life and know that God has been my help.  He has been my strength.  He is our sanctuary for protection, sustenance, and stability.  Whenever we face uncertainty, we can trust that with God we can find courage and strength.  We can have confidence to face the future because our hope for eternal life is found in Jesus, our Savior.

120 years is a good, long life.  Few people ever come even close to that.  Yet Moses knew that was nothing in the sight of the Lord.  God is without beginning or end and He dwells outside of time (vs. 2-4).  A thousand years is like a day to God (II Peter 3:8).  He is not limited by time, and because He is eternal, we can depend upon Him.  In this psalm, God’s eternal nature is contrasted with man’s frailty.  Our time on earth is limited, and we should use it wisely, not living for the moment, but instead with our eternal home in view.

Knowing how brief a life is, and how quickly it is passed, are we following the world’s wisdom or God’s?  The world says to think of ourselves, that whole “me first” mentality, make money, seek after power and material things.  People and institutions act as if they will be around forever, but that is not so, as Jesus taught (Luke 12:19-20).   All of those things will be useless when our life is over, but those who know Jesus as their Savior will have eternal life (John 10:28).

Sometimes when people have been told, because of sickness, that they have only so many days or weeks left, they change what they want to be spending those days doing.  As Christians, we should number our days accordingly (vs. 12).  Instead of living them solely for ourselves, a wise believer will live them for the Lord and His kingdom.  When we do, we can hope to hear Jesus say when we stand before Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Saturday, November 18, 2023


Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

Are you familiar with courtroom protocol?  Some of you may have had an occasion where you were in a courtroom, and most of us have seen courtroom dramas on television.  We know, then, that one cannot just speak openly and freely in court, any time they want.  If too many people are talking, or talking out of turn, the judge will bang his gavel down and call out “Order in the court!”  He will order people to be silent or he will have them removed by the bailiff.  There are other places where one doesn’t just speak out, and if they do they are ordered to be silent.  Our Scripture today is a message that the Lord gave the Prophet Zephaniah to bring to the people.  The Lord is not happy, and He has ordered the people to be silent.  Let’s see what He has to say.

Zephaniah was prophet during the reign of King Josiah, the last godly king of Judah.  However, due to the persistent sin and idolatry of the nation for countless years, God was going to judge the people.  For centuries He had sent His messengers, the prophets, to warn the people to get rid of their idols and their sin.  A few people listened, but the overwhelming majority did not, and continued in their wicked ways.  They gave an outward show of being pious, and in continuing to bring sacrifices to the Temple, but God was not pleased.  Zephaniah and other prophets warned them of impending judgment, and the people with their religious leaders protested against such words.

As our Scripture opens, God orders the people to be quiet.  He does not want to hear their excuses and defenses any longer (vs. 7).  All of their crying and pleading is too late.  The only proper response would be complete, humble, sincere repentance, but they weren’t having any of that.  The silence that was called for indicated finality.  This was just like when silence is ordered in the courtroom as the Judge enters, and everyone rises.  God is in His Temple, and nothing else needs to be said.  Silence is the best, most reverent, most worshipful response.  If words are needed, God will speak them!  The time of judgment has arrived.

God warned the people that He was going to go through Jerusalem, carefully searching for those who do not follow, obey, and rightly worship Him (vs. 12).  God will search and punish those who do not follow Him.  Because they do not search their own hearts, and are content with their moral chaos, and are indifferent to Him, God will judge them.  Things are no different today.  Morality and sin today are just as wicked, if not more, and God will bring His judgment, as well.  No one can escape His judgment, and there is nowhere to hide.

A number of preachers, both back in the days of the Old Testament, and also today, preach that God will never judge His people or anyone.  They preach only love, peace, and goodness coming from the Lord, and never a word about sin, a need for repentance, and judgment if people don’t change.  This was why the prophets from the Lord, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, were frequently attacked by the religious leaders of their day. God is not some heavenly, indulgent grandfather, like many preachers today seem to indicate.  He is a holy God, and He will actively judge and justly punish everyone who is content to live in sin and are indifferent to Him (vs. 12-14).

Zephaniah gave a description of what the Day of the Lord, the day when God comes in judgment, will be like (vs. 14-18).  The Day of the Lord was near for them at the time of this message from the prophet.  The Babylonian invasion, and the destruction of Jerusalem was just a few decades in the future.  Though no one can give an exact date, God’s judgment on mankind today is near, as well.

Money could not save the people in Zephaniah’s day from the coming Babylonian invasion (vs 18), and it cannot save us on the coming Day of the Lord, either.  Jesus has warned us of final judgment, and of world-wide destruction.  Riches will be worthless then.  He, alone, can save us.  That day is sure, but so is the ability of Jesus to save!  Turn to Him today!

