Sunday, August 31, 2014

"How long will God put up with the grumbling and rebellion of mankind?"

Day #247:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 1st

Scripture Reading:  Numbers 13 - 16 ...

I thank God that through the Bible there is a message of hope for those who draw near to God in confession and repentance, who place their faith in the Mediator, the High Priest, whom God has provided, whom we know today is Jesus Christ, "the only Mediator between God and man" (I Timothy 2:5).  But there is another message that runs throughout the Bible, not only in the Old Testament, but in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, all the way through the book of Revelation.  It is a message of judgment upon those who do not believe God's Word, who do not trust God's promises and who do not desire to worship the LORD, the only true God.  Salvation is available ... the promised land of eternal life lived in the very presence of God is offered ... but in their stubborn rebellion and grumbling most of mankind continues to choose death.

My purpose in writing these daily readings is to help those who are seeking God to know Him, not by reading my words, but by reading HIS.  I want only to point out what God has said and is saying today, praying that His Spirit will open hearts and minds and hearts and move YOU to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and to worship Him alone, for apart from that you will someday face the same judgment those in our text today faced for their rebellion against God.  He is the same God today that He was then.  In His love and grace He sent His own Son, Jesus, the Christ, to pay the penalty for sin ... yet those who reject God's offer of forgiveness and life by refusing to believe in Jesus WILL face His just judgment in an eternity of suffering.  God's offer of love and forgiveness comes to all ... have you received it?  WILL you receive it?

Our reading today reveals so clearly the two choices.  God told Moses to send out spies into the land of Canaan, the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants.  The spies went out and explored the land for forty days, then reported that the land was indeed a beautiful land that "does flow with milk and honey!" (13:27).  Then, in what is often the biggest mistake people make after they say what is right and good, they added the word, "BUT ..." (13:28).  It's all downhill from there.  Ten of the twelve spies declared that the people were too strong and could not be defeated.  Only Joshua and Caleb believed God and encouraged the people to enter the land:  "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it" (13:30).

Were Joshua and Caleb being overly optimistic?  Or did they know something the rest didn't?  The truth is that they knew GOD ... the God who had already displayed His power and glory in bringing these people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and in countless other miracles.  These people SAW, with their own eyes, more miracles in a short span of time than perhaps God has done (at least in such grand ways) in the history of mankind since!  Yet their stubbornness and rebellion reveals the reality of the spiritual death that plagues all of mankind apart from the work of God's Spirit.  Sin makes people blind to the things of God and leaves them in bondage to SELF.

When the people believed the report of the ten spies, Joshua and Caleb testified again, saying, "The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good.  If the LORD is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. ... Do not be afraid of the people of the land.  Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us.  Do not be afraid of them" (14:7-9).  What a powerful testimony - but the people did not listen.  Then God said to Moses that He was going to destroy all the people and make a new nation from Moses.  This is where Moses, and later his brother, Aaron, become pictures of Christ, interceding for the people.  Moses said to the LORD, "In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now" (14:19).

God gave His forgiveness, but then declared that not one of those who had seen His glory ... all those twenty years old or more, would enter the promised land.  They would die in the desert.  Only Joshua and Caleb would enter the land.  All those who had grumbled against God would die in the desert.  What a picture of the plague of sin on mankind today!  We worry about viruses and other diseases, about war and all sorts of things that kill the bodies of millions around the world throughout the centuries, but the plague of sin causes eternal death because it leaves people in their rebellion against God and finally judgment comes.

Some of the people, after hearing God's sentence, confessed their sin and tried to go into the promised land, against the protests of Moses, who told them their efforts would fail.  They were defeated, for the LORD was not with them.  In the midst of this "death sentence" for all those who had grumbled against God, God instructed Moses concerning offerings that were pleasing to the LORD.  Even those who were aliens among them would be allowed to bring offerings according to the same rules that God gave to the people of Israel.  And in the midst of the instructions, God said, "WHEN you enter the land to which I am taking you ... " (15:18).  God continued to point those who believed His Word to the future, as He does today.

The role of the "High Priest" is revealed in Aaron.  God had appointed Aaron and his sons as the only ones who could bring the atonement offering into the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant rested.  God said, "The priest is to make atonement for the whole Israelite community, and they will be forgiven ..." (15:25).  This atonement was for unintentional sins.  All sin deserves judgment and must be "atoned for," PAID for, and God has made a way!  Jesus, the perfect eternal Son of God, became a man, born physically to Mary and Joseph, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, from the tribe of Judah, as God had foretold, and offered the perfect "atonement" for sin on the cross, where He suffered the wrath of God in the place of all who by the work of God's Spirit would believe in Him.

Through Jesus Christ all who believe WILL enter the promised land of eternity.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!!  But those who continue to grumble and to rebel against God and His Anointed One, will face the same fate as those in the days of Moses.  Korah, Dathan and Abiram and others, 250 others, challenged the authority of Moses and Aaron.  THEY wanted to offer the offerings themselves.  God dealt with them in a way that made it clear beyond any question that what they were trying to do was forbidden by God:  The earth opened up and swallowed them and their families and their possessions.  Then God sent fire to consume the 250 men who had followed them and who were offering incense before the Lord.

Why such a violent judgment from God?  What was the big deal?  Let's ask the question in another way?  How can anyone approach God?  God had appointed Aaron and his descendants as priests.  No one else could come and burn incense before the LORD.  Grumbling, complaining, rebelling against the authority that God had appointed resulted in severe judgment because it revealed hearts turned away from God ... proud hearts that did not take sin seriously and that rejected GOD's authority.  The same is true for those who reject the One whom God has appointed to be OUR Great High Priest ... His Son, Jesus Christ.  He not only gave Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin, but He intercedes for believers before the throne of the Father.  No one else can do what Jesus has done and is doing.

Would you attempt to come to God yourself, apart from Jesus?  Only we who by faith confess Jesus as Savior and Lord and who come to God through Him will avoid God's judgment and enter the final promised land.  These real life events picture the reality of the present and the future.  God will not put up with the grumbling and rebellion of mankind for much longer.  As certainly as those who refused to believe God's promise and enter the promised land died in the desert, so all those who refuse to believe in Jesus will never enter the promised land.  And as those who attempted to enter God's presence in a different way, without a Mediator, were killed by fire, all who do the same without Jesus will face the fire of God's judgment forever.

We who believe, like Joshua and Caleb, will enter into the promised land and through the offering of our Great High Priest, we will stand in the presence of the LORD, our God, without fear, for He has promised!  Praise God for His gift of salvation and for a future that will be lived out in a new heaven and a new earth ... a land flowing with milk and honey ... and MORE!  A land where God will live WITH His people - FOREVER!!!

"O Father, how can we thank You for all You have given us?!  You have opened the way into the promised land of eternity with You and have given us access to Your very throne through the blood of Jesus.  Help me to believe ALL Your promises and to know that I have nothing to fear from the enemies who may come against me, for You, my God, are with me.  I will enter Your perfect presence and live with You forever, in a new world of Your making.  As Your judgment falls upon the world around me, I humbly thank You for Your grace and forgiveness.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Beware of those who refuse to preach God's Word!"

Day #246:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 31st

Scripture Reading:  II Timothy 3 - 4 ...

We are in the last days of planet earth.  I don't mean we're in the last days as in the time between the birth of Jesus and His return ... I mean the end, the last days as in the last decades ... or less.  What about Jesus' words that we would not know "the day or the hour."  We don't know the day or the hour ... or the week or the month, but God told us that we WOULD know the time.  Paul writes to the Thessalonians:  " ... 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" (I Thessalonians 5:1-3).  Most people stop reading there, but there's more.

"But YOU, BROTHERS, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief ..." (I Thessalonians 5:4).  There are signs given in the Scriptures that give specific details of the last seven years prior to the battle of Armageddon and the return of Jesus Christ to defeat the Antichrist, and to establish His millennial kingdom in Jerusalem.  But there are also signs that point very clearly to the time leading up to the last seven years.  One of those signs is so clear today that we who believe the Bible to be the Word of God MUST speak about it and call people to recognize it and to be ready, willing and able to stand firm.  The sign I am speaking about is the widespread rejection of sound doctrine IN THE CHURCH today.

In our reading today Paul warns that "there will be terrible times in the last days" (3:1).  He goes on to explain how people will live - a general description of how sinful people have lived for some time, but in the last days all of these will be extreme.  While all of them are obvious in our culture and around the world, there is something more in verse 5 that catches our attention:  Paul is describing those who have "a form of godliness."  These are people who claim to believe in God and perhaps even claim to be Christians.  He warns Timothy to stay away from them, for they lead many astray by their false teaching.  They are "always learning, but never able to acknowledge the truth" (3:7).

Today in the church countless pastors and teachers, professors of theology (what a mockery!) and those who follow them speak about philosophy and teach from the traditions and words of men rather than from God's Word.  As I listen to sermons from local churches and elsewhere I rarely hear even the name of Jesus, and even more rare is any mention of the cross or why Jesus came.  People want to believe that everyone is going to heaven - or almost everyone, and that there probably isn't any such place as hell.  The World Council of Churches is focused on social justice rather than the preaching of the Gospel and the Interfaith Movement wants all religions to work together for "the common good."

