Monday, June 30, 2014

"God, a prophet and the everyday things of life ..."

Day #185:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - July 1st

Scripture Reading:  II Kings 1 - 5 ...

Elijah and Elisha were two of the first of a line of prophets who spoke for God during the times of the kings of Israel and Judah.  During this time there were "schools" of prophets.  These apparently began during the time of Samuel, at the end of the period of the Judges.  The schools of the prophets were similar in some ways to the theological schools of today.  While there were some "inspired" prophets to whom God gave specific messages, most taught God's law to His people, perhaps like Ezra some time later.  While we often remember the familiar stories of miracles that some of the prophets performed, it is important to understand that the God who sometimes foretold events is the same God who is intimately involved in the details of everyday life ... the big things and the little things.

Throughout these five chapters God uses Elijah and Elisha to speak His word to kings and common people alike.  Whether it was Ahaziah, King Ahab's son, or a widow or a commander of an army, God does what only God can do ... He brings judgment on those who despise Him and He brings blessings to those who seek Him.

In Chapter 1, King Ahaziah consults Baal-Zebub rather than God.  In other words, he prays to a false god rather than the God of Israel.  He sends a captain with a company of fifty men to get Elijah, after Elijah intercepted the messenger he had sent to Baal-Zebub.  God sent fire down and killed them all.  A second captain and his fifty men are sent to get Elijah.  The same thing happens.  A third captain and his fifty men are sent to get Elijah ... but this time the captain humbles himself before Elijah and pleads for mercy.  God spares them.  Why?  Because God is merciful.  What about the 102 innocent men who died?  They were not innocent, and neither were the ones who were spared.  Yet those who humble themselves before the Lord receive mercy.

When Elijah ran away from Queen Jezebel in I Kings 19 and he asked God to take his life because he was the only one left to stand for God, God had told him that there were still 7,000 who believed in Him and that Elijah had more work to do, including anointing Elisha to be the next "spokesman" for God.  Here in II Kings 2, Elijah is taken away in a chariot of fire, but before he is taken, Elisha asks, "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit" (2:9).  Elisha had been called of God, as Elijah was, and he knew that he could not fulfill his calling without the Spirit of God.  How true that was then and how true that is today.

The company of prophets were watching all of this take place and they recognized that the Spirit of God that had been with Elijah now rested on Elisha.  The same should be true of us!  People should be able to see that the Spirit of God rests on us as we believe in Jesus and as WE declare God's Word to those around us.  Paul said to the Corinthians that even more than being able to speak in another language, he wished all of them would prophesy (I Corinthians 14:5).  Speaking God's Word to those around us is part of our calling.

God's principle of blessing those who seek Him is repeated again in Chapter 3, when Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, joins with the kings of Israel and Edom to fight against Moab.  It was only Jehoshaphat that sought the Lord and God said it was only because of him that He would bring victory to them (3:14).  God sees people's hearts and He sees your heart and mine.  He knows when we are sincere and humble and He promises to hear and answer the prayers of those who truly seek Him ... like the widow, like the Shunammite woman.  God HEARS US when we cry out to Him!!

This God that we are reading about is OUR God!  We know God does not always work in miracles and you can't coerce God to do a miracle by sending a donation to a TV ministry, but God always hears our prayers.  When Naaman, a commander in the army of the king of Aram, was struck with leprosy, a girl from Israel who had been captured in war told him that Elisha could heal him.  He went to Elisha, anticipating that Elisha would do a miracle.  Instead, Elisha told him to go wash himself seven times in the Jordan River.  Naaman was outraged and embarrassed and refused to go, until his servant convinced him to do as the prophet said ... and he was healed.

There was a God in Israel who heard and answered prayers ... and the same God hears and answers the prayers of those who humble themselves before Him and who seek Him today.  He is the God who can do miracles, and He is the God who works in the everyday circumstances of life.  Do you know Him?  Have you been to the "school of the prophets?"  Are you speaking God's Word to those around you?  Jesus said to His disciples, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you!"  

Go and tell others about our God!

"Lord God of heaven and earth, You are the God who rules over kings and nations, and yet who cares for those who humble themselves and call out to You for help.  I thank You for Your Word and for Your Spirit.  May we who believe today live to testify to the world that there is a God who rules today, not only in Israel, but over all the world!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, June 29, 2014

"The New Jerusalem ... nothing impure will ever enter it ..."

Day #184:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 30th

Scripture Reading:  Leviticus 10 - 12 ...

Looking at the title of today's reading you may think you read the wrong Scripture for today.  What does the New Jerusalem, the eternal city in the new heaven and earth where God lives with His people forever ... what does this have to do with God's strict regulations concerning clean and unclean things, given to the people of Israel by Moses as they brought offerings to God at the tabernacle?

In Revelation 21 the Apostle John receives a vision of the new heaven and the new earth.  The city descends from heaven and John describes its beauty in verses 11-21.  He then writes the following:

"I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.  On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.  The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 21:22-27).

While some consider John's detailed description of the New Jerusalem to be merely symbolic, they fail to understand God's purpose in sending Jesus, in saving some through the blood of Christ to be His people throughout all eternity, and in creating a new heaven and a new earth where God will literally live in our midst in a perfect world that is not affected by sin.  Here, those who have been chosen by God will love, worship, praise and serve God, our Creator, forever ... time without end.  Few, it seems, understand the final goal of all that God has planned and is carrying out in our world today.  Only when you believe God's Word and understand where all of this is heading, do the strict details of God's laws in Leviticus reveal God's holiness and the only way to enter His presence.

Some basic truths are revealed in these chapters that apply to us today.  Chapter 10 begins with the tragic deaths of Aaron's two sons, Nadab and Abihu.  Because they did not follow God's strict commands in approaching Him in the Holy Place of the tabernacle, they died by the fire of the LORD. Moses explains that the LORD had spoken:  "Among those who approach Me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored" (10:3).  Some would foolishly ask, "What's the big deal?"  That is because the concept of God being HOLY, utter and complete PERFECTION, is ignored by most in our culture.

People today believe you can approach God in any way you choose ... or even not at all, and in the end, you will still go to a place called "heaven" when you die.  "Don't worry about it; it will be all right."  That's not the picture God presents.  Moses warns Aaron and the rest of the priests to be careful to obey God's commands or they, too, will die.  He says to them, "You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses" (10:10-11).  Those who preach and teach God's Word today should realize no less than Aaron and his descendants that to allow people to approach God in any other way than He has given will lead to certain death ... eternal death!

All the instructions concerning what is clean or unclean point to the fact that it is GOD who determines what is clean in His sight and what is not.  There is a deeper truth being taught here than that some things were edible and others were not.  This is more than God simply giving them a healthy diet.  God was saying, "I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. ... I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy" (11:44-45).  Even in the birth of a child God reveals that sin affects us from the moment of our birth.  We need to be cleansed, purified ... and that requires a payment, an offering, an atonement.

We are used to thinking only in terms of physical things and so we look at these regulations as though they refer only to outward, visible things.  God is Spirit and approaching God requires spiritual cleanness!  How can anyone be spiritually pure, clean, holy?  How can anyone approach God?  All of this points us to the Gospel, where God provides mankind the only way to draw near to Him, through faith in Jesus Christ.  Perfection is required and through faith we receive the perfect righteousness of Christ!

Nothing impure will enter God's holy city, where God will dwelling all of His glory.  God was telling Moses and the Israelites that anything that He does not make clean is unclean and therefore unable to enter His presence.  Only if we are "consecrated," set apart for God's holy purpose, is there a future in the new Jerusalem ... in the perfect world that lies ahead.  As you look at the world around you, can you imagine what it will be like?  No pain, suffering, trials, sin, death ... ETERNAL LIFE!!  Have you been made clean by the blood of the Lamb of God?

"O Lord my God, You alone are holy.  I confess my sin, yet come with thanksgiving before You through faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ.  By Your grace alone I stand in Your presence without fear, trusting in the blood of Jesus who atoned for my sin, making me clean in Your sight.  I praise You, O LORD, and offer my life to You as a sacrifice of thanksgiving!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"How to 'REJOICE in the Lord!' ..."