Friday, November 17, 2023

Five Wise And Five Foolish

Matthew 25:1-13

Be prepared.  That is not just the motto of the Boy Scouts.  Many people can look back at some times in their lives where they lost out on something important or something fun, all because they were not properly prepared.  And even more importantly, being unprepared can sometimes end up with tragic results.  Today’s Gospel account from this past week’s Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer is a parable that Jesus told during the week before His crucifixion, a parable that stressed being ready and prepared.  Let’s take a look at this Scripture.

Wedding customs in the days of the New Testament were a little different from most customs today.  Preparation for the wedding and the celebrations following were usually handled by the groom and his family.  The celebrations would usually last a whole week, and preparations for that would start several weeks before then.  When all the preparations were done, the groom would go to the bride’s house to bring her and her attendants to his place.  The “parade” back to his home was a part of the celebrations.  This is where our parable today begins.

There were ten virgins who were waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom (vs. 1).  These women were attendants for the bride, they were not ten brides for the groom.  They would be like bridesmaids today.  As it was evening, they each had oil lamps with them.  The groom was delayed in coming, and these women began to get drowsy, and they all fell asleep (vs. 5).  Finally, at midnight, the call came that the bridegroom was coming (vs. 6).  The women woke up and trimmed their lamps.  However five of these women did not bring any extra oil for their lamps, and their light was going out.  They asked to borrow oil from the five who did bring enough.  The five who were prepared declined to give their oil to the others in order to ensure that they had enough (vs. 8-9).  While the unprepared women went to buy more oil, the bridegroom came and brought the five to the celebrations (vs. 10).  When the others returned, they were turned away at the gate.  They were not ready or prepared (vs. 11-12).

The parable is a picture of the church at the time of Jesus’ return.  Jesus is the Bridegroom.  The bridesmaids are believers - both true believers and those who pretend to be so.  The lamps refer to their lies, which are either prepared or unprepared.  And the oil is the regeneration of the Holy Spirit in our lives, which prepares us to give forth light.

We need to be ready and prepared for when Jesus returns.  Just like the bridesmaids did not know exactly when the groom would come, we do not know exactly when Jesus will return, either.  Those bridesmaids who were not prepared ended up missing out on taking part in the celebrations.  We need to be prepared, for when Jesus comes again we will give an account over the state of our hearts.  We need to keep watch, and always be prepared to meet Jesus.  Our life here on earth can end in a split second (James 4:14).  Nor do we know the day or the hour when the Lord will return.  When that day comes, all that will matter is whether we have been prepared by believing in Jesus, and by serving Him on earth.

Old-time oil lamps needed a consistent flow of oil in them to keep the light burning brightly.  In like manner we need a consistent flow of the Holy Spirit within our hearts and lives, which comes by our faith in Jesus, along with obedience to Him and His Word.  Without oil, the lamp was useless, just as all religious activity is worthless without the Holy Spirit residing in our hearts.

The foolish women wanted to borrow oil from the wise ones, but were turned down.  We cannot “borrow” from the salvation of others.  Just because someone’s grandparents founded a local church, or their brother is a missionary, or their sister is a nun, they cannot base their salvation on that.  Every person is responsible for their own spiritual condition.  The foolish women were sadly mistaken when they came to the door and were denied entry.  They thought that just because they claimed to be bridesmaids they would get in.  The same will happen to many who claim to be Christians, but will be told to depart when they come to the gates of heaven (vs. 11-12).  Just because one is “religious” does not make them a true Christian, or a child of God.

Just as these women did not know when the groom would come, no one knows the day of Jesus’ return. All speculation is useless. Our responsibility is to continually watch for His coming, and be in a perpetual state of readiness and eager anticipation for His return.  Our lives should be lived as if He were to come today.  When Jesus does return, there will be no second chances for the unprepared.  Be prepared now, for there will come a time when it is too late.  Be ready and prepared now, today!

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Meeting Jesus In The Air

I Thessalonians 4:13-18

There are some important days in our life that we really look forward to, and that we want our loved ones to go through with us.  These could be special holidays, and days like weddings or graduations, etc.  Then if they are not there, it is sad and disappointing, and we feel like they have missed out on something special.  Our Scripture today answers the question the early church had about the possibility of missing a very special event.  Let’s see what this is all about.

