Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Knowing the depth of God's love in Christ …"

Day #277:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 1st

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 117 - 118 …

"His love endures forever!"  Do you know the depth of God's love for you in Christ Jesus?  The apostle Paul prayed for the believers in Ephesus, "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints (holy ones), to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:17-19).  Far too many people who claim to know Jesus have an extremely "shallow" understanding of God's love.  Such an understanding, however, leads millions to place their hope in a "god" that does not exist … a god who gives His love indiscriminately to everyone, without regard for their belief or lack thereof.  Such is the love the Pope recently offered even to those who believe in no "god."

The Psalm-writer knew a different God.  He knew a God who saves those who know Him, who believe in Him, who have something that they have received as a gift from God Himself:  righteousness!!  Amazingly, "righteousness" is a word you don't hear much about in Christian circles (and never in any other religion), and yet it is the very heart of the Gospel!!  Case in point ... Romans 1:16-17:  "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written:  'The righteous will live by faith'" (Habakkuk 2:4).

The writer of the Psalms could not have understood the full meaning of the words that the Holy Spirit inspired him to write, but he DID understand his sin and his need for righteousness before a holy God who must punish sin.  "Sin" means, literally:  "Missing the mark."  The "mark" is perfection, and God requires perfection for any and all who would enter His presence.  "Righteousness" is another word for that perfection that God requires to stand before Him, and it is that "righteousness" that is GIVEN to the believer through faith in Jesus Christ.  That IS the good news of the gospel of Jesus!

So the Psalmist gives praise to God for His love and faithfulness, a love and faithfulness that "endures forever!"  He calls those who know this one true God to say, "His love endures forever" (118:2,3,4).  Why?  Because "in my anguish I cried to the LORD, and He answered me by setting me FREE!" (118:5).  Why would the Psalmist use these words to describe what God had done for him?  Because he knew that he was NOT free … that his sin stood between him and God and made him a slave.  Once again, Paul contrasts those who are free in Christ and those who are not as he writes to believers in Romans in 6:22-23:  "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Freedom from the guilt and power of sin to enslave you and to separate you from God is found only in Jesus Christ!  Our enemies are Satan, our own sinful nature and the evil in the world.  But with the Psalmist we can say, " … in the name of the LORD I cut them off!!" (118:10,11,12).  And, "The LORD is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.  Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous; 'The LORD's right hand has done mighty things!'" (118:14-15).  God has done in Jesus what we could not do.  Therefore, "I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done" (118:17).  That is the cry of every true believer!!  Jesus paid my debt, as we read in II Corinthians 5:21: "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."  Jesus suffered God's wrath in my place and when I trust in Him HIS righteousness is "credited" to ME!!  God sees me as holy, as perfect … IN Christ!!  I AM FREE!!!

My response??  "Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.  I will give you thanks, for you answered me; YOU have become my salvation" (118:19-21).  Whom could the writer be writing about?  How has God BECOME our salvation?  What (who) is this "gate"?  Hear Jesus' words in John 10:7 and 9:  "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. … I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved."  Oh, how beautiful is the Word of God as you put the pieces together and rejoice in the One who alone can give you the righteousness you need!!

As if to leave no doubt as to who this ONE is, we read, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes" (118:22-23).  Translation:  " … you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through JESUS CHRIST.  For in Scripture it says: 'See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in HIM will never be put to shame.' Now to you who believe, this stone is precious.  But to those who do not believe, 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone'" (I Peter 2:5-7).  The Psalmist was writing about JESUS!!

Another reference to Jesus is found in 118:26:  "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD."  The crowds cried out those words as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey shortly before His crucifixion.  And then verse 27:  "The LORD is God, and He has made His light shine upon us."  The fulfillment is explained in II Corinthians 4:6:  "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."  The Psalms, like the rest of Scripture, point to Jesus as the Savior, the One through whom and in whom we receive God's gift of righteousness.

"By one sacrifice He has made perfect (righteous) forever those who are being made holy" (Hebrews 10:14).  Are you FREE in Christ?  Free to live in righteousness and holiness, following the path of righteousness for His Name's sake?  THIS is the love of God!!  You cannot know the depth of God's love in Christ until you acknowledge your sin and your need to be set free.  You must FIRST be convicted of your sin and then come humbly to Christ, seeking forgiveness.  This itself is the work of the Holy Spirit.  A dead, hard heart will never admit its sin, and even if it did, would never discover the path of righteousness without God's Spirit, without new birth, without being born again.  The words on this page, as quoted from Scripture, carry the power to bring about such a transformation!!

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of GOD for the salvation of all who believe in Jesus.  It is not enough to believe in "God" … and to try to devise some way to be good enough to come to Him, or to think that He loves you anyway, so it doesn't matter.  The depth of God's love requires confession, repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and men, the only One who gave HIS life so that we may live.  I wear a ring every day to remind me of this truth:  "He died for me - I live for Him!"  I pray that you, too, know the depth of God's love in Christ … the love that endures forever!!

"Almighty God, in Your great mercy You have made a way for sinners to be righteous in Your sight through faith in Your Son.  I praise You and thank You for Your grace to me in Christ Jesus.  I rejoice in YOU, my God, and pray that You would daily help me to believe and to understand the depth of Your love for me in Christ, that I may respond with joy and thanksgiving as I live in Your presence now and forever.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, September 29, 2014

"The benefits of a godly leader …"

Day #276:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 30th

Scripture Reading:  II Chronicles 11 - 15 …

If God is God … if He truly is the sovereign God who rules over the nations ... then to have a leader who seeks the LORD, the Almighty and only true God, and to be a people who will follow Him - and the leader whom He has appointed - would most certainly bring God's blessing to a nation.  Yet there is no nation on the earth today of which that is true.  There may be a godly leader somewhere, one who knows the true God and who truly lives to worship and serve Him through faith in His Son Jesus Christ ... and there may be a nation where there are many disciples of Jesus who would follow such a leader and who would hold up the banner of Christ,  but there is no such leader and nation on the face of the earth today.

Rehoboam, and his son - and later his grandson, tried.  David and Solomon had at times followed the LORD, their God, but the stubborn rebellion of the people continued to bring God's discipline and judgment upon the nation.  Rehoboam sought God when he needed Him, but "after Rehoboam's position as king was established and he had become strong, he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the LORD" (12:1).  The result?  "This is what the LORD says, 'You have abandoned Me; therefore, I now abandon you ..." (12:5).  Once again the leaders of Israel (Judah) humbled themselves and God came to their rescue.  "Because Rehoboam humbled himself, the LORD's anger turned from him, and he was not totally destroyed.  Indeed, there was some good in Judah" (12:12).

"There was some good in Judah ..."  I am reminded of Abraham's conversation in Genesis 18, when the LORD was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham asked if God would spare the city if there were fifty righteous people ... God said He would.  Then Abraham wondered if there were that many, so he asked God if He would spare it if there were forty-five ... then forty, then thirty, then twenty, then ten ... Each time God answered that He would spare the city for the sake of the righteous - even if there were only ten!  But God knew there weren't!!!  And so God knows the hearts of those in every nation today.  Only His patience holds back His wrath and the final judgment of the nations and all the peoples of the earth.

The compassion and mercy of God are seen in the fact that God spared Judah - for now, when they had a godly leader.  Abijah stood against Jereboam, king of the northern kingdom, and said, "As for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not forsaken Him.  ...   God is with us; HE is our leader (13:10,12).  "The men of Judah were victorious because they relied on the LORD, the God of their fathers" (13:18).  Those are beautiful words, and they are a call to repentance for those who do NOT rely on the One true God.  How foolish are the rulers and the nations of the world today who do not take into account the sovereign power of a holy God, before whom they are as nothing.  God has removed leaders and put others in their place throughout the history of mankind and He will do it again.  This is not like the rebellious, ungodly and unlawful terrorists of our day, who exert their own power and strength for their own ends.  God Himself orders the events of our world!

