Saturday, May 31, 2014


Day #155:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 1st

Scripture Reading:  Galatians 4 - 6 ...

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery!" (5:1).  With such emphatic words Paul declared freedom in Christ for the Galatian believers and for all who trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.  Our debt is paid, our sins are forgiven and the gift of eternal life is ours, for the very Spirit of God now lives within us and is working to conform us to the image of Jesus.  Such amazing grace must never be compromised or limited or ignored, for doing so leads back to a kind of "works-righteousness" that will never stand before the judgment seat of God.  So why did the Galatians go there?

Paul was certainly grieved and tells them that they are being foolish.  "After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" he asked them (3:3).  Having given them an explanation of God's promise to Abraham, the promise that came by faith, not by keeping the law, Paul goes on in Chapter 4 to give them another illustration, this time from the lives of Abraham's sons:  Isaac and Ishmael.  This chapter alone describes the radical difference between Islam and Christianity.  And it also reveals the sovereignty of God in choosing a people to be His own, both now and for eternity.  There is no pride here, no sense that we have made ourselves right before God; but rather, an awareness of the grace of God that reaches down and saves some - a remnant - for His glory alone!!  All the praise goes to HIM!!!

At the same time, it is vitally important that we understand the difference, for it defines who we are as those who believe in Jesus Christ today.  Some people, wanting to be generous and loving, reduce the Gospel to an "offer" to all people, but without any power to save.  These say that Jesus' death and resurrection make salvation POSSIBLE for all, but it is up to US to believe.  And this teaching goes one step further;  it declares that we must allow for God to save some through the other religions of the world, too, even if they don't know Jesus, because that's the "fair" thing to do and God is loving and kind and fair to all.  This may sound good at the level of human feelings, but it is not truth and it denies the Gospel.

Paul declares FREEDOM only for those who are IN Christ, who have been united to Him by a faith produced through the Holy Spirit and the Word.  In Chapter 4 he explains that "when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that WE (who believe) might receive the full rights of sons" (4:4-5).  Paul is concerned that the Galatians do not yet understand GRACE!  His illustration of the sons of Hagar and Sarah, Ishmael and Isaac, makes the point that it is only by God's promise of grace that believers are redeemed, saved, forgiven, reconciled.  "You, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise" (4:28).

What's the big deal, some might ask?  Eternal life is the big deal!  Those who are saved are saved by GRACE.  Those who rest in their works are not trusting in Christ.  So Paul says to those who were turning back to the law, believing they had to be circumcised, "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" (5:4).  Don't DO that!!!  You cannot add anything to what Christ has done for you.  You don't HAVE to add anything to what Christ has done for you.  That's why it's GRACE!!!!

And as if he reads the minds of those who would say, "But then it doesn't matter what we do ..." Paul says, "You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature" (5:13).  This leads to his explanation in verses 16-25 ... Life lived "by the Spirit" and "in the Spirit" is a life of surrender to God's direction through His Word.  You and I need to recognize that the old nature wants what the old nature wants, BUT, there is a new power at work in the believer!!  We are no longer alone to fight against sin.  When we see the acts of the old nature, we need to crave the fruit of the Spirit.  I am convinced that there are too many people who give in, who yield, even surrender to the old nature as helpless victims, not understanding that setting their hearts on Christ and praying would enable them to have victory over temptation and sin!!

"Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit" (5:25).  Life in the Spirit is a life focused on Jesus, not trying to be good for goodness sake.  It is a life lived in freedom from guilt and fear and doubt because my sin has already been forgiven.  It is a life lived in humility, trusting God to continue the work He has begun and giving thanks ... and giving thanks for His amazing patience and love in Christ Jesus.  You can see why it is only those who know Jesus Christ who have this freedom!  There is no grace for those outside of Christ because there is no Holy Spirit outside of Christ and no new life outside of Christ.  There is only slavery.  So why would people choose to be slaves?  Because they literally don't know any better.  As we would say today, "They don't get it."

So God calls us, those who ARE free in Christ, to patiently seek to guide others to Christ by seeking to restore those who are "stuck" in sin (6:1) and by doing good to all people.  Doing good to others opens the door to conversation that leads to Christ.  While some say we shouldn't have an "agenda" for doing good deeds, why wouldn't we want other people to be FREE???  Paul concludes his letter with these words of encouragement:  "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. ... what counts is a new creation!" (6:14-15).  Those who are in Christ are new creations by the power of the Holy Spirit!  We need to boast of who we are in Christ so others will know that it is HIS power at work in us ... and THEY can experience Holy Spirit power by believing, trusting in Jesus!

Praise be to God who has made us free in Christ Jesus!  To HIM be the glory now and forever!!

"Father in heaven, when I consider what my life would be without Your Spirit living in me I realize the depth of Your love in calling me to be one of Your children.  Help me so to live in the freedom You have given me that my life will display the power of Your love and Spirit at work in me.  Use me to call others to put their hope in You as I do good deeds to all, especially to my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.  You are my hope and my joy!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, May 30, 2014

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

Day #154:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 31st

Scripture Reading:  Luke 7 - 8 ...

In one sense, it's easy for those of us who are born again by the Spirit of God to put our faith in Jesus ... for strength and hope, for peace and courage, for forgiveness and LIFE!!  Today we have the New Testament Scriptures - the Gospels and the letters to the churches.  By His Spirit God inspired the writers to put down in words the truth that leads to Christ and the same Spirit is at work in us as our Teacher.  While many disregard the Bible, those in whom the Spirit of God is at work find here food for our souls.  Now think for a moment about the people we read about in these two chapters ... people who saw Jesus as a man, heard Him teach, saw or heard about the miracles He performed and who ... BELIEVED!!

Imagine Jesus saying of YOU:  "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel" (7:10).  This was a Roman centurion, a man in charge of a company of soldiers.  He himself had authority and knew what it meant to give an order.  But this centurion was different.  Those around him respected him, even the Jews, because "he loves our nation and has built our synagogue" (7:5).  Now one of his servants whom he valued highly was sick.  You get the feeling that this servant was more than a slave, perhaps even a friend.  The centurion believed Jesus could heal him ... even from a distance.  What is most amazing is the humility of this man who was used to giving orders.  He saw in Jesus not someone to command to do something, but someone to ask.  Others thought he was worthy, but he himself said that he did not even consider himself worthy to come to Jesus, let alone have Him in his home (7:7).

How did this man, apparently a Gentile, get such faith?  From God!  True faith always points to God, not to the person exercising the faith.  Faith in the one true God is always a gift.  When Jesus raised the widow's son you see again that "they were all filled with awe and praised God" (7:16).  As Jesus went about doing miracles some people simply believed He was a great prophet.  But others looked for something more.  John the Baptist, who was now in prison and would soon be beheaded, began to doubt.  He had baptized Jesus and declared boldly, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" (John 1:29).  Yet now, in prison, his faith wavered.  Was Jesus the Messiah, the One the prophets spoke about, the One they had been waiting for?

When messengers from John came, Jesus told them to look at what they were seeing ... who else could do what Jesus was doing?  Then Jesus says a curious thing:  "I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he" (7:28).  Jesus spoke often of the kingdom of God; in fact, that was the central theme of His preaching and teaching.  Why?  Because the central question of human history, indeed, in the universe ... including the spiritual realm ... is this:  Who will REIGN?  Who will rule?  Those who are part of God's kingdom know the answer to those questions.

Satan rebelled against God because HE wanted God's position.  Adam and Eve knew that God was their Creator, but Satan's temptation was that they could eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and they wouldn't need God anymore.  They would be like God and could rule over themselves.  Those who want to continue to rule over themselves will never put their faith in Jesus ... not really.  They might talk about it and pretend to believe, to have faith - but what they really want is for Jesus to serve THEM!  Here's the amazing thing:  HE DID!!  Jesus came as a servant and gave Himself as a ransom for those who believe.  But the sign above the cross was right:  He WAS and IS the KING of the Jews and of all the world!

The Pharisees couldn't see it, but a sinful woman could.  When she heard those words from the mouth of Jesus, "Your sins are forgiven. ... Your faith has saved you, go in peace," (7:48,50) how her heart must have lept for joy.  Faith does that; it brings joy to the one who knows something special, something wonderful, something beautiful and amazing and grand has just been revealed to them.  And faith then produces "fruit."  Jesus tells the parable of the Sower and explains that God is continually sowing the "seed" of His Word and that only that which falls on good soil produces a crop.  It is God Himself that produces the good soil in the hearts of His chosen ones.  Good soil acknowledges that Jesus is King and desires to please Him, to SERVE Him ... not to earn His favor, but because we have already received it!