False teaching is nothing new ... what IS new is that millions IN the church are listening to it AND are criticizing those of us who continue to declare the Gospel and call people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ!  The change in the past ten years has been astounding to those of us who have been fighting against it and watching as those around us embrace the deception of false teachers.  One church in our area became well-known because of its pastor's celebrity status, until he finally showed his true colors and it became clear that he was a universalist (some of us had been warning about this for several years).  Incredibly, the same type of teaching continues in this body of several thousand, even after he left.

Paul charged Timothy to continue in what he had learned from the teaching of God's Word.  He assured him that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (3:16-17).  People all around us have turned to the latest "Christian" speaker, without turning to the Bible to discern whether what he or she is saying is true.  Many read supposed "Christian" books without realizing that verses from the Bible are being taken out of context and made to say whatever the author thinks will sell books.  Peter warned that those who are "ignorant and unstable twist and distort the Scriptures to their own destruction" (II Peter 3:16).

What is going on today is the fulfillment of Paul's words to Timothy in Chapter 4 of our reading.  Paul instructs Timothy to "Preach the Word ... in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction" (4:2).  Why was that so important?  Because it was the only defense against what was coming.  "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (4:3-4).  While that was true to some degree at other times in the past 2,000 years, I do not believe it has ever been the case that the general trend in the church is AWAY from sound doctrine and the teaching of God's Word.  Before the Reformation the church was teaching false doctrine, but the people did not have the Word of God in their hands at that time because it hadn't been printed yet.  Today is different.  People have the Bible in their hands, but don't open it!!

People want to believe that they can somehow save the planet, but God tells us that this earth will pass away.  People want to believe that life will go on just as it always has, but all the signs point to a world heading for an imminent change ... of some kind.  People want "peace and safety," but it will not come.  God says the change will take place suddenly and without warning - for those who do not study God's Word and listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  But for those, like Paul and Timothy and many since, we will be able to come to the end of our lives and say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me but also to all who have longed for His appearing" (4:7-8).

Are you longing for His appearing?  Few are.  People want more and more and more in this world, but few are longing for Jesus to return, even though the Bible ends with the words, "Amen! Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20).  We who believe must be firm in our faith, and the only way for that to happen is to be taught by the Spirit of God through the Word of God.  If you are not learning and growing, you are leaving yourself vulnerable and can easily be led astray.  Read, study, learn, grow and  stand firm in your faith, for the end of all things is near.  Be ready!

"Our Father in heaven, the signs of Jesus' return are multiplying all around us.  As more and more people turn aside from the truth, listening instead to the words of men, I commit myself to reading and studying and learning and growing, so that I may be mature ... not to be independent, but to learn to trust in YOU for all things.  Give me wisdom and strength daily to proclaim Your truth ... to fight the good fight, and to finish the race, knowing that in the end, it will all be worth it.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, August 29, 2014

"The Good Shepherd loves His sheep!"

Day #245:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 30th

Scripture Reading:  John 10 - 12 …

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep.  Not all people are His sheep.  So how do you know if you are one of Jesus' sheep?  That may sound like a math problem, but both the statements and the question are important as to whether you have eternal life or will perish in eternal death.  Jesus said "I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved" (10:9).  "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (10:10).  People debate about religion and all kinds of philosophies of life and ideas about how to live life ... but that's not what this is about - it's about life with God, now and forever!  Jesus came to call SOME to Himself and He tells us who His sheep are.  Not everyone is one of Jesus' sheep and not everyone will have eternal life ... in fact, most won't!

How do you know if you are one of Jesus' sheep ... one of God's chosen people?  Jesus says, "I know my sheep, and my sheep know me" (10:14).  So first of all, you need to KNOW Jesus.  That means that you have a relationship with Jesus through faith.  You believe who He is and trust in Him.  You believe that He is the perfect, eternal Son of God who entered into the world to bear God's wrath against sin, to die and rise again, to establish His reign, His rule, His kingdom in the hearts and minds of ... HIS SHEEP!!  "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (10:27).  If you don't know Jesus, if you don't believe in Jesus, if you don't obey Jesus, you are not one of His sheep, it is that simple.

Jesus told the Jews who were following Him that if they were His sheep they would listen to Him, they would believe in Him.  Their reaction:  "He is demon-possessed!" (10:20).  Their reaction:  "We are not stoning you for any of these, but for blasphemy because you, a mere man, claim to be God" (10:33).  Had ANYONE EVER done the works Jesus was doing?  Had anyone ever spoken with such absolute authority?  Had anyone ever taught the things Jesus was speaking?  As if to prove His point, Lazarus dies.  The timing was not by accident.  It was almost time for Jesus to go to the cross.  The Pharisees were watching.  Their power and influence was being threatened and they were more afraid of the Romans than they were of God.

Back to Lazarus.  All of this was orchestrated by God to teach all of Jesus' sheep who would live between that moment and His return that even death has no power over those who belong to Jesus.  Most of us have heard Jesus' words spoken at the death of a loved one, "I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (11:25).  Jesus had promised that not ONE of His sheep would be lost!  "I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.  I and the Father are one" (10:28-30).

Both Mary and Martha, and the Jews as well, believed that Jesus could have healed Lazarus - while he was alive.  But after he was dead ... not so much!  But Jesus said this was for the Father's glory.  God's power is without limit.  He is GOD!!  To tell God that He can't do something is foolish.  If Jesus is God, to tell Jesus He can't do something is foolish.  That's what people thought:  "Jesus, you can heal people, but you CAN'T raise people from the dead!"  Really?  "LAZARUS!  Come out!! ...  Take off the grave clothes and let him go" (11:43-44).  Who could doubt Jesus' power now?  Who could doubt His words?  Who would NOT believe in Him?

Those who are not His sheep!  The response of the Pharisees was predictable (because they were not Jesus' sheep - at least, most of them weren't) ... "From that day on they plotted to take His life" (11:53). To those of us who believe, who ARE Jesus' sheep, that response is itself unbelievable.  How blind can you BE?!  But think of the billions of people around the world who do not believe in Jesus, in spite of the eye witness testimony that is the Gospels.  While countless church signs and pastors and teachers claim that Jesus loves everyone the same, the truth is that the Good Shepherd loves His sheep and lays down His life for His sheep.  He knows who we are and He came for us ... not because of US, but because of HIM ... because He loves His sheep!

Now the scene has been set.  Jesus heads to Jerusalem to give His life FOR HIS SHEEP!  As the crowds welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem they fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah, who predicted that their King would enter on the colt of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).  Jesus predicted His death again and declared judgment on the world and the "prince of this world" (12:21).  "When I am lifted up from the earth (crucified), I will draw all men to myself" (12:32).  Jesus did not mean "all" as "every person," but people from all nations.  "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen (Jews).  I must bring them also.  They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd" (10:16).

The conclusion:  "Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him" (12:37).  Isaiah predicted the blindness of those who were not the sheep of Jesus.  A few of the leaders believed He WAS the Messiah, but they were afraid to come forward.  Jesus' sheep hear His voice, they believe in Him and they follow Him because they know He loves them.  How do they know that?  The Good Shepherd lays down His life for HIS sheep!  As Jesus raised Lazarus, so He Himself rose from the dead and conquered death FOR HIS SHEEP!!!

You can know that YOU are loved by the Good Shepherd if you hear His voice and believe in Him!  He came that you may have life ... REAL life ... ETERNAL life, now and forever.  Know His love today and follow Him wherever He leads, for He loves His sheep.

"My Father in heaven, in love You sent Your Son to save those who are His sheep, to bring them into the safety of Your presence, and to give them eternal life.  I thank You for saving ME, for making me one of Jesus' sheep.  I was helpless and lost until I heard the voice of the Good Shepherd.  My life is His, purchased by His blood shed on the cross.  Thank You, Jesus, for saving me and opening my eyes to see who You are, moving my heart to believe in You and making me YOURS!  Father, I give You glory and praise, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Break up your unplowed ground ... it is time to seek the LORD!"

Day #234:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 29th

Scripture Reading:  Hosea 8 - 14 ...

God's call to repent sometimes comes gently, but other times comes in the midst of discipline or judgment.  Through the prophet Hosea, God was calling Israel to return to Him, but the consequences of their sin were great.  Assyria was God's instrument of judgment and few would be spared.  Israel would be scattered throughout the nations and though God will eventually show compassion on a remnant of their descendants, most of them would perish far away from their land, their homes ... and their God.  Such is the fate of those who reject the Lord, their God, and who do not repent.