King Asa, the son of Abijah, brought a brief reprieve to Judah.  "Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God" (14:2).  "He commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to obey His laws and commands" (14:4).  He said, "The land is still ours, because we have sought the LORD our God" (14:7).  He was right.  Imagine a ruler today praying, "LORD, there is no one like YOU to help the powerless against the mighty.  Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on You, and in Your Name we have come against this vast army.  O LORD, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!"  (14:11).  Our "fate" is in the hands of the same God to whom Asa prayed all those centuries ago.

Asa initiated a reform that brought a brief revival to Judah.  He said to the people, "The LORD is with you when you are with Him.  If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you" (15:2).  This unchangeable principle was spoken as well by the prophet Isaiah:  "Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon"  (Isaiah 55:6-7).  We know today that God's forgiveness is tied to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.  God has revealed the one and only way to come near to Him, and that is through faith in Jesus, acknowledging Him, confessing Him as Savior and Lord.   Through Him there is forgiveness and life for all who call upon His Name!

The people "entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul" (15:12).  "All Judah rejoiced about the oath because they had sworn it wholeheartedly.  They sought God eagerly and He was found by them.  So the LORD gave them rest on every side" (15:15).  What was said of Asa could be said of few leaders or people, before or since:  "Asa's heart was fully committed to the LORD all his life"  (15:17).  That's where it begins ... God's blessing upon a nation and its people - in the hearts of the leaders and the people.  Whether in a nation or in the church, a godly leader brings benefits to all by seeking the LORD, our God, and encouraging others to do the same.

Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa ... the reforms Asa brought would be short-lived.  All these were fallible human beings who ultimately could not sustain their devotion to the LORD, their God.  Each at some point allowed the circumstances of their lives to dictate their actions, rather than their faith in the God who never fails those who cry out to Him.  How often do we do the same?  We desperately need godly leaders today, and people who will follow them.  A godly leader seeks the LORD and relies on His wisdom, direction and strength.  A godly leader knows that apart from the blessing of God there is no hope for "success," for God's definition of success is that which glorifies Him by proclaiming and expanding His reign.  Everything else, no matter how "godly" or "good" it looks is only idolatry that brings praise to men rather than to God, who alone is worthy!

You and I need to seek the LORD, the One true God, today in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of His Holy Spirit.  People will follow anyone who promises them "blessings" ... they will "sow a seed into the kingdom" in order to bribe God for something they want ... healing, prosperity and the like.  Television preachers and others crave wealth, power and influence and are willing to manipulate God's Word to achieve their goals.  God watches ... God sees ... God hears!  It is time to seek the LORD, the One true God, our Creator.  It is time to humble ourselves before Him and to cry out for His mercy and His forgiveness.  Perhaps He will yet answer if His people, who are called by His Name, will seek Him in righteous prayer, approaching His throne in the Name of Jesus.  Perhaps He will yet spare us for another moment if we will commit ourselves to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our world ... perhaps ...

"O LORD, my God, I read in Your Word the benefits of a godly leader and the blessings of a people who will follow him.  Mold ME into the person You want ME to be, by the power of Your Holy Spirit.  I rely on You, I depend on You, I seek You with all my heart!  Help me, O LORD, to serve You without fear and to stand firm with all who know and love You, that together we may declare that You alone are God, today and forever!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Entering your inheritance ..."

Day #275:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 29th

Scripture Reading:  Numbers 29 - 32 ...

Forty years of wandering because they did not trust God and enter the land ... and now it was almost over.  The people of Israel were about to enter the promised land, Canaan, the land God had promised their forefathers - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  But first, God gave Moses and the priests instruction concerning their worship of God once they entered the land God had given them.  There were four spring feasts and three fall feasts.  As the four spring feasts were fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the pouring out of His Spirit on Pentecost, so the three fall feasts WILL BE fulfilled when Jesus returns:  the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles.  Each of these points to an event that is part of the return of Jesus to establish His kingdom on the earth.

"On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.  It is a day for you to sound the trumpets" (29:1).  Jesus says in Matthew 24:30-31:  "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.  And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other."  It appears that the Apostle Paul writes of the same event in his first letter to the Thessalonians:  "According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (I Thessalonians 4:15-17).

The Feast of Trumpets that was celebrated by Israel will be finally fulfilled in Christ.  Then there will be the Day of Atonement (29:7).  This day pointed to the crucifixion of Jesus, which fulfilled the Passover and Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Weeks (or First-fruits ... Jesus' resurrection).  That was the beginning of the harvest, but this will be at the end and has special significance for Israel.  There can only be ONE atonement, ONE payment for sin, and Jesus paid the debt for all who believe on the cross.  So what is the meaning of the Day of Atonement in the end times scenario?  The prophet Zechariah clarifies this for us.  Up to this time the Jews, as a people, have not accepted Jesus as the Messiah.  So it will be until the end.  Most in Israel today are not Christians.  Some observe aspects of Judaism and many have no religion.  But in the last days, as Jesus returns to establish His kingdom, it will be different!

God says through Zechariah, "I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication.  They will look on ME, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son" (Zechariah 12:10).  Can the prophet possibly be referring to anyone BUT Jesus??  Then we read in Chapter 13, verse 1:  "On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity."  At that time God will pour out His Spirit on those from Israel that He has protected from the Antichrist and they will believe in Jesus and be saved because of God's promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and because of His grace and mercy toward His people.

And what of the Feast of Tabernacles (29:12)?  Once again we find a reference to this fall feast in Zechariah, chapter 14.  After the enemies of Israel are defeated, "the LORD will be king over the whole earth.  On that day there will be one LORD, and His Name the only Name" (14:9).  "Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles" (14:16).  This will take place during the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on the earth - the Millennium.  Some question why there would be a temple and whether there would be sacrifices and if so, why?  The answers to all these questions are not given to us, except that these feasts have significance in pointing to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all of God's promises as they point to the wisdom, power and glory of our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

When you say you believe in God, what do you mean by that?  For many it is simply saying, "Yes" to an idea of some God whom they do not know.  But those who believe the Bible to be the very Word of God understand that ALL that God has revealed to us points to Jesus and gives glory to the God who created all things and who has ordered all things and revealed them in His Word so that those who believe will KNOW when these things take place that they are not mere coincidences, but the fulfillment of God's plan.  Jesus is alive and ruling at the right hand of the Father in heaven at this very moment!  There is no other true God but the One who has revealed Himself as the God of creation and the God of Israel, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  HE is LORD!!!

The rest of our reading points out two things:  those who do not worship the true God will face His judgment and will carry nothing with them into eternal suffering and death in hell.  Those who are God's people will inherit a new heavens and a new earth.  All of our enemies will be destroyed.  As the Israelites took the plunder of their enemies and dedicated it to the LORD, their God, so when Jesus comes there will be a final division between those who have believed in Him and those who have worshiped idols.  Oh, how we need to remember that ALL people deserve the just judgment of God.  If this is not true, then the suffering and death of Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, was unnecessary.  We all deserve the fate of those killed by the armies of Israel.  Yet, through faith in Jesus, we are SAVED!! Jesus took God's wrath upon Himself and through the work of the Holy Spirit we have been given the gift of repentance and faith, we have been born again and moved to believe in Jesus.  Amazing, wonderful grace!!

We will enter the new Jerusalem in the new heaven and the new earth, where the glory of God is the light!  "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 22:27).  As the people of Israel were about to enter the promised land, they had to fight against their enemies.  So, by the power of God at work within us, we fight against our spiritual enemies ... the doubts, the fear, the temptations. We are called to "put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand!" (Ephesians 6:11-13).

Have you believed in Jesus?  The day of evil lies ahead for the final generation prior to Jesus' return.  Jesus asks, "When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8).  May God help us to persevere, to endure, to stand firm in our faith, trusting in Jesus Christ and believing that we will enter into our inheritance ... the promised land ... the place Jesus is preparing for those who know and love Him.  I pray that describes you!

