Friday, January 31, 2014

"The Kingdom and the KING!"

Day #35:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 1st

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 11 - 13 ...

Politicians and leaders all over the world make promises as they rule over the people in their nations.  They promise prosperity and all kinds of things that they have no way of guaranteeing.  Their power is limited and their ideas of prosperity have little to do with anything but the present and the immediate future.  Of course, their promises are attractive to people who want immediate gratification.  Jesus never made such promises (though some make those kinds of promises now in His name!).

When Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven, he talked about good news for the weary that went beyond this life.  He did heal the sick, and even raised a few people from the dead, but that was not the purpose of His coming - just so people could live longer in this world.  He had more in mind.  He came to reveal the Father and His love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness.  "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him," Jesus said (11:27).  Then He said to the weary, "Come to me ... and you will find rest for your souls" (11:28-30).

As the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by accusing Him of breaking the Sabbath (12:1-13) and casting out demons by the power of evil (12:25-32), those who saw their own need wondered, "Could this be the Son of David?" (12:23).  Could this be the Messiah?  The Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus (12:14).  Can you imagine that?!!  He was challenging their understanding of God and their "religion."  They were counting on their own righteousness to get into the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus was making them uncomfortable by calling ordinary people to follow Him, to come to Him, to find forgiveness.

So Jesus talked about bringing forth good fruit and told the Parable of the Sower.  God always knows those who are His - not because they are trying hard to be good, but because they are responding to His love and desiring to live lives pleasing to Him out of love for the God they have come to know.  To these Jesus says, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them" (13:11).  "Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear" (13:16).

Have YOU seen and heard of God's kingdom?  Are you good seed that is bearing fruit?  We know that we are saved by grace, but the EVIDENCE of God's work in you will always be a heart in love with God, in tune with His Spirit and in pursuit of holiness.  There will finally be a separation between the wheat (the good seed) and the weeds (the bad seed).  The good seed is made good by God Himself.  It is in believing in Jesus that we find the assurance that God has made us His children by grace through faith.

The kingdom of heaven is a treasure worth giving everything to possess.  Living for yourself or for the things of the world is, well ... "fruitless!"  It is worth NOTHING!!  The teachers of the law "took offense at Jesus" (13:57).  But those of us who know WHO Jesus is and who rejoice and give thanks for His life, death, resurrection and ascension, look forward to the fulfillment of God's kingdom when Jesus returns.  There lies our hope and that is enough to give us strength to persevere, to endure and to overcome!!

May God give you ears to hear, a mind to understand, a heart to accept and then use your life to bring forth good fruit for His kingdom, for then, and only then, will you receive Jesus' promise:  "REST for your soul!"

"Heavenly Father, the message of the coming of Your kingdom inspires us to seek it above all else - to seek YOU above all else.  Take away the desire for the things of this world and replace it with love for You and a heartfelt desire to seek first YOUR kingdom and YOUR righteousness.  May we bear fruit for Your kingdom daily as we live in obedience to Your Word and give the praise and glory to You, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"Sometimes I wonder if people know THIS God"

Day #34:  Daily Bible Reading - January 31st

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 23 - 28 ...

"Wail!  Be silent!  Be ashamed!  Wail!  Wail!!"  That's Isaiah 23.

"The LORD is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it. ... Earth's inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left. ... The earth is broken up, the earth is split asunder, the earth is thoroughly shaken ... it falls - never to rise ... In that day the LORD will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below ..."    That's Isaiah 24.

Do you know THIS God?  Most people don't.  He is the LORD of the heaven and the earth, and His judgment is just and certain upon all who do not know Him.  The Bible is HIS book - ALL of it.  Jesus spoke more of hell than of heaven and warned of God's coming judgment.  It appears that most people don't know this God.

Yet, it is THIS God who is the God of salvation.  It is He who will reign on Mount Zion (24:23).  For those who know Him ... for those who KNOW Him, a feast will be prepared on Zion for the peoples of the nations who know Him.  "The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove the disgrace of HIS people from all the earth" (25:8).

Those who know this God find peace and rest as they trust in Him (26:3-4).  Those who know this God desire but one thing:  "Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts" (26:8).  To these God says, "Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until His wrath has passed by.  See, the LORD is coming out of His dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins" (26:20-21).

THIS God is still the God of Israel ... those descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Whatever people may think of the political state of Israel, these people, and others of their race around the world, are special to God, and the city of Jerusalem, Mt. Zion, will feel the very feet of the Savior, the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ.

"In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit" (27:6).  "And in that day a great trumpet will sound.  Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain in Jerusalem" (27:13).  The temple mount will again be host for the worship of the One, True God.  "In that day the LORD Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of His people" (28:5).

In the midst of God's pronouncements of judgment, He reveals the way for those who are His to come to Him:  "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed" (28:16).  Peter quotes this verse in I Peter 2:6 and points to Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah's words.  THIS God has provided a way through the cross of Christ for sinners to escape the coming judgment.

I hope YOU know THIS God!  "Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts!"  (Isaiah 26:8).

"LORD God Almighty, You alone are God.  Your judgments are just and right.  Yet, Your promises are sure and Your salvation delivers those who place their trust in the One Who is the Cornerstone!  Blessed are those who know You, the only true God, for we will be saved on the day of judgment and will feast at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb!  Thank You, LORD, for Your amazing grace, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"A little knowledge is dangerous!"

Day #33:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 30th

Scripture Reading:  Job 9 - 10 ...

Oh Job ... Job ... Job ... you know God, but you don't know God!  You declare that He is Almighty and that He controls the sun and the stars.  You proclaim that He brings judgment and you confess that you do not deserve His mercy.  You testify that He gave you life and showed you kindness, and that in His providence He watched over your spirit (10:14).  Yet, you accuse God of punishing you and imagine that there is no difference between the blameless and the wicked (9:22) - that He treats both the same.

A little knowledge is dangerous.  The book of Job reveals a man who worshiped God, who sought God, who knew some right things about God, but who needed to go deeper, to learn more, to grow!  How many people know some things about God, but are in serious error in understanding His character and how He works in the world?  That's why WE have God's Word.

Job needed to know ... YOU need to know, that God does not, cannot cause evil AND that He does not cause us to suffer or even allow us to suffer without reason.  As Job tries to understand, he foolishly and wrongly says that God "mocks the despair of the innocent" (9:23) and that "when a land falls into the hands of the wicked, He blindfolds its judges" (9:24) - "If it is not He, then who is it?" (9:24).  To accuse God of wrongdoing is never a good place to go.  To question God's justice is to reveal one's own ignorance.

Job cries out, "If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God's rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more.  Then I would speak up without fear of Him" (9:33-35).   Job wants someone to stand between him and God and to bring reconciliation.  He could not know God's plan to do exactly that because the reality is, even though Job misunderstood what was happening to him and why, he NEEDED a Mediator.

You and I need a Mediator, too ... but not to persuade God to be merciful.  He already IS merciful, and it was His love that sent His own Son to BE our Mediator, to pay our debt and to reconcile us to the Father.  "God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them ... We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.  We beg you on Christ's behalf:  Be reconciled to God!"  (II Corinthians 5:19-20).

Knowing God as He reveals Himself in His Word is necessary to avoid the reaction of Job ... to question God, to engage in self-pity and to end up being afraid of God rather than loving God.  Jesus does what Job was asking for:  He removes God's rod so that His terror does not frighten us and enables us to speak of God without fear!!  Job needed Jesus ... and so do you and I.  Praise God for the gift of His Son and for the knowledge He gives to those who seek Him.

"Lord God Almighty, I seek You and desire to know You above all else.  My heart yearns for You, my God.  You are worthy of praise and I thank You for Your providence, for Your salvation, for Your Son!! In Jesus, I come to You without fear, knowing You are a God of holiness and justice, but also a God of compassion, mercy and grace.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Two groups of people in the world ... which group are YOU in?"

Day #32:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 29th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 12 - 14 ...

There are two groups of people in the world:  those who have believed in the one true God, our Creator, and those who haven't.  Today we know that God revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ and that only those who believe in Jesus are God's people - His children.  I know the world says this is not true, declaring that all people are God's children, but God says otherwise.  Why is that important?  Because as you read these two Psalms the only way to understand what David was talking about is to realize the distinction between these two groups of people.

He begins Psalm 12 by declaring that there are hardly any godly people left. "Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception" (12:2).  These people declare that they can say whatever they want ("freedom of speech"???) ... "We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips - who is our master?" (12:4).  Such is the pride of those who do not know God.

David goes on to describe what I understand took place at the Grammy Awards this past weekend:  "The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men" (12:8).  Satanic rituals, witchcraft and sexual immorality are not only accepted today, but promoted.  God is watching.

