Friday, February 28, 2014

"Eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to understand …"

Day #63:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 1st

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 23 - 25 …

Some have been given "eyes to see," and others are spiritually blind.  Jesus came preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God and how to enter it, yet the Pharisees were too busy teaching the law and judging others to see what Jesus had to offer.  They were bound by their traditions and believed they could approach God clothed in their own righteousness, their own goodness.  Jesus confronted them with the reality of their standing before God in Chapter 23 of our reading today, and He confronts any who would do the same today.

While people outside the Church often throw stones at those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, and while they claim that we all think we're "better" than others, nothing could be further from the truth for those who have tasted of God's grace.  We KNOW that we are sinners and we know that we can never be good enough to earn God's favor and to enter His kingdom based on our own righteousness.  Rather, we claim the righteousness of Christ by faith and rest in God's grace and forgiveness.

Jesus pronounced His "woes" on the Pharisees and rightly called them "hypocrites," because they did not "practice what they preached" (23:3).  What many do not understand today is that Jesus calls us to examine ourselves, to confess our own sins, and then to hold one another as believers accountable to His Word.  We are to point out sin, even to those who do not yet believe, but not to pass judgment.  That is left to God.  That means that we point out that sin leads to death, to final judgment in hell, but we offer God's grace and forgiveness through faith in Christ Jesus.  Leaving people in their sin is not love … pointing out their sin without offering them grace is no better.

Some of the Pharisees actually believed in Jesus later, as the Holy Spirit convicted their hearts of the truth of Jesus' words.  God still does the same today.  He sends His Word and Spirit to convict our hearts and to lead us to Christ for forgiveness and life.  And He opens our eyes so we can see the beauty and glory of His kingdom, moving us to desire life with Him above anything this world has to offer.

In Chapter 24, Jesus taught the disciples about how His kingdom would finally come.  While many give various explanations to this Chapter, in this brief space let me point out some obvious (or what should be obvious) truths:

Verses 3-8 describe the "beginning of birth pains."  I believe these are parallel to the opening of the first four seals of Revelation 6.  Verses 9-12 describe the opening of the fifth seal, the Great Tribulation, the persecution of the Church by the Antichrist.  But Jesus promises that "he who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and THEN the end will come" (verses 13-14).

For those who do not believe Jesus is talking about the end times, verse 15 SHOULD make it clear, as He refers to Daniel's prophecy in Daniel 9:27.  Verses 15-28 describe the Great Tribulation in greater detail, and then Jesus says, "IMMEDIATELY after the distress of those days …"  What follows is a description of the opening of the sixth seal and the rapture of the Church (verses 29-31).  Any other explanation does not "fit" with what God reveals in the prophets, in Paul's letters and in John's Revelation.  I wish I had more time to speak further about this, but study this chapter along with the rest of God's Word and pray for wisdom.

Jesus goes on to tell those who believe to WATCH!  Why watch if there are no signs to look for?  (Check out I Thessalonians 5, verses 3 AND 4).  Meanwhile, we are not to live like the Pharisees, but to live as servants of the King.  "It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns" (24:46).  And Chapter 25 describes the importance of being ready by serving the Master.  While we are saved by grace through faith, true faith in Jesus Christ that is produced by the work of the Holy Spirit making us "new creations" in Christ always produces "fruit" that brings glory to God.

Chapter 25:31-46 describes the importance of living as citizens of God's kingdom in this life.  Once again, Jesus is not describing here a way to earn your salvation or to be righteous enough to gain entrance into His kingdom.  Rather, He is describing the way those who know Him will live.  Meeting the physical and spiritual needs of those around us is a natural response for those who have received God's grace and forgiveness and who now want to show God's love in word and deed to those around them.

We have to be careful not to make this the standard for entrance into the kingdom, otherwise we are doing the same thing Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing - setting up a standard that no one can meet.  Jesus is pointing out that those who are His will believe in Him and will serve the world in His name.  In what we call "The Lord's Prayer," Jesus taught His disciples to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  May that be our daily prayer, as we offer ourselves in the service of our King, awaiting the day when He returns to establish His eternal kingdom and we reign with Him.  O glorious day!!

"Father, it is a humbling thing to understand that if we know Jesus Christ as King and can "see" Your kingdom, it is only because You have opened our eyes by Your Word and Spirit.  I thank You for Your grace and ask You to continue Your work in me, helping me to understand all that You have revealed in Your Word, and to live in such a way that my faith in You results in service to others.  In Jesus' name, Amen" 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"I am the LORD, and there is no other!"

Day #62:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 28th

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 45 - 50 …

Reading these chapters was like sitting down in front of God and listening to Him speak to a gathering of those who know Him for who He IS!  It is a powerful message, a personal message and a hope-filled message, based on the promises of the One who has the wisdom and the power to carry out His plans.  In a world where leaders and rulers of nations act as though they had the power to perform all they intend to do, while not even keeping their word to do what they said they would do, God says, "My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please" (46:10).

Over and over again God says, "I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God" (45:5).  "I am the LORD, and there is no other" (45:6).  "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me" (46:9).  "I will not yield my glory to another" (48:11).  When God made His promises to Abraham, and passed them on to Isaac and then to Jacob (whose name God changed to "Israel" and from whom the nation of Israel came), He joined His purpose with these people.  I sincerely grieve for those in our day who claim to believe in the God who reveals Himself in His Word, but who miss the very truth that He is the God of Israel … meaning, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who this very day live in the land God promised to them!

We live 2600-2700 years after Isaiah, yet we are seeing the fulfillment of God's promises in our day!!!  To Israel God says, "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget YOU!" (49:15).  Then He says, "Though you were ruined and made desolate and your land laid waste, now you will be too small for your people … The children born during your bereavement (during the time they were scattered among the nations) will yet say in your hearing, 'This place is too small for us; give us more space to live in'" (49:19-20).  So today, one of the major issues in Israel is the building of more settlements for housing for all those who are returning to Israel for the first time.

And why are they returning?  Because God is calling them back in preparation for the unfolding of His final plan before Jesus returns!  God says, "Then all mankind will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob" (49:26).  This is God's purpose, as it has been since the beginning.

In Chapter 45, Isaiah speaks again of Cyrus (45:1 … see 44:28).  More than 150 years before Cyrus was born, God predicted that he would be God's instrument to bring His people back to their land.  Babylon would defeat Judah and take the people captive, then Cyrus, king of Persia, would defeat Babylon and read the prophecy of Isaiah and be moved to do exactly what God had said he would do, to the smallest detail.  His actions are recorded in Ezra 1:7-11 and 6:3-5.  "I will raise up Cyrus … He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty" (45:13).  What would move a heathen king to do such a thing without receiving something in return??  Twice (45:4 -5), God says that He will use Cyrus to do this, "though you do not (have not) acknowledged me."

How encouraging is it to know that our God uses even those who do not know Him to accomplish His purposes?!  When things seem so out-of-control in our world and among the nations of the world, our God is at work.  And He promises that "Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear" (45:23).  This points to the "Servant of the LORD" in Chapters 49-50, who will not only "restore the tribes of Jacob," but will also be "a light for the Gentiles" (49:6), to "bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."  So Paul speaks of Jesus in Philippians 2:9-10:  "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Can there be any doubt that the Bible is one book with one message:  The God of Israel is God and there is no other!  He has made His salvation known to the ends of the earth, and in our day He is restoring the descendants of Jacob to their land in preparation for the return of the Messiah, the King, who will rule over the nations (Isaiah 2:1-5, 4:1-5 - read these again!!).  Do you know Him? Rejoice and give thanks to Him for His mercy and grace, and for the Savior He has given ... His Son, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

And if you do not know Him, may the words of the prophet Isaiah convict your heart that He IS God and there is no other.  May His Spirit move you to bow the knee before Him and through faith in Jesus, confessing your sin and receiving His sacrifice on the cross as your only hope, become His child today.  As He has been and is faithful to His promises to Israel, so He will be faithful to His promises to you.  He cannot do otherwise, for He alone IS GOD!!

"Oh LORD, our God, how amazing is Your plan to draw to Yourself those whom You have chosen from every people, tribe, nation and tongue.  Open our eyes to see all that You are doing in our world today, that we may worship You alone, and live to glorify Your great name, through Jesus Christ our Lord!  In Jesus' name we pray, Amen"

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"That's true - but ..."

Day #61:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 27th

Scripture Reading:  Job 17 - 18 ...