What you read throughout the Gospels are stories of those whom God chose and called to Himself through the testimony of His Spirit.  How do you know when the Spirit of God is at work?  People will be drawn to Jesus and will put their hope, their trust, their FAITH in Jesus.  The mind that has been renewed, the heart that has been changed, the will that has been transformed, the eyes that have been opened will see in Jesus more than a "miracle-worker" ... but a Savior.  Those born again by His Spirit will see Jesus as He is:  the eternal Son of God who was the perfect "God-man," Who gave His life so that we may live and Who now reigns over all things at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  We put our FAITH in Jesus because there is no higher object for true faith.

People trust in other people or in things or in themselves, but it all disappoints.  Only Jesus is worthy of our faith.  This is why faith trusts Jesus even when things don't seem to be going the way we think they should be.  Faith believes and hopes and waits, KNOWING that Jesus IS ruling over all things and there is nothing He can't do.  If He chooses not to, there is a good reason.  His mothers and brothers didn't get it yet, but they would.  The disciples still didn't understand as Jesus calmed the storm.  "Where is your faith?" he asked them (8:25).  "In fear and amazement they asked one another, 'Who is this?'" (8:25).  They would eventually know Him ... really know Him!

You see, faith must KNOW its object.  The demon-possessed man believed because he experienced Jesus' healing.  He had been set FREE!  Everyone who receives spiritual healing from Jesus believes because they see Him for Who He IS:  God in the flesh, the Messiah, the Savior, the Christ, the KING!!  He is the One who commands demons and they obey.  He gives orders to storms and they disappear.  He raises the dead back to life.   Is this how YOU see Jesus?  A woman touched the hem of His garment and felt His power.  A young girl is brought back to life and returned to her family.  Don't say or think, "I wish I could have been there."  Read the testimony of those who WERE there!  Read and study God's Word and "SEE" Jesus!!  Remember that most of those who wrote these words died for their faith in Jesus.  Most of us are simply called to LIVE for Him!!

Some people say their "faith" isn't strong enough to weather the storms of life, but the truth is, the problem is not their faith, it is the OBJECT of their faith.  When you know Who Jesus is and put your trust in Him, you will have the faith that can "move mountains!"  The mountains of fear and doubt and worry will disappear when the object of your faith is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  HE is able ... you don't have to be.  But you CAN do all things through HIM (Christ) who gives you strength.  Trust Him today and KNOW ... KNOW that HE is with you.  He IS the King!!

"Father, I KNOW Jesus because You have given me Your Spirit and revealed the truth to me in Your Word.  Your grace has opened my eyes and changed my heart and made me SEE and I give my praise and thanks to You, today and every day.  Without You, I am nothing, but through Jesus I am Your child!  My life is Yours and I trust in YOU!!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"In those days ... at that time ... the enemies of Israel will be destroyed!"

Day #153:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 30th

Scripture Reading:  Jeremiah 47 - 52 …

Watching the nations around the world and especially in the Middle East attempt to gain some advantage for their own benefit is a little bit like watching a sporting event when you know the outcome.  Jeremiah and the other prophets spoke of the present and the future when revealing God's plans for Israel, Judah and the surrounding nations.  It is impossible to read the Bible and not see that God has special plans for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Many in the church today read the prophets only to apply general principles to the Church, to those who believe in Jesus Christ, as we live to testify to the Messiah, the Christ, in our world today.  In so doing, however, they miss the grand theme of God's promises to Abraham:  His election of Israel to display His power and glory to all the world.

The long prophecy of Jeremiah points to a future restoration of Israel and Judah and judgment upon their enemies.  To understand the context you need to remember that Israel and Judah had become two separate nations, at times even fighting against each other.  Then the Assyrians had defeated Israel and the ten tribes of Israel who made up the nation were dispersed throughout the Assyrian Empire, that itself would be defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.  There were many alliances made back and forth among the nations attempting to avoid destruction.  Ultimately, however, the fate of all the nations lay in the hands of the God whom most of them did not even believe existed (just like today)!

God gave to Jeremiah a message of judgment on the nations of the Philistines, Moab, Ammon, Edom and others, including Babylon.  Today these nations include Palestine (Philistines), Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Iran.  These perennial enemies of Israel did not go away during the time Israel and Judah have been in exile.  A remnant of the Jews would return, but many would remain in the nations to the north ... particularly in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe.  These nations would all face God's judgment because they defied the God of Israel.

I have been told by some in the church that the present nation-state of Israel has no place in God's plan for the future and for His future kingdom.  In fact, many do not even believe God plans to establish a future kingdom on the earth and they never talk about what God has clearly revealed:  His creation of a new heaven and a new earth.  These believe that the Church has replaced Israel in God's plans and that the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are no longer God's special people.  While it is true that the majority of Jews do not believe in Jesus Christ today - that will change!!  (More about that another time).  I bring it up here to help you understand what Jeremiah writes in these last chapters.

After pronouncing judgment on the surrounding nations, Jeremiah writes, "In those days, at that time, the people of Israel and the people of Judah together will go in tears to seek the LORD their God.  They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it.  They will come and bind themselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten" (50:4-5).  The significance of these verses cannot be underestimated.  Jeremiah mentions specifically Israel AND Judah ... TOGETHER ... Other prophets foretell this same reunion.  God will make it happen, just as He says He will.

God's judgment was falling upon Israel and Judah because of their sin, but notice what Jeremiah writes in Chapter 50, verse 20:  "In those days, at that time, search will be made for Israel's guilt, but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare."  It is not the whole nation, but a remnant that God will forgive and save.  Jeremiah mentions both Israel and Judah again in Chapter 51, verse 5:  "For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the LORD Almighty, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel." 

As we read the New Testament we speak often of GRACE, but there is grace throughout the Old Testament.  God speaks of forgiveness and mercy and points ahead to the coming Savior.  But to those who do not know Him and who worship other gods, there is only vengeance.  Jeremiah writes of the destruction of Babylon ... present and future:  "How the LORD our God has taken vengeance, vengeance for His temple" (50:28).  "It (Babylon) will never again be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation" (50:39).  "The LORD will take vengeance, vengeance for His temple" (51:11).  "Before your eyes I will repay Babylon and all who live in Babylonia for all the wrong they have done in Zion" (51:24).  "For the LORD is a God of retribution; He will repay in full" (51:56).

All of this leads to HOPE for those who know Israel's God.  Even though we live in a modern world with all of our technological advances, God's Word points to the future destruction of all of Israel's enemies.  Why would this be and how do we reconcile God's love and mercy with such vengeance and judgment?  We need to understand that those who are enemies of Israel are enemies of Israel's God.  This is hard for many to accept, yet the Bible is the revelation of God's plan for the WORLD.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ has gone out to all the nations and even in nations where other religions are the huge majority, God has a remnant of people who have heard the Gospel and have been born again by His Spirit, putting their faith in Jesus.  This is God's plan ... to show grace to those whom He chooses through the promised Messiah.

How long before Jeremiah's prophecies are fulfilled?  God's plan is unfolding as He has promised and TODAY is the day of salvation.  We do not know whom God has called from the nations, but He has a remnant throughout the world.  Paul writes to the Romans:  "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited:  Israel has experienced a hardening IN PART until the full number of the Gentiles has come in" (Romans 11:25).  When that number (known to God) is reached, then God will deal again with Israel and Judah and the end will come.

We need to have an urgency to proclaim the Gospel, trusting in God to fulfill His plan and watching and waiting, believing that God will do what He says ... and for those who come to Him through faith in Jesus that means ETERNAL LIFE!!

"Father, the promise of restoration for Israel and Judah causes rejoicing in the hearts of those who know You as the only true God.  Your righteous judgment is deserved by all, yet Your marvelous grace is available for all who come to You through faith in Your Son Jesus.  Help me, Lord, to trust Your sovereign plan and to give thanks for Your grace to me.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge … "

Day #152:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 29th

Scripture Reading:  Proverbs 1 …

Has anyone ever said to you, "You don't know what you're talking about!"?  When it comes to spiritual things those who do not know the God who reveals Himself in His Word do not know what they are talking about.  Solomon, David's son, was given a "blank check" by none other than God and he asked for WISDOM!  God gave Solomon extraordinary wisdom and he became famous not only in Israel but throughout the world.  His proverbs have endured for nearly 3,000 years because in them God reveals HIS wisdom for all the ages.  We will be examining these Proverbs in the coming weeks, so it would be good to begin by listening to what God says can be gained:

"The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:  for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young …" (1:1-4).

