Saturday, June 15, 2024

What Praise Can Do

II Chronicles 20:1-30

If asked to do something that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, will you do it?  What if the situation is critical, life and death critical, will you still follow what you were asked to do, or would you stick with the way things have been done for ages?  Our Old Testament Scripture tells the account of the King of Judah and the surprising way he met some enemy nations that were coming against him, what God wanted him to do, and the amazing results when he obeyed.

During the reign of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, the kingdom of Israel split into two kingdoms.  The northern kingdom retained the name of Israel, while the southern kingdom became the Kingdom of Judah.  Israel had no godly, believing kings, while Judah had some good and godly kings, and some who were not followers of the Lord.  Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah in our Scripture today, was a godly and believing king.

During the reign of Jehoshaphat, three neighboring nations decided to come against Judah, and gathered their armies together.  These nations were Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, also known as Edom (vs. 1).  Ammon was northeast of Judah, Moab directly east, and Edom south and southeast.  Ammon and Moab were descended from Lot’s incestuous relationship with his daughters, and Edom was descended from Ishmael.

This was three armies against one, three powerful nations with strong, well-trained armies, against one.  King Jehoshaphat was naturally worried, as they were marching down towards his nation.  What was he going to do?  Should he send some messengers with pleas of surrender, and for them to just take the country’s wealth and leave the people alive?  Or should he gather his army, much smaller than three armies, and give it their best try?  Jehoshaphat did neither!  What he did do was to call upon the people of his kingdom to join him in prayer and fasting, praying to the Lord for His help and deliverance (vs. 3-4).   The king did not throw up his hands in a panic, crying “Oh what am I going to do, God?”  He went to the Temple and prayed to the Lord, reminding Him of His promises and of His past deliverances (vs. 5-12).

God responded by the message of one of His prophets, Jahaziel, telling the king to bring his army to a certain position, but they were not to attack or fight, as the Lord would deliver them (vs. 14-17).  Jehoshaphat did as the Lord commanded.  He brought his army out, but instead of putting the strongest soldiers first, just in case, he put the Temple worship singers, basically the church choir, up in front to sing praises to the Lord!  (vs. 18-21).  What did God do in response to Jehoshaphat’s obedience and the songs of praise to Him?  He defeated the three armies, without Judah having to lift a sword or spear! (vs. 22-24)  All because of obedience and praise!

We all have various “armies” that come against us - illness, financial troubles, problems our children are going through, etc.  Are we trying to fight them on our own, or do we go to God first and foremost?  Are we crying in defeat or do we bring praise to the situation?  Satan and his demons do not like it when we praise the Lord!  And the more that we praise Him, the more they will take flight!  When we are in a really desperate situation, rather than crumble with worry and fear, instead start praising the Lord!

In closing, let me share an account of how praising the Lord saved a little boy’s life.  Back in 2014, in Atlanta, Georgia, little nine year old Willie Myrick was kidnapped from his yard by a stranger.  The kidnapper threw him into the back seat of his car and drove off.  Instead of crying or panicking, Willie just started singing over and over the worship song “Every Praise” by Hezekiah Walker.  (Every Praise)  Over and over the young boy sang that song, despite his kidnapper snarling at him to shut up.  Finally, after three hours, the kidnapper pulled over and made Willie get out of the car.  The demons in that situation could not stand the continual praise to God that the young boy kept giving!  When Willie Myrick started to praise God, He sent His angels to surround the boy and keep him safe.  Singing praises to God saved that boy’s life!

Will you praise the Lord when problems surround you, like King Jehoshaphat did, like Willie Myrick did?  “Every praise is to our God!”


Friday, June 14, 2024

Jesus' True Family

Mark 3:20-35

“You’re crazy!”  Every once in a while someone will say that to another.  Often it is said good naturedly, as perhaps the one said or did something preposterous and funny. At other times this could be said in all seriousness, as if the other person is thought to be actually mentally ill.  If that is the case, and one genuinely cares about the other’s well-being, that might be okay.  Sometimes, though, this accusation is leveled against another just because they don’t like the other person, and want to shut them up.  Not that long ago, someone could get a relative, often a spouse, parent, or child, wrongly locked up for years in a psychiatric hospital, by falsely accusing them of being “crazy”.   In our Scripture today we read of a time when Jesus was called crazy, including by some relatives.  Let’s take a look to see what brought that on, and how Jesus responded.

As Jesus’ ministry progressed, the crowds that sought Him grew to huge numbers.  People crowded to hear Him preach and teach, and they especially came bringing sick folk to Him for healing.  Day after day this happened, and Jesus had very little time to rest or even to grab a bite to eat (vs. 20).   As this continued on, where Jesus kept on teaching, preaching, and healing without much time for any breaks, or taking a few days away for a rest every now and then, word got back to His relatives.

Jesus had several relatives, most likely still living in Nazareth.  In addition to His mother, Mark 6:3 lists several “brothers” and “sisters”.  There are different views as to who exactly these were.  The Greek word used is “adelphos”, which means both a literal brother or also “brethren”, which could mean another close relative, such as cousins or step-brothers (if Joseph had been previously married and had children).   During the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry these “adelphos” did not believe in His being the Messiah.  However, fairly soon after His resurrection and ascension, at least two came to accept Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, James (author of the Book of James and an early Bishop of Jerusalem), and Jude (author of the Book of Jude).  At this time, though, Jesus’ relatives thought He was crazy, and came to take ahold of Him and bring Him home, even if it was by force (vs. 21).  Even those close to Him were slow to understand who He was and what He had come to do.

Jesus’ family thought He was insane because He took little or no time to eat or rest, so urgent was He with ministry.  The Pharisees thought He was demon possessed and in league with Satan (vs. 22).  They refused to believe that Jesus’ power was from God, because then they would have to accept Him as the Messiah.  The Pharisees had too much pride, so they instead said His power came from Satan.  After they made that proclamation, Jesus tried to use a bit of logic with them.  Why would someone in league with Satan want to cast Satan or his demons out? (vs. 23-27).  Satan is described as a “strong man” in verse 27.  However, one must be stronger than him to enter his domain and bind and plunder his house.  Only Jesus has such power.  Satan is ultimately doomed as head of the demonic world system.

The Lord then continued His teaching by proclaiming that there is an unpardonable sin (vs. 28-30).  This sin is committed when one deliberately and disrespectfully slanders the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in particular the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  When one does that, they completely cancel and forfeit any possibility of forgiveness of sins, because they have rejected the only basis of God’s salvation, Jesus’ saving death on the cross.   The Pharisees rejected the work of the Holy Spirit.  They did this by willfully choosing not to believe in Jesus as their Savior under any condition.  Because of their unbelief, they chose to remain without forgiveness.

Acknowledging the true origin of Jesus’ works is a matter of eternal importance.  It distinguishes His true family members from those who would be eternally condemned as blasphemous (vs. 31-35).  Any biological connection that the “adelphos” had was not important.  What was and is important is whether one accepts what Jesus did on the cross for themselves, and takes Him as their Savior.  They are His true family.  We know that the Virgin Mary did, of course, and that later both James and Jude did.  There is no record of whether any others did or not.  What about you?  Do you think that Jesus was possibly crazy, mentally ill, like His family did at first?  Or maybe you go so far as to think that He may have had a demon, like the Pharisees did.  If you have never asked the Lord Jesus into your heart as your personal Savior, please do so now, and become a member of His true family.