"Father in heaven, as I read of Israel entering the promised land so long ago it seems so far away, yet it is like yesterday to You, and the future is like tomorrow.  All these things will happen just as You have said they will and we who believe WILL enter into the promised land that Jesus is preparing for us - the new heavens and the new earth, the home of righteousness.  Until then, Lord, keep me close to You and move me daily to obey Your commands, giving You thanks for Your mercy and grace, in Jesus' name, Amen"  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Go on to maturity ..."

Day #274:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 28th

Scripture Reading:  Hebrews 5 - 7 …

All of life ... all of YOUR life, is lived one moment, one hour, one day at a time.  Some people set goals and work hard to reach them, while others try simply to exist from one day to the next.  Situations and circumstances change, and we try desperately to adapt when caught in the wind and waves of the storms of life.  We are thankful for calm seas and often use them to rest, to focus on self, to disengage our minds ... at the precise time when we should be strengthening ourselves and preparing for what may come next.  So we ride the roller coaster of life.  No one is really unscathed by these experiences, though some appear to be because they have more of the "stuff" of this world to mask their pain and to disguise the truth that they have nothing to hold on to.  If that sounds depressing, it IS!  But there's a better way ... a better way than pretending, than continuing to ride the waves and feeling like you're drowning!

"Go on to maturity!" (6:1).  Spiritual maturity is the only thing that can lead to a state of peace of heart and mind that continues no matter what goes on in your life or in the world around you.  The result of spiritual maturity is what the writer of Hebrews speaks of in chapter six, verses 18-20:  "God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure, it enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.  He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."  HOPE!!  "Hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure!"  Don't you want that?  Don't you NEED that??  How do you get it?

You "go on to maturity!"  There is a sad state of affairs in the church today:  Baby Christians leading baby Christians.  The depth of teaching in most congregations across our country is at the level of children.  I used to give a "children's message" every week in a previous congregation I served.  But over a stretch of a few months several adults shared with me sincerely that they sometimes got more out of the children's message than the sermon.  When I mentioned that to the elders, a few of them nodded in agreement.  Some might say that I should have then examined my messages to make sure everyone could understand them ... I did!!  And what I became convinced of was that these people had been "spoon-fed" for far too long.  They needed to grow up!!  They needed to mature.  But the truth was:  they didn't want to!

The writer of Hebrews writes to the church in the first few decades following the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, but already he is writing to them of things that most people have no understanding of today, and he says to these early believers (who did not yet have the New Testament in their hands), " ... though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again.  You need milk, not solid food!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (5:12-14).  He then urges them to "go on to maturity" (6:1), and issues what is perhaps the most frightening warning in all of Scripture:

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, IF THEY FALL AWAY, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace" (6:4-7).  How is this possible?  Can true believers "fall away"?  No!  There are many Scriptures that teach that those who are born again by the Spirit and who put their hope in Jesus for forgiveness and life can never be lost - because GOD Himself holds them in His hands.  Jesus said that not one of His sheep would be lost of all that God had given Him and Paul testifies that "He who began a good work ... will bring it to completion" (Philippians 1:6).  Then who are these the writer of Hebrews is talking about?

They are the same ones Jesus was speaking about in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:12-23).  These are people who have been hanging around the church, who have heard the Gospel, who have confessed Jesus with their mouths, but who have never been born again.  The goodness of God and the power of His Spirit were declared to them, but they had no internal desire to pursue righteousness.  They "repented," they looked like they wanted a better life, but their HEARTS just weren't in it for the long haul.  They had no anchor, so they were blown about by every wind of teaching and ultimately drifted away with the current of the culture and the people around them.  And because they had confessed Jesus and taken His Name upon them, their actions brought disgrace to Him.  Their judgment will be just and more severe than those who never heard of Christ.

These words COULD shake the sturdiest of believers, but we read further, "Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case - things that accompany salvation. ... We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised" (6:9, 12).  Maturing in your faith in Christ requires effort; it requires knowing that God has given you in His Word instruction that you need.  You need to know God, you need to know who He is and how He works, you need to know what He has done in the past and how He is working today and what He has promised to do in the future - and to see YOUR part in it ... OR you will find that words come cheap - your words.  This does not mean that we are not saved by grace; on the contrary, it proves we are saved by grace because it is not by some prayer prayed a long time ago that you are saved.  The faith that saves is the faith that knows this life is a marathon and it holds onto the promise of God through constant learning and growing.

Case in point:  the teaching about Melchizedek.  Melchizedek is first mentioned in three verses in Genesis 14, verses 18-20, where Abraham returns from defeating several kings and meets this King of Jerusalem, Melchizedek.  No one knows who he was or where he came from, but Abraham, the chosen father of God's chosen people, bowed before him and gave him ten per cent of everything he had.  It is said that he was a priest of the Most High God.  The writer of Hebrews describes him as "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever" (7:3).  Some believe that Melchizedek WAS the pre-incarnate (before flesh) Son of God.    Unlike Aaron and the Levites, THIS priest was also a king and he was not chosen by men, but appointed by God.

What does this have to do with the early believers ... or you and me?  The very purpose of the entire Old Testament was to show mankind that we needed a Savior, one who was at the same time a prophet, a priest and a king.  No man has ever fit that description - except ONE!  This is now the point of the writer of Hebrews:  to point to Jesus Christ as the perfect match!!  "If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood ..., why was there still need for another priest to come - one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?" (7:11).  We will read more about this in the coming chapters.  The Law of the Old Testament and the priests and the tabernacle and the temple, the sacrifices and ceremonies ... NONE of them could bring spiritual life to those who were spiritually dead.  Something more was needed!  SomeONE more was needed!!

JESUS was needed!!!  In verses now applied to Jesus, David wrote in Psalm 110:  "The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind:  'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek'" (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7:17,21).  David goes on to say in Psalm 110:5-6: "The Lord is at your right hand; He will crush kings on the day of His wrath.  He will judge the nations ..."  This could be none other than Jesus.  "Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood.  Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them" (7:24-25).  THERE is our ANCHOR!!!  Read on ...

"Such a high priest meets our need - one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.  Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people.  He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself !" (7:26-27).  Incredibly, the things the writer of Hebrews tells us we need to move past in our understanding includes "repentance ... instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment" (6:1-2).  These he considers "milk!"  So what does he consider solid food??  "Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (5:13-14).

Solid food is an understanding of God's Word that convicts the heart and changes the mind toward sin and moves the true believer to "seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33).  Where there is no desire to pursue righteousness there is a spiritual infant at best ... and a lost soul at worst.  Those who believe in Jesus Christ, who have been born again by His Spirit, understand that we are saved by GRACE - 100%!  There is nothing we can do to make ourselves righteous in God's sight.  Yet, we believe that the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ has been "credited to us as righteousness" so that we are holy and perfect in God's sight, not on the basis of what we have done, but on the basis of what Jesus has done in our place.

Those who are mature and who are seeking to be mature know that we need a constant diet of spiritual food from God's Word.  We need to be constantly reminded of who God is, who Jesus is, who we are and how the Spirit is at work within us.  We need God's Word and we need the Church, the body of Christ, our brothers and sisters, to walk alongside of us and to hold us accountable.  The alternative is riding the waves and crashing at the bottom of the ocean.  Ask God today to give you the desire to "go on to maturity."  It is a place of hope and security, where your soul is firmly anchored in the promise of God to bring to completion that which He has begun in you.  None of us have arrived yet, but in the words of the Apostle Paul, we "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me (us) heavenward in Christ Jesus.  All of us who are mature should take such a view of things" (Philippians 3:14-15).

"Press on!"  my brothers and sisters ... "Press on!"  "Go on to maturity!"  Let nothing shake you, for God is at work in you even as you read these words.  Draw near to Him and rejoice that in Jesus you have a great High Priest who entered into the Most Holy Place on your behalf and who even now intercedes for you before the Father.  Trust in Him and know that His Spirit lives within you to accomplish His purpose for all eternity.  And trusting in Him daily, moment by moment, "go on to maturity!"