Have you ever gotten involved in a conversation that starts in one place and ends up in another?  That's much of the book of Job.  What began as a visit by some friends who heard about Job's tragedy in losing his children and his possessions, became a theological debate that had little if anything to do with what was going on in Job's life.  We, of course, have the advantage of the first chapter, so we know that God was not punishing Job for some sin, but rather, using him as a testimony for God's glory.  Here we are, probably nearly 4,000 years later, still talking about Job and learning lessons from his sufferings.  Satan was defeated, the Savior has come and God wins ...  and so does Job!  But arriving at that place was more of a struggle than it needed to be, thanks to Job's friends.

Having been "backed into a corner" by their lack of comfort and counsel, and their incorrect assumption that God was punishing Job for his sin, Job defends himself repeatedly.  Job and his friends make some true statements.  Most theological debates contain some truth (not all, but most).  As with this one, however, the saying is often true that "there is more heat than light."  Job and his friends say some things that are true ... but they are so far off track in understanding what Job is going through and why, that even though they say some true things, their argument is pointless.

In Chapter 17, Job's attention is on the grave.  He is feeling compelled to give up, yet he holds on ... no thanks to his friends!  Verse 3 is an interesting verse:  "Give me, O God, the pledge you demand.  Who else will put up security for me?"  What is Job saying?  It appears that Job is asking God to "pay his debt," realizing that IF God is punishing him, Job cannot pay what he owes ... and neither can anyone else.  Job declares that in spite of how it looks, "the righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger" (17:9).

Job continues to try to look beyond his present circumstances.  "If the only home I hope for is the grave ... (17:13) ... where then is my hope?" (17:15).  It is as though Job is saying, "There MUST be something more to hope in!!"  And we will discover already in the Chapter 19 what that hope is!

Then comes Bildad ... again.  He goes on what can only be described as a tirade against those who are evil.  What he says is true enough:  "The lamp of the wicked is snuffed out ..." (18:5).  "The memory of him perishes from the earth ... He is driven from light into darkness and is banished from the world" (18:17-18).  He concludes by saying, "Surely such is the dwelling of an evil man; such is the place of one who knows not God" (18:21).

Don't you want to say, "WHAT'S YOUR POINT, BILDAD??!!!"  Job knew that ... but Job also knew God!  People who know God need encouragement to hold on to the truth of God's love and grace and to find strength through trusting in Him.  People who know God, but who are going through trials, need to hear of God's faithfulness and the comfort that He gives to those who wait on Him, even though they may FEEL as though God is far away.  They DON'T need to be "bashed" time after time with accusations that they are getting what they deserve and that God's punishment is just.

We ALL deserve God's judgment, but His compassions are new every morning and His faithfulness to those who know Him and who love Him is endless and sure.  THAT's what Job needed to hear ... but his friends didn't get it.  They didn't help Job ... at all!  I pray that we will do better as we encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ who are going through suffering and trials.  Truth is truth, but there is a time and place to share it, and we need to pray for wisdom to know when and where and how to use God's Word to build one another up and to point each other to Christ!

"Father, we confess that we do not always understand the 'why' of things that happen in our lives and the lives of those around us.  But we trust in You and thank You for Your love and grace through Your Son Jesus Christ.  Give us wisdom to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and fill us with Your Spirit so that we may offer hope to those who are facing suffering and trials.  In Jesus' name, Amen" 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Know God, know yourself and PRAISE the LORD!"

Day #60:  Daily Bible Reading - February 26th 

Scripture Reading:  Psalm 24 - 26 ...

I know that many people think of David and immediately think of how he killed Goliath with a slingshot and a stone, or perhaps of his sin with Bathsheba or of his great wealth and many possessions ... but none of those things describe who David WAS!  He was the King of Israel, the father of Solomon and the conqueror of much of the world ... but that's not who he was.  David was a man after God's own heart.  David was a man in love with God.

Many of the Psalms take us right to the heart of what it truly means to know God and to love Him.  The Psalms in our reading for today certainly take us to the heart of David's relationship with the LORD, the only true God, the great "I AM!"  David loved God; he trusted God; he worshiped God!!

Psalm 24 testifies to the greatness of God, declaring "the earth is the LORD's, and everything in it!" (24:1).  I remember memorizing this Psalm when I was a young boy and the cry of David, "Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in! ... Who is this King of glory?  ... The LORD Almighty - HE is the King of glory!!" (24:7,10).  Who can approach the King of glory?

Today people think they can come to God any old way they choose and God will receive them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  David understood his own sin when he asks his own question:    "He who has clean hands and a pure heart ..." (24:4).  Does that describe you?  No one can approach God except for His mercy and grace in providing a Savior!  David knew God ... and he knew himself.  He knew he needed mercy and grace, and he knew he could trust God to save him.

Psalm 25 is amazing, because as you read the first fifteen verses you might think that David was having a really good day and a really wonderful life.  He testifies that he trusts in the Lord and he know his hope is found in Him.  He thanks God for for His mercy, His love and His forgiveness.  David knew God and he knew himself and he was moved to praise the LORD!  "All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful!" (25:10).  It makes you want to say, "God is good!!  All the time!!"

Then verses 16-21 reveal that David was actually going through a difficult time of persecution and affliction.  He was testifying in the midst of a storm!  THAT's faith.  So many today praise God when things are going well and then question Him when trials come, but not David.  Instead, David turns to God with confidence and with hope:  "May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you" (25:21).

And finally, Psalm 26 points out David's firm foundation.  "I have trusted in the LORD without wavering" (26:1).  "Your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth" (26:3).  David said that he proclaimed aloud the LORD's praise and "I love the house where you live, O LORD, the place where your glory dwells" (26:8).  No wonder that David arrives at verse 12:  "My feet stand on level ground; in the great assembly I will praise the LORD."

David was a man after God's own heart.  David was a man in love with God.  He was a sinner, like you and me, and for a moment in his life he stumbled ... but God lifted him up and used David in amazing ways to glorify Himself.  He can and will do the same in your life and mine if we will seek the Lord as David did.  God has made a new way to approach Him through His Son Jesus Christ.  As you and I come to Him by faith, trusting in Him, we, too, will find God loving and faithful, and our hope in Him will not disappoint.

Then, together with David, we will PRAISE the LORD!

"O LORD, our God, You are great and greatly to be praised!  You ARE the King of glory, before whom all the earth will bow down.  May those who trust in You give thanks at all times as we rest in You, for we shall not be moved!  Together, we will sing Your praise FOREVER!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, February 24, 2014

"What happens when you substitute religion for the one true God ... "

Day #59:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 25th

Scripture Reading:  Judges 17 - 21 ...

People are so easily deceived into believing that religion is what you and I decide it should be.  It begins with the rejection of God's Word and goes from there.  Any "god" will do, any religion will do ... we'll just make it up as we go.  So when people and churches today begin to pick and choose what they want to believe from the Bible, and when they want to mix all religions together to come up with something that will not offend anyone and "just bring people together" ... the book of Judges describes in gory detail what happens.

These chapters describe those who were called to be "the people of God" - Israel.  The twelve tribes, descended from the twelve sons of Jacob (whose name God had changed to "Israel"), were nearly settled in the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  But all was not well.  The tabernacle, where the people were supposed to worship the one true God, was tucked away in Bethel (20:26-27), with the Ark of the Covenant, but the people went on about their lives as though God were some lucky charm.

In chapter 17, a man named Micah "bought" a priest, one of the Levites, who were chosen by God to serve at the tabernacle.  He accepted the gods of Micah and used them to worship "the LORD," the true God ... the ONLY God.  When the men from the tribe of Dan came and discovered that Micah had a priest "all to himself," they took him, along with the idols he had made.  They said, "Isn't it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man's household" (18:19).  That was like asking, "Isn't this sin better than that sin?"  Disobedience to God is just that ... and it is defined by God and not by men.  Then the men of the tribe of Dan "set up for themselves the idols" (18:30-31) and claimed to be worshiping the LORD.

What follows in chapters 19-21 is some of the most despicable behavior described in Scripture.  The men of Gibeah were like the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, and we know what God did to them.  Some have said that this was what men did in those days and how they treated women, but this is not the case.  These men claimed to know God, but they didn't!  They had long since substituted religion for the worship of God.  When the Levite cut up the woman and distributed pieces of her body throughout all of Israel, the Israelites acted all "holy" and came against them.  They said, "Surrender those wicked men of Gibeah so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel" (20:13).  But what followed was a picture of the problem that was taking place in those days.