Like many in the visible church today, most of the Israelites took their relationship with God for granted.  After all, had not God chosen them as His people?  Had He not delivered them from Egypt and brought them into the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  Yes, BUT they were called to be HIS people, to display His glory, to exalt His name, to make Him known to the nations ... not to become LIKE them!!  "Israel cries out to me, 'O our God, we acknowledge You!' But Israel has rejected what is good ..." (8:2-3).  Hypocrisy is a sin that God does not overlook.  Claiming to be the people of God, then worshiping idols, brings judgment.  "They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind" (8:7).

Still, God says, "Although they have sold themselves among the nations, I will now gather them together" (8:10).  The patience, mercy and grace of God is far beyond our understanding.  Yet we need to understand  that it is for His own glory that God does not totally abandon Israel ... or the Church ... HIS Church.  God sends Hosea to offer hope to the few who still cared, but judgment to the rest.  "The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand.  Let Israel know this" (9:7).  "God will remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins" (9:9).  God says, "I will no longer love them ... they will be wanderers among the nations" (9:15,17).  History reveals the truthfulness of Hosea's prophecy.  As God declared, so it happened.

Still today God's judgment rests on those who reject Him, whether they claim to believe in Him or not.  Mere words do not bring forgiveness or life.  There lies a time in the future when "They will say to the mountains, 'Cover us!' and to the hills, 'Fall on us!'" (10:8).  John writes in Revelation 6 of a future time when "the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They called to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?'" (Revelation 6:15-17).

It is with the knowledge of God's coming judgment that God's call to repentance comes.  Those who attempt to come to God without repentance, without a heartfelt sorrow for sin and confession, have been led astray and deceived.  These come to God for favors, for "blessings" to meet their own selfish desires, believing God's highest goal is to make them happy.  This is not the path to salvation.  The road that is narrow leads through repentance and leads to faith in a Savior whose name is Jesus!  Hosea's description of repentance is found in Chapter 10, verse 12:  "Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD until He comes."  Only those whose hard hearts are tilled and softened by the Holy Spirit will seek the Lord and sow righteousness.  God tells Israel that they will be judged "because you have depended on your own strength" (10:13).

God continues to proclaim His love for those who are His and for the remnant of Israel.  In words that were later quoted as referring to Jesus in Matthew 2:15, God says, "When Israel was a child, I loved Him, and out of Egypt I called my Son" (11:1).  God makes it clear to us who live after Jesus was on the earth that those who are truly God's children are only made God's children through their union with Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14).  It is only because of the compassion and mercy of our Father in heaven that we are spared His judgment ... only by His grace.  As He speaks of judgment God says, "My heart is changed within Me; all My compassion is aroused ..." (11:8).  How incredibly amazing is that?  The holy God chooses to show compassion ... but not on all.  "As a father has compassion on His children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:13).

But the "unplowed ground" must be broken up.  "You must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always" (12:6).  "You shall acknowledge no God but Me, no Savior except Me" (13:4).  To those who will come to Him, God says, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death.  Where, O death, are your plagues?  Where, O grave, is your destruction?" (13:14).  The Apostle Paul would pick up these words of Hosea as he speaks of the resurrection in I Corinthians 15:  "'Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 15:55-57).

So God points out the way to repent:  "Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God.  Your sins have been your downfall!  Take words with you and return to the LORD.  Say to Him: 'Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips'" (Hosea 14:1-2).  And God's response is priceless:  "I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them" (14:4).  Oh, how great is God's grace, for repentance itself is the gift of God, that He works in the hearts of those whom He has chosen.  If that describes you, continue to seek the Lord, your God, asking Him to break up whatever remains of the hard ground of sin and to sow seeds of righteousness, that you may be set free to praise and worship Him and that He may be glorified in your life!!

"My gracious and loving Father in heaven, You alone are God and You alone are my Savior.  In Your love and compassion you sent Your own Son to take my place, to bear my sin, to endure Your wrath and to be a ransom for ME!  I praise You at this moment for Your holiness and Your justice, and thank You for Your amazing grace.  Continue Your work in me as I repent of my sin and seek to follow the paths of righteousness for Your Name's sake.  I love You, LORD!  In the precious name of Jesus, Amen"

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Live as though the LORD sees everything you do and hears everything you say … because He DOES!"

Day #243:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 28th

Scripture Reading:  Proverbs 20 - 21 …

The recurring theme of Solomon's proverbs is that a sovereign God rules over the affairs of men and nations, therefore, living in obedience to Him, trusting His Word and living to please Him is the only thing that makes sense.  It is irrational to live your life as though such a God does not exist.  In the end, you will pay a high price for your foolishness.  On the other hand, those who seek God, who desire to live an upright life, and who listen to instruction, will discover that no matter what the circumstances, the "victory rests with the LORD!" (21:31).

As Solomon continues to throw out what may be considered by some as "one-liners," general themes continue to reoccur throughout his proverbs.  All of these can be placed into categories, but overall it amounts to two choices:  the way of the "wicked" or the way of the "righteous."  Those who are wicked live by their own rules, while those who are righteous live according to God's commands.  "The righteous man leads a blameless life; blessed are his children after him" (20:7).  "To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice" (21:3).  "He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor" (21:21).  "An upright man gives thought to his ways.  There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.  The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD" (21:31).

All of those proverbs point to the truth that seeking first God's kingdom and His righteousness is God's desire for those who know and love Him.  Those who know God and believe that He sees and hears and knows everything understand that "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases" (21:1).  Because of sin, "All a man's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart" (21:2).  Solomon continually points out very basic truths that when applied to our lives bring God's blessing.

"Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler" (20:1) … why? Because they quickly turn the mind away from God and His ways, leaving people vulnerable to the sinful nature that instinctively wants to go its own way, not God's way.  The old nature is lazy, (20:4).  "Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare" (20:13).  Combatting the desires of the flesh requires instruction from the LORD and a desire to please Him.  Unjust scales, taking advantage of others, speaking too quickly, making quick decisions, being proud, cheating others … all of these things are what the wicked pursue.

But those who know the sovereign God seek to avoid strife, be honest in their dealings with others, speak knowledge and wisdom (or else be quiet!), make plans by seeking advice, wait for the LORD to defend them rather than seeking revenge, and gladly receive instruction from the Lord.  Yes, "an upright man gives thoughts to his ways" (21:29).  Why? Because those who are upright are being transformed through the work of the Spirit of God within them.  These live in the presence of a holy God who loved them so much that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to bear His wrath and judgment against their sin.

Are you living today as though the LORD, the great "I AM," the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the only true God, the Creator of the universe - YOUR Creator ... are you living as though He sees everything you do and hears everything you say?  He is watching over those who draw near to Him in faith through Jesus.  We who so believe don't live in this world as others who have no hope ... as those who seek power and wealth and prestige ... who desire the pleasures of this world rather than the righteousness of God.  We HAVE all we need in HIM!!!  So we live WITH Him and FOR Him, out of love and thanksgiving, for OUR God ... THIS God reigns, and through faith in Jesus we are HIS children.  Serving Him is easy because our love is a response to His.  "We love HIM because He FIRST loved us!" (I John 4:19). 

"O LORD, my God, Your Word speaks truth about every part of life.  As I live in this world every day I ask You to guide me by Your Word and Spirit.  Fill my mind with the knowledge of who You are and how You are at work all around me.  Give me strength to overcome the flesh, to resist the temptation to to seek the pleasures of this world, and grant me wisdom to trust You and to proclaim at all times that YOU, and You alone are God!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Praising God is easy when you know who He is …"

Day #242:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 27th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 102 - 104 …

"In the beginning You laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands.  They will perish, but You remain the same … and Your years will never end" (102:25-27).  The reason most people don't praise God is because they don't know Him as their Creator.  The reason most people don't love God is because they have not confessed their sin and their need for forgiveness and then found in God's grace and compassion a Savior named, Jesus!  The reason most people don't serve God is because they are convinced that their lives are their own and they are the masters of their own fate.  David and the other writers of the Psalms knew otherwise … because they knew God!

In good times or bad, God is God and His character provides hope to those who know Him.  The writer of Psalm 102 cries out to the Lord during a particularly difficult time in his life.  Who cannot identify with the description he gives:  "My days vanish like smoke … I forget to eat … I lie awake …" (102:3-7).  He even attributes his agony to God's wrath (102:10), realizing that all of life's burdens ultimately arise from the wrath of God upon mankind because of our sin and rebellion.  Yet, there is hope for those who know God!

"You, O LORD, sit enthroned forever … You will arise and have compassion on Zion" (102:12).  Those who know God have heard His promises and tasted of His grace and mercy.  While these words were written for those who lived centuries ago, they were also written for us as we live in this world today.  "Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord" (102:18).  With insight from the Spirit of the Lord the Psalmist pointed all those who would come to believe in Israel's God to find their hope in Him.  God even revealed to him His final purpose for the remnant:  "So the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion and His praise in Jerusalem when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the LORD" (102:21-22).

It will happen just as God has planned it.  As the prophet Habakkuk wrote, "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14).  The God the Psalmist knew is the only true God and He is at work among the peoples of the world today gathering those whom He has chosen through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the testimony of those who know Israel's God.