In the middle of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica, he responded to a distressing concern that the believers had, something that was disturbing them to such a degree that he felt he had to answer them promptly in this letter.  What was upsetting the Christians there?  The Thessalonians, like Christians from all time, were eagerly awaiting what is arguably the greatest day we could experience as a Christian, that being when Jesus returns in the sky to call or snatch up all believers on earth into heaven.  The Thessalonians were concerned, though, as to what would happen to those Christians who had already died.  What would happen to them?  Were they going to miss this most wonderful event?

Paul answers to assure believers that those who have already died will not miss this wonderful event.  He refers to these believers as being those who have “fallen asleep” (vs. 13-14).  The New Testament frequently uses this euphemism to refer to death.  Jesus used it when talking about Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:24), and Luke, when writing Acts, says that about the first martyr, Stephen (Acts 7:60).

The Apostle then continues by describing what will happen when Jesus returns in the sky for His believers.  Christians do not need to sorrow hopelessly when another believer dies, as if some great loss to that person has come.  Just as Jesus died and rose again, so also will those who are believing in Him.  They will rise and be taken to heaven (vs. 14).  At death, the soul and spirit of a believer instantly go to be with Jesus (II Corinthians 5:8).  The physical body goes back to dust.  At the time of the Rapture, God will raise the physical body, making it a new and glorified body, and will unite it with its spirit and soul.

Those who are alive when the Rapture happens will be caught up to meet Jesus in the air, and their living bodies will become new and glorified (vs. 17).  They will follow those who are dead, who will rise first (vs. 15-16).  The believing dead will rise first.  They will not miss this great event, as some of the Thessalonians feared.  Instead, they will be the first to participate.  Jesus will not actually return and set foot on earth at this time.  He will only meet believers in the air (vs. 17).  It will be several more years later when He will return physically to earth at His 2nd Coming, at that time to judge all.

Paul describes this moment as occurring with Jesus descending out of heaven with a shout, with a call from an archangel, and with a trumpet sound (vs 16).  Jesus is eager to be with His believers, so much so that He calls us with a joyous shout, just like when we call out to someone in the distance we want to be with.  One of the archangels will also call out to us to leave our earthly realm and be with the Savior.  And there is a trumpet call.  This is not one of the judgment trumpets spoken of in Revelation.  It is similar to the trumpet mentioned in Exodus 19:16-19 which called God’s people to meet Him in worship.

The purpose of these verses is not to get people all worked up with making timetables or predictions as to when this will happen.  The Bible says that no one will know ahead of time when this will happen, so setting a date is false and wrong.  It could be in a year, twenty years, or tomorrow.  We don’t know.  These Scriptures are given to be an encouragement to us (vs. 18).  Death is not the end of the story for a Christian.  When Jesus returns, all believers, dead or alive, will be reunited, never to suffer or die again.  Christians should be waiting expectantly for God to call us to be with Him.  The day may seem like it will never happen, but God is never late, and He never forgets a promise.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Hurry And Help Me, God!

Psalm 70

All of us have had problems in our lives, and most of us have had some rather major problems at one time or another.  Perhaps a job loss, and then not enough money to pay the bills, or maybe a significant illness in the family.  A few of us have faced a catastrophic crisis.  A tornado or fire wiped out our home and everything we own.  Maybe a loved one died a terrible death, not a “normal” one such as from an illness, (which would be difficult as it is), but from a brutal murder.  Or perhaps you or a loved one were unjustly sent to prison, not for a crime you committed, but in a wrong conviction.  In times like that we cry out to God, “Help!  I need Your help NOW!!!”  Our psalm for this week speaks of some type of major crisis, and the need for the Lord’s help in a big way.  Let’s take a look.

Psalm 70 was one of the many psalms that King David wrote.  Like what was often the case with David’s psalms, we don’t know the specific incident that brought on the writing of this particular psalm.  David faced many crises during his life, particularly the many times when his life was in danger.   The words of this psalm are nearly identical to the closing verses of Psalm 40 (Psalm 40:13-17).  That psalm, also written by David, spoke of some dire circumstance that the Lord delivered him from.  Now he is in another crisis, something very terrible and urgent, and he needs the Lord’s help right away.

As our psalm opens, David is crying out to the Lord.  “Make haste, O God, to deliver me!” (vs. 1).  He needs help, and he needs it now!  Usually when we pray, we want the prayers answered right away.  We are an impatient people.  However, if we take an honest look at our prayers, frequently we will see that it isn’t imperative that they be answered immediately.  We lost our job, and that’s bad, but with unemployment benefits we can survive for several months, often until we get another job.  Yes, we are sick, but most of the time we are not literally at death’s door.  David, though, was in urgent need.  Quite possibly those who sought his life were right on his tail.