But there is another group of people who grieve over the sin within themselves and in the world.  These cry out to God and declare:  "I will trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation.  I will sing to the LORD, for He has been good to me" (13:5-6).  Such is the hope of those who know the God of salvation.

On the contrary, "the fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'  They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good" (14:1).  The Apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 14:2-3 when he declares that there are none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10).  Yet, "God is present in the company of the righteous" (14:5) ... those who are declared righteous by God through faith in the coming Savior, the One we know as Jesus, the Christ.

As David contemplates these two groups, he utters an amazing prayer:  "Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!" (14:7).  WE know that salvation DID come from Zion, from Jerusalem, from the house of  David.  Jesus was descended from Abraham, from Isaac, from Jacob, from Judah and from David.  God heard David's prayer and He will also fulfill the final hope of Psalm 14:  "When the LORD restores the fortunes of His people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!"  When will that happen?  When Jesus returns.  Those who are "HIS PEOPLE" look forward to His coming.

So which group are you in?  The differences could not be greater - now and in the future.  I pray that you have come to know God, to believe in His Son Jesus Christ, to trust His unfailing love and to rejoice in HIs salvation, for then you will not be overcome by the enemies of your soul, but will find your refuge in God alone!!

"Heavenly Father, as I watch with sorrow the spread of evil and darkness all around, I confess that I, too, am a sinner and am unworthy of Your love.  But I believe in YOU!!  I rest in Your love through Your Son Jesus Christ and trust in Your mercy, grace and forgiveness.  Thank You, O God, for Your precious promises, for sending the Savior out of Zion, and for the promise of eternal life with You!  I give You my praise ... I give You my life, today and every day.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, January 27, 2014

"Fear the LORD ... and serve Him ..."

Day #31:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 28th

Scripture Reading:  Joshua 21 - 24 ...

GOD says that He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5).  We think of jealousy being a bad thing, but God's jealousy is different.  God alone is worthy of love, praise and worship, and when people reject the one, true God and give their worship to other "gods," God's wrath comes - always.  More and more I am feeling like a prophet, being compelled to speak what I wish were not true:  that God's wrath and coming judgment will soon descend upon our nation and perhaps soon on the nations of the earth.  We worry about terrorism, and rightly so, but those who worship the false gods of religion, power and all kinds of materialism will discover that GOD cannot be mocked ... God WILL NOT be mocked.  When political leaders and preachers take the name of "God" in vain, He does not hold them guiltless.

Joshua 21-24 reveal two things very clearly:  God keeps His promises to those who are His and He is to be feared.  "Not one of all the LORD's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled" (21:25).  "You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed.  Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed" (23:14).  But then Joshua warns Israel that God will bring all the evil He has threatened upon them if they violate the covenant God has made with them, the LORD's anger will burn against them and they will quickly perish from the land He had given them.

When the tribes on the western side of the Jordan thought the tribes on the east were setting up an altar to worship God the way they wanted to, rather than how God had told them to, they were afraid that God would once again judge ALL of Israel for the sins of some, as He had done before.  They feared the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They were willing to go to war against their brothers if it meant avoiding God's wrath.

Today, few seem to care about devotion to the God who has revealed Himself throughout history as our Creator.  If you were God ... what would YOU do?  Oh, God is love!  Yes, and that's why He sent Jesus to bear His WRATH against the sins of those who believe.  All those who believe in Jesus will be SAVED ... from what?  His wrath, His judgment.  How quickly people pick and choose what they want to believe about God, and how quickly people turn to other gods or mix the worship of the true God with the worship of gods made in the image of men.

Listen carefully to Joshua's challenge to the people:  "Now fear the LORD and serve Him with all faithfulness.  Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD" (24:14-15).  The people said they would serve the LORD ("I AM") ... but they didn't ... and judgment soon followed.

People in West Michigan, like people all over the world, have turned away from God and think nothing of it ... ... and think nothing of it ... but God does.  For nearly 2,000 years God has been holding out His hand, offering forgiveness and salvation to those who believe in His Son Jesus Christ, who enter into covenant with their Creator by faith in Him alone.  Have you found your refuge in Him?  He calls us to surrender our lives to the One who gave His life for us and to find hope, joy and peace in Him.  May His Spirit open your heart and mind to the truth of God's Word and make you an ambassador of His kingdom today and every day, for He alone is worthy to be worshiped!

"Lord God Almighty, You alone are worthy of our worship and our praise.  You are to be feared ... and yet, through faith in Your Son, Jesus, fear is replaced by love.  Oh, amazing grace!  Thank You for Your faithfulness in keeping every promise you have ever made.  The future is glorious for those whose hope is in You!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

Day #30:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 27th

Scripture Reading:  Genesis 16 - 19 ...

A little more than 4,000 years ago, some two thousand years after God created mankind on the earth, the stage was set for the Middle East conflict that continues to this day:  the descendants of Ishmael against the descendants of Isaac.  It is true that Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the world's three monotheistic religions, all trace their origin to Abraham's offspring, but Islam did NOT originate from Abraham's GOD!  And Judaism and Christianity are NOT two distinct and separate religions ... Christianity is the fulfillment of true, biblical Judaism ... which pointed ahead to the coming Savior, the Messiah, the Christ.

This means that the Bible is the only insight we have into the plan of God for the human race!  God chose Abraham and He then chose Isaac and He then chose Jacob and from him came the nation of Israel, God's chosen people.  In Genesis 15 we saw God establish His Covenant of Grace with Abraham and his descendants, promising to be their God, to give them the land of Canaan, to multiply Abraham's descendants and to bless all nations on the earth through the Seed of Abraham, the coming Savior.  God miraculously gave a child to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, displaying His power even in this way.  And through Isaac the descendants of Abraham would be numbered, as we saw just yesterday in Romans 9.

What does all of this mean for you and me today?  In order to be safe from God's judgment you must believe in God's promises through faith in Abraham's "Seed," Jesus Christ.  Sodom and Gomorrah really happened.  Jesus refers to it in Matthew 10 and again in Matthew 11.  Jesus says it will be more tolerable on the day of God's judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for those who reject the Gospel and who reject HIM!

People continue to believe that God's mercy extends to all people, but Abraham's conversation with God in Genesis 18 makes it clear that what the Bible teaches from beginning to end is true:  there are NONE that are righteous ... not even ONE!  (Romans 3:10).  Abraham struggled with the thought that God would carry out His judgment on Lot and his family, so he asked God if He would spare the city for 50, then 45, then 40, then 30, then 20, then 10!!  God agreed, for He knew that there were exactly ZERO righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah.  Lot and his daughters (his sons-in-law-to-be refused to leave and his wife was turned into a pillar of salt), were not saved because they were righteous, but because of Abraham's plea for them.

"Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"  Yes!  If there were even ONE righteous person, they would be spared from God's judgment, but there is not.  We need a Savior, and biblical Judaism pointed to His coming ... then the followers of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, became the first Christians.  We live in the age of fulfillment spoken of in the Gospels.  We live in the "day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2) ... the day when God's grace is being offered to the nations.

Do not receive God's grace in vain.  Believe in Jesus.  Trust in Him ... live for Him ... and you can know that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is with you now, and that when your life in this world is over, you will be with Him - in the promised land of the new heaven and the new earth - forever!!  And it all began here in Genesis.  The conflict in the Middle East will only be resolved when Jesus returns to bring judgment on those who do not know Him.  Do YOU know Him today?

"Heavenly Father, Your wisdom surpasses the wisdom of man at every turn.  While people question the truth of Your Word, Your Spirit opens the minds and hearts of those whom You have chosen to believe all You have said and moves us by Your grace to come to You through the promised Seed of Abraham, Jesus, the Christ, the eternal Son of the One, True and Living God!  We praise You today, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, January 25, 2014

"God's sovereign choice ..."

Day #29:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 26th

Scripture Reading:  Romans 9 - 10 ...

I'll tell you from the start that most people do not understand Romans 9-10.  It's not because it's not clear, but because it does not "fit" with what people want to believe - about God, about salvation, about mankind.  Yet it is here in Romans 9 and 10 that God explains His plan to save those who believe more clearly than anywhere else in the entire Bible.  Read these chapters carefully and put them in the context of the previous eight chapters.

All of mankind, every single person, has sinned against God and deserves His judgment.  God is loving and compassionate, but He is also just, holy and righteous.  He is storing up His wrath, even as we see evidence of His judgment today (1:18-2:5).  Through the suffering of Jesus on the cross and in the Gospel God offers a perfect righteousness by faith, not by works (3:21-24).  "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ" (6:23).  And because those without the Spirit are spiritually dead and unable to please God (8:8), God has determined to choose a remnant to be saved.  This is what many people have a hard time accepting ... that God would choose some, and not others.

