Jeremiah 31:31-34 God Forgives and Forgets

With her sidewalk chalk, India colored in the flowers she had drawn along the edge of the driveway. Then she stood back and frowned.

Dad came out of the house and smiled at India. “What lovely flowers!” he said. “And I won’t even have to water them.”

“No, but I’m going to,” said India. “I want them a different color.” Taking the garden hose, she aimed the stream of water at her artwork. WHOOSH! All traces of chalk soon disappeared down the driveway.

India grinned at Dad. “Now I can start all over,” she said. “Cool, huh?”

“That is pretty cool,” said Dad. “That’s a picture of what Jesus does for us. He gives us a chance to start over when we confess our sin to Him.”

“Oh, great,” India said, rolling her eyes. “I can already see my chalk flowers are going to be used in a sermon!”

Dad grinned. “Well, that’s what happens when you have a pastor for a dad!” He nodded toward the wet spot on the driveway. “Where are the flowers you drew?”

“They’re gone,” India replied, “and I know what you’re going to say–that when we confess our sins, they’re gone too.”

“That’s right,” said Dad. “Now bring those flowers back for a minute.”

“I can’t!” India said. “They’re washed down the drain, and they don’t exist anymore.”

Dad smiled. “They’re gone, never to be seen again. That’s what happens to our sins when we confess them to Jesus and turn away from them. He forgives and forgets them. The Bible says He removes them from us as far as the east is from the west!”

“But sometimes I still go over them in my mind–even after I tell Jesus I’m sorry,” India said.

Dad nodded. “Sometimes it’s hard for us to forget the bad things we’ve done, and even after confessing them, we wonder how God can forgive and forget them. When that happens, ask Jesus to help you remember His promise to always forgive your sins and remove them.”

“And thank Him for letting me start over,” added India. “Just like I’m going to do with these flowers!” Chalk in hand, she began drawing again on a dry section of the driveway.

Have you ever had one of those days when nothing goes right? It feels like the world is against you. To make matters worse, someone might tell you that God is always faithful, and you want to punch that person in the mouth. Biblically, that someone was the prophet Jeremiah. We see an example of this in Jeremiah 31:31-34.

The earliest Christians followed these words as they tried to understand Jesus’ call for them to live as His disciples. They felt called to continue living in ways that were shaped by God’s Word from the Hebrew Bible. They found that Jeremiah’s words encouraged them to let their faith in Christ fill their hearts and direct their living, so that everything they did and everything they said became a testimony to the forgiveness they had received and the lives they were called to live.

Covenants with God are not necessarily communal. When they are broken, the entire community suffers. God suffers, and our neighbours are also hurt. In this case, the Old Covenant can’t be fixed. Covenants are mere lip service if the heart is devoted to other gods. Instead of leading the people in their covenant relationship with God, the Kings of Israel sought political alliances to increase their own power. This was supposed to keep Israel from being conquered, but to Jeremiah it was a violation of their covenant with God.

Jeremiah put the earthly powers that subverted the covenant on notice. God deals with these destructive people and aims directly for our own hearts. He will know us and we will know Him no matter what our status is with our fellow humans.

The Lord solved the problem of a corrupt heart by writing His Laws on the hearts of His people. With the law written on the heart each person would act instinctively in God’s ways. They could live out the New Covenant requirements in exterior acts, but these acts would flow from a heart turned to God.  In other words, by the indwelling Spirit of God, the laws of God would move from being an external reality to an internal reality. This provision of the New Covenant was instituted through the blood of Christ. The unconditional covenants God made with Israel secured her future blessings, and the blood of the New Covenant secures all those who are in Christ.

God distinguished this covenant from the one He had given them at the time of their Exodus from Egypt. The terms of that covenant were written on tablets of stone. They were broken. The New Covenant was represented by Jesus and His death and resurrection. In the New Covenant, every individual would truly know the Lord through a direct, personal relationship rather than one that was mediated primarily through priests and prophets. It is the forgiveness that washes away the barrier between God and humanity and sets up a dynamic of intimate knowing. Those who know God will participate in the blessings of salvation.

There is no possibility of true happiness until we have established friendship and fellowship with God. There is no possibility of establishing this fellowship apart from what Jesus did for us on the cross. It is only through Christ’s death on the cross that we can be forgiven and reconciled to God.

God put our sins on Jesus and judged them there so that He could put them out of His mind and deal with us mercifully. Jesus’ great atonement for our sins removed all sin from the mind of God. Believers wear a divine righteousness. When we mourn over our sins and shortcomings, we must also rejoice that God will not hold our sins against us. This makes us hate sin. God’s free pardon makes us anxious to never again grieve Him by disobedience. God continually renews the covenant we break so that we might know the One who wants nothing more than to be in relationship with us, even when we rebel.

Christians must never lose hope. Our belief in Jesus gives us hope for the future. He will always love us just like He has always loved His people. Even after generations of people had spit in His face, He still loved them. After His people had stripped Him naked and ripped His flesh, He still died for them. Even today, after billions of people have forsaken Him for power, fame, and wealth, He still waits for them. This isn’t logical or rational, but it is that lack of logic and rationality that gives God’s Word its greatest defense, because only God could love like that.

When I was doing my research for this message, I read about an interesting custom that takes place every New Year’s Eve in Italy. Just before midnight the streets are cleared. At the stroke of midnight, the windows of the houses fly open, and to the sound of laughter, music, and fireworks, everyone throws out what they no longer need-things such as old furniture, dishes, and some personal possessions. It’s a way of wiping out the old and starting fresh.

We can wipe out the old and start fresh as well when God forgives us and forgets our sins. The principle of remembering and forgetting is nowhere more important that when we apply it to our sins. God clearly wants us to remember that we are sinners. Then when God forgives our sins, He also forgets them and He wants us to forget them too. We need to remember what God remembers and forget what God forgets.

Forgiveness gets us to relationship with God so that we can be His people and know Him intimately. When things get tough, Satan will tell us that we are alone. When he does, he lies. If we are in Christ, we are never alone. Through the Holy Spirit who lives in us, we are one of His people and we know Him and are known by Him. In a lonely world, that’s great news.

