Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Let them know that YOU alone are the Most High God over all the earth!"

Day #153

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 81 - 83 …

As Asaph writes his Psalms he calls out to God:  "O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still" (83:1).  This should be our prayer today.  We know that God is always at work and we don't have to beg God to DO something, because God is always doing something.  Yet, the desire of our hearts ought to be the same as that of Asaph in Psalm 83:  "Let them know that You, whose name is the LORD - that You alone are the Most High over all the earth" (83:18).  Few people express this desire today … that the true God, our Creator, the "God of Jacob" (81:4), would be known by all people.

Watching the events going on in Israel, and the nations around Israel who state their desire to destroy the Jewish people, is a constant reminder that Satan and the enemies of the one true God are opposed to all that God is doing and plans to do.  Listen to the words of Psalm 83:4-5:  "'Come,' they say, 'let us destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more.' With one mind they plot together; they form an alliance against you …"  So Asaph prays that God would not keep silent "so that men will seek Your name, O LORD" (83:16).

As we approach the return of Jesus Christ to earth, we who by His grace know God through the testimony of His Word and Spirit, and who by His power at work in us have placed our faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, "sing for joy to God our strength; (and) shout aloud to the God of Jacob!”  (81:1).  When we worship our God we are not offering praise to an "unknown god,” (Acts 17:23), but to the God who has made Himself known.  God said to all of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who were His people outwardly, "Hear, O my people, and I will warn you - if you would but listen to me, O Israel" (81:8).

God said again, "You shall have no foreign god among you; you shall not bow down to an alien god.  I am the LORD your God …" (81:9-10).  "BUT, my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me.  So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices" (81:11-12).  This is similar to what Paul writes of the unbelievers in his day who pursued sin and refused to turn from it.  He writes in Romans 1 that God "gave them over," God allowed them to condemn themselves, for their evil hearts knew only the way of sin and refused to listen to His warnings.  Still, God was at work, saving a remnant by His grace.

So it is today.  In the name of "love" those who claim to know the one true God allow others to remain in the darkness of other religions because they believe Jesus wants them to "love" them.  Of course He does, but what does "love" mean?  It does not mean coming to them as though each of us is entitled to our own beliefs and "respectfully listening" to the "faith" of others.  They do not know God!  They are perishing!!  How long will those in the visible church today stand idly by, engaging others in endless "dialogue," while they face eternity in hell?  What are WE doing?  What am I doing to proclaim the good news and to warn others of God's coming judgment?

Asaph testifies that "God presides in the great assembly; He gives judgment among the 'gods' …" (82:1).  Amidst all the religions of the world, God holds court.  And He calls those who know Him to "defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; (and to) maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.   (To) rescue the weak and needy; (and) deliver them from the hand of the wicked" (82:2-4).  Whom is he describing?  Most think it is those with physical needs, and we are certainly to have compassion for those who are weak, fatherless, poor, oppressed and needy … but there is more!  What is WORSE than all of that are those who are SPIRITUALLY weak and fatherless, who are spiritually poor and weak and needy and who are trapped by the evil in themselves and in the world and the evil one.

Paul says to his young friend, Timothy, "The Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will" (II Timothy 2:24-26).  THAT is the "love" Jesus calls His disciples to have for others.  Love does not allow others to perish without warning them of God's coming judgment and offering them the only escape through faith in Jesus Christ.

O how I long for Jesus to return, and yet I grieve for the masses of people who ignorantly march toward eternal death.  Like Asaph and others who have gone before me, I pray, "O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still …"  (83:1) … and then he prays that God would consume His enemies and the enemies of His people, that He would "cover their faces with shame so that men will seek Your name, O LORD.  May they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace.  Let them know that YOU, whose name is the LORD - that YOU alone are the Most High over all the earth!" (83:16-18).

As we who believe, who by God's grace have received the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ (a faith that HE has worked in our hearts by His Word and Spirit) … as we sing for joy to God our strength, may we also be busy proclaiming God's truth, warning those who remain in the darkness of God's coming judgment as we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, offering forgiveness and life to all who believe in Him.  May God use us to call His chosen ones to Himself as we seek to bring glory to His Name.

"Father in heaven, praise and honor and glory be to Your Name!  I sing for joy to You, O LORD, my Savior and my Rock.  You are my refuge and my strength, my ever-present help in times of trouble and my joy and hope throughout my days on this earth.  Without You there would be no joy, no hope and no peace, and without Your grace in Jesus there would be no LIFE, for anyone.  Father, use me to proclaim Your truth and deal with Your enemies and mine, in Your time and in Your way, that all the world may know that You alone are the Most High over all the earth!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, May 30, 2016

"God WILL restore Israel …"

Day #152

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 78 - 80 …

How important is it to know that the God you know and worship ALWAYS keeps His promises?!!  Acts 1:6 is a verse that sets the stage for the entire period of time from the ascension of Jesus into heaven until His return.  As Jesus was about to ascend into heaven, His disciples asked a question:  "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6).  Jesus answered, "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" (Acts 1:7-8).

Jesus didn't say they were wrong, that the kingdom would not be restored to Israel, but rather, pointed them toward their mission until that time arrived, according to God's plan, both for Israel and for the world.  This is extremely important because today many, even in the church, believe that God has forsaken Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  But our Psalms for today indicate once again that God has a plan to restore Israel, to bring a remnant back to Him and to display His glory through this people group whom He chose for Himself.  At the present time God is gathering people from every tribe, nation and tongue through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, the Savior of the world (not ALL people, but people from every nation), but there will be a future time when Jesus Himself will reign IN Jerusalem!