As you read Chapter 9, the Apostle Paul uses Isaac, and then his sons, Jacob and Esau, as illustrations of the principle of God's sovereign choice.  God chose to number Abraham's descendants through Isaac, and then He chose Jacob instead of Esau - even before they were born!  "It does not depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy" (9:16).  So here's a question:  Does God have the "right" to show mercy to whom He wants to show mercy and to have compassion on those whom He chooses?  Be careful how you answer!

Remember when Isaiah wrote in Chapter 55 that God's ways are higher than our ways!!  Well, undoubtedly, he was referring to God's sovereign choice and the power of His Word to bring life from death.  The truth that God reveals is that He is currently "putting up with" most of the human race in order "to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory" (9:23) ... those whom He has called and is calling through the Gospel.

"Only the remnant will be saved" (9:27) ... the remnant of Israel and those whom God will call from the Gentiles.  Everyone who comes to God comes the same way:  by faith (9:31; 10:8-10, 17).  "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (10:13), and God knows who these are because He is the One who chose them! (Ephesians 1:4).

When I preached on these chapters recently I asked a question:  "Will you let God be God?"  If you believe in Jesus Christ and have eternal life through faith in Him it is because God chose you to be His.  Give Him praise.  If you have not yet believed in Jesus, God may be calling you at this moment to stop trying to earn His favor and to trust in Jesus Christ.  "It does not depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy" (9:16).  Today is the day of salvation and if you will call on the name of Jesus you will be saved!

May God use His glorious truth to bring comfort and assurance to those who are in Christ, as we praise and glorify our great God and Savior.  And may He use this truth to call others to Himself, knowing that it is by grace, through the power of His Word that God calls His children to Himself.

"Heavenly Father, Your Word brings light into the darkness and life in the midst of all the death and destruction around us.  You alone are God and we who have received Your mercy give thanks to You for Your sovereign choice.  We confess that there was nothing in us that caused You to choose us ... so all that we can say is, 'Hallelujah!'  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, January 24, 2014

"The healing power of Jesus …"

Day #28:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 25th

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 8 - 10 …

As you read these chapters it is easy to see why people then and now tend to focus on the power of Jesus to heal every disease and to cast out evil spirits.  There is nothing Jesus cannot do, from healing the sick to raising the dead, from calming the storm to casting out demons.  But ultimately, that's not why He came!

What is of greater importance in these chapters and throughout the Gospels is the central purpose of Jesus' coming, of His life and ministry, and of God's sending His Son into the world:  Forgiveness!  Those who had faith in Jesus, who believed that He could heal them of their diseases in this world, or even raise the dead, were healed.  Notice that Jesus told them repeatedly, "Don't tell anyone!" Of course, they did and news spread throughout the countryside that this man was able to heal diseases.

In what is perhaps the key phrase in these chapters, Jesus says to the teachers of the law who questioned how He could say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven,"  … "So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins … Get up, take your mat and go home!" (9:6).  Later, when at the home of Matthew, the tax collector, and again hearing the criticism of the Pharisees because he was eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus said, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (9:13).

Many people today continue to be focused on physical healing as an essential part of the ministry of the Gospel and of those who are disciples of Jesus.  Some debate the issue by pointing to what Jesus did and then at what He told the disciples to do in Chapter 10.  He "gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness" (10:1).  Having no great desire to enter into that debate, I will simply say that I know Jesus has the power to do the same thing today, and that God still performs miracles and sometimes answers the prayers of His people by bringing miraculous healing and even casting out demons.  God hasn't changed.

But … was that the purpose of Jesus' coming … then or now??  The disciples were going to be entrusted with the Gospel, with the message that has the power to save sinners from the wrath of God, from His eternal judgment.  Jesus tells them that He did not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword (10:34).  The Gospel divides people because it demands a response.  You either believe that Jesus suffered God's wrath on the cross and confess Him as Savior and Lord, thus receiving His forgiveness … or you don't.

Jesus said, "Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (10:38-39).  It is true, you see, that you can be physically healed by Jesus and still face the wrath of God in hell.  The greater thing … the greater gift … the greater purpose of Jesus' coming was His sacrifice on the cross, by which He removed the barrier that stood between us and God and reconciled us to the Father.  When we "lose," when we give up that which we desire in this life, we find true life in Christ.  Jesus may heal our bodies, but He ALWAYS heals the spirits of those who come to Him by faith.

While people clamor to those who claim to offer physical healing, the Gospel offers healing to all who believe.  Paul writes in II Corinthians 12:12:  "The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you."  These things marked the apostles, those who were charged with establishing the Church and to whom was given the Gospel, which alone is "the power of God for the salvation of all who believe" (Romans 1:16).

Praise God for this message that points to Jesus and that carries with it the power to SAVE … to bring spiritual healing to those who were spiritually DEAD in their sin.  As surely as Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead in full sight of witnesses, so He does today through the preaching and teaching of His Word through you and me who believe.  We are the laborers who are sent out into His harvest field and God promises to use us to gather in the final part of the harvest before Jesus comes.

May we be found so doing when our Master returns!

"Father, how can we thank You for healing our sinful hearts and minds through the truth of Your Word?  Draw us to find in the Gospel the healing we need and to proclaim to all that Jesus is willing to heal THEM!  Then You will be glorified and Your kingdom will come in our midst.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"What does the future hold?"

Day #27:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 24th

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 18-22 ...

As you and I live in this world we all have our frustrations.  Some of them are minor things, while others occupy our minds and hearts and weigh upon us.  It seems that life is filled with unexpected events and we get easily stressed by what we perceive to be injustice in the world.  You may experience it at work or in your personal relationships with others, even in your family or in the church.  So how can you be optimistic about the future?  We have just begun a new year and already we are approaching the end of the first month ... what lies ahead?

Many people are looking forward to the Olympic Games, and yet even there we hear of the threat of terrorist attacks.  I know of people who are looking forward to some difficult times in their lives with regard to their health or their finances or their family situations.  Where can you and I turn for hope?

Well, at first glance, it is NOT Isaiah 18-22!!  These chapters, along with most of Isaiah 1-39, pronounce judgment on nation after nation, indeed, as we will see in our next reading, upon the entire planet!  There is not much encouragement in these chapters.  In fact, the word "terror" and words like it are used several times.  Judgment is going to fall even on Judah, and God says why:  "You did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago" (22:11).  And several times Isaiah writes, "The LORD has spoken!"  It is set.  It is going to happen.

As I watch the world scene and hear the reports of what is happening among some of the most prominent nations in the world, I often think about what the future holds - perhaps the near future ... and in one word, it is judgment.  I see God's wrath even now being poured out in so many ways upon the peoples of the earth, but they refuse to acknowledge the reason for their misery.  And here, in what is arguably the most outwardly blessed nation in the world, people in record numbers ignore the God from whom all blessings flow.

Judgment is coming on this world - GOD's judgment.  He will not hold His wrath forever.  It will be poured out as certainly as Jesus will return to rescue His Church, His Bride.  And here is where we find hope.  Justice WILL come and those who look to themselves or the world or other gods for escape will not find it.  OUR hope is in the LORD, the Great "I AM,"  the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  While people try to unite all mankind into one global community and seek to establish a "religion" where each person is free to believe what they want about "god," or a "higher being" ... or not to believe at all ... God is not mocked.  Everything that Isaiah predicts will come to pass just as God says it will.

Where do YOU find encouragement, comfort and hope?  I want to race through Isaiah to Chapter 40 because I know what God says there (you can take a peek if you need to!).  Our comfort is in the LORD Almighty and in knowing Him there IS hope ... for today, for tomorrow ... for forever!!

"Father, today is a gift from You, to be used for You.  Help me, today, to give my life to You and to find in You my hope, my strength and my JOY!!  For You ARE my joy.  In the mighty name of Jesus, Amen!"

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Unanswered questions …"

Day #26:  Daily Bible Reading - January 23rd

Scripture Reading:  Job 7 - 8 …

Job needed to hear the Gospel!!  Job was reaching the low point of human tolerance for his struggles.  Having lost his children and his possessions and being struck with severe physical and emotional pain, Job was almost ready to take his wife's advice:  "Curse God and die!" (2:9).  Job had responded to her then, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (2:10).  But after seven days and nights of the silence of his friends and repeated accusations of wrongdoing and of God's punishment, Job was ready to throw in the towel.

As you read Chapter 7 Job's thoughts and feelings may sound familiar, if not to you, then to others you may know.  "When I lie down I think, 'How long before I get up?' The night drags on and I toss till dawn" (7:4).  "My eyes will never see happiness again" (7:7).  "I despise my life; I would not live forever … my days have no meaning" (7:16).  But all of Job's agony rests in some serious unanswered questions:  "If I have sinned, what have I done to you? …  Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins?" (7:20-21).