One important thing when we face a crisis, is that we recognize that we can not solve the problem by ourselves.  David realized this when he prayed that God was his help and deliverer (vs. 5).  Too often we think we are self-sufficient, and that we can handle anything that comes our way.  We also think that another person, perhaps our doctor or our attorney, are the answer to our problem.  Others may come, but at their own pace, and when they do come, they may not be equipped or have the skills to really help.  It is only the Lord that we can truly depend on, especially if the need is urgent.  When others disappoint us and break our trust, and even threaten us, we should turn to God, as He alone can come to our aid.

Another important thing that David shows in this psalm is that no matter how desperate his situation is, he never forgets to praise and thank the Lord (vs. 4).  When in the situations that we may find ourselves, and they may be extremely critical, we should never forget thanksgiving and praise.  We may be in a very serious, very bad spot, and we need God’s help urgently, yet we can, and should, always give God praise.  Even when we are in moments of panic, if we stop and give Him the praise He deserves, it will help us to remember who God really is.  We should thank God for what He has already done in our lives, and worship Him for who He is.

Giving praise to God, despite our terrible situation, is always a good testimony.  When others see, that as a child of God, we are praising Him even in the darkness, they will sit up and take notice.  That may awaken a desire in them to want what we have.  Every day, in every circumstance that we face, we need to testify to others about the joy and peace we find in Jesus.  Don’t ever keep the Good News about salvation, and how Jesus can change our lives, to ourselves.  Instead, just as David did, share the message of God's deliverance and help with those who need to hear.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

The Day Of The Lord

Amos 5:18-24

It can be quite a shock to some people who have hoped for and expected a certain thing, and then it turns out to be quite the opposite.  Imagine desiring a certain job or career, thinking that if only you could work doing such and such a thing, or for this or that company, and you get that job, only to find that your life is more miserable than it had ever been.  Or you desire to go on vacation to a certain location, save up the money, and then go, only to be extremely disappointed in the place.  Maybe you meet someone, thinking they are the man or woman of your dreams, you marry them, and then they become your worst nightmare!   Our Scripture today from the Prophet Amos speaks of some people who are looking forward to a certain day, a certain time, thinking it will be great for them, when in reality it will be just the opposite.

The prophet Amos had a brief public ministry, from approximately 760 - 755 BC, during the reign of King Uzziah of Judah and King Jeroboam II of Israel.  Though he lived in the Kingdom of Judah, Amos primarily directed his messages to the northern Kingdom of Israel.  Prior to the Lord calling him into his brief preaching ministry, Amos had been a sheep herder and also grew sycamore figs.  Then the Lord took him away from that for a short while, as He had a message He wanted to be given to the people.

As our Scripture opens, Amos speaks of the Day of the Lord.  Several prophets spoke of the Day of the Lord, such as in Joel 2:1-2 and Zephaniah 1:14-16.   In the Old Testament Scriptures, the Day of the Lord refers to the future day of God’s judgment.  It is the time when God will show Himself the Victor over the world, vindicating His claims to be the Lord over all the earth.

The people of Israel spoke of the Day of the Lord with great anticipation, as they thought it would bring great blessings from the Lord for themselves, but would be a terrible time for other nations, and not for them.  They thought it would bring an end to their troubles, and that the Lord would really kick their enemies.

However, Amos had news for those who thought about the Day of the Lord that way.   It is true that when the Lord Jesus returns, it will be a glorious day for believers, for those who are saved and following Him.  But for those who don’t, for the unsaved it will be a day of darkness and doom.  Those who have never turned to the Lord, for those who mock Him and His Word, it will be a time of judgment, punishment, wrath, and justice.

Many of those in Amos’ day who were so looking forward to the Day of the Lord were religious folk.  Yet God said to them that He hated their religious rituals they went through, did not like their worship songs, and did not accept their offerings (vs. 21-23).  The reason was that it was all empty religious motions.  The people went through all of these rituals but their hearts were not in it.  They acted religious, but they were not truly saved.  God hates false worship by people who go through the motions out of pretense or show, who do these acts to make themselves look good.  God wants sincere hearts, not hypocrisy.  If performed with corrupt hearts, even our religious ceremonies and our offerings will be despised by the Lord.

The Old Testament prophets were not the only ones to speak about the coming Day of the Lord.  The Apostle Peter also spoke of it in II Peter 3:9-13.  He speaks of it as the day when the Lord Jesus will return at His Second Coming.  And with this in mind, Peter admonishes us to live holy lives, knowing that He could return at any moment.  For those who are truly living for the Lord, that will be a time of rejoicing.  However, what will happen to those who think themselves safe, but who have not examined their own lives?  For people who refuse to repent, they will be destined for doom.