Day #183:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 29th

Scripture Reading:  Philippians 3 - 4 ...

Living as a follower of Jesus Christ in this world is never easy.  It never HAS BEEN easy!  We who know Jesus and who have the Spirit of God within us desire to be like Christ, to be perfect, to be focused on serving God in all that we do.  But we are bombarded with temptations from our own flesh, from the world and from our enemy, the devil.  We struggle ... yet, we REJOICE!!  Why?  How?

As Paul writes his letter to the Philippians from prison we have seen that he believes that "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (1:21).  He has no illusions that he is about to slip into a nice, quiet, peaceful retirement after his missionary journeys.  He also understands that he is not the only one who is suffering or who is struggling to live for Christ.  His affection for the believers in the churches he had helped establish motivated him to help them understand how to find joy in the Lord in spite of their circumstances.  So he writes in chapter 1, verses 29-30, "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have."

Unlike some who preach today, Paul had no "pie-in-the-sky" view of the Christian life, so when he calls the Philippians to "rejoice in the Lord" he is teaching them that it is possible to rejoice in the midst of the struggles and trials that we face here on the earth.  He makes it clear at the beginning of chapter 3 that his rejoicing does not come from trusting in his own goodness.  He says, "We ... put no confidence in the flesh" (3:3).  Rather, "whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ" (3:7). The basis of Paul's joy, and of ours, is in possessing a "righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (3:9).  KNOWING that we are righteous in Christ in the sight of God motivates true believers to be like Christ.

Some today think that if we know we are saved by faith, apart from works, there is no motivation to overcome the flesh and to serve God, but just the opposite is true.  Those who know that Jesus paid our debt and who have the Spirit of God within us "want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings" (3:10).  Paul's desire to "attain to the resurrection from the dead" doesn't mean that he was trying to earn eternal life, but that he wanted to experience the fullness of Christ in him.  This is made clear in verses 12-14:

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

God's goal, as Paul stated in Romans 8:29, is that we who believe will "be conformed to the likeness of His Son."  So Paul writes, "All of us who are mature should take such a view of things" (3:15).  This is how true believers think.  We want to be like Jesus.  Others "live as enemies of the cross of Christ" (3:18).  "Their mind is on earthly things" (3:19).  "But OUR citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, WILL TRANSFORM OUR LOWLY BODIES so that they WILL BE like His glorious body!" (3:20-21).

We WILL reach our goal - GOD's goal!  "THEREFORE ... that is how you should stand firm in the Lord" (4:1).  The result of this assurance is peace of heart and mind.  Paul picks up his theme of rejoicing in chapter 4, verse 4:  "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!"  Knowing that God is with you, that "it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose" (2:13), we who believe have a peace that the world knows nothing about, for it is found in Christ Jesus.  Paul encourages them to "put into practice"  what they have learned and heard from him and have seen in his example.  All of us should be able to say that.

The "secret of being content" is found in knowing that your strength comes from your relationship with Christ.  He is always with you.  You are never alone.  "And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (4:19).  When your desire is to bring glory to the God who saved you, peace is yours, for He is at work in your life from beginning to end.  So Paul concludes, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.  Amen" (4:23).

Desiring to be like Christ is the key to rejoicing in the Lord ... first, because of God's promise to complete the work He has begun (1:6), and second, because thinking about being like Jesus, desiring to be like Jesus, straining toward being like Jesus helps you to THINK right thoughts ... thoughts that lead to right actions:  "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things!" (4:8-9).  Occupying your mind with the things of God changes your thinking AND your living, giving you peace in the midst of your daily struggles ... and that leads to JOY!

Don't let your mind and your heart get bogged down with the "stuff" of this world.  All of us have to deal with things we don't like and we would rather avoid, but God gives His children all we need to overcome the negative thoughts that so easily creep into our minds.  Ask Him to help you today to set your mind on being like Christ and remember that you CAN do what God calls you to do, through the strength that is yours through your oneness with Christ.  "To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (4:20).

"Father, You have given me joy in the knowledge that the righteousness of Christ is mine by faith.  Now I desire to be like Christ, to think and to act as He did as He walked and lived in this world.  Fill me with Your Spirit and help me to find my peace and contentment in trusting You and serving You.  Thank You, Father, for Your promise to me and to all who believe that when Jesus returns we will be made like Him, for we shall see Him as He is!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, June 27, 2014

"The unexpected occupants of heaven …"

Day #182:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 28th

Scripture Reading:  Luke 15 - 16 …

When things are going well and life is good and prosperity abounds people often declare, "I am so blessed."  But is that really what it means to be blessed?  Is it really a matter of your social position or status, or the amount of material possessions you have accumulated?  There is a lot of controversy in some Christian circles today concerning these things.  In His teaching, however, Jesus left no doubt about the path to heaven and the journey of those who would arrive there.

In His parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son in Luke 15, Jesus makes one point by telling three parables (stories of common, ordinary things that had spiritual applications).  In the first two parables Jesus states the point of the parable at the end:  "In the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent" (15:7) … and "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (15:10).

In view of the rest of Scripture we know that NO ONE is righteous (Romans 3:10).  Jesus is drawing a contrast between the "tax collectors and sinners" (15:1) who were flocking to hear Jesus teach, and the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who muttered about Him welcoming sinners and eating with them.  ALL needed to confess their sins and turn from them (repent), but the Pharisees and teachers of the law didn't recognize their need to repent, while the tax collectors and other "sinners" were convicted of their sin through Jesus' teaching and put their hope for forgiveness in His mercy and grace.  The same lesson is repeated in the parable of the lost coin.  Heaven rejoices when a sinner … ANY sinner, repents and believes in Jesus.

The contrast between the self-righteous and those who were convicted of their sin and who had a godly sorrow leading to repentance is declared once more in the parable of the lost son.  While I and others have pointed out that both sons are lost and estranged from the father, simply in different ways, the emphasis is on the younger son who APPEARS to be more of a sinner than the older son.  He squanders his inheritance, disgraces his father's name and ends up in circumstances that he could not have imagined he would ever be in.  Sin sneaks up on you that way when you are focused on yourself and your own desires.  But by God's grace, the convicting power of the Holy Spirit is able to reach people no matter how far they have strayed.

"When he came to his senses," (15:17) describes the beginning of a spiritual awakening.  The young man was not yet aware of the depth of his father's love, but he had begun to realize that having little with his father was better than having everything without his father.  Meanwhile, the father had been praying and perhaps even keeping track of his son through others, for on the day his son returned, he was watching for him and with love and compassion "ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him" (15:20).  It reminds me of Romans 5:8:  "God demonstrated His love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

We know what happened.  The father prepared a celebration (remember - there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents!).  Enter the older brother … a picture of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  Some try to make this out to be all or most Christians in the Church, but such is not the case.  The older brother represents people who don't see their need for repentance - both those inside and outside the church.  Pride is not confined to self-righteous hypocrites who may have found their way into the church and who are trying to justify themselves by their own "goodness."  Everyone who does not come to the Father through faith in Jesus Christ is in some way self-righteous, trying to earn God's favor.  It doesn't work!

The older son was as lost as the younger son, but he didn't know it.  Heaven rejoices in the work of the Spirit that opens blind eyes to see sin for what it is and moves the heart to turn away from it to follow the path of righteousness.  The Bible makes it clear that only the blood of Jesus pays the penalty for sin and only those who trust in Him will receive God's forgiveness and enter His perfect presence.  So what about Chapter 16?  If we are not saved by our own righteousness, but by the love and compassion and grace of the Father, who moves us to repent and believe, what is Jesus teaching in the parable of the shrewd manager and the story of the rich man and Lazarus?

First, we need to understand that the Master does not approve of the shrewd manager's tactics.  It is similar to Jesus' parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18 … Jesus is revealing the principle that those who are put in charge of earthly possessions should realize that their use of what God has entrusted to them has eternal rewards.  The shrewd manager was not thinking of heaven; he was thinking of how to have enough wealth for this world, so he didn't have to work or beg.  Jesus says that those who follow Him should "store up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:20).