Wednesday, June 12, 2024

It Will Be Worth It All

II Corinthians 4:16-18

Would you go through a minute of bad pain if you knew that the rest of your life would be pain-free?  Many of us might go through a day or two of misery if we knew that afterwards, for the rest of our life, every need or wish we had would be met.  We go through several years of difficult study to get that university degree we desire, in order to have the career we want.  We get a painful shot, take nasty medicine, or have painful surgery in order to have better health in our future.  Why do we do that?  Because we know that the results are worth that momentary pain.  Not getting some diseases is worth the pain of a shot.  Laser surgery on your eyes is worth undergoing if it restores your vision.  The same with many other discomforts.  In our Scripture today, the Apostle Paul reminds us that for believers, the trials and tribulations we go through will be worth it when we consider what the Lord has prepared for us in heaven.

As our brief Scripture opens, Paul urges us to not lose heart, to not become discouraged when we go through something hard, difficult, or terrible (vs. 16).  We might be going through a catastrophic illness or injury, some deep financial trouble, or painful relationship problems.  It may feel like we are perishing, and perhaps we actually are.  Paul even says that our outward man, our physical body, may be perishing.  Our daily struggles wear down our physical body, and the more stress and problems we have, the more we physically break down.

Then Paul gives us some encouragement following that statement.  Our outward body may be perishing, but our inward body, our spiritual self, is renewed each day when we walk with the Lord, trusting in Him and His Word.  The dark moments of our life will last only so long as is necessary for the Lord to accomplish His purpose.  The Lord has a purpose for everything we go through, and even if He didn’t cause the catastrophe we might face, He allowed it, and can use it for our good if we allow Him.  We need to remember that nothing touches us that has not passed through the hands of our Heavenly Father.  Whatever occurs, God has sovereignly surveyed and approved.  Let God work His good purpose, and our inward man will be renewed.

There is a purpose in the trials that the Lord allows us to go through.  First, when we go through something difficult, that trial can remind us of all that Jesus suffered for us.  He didn’t have to, He could have said no, but He didn’t.  Jesus went through the worst suffering out of love for us, to redeem our souls from sin and hell.  Our suffering can also keep us from becoming too prideful, one of the worst of sins.  They can cause us to look beyond this brief life, at what the Lord has in store for us.  And when we go through trials in a patient and godly manner, the Lord has the opportunity to demonstrate His power through us.

God will amply reward what we suffer if we are obedient to Him (vs. 17).  Jesus will bless us for our faithfulness to Him (Mark 10:28-30).  We must never forsake our eternal reward because of the intensity of today’s pain.  Our very weakness allows the resurrection power of Christ to strengthen us moment by moment.

The problems we see are temporary, but the hope we have in Jesus, though unseen, is eternal (vs. 18).  The problems may seem like they’ll never end, just like when we go through a long, dark tunnel.  But don’t you see that speck of light far ahead, at the end?  When going through a difficult time, keep your eyes on Jesus, just like we keep our eyes on that speck of light at the end of the tunnel.

All the trials and tribulations we go through will be worth it when we get to heaven.  What is 70, 80, or 90 years compared to all of eternity?  It is like a millisecond to a lifetime!   Remember, this life is not all there is!


Monday, June 10, 2024

Deep In A Pit

Psalm 130

Hopefully you have never been trapped deep inside of something, like perhaps a well or a cave shaft.  Fortunately I never have.  However I do remember almost 37 years ago when a little girl, Jessica McClure, fell deep down a very narrow well in rural Texas in October of 1987, and was trapped for about 56 hours while all sorts of experts worked to safely rescue her.  Being only 18 months old, she probably could not consciously pray, but if we were trapped in some similar type condition, we would undoubtedly be crying out to the Lord to rescue us!  In our psalm for this week, the unknown psalmist also cried to God from the deep, and found rescue.  Let’s see what his deep problem might have been.

As our psalm opens, the psalmist relates an incident in his life where he was in some desperate trouble, and he called upon the Lord to rescue him (vs. 1-2).  We don’t know what the situation was, but whatever it was, he was deep into it.  Perhaps he had literally fallen down deep into something, such as a well like little Jessica McClure, or down a deep crevice.  Possibly the phrase “the depths” might be figurative, and the psalmist was deep in some other type of trouble, such as financial trouble, or problems unjustly brought against him by another.  This deep trouble caused him great distress, and he cried out to God.  He needed God to hear his voice, to listen and pay attention.

We’ve all been in some sort of trouble, possibly even very deep trouble, and we cry out to God.  If help doesn’t immediately come, we wonder if God heard us, or was even paying attention.  We want God to listen up and hear us!  Then we wonder if we are so deep into the pit, that our voice isn’t even reaching Him.  However, as the late Christian author and speaker Corrie ten Boom once said, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”  The prophet Isaiah tells us that before we even cry out, God has heard us (Isaiah 65:24).

We don’t like to wait for God’s answer.  We want our rescue to be immediate.  Sometimes when we find ourselves in an extreme or dangerous situation we panic, and then we may try to solve the problem on our own.  Often that can make it worse.  Instead, we need to stay calm and wait upon the Lord to be attentive to our cries for mercy, and to put our hope in the Word of God, which shall never fail.  God, who knows the end from the beginning, knows that sometimes we do have to wait.  Little Jessica had to wait nearly 2 ½ days in that well to be rescued!

There is one situation that every one of us have been deep in, and that is deep in our sins, and our psalmist knew that (vs. 3-4).  Before we come to Jesus for salvation, our sins overwhelm us.  We are sunk deep, and we have no way of rescuing ourselves.  Our only hope is to call upon the Lord.  Some may feel that their sins are so bad and so numerous that God would turn them away.  The Lord reminds us here that when we come to Him, confessing our sins and repenting, He gives us never-ending forgiveness.

Continuing on in our psalm, the Lord reminds us that very often we have to wait for our deliverance or for answers to our prayers (vs. 5-6).  God does not spring into action on our timetable.  He waits until the very best moment to intervene.  I am sure that those 56 hours of waiting were quite difficult for Baby Jessica’s mother!  What if she hadn’t waited and trusted the experts to figure out the best way to rescue her little girl?  What if she had decided not to wait, and started digging on her own?  She wanted her baby, and she wanted her now!  Quite likely the ground might have collapsed in on little Jessica, and she would have died.  Waiting was important, and it meant that her child was rescued safely.  When we wait on the Lord our faith grows stronger, and we learn to trust Him.  His answer will be best in whatever trouble we are in.

In closing, let’s remember what our Psalmist learned.  When we find ourselves in some deep trouble or problem, call upon the Lord.  Confess your sins, and know that He will forgive you.  The Lord does hear you, and at the perfect time, He will rescue you.  God’s Word will never fail!


Saturday, June 8, 2024

The Price Of A Sinful Choice

Genesis 3:1-21

We sometimes hear someone question out loud why this or that awful thing happened, why so many young people get murdered in the big cities, why dreadful diseases strike down so many, and why terrible wars bring countries to their knees.  Though there are often specific answers for each instance, overall the answer can be traced back to the very beginning, which is sin.  It is at this beginning, when sin entered the world and cast its evil shadow over all, that our Old Testament Scripture for this week is found.   Let’s take a quick look at this chapter in Genesis.