War broke out between the army of the tribes of Israel and the army of the tribe of Benjamin.  The Israelites asked the LORD who should go up to fight against their brothers, the Benjamites, and supposedly the LORD told them, "Judah."  So they went to fight against them, but 22,000 Israelites died.  The next day they asked the LORD again and He supposedly told them to go fight again.  This time 18,000 more Israelites died.  Then they went to Bethel and "inquired of the LORD" (20:27) and God supposedly told them, "Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands" (20:28).

So the Israelites defeated the Benjamites and killed 25,000 of their brothers.  Then they felt guilty that the men who had survived from the tribe of Benjamin had no wives to become a tribe again, so they killed all the men and women of Jabesh Gilead (the only ones who had not participated in the war), and took the young virgin women and gave them to the men of the tribe of Benjamin.  And when they needed a few more, they helped them steal them from the city of Shiloh.  Incredible!  And what is even more incredible is people trying to explain this behavior.

God gives the explanation four times in these chapters:  "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit" (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).  Religion in the place of the worship of God leads to all sorts of sinful behavior that defies explanation, except for the depravity of men who are deceived by Satan himself.  God did not tell the Israelites to go up against their brothers.   If that had been the case, 40,000 of them would not have been killed in two days.  They convinced themselves that God told them to do what they already wanted to do.  So it is with most, if not all, of the religious wars of our day.  Men want to fight.  There are times when governments must fight to defend the lives of those they govern.  God has ordained government to punish wrongdoers and to defend the innocent (Romans 13:1-8).  But religious wars fought "in the name of 'god'" lead to the type of mass murder that is going on throughout the world today, as it was in the days of the Judges.

It has happened throughout history and I suppose that it will happen until Jesus comes.  As Christians we are not called to be pacifists, but we are called to recognize that as followers of Christ we must know His Word and seek His will in our lives as His people.  "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit."  Power and deception make horrible partners.  The solution ... the ONLY solution, is the return of the true King, who will destroy all His enemies with His righteous judgment and anger, and usher in His eternal kingdom.  Those who claim Jesus as King today must watch and wait, as we serve and work, proclaiming His truth, loving our enemies and doing good to those who hate us.

God's plan was unfolding, even during the period of the Judges.  These things are written for us as warnings not to do what they did ... not to mix religion with the worship of the one true God ... not to mix the worship of other gods with our worship of the LORD, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  Jesus is the King of kings and the LORD of lords; there is no other king.  And He WILL reign over the nations, and His kingdom will never end.  Worship God today and proclaim the good news of His grace and forgiveness through faith in Jesus!

"Our Father in heaven, how horrible to see the depravity of mankind and the foolishness of men who declare that they are worshiping You as they worship idols made in their own image.  Give us wisdom for this day in which we live, as we read and believe Your Word and as we seek Your guidance throughout our lives.  Give us strength to be ambassadors of a kingdom this world knows nothing about, and to stand firm in the face of adversity.  This we pray in Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"The cry God always hears: 'I need YOU!'"

Day #58:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 24th

Scripture Reading:  Genesis 32 - 35 ...

As you read the Bible from beginning to end you will find two main characters throughout:  God and mankind.  Satan and his demons, as well as angels who serve God, play a role, but the main characters of Scripture are God and mankind - with GOD being the central character at every point.  I bring that up because it is easy for people to get "hung up" on some of the details of the actions of mankind in certain passages of the Bible and then to wonder why they are in there and what God was accomplishing by recording those things in the Bible.  There are some things like that in our chapters today.  Why include the story of Dinah and Shechem in Chapter 34?  And why include verse 22 in chapter 35:  "While Israel was living in that region, Reuben (one of Jacob's sons) went in and slept with his father's concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it."  

These things are but reminders of mankind's sinfulness, even in the context of God's blessings and His revelation of Himself to the descendants of Abraham and Isaac.  It is a reminder that these are more than just stories; that these are actual accounts of the lives of real people - people like you and me.  And it is a reminder of our need for the Spirit of God to work in us so that our lives will be lived in obedience to God out of love for Him through faith in Christ.  Without the Spirit and without God's revelation in His Word, mankind is hopelessly lost and people do things that are beyond description or explanation.  All you need to do is listen to the daily news to see that.

While these things may raise questions in people's minds, God would have us focus on something else: HIS character and His sovereign working over all things and in all things.  As Jacob prepared to meet with his brother Esau, he reveals how his own heart had been changed since the time when he tricked his father into giving him the blessing his older brother should have had and then fled, out of fear that Esau was going to kill him.  Jacob prayed, "O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD ...  I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant" (32:9-10).  Then he recalls God's promises:  "You have said, 'I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted'" (32:12).

Jacob believed God's promises and trusted God's character, yet he still struggled to surrender everything to God.  Most of us can identify with Jacob's struggle.  We know God, we trust in Him for salvation, believing Jesus paid our debt and that He is with us.  Yet, when faced with the uncertainties of life, fear easily takes over, as it did with Jacob.  So He wrestles with God!  God gives us this picture as a physical wrestling match, with Jacob winning!  Who beats God ... at anything?!  Obviously, no one.  So what's the point?  Again, there has been much debate about who Jacob wrestled and what it all means, but simply reading the text explains that Jacob's wrestling with God had more to do with Jacob's character than with God's.  God is who He is, but Jacob was now to play a part in God's plan to fulfill His promises to Abraham and Isaac, to make of them a great nation.

So God said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome" (32:28).  By the grace and power of God Jacob had overcome his doubts and his tendency to take things into his own hands, rather than trusting God to accomplish His purpose.  He had said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (32:26).  Jacob wanted, and knew he needed God's blessing, and he received it in so many ways.  The most important blessing Jacob received, the greatest blessing any human being can receive, is the inner, spiritual transformation that only God can perform.  It was more than Jacob's name that changed, it was Jacob that changed!

Having met with Esau, Jacob builds an altar.  After the episode with Dinah and Shechem, Jacob moved on to Bethel and built an altar, telling those who were with him (from the people whom they had defeated) to get rid of their foreign gods.  Then he built another altar to worship the Lord.  God appeared to him again and repeated His promises to make of him a great nation and to give to him and his descendants the land he had promised to Abraham and Isaac (35:11-12).

The twelve sons of Jacob would become the twelve tribes of Israel.  Mankind's sin ... God's faithfulness.  GRACE ... beginning to end.  God chose Abraham ... and He chose Isaac, not Ishmael ... and He chose Jacob, not Esau ... And through His Son Jesus Christ, the "Seed of Abraham," God has more people whom He has chosen, not only from the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but from every people, tribe, nation and tongue.

Mankind's sin ... God's character:  His mercy, grace, love and faithfulness.  Over and over again you will find these two things on display throughout the Old Testament, in the Gospels and throughout the New Testament letters to the churches.  God never changes.  What you see of God in one part of Scripture is also there in every other part of Scripture.  God's purpose stays the same:  to gather for Himself a people who will be His very own, who will spend eternity with Him in a new heaven and a new earth ... "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God!"  (I Peter 2:9).

Learn of God as you read His Word.  Listen for His voice speaking to you, telling you about yourself and about what you need ... and find in Jesus, the Savior, the "Seed of Abraham," the fulfillment of all of God's promises ... for today and for tomorrow ... and for forever!  Call out to Him, worship Him and find in Him your reason to live as a servant of the Almighty God who reigns over all things.

"LORD God Almighty, in Your Word we find knowledge to help us understand what You are doing in the world around us, even as You worked in the days of Jacob.  Your character has not changed, Your plan has not changed and You will accomplish all that You have planned to do.  Thank You for making us a part of Your plan, for choosing us who believe in Jesus, as certainly as You chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  What a privilege to be YOUR people today!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, February 22, 2014

"Is Christ divided? It's the CROSS that unites the Church"

Day #57:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 23rd

Scripture Reading:  I Corinthians 1 - 2 ...

Having been a pastor for almost 37 years, I have served several congregations and have preached over 2500 sermons.  I've seen the Church in some of its finest moments ... and I've seen some "other" moments.  I rejoice when the body of Christ is all that God desires her to be, and I grieve when the body of Christ does not shine the light of Christ to the world.  Such was the case in the days of Paul, only 25-30 years after Jesus had died on the cross, risen from the dead and ascended into heaven.  Some speak of the early Church as though it did not face the same trials and divisions we see today, but the letters of Paul to the Corinthians and others say differently.