The use of our material possessions in this life reveals where our hearts are.  "No servant can serve two masters. … You cannot serve God and money. … God knows your hearts.  What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight" (16:13, 15).  To illustrate the point further, Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  Once again, some have twisted the meaning of the story to teach that all poor people are received into heaven, while all rich people go to hell.  Of course, that is not the case.  Even here Abraham is seen in heaven and he was certainly a very rich man by the standards of this world.  Jesus is explaining that those whose hearts are set on their things cannot and will not arrive in heaven because they are not rich toward God … they have not repented from their idolatry, from their worship of money and things.

Repentance again comes to the forefront - a genuine sorrow for sin and trust in God.  Lazarus, the poor beggar, was in heaven … not because he was poor, but because in his difficult circumstances he knew he was a sinner in need of God's forgiveness and he trusted in God's love for him.  How do I know that?  Because all of Scripture teaches the same thing.  No one is righteous, no one is saved by their own goodness, rich or poor or in between.  The point of the story of the rich man and Lazarus is that God calls us to use whatever He gives us for the welfare of others, not only ourselves.  This, too, is a principle God reveals throughout His Word.

The rich man begged God to send someone to give him water, but the eternal destinations of all who die are set at death.  God has given everything we need to make the right choice:  "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them … If they don't listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (16:29,31).  The Spirit of God uses God's Word and God's Law to convict people of sin.  Deep inside people know they are sinners in need of forgiveness, but they suppress the truth in their unrighteousness and so the just judgment of God falls upon them (Romans 1:18-20).  The consequences of sin and self-righteousness are eternal.

Most in the world and many in the church today believe that you can be good enough to earn your way into God's presence.  Even those who claim to believe in Jesus often rely on their religious deeds to get them to heaven.  But Jesus says, 'Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (those who BELIEVE in Jesus!).  Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matthew 7:21-23).

Thank God for His love and compassion in welcoming the humble sinner home!  Trust in the love of God in Christ and let go of the things of the world, for it is those who appear to have little in this world who are the unexpected occupants of heaven.  If God gives you much, use it for Him.  Give it away in the service of others in the name of Jesus.  If God gives you little, use it for Him, giving thanks for the opportunity to offer even the smallest gift in the service of the King.  In so doing you will be "laying up treasures in heaven" and you will be the cause of rejoicing in heaven!

"Father, it is in confessing my need and in experiencing your love and grace that I find comfort, assurance and true and lasting joy.  Help me to understand that the things of this world can easily become idols.  Open my heart and my hands to give freely, knowing that all I have is a gift from You to be used for Your kingdom, to draw others to place their trust in You.  Thank You for Your Word and Your Spirit in me, Father.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Repent! ... and live!!"

Day #181:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 27th

Scripture Reading:  Ezekiel 13 - 18 …

"Repent" seems to be a lost word in most circles today, even in the church, where the call to repentance should be part of the Gospel.  John the Baptist called people to repent, to turn from their sin, and Jesus preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Luke 4:17).  Jesus told some who thought that God had punished others by causing them to be killed by Pilate or by some other tragedy, "Unless YOU repent, you, too will all perish" (Luke 13:1-5).  And after His death and resurrection Jesus opened the minds of His disciples to understand the Scriptures and explained how the Scriptures predicted that "repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in HIS name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47).

To "repent" means to "turn around; to change your mind," which in turn leads to a change in attitude, in behavior, in the focus of your life, in your identity, in your reason for being here - your mission.  Looking at mankind objectively it is easy to see that mankind is bent on self-exaltation and self-worship that is leading to self-destruction.  But it is not only the natural consequences of our sin that we need to understand, but also the just judgment of God against our sin that we need to acknowledge as inevitable.  As God pronounced His judgment on Judah, as He had on Israel before them, humanity today is not safe from God's wrath and coming judgment.

The words of Ezekiel 13 and 14 send chills down my spine!  God condemns the false prophets for declaring "'Peace,' when there is no peace" (13:10).  Their visions and words were not from God.  "By lying to my people, who listen to lies, you have killed those who should not have died and have spared those who should not live" (13:19).  So countless preachers today offer God's peace and forgiveness to those who have not repented from their sin, who have no desire to turn from their sin and who make a mockery of the cross of Christ by flaunting their sin before the world.  Where is the cry for repentance?!!

"This is what the Sovereign LORD says:  "Repent!  Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!" (14:6).  Oh wait, this is the Old Testament … surely, we are under GRACE today.  Listen to Jude as he writes to the early believers to contend earnestly for the faith that has been entrusted to them.  He warns against false teachers and says, "they are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord" (Jude 4).  God says, "If a country sins against me by being unfaithful …" (14:12).  I think of our own country and grieve over the unfaithfulness of so many who are leaders and even those within the Christian community.  God says, "Even if these three men - Noah, Daniel and Job - were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness" (14:14).

God uses the allegory (a word picture) to describe the unfaithfulness of His people to Him, their "husband."   "I will bring upon you the blood of vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger" (16:38).  Yes, God is a God of vengeance.  He is holding back His full wrath during this "day of salvation" in which we still live, but it will be poured out in full measure upon all who do not repent and believe in Jesus Christ.  On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 the people who were listening to Peter's first sermon were convicted of their sin and asked Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"  Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).

The "gift of the Holy Spirit" is not the Spirit Himself, but what the Spirit DOES within those whom God has chosen to be His people.  Jesus teaches in John 3:3-5 that we are born again by the Spirit of God and given a new mind and a new heart.  We are "regenerated," made new in Christ Jesus, and the evidence of that new life is repentance and faith.  When the Bible says that we are saved "by grace through faith," apart from works, God means that the Holy Spirit transforms the believer from the inside out and the very first sign of that new birth is a change of mind regarding sin and a trusting in Jesus Christ for forgiveness.  The Bible knows nothing of a true faith without true repentance.  Both are the product of the Holy Spirit.

Too many people today are like the prophets of the days of Ezekiel who offered "peace" with God apart from repentance.  You cannot have true faith in Jesus without the desire to turn from your sin to follow the path of righteousness.  God says, "I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the LORD.  Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation" (16:62-63).  Believers are humble before God because we are always aware of our sin and so always thankful for forgiveness.  We press on, we seek God, we feed on His Word, we rest in His love and grace, for we know ourselves and we know our God.  Repentance is part of our life as followers of Jesus Christ who still live in this world.  We desire to be like Him and know we need Him every moment of every day.

The people left in Jerusalem thought they were being punished for the sins of their fathers, but God makes it clear in Chapter 18 that each will be judged for their own sins and God will save those who repent, who turn from their evil ways and live.  "'Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?' declares the Sovereign LORD.  'Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?'! (18:23).  But how will anyone turn from their sin and be saved?  The answer is:  They won't!  Unless they somehow "get a new heart and a new spirit" (18:31).  And that happens through the work of God's Spirit!

God must do the work that you and I cannot do.  "For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent and live!" (18:32).  Praise God that He sends His Spirit to change our hearts, for we could never change them ourselves!  In Acts 11, Peter explained why he had spent time with Gentiles, even eating with them:  "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as He had come on us at the beginning.  Then I remembered what the Lord had said:  'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So if God gave them the same gift as He gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" ... "When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, 'So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life" (Acts 11:15-18).

Repentance and faith are the gift of God, the work of the Holy Spirit.  It was true in Ezekiel's day and it is true today.  If you desire to turn from sin and follow the path of righteousness, it is because "God is working in you to will and to do His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).  You owe your life and salvation to God.  Live to give Him praise and thanks.  If you claim to know Jesus and to have peace with God, but have no desire to turn from your sin, I pray that God will convict you of your need for repentance and that He will change your heart and mind even now to confess your sin and to seek His forgiveness through the blood of Christ.  God will not turn you away for it is He Himself who has moved you to draw near.

And when you do, when you draw near to the Father through faith in Jesus Christ, you can know ... you can KNOW, that you have peace, for Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up the last day" (John 6:44).  What God has said HE will do ... He WILL do!  And there IS peace ... TRUE peace, for those who repent and believe!!

"O Lord, my God, I acknowledge that there can be no peace with You without repentance.  You love us too much to allow us to remain in bondage to our sin.  Thank You for the work of Your Spirit within me, moving me to repent, to believe in Jesus and to live in obedience to Your Word.  Where I still fall short of Your glory, Father, continue Your work in me, that I may glorify You in all I say and do.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Your heart belongs to God ..."