After God had created all, He placed man in the Garden of Eden, giving him one command, and that was not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:15-17).  It was here in the garden that Satan lost no time in working his plan to tempt mankind and bring down God’s creation.  Satan is a fallen archangel, and thus a supernatural being.  He possessed the body of a serpent in its pre-fallen state, and in that form he struck up a conversation with Eve (vs. 1).  Immediately he put his plan into action by getting Eve to question God’s goodness and kindness, to make her doubt His Word and His care for her and Adam.  He did this by implying that God forbade them from enjoying good things (vs. 1).  Satan still deceives people into thinking that following God will end all enjoyment in life.

When Eve corrected the serpent by telling him the one command God had given, Satan then told her a direct lie (vs. 4-5).  Satan is called a liar and a murderer from the beginning, and here is the evidence (John 8:44).  His lies always promise great benefits, but they fail to deliver good.  He tempted Eve by telling her she’d be like God, and selfishness has reigned in the human heart ever since.

Satan tempted Eve with the fruit.  He still uses the same tactics as he did then.  He often uses this same plan, to make people crave some sort of physical gratification to the point that they become preoccupied with it (vs. 6).  He makes them want to acquire things to the point they bow down to the god of materialism and lust for more and more.  Satan showed Eve that the fruit was pleasing to the eye.  He tempted her by promising an increased awareness which would make her become more like God.  Eve saw that it was good for food - lust of the flesh, pleasant to the eyes - lust of the eyes, and would make one wise - pride of life (I John 2:16).  We need to be careful with what we are looking at.  Temptation often begins by simply seeing something we want.  The battle is often lost at the first look.

After both Adam and Eve ate the fruit, sin came upon all of creation.  They heard God coming to meet with them and they hid, as sin brought guilt and shame (vs. 8-10).  God was not ignorant of their location.  He wanted them to come out, talk with Him, and explain.  There is never a place we can hide from God (Psalm 139:1-12).  He always seeks out mankind. He doesn’t just sit and wait for people to come to Him.  He actively seeks us.

As we continue, we see that Adam refused to take full responsibility for his actions.  He tried to put the responsibility on God for giving him Eve (vs. 12).  Eve’s effort to put the blame on the serpent, which was partially true, did not absolve her of the responsibility for her distrust and disobedience to God (vs. 13).

Satan used a woman to bring down the human race.  God used a woman as an instrument to bring the Redeemer into the world who would save the human race (vs. 15).  This verse is prophetic of the struggle between “your seed” - Satan and unbelievers (called the devil’s children by Jesus in John 8:44), and “her Seed” - Jesus and those in Him.  The woman’s offspring is Jesus, who will one day defeat the Serpent.  Satan can only bruise Jesus’ heel, cause Him to suffer.  Jesus will bruise Satan’s head, destroy him with a fatal blow.

People today bemoan the terrible things that happen in the world, murder, sickness, wars, and question why God allows it.  He didn’t bring that into the world, mankind did when they followed Satan and turned away from God.  That is why there is a curse on the ground and human death (vs. 17-19).  Humans turned their back to the Voice of God.  The thorns (vs. 18) represent all of the consequences of our sinful choices.  Jesus took those thorns upon Himself, and wore them as a crown (Matthew 27:29).

God took an innocent animal (vs. 21), and killed it to cover man’s sin and shame.  That is a shadow of the reality that God would someday allow His innocent and sinless Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die as a substitute to redeem sinners.  Have you accepted Him as your Savior?  If not, come to Him today.


Friday, June 7, 2024

The Intent Of The Sabbath Laws

Mark 2:23-28

When I was a child, back in the 1960’s, just about everything was closed on Sundays.  All stores and offices were closed, most restaurants, and many gas stations, as well.  People also did not do unnecessary work around the house, either.  You wouldn’t hear the lawnmowers going on a Sunday.  Families relaxed.  They went to church in the morning, and then they might go for an afternoon drive, or play some games together.  Some parents wouldn’t even allow their children to do homework on a Sunday.  One had to get it done before then.  This was all across the country.  They honored the Lord’s Day.  However, that all started to change during the 1970s.  By the end of that decade, most stores would have Sunday hours.  Many offices would be open, and a boss could easily call a worker to come in on Sunday.

Today people don’t like restrictions on what they can and cannot do, certainly not because of what day of the week it is.  So who’s right?  Those who feel that no work should be done on Sundays, or those who want to shop, eat out, and carry on business as usual?  Jesus had something to say about the Sabbath in our Scripture today.  Let’s take a look.

As we read through all four Gospels, one thing that frequently sticks out is that the Pharisees were often at odds with Jesus because He would heal people on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were devoutly religious.  They tried to strictly follow the Laws of Moses, and they wanted everyone else to, as well.  So when they saw Jesus doing something they felt He shouldn’t, they were quick to harshly criticize Him.  On this particular occasion, the Pharisees were criticizing Jesus and His disciples for what they felt was harvesting grain on the Sabbath.

As our Scripture opens, Jesus and His disciples were walking from one place to another, and the path went by some grain fields, and they took some to eat (vs. 23).  Now before anyone starts to think that they were stealing a farmer’s crop, we need to look at some laws given in the Old Testament.  In Leviticus 19:9-10 and Deuteronomy 23:25, it says that farmers were to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so that some of their crops could be picked by travelers and the poor.

The Pharisees immediately started to criticize and condemn them, saying they were working on the Sabbath, that they were harvesting grain, which was breaking Sabbath rules (vs. 24).  Over the centuries since the days of Moses, so many extra rules and regulations had been added to the Sabbath commandment, and here was an example.  God’s law said that crops should not be harvested on the Sabbath (Exodus 34:21).  This law prevented farmers from becoming greedy and ignoring God on the Sabbath.  It also protected laborers from being overworked.  However, Jesus and the disciples were not picking the grain for personal gain.  They were looking for something to eat.  The Pharisees were so focused on the words of the law that they missed its intent.

Jesus then gave an example from the life of one of the most revered people in Israel’s history, King David (vs. 25-26).  He reminded the Pharisees that David did something that was not allowed by the Law of Moses.  David was not a priest, so by the Law, he could not eat one of the special loaves of showbread in the Tabernacle, but he and his men did (I Samuel 21:1-6).  David wisely judged that the law forbidding the laity to eat this bread ought to yield to a law of necessity and of nature.

By the time of Jesus the Pharisees had turned the Sabbath into a big list of do’s and don’ts.  Jesus said that the Sabbath was made to meet the needs of the people, not the people meet the requirements of the Sabbath (vs. 27-28).  The Pharisees had made the Sabbath a burden, not the blessing it was intended to be.  God gave us the Sabbath as a gift for us, not to be a burden, and just one more rule and regulation to follow.  We live in a generation that works almost constantly, but God, in His compassion, knew that we need to rest.  It was to allow people to rest and allow God to refresh.

Right following this, Jesus would heal a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6).  He implied that the Sabbath is a day to do good.  Sabbath rest doesn’t mean that we don’t lift a finger to help others.  The Sabbath should not become a time of selfish indulgence.  God derives no benefits from having us rest on the Sabbath.  We are restored physically and spiritually when we take the day to rest from our usual work.  The intent of God’s Law is to promote love for God and for others.


Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Knocked Down But Not Out

II Corinthians 4:5-12

When my adult son was little, preschool age, he used to have an inflatable punching toy.  If I remember correctly, it had the figure of a clown on it.  It was weighted with sand at the bottom, so that every time he hit it, it would bounce back upright.  No matter how many times he hit it, no matter how hard he hit it, boing!, that clown would bounce right back up! Wouldn’t it be nice if every time some problem would hit us, if every time some trouble attempted to knock us down, we would bounce right back up, that nothing could keep us down.  In our Scripture today from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, he gave a similar description of what he and some other Christians who were actively serving the Lord went through.

As Paul traveled throughout Greece, Asia Minor, and on to Rome preaching the Gospel, he faced attacks from many enemies.  Some that attacked him were his own Jewish people who did not want him preaching that Jesus was the Messiah, and especially that he not only preached to Jews, but that he also reached out to Gentiles.  Paul also suffered attacks from Gentiles and pagans who did not like what he was preaching, either.  Then there were some who claimed to be followers of Jesus, but who were actually false preachers who brought heretical messages.  Paul was frequently arrested or ran out of town.  He was beaten, scourged, and even stoned.  Would you keep going if this was the response you continued to experience?

Our Scripture begins with Paul stating that the message he preached was not one about himself, or one that he made up to promote himself, but the message of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ (vs. 5).  False teachers had accused Paul of preaching for his own benefit.  They were actually the ones guilty of doing so.  Paul was humble, and never promoted himself.  He preached Christ Jesus as Lord.  The focus of Paul’s preaching was Jesus, not himself or the latest topic of the day, or even his own ideas and philosophies.  The same holds for today.  Preachers should not be spouting off their own ideas and philosophies, but instead what Jesus did on the cross.  Just as in Paul’s day, people today need to be introduced to Jesus.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was planned as carefully as Creation was planned (vs 6).  God created physical light in the universe.  He also created spiritual light in the soul, and brings believers out of Satan’s kingdom of darkness and into His kingdom of light.  Jesus’ sacrifice upon the cross is as necessary to our eternal life as the sun is to the solar system.

The Apostle Paul did not view himself as anyone special, which often his enemies claimed he did.  Many preachers throughout history have looked at themselves as something special, someone that everyone should be holding in esteem.  Paul, though, saw himself as lowly, common, expendable, and replaceable, just as an earthen vessel (vs. 7).  However, a lowly container can contain something valuable.  The valuable message of salvation in Jesus has been entrusted to frail and fallible humans (earthen vessels).  God’s power dwells in us.  Though we are weak, God uses us to spread the Gospel, and He gives us His power to do so.  By using frail and expendable people, God makes it clear that salvation is the result of His power, and not any power that His messengers could generate. The power of God transcends the earthen vessel.  Our value and worth is not in ourselves.  It is in what we contain, the Holy Spirit, and the message we are to proclaim.

Then Paul states how, no matter how many attacks and assaults he may go through he does not stay down. He is not crushed, destroyed, in despair, and never forsaken by the Savior (vs. 8-12).  These problems did not cripple him.  Rather, through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, they strengthened him.  Paul’s suffering was the badge of his loyalty to Jesus, and the source of his power.  He faced death every day, yet he was willing to pay that price if it meant salvation for those to whom he preached the Gospel.  The Apostle’s suffering was actually a result of attacks against the Lord Jesus, not himself or other believers.  Those who hate Jesus frequently take out their vengeance on those who represent Him.

Like Paul, if we are faithful to the Great Commission, and stand true to God’s Word, the Bible, we will face trials and persecution.  However, like the Apostle, we don’t need to worry.  We have the victory through Jesus.  We may get knocked down, but we are never knocked out.  We can be confident of victory.  God will never abandon us.  All of our trials are opportunities for Jesus to demonstrate His power and presence in and through us.


Monday, June 3, 2024

Open Wide!

Psalm 81:1-10

Many of you might remember feeding a very young child their beginner meals of soft foods, foods like oatmeal, applesauce, and pureed vegetables.  As you would bring the spoon to their mouth, perhaps you said something like “Open up!”  Often that would work, and the little one would open their mouth.  However, we all know times when they wouldn’t open their mouth, and food might land anywhere.  As adults, we know that the food is good for them, but fussy little children often won’t cooperate.  Our Heavenly Father also asks us, His children to open up, so that He can provide good things to us.  We find that in our Psalm selection for this week from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Our psalm is listed as being one of the psalms of Asaph.  Asaph was from the tribe of Levi, and was one of the guild of musicians in the first Temple, beginning during the reign of King David, and continuing through the reign of King Solomon.  Over the years, other Temple singers and musicians came to be known as Asaphites.  Right at the start of this psalm, Asaph calls upon the people to sing and make a joyful shout to the Lord, to sing out songs while making pleasant music, all in praise of the Lord (vs. 1-2).  That would be natural for him, as after all, he was a lead Temple musician.

Just about everybody likes some type of music.  Good music can help lift our spirits when we listen to some of our favorite pieces.  Psychiatrists will sometimes recommend their patients to have music therapy, where music is worked into their therapy treatment to help lift depression and other mental illnesses.  In a similar manner, music helps lift a person’s thoughts and emotions to God.  Through music we can reflect on our needs and shortcomings, as well as celebrate God’s greatness.

What is one thing that we can sing to the Lord about?  Asaph reminds us that when we call to God in our troubles, He answers us, and delivers us from them (vs. 7).  The psalmist looked back at the history of God’s people, and recalled in a very subtle way a couple of specific times when they were in trouble and the Lord answered.  One was when He delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians when they crossed the Red Sea.  Shortly after that the Lord led them to Mt. Sinai where He came down to Moses in the midst of clouds, lightning, and thunder, that “secret place of thunder”.  A short time later the people of Israel tempted God, while complaining and whining about their provisions at His hands at a place called Meribah.  It was there that they drove Moses to sin by causing him to disobey the Lord’s commands.   The word “Meribah” means strife or contention.  Even when we fail God and fall into sin, when we repent and turn back to Him again, He will hear, answer, and deliver us.

There is another thing that the Lord reminds us of in this psalm, and that is that He will not tolerate the worship of any foreign or pagan deity (vs. 9).  Foreign or strange gods are actually representations of demon spirits.  Anything that is not “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” and that alone and exclusively (I Corinthians 2:2), is a foreign or strange god.

As we close our Scripture from Psalm 81, we get to the part where the Lord tells His children to “Open wide” (vs. 10).  God is not stingy!  He lavishly pours out grace upon us.  God desires to bless His people beyond their imagination.  We must be trusting and willing to receive what He has to offer, just like the little toddler needs to trust that his parents are giving him something good.  We do that by submitting ourselves to God.  We are filled only when we obey His instructions.

Instead of sampling just little meager bites and portions of God’s Word, we ought to devour whole “meals” every day.  “Open wide” so that we can “taste and see” that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).  Every need of ours will be fulfilled if only we believe and follow Him.


Saturday, June 1, 2024

God Goes Before Us

Deuteronomy 31:1-8

Do you like change?  Some people do, but many do not, including myself.  I can deal with it, but for the most part, unless the way it’s been is totally not right, I’d rather things not change.  However, throughout life there are going to be changes, and we need to face them without fear.  New leaders will come and go, whether in the political world or the business world.  We might have to adjust to a new boss who brings changes to how some things are done.  The pastor or priest that we have grown to love and depend on may be called to a new location.  Even in our families, there comes change which we may not like, but have to deal with.  A beloved spouse dies, and we have to continue on without them.  An adult child that we might count on for help or companionship, decides to move out, maybe gets married, and we have to adjust without them.  Are we going to panic or fall to pieces in these changes?  Our Scripture today tells the account of a very big change that occurred with the people of Israel, and how they were to deal with it.

