Monday, April 29, 2024

God's Refining Fires

Psalm 66:8-20

When we want something to be at its best, it often has to go through a refining process.  To have the best, the strongest, or the most valuable metals, they often need to be refined by going through intense heat to burn off the impurities.  For the best quality, petroleum or oil needs to be refined.  We even refine flour and sugar so they work better in a recipe.  How about people?  We might not think about that very often, but as we read in our psalm for today, God does refine His people, His chosen ones.  Let’s take a closer look at our Scripture passage and see what that’s all about.

If inanimate objects could talk, and we were to sit down with that bar of precious metal, that barrel of petroleum, or some other objects, they would tell us that they do not like the refining process.  The heat and the pressure is not pleasant, they would tell us.  The grain going through the gristmill to become fine flour is not happy about that, either.  “Get me out of here!  Leave me alone!” they might shout.  But in the end, they are happy with the end result.  That wedge of gold would be much happier now that it is pure and more valuable.

God desires to refine His children, as well.  He wants to get all of the impurities out of us, all the bad thoughts, the sinful habits, anything that stands in the way of our becoming more like His Son, Jesus Christ.  To do that, the process is also similar.  Sometimes the Lord needs to put a believer through the fires of affliction to test, to burn, and to try us in order to make us more like Jesus (vs. 10-12).  God allows us to undergo times of testing to toughen our spirits.  He teaches us to rely on Him, and He purifies us to be holy, so that we become more like Christ.  The Lord tests every believer to reveal the character of their heart, and to lead them into a deeper relationship with Him.

Of course, we may not enjoy or like the trials we are going through.  The refining process is never easy.  Just ask the wedge of silver or gold, that barrel of petroleum, or the sack of grain going through the mill.  However, God does not just leave us in the refining fires.  It does come to an end.  We may have to go through some very difficult and trying times and circumstances, but we will not remain in them.  God will preserve us, and bring us safely through them.   The prophet Isaiah gave us a similar promise from the Lord regarding going through difficulties in Isaiah 43:1-2.

Sometimes when we go through a particularly difficult and trying time we might make a promise or a vow to the Lord.  We might promise Him that if He gets us out of this terrible trouble, we will do this or that, or give a generous donation, or something else.  However, how often is that vow forgotten once the trial is over?  We make bargains with God, but when we recover, the vow is forgotten and we go on our merry way, and nothing is changed.  Our psalmist remembered what he had promised God, and was prepared to carry it out (vs. 13-15).  Vows to God are serious, and believers should neither make them rashly, nor forget to fulfill them when made.  Not only should we keep our promises to the Lord, but when He does deliver us, we need to be sure to proclaim and give testimony to all that He has done (vs. 16).  The greatest witness in the world is a redeemed soul giving a testimony to others, telling what the Lord has done for them.

Our psalmist closes this psalm with a warning about sin and prayer by telling us that if we are harboring any unconfessed, unrepented sin in our hearts the Lord will not hear us (vs. 18-19).  In order for our prayers to be heard and answered, we need to have a right relationship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ by trusting Him as Savior.  There are some people who choose to live in ungodliness, even after salvation.  God does not respond to their prayers, and He is under no obligation or promise to answer the prayers of the lost, no matter how good they are.   This doesn’t mean that we can never make a mistake.  But we must repent of all known sin and avoid continuing in it.

When we refuse to repent, or when we harbor and cherish certain sins, we place a wall between us and God.  When a believer decides to defy God, He puts us in a “time out” to get our attention.  He still loves us, but He stops “listening” until we are ready to give up our rebellion, just like a good parent does to a willful child.  God blesses obedience, not stubbornness!  Turn your hearts to the Lord, and He will hear your prayers.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Just One Person

Acts 8:26-40

How important is one individual person?  Other than to their immediate family and perhaps a few close friends, someone might not seem like much.  Certainly not to any politician or celebrity.  They don’t matter to the business world.  So often to just about everyone we are just one small face in the crowd that isn’t important.  With the multiple billions of people on earth, do we really matter?  We might even wonder if we matter all that much to God.  In our Scripture today from the Book of Acts we will see just how important one person was to God.  Let’s take a look.

As our Scripture passage opens the Apostle Philip was in the middle of conducting a revival in Samaria.  He was preaching, witnessing, and ministering in that location with results (Acts 8:4-8).  Right in the middle of that successful work, the Lord instructed Philip to leave and go head south down the road leaving Jerusalem (vs. 26).  That might not seem to make much sense to Philip.  The revival was going strong, and then right in the middle of that, to get up and leave?  But God had other plans for him right then. Others could continue that ministry. God needed Philip for something else, and he obeyed the Holy Spirit’s leading.  Philip didn’t waste time arguing or debating with God.  He got up and went.  If he had wasted time arguing with God’s instructions, dragging his heels, or waiting just a few days to participate in the ongoing revival some more, Philip would have missed the divine encounter that he was to have with just one man, one person who was important to God.

Philip headed down the road that led south out of Jerusalem, and after a while he was met with a man being driven in a chariot.  This was not the war-type chariot, but more of a vehicle with one driver and room for one or two passengers.  In this chariot was a man, a eunuch from the courts of Queen Candace of Ethiopia, who held a position of authority as treasurer, like the Minister of Finance or Secretary of the Treasury.  This man had a heart that was seeking God (vs. 27-28).  He had come to Jerusalem to worship God, and now on his way back home he was reading out loud from the Book of Isaiah, chapter 53.

The Holy Spirit instructed Philip to come up to the chariot, and he followed His leading and began a discussion from where the man was (vs. 30-35).  The eunuch had questions about Isaiah, and Philip explained how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies.  He started where the eunuch’s concerns were focused, and he brought the Gospel to bear on those concerns.  The eunuch had a heart that was hungry for God, and the Holy Spirit used the words of an obedient Philip to bring him to faith in the Lord Jesus.  Some people think that the Old Testament is not relevant today, but Philip led a man to faith in Jesus Christ by using the Old Testament.  Jesus is found in the pages of both the Old and New Testaments.  God’s entire Word is applicable to all people in all ages.

After accepting Jesus as his Savior, the eunuch desired to be baptized, and without any hesitation, without any argument in his mind that this man was a Gentile, Philip immediately agreed that he should be baptized (vs. 36-38).  Baptism does not save anyone, but it is a sign of identification with Jesus Christ, and with the Christian community.  In baptism we identify with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and begin a new way of living in His Name (Romans 6:3-6).