Day #180:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 26th

Scripture Reading:  Proverbs 7 ...

Spiritual adultery grieves God because it takes the best of what He has created and throws it away on something worthless.  God created mankind to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him ... then came Satan.  He tempted Adam and Eve to take their eyes off of God and their affection away from God and turn them toward ... a piece of fruit!!  Spiritual adultery is always a matter of the heart.  In Proverbs, Solomon masterfully illustrates spiritual adultery through the picture of physical adultery.

God says, "Keep my words and store up my commands WITHIN you.  Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye" (7:1-2).  The "apple of your eye" is where you set your affections, your heart, your desire.  Where should your desire be?  Listen to the Psalmist in Psalm 73:25-26:  "Whom have I in heaven but You?  And earth has nothing I desire besides You.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but GOD is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!"   Can you say that today ... that you desire nothing other than God?

Solomon writes of the "adulteress" who seduces and distracts "a youth who lacked judgment" (7:7).  I think of our youth today who are bombarded by the voices of the world calling out to them, "Love me! Love ME!"  Those voices call out to people of all ages, seeking to fill our hearts and minds with the things of the world rather than thoughts of our Creator and affection for our Savior.  As John writes to the early Church, he says, "Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever" (I John 2:15-17).

God created us to desire Him because He knows that we will find true joy and satisfaction only in a relationship of love with Him.  That's why He sent Jesus to save us from the horrible bondage of sin that lures us away from God.  Paul prays for the believers in Ephesus, "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:17-19).  Being a Christian is all about LOVE for GOD!!!

The "woman" in Proverbs 7 is Satan and the world over which he wants to rule.  He entices "with crafty intent" (7:10).  It is significant that the woman says, "I have fellowship offerings at home; today I fulfilled my vows."  I believe this points to the false religions of the world that talk about "god" and offer their false worship, captivating the hearts of millions.  "With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk" (7:21).  I think even of some of the people on "Christian television" who through their smooth talking lead people astray and cause them to set their hearts on a false god who promises them health, wealth and miracles if only they will "sow a seed" (give an offering of money to their ministry).

So many today are "like an ox going to slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life" (7:22-23).  As the world calls out to you as the adulteress, God says, "Listen to Me; pay attention to what I say.  Do not let your HEART turn to her ways or stray into her paths.  Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng.  Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death" (7:24-27).

Your heart belongs to God, and you will not find your heart's true home until and unless you "set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father" (Colossians 3:1).  Do not listen to the voice of the adulteress (Satan and the world and your own flesh!).  Listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and love Him because He first loved YOU!

"Heavenly Father, I hear YOUR voice calling me to set my heart on You and I do love You because You first loved me in Christ Jesus.  Give me strength to resist the call of the world and my own flesh, putting off the old man and putting on the new, created in Your image, in true righteousness and holiness.  Let me find my greatest satisfaction in You, desiring You above everything else.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"What to do when you can't sleep …"

Day #179:  Daily Bible Reading - June 25th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 75 - 77 …

 Knowing God is different than knowing ABOUT God.  You can know a lot of things about God and even believe that He is working in the world and in your life, but it is only when you KNOW God that you will trust Him in everything and surrender to His will, which is always good and right and just.  These Psalms of Asaph speak of the one true God and point you and me to find hope and peace and strength in Him as we live by faith.  It's not always easy, but it IS possible!

Let's start with Psalm 77 and then go back to Psalms 75 and 76.  What Asaph describes at the beginning of the psalm is the common experience of all of us at one time or another.  Crying out to God, finding little peace, groaning in our spirits …  "You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak" (77:4).  What was Asaph thinking about?  He tells us:

"Will the Lord reject forever?  Will He never show His favor again?  Has His unfailing love vanished forever?  Has His promise failed for all time?  Has God forgotten to be merciful?  Has He in anger withheld His compassion?" (77:7-9).  These thoughts may arise at various times throughout our lives and we may not recognize that they are more than just thoughts, they are a temptation!  When you find yourself in this state of mind you will be tempted to feel isolated and alone - even though it is not true.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (I Corinthians 10:13).

Being tempted is not sin; it's what you do WHEN you are tempted that may lead to sin.  Look at Asaph's response to the temptation to doubt God's presence, goodness and faithfulness:  "Then I thought, 'To this I will appeal:  the years of the right hand of the Most High.'  I will remember the deeds of the LORD … I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds. … You are the God who performs miracles … With Your mighty arm You redeemed Your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph" (77:10-15).

Here is the key to finding strength to resist the temptation to doubt God's presence and love and mercy: KNOWING GOD!!  Go back now to Psalms 75 and 76.  Notice where Asaph begins:  "We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks, for Your Name is near; men tell of Your wonderful deeds.  You say, 'I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge uprightly'" (75:1-2).  Remembering God's Name and God's deeds and His sovereign control over all things brings a testimony of praise.  "As for me, I will declare this forever; I will sing praise to the God of Jacob" (75:9).

When you KNOW God, it becomes much easier to trust Him and then to praise Him.  So few people today know the true God who has revealed Himself in His Word.  The longer I live the more convinced I am that the spiritual darkness the Bible talks about is becoming greater as we near the return of Christ. God continues to call a remnant out of the darkness, but most people remain under the judgment of God and reject His offer of light.  Jesus predicted that such would be the case:  "This is the verdict:  Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).  All those who do not know the "God of Jacob" do not know God.

Asaph begins Psalm 76 by saying, "In Judah God is known; His name is great in Israel"  (76:1).  He speaks of God's judgment and says, "Surely Your wrath against men brings You praise, and the survivors of Your wrath are restrained" (76:10).  Then he calls us to "make vows to the LORD your God and fulfill them" (76:11).  How important it is when you know God to commit your life to serving Him.  According to the Bible, true faith arises from being born again by the Spirit of God and results in devotion to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Anything less is a poor imitation, a counterfeit "faith" that will not stand up during the times described in Psalm 77.

As Asaph "remembers" the deeds of the LORD, he testifies concerning the crossing of the Red Sea by God's people in days gone by.  "Your path led through the sea, Your way through the mighty waters, though Your footprints were not seen" (77:19).  I would encourage you to look up a song my son wrote a few years ago, based on Psalm 77.  It is titled, "Footprints Unseen" - Altar*d Life.  The words of the song express the thoughts and feelings of Asaph … your thoughts and my thoughts … your feelings and my feelings.

What do you do when you can't sleep?  If you know the God of Jacob,  you remember His deeds and know that nothing is too hard for God.  Through faith in Jesus Christ you and I have access to the very throne-room of the God who created the world and who chooses the appointed time.  He cannot and will not fail us, for He has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us.  His ways are holy (perfect) and righteous (good).  His power is without limit and His love and mercy endure forever.

I pray that you KNOW God and that knowing Him brings you peace in the midst of the storm and joy on the mountaintop.  Though His footprints are often unseen, He makes the path clear for those who are His and carries the burdens of the weak.  Put your trust in Him and He will give you all you need to stand firm in your faith and to be able to SLEEP … for you rest under the shadow of His wings!

"My Father and my God, You are greatly to be praised, for You alone are God.  Because You have revealed Yourself in Your Word, You can be known, and through Your Son Jesus Christ I come boldly before Your throne in my times of need.  I testify that Your deeds are mighty and Your deeds are good. With Your mighty arm You have redeemed Your people and I trust in You.  May my life be a testimony to You, my God, as I make my vows to You and fulfill them with the strength You give me … one day at a time.  In Jesus' name, Amen"  

Monday, June 23, 2014

"When God speaks … it's good to listen!"

Day #178:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 24th

Scripture Reading:  I Kings 19 - 22 …

It's easy to take the Bible for granted.  We forget that people have not always had God's revelation so readily available.  Many people look at the Bible as they would any other book, but those who have the Spirit of God understand that God speaks through His Word today and His Spirit gives understanding to those who have been given "ears to hear!"  While there are many who claim to speak for God today, everything they say must be confirmed by going to the Bible to see if what they say is true.  The Apostle Paul commended the Bereans, saying that they "were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11).