As our Scripture opens, the people of Israel were on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and they would soon be ready to cross the river and take the land that had been promised to them by the Lord God, the land which He had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be theirs and their descendants.  For the past forty years they had been in the wilderness, and Moses had been their leader.  He had been their only leader since the days right prior to their crossing the Red Sea and escaping bondage in Egypt.  Most of them couldn’t even remember a time when Moses wasn’t there.  Now, just when they were preparing to cross the Jordan and take the Promised Land, Moses told them that he would not be going over with them (vs. 1-2).  What?!  How could they possibly go over and conquer the Canaanites and other nations without Moses and his leadership?  They will surely fail!  A fear and panic spread among the people.

Why couldn’t Moses go across the Jordan and be a part of their taking the Promised Land?  After all the years and trials he went through with the people of Israel during the forty years in the wilderness, it would seem to all be pointing to this moment, a triumphant moment for Moses.  However, the Lord told him he could not cross over with them because of his sin at the waters of Meribah where he disobeyed God’s command (Numbers 20:2-13).  We need to be careful in giving God our complete obedience, as one seemingly small act of disobedience can have tremendous consequences, including removing from us great blessings, like with Moses being allowed to enter the Promised Land.

God, though, was not going to leave the people on their own.  He did not bring them out of Egypt, and all through the wilderness, just to dump them on the border and say they now had to fend for themselves!  God had provided them with Joshua, who would be their next leader (vs. 3).  And though Joshua would be the new human leader, it was the Lord Himself who was the real leader and the real power.

As mentioned, Moses had been the leader of the people of Israel for forty years.  Now he told them that he would be dying, and would not actually lead them into the Promised Land.  The people were afraid and fearful, and he, like the loving leader he had been, gave them encouragement (vs. 6).  Their new leader, Joshua, also needed encouragement, for he was apprehensive about stepping into the shoes of someone like Moses.  Moses told them all not to be afraid.

God’s Word gives us a great truth that should sustain us no matter what happens. The Lord God is the One who goes with us.  We don’t have to face our trials by ourselves.  Leaders and loved ones may come and go but Jesus is always right there with us.  We don’t have to be afraid.  God is with us, and he will never leave us (Hebrews 13:5).  God is committed to us.  He always works in our best interests.

We may face uncertainty about what lies ahead in life, and then become fearful.  Life can be full of trouble, but we can have confidence in God.  Some situations may seem hopeless.  However, as believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are in good hands (vs. 8).  God’s knowledge exceeds ours.  With Jesus as our Helper, our fear can give way to a sense of peace and security.  We can trust Him in all things.  No matter what obstacle we face, He has already made a path through it for us .  We just need to keep our eyes on Jesus, and He will lead us in the very best way possible.


Friday, May 31, 2024

Religious, But Lost

John 3:1-16

Many churches have them, and there is a good chance that you know some among your acquaintances.   What am I referring to?  I’m talking about people who are very religious, but who are lost, who are unsaved.  Many people think that if one is religious, if they meticulously follow a set of religious rules or practices, that this will certainly gain them entrance into heaven.  In our Scripture today we read about a man who was extremely religious, but while having a private conversation with Jesus, the Savior instructed him in the only way that one can receive salvation.  Let’s listen in on this conversation.

Sometime early in Jesus’ ministry He received a night-time visitor for a private meeting.  This visitor was a gentleman by the name of Nicodemus.  Nicodemus was an observant, practicing Pharisee who diligently kept the Old Testament Law.  He was also a member of the Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin was a Jewish council in Jerusalem that held political, religious, and judicial functions.  They acted like a Supreme Court. The overwhelming majority of both Pharisees and the Sanhedrin did not follow or approve of Jesus.  However Nicodemus had an open mind, along with many questions, and he wanted to talk with Jesus and try to find some answers.  He came by night, though, to keep this meeting private from other Pharisees and Sanhedrin members (vs. 1-2).  Nicodemus was a very good and moral man by the world’s standards, yet Jesus told him that would not get him into heaven.  He needed to be born again.  It’s still the same today.  Going to church, singing in the choir, giving money, doing all sorts of good deeds and works will not gain anyone entrance into heaven.  As Jesus said, you must be born again.

Nicodemus started by paying Jesus a compliment, saying that he believed Jesus was a teacher from God, because He would not be able to do the things that He did unless God was with Him.  Jesus, though, immediately came to the point.  He didn’t waste any time, and told His visitor that he needed to be born again if he wanted to see the kingdom of God (vs. 3).

Jesus repeatedly spoke to Nicodemus about being born again.  What does it mean to be born again?  This occurs when the Holy Spirit leads a person to understand that Jesus Christ died on the cross to provide forgiveness for their sins.  We are born again the moment we accept that Jesus Christ is the only One who can redeem us, and we confess Him as our Savior and Lord.

As Jesus continued, He gave a reference to the type of death that He would suffer, and how it connected with an incident with Moses (vs. 14).  In Numbers 21:4-9 we read of how the people of Israel had been complaining to Moses about God’s care for them, and then the Lord sent poisonous snakes as a judgment.  The Lord told Moses to put an image of a snake on a pole and hold it up.  Whoever was bitten and looked at it was healed.  In the same way those who face the penalty of death because of sin (that includes all of us), can look upon Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and receive eternal life.

In verse 15 we read the word “whoever”.  That word means that any one who does what Jesus said, which is to believe in Him, will receive eternal life.  Not just a select few.  So if you believe in what Jesus did, that is, died on the cross for your sins, you are saved.  This puts to wrong the heretical belief of Calvinistic predestination, which says that some are predestined to heaven, while some are predestined to hell.  “Whoever” means none are excluded from being lost, and none are excluded from being saved.

To believe in Jesus is more than just intellectual knowledge (vs. 16).  One must believe that He is the virgin-born Son of God, who died to save us, and rose again the third day.  If you continue to believe that you can earn your salvation by all of your good works or religious practices you are not born again, you are not saved.  You may be religious, but you are lost.  Nicodemus was in that condition when he came to Jesus.  He later came to faith in Jesus, and was there when He was taken down from the cross, providing spices and ointments for His burial (John 19:38-40).  When you place your faith in Jesus Christ you receive His gift of eternal life.  God paid dearly with the life of His Son, the highest price He could pay.  Jesus accepted our punishment, paid the price for our sins, and then offered us the new life He had bought for us.

John 3:16 is a very well-known and often quoted verse.  This verse applies to everyone, not just a select few who have been supposedly “predestined”.  This includes you!  Don’t believe Satan’s lies.  There is no one too sinful, too scarred, no one of any particular race or nationality that God can’t or won’t save.  However, they must come to Him and accept Jesus as their Savior.  If you haven’t already, won’t you come to Jesus today?  Don’t go into eternity religious, but lost.


Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A Child And Heir

Romans 8:12-17

It might be nice to discover that you were an heir to a big fortune.  As I am now in my mid-60s, I have yet to discover a hugely wealthy uncle I never knew before, who left me a great sum of money, and that is unlikely to ever happen!  However, if you are a Christian, then you are an heir, and an heir to something greater than any earthly fortune!  Our Scripture today speaks of being an heir of God, and joint-heir of the Lord Jesus, and begins by letting us know how we should live since that is our position.  Let’s look into our Scripture.