This Ethiopian eunuch was quite possibly the first Gentile to officially be baptized.  Some other Gentiles had believed in Jesus, and were recipients of His miracles, but this fellow was the first recorded Gentile convert to believe and be baptized in the early church.  This would not have happened if Philip hadn’t obeyed the Holy Spirit’s leading.  Philip was available.  He was led by the Spirit, and he was obedient.  After he arrived by this man’s chariot, he waited for a proper opening to begin witnessing.  Philip was tactful and then specific, and then he followed up with baptism.  The Bible never espouses just being a “silent witness”, where one just lives a “good Christian life” and assumes that others will ask them about Jesus if they are interested.  Instead, the Bible says “faith comes from hearing” (Romans 10:17).  Those who want to use the “silent witness” are either timid, lazy, or out and out disobedient to God.  Because Philip didn’t choose to just be a silent witness, but was obedient to God, Ethiopia was opened up to the Gospel.  There has been a Christian community there ever since.

As we see in our Scripture today, God cares about individuals, about even one single person.  He loved and cared about the Ethiopian eunuch so much that He sent Philip so far out of his way to lead him to Jesus.  He was just one man, not a whole big city.  God will always go to any length to save just one person.  Are you that one person that He is seeking to save today?  If so, turn to Jesus.  Or are you someone that the Lord can use to reach that one person today?  Be available and obedient.

Friday, April 26, 2024

The Good Shepherd

John 10:11-16

What is one of your favorite images of the Lord Jesus?  For many Christians it is that of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  I remember as a young child seeing a picture of the Lord Jesus with a small flock of sheep surrounding Him, as He tenderly holds a little lamb in His arms.  Whenever I think of the Good Shepherd, I think of that painting, especially as I know that I am one of His flock.  Today’s Scripture is from the Apostle John’s Gospel, where Jesus tells us of the beloved title of His.

Just prior to our Scripture Jesus had healed a man who had been born blind.  Now He is speaking, teaching the people of His role as the Good Shepherd of His people.  Let’s see what Jesus has to teach us in this brief passage about the Good Shepherd, what the Good Shepherd does for those who are in His flock.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus spoke of several titles that He called Himself, such as the Bread of Life (John 6:35), the Light of the World (John 8:12), and the Resurrection (John 11:25-26) to name a few.  Here Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd.  The image of a shepherd would be very familiar to His audience, much more than for most people today.  A shepherd guards, protects, and leads the sheep in his care.  A shepherd doing his job well will make sure that the sheep in his care have plenty of good fields to graze in, along with fresh water to drink.  When they need to move to another field, he will lead them on a safe route to their next grazing place.  The shepherd knows each sheep, and will notice and give medical care to any one who is injured or ill.  Finally, he keeps a careful watch out for any predators, and will chase or fight them off when they approach.

As we look at Jesus, we see that He certainly fits the role of the Good Shepherd to perfection.  He provides us believers, the sheep of His flock, with all we need.  He watches over and cares for us all along our life journey, from one “field” to another.  Jesus protects us from our enemies, especially those in the spiritual realm, and He made the ultimate sacrifice of a good shepherd, and that was by giving His life for us (vs. 11), His substitutionary death on the cross for sinners.

Jesus continues on by comparing the good shepherd with that of a hireling, one who is hired to help watch over the sheep, but who is not the actual shepherd (vs. 12-13).  The hireling does not care about the sheep as the true shepherd does.  He is just there to earn a paycheck, and when danger comes, he flees.  He isn’t going to sacrifice himself for the sheep.  The hireling in this passage represents the religious leaders, both in His day and today, who perform their duty in good times, but who never display sacrificial care for the sheep in times of danger.  This is in contrast to Jesus, who laid down His life for His flock.

A hired hand tends the sheep for money, while the shepherd does it for love.  The shepherd owns the sheep, and is committed to them.  Jesus is not merely doing a job.  He is committed to love us, and even lay down His life for us.  False teachers and leaders do not have this commitment.  True sheep do not belong to false shepherds.  Sheep that do choose to follow a false shepherd will do so to their doom and destruction.

As has been shown many times, sheep can recognize the voice of their shepherd.  And a good shepherd knows each one of his sheep.  To most of us, sheep all look the same, but to the shepherd, he can identify each one.  Jesus knows those who are a part of His flock.  We are not just a part of the crowd to Him.  He knows us each individually (vs. 14-15).  If the Savior knows our name, we are certainly loved!  Life is not meaningless!

Jesus closes this passage by telling His audience that there are other sheep who are not part of this fold.  These sheep must be brought in and become one flock with one Shepherd (vs. 16).  Jesus was referring to the Gentiles, who initially were not part of the fold with the Jews.  However they would also become part of the Church, along with Jewish believers.  Jesus’ death upon the cross was for both Jews and Gentiles.  They both make up one body, the Church.

As we close our look of Jesus as our Shepherd, we see the Good Shepherd dies for the sheep.  The Great Shepherd lives for the sheep (Hebrews 13:20), and the Chief Shepherd comes for the sheep (I Peter 5:4).  Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and because of His loving care, we will have all that we will ever need as a part of His flock.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

A Child Of God

I John 3:1-3

Whose child are you?  There are some unfortunate people who cannot name a parent.  Or they have parents that they might wish were not theirs.  As a child they might imagine some kind and loving parent, one that might magically appear and proclaim that they are their son or daughter, and will bring them into their home.  We can’t pick our human, physical parents, and children who are orphans have very little, if any say in who may adopt or foster them.  Having physical parents is good, but it is even more important to know who our spiritual father is.  And here we definitely have a choice.   Let’s look into our Scripture for today.

As we read in the Bible, there are two spiritual fathers in this world.  There is Yahweh, the one true God, and there is Satan.  One or the other is the spiritual father of everyone on earth.  You are either a child of God, or a child of the devil  Only those who have accepted the Lord Jesus as their Savior and have been born again are a child of God, and can call Him their Father (John 1:12).  Everyone else has Satan as their spiritual father.  People might not like to hear that, as they like to say that everyone is a child of God.  God is certainly the Creator of everyone, and He loves everyone, and wishes that everyone would come to Him for salvation, but only those who come to Him through the shed Blood of Jesus are His children.  Even the Lord Jesus said that people who did not believe in Him were children of the devil (John 8:42-47).  According to God’s Word in our Scripture today, who are we?  If we are saved, we are God’s children.

Some of us have had less than ideal parents, and the word “father” is not one that brings a warm feeling to our hearts.  For some of us, we never knew either a mother or father’s love, and we might not know what to expect from God as our Father.  The Scriptures show us that we have a heavenly Father who is perfect.  Jesus gives us a picture of God as our Father.  He tenderly holds His children in His loving arms, ministering to the sick, showing compassion.  He shows a Father who loves people, listens to prayers, and offers forgiveness.  God, alone, meets our soul’s need to be purely, perfectly, and completely loved (vs. 1).

In many households, children like to imitate their parents.  They want to be just like their mommy or daddy.  A child of God is no different.  As they grow spiritually, reading and studying the Word of God, and allowing the Holy Spirit to be working in their lives, they grow to be more like Jesus.  This is a gradual process, though.  The Christian life is a process of becoming more and more like Jesus.  This process will not be complete until we see Jesus face to face (vs. 2-3).  Knowing that seeing Jesus is our ultimate destiny should motivate us to purify ourselves.  To purify means to keep morally straight, and free from the corruption of sin.  Living in the reality of Jesus’ imminent return should make a difference in a Christian’s behavior. Since Christians will someday be like Him, a desire should grow within us to become more like Him now.