In the days of the Kings of Israel and Judah there were prophets who claimed to speak for God.  The only way to determine which prophets were truly sent by God was to look at their track record.  Anyone could be right some of the time, and even false prophets sometimes said true things, but a true prophet of God had to speak truth 100% of the time and if he predicted anything in the future, he needed to be right 100% of the time.  Elijah was such a prophet, sent from God.  God had spoken through Elijah to kings before and when Elijah spoke for God against the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 other false prophets on Mt. Carmel (I Kings 18), God was glorified and the result was that the people knew that HE and He alone was God!

True prophets, sent from God, always pointed people to God, not to themselves.  They didn't desire to please people, but God.  Their life was not easy because most people don't really want to hear what God has to say.  When King Ahab's wife heard that Elijah had put to death the prophets of Baal, she sent a messenger to Elijah to tell him that by that time tomorrow Elijah would be dead!  That might be enough to shake anyone's faith … and it shook Elijah's.  He ran away in fear and after a day's journey sat down under a tree to rest and prayed, "I have had enough, LORD.  Take my life" (19:4).

How often after a good day or a time of great victory or blessing do we experience the same feelings that Elijah felt.  We can begin to think that life is always going to be easy and that we will have no troubles.  Some even claim to speak for God and declare that this will be so … but it's not.  Jesus said we would have troubles in this life, that we would face persecution and that trials would be part of life in this world.  He promised that He would never leave us and that our lives would be a testimony of hope to others because we stand firm in our faith by His strength, no matter what.  Elijah should have known that, but he forgot.

It is important to see how God encouraged him.  After giving him physical nourishment, God told Elijah to travel to Mt. Horeb, where God had appeared to His people before.  It was a forty day journey, which should have given Elijah time to do a lot of thinking and, perhaps, soul-searching.  When he arrived at the mountain he entered a cave and the LORD told him to go out and stand in the presence of the LORD and He would pass by.  A powerful wind came … so powerful that it moved rocks … but the LORD was not in the wind.  Then an earthquake shook the mountain, but God was not in the earthquake.  Then fire appeared around Elijah, but God was not in the fire.

Finally, God spoke to Elijah in a "gentle whisper" ...  sometimes we need to "be still and know" that God IS God!!  God encouraged Elijah by telling him that He was not done using him and that He had reserved seven thousand in Israel who had not worshiped idols.  Seven thousand, out of all the people of Israel, who had remained true to God.  When you are passionately serving God it can easily feel like you are the only one left, but God calls us into a community of faith where others share our devotion to God and our desire to make Him known.  You need to surround yourself with such people.

The kings of Israel were like so many today who "use" God when it is convenient.  Ahab wanted to know that God was with him, but he still wanted to do whatever he wanted to do.  When he didn't get his way, he acted like a two-year-old and moped.  When Ahab wanted Judah's king, Jehoshaphat, to fight with him, Jehoshaphat wanted to inquire of a true prophet of God.  The prophet's name was Micaiah.  Listen to what Ahab said, "There is still one man through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad" (22:8).

When Micaiah was summoned he said, "As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what the LORD tells me" (22:14).  As Ahab predicted, the news was not good ... but it was TRUE!  When God speaks, it's good to listen!  Ahab had ignored God's Word from God's prophets and the result was certain death.  He could do nothing to avoid it.  In the same way, God's Word pronounces judgment upon all who refuse to listen to His Word.  All those who worship other "gods," who follow other religions, will perish.  Judgment will come.

One of the clearest passages pronouncing judgment on those who do not believe in Jesus is John 3:18 ... immediately after Jesus says that "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (3:16).  In verse 18 Jesus says, "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."  "Thus says the LORD!!!"

The prophets of the Old Testament called the people of Israel and Judah to believe in God and to put their trust in Him alone.  When they sought God and worshiped Him, God was with them through all of the wars and trials they faced.  When they turned away and worshiped other gods, the true God brought His judgment upon them.  God is being patient today, "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9).  But spiritually dead people insist on going their own way, like many of the kings and most of the people in the days before Jesus.  The same happens today.

Too many people claim to believe in God so long as they are convinced that saying they believe and going through some religious traditions and rituals make them feel good about themselves.  But like Ahab, as soon as things don't go their way, they are complaining and moping, wondering why God doesn't do what they want Him to do.  It's a temptation all of us can fall into.  FAITH believes God's Word ... faith listens when God speaks and trusts God to do what He says He will do.  Faith obeys God, not to earn anything, but out of love and gratitude for what He has done in Jesus.

Don't be foolish.  Listen when God speaks, for it is often in a gentle whisper through His Word and Spirit.  He is still speaking today to all who are willing to hear His voice, who have been born again by His Spirit.  Even now, God is speaking to you ... to encourage you, to lift you up, to call you away from the things of the world or to guide you through the storm.  Read His Word, pray for His Spirit and listen ... you will hear His voice!!

"O LORD, my God, I thank You for Your Word and for the work of Your Spirit within me that enables me to hear You speak and to believe all that You say.  You have made known to me the path of righteousness and I desire to walk in it, for Your glory and for my good.  Continue Your work in me, Father, and cleanse my heart so that I will hear You speak and obey Your commands.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, June 22, 2014

"Today the LORD will appear to you ..."

Day #177:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 23rd

Scripture Reading:  Leviticus 7 - 9 ...

Leviticus 9:23-24 is one of the few places in the Old Testament where the LORD appeared to the people of Israel and their response was not fear!  "Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting (the tabernacle).  When they came out they blessed the people and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people.  Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar.  And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown."

You could understand why the people would fall facedown before the LORD, but why the joy?  And if they were truly joyful, why did they fall facedown?  After such detailed explanations about the various offerings God called the people to bring, a few things stand out that are responsible for the joy the people of Israel were experiencing.  First, the offerings revealed God's willingness to allow the people to approach Him.  Each offering reminded the people that it was God who was inviting them to come to worship.  God said that when the priest offered the blood of the offerings he was "making atonement" with them (7:7).  God was allowing the people to "make a payment" for sin, trusting in the shedding of blood which pointed ahead to the sacrifice the Messiah would make once for all.

As the priests are ordained in Chapter 8, "Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them" (8:10).  To "consecrate" means "to set apart as holy."  As God told Moses to consecrate the tabernacle and everything in it, and as the priests were ordained and set apart for service at the tabernacle, the people were also consecrated and set apart as the special people of God.  No other people, no other nation on the face of the earth had been chosen by God to be HIS people.  God had made His promises to Abraham, then to Isaac and then to Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel.  This nation belonged to God ... and as a people, they still do today.

When was the last time you thought of being "consecrated" to the LORD?  When the people "shouted for joy and fell facedown" (9:24), they were at that moment realizing, some perhaps for the first time, that God was present with them.  He was there ... and He had accepted their offering.  Moses and Aaron came out of the Tent of Meeting and blessed the people, and then the glory of the LORD appeared to them.  What must that experience have been like?  FIRE came out from the glory of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering.  The sight and sound and smell combined to provide a memory that the whole assembly would not soon forget.

All of this points to believers today.  We have been consecrated not by the blood of offerings that we bring, but by the offering that GOD brings!  When God told Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, and Abraham obeyed God, God stopped him and said, "I will provide the offering" (Genesis 22:14).  God did that when He sent His Son to offer His blood as the perfect sacrifice for sin on the cross.  Through Jesus God appears to us daily through His creation, through His Word and in every detail of our lives.  God is real and He is with us.

People without the Spirit of God cannot SEE God.  God appears to His people as we live by faith.  The Spirit gives believers spiritual eyes and wisdom to hear God's Word and to understand that through Jesus we have access to the very throne of God.  By His grace we approach God without fear, with great joy, and fall facedown before Him in worship.  We know that we, too, have been consecrated ... set apart for a holy purpose. Read through some of Paul's letters to the churches and you will find him "blessing" the people, as Moses and Aaron did, and calling believers to live lives of holiness by the power of the Spirit.

All those who believe in Jesus Christ today have been chosen by God, redeemed by Christ and born again by His Spirit.  Think of this:  every day, we have the privilege of drawing near to God with great joy and bowing down in worship before Him.  Every day God appears to us as we recognize His hand at work in our lives and in our world ... and one day, with joy beyond description, we will behold the fullness of His glory and join the angels is worship.