How many believers have had moments where their temporary trials cause severe questions to rise in their hearts and minds - questions that demand answers, that need answers!  Job knew he was a sinner; he knew he was not perfect, yet he also knew that he had sought the Lord and that he had lived with a heart for God.  And GOD knew that, too!  Wasn't it that very thing that had caused God to say to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job?  There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil" (1:8).

What Job needed was to hear the Gospel!  He needed to be reminded of God's goodness and love and grace, and in Chapter 8, Bildad gives to Job a glimpse of God's good news … but first he starts out with another accusation.  In verse 4 he suggests that Job's children sinned and God punished them - that's why they all died.  Really?  This man has lost everything and has no one to encourage him and this is the best you can do?  People who know God and who are going through difficult times need to hear some good news … not empty promises, but truth from God Himself.

Bildad at least offers a glimpse of what God can do, perhaps in an effort to pull Job out of his pity party.  "If you will look to God and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now He will rouse Himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place.  Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be" (8:5-7).  If you look at the end of Job you might think Bildad was a prophet, for this is precisely what happened.

In fact, Bildad urges Job to learn from former generations and confirms that those who forget God have no hope and in the end they will perish. (8:13).  He concludes:  "Surely God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers.  He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy" (8:20-21).  Not everything Job's friends said was wrong.  They just didn't understand what God was doing and so couldn't and didn't answer Job's deepest question … a question that he repeats at the beginning of Chapter 9:

"Indeed, I know that this is true.  But how can a mortal be righteous before God?" (9:2).  Isn't this the unanswered question of millions all over the world that demands an answer?  How can a sinner like you and me be righteous before God?  The answer, of course - the ONLY answer - is through the promised Savior, the Redeemer … and Job will eventually get there, but not without going through some difficult and unnecessary turmoil.

If you feel like Job, remember that God has dealt with sin once and for all in the cross of Jesus for all who believe in Him.  By faith we know that God does not leave us in the midst of our struggles.  He is faithful - ALWAYS faithful.  No matter what you may feel or what others may say, keep your eyes on the One who promises to be with you always and never, never, never leave you.  Trust in Him and He WILL deliver you - in His time and in His way ... and for HIS glory!

"O LORD, our God, early in the morning, our songs shall rise to Thee!  You are worthy of our trust and our obedience.  When walking through the storm, remind us that the darkness is as light to You and help us to set our hearts on things above, for our God is with us.  Through Your Son we are righteous in Your sight by grace through faith.  Thank You, Father!!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"In spite of what you see … Jesus IS on the throne!"

Day #25:  Daily Bible Reading - January 22nd

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 9 - 11 …

"The LORD reigns forever!" (9:7).  What comforting words to those who know who "the LORD" is … the God of creation, the great "I AM!"  How important is it to you that there is one true God, that you know Him and that He reigns over all things - for your good and for His glory?  How would your life be different if that weren't true?

We've already seen in the Psalms that David and the other writers of the Psalms express the raw emotion of life in this world.  Yet they continually point to a God who is righteous and just, who is ruling over the affairs of men.  Psalm 9 points out the contrast between those whom the Lord has declared righteous and those who are wicked.  There are two distinct groups of people in the world today, as there have always been:  those who know the true God and who by faith in the Savior believe in forgiveness and eternal life as a gift from God, and those who reject God, who reject the Bible as His Word and who reject Jesus as the Savior.  "You have blotted out their name for ever and ever" (9:5).

How much better to sing God's praises and to rejoice in the Lord, knowing, believing that He reigns.  He is God, and there is no other.  Only when you KNOW that, can you look at every day as an opportunity to serve Him, to endure trials and to overcome by His power, and to testify that HE is God.  There will be times like Psalm 10, when it seems as though the Lord is standing far off - just watching while evil goes from bad to worse.  There will be times when you pray, "Arise, LORD!  Lift up your hand, O God!" (10:12).

Yet, even then, the Psalmist writes, "The LORD is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from His land.  You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; You encourage them, and You listen to their cry" (10:16-17).  So, "in the LORD I take refuge" (11:1).  Is that where you are finding refuge?  When the storms come, when faced with trials, when you are feeling overwhelmed, where do you go?  Do you panic?  Do you turn to the distractions of the world and indulge yourself in self-pity or try to "drown your sorrows" in some worthless activity?

David asks, "When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (11:3).  The answer:  "The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD is on His heavenly throne" (11:4).  We can declare the truth that in spite of what we see, "Our God reigns!"  God has not forgotten those who trust in Him.  The foundations of our nation are being destroyed today, from outside the church and from within.  But the LORD is still in His holy temple … He dwells with His people.  His Spirit lives within us.  "Greater is He that is in US, than he that is in the world" (I John 4:4).  Judgment WILL come, sooner rather than later, but "upright men will see His face" (11:7).

Those who are "upright" are not those who are perfect, for none of us qualify, but rather, those who seek the LORD, who trust in Him by faith in His Son Jesus Christ, and who desire to love, honor and obey HIM, our God.  For these, for you and me, faith means trusting our God and living for Him no matter what our circumstances.  HE is our Rock, our Fortress, our Shield, our Defender, our Deliverer, our Refuge … and so much more.  REST in Him today and do not allow the wicked to overcome you, to discourage you or to cause you to fear.  When the foundations are being destroyed … JESUS is still on the throne!!

"My Father and my God, help me today to trust in You.  I see evil all around me and I know that without You I would be among the wicked.  I entrust myself to You, confessing my sin, trusting in Your forgiveness and desiring that my life may be a light in the darkness, pointing others to You.  I praise You for revealing Yourself to me and I thank You for Your faithfulness!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, January 20, 2014

"The Promised Land ..."

Day #24:  Daily Bible Reading - January 21st

Scripture Reading:  Joshua 16 - 20 ...

The division of the land continues as each of Jacob's sons (and the two sons of Joseph: Manasseh and Ephraim) receive an inheritance in the promised land of Canaan, the land God had promised to Abraham and his descendants more than 400 years before.  Tribe by tribe, name by name, the land is assigned.  It is like the reading of a will and all who are part of Abraham's family receive their share of the inheritance.  There are a number of very important things to consider from these chapters.

First, the inheritance comes from God.  This was not Abraham's land.  Remember that God had told Abraham to leave his father's house and land and go to the place He would show him (Genesis 12:1).  Because the inheritance came from God, the very basis for the inheritance was GRACE.  The people of Israel did not choose this land for themselves or do anything to deserve this land - it was a gift from God.

Second, the detail of the division of the land reveals that God knows each name and the place of each.  It is as Paul says to the men of Athens in Acts 17:  "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.  And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.  From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live" (Acts 17:24-26).

All of this points to another promised land and another inheritance that God has promised to those who are part of Abraham's family by faith in the "Seed" of Abraham, Jesus, the Christ.  God's Word points to a new heaven and a new earth.  The new "heaven" is the atmosphere and space around a planet created by the Word of God, and the new earth is ... well, a new planet.  Some believe that God is going to simply improve THIS planet, but II Peter 3 says that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. ...  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. BUT in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness" (II Peter 3:10, 12-13).

God will do what He says He will do.  Even the "cities of refuge" remind us that God knows the heart and offers forgiveness to those who draw near to Him.  Always, we look forward to God's promises only through faith in Jesus Christ, knowing that the promises of God come to us through our relationship with Jesus.  It is to those who believe in Jesus that the promises are given - not to all.  GRACE is given to those whom God chooses and to us the inheritance comes.  A thankful, heartfelt response of a life lived for God is the only response worthy of God's love and promises.

"Father in heaven, the joy of knowing You and being part of Your family cannot be compared to anything this world offers.  I thank You for setting Your love on Me, for saving Me through the sacrifice of Jesus, and for Your wonderful promises of a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness, where You will live WITH us - forever!!!"  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"THE Covenant ... "

Day #23:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 20th

Scripture Reading:  Genesis 12 - 15 ...

Genesis 12 - 15 forms the foundation for God's plan of salvation throughout the rest of the Bible ... throughout the rest of history, until the return of Jesus Christ.  Without these chapters the rest of the book of Genesis, the remainder of the Old Testament and the entire New Testament would be impossible to understand and to tie together.  Without these chapters and God's promises to Abraham, the wisdom and glory of a sovereign God who orders all things according to His plan cannot be seen in all their beauty.

The New Testament begins this way:  "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the Son of David, the son of Abraham ..." (Matthew 1:1).  And the Apostle Paul explains the relationship of believers to God in his letter to the Galatians by saying, "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29).  What promise?  The promises of God's Covenant of Grace.  In verse 16 of Galatians 3, Paul explains that the promises were spoken to Abraham and the inheritance of the land, the promise that God would be a God to him and to his descendants, the promise that his descendants would be as the stars of the sky and the sand of the seashore, and the promise that all nations would be blessed through him ... ALL of the promises would come through the "SEED" of Abraham - JESUS!

