Friday, October 31, 2014

"The only message with the power to save!"

Day #308:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 1st

Scripture Reading:  Acts 11 - 12 …

Throughout the book of Acts the power of the Spirit through the spoken Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is on display.  Much more than a book that records a small sliver of history, the Acts of the Apostles could rightly be called "the Acts of the Holy Spirit THROUGH the Apostles."  As Peter said in his first sermon on Pentecost, this was the fulfillment of God's promise through the prophets to send His Spirit into the world.  Jesus had told the disciples in John 14-16 that He would not leave them as orphans but would send His Spirit to be their teacher.  He had said that people must be born again by His Spirit in order to enter His kingdom, and in reality, the rest of the New Testament and the history of the true Church from that time until today is the work of the Spirit of God in the hearts and minds of those whom He chooses to be His … the "ekklesia," the "called-out ones."

In the very first chapter of Acts Jesus said to the disciples, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father has promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5).  And in verse 8 Peter goes on to say, "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."  It is now, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, that God sends the early believers out into the world to proclaim the one message that has the power to save:  the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

At the beginning, the apostles could not have understood how God would fulfill His promise to Abraham to bless ALL nations through the "Seed of Abraham."  But having been led to the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and having shared the good news of Jesus with him and his household and seeing the Spirit open their hearts and minds to believe and even to speak in other languages as the apostles had done, Peter rejoiced and baptized them with water in the name of Jesus Christ (10:44-48).  Then he returned to Jerusalem to explain his actions to the apostles and the rest of the Jews.  Their initial response was predictable.

For two thousand years the descendants of Abraham were the chosen people of God.  Even though God had promised to bless all nations through the "Seed of Abraham," the Jews did not understand that since Jesus was the promised Messiah, God was now going to call people from among the Gentiles to be a part of this "new thing," the Church.  This would take some explaining!  The apostles and the brothers in Jerusalem had heard that the Gentiles had also received the Word of God and believed, but those who were "circumcised believers" (11:2) were not ready to accept the idea of mingling with Gentiles.  Had not God told them NOT to do so??

But when Peter explained the vision God had given him, and all that had happened when he went to the home of Cornelius, he told them that God had gone ahead of him and told Cornelius that the one who would come "will bring you a message through which you and your household will be saved!" (11:14).  Peter said, "Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,' so if God gave them the same gift as He gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" (11:16-17).  This convinced them and they praised God that He was now granting repentance unto life to the Gentiles.

Here is the crucial point:  This was NOT a new religion, as some imagined.  This was the fulfillment of God's covenant with Abraham, indeed, the continuation of that covenant, as Paul would later explain in Romans 3-4 and Galatians 3 and other places in his letters.  None of the Jews who believed in Jesus thought they were abandoning their place as the people of God or their religion.  They believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God, and they believed in Him for forgiveness and eternal life.  The MESSAGE was at the heart of the Church from day one.  And though many are distracted by other things, it is the proclamation of the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that remains today as the foundation for the true Church and the mission for true believers!!

The response to the Gospel on the part of those who heard it as the early believers went out was nothing short of miraculous, as the Spirit of God moved many to believe.  Those who were being persecuted went around the entire area proclaiming Jesus as Lord.  As they did so, "the Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord" (11:21).  When Barnabas went to Antioch and "saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts … and a great number of people were brought to the Lord" (11:23-24).

Paul and Barnabas worked together in Antioch for a year and taught many people and it was here that the believers were first called, "Christians" (11:26).  It is hard to even comprehend what was happening in such a short time in this part of the world.  From Jerusalem the Gospel was spreading throughout the Middle East and thousands were coming to Jesus for forgiveness and new life.  But it was not without resistance on the part of the Jews and the governor, King Herod.  Herod was determined to persecute Christians and had the brother of John put to death, then seized Peter and threw him into prison.  When the believers heard that Peter was in jail they gathered to pray for him.

Those who oppose God's people oppose God, and He doesn't take that lightly!  We do well to remember today that though Satan tries his hardest to stop the Word, he is fighting a losing battle.  Remember the words of the Pharisee, Gamaliel, when he stood before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council, as they tried to decide how to stop the apostles from preaching about Jesus … He said, "Leave these men alone!  Let them go!  For if their purpose or activity is of human origin it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God!" (Acts 5:38-39).  Herod would discover this firsthand!!

But first, Peter, sitting in prison the night before he was to go to trial ... "sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries" standing guard at the entrance (12:6).  No match for an angel!  The angel of the Lord appeared and the chains fell off Peter's wrists and they walked out!!  Past the guards, past the sentries, out of the prison and onto the street.  Peter thought he was dreaming until the angel left him and there he was, free!  So he went to Mary's house, where the church was gathered - praying for HIM to be released.  This has to be one of the more amusing moments in the book of Acts, as Peter stands at the door knocking and the servant girl, Rhoda, leaves him there and goes to tell the people who are praying and they don't believe her.

Isn't this what they were praying for?  And God answered!!  But they weren't the only ones who were surprised.  The next morning the soldiers searched for Peter and couldn't find him.  Somebody had to take the blame and the guards were executed.  That would not be the last word, however.  Herod was about to discover that opposing the apostles and the message of the Gospel was opposing God, and he would pay with his life.  As Herod went to Caesarea and proudly addressed the people, decked out in his royal robes and seated on his throne, the people proclaimed, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man."  Herod, of course, soaked it all in ... for a moment, but because he did not correct them and give praise to God, "an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died" (12:23).  That sounds gruesome, but all those who reject the message of the Gospel will face a similar fate, but even worse.

In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, "the word of God continued to increase and spread" (12:24).  This is the promise of God to Abraham and his descendants being fulfilled by the power of the Holy Spirit ... and here we are, nearly 2,000 years later, approaching the return of Jesus, and the same message and the same power from God is at work in the true Church, calling people from every nation out of the darkness of sin and into the light of God's kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ.  The message has not changed for 2,000 years and will remain the same until Jesus returns in glory!  We who believe today must understand the great privilege that is ours in knowing the Savior, the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus, and live to proclaim the message to all the world, for it is the ONLY message with the power to SAVE!!!

"Heavenly Father, the testimony of the Church continues today through the nations of the world as a witness to Your faithfulness, Your power and Your glory.  Thank You, Father, for the privilege of being part of the Church.  Fill us with Your Spirit today and empower us to proclaim the Gospel with zeal and boldness until Jesus comes, for in the Gospel is the power to save!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"The coming day of God's wrath, Jerusalem and her enemies … "

Day #307:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 31st

Scripture Reading:   Zephaniah 1 - 3 …

Questions:  Should God's Word here in Zephaniah and in some of the other prophets be interpreted literally or figuratively?  Is Zephaniah predicting what is actually going to happen, or is this all an allegory, symbolizing God's anger and judgment?  Is the prophet speaking about literal Jerusalem, or about God's people in general?  Is this "just" Hebrew poetry or is it quite literally a prophecy of the future?  Was it already fulfilled in God's judgment on Judah by Babylon or is Zephaniah pointing to a future "day of the LORD"?  And what does ANY of this have to do with YOU??

While the world and much of the visible church today ignores Zephaniah and passages like this in some of the other prophets, the questions remain.  If this is the very Word of God, as I and many others believe, then when God says, "I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth" and " … when I cut off man from the face of the earth," (1:2-3), we take note and compare what Zephaniah says with what God says elsewhere in His Word.  Doing so confirms that there will be a future day when these prophecies concerning Jerusalem, Israel and the surrounding nations, indeed, the whole world … there will be a future day when these prophecies are fulfilled … LITERALLY … just as God has said.

Only by believing God's Word can you and I who live more than 2,000 years later understand what is going on in our world and be instruments of God to call some out of the darkness of spiritual death and into the light of His glorious kingdom, where Jesus reigns as King!  Believing God's Word, understanding the events going on in the world around us and seeing our part in them makes life as part of the people of God, the Church, the Body of Christ, all the more meaningful and urgent.  Failure to consider these things leaves the church in a state of apathy, much like the people of Israel and Judah were in the days of the prophets.  Zephaniah issues a warning and calls out to the "remnant" to stand firm, in spite of the destruction they will see all around them.