Until then, set your mind and your heart on things above, where Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father ... and today the LORD will appear to you!!

"Our Father in heaven, it is with humility and great joy that we who believe bow before Your majesty in adoration and worship.  Thank You, Father, for the offering of Your own Son, that we may have life through Him.  Consecrate me, LORD, to serve You.  Open my eyes to behold Your glory every day through the eyes of faith.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, June 21, 2014

"Partners in the Gospel …"

Day #176:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 22nd

Scripture Reading:  Philippians 1 - 2 …

If you were in prison and didn't know if you were going to live or die, what would you write to your fellow-believers who may face the same persecution that you are facing and may themselves die for their faith in Jesus Christ?  That sounds like quite a scenario, doesn't it?  But that is the true circumstances of Paul's life as he writes this letter to the Philippians.  God's Word was not written from the imagination of those who dream up stories, but in the real life circumstances of the battle between the kingdom of God and the powers of evil.  From Adam and Eve to today spiritual warfare goes on all around us and it is only when you believe what God says in His Word that you are able to stand firm against the forces of evil and have victory.  This is not some Hollywood script, this is real life!

Paul writes this letter from prison, aware that his imprisonment might cause some to question what God is doing.  Here is perhaps the greatest promoter of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and defender of the faith at that time - maybe in any time - and he has been imprisoned unfairly and restricted in his travels.  Why?  Why doesn't God DO something?  So Paul writes of his love for the "saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi" (1:1), and expresses his joy for their "partnership in the gospel" (1:5).  Such fellowship among believers is an encouragement to all … then and now.

To encourage them further, Paul declares his confidence that "He who began a good work in you WILL carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (1:6).  As a pastor I know that these words expressed Paul's fervent desire that those to whom he had proclaimed the Gospel would persevere in the faith and glorify God (verse 11).  There is an affection for those to whom one preaches and teaches God's Word that is difficult to describe except as Paul does … as a feeling of a father for his children … desiring the best for them and knowing that the best can be found only in knowing and loving and serving God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul then assures them that God is using him, even in his present circumstances.  He has been sharing the Gospel with the Romans who are guarding him and many of them have become believers.  As he sits in prison, he continues doing the Lord's work.  What an example of faith and perseverance!  He believes he will be delivered, but he wants the Philippians to know that even if he were to die, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (1:21), the Gospel is still true and God is still good.  In fact, he says, "I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far" (1:23).  He believes God wants him to stay "in the body" longer for the sake of the Philippians and others, but if not, he does not want them to lose hope, explaining, "It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him" (1:29).  Suffering for Christ is part of our calling.

Some pretend today to have "insider information" about what God is going to do in their lives and in the lives of others.  It is significant that even the Apostle Paul did not claim to have that kind of knowledge from the Spirit.  His concern was not to predict the future, but to trust God in the present.  He told the Philippians:  "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ … whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the Gospel" (1:27).  People in the Church today should be more concerned about standing firm than in giving in to the culture around us.  We should be talking more about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and worrying less about the other things that are going on in our lives over which we have no control!

In Chapter 2, Paul encourages the believers to find encouragement in the example of Christ Jesus, having the same attitude of humility and servanthood.  He calls them to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose" (2:12-13).  God is ALWAYS at work in ways that we do not understand, and it is important to know that WE who believe are part of His purpose!  His Spirit is at work in us and we are never alone.  It is HIS grace that empowers us daily to "shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life" (2:15-16).  We who know and confess Jesus Christ have a calling in this world that no one else has:  to proclaim the name of Jesus and so to give glory and praise to the one true God.  No one else can do this.

Even as Paul faces death, he has a deep concern for his brothers and sisters in Christ.  He mentions Timothy and Ephaphroditus, two fellow-workers in the teaching of the Gospel.  Paul was concerned for them, but also for the Philippians, that they were understanding how very important their ministry was for the glory of God and for the cause of Christ.  I wonder if you understand that.

As we near the half-way point of a year being spent in God's Word, is this simply an academic exercise of reading His Word daily and giving it a brief time of thought, or are you finding your mind and heart being drawn more and more to an understanding that the true meaning of life is found only in knowing and serving the one true God who has revealed Himself in His Word?  Is being a follower of Jesus Christ the one thing that defines your very existence in this world, or is it just a sideline?

For some around the world faith in Jesus Christ is truly the "anchor for the soul" (Hebrews 6:19) that God intends it to be.  Some are holding on tightly to other things, even life itself, thinking that in them you will find hope, peace, joy, contentment and meaning for life.  God gives us gifts to enjoy - but not to worship … not to place our hope in.  I pray that you, like Paul, will understand God's work IN you and His desire to work THROUGH you.  I pray that you will long to be with Jesus, whether in life or in death, and that your attitude will be like that of Jesus:  a humble, willing servant.  And I pray that you, as partners in the Gospel, will share God's truth with others on a regular basis, praying for them and putting their needs before your own, giving your life away for the King!  For in doing so, you will find true joy in Christ Jesus until that day when you see Him face to face.

"Father in heaven, the joy of knowing You and serving You surpasses even life itself.  Fill me with faith and the confidence that I have a calling from You and that You Yourself, by Your Spirit, are at work in me to accomplish all You intend for my life.  I long to be with You and pray that You would give me a humble Spirit and a willing heart to serve others, holding out to them the word of life so that they, too, may know You and be partners in sharing the Gospel.  To You be the praise and glory, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, June 20, 2014

"There's a new world coming …"

Day #175:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 21st

Scripture Reading:  Luke 13 - 14 …

Those of us who know Jesus and who have heard God's promise of a new heaven and a new earth LONG for Jesus to return.  We know that the Bible tells us there will be trouble and suffering and tribulation prior to the rapture - when Jesus sends His angels to gather His elect, His chosen people … but even though we lose our lives for the sake of Christ, we will live forever in His kingdom.  We will share in the Great Banquet, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb and His Church, and we will live forever with new spiritual bodies in a world where there is no more pain, or crying or death.  Oh, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

Until then, the message Jesus preached during His brief ministry on the earth is OUR message.  Luke 13-14 give us some important information about God's kingdom, present and future.  Some thought that certain Galileans had been killed by Pilate as judgment from God, but Jesus points the finger back at them and says, "Unless YOU repent, you too will all perish!" (13:3,5).  God looks at the "fruit" of our lives and a life lived for any other reason than to bring glory to God is a life that deserves judgment.

Many people seem to misunderstand repentance; they think it means to be sorry for your sin.   To "repent" means "to turn aside; to turn around; to change your mind."  Being sorry is only the first step in repentance.  True repentance is produced by the Holy Spirit and results in changing your mind about sin.  It means that you hate what is evil and love what is good - what GOD says is good, because you love God!  Only those born again by the Spirit can repent and believe in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and life.

So many today are content with being religious.  Like the Pharisees, they go through the motions of "being good," but that's about it.  God is not at the center of their lives, they have not confessed their sin and guilt before God or placed their hope in Jesus.  They are like those whom Jesus describes in 13:24, who try to enter the kingdom but who are unable to do so because they are not willing to go through the "narrow door."  The wide road of lumping all religions and all paths together leads to death and judgment.  Even those who think they are pleasing God by being religious (like the Pharisees) are on the wrong road!

Here is where most people fail to understand the message of grace.  I can tell you that I KNOW the way to life and His name is Jesus.  I can tell you that I KNOW I am forgiven and that I am going to spend eternity in the kingdom of God, living with Him on a new earth.  How do I know?  Because I have placed my faith in Jesus Christ.  His blood is the payment for my sin and His Spirit is at work in me.  I trust completely, 100%, in Jesus.  I cannot add anything to what He has done for me.  And I see the evidence of the Spirit's work in me because I HATE the sin that remains in me and I LOVE righteousness.  I want to please God in everything I do, not to earn anything, but because of His love and grace to me.  Does that describe you?