The Apostle Paul is speaking to believers here, as he addresses his audience as “brethren”, so what he says is applicable to Christians, not the lost (vs. 1).   He instructs believers that we are not to live after the flesh.  The word “flesh” here, and in most instances in the New Testament, refers to our unredeemed humanness, with all of its sinful desires.  That is what Paul says should not be what is directing our life.

Living by the flesh will lead to death, spiritual death, which is why we are instructed to put to death our fleshly desires (vs. 13).  We are to put to death the sinful deeds of our carnal nature, and regard as dead the power of sin in our body.  The Holy Spirit provides us with energy and power to continually put to death the power of sin in our life, and then we are better able to ignore temptation when it comes.  We cannot achieve this in our own strength, but instead we do it through the power of the Holy Spirit.  God’s grace enables us to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to put to death our sinful desires.  We need to address all actions that keep us from having a deeper relationship with God, and when they pop up, to destroy them as quickly as we would a bug in our house.  This process is never complete in this life.  We do this by faithfully obeying God’s Word through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As Paul continues on in verse 14 he tells us who can call themselves sons (or daughters) of God, who can claim to be children of God.  Again, Scripture teaches us that not every person is a child of God.  Everyone is created by God.  He is their Creator, but He is not Father of all.  We become a child of God when we repent of our sins and ask Jesus to save us.  This is also stated in John’s Gospel - John 1:12.  Paul tells us that those who are led by God’s Spirit are truly His children.  Being led by the Holy Spirit is just that, letting Him lead the way in our life.  We can stop our fretting and follow where He leads.  The Holy Spirit will confirm that one is truly a child of God and adopted by Him by the fruits that He produces in us, and the power that He provides (vs. 16).

When we are saved we become God’s children, and can come to God without fear or hesitation because He is our Daddy (vs. 15).  We are no longer cringing and fearful slaves.  Instead, we are the Master’s children.  We share in great treasures as co-heirs with Jesus (vs. 17).  Unsaved people are a slave to their fears, particularly the fear of death and of the Final Judgment (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Every believer is an heir of God (vs. 17).  Every adopted child of God will receive by divine grace the full inheritance that Jesus Christ receives by divine right.  Whatever Jesus has through inheritance has become ours through the very same inheritance.  I am an heir of God, and a joint heir with my elder brother Jesus!

Paul closes with reminding us that though we are joint-heirs with Jesus of all the treasures of heaven, we also share in His sufferings (vs. 17).  There is a price for being identified with Jesus.  Along with great treasures, Paul mentions the suffering that Christians must face.  All around the world Christians are suffering for their faith.  For some it may be ridicule, or some may feel the repercussions at their job.  Others may pay a bigger price, such as being disowned by their family, and still others pay with physical violence and persecution, including death.  Are you ready and willing to suffer with the Lord Jesus for your faith?  This world is becoming more and more hostile to those who faithfully follow Him and His Word.   Stand true and strong, and we will one day receive our crown of glory!


Monday, May 27, 2024

Jesus Is Mightier Than All

Psalm 93

When I was a child I had the opportunity to go see Niagara Falls, a spectacular and majestic waterfalls that straddles the border between the U.S. and Canada in western New York State.  Even though that was at least 55 years ago or more, I still remember that sight.  We went on the Maid of the Mist boat cruise, which goes right up to the rapids beneath the falls.  The water there is quite powerful.  Another powerful display of water are the mighty waves that crash against the ocean coasts.  I don’t live anywhere near an ocean, but have seen some rather significant waves crashing in Lake Michigan during and after storms.  As mighty as the powerful waves and waterfalls are, they are nothing compared to the majesty, power, and might of the Lord God, which our psalm today speaks of.

Psalm 93 is a short psalm, and in the five brief verses it pictures the Lord God as a great and majestic King in all of His glory.  As the Scripture opens, we read how Yahweh is clothed as a great King (vs. 1).  The first thing that the psalmist indicated that the Lord was clothed with is majesty.  This pictures Him with great dignity, awesomeness, and regal manner.  This is appropriate, as He is the King and Ruler of all of creation.  The psalmist continues by saying Yahweh is also clothed with strength.  Any great king would need to be a powerful one.  He would have to be able to defend his realm against all enemies, and maintain control.  Yahweh is more powerful and has more strength than any person or creature, as he created all.  There is no fake god greater than He, and He even has all power over Satan and his minions.  Yahweh is the sovereign Lord of all that exists. He has the power and wisdom to make everything happen as He desires.  Nothing can change that.

We continue to read that the Lord’s throne is from of old, and that He is everlasting (vs. 2).  Yahweh has always existed, and will always exist.  He had no beginning and will have no end.  He is not a created being.  There was not something before that created Him.  Rather, He is the One Who created everything.  We read in the Book of Revelation where Jesus called Himself the Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet (Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13).  He is the beginning, the end, the start, the finish, and everything in between.

The psalmist then compares the Lord’s power and might to that of the mighty waves and powers of water (vs. 3-4).  This is where I picture the powerful waves of oceans and great lakes of the world during storms, crashing upon the coastline.  Many people who have ignored or not respected the power of the oceans or other great bodies of water have lost their lives.  How many boats have been tossed about like nothing, being flipped completely over by angry waves when a storm rages?  Many times every year Chicago issues beach warnings because of dangerous waves, as they can easily sweep a person out into the water to their death.  And there have been a number of people who have lost their lives because they did not heed the warning as they approached waterfalls, such as Niagara Falls, in their boats.  Once they reached a certain point, it was too late, and the power of the falls as they went over took their lives.  Power as great as this is nothing compared to the power of the Lord God!

The sound of mighty waves and waterfalls is awesome, too.  Niagara Falls can be heard at a distance of forty miles away.  If God were to shout out, His Voice would be heard clear across the universe with no problem!  If we can’t outshout Niagara Falls, what makes us think we can shout louder than God?  Yet so many people sadly think they can.  Looking around the world today, there are so many angry voices raised against God.  They don’t want Him or His Word, the Bible, inhibiting what they want to do with their lives.  They don’t want Jesus telling them how to live, as they angrily scream for believers to get God out of here.

As our psalm ends, we are reminded of how holy Yahweh is (vs. 5).  The key to God’s eternal reign is His holiness.  His glory is seen, not only in His strength and majesty, but also in His perfect moral character.  God will never do anything that is not morally perfect, and He also calls us to be holy, as well (I Peter 1:15-16).

In closing, we see just one example and comparison with how mighty and powerful the Lord God is.  Just as it is foolish to underestimate how powerful waves and waterfalls are, so too it is foolish to think one can come against the Lord.  Do you know the Lord Jesus as Savior?  If so, His mighty power is there to help and sustain you.  He is always greater than all of our troubles.  No matter how high the floods or waves of trouble in our life is, the Lord remains greater than them all!


Saturday, May 25, 2024

Alert And Listening

Exodus 3:1-6

How observant and attentive are you?  Do you notice if there is a change in something that you see occasionally?  How well do you pay attention?  When someone is talking, are you really listening to what they are saying, or is your mind a million miles away?  And are you curious about what you see and hear, or is your mind dulled?  Our Scripture today tells the account of someone whose whole life was changed because he noticed something, was curious, and was listening.  Let’s listen to what God’s Word says to us today.