God chose Abram (father of a nation) ... Abram did not choose God.  God would later change his name to Abraham, (father of nations).  Clearly, God was with Abraham through the twists and turns of life in this world.  But the key to the covenant God made with Abram  is found in Genesis 15, verse 6.  God had promised Abram many descendants, but Abram was getting old and still had no son, no heir.  God told him to look at the stars of the sky and said, "Count the stars - if indeed you can count them ... So shall your offspring be" (15:5).  Then THE verse ... the verse that lies at the center of the Gospel ... that leads to the coming of the Savior and the gathering of people from every nation into the Church, the body of Christ:  "Abram believed the LORD, and He (the LORD) credited to him (Abram) as righteousness" (Verse 6).

"Credited to him as righteousness!"  Abram wasn't righteous.  YOU aren't righteous.  I'm not righteous, but God's promise to Abram ... to Abraham and all who believe in the promised SEED of Abraham - JESUS - is that God "credits" righteousness to them by faith in Jesus.  Paul explains in Romans 4:16 that "the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring - not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.  As it is written: 'I have made you a father of many nations'" (Romans 4:16-17).

By faith in Jesus believers are righteous before God and heirs of eternal life!  Understanding the Bible begins here.  Understanding God's plan in our world today revolves around God's fulfillment to the promises He made to Abraham, then to Isaac and to Jacob ... and in Jesus, to us!  Rejoice in the LORD and live daily to serve Him, knowing that by faith YOU are a member of THE Covenant!!

"Heavenly Father, Your wisdom and power are seen throughout all creation.  In Your covenant with Abraham You have revealed Your plan to gather a people to belong to You and to proclaim Your name to all the earth.  May we be found carrying out Your purpose as we proclaim the name of Jesus to all, rejoicing in being children of Abraham!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"God's goal for believers: Present and Future"

Day #22:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 19th

Scripture Reading:  Romans 7 - 8 ...

"Today" ... it's such a common word, but it carries with it so many amazing things when you look at it from the perspective of God's presence, of His promises, of His work in your life and in the world ... "And we KNOW that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to HIS purpose" (8:28).  And here's the good part:  God TELLS us what His purpose is!!

"For those God foreknew (those He chose in Christ before the foundation of the world - Ephesians 1:4) He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son" (8:29).  All that God is doing TODAY is designed to accomplish His purpose in you and me who believe in His Son.

Chapters 7-8 of Paul's letter to the Romans continues Paul's explanation of the Gospel and its impact on the lives of those who are born again by the Spirit of God and united to Christ by faith.  A key verse in Chapter 7 is verse 6:  "But now, by dying to what once bound us (the power of the written code to condemn us) we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."

The law pronounces judgment on all who do not keep it - perfectly!  But Jesus kept the law perfectly in our place and bore God's wrath against our sin, satisfying God's justice and freeing us from the just condemnation of God's law.  His righteousness is now "credited" (Chapter 4) to our account.  I don't have to try to keep God's law now to avoid condemnation.  I don't have to try to obey because I have to - or else!  I am free - not only from the guilt of the law, but also, by the work of God's Spirit in me, from the POWER of the law and the sinful nature that takes the law and rebels against it.

I now "delight in God's law" (7:21).  In my mind, I WANT to obey God - I really do!!  "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!" (8:1).  Further, Jesus gave Himself as a "sin offering ... in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met" IN ME ... and IN YOU ... "who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit" (8:3-4).  Oh, amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

Life "in the Spirit" means I can pray, "Abba, Father," and know that I am one of His children and that He is going to finish what He began.  When I get down on myself and feel like I am so far from where I want to be spiritually, in my walk with Christ, I can rest in His love and grace, knowing that NOTHING can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, my Savior and Lord (8:37-39).

God's plan to have a people who are conformed to the image of His Son will happen - it will take place ... and I am one of God's children, an "heir of God and co-heir with Christ" (8:17).  All of creation awaits the day when this process is completed at the resurrection of the dead.  Until then ... until then, I have TODAY ... this day, to live for my "Abba, Father," to live with Christ as His Spirit lives within me.  I thank Him that I see His power at work in me and I draw near to Him, praying, believing that He will never let me go.

May this hope be yours TODAY ... for "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not yet see" (Hebrews 11:1).  "TODAY is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24)!

"Heavenly Father, the promises of Your Word and the work of Your Spirit within me cause me to live with hope today as I serve You no longer under the old way of the law, but in the new way of the Spirit, who lives within Me.   THANK YOU for delivering me from my bondage to the sinful nature, for giving me new life in Christ, and for Your promise to MAKE ME LIKE JESUS!!  I am Yours - now and forever.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, January 17, 2014

"The Sermon on the Mount …"

Day #21:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 18th

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 5 - 7 …

Understanding everything Jesus preached in His Sermon on the Mount requires looking at the whole thing as one message.  He speaks about so many different things, so it is important to consider what Jesus wanted the people to remember … What did He want them to "take away" with them and apply to their lives?  Several things jump out:

First, to be a disciple of Jesus you need to have the big picture in mind!  You need to look beyond the immediate and understand that life is more than the here and now, more than what you can see in the present.  In His "Beatitudes" in Chapter 5:3-12, Jesus redefines what it means to be "blessed."  To be "blessed" means that you are part of God's eternal kingdom and no matter what you may have or not have in THIS life and in THIS world, your inheritance will be your reward.

In fact, Jesus uses the word, "reward," several times.  In Chapter 6 He promises that the Father, who sees what you do in secret, will reward you.  Disciples of Jesus do not live in this life in order to GET in this life.  We are here to serve the Lord, to obey His commands out of love, because we WANT to, not because we HAVE to.  We are the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world."  Our goal is to praise our Father in heaven, in order that "HIS kingdom may come and HIS will be done" (6:10).

Second, to be a disciple of Jesus you need to avoid hypocrisy.  Doing things to be seen by others to receive praise for yourself reveals an inner self that has taken the broad road that leads to destruction.  Hypocrisy is so deadly that many will claim to be followers of Jesus on judgment day, but He will say, "I never knew you.  Away from Me you evildoers" (7:23).  Fulfilling the law is more than externals.  God's standard is perfection:  "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (5:48). God's righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and no one can meet God's standard.  Only by receiving the perfect righteousness of Christ by faith can anyone stand before God and be received into His presence.

That's why we must enter the kingdom through the small gate and walk the narrow road.  While Jesus doesn't mention faith, His sermon coincides with what James writes later:  "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (James 2:17).  So Jesus says that "a good tree will bear good fruit, and a bad tree will bear bad fruit" (7:17).  The one who is seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, trusting in the grace of God and the forgiveness that is ours by faith in the Savior, will hear God's Word and do it, thus building their lives on the ROCK that cannot be moved.  What is on the inside will reveal itself on the outside.

Life lived in this way is a life lived with our hearts and minds on things above, where Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father (Colossians 3:1-2).  "Storing up treasures in heaven" brings joy to life even in this world, for we know what lies ahead and can live in thankful obedience for God's gift of grace, even when persecuted or facing trials.  May our risen Lord, Himself, speak to your heart as you hear His Word and DO it!!

"Father in heaven, I thank You for the truth of Your Word and for the privilege of being a disciple of Jesus.  Let me live to honor Your name and to seek first Your kingdom.  Help me to serve you with perseverance, to forgive as You have forgiven Me, and to lay up treasures in heaven as I walk the narrow road that leads to life, by Your grace and by Your power, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Will you be found praising God when judgment comes?"

Day #20:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 17th

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 12-17 ...

Reading Isaiah ... especially Isaiah 1-39, can become like a doomsday novel.  The only difference is that this is God's Word and everything that God prophesies for the future WILL happen.  In the earlier chapters God interrupts His pronouncements of judgment with glimpses of future glory for Israel, but these become more difficult to find in these chapters.

Chapter 12 is a bright spot!  "In that day" refers to the deliverance of God's people described in Chapter 11.  Those who experience God's deliverance will praise Him as they "draw water from the wells of salvation" (12:3).   They will give thanks to God and make His name known among the nations.  All of this should be a clear reminder that God's purpose throughout all of history is to make Himself known.  Jesus said, "This is eternal life:  that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. ... I have revealed You to those whom You have given me" (John 17:3,6).

Chapters 13 - 17 speak of God's overwhelming judgment on the nations around Israel and Judah.  What strikes me is the absolute control God has over the nations of the earth.  Imagine yourself living in the days of Isaiah.  To say it was chaotic would be an understatement.  It was a violent time, much worse even than today.  You would have been hard-pressed to find peace and tranquility anywhere.  Rulers came and went and struggled for power and wealth, and in the midst of it all were Israel and Judah.  Israel would be defeated by the Assyrians, but God had plans for Judah ... for from them would come the Savior of the world!