The Pharisees were zealous for God's law - the way they understood it, but they missed God's grace.  They didn't like it when Jesus healed on the Sabbath day, but they didn't understand that the Sabbath day was not a religious ritual or habit; rather, it pointed to God's work of creation and to the rest people find when they put their trust in Him as their God, their Savior, their Healer.  We ALL need God and Jesus came to reveal Him to us, to pay the penalty for sin and then, by His Word and Spirit, to give us new birth so we who believe can enter His kingdom.

Jesus warned that those who think they can earn a place at the Great Banquet or those who get the invitation to come through the narrow door but who ignore it, will be cast out and will go to the place where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth" and an eternity of regret.  I can't think of anything worse than that.  Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wept, expressing God's heartache that He had offered them safety and forgiveness, but they refused to come.  That is the situation throughout the world today where the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed, but people, even nations, have refused to come and have turned to other gods.  They will endure an eternity of regret.

When people hear the Gospel and reject it they are condemned because they have rejected Jesus.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ in this world is not an easy road.  There is a cost.  You may not have many friends or be popular or get the promotion you deserve or be as successful in the business world because you refuse to compromise your integrity and the truth God has revealed to you in His Word.  Some people hear the Word and appear to be followers of Jesus, but then troubles come or they get distracted by the things of the world and they show that they are not rooted in Christ.  They were just pretending - fooling even themselves.

Jesus calls His followers to come to Him and find all they need to persevere to the end, to testify that HIS power is at work within them, to boast not in themselves but in the One who gave His life that WE might live forever!!  There's a new world coming, and only those who enter the narrow door will have hope in this life and will finally enter God's kingdom through the narrow door of faith in Jesus.  May you be one of those as you live daily with Him and for Him.  He WILL give you all you need!

"My Father in heaven, as I read Your Word and hear the voice of Jesus speaking to the crowds and to individuals, I hear Him speaking to ME!  I love You, Lord, and my heart is set on pleasing You in all that I say and do.  Forgive me when I give in to temptation and continue Your work in me, that I may not waver in my faith or give up in times of trial.  Let my life glorify You, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"God, wrath, judgment … and grace …"

Day #174:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 20th

Scripture Reading:  Ezekiel 7 - 12 …

"The end has come!" (7:6).  Reading parts of Ezekiel and the other prophets can leave you feeling overwhelmed by a sense of despair and gloom.  If this is how God treated Israel and Judah, the people whom He had chosen to be His people, how can we hope to escape His wrath and judgment when Jesus returns?  The answer many imagine is that God's love in Jesus overrules His wrath, therefore, judgment will not come.  But is this what God says … here or anywhere else in the Bible?  No!

Ezekiel was in exile in Babylon with others who had been taken there already by the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar.  Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed and most of the people would be carried away into captivity … most to never return.  "This is what the Sovereign LORD says:  Disaster! … The end has come! …  Doom has come upon you …" (7:5-7).  God says, "I am about to pour out my wrath on you and spend my anger against you" (7:8).

These were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who just four hundred years earlier had enjoyed the blessing of God under the reign of King David and then his son, Solomon, who had built the temple in Jerusalem.  But they had turned away from the LORD, their God, and were worshiping idols like the nations around them.  God says, "My wrath is upon the whole crowd" (7:14).  Their sin was pride and God is about to deal with it.  He had sent the prophets to warn them to turn back to Him, but they had not listened, and now they would face the consequences of their arrogance.

In Chapter 8, Ezekiel sees some things in visions that lead us to believe God is speaking not only of Ezekiel's day, but also of future days.  Those in Israel thought it was ONLY for the future (12:27), but as with many of the prophecies the prophets brought, it applied to Israel and Judah in Ezekiel's day and also to the descendants of Abraham and Jerusalem today.  In this chapter Ezekiel sees "a figure like that of a man" (8:2).  This most likely refers to Jesus.  Then he sees the inner court of the temple "where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood" (8:3).  This quite possibly refers to the "abomination that causes desolation" spoken of in Daniel 9:27 and by Jesus in Matthew 24:15, when the Antichrist seeks to establish a counterfeit kingdom in future days.

In 8:12-13 God tells Ezekiel that the elders of Israel are doing things in the darkness and thinking that God doesn't see ... but He DOES!  They were worshiping idols and God is a jealous God.  God alone is worthy to be praised and He will not and does not give His praise to another.  And then read verse 16, where he describes that there "were about twenty-five men ... with their backs toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east" (8:16).  Some will note that this could refer to other things, but it is apparent that it also points to Islam today!  These prophecies were for Ezekiel's day - but also for ours.  Islam, like the other religions of the world, is idolatry.

Ezekiel beholds the glory of God and God sends an angel to "go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it"  (9:4).  Revelation speaks of a mark being put on the foreheads of the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel to protect them.  There are clearly connections between God's words to Ezekiel and the events that will take place at THE END!  Remember, God sees the end from the beginning and the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament.  At the present time He is withholding His final wrath, but as He did with Israel, He will pour it out upon the whole earth.

Israel's sin and Judah's sin was idolatry ... "conforming to the standards of the nations around them" (11:12).  The same is happening in our nation and in other nations.  The standard of God's righteousness revealed in His Word is being discarded and replaced by the ideas of men who "twist and distort the Scriptures to their own destruction" (II Peter 3:16).  Yet, God is a God of grace!  He will save a remnant and to these He says, "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people, and I will be their God" (11:19-20).

That is the key promise of God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants, and it is repeated throughout God's Word.  God's purpose for all of His dealings with Israel and Judah, and later with the Church, is that people will know that HE is God, that HE is the LORD and that there are no other gods.  Repeatedly throughout the book of Ezekiel you will find the phrase, "Then they will know that I am the LORD."  This was not only for those who would believe, but for ALL people.  Even those who ultimately face God's judgment will KNOW that HE is the LORD, their Creator.  Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9).

God's wrath and judgment in Ezekiel's day, in Jesus' day, in our day and in the future is the result of God's holiness and mankind's sin.  But God is also a God of grace and mercy.  He calls His people to believe, to trust, to know that He is with us and that there will be a future where we will escape His wrath and rejoice in His grace!  I pray that today YOU know that God is the Lord of heaven and earth and that you have come to Him through faith in Jesus, living by the power of His Holy Spirit until that day when the end comes and we are conformed to His image ... to live with Him in glory forever!  O glorious day!!

"Glorious God, our heavenly Father, You alone are God!  While the people of the earth and the nations of the world worship other gods and those who claim to know You practice idolatry, I thank You for Your grace in preserving a remnant who confess and testify that YOU are the Lord of the heavens and the earth.  Oh Lord, let all the earth soon behold Your glory!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"The path to wisdom leads through listening to godly instruction!"

Day #173:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 19th

Scripture Reading:  Proverbs 5 - 6 …

Have you ever heard the old saying, "Some people never learn!"?  That is usually said after someone repeats a mistake or sin that they have committed before, perhaps more than once.  We expect that when teaching young children we will need to repeat ourselves and that wrong choices or "innocent mistakes" will be repeated, but as we grow older and supposedly wiser, this pattern should change.  Wisdom should replace youthful folly and should lead to appropriate behavior.  Sadly, however, wisdom doesn't necessarily come with age!

Wisdom is gained through LISTENING to godly instruction.  "My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight" (5:1).  We have already seen that the wisdom of the world is foolishness because it leaves people in their sinful rebellion against God and leads only to destruction, sooner or later.  In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul writes, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).  Young children and teenagers don't always want instruction, but they always NEED instruction, and love requires giving them wisdom from God's Word.  How frustrating to grow up without godly instruction.

Parents often say, "You have to learn some things the hard way!"  That's a lie.  You don't HAVE to learn anything the hard way … you CHOOSE to learn the hard way when you refuse to listen to godly instruction.  Solomon writes in these chapters about being tempted by the voice of the adulteress.  Of course, we think immediately of sexual immorality and seduction and temptation, and Solomon does warn against that.  But there is also something deeper here.

Those who claim to believe in God are called to be devoted to Him, to be committed to following His ways.  When they turn aside to other things and listen to other voices, they "commit adultery."  God spoke about the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah when He said, "'The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,' declares the Lord"  (Jeremiah 31:31-32).  Spiritual adultery is even worse than physical adultery in terms of the consequences!