There are many people today who have benefitted from the blessings of God but do not walk in His ways. Carrying a Bible, attending a good church, and outwardly presenting the appearance of a devout Christian are not enough. God’s truth must be in our hearts. Unless it is real on the inside, the outer façade will soon disappear and the truth will come out. God is not deceived by things that may hide our inward thoughts and feelings from other people. He is looking for people who will be true to Him, beginning on the inside.

Have you done something wrong? If you trust in Jesus, He’s already taken the punishment for all your sins, and He promises to forgive any sin and remove it from your life. When you do something wrong, tell Him and ask Him to forgive you. Even if you think of the bad thing you did again, He won’t–it’s gone forever! Then you can start over, depending on Him to help you do what’s right.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2013; pp. 1005-1006)
  2. Guest, J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series Vol. 19: Jeremiah, Lamentations (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1988; pp. 211-213)
  3. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  4. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010)
  5. “He Remembers No More.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Hazel W. Marett, “Gone for Good.” Retrieved from infor@keysforkids.org
  7. “Remembering and Forgetting.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Pete Briscoe, “Experiencing LIFE Today.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  9. Greg Laurie, “Put It Away.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  10. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 5th Sunday of Lent (B)< March 22, 2015.” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  11. Billy Graham, “Forgiveness and Fellowship.” Retrieved from Cristianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  12. Dr. Paul Chappell, “Written on the Heart.” Retrieved from daily@dailyintheword.org
  13.  The Rev. Dr. J. Bennett Guess, “Written Within You.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  14. John Piper, “The Greatest Salvation Imaginable.” Retrieved from noreply+sj@feeds.desiringgod.org

Psalm 85 Spiritual Deafness

“We had a new girl in our class at church today,” Josephine said as she set the table for lunch. “Her name is Lauren, and she’s deaf. She reads lips.”

Mom nodded. “I met her mother. Their family moved here recently.” She set a plate of vegetables on the table. “Just last week I read an article that said several million people in our country are totally deaf, and even more can’t hear as well as they should.”

“Nolan doesn’t hear as well as he should.” Josephine smirked at her brother. “He only hears when he wants to. He hears just fine when somebody mentions dessert, but he doesn’t seem to hear when someone mentions chores that need to be done.”

Nolan smirked back. “Speak for yourself!”

“I guess we’re all guilty of that once in a while,” Dad said as he filled a pitcher with water. “It’s called selective hearing–only hearing what you want to hear.” He started pouring water into the glasses on the table. “Sadly, some of us who have perfectly good hearing are deaf in another way–we’re spiritually deaf.”

“Spiritually deaf?” asked Josephine. “What does that mean?”

“It means failing to hear what God has to say,” said Dad. “He invites everyone to trust in Jesus and be saved, but many people don’t seem to hear Him. God warns of coming judgment, but people are so busy with their own interests that they don’t pay attention. It’s as though they’re deaf to what He’s saying.”

“Even Christians often don’t hear God as well as they should,” said Mom. “After accepting His gift of salvation, we sometimes stop meeting with other Christians or don’t make time to read the Bible and pray. We seem to quit listening–especially if we’re afraid we’ll hear something from God that we don’t like.”

“I guess that would be like what Dad said we’re guilty of,” said Nolan. “Selective hearing.”

“That’s right,” said Dad. “We need to keep our spiritual ears open all the time and be listening for what God wants to tell us.”

Most of us live between memory and hope. We remember what God has done in the past with gratitude, and we hope that He will do it again. This makes our present sorrows and discouragements bearable. It is a sign that we need revival. Revival is the inrush of the Spirit into a body that threatens to become a corpse. It brings new life and fresh vigor. It brings renewed momentum. What can we do during these times? That’s the issue in Psalm 85.

In the psalm, Israel has experienced a great loss, probably a military defeat. She knows that God is angry. The psalmist remembers that God brought His people out of captivity before and forgave them, removing His wrath. Thus the psalmist has the courage to ask God to do it again. The six verbs-been favourable, brought back, have forgiven, covered, taken away, turned on-highlight God’s redemptive work in Israel’s history. God’s gracious dealings with Israel in the past justify the hope that He will again show grace and forgiveness.

Everywhere we look, there are signs of spiritual decay and decline in our society. This evil has infected both the world and the church. There is a need for revival, but it can’t be produced by human means or effort. It is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s children that we should be earnestly praying to see become a reality.

Throughout the Bible, God’s judgment is always a result of His righteousness and our moral failure. For this reason there will never be restoration, revival, or reunion apart from forgiveness. This makes the cross where Jesus was sacrificed central to our faith. As John 1:29 says, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” When restoration occurs, and it is based on forgiveness, God’s wrath is lifted.

If we have experienced a crisis in our lives, perhaps God has a purpose behind it. Perhaps God has taken steps to get our attention, and the next step is ours. Believers often complain because they don’t have any power, but God has given them the power. They simply refuse to use it. They get caught up in their own circumstances, problems, and issues. They simply forget to ask God for His help.

Christ breaks us free from Satan’s captivity, cancels our sins, and takes God’s judgment upon Himself. How then can we deal with our present depression and darkness? The first thing to do is to remember the past, especially what Jesus has done.

There are only two potions for us-God’s wrath or God’s life. Both come from Him. We can’t work up repentance and somehow deserve divine mercy. God has to do the work. All we can do is ask Him to do it. These truths emphasize His sovereign grace and lift the responsibility from us for our salvation and place it upon Him.

The word “mercy” means “lovingkindness” or “steadfast love.” It is a powerful word used elsewhere in the Old Testament to describe God’s unconditional love and His covenant commitment. There is great comfort in knowing that when a person sins, God does not change. His steadfast love allows everyone to seek further grace and forgiveness.

No one is beyond hope-no matter how far gone they appear to be. God is sovereign, and He is able to bring revival and new life to even the coldest heart or the most rebellious nation. The promise of salvation is followed by a warning not to return to our sinful, human nature. Grace must never create presumption. We are to respect God. As we do, salvation will be near. With God’s deliverance comes His glory. Only those who renounce their sinful autonomy and put their complete trust in the living God will enjoy the blessings of salvation and the future kingdom. Spiritual revival is not only about getting right with God. It is about returning to a place where we can delight in God. The very presence of God lives among us.