Psalms 103 and 104 continue the praise of the LORD, the great "I AM," the Almighty and Everlasting God!  David explains the outpouring of God's blessings upon those who are His, who believe in Him, who know Him, and then He speaks of God's character, the character He had revealed to Moses and the people of Israel: "The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love …" (103:8).  He is forgiving and loving and compassionate to His children, "as a father" … And having described the character of God, David explains why we need such a God:  "For He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust …" (103:14).

Those who boast of their power and strength are foolish.  We are like the grass, like flowers in the field.  We exist for a time and then we are gone.  James writes, "You do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14).  The only way to find significance and importance in your life is to humble yourself before God and draw near to Him in faith, believing that you have been redeemed through Jesus Christ and given new life that now enables you to know God, to love God and to serve God.  Apart from that your life is as worthless and meaningless as it seems.  But this God receives all those who call out to Him, because when you do so, it is His very Spirit that has moved you to call!!

"From everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children's children" (103:17).  We who know God's love in Jesus join with the angels in praising God from the depths of our souls!  As we watch the nations of the world descend into greater and greater chaos, we are moved to worship God, who is "clothed with splendor and majesty" (104:1). Reading through Psalm 104 I am reminded of the power and wisdom of my God and moved again to praise!  THINK of what God has done as you behold His creation.  Those who doubt things like the global flood during the days of Noah cannot doubt that the writer of Psalm 104 believed it happened, as he says describes it in verses 6-9.

He then describes some of the works of God's marvelous creation and says of all creatures, "These all look to You to give them their food at the proper time" (104:27).  How humbling to know that every creature that exists on the face of the earth, including you and me, is totally and utterly dependent on God for food, water and everything else associated with life.  Were God to withdraw His hand we and all of creation would simply cease to exist.  Not one breath is taken without God moving your lungs and mine to do so.  God created all things, sustains all things and all things exist for His purposes.

And the Psalmist knew what that purpose was and is:  "I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.  May my meditation be pleasing to Him, as I rejoice in the LORD … Praise the LORD, O my soul.  Praise the LORD!" (104:33-35).  Join with creation in praising our God today, whether in good times or in bad, for He is the same yesterday, today and forever and He is worthy of praise!  Cry out to Him and He will hear you and will show His compassion and mercy to you.  Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life.  Come to the Father through faith in Jesus and discover what it means to be blessed as you find joy in praising our God!!

"O LORD, my God, You are all I need in life and I praise You from the depths of my heart!  In Your mercy You have given me new life in Christ and by Your Spirit You have opened my eyes to see Your splendor and majesty throughout Your creation.  With the Psalmist and the angels and the saints I will sing Your praises all of my life, trusting in Your goodness and resting in Your love.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, August 25, 2014

"The everlasting God chose Israel ... and all who believe in Israel's God!"

Day #241:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 26th

Scripture Reading:  I Chronicles 15 - 19 ...

It seems unfair, it seems impossible, it seems far-fetched, but it's true:  the God of Israel is the one true God and only those whom He has chosen and who put their trust in Him through faith in Jesus Christ, the Seed of Abraham, the Son of David, will inherit eternal life.  All that we read in the Old Testament, the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament confirm this truth.  No other book explains the plan of God to redeem for Himself a people from the entire human race to be His own.  Remarkably, God revealed all of this to David, and through him to others whom God chose to hear and believe.  If you are reading this and believe in Jesus, it is because God has chosen YOU and you are one of His people, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  That is God's way ...

Having moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem, David determined to bring the Ark of the Covenant there.  The Ark was the symbol of God's presence and was placed in the tabernacle in the Most Holy Place.  David had attempted to bring the Ark back before, but those in charge did not have the priests carry it and God's anger burned against them.  This time David said, "No one but the Levites may carry the Ark of God, because the LORD chose THEM to carry the Ark of the LORD and to minister before Him forever" (15:2).  Then he instructed them to "consecrate yourselves and bring up the Ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place I have prepared for it.  It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the LORD our God broke out in anger against us.  We did not inquire of Him about how to do it in the prescribed way" (15:12-13).

Partial obedience is never obedience.  God calls His people to worship and to do it according His instructions.  Why?  Because He is God ... and He is ISRAEL's God.  An important part of worship, then and now, is MUSIC!  Look at the people who were assigned to lead the people in worship!  They had instruments and a large choir of people to lead the people in singing God's praises.  "So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouts, with the sounding of rams' horns and trumpets, and of cymbals; and the playing of lyres and harps" (15:28).  How glorious it must have been and how glorious is the worship of God's people today as we offer it to the Lord, our God, the God of Israel!!

David's psalm of praise in Chapter 16 is so full, so heartfelt, so informative of God's plan to gather for Himself a people.  Most people today just do not understand the Bible or God's purpose in the world.  If they worship at all, they worship a generic god who is supposedly a god who takes various forms and who is whoever people make him/her/it to be.  This god is an impersonal "force" who is at work in creation and in all people.  Every person is the "captain of their own fate" and able to find their own salvation in their own way.  But this "god" is an illusion, a counterfeit, a cruel hoax produced by the enemy of God and the foolish hearts and minds of people who are spiritually dead and blind.

As David and all of Jerusalem celebrate the return of the Ark, David breaks out into song ... and recorded here are words from a number of the songs recorded for us in the Psalms.  Reading through Chapter 16 is like entering into David's heart - a heart overflowing with love, thankfulness and praise for God, but not just any God, the God of Israel, the God who "remembers His covenant forever ... the covenant He made with Abraham, the oath He swore to Isaac, and confirmed to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant:  'To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit'" (16:15-18).  To those today who would seek to eliminate this people from the land of Israel, it will not happen, for you are not only fighting against Israel, but against Israel's God.

At the present time most in Israel do not know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The world is ignorant of the great "I AM" who revealed Himself to Moses and the people in Egypt and at Mt. Sinai. But the calling of those who know Him, to whom He has revealed Himself by His Word and Spirit, is to "sing to the LORD ... to proclaim His salvation day after day.  Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples.  For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise!" (16:23-25).  There IS no other God!  It is Israel's God who sent His Son, the descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David ... to be the perfect sacrifice for sin.  There IS no other God, no other Mediator between God and man, no other Savior!

As God promised David that his "house" would continue before Him forever, He was pointing to Jesus.  "I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for me and I will establish his throne forever" (17:11-12).  That must have been Solomon, right?  Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba and he built the temple for God.  But HIS kingdom didn't last forever.  In fact, it was during the reign of Solomon's son, Rehoboam, that the kingdom of Israel was divided and eventually overthrown.  God was pointing to David's "greater Son," to the One who would be born of a virgin, who would be "Immanuel, God with us."  He was pointing to Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One, the KING of kings and the LORD of lords!!

Jesus came to build God's spiritual "house," the Church, the temple of the Holy Spirit, and eventually (perhaps soon) He will come to gather the remnant of the Jews, the physical people of Israel, and to establish His kingdom on the earth.  He will rule over all the nations and He alone will be Lord!  As he hears God's promise through the prophet, Nathan, David is humbled beyond words and prays once again, giving praise to God, knowing that all this was done "according to Your will" (17:19) ... that this was GOD's doing.  "There is no one like You, O LORD, and there is no God but You ... And who is like Your people Israel - the one nation on earth whose God went out to redeem a people for himself, and to make a name for Yourself ..." (17:20-21).  "You made Your people Israel Your very own forever, and You, O LORD, have become their God" (17:22).

Through Jesus Christ, the Seed of Abraham, the Son of David, God has sent a message out into the world, delivered by His Spirit into the hearts and minds of those whom He has chosen from the nations, bringing forgiveness and life to those who repent and believe, who receive His grace through faith in Jesus.  God knows those who are His and not one shall be lost.  If you have believed in Jesus you can KNOW that you were "chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4) and that "nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:29).

Join with David in thanksgiving and praise for God's covenant with Israel and with all who believe in the Son of David, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ, the King ... Jesus!  Read through David's song in Chapter 16 again and give praise to the LORD, the God of Israel!

"My Father in heaven, as You chose Israel to be Yours, so You have chosen me to be one of Your children and have given me Your Spirit and moved me to believe in Your Son, Jesus Christ.  I thank You for Your Word, for revealing Your way of salvation through Your covenant with Abraham and his descendants, and for Your faithfulness to those who place their hope in You.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"The keys to 'success': Trust the Lord your God, follow His leading and give thanks at all times!"

Day #240:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 25th

Scripture Reading:  Numbers 9 - 12 ...

We say often that being a Christian means having a relationship with the living God, the one true God, our Creator, who has revealed Himself in His creation, in His Son Jesus Christ, and by His Word and His Spirit who is at work in every true believer.  We talk about having a relationship with God because that is the central theme of the whole Bible.  God's purpose in salvation is to restore sinful people to a relationship of love with Him, their God.  As we read of the Israelites as they come out of Egypt we discover that their relationship with God, for the most part, was merely outward.  Few (we don't know how many) truly trusted God or rejoiced in His goodness and mercy and grace.  Though having been delivered physically from Egypt, they remained in spiritual bondage ... spiritually blind and dead, unable to see the glory of their God, even though He was constantly displaying it right before their eyes - literally!!