Just because we are not fully like the Lord Jesus right now does not mean that we are any less a child of God right now.  Born again Christians are just as much a child of God now as we will be in heaven.  Knowing that we are His children should encourage us to live as Jesus did.  One day we will exchange our worn out, weak bodies for new ones, patterned after Jesus’ resurrection Body - strong, ageless, and free from sin (I Corinthians 15:42-57).  One day we will see God face to face, and we will be like Him.  Until then, we are “under construction”.

One further item to note from this Scripture passage is that the Apostle John told believers that the world does not know or accept them because they did not know or accept the Lord Jesus (vs. 1).  Many of us have felt, at one time or another, the scorn of unbelievers against us.  We don’t fit in with the world, and definitely feel out of place in many situations because of our faith.  Jesus said, as recorded in John 15:18, that the world hated Him, and it will hate His children, Christians, as well.  Jesus stressed the connection between how the world relates to God and how it will relate to true Christians.

So, whose child are you?  If you cannot answer with full assurance that you are God’s child, do not delay a moment longer and accept Jesus as your personal Savior, and become part of His family!

Monday, April 22, 2024

A Table Prepared For Us

Psalm 23:5

The psalm selection this week from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer is the well-beloved Psalm 23.  There is so much one can pull out of this psalm to study and meditate on.  Countless sermons can, and have been written on this psalm.  Rather than just lightly skimming over the psalm, (and surely it is worth more than that), I will focus on just one verse, and pull out some nuggets of thought to ponder on.

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments we often read of Yahweh pictured as a Divine Shepherd, and His people as sheep in His flock.  One of the titles of the Lord Jesus is that of the Good Shepherd.  Not everyone is one of God’s sheep, as only those who have a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus are a part of the flock.  Yahweh is not an uncaring or cruel shepherd, but is a loving One, which we especially see in Psalm 23.  Many people like to say that their favorite verse in this psalm is verse 4, where we read that God goes with us through the valley of the shadow of death, followed by verse 6, where we read of goodness and mercy following us throughout our life.  Nestled in between those two verses is verse 5, which often gets less attention, but which we will look at closer today.

This verse begins with a declaration from David, the author of this psalm, that the Lord prepares a table before him in the presence of his enemies.  Have you ever had an enemy, someone who really hated you, and would have loved to see you brought down?  David had several throughout his life.  One thing in particular about an enemy is that they don’t want to see anything good happen to you.  They would rather see you fall.  They want bad things to happen to you.  They would gloat to see you humiliated.  So how would they feel if they heard you got a special invitation to a dinner at the White House?  Or even more prestigious, an invitation to dinner at Windsor Castle with the king?  That would sure show them!  Greater than the president or the king is the Lord Jesus, God of the whole universe, and as we read, He has prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemies.  His table is filled with the most delectable foods, and He has prepared it for us.  There is no going away hungry from God’s table!  Right now our enemies may feel like they have the upper hand, but there is coming a day when the Lord will show the world just how beloved His children are to Him.

Next we read in this verse how the Lord anoints our head with oil.  What does that mean?  Do I really want to go around with a greasy, oily head?  This is a very symbolic phrase, which would have meant a lot more to someone in Biblical times than today.  As we know, this is a psalm about how the Lord is our Shepherd.  In the days of the Bible a shepherd would pour oil on the heads of the sheep before they would go out to graze.  It would soak into the wool, and it would keep pesky insects away.  Insects would buzz around the sheep’s head, sometimes trying to lay their eggs in their nose and ears.  The oil would protect the sheep from them.  Also, if a sheep would get cut or scratched from thorns, branches or rocks while out grazing, the oil would soothe and cleanse these minor wounds.

In addition, oil was frequently used by the priests and others to pour on someone that they were giving a blessing to.  As God’s children, He anoints and blesses us throughout life.  As believers we have the Holy Spirit, who anoints us with His blessings and power when we walk close to Him in obedience.  God’s anointing gives us blessings and protection throughout life.  In the ancient Middle East it was customary to anoint guests with fragrant oil.  Hosts would also protect their guests at all costs.  God promises to protect us even as enemies surround us.

Verse 5 closes with David’s proclamation that his cup is running over.  His cup isn’t just full, it is running over with abundance.  This pictures God’s abundant blessings upon him, and upon us, as well.  Yahweh is not a stingy God.  He doesn’t just pour a little into our cup, into our lives, and tell us that is it.  He doesn’t give us just a third or a half a cup.  The Lord pours His blessings upon us till the cup overflows.  He is the God of more than enough!  He provides for our every need, even before our need arises.  We will never experience a need that God will not supply.

As we see throughout Psalm 23, and today in verse 5 in particular, Yahweh is our Good Shepherd.  To a good shepherd, the sheep are worth dying for, if necessary.  He will put himself between the sheep and danger without a second thought.  The Lord Jesus, who is the true Good Shepherd, did just that for us when He took our sins upon Himself, and died upon the Cross for our salvation.  Now He has given all those who have accepted Him as Savior a table prepared for them, anointing them with oil, and filling their cup to overflowing with His blessings!

Saturday, April 20, 2024

A Boldness To Witness

Acts 4:23-31

Picture yourself, you are doing the job that you were supposed to do, and along comes some enemies, someone who is bigger, stronger, and more powerful than you are.  They grab a hold of you, speak a lot of threats, and then fortunately let you go.  You know that they could really clobber you if they wanted to, but this time they let you go.  Would we do whatever we could to avoid any further trouble?  If they told us to keep our mouth shut, is that what we’d do to avoid a fight?  We remember that they are more powerful, so would we lay low and try to be less conspicuous?  In our Scripture today, which continues the account of the early days of the Apostles, following Jesus’ Ascension and Day of Pentecost, when they first ran into trouble from the Sanhedrin, the Jewish legal authorities.  Let’s continue with this narrative of the very early days of the Apostles and the Church, and see how they responded to some serious threats against them.

Earlier, in chapter 3 of Acts, Peter and James had healed, in the Name of Jesus, a poor man who had been crippled from birth. This miracle had attracted a large crowd, and Peter used the opportunity to speak to the group about Jesus.  However that did not sit well with the religious leaders, who quickly took the two into custody.  There they questioned them, threatened them, and sternly warned them to stop speaking to others about Jesus.  They were then let go with further warnings to not preach in the Name of Jesus.

These weren’t exactly idle threats that the Sanhedrin made to Peter and John.  This was the group that just a couple of months earlier had arrested the Lord Jesus, and convinced the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to have executed.  They were a very powerful group, and the apostles had absolutely no power against them.  This was just the beginning, as opposition against the Lord Jesus and the Church existed right from the very start.  The two returned to their fellow believers, and told them all that had happened, and what the chief priests and elders had said (vs. 23).