"O Lord, my God, I confess that in moments of weakness I may still take my eyes off of Jesus and begin to sink, looking at the waves and listening to the wind.  Thank You, Father, for Your constant watchful care of this sheep of Yours and thank You for my great High Priest, Your Son, Jesus Christ!  My hope is secure in Your promise that through faith in Him I have His perfect righteousness credited to me.  Help me now to pursue righteousness, that my life may declare Your glory and Your grace and exalt the name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and my Lord.  Help me to go on to maturity, for Your glory!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, September 26, 2014

"It's all about God's kingdom!"

Day #273:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 27th

Scripture Reading:  Acts 1 - 2 …

From Genesis through Revelation the Bible talks about one thing a thousand different ways:  the "kingdom of God!"  You will never understand God's Word or the Gospel of Jesus Christ or your place in God's plan until you grasp this truth.  As God had revealed His power and authority to and through the people of Israel, so now God expands His activity, in fulfillment of His promises to Abraham back in Genesis, through the pouring out of His Spirit and the proclamation of the Gospel to people from all nations.

Luke is the author of Acts and he picks up here where he leaves off at the end of his Gospel account of the life of Jesus.  He explains that he wrote about "all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day He was taken up to heaven" (1:1-2).  He explains that Jesus "showed Himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive.  He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God" (1:3-4).  From Luke's perspective … from the Spirit's perspective, all that Jesus taught the disciples in those forty days could be summarized by saying that He "spoke about the kingdom of God."

And it is also significant that as Jesus was about to ascend into heaven, the disciples asked Him, "Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (1:6).  They, too, were thinking about the kingdom of God, but from a different perspective than Jesus was giving them.  The disciples were still thinking only about Israel, about the Jews, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They had not yet understood that God's promise was to establish His reign over all the earth and to call some from every people, tribe, nation and tongue to be part of His eternal kingdom.  Few today seem to understand this either!

All that God did up to this time, and all that He accomplished through the life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus had led up to this point:  to the expansion of His kingdom in the hearts and lives of those who would hear the Gospel and place their faith in Jesus, the Christ, the promised King of God's kingdom.  The continuity of the Bible and of human history from beginning to end hangs upon this truth, and all that is happening in our world today is leading towards the coronation of King Jesus when He returns to judge the living and the dead.  He WILL reign over all the earth, it is just a matter of time.

Until then, it is God's purpose to establish His reign in the hearts of those whom He chose to be His before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4; I Peter 2:9) through the work of His Spirit.  The importance of Pentecost in God's plan cannot be overestimated.  Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were "baptized with the Holy Spirit" (1:5), explaining, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (1:6).

The day of Pentecost was the "Feast of Weeks" described in Leviticus 23:15-22.  The Jewish feast days were important days in the Hebrew calendar.  Jesus was crucified during the celebration of the Passover and Unleavened Bread and He rose on the celebration of Firstfruits.  The Feast of Weeks was celebrated 50 days later and was a time when the spring harvest, or the first harvest was gathered.  It was not by accident that these events in the life of Jesus fell precisely on these feast days.  God was revealing all the way back in the days of Moses that there would be a "harvest of souls" for God's kingdom in a future time.  During His ministry Jesus had appointed and sent out seventy-two disciples and told them to go out and proclaim, "The kingdom of God is near you" (Luke 10:9).  And He said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field" (10:2).

Now God was doing just that as He poured out His Spirit on the disciples and all those gathered with them in Acts 2.  Contrary to what some believe today, this experience is not common to all believers, and the disciples did not speak in some "angelic" or unknown heavenly language.  Those around them "heard them speaking in his own language" (2:5) and declared, "we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues" (2:11).  The Spirit empowered them to speak a language they did not know so that the Gospel would begin to spread to other regions of the world rapidly.  This, too, was part of God's plan.

Peter explains that this is the beginning of what the prophet Joel had predicted (2:17-21).  Those verses contain the entire history of the church age, from its beginning to its end.  Moved by the Spirit of God, Peter makes it clear that Jesus was alive and was much more than a dead prophet!  "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, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to hold Him" (2:23-24).  God was in control of all of these events, moving them toward the desired outcome:  the establishment of His kingdom in and through the Church, all who would believe in Jesus Christ through the proclamation of the Gospel.

There can be no question what Peter and these early disciples believed:  "God has raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of the fact.  Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear" (2:32-33).  "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this:  God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!" (2:35).  Jesus is the "Anointed King" of Psalm 2, the descendant of David, sent to reign over the throne of His Father, Jacob, as the angel had said to His mother, Mary, only a few short decades earlier:  "The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:32-33).

Like pieces of a puzzle everything begins to fall into place when you focus on the kingdom of God.  How then should we respond to this information?  "Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (2:38-39).  These verses have lost their true meaning for many because they have been taken out of the context of what was happening.  It is questionable, in the context, whether Peter was talking about baptism with water or more likely, baptism with the Spirit.  God had told John the Baptist, "The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit" (John 1:33).  And in the immediate context, Jesus had said, "For John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5).

Jesus had said to Nicodemus in John 3:  "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. … no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:3,5).  "Water" here quite probably refers back to Ezekiel 36:25-27, where God says, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; … I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you …"  It is the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, applied through the work of the Holy Spirit, moving the heart to repent and believe that brings forgiveness of sins!  And "the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call" (2:39).  All of this points to one thing:  the coming of God's kingdom in the hearts and minds of people from all nations.

As about 3,000 believed in Jesus and were empowered by His Spirit, the Church began and would spread to the far corners of the earth.  The early believers learned together, worshiped together, lived together and served together.  God's harvest had begun, and it continues to this day.  One day the time will be fulfilled and the appointed day will arrive when Jesus returns to gather all who believe to Himself.  The dead will be raised and we who are alive will be transformed and we will together ascend to heaven with Jesus to celebrate the truth that HE IS KING!!  Then we will return with Him to establish His kingdom on the earth, and after a thousand years, God will create a new heavens and a new earth, where His kingdom will endure FOREVER!!

If you have believed in Jesus Christ, then your life today is all about God's kingdom!  His Spirit lives within you and Jesus reigns as Lord in your heart and your mind.  Your life has purpose and meaning as you live it with Him and for Him, and you can KNOW that you will one day enter into His perfect presence, where "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4).  Jesus is on the throne at this moment and He is coming again to establish His kingdom and to gather His followers into it.  Rejoice in the Lord today and praise Him, for He is worthy.  Declare to those around you that our God reigns and stand firm in your faith because you know that it's all about God's kingdom!

"My Lord and my God, I praise You, King Jesus, and come to my Father in heaven in Your Name!  I trust in Your promise, Father, that I have been washed by the blood of Jesus and given new life by Your Spirit.  My sins are forgiven and I give thanks for Your love and grace.  Use my life as a constant testimony of the life of Jesus as I live to glorify You and to declare to the world that You alone are God and Jesus alone is King!  Let Your kingdom come and Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Things are not always what they seem … "

Day #272:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 26th

Scripture Reading:  Obadiah …

Jerusalem has fallen (vs. 11) and the peoples of Edom and the other nations surrounding what was once the proud nation of Judah (and Israel) boast of their power.  It appears that the God of Israel has failed to deliver His people and that the purposes of God through the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have come to an end in their defeat and their exile to Babylon.  To those whose families had been killed, whose houses had been destroyed and whose property had been taken it must have appeared that evil had won … but things are not always what they seem!

This was reality, wasn't it?  Death and destruction had come to Israel and then to Judah.  God had used the evil Assyrian empire to bring judgment on Israel for their idolatry, and then He had brought Babylon to carry the best and brightest from Judah into captivity.  Still, God told the prophet Jeremiah to tell the remnant in Judah that their captivity would be temporary.  He would bring them back in seventy years and the temple would be rebuilt and in due time … in the fullness of time … in GOD's time, the Savior would come from Judah.  And as God said it would be, so it happened, and Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the descendant of Judah, of David, just as God had promised.

So now Obadiah brings a message to his contemporaries, to those who were so deeply affected by the judgment God Himself had brought upon Judah.  This was NOT the end for those who trusted in the LORD, the great "I AM," who had brought His people out of Egypt and into the promised land.  "This is what the Sovereign LORD says about Edom (one of the enemies of God's people - perhaps representative of all those who sought to destroy Israel) - We have heard a message from the LORD; an envoy was sent to the nations to say, 'Rise, and let us go against her for battle' - 'See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised'" (verses 1-2).