A good word to describe Christianity is “exposure.” We become Christians after being exposed as sinners. We grow as Christians and become exposed to our need of change in some area. We confess daily sin and it is exposed in our lives. We flourish in rwalk as a result of being exposed to the Scriptures. Joy depends on our understanding the grace of God, knowing that God’s grace is at work even when we suffer. Faithful living requires an attitude of listening for God’s voice, and then determining its meaning for our lives or our situations. Faith requires action on our part. We must seek forgiveness for the times we have neglected or turned away from God. We must recommit our hearts to Jesus.

What we need is a sweeping revival. Decline occurs in nine cycles. We go from:

  1. Bondage to spiritual faith
  2. Spiritual faith to courage
  3. Courage to liberty
  4. Liberty to abundance
  5. Abundance to selfishness
  6. Selfishness to complacency
  7. Complacency to apathy
  8. Apathy to dependence
  9. Dependance back again to bondage.

As humans we are forever returning to our old, sin-filled ways. No matter how many times God rescues us from ourselves and the damage we do to one another, when will we ever learn? When will we listen to God and live in the promised peace and wholeness that is ours in Christ?

This psalm expresses the union of God’s mercy and peace on the one hand and His kingdom order, truth and righteousness. Law and gospel, demand and gift, become one by His grace. We are pointed to Jesus, who bears all of these attributes in His own person. We gain His righteousness, and this righteousness brings peace or wholeness to God’s people. Righteousness comes from heaven as God’s gift and measures and judges the earth. God’s mercy and righteousness will triumph, and the earth will be blessed again. This gives us hope for the future-a future that impacts our homes, our cities, our nations, and our world.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2013; pp. 762-763)
  2. Williams, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 14: Psalms 73-150 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1989; pp. 108-113)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Stephen Davey, “Taking a Bath…Daily!” Retrieved from http://www.wisdomonline.org
  6. Bayless Conley, “The Vital Sign of Joy.” Retrieved from Bayless@AnswersBC.org
  7. Bayless Conley, “The Importance of Revival.” Retrieved from Bayless@AnswersBC.org
  8. Christine Caine, “A Time for Revival.” Retrieved from no-reply@christinecaine.com
  9. Shelley Cunningham, “Psalm 85:8-13.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu
  10. Raul Ries, “Revive Your People.” Retrieved from http://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/somebody-loves-you-radio-w-raul-ries/
  11. Krista Vingelis, “Psalm 85 verses 8-13.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu
  12. Ron Moore, “Soul Calm.” Retrieved from Crisswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  13. “Hearing Problems.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org

Jeremiah 2:4-13 Being the Bearer of Bad News

Have any of you ever had to deliver bad news? It isn’t an easy experience. I know because I’ve had to deliver bad news. The prophets in the Old Testament often had to deliver bad news to the people. We see a good example of this in the passage we heard from Jeremiah.

Jeremiah’s preparation was over. God was ready to give Jeremiah the word of the Lord for the nation-first an indictment and judgment against Israel for worshipping other gods, and then a call for the people to turn from their sinful ways before it is too late. God leveled several accusations against a people who did not find it easy to keep their faith in the mundane, day-to-day world.

Jeremiah pointed out two reasons why Israel was accused. First, Israel acted against common practice. Never in their history had the people forsaken the Gods of their inheritance. Second, they acted against common sense. Why did they take something of great value and exchange it for something worthless? They had forsaken God, the fountain of living water for cisterns of their own making. The Israelites gave up everything and went after nothing.

Cisterns are reservoirs dug into the earth. They are usually made of solid rock and are designed to hold water. On the other hand, a fountain is a spring that bubbles up from the earth with an unending supply of fresh, pure water. Instead of choosing God’s living water, we often choose to make our own cisterns. When we choose our own way instead of God’s way, we realize that our own way doesn’t work because it is broken.

The people’s ingratitude moved to idolatry and then to indifference. Hearing God’s Word, the people didn’t even ask, “Where is the Lord?” God was not absent. The people and their priests ignored the God of Israel as they pursued other, pagan gods. The priceless heritage of the Promised Land was ignored in favour of idolatry.

We do the same thing today when we get caught up in our daily worries. We resort to coping strategies such as finding a distraction. Unfortunately not thinking about something doesn’t make it go away. Our broken cistern is a cheap substitute that is not better than the living water.  We can choose between doing what we think will help us cope and drinking the water of life that can deal with the issue.

When we exchange God for an idol, we are changed. We become what we pursue. If we pursue something that is empty, we will become empty. If we pursue vanity, we will become vain. If we pursue darkness, we are assimilated into the darkness. What pursuits or ambitions lead us from the source of living water? Technology has made our lives easier, but it is a broken cistern that can’t hold water.

Israel had been given the privilege of God’s glorious presence. The people had known God as their glory, and yet other nations had demonstrated greater faithfulness to their pagan gods. No one can blame God for their sin or for their wandering habits. As an old saying goes, you made your bed, and now you have to go and lie in it. Any severe and prolonged pattern of sin, especially if it is practiced by people who claim to be devoted to God, leads to punishment from God.

Jeremiah warned that God’s people were trying to quench their cravings for salvation and significance in the wrong places. They committed two evils by turning away from the only true source of living water and by creating cisterns that could hold no water-even if living water was available. We always make a bad deal when we exchange God for anything else. If we choose something such as money, fame, power, sex, pleasure or influence instead of God, we end up with nothing but trouble-including death. There is nothing wrong with these things unless they become our focus instead of God. He is the only One who can satisfy us with His Living Water.

Some people argue that religion, which is not the same as Christianity, is a broken cistern. Religion makes us feel better. It gives us the impression that we are good, but it hides our inner evil. Religion focuses on the work of the hands, but it ignores the sin of the heart.

Where is the dryness in our own lives? Where are the parched places that long for living water? Where have we foolishly looked to our own resources for life and turned away from the true source of living water? What false gods are we worshipping in our lives? What false gods are worshipped in churches today? Where are we tempted to “own” the earth and control the future? We are not immune to pride, rebellion, and replacing God as the centre of our lives. We were meant to fly in a relationship with God, but we’ve traded His power and His strength for boring lives that can offer us little.