When the Day of the Lord does come, and one day it surely will, which side will you find yourself?  Examine your heart and life.  Have you accepted the Lord Jesus as your Savior, and are you living for Him?  Or is your religious activity just empty rituals, and nothing more?  Turn to Jesus now, for when that day arrives, it will be too late!

Friday, November 10, 2023

Pyrite Or Gold

Matthew 23:1-12

When I was a child I had a nugget of what I thought, for a brief while, was a piece of gold.  I was such a happy little kid, that is, until someone older and much wiser let me know that it was not gold.  It was a piece of pyrite, often known as “Fool’s Gold”.  Just because it sparkled, didn’t make it real gold.  We see this in many areas of life.  Someone can put on a chef’s hat, but that doesn’t mean they can cook, and wearing a badge doesn’t make someone a police officer.  Our Scripture today from the Gospel of Matthew highlights some people who were pretending to be something they weren’t.  They were like that piece of fool’s gold.  Let’s see what Jesus had to say about that.

Throughout His ministry, the Pharisees continually harassed and provoked Jesus, trying to negate all that He, the Son of God, taught.  They were very critical of people who did not follow every single jot and tittle of the Law, and that especially included Jesus.  The Pharisees and religious leaders presented themselves as good and holy, perfectly religious Jews.  But were they really as holy and righteous as they appeared?

Frequently people like to give others the impression that they are good, holy, and devoutly religious.  They wear oversized crosses around their neck, hanging on the outside of their shirt so others can see.  They carry an extra-large Bible around, and if Catholic, a giant set of rosary beads.  Sometimes this is just ornamentation, and it doesn’t have any real meaning to these folks, other than trying to make others think they are devout.  The Pharisees were also like this.  They showed off their piety, but they were not truly devoted to God.  It was all show, all deception.  They wanted to appear righteous, but they neglected what was truly important.  They were filled with pride and self-importance, but God was not fooled.  He knew they were pyrite, not real gold.

The Pharisees would make a pious show of wearing their phylacteries, just like some today make a show of wearing or carrying religious items (vs. 5).  Phylacteries were an amulet that was often worn by devout Jews.  It consisted of a strip of parchment with Scripture on it, rolled and placed in a small metal cylinder, which was then placed inside a leather pouch and worn on the Jewish man’s foreheads and back of their right hand.  It was generally to be worn during prayer time.  However, many of the Pharisees wore them all the time to look holy.  They also would make the leather pouches very elaborate and ornate.  Jesus challenged them as to how this was just all an act or show, and not true devotion to God.

Another thing that Jesus criticized was how they would enhance the look of their piety by enlarging the borders of their garments.  Devout Jews would wear prayer shawls when praying, and these shawls would have tassels around the edge of white and blue threads.  This was to remind them of God’s Law.  The Pharisees would make them overly large and conspicuous, in order to be seen and appear holy.

Are we guilty of the same thing?  True, none of us would wear a phylactery, or have fringes on our garments to represent the Old Testament Law.  But do we do or wear religious things in order to be seen as pious, when in reality that’s all it means to us?  Do we carry our Bible around because we truly desire to read it whenever we have a chance, or only so people see us with it and think we are devout.  Is that the same reason we might wear a cross or crucifix?  Is it because of our love for Jesus, or just so others see it?   What is our real motive?  God knows, and He knows if it is a true motive or not.  He knows if we are pyrite or gold.

The Pharisees did not practice what they preached.  They also added many things to the Law which were not in the Scriptures, things they required the people to follow, but which they didn’t even obey (vs. 3-4).  They made their traditions, their man-made rules, more important than God’s Word.  The Pharisees knew the Scriptures, but did not live by them.  They didn’t care about being holy, but rather with appearing holy in order to receive the public’s admiration and praise.

This was Jesus’ last condemnation of the Pharisees.  This was His final and official rejection of them, a group who made a pious show of religiosity, but who had no true faith in God.  There was certainly nothing wrong with wearing phylacteries or tassels on the prayer shawls, just as today there is definitely nothing wrong in wearing a cross or crucifix, and in carrying a Bible or rosary beads.  We must just be careful in examining what our motive is.  Is it to be seen and appear holy, or is it because we truly are devout.  Can someone take a closer look at our life, dig deeper than the appearance, and see a true and genuine faith in God?  When God looks at us, does He see something genuine, something valuable, or just a piece of Fool’s Gold?

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Being Persecuted For Christ

I Thessalonians 2:9-20

Christians have been suffering persecution for their faith from the very earliest days of the Church in the New Testament on through to this day.  Sometimes, when persecution is raging high, we might be tempted to get discouraged, and to keep our faith quiet and not talk to others or witness as much.  Our Scripture today, from the second chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica speaks of the persecution that the Thessalonian believers were enduring.  It was not easy for them, as we can imagine, just as it isn’t for believers today, and Paul gave them encouragement.