The Apostle Paul wrote of them hundreds of years later:  "They were all under the cloud and they all passed through the sea.  They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.  Now these things occurred as examples to keep US from setting our hearts on evil things as they did" (I Corinthians 10:1-6).

Spiritual life is a gift from God ... not everyone has it ... in fact, most don't.  As the people were leaving Egypt God commanded Moses to have them celebrate the Passover.  They had celebrated the Passover the night God sent the angel of death to slay the firstborn of Egypt.  Now they were free ... free to worship, free to rejoice in the Lord, their God.  Even those who were "unclean," those whom the law said could not bring their offerings to God for a time ... even these could celebrate the Passover, could celebrate their freedom and rejoice in the Lord.  What a beautiful picture of God's forgiveness - of His willingness to receive sinners into His presence!!  The blood of the perfect Lamb covers our sins in the sight of God so that we may come to worship Him!

As Israel entered the desert on their way to the land God had promised their forefathers, it was necessary and essential that God went with them - more than that, that He LEAD them.  He did so by appearing in a cloud over the tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.  When the cloud lifted, the people traveled on, when it remained, so did they.  God gives this picture of your life and mine as we seek the Lord daily for guidance.  Our guidance is found in His Word and through His Spirit living within us.  God's Spirit gives us the Word and teaches us God's will for our lives, and as we apply the truth and the principles God has revealed we are LED through this life!  All of this was and is a picture of God's leading in our lives and the importance of following HIM!

In Chapter 10 God mentions trumpets.  Trumpets were an important part of the life of the Israelites as they traveled, and even later as they came into the promised land.  Trumpets were used to call the people to gather together (the rapture!), to engage in battle (Armageddon) and to worship (the victory of Christ and the Millennium).  Could there be any question as the people set out that God was with them, that He was for them, that He was their Provider, their Savior, their Guide ... that He was all they needed??!!!!  But these people were sinners and, as we saw above, most of them remained spiritually dead.  So after witnessing the power of God firsthand in Egypt, at Mt. Sinai and thus far through their journey, they began to complain, to grumble and to question God's goodness and faithfulness.

First, the people complained about how hard things were ... remember, they were just delivered from slavery in Egypt.  God sent fire to consume some of them.  Then others began to grumble about the manna they were eating every day.  They said, "If only we had meat to eat!"  Moses was troubled and God was angry.  Moses was getting tired, so God appointed seventy elders to help Moses lead the people and placed His Spirit upon them.  Then God sent the people meat ... LOTS of meat!  God told Moses to tell the people that they would eat meat the next day, but Moses doubted.  Where would the meat come from?  God replied, "Is the LORD's arm too short?  You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you" (11:23).

God sent a wind over the sea and a flood of quail entered the camp.  The people gathered the quail and began to eat, but God was angry and sent a severe place and many people died.  What was the point of this?  Some of these things seem strange to our ears because we do not live in that time.  Yet here is another picture of what many people today refuse to accept:  God takes sin seriously ... very seriously. It's not always good when God gives you what you want.  When people who are called by God's name crave the things of the world more than they desire God Himself, the outcome is discipline, and in the case of those who are not true believers, judgment.

Even Miriam and Aaron got in on the complaining against Moses and his leadership.  There is a significant parentheses in Chapter 12, verse 3:  "Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth."  Some might read that and say, "Wait a minute, didn't Moses write the book of Numbers?"  Of course, he did, but perhaps that is why there are parentheses around the statement.  God inspired, moved, directed Moses to write what he did and truth is truth.  Miriam and Aaron had no right or reason to complain against and criticize their brother.  Leading Israel was not a task Moses volunteered for.  He was called to leadership and God had used him to bring the people out of Egypt.

So it is with EVERY true leader that God calls to lead His people.  Those who are called by God and empowered by His Spirit take no credit for the fruit of their labors.  They give glory to God and trust Him to accomplish in them and through them everything HE desires.  That's why the criticism of Moses was so unfounded and God dealt with it directly.  Notice that it was Moses who interceded for Miriam before the Lord, as Jesus does for you and me.  It was our sin that sent him to the cross, yet He intercedes for us before the Father's throne and sends His Spirit for our healing.  Truly, His love and grace are amazing!

Watching the people of Israel is like learning everything you SHOULDN'T do!  As we follow Christ the "keys to success" are trusting the Lord, following His leading and giving thanks.  God says, " For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. ... As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).  Read God's Word, trust in Jesus, follow His leading and give thanks ... and you can't go wrong!

"O Lord my God, as You led the people of Israel out of bondage, so You have delivered me from slavery to sin and have set me free to serve You with joy and thanksgiving.  Help me to trust You in the midst of the struggles that come, knowing that You are always with me.  Give me grace to live for You daily and not to complain when things don't go the way I think they should.  Remind me often to give thanks for ALL You have done ... especially for the gift of Your Son, the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life!!  I rejoice in YOU, my Savior and my God, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, August 23, 2014

"It's all about the Gospel of Jesus Christ …"

Day #239:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 24th

Scripture Reading:  II Timothy 1 - 2 …

Understanding your place in God's plan and purposes inspires you to go deeper in your relationship with God and to commit yourself to being equipped as a "soldier of Christ Jesus," ready to share the Gospel with those in your immediate sphere of influence and with others whom you may meet.  It is not by accident that you are alive at this moment in history, or that you are in the family you are, or that you have the gifts and abilities you have.  You are a unique individual whom God has placed in this world at this time for HIS glory!

That's what Paul wanted Timothy to know … and that's what God wants YOU to know!  Paul and Timothy had labored together for the Gospel and were now separated as Paul had been taken as a prisoner to Rome.  While under "house arrest" in Rome, Paul continued to proclaim the Gospel and wrote to Timothy to encourage him to do the same.  He tells Timothy to "fan into flame the gift of God which is in you" … "for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline" (1:6-7).  God never calls us to do something without giving us what we need to do it!  As someone has said, "God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called!"

We do well to remember the importance of the message we bring to the world because Jesus Christ "has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel" (1:10).  I say it often that there is no other message in the world that has the power to transform sinners into saints, to bring eternal life to those who are spiritually dead.  So Paul declares, "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day" (1:12).  What have you entrusted to Jesus?  "That day" refers to the day of judgment, when Jesus returns and calls those who believe to Himself.  Have you entrusted yourself to Jesus?  Do you believe that His blood covers your sins in God's sight … that He paid your debt and you HAVE forgiveness of your sins and eternal life, as His Spirit lives and works within you??

Timothy had been born again by God's Spirit and called to proclaim God's truth.  So now Paul says, "What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus" (1:13).  And in Chapter 2, charges Timothy to equip others to teach the Gospel, too:  "The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others" (2:2).  The principle of multiplication rests in God's instruction to pastors and teachers to equip others to share the Gospel, too.  What could possibly be more important than raising up those who will pass this message on to others?!

With that in mind, Paul tells Timothy, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2:15).  He gives Timothy and us counsel from God when he tells him to avoid godless chatter and foolish arguments.  We are easily distracted both by idle conversation and senseless disputes.  "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" (2:24-26).

We need to understand the war that is going on in the spiritual realm for the souls of men and engage in the battle, armed with the "sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (Ephesians 6:17).  Which takes us back to the importance of being equipped.  Handling God's Word correctly is taken far too lightly today.  People with little knowledge are teaching false doctrine, oftentimes being very sincere as they do so.  False teaching is like cancer, and it spreads through various means throughout the church, as well as the world.  Peter writes that his spiritual brother, Paul's letters to the churches "contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction" (II Peter 3:16).

Sound teaching is "passed on" through godly teachers whose only authority is the Word of God.  That's why Paul told Timothy to pass on the things he had heard Paul say to reliable men who would then teach others.  The church is not fulfilling its mission if this is not taking place.  Leaders cannot lead if they do not know the truth, nor can they safeguard the flock under their care from false teaching.  As Paul was about to leave Ephesus, he called together the elders that had been appointed as overseers and said to them, "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood" (Acts 20:28).  Fulfilling that task requires men who have gained a knowledge of God's Word through careful instruction and study.

The mission Jesus entrusted to the Church can be and is fulfilled only when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed.  May God raise up many soldiers in Christ's army who will be faithful to proclaim the unchanging truth of God's Word to all who will be given ears to hear!

"Father, throughout the centuries, You have raised up godly men to proclaim the Gospel and empowered them by Your Spirit.  Be gracious to Your Church in these last days, that we may not waiver in our commitment to make disciples of Jesus and so fulfill our calling, for Your glory.  Protect Christ's body from false teachers by equipping soldiers for His army.  Let the power of the Gospel shine through the darkness, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, August 22, 2014

"I was blind, but now I see!!"