The disciples now had a choice to make.  Would they obey the Sanhedrin and just keep quiet about Jesus?  After all, as many say, religion is a personal matter, and they could just let their lives “speak” a message.  They could pack up and leave town, and maybe have better luck in Galilee.  The disciples did the right thing, and that was to get down on their knees and bring this situation before the Lord in prayer (vs. 24-30).

Peter and John’s experience did not frighten or discourage the other disciples, but exhilarated them.  They took confidence in God’s sovereign control of all events, including suffering.  In prayer the disciples first praised God.  Then they told Him their specific problem, asking for His help.  The disciples saw what had just occurred as a fulfillment of Psalm 2:1-2 (vs. 25-26).  They didn’t ask God to remove the problem, but to help them deal with it, which is a model to follow.

This is a prayer that we can learn from when we might face opposition to our work for the Lord.  They did not pray for God to bring destruction on the religious leaders.  We might be tempted to pray something like that against our enemies, those who oppose us or bully us in any manner. However, that’s not how these early Christians prayed.  Nor did they ask God to take them out of their time of trouble.  Instead, they asked God to consider the threats they faced, and for Him to give them boldness to speak out further.  They did not want to hide in fear, keeping their mouths shut, and they did not want to escape out the back door.  The Lord Jesus had given them a commission to go into the world and preach the Gospel, and so they asked Him for more boldness in the face of threats and opposition.  Boldness is not impulsive recklessness.  It is courage to press on through our fears, and to do what we know is right.

When the disciples were through praying, God showed them in a very specific way that He had heard their prayer and would answer it (vs. 31).  He filled them with the Holy Spirit, and also shook the building they were in, like a mini little non-damaging, non-harmful earthquake.  This was reminiscent of what had occurred a few months earlier on the day of Pentecost, and reminded them that the Holy Spirit was present with them (Acts 2:1-4).

The disciples were not afraid, they were not going to run scared, but instead the Holy Spirit gave them boldness to speak the Word of God.  When we face opposition for doing the work of the Lord, for speaking out to others in the Name of Jesus, we can come to Him in prayer, as well, and receive similar boldness and fearlessness.  The disciples knew, as we can know, as well, that God is sovereign and always in control.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Open Your Eyes

Luke 24:36-48

Have you ever looked for something, searched all over, and there it was, right in front of you, right out in the open all along?  That’s happened to a lot of us, I’m sure.  Our eyes were open, but we weren’t really seeing what was right in front of us.   It can cause problems when we don’t see what is right in front of us, and we aren’t paying attention.  When we don’t see the snake in the grass because we aren’t paying attention, we can get bit.  When we aren’t alert when driving we might not make it home alive.  Sometimes when our mind and eyes refuse to see, we end up with spiritual blindness.  That is the sort of condition that the disciples found themselves in our Scripture today.  Let’s see what happened.

As our Scripture passage today opens it is the evening of the day of Resurrection.  Earlier, Jesus had appeared to two disciples who were walking to their home in Emmaus.  Now He came to appear to the eleven apostles.  After hearing the testimony of the women who had gone to the grave and reported the message of the angels there, along with the testimony from the two from Emmaus just moments before, we might think that now when they were seeing Jesus Himself, they would now recognize Him, rejoice, and be at peace.  However, as we read, they were terrified, thinking they were seeing a ghost (vs. 36-37).  They were seeing Jesus, but they weren’t really seeing with faith.  They needed to open their spiritual eyes.

Jesus then gave them some more reassurance.  He didn’t harshly chastise them for their lack of faith.  Instead, He asked why they were troubled, showed them the nail prints in His hands and feet (vs. 38-40).  The disciples still had blinders on their eyes and minds, so Jesus went a step further.  He asked for some food to eat in their presence, as they were possibly still believing that He was a ghost (vs. 41-43).  Their eyes were seeing, but their mind was not believing.  One characteristic of a ghost is that it is not solid.  Jesus was solid, flesh and bones.  Also ghosts don’t eat, yet Jesus ate some food with them.  They needed to open their spiritual eyes and see the Lord Jesus standing right in front of them, eating some food.

When the disciples saw Jesus on the evening of His resurrection, they were troubled.  They were distressed, agitated, and anxious.  Being in that state robs us of the peace that we can have in the Savior.  Having our spiritual eyes closed will lead to fear, doubts, discouragement, and despair, and will lead to having a lack of faith.

It took the disciples a little while, but they did come to believe what was right in front of their eyes.  They knew that Jesus had been crucified, had died, and was buried.  And now, just as He had told them earlier, He was risen from the dead and standing in front of them.  They saw the nail prints that He showed them.  This was evidence that it was really Him, and not someone who looked like Him.  Those nail prints were also evidence of the love Jesus has given.  We are engraved as scars on His hands (Isaiah 49:15-16).

Now that they were seeing and believing, Jesus opened their understanding so that they could more readily understand the Scriptures (vs. 44-45).  We need God’s help, which comes through the Holy Spirit, to truly understand the Bible.  That is why sometimes when we are talking to someone who is unsaved, and we quote a Bible verse or two to them, they just stare at us blankly.  They can’t understand.  Their eyes are physically open, but they can’t see, they are spiritually blind.

For us to see and understand Jesus in the Scriptures, we need our eyes opened.  The two disciples on the road to Emmaus needed their eyes opened to see that it was Jesus.  Here, too, the disciples' eyes needed to be opened to see that it was Jesus.  One psalmist even prays that God opens his eyes when reading Scripture (Psalm 119:18).  Without opened eyes, the Bible can seem like a legalistic code.  With eyes opened, God can reveal Himself to us.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Good News For The Sinner

I John 1:8 - 2:2

Today’s message is on a topic that is not a very popular one to discuss, whether among each other, and certainly not from most pulpits.  That topic is sin.  Most people don’t like to hear about sin, especially their own sins.  Many pastors are loath to talk about sin from the pulpits in their sermon messages.  They are afraid to step on anyone’s toes, offend them, or lose their interest, so that they stop attending.  However, that is a message that needs to be told, and it is my topic today.  With the Scripture selection today, there is much good news, so this is not a completely negative topic or message.  Let’s look into God’s Word.

As mentioned, sin is not a favorite topic.  Many people are resistant, and opposed to admitting that they are sinners.  They will say that since they never murdered anyone, or robbed a bank, they aren’t sinners.  And it has become popular today in some groups and with progressive thinkers to say that there is no black and white with regards to sin.  Everything is various shades of gray.  What one person calls a sin, another may say that they don’t consider it a sin, so it is not a sin to them.  Let’s be clear, what the Bible, God’s Word, calls a sin, what it says is wrong, then it is a sin and it’s wrong.  And God has said that everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23).  If we are honest with ourselves, we will readily admit that we all have sinned.  Those who say otherwise are deceiving themselves, trying to deceive others, and are not being truthful (vs. 8).  They are also calling God a liar (vs. 10), as His Word very clearly says that all have sinned, not just some.