Pride goes before a fall!  I look around at the nations who boast in their own wisdom and power and strength today (including, sadly, our own at times) and I am reminded of what God says here to Edom: "Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down" (verse 4).  "All your allies will force you to the border; your friends will deceive and overpower you …"  (verse 7).  So it will be for all those who oppose the LORD and His chosen people, Israel.  While Obadiah speaks at a particular moment in history, his words apply to every generation of those who have opposed God and His purposes through the descendants of Abraham, the descendants of Judah, the son of Jacob, through whom God said His anointed Ruler would come … and He DID!!

Today the nations stand opposed to Israel and many even in the church become more and more vocal about the plight of those who are avowed enemies of Israel.  "Israel has no more place in God's plans," they say.  "The church has replaced Israel," they proclaim.  But the sovereign LORD says otherwise:  "Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done," declares the LORD (Jeremiah 31:37).  Things are not always what they seem.

"The day of the LORD is near for all nations.  As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.  Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually …" (verses15-16).  The "day of the LORD" is, without any question, the day of God's judgment upon the earth that comes after Jesus raptures His Church.  Every nation, every person who has opposed God, who has rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ and God's offer of forgiveness and life, will face His just and holy wrath once and for all.  "BUT … on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance" (verse 17).

Today the temple mount in Jerusalem is a source of conflict and contention.  The "Dome of the Rock" stands as a monument to the false god of Islam … while plans are underway to rebuild the fallen walls of God's temple.  Now, the Church is the "temple of the Holy Spirit," yet God has not given up His plan to display His eternal glory by sending His Son Jesus Christ again into the world, this time as the "King of kings and the Lord of lords," to destroy the nations and to rule over all the earth in Jerusalem!!  "Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau.  And the kingdom will be the LORD's!" (verse 21).

Those who say otherwise fail to acknowledge the sovereign God whom Obadiah knew and whom every true believer knows today.  He is sovereign over the nations and HE WILL REIGN over all the earth.  The Bible is the testimony of God concerning the establishment of His kingdom on the earth.  "The LORD will be King over the whole earth.  On that day there will be one LORD, and HIS Name the only name" (Zechariah 14:9).  "Oh, glorious day!  Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus!!"

When it seems that evil is winning, whether in the world all around you or in your own personal life, remember … "things are not always what they seem!"  Our God reigns!!  History is filled with periods of time, short and long, when it appeared that evil would win the day.  There have been dark ages, in the church and in the world, and it seems with every passing day that our world grows darker and that life for those who know and love Jesus becomes more difficult.  Opposition to God and the things of God increases day by day, and yet through the proclaiming of the Gospel the lost are still being found and the harvest of souls for God's kingdom continues.  In our weakness, HE is strong!!

Do not grow weary!  Victory is ours!!  "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body … Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal!" (II Corinthians 4:7-10, 16-18).

Things are not always what they seem!  The darkness is greatest just before the LIGHT appears!!  Jesus is coming again … blessed are those who endure, who persevere, who continue to live by faith until that day when our faith shall be turned to sight!!  Oh glorious, wonderful day, when our Beloved One comes to gather His own to Himself.  Then we will see clearly and things WILL be what they seem … forever!!!

"My Father in heaven, YOU are God and there is no other.  As Obadiah and others who believed so long ago knew You as the Sovereign God who ruled over the nations, so I draw near to You today in hope, believing, knowing that You will accomplish all that You have said You will do.  Jesus will stand on Mount Zion in Jerusalem and will rule over the nations of the earth.  Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that HE is Lord, and there is no other!  I praise You and thank You, Father, for Your grace to me and to all who now find our hope in YOU, our God, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Do not surround yourself with fools … but be wise in the Lord!"

Day #271:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 25th

Scripture Reading:  Proverbs 26 - 27 …

The lips of a fool speak from his heart and reveal the folly of his ways.  He speaks of what he knows - lies and foolishness.  What he doesn't know, he makes up:  "Like a coating of glaze over earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart" (26:23).  The glaze temporarily covers the defects and weaknesses that will ultimately bring the fool to ruin.  As Solomon warns again the adulteress, so he warns against the deceptive call of a world that offers only empty promises of a supposed "wisdom" that will lead to "success."  "Here is a formula for life!" But the formula is man-made and leaves the fool searching for something more, something new, something different.

"Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (27:17).  How important it is to surround yourself with people who truly have your best interest at heart; who will be honest with you, who will walk beside you as you serve the Lord and not pull you away to other things.  "As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man" (27:19).  People are either focused on knowing, loving and serving the Lord Jesus Christ, or they are focused on serving themselves in one way or another.  All of the supposed wisdom of those today who desire to "make life better for themselves and other people" isn't working because they are ignoring the very God who created them and who says, "Come to ME!"  In the end they will all likewise perish.

Whom will you listen to?  "Better is open rebuke than hidden love.  Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses" (27:5-6).  God calls His people to love one another enough to be honest, not to tear down, but to sharpen, to build up, to encourage.  Those who are wise listen to the rebuke and counsel of those who are walking with the Lord … not so the fool.  Proverbs 26 pictures the fool and the sluggard and the gossip as masters of deception, but it is themselves who are deceived. They think they are wise, they claim to be wise, but their words and their actions lead only away from true wisdom that is found in knowing and serving the One Who sees their folly for what it really is:  DEATH!  "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him" (26:12).

In the opening verses of Chapter 26, we read several warnings for dealing with fools.  Verse 4 warns against debating with a fool, and verse 5 commands to answer a fool … to put him in his place, lest he convince himself and others that he is right!  Dealing with those who think themselves to be wise, apart from the wisdom God gives through His Word and Spirit, is fruitless.  "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly" (26:11).  Beware of people who return over and over and over again to their old ways after confessing Jesus Christ.  All of us will stumble at times, but if the direction of life does not change, there is no spiritual life!  True humility that is produced by the Spirit of God changes the heart and opens the ears to listen to counsel and rebuke and instruction.

The other two "qualities" that often go together in the life of the fool are laziness and quarreling, along with lies and deception.  It is a deadly combination that repeats itself over and over.  The sluggard is a fool, as is the one who enters into foolish quarrels and who gossips and lies with his lips.  As you read this description make sure these verses are not describing YOU!  The sluggard will use any excuse to get out of work and yet be "wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly" (26:16).  In other words, the fool and the sluggard and the quarrelsome man all have one thing in common:  they have big mouths!!  "Oh, I was only joking!" (26:18).  People with such an attitude find everything funny … everything except their own folly!

Those with the Spirit of God are called to be discerning and that's what so much of Proverbs is about.  Solomon is saying, "Here is how you recognize wisdom and folly, and here is how you distinguish between the two."  It is often surprising how easily some people are misled.  "A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit.  Though his speech is charming, do not believe him … his malice may be concealed by deception … a lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin" (26:24-28).  Honesty comes from a man or woman who can be honest with themselves!  "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips" (27:2).

Bragging, talking loudly just to be heard, rejecting counsel, repeating foolish and harmful behavior, working harder to avoid work than simply doing the work that needs to be done, endless debating that leads to gossip and strife … all of these are the marks of a fool.  Stay away from them!!!  Surround yourself with those who will be honest with you and allow you to be honest with them.  Thus, "iron sharpens iron," and those who are wise will find a bond that the foolish will never understand.  "Though you grind a fool in a mortar, … you will not remove his folly from him" (27:22).  That is a sad indictment of many who reject the loving rebuke of God's Word and of His people.

Paul wrote to Timothy that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17).  The source of wisdom is the Word of God and those with the Spirit of God will LISTEN to what He has to say through His servants and will surround themselves with other like-minded servants of the Lord.  If you look around you, the lives of those closest to you will tell you something about yourself.  Be wise in the Lord and do not surround yourself with fools or you will find yourself to be part of their folly.