Zephaniah prophecies shortly before Isaiah arrives on the scene and God would give to Isaiah the same vision of the future:  "The LORD is going to lay waste the earth … the earth's inhabitants are burned up and very few are left …  in that day the LORD will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below … for the LORD Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders, gloriously" (Isaiah 24:1,6,21,23).  There is nothing to indicate that either of these prophets are speaking of things that are to be taken in any way other than literally.  Add to this the fact that Jesus speaks of a time of distress for Jerusalem and all the earth in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, and the Apostle Paul speaks about the "day of the LORD" in I Thessalonians.  Add to that the detailed account of the pouring out of God's wrath in Revelation 8-9, 15-19, and you have a relatively clear picture of what Jesus calls "the end of the age" (Matthew 24:3; 28:20).

Peter speaks of the fire of God's coming judgment in II Peter 3, when he writes that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare (burned up!)" (II Peter 3:10).  He points ahead to a new heaven and a new earth, and Zephaniah points to a time when God will "restore your fortunes before your very eyes" (3:20 - speaking to Jerusalem and His people).  The coming "day of the LORD's wrath" will be a horrible time of judgment on the earth, but those who are God's will be protected on that day:  " … for God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thessalonians 5:9).  The "gathering up" or "rapture" of true believers, described in I Thessalonians 4 and other places, will take place just prior to the pouring out of God's wrath upon the earth.

So what does this have to do with US, with you and me as we live in this world today?  We live in the "time of the end," whether that is ten or twenty years, or longer.  Since 1948 the world has witnessed the miraculous rise of the nation/state of Israel, the existence of God's people in Jerusalem and the parallel rise of Israel's enemies, just as God predicted it would be for the "day of the LORD."  It is significant that Zephaniah points out "Gaza … the land of the Philistines" (2:4-5).   God says, "I will destroy you, and none will be left" (2:5).  And as he speaks against other enemies in the area, Jordan, Syria … and in other places, Lebanon and the nations of the north, God says through Zephaniah, "The remnant of my people will plunder them; the survivors of my nation will inherit their land … This is what they will get in return for their pride, for insulting and mocking the people of the LORD Almighty" (2:9-10).

This future "day of the LORD" will be preceded by a moment of silence:  "Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near" (1:7).  As God's wrath is about to be poured out as the seventh seal is opened in Revelation 8:1, we read:  "When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour."  Then the angels sound the trumpets and the wrath of God begins to be poured out on the inhabitants of the earth.  Zephaniah continues writing as God says, "I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them - all my fierce anger.  The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger" (3:8; see Revelation 16:16 and following).

Many people have an inaccurate view of God.  "God is LOVE!" they say … and He IS!  But the amazing nature of His love in sending His Son Jesus Christ is in the context of His holiness, judgment and wrath upon sinful mankind.  The nation/state of Israel is not now, nor ever has been, made up only of those who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  BUT, there is a "remnant," those known to God and chosen by Him.  For the sake of His glory, God will again deal specifically with the physical descendants of Jacob and they will worship the Lord in Jerusalem when He returns, along with those who are part of the true Church, those who believe in Jesus.

"The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will speak no lies, nor will deceit be found in their mouths.  They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid" (3:13).  "The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. … The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save!" (3:15,17).  "At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home.  I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes" (3:20).  So says the Lord, our God, and He will do it!!

As further evidence that this "day" lies yet in the future and that the disciples of Jesus believed that this prophecy and others pointed to a future restoration, we read in Acts 1:6, as Jesus is about to ascend into heaven, the disciples asked Him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (1:6).  Jesus does not correct them or tell them they are mistaken, but says, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.  But 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" (1:7-8).

We cannot pick and choose which parts of the Bible we will believe.  The prophecies of the prophets and the apostles, and of Jesus, must be taken literally unless we are told otherwise.  What that means for us today is that we are living in the time of the fulfillment of all these things.  Our world and all the people in it are headed towards the coming "day of the Lord."  While many claim we cannot know when this time will come upon us, Paul writes to the Thessalonians, "Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape" (I Thessalonians 5:1-3) … "BUT YOU, brothers, are NOT in the darkness so that THIS DAY should surprise YOU like a thief!!" (5:4).

His advice:  "So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. … But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet … for God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing" (I Thessalonians 5:6,8-11).

That is the life God calls all who believe in Jesus to live.  Read and study His Word, know what He says is coming on the world, watch the signs, be ready by serving the Master until He comes and warn others of His coming judgment, for He may yet spare them by drawing them to Himself.  God will do what He says He will do, and those who trust in the Lord, our God, the Holy One of Israel, the great "I AM," do not need to fear, for HE is with us!!

"O LORD my God, You reign on Your throne in heaven itself and You look down upon the earth and upon mankind, Your special creation.  I thank You, Father, for revealing the way of salvation through faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ, and I believe that You have delivered me and all who believe from Your coming judgment and wrath upon the earth and all mankind.  My hope is in You alone and I live today with the knowledge and joy of Your salvation!  Give me wisdom and grace to live in Your presence and to walk by faith as I testify to the truth of Your Word, warning those who hear to flee to the cross for forgiveness and life.  To You, the only true God, be praise and glory, forever and ever.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Satisfaction - the elusive goal of a meaningless life … "

Day #306:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 30th

Scripture Reading:  Ecclesiastes 3 - 4 …

A group in the 1960's sang a song based on Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3.  It wasn't intended to be a "Christian" song, but rather, a statement about the meaninglessness of life in this world amid the constant wars and conflicts among races and religions and nations.  The song pointed out that there are cycles in life that continue to repeat themselves, for individuals, nations, people all over the earth.  "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven" (3:1).  The song went on to quote some of what Solomon writes in verses 2-8:  there is a time for everything.  If you don't like where you are right now, things will change soon enough.  In a war-torn world the last line was intended to offer a shred of hope:  " … a time for peace … I swear it's not too late!" (3:8).

That was the 1960's and things have changed dramatically … but not really.  There are still wars, disease, conflict and all kinds of natural disasters that test the hearts and souls of mankind all over the globe.  And life without faith in the one true God is still meaningless!!  Solomon asks, "What does the worker gain from his toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on men" (3:9-10).  When mankind sinned against God in the Garden of Eden, God cursed the ground and told Adam that he would cultivate the earth by the sweat of his brow because the earth would bring forth weeds and thorns.  The burden we all face in working and toiling in this world while facing trials and temptations is all a result of sin.  It is this that Solomon sees ... that WE see.

Yet Solomon testifies that God "has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end" (3:11).  If only ... if only all people could see the beauty of God's creation and how it reflects the majesty of our Creator.  People know instinctively that there is more to life than what we see, yet the human mind conceives only what it wants to believe ... that somehow there is an "afterlife" that we control by our own ideas, thoughts and actions.  Because of the consequences of sin within us we cannot understand God's works or the salvation He offers.  Instead of seeing the history of life on this planet as having a beginning and an end, most people choose to see it as an endless cycle of life in which we control our own destiny!

Remember the "fool" Solomon spoke of so often in Proverbs. Solomon uses Ecclesiastes to expose the thinking of the fool!  Living for God is what brings SATISFACTION!  Solomon declares that there is nothing better than to be happy and do good and to find satisfaction in our labor for THIS is the gift of God! (3:13).  We are helpless without God and our lives are meaningless without Him, but "everything GOD does will endure forever" (3:14).  God does all of this "so that men will revere Him" (3:14).  People often ask why certain things happen as they do.  God doesn't leave us to wonder!  Paul gives the same reasoning in Acts 17 when he tells the men of Athens: "God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27).

Everything in this world that is good and right or beautiful points to our Creator.  There is nothing NEW!  "Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account" (3:15).  Solomon sees no wisdom, no justice among men, but only wickedness, so he thinks, "GOD will bring to judgment" everyone and everything.  As Abraham declared in Genesis 18:25: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?!"  God knows the fate of every human being and He would be perfectly just to pour out His wrath upon all mankind.  People act like animals so it is not surprising that people sometimes treat their pets better than they treat other people.  But God understands the fate of mankind and He remains in control.

