Monday, March 31, 2014

"God's Spirit, God's power, God's purpose ..."

Day #94:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - April 1st

Scripture Reading:   I Samuel 16 - 20 ...

God does what He is going to do, and it is always right.  If you haven't learned that yet, the sooner you do, the better it will be for you.  Here's why:  God is wiser than you are and all that He does is for His purposes and it is GOOD for those who know Him and love Him.  Believing in God means more than knowing some things about God and accepting them, it means knowing Him and surrendering your life to Him and devoting your life to serving Him.

So what does all of that have to do with David and Goliath?  God's Spirit, God's power, God's purpose.  God had given Saul His Spirit to change his heart so that he would be empowered to serve God.  But it was a temporary change.  This, too, was God's purpose.  The people of Israel had asked for a king and God had given them one.  Remember what Saul did when the people gathered to affirm him as king?  He hid!  Saul was tall and rugged and "looked" like a king, but his spirit was weak and self-centered.  God gave him His Spirit to empower him to reign as king, yet Saul followed the design of his heart and disobeyed God and God removed His Spirit from Saul.

God then orchestrated the circumstances of David's anointing.  David didn't "look" like a king, but "the LORD does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (16:7).  David's heart was in tune with God.  He knew God's character, he loved God, he trusted God and he served God willingly, depending on the LORD for strength, for wisdom and for direction.  God had told Samuel to anoint Saul, but Saul was the king the people wanted.  David was the king GOD wanted!

Saul, now without the Spirit of God, was allowed by God to be overcome by an evil spirit.  When the Scripture says that "an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him" (16:15) and later that "an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul" (18:10), it does not mean that God caused Saul to be evil.  Saul was already evil; God simply did not prevent the evil spirit from influencing Saul and God USED the evil spirit to accomplish His purpose, much as He did when Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus.  God is powerful enough and wise enough to use evil for His purposes without CAUSING evil.  Evil is evil because it is evil ... whether embodied in an evil spirit, in a sinner, or in a combination of the two.

God's purpose was to have a king that would point people to God.  Have you read the Psalms?  David has been called "a man after God's own heart," not because he was perfect, but because he truly had a heart for God.  He slipped, he fell, he repented and he was restored.  But early on, in our text today, David revealed his knowledge of and his commitment to God and his desire to glorify Him.  Isaiah wrote, "Your name and renown, O LORD, is the desire of our hearts!" (26:8).  That was David.

When he came to the valley where Israel's armies stood in fear before Goliath and the Philistines, David was appalled.  "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (17:26).  His confidence was in the LORD, his God:  "The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine" (17:37).  "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the LROD will hand you over to me" (17:45-46).

What happened between Saul and David, and between David and Jonathan, reveals that the center of life for those who would honor the LORD is God's Spirit, God's power and God's purpose!  To be used of the Lord requires surrender and commitment ... and a commitment to surrender!!  You and I are nothing in and of ourselves.  When we find our strength and purpose and direction from the power and wisdom of the Spirit of God it shows in the victory we have over self and the world because the focus is on GOD.  So many today want God to be all about THEM, rather than making their lives all about God.  It doesn't work that way.  We exist for God, not the other way around.

In His love, God calls us to Himself through faith in His Son Jesus Christ and then, as He did with David, He empowers us by His Spirit to go beyond ourselves, to do things we could not otherwise do ... for HIS glory.  He brings us into HIS purpose and gives our lives meaning as we glorify Him and love Him because He has first loved us.  May your life and mine be used of God to exalt His name and to draw others to Him.

"O LORD, my God, I am humbled that You would choose ME to be part of Your purpose and I thank You for the empowering presence of Your Holy Spirit.  Without You I am nothing, but I can do all You ask of me through Christ, who strengthens me.  Father, let my lifesong sing Your praise and Your glory, now and through all eternity!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, March 30, 2014

"Who is your God?"

Day #93:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 31st

Scripture Reading:  Exodus 1 - 4 ...

Who is your God?  There is no question more important than that one.  An increasing number of people would answer, "I don't believe in God" or "I don't think it really matters, as long as you believe in something."  Like the people of Athens in the first century, mankind has imagined many gods, and as it was then, the true God is unknown to most.  So as we come to the book of Exodus, having seen God make His covenant of grace with Abraham and pass on the promises to Isaac and then to Jacob, we find God moving to bring His people, now a large nation, out of their slavery in Egypt.

The question, of course, for you and me is:  "What does this have to do with us?"  The easy answer is, "EVERYTHING!"  To the world Christians are just another religious group.  But if you believe the Bible to be the very Word of the one, true God, and if you believe that it is true from cover to cover, then THIS God is OUR God and His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are OUR promises, too!
That's why it is important to see the beginning of the book of Exodus as part of God's plan to save those who would believe in Jesus centuries later.  As God sends Moses to deliver Israel, God already has in mind the sending of His Son to deliver US from our slavery to sin.  If this is NOT true and if this is NOT the true God, then everything we believe is false and we have no hope!  Do you see why this is important?

In order for the promised Messiah to be born from the line of Judah, Israel must become a nation.  As God had told Abraham, his descendants became slaves in a foreign land.  Satan continued to attempt to stop God's plan and to eliminate these people, but to no avail.  God used even the midwives to assure that His plan would be carried out through a man named Moses.  There are many details about how God revealed Himself to Moses and then sent Him to Pharaoh.  Most of us know the story well.  But there is an important fact that is repeated throughout these opening chapters of Exodus that we must not miss:  WHO this God is!!

Here are some significant statements:

"God heard their groaning and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob" (2:24).

"I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" (3:6).

God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM."  "Say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers - the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob - has sent me to you'" (3:14-15).

"The LORD, the God of your fathers - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - appears to me ..." (3:16).

"This is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers - the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob - has appeared to you" (4:5).

You cannot understand the Bible without understanding God's covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ... His promise to send a Savior from the tribe of Judah.  The New Testament begins in Matthew 1:1-2 by saying, "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, ... the father of Isaac, ... the father of Jacob ... the father of Judah ..." 

Without the Old Testament, there is no New Testament; without God's promises to Abraham, there is not Savior, no Christianity, no Church, no Gospel, no eternal life through faith in Jesus.  The Bible is one book with one story that reveals one plan to establish God's kingdom.  Either you believe it and believe in the God who revealed Himself to Moses and the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, OR you reject God's truth and try to find your own "god" ... a powerless, imaginary god who is not worthy of worship and who is not involved in your life or in our world.

Who is your God?  Do you know Him?  As we continue to read through Exodus consider this:  God doesn't change; He is the same God today as He was then.  If you know Him ... if you really know Him, then it is your purpose to make Him known to others.  The God who leads people out of Egypt and brings the plagues and opens the Red Sea is OUR GOD!!!!  Think about that when facing trials.  Read God's Word and learn His promises and trust in His power to give you strength and courage to endure, to overcome, to have victory over temptation.  HE IS ABLE!!!  He is our God!

"Lord God Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I believe in You and I trust You.  I thank You for opening my eyes, my mind and my heart by Your Spirit so that I can "see" You through the eyes of faith.  You alone are God and I rejoice that You are MY God!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"One Head, One Body ... "

Day #92:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 30th 

Scripture Reading:  I Corinthians 11 - 12 ...

Sometimes I wonder how God puts up with us ... then I remember His love for those whom He has chosen, and His amazing grace and patience.  It would be foolish, however, to presume upon God's patience and to think that dishonoring His name and causing problems in His Church go unnoticed.  Christ is the Head of the Church, His body, and He gave Himself up for her.  The Church is Christ's bride and He desires to make Himself known through the witness of the Church.  Needless, senseless, foolish divisions within the body hinder the work of the Spirit among us and our witness to the world.  How then, can we improve the oneness of the body?  By listening to God's Word!

While I don't claim to have the last word on understanding I Corinthians 11 and 12 (and chapters 13 and 14), there are some obvious truths revealed that make the purpose of these chapters clear - to bring a greater oneness to Christ's Church.  The church in Corinth had a reputation for being divided.  Paul had already addressed their divisions in Chapter 1 and again in Chapter 3.  But their divisiveness had even affected their worship and especially the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

There must have been an issue of the roles of men and women in the church because Paul addresses it in Chapter 11:3-16 and again in Chapter 14:34-40.  Paul's comments about a woman covering her head when she prays has been debated for some time, but he gives an explanation in 11:15:  "For long hair is given to her as a covering."  It is doubtful that Paul was talking about any other covering, but rather that he was speaking against the shaving of the head by women, which was a part of the culture for some religious rituals of non-Christians.