Is it, then, inevitable that there should be and will be divisions within the visible church today?  Is there nothing we can do to bring oneness to the body of Christ and so honor the One who is its Head?  The answer to the first question is a sad, "Yes."  Divisions within the outward, visible church ARE inevitable, because of false teachers and because of the sin within the human heart.  As it is impossible to have a "perfect" marriage, because you are bringing together two imperfect people, it is impossible to have a "perfect" church, because you are bringing together many imperfect people!  But God knew that would be the case, and He has given us what we need to be ONE ... in CHRIST!!

Listen to how Paul describes the church in Corinth:  "Those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy" (1:2).  Paul rejoices that God's grace was being seen in the believers in Corinth and He believed that God would keep them strong to the end.  "God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful" (1:9).  So what about the divisions?  Paul urges them to be "perfectly united in mind and thought" (1:10).  So why weren't they?  Because they were not focused on Christ and the cross!!

In the remainder of chapter 1 and all of chapter 2, Paul explains that the body of Christ becomes divided when those within the visible body are not focused on Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross.  The true Church exists only where there are those who put their trust in the cross of Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life.  It is the cross that is "the power of God" (1:18; Romans 1:16).  And it is through the "foolishness of what was preached" (1:21) that God determined to save those who believe. Those who trust in anything else are lost and are not part of Christ's Church.

"God chose the foolish things ... the weak things ... the lowly things of the world and the despised things ... so that no one may boast before Him" (1:27-29).  Today many are teaching that God doesn't choose anybody, that no one knows enough about God to say for sure how we are saved, that God loves everyone and gives everyone a chance ... and on and on and on.  The church today often becomes more about man than about God; and even when people try to make it about God, what is often left out is the CROSS!!  People don't want to talk about sin or judgment ... so why do we need the cross?

Paul puts it this way:  "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1:23-24).  Oh, that pastors and others in the church today would hear what God is saying to us through Paul's words!  Listen again as Paul goes on in chapter 2, claiming that he did not come with eloquent words:  "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (2:2).  THIS message is true wisdom from the Spirit of God; a message that carries with it the very power of God to save those who are lost ... to give life to the dead!

Paul describes the Gospel of Jesus Christ as "God's secret wisdom" (2:7), a wisdom that had not previously been revealed.  And he explains why most people then, and most people today, do not, will not and cannot understand the simple message of the Gospel, that by faith in Jesus' suffering and death on the cross we are saved from God's wrath and judgment:  "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to Him, and He CANNOT understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (2:14).

How then can anyone understand the Gospel?  How can anyone be sure that this message and only this message leads to life ... eternal life?  Again, God gives the answer through Paul's words:  "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:  'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?' But we have the mind of Christ!" (2:15-16).  THIS is what unites those who are part of Christ's body, who are part of the one, true Church, and nothing can divide us!  We are ONE in Christ Jesus, through His suffering and death on the cross, and by the work of HIS Spirit within us.

When the Church is focused on THIS and the Gospel is being preached, God receives the glory, the body is built up, Christ is exalted and believers rejoice.  May God give us wisdom today to preach Christ and Him crucified, for as it was in the days of Paul, so it is today:  "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God!" (1:18).  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!

"Our Father in heaven, in Christ alone can we draw near to You with confidence, believing that in the cross we find forgiveness for our sins and life in the Spirit.  May we boast in You, giving You all the glory for choosing us, calling us, giving Your Son and pouring out Your Spirit to open our hearts and minds to the truth of Your Word.  Thank You, Father, in Jesus' name, Amen!"

Friday, February 21, 2014

"Missing the point ... and missing Jesus!"

Day #56:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 22nd

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 20 - 22 ...

Like the Pharisees and others, millions of people miss the point of the Gospels, miss the point of the Bible ... and miss Jesus ... ... and to miss Jesus is to miss His kingdom, to miss forgiveness and to miss eternal life.  Jesus was always teaching, but those without the Spirit could not and did not understand that He was talking about more than things in this world.  He was talking about spiritual things, eternal things.  If you miss this, you miss Jesus ... and you miss life ... now and forever.

As He approached the time for His crucifixion, Jesus continued teaching about the kingdom that was to come.  He began to point out that those who thought they were already in the kingdom were missing something:  GRACE!  They thought they were good enough, righteous enough, to enter on their own merits.  The parable of the workers in the vineyard points to grace.

What is valuable in God's kingdom is humility and the willingness to live as a servant.  Why?  Because this world isn't all there is.  Jesus displayed His compassion for those who cried out to Him, whether their need was physical or spiritual ... or both.  But the Pharisees didn't think they needed a Savior.  Their arrogance was their greatest sin.  They saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem and should have known that He was fulfilling the Scriptures, but they didn't WANT to see.

As Jesus told parables, the Pharisees asked questions.  The eternal Son of God was right there, in front of them, and they were trying to trick Him!  "By what authority are you doing these things?" (21:23).  He caught them at their own "game."  Jesus told the parable of the tenants and the Pharisees did not understand that He was talking about them until it was too late.  When they finally realized that He was saying that they would be excluded from the kingdom, "They looked for a way to arrest Him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that He was a prophet" (21:46).

Here's the truth:  There will be a wedding banquet (22:1-14) ... this is more than a parable (see Revelation 19:1-9).  And "many are invited, but few are chosen!" (22:14).  Jesus would go to the cross and then rise again and ascend into heaven, sending His Spirit and calling those whom the Father has chosen into His eternal kingdom by faith in Jesus, but all the Pharisees could do is try to trap Jesus into giving a wrong answer!  They thought they were so smart, but they missed what should have been obvious:  "I AM the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob ..." (22:32).  God said that when Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were DEAD - physically.  But He is the God of the LIVING!!

"What do you think about the Christ?" Jesus asked them (22:41).  And when they answered, "The son of David," Jesus quoted Psalm 110:1 and asked them another question:  "If then David calls him, 'Lord,' how can he be his son?"  Matthew writes, "No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask Him any more questions" (22:46).

All they had to do was recognize Jesus for who He was:  the eternal Son of God, and they could have entered God's kingdom.  Ignorance is not bliss, and arrogance does not impress God.  This is not a game ... eternity is at stake.  Miss the point ... and you miss Jesus.  Miss Jesus ... and you miss life, now and forever.  The truth has been right in front of people for almost 2,000 years!  If you know Jesus, believe in Jesus, love Jesus, worship Jesus, serve Jesus ... stand firm.  Whoever would be great in His kingdom must be the servant of all (20:26-28).

Don't miss Jesus.  He's right in front of you.

"Heavenly Father, as Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, send Your Spirit to open the eyes of those who read Your Word to see Jesus as He is:  the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, your Son, our Savior and our Lord!  Move those who read and those who hear to put their trust in Him that they might have life and enter into His eternal kingdom by Your grace.  Thank you, Father, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"The God of Israel is GOD!"

Day #55:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 21st

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 40 - 44 …

That those who reject the Bible as the Word of God would be unsure if there IS a God or wonder which of the many "gods" devised by men is the "real" one, or declare that God is whoever or whatever you want "him/her/it" to be, is not surprising.  What IS sad is to hear so many who CLAIM to be Christians, who may even be teachers in the church, agreeing with them and acting as though we cannot know the one true God who has revealed Himself in His creation, in His Word and in His Son Jesus Christ.  I have shared before that I grow weary of those who act so ignorantly and who accuse those of us who, by God's grace, KNOW HIM … who accuse US of being arrogant!  What could possibly be more arrogant than to deny what God Himself has revealed, as though you know better.  These false teachers claim that all religions must unite, respecting each other's beliefs about God and even the "beliefs" of those who claim there is no God.  I read this "garbage" from the lips of men in our local newspaper every week and it angers me to no end and moves me to declare with greater zeal that the God of Israel is God!

Now, that needs to be explained, because most of the people living in the nation of Israel either do not believe in God or believe in the God of the Old Testament, but reject Jesus Christ as God in the flesh, as the promised Messiah.  Therefore, when I say, "The God of Israel is God," it is necessary to explain that I mean what the Bible means:  that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who reveals Himself in His Word, the God who changed Jacob's name to "Israel" and who kept His promise to make of him a great nation … THIS God is God.

Isaiah 40 - 44 begins the second part of Isaiah's prophecy.  The first part, the first thirty-nine chapters, pronounced God's present and coming judgment with certainty, not only upon an idolatrous nation who had rejected God, but on all the nations of the world.  At the same time, Isaiah offered glimpses of a future where God would gather a remnant from Israel and from the nations to be His people.  All this would be fulfilled in Christ.