Don't miss the control God has over all of this, for the same is true today.  In the days of Isaiah the nations were being aligned as God intended for the coming of the Savior and the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world.  Today the nations are being aligned for the rise of the antichrist and then the return of Jesus.  As certainly as the prophecies of the destruction of the nations who came against Israel were God's pronouncements of judgment, their final destruction lies in the near future ... and our own nation is not immune to God's just judgment.

Satan's destruction is foretold in Chapter 14, verses 12-17, and along with him the kings of the nations. No power will stand against the wrath of the Almighty.  "This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations.  For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart Him?  His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?" (14:26-27).  Yet, there is hope:  "In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it - one from the house of David" (16:5).

God never leaves those who trust in Him without hope - NEVER!  "In that day men will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel" (Isaiah 17:7).  You can do that today!  Our hope is in God, our Savior.  As you watch the nations of the earth jockey for power and position, as economies hang on the precipice of collapse, as politicians and religious leaders seek to use their own power and wisdom to "save the world," there is ONE Savior, and His name is Jesus!  Place your hope in Him today and do not fear, for there will come a day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that JESUS IS LORD!!

"Father, I thank you for the hope that You give, even in the midst of the pronouncement of Your judgment and wrath.  You alone are God and there is no other.  I place my hope and my trust in YOU, O God.  I rejoice in You, my God and my Savior.  In the name of Your Son, Jesus, Amen"

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"You need to LISTEN!"

Day #19:  Daily Bible Reading - January 16th

Scripture Reading:  Job 5 - 6 ...

Job was hurting ... understandably so; yet he maintained his faith in God.  Not until his three friends came and remained silent for seven days, weeping and wailing upon seeing Job in such misery, yet saying nothing to comfort or encourage him, that Job began to feel sorry for himself and to question what God was doing.  Surely his friends would now come to his rescue - pointing him to the God who never abandons His children.  But no such comfort was forthcoming!

Instead, Eliphaz speaks without understanding and places himself in the role of God.  It is a temptation for many of us when speaking with people who are suffering to assume that we know what they are thinking and what they need to hear to move forward.  Job's friends should have immediately pointed Job to his faithful God and encouraged him in his faith.  Even when Job wished that he had never been born, they had the opportunity to correct Job without judging him ... but instead, they began to speak without wisdom OR compassion.

Eliphaz assumes that Job must not be innocent in this.  He says some things that are true:  "Who, being innocent, has ever perished?  Where were the upright ever destroyed?" (4:7)  In Chapter 5, he brands Job a "fool" (5:2-3), and tells him to lay his cause before the Lord, but to accept the Lord's discipline (5:8,17).  If, indeed, Job was being disciplined by God, this was fair advice ... but he wasn't.  Eliphaz made an assumption that many make today.  Since no one is without sin, it is easy to assume that most or all suffering is discipline from the Lord, but it isn't!  Certainly, that is not the case with Job in his current situation.

Eliphaz declares, "We have examined this, and it is true. So hear it and apply it to yourself" (5:27).  That may have been a popular saying, but in this situation it comes across as arrogant and judgmental.  In response, Job seems to accept that God is disciplining him and he grieves his present circumstances.  Still, he does not want to deny God's words (6:10).  He confesses that he cannot help himself (6:13), and virtually begs for support from his friends, but considers them "undependable"(6:15) and so feels more alone than before they came.  "Now you too have proved to be of no help; you see something dreadful and are afraid" (6:21).

What were Job's friends afraid of?  Maybe they were afraid that they were going to have to care for Job or perhaps they were afraid that if this could happen to Job, it could happen to them!  People who are suffering need wisdom, and the only way to have the necessary wisdom to speak a message from God is to listen - really listen - to the person who is suffering AND to God speaking to YOU, so that you can apply God's Word correctly to the situation at hand.  I have made the mistake of speaking too quickly and speaking without wisdom from God.  Encouragement is always helpful.  Pointing people to God is always right.  Beyond that, be careful how you speak, when you speak, what you speak, and God may use you to bring healing to a friend.

"My Father in heaven, You have healed my heart and my soul so often in the midst of suffering and trials.  Now help me to be an agent of healing to those around me as I listen, as I pray and as I share YOUR Word with my friends and brothers and sisters in Christ.  May YOU be glorified through the words you give me to speak.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Knowing where to find your hope!"

Day #18:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 15th

Scripture Reading:  Psalm 6 - 8 …

Knowing where to find HOPE in this world is crucial to every person who is alive!  More and more people face anxiety and despair because they have no hope.  Others pretend that all is well as they live on the edge of a cliff, waiting for the earth to shift.  Worry, fear and despair plague the human race as God's wrath continues to be poured out on a world in rebellion against Him, and we await His final judgment when Jesus returns.  What a desperate state of heart and mind threatens to overwhelm the soul.

But … there IS hope!  David and the other writers of the Psalms knew where to find their hope, and as you read their words the Spirit of God inevitably draws all who know God to His throne, to bow at His feet and to pray, "LORD God Almighty, may Your will be done."  There is no pretending in Psalm 6 and Psalm 7.  Interestingly, both speak of God's wrath.  Psalm 6 begins with the prayer:  "O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.  Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony" (6:1-2).

And in Psalm 7, verse 11, David writes, "God is a righteous Judge, a God who expresses His wrath every day."  David asks for God's deliverance because he knows he has nowhere else to turn.  And notice why he calls on God to deliver him:  "Save me because of your unfailing love" (6:4).  David knew God's love through God's testimony through the prophets, by the testimony of God's Spirit and by God's promise of forgiveness.  David knew himself and David knew his God.  He didn't presume upon God, but rested in God's mercy … on God's willingness to withhold His judgment and to show His grace.

Not everyone knows these things.  "All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed" (6:10).  David declares, "I take refuge in You; save and deliver me …" (7:1).  Where do you find refuge?  Where do you go to rest safely in peace?  "My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart" (7:10).  Not one of us is perfect in all our ways, but those whose hearts desire to praise God and to make Him known … who "give thanks to the LORD because of His righteousness" (7:17), will experience His protection and His peace.

It is in knowing God, then, and trusting in Him, that our hope is found.  That fact should move us to cry out as David does in Psalm 8:  "O LORD, OUR Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"  (8:1,9).  It would be easy to feel like an insignificant speck in an infinite universe - especially today when modern technology shows us the far reaches of God's creation (at least, so we think!).  But David understands God's purpose in creating mankind in His own image:  that we might know and love God, our Creator, and live to serve and praise Him forever.

May you have this hope today and every day as you sing God's praise and as you give thanks to Him for His justice and mercy, and for His grace in Christ Jesus, His Son and our Savior and Lord!

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!  Help me today to find my hope in You and trust that You WILL deliver me as I live to praise You and to serve You, because of Your unfailing love toward me.   In Jesus' name, Amen."

Monday, January 13, 2014

"An inheritance from the Lord ..."

Day #17:  Daily Bible Reading - January 14th

Scripture Reading:  Joshua 11 - 15 ...

As we read further into Joshua's historical recounting of the taking of the promised land he makes it clear that everything was done "as the LORD had commanded."  The LORD said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid of them, because by this time tomorrow I will hand all of them over to Israel, slain" (Joshua 11:6).  Once again, it is vital to understand the spiritual state of those living in the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  ALL mankind exists in utter rebellion against God.  Some rebellion is more obvious, but God says that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and beyond cure.  Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).

Having already destroyed all of mankind in the flood except for Noah and his family, the entire human race owes its every breath to God, their Creator.  If God were to withdraw His presence today people would simply cease to exist.  God owes no one life.  It is only His grace that enables anyone to continue living and if it is His will that life ends, who can judge their Creator (Romans 9:19-21)?  This sounds harsh, yet it is the clear teaching of God's Word.  In His compassion and mercy God today offers forgiveness and life through Jesus Christ, yet those who reject the Gospel or who do not hear the Gospel will face God's just judgment.

The "other side of the coin" is the inheritance that those who are chosen by God receive.  Joshua describes the division of the land in these and the following chapters.  The land is given to the descendants of the sons of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel.  These were (and are) God's chosen people.  We know that it is up to the person who owns the inheritance to give it to whomever they choose, and that is what God does.  Everything is His and He can give it to whomever He pleases.  Therefore, when God promised to give this land to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He made a covenant, a testament, a WILL ... and God keeps His promise.

Understanding this should help believers to look at this world through God's eyes.  The nations of the world and all those who are separated from God by sin have no hope of an inheritance.  Only those who are "in Christ Jesus" will live with God forever in the new heavens and the new earth.  Will YOU be one of them?  God calls out through His Word today and sends His Spirit with His Word to open blind eyes, to unstop deaf ears, to renew dead minds and to change hard hearts.  Have you heard His call?

Do not be one of those who judge God.  Thank God for His grace and obey His command to go into all the world proclaiming the Gospel so that you may be an instrument in His hands, an ambassador of His kingdom, to save some from the judgment they (and we) deserve!