Solomon's proverbs are more than deep thoughts from an ancient philosopher; they are the very Word of God spoken through a man in whom the Spirit of God was at work.  Solomon, like David, was not simply "smart."  I doubt that they had I.Q. tests in those days, but if they had it was not Solomon's I.Q. that made him wise.  He rightly explains that "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (1:7).  What does that mean?  Many argue today that telling people to FEAR God is unnecessary and constitutes "spiritual abuse."  What do you think?

The most primitive societies in the world have always feared their gods.  Mankind instinctively knows that whatever "god" there might be, there must be judgment because of all the evil in the world.  Bad things, horrible things, happen.  There must be a "god" who is in control of these things and the natural conclusion man comes up with is that they are sent by GOD … and in essence, that is true!  God is not the Author of evil, but He does send judgment upon those who reject Him and His Word.  This is not just Old Testament truth.  Jesus said that when His Spirit came He would "convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8).  That doesn't sound very pleasant, but Jesus always spoke the truth.  He would not have disagreed with Solomon:  "The fear of the LORD (Yahweh … the Great 'I AM') IS the beginning of knowledge" … of true wisdom.

As Solomon warns his son about being enticed to do evil, he explains why judgment comes upon the foolish.  As Solomon writes, it is God speaking to those whom He created to be His children, but who have gone their own way.  "If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you" (1:23).  But instead, they rejected God's "rebuke."  Think about this and how important this is today.  Who likes REBUKE?!  But it is vitally essential to gain knowledge, understanding and wisdom.

You and I are not WISE by nature!  This is the error that so many make at the very beginning of their quest for knowledge.  Mankind, by ourselves, know NOTHING!  The only things we have learned is what God has allowed us to learn.  We think we are so smart and we are so utterly foolish!!  Remember God's questions to Job (Job 38-41)??  How many children have gone astray simply because they refused to listen to their parents' rebuke … let alone GOD's?!

He goes on:  "But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke"  (1:24-25) … what happens?  Calamity, disaster, distress and trouble overwhelm those who now call out to a God they do not know and they do not find Him.  Once again God reveals why:  "Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, and spurned my rebuke …" (1:29-30).

To "fear the LORD" is necessary in order to come to know the one true God.  Unless you first fear the Lord, you will never love Him for His mercy and thank Him for His grace.  The Apostle Paul writes that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17).  Perhaps Paul was thinking of Proverbs 1 as the Spirit moved him to write those words.  They echo the purpose of Solomon's proverbs.

Jesus said there are two roads:  "Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).  So Solomon had written centuries before:  "For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm" (1:32-33).

"Without FEAR of harm!"  Because those who come to God, who hear His rebuke and are moved by His Spirit to confess their sin and to find in Jesus a Savior … these come to know God's LOVE and forgiveness through faith in Jesus.  God's love does not, cannot, overlook our sin, but it deals with it on the cross.  "There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because HE first loved us" (I John 4:18-19).

How beautiful, how wonderful is God's love in Christ … and it begins by fearing God and responding to His rebuke.  Yes, "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge," but thankfully, knowledge doesn't end there.  There is much more to be said and learned and understood.  And it can all be found in God's Word.  If you are not already, become a student of God's Word.  Ask Him for wisdom, as Solomon did, and He will give it to you.  "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5).  Ask today … and tomorrow … and the next day … and keep on learning.

Acquiring wisdom is a lifelong process and God is a patient teacher.  Humble yourself before Him today.  "Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon!" (Isaiah 55:6-7).

"O LORD, my God, I have heard Your voice and Your rebuke and have confessed my sin before You.  I thank You that in Jesus Christ I have received Your abundant mercy and grace, for You have promised to remember my sins no more and to remove them from me as far as the east is from the west.  Let my life be a living testimony to You, my God, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"My soul will be satisfied …"

Day #151:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 28th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 63 - 65 …

Psalm 63 is one of those Psalms that you and I should read every day to remind us of the only place where the spiritual thirst that arises from the depths of our beings can be satisfied … in GOD alone!  David describes what he is feeling so beautifully and those of us who have the privilege of knowing God through faith in Jesus Christ, in whom the very Spirit of God lives, can understand these words, for in them is the expression of OUR hearts toward God:

"O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (63:1).  Now, if that were all David wrote we might be left with our thirst unquenched, but he goes on to explain how to find satisfaction for our souls:

"I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and glory.  Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify YOU!" (63:2-3).  David had seen things that you and I have not witnessed, but through the eyes of faith we, too, have seen God's power and glory.  In fact, the Bible tells us that creation itself reveals the power and glory of its Creator (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:20).  Have you not beheld the power and glory of God in a thousand different ways?

And we who believe in Jesus Christ have seen something more than even David saw!  We have seen the love of God displayed on the cross (Romans 5:8)!  And we have seen His power displayed in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  How have you responded to God's revelation?  David responded in praise:  "Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.  I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands!" (63:3-4).

THIS is the secret to finding satisfaction for your soul!  You were created to glorify and praise your Creator and your soul will never be satisfied until and unless you do what you were created to do.  So many people want God to make life easier, to take away their trials and protect them from suffering, but God gives MORE than that!  God gives strength, peace, hope and joy in the midst of life's struggles.  If the only time our souls can find rest is when everything is going well or easy, we wouldn't have rest most of the time!

David writes of the "conspiracy of the wicked" and "that noisy crowd of evildoers" (64:2).  They "ambush the innocent" and "encourage each other in evil plans" (64:4-5).  But "God will shoot them with arrows; suddenly they will be struck down.  He will turn their own tongues against them and bring them to ruin" (64:7).  In the end, God will watch over those who trust in Him and destroy the wicked.  "All mankind will fear; they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what He has done.  Let the righteous rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in Him; let all the upright in heart praise Him!" (64:9-10).

It is so important to understand that there are two groups of people in this world:  those who reject the revelation of the one true God in His Word, the Bible, and those who have been chosen by God to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him.  You fall into one of those two groups.  You either know the true God and find your satisfaction in Him, or you will forever wander, looking for satisfaction in the things of the world and coming up empty.  "Zion" was a name for Jerusalem and is a symbol of the dwelling-place of God.  David writes, "Praise awaits You, O God, in Zion; to You our vows will be fulfilled! …  When we were overwhelmed by sins, You forgave our transgressions.  Blessed are those You choose and bring near to live in Your courts.  We are filled with the good things of Your house, of Your holy temple" (65:3-4).

The prophet Isaiah understood what David meant when he wrote, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare" (Isaiah 55:1-2).

In the presence of God YOUR soul will find satisfaction!  "The streams of God are filled with water" (65:9).  Jesus Himself is the "Living Water" and those who draw near to God through Him find the "peace that passes understanding" and rest for our souls.  The things of this world can never satisfy you.  Day after day people get angry, frustrated, depressed, overwhelmed and discouraged because of a thousand different things, but it ultimately comes down to this:  only the knowledge of God and a relationship of love with Him can and will satisfy the need you have for meaning and purpose in your life.

Read again the words of David at the beginning of Psalm 63 and set your mind on the God who is able to meet your deepest need for fellowship, for love, for hope, for peace of heart and mind, for joy!  In HIM there is forgiveness, in Him is LIFE!!!  "Give thanks and rejoice in the Lord!" ... and your soul will be satisfied.

"O Lord, my God, in You I find my greatest joy and true rest for my soul.  I thank You for the blessings You give, for every good and perfect gift comes from You.  Help me not to set my heart on the things You give, but on You, my Savior and my God.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, May 26, 2014

"A wise King for God's people!"

Day #150:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 27th

Scripture Reading:  I Kings 1 - 4 …

What's the first thing you think about when you hear of Solomon?  For most people, it is his wisdom.  Solomon asked for wisdom from God:  "Give Your servant a discerning heart to govern Your people and to distinguish between right and wrong" (3:9).  In reading Solomon's "Proverbs," it is clear that Solomon worshiped the God of his fathers and that he believed that wisdom came only from God.  His father, David, was said to be "a man after God's own heart" because he humbled himself before God, confessed his sin and trusted in God's mercy and grace.  "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (Proverbs 3:34).  Solomon began his reign with the same humility his father had displayed, in spite of his privileged position.