As our Scripture passage opens, we find Moses out watching his father-in-law’s flocks.  What a change Moses’ life had taken over the years.  In the previous chapter in Exodus we read about how, as a baby, Moses’ mother placed him in a basket which she put into the Nile to save his life from Pharaoh’s decree to kill all baby boys.  Then a royal princess found him, and raised Moses as her own son.  The first forty years of his life, Moses spent as a member of the Egyptian royal family (Exodus 2:1-10).  However, after killing a man, he had to flee out of Egypt, and ended up in the land of Midian, where he joined the family of Jethro (Exodus 2:11-21).  Now, forty years later, at age 80, he is out in the wilderness as a shepherd.  That is where we find him today.

Moses is out watching the sheep.  For a man who had the very best education in the world at that time, who had had access to the best entertainment, books, and conversations with learned and interesting people, sitting out in the wilderness watching sheep day in and day out would probably become rather dull quite quickly.  At his age, I can easily see him leaning back against a large rock and taking a nice afternoon nap!  However, that was not what Moses did.  He was quite alert to what was going on.  There were dangers in the desert wilderness - large wild cats, venomous snakes, scorpions, etc.  One false step and one could get bit or lose your footing and break a bone.  He must be alert to keep both himself and the sheep safe.

That day Moses noticed an unusual sight.  Off in the distance there was a bush on fire.  That sparked his interest, and he stood there and observed it.  Curiosity, interest.  Those two qualities would very shortly change his life.  God gave us good minds for a purpose, and we shouldn’t let them get filled with cobwebs.  Moses noticed that though the bush was burning for a certain length of time, it wasn’t disintegrating, so he decided to check it out (vs. 2-3).  Some have said that this was not a miracle or supernatural event.  However, those who try to put down everything miraculous in the Bible are wrong.  Moses had spent the last forty years in the wilderness tending sheep.  He would not have been in wonder over something that was normal and usual.  This aroused his curiosity enough for him to investigate.

God observed that Moses had taken notice of the bush, and He called to him from out of the bush (vs. 4).  God knew Moses’ name, and He called him by his name.  There are about 8 billion people on earth, and yet God knows each of our names.  He loves us so much that He bothers to know us each individually.  God knew Moses, and called him by name.  Moses, on his part, was both paying attention and listening.  When God called him, he heard and responded.

As Moses approached, the Lord told him to stay back from the burning bush, and to remove his sandals, as the ground was holy ground (vs. 5).  Taking one’s shoes off showed a sign of reverence in a holy place.  God was present there.  This was to prevent Moses from rashly intruding unprepared into God’s presence.

Taking off his shoes conveyed Moses’ own unworthiness before God.  God is our Friend, but He is also our Sovereign Lord.  To approach Him frivolously shows a lack of respect and sincerity.  This world today has no respect at all for God.  He is either completely ignored, or cursed and cast down.  Often even Christians have too casual an approach to God.  They refer to Him as their “buddy” and their “pal”.  There is very little bowing in reverence to Him anymore, which should not be the case.  Moses showed reverential fear in the presence of God.

The Lord God then spoke to Moses, telling him who He is (vs. 6).  The Lord didn’t say “I ‘was’ the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”  Instead, He said “I am”, proving that these patriarchs were still alive with God, though they had died physically several hundred years earlier.  As Jesus said centuries later, God is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Mark 12:26-27).

In closing, are we alert and paying attention?  When God speaks, are we listening?  When He moves in our lives, do we notice?  And equally important, do we show the Lord God the reverence, respect, and worship that He deserves, for He is an all-holy God!


Friday, May 24, 2024

Thirsty? Come Drink Of The Living Water

John 7:37-39

Think back to a time when you were really, really thirsty.  Perhaps you had gone for an afternoon hike and forgotten to take along a water bottle or canteen.  Maybe you were working outside, doing chores in your yard on a warm summer day.  All you could think about is a glass of refreshing lemonade or ice water.  That is physical thirst.  How about spiritual thirst?  How do you know if you are spiritually thirsty?  We know what to do for physical thirst, but what do you do for spiritual thirst?  Our Scripture today gives us the answer.

As we open our brief Scripture passage from the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus was in Jerusalem at a certain religious festival (vs. 37).  The festival that John is referring to is the Feast of Tabernacles.  This religious festival was to celebrate and give thanks to God for the ingathering of the fall harvest, particularly grapes and olives, both very important crops for the Jewish people at this time.  This festival usually falls in September or October.

There was one tradition that the religious leaders would practice during the Feast of Tabernacles.  In this tradition a golden container of water from the pool of Siloam was carried by the High Priest into the Temple, and was then offered on the altar in thanksgiving for the rainfall the Lord gave, producing the harvest.  This ceremony was an important part of the festival, and the people would line up to see this procession of the High Priest carrying the water into the Temple.

As every farmer and gardener knows, plenty of rain and water is essential for a good crop.  This is particularly a concern in a desert-like climate, such as the Middle East.  One thing that particularly worried the Israelites during their 40 year wandering was having sufficient water.  A person can go a few weeks without food, but only about three days without water.  Again, this is physical food and water.  What about food and water for spiritual hunger and thirst?

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus stood up before some of the people and gave an answer to that question.  He told the people that if they thirst, that is, a spiritual thirst, they need to turn to Him and be spiritually refreshed (vs. 37).  If anyone believes in Him, they will have rivers of living water flowing out of their heart (vs. 38).  If someone accepts Jesus as their Savior, they will receive the Holy Spirit, who is that living water (vs. 39).

In a physical sense, living water is water that is moving, that is good and healthy to drink, like a crisp, clear high mountain brook that is flowing over stones and rocks, on its way downhill.  That is generally fine to drink from.  However a pond where there is no movement of the water, that water soon becomes quite stagnant, especially on a warm day.  It is certainly not safe to drink.  We want living water, both physically and spiritually.

Jesus said that those who came to Him would receive living water, something that is good, and brings spiritual health and life.  Earlier in His ministry, Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman at a well, and said He would give living water, referring to salvation and eternal life (John 4:10).  Here He is referring to the Holy Spirit.  They go together.  When one accepts Jesus as Savior, they receive the Holy Spirit and eternal life.

Jesus used this event, the bringing of the water into the Temple during the festival as an object lesson to make a public invitation, the greatest invitation ever given to man, for the people to accept Him and receive eternal life.  The Messiah has life-giving blessings, and promised the Holy Spirit to all who believe  The imparting of the Holy Spirit is the source of spiritual and eternal life.  His presence and power poured out on us are like these rivers of living water.

“Thirst”, “Come”, “Drink” - three words summarizing the Gospel invitation.  First we have to recognize our need for the Living Water by acknowledging our lost condition, our spiritual thirst.  Once we realize we are spiritually lost, spiritually thirsty, then we need to approach the source of provision.  We need to come to the Savior.  Once we come, then we receive what is needed.  We can drink of the life-giving water, receive salvation and the Holy Spirit.


Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Pentecost

Acts 2:1-11

Waiting for something that has been promised can sometimes test one’s patience.  Will it come?  Can I trust and believe the one who made the promise?  How long do I have to continue to wait?  What do I do in the meantime?  Will I even recognize it when it arrives?  These questions might have gone through the disciples mind while they waited for what the Lord Jesus had promised would come.  Our Scripture today gives the account of when His promise did arrive, and what happened then.

