Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Ezekiel's temple … What? When? Why? …"

Day #216:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 1st

Scripture Reading:  Ezekiel 43 - 48 …

The descriptions of the "glory of the Lord" and the temple which Ezekiel gives are extremely difficult and, perhaps, impossible to totally understand, yet, God spoke these words through Ezekiel for a reason and it is important for us to pray for wisdom as we listen to what God says through Ezekiel and apply the truth revealed to our own time and our own lives.  Since God tells us that "all Scripture is God-breathed and useful" (II Timothy 3:16), we cannot simply ignore a portion of Scripture or explain it away.  One of the guidelines for interpreting difficult passages of Scripture is that when two or more passages speak about the same thing, the clearer one should be used to understand the one that is not as clear.  When it comes to Ezekiel's temple, however, there are few references to a rebuilt temple that fit the description he gives.  So what do we know?  What can we learn from these chapters as we seek to understand them in the context of what God has revealed in the rest of the Bible?

The first question may be, "What is this temple?" or "What is this temple supposed to represent?"  We can gain some insight by going back to Ezekiel 8-11.  Remember that Ezekiel was in captivity in Babylon, and the Spirit of God lifts him up between heaven and earth (8:3), giving him a bird's-eye view of Jerusalem and the temple before it was destroyed by the Babylonians.  What Ezekiel sees was disgusting!  He sees idolatry and men with their backs to the temple and their faces toward the east bowing down to the sun.  Ezekiel is told 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).

Then Ezekiel witnesses the glory of the LORD and the cherubim (angels) in worship and "the glory of the LORD rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple.  The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the LORD" (10:4).  But then "the glory of the LORD departed from over the threshold of the temple …" (10:18).  It is impossible to fully comprehend this sight, but the message is clear, God was removing His presence from the temple and from Israel and their leaders because of their sin of idolatry … BUT …

… in the same breath God promises that He will bring a remnant back to the land and 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. … They will be My people, and I will be their God" (11:19-20).  In chapters 38-39 we saw God speaking of a future time when He would "display" His "glory among the nations" (39:21).  Could it be then, that God will do so through the rebuilding of a temple such as that which Ezekiel describes?  The temple was, indeed, rebuilt when the captives returned from Babylon, but the circumstances and the description do not seem to match the perfection described by Ezekiel in these chapters.

While some believe this description was promised only if Judah returned to the Lord and were obedient to Him, the fact is that God knew Judah would not do so and He knew the rebuilt temple would also be destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.  That Ezekiel is describing a rebuilt temple and a people and a "prince" who serve the LORD, their God, seems clear, but what period of time is he describing?  We also know from God's Word that it cannot be the new heavens and the new earth, for we read in Revelation 21, as John sees a vision of the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, his description includes the following:  "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Revelation 21:22).

So when will the temple Ezekiel describes be present in Jerusalem?  The only other possibility appears to be a temple that will be built just prior to Jesus' return and which will stand in Jerusalem during the Millennium.  However, there are also some problems with this interpretation.  In chapter 43 Ezekiel sees the glory of God return to the temple and fill the sanctuary (43:1-5).  Then God says, "This is where I will live among the Israelites forever.  the house of Israel will never again defile my holy name …" (43:7).  There is no time in history when this has happened and no indication that it will in the future.  So when will this take place?  The answer may be found in 43:10:  "Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins."  Perhaps God gave this glorious description to once again show the people of Israel their need for a Savior and for a better sacrifice than they could offer … to point them to the coming Messiah, the Christ … to Jesus.

If the Law was given to lead the people to see their sin and their need for a Savior, then perhaps this vision of the temple was intended to do the same.  While it seems possible from other passages that there will be a temple during the Millennium, as Jesus reigns from Jerusalem, the idea of offering sacrifices for sin contradicts the fact that Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice for sin once and for all on the cross.  Ezekiel speaks of the "prince" providing "sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to make atonement for the house of Israel" (45:17), but God says that Jesus already accomplished all that was necessary to make atonement for all who believe, Jew and Gentile alike.  Further, Ezekiel says that the Passover is to be celebrated and "on that day the prince is to provide a bull as a sin offering FOR HIMSELF and for all the people of the land" (45:21-22).

While it is true that what the prophets and apostles describe during the Millennium will be a unique time unlike any other as Jesus reigns in Jerusalem, it is hard to understand how Ezekiel's description of the temple fits with the rest of what we know from Scripture regarding the sacrifice of Christ and its "once-for-all" quality as the perfect sacrifice for sin.  It never has to be repeated.  Still, what Ezekiel describes is a future inheritance specific to the tribes of Israel, including a temple and a division of the land among the tribes of Israel.  One of two things must be true:  Either this will happen at some future time, which seems questionable given the above facts, OR God was calling the remnant of Israel to long for things to be different than they were and to seek Him with all their hearts, knowing that there would be a time in the future when God would make His dwelling with men and all who believed in Him would be part of His eternal kingdom!

As we pray for wisdom to read and understand all that God has revealed, we can know that God will do all He says He will do and that through faith in Jesus Christ, we who believe will be part of His future kingdom on the earth, where all things will be perfect, as God originally designed, and where we will serve Him with joy forever!  Praise the LORD for His glorious promises!!

"O Lord, my God, the Almighty One, the God of Israel, Your glory is beyond our comprehension.  You have revealed to us all that we need to know in order to draw near to You in faith, believing Your promises and resting in Your power to do what You say You will do.  I acknowledge that Your ways and Your thoughts are higher than mine, and I ask only that You will help me to accept Your Word as truth and to long for Jesus' return, when I will be made like Him and everything will be made clear … for I shall see Him face-to-face and be made like Him, to serve You, my God, forever, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Fools pursue the way of death … while the wise follow the path that leads to life!"

Day #215:  Daily Bible Reading - July 31st

Scripture Reading:  Proverbs 14 - 15 …

Has anyone ever said to you, "Don't be a fool!"   It's not a pleasant statement, no matter whom it might come from.  No one likes to be called a fool.  But throughout his proverbs, Solomon contrasts the wise man and the foolish man, giving various criteria for both.  As we have seen, you could say that Jesus summarized the book of Proverbs in His Sermon on the Mount, when He said, "Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).

Jesus followed that with two illustrations.  First, "a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit,"  and second, "the wise man built his house on the rock, while the foolish man built his house on the sand."  When the storms came, the foolish man's house fell, but the wise man's house stood firm.  These are the kinds of things Solomon wrote about in Proverbs.  God's truth is unchanging and the principles He reveals in His Word apply to all generations.  While the ideas and theories of mankind regarding human behavior are adapted to fit the changes in culture and the world around us, God's Word remains the same.  It is never out-of-date and it speaks to every generation, every ethnic group, every gender, every political persuasion, every economic level, every social division …

In Proverbs 14 and 15, Solomon speaks repeatedly of the lot of the fool or the foolish.  Fools bring trouble on themselves by their talk and by their actions.  "The folly of fools is deception" (14:8).  The sad thing about fools is they don't know they are fools … they don't know they are deceived.  "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (14:12).  Such ARE the religions of the world and the philosophies of the world - ALL of them!  In Paul's letter to the Colossians, God says, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ" (Colossians 2:8).  Any philosophy, no matter how appealing or wise it may appear, that does not point to Jesus Christ, is foolish and deceptive and leads to death.

Without Jesus you cannot know God or come to Him.  Without Jesus and the work of His Spirit ( the "mind of Christ" - I Corinthians 2:16), you cannot and will not desire to please God and you will live for yourself until you either fall to your knees in repentance, asking God's forgiveness, or face His judgment when your life ends.  You don't HAVE to learn things the hard way … you can listen to God NOW, and follow the path that leads to life.  "The path of life leads upward for the wise to keep him from going down to the grave" (15:24).  The "way" that seems right to people is the self-centered life of the fool.  "I am the captain of my fate,"  one such fool declared.  "I think, therefore I am," said another. And "I did it MY way," sang another.

Wisdom comes from the knowledge of the truth, not lies.  And that truth is found in God's Word.  Solomon wrote in Proverbs 1:7:  "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline."  Throughout these chapters Solomon hammers away at the "fool" who "mocks at making amends for sin" (14:9), who "is hotheaded and reckless" and "quick-tempered" (14:16-17, 29), whose "mouth gushes folly" (15:2), who "spurns his father's discipline" (15:7) and "despises his mother" (15:20).