All people are sinners by nature and by practice.  The first step in order to be saved is to admit that one is a sinner.  If someone never admits to being a sinner, salvation cannot result.  Do not be deceived.  We all are sinners who need to be saved by grace.  Even after we get saved we still sin and need to confess.  Every day we sin and do things that offend God.  We need to confess them to Him, and receive His forgiveness.   Yes, sin is bad news, it is depressing, and people don’t want to hear it.  However, we have some good news in verse 9, very good news.  God promises us in His Word that if we confess our sins, He will forgive us, and cleanse us from the sin-stains.  We can come to Him every time we do something wrong, every time we mess up, and He has promised to forgive us.  It is best to keep a clean record, and not let unconfessed sins pile up.  Confess and forsake them, and God will cleanse us.  Doing so removes the barrier to fellowship that our sins put up between us and God (Psalm 66:18-19).

When we do something wrong, we have to face the consequences and take the punishment.  Sometimes we might even need to hire an attorney to represent us in court.  When we stand before the Lord God, guilty of all sorts of sins, we have the best possible Attorney, the Lord Jesus Christ (vs. 1).  Jesus is our Advocate, our Defense Attorney.  Satan continually prosecutes believers before the Father, due to our sin.  However, Jesus’ High Priestly ministry guarantees our acquittal (Hebrews 4:14-16).

After becoming a Christian we still retain our sin nature.  We do not have “sinless perfection”.  The person who makes such claims makes God a liar because God’s Word says otherwise.  Nor does confessing sin and receiving forgiveness give us a license to continue to sin casually and indiscriminately.  Our sinful tendencies should be conquered through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As the Apostle John continues, he says that Jesus is the “propitiation” for our sins (vs 2).  That is a big word, one not generally in our vocabulary every day, or usually ever.  It means “appeasement” or “satisfaction”.  The sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross satisfied the demands of God’s holiness for the punishment of sin.  Jesus died for everyone in general, but each person must individually accept Him for themselves.  If they don’t, they are not saved, and will not see heaven.

In closing, there are many churches today that want to put less, or even no emphasis on sin and other “negative” aspects of Christianity.  They say that God loves us all, and that Jesus accepts everyone just the way they are.  They tell us not to judge, and don’t make anyone feel bad by pointing out sin.  Jesus did accept people the way they were, but He didn’t leave them that way.  He told sinners, after He forgave them, to “go and sin no more”.  The good news here is that Jesus is our Defense Attorney.  His death satisfied God’s justice.  When we confess our sins, He promises to forgive.  This isn’t bad news, it is good news!

Monday, April 15, 2024

A New Song Of Praise

Psalm 98

Easter should still be fresh in our memory, as it was just over two weeks ago.  It is a holy day of great rejoicing for Christians, and our psalm for this week is one of great rejoicing, as well.  Believers and followers of the Lord Jesus should be people of joy.  Let’s take a quick, brief look at this short psalm of praise.

As Psalm 98 opens, the author calls on us to sing a new song to the Lord.  There are so many things to praise the Lord for, so many blessings we have received.  There is always something new to praise Him for.  And with so many songs and hymns of praise, whether we prefer traditional or more contemporary worship music, we could sing a different one every day for quite a while!

Our psalmist gives us some reasons for praising the Lord.  One is quite obvious, and that is because God has done marvelous things (vs. 1).  Look around the world, especially with springtime upon us, and we can find so many marvelous things that God has done.  He doesn’t do mediocre things, or sloppy things.  When we look at the workmanship of so many things today, that is frequently what we find - mediocre and even sloppy quality.  But not with what God does, for our God does marvelous things!

When we look back at the events that led up to the crucifixion of Jesus, we know that He was in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, which He did every year.  All faithful Jewish people would try to go to Jerusalem for that celebration.  What was that holy festival, what did it commemorate?  That celebration was to commemorate the last of the ten plagues God had brought on the Egyptians, when God “passed over” the houses marked with the blood of a lamb, but striking down the first born of those who weren’t marked.  Immediately following that, the people of Israel fled Egypt, and the Lord parted the water of the Red Sea for them to cross on dry ground.  God’s right hand and His holy arm got the victory over His enemies (vs. 1).

Again, after Jesus was crucified and buried, His enemies thought that they had succeeded in stopping Him for good.   But on the third day, that Sunday morning, Jesus rose from the dead  His right hand and His holy arm gained Him the victory over Satan and over death!  There are so many instances all throughout both the Old and New Testament where we see that God gets the victory over Satan and His enemies.  As one reads through the final book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, we see very clearly that Jesus gets the final victory!

Another thing to praise God for, quite an important thing, is His salvation, which He has brought to us through the shed Blood of His Son Jesus upon the cross (vs. 2-3).  Salvation wasn’t, and isn’t for just a select few.  It is for all people at all times.  His parting words to the disciples was that they were to go into all the world, telling anyone and everyone the Gospel message of salvation.  God has made it known.  It isn’t kept secret for just a select few.  We can, and should, be a part of that, making salvation through Jesus known to all the ends of the earth, as well.

Next we see the psalmist instruct us to sing God’s praises with all sorts of musical instruments, a whole orchestra full (vs. 4-6).  The people are to shout and sing with music before the Lord, the King.  One favorite subject of mine is studying royalty, particularly the British royalty, from the present day to going all the way back to the days of the Anglo-Saxon kings.  Though not so much today, but there were several periods of time when the monarchs really went all out with pomp and ceremony.  The king would enter a great hall, and the trumpets and horns would ring out, announcing his arrival.  The composer Handel wrote some very celebratory music for both King George I and II, music that was to be played when the former rode his royal barge down the Thames, and when the latter hosted celebratory royal fireworks.  If grand music can accompany earthly royalty, then certainly we should play joyful and triumphant music for the Lord God!

As our psalm closes, the psalmist proclaims that all of nature will rejoice and sing their praises to the Lord (vs. 7-9).  The sea, the rivers, and the hills will all join together with creation to praise the Lord.  He will be coming to judge the earth, and when He enters He deserves an even grander celebratory praise than any earthly king!

Saturday, April 13, 2024

No Other Name

Acts 4:5-12

There is a common phrase that many of you might have heard, or some variation of, and that is that there are many pathways that lead to God.  Those who say this believe that it doesn’t matter what way you choose, it doesn’t matter what religion you believe, what religious leader and teachings you follow, because they all lead to God.  Our Scripture today contains a message from Peter, the chief of the Apostles, which exposes this for the lie that it is, a malevolent and damning false teaching.  This isn’t a popular message among many people, but as it is God’s Word, we must listen to it.