"O LORD, it is to You that I come for wisdom and to Your Spirit for discernment.  Apart from Your work within me I would surely be a fool, thinking more of myself than I ought, desiring the praise of my own lips more than the rebuke of a friend.  Thank You for Your grace, for Your Word, for Your discipline in my life, my Savior and my God.  Continue Your work in me and help me to surround myself with those who will 'sharpen' me … then use me to help sharpen them … that our praise may be from You, O LORD, our God, as our lives reflect Your glory, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"The blessings of a relationship with the God of Jacob …"

Day #270:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 24th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 114 - 116 …

Though there is more talk today about having a relationship with God than perhaps ever before, most people still do not seem to grasp what this means or to live accordingly.  Are these just words or is having a relationship with the one, true and only living God really possible … and if so, does it make any difference in the way you live your life?  The answer is, "YES! and it changes your perspective on life - and death - and the way you live every day."  Having a relationship with God is not a fantasy or an invention of man's imagination, but a living reality for those who know Him as the "God of Jacob,"  the God who has entered into covenant with His people and who sent His Son Jesus Christ to seal the covenant with His blood!

Before Jesus ever came there were a chosen few who understood what a relationship with God was all about.  These were given the Spirit "ahead of time," if you will.  Though they could not know or understand what God would do to "atone," to pay for their sin, they trusted God's promise to send a Savior and they responded to God in willing and joyful obedience.  It is this relationship that the writers of the Psalms often express in their songs.  Theirs was not a faith in some imaginary God, but a God who had a history, who had acted in the past on behalf of His people and who was faithful and true to His Word.  He was not and is not the generic "god" of today or one of the myriad of gods worshiped by people through the centuries.  He IS God … the God of Jacob, the God of Israel.

So the Psalmist writes in Psalm 114, "When Israel came out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, Judah became God's sanctuary, Israel His dominion" (114:1-2).  Like it or not, this is how God has chosen to reveal Himself.  As we read in 115:15, He is "the Maker of heaven and earth."  That's always where we need to begin in acknowledging who the one true God is:  Creator!!  As men celebrate sending a spacecraft to the planet Mars, we are but a tiny speck in the amazing universe that God has created for His glory.  Yet, He revealed Himself to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob and made His Covenant of Grace with them, promising to send a Savior, to forgive their sin and to give those who believed in Him eternal life.  No god of human invention can do such things.

For good reason, the Psalmist writes, "Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob …" (114:7).  God cannot be ignored or pushed aside.  It is not God who exists for us, but we for Him.  "Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your Name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness" (115:1).  "OUR God is in heaven!!" (115:3).  When the leaders of the nations speak at the United Nations and boast about what they will do, little do they know that unless God allows them to do something, they are utterly and totally helpless, as they will one day discover.  OUR God reigns!! So he urges, "TRUST IN THE LORD!!"  (115:9).  He is our help and our shield.  He blesses those who fear Him, who come before Him with awe and reverence.  "It is WE who extol the LORD, both now and forevermore" (115:18).

What a privilege it is to KNOW God!  Do you know Him?  Do you have a relationship with Him?  Have you come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ?  People believe they can approach God any way they want … they believe they can state their belief in Him and live any way they desire, but they store up wrath for His day of judgment, when Jesus returns.  Those of us who KNOW God understand that we are sinners who are worthy of His judgment no less than anyone else, but God has given us His Spirit and given us eyes to see, minds to understand and hearts to believe in Jesus, to place our trust in Him.  So we join the Psalmist as he says, "I love the LORD, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy.  Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live!" (116:1-2).

Loving God is so easy when you know Him, understand your sin and HIS holiness, and rest in His grace and mercy.  "The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.  The LORD protects the simple hearted; when I was in great need, He saved me" (116:5-6).  Every true believer will echo the Psalmist's words.  Oh, how great is my need for forgiveness; for a righteousness that will stand before the holy God.  And that righteousness is mine through faith in Jesus!  Only the "simple hearted" will give up on their own futile attempts to offer God something that will please Him, that will take away our guilt.  I have often asked people who do not yet know God and who have not yet received Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, "What do you do with your guilt?"

What have you done with yours?  You know you are guilty … everybody does.  We have all done wrong, even by our standards, let alone God's!  But in God's mercy and grace through the sacrifice of Jesus we, like the Psalmist, find rest for our souls.  "Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you" (116:7).  Our question then becomes, "How can I repay the LORD for all His goodness to me?" (116:12).  All that you and I have and are is already God's!  Yet, He delights in our joyful obedience!  As the Apostle Paul explained the purpose of His preaching the Gospel in his letter to the believers in Rome, he said, "Through Him (Jesus) and for His name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith" (Romans 1:5).  And he addresses his letter, "To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints" (Romans 1:7).  Joyful obedience is the offering we bring to God, not to earn His favor, but because He has already shown His favor to us!

As John writes in his letter to the churches, "We love, because He FIRST loved us!" (I John 4:19).  So, "I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the house of the LORD …" (116:14,18-19).  In life and in death, I belong to the LORD, my God.  "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints" (116:15).  There is no doubt that  the God of Jacob desires to have a relationship with His people and that we who know His love respond to Him by loving Him back and by worshiping Him, praising Him and serving Him every day.  There just is no other reason to live!  Those who are "simple hearted" understand these things because His Spirit gives us wisdom that cannot be measured by an IQ test.  He is God … He loved us … we love Him!

What a blessing to have a relationship with the God of Jacob, the one and only true God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  I will praise Him now and forever and will fulfill my vows in the presence of all His people.  "Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your Name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness!" (115:1).

"Heavenly Father, I come to You with so much joy and hope and love and thankfulness for Your mercy and Your grace to ME!  I have found rest for my soul in You, my God, for I acknowledge that You are the God of Jacob, the Maker of heaven and earth, and that You are gracious AND righteous, and full of compassion.  You have delivered me from death, and given me eternal life in Your Son.  With all my heart, I can say, 'I love You, LORD!'  For I AM BLESSED to have a relationship with YOU, my Savior and my God, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, September 22, 2014

"A glimpse of God's kingdom ..."

Day #269:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 23rd

Scripture Reading:  II Chronicles 6 - 10 … 

The purpose of ALL that God is doing and has done and will do is for the establishment of His kingdom, of His reign on the earth.  Some people ask, "Where is all of this heading?"  All of "this," meaning national and world events, is heading towards Isaiah 2:2-4:  "In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.  Many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob.  He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.' The law will go out from Zion and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."

Jesus Christ, the LORD's anointed, will reign in Jerusalem over all the nations of the earth.  "The LORD will be King over the whole earth.  On that day there will be one LORD, and His Name the only name. ... Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles" (Zechariah 14:9,16).  This will all take place after Jesus raptures His Church, after God pours out His wrath on the rest of mankind, after Jesus returns with His heavenly army and the Antichrist and the False Prophet are defeated, along with all the nations that are gathered against Jerusalem, and then Jesus establishes His reign in Jerusalem.  For a thousand years the kingdom of God will exist on the earth ... followed by the final judgment and the new heavens and the new earth, where God will live with His people throughout all eternity, forever and ever.

THAT's where all of "this" is heading ... but in the reign of Solomon God gives us a glimpse of His kingdom.  The building of the temple is completed and the Ark of the Covenant has been placed in the Most Holy Place.  And the presence of God descends like a cloud into the temple so that the priests could not perform their service because "the glory of the LORD filled the temple" (5:14).  Solomon knew God's promises ... that he had promised to establish David's descendants on the throne of Judah (6:4) and to place His Name on Jerusalem and Israel.  So now he testifies, "The LORD has kept the promise He made" (6:10).  Joshua, who had led the people of Israel into the promised land, had also testified to God's faithfulness when shortly before his death he gathered the people together and said, "You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed.  Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed" (Joshua 23:14).

You and I can testify to that same thing today, for through Jesus Christ, the descendant of David, God has kept every promise He has made regarding our salvation.  "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ.  And so through Him the 'Amen' is spoken by us to the glory of God.  Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come" (II Corinthians 1:20).  And what is to come?  Jesus taught us to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  So it shall happen!!