In the second part of Isaiah, chapters 40-66, Isaiah speaks more often of the future glory of Israel and of God's plan to send His "servant" to bring salvation.  From the destruction of the temple and the dispersion of the Jews, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the first century, throughout the nations of the world, most people who studied the Bible found no possibility of the restoration of Israel as a particular people.  They interpreted God's specific promises to Israel as applying to the Church of the New Testament.  Many, if not most, continue to do so today.

But in 1948 everything changed.  The establishment of the nation of Israel in the very land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob displayed the truth that had been recorded by Isaiah and other prophets centuries, even millennia before:  God is the God of Israel and the God of Israel is God.  There is not time in this brief blog to go into all the specific promises referring to these people and to their God.  There is not time to talk about what is about to unfold on the earth in fulfillment of these promises.  It is enough to state that the God who is the Creator of all things and who called Abraham and who made His covenant of grace with him and with his descendants is God, and that the Jewish people and the nation of Israel play a specific role in what lies ahead.  God will keep every promise, including the conversion of those in Israel at the return of Jesus Christ.  God said it … He will do it.

"The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever" (40:8).  Listen to Isaiah's words:  "'Do not be afraid, O worm of Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,' declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel" (41:14).  "I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them" (41:17).  There will come a time when Jesus will come to defend these people.  There are too many passages in God's Word that declare this truth to ignore.  If God is unfaithful to His promises to Israel because of their sins, then what of us?  Have we not sinned against Him?  Will He keep His promises to us who believe in Him, who call out to Him today, and yet forget His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  For the glory of His name He will fulfill every promise, for the God of Israel is God.

He is the God who sent His "servant" (42:1), who will bring justice to the earth.  He will triumph over the nations of the world.  No one can stand against Him.  We have seen and are seeing the fulfillment of some of these promises in recent years, since 1948:  "I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth - everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made" (43:6-7).  "I am the LORD, your Holy One, Israel's Creator, your King" (43:15).  "This is what the LORD says - Israel's King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty:  I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God" (44:6).

God has shown who He is repeatedly throughout history, yet only those who are given eyes to see can and will understand.  This God said of "Cyrus," more than 150 years before he became king of the Persian empire, defeating the Babylonians who had taken the bulk of the Jews into captivity … "He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, 'Let it be rebuilt,' and of the temple, 'Let its foundations be laid …'"  (44:28).  God sent His Son to become a man to redeem His people and Jesus speaks about His returning to Jerusalem (Matthew 24; Luke 21).  John's "Revelation" and Paul's letters to believers speak about these same things.

There is one, true God, the Creator of all things, and He IS the God of Israel.  By faith in Jesus Christ you and I can be "grafted in" to the "root" (Romans 11).  The promises of Isaiah are precious to those who know Israel's God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Do not ignore them; do not explain them away; do not interpret them in ways that change their obvious meaning.  God will do what He says, and for those who acknowledge that He is God and who know His Son, this is a great comfort.  Thus, Isaiah's words, as he begins this second part of his long message:  "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (40:1).

"LORD God Almighty, from everlasting to everlasting YOU ARE GOD!  There is no other.  I praise You today for Your wisdom, power and glory, and give You thanks for opening my eyes to see You as You are, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … and by Your grace through Your Son Jesus Christ and the work of Your Spirit in my heart and mind … MY God!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Comfort and encourage one another ..."

Day #54:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 20th

Scripture Reading:  Job 15 - 16 …

Reading through this section of Job is almost like watching a ping-pong match as Job and his friends debate why Job is suffering and how he should respond.  We could say that Job's friends started it by coming to visit, but offering little comfort or hope.  You may remember that when they saw Job "they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was" (2:12-13).

What would you do?  What have you done, when a friend is going through a difficult trial … a time of severe suffering?  What do you say at times like that?  As we go through these chapters of Job over the coming weeks it is important to understand why at the end of all this God is angry at Job's three friends because they did not speak rightly of God (42:7).

Job is not without fault, for left to defend himself against the accusations of his friends that his sin was bringing all this upon him, he gives in to complaining and questioning God.  He maintains his innocence, while confessing that he is not perfect.  He falls into the trap of self-pity and comes close to losing hope.  Job and his three friends say some true things about God, about sin and its consequences, about the fear of the Lord and God's coming judgment … but there's something they keep missing, even though they themselves know it to be true:  Words of comfort and encouragement!

In Chapter 15 Eliphaz gives another impassioned rebuttal of Job's claims that man's life is filled with trouble and ends in death.  Job is tired, he is worn out and he is engaged in a philosophical debate with his friends.  This is not helping!!!  What would help?  Eliphaz says to Job, "Are God's consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you?"  YES!!  God's comfort WOULD HAVE BEEN enough for Job … but you and your friends did not offer Job God's comfort or remind him of God's grace and power and strength that is available to those who trust in the Lord.

You see, Job knew God … but he needed someone to remind him and to encourage him.  When Job's friends came and said nothing, Job began to enter into the depths of self-pity.  Then came the accusation that all this was a result of his sin and the rest is history.  Job needed comfort and encouragement from his friends.  He needed patience and mercy.  When you find a brother or sister in Christ in difficult circumstances, you need to be gentle and patient and kind and merciful.  Job's friends pointed out God's justice and discipline, but surrounding their words was the over-arching theme that Job was getting what he deserved.

Job's description of his friends in 16:2 says it all:  "Miserable comforters are you all!"  And then he explains that if the circumstances were reversed, "My mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief."  Then Job expresses again, even now, his hope:

"Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.  My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend" (16:19-21).  What a beautiful picture of Christ's work as Intercessor and Advocate for His brothers!

Romans 8:33-34:  "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."

I John 2:1:  "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One."

We all have times when we need comfort and encouragement from our friends.  At times like that we need to do more than sit quietly and share their misery, and we need to do more than respond to their cries for help with our own ideas and opinions of what God is doing.  We need to lead them to the cross where a Savior suffered in their place … where the love of God dealt with sin once and for all and now offers mercy and forgiveness and hope and peace to those who draw near to Him.  We need to pray for them and we need to pray with them, reminding them of things they already know, holding them up before the throne of our Father in heaven.

In such times you may think you don't know what to say, but God will use you as you faithfully testify to His comfort and strength, and as you encourage those who are weak to lean on Him … For a while, they may need to lean on YOU, but don't substitute yourself for God.  Continue to speak rightly of God and pray that His Spirit takes your words and speaks to their hearts.  HE will lift them up and you will rejoice with them in His faithfulness and patience.  Learn from Job and his friends what NOT to do, and from the rest of Scripture how to encourage one another.  Our God is able!!

"Our Father in heaven, You are the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those who are facing trials with the same comfort that we ourselves have received (II Corinthians 1:3).  Give us sensitive hearts for those who are suffering and use us to remind them of what they know or to lead them to You for the first time, that at the cross of Jesus they may find rest, and in Your love and mercy they may find hope!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"No matter what ... PRAISE the LORD!"

Day #53:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 19th

Scripture Reading:  Psalm 21 - 23 ...

David loved God.  He had his ups and downs throughout his life, but in his heart, he loved God and desired to worship and honor Him.  It is not surprising that he wrote so many of the Psalms.  They erupted from a heart in tune with his Creator, his God, the love and strength of his life.  And because of David's connection with God, he was used by God to write of things beyond David's understanding.

Psalm 21 is a very personal testimony of how God has blessed David in a myriad of ways.  "You have granted him the desire of his heart" (vs. 2).  "You welcomed him with rich blessings and placed a crown of pure gold on his head" (vs. 3).  "Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence" (vs. 6).

 ... And then he points out the contrast of God's dealings with his enemies:  "In His wrath the LORD will swallow them up, and His fire will consume them" (vs. 9).  David wanted God to be exalted and to receive praise, and his Psalms have been used for 3,000 years to bring praise to the LORD, the Creator of the heavens and the earth ... David's God, and ours!

Psalm 22 is recognized as one of those Psalms that speaks of things beyond David's understanding.  David may have been expressing the cry of one who had many enemies around him and who may have felt that God had forsaken him ... but at the same time, he was writing of the ONE who WAS forsaken of His Father on the cross in order to purchase our salvation.

Jesus spoke these words of David from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (vs. 1).  By the inspiration of the Spirit of God Jesus speaks through David, one thousand years before He comes to earth.  He speaks of the insults that were hurled at Him (vs. 7) and of those who "have pierced my hands and my feet" (vs. 16).  He mentions the fact that none of His bones were broken (vs. 17) and that "they divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing" (vs. 18).