Paul was no stranger to opposition to his ministry, opposition which often turned into outright persecution, including physical attacks.  This hostility and persecution came from all quarters - from the Jews who opposed him preaching about Jesus being the Messiah, from the Greeks and Romans who were suspicious of any new religion or new thinking which might cause trouble, and also from some fellow believers, particularly Jewish believers, who didn’t like him accepting Gentiles into the church.  One of the ways that some of his enemies came against him was to spread lies and misinformation among the churches, such as how Paul was a fraud, and only trying to scam them for their money.  Paul addressed this issue as our Scripture today begins, by reminding them how he had never asked for money from the Thessalonians (vs. 9), but instead had worked for a salary as a tentmaker.  That way his motives could not be questioned.  Paul trusted in God to provide for his needs.  Many other false teachers, both in the early church, and now, come demanding money from others.

Next, Paul’s enemies tried to attack his character (vs. 10-12).  Paul had behaved blamelessly during those few weeks he had ministered in Thessalonica, just as a good father is towards his children.  That is how he viewed himself in relation to that new church, as a father is to his children.  He took the new believers under his wing, and was going to nurture them till they became strong, mature Christians.  Just like Paul did, we believers need to live in a way that is worthy of God, not in a way that is an embarrassment to Him.  Live in a way that will not give the enemies of the Lord any ammunition or anything they can use against us.

Paul continued on by giving these persecuted Christians encouragement, letting them know that, just as their fellow countrymen were coming against them, the believers in Judea were suffering the same thing (vs. 14).  Sometimes when we are being attacked for our faith, we may think that we are alone.  However, there are believers all around the world who are suffering similar persecution, some even much worse than what we are enduring.

Today persecution comes from many sources: from other religions, from some political parties and governments, and even from the media and entertainment world.  At that time in the early Church, the main opposition and persecution was coming from the Jews, particularly Jewish religious leaders.  They would not accept Jesus as Savior themselves, and they tried to stop Paul from witnessing to others, including Gentiles, so that they would get saved (vs. 15-16).  They believed that Jesus was a false prophet, and not the Messiah, and they didn’t want His teachings to spread.  They also felt that if more Jews believed in Jesus, their own power and authority would diminish.  Many of the Jews, including some Jewish believers, resented that Gentiles were accepted into the faith as equals.  Paul wanted to encourage these believers who were facing persecution to stand fast in their faith.  Other believers were also suffering similar attacks.  If the Lord Jesus was not exempt from persecution, His followers should not expect to escape it.

These attacks and persecutions that other people bring against us, and the difficulties that prevent us from accomplishing God’s work, can be attributed to Satan (vs. 18).  Satan’s opposition to the Lord’s work is real, and we need to be aware of it.  He is behind all persecution against believers, and anything that stops the spread of the Gospel.  However, we should never be discouraged by the enemy's schemes.  Satan is no match for the power of God.  The ultimate victory is His!

Paul closed this portion of Scripture by sharing with his fellow persecuted believers that his ultimate reward was not in any amount of money he could make, or amount of fame he could achieve, but rather in the souls that were saved and the lives changed by preaching of the Gospel (vs. 19-20).  For him, that was worth any amount of persecution.  He knew that faithful believers would receive a number of different crowns for the type of service they give the Lord.  One is the Crown of Rejoicing, or the soul-winner's crown.  This is given to those who lead others to the Lord.

As time goes on, the days of persecution for believers will increase in all parts of the world.  Stand true to the faith, just as Paul did, and the Church in Thessalonica did.  The Lord will have rewards for those who remain true to Him.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Whose Words Are We Believing

Psalm 43

Sometimes what we are feeling and believing is not what reality truly is.  This can be a problem, both emotionally, and in actuality in our life.  Take, for example, a pilot in an airplane.  I don’t know how to fly a plane, and have never even been in a cockpit.  However, I do know that all those controls in front of the pilot are important.  The pilots are trained in how to read and determine what those controls indicate.  When they are in thick clouds or fog, when there is a lot of rain or snow hampering their view, when it is so dark out that they can’t determine the direction they are going, they are to rely on those controls.  If they instead rely on where they think they are heading, it could mean disaster. That is what supposedly happened to John Kennedy, Jr. when he, his wife, and sister-in-law were flying in a small plane, heading to his cousin’s wedding in the summer of 1999.  It is believed that John Kennedy, Jr, who was piloting the plane, ignored the controls, and instead went by what he thought was the right way, and ended up crashing into the ocean off of Cape Cod, killing the three of them.