God cares about what we do. He feels the pain of the earth and the pain of those who suffer injustice. Our behaviours that cause pain also cause God pain. We can love God best when we love His creatures.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2013; pp. 964-965)
  2. Guest, J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 19: Jeremiah, Lamentations (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1988; pp. 34-35)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 1022-1023
  5. Jilly Lyon Taylor, “Broken Cisterns.” Retrieved from info@seedsofthekingdom.net
  6. Stephen Davey, “Drawing From the Right Well.” Retrieved from www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/a-wisdom-retreat
  7. Richard Griffiths, “The Water of Life.” Retrieved from info@seedsofthekingdom.net
  8. Chuck Swindoll, “Cheap Substitutes.” Retrieved from www.insightforliving.ca
  9. Dr. Ed Young, “You Are Meant For So Much More.” Retrieved from ministry@winningwalk.org
  10. Richard Floyd, “Living Water and Leaky Containers.” Retrieved from dailydevotional@ucc.org
  11. Anathea Portier-Young, “Commentary on Jeremiah 2:4-13.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  12. Alphonetta Wines, “Commentary on Jeremiah 2:4-13.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  13. Henry Langknecht, “Commentary on Jeremiah 2:4-13.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org

Amos 8:1-12 Is History Repeating Itself?

The events in Amos 8:1-12 happened almost 3,000 years ago, but they could read like headlines from today’s news. Amos lived during the reign of King Jeroboam II, whose reign was characterized by territorial expansion, aggressive militarism, and unprecedented national prosperity. His people took pride in their misguided religious beliefs, their history as God’s chosen people, their military victories, their economic affluence, and their political security.

Amos was a blue-collar lay preacher. The elites saw him as an unwelcome outsider. His criticism was brutal. He described how the rich mistreated the poor and flaunted their wealth. Fathers and sons visited the same temple prostitute. Corrupt judges sold justice to the highest bidder. Loan sharks exploited vulnerable families. The religious leaders pronounced God’s blessing on it all! Does this sound familiar? God sent his prophet Amos to warn the Israelites to repent of their sins. God gives us these examples in this passage to teach us that He hates sin. He promised a Saviour who would save us from our sins.

God used an image of ripe fruit to tell Amos the message that He wanted the Israelites to hear. The Hebrew word for end sounds like the word for summer fruit, which was harvested at the end of Israel’s agricultural season. This wordplay indicates that Israel’s end is near. The point of the vision was to declare that Israel’s rebellion had ripened. The harvest of their disobedience was God’s judgment. Israel’s refusal to return to the Lord brought her to the point of no return.

Israel’s wealthy eagerly awaited the end of feasts and the Sabbath so they could continue exploiting the poor. But on the Day of Judgment, not only would those celebrations be turned into mourning but there would be a famine of the words of the Lord-His truth would no longer be revealed through His prophets. Today, the Bible is available nearly everywhere, but deaf ears can still produce spiritual drought. Not many people listened to Amos. In fact, Amaziah the priest defended King Jeroboam and ran Amos out of town.

These visions have implications for us today. When is an individual, a church, or a ministry ripened fruit? Does resistance to God finally result in an irreversible end? Physical death ends the possibility of repentance and new life. We will spend eternity separated from God unless we accept His offer of salvation through Christ before we die. The scariest thing is that it is possible to resist the overtures of God’s love for so long that our wills can become hardened. We have to recognize the danger of becoming ripened fruit by never confessing Christ as Lord. Any claims of righteousness by faith must be combined with seeking and doing His will in our relationships and in our responsibilities to care for the poor, hungry, and disadvantaged.

When we do not heed God’s warnings and His exposure of what is wrong, we face the eventuality of becoming ripened fruit. We run the danger of becoming ripened fruit through the long process of hypocrisy. Israel’s hypocrisy ripened and would be cut off. Spoilage began and decomposition was not far off. All of us suffer from the danger of pretending to be pious while our actions contradict our words.

In Amos’ time, religious hypocrisy led to blatant rebellion. The passage from Amos revealed four charges. One charge was against the hypocrites who pretended to be religious while the poor were starved, sold into slavery, or lived in an impoverished state. Weights and measures, which were crucial to the economic order of the nation, were being falsified in the sale of grain, wheat, and produce. In verse 7, God swore an oath the He would never forget these practices of the hypocrites. The consequence of His oath would be like an earthquake.

The greatest impact of God’s judgment on the hypocrisy would be a famine of hearing the words of God. It would not be a famine of words, but a famine of hearing. Hypocrisy ripened to the point where the people no longer sought God’s words, nor did they listen when He spoke.

Amos rightly calls this period of silence a famine. It will be discouraging. The pain of living under Roman rule will be bad enough, but the total lack of prophesy will make it worse. The Israelites will be able to practice their religion, but only because the emperor allows it. The people will wonder where God is. They won’t be given any sign that Roman power is limited in either time or magnitude. Their belief that God is the Lord of all creation will be mocked, and He won’t do or say anything to prove them wrong.

In this famine of hearing, people will react like starving people. News reports bring into our homes and hearts the reality of people who are starving. As we see physical hunger, we are forced to see the stages of starvation, especially in Africa. Hatred grows between people. The hungry move from place to place looking for food and water. Soon apathy sets in. Absent stares are seen in eyes that are set in dark, hollow sockets. The starving people sink to the ground. Atrophy begins. Then the terrible grip of the monster of hunger causes them to writhe in pain. Finally, there is death. This is similar to the spiritual starvation of the Israelites when they experienced the famine of hearing the words of God.

We can identify the famine of hearing in our own time. It is similar to the famine of food. When people substitute hypocrisy for a dynamic relationship with God, there is an unsatisfied spiritual hunger. They go through the same process as in physical starvation-agitation, then acrimony, followed by criticism and negativism. People run all over the place in search of meaning in their lives.

God has sent a famine of hearing today. We can block the ears of our minds and our hearts to His words of grace and guidance, His demands of righteousness and justice in our personal lives and society for so long that we become spiritually deaf for a time. When we want God as much as a starving person longs for food or a thirsty person for water, we will be satisfied. If we want to be right with God, and we want His righteousness in our relationships and our responsibilities, God will answer our prayers. Spiritual famine does not have to lead to our spiritual death.