His point is made in verses 3 and 10, that God has established roles in the Church, as He has in the family, and that male headship is a biblical principle.  It is important to see the connection of this subject with what follows:  the oneness of the body.  Male and female roles in the Church continue to be an issue to this day ... but they shouldn't be.  Neither should the other issues mentioned in these chapters.  God has spoken.  "If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice - nor do the churches of God" (11:16).

The Lord's Supper, of all things, points to the sacrifice of Jesus for His body, the Church.  That they had divisions among them between the rich and the poor as they came together to worship, to share a meal together and to celebrate the Lord's Supper was disgraceful.  It revealed that their minds and hearts were on themselves and NOT on Christ.  Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of ME!"  Going through the motions of worship brings God's discipline.  How few people take these things seriously today, but I have seen congregations torn apart because of self-centeredness on the part of some within the body.

The BODY is important to Christ, and it must be important to US!  This brings us to spiritual gifts.  This could be a whole sermon, so I will just point out a few points in the context of God's desire for the oneness of the body of Christ.  First, and most obvious, there is ONE Spirit!  In the past 40 years there has been a gulf created in the church by a "movement" called, "Pentecostal."  While it is true that the church long ignored the Holy Spirit, the Pentecostal movement OVER-emphasized the Holy Spirit and OVER-emphasized certain gifts of the Spirit.

Look at 12:13:  "We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body."  Every believer has been baptized, immersed in, the Holy Spirit.  In verse 3 Paul writes, "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit."  Everyone who has been born again by the Spirit has been baptized by the Holy Spirit.  Everyone who has been baptized by the Holy Spirit says, "Jesus is Lord!"  Working from that foundation, the same Spirit gives gifts to every part of the body to be used "for the common good" (12:7).  Not everyone receives the same gifts.  The idea that one gift, the "speaking in different kinds of tongues," has been made THE mark of a born again believer is false.  If verse 10 is understood as "different kinds of tongues," and Acts 2 is taken into account, that others heard the apostles speaking "in their own languages," then this particular gift is NOT a sort of "babbling" that is not a spoken language.

All of the gifts are intended to unify the body, not divide it.  The ability to speak in a language not learned brought the ability to bring different people together who spoke different languages.  This was important in the early church, and in some places it is important today.  As for the other gifts, some were more prevalent than others.  Remember, this was a time of transition in God's plan of salvation.  As for the miraculous ... "gifts of healing and miraculous powers" ... Paul writes in II Corinthians 12:12:  "The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perseverance."  God still does miracles, but apostles were foundational to the church and the ability to do miracles was given to confirm the message of salvation.  Hebrews 2:3-4:  "This salvation was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will."

When we take all of God's Word together we discover the will of God for His body.  "As it is, there are many parts, but one body ... God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other" (12:20,25).  That's pretty clear, isn't it?  Why all the division from chapters of God's Word that are intended to bring ONENESS?  Pray that God would give you wisdom to hear HIS voice and to see the Church as HE sees it:  ONE body, united in Christ and filled with His Spirit.  Then do YOUR part to make her beautiful!!

"OUR Father in heaven, teach us to love Your Church and to labor together to exalt the name of Jesus, her Head.  Pour out Your Spirit with power that we may set our minds on Christ and not on ourselves.  Make us of one heart and one mind so that You may be glorified in our midst and we may declare Your salvation to the world!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, March 28, 2014

"What do you want from Jesus?"

Day #91:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 29th

Scripture Reading:  Mark 5 - 6 …

What do you want from Jesus?  If you believe that Jesus is who He says He is - the eternal Son of God who came in the form of human nature to offer the perfect sacrifice for sin, and who died and rose again and ascended into heaven … what do you want from Him?  What do you want Him to do for you?

The Gospels reveal Jesus' wisdom and power.  He cast out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead, calmed the storms …  There is nothing Jesus can't do.  So what's the "catch?"  We have grown skeptical of offers that seem too good to be true.  Jesus did these things then, but what about now?  Probably not.  We who know Christ believe that He is STILL able to do anything that He desires to do.  That's what He did when He was here on the earth, and all authority, in heaven AND on earth has been given to Him by the Father.  Jesus could heal every disease, He could erase poverty and hunger and sickness from the earth.  So why doesn't He?

Because there is a greater problem facing mankind!  Every person who has ever lived, who is living now or who ever will live has a deep spiritual need to know God, their Creator, and to be reconciled to Him.  While on the earth, Jesus displayed His power in many ways in order to reveal Who He was, so that those who were moved by the Spirit would believe in Him as the promised Savior, the One talked about in Isaiah 53:4-6:  "Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows …  He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. … and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."

All that Jesus did during His brief ministry on the earth was designed to point people to the cross, where He suffered God's wrath against sin for all who would believe.  People then and now failed to understand.  People then and people now want miracles.  But the more miracles Jesus did, the more miracles people wanted.  And look at their response:  the people in Mark 5 preferred a demon-possessed menace rather than the power of Jesus!  When they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons sitting there, dressed and in his right mind, they were afraid (5:15).  They "pled with Jesus to leave their region" (5:17).

When Jesus said that Jairus' daughter was not dead but asleep, the people laughed at Him … until He told her to get up!  When Jesus went to Nazareth and told the men in the synagogue that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-2, they drove Him out of the city.  And when He fed the five thousand, the disciples failed to understand that it was a picture of a spiritual hunger that only Jesus could fill.  Many people read the Gospel records and wish that they had been alive as Jesus walked the earth, but what they don't see is the deep spiritual blindness of those who heard Jesus teach and saw Him perform miracle after miracle.  If they had been alive then, they would have failed to understand, too.

What do YOU want from Jesus?  Those who know Him as Savior and Lord can testify that we already have all we need from Him:  the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.  Each believer can and should testify that Jesus has performed a miracle in my heart and my life.  He has saved me!  He has delivered me from the kingdom of darkness and brought me into the kingdom of light!  And by His Word and Spirit He is transforming me into His likeness, that I might be His witness in the world.

People have a lot of reactions to Jesus, and I think of Jesus' words to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-16:  "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth!"  I don't want to be a lukewarm disciple of Christ!

The disciples were sent out by Jesus and He gave them authority over evil spirits and the power to heal the sick, but it was their call to repentance that demanded a response.  Sin enslaves each of us until or unless we are set free by the power of Jesus Christ though His Word and Spirit.  The greatest miracle Jesus performs is the spiritual surgery that only His Word and Spirit bring about in the lives of those who are born again by the same power that raised the dead and healed the sick.  What do you want from Jesus?

Have you received His gift of life by faith, then live for Jesus and trust Him to give you all you NEED as you live your life for Him.  Look at the testimony of those who have believed God's Word, who suffered much for the sake of His name.  Look at the testimony of so many today who are suffering for the sake of the Gospel, but who will not give up or give in or turn away from Christ, believing that their reward is in heaven.  Faith believes and faith trusts, no matter what!

You can be like those who wanted more miracles, like those in Nazareth who drove Jesus out of town, like those who wanted Jesus to leave, like Herod, whose guilt moved him to kill John the Baptist and whose fear made him a pawn of Satan to try to get rid of this annoying man named, Jesus.  People say they believe in God and may even say they believe in Jesus … as long as things go their way.  But what happens when Jesus doesn't give you what you want?

Will you remain with Jesus?  Will you confess His name and worship Him, whether you are walking beside still waters or in the midst of a raging storm?  Will you be like the man who was healed and testify to everyone what Jesus has done for you?  When Jesus told His disciples to give the crowd something to eat, He showed them that HE would give them what they needed to feed people:  LIVING BREAD … LIVING WATER!  "I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35).

What do you want from Jesus?  If your faith is in the risen and exalted Savior, Jesus, the Christ, you already have all you need.  He tells us to bring our requests and sometimes He gives us a miracle, to strengthen our faith or to give us an opportunity to testify that the greater gift is eternal life through His death on the cross.  But you need to know what you want … what you NEED … from Jesus, and not be distracted by the cry of the flesh for miracles.

Jesus doesn't have to prove Himself.  He has already done that, and we have the testimony of the Scriptures.  Have you seen a miracle?  Have you experienced a miracle (we all have in hundreds of ways!), then don't point people to the miracle, but use it to point people to the One who can save their soul by granting them forgiveness as they repent and believe.  Jesus never met a sinner He can't forgive … unless they reject His offer of life.  "He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith" (6:6).

What do you want from Jesus?  "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved!" (Acts 16:31).

"Father in heaven, I need and want Your forgiveness; and I need and want Your Spirit to change my heart and renew my mind, so that I may serve You without fear all my days, and finally enter into Your eternal kingdom.  THANK YOU for giving me all I need through faith in Jesus.  Help me to want nothing more than to be a faithful witness of Your love and grace, as Your Spirit now lives within me.  To You be all the glory for Your marvelous gift of life.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls!"