"Father, Your justice is right and Your way is true.  Thank You for sending Your Son to pay the penalty for MY sin, and for all who believe in You through the work of Your Spirit within us.  How amazing is Your grace, O God!!  As I anticipate the inheritance that awaits, help me to be faithful to You as I live in this world.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, January 12, 2014

"From Noah to Abraham ..."

Day #16:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 13th

Scripture Reading:  Genesis 8-11 ...

How do you squeeze millions of years of history into eleven chapters?  How do you go from Adam to Noah to Abraham so quickly?  And more importantly, WHY do you go from Adam to Noah to Abraham so quickly?  The answer is quite easy:  Because the time period covered is hundreds of years, not millions, and because the central figure in the first eleven chapters of Genesis is GOD, not man!

God's purpose from before the creation of the world was to choose some from the human race to spend eternity with Him.  That comes as a shock to many who read the Bible like a mystery novel and who feel free to add their own ending.  It is when you read the Bible as the Word of God - as God revealing Himself to those who are given understanding by His Spirit - that the message of the Bible becomes clear.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world ... in love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ ..."  (Ephesians 1:4-5).  The Bible is God's revelation of His plan to save those whom He has chosen to be His and who will live with Him forever throughout all eternity in a new heaven and a new earth.

When read from this perspective, the events of Genesis 8-11 take on their intended meaning.  God sent the flood because He "saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time" (Genesis 6:5).  Even after the flood, as Noah and his family built an altar and offered a sacrifice to the Lord, God said, "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood" (Genesis 8:21).  But God would carry out His plan ...

God made His covenant with Noah and began to carry out His plan to call a people to belong to Him ... a people through whom the Savior of the world would be born ... and then a people who would be gathered from the nations to be followers of God's Son, the Messiah, the Christ ... They would be called the "ekklesia," the "called-out ones," the Church.

So Genesis 8-11 takes us quickly from Noah to the one man with whom God would make His covenant of grace and to whom He would begin to reveal the ONE way to come to God:  by faith in the promised Savior.  All of this so that today some of you who are reading God's Word would know the truth and be saved from the judgment of God that is soon to come upon the earth and all of mankind.  All of this so that we who believe could spend eternity with the One whom you know as "Abba, Father."

From before God created the earth and the universe around us God knew the number of days, weeks, months and years this earth would exist.  And He placed YOU here at this specific time for His purposes and for His glory.  As you read His Word consider your place in God's plan and praise Him for revealing Himself to YOU!!

"Almighty and everlasting God, the Creator of the earth and everything in it, I thank You for Your Word, for without its truth no one could know You or come to You through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Help me to read and believe all You have revealed as You continue to carry out Your plan in the world today.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"New life in Christ!"

Day #15:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 12th

Scripture Reading:  Romans 5 - 6 ...

Most people know the truth ... deep down in their hearts.  They look at life in this world and they know there is a problem, but try as they might to figure it all out, most never discover what is causing the never-ending dysfunction in their lives.  Yet, here in these two chapters is the key to a new life!!

Having explained that in the Gospel a "righteousness from God" (3:21) has been made known, a righteousness that is received by faith, Paul went on in Chapter 4 to emphasize that God "credits" righteousness to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ.  Now, he goes on to lay out the heart of the Gospel in a way that brings rejoicing to the heart of everyone who has believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord!!

In one word, we have been RECONCILED to God!!  How?  What about our sin and what about God's wrath and just judgment?  Jesus took our place!  Jesus died for the ungodly, for the unrighteous, for those who were powerless to change themselves.  "God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!" (5:8).  God reconciled the world to Himself in Christ (II Corinthians 5:19).  WE didn't seek God; HE sought us!

Salvation is a gift!  That simple statement is rejected by so many; not only those in other religions, but by many in the church.  "Justification by faith" is the heart-cry of God's grace that calls to those who are separated from Him and says, "Come to Me!  I have made a way!!" 

And if that is not enough, there's more!  God reconciles us to Himself through faith in Jesus, and then unites us to Christ by the baptism of the Spirit to empower us to turn from sin and to live for Christ.  We are now "dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (6:11).  Rather than being slaves to sin, we are now free to become "slaves to righteousness" (6:18).  Indeed, "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (6:23).

While many in the world consider "freedom" as following the desires of the sinful nature, Jesus offers true freedom to those who are united to Him by faith in His sacrifice on the cross.  We now approach God without fear and rejoice in His love and grace, testifying, boasting, resting in His love ... love revealed on a lonely cross on a hill outside Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago.  Have you received God's  love?  Have you placed your faith in Jesus?  Have you been reconciled to God?  The gift of God is new life in Christ!!

"Father in heaven, through faith in Your Son, Jesus, I celebrate Your gift of life!  Thank You for loving me before I was able to love You.  As You have given me life, I now desire to live for You.  Fill me with Your Spirit and help me to live as a slave to righteousness, for Your glory and my good.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, January 10, 2014

"So it begins …"

Day #14:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 11th

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 3 - 4 …

The world had been waiting for this moment, not only since Jesus had been born, but from the moment Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden.  As you read these two chapters in Matthew's Gospel record you discover a huge gap between the end of Chapter 2 and the beginning of Chapter 3.  Chapter 2 ends with Joseph and Mary taking Jesus to Nazareth, where He grew up and became a man.  Chapter 3 begins with Jesus about 30 years old.  What happened in between and why isn't it recorded for us?

The only glimpse we have into Jesus' childhood and youth is what we find in Luke 2:40-52.  Every year Jesus traveled with His parents to Jerusalem and even at the age of twelve He amazed the teachers at the temple with His wisdom.  He grew up as a carpenter in Nazareth.  No more is known about the first thirty years of His life.  No more needs to be known.  As a true man, Jesus "grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52), but it was all preparation for this moment in Matthew 3, when He began His ministry, leading to the cross, and ultimately to His resurrection and ascension.

Jesus' life on the earth was no ordinary life.  Perhaps you have read the poem, "One Solitary Life."  It attempts to describe the impact that this one life has had on the history of mankind for the past 2,000 years.  But there's more to it than that!  Jesus came to fulfill God's promise to send a Savior.  As John prepared the way by pointing out mankind's sin and the need to repent, so Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (4:17).  It was not a popular message then, and it is not a popular message now.

Satan tried to distract Jesus from His mission to deal with the consequences of sin.  Jesus knew already what lay ahead.  Everything needed to be fulfilled, just as the Father had planned.  God's own testimony concerning His Son and the descending of the Holy Spirit confirmed that this was the promised One who would redeem God's people and deliver them from the guilt and power of sin that enslaved them.

Almost immediately, Jesus began to display His power over the consequences of sin as He preached and healed and cast out demons.  Truly, this world would never be the same again - EVER!  "The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned" (4:16).  And "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people" (4:23).

Light exposes the darkness and Jesus came to offer hope to a world in despair.  He does the same today through the preaching of the Gospel and the power of His Spirit in the lives of those who believe in Him!  Jesus' "story" continues and by faith you and I become part of it as He calls US to leave the world and to follow Him.  Are you a disciple of Jesus?  Have you experienced His healing?  Have you become a "fisher of men?"  Jesus is still calling people to follow Him today and through His Church He is still preaching the good news of the kingdom all over the world.

What a privilege to know Him and to serve Him!  Be excited!  Get involved in the ministry of Jesus Christ as He works in you and through you by His Word and Spirit.  Then YOUR life will never be the same again - EVER!

Heavenly Father, thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to be our Savior and our Lord.  As Jesus defeated the temptation of the evil one, so help me to repent, to turn aside from the things of the world, so that I may give my life in the service of Jesus and be found proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven to all around me.  In Jesus' name, I pray.  Amen"

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"Standing firm in your faith while the battle rages all around you!"

Day #13:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 10th

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 7 - 11 …

Are you part of the "remnant" … those chosen by God to be HIS people?  What was true in the days of Isaiah is true today:  not all those who claim to be God's people ARE His people.  God's Word is filled with promises of hope and deliverance, but only those who know Him, who trust Him and who stand firm in their faith will escape His judgment and experience His deliverance.

In these chapters Isaiah is speaking about two kinds of deliverance:  physical deliverance and spiritual deliverance.  Both come from the Lord, the one and only true God, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Jerusalem and Judah were facing what appeared to be imminent destruction, but God said, "This is what the Sovereign LORD says, 'It will not take place, it will not happen!'" (7:7).  God says to those who believed in Him, "If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all" (7:9).  And then God promised a sign:  "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (7:14).