Unfortunately many people don’t realize that they are in a spiritual famine. Many people do starve when spiritual food is available. Others eat spiritual junk food when they really need a substantial intake of spiritual food that they can only get by receiving the nutritious truths from God’s Word.

There is not a famine of the words of God in the world today. We can turn on the radio, television, computer, smart phone, or tablet at almost any time of the day or night and hear or read a biblical exposition. The difficulty is in the willingness to hear. Something is seriously wrong in our hearts when we see God’s commandments and regular, corporate worship as a burden to get through rather than a privilege to enjoy. When we lose our appetite for Scripture it is because of spiritual sickness. This passage from Amos gives us an opportunity to help people identify their spiritual hunger and determine why they may not be listening.

How hungry are we for the Word of God? In 1 Peter 2:2, Peter tells us to be hungry for the Word like newborn babies hunger for mother’s milk. How much time do we spend each day feeding at the divine table and savor each line and doctrine with such complete joy and relish that it changes us from the inside out? How much do we long to fill our souls with the pure and wholesome teaching of God’s Word? How often during the day do we pause to have devotions and savor the beauty, goodness, and truth of God and His Word?

If Amos were among us today, what would he see, and what would he say? God’s children are starving because the word of God is being withheld from them. We must ask ourselves if it is just rules getting in the way of them being fed. What if we suspended the rules? Would Christ show up anyway?

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2013; pp. 1186-1187)
  2. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 1227-1229)
  3. Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 22: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.: 1990; pp. 355-366)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN:Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. Dr. Paul Chappell, “The Worst Famine.” Retrieved from daily@dailyintheword.org
  6. Charles R. Swindoll, “Spiritual Famine.” Retrieved from info@insightforliving.ca
  7. T.M. Moore, “Hungry for the Word.” Retrieved from noreply@ailbe.org
  8. Mike Slay and Matt Richardson, “Where is God?” Retrieved from noreply@ailbe.org
  9. Jennifer Brownell, “Rules.” Retrieved from dailydevotional@ucc.org
  10. Dan Clendenin, “Amos: Will Not the Land Tremble?” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net

2 Kings 2:1-2,6-14 The Passing of the Mantle

There are times in our lives when we have to say goodbye to the ones we love. It could mean saying goodbye to a family member or friend that we have visited, or a loved one who is dying. Parting isn’t always easy, but it is a necessary part of life. The passage we heard from 2 Kings 2 is an example of a parting of the ways.

Elijah knew that God was about to take him home. He tried to keep it a secret, but he didn’t know that God told Elisha and the prophets what was going to happen. Elisha had served and followed Elijah faithfully for many years, but when the time came for Elijah to leave, Elisha made sure he was there to receive God’s anointing to continue the ministry of his master. For this to happen, he had to see his master go and be ready to receive the Spirit of God that would empower him.

Faithfulness and loyalty to Elijah were essential traits for Elijah’s successor. Some suggest Elisha was disobedient in not staying, but Elijah was testing Elisha, and Elisha passed the test. When Elijah tested him a third time, Elisha still refused to put his own comfort first.

Why did Elijah want the group to stay behind? He wanted to spare them the pain of seeing him leave. Also, he knew God was going to perform a miracle to bring his earthly life to an end, and he didn’t want to “show off.” He knew God was going to give a new meaning to the Kenny Rogers song, “Let’s Go Out, in a Blaze of Glory.”

When Elijah struck the waters of the Jordan River with the mantle again, he implied that God was with Elisha as He was with Elijah. After they crossed the Jordan River, Elijah asked Elisha if there was anything he could do for Elisha. In response, Elisha asked for a double portion of the prophetic spirit. His request related to Deuteronomy 21:17 where the oldest son was entitled to a double share of the father’s estate.  Elisha requested a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, the energizing power characterizing Elijah’s ministry. Elisha wanted to be designated as Elijah’s heir. Elisha wanted God’s empowerment far more than he wanted wealth. By receiving double what the other prophets would get, Elisha would become the leader of the other prophets. Elisha made a big request because he had come to know a big God. What “big things” might God be pleased to do in our lives if only we would ask Him?

Elijah knew that only God could grant this request. If God allowed Elisha to see Elijah when he was taken away, that would be a sign that God granted Elisha’s request to be Elijah’s successor. Elisha did see Elijah being taken away.

The chariot and horses of fire were likely an angel squadron on special assignment. Elijah’s exclamation speaks to the reason God commanded Israel’s kings not to stockpile horses or fear armies with chariots; every powerful resource is found in God, who fights for His people. The horse-drawn chariot was the fastest means of transport and the mightiest means of warfare in that day. Thus, the chariot and horses represented God’s protection, which was the true safety of Israel and is our true safety today. Just as earthly kingdoms are dependent for their defense on such military force as represented by the modern day versions of horses and chariots, one single prophet-Elijah-had done more by God’s power to preserve his nation than all their military preparations.

Elijah had placed his prophetic mantle on Elisha as Israel’s next prophet. Now Elisha demonstrated his acceptance of the call. We can depend on the Elijahs in our lives as long as God allows, but there will come a time for us when we have to step out on our own like Elisha. That’s the time when we are tempted to cling to our Elijah and feel that we can’t go on alone, but God says that we must go on. All of us need people who model what it means to follow Jesus, just like Elijah modeled for Elisha what it means to follow God. May God give us godly people who help us grow spiritually. May we also, by the power of the Holy Spirit, invest our lives in the lives of other people. 

Crossing the Jordan represents a separation from those we have been clinging to and beginning  to take our walk with God in total dependence upon Him. We can’t depend on anyone other than God to determine where we are to go and what we are to do. We have to take what we have learned from our Elijahs and learn for ourselves whether God is the God we have faith to believe Him to be. Only then are we ready to proceed to the other side of the Jordan.

Performing the same miracle as Elijah demonstrated that Elisha had received a double portion of his mentor’s spirit. This put him in the tradition of Moses and Joshua, who respectively parted the Red Sea and the Jordan River. Like Joshua, whose name means “Yahweh Saves”, Elisha would live up to the meaning of his name- “God Saves.”