But the wise "give thought to their ways" (14:8), "fear the LORD and shun evil" (14:16), are "crowned with knowledge" (14:18), have "wealth" the world cannot find (14:24), and "save lives" by their witness (14:25).  Meanwhile, "the eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good" (15:3).  The LORD hears the prayers of the upright and loves those who pursue righteousness (15:8-9).  Jesus told His disciples to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33) and God would give them all they need.  Solomon wrote that "righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people" (14:34).  The choice between being wise or foolish, between righteousness and wickedness, between life and death, would appear to be obvious, yet sinful man makes the wrong choice every time.

God says, "there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good; not even one" (Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Romans 3:10-12).  Wisdom is a gift that God gives to those whom He chooses, and it comes through His Word as the Spirit works in our hearts.  Paul wrote, "we speak … not words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught us by the Spirit … The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. … But we (who believe) have the mind of Christ" (I Corinthians 2:13-16).

Do not be a fool.  Listen to GOD's instruction that can be found only in His Word, the Bible.  As Jesus says, "Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock" (Matthew 7:24).  We are not saved by what we do, but as Solomon says, the one who is spiritually wise will listen to God's instruction and will find pleasure in doing what He says … and in the end, will follow the path that leads to life!

"Heavenly Father, as I live in this world the foolishness of sin becomes more and more clear as I gain knowledge and wisdom from Your Word and as Your Spirit works within me.  I thank You for the forgiveness of my sins through faith in Jesus, and for the empowering presence of Your Spirit that moves me to turn from sin to pursue righteousness … the path that leads to life.  May my life be built on the solid Rock that does not move, that I may live to glorify You, my Father, and my God, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Teach us to number our days … "

Day #214:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - July 30th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 90 - 92 …

When you understand that "with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day" (II Peter 3:8), you learn to look at the big picture as you live one day at a time.  That may seem to be contradictory, but in reality it makes perfect sense.  Let me explain:  one day, one 24-hour period, is like a thousand years to God … AND a thousand years is like one day to God.  That means that God is not confined to time like we are.  He sees the end from the beginning and the beginning from the end.  As you and I live in time we see God's one plan unfolding over a period of a few thousand years … God sees it unfolding just as He has planned and is intimately involved in every day, every step, every detail.  The consequence is that every day is important precisely BECAUSE it is part of the bigger picture of God's plan.  It's all connected.  The past affects what goes on today, and what goes on today affects the future … and God knows it ALL!!!

Moses understood that as he wrote Psalm 90.  He begins with a testimony of faith:  "Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.  Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting YOU are God" (90:1-2).  And in verse 12 he writes, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."  Every day belongs to God and using it to praise Him, to serve Him, to glorify Him makes every day important.  Moses lived among a people who were experiencing God's wrath and judgment.  He said, "All our days pass away under Your wrath; we finish our years with a moan" (90:9).  Such is the lot of mankind.

We live in a world so deeply affected by mankind's sin and God's judgment against it that our only hope is in the everlasting God that Moses knew and that we know today through Jesus.  The Apostle Paul wrote of this hope to the Romans in Chapter 8, verses 22-25: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."

Your hope needs to be in the everlasting God who never changes.  People look for joy and satisfaction in the things of the world apart from God, but they can never satisfy.  "Satisfy us in the morning with Your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad ALL our days!"  (90:14).  God is willing and able to give you all you need as you live one day at a time in His presence and for His glory.  And it is so beautiful when people live this way.  "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, 'HE is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust'" (91:1-2).  The Psalmist then goes on to explain that "He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge" (91:4).

I have used those verses to offer comfort and peace to countless people as they enter into the hospital for surgery or treatment of one kind or another ... or when they face the death of a loved one or a trial that seems impossible to bear.  You find rest and peace under the shadow of His wings.  He watches over those who trust in Him, He cares for you, He loves you, He is with you and He will never leave you or forsake you ... EVER!!!  I love the pictures the Psalm-writer gives:  "A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.  You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked" (91:7-8).  Such is the promise of God to those who know and trust Him through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

"If you make the Most High your dwelling - even the LORD, who is MY refuge - then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent" (91:9-10).   "'Because he loves me,' says the LORD, 'I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.  He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.  With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation!" (91:14-16).  God's love never fails those who know, love and trust Him.  And so, "It is good to praise the LORD and make music to Your name, O Most High ... to proclaim Your love in the morning and Your faithfulness at night ..." (92:1-2).

How do you live your life day by day?  Are you trusting in the everlasting God, finding your joy and satisfaction in Him as you rest under the shadow of His wings and praise Him for His unfailing love?  The world may think it foolish to believe in a God we cannot see, but the truth is "the senseless man does not know, fools do not understand. ... But YOU, O LORD, are exalted forever!" (92:6,8).  In a thousand different ways, God blesses those who know and trust Him.  Each day ... each day you live is important when you understand the big picture ... that God is at work in the world AND in your life.  As you confess Jesus as Savior and Lord you can rest assured that God knows you and that you are here, now, for His purposes.

Believe Him, trust Him, seek Him and learn to number your days, knowing that each one is like a thousand years to the Lord and in HIM your life finds meaning.  "O Lord, our God, teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom!"

"My Father and my God, I believe that You alone are the everlasting God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  I find my hope, my satisfaction and my joy in You.  Help me to trust You in the things I don't understand and to rest under the shadow of Your wings, serving You day by day as I rejoice in Your faithfulness!  In Jesus' name, Amen" 

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Why you should have no 'respect' for other religions …"

Day #213:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - July 29th

Scripture Reading:  II Kings 21 - 25 …

Manasseh and many of the other kings of Judah mixed the worship of the LORD with the worship of Baal and other gods, with the result being judgment.  God had already brought judgment on the northern kingdom of Israel and now Judah lay in the path of His just wrath.  Manasseh's father, Hezekiah, had been a relatively good king, but Manasseh rebuilt the altars to other gods that Hezekiah had torn down and added more.  "He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced sorcery and divination, and consulted mediums and spiritists.  He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking Him to anger" (21:6).  The people did not listen to God, so "Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites" (21:9).  Therefore, God determined to send them into captivity to Babylon, as the prophet Jeremiah foretold.

In the midst of these horrible days in the tiny nation of Judah, God sent a brief revival in the days of the reign of a young eight-year-old boy named, Josiah.  Josiah was the grandson of Manasseh, but "he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left" (22:2).  Josiah ordered that the temple be restored and as they did so, Hilkiah, the priest, found the Book of the Law, written by Moses.  "When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law he tore his robes. … 'Great is the LORD's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book' …" (22:11,13).  God saw Josiah's heart and promised peace for Judah in his lifetime.

Josiah called the elders of Judah and Jerusalem together and assembled all the people and had the Book of the Law read to them.  All the people pledged themselves to make a covenant with God.  Josiah removed all the pagan priests and tore down the high places that had been rebuilt by Manasseh.  The the king ordered the people to celebrate the Passover.  "Not since the days of the judges who led Israel, nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, had any such Passover been observed!" (23:22).  God had told them to observe the Passover and the other feasts prescribed in Leviticus to remind them of who HE was and who THEY were … His chosen people.  The Passover reminded them of the need for an atonement, a payment to be made for their sins, and so pointed to the Savior.

The people of Judah, like the people of Israel, had forgotten about their God and had mixed the worship of God with the worship of the gods of the nations around them.  They were to be a chosen people, a holy nation before the LORD.  They were to make Him known to the world, but instead, they compromised what they claimed to believe and rejected God's covenant with them, trying to blend in with the world around them.  In the end, they faced God's judgment.  Even after the brief revival under Josiah, we read, "Nevertheless, the LORD did not turn away from the heat of His fierce anger" (23:26) … and the people were taken into captivity in Babylon.

"It was because of the LORD's anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end He thrust them from His presence" (24:20).  What God had predicted through the prophet Jeremiah came true:  "Judah went into captivity, away from her land …" (25:22).  Yet, God had also promised that He would bring them back.  Through Jeremiah and then Ezekiel, God gave hope to those in exile, and through the prophet Isaiah even foretold the name of a foreign king who would issue a decree for their return.  We will see later how God fulfilled that promise.  Meanwhile, there are lessons to be learned by those today who take the name of Jesus Christ upon us and who claim to worship the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

As we live in this world as "Christians," followers of Jesus Christ, believing in the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are being told that we must "respect" those who worship other gods and who practice other religions, and we must engage in interfaith dialogue so that we understand each other better and have peace among people of all religions.  While it is true that we do not believe physical wars between nations should be fought over religion, the question is how to respond to people who do not believe the Bible, who do not believe in Jesus and who do not know the God who reveals Himself in His Word and in His Son.  What should be our position?