As he goes on in Chapter 4, Solomon grieves over the oppressed and the hopelessness of their lives.  He states that the dead are happier than the living!  Even labor and achievement - "success" is meaningless and a chasing after the wind.  People work, they toil for material possessions, for things that will pass away, while death comes for all.  Where is there any reason for hope?  Life is chaos, it is difficult, it is impossible to understand ... and we look for satisfaction, for peace of heart and mind and can't find it anywhere!!  It is "each man for himself," but then "for whom am I toiling and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?" (4:8).  Life without God is just going around in circles trying to find satisfaction, happiness or whatever else you call what people want ... because they don't even know what they want!!!

God said, "It is not good that man is alone ..."  To live for yourself is to live for nothing because your life in this world is temporary and God created you to live for HIM!  What do we need to do to live for God?  We need to work together with others AND with God Himself.  When Solomon says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work ..." (4:9), he is not just talking about friendship, but about what God made people to do:  to labor together for His kingdom.  And when he says, "A cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (4:12), he is adding the third piece to the puzzle:  the very Spirit of God!  Only when the Spirit of God is at work in His people can you and I labor together and find satisfaction in working for God's kingdom.

Life in this world is hopelessly and endlessly meaningless, but knowing God and working for HIM changes all of that.  How does that happen?  When you come to know Jesus Christ and are filled with His Spirit.  Consider all that Solomon has examined thus far and realize that his conclusions are right.  Satisfaction is the elusive goal of a meaningless life, but in serving the Lord is great reward - in this life and in the life to come!!  There is a time for peace, a time for hope, a time for joy in the Lord ... and the time is NOW, as you live life for Him and entrust the future into His hands, for eternity belongs to Him and to His children.

"Our Father in heaven, as we live in this world the meaninglessness of life without You becomes more and more evident as You open the eyes of the blind.  I thank You for the work of Your Spirit within me, giving me insight and wisdom to understand that satisfaction can never be found apart from living with and for You, my Creator, my God.  Help me daily to keep this truth in my mind so that I find satisfaction in knowing You and pleasing You, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Living as part of the Lord's house … "

Day #305:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 29th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 125 - 127 …

Oh, how I pray that true believers will understand who they are!!  Peter writes, "As you come to Him, the living Stone - rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him (Jesus) - 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" (I Peter 2:4-5).  What God has revealed to us who believe in the days since the first coming of Jesus Christ is the greatest news ever told!  God is in the process of building a spiritual house and all those who believe are part of it!

The writers of the Psalms could not have possibly known or understood what God was going to do by sending His own Son into the world to go to the cross, to bear His wrath against sin and to redeem those who believed from every people, tribe, nation and tongue.  Perhaps some had glimpses of this through the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants, but we see it so much more clearly in the writings of the Gospels and the New Testament letters to the Church.  The words of Psalms 125, 126 and 127 point to the harvest of souls that God is now bringing in from the nations to build His spiritual house, the Church, and at the same time point to God's promise to His people, Israel, the Jews, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

All these are songs that were sung as the people ascended Mount Zion to worship the LORD, their God.  Quite probably they were written before the temple was built, yet the words, inspired by the Spirit of God, point to the spiritual house that God is building that includes ALL who believe in the Savior, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ, the Redeemer!!  "Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever" (125:1).  "FOREVER" is a long time!!  God will establish the spiritual "Mount Zion," His dwelling place, on the new earth - forever, and He will live with mankind and we with Him (Revelation 21:1-3).  The entire Old Testament, along with the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, point to this future reality!

But here in Psalm 125, it is not only Mount Zion that will be established, but "those who trust in the LORD!" We are LIKE Mount Zion and so we, too, cannot be shaken and we, too, will endure forever. Why? How??  "The LORD surrounds His people, both now and forevermore" (125:2).  Think back to the words of Psalm 46:  "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. …  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.  God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. … The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress" (Psalm 46:1,4,6).  There is a picture of what Psalm 125 is talking about.

Psalm 126 goes on to explain the JOY of those, past, present and future, who were delivered by God from their enemies and brought back to Zion, the dwelling place of God.  "We were like men who dreamed!" (126:1).  This was true then, and it was surely true when Jews from all over the world were allowed to return to Jerusalem, the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their descendants by God Himself.  Who could have imagined that this would happen?  The prophet Isaiah had predicted it in Isaiah 66, where he wrote, "Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment?  Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children" (Isaiah 66:8).  So it happened on May 14th, 1948, and the nation and people of Israel stand as a testimony to the faithfulness of God to His promises and His people.

Even though most of them do not yet understand, "It was said among the nations; 'The LORD has done great things for them'" (126:2).  We in the church today who recognize these things bear witness to the faithfulness of Israel's God!  Meanwhile, in this day in which we live, God is at work building His spiritual house, as He has been doing since the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  God has been and is at work fulfilling His promise to Abraham that in his "Seed" all nations on earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3).  Through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ God is calling people from all the nations to place their faith in Jesus and be saved.  God is pouring out His Spirit and opening the eyes of the blind and changing their hearts through the regenerating power of the Spirit through His Word.

Many today attempt to "build" the church through manmade methods and manmade messages, but all they build is a social club.  "Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain" (127:1).  The Apostle Paul explains in Ephesians 2:15-22 that it was and is Gods' purpose "to create in Himself one new man out of the two … and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross" (Ephesians 2:15-16).  Then he writes, "Consequently, you (Gentiles) are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.  In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in Him you, too, are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit!" (Ephesians 2:19-22).

How beautiful and wonderful is that?!!  Solomon could not have grasped the fullness of God's promise and of His future plans for the Church as he wrote Psalm 127, but GOD could!  The "sons" Solomon mentions in verse 3 are not only physical sons, but SPIRITUAL sons.  The inheritance in Israel was passed through the sons, so when God says in Romans 8:15 that we who believe have been given the "Spirit of sonship," he is not excluding women and girls, but is pointing out that "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:16-17).

We who believe are part of God's house … the dwelling place of His very Spirit.  He lives IN us, and Paul writes to the Colossians that this is the "mystery" that was previously unknown that has now been made known to us:  "Christ in you, the hope of glory!" (Colossians 1:27).  The Spirit of God lives within every true believer making us "living stones."  Through the power of God's Spirit we are made new creations and are being built together to become that "spiritual house" that Peter wrote about in I Peter 2.  Now our lives are lived as part of the Lord's house, seeking to honor Him, to love Him, to serve Him, to please Him in all we say and do.  Why?  Because we are HIS!

Knowing Christ is all about living as part of the Lord's house, reflecting His glory to the world around you.  "Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain!"  Set your mind and heart on things above, on the God who saves those who trust in Him, and you will not be shaken, but will endure forever!!

"Holy God, You are the life in me, for Your Spirit lives within me.  Apart from You I have no life and no purpose, but in knowing Jesus as my Savior and Lord I have placed my trust completely in YOU, my Creator and my God.  I believe that I am part of the spiritual house You are building to receive Jesus when He returns.  Until then, hold me close to You and continue Your work in me, making me a living stone that exists to glorify You, my God, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, October 27, 2014

"O Lord, give us one mind and one heart for you!"

Day #304:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 28th

Scripture Reading:  II Chronicles 29 - 32 …

When God's people put their minds and hearts together to work for the Lord, seeking His wisdom and strength, amazing things happen because God blesses those who seek Him and who obey Him.  While we know that we can never do enough good works to earn our forgiveness and eternal life, what many people who claim to believe in Jesus Christ and to be Christians fail to truly grasp is that God blesses obedience in one way or another.  Sometimes it is in obvious ways, and sometimes it is in peace of heart and mind in the midst of adversity, but always God is with those who love Him and serve Him.  It was true in the days of the kings and it is true today.

Israel, the northern kingdom, had been destroyed by the Assyrians, but God had spared Judah.  They too, however, had angered the Lord by failing to worship Him and by worshiping other gods.  King Hezekiah was about to change all of that.  He called the Levites together and told them to purify the temple, according to the Law of God, and then to offer sacrifices and to worship the LORD with praise and singing.  The king sent out messengers to gather all the people to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  Some of the people in some of the tribes scorned and ridiculed them, but the Spirit of God was at work to draw some to Himself, even then, and "in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the Word of the LORD" (30:12).