So how can we inherit our own double portions of God’s power? There are three things we have to remember:

  1. We have to have a hunger for it. This hunger comes from God. Great anointing comes with great responsibility and great difficulty.
  2. Humility comes before honour.
  3. We must be totally committed to our calling.

Our human problem is to have a little bit of God’s power of compassion when we need a lot of God’s inner, gentle love for those who are suffering around us. We need a double portion of Christ’s selfless love for those who are hurting.

The passage of the mantle is what the church has been doing for thousands of years. In many ways we inherit a double portion of what has been before as we build on the foundation of everyday prophets, saints, and sinners, all the way back to the first witnesses of the resurrection. When we sow into someone with great favour like Elijah did for Elisha, we will reap some of that favour. Grace put them there to bring us favour. As we connect to them, new doors to save will open, and new talents will come out. When we as God’s people are on the march, and we are doing what He wants us to do, nothing can stop us.

Nothing worthwhile that is accomplished for God comes without a struggle. We will face active opposition from the world, the flesh, the devil, and sometimes other Christians. We should expect these troubles rather than being surprised by them. If we only do the easy things, we will fall short of His purpose for our lives. We should do what Elisha did and recognize obstacles as opportunities for God to display His power in our lives. Because he had God’s approval, Elisha was not swayed by the opinions of men. Because he had God’s power, Elisha was not discouraged by the opposition of men. We can rely on the Holy Spirit to equip us for the task-just like Elisha relied on God’s Spirit. Because we have God’s approval, we must not be swayed by popular opinion. Because we have God’s power, we must not be discouraged in the face of opposition.

Let’s consider for a moment the Elishas we know. They are good, faithful people caught up in a mess of someone else’s making, trying with everything they’ve got to hang on, playing their last card like a gambler with nothing left to lose. For example, a transgendered church member fits that description. Bullied by their roommates, despairing of a way out, they send up a Sunday morning SOS, tearfully begging the congregation for leads on a safe place to live. When they strike the church’s fount of blessing, the water parts to reveal an elderly couple, not on anyone’s list of potential landlords, who feel God is speaking directly to them. The service postlude has barely ended when the 80-somethings invite the 21-year-old and their service dog to come live at their house.

Elishas are the people who pass through the waters and then go on to work great wonders. We are often asked to be reasonable or practical, but this passage reminds us that God’s power is not controlled by the limits of our imagination. We must not be afraid to ask for what seems to be impossible. We should praise the God who makes a way out of no way and give thanks for the ones who provide a way over. Then smack those waters with all our might.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2013; p. 482)
  2. Dilday, R. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 9: 1,2 Kings (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987; pp. 245-248)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Vikki Kemper, “Troubled Waters.” Retrieved from dailydevotional@ucc.org
  6. Os Hillman, “Thirsting After God.” Retrieved from tgis@marketplaceleaders.org
  7. Joel Osteen, “A Double Portion.” Retrieved from devotion@goto.joelosteen.com\
  8. Ron Moore, “A Bold Request.” Retrieved from www.ronmoore.org
  9. Dr. Paul Chappell, “Taking on Hard Things.” Retrieved from daily@dailyintheword.org
  10. Ed Markquart, “2 Kings 2:1-12.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu
  11. Estera Pirosca Escobar, “Someone Who Leads.” Retrieved from donotreply@email.rbc.org

Acts 16:9-15 God’s Plans for His People

You have probably heard of the famous quote from the Scottish poet Robbie Burns that “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” The evens in Acts 16:9-15 are a good example of this saying. The apostle Paul wanted to preach the Gospel in the Roman province of Asia, which extended to the coast of Greece. Paul was convinced that this was the next step in the strategy for reaching the Gentiles.

The Holy Spirit prevented Paul and his companions from going there. Paul was sensitive enough to the Spirit of God that he could tell the difference between no and yes when it came to discerning God’s will-and he was obedient enough to respond to both. This time, God directed Paul to leave Asia Minor and go into Europe. Paul set a good example for us to follow when he obeyed the words from this song:

Children go where I send you

How shall I send you

I’m gonna send you one by one

One for the little bitty baby

Born, born

Born in Bethlehem

Paul’s love for God allowed him to hear God’s voice when it spoke to him, and his obedience allowed the gospel to spread in a powerful way. When we listen to the Holy Spirit He will tell us if our direction or decision is right or wrong. When our purpose and long-range goals are clear and in agreement with God’s plans for our lives, we can trust our thinking and responses of our emotions. The Holy Spirit trusts us more than we trust Him at times.

When the door to Paul’s plans was shut, Paul simply continued moving on to other centres in Galatia following his purpose of preaching Christ and his basic plan of reaching the Gentiles. He did not sit still. In Troas God used another method of communicating His guidance to Paul. A Macedonian man appeared to Paul in a dream with the urgent plea to come to Macedonia. God can get us to our Troas by whatever means He decides to use.

Not doing something left Paul free to do what God had in mind for him. He was ready to respond when he received the vision to go into Macedonia. The doing is always more complicated than it first appears. Are there things we’re not supposed to do, or do we just not feel like it? Is it too intimidating or boring or “beneath us?” Even after the vision, Paul still had to figure out what he was supposed to do. Saying yes to God’s invitations won’t always be easy, and we may still face hardships along our way. Even when we are pursuing God’s plan for our lives, problems will happen and we will have to continue to learn to depend on God as our deliverer.

In addition, we are all too busy. There are many ways we can spend our days, our energies, our efforts. In the midst of the abundance of choices, what would it mean if we simply wondered how God is speaking to us?

  1. We might find ourselves called to our own Macedonia.
  2. What might happen if we simply “set sail” and went?
  3. What sorts of surprises might be waiting for us?
  4. Who might we meet by the river outside of town who would change the course of mission for the church and for each of us?
  5. Where and with whom might we discover and receive unexpected hospitality?

Paul’s first stop in Macedonia was in the city of Philippi. Philippi was a Roman colony, taking its name in 356 BC from Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Philippi was a favoured city of Rome, and its citizens were exempt from provincial Roman taxes. Since Paul seemed to prefer to establish ministry beachheads in key regional cities, it should be no surprise that he picked Philippi.