Day #90:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 28th

Scripture Reading:  Jeremiah 1 - 6 …

Jeremiah was a young man called to be "Jonah" to his own people ... to pronounce God's coming judgment on a nation that had turned away from their God.  Israel had already been defeated by the Assyrians; now it was Judah's turn.  God had "divorced" unfaithful Israel, and now says, "Her unfaithful sister, Judah, had no fear and also went out and committed adultery" (3:8).  "Has a nation ever changed its gods?  ... But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols" (2:11).  It is incredible when you look at all that God had done for Israel and Judah to see their unfaithfulness to their God.  No other "god" of any other nation had remotely done what Yahweh, the Great "I AM," had done for His chosen people.  The gods of the nations were dumb idols!

Jeremiah is sent to confront Judah with their sin against God.  God promises that He will put His words in Jeremiah's mouth (1:9) and promises to be with him through whatever struggles he faces (1:19).  That's God's promise to all whom He sends to call others to repent.  It is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one.  Calling people to repent seems to be a thing of the past in many churches and Christian circles today.  "Everybody sins," people say, "but God loves everybody!"  That's not what GOD says, but that is what is being said by those who claim to speak for Him.

God says, "My people have committed two sins:  They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (2:13).  He says to Judah, "Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me," declares the LORD, the LORD Almighty" (2:19).    God says, "Only acknowledge your guilt - you have rebelled against the LORD your God!" (3:13).

The unfaithfulness of Judah has been established.  "Like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel," declares the LORD" (3:20).  Jeremiah cries out to Judah, "Let us lie down in our shame, and let our disgrace cover us.  We have sinned against the LORD our God, both we and our fathers, from our youth till this day we have not obeyed the LORD our God" (3:25).  Without question, judgment is coming!  Chapter 6 reveals God's intent:  "I am full of the wrath of the LORD, and I cannot hold it in" (6:11).  God is angry with the prophets and priests who declare that there is peace, when there is no peace (6:14).

Doesn't this sound familiar in the visible church today?  "God doesn't see your sin" ... or "God doesn't notice your sin" ... or "God has changed His mind about your sin" ... so people declare and seem to believe!  Our culture declares that things have changed, that we understand things better now, that the Bible is not relevant to our society, that we need a new way of looking at things.  But GOD says, "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But YOU said, 'We will not walk in it'" (6:16).

This is a message for the church today, for those who take the name of the Lord, the God Almighty today.   He hasn't changed.  He really hasn't changed!  God offers forgiveness to those who confess their sin and who desire to turn from sin to obey Him.  "'If you will return, O Israel, return to ME,' declares the LORD!" (4:1).  "Break up your unplowed ground ... circumcise your hearts ..." (4:3-4).  "O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved" (4:14).  Repent!  Repent!  Repent!!

They would not ... so God, in His wisdom declares, "This is what the LORD says, 'The whole land will be ruined, though I will not destroy it completely ..." (4:27).  As Jeremiah pronounces judgment, yet God says, "Yet even in this day ... I will not destroy you completely" (5:18).  In all of this, what is God saying to Judah, and what is He saying to us?

God is saying that unfaithfulness, spiritual adultery, will not be tolerated - then and now!  Sinning without feeling any guilt and refusing to turn from sin to follow the way of the Lord will reap judgment - then and now!  God is the living water ... Jesus Himself declares that He IS the Living Water ... and to exchange the living water for the polluted water of idols is utter foolishness and will reap its own reward - then and now!

The only difference is that Judah was called to look forward to the promised Savior ... we know who He is!!  A remnant would be saved from Judah and a remnant will be saved front the world today.  Will  you be one of them?  ARE you one of them?  The message of Jeremiah is still being proclaimed today. Are you willing to hear it and to respond in faithfulness to the God of salvation?  It is not enough to speak of God's love and go on sinning.  God's love calls His people to repent, to turn from sin and to seek righteousness.

Heed God's call and come to Him, confessing your sin, seeking His forgiveness and desiring His power to transform you, from the inside out, by the power of His Spirit and His Word.  It is true that Jesus receives you as you are, but if you are truly one of His sheep, He will not leave you the way He found you!  "Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened" (by sin), Jesus called, " and I will give you rest ... and you will find rest for your souls!" (Matthew 11:28-30).

"Heavenly Father, I confess my sin before You, my Creator and my God.  You are right when You judge.  Yet, O LORD, I long to be pure and holy before You ... that the desires of my heart would be what YOU desire.  Thank You for Your call to repentance, Lord.  I hear Your voice and I long for Your rest - to rest from my sin and to find rest in YOU!  Oh my soul, I have found the good way!  Now, O LORD, help me to walk in it and to experience Your empowering grace.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Helping the powerless ..."

Day #89:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 27th

Scripture Reading:  Job 25 - 26 …

Today's reading is perhaps the shortest reading we will have all year.  Yet, Job's testimony concerning God's power holds within it an important truth:  God's power CAN be and SHOULD be a comfort to those who trust in Him.  Knowing that God is the Creator and that there is nothing He cannot do gives hope to those who are in distress.  But then why is it so often that the trials of life and the suffering that comes to those who claim to believe raise so many questions ... as in the case of Job and his friends?

The problem rests not in God or in His power, but in US!  Bildad raises the question again, "How then can a man be righteous before God?" (25:4).  In a theme repeated often by his friends, those who sin deserve God's judgment.  But what they didn't understand is that not all suffering is the direct result of a person's own sin.  We live in a fallen world and all mankind exists in a state of guilt before a holy God. Sin, suffering and death are a result of mankind's rebellion against God.  BUT, suffering comes to those who trust in the Lord and to those who don't ... and who can tell why? This seems to be the quandary that Job and his friends find themselves debating.

Suffering around the world comes in many forms:  hunger, disease, poverty and a host of other social ills plague humanity across the globe.  In one sense, all suffering is the result of sin; but not all suffering is judgment from God on an individual.  Yes, God disciplines those He loves in order to call people back to Him who may have wandered, but not all suffering is discipline either.  God may allow His people to suffer in order to testify to their faith in the One who is with us and who never leaves us or forsakes us.  This was true in Job's case and it is true in the lives of many of God's children.

So, Job's statements in Chapter 26, verse 2:  "How you have helped the powerless!  How you have saved the arm that is feeble!"  That's sarcasm - in case you couldn't tell.  Job's friends have offered NO help to the powerless and no salvation to the feeble.  They have piled on accusation after accusation, while Job has tried only to defend himself because he, too, fails to understand why God has allowed this horrible set of calamities to come upon him.

It makes me want to back up to Job 1-2, where Job was dealing with his suffering as a believer should ... trusting in God and not asking a thousand questions.  Remember Job's words after the deaths of his children and the loss of his possessions:  "Naked I came from my mother's womb and naked I will depart.  The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away, may the name of the LORD be praised" (1:21).  And verse 22:  "In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing."

And after he had been struck with more suffering through painful sores over his body, Job's reply to his wife was, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"  And again, "In all this, Job did not sin in what he said" (2:10).  Job started out so well, but when his friends opened their mouths and questioned Job's integrity and righteousness before the LORD, Job began to question his circumstances and the God whom he knew ruled over them.

In the end, God would do what God does for His children:  He would turn all of this to Job's good.  But what about Job's statement:  "How you have helped the powerless!"?  What do the powerless need?  What do those facing suffering require to persevere, to endure?  HOPE!  They need to know that God is with them, that He has not forgotten them, that He will strengthen them and raise them up.  I think of a couple who has just lost their child to cancer.  So many prayers were offered ... prayers for healing, for strength ... prayers for a miracle ... but none came ... ... ... ... ... or did it?

For those who believe in the God Job talks about in Chapter 26, death is not the end!  Suffering never "wins" in the life of those who believe and who come to God in the way He has provided:  through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  Because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross, all who believe now stand truly righteous before our holy God.  The good news of the Gospel declares that we are righteous by faith ... that in God's sight we actually receive the righteousness of Christ!!

THIS is what the powerless need to hear!  They need to hear that the God who holds all power in His hands ... the One who could remove all the suffering from their lives and from this world ... will do exactly that when Jesus returns.  Until then He calls us to live by faith, trusting Him and serving Him.  And what of those whose lives end in death before their suffering ends?  The words of Isaiah bring comfort:  "The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.  Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death" (Isaiah 57:1-2).

Not all suffering is judgment or discipline.  Suffering is part of life in this world and our Father in heaven is able to strengthen us in the midst of it and to use it for His glory.  That is enough for us to know.  This is the way to help the powerless ... offer them the hope YOU have by trusting in the LORD, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  And when you are tempted to question, to doubt or to fear, remember these words from the Apostle Paul:

"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!" (I Corinthians 10:13).