Asaph apparently wrote his psalms after the destruction of the temple (79:1), and it appeared that God had rejected His people.  The cause of God's anger was clear:  Israel had failed to obey God's commands and to trust in Him.  God speaks through Asaph in Psalm 78:1:  "O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth …"  The people were supposed to teach "the next generation" what God had made known to them (1:3-4) so that they would know God and trust in Him (1:7).  But "they did not keep God's covenant and refused to live by His law.  They forgot what He had done, and the wonders He had shown them" (78:11).

The consequences were obvious:  "The LORD was very angry; His fire broke out against Jacob, and His wrath rose against Israel, for they did not believe in God or trust in His deliverance" (78:21-22).  Tragically, many who take the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Redeemer God sent to save us from His wrath through the sacrifice of Himself on the cross, FAIL to acknowledge that He alone is God.  These have not learned from Israel's example.  "In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of His wonders, they did not believe" (78:32).

"Time after time He restrained His anger and did not stir up His full wrath" (78:38).  Apart from God's mercy, Israel would have ceased to exist.  The fact that the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob exist as a people and as a nation in the very land God promised to Abraham and his descendants 4,000 years ago is evidence enough of God's intention to fulfill every promise He has ever made, not only to Israel, but to all who believe in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the KING!!

In Psalm 79, Asaph cries out that the nations "have defiled Your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble" (79:1).  Of course, God knew this.  It was His discipline on a people who had turned their backs on Him.  "How long, O LORD?  Will you be angry forever?" Asaph asks.  Then he declares, "Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of YOUR Name; deliver us and forgive our sins for YOUR Name's sake" (79:9).  "Then we Your people, the sheep of Your pasture, will praise You forever; from generation to generation we will recount Your praise" (79:13).

There is a future time coming when God will pour out His Spirit on the descendants of Jacob and they will confess Jesus as Savior and Lord.  In the meantime, we who believe in Jesus are called and empowered to be His witnesses and to proclaim the Gospel to Jews and to Gentiles, trusting in the power of God to draw those whom He has chosen to Himself.  Like Israel, we have been given the privilege of knowing God, loving God, worshiping God and serving God.  It is our greatest joy to exalt the name of Jesus and to call people to draw near to God to find forgiveness and life through Him.

But we, those who are part of Christ's body, the Church, have NOT replaced Israel in God's plans.  Psalm 80 is a plea to God specifically for the restoration of His people, Israel.  Three times, Asaph writes, "Restore us, O God:  make Your face shine upon us, that we may be saved" (80:3,7,19).  This is what the disciples were thinking of when they asked in Acts 1:6, "Is it NOW?! … Are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"  Jesus came to be KING over the Jews, over all of Israel, over all the world!

At the end of Psalm 80 there is an amazing statement made in verse 17:  "Let your hand rest on the man at Your right hand, the son of man You have raised up for Yourself."  This is amazing because in verse 15 Israel is called "the son You have raised up for Yourself," but here there appears to be a double reference:  first to Israel as God's chosen people, but also to the One who would be descended from Israel, who would be THE "Son of Man."  Through Him Israel will be restored!  "THEN we will not turn away from YOU;  revive us and we will call on Your name" (80:18).

Whether this is a direct reference to Jesus, or simply to Israel as God's chosen people, Jesus IS the promised "seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15), the promised "Seed" of Abraham, the "Son of David" and the "Son of Man.” Through Him God WILL restore Israel as His chosen people, for we who are Gentiles are "grafted in" to the root (Romans 11:17-24).  And all of this is about the God of Israel … OUR God.  Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

"Our Father in heaven, by Your will You have created us and by Your plan You have redeemed a people for Yourself.  As You chose Israel to be Yours, so Your promises will all be fulfilled one day through Your Son Jesus Christ.  I thank You for Your grace to me in revealing Yourself through Your Word and Spirit and calling me to be one of Your children.  May my life be a testimony to all who may hear that there is a God in Israel, and that You are MY God, too!!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, May 29, 2016

"What to do when you can't sleep!"

Day #151

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 75 - 77 …

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

Let's start with Psalm 77 and then go back to Psalms 75 and 76.  What Asaph describes at the beginning of the psalm is the common experience of all of us at one time or another:  “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.  When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted” (77:1-2).  And he adds, You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak" (77:4).  What was Asaph thinking about?  He tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 28, 2016

"Enter God's sanctuary ... then you will understand!"

Day #150

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 72 - 74 …

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

And there's more:  "He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth" (72:8).  "All kings will bow down to Him and all nations will serve Him" (72:11).  "May His name endure forever …  All nations will be blessed through Him, and they will call Him blessed" (72:17).  And he concludes, "Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds.  Praise be to His glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with His glory.  Amen and Amen" (72:18-19).  Surely, these words point to the One who will reign forever ... to JESUS!!  Solomon was inspired by the Holy Spirit and was writing about Jesus almost a thousand years before He was born.
Asaph, the writer of the next few Psalms, begins Psalm 73 with a testimony and then reveals how easily we can slip into discouragement when our minds and hearts are not where they should be:  focused on God.  He says, "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart" (73:1).  So far so good!  "BUT as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.  For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (73:2-3).  Who has not been there?!  Who has not at least thought, if not expressed the feelings in words, "God, why does it seem like those who don't know you have an easier life than I do?!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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