Throughout the prophets God often spoke of an immediate deliverance and then of a future deliverance.  He is doing so here.  God was sending Assyria against Israel and sparing Judah.  Then He promised to destroy Assyria and its king because of his pride and arrogance (10:12).  Yet even as God brings judgment, He is at work to bring deliverance and salvation to a "remnant."  In the first seven verses of Chapter 9 God points to the One who would be born as a child, but who would reign on David's throne forever.  "The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this" (9:7).

 God's anger and judgment is right.  After this glorious promise God speaks of his anger and four times, from Chapter 9, verse 8 through Chapter 10, verse 4, Isaiah writes, "Yet for all this, His anger is not turned away, His hand is still upraised."  How horrible is the wrath and judgment of God, and there is only one thing that can turn it away:  the suffering and death of God's own Son in the place of sinful mankind.

Isaiah speaks of a remnant of Israel that will be saved (10:20-22), and he points to the "stump of Jesse" 11:1) upon whom the Spirit of the LORD will rest.  By God's set plan and purpose there will come a time when He stands on the earth to judge with righteousness.  "They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.  In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His place of rest will be glorious!" (11:9-11).  Then God will gather a remnant from Israel a second time (11:11) and make a highway for them to return to Jerusalem (11:16), where Jesus will reign over the whole earth for a thousand years.

Such a clear picture of God's deliverance for those who are taught by the Spirit of the One who came to be our Savior and Lord!  As you face the physical and spiritual battles of life in this world, do you have One who is fighting for you, who is able to destroy the plans of the wicked and to uphold those who put their trust in Him?  He is the same LORD in whom Isaiah and the remnant trusted long ago and in whom the remnant will trust in the future.

"If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all" (7:9).  I pray that your faith is in the Sovereign LORD who rules over the nations and who delivers those who trust in Him today, just as He did in the days of Isaiah.  If He is with YOU, then the words He commanded Isaiah to speak to Ahaz, the king of Judah, are directed to you today:  "Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid.  Do not lose heart …"  (7:4).  The great "I AM" is with you!  He WILL deliver you!!

"O Sovereign LORD, the Creator and Sustainer of the earth and everything in it.  No enemy that rises against Your people is more powerful than You!  May those who are part of your "remnant" today by grace through faith rest assured of your deliverance and stand firm in our faith, through Your Son, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen"


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"To speak or not to speak, that is the question!"

Day #12:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 9th

Scripture Reading:  Job 3-4 ...

Have you ever longed for a word from someone, only to have a friend come and speak to you and then wish they would just ... be quiet?!  That must be how Job felt when his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar came to visit him.  Job had just weathered what was perhaps the worst string of bad luck any man has ever faced in such a rapid-fire sequence.  He had just lost his ten children and the bulk of his multitude of possessions.  Then he was struck with painful sores from head to toe and his wife had told him that he should just "curse God and die!" (2:10).  Can someone give a good word to Job?

Enter Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.  Apparently, they had heard of Job's calamities and they set out to go and sympathize with him and to comfort him.  Of course, we know that God was already deeply engaged in Job's life and in his present circumstances.  And Job knew that God had not abandoned him.  In fact, that is what he was holding onto when he responded to his wife's bad advice by saying, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (2:10).  What Job needed was someone to agree with him, to confirm the basis of his faith in God.

What he got, however, was something quite different.  The friendly trio were astonished when they saw Job because they hardly recognized him.  It was the moment of decision:  What should they do?  What should they say?  Their conclusion:  Weep, groan, mourn ... and say ... nothing ...  And this was supposed to help - how?  Sympathy, empathy and compassion are all good things, but people who are going through extreme trials need TRUTH!  Job knew God.  His friends knew that he knew God.  So they should have prayed with him, comforted him by testifying to God's faithfulness, encouraged him to keep trusting in the Lord  - all of the above!  But instead they dug a hole of sorrow for Job and the proceeded to throw him in, saying absolutely nothing to point him to the hope that could have been his through faith in the God he knew.

The result was that Job cries out foolishly from the hole they have just ushered him into.  They have spent seven days declaring, "Woe is Job!" So Job simply joins in their grieving, saying, "Woe is ME!"  Here are three words that should never be spoken by a believer.  The entire third chapter is an extended whining session allowed to go much too far.  Job declares that it would have been better if he had never been born, or if he had been stillborn.  Then at least he would have peace.

It is only when Job expresses what his three friends apparently expected him to express that Eliphaz speaks.  Now, it should be said that throughout the conversation between Job and his three friends, a number of true things are said, about God and how He works and even concerning Job and his situation.  But mixed with these moments are many false assumptions and inaccurate statements that confuse and distort what is actually happening in Job's life.  Bad theology always misleads people and leaves them in doubt and confusion.

Eliphaz declares that he has never seen the righteous suffer like Job is suffering.  Rather, it is the evil who perish.  In chapter 4, verses 12-17, it seems as though Eliphaz is claiming to have heard a word from a spirit:  "Can a mortal be more righteous than God?  Can a man be more pure than his Maker?" (4:17).  And he then goes on to virtually accuse Job of sin and weakness.  If God has no trust in his servants and charges his angels with error, "how much more those who live in houses of clay (Job), whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth?" (4:18-19).  And in verses 20-21 he predicts such men will perish and die without wisdom.

Wow!  Thanks, Eliphaz!!  First you say nothing, grieving and wailing as though Job was already dead, and then when Job really needs you to correct and encourage him, you judge him guilty of wrongdoing and leave him with no hope.  As the old saying goes, "With friends like that, who needs enemies?" 

Learn from Job's friends what NOT to do in a situation where people are going through extreme trials.  I think of the words of Paul to the Corinthians when he writes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God"  (II Corinthians 1:3-4 ... see also verses 5-7, and 4:8-9).  There are many other verses in Scripture that are helpful to share with those who are going through trials and suffering.

Speak in these situations, but be sure that what you are speaking is a true word from God!  Compassion is one thing; pity is another.  We need each other, so be ready to be an instrument of healing and God will use you to lift others up - not push them in a hole of despair!

"Father, give me wisdom to speak Your Word to those who suffer, that they may receive the same comfort you have given me in times of trouble and be encouraged to trust in You, our faithful God!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

"The LORD will hear me when I call …"

Day #11:  Daily Bible Reading - January 8th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 3 - 5 …

Whoever thinks that God deals with all people the same has never read the Psalms and does not understand God's love for His people, for those who know Him and who trust in Him.  It could probably be said of David, or of the writers of the rest of the Psalms, that they were "judging" people, but what they were doing in writing these Psalms and what the people of Israel were doing in singing these Psalms was simply stating what God had said:  that He hears the calls of His people and will deliver them from those who do evil.  That's His promise!

A common theme of the Psalmist is crying out to God for help against his enemies.  Those who know God have enemies, in this world and in the spiritual realm.  As David writes, "Many are saying of me, 'God will not deliver him'" (3:2).  But David responds, "But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head" (3:3).  He goes on to say that he lies down and sleeps and does not fear because of his confidence in the Lord and His promised deliverance.  What a wonderful thing to know, to live, to experience!

David knows the LORD will answer him because "the LORD has set apart the godly for himself" (4:3).  How often do we get stressed and worried and anxious, and then we get angry at the injustice of it all.  But God says, "In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent" (4:4).  Don't question God or doubt Him.  "Offer right sacrifices and TRUST in the LORD" (4:5).  David has experienced the peace of God and so he can confess:  "I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O LORD make me dwell in safety" (4:8).

We continually need to check our hearts and ask ourselves if we are really trusting in God.  Fear, worry, anxiety, doubt, confusion and all the negative emotions that go with them are not from the Spirit of God.  Even more than the Psalmist, we who believe in Jesus Christ know the love of God for His children and the grace He has given us.  We dwell in safety because God is with us!

What a beautiful statement when he says, "In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation" (5:3).  Only when you seek God first can you experience that peace that comes from knowing that "in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).

Listen to what David prays for:  "Lead me, O LORD, in Your righteousness because of my enemies - make straight YOUR way before me" (5:8).  David doesn't want to be pulled to the right or to the left, or to be deceived by the lies of those around him.  "Let all who take refuge in YOU be glad; let them ever sing for joy.  Spread your protection over them, that those who love Your name may rejoice in YOU!" (5:11).

Let that be your prayer every day and discover the "peace of God, which transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).  David's God is our God.  He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  And through His Son Jesus Christ He is "Immanuel, God with us."  Draw near to Him today; know that He hears you when you call, and trust in Him … TRUST in Him, and He will deliver you from fear and replace it with peace.  REST in Him and find joy that you can find nowhere else.    "The LORD will hear when I call to Him" (4:3).

"O LORD God Almighty, You are my Rock and my Fortress, my Shield and Defender.  I trust in You, let me not be put to shame.  Surround me with Your love and grace, for I rest in You.  Thank You for hearing me when I call out to You in the name of Your Son, Jesus.  Let the light of Your face shine upon me as I seek You, today and every day.  In Jesus' name, Amen"