And again, the result is PRAISE!  "From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows" (vs. 25).  "Dominion belongs to the LORD and He rules over the nations. ... Posterity will serve Him; future generations will be told about the LORD" (vss. 28, 30).  Oh, how God deserves our praise, and how blessed are we who have been moved of His Spirit to exalt His name!!

For "the LORD IS MY SHEPHERD!"  Psalm 23 ... of all the Psalms, perhaps the best-known.  Perhaps it is because it expresses the quiet calm of the soul whose faith and trust rests in the One who leads through all the twists and turns of life, safely arriving at its desired destination:  "the house of the LORD" (vs. 6).  There, we will praise the LORD forever, in an eternal state of blessedness, in the very presence of our God!

Have you felt David's heart?  Have you heard God's voice speaking through David to you?  Praise the LORD!  Praise Him Who is worthy!  Praise the One who brings blessing, life and salvation to those who trust in Him.  Circumstances change, but God remains the same ... day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.  Rejoice in the LORD and give Him praise, for He has done great things!!

"O LORD, our God ... MY God, I trust in You and give You PRAISE ... from my lips, from my HEART!!  I give thanks to You for Your blessings and rest in Your strength.  Continue to guide me, O LORD, and bring me to my eternal home after I have lived to give you praise all my days.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Vengeance is Mine," says the LORD ...

Day #52:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 18th

Scripture Reading:  Judges 12 - 15 ...

The Judges, Israel, the Philistines and Samson ... they were all characters in a real-life drama in which the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was at the center.  We have seen that this roughly 300-year period in the history of Israel revealed both the depth of mankind's depravity and the wisdom, power, mercy and grace of God as He brought judgment on Israel's enemies and, at times, upon Israel, yet continued to save a remnant who believed and trusted in Him.

It would have been easy for Israel to be overcome by their enemies at any time during this period.  They had no central leadership among the twelve tribes, they had no unified commitment to worship the one true God, who had brought them into the land in fulfillment of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and they had no unified army to fight against their enemies.  The Judges that God raised up and empowered were extremely flawed people for the most part who, like Samson, made serious errors in judgment.

Yet, a clue to God's work during this period is found in Chapter 14, verse 4, as God chose Samson to lead Israel:  "His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel."  The Philistines (who lived in the land presently occupied by the Palestinians - the Gaza Strip), were a thorn in the flesh for Israel.  We will hear more about them in the future (Hint:  Goliath was a Philistine!).  Having occupied the land before God brought Israel out of Egypt and into the land, the Philistines were continually opposed to Israel and were at this time exercising authority over them, making life miserable for the tribes of Israel.

It was God's intention and desire to deal with them and to point those in Israel back to Him.  "Judgment" and "vengeance" are not words used today when referring to the God who reveals Himself in His Word, in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the world around us.  So why all of the bloodshed?  Why did God use people like Samson to bring judgment on peoples and nations?  The answer lies in God's plan to bring HOPE, to bring salvation - deliverance from His wrath ... through the death of His own Son on the cross.

It is the cross of Jesus Christ that stands as the centerpiece of God's plan to gather a people for Himself from every people, tribe, nation and tongue.  No other religion - NONE - either understands God's holiness and His just wrath and judgment, or understands God's mercy and grace in providing a Savior to take the place of those who are chosen by God to be His special people.  What is sad today is that many in the church who claim to believe in this one true God do not truly know Him or honor Him as God.  Instead, they question the justice of God in choosing some and refuse to believe that God will ultimately bring His vengeance upon anyone!

John's Revelation, the conclusion to God's prophecies about the future, displays clearly what God is about to do ... much as He did to the Philistines ... but we are told by many today that the book of Revelation is symbolic and is not to be taken literally.  Here is truth:  There is one God.  He is God in the Old Testament, during the time of the Judges; and He is God in the Gospels, as He sends His Son to take upon Himself a human nature to seek and to save the lost; He is God in the New Testament, as the Gospel of grace is spread throughout the world; He is God today, as He withholds the final judgment until the last of His sheep is found ... and He is the God who will release His wrath in full measure on all those who have rejected Him and His offer of salvation in His Son, the only HOPE ... Jesus Christ!

Learn from these pages of history from the past.  Receive God's offer of forgiveness today as you come to Him through faith in Jesus, and find peace, hope and joy ... for a lifetime ... and MORE!!

"Heavenly Father, YOU alone are God!  I praise You because You are worthy of praise.  You are perfect in all Your ways and You rule over all You have made.  Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever!  Thank You, Father, for the gift of Your Son and for Your amazing, amazing grace.  In Jesus' name, Amen" 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

"God will get you where He wants you to be!"

Day #51:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 17th

Scripture Reading:  Genesis 28 - 31 ...

There will be things that happen in your life that make no sense.  There will be times when you make choices that are contrary to God's commands.  There will be times when you think things are going well and the bottom falls out, and there will be times when you think there is no hope and things will turn around in your favor.  But if you are a child of God, He will get you where He wants you to be.  Paul puts it this way in Philippians 1:6:  "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Jacob had a lot to learn and a lot of growing to do.  His mother had encouraged him to deceive his father to get his blessing, and then his brother, Esau, had threatened to kill him, so he ran far away, to the land where Abraham had come from.  On his way, he met God ... or perhaps we should say, God revealed Himself to Jacob in an unmistakeable way.  Jacob had a dream and God spoke to Jacob.  It was not something Jacob had not heard before.  These were words that had been spoken by God to his grandfather, Abraham, and to his father, Isaac.

God promised to be with him, to be his God.  God promised to give to his descendants the land God had promised to Abraham and Isaac ... the land where Jacob was lying on his way to his grandfather's homeland - where Abraham had come from.  God promised to multiply his descendants and gave him the promise first spoken to Abraham in Genesis 12:3:  "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring" (28:14).  These are the promises of God's covenant of grace, now passed on to Jacob ... promises that would be fulfilled in Jesus centuries later.

Chapters 29 - 31 reveal two things:  the sinfulness of human nature and the providence of God.  Jacob's journey to being an instrument of God to bring about the coming of the Savior was traveled along a path of sinful choices and behaviors, on his part and on the part of his cousin, Laban.  One could get lost in the back-and-forth of their relationship, each trying to get the better of the other.

Then there the actions of what ends up being his FOUR wives:  Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah.  Their rivalry displays again the emotions and sinful will of people trying to take life into their own hands and not trusting in God.  Yet again, God overcomes the sin of mankind and uses even their wrong choices to bring about the next step in His plan:  the establishment of the nation of Israel - the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Some will ask:  "If our sin ends up being turned for God's ultimate purpose, then how can God hold us accountable to our sin?"  The answer to that question is actually quite simple if you know who God is ... if you accept that He is wiser than you and I and all mankind put together ... if you trust the character and power of God to allow mankind to stray, to wander, and yet to accomplish His purpose IN and THROUGH people like you and me ... all for HIS glory!

When you come to know the God of grace, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who gave His own Son so that you might know His love and forgiveness, then you can know that God will get you where He wants you to be.  Know Him, love Him, trust Him and serve Him ... and see what He will do in YOUR life!

"Thank you, Father, for Your amazing plan to accomplish Your purpose, even when by our sin and ignorance, we try to get in the way and have our own way.  Help us to walk with humility and faith as we seek to live in obedience to Your Word, resting in Your grace, one day at a time.  In Jesus' name, Amen" 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"We're in this together!"

Day #50:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 16th

Scripture Reading:  Romans 15 - 16 …

As Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, it was with a sense that he was but one part of a large body that together were called by God to accomplish His purpose and His mission to the world.  While we view the Apostle Paul as perhaps the most outstanding person in the early Church, he understood that God was at work before he was born, that he was here for that time, that others were partners with him and that for God's purpose to be fulfilled, more people would need to hear the Gospel and follow Jesus Christ.  That was his time … this is ours!

Chapter 15 begins with Paul speaking about HOPE - the hope that only God can give and that only those who know God can receive.  He explains that those of us who are "strong," who by God's grace are more mature in our faith in Christ, must lift up those who are weak "so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (15:4).  Such hope, centered in God's work in His Son Jesus Christ, brings unity, oneness to the body of Christ, "so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (15:6).