As Solomon prayed, he pointed to God's covenant:  "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth - You who keep Your covenant of love with Your servants who continue wholeheartedly in Your way ..." (6:14).  Solomon knew that the people of Israel would be unfaithful and would not always obey God, so he prayed that God would hear and forgive when His people sinned, but then repented and cried out to Him.  Unlike many then and now, Solomon knew that God's relationship with His people was a gracious one, based not on what the people had done, but on God's sovereign choice.  He did not imagine that God could be "contained" in the temple he had built.  But in his words and in his questions, he pointed to the future.

"Will God really dwell on earth with men?  The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain You.  How much less this temple I have built" (6:18).  Yet here, among the nations, was a brief testimony to the wisdom and power of Israel's God, and of His anointed king.  God had established these people to reveal HIS wisdom and power through them.  For a brief time it was seen clearly in the reigns of David and his son, Solomon.  When the queen of Sheba came to see what she had only heard about, she heard Solomon's wisdom and saw his riches and proclaimed, "The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true ... indeed, not even half the greatness of your wisdom was told me; you have far exceeded the report I heard" (9:5-6).  Then she said, "How happy your men must be!  How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!" (9:7).  If that was true of Solomon, how much more so of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God?!!!

When He was but twelve years old, having taken upon Him a human nature like ours, except without sin ... Jesus was found in the temple TEACHING the religious leaders and the teachers of the law.  Imagine living with Jesus every day in the glory of heaven, and then in the new heaven and the new earth.  God's wisdom so far exceeds that of Solomon that there is no comparison, and we shall behold HIM and live with Him, forever, to praise and glorify HIM!!!  His kingdom will be established and unlike that of David and Solomon, of Israel and Judah, it shall NEVER END!!!  As you read the historical account of Solomon's kingdom, remember that it is only a glimpse of God's eternal kingdom.  "King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.  All the kings of the earth sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart" (9:22-23).  How much more when Jesus reigns over ALL the earth!

But Solomon's kingdom would soon be torn apart, as God had predicted.  Though God had answered Solomon's prayer and had given him wisdom and made him great, yet Solomon married many foreign women and they turned his heart away from his devotion to the LORD and he built altars for their foreign gods.  It is impossible for us to understand how Solomon, of all people, could do such a thing.  But the sinful heart is always vulnerable to temptation and only by God's grace do you and I stand firm.  Were it not for God's Spirit in us, following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, we would do the same ... and even now there are times when we turn aside to the things of the world, having a divided heart.  How desperately we need the love and forgiveness of our Father in heaven.  As the temple of His Spirit, how thankful we must be that He hears our prayers and forgives our sins, for the sake of Jesus and through His sacrifice on the cross.

Rehoboam, Solomon's son, would display the foolish judgment of youth and the nation of Israel would soon be divided ... until ... until God's promise to bring them back together again under another King ... a King who would never turn away from devotion to His Father ... One who would be the King of kings and the Lord of lords ... JESUS, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ.  Here is a glimpse of God's kingdom, but there is SO much more!!  We who acknowledge Jesus as our King today will soon enter into His glorious kingdom.  Submission to Him is the wisest thing anyone can do, for there is no other King who will reign over God's people and over all the peoples of the earth.  How much better to worship Him, to praise Him, to honor Him today, willingly, eagerly, as His Spirit works in you, than to be forced to bow your knees before Him later and then be separated from Him and His kingdom.

Through His Word and Spirit God is calling people into His kingdom today, but the time is short.  As you see this glimpse of His kingdom may you rejoice that HE "has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.  For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:12-13).  Praise the LORD our God, for our God reigns!!

"O LORD, my God, You are high and lifted up!  You are King above all kings and I praise Your great and glorious Name!  I rejoice in Your kingdom and give You thanks for sending Jesus to establish Your kingdom through His death, resurrection and ascension ... freeing those whom You have chosen from the guilt and power of sin and bringing us into the kingdom of Your Son.  Give me grace to stand firm in my faith and to worship my King, my Savior, my Redeemer, my Lord, and to declare to all that HE reigns at Your right hand even now.  Thank You, Father, for this glimpse of Your kingdom, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"Getting closer to the promised land ..."

Day #268:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 22nd

Scripture Reading:  Numbers 25 - 28 ...

Human nature continually displays why the judgment of God is just.  Some people say they get tired of hearing about sin, but that's like saying you're tired of hearing about cancer.  Just as cancer eats away at the body, so sin eats away at the soul.  If you discover you have cancer, it does no good to pretend you don't, and denying that sin exists is equally foolish.  How much better to seek the cure!!  That's what God offers in His Word ... the only cure for the disease that infects every human being alive today, as it has since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.  And while the effects of sin are many and varied in our lives, the most harmful is our separation from God and the resulting eternal death.

At first reading the judgment of God upon the surrounding nations, and upon the Israelites, appears unfathomable.  But in the context of God's holiness, we need to grasp the fact that sin leads to death, physical and spiritual death.  When the men of Israel committed sexual immorality and adultery with the women of Moab and then worshiped their gods, they were guilty of gross idolatry.  They were already committing idolatry when they committed sexual immorality, and they multiplied their guilt when they worshiped the Baal of Peor ... the false gods of the Moabites.  God's judgment was swift and deserved! 24,000 people died in the plague before the zeal of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stopped the plague.

God says of Phinehas, "He was as zealous as I am for my honor among them" (25:11).  Think about that statement.  How zealous is God for His own honor?  And He says that Phinehas was as zealous as He was!  How zealous are WE for God's honor today?  People are often allowed today to question God, to "put God on trial," so to speak, by saying that it is unfair of God to save some and not others or to allow suffering and death in this world.  If God is in control, why doesn't He DO something?  Really?  Remember what God did with Job when after his long debate with his friends he questioned God ...  "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me!" (Job 38:2-3).  And when Paul expresses how some question God's choosing of some, we find God's question being straight-forward and direct once again:  "Who are you O man, to talk back to God?" (Romans 9:20).

Can ANYONE who claims to believe in the holy and righteous and perfect God who reveals Himself in His Word honestly question His judgment of sinners like ... like you and me???   Several times God threatened to destroy the entire nation of Israel, but Moses or someone else stood in the gap and God held back ... The Savior would come from this people, just as God had promised.  So when you see the judgment of God, remember, this is only a foretaste.  Each time, God stopped the plague that He sent.  Each time God spared some.  But God's reprieve is only temporary.  Eventually, all who reject Him, who commit idolatry by putting other "gods" before Him, WILL face death - eternal death.  The suffering and trials of this life for those who know God's mercy, for those today who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ, are temporary.  But for those who leave this life without a Savior, their suffering is just beginning.  Why?  Because God is holy!!

As God commands Moses to take a second census of Israel, it reveals two things:  first, God had kept His promise to make of Abraham's descendants a great nation; and second, God remembered His judgment on those who had refused to enter the promised land forty years earlier.  Why the census?  "Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai.  For the LORD had told those Israelites they would surely die in the desert, and not one of them was left except Caleb ... and Joshua ..." (26:64-65).  God had said to Moses then, "As surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times - not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers.  No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it" (Numbers 14:21-23).

It is a heavy burden today to see so many scorn God, questioning His holiness and His justice, making a mockery of His Name, ignoring His Word, committing immorality and idolatry and yet claiming that they are "Christians."  Surely God's judgment upon them will be as severe or more severe than upon those who openly worship other gods!  And if it were not for God's grace in MY life ... and I pray in yours, we would do likewise and face the same judgment.  Only the grace of God in Jesus Christ that moves sinners like you and me to confess our sins and to place our hope in God's forgiveness through faith in Jesus ... only such grace saves us from the coming wrath of God.  Apart from grace we would all die - eternally, as the just judgment of God upon our sin.  The physical death of 24,000 was but an example of God's coming judgment upon the entire human race.