It almost wasn't so.  When David neared the end of his life, his son, Adonijah, attempted to take over without the King's blessing or permission.  Word got out to the prophet, Nathan, and others, and they went to David with the information.  We read in I Chronicles 28:5-7 that GOD had chosen David's son, Solomon, to be the next King of Israel and to build the temple for His Name.  God's sovereign choice is always made on the basis of His grace.  God doesn't look ahead and see who will be good or do great things.  On the contrary, God determines whom He will choose and then gives them what they need to accomplish HIS purposes.  As someone has said, "God doesn't call the qualified; He qualifies the called!"  Always, God uses imperfect people to fulfill His plans … except for one … One who HAD to be perfect in order to make the perfect sacrifice for sin!

Once again the prophecy was fulfilled that there would be bloodshed in David's line.  When Solomon realized that Adonijah was trying to trick him into acknowledging that he (Adonijah) was king by giving him his father's attendant, Abishag, (this would have given Adonijah a claim to all that David had - including the whole kingdom!), Solomon ordered his brother to be put to death.  David was the only one who could choose who would succeed him on the throne and God had already told David that it would be Solomon.  "He is to come and sit on my throne and reign in my place.  I have appointed him ruler over Israel and Judah" (1:35).

What was so important about who was King in Israel?  Does this really have anything to do with you and me today?  These were such primitive times, culturally speaking.  People were going around killing people and worshiping other gods.  Everything appears to have been so chaotic. … But that is precisely the point.  Human nature continually turns toward chaos and destruction.  Left to ourselves we would destroy the planet.  Our generation has actually made that possible, for the first time in human history!  Were the people in David's and Solomon's day really any worse than mankind today???

Before David died he warned Solomon about his enemies and told him to be sure they were put to death.  Chapter 2 gives an account of Solomon's actions to bring judgment on those who had shed innocent blood … even Joab, the commander of David's army, and others.  And at the end of it all we read, "The kingdom was now firmly established in Solomon's hands" (2:46).  Could this have been God's doing?  What was the result of all this??  "During Solomon's lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree" (4:25).

"God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight. … Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom" (4:29, 34).  Such was Solomon's reign, and we will read more about some of the details as we go on.  A man of wisdom, a man of peace, a man who built the Lord's temple … in all these ways a "type" of Christ, pointing ahead to the ONE who would rule on David's throne who would be different than Solomon in one very crucial way:  He would BE the Son of God!

One greater than David, greater than Solomon, greater than any king or any ruler, has already been anointed by God to rule over the nations.  His Name is JESUS and He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One!  Solomon's kingdom points to a future kingdom … a not-so-distant kingdom, where Jesus will reign from Jerusalem over all the earth.  At one time I believed that the idea of a "Millennium," a 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ over all the earth, was symbolic of Christ's present reign in heaven.  But the more I read through the prophets, as well as the Gospels and the New Testament letters, including Revelation, it became obvious that there will be a literal "Millennium" and that Jesus, descended from the line of David and Solomon (See Matthew 1:6-7), will be seated on David's throne, just as the angel announced prior to His birth:  "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; HIS kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:32-33).

And what about HIS enemies?  Many in David's time and in Solomon's reign chose the wrong "side."  The same is true today.  Most people today do not understand that we are by nature "enemies of God," worthy of His judgment.  To those who have received God's grace and who have been moved by His Spirit to believe in Jesus as their Savior, Paul wrote, "God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him!  For if, when we were God's ENEMIES, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!"  (Romans 5:8-10).

We who believe WERE enemies of God, along with the rest of mankind, but we have been saved from God's coming wrath by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Paul writes to the Corinthians, "The end will come, when He (Jesus) hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.  For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet" (I Corinthians 15:24-25).  Read Zechariah 14 and ask yourself:  "When has that ever happened?"  It hasn't!  But it WILL!!  "The LORD will be king over the whole earth.  On that day there will be one LORD, and HIS Name the only Name!" (Zechariah 14:9).

Until then, we look at the reign of Solomon and the temple, understanding that Jesus has begun His reign and is building His temple today and that the literal reign of Jesus on the earth and the gathering of His people will take place in the future.  That's why He taught us to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  God's people need a wise King!  Thank God for His promises!!

"LORD God Almighty, You alone are King and no one rules except by Your appointment or permission.  As You have set the rulers in place and determined the boundaries for the nations, so You have planned to establish Your eternal kingdom and have appointed Your Son Jesus Christ to reign forever!  Thank You, Father, for Your grace in forgiving all who come to You through faith in Jesus and for Your promises of a glorious future in Your eternal kingdom.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, May 25, 2014

"A place to meet with God ... "

Day #149:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 26th

Scripture Reading:  Exodus 33 - 36 ... 

Maybe I'm not normal ... whatever that means.  Reading about Moses meeting with God and the plans for the tabernacle makes me think about meeting with God at some time in the future.  Most would probably say it's not something they think about too often, but it's something I think about a lot - probably every day at some point.  It's not as though I am thinking about dying tomorrow or even in the near future, but meeting with God would be quite an amazing privilege, wouldn't it?  Those who met with God or who "saw" God's glory were often frightened and astounded by what they saw.  It was no casual event.  I don't think of it as such either.

But some do.  God is an "it" to most people ... or a "thing" ...  God is who you want Him to be or who you make Him to be.  That's what Satan wants you to believe and millions, even billions, are deceived. The idea that there is only ONE God is scorned by most, even those who claim to be Christians, followers of Jesus.  I am continually disgusted by those who write in our local Grand Rapids newspaper about tolerance and interfaith "respect."  These are concerned about respecting the religious beliefs of others, meanwhile utterly and totally disrespecting the One true God who created them and who gave life.  HE alone is worthy of praise!

It was for that reason that God instructed Moses and the people of Israel to build the tabernacle - a place where God would "meet with" His people.  At the beginning of Chapter 33 God tells Moses to leave Mt. Sinai and to "go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (33:1).  Then God said a surprising thing.  He told them HE was not going with them!  God was angry with them and said if He went with them He might destroy them along the way.  But here's the beautiful part ... another picture of Jesus:  Moses set up a tent outside the camp and there HE would meet with God.  "The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with His friend" (33:11).  And as Moses met with God and interceded for the people, the LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest" (33:14).

Moses said to God, "Show me Your glory!" (33:18).  And God showed Moses his "back" ...  This whole chapter is an intimate picture of God's relationship with Moses, but in Christ, it is also a picture of God's relationship with US, as believers in Jesus.  God gave Moses detailed instructions for the tabernacle and said, "I am making a covenant with you.  Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world" (34:10).  The people were to come before God with offerings.  "No one is to appear before Me empty-handed" (34:20).  God promised to drive out the nations before them and to enlarge their territory.  "Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water!" (34:28).

Then, when Moses came down from the mountain after forty more days, he was not aware that his face was radiant.  Imagine meeting with God!  The glory of God reflected off of Moses even after he was no longer in His presence.  Pictures - pictures of an intimacy with God that sounds far beyond what you and I can possibly comprehend.  The tabernacle was a sign, a symbol, of this intimacy.  God was making a covenant with Moses and renewing His covenant with Israel.  These were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and as such, were outwardly the people of GOD!

When God called them to give to the building of the tabernacle, they brought so much of the spoils they had brought from Egypt that the workers told Moses, "The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done"  (36:5).  So Moses sent an order throughout the camp:  "No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary" (36:6).  "And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work" (36:6-7).

A tent of meeting ... Moses speaking with God face-to-face ... the tabernacle ... the covenant ... the promises ... God WANTS to meet with His people, but SIN stands in the way.  For another 1400 years the only way the people could approach God was to bring sacrifices and offerings to the tabernacle, then the temple.  They could come only through the priests and they had to come this way because otherwise God's anger would break out against them and they would ...  quite literally, die.  No one can approach the true God.  God had chosen to reveal Himself to Moses, but Moses, too, needed a sacrifice, a Mediator, One to stand between him and God.