This unity in Christ, produced by His Spirit, is essential for the Church to expand, to grow and to thrive.  God's goal was to bring Jews and Gentiles together into one body, and it is God's desire and purpose to bring some from every people, tribe, nation and tongue into Christ's body today, so that His name would be known throughout the world.  This hope brings joy and peace to those who trust in Him (15:13), and produces hope as the Holy Spirit works within us and through us, for God's glory.

In the remainder of Chapter 15, Paul encourages the Romans to counsel one another, reminding them that they know the truth, even as he has been proclaiming it through much of the then-known world.  He expresses his plans to visit them on his way to Spain … a trip Paul never made (so far as we know).  Yet his desire to do so reveals his passion to make the one, true God known and to bring salvation, God's promise of forgiveness and eternal life, to those who had not yet heard.

To that end, he sends his greetings to those in Rome, whom he apparently knew personally and by name.  What a beautiful picture of the inter-woven pieces of God's Church!  The true Church is not an organization, but PEOPLE … people who know God, who love God and who labor together in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of His one Spirit.  None of us can do this on our own.  We NEED each other.  The Church is a body of people called by God to bring Him glory, to make Him known, to proclaim the Gospel and to display His power to the world.  We ARE the "light of the world" and "the salt of the earth"  (Matthew 5:13-14).

Paul warns, already in his day, of those "who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned" (16:17).  The oneness of the body must be a priority, for only when the disciples of Jesus labor together for God's purposes will God's will be done.  So Paul ends with this beautiful benediction … let this be our prayer:

"Now to Him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey Him - to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ!  Amen!!"  (16:25-27).

Friday, February 14, 2014

"The Kingdom of Heaven"

Day #49:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 15th

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 17 - 19 ...

Jesus talked about it, pointed people to it and opened the door to access into it:  the kingdom of heaven. Of all the people who have ever lived on the earth, only Jesus could speak with authority about God's rule in heaven because He came from there!  Jesus left His glory in heaven to come to earth, take upon Himself a human nature and go to the cross ... it is still unfathomable.

It must have been an incredibly amazing sight for Peter, James and John as they stood beside Jesus on the mountaintop and saw a portion of His glory revealed.  They could not have survived the fullness of His glory in their human state.  When the voice of God spoke they dropped to the ground, terrified.  John would write later, in I John 1:1-3, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life ..." 

Jesus appeared in the flesh, but He is so much more!  That's why it is tragic to listen to people who present Jesus only as our model, our example to follow.  He IS that, but He is so much more!  Some see Him as a good man, even as a prophet.  But He is so much more!  Others see Jesus as a great Teacher, but He is so much more!  Jesus came to earth from HEAVEN!  So when He talks about the kingdom of heaven, He knows what He is talking about!!

There is no sin or disease in heaven.  You don't have to pay taxes in heaven, because it's all God's!  You don't get to be great in the kingdom of heaven by making yourself look good or having power over others.  In the kingdom of heaven a child is as important as a king .. even moreso.  Jesus came to seek the lost, even if it is only one.  In the kingdom of heaven there is forgiveness - incredible, unlimited, gracious forgiveness for those who confess their sin and come to God through faith in Jesus.

And the wonderful thing is, even though you are living on the earth, you can be a citizen of the kingdom today.  You can't buy your way into the kingdom of heaven; you can't earn your way into the kingdom of heaven ... only Jesus opens the door into the kingdom of heaven.  Life in this world is only a blink, only a glimpse, only a small beginning, and unless you listen to Jesus, as God said we must do, you will miss the reality of eternal life.

"This is My Son, whom I love, with Him I am well pleased.  Listen to Him" (17:5).  Jesus knew He was on earth temporarily, and He wanted you and me to know that WE are on earth temporarily.  There is more to come.  But there are TWO possible destinations.  The kingdom of heaven is the dwelling place of God and only those who know Jesus as Savior and Lord will enter God's kingdom.  Eventually, His kingdom will come to earth.  Jesus will reign for 1,000 years on this earth, and then God will remove the present heaven and earth and create a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; II Peter 3:13; Revelation 20:11, 21:1).

Jesus talked about it, pointed to it and by His death on the cross opened the door to access into it.  As Jesus called the little children to come to Him, so He calls you and me today to come to Him for forgiveness and life!  Believe in Him today and know that you are a citizen of God's eternal kingdom!

"Dear Father in heaven, I thank You for sending Your Son from heaven to seek and to save ME!  Help us to look forward with joy and anticipation to all You have promised to those who believe and give us grace to live as citizens of Your kingdom even as we live in this world.  Give us wisdom to know that all of this is temporary, but life in Your kingdom is forever!  To YOU be all the honor, praise, wisdom, glory and power, forever and ever!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"This is OUR God!!"

Day #48:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 14th

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 34 - 39 ...

People who are living in this world today without the knowledge of the one true God have no idea what happened in the past - and why ... no understanding of what is happening in the world today - or why ... and no understanding of what is about to happen in the world - and why!  As it was in the days of Isaiah, so it will be at the return of Jesus.  Judgment will come suddenly on the enemies of the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of His people, Israel.

Chapter 34 declares that "the LORD is angry with all nations; His wrath is upon all their armies" (34:2).  Isaiah describes in 34:4 the same scene described in Revelation 6, the opening of the sixth seal, and in other places in the prophets.  The stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll.  This points ahead to the end of this planet before the creation of the new heavens and the new earth.  Chapter 35 describes God's salvation for the redeemed; the narrow "Way," where only the redeemed may walk.  These will enter Zion (Jerusalem) with singing! (35:10).

Isaiah's prophecies turn to his present in Chapters 36-39, revealing as clearly as anywhere in history the wisdom and power of God.  Assyria had already defeated the northern kingdom of Israel, as well as many other nations around them.  Judah was next ... this small, almost insignificant people in the midst of the nations of the world ... except to God.  From Judah the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Ruler appointed by God would come.

So Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, came against Hezekiah, king of Judah, and announced that the LORD, the God of Judah, would not, could not deliver them from his hand.  "How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?" he asked (36:20).  But God told Hezekiah's officials not to be afraid or listen to the king of Assyria because God would deal with him (37:5-7).

Hezekiah came to the temple and prayed to God, declaring, "You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth.  you have made heaven and earth!" (37:16).  "Now, O LORD, our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that YOU alone, O LORD, are God" (37:20).

God answered Hezekiah by telling him that He would save a remnant and that Sennacherib would not enter Jerusalem for the sake of David, God's servant (37:31-35).  How would God do it?  How would He stop this powerful army that had virtually conquered the whole world?  "Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp" (37:36), and upon his return to Nineveh, Sennacherib was worshiping in the temple of HIS god when his own sons came in and killed him!

Jumping ahead to Isaiah 52:7:  "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "YOUR GOD REIGNS!!"  This is OUR God!!  Do you know Him?  He alone is God, and through faith in His Son Jesus Christ you can KNOW that He will deliver YOU and you will be part of the remnant that marches to Jerusalem, singing His praises FOREVER!!

"Oh LORD our God, how can we give You the thanks and praise that You deserve?!  As we await Your coming judgment on those who do not know You, we give You thanks for Your gift of salvation to us, who by Your grace, are Your people today.  Our hearts, our lives are Yours, O LORD, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"There IS hope to be found!"

Day #47:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 13th

Scripture Reading:  Job 13 - 14 …

I will be preaching a sermon this week that talks about HOPE … what hope is and where we can find true hope.  I could wish that Job were here to hear it and I pray for those who will hear it, for we all need hope.  It might be said that the entire book of Job is God's work in Job's life to give him real hope - a hope that can't be taken away.  God wants the same for you and me.

Job thought he had hope at the beginning.  He worshiped God and he prayed for his children.  He was wealthy and had all a man could ask for in this world.  Life was good.  Then God allowed Satan to take it all away and to inflict Job with sores all over his body.  Yet, Job trusted God … at first.  And even in these two chapters Job continues to testify that he has a glimmer of hope:  "Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him" (13:15).

But Job is found doing in these chapters what so many do today:  questioning God and trying to understand why these things were happening to him.  He dares to say, "I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God" (13:3).  He asks God to withdraw His hand from him and to let him speak with Him.  Job's friends have been telling him that he deserves what he is getting and that he has obviously sinned against God and is now being punished for it.  Some feel that way today.

Where can you find hope in the midst of trials and suffering?  Job is having what we might call today a "pity party."  He says, "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble" (14:1).  "Man's days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed" (14:5).  "Man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more" (14:10).  Job is trying desperately to find hope, but you can't find it in the midst of a pity party!