In view of what we have seen as we have gone through the books of I and II Kings, what does GOD say?  Our position should be what GOD says our position should be … not what WE think it should be or what other people think it should be.  First, let me define the word, "respect."  This is the new "code word" that is being used by people in the interfaith movement.  They say that all people should respect the beliefs of others, while they hold to their own convictions.  That sounds good … but is it?  The definition of "respect" is: "a feeling of deep admiration for someone or some thing that arises from their abilities, qualities or achievements."  So the question is this:  Does God tell His people to have a feeling of deep admiration for those who worship other gods?  The answer is, "NO!"

That may sound insensitive, but let me follow that statement with this one:  God doesn't tell us to respect them, He tells us to LOVE them!!!  If I say that I admire the Buddhist or the Muslim or other religions for their beliefs, or that I admire the beliefs themselves, am I not denying my God and doing exactly what the people of Israel and Judah were judged for:  mixing the worship of the one true God with the worship of other gods?  Some might answer, "No, you are just respecting them." But in doing so, am I not DISrespecting God?!  If I give the impression that the worship of other gods is just as good as the worship of MY God, am I not rejecting my own God as the One who has revealed Himself as the ONLY God, and His Son Jesus Christ, as the ONLY Savior?!

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that "the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will" (II Timothy 2:24-26).  If this is what some are saying we should do, I whole-heartedly agree; but this is not "respect" as it is defined in the dictionary.  "LOVE" means telling people the truth, praying that they will hear it and turn from their false beliefs to put their hope in God.

That's what Josiah attempted to do when he removed the altars in the high places and called the people to celebrate the Passover.  He didn't compromise the truth, he proclaimed it and called people to respond.  Paul wrote, "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all … and He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again" (II Corinthians 5:14-15).  Love demands that we speak truth, not turning to the right or to the left, but rather, loving people enough to share the Gospel with them, which alone is the power of God unto salvation.

One interfaith ministry has now come up with a new title for their efforts to bring "understanding" among the religions of the world:  "Principled Pluralism."  Here is their goal (and I quote):  "To encourage respect in the public sphere for the religious identity of individuals and groups, to foster positive relationships and informed dialogue between people of different spiritual orientations and to forge partnerships among religious and other organizations in service to the common good."  We are being told that "principled pluralism and true dialogue respects each person as a child of God and deserving of respect.  Dialogue is the vehicle for building respect, and it does not assume that we all agree.  Rather, it holds out the promise of going beyond understanding to truly respecting the other person."

Such comments and such movements are part of Satan's deception in our world today and many are being deceived.  God does not call us to such "respect."  He calls us to something higher: LOVE … FIRST, love for HIM, and secondly, love for those around us who are spiritually blind.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "By setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  The god of this age has blind the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (II Corinthians 4:2-4).

You and I who believe are not called to "respect" other religions or those who hold to false beliefs.  That would be to admire them and to fail to love God or them!  God calls us to love Him, to rejoice in the salvation He has provided in Jesus Christ, and to love people enough to gently and humbly speak the truth, praying that God would open the eyes of the blind and draw them to Himself through the work of His Holy Spirit.  I pray that you will join with others around you who are convinced of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be engaged in proclaiming the one true God to the world around you.  Don't be confused, distracted or deceived by the voices of those calling for "respect" for false teaching.  Such pluralism, "principled" or not, brought judgment upon Israel and Judah.  It will do the same today!

"O LORD our God, I confess that You alone are God and there is no other.  I worship You alone and rejoice in Your salvation through Your Son Jesus Christ.  Give me strength to stand firm on the truth You have revealed in Your Word and give me wisdom and grace to love those who may oppose me and Your truth, so that I may respond in humility and speak Your truth clearly, that those who are lost may be found and that Your Name might be glorified!  In Jesus' name, Amen"  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"What will YOUR meeting with God be like?"

Day #212:  Daily Bible Reading - July 28th

Scripture Reading:  Leviticus 22 - 24 ...

Someday I will stand in the very presence of the God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them ... and so will you.  What will that meeting be like ... for me ... for you ... ?  No matter what religion people may ascribe to, or even if some don't claim to believe in any god at all, every person who has ever lived on this planet will have a meeting with God.  For many that will be a frightening moment that will result in judgment and condemnation.  People will come to that meeting with preconceived ideas about God that will be proven wrong.  But God has made a way for those who have sinned against Him to enter into His presence without fear ... with great joy and anticipation.  And God gave pictures of that way in our reading for today.

God had instructed the people of Israel to bring sacrifices to the Tabernacle, also called the "Tent of Meeting."  It was where the people met with God.  But there were very specific requirements for the sacrifices and offerings the people brought and how the priests were to offer them to the Lord.  In Chapter 22, God says repeatedly, "I am the LORD, who makes them holy" (22:9, 16).  We are not "holy" by nature and unless God MAKES us holy, we cannot enter His presence without facing His judgment.  That's the message of the Bible.  Other religions declare that you can approach God by means of your own good deeds or religious acts, but the Bible says that is not the case.

Even in the sacrifices themselves, God made it clear that only animals without any defect could be brought as an offering.  There was a reason for that:  the offerings pointed ahead to Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  Peter wrote, "It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed ... but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (I Peter 1:18-19).  But it was not only the offerings that pointed ahead to Jesus.  In Chapter 23 the seven "feasts" of Israel were instituted by God and each of them points to an event in God's plan of salvation through Jesus.

The seven feasts of Israel are the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles.  The first four took place in the spring of the year, while the last three took place in the fall of the year.  Jesus fulfilled the first four feasts in His suffering, death, resurrection and the pouring out His Spirit.  Jesus was crucified on the Passover, laid in the grave during the feast of Unleavened Bread, rose on the Firstfruits and poured out His Spirit on Pentecost.  That could not have been by accident, but was by God's design.  So what about the last three feasts?

God says that Jesus will return at the sound of the trumpet (I Thessalonians 4:16; Matthew 24:30-31).  In Revelation 7, it appears that Jesus will rapture His Church just prior to the sounding of the first of seven trumpets.  The Day of Atonement appears to be foreshadowed in Zechariah 13:1, as the people of Israel recognize Jesus as the Messiah and put their faith in Him for forgiveness, and the Feast of Tabernacles is mentioned in Zechariah 14:16.  All of the sacrifices and all of these feasts point ahead to the One who Himself would be the perfect sacrifice for sin and through whom sinners like you and me are allowed entrance into the Most Holy Place to meet with God!

In Chapter 24, God instructs Moses and Aaron to keep the lamps burning continually before the LORD.  It is as if the lamps pointed the way to the throne, and this once again points to Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and who is Himself the "Light of the world!" How vital, how necessary is the light Christ gives, for without Him there is no forgiveness, no life, no hope.  The result of meeting with God for those who do not confess Jesus Christ is the same as the blasphemer in 24:10-16 ... they will be removed from God's presence and face death - eternal death, separated from God ... forever!

But it doesn't have to be that way!  God sent Jesus into the world in fulfillment of His promise to send a Savior.  The Bible says that "God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. ... We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ's behalf:  Be reconciled to God.  God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him WE might become the righteousness of God" (II Corinthians 5:18-21).  God Himself has made a way for us to meet with Him ... without fear ...

... and it's called GRACE!  The undeserved favor of God is the ONLY thing that makes it possible for anyone to meet with God and be received.  In the Gospel of Jesus Christ God calls people to come to Him, and sends His Spirit to open the hearts and minds of those whom He has chosen so that we will respond in faith, trust in Jesus for forgiveness and repent of our sin, seeking to live in obedience to His Word.  God's love, wisdom, righteousness, holiness, faithfulness, mercy, compassion and grace open the door into His presence.  God will not turn anyone who comes to Him in the name of Jesus!

You have a meeting with God in your future.  Don't plan on going to that meeting and relying on your own goodness to be received.  Your offering must be perfect, without defect, and only Jesus meets the requirements.  Trust in Him, rest in Him, believe in Him and on that day when you are called before God you will be able to approach Him without fear, knowing that because of the sacrifice of Jesus, you have been made holy in God's sight, and you will enter into God's presence, to live with Him forever!

"My Father and my God, I draw near to You in prayer, knowing that is is by Your grace that even now my prayers are heard from Your throne in heaven.  I come humbly, yet boldly, for I believe Your promise that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.  I love You, Father, and I need You ... every moment of every day.  I long to see Your face and to join with the angels and saints in worship.  Until then, I give You thanks for Your love and You grace, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, July 26, 2014

"Encourage one another …"

Day #211:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - July 27th

Scripture Reading:  I Thessalonians 4 - 5 …

It seems we often forget the context in which the New Testament was written, and in doing so we miss the intensity and urgency of the message that we read in the letters to the churches … we may even forget that these were letters inspired by the Spirit of God and written down on paper to encourage those who were living life and facing persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ, both from the religious leaders around them and the government who oppressed them.  These early believers needed God, they needed each other and they needed encouragement to persevere … so do we!!