Yet, those who come to God, who approach Him in the way He has commanded, WILL enter the promised land.  For Israel, it was Canaan; for those who know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, it is heaven and, finally, the new heaven and the new earth.  God now appoints Joshua to take Moses' place.  Moses would see the promised land, but would not enter it, as God had told him when he and Aaron robbed God of His glory when they brought forth water from the rock in the wilderness.  But Moses would enter a better promised land ... as Aaron had before him.  Now it was time for the next step in God's plan to establish His kingdom on the earth.  To show that it was God who determined the leader of Israel, Joshua was commissioned before the whole assembly of the people of Israel (27:22-23).

Then God told Moses to remind the people of the offerings they were to bring and of the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks.  All of these pointed ahead to Jesus, who would BE the perfect sacrifice, offering Himself for all those who would believe in Him, so that they ... so that WE might enter the promised land.  Every day you and I are getting closer to the promised land.  Like Israel, we can feel as though we are wandering in the desert, as David described in Psalm 63:  "O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (Psalm 63:1).  But we're getting closer to the promised land!

God's justice and coming judgment are sure and certain, yet just as certain are God's grace and forgiveness to those who come to Him through faith in the Savior, the Messiah, the Christ, JESUS!!  God has made a way and we who believe are getting closer to the promised land every day.  God knows the number of our days and one day we will be singing with the angels as we bow down in worship before our holy and righteous God.  In that day we will approach Him without fear, for Jesus died and rose again on our behalf and faith means believing that He will get us into the promised land.  We do not doubt, as the Israelites did, but trust wholly and completely in Jesus.

As John writes in his first letter to the churches, "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life" (I John 5:12-13).  If your faith rests in Jesus today rejoice in God's promise, in His love and His grace, for He is with you NOW, and with every passing day you are getting closer to the promised land!

"My Father in heaven, were it not for Your faithfulness and Your promises, I would surely live without hope, waiting for this life to end.  But because of Your love and the gift of Your Son I believe there IS a promised land, and that one day I will enter it because of Your grace to me in Jesus.  Strengthen me daily with the confidence and hope that comes only by true faith and help me to persevere as I bear witness to the truth that YOU ARE GOD!!  To You I give my praise, my thanks and my life, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"RESTING in Jesus Christ ..."

Day #267:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 21st

Scripture Reading:  Hebrews 1 - 4 ...

Rest seems to be elusive ... hard to find and even harder to maintain.  There is physical rest, there is mental rest, there is emotional rest, and then there is spiritual rest.  When the pace of life gets hectic we search for rest, often not knowing what we are even looking for.  When trials come and we become overwhelmed with sorrow or despair we look for rest, yet the rest we desire is the removal of that which is causing us pain, so when it continues, we find no rest.  In hundreds, even thousands of other ways, we as human beings find it impossible to find true spiritual REST ... because we are looking in all the wrong places!  There is only ONE place to find it:  in Jesus Christ.  That is true because the rest we crave is rest from the power of sin and its consequences.

The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:22-25:  "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have we wait for it patiently."  Those without the Spirit of God go on about life believing they can find rest somewhere, somehow, in this world.  They cling to the false hope that we will find the "cure" for what ails mankind.  Others have given up and live for the moment, believing that in seeking self-centered pleasure or satisfaction in other things - even in doing good for others, they will find rest.

The writer of Hebrews, along with the rest of the writers of Scripture, states, "It still remains that some will enter that rest (God's rest)" (4:6).  "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His.  Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience" (4:9-11).  GOD's rest is goodness and perfection.  God created everything and said it was good, it was perfect, and man was VERY good, created in the image of God.  Sin did not exist.  All was well.  So God rested from His labors ... until Satan's rebellion in heaven and his temptation of Adam and Eve and their fall into sin and disobedience.

How tragic is the state of mankind.  How hopeless are the lives of those without Jesus and without the Spirit of God.  Once again we find the words of Paul in Romans 8 descriptive of the position of sinful man::  "The sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.  Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God" (Romans 8:7-8).  Spiritual death and unrest plagues mankind like an epidemic.  But GOD has the cure ... the ONLY cure!!

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe" (1:1-2).  Do not pass by the first five words:  "In the past GOD SPOKE!"  We worship and serve a God who SPEAKS!!  God could have left the entire human race in the spiritual darkness of sin, spiritually dead and unable to know God or to enter His rest, but instead, He determined to save some through ... a message ... a message of "good news," the Gospel.  Most think the Gospel was first preached following the resurrection of Jesus, but the writer of Hebrews says here that "We also have had the gospel preached to us, JUST AS THEY DID" ... But the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith" (4:2).

Something happened following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ ... something so significant that it changed the course of human history.  Jesus conquered sin and death on the cross and in His resurrection and then, seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, He sent forth His Holy Spirit into the world to open the eyes of the blind, to open deaf ears, to renew transform closed minds, to revive dead hearts ... to open the door to God's rest, to eternal salvation, to a new heaven and a new earth where everything will be restored to its original perfection and where we who believe will live in the very presence of God - FOREVER!!

Having explained the uniqueness of Jesus in Chapter 1, we hear God's warning through the words of the writer of Hebrews in Chapter 2:  "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away ... how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (2:1-2).  Paul writes in II Corinthians 6:2 that "this is the day of salvation."  It is this "DAY" that the writer is speaking about here.  There is still time for some to enter into God's rest through faith in Jesus Christ, but the time is short.  It was short two thousand years ago, so what does that mean for us, today?  We must pay attention to what God has revealed through the writers of Scripture concerning Jesus and the way to enter God's rest.

Foolish people today declare that there are multiple ways to enter God's rest, but only one Savior qualifies to open the door into God's presence.  The eternal Son of God became a man "so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (2:14-15).  He goes on to say that it is "Abraham's descendants" (believers - Galatians 3:29) that Jesus came to help.  "He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people" (2:17-18).  The eternal Son of God became a true and sinless man in order to take our place on the cross and suffer God's punishment against OUR sin and so obtain for us the Father's forgiveness.

"Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess" (3:1).  How often do you think about Jesus?  Do hours or days go by without considering what He has done for you, that even now He intercedes for you before the Father, that by His Spirit He empowers you to overcome the sin that remains within you?  Faith in Jesus is not a one time declaration or a momentary moment of guilt that drives you to cry out for a Savior.  Faith in Jesus is entering God's rest ... resting from YOUR work and trusting in HIS (4:10).  The "effort" we put forth (4:11) is in keeping our eyes on Jesus and trusting that "He who began a good work in 'us' will bring it to completion" on that day when we enter into His perfect rest.

God declared that most of those in the past would not enter His rest because they did not trust in His promise of a Savior.  They trusted instead in their own works, as so many do today.  These, too, will not enter God's rest, though they declare their faith in Jesus ... for God knows their hearts.  "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called 'Today,' so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first" (4:12-14).  That confidence is that "Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe ... sin had left a crimson stain, HE washed it white as snow!"  You are washed by the blood of Jesus or you are still in your sin. There is no other way to enter the Father's rest!

"THIS is the DAY the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it!!"   Nothing will be hidden from God's sight.  Everything will be laid bare.  On that day, will you be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of your own, but that which is by faith?  "Since we have a great High Priest ... let us hold firmly to the faith we profess" (4:14).  Do not give in to the temptation to doubt, even for a moment!  "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!" (Acts 16:31).  Jesus IS "the Way and the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6) and ALL who believe in Him HAVE eternal life and will finally enter God's perfect rest.

"There remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God ... Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest" ... fixing our thoughts on Jesus ... our Savior, our Mediator, our Redeemer, our Lord!!!  Rest in Jesus Christ today and you will find rest for your soul!!

"I thank You, Father, for speaking in Your Word and for giving me ears to hear as Your Spirit works within me.  I trust in Jesus for all I need to stand PERFECT in Your holy presence, resting in HIS righteousness, which has been credited to me by faith.  I confess that I HAVE BEEN SAVED by grace through faith - and that this is YOUR gift to me.  Let my life be a testimony to You, my God, as I walk through this life by faith and then enter Your rest, where my faith will be sight!!  In Jesus' name, Amen"