"O Lord, You ARE faithful to those who know You and who call on Your name.  Help me to trust You when trials and suffering come, knowing that nothing happens by chance and that You are at work in everything.  Fill me with Your Spirit that I may be joyful always, pray without ceasing and in every circumstance give thanks ... for this is Your will for those who know Your Son as Savior and Lord.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"What good does it do to believe in Jesus?"

Day #88:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 26th

Scripture Reading:  Psalm 36 - 38 …

As I look at the world today, it seems that even those who go to church and claim to be Christians don't understand the benefit and blessing of knowing God as you live life in this world ... which makes me wonder if some really KNOW Him!  Even though God says, "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life!" (Philippians 2:14-16) ... believers seem to join in with those around them in complaining and murmuring (like the people of Israel!) about everything from the weather to what's for dinner!!

We desperately need to take a broader, deeper look at life and realize just how blessed we are as those who know God and who are called as disciples of Jesus Christ to be the light of the world!  In our Psalms today contrast the way of the wicked and the way of the righteous.  Remember, as a believer, our perfect righteousness is in Christ Jesus and we receive it by faith, but it is also true that the Holy Spirit produces righteousness in us as we draw near to Christ in faith, desiring to obey Him.  If that is NOT the case in your life, you need to examine your relationship to Christ.  God is in the business of transforming His people.

Not so, the wicked:  "There is no fear of God before his eyes.  For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.  The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good.  Even on his bed he plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course ..." (36:1-4).

The righteous, on the other hand, declare, "O LORD, you preserve both man and beast.  How priceless is your unfailing love! ... For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light" (36:7,9).  Believers KNOW things that unbelievers do not.  We know the character of God, the love of God in Christ, the power of God in His Spirit, and therefore have peace, hope, joy and strength as we live in this world with the sure and certain hope of eternal life.

So, David writes in Psalm 37, "Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong ... Trust in the LORD and do good ... Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him and He will do this ... Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways ...  do not fret - it leads only to evil" (37:1,3-5,7-9).  Do you see how we are to live in this world by faith?

He says the wicked "will soon wither ... they will soon die ... will perish" (37:2,20).  Could the contrast be any clearer?  "The meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace" while "the LORD laughs at the wicked, for He knows their day is coming" (37:11,13).  "Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous" (37:16-17).  I love David's words in verse 2:  "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread."

God takes care of those who know and love and trust in Him!  No matter how difficult life may become (as we read in Psalm 38), we can still call on God and know that He IS our Savior (38:21-22).  "There is a future for the man of peace.  But all sinners will be destroyed ... the salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; He is their stronghold in time of trouble.  The LORD helps them and delivers them" (37:39-40).

So what good does it do to believe in Jesus?  Judge for yourself.  As you read Psalms 36-37, you become aware that the choice to believe is a gift of God's grace, and then as you read Psalm 38 you remember why you and I NEED God's grace ... because we are sinners who stand guilty before a holy God.  Without a Savior we have no hope.  Without a Savior we deserve to be forsaken by God and left alone.  But through faith in Jesus we know that God will NEVER leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

Live life today with confidence borne of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Delight in the Lord, trust Him, commit your way to Him and find rest for your soul.  Do not fret because of evil.  The wicked will perish in their sin.  Wait patiently for the Lord, for He IS good, and His mercy endures forever for those who know and love Him.  These are the blessings of the righteous, of those washed in the blood of the Lamb!

"Oh LORD, my God, how great You are and how worthy to be praised, for You have delivered me from the just rewards of my sin and have set my feet upon the rock of salvation.  May my lifesong sing to You and declare to the world: My God reigns!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, March 24, 2014

"For the sake of His great name!"

Day #87:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 25th

Scripture Reading:  I Samuel 11 - 15 …

Reading through the history of the people of Israel, you have to wonder at some point why God didn't just forget about them and carry out His plan to bring salvation to those who believe through some other nation or people group.  Their track record reveals one act of rebellion after another mixed with idolatry and every sin you can imagine.  Contrast this with the LORD's track record with them, as Samuel declares in Chapter 12, verse 7:  "Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your fathers."  Though Israel failed God often, God NEVER failed them!

Saul was now their King, but Samuel reminded them:  "If both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God - good!  But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against His commands, His hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers" (12:14-15).  The people asked Samuel to pray for them and Samuel said, "Far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you" (12:23).

But it is verse 22 that explains God's commitment to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob throughout the Old Testament and even up to the return of Jesus Christ.  I have actually heard pastors and others say that to teach that everything God does is for His glory makes God to be unfeeling, arrogant, unloving and lacking compassion.  They believe and teach that God does everything for the welfare of mankind and that He loves everyone the same and eventually will forgive everyone and welcome them into His presence.  Samuel and the rest of the Bible teach otherwise.

God is GOD!!  To think that anything God does could be considered "self-serving" is to speak in utter ignorance.  God IS compassionate, merciful, gracious and loving.  But as God, the Creator of the universe, there is one reason that explains why He "puts up with" Israel and, indeed, the human race:  "For the sake of His great name the LORD will not reject His people, because the LORD was pleased to make you His own" (12:22).  God chose this people and it is for His glory that He fulfilled His purpose to bring a Savior through the tribe of Judah and that He will again rescue Israel from the attacks of the nations of the world when Jesus returns!

Saul appeared to begin well as king of Israel, but it was not long before he displayed the same fatal flaw that resides within each of us.  When Samuel delayed his coming to offer the burnt offering before Israel went into battle, Saul took things into his own hands (13:9-10).  God's response:  "Your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after His own heart and appointed HIM leader of His people, because you have not kept the LORD's command" (13:14).

Isn't that a little extreme?  After all, nobody is perfect.  But you see, that's precisely the point!  Without perfection no one can stand before God.  Partial obedience is not obedience!  God helped Israel in battle after battle, for the sake of His great name.  It should not be surprising when God allows Israel to be defeated ... it is more surprising when He delivers them ... except for the reason God Himself gives:  for the sake of His great name.  After Saul disobeys God again in keeping some of the spoils of the battle against the Amalekites and blaming it on his soldiers, God reveals an extremely important principle:

15:22:  "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams."

God desires obedience.  Saul thought that he could disobey God's commands so long as he continued to offer sacrifices.  God would understand.  But Saul and many today do not understand that partial obedience is not obedience.  God never puts us in a place where we have to choose between two evils, where it is not possible to obey God completely.  Many today live life thinking that they can offer God partial obedience and He will accept whatever we offer.  People settle into a pattern of sin, but as long as they offer God an occasional prayer or "go to church" on Sunday morning they think all is well.  God isn't impressed.

If you and I take the name of Jesus Christ upon us, God calls us to obedience!!  "To obey is better than sacrifice!"  God sends Jesus to pay the penalty for sin and then sends the Holy Spirit to enable us not only to believe but to OBEY!  "What the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, GOD did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:3-4).

So, as those who have been washed by the blood of Christ and called to be holy, why do we put on all the armor of God and pursue holiness?  For the sake of His great name!!  Our lives put the power and wisdom of God on display to the world.  When we fail to obey, we dishonor our Father in heaven and the Holy Spirit convicts us and calls us to walk in the paths of righteousness FOR HIS NAME'S SAKE!

Let this be your motivation every day and God will complete the work He has begun in you ... for HIS glory ... and for your good.

"Heavenly Father, I know that I still fall short of Your glory, yet in my heart I desire to magnify Your Name, to testify to Your power at work in me and to point others to You.  Let me live today and tomorrow for the sake of Your great Name!!  In Jesus' name, Amen" 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"The end of a life … the beginning of a nation!"

Day #86:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 24th

Scripture Reading:  Genesis 48 - 50 …

It must have seemed like a long time ago that God had made His promises to Abraham that He would be the God of Abraham and his descendants, that He would multiply Abraham's descendants and give them the land, and that through the "Seed" of Abraham, all nations on the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12, 15 and 17).  Abraham was dead, as was Isaac.  Jacob had 12 sons, and we have read how the brothers of Joseph sold him into slavery in Egypt and how God was with Joseph and exalted him to the second-in-command to Pharaoh in order to accomplish God's purpose in keeping the descendants of Abraham and Isaac alive during the seven-year famine.

Now Jacob's death is near, so he makes Joseph promise not to bury him in Egypt, but to take his bones back to the promised land, displaying his faith in God's promises.  He blesses Joseph and his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Chapter 48), and then passes on a word from God:  "I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers" (48:21).

Then Jacob gathers all of his sons together and gives a prophecy of their futures:  "Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come" (49:1).  There are a number of significant prophecies given in Chapter 49, but without question the most important is that given to Judah:  "The scepter will not depart from Judah nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, and the obedience of the nations is His!"  (49:10).