Just prior to our Scripture beginning, the apostles Peter and John had prayed and healed a man crippled from birth in the Name of Jesus (Acts 3:1-10).  This caused quite a stir in Jerusalem, and soon came to notice of the religious leaders, who were quite upset.  They had thought that by executing Jesus, His power and influence would also have died, but it hadn’t.  Peter and John were taken into custody and were asked by what power or name they had performed this miracle (vs. 7).  Only a few months earlier Peter had denied knowing Jesus.  Now, filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter boldly stood up for Jesus in front of the entirety of the ruling body of Israel, and gave his answer (vs. 8-12).  The Apostle clearly stated that the miracle was done in the Name of Jesus, and that salvation is only through the Name of Jesus (vs. 12).

Peter said that the Jews had rejected Jesus, but now He has become the Cornerstone of the Church (Psalm 118:22; Mark 12:10; I Peter 2:7).  Without Him there would be no Church, nor salvation.   The Bible unequivocally states that Jesus, alone, holds the key to salvation, and in fact He is salvation.  God, through His Word, says that if one is going to be accepted into heaven, one must be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Matthew 22:1-14).  That is not an option.  That is an imperative.  Whoever has accepted Jesus as Savior will have eternal life.  If they haven’t, then they do not go to heaven (I John 5:12).  Salvation is found in no other Name.

This truth offends many people, including some who claim to be Christians.  They say that we all need to be “inclusive”, and thus we need to say that any and all beliefs will lead us to God.  However, the Bible, God’s Word, clearly states that every path does not lead to God. It clearly says that Jesus is the only way of salvation, and those who reject Him will not have eternal life (John 10:9-10; John 14:6; I John 2:23).  Jesus said that the world will hate true Christians for believing that He is the Son of God, and the only way of salvation (John 15:18).  Jesus did not say that He was one of the ways to God.  He said that He was the Way (John 14:6).  To say otherwise goes against Scripture, and I will never do that.

There is a black and white, not just shades of gray.  There is a definite right and wrong, a truth and falsehood, not just “what is truth for me.”  The Name of Jesus Christ is the center of contention (vs. 7, 10, 12), and will always be.  Salvation for everyone, both Jew and Gentile alike, is exclusively through the Name of Jesus.

In closing, let me give this example that a former pastor of mine once said.  About 15 miles north of where I live is Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.  It is a very large and busy airport, with about 74 million passengers traveling through each year.  There are four streets that surround the airport grounds, Irving Park Rd on the south, York Rd on the west, Touhy Ave. on the north, and Mannheim Rd. on the east.  Yet there is only one way for passengers to get into the airport, and it is not through any of those roads.  The only way to get into the airport is by I-190, the westernmost leg of the Kennedy Expressway.  You can see the airport quite clearly from the four other streets.  You can watch all the planes take off and land from them, but you have no access to the airport.  You can drive around and around the airport on those roads, but you won’t get in.  If you try to climb the fence you will quickly find yourself, not in the airport, but sitting in a police station.  The same is with heaven.  All those other ways will just take you around and around, but not into heaven.  There is only one way, and that is through the Lord Jesus Christ.  Be sure you are on the right path, the right Way, and that is through Jesus!

Friday, April 12, 2024

The Apostle Thomas

John 20:19-31

Our Gospel reading today, following this week’s Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer, brings us to the account of Thomas, one of the twelve apostles.  Thomas is forever nick-named “Doubting Thomas”, and we’ll see why he has that name, and whether it is really a fair one.

Thomas, like the other disciples, had taken part in the Passover and Last Supper celebrations with Jesus, and then went with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane.  While there, Jesus was arrested by the Jewish religious leaders, and all of the disciples took off, including Thomas, leaving Him alone.  It seems that ten of the disciples hid out together from Friday to early Sunday morning, all except for Judas who betrayed Him and later killed himself, and for Thomas.

Why wasn’t Thomas with the others?  The Scriptures do not say.  He may have run off in a totally different direction than the others.  Perhaps he, like some people, preferred to grieve alone, by himself, rather than in a group.  He probably wasn’t with them that Sunday morning when the women came to bring the news of the empty tomb, and as we read today, he was not with the disciples that Sunday evening when the Lord Jesus first appeared to them after the Resurrection (vs. 24).   By not being with his fellow disciples, Thomas missed out on seeing Jesus.

On the evening of the Resurrection, ten of the disciples were gathered together in a room, with the doors locked for fear that those who had arrested and executed Jesus would come after them.  As they grouped together in fear, probably whispering among themselves what the women had told them earlier that morning, Jesus appeared in the middle, blessing them with His peace (vs. 19-21).  He showed them His hands and side to prove that He really was the Lord, the same One who had been crucified, and had indeed risen as the women had testified.  It was also at this time that Jesus gave a variation of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).  Jesus is sending us out to proclaim the Gospel, just as He told them.

Thomas was not with them that evening, and during the week the others told him that they had seen Jesus.  However, Thomas did not believe them.  He went so far as to say that unless he would put his fingers into the wounds of Jesus, he would not believe (vs. 25).  The next Sunday the disciples were all together again, this time with Thomas present, and Jesus again appeared to them.  Jesus then spoke directly to Thomas, calling him over, showing him His hands and feet, and offering to let him put in his fingers if he so chose to (vs. 26-27).  Jesus did not rebuke Thomas.  He compassionately gave him proof of His resurrection, and then Thomas proclaimed his belief, not only in the resurrection of Jesus, but also in His deity, the first of the disciples to do so (vs. 28).

We should not be so hard on Thomas for doubting what the disciples had told him.  Would you or I readily believe it if we were in his shoes?  I would like to think I would, but really, would I?  Thomas wanted to know the truth, and he gladly believed when given reasons to do so.  He didn’t hesitate to follow Jesus at the start, and he had been willing to die with Him when they entered Jerusalem only a couple of weeks earlier (John 11:16).  Thomas didn’t stay in his doubts, but he allowed Jesus to bring him to belief.  Doubting is not the same as unbelief.  Doubting asks if it can be.  Unbelief says that it isn’t.  Honest and open doubts can lead to questions.  Questions will lead to answers.  If we accept God’s answers then the doubting did some good.

Trusting God means looking beyond what we can see to what He sees.   We need to live, not only by what we see, but also by what God’s Word and the Holy Spirit tells us.  This is the very essence of faith.

In closing, one final thought about the scars of Jesus, in His hands, feet, and side.  Many of us have various scars on our body, some from surgeries, others from accidents.  When we get to heaven all of our scars, both physical, emotional, and psychological will be gone (Revelation 21:2-4).  That is, all except for the scars of Jesus.  They are a reminder of the price He paid for our salvation.  We are engraved as the scars on Jesus’ hands.  They are a reminder of God’s incredible love for us, more than even a mother for her baby (Isaiah 49:14-16).  The nail prints in Jesus’ hands and feet, along with the scar on His side from the spear thrust in there, will remain for all eternity.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Be An Overcomer!