Sometimes, as believers, we start to do some “stinking thinking”, believing the lies that the devil feeds us, rather than depending upon His Word, which is always true, and never fails us.  We may be in a bad situation, and just as in a pitch black night or in a thick cloud while sitting in the airplane cockpit, we feel cast off by God.  Do we go by our feelings, or do we trust in the “controls”, which is God’s Word?  Our psalmist today was in such a situation.  Let’s see what he did.

Psalm 43 is a companion psalm to the previous psalm, Psalm 42, as it echoes a verse that is repeated several times in each psalm.  The psalmist feels cast down by circumstances in his life.  He is depressed and discouraged, and wonders where he will find any relief.  He knows that he can’t turn to any person for help, as either they have turned against him or are unable to help.  And when he turns to God for help, he feels that he has been cast off (vs. 2).  This is a very discouraging place to be.  Right now he is looking out of the window of the plane and seeing nothing but darkness, clouds, or fog, and trying to figure out what to do. He is becoming overwhelmed and disoriented.  His feelings say that God cast him off.  Is that true?  Should he rely on that?

Right now he needs to turn to the control panel of his plane, which in our case would be God’s Word, the Bible, and pay attention to what he knows to be true and accurate.  He needs to turn to God, which, fortunately for him, he does.  Rather than take matters into his own hands, he turns to God in prayer, asking for Him to be both his Divine Judge and Divine defense attorney (vs 1).  Only a judge can bring a verdict of vindication, and only an attorney can plead our case.  We have that with God the Father, who is Judge of all, and also in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Divine Advocate.

In spite of these feelings he was having, feelings of being rejected by God, and being verbally, and possibly physically attacked by other people, he knows that God will give him guidance and direction (vs. 3).  He prays for God to send His light and truth to guide him.  That truth and light is found in the pages of the Holy Bible.  The truth in God’s Word shows the right path to follow in life.  His light provides a clear vision in order to follow His truth.

Those are the “control panels” that the psalmist, and we ourselves, need to rely on to get through this life.  When he trusted God’s Word, his lack of peace and depression was replaced with exceeding joy, and he could sing God’s praises again (vs. 4).  In the face of terrible discouragement, our only hope is in God.

Regardless of what life has thrown at us, we can take heart, because God is still with us.  Disappointments will come, but how we respond to them will determine whether we live a life of freedom or of slavery.  God is the God of hope, and we can shake off the chains of despair.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

A True And Honest Message

Micah 3:5-12

We all like to hear good news, something positive.  When we hear the evening news reports, we would love to hear that there has been no crime this past week, no wars, and the economy is doing great.  We would love to see the word “excellent!” written across our test papers at school, and hear the meteorologist say that temperatures will be balmy, with zero chance of snow.  However, is that reality?  Are they telling us the truth?  No one wants the wrong weather report.  Being told that your schoolwork is excellent when you really failed isn’t helping you, and hearing that there is no crime, when in reality it is just the opposite can actually be very dangerous.  No matter how much we like to hear the good and positive, if it is not true it is not helping us.  This was the message that the Lord gave to His prophet Micah, which we read today.

Picture for a moment, that you are a newly hired pastor or priest of a local congregation.  Within a week or two the head of the deacon board comes to talk to you, and he tells you that the congregation only wants to hear good and positive sermons from the pulpit.  They will pay you a very good salary, but they don’t want to hear about their sins, or need to change their lives.  They only want to hear that God loves them, and that no matter what they do, He will bless them.  This was something that Micah was seeing often enough among his fellow religious leaders.

Micah was a prophet to the southern Kingdom of Judah, and his ministry was during the reigns of kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, from approximately 737 - 696 BC.  During his years of ministry, Micah witnessed the fall of the northern Kingdom of Israel.  That was a rather traumatic event for the people of Judah to witness, seeing their “sister kingdom” of Israel fall to their enemies, and the people to be taken away into captivity.  Such an event would be a good object lesson for true and godly preachers to use, in order to steer their people back to true and faithful worship of Yahweh, and Him alone.  Many of the true prophets did, such as Isaiah and Micah, himself.  They told the people to observe what happened to their brothers to the north, which came upon them due to their sins and faithlessness to God.  They told them to mend their ways, or it will happen to them.

However, the people did not want to hear that.  They wanted to hear good and positive messages, messages of peace and love.  They turned away from God’s true and faithful prophets, and instead went to the false prophets, and gave them all of their tithes and offerings.  Because they were given the money, these false preachers would preach what the people wanted to hear (vs. 11).  Just like back then, we see that a lot today, where there are false preachers who only preach a “peace and prosperity” message, one where they do not believe that God will ever punish His people, where there is no hell, and that God will always bless His people with wealth.