Never in the history of the world has any other nation been so blessed by God.  Some of the people came to celebrate the Passover without consecrating themselves, without going through the rituals of cleansing that God had instituted, "but Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'May the LORD who is good pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God - the LORD, the God of his fathers ...'" (30:18-19).  And God heard Hezekiah's prayer and healed the people.  Hezekiah, it appears, was like David in at least some ways ... he knew that "the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate.  he will not turn His face from you if you return to Him" (30:9).  With all of the judgment God had brought on His own people and some of the nations around them, how did Hezekiah come to know God's grace and compassion?

Remember that the prophet Isaiah was a contemporary of Hezekiah.  It was Isaiah who wrote, "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).  David had written of God's compassion and mercy hundreds of years before:  "The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him ..." (Psalm 103:8-13).

It is in the context of God's holiness and justice that His mercy and compassion find their deepest meaning.  As much as it is God's nature to be just, it is God's nature to be merciful and compassionate.  It's not as though God has multiple personalities, but rather that He is both just AND compassionate.  What, then, makes the difference between those who receive His wrath and judgment and those who receive His compassion and mercy:  His sovereign choice!!  The Apostle Paul quotes Moses from Exodus 33:19 when God says, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion" (Romans 9:15).  Then Paul goes on to explain:  "It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. ...  Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden" (Romans 9:16,18).

Those who are recipients of His compassion and mercy are saved by grace and respond with thanksgiving and obedience.  As Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 1:9 (quoted by Paul in Romans 9:29):  "Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah."  No one can claim that they have earned God's favor or that He owes them His blessing.  Anything good that happens is by God's grace, a gift from our Father in heaven.  Still, God does move in those whom He chooses and the response of those who are moved by God's Spirit is repentance and faith and obedience.  Therefore, from our perspective, obedience is often followed by God's blessing.  This was the case with Judah in the days of King Hezekiah.

Having repaired and purified the temple and celebrated the Passover, "there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.  The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, His holy dwelling place" (30:26-27).  That is a beautiful statement and encouraging to all those who seek the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob today.  Drawing near to God through faith in Jesus Christ, the "Seed" of Abraham, the Ruler descended from Judah, the Son of David, brings you into a relationship with the same God to whom Hezekiah, Isaiah and Judah prayed.  He is still gracious and compassionate, He still hears the prayers of His people, and He still works in us and through us for His glory.

When Sennacherib, king of Assyria, threatened Judah, Hezekiah did two things.  First, he got ready to fight.  He appointed military officers, gathered them together and said to them, "Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him.  with him is ONLY the army of flesh, but with US is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles!" (32:7-8).  Perhaps we should memorize those two verses and repeat them often!  And the second thing Hezekiah did was PRAY!!  Those people and, yes, even nations, who call on the Lord, the one true God, in the name of Jesus when times of trouble come can trust that the Lord will fight for them.  Looking at the history of the world for the past one hundred years, it is the prayers of true believers, of those who know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, that have turned the tide of World Wars.  God hears our prayers!!  It is not only military might that wins wars!

Sennacherib threatened Hezekiah and the people, and we read that "King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this.  And the LORD sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and the officers in the camp of the Assyrian king (185,000 of them!!!).  So he withdrew to his own land in disgrace" (32:20-21).  Our God is able and He responds to the prayers of His people.  If only we would pray regularly together for the leaders of our nations and the nations of the world.  The church today is so splintered, and yet there IS a remnant of true believers who have been moved by the Spirit of God to seek Him.  We need each other and we need to be of one heart and one mind in Christ Jesus!!

Though Hezekiah's heart became proud near the end of his life, he repented and God granted him fifteen more years to rule over Judah.  God's timing is always perfect because He sees the future as well as the past.  As we who believe in the one true God today, the God of holiness and justice, who is also the God of compassion and mercy, we desperately need to draw near to Him in faith, believing that He is ABLE and WILLING to help us in our times of need.  Listen to these words from the writer of Hebrews and then PRAY ...

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:14-16).

"Heavenly Father, because we have been blessed to know Your compassion and mercy through the work of Your Spirit, moving us to believe in Your Son Jesus Christ, give us one mind and one heart to seek You, to praise You and to worship You.  As we live in this world today, we need YOU more than we need anything or anyone else.  With Paul we exclaim, 'If God is for us, who can be against us?!'  Give me strength to trust You as I seek to serve You with all my heart.  Fill me with Your Spirit, O Lord, that my life may display YOUR power at work in me, for YOUR glory.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"REMEMBER the LORD, your God!"

Day #303:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 27th

Scripture Reading:  Deuteronomy 7 - 9 ...

There is no God like our God ... in fact, there are NO OTHER GODS!!  There is ONE Creator who has revealed Himself in His Word and through His Son Jesus Christ and by the power of His Spirit ... Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel, the God who saves those who believe through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  There is no other!!!  AND, we who believe are His CHOSEN people!  As God chose Israel to be His people from Abraham on, so God has chosen some from every people, tribe, nation and tongue to be His chosen people today.  Peter writes, "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (I Peter 2:9).  As we read in Deuteronomy about God's deliverance of the people of Israel and His charge to them to REMEMBER, so WE need to remember the Lord, OUR God, as we live in the world today as His witnesses.

In Deuteronomy Moses is reminding the people of Israel who God is, who they are and what God had done for them.  Reminders are important!  He begins in Chapter 7 by looking to the future and giving them instructions for possessing the land and removing the nations who lived there.  Isn't it interesting that today people are accusing Israel of "taking" the land the Palestinians had before, when the truth is, GOD gave the land to Abraham and his descendants more than 4,000 years ago!  Moses said that it was God who would drive the people out of the land so HIS people could possess it (7:1-2).  God told them to destroy the people totally, to make no treaties with them, and not to allow their children to marry them, "for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods" (7:4).

This would be a continual temptation for Israel throughout the history of the Old Testament.  They would all too often give into the temptation because they did NOT remember the Lord, THEIR God!  We who are God's people today need to listen to what God said to them:  "For YOU are a people holy to the LORD your God.  The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession" (7:6).  There is in the church at large today a hesitancy to declare that we who believe are God's chosen people.  Instead, a false gospel is being promoted that says God loves everybody the same and that even those who don't know or confess Jesus may be accepted by God for their sincerity.  People are being told that by being "religious" you are somehow good enough to be received by God (any "god").

But God makes it clear through Moses that GOD chose Israel, they didn't choose Him!  "It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath He swore to your forefathers that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery (out of the darkness)" (7:8).  And there's more:  "It is not because of YOUR righteousness or YOUR integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land" (9:5).  Why was that so important?  Because "righteousness" is the central theme of the entire Bible!  Every human being is sinful - UNrighteous before a holy God.  The destruction of the nations that lived in the land of Canaan, the land God was giving to Israel, were wicked ... ALL of them.

God said, "You must destroy all the peoples the LORD your God gives over to you.  Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you" (7:16).  God tells the Israelites why He is doing this:  "It is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you" (9:4).  And then He tells Israel that it is not because of THEIR righteousness that He has chosen them, because "you are a stiff-necked people" (9:6).  Truth time:  ALL people are wicked, sinful, unrighteous and rebellious.  Apart from the grace of God in choosing some, we would ALL be lost!  Why do people IN THE CHURCH choose to identify themselves with those who are lost rather than with those who are saved by God's amazing grace?

When people say, "There's some "good" in everyone," would God agree?  They are wicked ... and the truth hurts.  God even became angry at Israel when they worshiped the golden calf and would have destroyed them, but Moses interceded for them (9:13-29), displaying himself as a type of Christ.  Moses says, "I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for He was angry enough with you to destroy you" (9:19).  Moses said to God, "O Sovereign LORD, do not destroy Your people, Your own inheritance" (9:26).  God had destroyed the world in the flood and mankind had not changed.  They still deserved God's perfect wrath and judgment.  But God chose some ... God chose Israel!