There is, however, a way to avoid the consequences of adultery:  DON'T DO IT!!  Devote yourself to the Lord by listening to HIS instruction and being willing to learn, to be disciplined and to be corrected.      We saw in Chapter 3, verses 11-12:  "Do not despise the LORD's discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those He loves, as a father the son He delights in."  And the writer of Hebrews quotes those words (Hebrews 12:5-6) and adds, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).

God gives us all we need to grow and mature in our love for Him and our devotion to Him through faith in Christ and the work of His Spirit through His Word.  "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man (and woman) of  God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17).  Solomon rightly says, "The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast.  He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly" (5:22-23).

He goes on in Chapter 6 to warn further against folly and adultery.  He warns against being "trapped" by your own words when you make promises too quickly.  "Free yourself" quickly, he advises.  Admit your error, humble yourself and plea for forgiveness.  Honesty goes a long way toward wisdom.  Then he warns against laziness and points to the ant as an example of hard labor:  "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! …  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest - and poverty will come on you like a bandit" (6:6,10-11).  It seems that many people today work harder at getting out of work than they do simply doing the job at hand.

God hates pride, lies, taking advantage of the helpless, devising wicked schemes, all kinds of evil, bearing false witness and stirring up arguments (6:16-19).  In other words, living for yourself is foolishness.  Read Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew 5-7 and you will find wisdom.  Remember Jesus' words to "do to others as you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12).  Putting yourself first is adultery; it is rejecting God's instruction and going your own way and Jesus says it leads to destruction - always!

But there is a better way, which all who know Christ as their Savior and Lord will follow:  "Keep your father's commands and do not forsake your mother's teaching.  Bind them upon your heart forever ...  For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life" (6:20-21, 23).  When the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart God's Word is your guide, your light.  Jesus came to save us and through His Spirit and Word God conforms us to the image of Christ!

Don't learn things the hard way, but facing the consequences.  Trust in Jesus for forgiveness and life and listen to the voice of His Spirit speaking through His Word.  He will never lead you astray!

"Father in heaven, I thank You for Your warnings and praise You for Your grace.  Continue to give me ears to hear and finish the work You have begun in me, that my life may reflect Your holiness and be an instrument to lead others to place their hope in You.  Help me always to listen to instruction, to accept discipline and to rejoice in Your love to me in Christ.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Enter God's sanctuary … then you'll understand!"

Day #172:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 18th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 72 - 74 …

When people don't understand God it's usually because we are trying to look at things from our own perspective, rather than God's!  Let's face it, there are things about God and His world and His ways that we will never understand.  God even tells us so:  "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD.  'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isaiah 55:8-9).  God is wiser than we are.  But He is not an unfeeling God who just does what He wants without thinking of the consequences.  He does what is right … all the time.  He knows what we need and He promises to accomplish His purpose for His glory and for the good of those who believe in Him.

And so we have this collection of songs and prayers that we call the Psalms.  At first read, they may appear to simply express the thoughts and emotions of people just like you and me; yet, in them is contained deep truth about God and about life and about hope and so many other topics that are important for you and me to grasp - to really understand.  Each of our Psalms today contain such vital truth.

Reading Psalm 72 is confusing if you don't understand who Solomon is writing about.  Solomon was a great king in Israel.  His father, David, was even greater in God's eyes.  But Solomon says some things here that could not possibly apply to any earthly king!  He begins by praying, "Endow the king with Your justice, O God, the royal son with Your righteousness" (72:1).  That could apply to Solomon, the son of King David.  But then he goes on to say, "He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations" (72:5).  That cannot refer to any human king!

And there's more:  "He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth" (72:8).  "All kings will bow down to Him and all nations will serve Him" (72:11).  "May His name endure forever …  All nations will be blessed through Him, and they will call Him blessed" (72:17).  And he concludes, "Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds.  Praise be to His glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with His glory.  Amen and Amen" (72:18-19).

Could this Psalm possibly be talking about anyone but JESUS??!!  He is the "King of Righteousness" and He is the only King who will endure as long as the sun and moon - and longer!  He will rule over all the earth and all kings will bow down to Him and all nations will serve Him.  His name will be blessed for His glory will fill the whole earth!!  Solomon was inspired by the Holy Spirit and was writing about Jesus almost a thousand years before He was born.  Of course, Jesus already was because He is God!  Read through Psalm 72 again, this time thinking about Jesus.  This is a testimony to Him!  When your mind is on God and the things of God, reading His Word makes more sense, for the same Spirit that inspired the writers to write the words gives wisdom and understanding to those who seek Him.

Which leads to Psalm 73.  Asaph, the writer of the next few Psalms, begins Psalm 73 with a testimony and then reveals how easy we can slip into discouragement when our minds and hearts are not where they should be:  focused on God.  He says, "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart" (73:1).  So far so good!  "BUT as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.  For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (73:2-3).  Wow!  Who has not been there?!  Who has not at least thought, if not expressed the feelings in words, "God, why does it seem like those who don't know you have an easier life than I do?!"

Asaph is honest when he expresses his feelings:  "Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence" (73:13).  In other words, why try to do things the right way when those who do things wrong seem to "get ahead"?  Have you had these thoughts?  Have you said these words, or similar ones?  Have you asked the questions?  Have you presented your complaint to God?  Maybe you are there right now.  Perhaps the circumstances of your life appear unfair because you have put your hope in God and you feel like He has let you down.  Listen carefully to what God wants you to hear today …

"If I had said, 'I will speak thus,' I would have betrayed Your children.  When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me … TILL I entered the sanctuary of God" (73:15-17).  When the Psalmist turned to God and set His mind on what he knew about God and allowed the Spirit of God to give him wisdom, he understood that God was not finished yet … either with his circumstances or those of the wicked.  The wicked walk on slippery ground and it is only a matter of time before they face the consequences of their sinful rebellion against God.  God sees it all and He WILL deal with sin, either in this life or in eternity - or both.

And what about believers?  What about those who truly know God and who love God and who are seeking to follow His ways?  Listen to this testimony … to our testimony … and I pray to YOUR testimony:  "Yet, I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory.  Whom have I in heaven but You?  And earth has nothing I desire besides You.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but GOD is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!" (73:23-26).  If you would memorize some verses of Scripture, make it these!!

This testimony leads to Asaph's conclusion:  "Those who are far from You will perish; You destroy all who are unfaithful to You.  But as for me, it is good to be near God.  I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all Your deeds" (73:28).  Have you entered the sanctuary of God and listened to Him speak to You through His Word?  No wonder that another Psalm says, "Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105).  Right now, where you are, no matter what your circumstances, you can enter into God's presence in prayer by faith in Jesus and pour out your heart to Him.  But don't forget to listen!  Too often we present our requests (complaints, desperate cries and wants) to God, but don't hear what He says.  We need to be students of His Word for in His Word GOD SPEAKS!!

And finally, Psalm 74 expresses more questions that when taken along with Psalm 73 have already been answered.  The temple was destroyed by enemies, but GOD cannot be destroyed!  Men can burn God's earthly sanctuary (74:7), but they cannot touch His heavenly one; and one day God will establish His sanctuary on the new earth and the King of Righteousness will reign forever.  By faith in Jesus you and I can enter God's sanctuary TODAY!  "But you, O God, are MY King from of old; YOU bring salvation upon the earth" (74:12).  "It was YOU" …  who did great and mighty things before.  It is YOU who do them today.  And it is YOU who will do them in the future, until Your kingdom comes and Your will is done on earth as it is in heaven!!

THAT must be our prayer … the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray.  We will never understand all the events in our lives and in the world around us, but this we KNOW:  God is ruling over it all and when we enter into His sanctuary and gaze upon His majesty, all the rest will be forgotten, as Isaiah writes in Isaiah 65:17:  "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind."  Enter God's sanctuary today and find the peace you are looking for.

"Heavenly Father, it is so comforting to know that You ARE the Sovereign LORD in whom we may find refuge and strength.  Keep me close to You and help me to set my heart and mind on things above, where Jesus is seated at Your right hand.  And remind me, in those times when I forget and become confused and worried, that Jesus is still on the throne and the angels are singing … and give me grace to join them in praising You, my God.  In Jesus' name, Amen"