He would come later and His name would be JESUS!  The eternal Son of God came in the flesh to pay our penalty for sin ... and yet people, even people who claim to believe in Jesus, say that you can believe in any "god" and worship GOD in any way, in any name.  They think they can believe in Jesus and "respect" other religions, but there's more to it than that.  Christianity IS the ONLY true religion because it reveals the ONLY way to meet with God!  When I think of meeting with God, Jesus is always in my thoughts.  He is my Savior, my Mediator, my High Priest and, amazingly, my FRIEND!  That's right, Jesus is the Friend of sinners just like me and like you.

There is no other way to come to God, to meet with God, to worship God, to live with God than to come to Him through faith in Jesus.  All those who worship other gods, all those who want to ignore God's covenant with Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all those who want to tolerate lies and disrespect God, while claiming to respect others ... all those will meet God one day, but they will then be sent away from His presence forever because, like so many in Israel, they are a stubborn and stiff-necked people who refuse to come to God in the only way He allows:  through Jesus.

I still think of meeting with God.  By faith in Jesus you and I can begin to do that now.  We can set our minds on things above and we can pray in Jesus' name and know that God hears us.  We can read His Word and His Spirit speaks to us through it.  And we who believe will one day stand before God ... without fear, covered by the blood of Jesus, and we will behold Him as He is ... in all of His glory ... face-to-face.  THAT's what I think about and look forward to every day.  That's what makes life worth living as I live it one day at a time for Him.  He has blessed me with a wife and children and grandchildren and I love them and many other people.  But when the time comes ... I'll be ready to meet with God because Jesus has made a way!!!!

"My Father in heaven, I know that someday I will meet You face-to-face.  Because Jesus, my Savior and Lord, is now seated at Your right hand, interceding for Me in Your perfect presence, I am confident that I will one day be there, too ... beholding Your glory and rejoicing as I worship You with the angels.  Even now, I thank You for drawing me into an intimate relationship with You by faith and giving me hope, peace and joy in YOU!!  I love You, LORD!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"The heart of the Gospel ... the difference between heaven and hell!"

Day #148:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 25th

Scripture Reading:  Galatians 1 - 3 ...

Will you live forever in the presence of God on the new earth, where heaven and earth meet and God dwells with man, or perish in the eternal fire of God's judgment where the suffering of those who have rejected Jesus goes on forever?  While some have made this a matter of deep theology, most have given up on understanding these things and just declare:  "Believe in Jesus and all will be well!"  But what does THAT mean?  What does it mean to "believe?"  Or is there another way, perhaps a way that includes people who have never heard about Jesus and who simply believe in "God," however they understand "Him."  Paul's letter to the churches throughout Galatia settles the question in such a way that anyone can understand it ... it is simply a matter of accepting it as truth.

Paul begins by stating clearly that he was sent "not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father" (1:1).  He then goes on to say, "I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up" (1:11) ... "I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ" (1:12).  Who better than Paul, a Jew, a Pharisee, a Teacher of the Law, to explain the Gospel?!  He himself had made the error of believing that he could be saved by keeping the law, specifically, the Ten Commandments and all of the ceremonies God gave the people of Israel in the Old Testament to point them to Christ.  He persecuted the Apostles and the early Christians because he thought they were preaching against the Old Testament Law and the Prophets.  Then God revealed to him something so simple, yet astounding: Christianity was the FULFILLMENT of biblical Judaism!

This was NOT a new religion, but the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ did not originate with Paul or even with Jesus, but with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel.  The problem facing the Galatians was that some other Jews from Jerusalem had come to persuade them that they needed to keep the Old Testament laws, beginning with circumcision, in order to be saved.  In other words, they needed to trust in their works.  Paul is astounded!  He had preached the Gospel of God's grace to them and they had appeared to start out so well, but now they were confused.  Paul writes,

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ. ... some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ ... If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned" (1:6-7, 9).  So what does Paul say to remove their confusion?  This is not an insignificant question of theology.  This is about the heart of the gospel and Paul realizes that this is the difference between life and death, not only for the Galatians, but for all who hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He even confronts Peter when Peter was being inconsistent ... giving in to those who were demanding the Gentiles be circumcised in order to come to Christ (2:11-21).

Paul says, "When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong!" (2:11).  Here is the issue:  "We ... KNOW that a man is NOT justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ!" (2:16).  This is simple enough to understand, isn't it?  He says it another way in verse 21:  "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing."  This is the HEART of the matter:  Either Jesus paid my debt and I am righteous in Christ before God by faith OR I must earn my own righteousness.  Paul had preached GRACE and the Galatians were going back to WORKS!!!

"You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you? ... Are you so foolish?  After beginning with the Spirit (regeneration leading to repentance and faith), are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?!" (3:1, 3).  Now comes Paul's illustration ... a deeply theological, yet ultimately simple picture.  Paul goes all the way back to Abraham and Moses to explain that the law was NEVER intended to offer a way to salvation; rather, "the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by FAITH!" (3:24).

Here is Paul's argument in its simplest form:  After the flood in the days of Noah, and more than two thousand years before Jesus was born, God revealed through Abraham the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  "Consider Abraham:  'He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'  Understand then, that those who BELIEVE are children of Abraham.  The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham!" (3:6-8).  The Gospel is not 2,000 years old ... it is more than 4,000 years old!  Christianity is not a new religion, it is the fulfillment of the only true religion, the one revealed in the Bible and that goes back all the way to the Garden of Eden!!!

In verses 15-25 Paul explains that God's promise to Abraham that "in your 'SEED' all nations will be blessed" (Genesis 12:3 and other verses in Genesis), was made to ONE seed = Christ! (3:16).  Then he explains that the law came 430 years later and does not replace God's promise.  "If the inheritance (eternal life) depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in His grace gave it to Abraham through a promise" (3:18).  Why then, did God give the law:  "The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe" (3:22).

Paul wrote the same thing to the Romans:  "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin" (3:20 and following).  Why go into this in so much detail?  Because this is where most people and even most churches go wrong!  And it IS a matter of eternal life or eternal death!  If you attempt to stand before God and offer Him ANYTHING but faith in Jesus Christ (a faith produced by His very Spirit in you through His Word), you will be guilty of rejecting God's grace.  GOD has made a way to be declared righteous in His sight by faith.  Abraham "believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness" (3:6).

"If you belong to Christ (by faith), then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (3:29).  The only righteousness that will stand before God is the perfect righteousness of Christ, and you receive it only by FAITH!  Deep theological truths can be understood by anyone through the instruction of the Spirit through God's Word.  "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).  I pray that you have heard and believed this message and that you will be God's instrument to pass it on!!

"Father, in Your wisdom You chose to reveal the way of salvation by grace through faith to Abraham.  Thank You for Your Spirit, Who has opened my mind to understand Your Gospel of grace in Jesus Christ, the 'Seed' of Abraham, and to place my hope fully in Him.  He has removed the curse of sin and redeemed me so that I am now an heir of eternal life!  To You I give my praise, now and forever, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, May 23, 2014

"A new way of thinking … and acting …"

Day #147:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 24th

Scripture Reading:  Luke 5 - 6 …

Encountering Jesus changes everything in your life … because encountering Jesus changes YOU!  Your life cannot go on as it was before, or as the world lives it, if you know Jesus as your Savior and Lord and His Spirit lives within you.  It's just not possible.  Even before His Spirit had been poured out, those who encountered Jesus saw something … heard something … different.  Other teachers had come and gone.  Other religions had entered into the world and the people of the nations around Judah worshiped other gods.  The Romans who ruled over Judea had a myriad of gods, as had the Greeks before them.  Many of the Jews had long since given up on their heritage of faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Then came Jesus …

For most of the Jews, worship at the temple was more of a tradition than anything else.  Most of their priests and teachers of the law were self-righteous hypocrites, trying to manipulate the people into coercing God to deliver them from the Romans and their other enemies.  They didn't realize that their worst enemy lay within their own hearts.  The God they claimed to believe in was not the God Who had revealed Himself to Moses on the mountain or the God who had promised that David's line would produce the Messiah, the Anointed One, the KING!  Their God was an impotent deity who seemed to have disappeared centuries before.  Then came Jesus …

… and the people and their religious leaders didn't know what to do with Him.  Luke introduces each new section in these chapters with words like, "One day …  One sabbath … One of those days …"  Jesus was just beginning His earthly ministry, and His teaching, as well as His miracles, was raising a stir among the people and among the religious leaders of the Jews.  He had gone to Nazareth and the people of his home town had tried to throw Him off a cliff.  His message was a radical one to the ears of those who believed that God's attention was exclusive to them.  Yet it WAS God's intention to keep His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to the remnant He had chosen from Israel.