Remember God's words:  "YOU are a people holy to the LORD your God" (7:6).  THEY weren't holy, but they were "holy to God."  "Holy" in this instance means, "set apart" or "sanctified." It was GOD who chose them and set them apart to be His holy people.  It is God who chooses you and me to be His chosen people today.  Jesus said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you" (John 15:16).  Paul writes that God chose us before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).  Do you understand what it means to be "chosen"?  Do you comprehend the privilege of being a child of God?  If you don't ... perhaps you aren't.  Many of those who were in Israel were not really the children of God because they didn't KNOW God ... they didn't remember the LORD their God!

Throughout these words that Moses spoke to them he calls them to remember God, to remember what He had done for them, to remember that He was with them, that He was THEIR God!  God told them that no one would be able to stand up against them because HE would be with them.  Moses told them that God had humbled them in order to know what was in their heart (8:2).  He did this to teach them that "man does not live on bread alone but on very word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (8:3).  Moses was talking about SPIRITUAL life!  The most important thing for any human being is spiritual life.  What so many refuse to believe is what Paul describes in Ephesians 2:1:  "As for you, you were DEAD in your transgressions and sins ..."

From a human race made up of all DEAD people, God chooses some and gives them life!!  He makes us righteous in Christ by faith, a righteousness not our own, but credited to us by faith.  Apart from God, there is NO life.  Israel was chosen as a nation, given God's Word, which alone is able to produce life in those who are spiritually dead, and set apart, and yet, God was displeased with them and Moses explained, "If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow others gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed" (8:19).  REMEMBER the LORD, your God!  If God is not your Savior, your Redeemer, your Deliverer, then you don't know God!!  The only way to know God is to hear His Word, to be born again by His Spirit, to believe in Jesus Christ.  And if you have, or if you do, then you are HIS.  Those who claim to know God and who go on living their lives for themselves are not fooling God.

God is the same God today as He was when Moses spoke these words to Israel.  We live in what the Bible calls "the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2).  Listen to this warning from the writer of Hebrews:  "We must pay more careful attention therefore to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For if the message spoken by angels (the Law) was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall WE escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:1-2).  "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire'" (Hebrews 12:28-29).

A chosen people ... a people belonging to God ... that's who we who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are.  By God's grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, we are the people of GOD!  Brothers and sisters in Christ, remember the LORD your God!!  Praise Him, thank Him, love Him, serve Him ... now and forever!!!

"O LORD, our God ... O LORD, MY God, I put my hope in You alone, for You are God and there is no other!  I praise You for saving me and making me Your child; for feeding my soul with Your Word and drawing me to Yourself.  Continue Your work in me, O LORD, that I may be holy, as You are holy, and never turn away from You, my God.  You are MY God, and I love You, LORD!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Living in the world while we wait for Jesus' return …"

Day #302:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 26th

Scripture Reading:  James 4 - 5 …

Living in this world has never been easy for those who are disciples of Jesus, and it's not getting any easier.  While some enjoy greater freedom and more material blessings from God (which can easily become distractions!), watching the world around us self-destruct and slide closer and closer to the abyss is hard.  Those who know Jesus Christ carry a burden for those around us who live without God and without hope in the world.  We grieve over those who "play church," who believe that religious activity equals true discipleship.  False teachers cause us to become angry and frustrated as they lead millions astray, offering the things of this world rather than eternal life in God's presence.  God's call to persevere, to endure, to keep on keeping on is one we need to hear often.

And in the midst of this reality, we look at ourselves and realize that we, too, are deeply affected by the sin that often clings to us.  James writes about some of these, and in Chapter 4 speaks very directly to those who would follow Christ.  He warns of the "desires that battle within you …" (4:1).  You and I know these battles all too well and some let them control their behavior.  James says that quarrels and fights occur because we don't get what we want and because we don't ASK for what we NEED!!  Those who believe in Jesus are called to love GOD with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.  When we don't do that, we become vulnerable to the lusts of the flesh and the pull of the world.

John writes, "Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (I John 2:15).   James says, "You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (4:2-3).  Sound familiar?  He calls those who do such things, "adulterous people" … We are "married" to Christ, united to Him by faith, so when we pursue other "lovers," we are committing spiritual adultery!!  " … friendship with the world is hatred toward God … Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" (4:4) and grieves the very Spirit of God who lives within us.

HUMILITY should be the constant state and attitude of our hearts and minds.  Some mistake this for timidity, but God calls us to be humble and bold at the same time, knowing that our strength is not in ourselves but in HIM and that when we humble ourselves before Him, confessing our weakness and our need of His strength to overcome the lusts of the flesh and the pull of the world, THEN we find that we have what we have asked of Him and He will help us to be obedient and faithful to Him.  "Submit yourselves then to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you" (4:7-8).  By drawing near to God daily, moment-by-moment, you will find wisdom and strength you couldn't have imagined possessing.  He is all He says He will be!!

James goes on to remind his readers that they must be careful not to slander and to sit in judgment on others, remembering that all of us are accountable to God.  Jesus calls us to "confront" our brothers and sisters who have sinned against us in gentleness and humility (Matthew 18) and to encourage one another.  Slander and back-biting have no place among God's people - EVER!  And as we live in this world for the Lord, we need to be careful not to become proud, as though God were OUR servant, rather than the other way around.  When making plans we need to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that" (4:15).  Boasting about what WE are going to accomplish is foolishness at best, and sinful pride at worst!!

These are practical truths that you need to apply to your life.  To those who are rich, James has another warning:  don't use your wealth to gain power and to oppress others.  There are plenty of examples of that in our world today.  Wealth is given by God to HELP others, to share with those in need, never to build an empire for yourself.  God is concerned about the spiritual welfare of those who are rich and of those who are in poverty.  THINGS are not always a blessing, if hoarded to one's own destruction.  They become idols and cause great spiritual harm.  In all these things God is not just saying, "Don't do that!", but leading us to understand, to really grasp the truth that we are living in the last days, as James says, and life is short.  We need to make every day count for the Lord!

To do that we need to be PATIENT!  Don't you love that word??  "Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near" (5:8).  Now we could possibly say that James was wrong … if this weren't the inspired Word of God!!  But in God's sight Jesus' return was near almost 2,000 years ago.  The period of time between Jesus' first coming and His second is like a few days to God, and when you and I put our lives in perspective, the brief time we are on this earth makes the end of this age near for us as well.  James is saying, "You don't have a lot of time here; use it wisely!"  And whom does he use as an example?  JOB!  "You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.  The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (5:11).

In all that James has been saying, you need to remember that you live in the presence of God NOW, as you look forward to eternity!  So as you live in the world while you wait for Jesus' return, PRAY!  Pray for yourself and pray for one another.  When things are going well, "sing songs of praise!" (5:13). And when you have troubles, when you are "sick" (this word more accurately points to emotional "sickness" or weakness, such as doubting or being anxious or depressed), call upon the elders of the church to pray with you, to encourage you, to lift you up, to share God's Word with you.  If you are living in a way that is displeasing to the Lord, listen to their counsel and as they pray for you, you will be "healed," set free to worship and praise the Lord ... for "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (5:16).

As we live together as God's people, chosen and called to be His witnesses, we need to watch out for each other and care for each other.  If you see someone wandering, go after them and work to be God's instrument to bring them back into the safety of the community of faith, for "whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins" (5:20).  This is much better than talking about people or judging them.  Go after them!  Try to help them find a safe harbor.  God may use you in ways you never imagined.  THIS is how you live in this world as you wait for the return of Jesus Christ.  That day will come, and when it does, may He find you so doing!!

"Almighty God, my Father in heaven, Your Word guides me into the truth that I need to stand firm against the lies the world tells me.  All that the world offers is like shifting sand, here today and gone tomorrow.  Your grace and love are my delight and I rest beneath the shadow of Your wings.  Give me wisdom to ask for those things that will help me to glorify You and strength to choose the right way, trusting in You to uphold me, to heal me and to persevere.  For Your glory, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, October 24, 2014

"The Gospel is good news for all who hear and believe!"

Day #301:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 25th

Scripture Reading:  Acts 9 - 10 …

Just less than 2,000 years ago God's plan to save those who believe in Jesus Christ entered a new "phase."  Up until this time God had revealed Himself almost exclusively to one nation, the people of Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Having promised that all nations would be blessed through the "Seed" of Abraham, God now begins to orchestrate events so that the Gospel will be preached not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentile nations around Israel.  Most of us who believe in Jesus today can trace our heritage back to the events that took place in these chapters.