Philippi didn’t have a synagogue because of the Mosaic law’s requirement for ten men. That’s why Lydia and her friends met by the river. When the church is more concerned with getting the so-called “right” people than in saving souls, we need to remember that although the man from Macedonia called for help, it was Lydia who started the church. Paul prayed for it and its partnership in spreading the Gospel.

Paul’s dream is a good example of the fact that when we are called by God, we have to be fully dependent on God to deliver us even if He sends an angel to our doorstep. Even when we are doing everything right, life happens, and we need to be standing close to Him when it does.

God will direct us to people whose hearts have cried out for answers and help. It is likely that we won’t have to go too far to find them. No one will respond to the Gospel message unless God goes before us and sends His Spirit to do work in human hands. This is what happened to Lydia.  Lydia was a Jewish proselyte or “God-fearer” like Cornelius in Acts 10:2. She was also a seller of dyed cloth. Purple was the color of royalty and nobility so Lydia was probably a very successful businesswoman. She also had a home large enough to host Paul and his team. Paul’s encounter with Lydia and her friends opened the way for ministry in that region.

So what are the qualities that a godly person should possess? Let’s look at Lydia:

  1. She was a woman of prayer. Although there was no man to lead her and her friends, they were committed to prayer and its importance.
  2. She worshipped God with all the truth that had been revealed to her at that time.
  3. She was a woman of faith.
  4. She was a woman of service. She opened her house to Paul and his friends. Her home became the meeting place for the church.

She is a wonderful, faithful example for every new believer. Many times, after a person becomes a Christian there is inertia or a waning of energy. Perhaps they don’t know what to do next, or perhaps they feel intimidated by other, more seasoned Christians. Lydia didn’t let these things hinder her in her Christian commitment, and in doing so she set a good example for us to follow today. She immediately threw herself wholeheartedly into the kingdom of God, opening her home and her heart to weary and persecuted saints.

Christ’s ongoing work happens in small increments, typically one person at a time. Faithful witnesses like Paul look for opportunities to engage others in conversation about spiritual matters. whether to strengthen their faith or to explore the possibilities for sharing the Gospel. We should imitate him in this practice, so that the ongoing work of Jesus can continue in and through us.

Lydia was concerned that her life would be evaluated by God and that she would pass His test. God has never been impressed by talent, gifts, or success. The faithful life requires humility and obedience. When we have time with God, we can ask Him to open our hearts so we can receive a fresh revelation of Him. No matter how much we think we know about Him, we can long to know Him more.

No human-not even one who so faithfully preaches the Word of God as Paul did-has ever had the ability to open anyone’s heart except Jesus. God’s servants can sow the Word, but ultimately the Holy Spirit is responsible to accomplish the harvest.

So how can we pray for unsaved people to be saved? Here are four ways:

  1. Pray for openness and understanding. If God can open Lydia’s heart, He can open anyone’s heart.
  2. Pray that God will send labourers to them.
  3. Pray that God will visit them and reveal Himself and His will to them.
  4. Pray for personal direction and for personal opportunities to show God’s love.

We do not do God’s work alone. We work together with God. We plant the seed and water it, but God gives the increase. We can’t use pressure tactics on people to get them to believe and obey, but if we teach God’s Word, He will do the rest. In order to do this, we have to be in fellowship with other Christians. Fellowship helps us in our faith, and it will help other believers in their faith. Interaction with other believers won’t always be comfortable. Our “sore spots” will become visible.

Acts 16:9-15 has a lot to teach us about guidance. Guidance is found in the flow of the Holy Spirit while we are being carried along in its fast-moving currents. Consistent prayer and openness expressed in complete willingness will allow the Spirit to use our thinking, feelings, and circumstances to make His guidance clear. The Spirit has the responsibility to guide us, so we can recognize the hand of God in everything that happens. This leads to humble praise that we have been created capable of being guided rather than the arrogance to think that we have been given fortune-telling abilities.

If we received a vision like the one Paul received, what would we do? Would we obey it immediately? Would we allow God to lead us in a direction that may be different from the one we want to go? Would we ignore the dream and go on with life as usual? Being a follower of Christ means that we never know where we’re going to end up next. Following God means more than coming to church every Sunday. It’s about following God’s vision for this sin-filled, broken world. It means doing so in response to God’s love for us and His love for creation.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1515)
  2. Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 239-247)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Pastor Allen Jackson, “Relying Only on God.” Retrieved from email@allenjacksonministries.com
  6. T.M. Moore, “Same Song, Next Verse.” Retrieved from noreply@ailbe.org
  7. Bayless Conley, “Come Over and Help Us.” Retrieved from Bayless@AnswersBC.org
  8. Bayless Conley, “How to Pray for the Unsaved.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  9. Pastor Allen Jackson, “Life Happens.” Retrieved from contact@allenjacksonministries.com
  10. Pastor David McGee, “Stir It Up.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  11. Dr. Paul Chappell, “Judged Faithful.” Retrieved from daily@dailyintheword.org
  12. Carolyn Dale Newel, “Lydia-A Seller of Purple.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@corsswalkmail.com
  13. “Day 29 Theme: Women of Faith.” Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com
  14. Rev. Janet Hunt, “On Macedonia and Being Open to God’s Vision.” Retrieved from www.dancingintheword.com
  15. The Rev. Sharron R. Blezard, “The Trouble with Visions.” Retrieved from www.stewardshipoflife.org

Acts 4:32-37 Christian Generosity and Christian Unity

There is always outward evidence when God works in the hearts of believers and Acts 4:32-37 is a good example. The Holy Spirit began to bring the early believers together as a corporate body. The Jerusalem believers had a very mature view of material possessions: what they possessed was not their own-it belonged to God. The people of the Jerusalem church lived with open hands. From their open hands, other could take what they needed, and into their open hands, God could put more resources to share. Believers realize that all they have belongs to God. When a Christian brother or sister has a need those who can meet it have a moral obligation to do so.

A closed hand misses two blessings in life: it can neither enjoy the blessing of giving to others nor receive blessings from a loving God. Barnabas is noted in verses 36 and 37 for his generosity in selling a piece of land and giving the money to the church.