So it began "one day" with Jesus getting into Simon Peter's boat.  It must have seemed harmless enough, but when they caught such an amazing amount of fish Peter knew something was different about Jesus.  "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" Peter cried (5:8).  Peter, James and John were all there that day to witness something … what, exactly, they could not yet know.  Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men" (5:13).  And they left everything and followed Him (5:14).  Just like that their lives would never be the same!

As Jesus began to travel from town to town the news about Him spread quickly.  "But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (5:16).  We can only imagine what Jesus prayed … though John 17 gives us good insight.  Jesus knew that He was the Christ, the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies, and He knew that His greatest opposition, other than Satan, would come from those who THOUGHT they understood what the Old Testament taught.  In order to make it clear to them that He did not come simply to heal people's bodies, Jesus took the opportunity to declare to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven" (5:20).  Before He healed him, Jesus said, "That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins …"  (5:24).

This was Jesus' mission … and so He said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (5:31-32).  While Jesus is concerned about our physical needs and has compassion for those who are suffering, it was to bring forgiveness and to heal us spiritually, to give new life, that Jesus came to give Himself as a ransom on the cross.  When the Pharisees asked Jesus why His disciples didn't fast, He spoke about His being the Bridegroom and explained in a parable that NEW things require NEW hearts and minds and attitudes.  The Pharisees and even the disciples were used to the old way of looking at things and it would require the Spirit to change their hearts and minds and move them to believe in Jesus!

The Sabbath was a sacred thing to the Pharisees, but they had made it a burden rather than a joy, a true day of rest that pointed to their Creator.  Jesus boldly declared, 'The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath," (6:5) and in Mark 2:27 adds, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."  The Sabbath pointed to God's resting on the seventh day after creation, and Jesus was present to declare that in Him men could become a NEW creation.  HE was, in fact, the new Sabbath, as He invited people to come to HIM to find REST for their souls (Matthew 11:28-30).

People long for spiritual rest in this world in which we occupy every moment of our existence.  But true rest can only be found in Jesus.  He makes all things new for those who come to Him through faith … a faith produced by the very Spirit of God as people hear God's Word, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and FOLLOW Him!  So Jesus prayed all night and then chose twelve disciples.  It was a great privilege to be chosen by a "Teacher" and these men could not have known what lay ahead, but they would soon begin to find out.

Jesus preached what some call His "Sermon on the Plain," which included some of what He had preached in His "Sermon On the Mount."  He warned those who were rich, well fed and seemingly "enjoying" life that there was more to life than they thought.  How true that is today.  There is joy in following Jesus Christ, and His "yoke is easy and His burden is light" as we live by faith … yet life in this world requires the discipline to SEE things and to DO things differently.  It requires loving your enemies and doing good to those who take advantage of you.  It requires being merciful, compassionate and forgiving - when you don't feel like it.  It requires self-examination, which is always uncomfortable but necessary if you are going to be an ambassador of Christ's kingdom.

In His "Sermon On the Mount" Jesus warned that not everyone who called Him, "Lord" would enter the kingdom.  Here he says that "a good tree will bear good fruit."  Those who know Jesus as Lord will live a life that displays His power to those around them.  They will build their house on the ROCK so that when the floods come it will stand.  We are not saved BY our fruit, but the fruit of our lives is the evidence that we have been made new creations in Christ.

Does that describe you?  Sadly, many are being told that believing in Jesus means you can stay the way you are.  Even those who proclaim a message of grace hesitate to call people to repentance … to turn from sin to follow Jesus.  Yet this is the "narrow road" that Jesus said leads to life.  Jesus calls you and me to leave the world and sin behind and to follow Him.  Jesus offers a new life with a new way of thinking and a new way of acting.  You can't help anyone else until you have new life yourself.  Follow Jesus and THEN He will make you a "fisher of men!"

"Father, I worship You today because You have given me life in Jesus!  Though I confess that I still foolishly give in to temptation and sin against You, yet in my heart I long to be like Jesus.  Help me by Your Spirit to learn more and more from Your Word so that I may be a good tree that bears good fruit.  I believe in You; I believe in Jesus; I trust You to complete the work You have begun and to fill me with Your Spirit so that I may be an instrument to bring others to You, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"How to escape the vengeance of our God …"

Day #146:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 23rd

Scripture Reading:  Jeremiah 42 - 46 …

"Vengeance" and GOD do not go together in most people's vocabulary.  Most people have never read through the Old Testament; and if they have, they believe that Jesus came to remove the need for judgment so that God's love could overrule His justice and all people, or at least most, could be saved.  In fact, the majority of people today (even those who claim to believe in the God of the Bible) do not believe in an eternal judgment where God will pour out His wrath on those who have not believed in Jesus.  So why should we even talk about God's vengeance??

The obvious answer is because GOD does!  And it is not only the Old Testament prophets who speak about God's coming judgment.  Jesus and the New Testament writers point to God's wrath being poured out even now and about a future judgment that will be carried out by Jesus Himself.  So let's look at that word, "vengeance," and see why God speaks so clearly of His coming vengeance upon those who worship other gods, and how to escape His coming judgment on the whole earth.  Since these things are true there can hardly be a more important subject.

Jeremiah lived during a period of obvious judgment.  In fact, Jeremiah himself was the bearer of the bad news.  Other prophets were telling the people of Judah that everything would be all right, but God gave Jeremiah a different message.  Finally, the people came to Jeremiah and said to him, "Please hear our petition and pray to the LORD your God for this entire remnant. … Pray that the LORD your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do" (42:2-3).  Did you notice that they asked Jeremiah to pray to HIS God?  In verse 6 they promised to obey "OUR God," but it is significant that they did not really know God as THEIR God.

God had previously told the people to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar and to go to Babylon.  King Zedekiah had disobeyed and tried to run and his sons had been killed and his eyes put out before he was taken in shame to Babylon.  Now God instructs Jeremiah to tell the few people who were left to stay put and not to flee to Egypt.  But once again "all the army officers and all the people disobeyed the LORD's command to stay in the land of Judah" (43:4) and the result was that they faced the same fate. God said, "None of the remnant of Judah who have gone to live in Egypt will escape or survive to return to the land of Judah" (44:14).

Why?!  Why were the people so stubborn?  Why couldn't they see that God's judgment was a direct result of their idolatry and their sin against Him?  Because they were spiritually blind and had become convinced that it didn't matter who or how they worshiped (as so many believe today).  Listen to what they said to Jeremiah:  "We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD!  We will certainly do everything we said we would:  We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our fathers, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem.  At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm" (44:16-17).  They might as well have slapped God in the face!

The "Queen of Heaven" could have referred to one of several foreign "goddesses" worshiped by those who did not know the true God.  That some today call Mary, the mother of Jesus, the "Queen of Heaven" and burn incense to her and make offerings in her name should be a concern when reading how God views such worship.  God's answer was, "Because you have burned incense and have sinned against the LORD and have not obeyed Him or followed His law or His decrees or His stipulations, this disaster has come upon you, as you now see" (44:23).  Cause and effect … what is true in the physical realm is also true in the spiritual realm.

As God begins to give Jeremiah a message of judgment upon the surrounding nations, He says, "But that day belongs to the Lord, the LORD Almighty - a day of vengeance, for vengeance on His foes" (46:10).    Yet, listen to what God says to those who trust in Him … to the true remnant:  "Do not fear, O Jacob my servant; do not be dismayed, O Israel.  I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile.  Jacob will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid.  Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, for I am with you … I will not completely destroy you" (46:27-28).  God had not forgotten His promises to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, even though He was bringing this horrible judgment upon them as a people.

God's plan for Israel and Judah was not … and is not … yet complete.  He will save the remnant, those whom He has chosen, as the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the believers in Rome several hundred years later:  "So, too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace" (Romans 11:5).  The vengeance of God WILL be poured out and those who declare that this is not so, along with all who believe their message, will perish.  There is only one way to escape the judgment of God, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ, the "Deliverer,"  the "Messiah,"  the "Savior!"

The prophet Isaiah wrote, "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God …" (Isaiah 61:1-2a).  When Jesus came and began His ministry He went to His home town of Nazareth and went to the synagogue and was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  He went to this passage and read it … and said "Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing!" (Luke 4:21).  But He stopped after the words, " … proclaim the year of the Lord's favor …"  Why?