This promise will eventually become the focus of the very existence of the people of Judah, those called "Jews" to this day.  It is important to remember that God has not forgotten the rest of the tribes of Israel either.  They are not mentioned often in Scripture, but in the prophets there is always the underlying current of hope offered to Israel that there will be a future glory for all of Israel.  There will be a reunion in the last days as God gathers His people from the corners of the earth prior to the Church being raptured.  (See Revelation 7:1-8).  God does not forget His promises!!

David, the second king of Israel, was from the tribe of Judah, and the line of David would continue right up to the birth of Jesus Christ, a descendant of Judah.  This tiny tribe amidst a tiny, insignificant nation in the eyes of the world, would give birth to the Messiah, the Anointed One, the King, the Christ!  Why?  Because God said it would be so!!

When Jacob dies, Joseph keeps his promise and leads a procession to the land of Canaan.  What a sight that must have been.  This was not like taking someone's body to the place of their birth today.  This was a major journey and others were watching, and perhaps wondering, why all of the mourning, and why were the Egyptians bringing this man's body all the way from Egypt?  God's purposes are hidden from the world and revealed to those who know Him.

Now Joseph's brothers are concerned that with their father gone, Joseph might hold a grudge against them.  They asked for Joseph's forgiveness and even said that their father wanted Joseph to forgive them.  Out of fear they offered to become Joseph's slaves, but once again, Joseph understood the sovereignty of God over all the events of his life and said to them, "Don't be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (50:20).  Some have said that Joseph had "50/20 vision."  It's a good way of remembering that God uses even the evil of men to accomplish His purposes.

It reminds me of what Peter said of Jesus in Acts 2:23-24:  "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead!"  God's plan cannot be thwarted by the wickedness and evil of sinful men.  He kept His promises to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, and through faith in Jesus Christ, the promised "Seed" of Abraham, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, you and I who believe are included in God's promises for the future!

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Patriarchs ("fathers") of the nation of Israel, were now gone, but God's promises remained. As Jacob died, the history of the nation of Israel began, as his twelve sons would head the twelve tribes of Israel.   Before he died, Joseph said to his brothers, "God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (50:24). As Jacob had done, Joseph made them promise to carry his bones back to Canaan … a promise they would later keep.

As Joseph trusted God to keep His promises, so must you and I.  We know who the "Seed" of Abraham is and how God determined to accomplish our forgiveness, our salvation and deliverance from the just reward of our sin.  Trust in the Lord our God and rest in His promises and you will enter into the promised land … the new heaven and the new earth that He has promised for all who come to Him through Jesus Christ!

"Heavenly Father, more than 4,000 years ago You entered into a covenant with Abraham, and all who have faith in Jesus Christ are the children of Abraham, grafted into the 'root of Jesse,' the father of King David, from whose line the Messiah came.  Help me to remember who I am and whose I am as I live in this world by faith, longing for that day when I will live by sight!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"For the sake of the Gospel, and for the glory of God!"

Day #85:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 23rd

Scripture Reading:  I Corinthians 9 - 10 …

People do a lot of things for a lot of reasons.  What motivates YOU?  The word, "motivate," comes from the root word, "motive."  A "motive" is the inner feeling that drives our actions.  That feeling is, itself, driven by our pattern of thinking.  Whatever you THINK is important will "move" you to feel strongly about going forward with a certain course of action.  How much "emotion" is attached to your actions reveals how strong your motive or reason is for doing it in the first place.  Did you follow that?!!

Here's the question:  Why do you do what you do?  What drives you?  Maybe, like many, the answer is all wrapped up in SELF.  You do what pleases YOU.  You do what YOU want to do, as much as the world and others allow you to do so.  Jesus said that if you are going to be HIS disciple, you need to deny that motive and substitute it with a different one:  What does GOD want me to do?

As Paul writes to the Church at Corinth you sense that this is what he was trying to get across to them and why the Holy Spirit inspired him to write what he did in the way that he did.  Having addressed some of the problems the church in Corinth was going through, Paul continues to explain how and WHY they are to live as followers of Jesus Christ.

In Chapter 9, Paul gives a rather lengthy defense of his ministry as an apostle, as one commissioned by Christ to proclaim the Gospel.  He explains that it would be right for him to receive a material gain from those to whom he was preaching and teaching (9:7-12).  But he goes on to explain that he did not make use of that right.  He says that this is his reward:  " … that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it" (9:18).  He would later write to his young friend and pastor, Timothy, in I Timothy 5:17-18, that he should instruct the church that those who "labor in the word" are to be compensated, and he uses the same verses as he does in verse 9 here.

Paul's reasoning in these early years of the church was this:  "I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible … I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (9:19, 22).  But WHY?  He tells us in verse 23:  "I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings!"  Paul wanted nothing in this world.  He was looking for a different prize.  Referring perhaps to the Olympic Games, he says that those who compete train hard "to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever!" (9:25).

That was Paul's motivation from the moment he met Christ.  He would write to the Philippians:  "For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain!" (1:21).  How many of us can say that?  How many of us live that way?  It wasn't just Paul who lived this way.  Many of the leaders of the Church and others gave their lives for the Gospel, and many are doing that even today.  I wonder how many of us would be willing to die for the Gospel.  But here's the thing:  in order to live for Christ … to really live for Him as a faithful disciple … Jesus said you HAVE to die!!  You have to die to your SELF and live for Jesus, by the power of His Spirit who is now at work within you.  Dying to self is not optional!

Paul goes on in Chapter 10 to use the people of Israel as a warning for the early believers, and for us, today.  "These things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did" (10:6).  "These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come" (10:11).  The "end times" began with the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the countdown draws near its end.  The temptation is to be distracted by the things of the world around us and by our own selfishness, so Paul writes,

"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!  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" (10:12-13).  Don't give up, don't be discouraged, don't be overwhelmed, don't yield to the temptation to give in.  God is with you and He will give you what you need when you need it.  Stand firm in your faith and He will carry you when you don't have the strength to go on.  That's His promise to every believer, to every true disciple of Christ.

This is why idolatry of any kind is so bad … putting anything else before God.  We are one body and we belong to the Lord alone.  You can't be on both sides.  He uses the example of food offered to idols to show that as believers we are free, but "nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others" (10:24).  We need to be careful that nothing gets in the way of our testimony that JESUS is all we need and that we find our joy and greatest pleasure in HIM.  If our freedom hurts someone else's conscience and puts an unnecessary stumbling block in the way, we need to put God first and our brother second.

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  Do not cause anyone to stumble … I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved" (10:31-33).  And he concludes in the first verse of Chapter 11:  "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."

This was Paul's motivation:  For the sake of the Gospel and for the glory of God.  What's yours?  In your family, in your relationships with others in the body, in your witness in the world, what drives you?  If it is anything else … if you must confess that you rarely think about living to proclaim that Jesus is Savior and Lord, and that you often do not take others into account when making decisions on what to do or what not to do … then confess your sin and ask God's forgiveness.  Pray that His Spirit would make you sensitive to His leading and that as you study His Word you will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and apply the wisdom He gives to your daily living.

Live every day for the sake of the Gospel and for the glory of God and you will produce a fruitful harvest for God's kingdom and will one day receive a crown that will last forever … one that you can lay down at the feet of Jesus!

"Our Father in heaven, as we read the testimony of Paul and examine our own motivation, fill us with Your Spirit and tear us away from anything except devotion to You.  Help ME to offer myself to You, to surrender my thoughts, my feelings, my desires to You and to take up my cross, being willing to endure suffering for the sake of the Gospel and for Your glory!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Sowing seed in the kingdom of God …"

Day #84:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 22nd

Scripture Reading:  Mark 3 - 4 …

A pastor whose sermons I listen to occasionally online always introduces the time of receiving the tithes and offerings of God's people by saying, "We're going to sow seed into the kingdom …"  While I understand that he is referring to Paul's words in II Corinthians 9, where he is talking about giving an offering, "Remember this:  Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously" (verse 6) … too many people today seem to think that this means if I give of my finances to the Lord, God will bless me financially with more to give.  God may do that, but He also may not.  The deeper lesson Paul is teaching is what Jesus refers to in His parables of the kingdom:  the seed that is sown is the Word of God.  The financial gifts of the Corinthians and others were enabling the Gospel to be proclaimed, even as their gifts were meeting the needs of those in Jerusalem and in other places, and the result was that people were glorifying God!

The ultimate goal in God's kingdom is always that God would receive glory, and the way that happens is when the Word falls on good ground and produces a harvest of righteousness.  That's why Jesus came to preach the good news and to call people to repentance and faith.  The Pharisees didn't understand this concept of giving glory to God through a life of faith and obedience.  They were still living under the law, so they continually tried to set Jesus up.