Day #238:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 23rd

Scripture Reading:  John 7 - 9 …

Can you hear what God is saying in His Word?  How have you responded to the testimony God has given in His Word regarding Jesus?  So many people fail to understand that the whole Bible points to Jesus as the perfect Son of God, true God and true man, who came into this world from heaven to be the Savior of all who believe in Him.  The entire Old Testament points ahead to Him, while the Gospels explain why He came and record the eyewitness testimony of those who were with Him, and the rest of the New Testament explains God's purpose in the Church and the Gospel and points to Jesus' return to establish His kingdom in a new heaven and a new earth.  Have you accepted God's testimony concerning Jesus and the way of salvation through faith in Him?

Jesus said to some of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the Jews, "He who belongs to God hears what God says.  The reason YOU do NOT hear is that you do not belong to God!" (8:47).  While many who preach and teach in the church today are careful to be "politically correct," which means not wanting to offend anyone, Jesus simply spoke the truth.  As He performed miracles and taught, people began to wonder who He was.  The prophets spoke about a prophet who would come who would be like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15).  They predicted that an "Anointed One," a "Messiah" (the "Christ") would come, who would deliver those who believed from slavery.  The people were under the rule of the Roman Empire and they thought this ruler would deliver them from the tyranny of Rome.

As the time approached for Jesus to go to the cross, the Pharisees were trying to kill Him.  That sounds so strange to us … that anyone would want to actually kill Jesus.  We may sometimes forget that it was evil men who did just that.  While it was God's plan that Jesus go to the cross to bear His wrath against our sins, yet it was wicked men who were responsible for sending Him to the cross.  Peter says it this was as he preaches in Acts 2:  "Men of Israel, listen to this:  Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross.  BUT God raised Him from the dead … " (Acts 2:22-24).

As Jesus came to the feast in Jerusalem and began to teach at the temple, the Pharisees wanted to get rid of Him, but they were afraid of the people.  Since the Pharisees did nothing to stop Him, the people began to wonder, "Have the authorities really concluded that He IS the Christ?" (7:26).  Many began to put their faith in Him, but their understanding of why Jesus had come was still very limited.  As Jesus began to talk about going where they could not come, they did not understand that He meant returning to heaven.  Still today many believe that Jesus was simply a "good man" who taught some "good things."  As Jesus taught about where He was going and about the coming of the Spirit ("streams of living water will flow from within" - 7:38), the people were divided.  "Surely this man is the Prophet."  "He is the Christ."  "How can the Christ come from Galilee?" (7:40-41).  John records that "the people were divided because of Jesus" (7:43).

People are still divided because of Jesus.  No figure in the history of mankind has caused such a great division.  Every person has to answer the question, "Who is Jesus?!"  The unbelief of the Jewish leaders revealed their spiritual blindness, as Jesus exposed it in Chapter 8.  He shattered their understanding of the Law by forgiving the woman caught in adultery.  Was Jesus saying that Moses was wrong to declare that she should be stoned?  No.  The Law was given to show people their sin before a holy God.  But all the Law could do was condemn.  Jesus came to fulfill the Law - to give Himself as the perfect sacrifice for all who would believe.  He didn't change the Law, but called people who couldn't keep the Law perfectly to believe in Him for forgiveness and life.

So many, even in the church, still do not get this today.  The Law shows us our sin and points us to Christ.  As Paul, himself a former Pharisee, writes to the Galatians, "The Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).  Once we are born again by the Spirit we WANT to obey God's law and it can no longer condemn us.  The Pharisees didn't understand grace ... couldn't understand grace, because their hearts were hard and their minds were closed.  They were utterly and totally spiritually blind!  They claimed to be the "children of Abraham," but Jesus confronted them with the reality that "You belong to your father, the devil" (8:44).  Ouch!!  Wasn't that cruel and uncalled for?  No, it was truth!

The Pharisees not only rejected the teaching of Jesus and not only wanted to kill Jesus ... they were leading people astray and away from Jesus.  Some in the church today are saying that we must respect those who are doing the same.  Jesus says they belong to their father, the devil.  The Pharisees had the nerve to ask Jesus, "Are you greater than our father Abraham?  ...  Who do you think you are?!" (8:53).  Don't you want to just scream at them, "Who do you think YOU are?!"  Jesus responds, "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born I am!" (8:58).  Jesus is GOD!  He existed before Abraham and is greater than Abraham.  He is GOD in the flesh!

To be so blind ... to be so blind ... is so sad.  And without the Spirit, that would be you and me.  Like the man born blind in Chapter 9, we were all born spiritually blind.  Jesus said, "No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3:3).  Jesus healed the blind man and all the Pharisees could think of is that He did it on the sabbath (revealing their misunderstanding of the Law).  They didn't know who Jesus was because they weren't listening!  The man who had been healed was asked who healed him and he told them Jesus.  The Pharisees said, "Give glory to God.  We know this man is a sinner!" (9:24).  He replied, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know.  One thing I do know:  I was blind, but now I see!"

Is that YOUR testimony?  "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind, but now I see!"  If you have heard the testimony of God's Word and you believe in Jesus, then testify to the truth ... tell others who He IS - the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, your Savior and Lord.  Praise Him for what He has done for you and give thanks to God for His amazing gift!

"Heavenly Father, to be your child through faith in Jesus required the sacrifice of Your own Son on the cross.  Without Your Spirit, I would be spiritually blind and dead in my sin.  May my life be a sacrifice of thanksgiving to You, my God, as I testify to the world that Jesus is Lord!  Thank You, Father, for opening my eyes so I can SEE!  I praise You, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"The consequences of spiritual adultery …"

Day #237:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 22nd

Scripture Reading:  Hosea 1 - 7 …

Reading through the prophets requires an understanding of the history of the nation of Israel and God's future plans for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  In the prophets we find God pointing to the future - both the immediate future (judgment) and the more distant future (restoration).  As God exposes the sinful rebellion of those who were called to be His people, and announces His coming judgment, He also offers hope to those who repent, who turn back to Him and who humble themselves before Him, trusting in His grace, His forgiveness and His promises.  And in God's promises to His people through the prophets we who believe today find the assurance and comfort that God will always be faithful to those who trust in Him!

Hosea was called by God to make his life an illustration of God's relationship with Israel.  God told him, "Take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD" (1:2).  Israel had turned away from God to the worship of idols and God was about to bring the Assyrians to pour out His judgment upon them.  Hosea's daughter was named "Lo-Ruhamah" = "not loved" … and his son was named, "Lo-Ammi" = "not my people."  Still, even here God offered hope for the future:  "In the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.'  The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel" (1:10-11).  Some of the other prophets also speak of the reunion of all the tribes of Israel at some future time.

Jezreel was a place where the kings of Israel and Judah were judged by God in the days of Ahab.  The tribes of Israel had been divided into two nations under the reign of Solomon's son, Rehoboam.  Israel and Judah existed side-by-side until Assyria destroyed Israel, and then about 150 years later, Judah was taken into captivity by Babylon.  Through all of this, however, God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  In Chapter 2 God says that HE will bring Israel back to Him:  "In that day you will call me 'my husband' …" (2:16).  "I will betroth you to me FOREVER" (2:19).  "I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD" (2:20).  "I will say to those called 'Not my people,' 'You are my people', and they will say, 'You are my God'" (2:23).

When Hosea's wife returned to her adulterous ways, God told him to go get her and to love her again, for that is what GOD would do with Israel.  Once again, God points to a future restoration of Israel as His people:  "Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their King (Jesus Christ - a descendant of David).  They will come trembling to the LORD and to His blessings in the last days" (3:5).  Israel was judged because of their unfaithfulness to God.  God had called them to "love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5).  But "my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge" (4:6).

God sent the prophets to speak to the people, but in their fallen, sinful, rebellious state, they refused to listen.  "A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God" (4:12).  "Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God.  A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the LORD" (5:4).  What a horrible truth!  Those who were called by God to be His people, to love, worship and obey Him and to be a light to the nations around them, instead worshiped idols and sought the help of the nations around them rather than their God.  The situation is much the same today in the church.

Those who claim to believe in the God who reveals Himself in His Word, the Bible, dabble in all sorts of false teaching that comes from the ideas of men.  They dialogue with those of other religions and compromise the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, declaring that God might act contrary to His revealed will and save those who do not know or confess His Son Jesus Christ as their Savior or acknowledge Him as Lord.  In the words of Isaiah, "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men" (Isaiah 29:13).

There are two things going on here:  God's words spoken specifically to Israel, to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and God's words spoken to those who are "grafted into the root" of Israel (Romans 11:11-24), those who believe in Jesus Christ.  We who believe are part of the fulfillment of God's promises through God's anointed King, Jesus, the Christ.  So Peter would write to "God's elect" (I Peter 1:1), "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God … Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy" (I Peter 2:9-10).  Peter takes the names of Hosea's children and applies God's promise not only to physical Israel, but also to spiritual Israel, to those who have become "children of Abraham" through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:29).