Because Jesus came the first time to usher in "the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 2:2).  This is why some today believe that God is no longer like He was in the Old Testament … a God of wrath and vengeance.  They apparently believe that Jesus took away that part of God's character by shedding His blood on the cross (though some even deny this) and now God is just love, love, love.  Of course Jesus, in the Gospels, along with the rest of the New Testament writers, says otherwise.  Even in John 3, after declaring God's love and His offer of eternal life to those who believe (John 3:16-17), Jesus goes on to say that those who do not believe in Him are condemned already and remain in spiritual darkness (3:18-20).

The Apostle Paul quotes God speaking to the people of Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy 32:35 when he writes, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written:  'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19).  The New Testament writers throughout speak of God's coming judgment and finally, John's "Revelation" uncovers the frightening details of God's coming wrath and vengeance upon all who worship other "gods." No one will escape except those who "hide" in Jesus … who confess their sin and who trust in His sacrifice on the cross for forgiveness and life.  "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (I John 5:12).

The message of the prophets and all of God's Word speaks with one voice:  escape the coming judgment by coming to the promised Savior, the One who came to give His life as a ransom for many, for the remnant … those chosen by God from every people, tribe, nation and tongue.  As He promised deliverance to the remnant in the day of Jeremiah, so He promises deliverance, salvation to those who worship Him in the name of Jesus today.  I pray that you will be found in HIM!

"My Father and my God, You alone are worthy of worship and praise.  In Your great mercy and compassion You have provided a way of escape from Your vengeance and wrath through Your Son Jesus Christ.  I thank You for Your grace to me and I ask You to use ME, even as You used Jeremiah, to call people away from their idols to worship You alone and to trust in You … to lead them to the cross for forgiveness and life!  In Jesus' name, Amen"  

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"Dinosaurs, Job, God and you …"

Day #145:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 22nd

Scripture Reading:  Job 41 - 42 …

As God questions Job He points out some of the creatures He had created, including the behemoth and the leviathan.  Some have said these are imaginary animals or symbols of the spiritual enemies of man, but neither of those explanations fits the purpose of God's questions.  It is God's intention to teach Job or to remind him and convince him that God's wisdom and power so far exceed Job's wisdom and power that Job is foolish to contend with God or to charge Him with acting unjustly, as if He could not bring to pass whatever He desires.

It has been suggested, based on the discovery of certain dinosaur bones, that Job was describing two different types of dinosaurs.  Of course, this is a problem if millions of years separated men and dinosaurs, but the Bible indicates otherwise.  God's "conversation" with Job is intended to help Job understand God's greatness so that Job would know God and trust Him … no matter what!  We need to have that same confidence, yet the same enemy who was trying to persuade Job not to believe in God tries to deceive people today through the lies of the teaching of evolution.

If dinosaurs and other animals existed on the earth for millions of years before mankind "appeared," then suffering and death existed BEFORE Adam and Eve sinned against God.  And if that is true, the entire message of the Bible concerning sin and separation from God and the need for a Savior and forgiveness is unnecessary and without meaning.  Here in the book of Job, what some believe is the oldest book of the Old Testament Scriptures, God speaks of things that confirm the fact of His creation and the timing of His creation, as well as His wisdom and power in creating and sustaining His creation for His purposes.

We have seen repeatedly that it was and is God's desire to reveal Himself to those whom He chooses, and Job was one of these … perhaps one of the first with whom God spoke.  I could go into more proof of dinosaurs and men existing together, but it would distract us from the conclusion of this book that we have been exploring for quite some time.  The account of Job's life began with him worshiping the God of creation and it ends with Job giving this testimony:  "My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (42:5-6).  Like Isaiah in Isaiah 6:1-5, Job's reaction in beholding a glimpse of God's glory was an overwhelming sense of inadequacy, of humility, of brokenness and of shame.

People today seem to want to approach God without any of these.  Today we hear, "God is love"  and people come to Him to get what they can and then walk away.  Such is not the nature of God.  At the end of God's questioning, Job replies by saying, "I know that You can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted.  You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know" (42:1-3).  Isaiah responds the same way.  Our approach to God must be like Job's at the beginning and at the end of his experience:  "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 "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (2:10).

God sovereignly rules over all things.  That's the point of His questioning of Job.  After this, God speaks to Eliphaz, one of Job's friends, and says, "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right" (42:7).  They had told Job that troubles are God's messengers to punish those who do wrong, but God makes it clear that He only disciplines those He loves and that He is wise enough and powerful enough to bring good out of evil.  Satan is the author of Job's problems, of his suffering and his trials.  All the suffering in this world is the consequence of Satan, evil, temptation and sin.  While God allows it for His purposes, He is the Author only of that which is good and right and perfect.

As He did with Job, God promises to overrule evil in the end and to bless those who trust in Him.  "The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first!" (42:12).  God may do that even today for some.  But God has PROMISED to do that for EVERY person who trusts in Him when they enter into the new world that He will create.  How quickly would many today exchange an easy life in this world, a life filled with only good things and no trials, for eternity.  Given the choice, many would say, "I want it all, and I want it NOW!"  They would take all that God can give and give away their birthright, even as Esau, Jacob's brother did in Genesis 27.

Some might ask:  "Why can't we have BOTH?  Why doesn't God give us an easy life now and then eternal life in the future?"  Well, you can be like Job and question God, or you can accept God's Word when He says that His ways are not your ways and that in our bearing suffering and trials by the power of God our testimony to the world is enhanced and made all the more powerful.  Wasn't that the whole point of what we have been reading in Job?  Satan believed that anyone would serve God if they had the kind of "charmed" life that Job had at the beginning.  What Satan could not believe was that anyone would continue to worship God if God took it all away:  "Stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face" (1:11).

But as low as Job got, with the help of his friends, he never cursed God.  He protested too much, He questioned what God was doing and why, but he did not stop believing in God or desiring to worship God.  What about you and me?  How do you handle trials and suffering when they come?  Are you tempted toward despair?  Do you wonder if God is punishing you for some sin?  Do you accuse God of wrongdoing?  If you KNOW God … if you really know God, as He reveals Himself to Job, you will join David in Psalm 8 when he proclaims,

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!  You have set Your glory above the heavens. … When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have set in Place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?  You made him (me) a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him (me) with glory and honor. … O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!"

Praise the LORD, the one true God, your Creator and mine, today!  Know that He has created all things and He created YOU for His glory.  We today can know Him even better than Job did, for we know that He kept His promise to send a Savior and in Jesus Christ God has revealed the way to come to Him for forgiveness and eternal life!!!  We who believe have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade away, reserved in heaven for us, and now, in this life, we are "shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time" (I Peter 1:3-5).

Our God reigns!  Let the earth be glad and let His people rejoice!!

"Almighty and everlasting God, YOU are my Creator and I worship You for Who You ARE!  I need You and I thank You for Your steadfast love and compassion through Your Son Jesus Christ.  Fill me now with Your Spirit and give me eyes to see Your glory in the creation around me and wisdom to trust You in the midst of life's trials.  You are ALL I need and to You I give my life, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I …"

Day #144:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 21st

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 60 - 62 …

Should God suddenly open the spiritual eyes of every person on the face of the earth to see Him as He is … to behold His glory, His majesty, His perfection … they would most certainly turn from their sin and bow down in worship before their Creator.  But the spiritual eyes of those who have not been born again by the very Spirit of God remain blinded to the truth.  These foolishly pursue the "gods" of this world, the things of this world, and live their lives without God and therefore, without hope.  Such is the lot of all people who do not know the LORD, the Almighty God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

But there is a remnant, a small group of people known to God whose eyes have been opened or will be opened.  Three thousand years ago, among the people of Israel, the one nation chosen by God to whom He had revealed Himself, there were some who, like David, knew God and loved Him and trusted Him, even though He brought judgment on the nation as a whole.  David saw that God was angry with Israel … and rightly so, for they had turned to idols and rejected His Word.  "BUT, for those who fear You, You have raised a banner!" (60:4).  David pleads, "Save us and help us with Your right hand, that those You loved may be delivered" (60:5).  He rightly understood that "the help of man is worthless.  With God we will gain the victory" (60:11-12).