While we could spend time comparing our circumstances to theirs, the truth is that each one of us will face difficult times at some point in our lives, and some will endure more and suffer more, whether physically, mentally, emotionally or in a combination of these.  Remembering that "suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:4) is necessary if we are to live a life pleasing to God, and that is what Paul is now urging the Thessalonians to do:  "We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living.  Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more" (4:1).

WHAT you believe is important, and how you live out what you believe is also important.  Too many people are content to say they believe in Jesus and then go on living life for themselves.  Paul explains again, "It is God's will that you should be sanctified!" (4:3).  To be "sanctified" means "to be set apart as holy" … it means to live a holy life according to the standard of God's own holiness as revealed in His Word.  "For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life" (4:7).  While we are saved by grace and declared holy in God's sight (justified) through faith in Christ, the result of the Holy Spirit living within us is the constant pursuit of holiness.  Paul emphasizes this truth by saying, "He who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you His Holy Spirit" (4:8).

"Brotherly love" is a vital element in the holiness believers are called to pursue.  God has said from the beginning that those who believe in Him must love Him AND our "neighbors."  Throughout the New Testament God calls believers to "love one another," and even to love their enemies.  When people genuinely love one another others notice and that is the model the Church is called to display to the world around us.  John goes so far in his first letter to the churches to say, "Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (I John 4:20).  Genuine, heartfelt love for our brothers and sisters in Christ is essential to living a life that is pleasing to God.

As we live in this world, then, in what has been called "the weakness of the flesh," we all need encouragement to live by the power of the Spirit who is at work within us.  And there is no greater encouragement than the knowledge of what lies ahead:  the return of Jesus and our future with Him.  These early believers may have thought that Jesus would return in their lifetime, but now some had died.  Would they miss the coming of God's kingdom?  Paul assures them that such is not the case.  He tells them not to "grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope" (4:13).  Why?  Because "we believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep IN HIM" (4:14).  Not all will be saved, but those who are in Christ, who have been united to Him by true faith, will not miss what God has promised.

The following verses describe the rapture of believers, the same event mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24:30-31 and other places.  There is much debate about the timing of the rapture - when it will occur, but note what Paul says here:  "About times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape" (5:1-3).  Many have read these verses and determined that the rapture will be a secret event as people simply disappear.  After all, Jesus said we would not know the day or the hour of His return, so we can't know when it will happen.  But wait, there's more!

"But YOU, brothers, are NOT in darkness so that this day should surprise YOU like a thief!" (5:4).  There is not time here to go into all the signs that Scripture gives us that will point to Jesus' return, but we need to understand that the true believers who are alive on the earth for the rapture will be eagerly anticipating that moment when the voice of the archangel thunders and the trumpet call is sounded!  We do not know the day or the hour, but we WILL know the time.  Noah didn't know the day or the hour, but he needed to build the ark and when it was completed and the animals were on board, he knew it wouldn't be long.  The events of the world around us point to the soon return of Jesus, but there are still some events that must take place, according to the Scriptures.  It's almost time … but not yet.  Difficult times lie ahead for the true Church, as they did for the believers then.  So how do we live?

"Let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled" (5:6).  Most people today are spiritually "asleep," spiritually DEAD!  They think nothing of God, they do not know Jesus as Savior and Lord, and they live to please themselves rather than living to please God.  Paul writes, "Since WE belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet" (5:8).  We who believe in Jesus Christ KNOW that this life is not all there is … that in fact, we have an eternity with Jesus in a new heavens and a new earth to look forward to, to anticipate.   You can see why Paul writes, "Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing!" (5:11).

And we don't want to skip verse 9:  "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."  This verse has once again been taken by many to mean that we will avoid the time of great distress, what some have labeled "the Great Tribulation."  Believing that this time of tribulation and distress is the wrath of God, many wrongly believe that the rapture could take place at any time, followed by seven years of God's wrath.  However, the time of God's wrath is called throughout Scripture, "the day of the Lord."  This period of wrath does, indeed, follow the rapture, but the time of tribulation and distress that Jesus talks about in Matthew 24:21-22, and that Paul teaches about in II Thessalonians 2:1-12, precedes the rapture of the Church.

This means that the last generation of believers will endure extreme suffering and persecution and must be ready for that to happen.  Those who gleefully anticipate an easy road to heaven will fall away, for their hope is in the wrong thing and NOT in Christ.  Jesus says to the churches in Revelation 2-3, "to him who overcomes …" God is calling His true Church today to be awake, to be alert, to be self-controlled, to labor for His kingdom, to put HIM first … knowing that whether we die before He comes or are alive at His return, we shall meet Him in the air and be with Him FOREVER!!!

So God says, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (5:16-18).  As much as you are doing that today, do it more!  And "may God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it!" (5:23-24).

"Encourage each other with these words!"  (4:18).

"Heavenly Father, Your Word speaks truth that our hearts long to embrace, for in Your Word is hope beyond the scope of this world.  The hope You offer is eternal and by Your grace I rest assured that I will live in Your perfect presence forever in a perfect new world of Your making.  I rejoice in Jesus Christ and ask You to fill me constantly with Your Spirit that I may live a life pleasing to You in all things and be an example to others as we await the day of Jesus' return.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in HIS Name to all nations …"

Day #210:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - July 26th

Scripture Reading:  Luke 23 - 24 …

Have you heard the good news?  If someone came to you and asked that questions, wouldn't you want to hear what they had to say?  Yet many today reject the good news of the Gospel that could deliver them from a meaningless life filled with hopelessness and despair and give them joy, peace and hope every day.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news that God Himself sent His Son to deal with OUR sin problem.  "God demonstrated His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).  The purpose of Jesus' coming was to be the substitute for those whom God had chosen to receive eternal life by His grace through faith in the suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

I received an email from someone today that quoted a verse from one of my previous entries, from Psalm 49:  "No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him - the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough - that he should live on forever and not see decay" (Psalm 49:7-9).  The comment went on to say that Christianity was a false religion because since Jesus was a man, He could not have paid the ransom for anyone else.  As I read the email a deep sadness for the person writing it came over me as I was reminded of how many people reject God's offer of forgiveness and life through faith in Jesus, who was not only a true man, but foremost, true God!  Here is a man quoting a verse from the Bible to make a point, then denying what the rest of the Bible says about the very point he was trying to make.  Deception leads to such a conclusion.

Finishing the Gospel of Luke is like finishing a chapter in a book.  It's not the end of the book, but it completes what the author of the book has been saying up to that point … with more to follow.  Jesus' death and resurrection were the fulfillment of all that had occurred since Adam and Eve sinned against God in Genesis 3.  God had cursed Satan, the serpent, and had promised that a Savior would come from the seed of the woman who would crush Satan's head!  That "seed" of the woman was Jesus … God in the flesh.  God had promised that a King would come who would rule over His kingdom and now we find Jesus before Pilate and he asks Jesus the question:  "Are you the King of the Jews?"

What would Jesus say?  His answer was clear and true:  "Yes, it is as you say" (23:3).  The chief priest and the other leaders of the Jews continued to accuse Jesus and to make one accusation after another, but Pilate said, "I find no basis for a charge against this man" (23:4).  Pilate sent Jesus to Herod and he tried to get Jesus to do a miracle, as though He were a circus act.  Herod and his soldiers mocked him and then sent him back to Pilate, who said again, "I have found no basis for your charges against him" (23:14).  But finally, after attempting to release Jesus one more time, Pilate gave in to their demands and "surrendered Jesus to their will" (23:25).

Let's think about that for a moment … was Jesus really surrendered to the will of those who wanted to crucify Him?  It is true that they were seeking to kill Him, and that ultimately they were responsible for their sin … yet, was there more going on here?  Going back to Isaiah 53, as you read about the one who "took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows … who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities" (53:4-5), you also read, "It was the LORD's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the LORD makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in His hand" (53:10).

It was impossible to satisfy the justice of God in any other way than by the suffering and death of the "second Adam," the perfect God-man, Jesus Christ, God's anointed One, the Messiah, the King!  I responded to the man who sent me the email by saying that he was right, that no man can redeem anyone else … but Jesus was MORE than a man … He was the eternal Son of God who took upon Himself flesh so that He might redeem that which was lost.  I explained to him that if he did not accept Jesus' payment and God's offer of forgiveness and life through faith in Jesus, he would have to pay for his own sin, and that since he could not do that, he would face God's judgment himself.  I urged him to reconsider.