As Mark 3 begins, it appears that they brought a man with a shriveled hand into the synagogue to see if Jesus would heal him on the Sabbath.  Jesus met them head-on by asking them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath:  to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill it?" (3:4).  When they didn't answer, Jesus looked at them in anger and was "deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts" (3:5).  They plotted how they might kill Him.  Their hearts were NOT good ground!

They accused Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub, as though His power came from Satan.  THIS is the unforgivable sin:  to attribute to Satan what is being done by the power of the Spirit of God (3:29).  Even His mother and brothers did not yet understand.  But Jesus came to teach, to lay the foundation for His Church, to explain how the kingdom of God "works" and to call people into it.  His Word had power because God's Word has power.  Do you "have ears to hear" (4:9)?  Do you understand the "secret of the kingdom of God?" (4:11).

Like the crowds then, the crowds today want God to do things for them HERE and NOW!  When He does, they're happy ... if He doesn't meet their expectations, they are discouraged or depressed or angry, and wonder why.  But those who have been made good ground by the grace and power of God receive His Word and trust Him in every circumstance, living their lives to tell others of their loving, good and faithful God, who is at the same time holy, righteous and just.  They confess that they are aliens and strangers in this world, and they look for a better country, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:13-16).

For these, Jesus calms the storm and calls us to get rid of our fear and believe!  The disciples asked, "Who is this?" (4:41).  We KNOW who He is!!  This is Jesus, the Christ, the eternal Son of God, our Savior and our Lord!!  The crowds would leave Jesus when His teaching didn't suit them (John 6), and Jesus would turn to the disciples and ask them, "Do you want to leave me, too?"  (John 6:67).  But in a moment of clarity, Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  YOU have the WORDS of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (6:68-69).

I pray that as you read Mark's Gospel, and as you hear Jesus' words, YOU know who He is and believe in Him.  And I pray you are good ground and that you will bear fruit for His kingdom!!

"Heavenly Father, I thank You for sending Jesus to teach the truth of Your kingdom, and then for giving the perfect sacrifice on the cross to open the door for those who believe to enter it.  I praise You for the work of Your Spirit, by whose power You bring the dead to life ... for You have brought ME to life!  Continue your work in me, so that I may produce a harvest for YOU.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Israel, Jerusalem ... a new heaven and a new earth ..."

Day #83:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 21st

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 62 - 66 ...

As we live in a world set on "self-destruct" and watch the nations of the world jockey for position, power and prestige it is easy to get caught up in our daily activities and to ignore what GOD says about where all of this is headed.  Isaiah and the people of Judah were facing the judgment of God.  Jerusalem would be destroyed.  All would appear to be LOST ... but God has a plan for this nation, for Jerusalem, for Israel ... and you and I can either be part of His plan or we can be part of a world that goes on its way, headed toward the winepress of God's wrath and judgment.

Zion was another name for the city of David, Jerusalem.  It is said that Jews, Christians and Muslims claim Jerusalem as their "Holy City."  Here's the truth:  Jerusalem is GOD's city ... the God of Abraham, ISAAC and JACOB!  That excludes the Muslims, the descendants of Ishmael.  And what most do not understand, Christianity is the fulfillment of true biblical Judaism.  Jerusalem holds no special significance for people who do not confess Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, as Savior and Lord.  But for those who do, both Jews and Gentiles, this city is the focus of God's attention, and should be of ours.

God says that He will rejoice over Jerusalem "as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride" (62:5).  The opening verses of Chapter 63 describe the return of Jesus as He treads the winepress of God's wrath (63:2; Revelation 19:15).  Notice that God's vengeance and His redemption come to pass at the same time (63:4).  When Jesus comes He will bring salvation to those who believe in Him, but judgment upon the rest of the world.  Those who think of God only as a God of love, who loves everyone and ignores sin, will be horribly surprised.  Those who believe that Jesus is only the Lamb that was slain and not also, at the same time, the Lion of Judah, will face the justice of a jealous God.  This is where our world is headed.

How thankful we must be for God's grace!  Our prayer must be that of Isaiah in Chapter 64, verses 8-9:  "O LORD, you are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD; do not remember our sins forever."  Only because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross can we who believe in Jesus today confess our sins, ask for forgiveness and trust that in Jesus our debt is paid.  Deliverance is in the hand of God.

God sent the Gospel "first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles" (Romans 1:16).  There have always been some from the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who have believed, and through the testimony of Christians over the past century, perhaps more than ever before.  Still, there is a future glory for Jerusalem and for the physical descendants of Jacob:  "I will not destroy them all.  I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah those who will possess my mountains; my chosen people will inherit them, and there will my servants live" (65:8-9).  God will do what He says He will do.

In this world we face trials, suffering and persecution, but God is at work in the nations and in the lives of His people, those who believe in Jesus, whom He has chosen for Himself.  When we feel overwhelmed, discouraged, frustrated or defeated, we need to think on these things!  God says, "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. ... For I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.  I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more" (Isaiah 65:17-20).  If this sounds familiar, it is repeated in Revelation 21:1-3.  Hundreds of years before the Apostle John saw it, decades after Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension, God revealed the same thing to the prophet Isaiah.

There is a glorious future for those who know the Lord, the God of Israel.  God blesses those who humble themselves before Him.  "This is the one I esteem:  he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word" (66:2).  People do not realize that to reject the one true God is the epitome of pride.  To believe that you have the right to choose your own "god" displays the foolishness and sinful rebellion of those who want to determine their own fate in their own way by doing their own thing.

The God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is not finished with Jerusalem.  In Chapter 66, verses 6-8, Isaiah describes the re-birth of a nation ... May 14, 1948.  And then he "fast forwards" again to the final countdown:  "For with fire and with His sword the LORD will execute judgment upon all men and many will be those slain by the LORD" (66:16).  The God of love is a just and holy God who is "storing up His wrath" (Romans 2:5).  That day will come, perhaps very soon.  Then, "They will proclaim my glory among the nations.  And they will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the Lord" (66:19-20).

And finally ... finally, "As the new heavens and the new earth that I will make will endure before me, so will your name and descendants endure" (66:22).  God has said it and He will do it.  Where is your hope today?  Are you living with one ear to the things that are going on in the world and watching for the signs of His coming?  They are all around us.  Put your trust in the Lord, the only true God.  Draw near to Him through faith in Jesus and know that in the end ... all will be well for those who know the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  After Jesus rules for 1,000 years in Jerusalem, the heavenly city of Jerusalem will descend to a new earth and God will dwell with His children forever!!

"Oh LORD, our God, we come to You confessing our sin and resting in Your grace, Your mercy and Your forgiveness through Jesus, Your Son.  Thank You for Your love in sending Him to pay our debt, to suffer Your wrath in MY place, that I may live with You now and anticipate living with You forever in Your new heaven and earth.  Oh LORD, MY God, blessed be Your name!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"Oh God, where are you?"

Day #82:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 20th

Scripture Reading:  Job 23 - 24 …

We're back to Job again and once again we are reminded of the turmoil that is going on in Job's heart and mind.  Because his friends have accused him of wrongdoing, Job is found trying to foolishly defend himself by declaring his "innocence" before the Lord.  He wants to state his case before the Almighty and believes that he would be acquitted (23:3-7).  We know, of course, that no one is innocent in the Lord's courtroom.  All stand "guilty" before the Judge of all the earth!

Chapters 23-24 offer no hope and no comfort.  Such is the state of Job's mind.  A symptom of Job's despair is found in verses 8 and 9 of chapter 23:

"But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him.  When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him."

God is everywhere, but Job confesses his blindness.  His darkness is that of people throughout all the ages who look at the waves and hear the wind and who take their eyes off of their Savior, their God!  Job confesses at the end of chapter 23 that he is terrified of the Lord (vss. 15-16).  What a horrible state to find yourself in, yet millions are in the same place Job finds himself.  Apart from God's grace, this is where you and I would find ourselves, too.

Chapter 24 reveals where such thinking leads.  When you think God is far away and you can't "find" Him, you begin to look at the wicked and it appears that they have no struggles or problems.  Why doesn't God slay the wicked?  Why do the trials and sufferings of believers often seem worse than those of unbelievers?  Is God a righteous Judge?

Job speaks of the ruthless activities of the wicked (24:1-4), and compares the way of the poor (24:5-12).  The wicked do whatever they want and "the groans of the dying rise from the city, and the souls of the wounded cry out for help … But God charges no one with wrongdoing."  In essence, Job is charging GOD with wrongdoing, because Job thinks He is doing nothing!  He declares that "those who rebel against the light" (24:13) do what they want in the darkness (24:14-16).