This dual purpose in God's plans will be fulfilled when Jesus returns and God deals again specifically with physical Israel.  Through the Gospel God calls people from among the Jews AND the Gentiles into one body, the Church.  Yet, there WILL come a time when He will gather the remnant of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and reunite the tribes of Israel.  Why?   Because He says so ... for HIS glory!!  In the sight of the nations of the world, God will make His Name glorious through this people - as He has already done in resurrecting them as a nation and protecting them over the past 65 years.  Can there be any doubt that all of this is part of the fulfillment of God's promises made through the prophet Hosea more than 2,000 years ago?!  But there's more to come!!

Finally, God speaks in "code" to point to THE event that would ultimately restore all who believe, in Israel AND the nations:  "Come, let us return to the LORD.  He has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us; He has injured us, but He will bind up our wounds.  After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will restore us, that we may live in His presence" (6:1-2).  These words point to the death and resurrection of Jesus, through whom God will restore His people into a relationship with Him ... "In that day you will call me 'my husband'" (2:16).

The consequences of spiritual adultery for individuals (and nations) are great.  God sees and remembers the sins of those who refuse to repent.  "They do not realize that I remember all their evil deeds" (7:2).  God sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for sin and in the new covenant (made through the blood of Jesus and the pouring out of His Spirit), God says, "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12).  The Bible is all one message from God, first to Israel and then to those who would believe from the nations, whom God chose to be His own, even as He chose Israel.

Avoid the consequences of spiritual adultery.  Humble yourself before God, repent and place your faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ, and you will find mercy and forgiveness ... and you will be one of HIS people!!

"O Lord, my God, Your Word is amazing as it ties all of human history together!  As You have revealed Your plan of salvation, I rejoice in Your faithfulness to Your promises and thank You for Your mercy and forgiveness through the Son of David, Jesus Christ!  Give me strength to be faithful to You, my God, as I declare Your name to the world around me.  In Jesus' name, Amen" 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Zeal without knowledge leads to … "

Day #236:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 21st

Scripture Reading:  Proverbs 19 …

"Zeal" is a word that we do not use a lot today.  In its place we use words like "passion" or "commitment" or "devotion" … words that express a strong desire leading to a strong action.  You know when someone is doing something "half-heartedly."  Coaches often tell athletes that they need to put their HEART into it!  And so it is with LIFE!!  Half-hearted devotion is not devotion at all, and service without passion may get the job done, but the fruit will be less than desired because you are just going through the motions.

Is that you?  Are you going through life without ZEAL?!  As Solomon writes his proverbs, he continually speaks about fools and wisdom.  Fools have no wisdom.  They don't listen to instruction and they speak of things they don't know.  Fools are very often zealous, but they have a different problem:  they have no knowledge to guide their zeal.  "It is not good to have zeal without knowledge" (19:2).  Solomon adds, " … nor to be hasty and miss the way."  Some people appear to have knowledge, but no zeal; while others have zeal with no knowledge.  Wisdom requires a zeal that is derived from knowledge.  Think about that …

As you live your life each day you need wisdom from God that begins, as we have seen, with true knowledge of God.  There are many in our world today who have a religious zeal based on lies and false information about God.  That is true in every false religion, and sadly, it is even true in the church and in what is called, "Christianity."  God is our Creator.  He knows us better than we know ourselves, and it is in His Word that we find the knowledge that leads to zeal for God and His kingdom.  Without God's wisdom our spirits remain dead, "without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12).  So Solomon says, "He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who cherishes understanding prospers" (19:8).  Without wisdom your soul IS dead and will remain dead!

But where can we find wisdom?  How do we know that the Bible is God's Word and not the Koran or some other "holy book"?  Muslims certainly have a zeal for Allah …  How do we sort all of the false information from the true?  Can we ever be sure?  Remember what Solomon says in verse 2:  "It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and MISS the WAY!"  Many of Solomon's proverbs are practical things about life.  "Wealth brings many friends" (19:4).  These aren't REAL friends, but that's what it looks like to those who don't know God.  Solomon's advice about the importance of listening (verse 20), the importance of discipline and instruction (verses 16-18), and the consequences of laziness (verses 15 and 24) offer wisdom for daily living.

Yet the key to understanding all of the proverbs is in knowing Solomon's God … the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  There is really only one way to KNOW that the Bible is true and that the knowledge of God revealed in it gives wisdom:  it all points to Jesus, the Christ, the One who alone is true God and true man.  Islam, Judaism and Christianity are the only three religions in the world that teach that there is ONE God.  Islam teaches that Jesus was a man, a prophet, but that Mohammed was the last of the prophets, sent from Allah.  But how do they know about Jesus? From the Bible!!  And the Gospels (which they claim to believe) reveal that Jesus said He was God in the flesh.  The Bible teaches in the Gospels that Jesus predicted His death, explained WHY He was going to suffer and die (as a "ransom" for many - for those who would believe in Him) and that He would rise again.  The Gospels teach that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  No one can say they "believe" in Jesus and not know that He IS God in the flesh.  No one can say they "believe" in Jesus and not bow before Him in worship as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Islam is a false religion and the zeal of the Muslims is not based on knowledge.  Theirs is like all the other religions of the world that present man with a list of things that WE must do in order to go to "heaven," to paradise, and even then, no one can be sure.  True, biblical Christianity is the fulfillment of biblical Judaism.  The whole Bible goes together.  The New Testament fulfills the Old Testament.  Jesus is the promised "Seed" of the woman (Genesis 3:15), and the "Seed" of Abraham (Genesis 12:3).  He is the "Ruler" from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10) and the "Son of David" (Luke 1:33).  While some who claim to be Christians have had zeal without knowledge in the past, and still do today, those who know God through His Word and who put their faith in Jesus Christ KNOW that we are saved by grace through faith.  Jesus said, "The work of God is this:  to believe in the One He has sent" (John 6:29).  To "believe" means to confess that Jesus is God, to believe that He suffered God's wrath in your place on the cross, and to trust in His blood as the perfect sacrifice for sin.

"The fear of the LORD leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble" (19:23).  Every other religion, all other "knowledge" leads only to more attempts to earn the favor of a "god" that doesn't exist.  There is no rest for those who do not have a Savior!  There is only more work, more man-made rules to follow, more zeal without knowledge that leads ultimately to despair, death and destruction.  ONLY those who KNOW God and who have zeal for God that is based on truth find the WAY that leads to life.  Jesus said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).  Either Jesus IS the way to God, or He is a fraud.  The zeal of the Muslims, like the zeal of those of other religions, and even of those who claim to be Christians but who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior or acknowledge Him as Lord, leads only to foolishness … only to man-centered attempts to run our own lives in the name of "god."

Those with such misguided zeal eventually come to ruin.  God will have His way.  "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails" (19:21).  Jesus said, "My Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40).  Here is knowledge that you can rest in.  Here is knowledge that you can be eager … zealous, to proclaim!  Knowing Jesus Christ gives meaning to life and to death.  Serving Jesus Christ with zeal brings joy and thanksgiving.  Loving Jesus and knowing He loves you brings glory to God, our Creator.

Draw near to the One True God today through faith in Jesus Christ.  Know that His Spirit lives within you, making you a new creation, transforming you into His likeness.  Serve the Lord, our God, with zeal, with passion, with commitment, with all your heart - proclaiming the good news that "Our God reigns!" and that "Jesus is LORD!"  Zeal without knowledge leads to despair, death and destruction, but zeal based on the knowledge of God leads to wisdom, hope, joy, meaning and purpose … for Jesus gives LIFE!!

"My Father in heaven, Your Word gives me the knowledge I need to live with meaning and purpose every day, focused on my Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.  Fill me daily with Your Spirit, that I may serve You with zeal and testify to those around me, in what I say and in what I do, that You alone are God, and that true life, spiritual life, is found only in You.  Help me to listen eagerly to Your instruction and to seek wisdom in Christ, my Savior and my Lord.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Knowing God leads to worship and obedience …"

Day #235:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 20th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 99 - 101 …

Why would anyone choose to ignore God or worship any other God than our Creator, who reveals Himself in His creation, in His Word, the Bible, and in His Son Jesus Christ?  Why would anyone choose to worship a different god … one produced by the imagination of men who try to fashion a god more to their liking? The only possible answer is that people do not KNOW God, therefore, they do not worship God or desire to obey Him.  They have not been confronted by God's holiness and have not tasted His kindness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, grace and faithfulness.  They just don't know GOD!!

Psalm 99 begins by displaying the reality of God's power, a power that shakes the nations and the very earth upon which the nations exist.  The writer of Hebrews quotes the prophet Haggai when he writes down God's announcement of a future judgment:  "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens" (Hebrews 12:26).  He goes on to explain, "The words, 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken - that is, created things - so that what cannot be shaken may remain" (12:27).  So he counsels his readers:  "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire'" (Hebrews 12:28-29; Deuteronomy 4:24).