Shortly before our Scripture passage begins, Jesus had taken His disciples to Mt. Olivet, and gave them a few instructions before He ascended into heaven.  One of these was to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit would come upon them (Acts 1:4-8).  So they waited and they waited. Several days passed, and nothing happened.  There are some people who would begin to get impatient.  Had Jesus forgotten?  They had no one to ask about this.  Rather than lose patience, give up, and just go back to their former life, the disciples got it right.  They spent the time in prayer together while they waited (Acts 1:14).  Whenever we don’t know what to do, whether the situation is stressful or not, such as this time, prayer is always a good choice.

While they waited, the Jewish festival of Pentecost approached (vs. 1).  The Greek word “Pentecost” means “50th day”.  This festival occurs 50 days following Passover.  It was also known as the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot in Hebrew.  It was a festival of celebration to the Lord for the beginning of the harvest, falling between May and June, where an offering of fruits and vegetables was made to the Lord (Exodus 34:22-23; Leviticus 23:20).  That holy day was a celebration of thanksgiving for God’s provision, and devout Jews would come from all over the world, bringing their offerings of the first fruits of their crops (vs. 5). The Holy Spirit came on this day as symbolic of the first-fruits of the believer’s inheritance.

While the disciples were gathered together in prayer on the festival of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them in a dramatic way.  There was the sound of rushing wind, “tongues of fire” appeared upon them, and they were able to speak with “other tongues” (vs. 2-4).  This was a fulfillment of John the Baptist’s words about the Holy Spirit baptizing with fire (Luke 3:16), and the Prophet Joel’s words about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29).

Before Pentecost, the Holy Spirit’s work had come from without, outside of the person.  It was temporary, and only occasional.  After Pentecost the Holy Spirit now indwelt believers.  The Holy Spirit permanently remained, indwelling Christians, and would work in and through committed believers regularly.

Why “tongues of fire”?  Tongues symbolize speech, and the communication of the Gospel.  Fire symbolizes God’s purifying presence, which burns away the undesirable elements of our lives.  The Holy Spirit sets our hearts aflame to ignite the lives of others as we speak and share the Good News of Jesus with them.

One very noticeable effect of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was the speaking with other tongues.  What they spoke that day were the dialects of the people from other nations who had come to Jerusalem for the holy day.  Scripture says that the people “heard them speak in his own language” (vs. 6).  We see listed some of the countries and areas around the Middle East and Mediterranean world whose languages were miraculously being spoken by the disciples (vs. 8-11).  They did not speak meaningless babble, or some unknown language.  Rather, they spoke the established languages of the people visiting Jerusalem.  This was a miraculous occurrence, enabling the disciples to speak a language they hadn’t learned, in order to tell of the wonderful works of God, giving a witness for Jesus.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a one-time occurrence, and happens when a person is saved.  God puts His Spirit in the believer, and they become part of His Body.  The Filling of the Holy Spirit is a different thing.  This is something that happens over and over.  It is an ongoing process that happens as believers yield themselves to the Holy Spirit’s control in their life.  As they yield themselves to the Lord, He fills them with His Spirit.  If they ignore the Lord in their life, and instead live for themselves and the world, the Holy Spirit’s power in their life is weakened and depleted, but He still remains indwelling them if they are a genuine Christian.

As we see in this passage, there were many different languages, from all around the known world at the time, that the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to speak.  Christianity is not limited to any race or group of people.  Jesus offers salvation to all people, without regard to nationality.  Come to Him today!


Monday, May 20, 2024

Our God Provides Food And Breath

Psalm 104:24-35

Our psalm this week from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer for the week of Pentecost is the last half of Psalm 104.  This is a psalm proclaiming Yahweh as Creator of all things, and His care over all that He has created.  It is a moderately long psalm, and we’ll focus only on the second half today.

Our psalmist doesn’t debate whether or not Yahweh is the Creator of all, or whether perhaps life just somehow started on its own and evolved into all of the different species.  He states God’s Word as a fact that Yahweh created all (vs. 24).  Creation reveals that God has a vast intellect that we cannot completely comprehend. Our knowledge is finite, while His is infinite.  We see His intellect when we take a closer look at just about anything in creation, whether throughout the universe and galaxies, or here on earth with the multitudes of plants and animals.

In our segment of Psalm 104, our psalmist looked into the oceans, and the multitude of life found there (vs. 25-26).  Living in the Chicago area I am quite far away from any oceans, and have only been at either coast many years ago, as a child, but I have seen many documentaries and read about ocean life.  As verse 25 states, the oceans are teeming with innumerable types of fish, marine animals, corals, etc.  These range from tiny, microscopic cellular creatures all the way to the giant blue whale.  And He made such a variety, from whales with a horn like a unicorn, to the great variety of colorful tropical fish, to sea turtles, and then the other types of sea creatures like jellyfish, starfish, seahorses, squids, etc.  The psalmist mentions the Leviathan in verse 26.  This was some type of mighty creature, mentioned only a few times in the Bible, who could overwhelm man but who is no match for God.  Some believe that this might be a type of large whale, others believing it is a reference to some type of aquatic dinosaur, or unspecified sea monster.  Whatever the leviathan is or was, it was created by God.

All of creation, whether on land, in the air, or in the oceans, depends upon God for life (vs. 27-28).  Many people go through life without giving God a thought, not caring that it is only through His mercy and love that they have food to eat and air to breathe, the atheist saying He doesn’t exist, and the agnostic not knowing or caring.  Yet it is the Lord God who provides for their food.  Let there be a shortage of their favorite food item, a few bare shelves in the grocery store, and they will complain and even curse.  Yet when they sit down to a full plate, do they think to thank the Lord who provided it?  It is the Lord who provides for our food, and the food of every living creature.  And what a variety He provides!  Just think for a moment of all the delectable food we get to enjoy, and then the wide variety of food that each animal, fish, and bird needs to eat, and the Lord provides for it.

The psalmist reminds us that every breath we take comes from the Lord God (vs. 29-30).  He breathed into man’s nostrils when He created Adam, giving him the breath of life (Genesis 2:7).  He gave man breath and He can take it away.  I have asthma and a few other periodic respiratory problems, and I know what it is like to sometimes not be able to take a full breath, so I am thankful and grateful to the Lord for every good breath I take.  Just a few years ago the whole world saw the Covid pandemic, and countless people were hospitalized and on respirators to breathe.  Did they think to thank God for being able to breathe when they recovered?  I’m sure some did, but how many didn’t give Him a second thought?  Our every breath depends on God’s Spirit that He has breathed into us.  We depend on Him for our very lives.

Our psalmist closes his psalm with a brief reference to the mighty power of God in natural events, such as earthquakes and volcanoes (vs. 32). I have experienced neither of those, and don’t really care to!  If either of these events doesn’t get one to think about God, I don’t know what would!  God has awesome power, and He is able to do with His creation what He desires.

Our Scripture closes with a benediction to the Creator (vs. 33-35)., and also a prayer that the ungodly might no longer spiritually pollute God’s universe.  Although God has been merciful to let His fallen human creation live on, those who bless and praise the Lord desire to see the day when sinful men have been abolished from the earth, and the curse of the earth is reversed.