It is just like God to use the most unlikely people to accomplish His eternal purposes!  Saul was a Pharisee, a Jewish teacher of the law who was present when Stephen was stoned to death (8:1).   He hated the Christians, believing that they were starting a new religion and rejecting the God of Abraham.    He was going from city to city trying to find believers and throwing them into prison.  As he neared Damascus on one of these journeys a bright light from heaven flashed around him, striking him blind and causing him to fall to the ground in fear.  It was Jesus, whom Saul was convinced was dead!

A more dramatic conversion has never been recorded, and with good reason.  As God sent a man named Ananias to speak with Saul, He told him, "This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel" (9:15).  God had chosen this man to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.  Ananias gave Saul the message God had given him:  "Brother Saul, the Lord - Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here - has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit" (9:17).  Paul got up and was baptized in the name of Jesus and then spent several days with the other believers in Damascus.

He immediately began to preach in the Jewish synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God!  The Jews could not believe that this was the same man who had just days earlier been persecuting believers and having them thrown into prison!  At first they didn't trust him, but he grew more and more powerful and debated with the Jews who did not believe, proving from the Scriptures of the Old Testament that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One (9:22).  Those who did not believe conspired to kill him, but those who now knew that he was a true believer protected him.  He left Damascus and returned to Jerusalem, but the apostles were afraid of him, not believing that he was really a disciple of Jesus.  Yet, after Barnabas had brought him to them, they saw that the Holy Spirit was indeed at work in this man.

It didn't take long for some of the Jews in Jerusalem to try to kill him, too, so some of the brothers took him to Caesarea and then to Tarsus.  For a brief time the church through Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit (9:31).  God was allowing them a deep breath before more persecution would come.  Paul, as he would be called, would suffer much for the Gospel.  Meanwhile, God was revealing to Peter what He had already revealed to Paul - that He was going to call many from among the Gentiles to be followers of Jesus Christ and heirs of His kingdom.  This is no small thing.  This is the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham and in understanding this you begin to see God's plan for the Church today.

The Jews had been taught that certain animals (and people) were unclean.  God had instructed them through the laws of Moses that sin separated mankind from Him and that only through the sacrifices and ceremonies could the people approach His holiness.  All of that was a picture pointing to the utter impossibility of sinful man ever being good enough, righteous enough to earn God's favor or to enter His presence.  More than two thousand years of history from Abraham to Jesus had revealed the sinful tendency of even the nation God had chosen towards idolatry and rebellion against the God who had created them.  Were it not for grace … were it not for grace, ALL would face God's judgment.  Yet as clearly as the Bible proclaims this message, the majority of people in the world today - sadly, even in the church, refuse to believe it!!

God came to Peter and gave him a vision of unclean animals, then told him to kill and eat.  When Peter protested that he had never eaten anything unclean, God said, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean" (10:15).  Then God sent Peter to the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion who feared the God of Israel and in whom God was already working.  After Cornelius sent messengers to Peter and Peter came with them to his house, Peter said, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right" (10:34).  Peter did not yet fully understand what God was doing, but he would.

As Peter shared the message of Jesus' death and resurrection the Holy Spirit came on those who listened and they began to speak in different languages, as the apostles had done on the day of Pentecost. The Jews who were with Peter were astonished that God had given the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles and Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?  They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have" (10:47).  This is the key to the book of Acts and the beginning of the Church, God's plan to bring Jews and Gentiles together as one body, the people of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Speaking in other languages was not and is not normative for the Church, but was a sign given to validate the ministry of the Apostles as the Church was being formed and the Gospel was being proclaimed.

Some have said that the book of Acts, sometimes called the "acts of the Apostles," is more accurately the  "acts of the Holy Spirit."  It was the pouring out of the Spirit that began the calling of the nations to Christ.  Only the Spirit can transform dry bones into living souls!  God had predicted through the prophet Ezekiel, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.  I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put MY Spirit in you!" (Ezekiel 36:26-27).  While that was a specific promise for Judah, it would also reach the Gentiles through the preaching of the Gospel, as Paul would say, "first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles" (Romans 1:16).

Praise God for the gift of His Spirit, who performs the miracle of new life in all who are called to be the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit!" (II Corinthians 3:17-18).

"Thank You, Father, for Your amazing grace in first sending Your Son to pay the penalty for my sin on the cross, and then for raising Him from the dead, exalting Him to reign at Your right hand and finally pouring out Your Spirit into my heart.  My life is yours and by the power of Your Spirit I desire to live for You alone, proclaiming the joy of Your salvation from day to day, for Your glory.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD!"

Day #300:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 24th

Scripture Reading:  Habakkuk 1 - 3 …

Evil will NEVER win!  In spite of all that wicked men try to do, they are simply instruments of God to accomplish His ultimate purpose:  "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD!" (2:14).  Because of our short-sightedness, we cannot see how all that is going on all over the earth today is going to end … but God has told us!  This verse in Habakkuk, and the rest of his short book, reveals to us that when evil appears to be winning and wicked men are doing their worst, our Sovereign God is still in control.  But how?  Is it possible that God really uses even the evil men do to accomplish His perfect will?  That was Habakkuk's question, and you need to hear God's answer!

Habakkuk lived during the time when the northern kingdom of Israel had been overrun and defeated by the Assyrian Empire and now there was "a new kid on the block."  The Babylonians had become the world power of the day, and it was a matter of time before Judah fell and the Jews were taken into captivity.  Habakkuk appears to be a contemporary of Jeremiah.  God would inform Judah through Jeremiah that He was going to bring judgment on them for their idolatry and that they would be in captivity in Babylon for 70 years.  Perhaps Habakkuk had heard that prophecy and it prompted his questions.

Imagine living in a nation that was called to be the people of God, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to see the impending fall of your government and the inevitable consequences that would follow.  This was REAL for Habakkuk … and so his questions, his complaint:  "How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but You do not listen?  Or cry out to You, 'Violence!' but You do not save?" (1:2-3).  Habakkuk was in anguish and he felt as though God didn't care!  Have you been there?  Are you there now?  It's not a fun place to be and honestly, as a believer, you should never go there!  If you learn nothing else from Habakkuk, I pray that you will arrive where he does at the end of his brief prophecy.

Whenever we approach God with "Why?" questions we run the risk of digging a hole for ourselves … a hole of self-pity.  "Why do You make me look at injustice?  Why do You tolerate wrong?", Habakkuk asks (1:3).  Listen to God's answer:  "Look at the nations and watch - and be utterly amazed.  For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told" (1:5).  God goes on to explain that HE is raising up the Babylonians (1:6); that their rise to power was not by accident.  Look at the situation in the world today.  Evil nations and governments flex their might, but unless the Lord our God allows it, they can do nothing.  In a moment He could destroy them.  If He chooses not to do so, He has His own reasons and purposes for allowing evil to advance.  (More on that in a moment).

God describes Babylon as "guilty men, whose own strength is their god" (1:11).  Fools, bent on evil for their own purposes, unwittingly being instruments of God to execute HIS judgment.  But this raises another question for Habakkuk!  "O LORD, are You not from everlasting?  My God, my Holy One, we will not die.  O LORD, You have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, You have ordained them to punish" (1:12).  BUT, "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrong.  WHY then do You tolerate the treacherous?  WHY are You silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?" (1:12-13).  Good questions, aren't they?!  Habakkuk is not the first or the last to ask such questions of God.  You need to hear God's answer … not only with your ears, but with your mind and your heart!

Within God's answer is His answer for those who believe for all time, until the very end of the age!  In verses 3-5, God speaks not only of Babylon, but of the future Babylon and the one who will gather the nations against Jerusalem and Jesus Christ, Himself (Revelation 16-19) - the Antichrist!  And in the midst of these words God reveals the only answer for those who know Him and who believe His Word.  He says to Habakkuk:  "Write down the revelation … For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. … See, HE is puffed up; his desires are not upright - BUT the righteous will live by his faith!!" (2:2-4).