Still, Job believes that God will destroy them with His power … Job just wants Him to do it NOW!!!

How many of us have been or are where Job finds himself in these chapters?  The evil and wickedness of the world increase hour by hour, day by day.  We live not only in a world that ignores God's light, but in a nation that rejects the path God has laid out in His Word.  If God is not in control ... if God is somehow "absent" ... if God is sitting idly by and allowing the wicked to do whatever they want ... then there is no hope.  Centuries ago some believed that the Gospel would produce a golden age when most people in the world would believe in Jesus and this world would become a "better" place to live.  After two world wars and the rise of terrorism, few believe in that dream any longer.

Those who read and believe God's Word know that the Gospel will accomplish all that God intends:  the Gospel brings life to those who are born again by the Spirit and who respond by placing their faith in Jesus Christ ... and it declares judgment on those who reject the Savior and go their own way, creating their own gods or making themselves their own god.  FAITH in the one true God means that you trust Him ... no matter what, because you know He is faithful and that in the end, it will be well with your soul.

As we have seen so often, Job needed someone to encourage him to stand firm.  This is one of the great advantages of being part of Christ's body.  As a child once said, "I know God is with me, but sometimes I need somebody with skin on!"  Jesus became God "with skin on!"  We, who believe, have a Savior, an Advocate, a Brother, a Lord who IS "Immanuel," "God with us" ...  And He will NEVER leave us or forsake us ... EVER!!  Every believer can answer the question, "Oh God, where are you?" by testifying, "The Lord is my Light and my Salvation ... whom shall I fear?!" (Psalm 27:1). "If God is for me, who shall be against me?" (Romans 8:31).  "Nothing shall separate ME from the love of God in Christ Jesus!"  (Romans 8:39).

"Father, in the midst of life's trials, You are God!  With everything in me I thank You for revealing Yourself to me and moving my heart to believe Your Word and to trust Your promises in Christ Jesus.  I know I am Yours; I know You are with Me and I know that You always do what is right, working ALL things together for good for those who love You and who have been called according to Your purpose. Help me to trust You today and tomorrow and forever!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Praising God isn't always easy … but it's always the right thing to do!"

Day #81:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 19th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 33 - 35 …

How was your day today?  Or if you are reading this in the morning, how do you think your day is going to be?  Do you see any problem with those questions?  They are both focused on YOU!  We easily become preoccupied with what is going on in our lives, whether good or bad, and determine whether it was a good day based on criteria that we ourselves have established.  Even our own criteria may change from day to day.  So what makes a day "good"?  What makes a day "bad"?  I have asked people through the years, "On a scale of '1-10' … '1' being a really bad day and '10' being a really great day … where would you rate your life on an average?"

Many people are surprised when I tell them that from a merely human perspective, as I live on this earth, I would say I live my life at about a "7" … They expect a pastor to live life closer to a "10."  But I remind them that God understands the reality of living life in this world and He doesn't sugar-coat life.  My life, and yours, is affected by what is going on around us - or at least it should be.  While some people live in a "bubble" of their own making, eventually the bubble bursts and reality strikes.  Life holds some difficult times … some hard things.  Jesus told His disciples it would be so.  He told them not to be afraid, not to get discouraged, not to lose heart, etc.  Why?  Because as we live life in this world every one of us will be tempted to do exactly that!

That's why the Psalms are such an important reminder that praising God is not dependent on the circumstances around us, but rather, on the very character and promises of God toward those who trust in Him.  Psalm 33 begins with a statement of truth:  "Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise Him" (33:1).  And the writer goes on to tell us why:  "For the Word of the LORD is right and true; He is faithful in all He does" (33:4).  His "proof" of that is in creation itself.  God spoke creation into being and "He watches all who live on earth - He who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do" (33:14-15).

While that thought scares those who do not know the grace and compassion and mercy of God, those who hope in Him rest in His unfailing love.  For us, John 3:16 is more than words held up on a piece of cardboard at a sporting event!!  "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life!"  We KNOW who God is, and we KNOW He is with us.  That's why David could praise God even in the midst of his struggles in Psalm 34.  "I will extol the LORD at ALL times; His praise will always be on my lips.  My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice!" (34:1-2).

David knew that God heard His prayers and he declares that "the LORD is close to the brokenhearted" (34:18).  "A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all" (34:19).  Those who declare that this isn't so are living inside their bubble!  When some talk about God promising only good things to His children, I ask a simple question:  "If that is the Gospel, does it work everywhere?"  The Gospel should be the same for all who believe, no matter what their circumstances, no matter what their lot in life may be.  If the Gospel gives hope in the United States of America, it must also give hope to those who believe and who live in the poorest countries in the world.  It must give hope to those who are facing persecution, and even death, for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ.

And it is important to state that the "gospel," the "good news," is the same in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament … and as it is today.  The good news is that God offers His love and forgiveness to all who come to Him.  But the reality is, NO ONE comes UNLESS God moves them to do so!!  Jesus said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him … and I will raise Him up at the last day" (John 6:44).  By the work of His Spirit within those whom God chooses, God transforms the heart and mind and opens blind eyes to see His hand at work.  THAT's how those who know God can and do give Him praise … no matter what!!

Praise is not reserved for good times, but for a good God!  God is worthy of praise, not only when He gives us times of health, prosperity and peace, but also when He allows trials and suffering and even death to enter into our sphere of life.  David understood that perhaps better than anyone who lived before the coming of Christ.  In Psalm 35 he prayed that God would deal with his enemies.  They wanted to disgrace David and put him to shame, but God was his refuge.  He trusted in Him.

When they had problems, David tried to do good to them (35:13-14) … even though when David had troubles they attacked him.  Still, David says, "I will give You thanks in the great assembly; among throngs of people I will praise YOU!" (35:18).  David trusted that in the end, God would keep His promises and make things right.  So he prayed that when God delivered him, that those who saw it would say, "The LORD be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant" (35:27).  As for David, he declares, "My tongue will speak of Your righteousness and of Your praises all day long" (35:28).

Even before God delivered him, David praised the LORD, his God!  We who believe in Jesus Christ are called to do the same.  "Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt His name together!" (34:3).  Giving testimonies of God's goodness should be a regular part of our lives.  People notice you and me and watch to see how we will respond to various circumstances in our lives … especially how we will handle the tough times.  It is in those moments when I need to confess my weakness and the Lord's strength.  I need to point people to my God and to my Savior Jesus Christ.

Peter writes, "In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (I Peter 3:15).  This is why I tell people that I live around a "7" on a scale of 1 - 10.  I may dip below that when I take my eyes off of Jesus, but then He lifts me up.  And I may rise above that when my eyes behold the goodness of the Lord more clearly some days.  But the truth is, He is ALWAYS with me and He holds me in His hand … no matter what.  I have an eternity of "10's" coming!  Until then, I'll keep on praising the Lord and encouraging others to do the same.  It's not always easy, but it's always the right thing to do!

"Abba, Father, in You I rest in the midst of life's storms.  Your love never fails and Your strength is made perfect in my weakness.  I long to see Your glory and to live without being hindered by the world and my own flesh.  But until that day, fill me with Your Spirit and move my heart to sing Your praise, so that others may hear and be glad as they, too, rejoice in YOU!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, March 17, 2014

"So you want a king ..."

Day #80:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 18th

Scripture Reading:  I Samuel 6 - 10 ...

What an amazing thing it would be if all the people of the world acknowledged the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as their Ruler, as their LORD, and then obeyed His Word perfectly, loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and their neighbor as themselves!  Oh wait, that would be heaven ... or the new heaven and the new earth that God promises to those who believe.  That's what eternity will be like for all those who confess their sin and who come to God through faith in Jesus Christ.  As we continue to read through the Bible, you see repeatedly throughout the Old Testament why the Savior had to come and why THIS world will never reach the glorious picture God gives of His future kingdom.

God had ruled over Israel from the beginning and in the tabernacle and the offerings He had commanded, God displayed His holiness among His people.  The Ark of the Covenant was a symbol of God's presence with His people.  When it was captured by the Philistines, God made it clear that He was NOT present with any other nation as He was with Israel.  He caused death and disease among the Philistines and they returned the Ark to Israel, along with a guilt offering.  God's judgment even fell on the men of Beth Shemesh in Israel because they looked inside the Ark of the Covenant and so dishonored the holiness of God.  They cried out, "Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?  To whom will the Ark go up from here?"