I John 5:1-5

To be an overcomer is a positive thing, and there are several ways that one can achieve that title.  We think of overcomers in the field of sports.  One team, which is way behind in score, overcomes the odds and wins the championship.  When competing in Olympic-style wrestling, one athlete overcomes the other and wins the medal.  In school a student overcomes their struggles in a certain subject and passes the final exam.  And men and women overcome their addictions in rehab, and gain victory over drugs or alcohol.  There is another overcomer that you and I can be, one which we read about in our Scripture for today.

We read as the Apostle John finishes up his first letter to the Church, on how we, as believers, can be overcomers.  First let’s see what he tells us that we are overcoming.  We aren’t overcoming some opposing sports team or strong opponent.  John tells us twice that we overcome the world.  He isn’t referring to the world as meaning nature, such as overcoming wild creatures or acts of nature.  John is referring to the world system that is ruled by Satan.

How can you or I become an overcomer?  The Apostle John tells us this in our Scripture.  First and foremost, an overcomer must be born again and love God (vs. 1).  We cannot overcome Satan and his world system without the Lord Jesus Christ, as the unsaved are a part of Satan’s evil world system.  When we accept Jesus as Savior, we move out Satan’s kingdom of darkness and into God’s kingdom of light, and can become an overcomer.

Another thing that is necessary to become an overcomer is that one loves God and also loves other Christians.  A genuine Christian not only believes in God, but also loves Him and loves his fellow believers.  That isn’t always an easy task, as we all know some other Christians who just really irritate us.  However, the more closely we follow the Lord, allowing His Holy Spirit to live and work through us, we will develop a love for fellow Christians.  We know that we love God if we love those who bear His image.

Another characteristic of a believer, and key to becoming an overcomer, in addition to having saving faith and having love, is obedience to God and His Word (vs. 2-3).  Genuine proof of faith in God is love, and genuine proof of love for the Savior is obedience to Him.  Having a real relationship to God and being obedient to His commandments are inseparably linked.  John tells us that God’s commands are not burdensome.  It is not a weary task to obey the Lord.  Jesus told us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).  Only when we try to obey God through our own power do His commandments feel burdensome.  When we rely on His Spirit to enable us to do what we can’t, we find great joy in obedience.  Works and obedience do not save us, but genuine salvation always results in works and obedience.

The world wants us to believe that it is easier and more desirable to fit in, to be tolerant of sin, to be popular, and strive to be rich.  It wants us to feel that God’s commands are burdensome and hateful.  But we can’t love God without obeying His commands.  The world’s yoke leads to sin and slavery.  Jesus’ yoke leads away from sin and into joy.

By believing that God is who He says He is, and we are who He says we are, we overcome the world (vs. 4).  To be an overcomer is to conquer, to have victory, to have superiority, and to have conquering power.  An overcomer overthrows an enemy so that the victory is seen by all.  Those who believe that Jesus is God’s Son are overcomers.  We are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).

In closing God’s Word states that we can be overcomers of the world, Satan’s worldwide system of deception and wickedness.  Through Jesus we are a victor over this invisible system.  Our victory has already been assured.  It was won on the Cross.  It was provided for with the shed Blood of the Lamb of God.  All who have Jesus as their personal Savior are united with Him, and partake of His victory.  We have continued victory over the world.  If you haven’t already, turn to Jesus today, accept Him as your Savior, and become an overcomer!

Monday, April 8, 2024

How To Know God

Psalm 111

Do  you want to know what a person is like?  One of the best ways is to look at the things the person does.  That can say a lot about the person.  Look at “their walk and their talk”.   It is the same way with the Lord God.  If someone wants to know about Him, the best way is to learn what they can about Him.  We learn about Him best through His Word, the Bible, but we can also learn a lot about Him by observing His works in the world.  It is a sign of wisdom to seek to know the Lord, and that is the topic of today’s psalm.

Our psalmist opens his psalm with his announcement that we should be studying the works of the Lord.  How can we do that?  The best way to find out about God is by reading the Bible.  We can read and study the Bible on our own, and we can get help with Bible study guides, many which can be found online.  Hopefully you are able to attend a church which preaches God’s Word faithfully near your home, and many churches have weekly Bible study groups.  In the Scriptures we read of many of the Lord’s works, from His creation, to the parting of the Red Sea.  From His defeat of Goliath to protecting the three young men in the furnaces of Nebuchadnezzar.  And God’s greatest work, of course, was Jesus’ death upon the Cross for our redemption, and His resurrection on the third day (vs. 9).

We also see God’s work in the world around us every day.  With spring upon us in the northern hemisphere, we see flowers blooming and the leaves budding on the trees.  We hear the birds singing and see nature awakening following its winter sleep.  Right now I am hearing a male cardinal singing his heart out in praise to God!  All of this is through the hands of God.  Today, as I write this, many people across the U.S. will be blessed to see a great work of God in nature, that being a total eclipse of the sun.  I am fortunate that the path of the eclipse cuts right across Illinois.  Living in the Chicago area I am just a little bit north of where the path of totality is, but I will see 95%.  The universe and celestial events don’t fall into place just by some chance.  It is the glorious and awesome work of God.

The psalmist continues, finishing in verse 10, by stating that if we want wisdom, we need to have a fear of the Lord.  Who doesn’t want wisdom?  We all want that!  However, as believers we need to be particular about what type of wisdom we seek after.  We do not want worldly wisdom.   The Book of James in the New Testament speaks about worldly wisdom versus Godly wisdom (James 3:13-18).  Worldly wisdom is bitter, envious, self-seeking, sensual, and demonic, and leads to confusion and evil.  That leads to no good.  God’s wisdom is pure, peace-loving, considerate, gentle, sincere, and full of mercy.  We get that when we fear the Lord and are in a strong, trusting relationship with Him.

Having a fear of God is not about being afraid, such as being afraid of the dark, or of the bully down the street, or having a worry or anxiety.  Having a fear of the Lord is having a healthy respect for God’s power and authority.  Genuine believers should have a healthy fear of the Lord, which leads to respect for His commands, precepts, and principles, which we learn of in His Word.  When we fear the Lord, we find it a joy to obey Him.

The more we know God’s Word, the more we will learn about Him, and the more wisdom we will have.  When we lose the fear of the Lord, we start to treat Him casually and nonchalantly, and then we start to ignore His Word more.  And that leads to losing Godly wisdom.  It also can lead to trying to obtain worldly wisdom, which leads to a bad end.

As we close our psalm for the week, fear the Lord, and seek to know Him by studying His Word and through His creation.  Only in that way will you find Godly wisdom for your life.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Kept In Perfect Peace

Isaiah 26:1-4

We hear a lot of talk about wanting world peace, and that is naturally a good thing.  Another type of peace that doesn’t get quite as much attention is peace within oneself.  And yet this type of peace, one where our worries, anxieties, and depression are gone, is so vitally important to our personal well-being.  How can we find such peace?  God gives us an answer in our Scripture for today.