While referring to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, these words also point ahead to OUR future, when this wicked ruler will rise to power (appointed by God), and "because he is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples" (2:5).  God would use Babylon to bring judgment on His own people - for a time, but in the end, Babylon would be judged.  So it will be at the end.  God will use the Antichrist to bring judgment upon the earth for a time, to gather the nations for the final battle between God and Satan, good and evil, but he will face the same fate as all the rulers who have gone before him.  "Because you have plundered many nations; the peoples who are left will plunder you!" (2:8).

You need to understand, however, that God reveals in verse 4 of Chapter 2 the response of those who know the true God and who trust in Him:  FAITH!!  "The righteous will live by his faith!" (2:4).  The Apostle Paul quotes this verse in Romans 1:17, as he speaks of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The truth is that ALL of us deserve the judgment of God.  Judah deserved to be judged, and so do you and I.  Were it not for God's grace, we would all face His wrath, but God had something better planned:  the coming of the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ!!  He will rule the nations with an iron scepter and He will reign in Jerusalem over all the nations of the earth.  Why?  Because God said so!!  "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as waters cover the sea" (2:14).

The peoples and nations of the earth set up their idols and scorn the God Who alone is the Creator of all things and reject His offer of forgiveness and life through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  Yes, "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God!" (I Corinthians 1:18).  Whether it is Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism or counterfeit Christianity (those who claim to know Jesus Christ but who mix the truth of God's Word with false teaching), the things that people trust in (idols - even religious idols) will be destroyed when Jesus returns and stands on the earth … LITERALLY … as King of kings and Lord of lords!!  "The LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him!" (2:20).  That day will come; and sooner than most can possibly comprehend!

Now Habakkuk prays, "LORD, I have heard of Your fame; I stand in awe of Your deeds, O LORD.  Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy" (3:2).  Perhaps God gave to Habakkuk a glimpse of the future return of Christ, when He will gather His people and then God's wrath will be poured out on the rest of mankind:  "God came … the Holy One …  His glory covered the heavens and His praise filled the earth.  His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from His hand, where His power was hidden" (3:3-4; see also Matthew 24:30). In the midst of the darkness, the Light of the world will explode on the scene and defeat the enemies of His kingdom!!  And Jesus will reign!!

It was at the cross that Habakkuk's prayer was answered:  "In wrath, remember mercy!"  As God poured out His wrath on His own Son, He showed mercy to all who would believe!  Habakkuk concludes, "I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.  Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, YET I WILL REJOICE IN THE LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign LORD is my strength!" (3:16-18).

There is your sure and certain hope!  There is the answer to all of your questions!!  Evil will NEVER win.  In spite of all that wicked men seek to do, "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (2:14) ... and "the righteous will live by faith!" (2:4).  Trust in our sovereign LORD with all your heart and live by faith UNTIL we live by sight; for our eyes will see Him and we will rejoice in God, our Savior.  Do it today!!

"Father, I come to You without questions or doubt or fear.  I believe that You are the sovereign God who rules over the nations and that nothing and no one is beyond Your control.  Though trials will come and life at times does not make sense, You deliver those who trust in You.  Give me strength to keep my eyes on You daily so that I will not waver when troubles come, for You are my Rock.  I praise You, O Lord my God, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"A day in the life of a human being … meaningless!"

Day #299:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 23rd

Scripture Reading:  Ecclesiastes 1 - 2 …

Wow!  That's depressing!!  How many times can you say "meaningless"???  Read through Solomon's "Ecclesiastes" and you'll find out.  Written nearly 3,000 years ago, the truth of what Solomon writes and the honesty with which he writes it applies to life today as much as it did to life when he wrote it.  The purpose of it's inclusion in God's Word, however, is not to depress you, but rather to help you to take into account the importance and necessity of knowing God and living for Him if you want your life to matter, to have meaning and purpose.  Books, television programs, movies, science, politics, psychology and sociology all point to a culture, indeed, to a world in which the everyday life of human beings is becoming more and more "meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

Throughout Ecclesiastes you will find Solomon examining the various philosophies of people in all walks of life.  And as he does so, he inevitably ends up back in the same place … the ONLY place where you and I can find meaning for anything in this life:  GOD!  Nothing else really matters except your relationship with God and your desire to love and serve Him.  Solomon, you may remember, asked God for wisdom to rule His people wisely, and God gave it to him.  It is this "wisdom" to which Solomon refers when he says, "In all this my wisdom stayed with me" (2:9).  Solomon wasn't really trying to find a better reason to live other than living for God; his God-given wisdom would not allow Him to do so.  Rather, God is using him here to lay out for all to see the truth:  that life IS meaningless … without God!

As you read through Ecclesiastes, you must keep in mind Solomon's conclusion at the end:  "Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (12:13).  Living life without God results in a meaningless life!  Solomon's opening words are an "attention-grabber":  "Meaningless!  Meaningless!  Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless!" (1:2).  If you walked down the street with a sign that said, "The END is coming!", most people would ignore you or make fun of you.  But if you walked down the street with a sign that said, "Meaningless!  Everything is meaningless!", you might be surprised at how many people would agree with you.  People TRY to find meaning in what they do or what they accomplish, but it is all so fleeting.  Honesty demands that we arrive at Solomon's conclusion.

Several times Solomon concludes that "there is nothing new under the sun" (1:9).  With all of our modern technology and all the things that have changed over the past 20-30 years, mankind remains the same.  We may know more things than we did a hundred years ago, but it seems we know ourselves LESS!  More and more people are trying to "find themselves," going from counselor to counselor in an attempt to figure out what God has already revealed in His Word:  we need HIM!!  Solomon writes, "I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven.  What a heavy burden God has laid on men!  I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind" (1:13-14).

Obviously, Solomon had not seen EVERYTHING that has happened in the history of mankind, yet his statement is true because people just keep repeating the same sins over and over and over and over and over again.  Life without God, no matter how you live it, is meaningless.  You live, you die … and then you give an account to God (12:14).  Most people reject the truth of that last part, but it is true nonetheless.  Jesus said that there is a wide road that leads to destruction and many are on it.  When people say that "all roads lead to the same place" they are at least partly right.  All roads through life, except one, lead to a meaningless life and then death and then judgment.  The writer of Hebrews says rather directly, " … man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment …" (Hebrews 9:27).

Solomon even tried to define "wisdom," apart from God, and he discovered that this, too, was madness, folly, chasing after the wind (1:17).  Knowledge is not wisdom!  Think of the knowledge of the universe that the present generation has that no previous generation ever possessed, but has it drawn them to their Creator?  No!!  Those without the Spirit, no matter what age, nationality or race are blind and dead.  Paul writes to the Corinthians, "Where is the wise man?  Where is the scholar?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom …" (I Corinthians 1:20, 25).  True wisdom always points to its source … to the God Who knows everything.  God is the only One who doesn't need to learn!

After examining the world's wisdom, Solomon examines "pleasure."  Millions of people LIVE for pleasure, yet in the midst of the pleasure they face despair because they find no satisfaction.  All pleasure is like a drug, you need more and more of it to satisfy your craving.  As someone has said about money, the same could be said of pleasure:  How much is enough?  A little bit more!  SUCCESS is the goal of millions more, but what is success?  Solomon undertook great projects and received praise from those around him, but what good is that?  Do one thing people DON'T like and they will forget everything good you have ever done in a heartbeat.

Imagine, "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure" (2:10).  Sounds like the lifestyles of the rich and famous!  "Yet, when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun" (2:11).  Such honesty is rare today, but much needed if you are to discover TRUE meaning in life.  Always in view throughout Ecclesiastes is the reality of death.  People today prefer not to talk about death, except to express their belief that one of three destinations exists:  eternal bliss in some "heaven," or an endless cycle of reincarnations, or oblivion … simply ceasing to exist altogether … which, if some people had their choice, they would quickly choose.

However, we don't have that choice.  With death in view, even work - for the sake of work - is meaningless.  It is the realization that the state in which we are now living is temporary that forces people to consider such things or to live in a dream-world where they refuse to face reality.  Solomon finally concludes, "A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without HIM, who can eat or find enjoyment?"  (2:24-25).  There is no true enjoyment of anything without acknowledging God.  It's like celebrating Thanksgiving Day without God or Christmas without Christ … what's the point??  If you don't know whom to thank and you don't have a Savior who was born as a baby, the rest is just empty decorations.