The Ark was moved to Kiriath Jearim and the people mourned, confessing their sin before the LORD.  Samuel called them to a deeper commitment to God, commanding them to serve Him only.  They said they would.  God then gave Israel victory over the Philistines and Samuel set up a stone and named it, "Ebenezer," saying, "Thus far has the LORD helped us" (7:12).  So God revealed again His blessing upon Israel and His rule over them.  When we believe in God and confess and live with Him as Lord, we rest in His blessing.

But Samuel was old and his sons did not follow the Lord, so the people of Israel came to Samuel and asked for a king to lead them.  Their reason:  so they could be like the other nations around them!!  (8:5-9).  God said to Samuel, "It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king."  Samuel told them that a king would do things they wouldn't like, but the people insisted and eventually, God gave them a king:  Saul.  Physically speaking, Saul was "a man's man!"  He stood a head above everyone else.  So Samuel anointed Saul, but when he gathered the people together to announce Saul as king, he was nowhere to be found ... he was hiding.  Samuel told the people, "You have rejected your God, who saves you out of all your calamities and distresses.  And you have said, 'No, set a king over us.'" (10:19).

Saul displayed the weakness of his character, but God revealed HIS power by sending His Spirit to change Saul's heart (10:6-7,9).  Even though Israel now had a king like the other nations, the reality was that because of His love for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and His promises to their descendants, God was STILL ruling over them and He would decide who would be king and the destiny of the nation was in HIS hands.  The nation would eventually be divided and God's purpose would be fulfilled through Judah ... a small, tiny remnant of the descendants of Jacob.  God IS King!  ... no matter what you and I and others may think.

The wise thing to do is to acknowledge God as King, and those who have the Spirit of God within them will do exactly that as we draw near to Him and serve Him through faith in Jesus Christ, His Anointed.  Psalm 2 says that "the kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against His Anointed One. ... The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.  Then He rebukes them in His anger and terrifies them in His wrath, saying, 'I have installed MY King on Zion, my holy hill'" (vss. 2,4-6).  Jesus IS King, and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Him as Lord.

Blessed are all who acknowledge Him today!

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.  Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven!  I acknowledge no other King but You and I ask You to fill me daily with Your Spirit that I may serve You and You only all my days and enter into Your eternal kingdom.  May You receive praise and glory as I live my life in Your presence!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"The Providence of God ..."

Day #79:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 17th

Scripture Reading:  Genesis 44 - 47 ...

There are many things that can be learned in the true life story of Joseph and his brothers.  It would make a great movie.  It is a story of contrasts:  of jealousy and hatred, and mercy and forgiveness.  It is a story of intrigue and surprise, along with a beautiful reunion.  There are personal "angles" to the story everywhere.  But behind it all there is one continuing theme:  the providence of God in accomplishing His purpose through the choices of people and the circumstances of nature and the world around us.  Only God is powerful enough and wise enough to bring all the pieces together to produce the picture He desires.  He did it then ... He is doing it now.

Joseph had a gift from God.  It wasn't just his ability to interpret dreams, which he attributed to God, but it was his steady trust in the providence of God to bring good out of evil.  When sold into slavery by his brothers, he served the Lord in Potiphar's house and the Lord blessed him.  When unjustly accused and thrown in prison, he served the Lord in prison and the Lord blessed him.  And when his brothers appeared before him, he understood the purpose of God in all that had happened up to that time.

He said to his brothers, "Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. ... God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God!"  (45:5-8).

Joseph's response could have been so different, but the Spirit of the Lord was clearly at work in him and he saw things from God's perspective, not from a purely human perspective.  This is the gift that God gives to those who know Him.  Through His Word God reveals His providence, His guidance over the events of mankind.  NOTHING happens by chance.  When people make evil choices in their sinful state, God is able to overrule them and to bring about good for those who trust Him.  How could we not think of Romans 8:28:  "And WE (believers) know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to HIS purpose."

Knowing this truth, believers can endure trials with hope, trusting God to work things out in unexpected ways.  Joseph wanted to see if his brothers were truly sorry for what they had done, so he gave them the opportunity to abandon Benjamin as they had abandoned him.  But instead, Judah volunteered to become a slave in Benjamin's place (44:33).  Their love for their father and their love for their brother moved Joseph to tears and he revealed himself to his brothers and told them to go back to Canaan and bring their father and their families to Egypt.

Imagine Jacob's astonishment when he heard the news that Joseph was alive!!  God said to Israel (Jacob): "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there and I will surely bring you back again.  And Joseph's own hand will close your eyes" (46:4).  Remember God's promises to Abraham that He would make of him a great nation and that He would give to Abraham's descendants the land of Canaan.  (Note:  Where are the descendants of Abraham living TODAY??).  Same God ... same promises ... same people ... same providence.

Of course, there was MORE going on than what we see in Genesis.  Remember God's prediction in Genesis 15:13 that Abraham's descendants would be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years, and then God would bring them back?  That's Exodus ... God would use all of this to provide the perfect picture of the sacrifice of His own Son to deliver ALL who believe from our slavery to sin and the judgment we deserve.

When we are tempted to lose heart, to believe all is lost, to get discouraged, to be overwhelmed by life's trials, we need to remember the providence of our God, who directs the affairs of men to accomplish His eternal purposes.  As God had a remnant in the days of Joseph and his brothers, so God has a remnant today.  As God kept His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so God keeps His promises today.  Every promise God ever made is "YES, and AMEN in Christ Jesus!"  (II Corinthians 1:20).

Joseph didn't understand all that God was doing, any more than you and I do, but he trusted God.  Those who lived by faith, who are listed in Hebrews 11, did not understand all that God was doing, but they trusted the God who had shown Himself faithful.  May we be found doing the same!

"Oh Lord our God, the Holy One of Israel, Your wisdom and power are displayed in Your providence over the events in our lives and in the world.  Open our eyes to see Your hand and to live by faith in Your good purposes for us.  As part of Your remnant today, remind us often of Your promises and give us grace to live with hope in YOU!!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"The practical things of life as a believer ..."

Day #78:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 16th

Scripture Reading:  I Corinthians 7 - 8 ...

God's Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ was written to those who are living life in this world.  There are some parts that are prophetic concerning the future; there are other parts that are deeply theological, containing teaching that we need to know about God and His plan of salvation, about ourselves and about our world; and there are parts that are filled with practical application for those who believe in Christ.  Our chapters today are the latter - practical application of the truth that Jesus is the Christ, that He died and rose again and poured out His Spirit to call us to Himself, and that we who believe are called to live in obedience to God's commands, not to earn our salvation, but as a testimony to the power of God at work within us.

In Chapter 7 Paul speaks about one of the most popular topics of our present-day culture:  Marriage and the sexual relationship between a husband and a wife.  Some might think that Paul could not possibly understand these things because he wasn't married and he hadn't read any of the latest books on marriage.  But Paul knew Christ and he knew that God's desire is that His children live in peace and harmony and love.  His instructions to those who are single and those who are married reflect the heart of God.  God's goal for us is "that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord" (7:35).

David wrote in Psalm 86:  "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name" (vs. 11).  Some claim to be more committed to Christ than others and try to show it in outward religious rituals and traditions which in themselves may not be wrong or sinful ... BUT, Paul writes, "Keeping God's commands is what counts" (7:19).  God reveals His will for us in His Word.  He TELLS us that love for Him comes first, and then our commitments to our husbands and wives and our children, and then our commitment to Christ's body, the Church.  Living as a disciple of Jesus in obedience to God's Word is not optional for those who are in Christ.  "You were bought at a price!" (7:23).

That reminds me of I Peter 1:18-19:  "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect."  Chapter 7 gives very specific instructions and reminds us that "God has called us to live in peace" (7:15) ... with HIM and with each other.  His Spirit gives us wisdom and strength to be and do all that He desires us to be and do.  We have a BOND, a oneness, with Christ and with each other that needs to be respected, cherished, built up, protected, nourished and strengthened, so it will grow and be strong.

Chapter 8 deals with another topic for the same reason:  building others up in love.  "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (8:1).  "There is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live" (8:6).  Paul tells believers not to destroy a brother for the sake of food or other disputable matters.  The body of Christ is too important to split it apart over things that are not direct commands of God.  Again, we need wisdom to know the difference.

Set your mind and heart on Christ every day as one of His disciples.  In your relationships with others, put Christ first and others before yourself.  Trust God to work in you and through you for His glory and you will have peace in your heart and in your relationships, and through your love others will be built up and encouraged.  God's Word is true.  Listen to His voice, for as followers of Christ, "Keeping God's commands is what counts!!" (7:19).

"Heavenly Father, in Your wisdom You have given us Your Word and Spirit to guide us through this life.  You know our weakness and call us to live to exalt Your name.  Help us, Father, to have an undivided devotion to You in all our relationships with others, that our lives may testify that Jesus is our Savior and our Lord!  In Jesus' name, Amen"