As our Scripture opens, the Lord speaks of a special place that only certain people are able to enter (vs. 1-2).  This city He describes is a strong city, one that will not fall or be defeated, and its walls and ramparts are God’s salvation, salvation found through the Lord Jesus Christ.  Only the righteous, those who have put their faith and trust in Him, may enter.  Once we enter this spiritual city we are eligible to obtain God’s peace.  Without salvation through Jesus, one will never find real peace in their life.

In verses 3 and 4 we find the Lord’s precious promise of peace, that inner peace where we are free from all worry, fear, and anxiety.  First, as we just saw, one must be saved to find that peace.  However, we all know some genuine Christians who are full of fear and worry, ones who have anxieties plague them at every turn.  Why don’t they have this perfect peace?  The Prophet Isaiah tells us that this peace is given to those whose mind is stayed on God, and to those who trust in the Lord.

To be “stayed” is to be steadfast, leaning on, and being supported by God.  When we do so, we have unending security, a sense of uninterrupted, perpetual rest and calmness that comes from God when we trust in Him.  God’s Word tells us to abandon all of our other crutches, and lean on the only One who can support us.  Peace comes when we are leaning on God in total confidence and security.

When our mind is stayed on the Lord, we are totally focused on Him, not on what is going on around us, nor on our troubles and circumstances.  In order for an acrobat or gymnast to keep from getting dizzy when spinning rapidly, they will pick one thing to focus on that they look for when they make their fast rotations.  Our focal point should always be on the Lord Jesus, keeping our minds centered on Him and what He has done for us on the Cross.  Resting in God’s promises gives us the hope we need to stay focused on Him and His faithfulness, instead of on our circumstances. A disposition of trust in the Lord brings a peace that the wicked, unsaved can never know.

We can never avoid strife in the world around us, but with God we can know perfect peace, even in turmoil.  When we are devoted to Him, our whole attitude is steady and stable.  We are supported by God’s unchanging love and mighty power.  We are not shaken by the surrounding chaos.   The phrase “perfect peace” in Hebrew is “shalom shalom”, literally “peace peace”, a peace that goes beyond human comprehension (Philippians 4:7).  One way we can be certain that we’ve placed our trust in God is when we experience an indescribable peace that only comes from Him.  Jesus gives believers peace because He is the Prince of Peace (John 14:27).  That peace is our shield and shelter.

The word translated as “strength” in verse 4 comes from the Hebrew word “sur”, which means rock.  Jesus is our everlasting strength.  He is our Rock of Ages, a rocky cliff where the trusting one may find shelter from everything that comes against us.  When we have Jesus as our Savior, we have a safe and secure place to run to when the storms of life threaten.  We can cast our burdens on Him, and He will give us His peace.  Unshakeable peace is not instantaneous, though.  It is cultivated through a consistent relationship with Jesus.  When our life is dependent on God, He will help us weather the storms with His peace.

People, even good people, will often prove unfaithful.  However, the Lord can be trusted forever.  He is the Rock of Ages, the Undefeatable One, the Eternal Strong One!

Friday, April 5, 2024

Is My Name Written There?

Daniel 12:1-3

Would you like to see your name on a list?  You probably would answer that it would depend on the list.  If it is a list of winners in some big contest, then yes.  At work you would like your name to be on a list of people getting promotions or salary raises, but not on a list of those who will be let go.  Back when we were in school, we liked to see that we made the list of the sports team or cheerleader squad we tried out for, or the list of those who got good grades on the big test.  We would eagerly scan the list, hoping to see our name, but hope that our name will forever stay off of a casualty list.  Our brief Scripture today from the Book of Daniel mentions a list of names written in a book.  Let’s take a look at this Scripture and see if it is a list we would want to be on, or not, and what else the passage speaks about.

The Book of Daniel is a very interesting one in the Old Testament.  In the book, Daniel tells some very dramatic and thrilling accounts from his and his friends’ lives, along with some prophetic dreams and other prophecies.  Our Scripture from the 12th chapter contains some of Daniel’s prophecies of End Time events, events that take place during the Tribulation period.

During the Great Tribulation there will be persecution against true Christians, those who get saved during the Tribulation period, along with a terrible attack against Jews in an attempt to exterminate them.  However, they will be delivered by Michael the Archangel (vs. 1).  The persecution against God’s people will be so extreme, that God’s Word says that there will never have been such a time of trouble in all of history.  Christians have suffered periods of persecution and even martyrdom throughout history, along with the Jewish people.  Yet those times will pale in comparison with what those who get saved during the Tribulation period and Jewish people will go through from the Antichrist.  God promises, though, that the heavenly warrior, Michael the Archangel, will stand up for them.

As we continue in verse 1, we read of a book.  This is a book where the names of all those who have come to faith in the Lord Jesus have their names written down.  Daniel prophecies that at the height of the terrible persecution, all those who have had their names written in God’s Book will be delivered.  This book is referenced several times in various parts of the Bible.  We read in the book of the prophet Malachi, where he refers to a book of remembrance, where the names of those who fear the Lord are written down, and how God will spare those people (Malachi 3:16-17).  Jesus mentions how believers’ names are written down in heaven (Luke 10:20).  And the final book in the Bible, the Book of Revelation mentions this book, the Lamb’s Book of Life, several times (Revelation 13:8; 17:8; 20:12-15; and 21:27).  It also tells of the final destination of those whose names are not found in this book, that being the Lake of Fire.

If we never find our names on any other list in life, it is so important to be sure that our name is written down on that list!  We can’t get our name on that list by being a great athlete, or scoring good on a test.  Nor can we get our name on that list by being a good employee, or by giving a lot of money to various worthy charities.  The only way to ensure that our name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life is by accepting the Lord Jesus as our personal Savior.  We must realize we are a sinner with no hope of redemption on our own, and that the Lord Jesus came to earth and died on the Cross for our sins.  Accept Him as your Savior, and your name will be written down in indelible ink, ink that can never be erased!

As we continue on in our brief Scripture passage, we see that what we go through in life for the Lord Jesus is nothing in comparison to His rewards.  There are believers who suffer greatly for Him today.  As we read earlier, during the Tribulation there will be horrific persecution against believers, but God promises to reward all His faithful followers .  However, those who do not accept Jesus as Savior will have a terrible judgment awaiting them (vs. 2).

As we close our Scripture, Daniel speaks of those who are wise and who are stars (vs 3).  Most people want to be wise, and many would also like to be a star.  God’s Word here tells us the way we can be both.  The wise are those who live for God, and do everything they can to take the Gospel to others.  Trying to be a “star” by this world’s definition is vain, and only temporary.  Movie, TV, and music stars may be famous today, but tomorrow they are gone, a nobody.  Trying to be a star in that regard usually brings on more troubles, and often ultimately leads to eternal doom.   God’s stars are wise, and seek to lead others to Jesus.  To be a star for God is eternal, and will bring many rewards.

As we read today in Daniel’s prophecy, we should strive to be wise and a star for God.  And above everything else, be sure your name is written down in God’s Book.  When the names are read, be sure that yours is there!