Still, he says, "I will wait for my renewal to come" (14:14), and "My offenses will be sealed up in a bag; You will cover over my sin" (14:17).  Could Job be talking about God's forgiveness?  Is that where hope can at last be found?  In the midst of his despair, Job is hoping that there is more to life than he can see at the present, but from where he was it was hard to find.  It is believed that Job lived somewhere around the time of Abraham, more than 2,000 years before Jesus was born.  God's revelation of His plan of salvation and His giving of the law and the tabernacle and all of the signs and ceremonies pointing to the coming Savior were beyond Job's reach.  His quest for hope could only be satisfied in God's revelation of Himself.

So many lessons to be learned by Job ... lessons that need to be learned by so many today.  God WOULD and did reveal Himself to Job at the end of the story, but we have an even clearer revelation!!  We have God's Word, from Genesis through Revelation - AND we have Jesus and the cross, His resurrection, His ascension and the promise of His return.  For us, hope should be easy, shouldn't it?  Through faith in Jesus Christ it can be ... and IS!  Have you found it?  Do you have it?

As the Spirit of God opens your mind and heart to believe God's Word, hope is to be found in God's revelation of Himself.  God IS in control and knows the number of our days.  We  DO deserve God's judgment for our sins, but in the midst of suffering and trials God does not abandon those who know and trust Him.  It is through faith in God that we can know Jesus came to pay the penalty for sin, and the forgiveness Job hoped for is a gift of God's grace to those who place their hope in Jesus Christ.

There IS hope to be found in the God who "so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life!"

"Our Father in heaven, YOU are our hope!  By Your grace we enter Your presence, confessing our sin and our need for forgiveness, and finding in Jesus ALL that we need!  Thank You for Your love and Your faithfulness.  My hope is in YOU!!"

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Your faith is only as strong as its object!"

Day #46:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 12th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 18 - 20 …

"GOD" …   Who is He?  What does it mean to BELIEVE in God?  As I sit down to write today's blog I have in front of me several articles from local and national news outlets.  They range from an "Interfaith" column written by the leader of an "interfaith institute" at a nearby university promoting a deeper understanding of our unity as human beings, to an article from the Washington Post bringing Jews and Christians together to worship, to "insights" from a discussion among followers of various religions at a local pub, "where God, conversation and beer mingle."

Let me share a few quotes:

"We are all children of God, made in God's image.  We may not think alike or understand God in the same way, yet we are called to love each other.  That is the core of interfaith understanding."

"We must learn to respect each other and indeed love each other and strive for the flourishing of every child of God."

"It was like, 'Wow, they're accepting of it.'  And it's not about Jesus; it's all about praising God."

 "That's essentially what we're all trying to do - connect to the transcendent."

"After all, breweries lend themselves to long, open-ended conversations, and you don't get more open-ended than theology."

"It is tragic there are serious tensions among Hindus, Muslims and Christians in certain areas.  But it's important to note the reasons for this are clearly socio-political, NOT theological."

To summarize the message:  "Pick your 'God.'  Or make your own.  It's OK … nobody knows for sure who, what or even IF God really is.  But we DO know we're all his (it's?) children … maybe.  Whoever or whatever 'God' is, we're just along for the ride and we'll all arrive at the same place eventually.  We think - we're pretty sure - we hope, it's NOT about Jesus; it's all about praising 'God' - who is he again?"

Compare this to the message of David in Psalms 18 - 20.  "I love you, O LORD, my strength" (18:1).  He calls the LORD, the great "I AM," his rock, fortress, deliverer, refuge, shield, horn of salvation and stronghold (18:2), who is "worthy of praise" (18:3).  David declares, "The LORD lives!  Praise be to my Rock!  Exalted be God my Savior!" (18:46).  It sounds as though David KNOWS this God of whom he speaks.

Psalm 19 begins by explaining HOW David knows Him:  "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.  …  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard" (See Romans 1:18-20).  God is the Creator and every human being who has ever lived has seen the evidence of His majesty and power and wisdom.  And there's more.

God has revealed Himself in His Word:  Psalm 19:8-11 … in His law, statutes, precepts, commands and ordinances.  God is righteous, perfect, holy and just.  "By them is Your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward" (18:11).  "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer" (19:14).  That is David's goal, as it is the goal of every true child of God who has been taught by His Spirit and who has put his or her trust in this one, true God.

Yes, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God" (20:7).  Is that true of you?  Do you know this God?  Do those you love and care about know Him?  Are you telling them?  The writer of Hebrews, inspired by the very Spirit of God, explains:  "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, through whom He made the universe" (Hebrews 1:1-2).

He goes on in Chapter 2 to warn that "we must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For if the message spoken by angels was binding (the law and the prophets), and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (2:1-2).  Are you living by faith in God … this one and only true God who has revealed Himself through His Son Jesus Christ?  You see, it IS about Jesus, for He IS the Way and the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him" (John 14:6) … by FAITH in Jesus Christ.

All the other voices speak lies.  The Bible, God's Word, holds the only key to eternal life:  faith in our risen Lord and Savior, the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ.  There is no other way.  All the efforts to "mix" the religions of our world today will bring only judgment upon those lost in the darkness of spiritual ignorance.  To all around us we must continue to declare, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!" (Acts 16:31) … "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given to men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

"Oh heavenly Father, our Rock and our Fortress, our Deliverer, our Savior, our Strength and our Shield, I praise You today for revealing Yourself to us, in Your creation and through Your Word and in Your Son Jesus Christ.  Help us who believe to be ambassadors of Your eternal kingdom, declaring the truth against the rising tide of apostasy, knowing that YOU are the object of our faith and that by Your strength, we shall not be moved!  In Jesus' name, Amen!"

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Don't do that!"

Day #45:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - February 11th

Scripture Reading:  Judges 7 - 11 ...

It has been a week since we were in the book of Judges, but we pick up in the same place as we left off.  Those who know the book of Judges know that the cycle during this period of Israel's history repeated itself often:  Israel sinned against God by worshiping other gods, God sent their enemies to oppress them, they eventually cried out to the LORD for deliverance, God sent them a "Judge" to lead them into battle and delivered them from their enemies.  Israel worshiped the LORD ... for a time ... then the cycle repeated itself again.

When reading the book of Judges you should not expect to see devotion to the LORD rising from the masses.  You may remember Judges 2:10:  "After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done for Israel."  Even the Judges that God used to deliver His people were very flawed people and did some horrible things in the name of God.  Their way of life was certainly not pleasing to God and it was a dark time, not only in the history of the world, but in the history of Israel.

All of this was still preparation for the time of the kings of Israel, which would point to the coming King, the Messiah, Jesus.  Human nature, left to itself, reveals exactly what we read about in Judges.  People refuse to worship the one, true God, their Creator.  The world lay in utter spiritual darkness, even up to the birth of Jesus some 1300 years later.  God explains this time in the New Testament, in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 10:

"I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.  They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ!  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert" (I Corinthians 10:1-5).

Then Paul goes on to say, "Now these things occurred as examples to keep US from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.  Do not be idolaters, as some of them were ...  We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did ... We should not test the Lord, as some of them did ... And do not grumble, as some of them did" (I Corinthians 10:6-10).

"These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.  So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!!" (I Corinthians 10:11-12).  This is the context for a very familiar verse, I Corinthians 10:13 ... a verse that talks about temptation.  When you read the book of Judges you see human nature giving in to every temptation imaginable (and some unimaginable!).

Satan, the world and our own flesh tempt us continually to turn away from God, to go our own way and do our own thing.  It is THIS temptation that is spoken of in verse 13:  "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

By the power of the Holy Spirit, God gives to believers today the power to overcome such foolish and obvious temptations.  Idolatry, sexual immorality, testing the Lord, grumbling and complaining against God ... Yet, still today there are those who turn to other gods, who seek pleasure in the things of the world and who question God when things do not go their way.  As difficult as it is to read the book of Judges and to witness the depravity of those who were called to be the people of God, except for the grace of God through our risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ and the work of His Spirit within us, so go we!

God's judgment would fall on them, in this world and at death.  How much more will God's righteous judgment fall on those who worship other gods and who turn away from Him today.  HE alone is God; there is no other, and He alone is worthy of our worship, praise and service.

"Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that sin lies within us and it is only by Your grace through faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ, that we can draw near to You for forgiveness and life.  Father, begin with me ... fill me with Your Spirit and empower me to overcome the sin that remains in me, so that I may love You, worship You and serve You with joy, rejoicing in Your goodness and love and living to make You known in the world, for Your glory.  In Jesus' name, Amen"