The Psalmist repeats several times that God is "holy" and that "He loves justice" (99:4).  He mentions Moses, Aaron and Samuel as being among those who "called on His name" and God answered them.  Faith in God means believing that He is sovereign over ALL things, that He is at work in YOUR life and in the world, and that trusting in Him brings peace to your soul.  As he looked back through history at the relationship of God to those who called out to him, the Psalmist was moved to worship:  "Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy" (99:9).

Have YOU been moved to worship by the knowledge of God?  It would be easy to become cynical in this world today … many have.  Where is God when you need Him?  Why doesn't God do something about the injustice in the world?  How can I believe in a God who allows evil things to happen?  So many questions, but they are all answered at the cross, where God sent His own Son to pay the penalty for your sin and mine.  God IS holy and He cannot look on sin, yet through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross we can be saved from God's just judgment as His Spirit works within us, giving us new life in Christ.  That new life within us leads to worship and obedience.

The knowledge of God always leads to godliness.  Peter writes in II Peter 1:3:  "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness."  Who gets the credit for our salvation?  GOD!!  So the Psalmist declares in Psalm 100:  "Shout for joy to the LORD all the earth.  Worship the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs!" (100:1-2).  Only those who KNOW God (verse 3) can and will worship Him.  We know that we are HIS people by grace alone.  Therefore, we "enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise" (100:4).

How often during the day does your mind ascend to heaven?  So many people try to find ways to "escape" from the harsh realities of life.  They choose self-destructive means to try to achieve what they long for, but nothing works.  Their misery becomes multiplied as they drift further and further away from God.  Those who know Him, however, are drawn to God, for we know Him as good, loving and faithful (100:5).  If worship is difficult for you it is because you do not know God.  You may know some things about Him, and you may even think you know Him, but if you are not motivated to worship Him, you have missed His grace to you and His offer of forgiveness and life.  You need to kneel at the foot of the cross, confess your sin and your need, and find that God IS everything He says He is.  He will hear your cry and lift you up.

And then, as you worship, God will continue His work in you and move you to obey Him.  "I will sing of Your love and justice; to You, O LORD, I will sing praise.  I will be careful to lead a blameless life … I will walk in my house with a blameless heart" (101:1-2,4).  David writes this Psalm and expresses his desire to put evil aside, not allowing those who practice evil and deceit to enter his house.  It was his desire, as it must be ours, to honor the LORD, our God, by living in this world as light in the darkness.

Paul writes to the Philippians, "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life" (Philippians 2:14-16).  That is our calling as followers of Jesus Christ who are still living in this world.  We belong to Jesus, body and soul, in life and in death.  Knowing God … really knowing Him through faith in Jesus Christ, leads to worship and obedience.  "Let your light (HIS light) shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

"O Lord, my God, in You I find true joy as I worship at Your footstool!  Through Your Son Jesus Christ You have made me one of Your sheep and I find safe pasture at His feet.  I worship You because You are worthy of my praise, and I desire to obey You because I love You!  Knowing You is the most precious gift I possess and I thank You for revealing Yourself to me by Your Word and Spirit.  Continue Your work in me, that my life may bring glory to You, my God, my Savior … and amazingly, my Friend.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, August 18, 2014

"Mighty men serving a mighty God!"

Day #234:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 19th

Scripture Reading:  I Chronicles 10 - 14 ...

Somewhere around 3,000 years ago the Philistines fought against Israel (10:1).  Today, 3,000 years later, the battle rages on (the area of the Philistines was the area of Gaza and the Palestinians are descended from the Philistines).  It may appear that a lot has changed since the days of David, but mankind remains spiritually dead without faith in Jesus Christ and the work of His Spirit, therefore, the spiritual battle between God and His angels, and Satan and his demons, continues in the spiritual realm AND in the physical realm.  While some of the battles may appear to be fruitless, God is at work, and all of this is heading toward a climactic conclusion.  The final outcome has already been determined.

Meanwhile, there are lessons to be learned if we are going to engage in the battle and choose the winning side!  As you and I go about our daily lives it is so easy to forget that spiritual power comes from God and is given to those who seek Him and who desire to be faithful to Him.  After Saul and his sons had been killed in battle, David was anointed king in Hebron.  Scripture is quick to say that "Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD" (10:13).  David had sought the LORD, his God, since his childhood, and now that he was king, he knew where his might and power and wisdom to rule would come from.

Having captured the fortress at Jerusalem, David decided to reign over Israel from there and it became known as the "City of David" (11:7).  Men flocked to serve David because it was he who had won victory after victory even during the reign of King Saul.  We read that "David became more and more powerful, because the LORD Almighty was with him" (11:9).  There was no doubt throughout all of Israel that David knew God and worshiped God from his heart.  His many Psalms are evidence of that.

David was also surrounded by what the Bible calls "mighty men."  This was not a "one man show!"  These mighty men were mighty men of God.  God gave them power to overcome incredible odds and through their service to David the kingdom of Israel was expanded over the whole land of Canaan, as God had promised (11:10).  While Saul had contacted mediums and sorcerers to determine whether to go out into battle, David consulted the LORD, his God.  He was not about to make the same mistake Saul had made.  One by one, the tribes of Israel sent fighting men to join David's army, so David and Israel ... and their GOD, became known throughout the whole world.

As chaotic as our world is today, it is exciting and challenging to live during this time when these same people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, possess the very land God gave to Abraham.  God made Israel a great nation in order to display His glory, His wisdom and His power to all the world.  And in these last days God is about to do the same thing.  At the present time most of the Jewish people do not acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah, but there will come a time when they will.  In fact, the whole world will see the glory of Israel's God, even more clearly than during the days of David.  Jesus will reign ... in JERUSALEM, and all the nations will bring tribute to Him (Zechariah 14:9-21).

Out of his devotion to the LORD, David desired to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  Having arrived in the promised land, the people had not worshiped as they were instructed and the tabernacle was not the center of their lives ... meaning that GOD was not at the center of their lives.  David said to his leaders and the people, "If it seems good to you and if it is the will of the LORD our God, let us send word far and wide to the rest of our brothers throughout the territories of Israel ... Let us bring the ark of our God back to us, for we did not inquire of it (him) during the reign of Saul" (13:2-3).  So they moved the ark from the house where it had been kept, placing it on a new cart, with two men, Uzzah and Ahio, guiding it.  When the oxen pulling the cart stumbled, Uzzah reached out to steady it and God struck him down on the spot ... he died.

Why would God do such a thing?!  There is more here than meets the eye.  God had instructed Moses to place rings on the sides of the Ark of the Covenant and to make poles that would go through the rings.  The Ark was then to be carried by the priests by the poles.  No one was to touch the Ark.  I heard a preacher once say that Uzzah's mistake was that he thought his hand touching the Ark would be better than if it fell off the cart and landed in the dirt.  The truth is, because of sin we are "dirtier" than the ground from which our bodies came.  Touching the Ark defiled it and God is HOLY!  He cannot be "touched" by sinful man.  The Ark represented the presence of God and was to be treated with honor.  It was not some "magic box," but rather, a symbol that God had given to Israel that He was their God and they were His people, and that He was with them wherever they went.

We would do well to remember today that God is everywhere-present.  He is with those who come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ in a special way.  In fact, God says in His Word that we who believe are the very "temple of the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 6:19).  God empowered the mighty men who surrounded David and who led his army against their enemies, and God just as certainly empowers you and me today as we engage in spiritual battles for the Lord, OUR God!  Every time David was about to go into battle, he inquired of the LORD ... he prayed and asked God to direct him, to lead him.  Do YOU do that?

Our battles for the glory of God are different today, but they are no less important in the final outcome of millions in this world.  "David's fame spread throughout every land, and the LORD made all the nations fear him" (14:17).  We use the "sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17), which is the Word of God, to do battle against the enemies of Christ and His Church.  Paul would write to his young friend, Timothy, "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline" (II Timothy 1:7).

Join with other believers in rallying around our King, Jesus!  He leads us into battle for the glory of His Name and together we are strong and mighty in the Lord.  We dare not shrink back from the mission to make disciples of Jesus, for we are ambassadors of God's kingdom and soldiers in Christ's army.  The enemies are strong, but we are stronger, for the Lord, our God, is with us.  Be an active part in the body of Christ.  Engage in the ministry with others ... don't stand on the sidelines.  Too much is at stake and it is God's desire to receive honor and praise on our account.  For the glory of God seek His guidance in your life, asking Him to show you how you can serve others and proclaim the truth of the Gospel.  He uses willing servants and molds us into mighty men and women of God.

Draw near to God today, knowing that whatever battles you are fighting, with God's help and the strength and power that only HE can give, you will have victory in the name and power of Jesus, our risen Savior and Lord!!

"Almighty and Everlasting God, by the power of Your name we conquer our enemies and overcome all of the obstacles that stand in the way of giving You glory.  It is not for my sake, but for Your glory and for the sake of YOUR name that I stand firm, declaring Your truth and being an instrument in Your hand to lead others to Christ.  Keep my mind and heart focused on You as I live each day as a soldier of Christ and empower me to be a bold witness to declare that JESUS IS KING!  In Jesus' name, Amen"