The suffering of Jesus on the cross was beyond what believers can ever imagine, for we will be spared from the judgment of hell.  Like the thief on the cross who confessed his own sin, we will be with Jesus in paradise, in the presence of God in heaven.  As darkness covered the land and the curtain in the temple between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant rested, was torn in two, Jesus cried out, "Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit" (23:46) … and it was done.  My salvation was accomplished, once and for all.

To say that the resurrection was anticlimactic would be a gross mistake, but the resurrection was confirmation of what had been accomplished on the cross.  DEATH and the power of death to enslave was defeated for all who would believe in Jesus.  Now the next chapter in God's plan was about to begin.  Those who had been chosen to begin the Church must understand the message they were to proclaim … a message that would carry with it the very power of God to save those who believe from His coming judgment.  So Jesus not only rose from the dead, but spent the next forty days appearing to His disciples and others so that the testimony of His death and resurrection would spread throughout the entire earth in the centuries to come.

First the women, then Peter and John, then the two on the road to Emmaus and finally the rest of the disciples saw with their own eyes what seemed only days before to be impossible:  the King ready to take His throne.  But first, Jesus' final teaching, equipping the disciples to be His witnesses.  "This is what I told you while I was still with you:  Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms" (24:44).  Christianity is not a new religion, but rather, the fulfillment of biblical Judaism … of all that is written in the Old Testament Scriptures.  (A few years ago I wrote a book entitled "Judaic Christianity:  the One True Religion," to help people understand this truth).  Jesus did not come to begin a new religion, but to bring the one true religion to a time of fulfillment and to begin what the Bible calls, "the last days."

He opened the minds of the disciples to finally understand these things and then said to them, "This is what is written:  'The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.'  You are witnesses of these things" (24:46-48).  But first they would need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1-2), and so it would begin … the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ all over the world, to all nations.  And the conclusion of God's plan lies in the future … what appears to be the near future.

"Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations …"  In the last few decades millions have heard the Gospel for the first time through modern technology.  The time is drawing near for Jesus' return and all who reject the Gospel or who attempt to devise their own way to approach a god they do not know will face God's judgment.  Is it fair?  What about those who have never heard?  It would be fair of God to bring judgment on all, for "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,"  but in His grace He has chosen some to hear the message and to believe, through the work of His Spirit in our hearts.

WE are now witnesses of these things and are sent into the world to tell others.  There is still time … how much we do not know … and Jesus has promised that not one of His sheep will be lost.  Pray that God would use you to share the good news with someone who may be moved by God to respond.  "Since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe" (I Corinthians 1:21).  Many will believe the Gospel is foolishness, but it is God's chosen means to call His children to Himself and to save us from His judgment against sin.

Thank God for His amazing grace and live to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love!!

"Our Father in heaven, every time I read of Jesus' death and resurrection I am in awe all over again that Jesus suffered and died for ME.  I am so unworthy to receive Your gift of forgiveness and life, for apart from Your work IN me, I would be utterly foolish, blind and lost … forever.  I repent of my sin and rest in Your promise of forgiveness, desiring now to be Your witness and to tell the world that Jesus saves!!  I thank You, Father, for opening MY mind to understand these things by Your Spirit.  My life is Yours, now and forever!!  In Jesus' name, Amen"


Thursday, July 24, 2014

"God's plans for Israel ... again ..."

Day #209:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - July 25th

Scripture Reading:  Ezekiel 37 - 42 …

Events in the nation of Israel are always current and ever-changing ... so it seems.  In reality, things are always the same:  the nations surrounding Israel refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist and do not want peace.  They want time to re-arm, to build up their store of rockets from Russia, Iran, Syria and Lebanon, and then to shoot more rockets into Israel.  They will continue to do so until Israel responds and they will then condemn Israel for doing so.  Since the establishment of the nation of Israel ... 3400 years ago, following their exodus from Egypt, and since the re-establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Israel has been under attack by the nations around them.

So what does this have to do with you and me and the words of Ezekiel in our reading today?  We have seen repeatedly that God chose Israel as a special nation, a peculiar people for Himself.  Because of their sin and idolatry, God sent Assyria to defeat Israel and to scatter the people throughout the nations, and then sent Babylon to defeat Judah and to take the people into captivity - this for a limited time of 70 years.  Ezekiel writes from Babylon, being one of those taken into captivity.  As God pronounces judgment on the nations, and even on Judah, He declares over and over and over again, "Then they will know that I am the LORD!" (36:38).

You and I need to know that the God who spoke those words through Ezekiel is the same God who today watches over Israel.  He is the God who sent His son to be born of a woman and to be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of King David, to whom God made further promises.  Paul writes to the Romans that he was a servant of the Gospel, "the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son, who as to His human nature was a descendant of David ..."  (Romans 1:2-3).  Thus, the final chapters of Ezekiel's prophecy point to a time in Israel's future, and it is significant and extremely important to try to understand what God was saying to Judah AND what God is saying to us today.

Chapter 37 is used today in various ways to refer to the power of God's Word to bring spiritual life from spiritual death, but in reality, Chapter 37 speaks specifically about something that God is going to do in the future.  Having told Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, the bones form bodies and God breathes life into them.  Ezekiel's description of what he sees is of particular note:  " ... they came to life and stood up on their feet - a vast ARMY" (37:10).  And God then TELLS Ezekiel who these dry bones represent:  " ... these bones are the whole house of Israel" (37:11).  What does that mean?  The rest of the chapter explains.  God was telling Judah and all of Israel that He had not forgotten His promises and that there was hope!  Their captivity in Babylon was not the end.

Since the reign of Solomon nearly 400 years before, the kingdom of Israel had been divided - the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom, Judah.  Israel was also referred to as "Ephraim," from the name of one of Joseph's sons.  God now reveals to Ezekiel that there will come a time when He will reunite "the whole house of Israel" and give them one ruler, one king, one shepherd:  His "servant David" (37:24).  That is a reference to the "Son of David," Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.  God says they will live in the land He gave to Jacob (37:25) and will live there forever.  "I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel.  There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms." (37:22).  "I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever.  My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people" (37:26-28).

When will this happen?  Chapters 38 and 39 speak of war with Gog and Magog.  The exact identity of these names remains in question, but there are clear indications that they refer to the nations north of Israel, as the other nations mentioned are in Asia Minor, the area of Turkey, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, as well as Iran, Ethiopia and Libya.  While some believe the events described took place in the century following the exile, there are indications that what is being described lies yet in the future.  Speaking to Gog and Magog, God says, "After many days you will be called to arms.  In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel which had long been desolate.  They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety.  You and all your troops and the many nations with you will go up, advancing like a storm; you will be like a cloud covering the land" (38:8-9).

The war between Gog and Magog will take place at a future time, when the people of Israel have been gathered together and are living in peace.  This may be the battle of Armageddon, or it may be the brief battle described in Revelation 20:7-10, which takes place after the Millennium.  The point of these chapters is to declare what God will do for Israel and why:  "I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishments I inflict and the hand I lay upon them.  From that day forward the house of Israel will know that I am the LORD their God" (39:21-22).  There WILL come a time when all of Israel will recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as their God.  That should make us sit up and take note as we see the events going on in the world around us.  These are not matters to be ignored.

Beginning in Chapter 40, Ezekiel describes a rebuilt temple.  With great detail, Ezekiel describes what he sees. There is some debate when this temple will be rebuilt ... whether it was the rebuilt temple following the exile or some future temple ... it may be elements of both.  In many of the prophecies of the Old Testament there is a dual meaning to what is being foretold.  What is clear is that God has future plans for Israel that include the gathering of the descendants of Jacob to the land God promised to Abraham more than 4,000 years ago.  Their claim on the land supersedes that of anyone else because GOD gave them the land, and even more importantly, it points to the promise of God to you and me who through faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ, are grafted into the Root of Jesse and made part of God's people!!

The connection between God's promises to us and God's promises to Israel is clear.  These things WILL take place, just as God says through Ezekiel, and when they do only those who know the true God and who come to Him through faith in Jesus will escape His judgment and enter into His presence.  As you watch the events going on in the world around us, especially the Middle East, don't miss their significance as you live with hope in the same God who made the promises and who is now keeping them.  There's more to come ... for Israel AND for YOU!!

"O LORD, our God, how thankful we who believe must be that our hope is not based on chance or on what man might do, but rather on Your promises.  I pray for Your people of old and for Your protection over them even now.  I thank You that Your plan of salvation is not dependent upon the will of man, but on Your own purpose to bring glory to Yourself through Israel ... AND through ME!!  Amazing grace!!  Let my life declare Your presence and Your power to those around me so that they, too, may know that You alone are God.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Wisdom comes from listening to the those who are wise ..."

Day #208:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - July 24th

Scripture Reading:  Proverbs 13 ...