It appears today that fewer and fewer people even believe we need saving.  "We will save ourselves!  We will save our planet.  We will bring peace to earth.  We will … we will … we will …"  Whether individuals or nations, those who trust in their own power will perish.  Even if you "succeed" by the standards of the world, you will one day stand before the God of Israel and give an account of your sins.  So David cries out to the LORD:

"From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the Rock that is higher than I" (61:2).  God is called our "Rock" throughout the Psalms.  In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that "everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the ROCK" (Matthew 7:24).  The "rock" is the symbol of a firm foundation and Jesus Himself is the "solid Rock" upon whom believers stand firm.  Amid the shifting sand and changing fads and the supposed wisdom of man, God's truth never changes because God never changes.  The writer of Hebrews says that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever!" (Hebrews 13:8) … and then says, "Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings" (13:9).

What do you have to hold on to in your life?  I see young and old alike facing trials and suffering with nothing firm to stand on.  Suffering and trials and even death are part of life in this world, but David understood that with God there is MORE!  He said, "I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of Your wings" (61:4).  All who know God will desire the same thing … to escape the burdens of this life and enter into God's presence.  "Then will I ever sing praise to Your name and fulfill my vows day after day" (61:8).

Think about that!  The only way to experience God's presence today, as you and I live in this world, is if you know the ONE who is HIGHER than you … the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Knowing Him produces peace because you know you can trust Him, even when you don't understand what is going on in your life and in the world around you.  You can be at peace because you know He is with you, not against you.  But only those who confess their sin and who trust in Jesus Christ can know this peace that passes understanding.  Others may fool themselves into thinking all is well, but it is only the cross of Jesus and His blood spilled for our sins that brings us the assurance of God's forgiveness.

David goes on in Psalm 62 to declare his faith in this God:  "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him.  He alone is my Rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken" (62:1-2).  Can you say that?  At this moment do you have confidence that nothing and no one can cause you to fall because it is God Himself who holds you up?  Listen again to David's words as he speaks to himself:  "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge" (60:5-7).

Salvation is the gift of God to those who, like David, draw near to Him in humility, confessing their sin and trusting in His grace.  We, today, can know the Savior whom David could only look forward to.  He came from the tribe of Judah, through the line of David, as God had promised.  He is the "Seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15) and the "Seed of Abraham" through whom all nations are blessed (Genesis 12:3).  God has a remnant from every people, tribe, nation and tongue … a "small" group of people whose spiritual eyes have been opened by His Spirit as they have heard His Word, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The question you must ask is:  "Am I one of them?"

If you are reading this it is because you either know Him or you are seeking Him.  Together we must pray David's prayer:  "Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I!"  Our hope is in God and your soul will find rest only when you trust in Him alone.  My prayer for those who read my words is that you will hear GOD's voice and find your refuge in Him.  Life's storms can be hard and the uncertainty in which we live from one day to the next can be met either with anxiety or faith.  Everyone has "faith" in something, but only those who hope in the LORD, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, will not be disappointed.  Only we will stand firm because God Himself has opened our eyes and our minds and changed our hearts so that we trust in Jesus and are saved.

This is the truth that sets us free and leads us home where one day we will live in His perfect presence forever.  One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.  Many will meet Him that day for the first time … as their Judge.  But for those who have received God's grace, there is no fear, for "there is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment" (I John 4:18).  We believe and know that Jesus took our place and bore our punishment and "by His wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).  Praise the Lord for leading us to the Rock, our Savior and our Lord!!

"O Lord my God, in YOU do I put my trust.  I declare today that my hope is in You because You have opened my eyes to see Your glory and have drawn me near through Your Son Jesus Christ.  Thank You for sending Your Spirit to change my mind and my heart and to move me to believe in Jesus and to live for Him.  Finish Your work in me, O Lord, that I may be Your instrument to declare Your praises and to lead others to the Rock that is higher than I!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, May 19, 2014

"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble ..."

Day #143:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 20th

Scripture Reading:  II Samuel 20 - 24 ...

David had his moments, as we all do.  He wasn't perfect, he became distracted from his devotion to the Lord, he sinned and he did some things that seemed out-of-character for one who was said to be "a man after God's own heart."  So why did God bless David in the long run and promise that the long-awaited Savior, the Messiah, would descend from his line?  In one word, "humility."  Solomon would write in Proverbs 3:34 that "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."  James would repeat that in his New Testament letter, in James 4:6.  God does not reward those who are proud, who take the credit for their success and who put God in the background.  Humility is blessed by God because those with humility live to give glory to GOD, who alone is worthy.

As David's reign continued after Absalom's attempted coup, some from Israel continued to plot against David.  Having returned to Jerusalem, David sent Joab, the commander of his army, to put an end to this new uprising.  The result was predictable:  David's enemies were destroyed.  But then a famine struck.  For three years conditions were difficult on all of Israel.  David continued praying to the LORD and God revealed to David that the famine was the result of the sin of Saul, who had mistreated the Gibeonites.  The answer seems harsh to us.  Some of the descendants of Saul were handed over to the Gibeonites to be put to death and made a public spectacle.  Even in this, David obeyed the Lord and honored Him.

After that, David's fighting days came to an end.  He was getting older and he was nearly killed in a battle with the Philistines.  David's men swore an oath, saying, "Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished" (21:17).  The men of Israel could see that God was with David and in acknowledging David as their King they were also acknowledging the God David trusted in.  How important is a godly leader for God's people?  The consequences are great for those who seek the Lord's blessing.

The song of praise recorded for us in Chapter 22 reveals so clearly David's heart.  He addresses the LORD, "YAHWEH," as "my Rock, my Fortress, My deliverer, my Refuge, my Shield, the Horn of my salvation, my Stronghold and my Savior!"  (22:2-3).  David was confident that when he cried out in his times of distress, the LORD heard him from His temple.  David had a keen awareness of the character of God, perhaps unlike any other in the centuries before the pouring out of God's Spirit at Pentecost.  It may appear in parts of this song of praise that David was claiming to be righteous and blameless, but in reading the entire song it is clear that David understood that his standing before God was his by grace.

"You save the humble ... You are my lamp, O LORD; the LORD turns my darkness into light" (22:28-29).  Like the Apostle Paul and others who would come after him, David realized his sin and his need for God's mercy.  David confessed, "As for God, His way is perfect; the Word of the LORD is flawless.  He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him.  For who is God besides the LORD?  And who is the Rock except OUR GOD?!  It is GOD who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect" (22:31-33).  There is the humility that points to God's grace as the source of everything good.  HE gives me strength and makes my way perfect!!!

David's praise is inspiring!  "The LORD lives!  Praise be to my Rock!  Exalted be God, the Rock, my Savior! ... Therefore I will praise You, O LORD, among the nations; I will sing praises to Your name" (22:47, 50).  How wonderful, faithful and awesome is OUR God!!!

Finally, God honors those who have fought with David.  And then, almost inexplicably to us, God determines to humble Israel again by putting the thought in David's mind to count his fighting men.  Some might wonder what is so bad about that, but the answer is simple:  Pride.  Israel's strength was not in the number of soldiers it had, but in the God who strengthened them and who took their side.  Having ordered the census, David's conscience convicted him and he confessed, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done.  Now, O LORD, I beg You to take away the guilt of Your servant.  I have done a very foolish thing" (24:10).

God then gave David three options for punishment:  Three years of famine, three months of running from their enemies or three days of plague.  David said to the prophet, Gad, "I am in deep distress.  Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for His mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men" (24:14).  David TRUSTED God!!!  David said to the LORD, "I am the one who has sinned and done wrong.  These are but sheep.  What have they done?  Let Your hand fall upon me and my family" (24:17).

Then the prophet tells David to build an altar and to offer a sacrifice to the LORD and the plague would stop.  When the man from whom David was buying the threshing floor, where the altar would be built, offered to GIVE David the property and the altar, David insisted on paying for it, saying, "I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing" (24:24).  So David built an altar and made offerings to the Lord and God heard his prayer and stopped the plague ... displaying once again His marvelous mercy.

Do you know this God?  He is all He has revealed and more, for we cannot begin to grasp yet His fullness.  Read His Word, seek His face, ask for the Spirit to teach you more and rest in His mercy and grace.  You will never be disappointed, for "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble!"

"Heavenly Father, Your amazing power is revealed through Your rule over all the nations.  Only You determine who is victorious and You bless those who come to You in humility, resting in Your mercy.  Thank You, Father, that in Your Son Jesus Christ all who confess their sin, like David, find forgiveness and life.  I will not give You Lord, offerings that cost me nothing.  In Jesus' name, Amen"