What did God have to say about this?  He gave Micah a message to preach to these false prophets and teachers, and to the people who listen to them.  God said that He would cut off the ministry of these false preachers.  They would be put to shame.  They would show their shame by covering their mouth, from which had come forth their false messages (vs. 5-7).  Everything they say is utterly wrong.  It is not from God, even though they say it is.  Listening to and following a false message will only bring you spiritual ruin and judgment, just as it did to the people in Micah’s day.  It did to the northern Kingdom of Israel in Micah’s day, and not too long afterwards it did to the southern Kingdom of Judah.

The preacher and religious leader who preaches the true Gospel from the Bible is the one who really has the power of the Holy Spirit and His might, not the ones who might say they do, but who only preach what the people pay them to say and what they want to hear.  Jesus promised His followers the power of the Holy Spirit to witness and bring His message (Acts 1:8).  Our pastors and teachers should be trusting and relying on Him for His message, not on the size of the paycheck the church gives.

Are you listening to a pastor who accepts bribes, or are you one who takes bribes?  There are plenty of pastors today to accept bribes when they allow those who contribute much to control the church.  When fear of losing money, when the members influence the pastors to remain silent on some topics, and when they know they should speak up for what the Bible really says, that church is in danger of God’s judgment, just as they were in the days of Micah.

Friday, November 3, 2023

The Most Important Law

Matthew 22:34-40

Most of us have a favorite book, a favorite song, or a favorite movie.  How many of us, though, have a favorite law?  That may seem like a joke, however many of the Pharisees would debate among themselves as to which law of the many hundreds in the Pentateuch was the most important.  If they included the oral law, which would entail all of their traditions, the list was countless.  The scribes and Pharisees would often end up having a “favorite” or several favorites, which they would deem as most important, and they would debate among each other, and push what they thought were the principle laws.  Our Scripture passage today recounts just such a discussion.  Let’s see what Jesus has to say about the “favorite law debate”.

As our Scripture opens, the Pharisees were still seeking a way to trap Jesus in His Words, to find some way to discredit Him among the people.  On this occasion, a lawyer came up to Jesus to try and draw Him into the favorite or most important law debate (vs. 35-36).  In the Gospels, “lawyers” were sometimes also called scribes, and their specialty was interpreting the Mosaic Law.  They were frequently in association with the Pharisees.  This man would most likely have frequently taken part in these debates.

As the lawyer approached Jesus, he asked the Savior which law was the greatest, the most important of the many hundreds, which one was His favorite.  Some people might say the dietary laws were the most important.  Others might say that keeping oneself free from contamination by foreigners was.  And certainly most felt that stringently keeping the Sabbath was very important.  These were some that the Pharisees were very particular about observing at this time in history.  What did Jesus think?

Jesus didn’t waste any time in giving the crowd His answer.  He clearly stated that the most important law was to love the Lord God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind.  Then Jesus immediately added a second important law, that we are to also love our neighbor as ourselves.  If we are obeying both of these laws, then we are following and obeying all of the Mosaic laws in the Scriptures.  Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 when He stated the first and greatest commandment.  We are to have a complete love for God.  The second law He stated as being of great importance was a quote from Leviticus 19:18.  It contains, in different words, the Golden Rule.  This prompts believers to measure their love for others by what they wish for themselves.

How do we love God with all of our heart?  Do we value something more than God?  If we do, then that thing we love and value has first place in our heart, not God.  Yahweh is a jealous God, and we are not to have any idols, either literal or figurative, in our lives.  Loving someone or something more than Him is setting them or it up as an idol, as first place in our life, a place which only Yahweh should have (Exodus 20:4-5).  We need to separate ourselves from that which is not of God, and get the ungodly things out of our life.

We are to love the Lord with all of our mind.  We should not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by renewing our mind  (Romans 12:2).  Think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).  Then allow God and His word to cleanse our mind.

To give God top priority means loving Him wholeheartedly, denying ourselves, and following Him.  Then we are to treat others the way we want to be treated.  That is following the example of Jesus, who loved us even though we do not merit it.

Mankind’s whole moral duty falls under these two categories - love for God, and love for our neighbor.  The Ten Commandments are summed up quite well within these two.  The first four commandments speak of our duty to love God with our whole heart and mind.  The last six commandments illustrate our love for our neighbor.

How well are we keeping either of these two laws in our life?  If we are faithfully following these, the ones that Jesus said were the greatest, we will be obeying all of the Law and the Prophets.