Everything you know that has real value was learned from someone.  While there are some things you can learn on your own, spiritual wisdom is not one of them.  The human heart and mind, in and of itself, is hopelessly limited in understanding spiritual things.  Unless God had revealed Himself, we would never have known Him at all.  The proof of that is all the religions of the world.  People are always seeking, "always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth" (II Timothy 3:7).  So Solomon writes, "A wise son heeds his father's instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke" (13:1).  Those who refuse to listen to the instruction of those who care about them reveal their ignorance.

Whether you are young or old, if you don't listen to wise counsel you prove yourself to be a fool.  We have read II Timothy 3:16-17 before, that God's Word "is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."  It is extremely sad that people without the Spirit of God search so desperately for truth, for meaning, for  purpose in life, and miss the wonderful message of hope and joy and peace that is found in the Bible.  Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost!  And it begins with listening!!

Throughout Proverbs 13, Solomon speaks of the importance of gaining wisdom from listening to the right people.  "Wisdom is found in those who take advice" (13:10).  "He who scorns instruction will pay for it" (13:13).  "He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored" (13:18).  How well do you listen to others ... and whom do you listen to?  "The teaching of the WISE is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death" (13:14).  You may be born with intelligence, but wisdom is acquired ... and it is acquired by listening to those who are listening to God speak through His Word, and who can help you to understand it.

On the other side of listening is speaking ...  As important as listening is, speaking is vital to our testimony for Christ.  If you are going to make God known, you first need to listen, to learn, to grow, to mature, and then be able and willing to speak, as God equips you and empowers you.  Too many people who have learned the truth never share it ... never speak to another human being about the God they are trusting with their LIFE or of the Savior who died for their sin.  We talk about everything else, why not about the depth of our spiritual existence?!  If you don't think you know enough, study, learn and listen to those whom God has sent to teach you.

People today seem to have a negative view of the church and perhaps it is the fault of many of those in the church who have forgotten that the Church is called to TEACH.  The true Church is more than a social club!  Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me, therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, TEACHING them to obey all that I have commanded you ..." (Matthew 28:18-20).  If you are part of the Church, if you "go to church," are you going to learn?  Are you listening to those who are wise because THEY have learned?

Solomon says, "From the fruit of his lips a man enjoys good things ... He who guards his lips guards his life" (13:2-3).  James talks about "taming the tongue" (James 3:1-12), and then speaks of wisdom.  The connection between wisdom and speaking is found in a person's attitude.  Those who are wise understand that humility leads to the understanding that no matter how wise you may become in this life ... no matter how much you have to say ... unless you are willing to keep learning, you are a fool.  The reason we are reading through the Bible is not to get to the end of the year and say we have done it, but rather, to gain wisdom so that we can teach others and share with them what God has taught us.  The Holy Spirit speaks through God's Word and we can and will never know all that God has revealed.  Those who are wise are never afraid to answer a question with, "I don't know!"  ... and then go to God's Word and pray for wisdom and understanding.

As Solomon speaks of "wealth" in Proverbs 13, it is not only monetary or material wealth that he is speaking of.  Material wealth can buy you certain things in this world, but it only goes so far.  Spiritual wealth is like LIGHT!  "The light of the righteous shines brightly, but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out" (13:9).  What good does it do to have worldly wisdom and worldly wealth and not know the Lord or the way of eternal life??  As Jesus spoke in parables He said that some had been given "ears to hear" and as He speaks to the churches in Revelation 2-3, He says, "He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."  The same is true today ... may God give YOU ears to hear His voice as you read through His Word, that you may gain wisdom from HIM!!  And may He surround you with wise people who have listened and learned and who now speak God's truth.

Wisdom comes from listening to those who are wise ...  find some wise people and LISTEN, and you will become wise yourself!

"Our Father in heaven, it is Your wisdom that I seek.  Apart from Your Word and Spirit there is no wisdom to be found.  As Solomon himself asked for wisdom from You, so Lord I ask for true wisdom, that I may continually share with others the truth that leads them to come to You through faith in Your Son Jesus Christ.  I thank You, Father, for the gift of spiritual wisdom that could only come from You and I vow to use whatever wisdom You may give to glorify YOU, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Don't forget God's promises and His faithfulness!"

Day #207:  Daily Bible Reading - July 23rd

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 87 - 89 …

Most, if not all, people go through times of trials and suffering.  To think otherwise and to teach otherwise is a lie.  Life happens!!  And when it does, you and I need to know "the God who saves me" (88:1).  THIS God is faithful … ALWAYS!!  He never forgets His promises ... and He always keeps His promises.  Those who trust in Him find comfort and hope and strength and peace and joy in knowing that He is with us, no matter what the circumstances we may be facing or enduring.  In fact, the Apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians and all who believe that we should "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this IS God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).  Notice that it is those who are IN Christ Jesus who can do this, because the very Spirit of Christ is at work in us.

One of the most powerful examples of God's faithfulness (which many people miss), is His faithfulness to Israel.  I know I mention that often as we read through the Old Testament, but if God is not faithful today to the promises He made to people in the past, why would He be faithful to you and me today?  Are we not sinners as the people in those days were?  Do we not deserve His judgment every bit as much as they did?  If God broke His promises or did not fulfill His promises to them because they sinned "too much," at what point might God not keep His promises to us??

Psalm 87 speaks of those promises that God made to Zion, to Jerusalem, and to the people of Israel.  The writer declares that God will note each one that was born in Zion and that in the end God will establish Zion above all the other nations.  This is not the only place we read of these things.  Throughout the Old Testament God declares that He will never forget His promises to His servant, David (in fact, we read more about this in Psalm 89).  It is important to understand and believe this truth, because as you come to Psalm 88 you find the "sons of Korah," the writers of these Psalms, in a BAD place, spiritually speaking.

Some people wrongly believe that if a particular emotion and response to circumstances is written down in the Psalms, it is legitimate for us to feel and/or think the same.  If they questioned God, we can, too.  If they were overwhelmed and depressed, we can feel justified in being overwhelmed and depressed.  If they cried out as though God had abandoned them, we can do the same … and God will understand.  Can this really be what God would teach us through including Psalms like this in His Word?  Is it not rather that God is telling us, "Other people have felt this way and I delivered them, so don't go there!!!"

Psalm 88 describes a place where you and I who believe in Jesus Christ NEVER need to visit!  "My soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave" (88:3).  He cries out to the LORD, "the God who saves me," but he doesn't believe God hears him.  Is that true?  What does the Bible teach?  God hears His children when we cry out to Him.  The Psalmist writes, "You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.  Your wrath lies heavily upon me; You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves" (88:6-7).  He goes so far as to say, "I cry to You for help, O LORD; … Why, O LORD, do You reject me and hide Your face from me?" (88:13-14).

Does this sound like the God you know?  If you answered, "Yes" to that question, you don't know Him!  Let me explain.  Any of us can be TEMPTED to feel what the Psalmist is feeling … be we don't have to go there, and we shouldn't go there.  Such thoughts and feelings are a temptation to be dealt with by declaring TRUTH.  God allows us to face trials and suffering and struggles that we do not have the strength to endure on our own, but He is ALWAYS with us and He ALWAYS hears our prayers and He will ALWAYS give us all we need.  That is His promise in Christ.

Paul writes to the Corinthians and says, "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).  And the writer of Hebrews states, "We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:14-16).

The writer of Psalm 88 wrote these words, he did not believe he could approach God's throne, but we know God has given us access through the blood of Christ and He will never turn us away - EVER!!   Don't go where the Psalmist went.  Don't listen to Satan's lies.  Believe God's truth and trust in Him.  Run to Psalm 89, where the Psalmist begins, "I will sing of the LORD's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations" (89:1).  How can he be so confident?  Because his mind is on GOD rather than his own circumstances.

He says in verses 3-4, "You said, 'I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant,  - I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations.'" In Jesus Christ God kept His promise to King David.  He says again in verses 28-29:  "I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail.  I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure."  And in verses 34-36:  "I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered.  Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness - and I will not lie to David - that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun."

So do you think God will fail YOU??  Have you believed in Jesus Christ?  Do you know Him as the descendant of David who now reigns on David's throne?  This is exactly what God promised to Mary when the angel told her that she was going to give birth to a son:  "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:32-33).  God is either telling the truth or He is lying … and if He is lying we have no hope in Christ.  The Old Testament is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus and the New Testament explains that our hope in God's faithfulness is now found through faith in Jesus Christ.