So is life without God!  "To the man who pleases Him God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness … but to the sinner He gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God.  This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind" (2:26).  There is NO MEANING apart from knowing and serving God.  Jesus came to give us life, to give us freedom.  He said to the Jews who believed in Him, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).  So many people have been deceived into believing that "freedom" means doing whatever you want … whatever the sinful nature leads you to do.  But that is bondage!

Paul writes to the Galatians, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1).  True freedom is the freedom from a meaningless life!  We read in I Peter 1:18-19 that we who believe in Christ Jesus, who have been born again by His Spirit, have been "redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers."  THIS is the life God calls you and me to live.  A day in the life of a human being is … meaningless - without God.  So don't live a day without Him!  Ask Him for true wisdom and for the filling of His Spirit and you will discover the abundant life Jesus came to give to those who believe in Him!

"O Lord, my God, I confess that apart from You life has NO meaning!  I rejoice in the freedom that You give to all who believe in Jesus and who are filled with Your Spirit.  Give me wisdom and strength to use my freedom to worship, to love, to enjoy, to serve You, my God.  As my Father in heaven, I rest in Your love and find meaning and purpose each day in living in Your presence and for Your glory, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Jerusalem's future and your prayers … "

Day #298:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 22nd

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 122 - 124 …

Have you ever prayed for the peace of Jerusalem?  Why would you do that?  In some Christian circles Jerusalem and Israel are the focus of much attention.  Believing that God continues to have a plan for the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, many within the church await the return of Jesus Christ, when those plans will unfold precisely as God has revealed in His Word - rightly so!  What does that have to do with you and me?  Put simply, if God does not keep His promises to the Jews as a people and if the events leading up to and surrounding the return of Jesus do not happen as God says they will, how can we believe anything else the Bible has to say?  But knowing that God has kept and will keep every promise He has ever made gives us hope, strength and courage as we face the many uncertainties in our lives and in the world.

In the days of David, Jerusalem was the "City of Peace."  God had blessed David and Israel with power and wealth beyond any nation on the earth.  The temple stood in Jerusalem as a testament to the one true God, the "LORD,"  the great "I AM!"  He alone is God and His power had accompanied Israel in defeating all their enemies and establishing them firmly in the land God had promised to their forefathers.  "I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the LORD" were more than just words to David, they were the air that he breathed!  His prayers for the peace of Jerusalem were personal and heartfelt:  "May those who love you be secure.  May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels" (122:7).

Yet, since the time of David, there have been few times when Jerusalem was at peace.  Following David's death, Solomon became king and God blessed him with extraordinary wisdom and brought prosperity and peace to Jerusalem and to Israel, but it would be short-lived.  Human nature and the stubborn rebellion of a people who did not know their God led to their destruction over the next 300-400 years.  Still, there has never been a time when God has not had a remnant who were and are fulfilling this call to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem."  As we watch the events in the Middle East, the time is coming when it will appear that this prayer has been answered … but …

Before we get to that, Psalm 123 expresses thoughts in words that could have been penned yesterday or today by those who live in Jerusalem, who are Jewish believers … those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ and who know the true God:  "I lift my eyes to You, to You whose throne is in heaven. … our eyes look to the LORD our God, till He shows us mercy. … we have endured much contempt.  We have endured much ridicule from the proud, much contempt from the arrogant" (123:1-4).  It can truthfully be said that no other people, no other nation on earth, has endured what these people have endured and continue to endure.  Why?  Because they are, as a people, the chosen people of the one true God!

Those who claim today that God's plans for the Jews as a people are finished … that the church has completely replaced Israel in God's plans for the future … are WRONG!!  Peace in the Middle East will happen, but not in the way most people might hope for or imagine.  In the book of Daniel God tells Daniel that there will be a period of seven years at the end of this age when God will bring an evil impostor - the Antichrist - to make a peace treaty, a "covenant with many" (Daniel 9:27).  Contrary to what many believe today, this is NOT when the rapture of the church takes place and the great tribulation begins.  The first three-and-one-half years will be a time of deception, when peace SEEMS real, but it isn't.

People today want peace at any cost … at any cost to Israel and Jerusalem!  The only peace that is on the horizon at the moment is a counterfeit peace that will come through diplomacy and an agreement with people, rulers and nations who want the elimination of these people, and Satan himself is behind it.  When you pray for the peace of Jerusalem, this is not the peace you should be praying for.  It will end in a flood of war and destruction.  While God will protect a remnant of the Jews, Jerusalem will be attacked, as described by the prophet Zechariah in Chapter 14:1-2.  God will protect the remnant in the wilderness of Edom for 1260 days (Revelation 12:1-6) and the Antichrist (now possessed by Satan), will persecute the church (Revelation 13:1-18).

Only after this time of great tribulation (Matthew 24:21-22) will the true Church be raptured, and then God will pour out His wrath on the Antichrist, the False Prophet and all those who have worshiped the Beast (Revelation 8-9, 15-16).  What appears far-fetched to those who do not know God's Word or believe in the God who has chosen a people for Himself, will happen precisely according to God's plan.  There will be a time of distress for those who believe in Jesus Christ like none that have gone on before us … and there have been some horrible times.  Why would God do this?  As a testimony AGAINST a world that has rebelled against Him since the beginning.  Those who know Jesus are called to persevere, to endure, to stand firm in our faith.  Our road is not an easy one, but our destination is secure!

The TRUE "peace of Jerusalem" will come only when Jesus Himself is standing on Mt. Zion!  It is at His return, at the end of the seven years mentioned in Daniel, Revelation and elsewhere, that Jesus will usher in TRUE peace in Jerusalem.  It will come in no other way.  Again, God speaks through the prophet 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 … On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great!" (Zechariah 12:10-11).  "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" (Zechariah 13:1).

"Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle.  On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem …  On that day there will be no light, no cold or frost … when evening comes, there will be light.  On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem …  The LORD will be King over the whole earth.  On that day there will be one LORD, and HIs name the only name" (Zechariah 14:3-9).  God has said it and He will do it!  There WILL BE peace in Jerusalem, and it will come in its fullness only when Jesus returns.  Any other peace is a counterfeit peace that will not last.

And that brings us to Psalm 124:  "If the LORD had not been on our side - let Israel say - if the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us, when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away" (124:1-5).  That was true in the days of David, that has been true throughout the history of this people, that is true today and it will be true in the future.  When you and I pray for the peace of Jerusalem it must be more than a man-made peace that we pray for.  We must pray that the Spirit of God would call those whom God has chosen to be His remnant among the Jews at this time (which is happening even now!), and we must pray for the return of Jesus Christ to come soon.

Jesus promised us that He would be with us "until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).  The end of this age is approaching.  With those who believe from Israel, all who are truly followers of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the promised "Seed" of Abraham, the One descended from Judah, from the line of David … we declare, "Our help is in the Name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth" (124:8).  We have nowhere else to turn, nor do we need anywhere else to turn.  He is OUR God and we are HIS people, by grace through faith in Jesus.  We testify with those who first believed: "'The stone you builders rejected, is the capstone!'  And salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved!" (Acts 4:11-12).

Through His death and resurrection, the pouring out of His Spirit and the proclaiming of the Gospel, Jesus is calling His sheep to hear His voice and many are coming to Him each day.  While evil continues to attempt to overthrow the King, to rebel against Him and to destroy His people (those who believe … Jews and Gentiles), we rest in this fact:  "God exalted HIM to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).

No other name …. but Jesus!  HE is the "PEACE of Jerusalem!"  "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon!'  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people.  Amen" (Revelation 22:20-21).

"Heavenly Father, I know that You alone are God and that all You reveal in Your Word will come to pass just as You have said.  I pray for the true peace of Jerusalem, for the pouring out of Your Spirit even now upon those whom You have chosen to be the remnant, the true seed of Abraham.  I pray for Your Church, those from the nations who have called upon the name of Jesus to be saved and who will be gathered together when the trumpet sounds to praise You forever and ever.  Help me to stand firm and to declare Your praises as I join Your people in enduring, in persevering and in testifying to You, our God, until He comes who will bring PEACE on earth!  In Jesus' name, Amen"