Beginning with verse 27, the writer of Psalm 89 laments that God has rejected him, that He is angry with him and that he is facing shame and ridicule.  He asks, "How long, O LORD?  Will You hide Yourself forever?  How long will Your wrath burn like fire? … Where is Your former great love, which in Your faithfulness You swore to David?"  (89:46,49).  It can SEEM like God is far away and it can SEEM like He has forgotten His promises … but when that happens, it is His very faithfulness that you and I must stand on.  The Psalmist ends with a declaration of his faith:  "Praise be to the LORD forever!  Amen and Amen!!" (89:52).

God knows what is happening in your life.  There are times when our Father in heaven disciplines us (Hebrews 12:7-11), but not every trial is discipline.  There are times when God is "pruning" us (John 15:2) and there are times when God "refines" us (I Peter 1:7).  But ALWAYS God is faithful to us and He never leaves us or forsakes us.  Those who draw near to God through faith in Jesus stand firm on the promises of God and do not waver because He IS faithful to those who call upon Him in the name of Jesus.  Do that today and do not be shaken by circumstances or trials in Your life.  He is still the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David … and His love and faithfulness endure FOREVER!!

"Father, I thank You for Your love to me and for Your mercy and grace in Christ Jesus.  I rest in Your faithfulness and trust in You.  Help me to resist the temptation to doubt, to fear, to worry.  I stand on Your promise to help me escape from that temptation and ask that You help me to testify to others even in the midst of the struggles of life that Jesus is on the throne and the angels are singing, 'Holy! Holy! Holy! is the LORD God Almighty!'  To You I give my thanks and my praise, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, July 21, 2014

"A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation … a people belonging to God … ought to act like it!"

Day #206:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - July 22nd

Scripture Reading:  II Kings 16 - 20 …

God had told Israel that He chose them to be His people, to be a special nation to Him, that they might declare His Name and His praises.  So what did Israel do?  After God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand, delivering them even through the midst of the Red Sea … after they had seen God's power with their own eyes, after they experienced God's power and judgment at Mt. Sinai and in the wilderness … after they saw God help them to defeat the nations in the promised land … after God appeared at the temple and blessed all of Israel with prosperity under King David and then King Solomon … what did they do??  They lived like the other nations around them!!

And King Ahaz in Judah did likewise.  When Aram and Israel attacked Judah, Ahaz went to the king of Assyria for help and gave HIM gifts!! (16:8).  Then Ahaz removed parts of the temple that apparently offended the king of Assyria (16:17-18).  Anything to stay in power.  How like today that is.  Integrity doesn't matter … just stay in power at all costs.  Devotion to God certainly doesn't matter … just stay in power.  God was watching then and He is watching now!

Hoshea had become king in Israel and the new king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea had sought help from the king of Egypt, so Assyria invaded Israel and after several years put King Hoshea in prison and captured Samaria, the capital of Israel, and deported the Israelites throughout the Assyrian Empire.  God does not leave us in doubt as to why this happened:  "All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God … They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them" (17:7-8).

As you read through Chapter 17, verses 7-17, you may wonder what took God so long to bring judgment on Israel.  Verses 18-19 summarize the consequences of Israel's consistent rebellion against their God:  "So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from His presence.  Only the tribe of Judah was left, and even Judah did not keep the commands of the LORD their God."  So what can we expect to happen to Judah?

Meanwhile, the king of Assyria brought people from other parts of his empire to live in Israel.  These people were called, "Samaritans," and they were hated by the Jews … as you read in the Gospels.  They worshiped the LORD, thinking they could add Him to their other gods, but He was not THEIR God.  He didn't "go with the land," as they seemed to think.  He was ISRAEL's God!!  And though He had rejected them, we will see that He still had a remnant who believed in Him.

After Israel was exiled, King Hezekiah reigned in Judah and he reigned for twenty-nine years.  He was a king like David, who trusted in the LORD.  In fact, we are told, "There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him"  (18:5).  David and Solomon had reigned over all of Israel, but God says Hezekiah was the greatest king in Judah because he obeyed the LORD and trusted in Him and even destroyed the high places where the people had worshiped false gods.  God was with him in whatever he did and he defeated the Assyrians and the Philistines (in GAZA … that's how long the fight has been going on in that small area).

Now a new king came to power in Assyria, named Sennacherib.  He attacked Judah and King Hezekiah tried to appease him by sending him silver and gold.  But that didn't stop him.  He sent a message to Hezekiah and the people of Judah, asking, "On whom are you depending?" (18:20).  He told the people, "Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD when he says, 'The LORD will surely deliver us' …" (18:30).  He boasted that the gods of the other nations he had defeated were not able to stand up against him, and Judah's God wouldn't be able to either!  But Sennacherib didn't know that Judah's God was different than the gods of the nations.

Hezekiah did what all those who know the living and true God should do:  he prayed!  And he told others to pray, including the prophet Isaiah, who was alive during this time.  God gave Isaiah a message for Hezekiah:  "Do not be afraid of what you have heard …  " (19:6).  God said that HE would take care of Sennacherib and the Assyrian army.  It reminds you of how God told Moses and the people of Israel to stand still and He would fight for them as Pharaoh came against them at the Red Sea.  The outcome would be the same here.

The prayer Hezekiah offered revealed his heart for God:  "You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth.  You have made heaven and earth. … Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God!" (19:15, 19).  That will be the desire of every true servant of the LORD, our God.  Isaiah, himself, would write it this way:  "Yes, LORD, walking in the way of Your laws, we wait for You; Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts" (Isaiah 26:8).

God answered Hezekiah's prayer in a remarkable way.  He promised that He would deliver Judah and said, "The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. …  He (the king of Assyria) will not enter this city …  I will defend this city and save it for my sake and for the sake of David my servant" (19:31,34).  So what did God do?  "That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death one hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp" (19:35).  Our God is able to do more than we can possibly imagine.  God desires that His name be known, whether in salvation for those who trust in Him or in judgment on those who reject Him and who worship other gods.

As God had "a people" in the days of the kings and the prophets, so God has called a people today to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ.  God has promised salvation, eternal life, to all who trust in Him and who live to make Him known.  Many in the visible church today try to do what the people of Israel did and what the Samaritans did … worship God as if He were one of many, or pretend that they love Him and serve Him when the reality is that they don't even really know Him.

To those who are His true people God says, "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" (I Peter 2:9).  You can't pretend with God.  He sees you and He knows you (Read Psalm 51 and Psalm 139).  He calls us to be a people for HIM!  Many proclaim today that GOD exists for US … such arrogance will bring the same judgment that fell upon Israel.  We who by God's grace are His people exist for God, and through His grace He IS faithful as we call upon Him, providing for all we NEED that we may fulfill our mission to make HIM known.

Ask God to make that your heart's desire:  that He would be known and that all the world would know that HE is God.  Live to make that happen.  Hezekiah was a brief breath of fresh air in Judah.  At the end of his life he still did some foolish things.  When he became ill he prayed and God granted him fifteen more years of life, but then he "showed off" all his possession to visitors from Babylon .. not knowing that soon, Babylon would conquer Judah in judgment upon their sin against God, and all that he had shown them would be given to the king of Babylon.  Oh, how short-sighted sinful people are.

God calls you and me to set our eyes on Jesus and to be focused on our mission to make the one true God known to the world in which we live today.  A chosen people ought to act like it!!  May we be about our Father's business, proclaiming the Gospel and offering forgiveness and life to all whom the Lord, our God will move to hear and believe.  Judgment is coming … but our God saves those who turn to Him and who call on the name of the LORD … for He alone is God!!!

"O LORD, our God, in the highest heavens You are praised by the host of angels around Your throne. Open my eyes to see Your glory and open my heart to respond in love and praise for Your deliverance through the blood of Jesus Christ, Your Son and my Savior and Lord.  I depend on YOU for all I need and for life itself.  May my lips declare Your glory to all I meet and may Your Name be exalted today on my account.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, July 20, 2014

"Be holy, because I am holy ..."

Day #205:  Daily Bible Reading - July 21st

Scripture Reading:  Leviticus 19 - 21 ...

What would you say to someone who asked you, "What is the Bible about?"  The Bible covers many subjects and ultimately is all about God.  But what is it about God that makes the cross of Jesus necessary and that makes the Gospel of Jesus Christ such good news?  The truth is that from the time mankind sins against God in Genesis 3, the rest of the Bible is about how sinful man can enter into the presence of a holy God.  In Leviticus, Moses is continually commanding the people to obey God, and in our reading today, to "be holy" because God is holy.

Chapter 19 begins with the Lord saying to Moses, "Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: 'Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy'" (19:1-2).  What follows is a long list of "Do not"'s ...  Why is God always telling people what NOT to do?  Remember that the commandments of God are summarized, first by Moses, and later by Jesus, as "Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself."  Human nature is BENT ... is prone towards evil.  The natural state of mankind leans toward sin.  Before the flood God described mankind in the words of Genesis 6:5:  "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time."

So God chose one man and promised to make a nation out of him ... the man's name was Abraham.  Israel was the nation God brought forth from Abraham and He was with these people, even as they languished as slaves in Egypt, and He brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and promised them the land of Canaan, the land He had sworn to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants forever.  It was now to these people that God spoke His law and said, "Be holy, because I am holy."   "Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the LORD your God.  Keep my decrees and follow them.  I am the LORD, who makes you holy" (20:7).

Through the specific prohibitions God showed them how to live and how NOT to live.  God says, "I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations."  ... "You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own" (20:24,26).  Israel's holiness had less to do with them and more to do with their God ... the only true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God says "you are to be holy TO ME ..."  To be "holy" is to be "consecrated; set apart" ...  Israel was no ordinary nation, no ordinary race, no ordinary people ... they were the people of God!  And it was not because they had done or could do anything to earn God's favor.  God had chosen THEM!!

People in general just don't get this today.  Most people want God to treat everyone the same ... but if God were to do that everyone would be lost!  We give people way too much credit and then act as though anyone, with a little bit of effort, can be "good enough" to enter God's presence.  God says otherwise.  God chose this people, gave them His law, and sets them apart from the nations of the world.  The Savior would come from them and save all whom God would choose, set apart and consecrate from all the nations.  But how?  We still haven't answered the question of how sinners can come into the presence of our holy God.

As He talks about the priests, God says, "Consider them holy, because I the LORD am holy - I who make YOU holy!" (21:8).  " ... I am the LORD, who makes them holy ..." (21:23).  We can never become holy by ourselves.  Unless God MAKES us holy, we cannot ... we dare not, enter His presence.  The punishment of those who attempted even to offer a sacrifice when they were unclean was death.  Eternal death awaits those who are not "made holy."  THAT's what the Bible is about!!

Speaking about the sacrifice of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews explains, "By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Hebrews 10:14).  Because we CAN'T be holy, God MAKES us holy through faith in Jesus.  As He set apart the priests in Leviticus, listen to what God says of those who believe in Jesus:  "To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and father - to HIM be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen!!" (Revelation 1:5-6).

THIS is what the Bible is all about.  It is what every believer should be able to share with those who ask where our hope comes from.  This is the Gospel, the good news, as Paul writes to the Romans:  "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes ... for in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith" (Romans 1:16-17).  As you read Leviticus and the consequences of sin, how thankful we who believe in Jesus must be that we have a Savior.

Now God says to us, His people who are saved by grace, "be holy, because I am holy" (I Peter 1:16).  We are no longer trying to earn our standing before God by being holy, but living in holiness because God has redeemed us by the blood of His Son.  Our faith and hope are found in this Gospel ... the message of the entire Bible.  As those chosen and saved by God, how shall we respond?  By being holy ... because HE is holy!!

"Our Father and our God, Your plan of salvation for those whom You have chosen to be Yours is found nowhere else, but in Your Word.  Thank You for revealing the WAY into Your presence through Him Who IS the Way, the Truth and the Life ... Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Lord.  With humble thanksgiving I praise You for Your love and Your grace and ask You to work in me by Your Spirit to give me the desire to BE holy, because You ARE holy!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, July 19, 2014

"Living by faith in the shadow of Jesus' return …"

Day #204:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - July 20th

Scripture Reading:  I Thessalonians 1-3 …

I know of no other way to live in this world today than by looking towards the return of Jesus Christ, knowing that God will deliver those who believe from the suffering and trials of life as He pours out His wrath on those who do not know Him or worship Him.  There is truly nothing else, no other hope, that encourages and strengthens me and all who believe in Jesus Christ.  Almost 2,000 years ago the Apostle Paul and those to whom He had preached, who had become followers of Jesus, found their only hope in this same truth.  How much more should you and I be setting our minds on God's promises today!!

But what happens?  The same things Paul was concerned about with regard to the Thessalonians and the other churches to whom he had preached the Gospel:  persecution, distress, worldly distractions …  all of these and more threatened the faith of those who were new believers.  As Paul and those with him traveled from city to city they met opposition from the Jews and others, often being physically and verbally assaulted.  Their hope … what drove them to continue, was the fruit that the Gospel was bearing in the lives of those who turned from idols to worship God.

Having moved on from Thessalonica to other cities, Paul longed to know how the church of the Thessalonians was doing, so he finally sent his young friend, Timothy (3:2).  Having received a good report from Timothy, Paul now writes them this letter to encourage them further to continue in their faith.  As you read the first three chapters, you feel Paul's love, his urgency and his passion for the Gospel and for the Church.  He commends the believers, for "your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1:3).  The Gospel had come to them "with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction" (1:5).

Paul rejoiced because they had "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath" (1:9-10).  How few people today (including preachers) make the connection between faith in the true God and looking toward His return??  How few churches today have any idea that Jesus is even coming back, and what is going to happen when He does?  There is a profound and dangerous ignorance of the events preceding Christ's return and of the wrath that will be poured out on those who do not know Jesus as their Savior and Lord.  In these two letters to the Thessalonians the Apostle Paul ties living for Christ in this life to longing for Jesus' return.  Only if you know what is coming will you be able to endure what is already happening as you live by faith.

Unlike many who hear God's Word preached today, the Thessalonians believed the message Paul preached was from God.  "We thank God continually because, when you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is at work in you who believe" (2:13).  The words of a preacher are not inspired Scripture, but when the truth is preached from God's Word it IS God's Word to those who hear it, and it carries with it the power of God as the Holy Spirit works in the minds and hearts of the listeners.  When people hear something I preach and respond at times by saying, "I'm not sure I agree with you on that," I always challenge them with something like, "Do you believe the Bible says something else?"  God's Word cannot be compromised; it cannot be discarded at will.  It must be proclaimed and believed - that's what the Thessalonians did.

Opposition to the Gospel is increasing in our nation and around the world.  Interfaith dialogue and compromise are the hallmarks of "religious tolerance" today and "love" is used to disguise what Satan is seeking to do - deceive.  Paul expresses his willingness to endure suffering and insults, testifying that "with the help of our God we dared to tell you His Gospel in spite of strong opposition" (2:2).  Where there is no opposition to the Gospel, the true Gospel is probably not being preached!!  The Gospel invites all to come to Jesus Christ to be saved, but the same Gospel excludes those who want to mix the worship of God with the worship of the world or other "gods," and who refuse to confess their sins, repent, and rest only in God's grace in Christ.

True faith bears fruit and produces devotion to God because it is produced by the very Spirit of God.  Listen to Paul's heart as he writes, "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well" (2:8).  I love those whom God has given me the privilege of serving as their pastor, as a shepherd of Christ's flock.  I rejoice when they rejoice in the Lord and I grieve when they grieve.  And I am concerned when they drift, wander or stray from devotion to Christ and a commitment to His body.  Paul had that concern for the Thessalonians.  So MUCH of the visible church today has turned away from God's Word and replaced it with the words of men, have removed repentance from their vocabulary and substituted "praying a prayer" for true faith.

The writer of Hebrews puts it all in focus when he says in Chapter 10 that since we have access to the Most Holy Place through the blood of Christ (vs. 19), "let us draw near to God ... let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess ... let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds ... and let us not give up meeting together" (vss. 22-25).  In other words, let's be the Church, the body of Christ, the fellowship of the saints!  Why?  Because Jesus is coming back and this life is not all there is!  Why?  Because there's more to life than living to please yourself or others.  There's GOD!!!

Oh, how I pray that as you read these words you will be drawn to read GOD's Word.  I pray that the Holy Spirit will open your heart and mind to know the truth and to live in anticipation of Christ's return.  Nothing ... nothing else will give you strength to endure the trials, the persecution and the temptations that you and I face as we seek to live for Christ in our world today.  Living by faith in the shadow of Jesus' return makes you understand that every day is important and that your life has eternal significance.  Don't throw it away on things that may not last past tomorrow.  Let me close today's thoughts with Paul's words in II Corinthians 4:16-18 ... and I pray you will receive them as, indeed, they are - the very words of God:

"Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  

"Heavenly Father, to hear Your Word, to believe Your Word and to KNOW that I have been chosen and saved by grace through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the foundation of my life.  I have no greater joy, no greater hope, no greater peace.  I long for Christ's return and ask that You would continue Your work in me, that I may be a faithful witness of the Gospel to all I meet.  My heart is set on pleasing You, Father, and I give You thanks and praise.  I love You, Father, because You first loved me ... in Jesus' name, Amen"