What unites both the early Christians and us is that we are all heart.  All that we have and all that we are belongs to God. We, like the early Christians, must have all things in common and we must be of one mind. To be of one mind is to is to have the mind of Christ in common-not our ideas about Him, or even our theology, but our heart and soul-our inner selves. We can only support and love each other if we know what’s going on inside each other.

Christians are dependent on each other. We are called to be Christ’s people. We are called to be in communion with Him and with each other. Together we are called to be the divine agent for Jesus’ continuing ministry today. A good example is Barnabas. He helped, encouraged, uplifted, and united to get the best out of people. He paved the way for the apostle Paul to be accepted by the other apostles. He was Paul’s missionary companion. He believed in the apostle Mark when Mark left during one of Paul’s missionary trips. We are called to stand with our Christian brothers and sisters. We are called to help each other during life’s trials and joys. Encouragement, such as that which Barnabas gave, is love in action. Christ tells us how to love people and encourage them.

Churches that are infectiously alive have strategies for members being together in small, informal gatherings where the Scriptures can be studied, needs and gratitudes shared, and prayer for one another offered. All of us need a handful of people who are loyal to us and to whom we are loyal because of Christ’s loyalty to us. He will never leave us or forsake us, and we must never leave or forsake our Christian brothers and sisters.

Giving is part of loving. It is a lifestyle that is at the heart of Christianity. It redirects us away from ourselves to the needs of others and the glory of God. What we have belongs to God, and He calls on us to share what He has given us with the less fortunate. When we allow God to fill our heats with His boundless love, it shows on the outside. This outer beauty is a gift from God. It is timeless. It literally pours out of us and alters our appearance in a most appealing way.

Giving can be inconvenient. There is never a “right” time when people need help. There are other priorities in our lives. There are other claims on our time. To be a source of help and hope, we must be willing to do what is necessary when it is necessary, regardless of the financial and personal costs.

Giving is contrary to today’s culture, which emphasizes individuality, autonomy, and personal conversion. Many people start out being faithful to God and serving Him. He blesses their success, but before long they remove themselves from the presence of God’s people. They become more concerned with making money instead of doing God’s work.

The key to what happened to the early believers, and the key to what happens to believers today, is unity. The early believers were united in their spirit of generosity, and modern believers are encouraged to be united in generosity as well. Believers give in order to advance the Gospel and meet the needs of other people. That generosity and unity is the result of God’s grace at work within a believer’s heart to cause him or her to become a giver. Unity is the key to evangelism, and it must have precedence in our prayers. Unity matters to God, and it should matter to us. Unity is a priority in heaven, so it should be a priority on earth.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1493-1494)
  2.  Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 108-114)
  3. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  4. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010)
  5. noreply@ailbe.org

Psalm 150 Praising God

Sawyer was kicking the soccer ball around in the front yard when his dad drove up. “Hey, Sawyer-man,” Dad said as he got out of the car. “How’s it going?”

Sawyer shrugged. “I don’t think I did a very good job on my spelling test at school today. And it was supposed to be my turn to feed the class hamster, but Ross said it was his turn. Then I spilled my milk all over the lunch table. And I have tons of homework!” He sighed. “So, not that great.”

“I’m sorry you had a rough day,” Dad said. “But did you know that even on the tough days, God wants you to say thank you?”

Sawyer wrinkled his forehead. “He does?”

Dad nodded. “Sometimes you may not feel like it, but that’s when you need to do it the most,” he explained. “Because you trust in Jesus, He will help you be thankful, even when things are difficult. And reminding yourself of all He’s done to save you and everything He’s blessed you with so you can thank Him for it will make you feel better and give you strength. Start by talking to Him–just like you’re talking to me. Tell Him how you’re feeling and why, and then start saying thank you to Him.”

Dad scooped up the soccer ball. “Time for some Super-Sawyer praise!” he exclaimed as he pretended to flex his muscles. “Ready?” He tossed the ball at Sawyer. “I’m thankful you’re my son!” he shouted.

Sawyer caught the ball. “I’m thankful I’m your son too!” He tossed the ball back to Dad.

“Is that a smile I see?” Dad asked with a grin as he threw the ball to Sawyer.

Sawyer knee-bumped the ball back to Dad. “I’m thankful I can play outside.”

“I’m thankful we can talk to Jesus anytime,” Dad said, stopping the ball with his foot and then kicking it back to Sawyer.

Sawyer and Dad kept the ball going back and forth as they shouted out things they were thankful for. With each toss and kick of the ball and each thank you to God, Sawyer started to feel lighter somehow. He decided he was going to start saying thank you to Jesus a whole lot more. 

Why should we praise God? It is because praise is the clearest and most direct means by which we declare our dependence on God. It repeats our trust in Him in the midst of life’s trials. It shows our loyalty to the One who died for us. It is a voluntary act of gratitude offered by the saved to their Saviour, by the healed to the Healer, and the delivered to the deliverer. When we praise God for His grace, we give Him what He deserves, and He offers us a joyful heart. Praise becomes an effortless expression of our love for God. It leads us to a state of bliss and inner peace.

The greatest truth of God is that He is worthy of our worship, and the deepest truth about ourselves is that we have been created to worship God. When we do this, we find the real meaning of our existence. Why do so many people have problems? It is because they have never really worshipped God. They have never submitted their lives to Him. They have never praised Him. They worship alcohol, medication, or busyness. These are temporary at best and only make their problems worse. The real cure for their problems is in worshiping and praising God.

A few years ago a man bought a $5,000 engagement ring and hid it in his kitchen drawer while waiting to propose to his girlfriend. When his parents came for a visit, his mother went to work discarding and throwing away garbage from the kitchen. When the man looked for his ring, it was gone-and hasn’t been found since. Apparently his mother tossed it out by mistake.

In another case, workers at a garbage dump found a $5,000 wedding ring belonging to a woman who accidentally tossed it in the trash while cooking. It was returned, and the woman rewarded the workers with pizza and brownies.

Renowned theologian Dr. A.W. Tozer called worship “the missing jewel of the evangelical church.” Since the church is made up of individual believers, many Christians have lost the way of worship from their lives. When we praise God, it might seem awkward at first, but if we keep it up, it will become our way of life. We are to praise Him in the church, in our own private prayer time, and throughout our day. We have to learn to keep an attitude of praise and thanksgiving.

This issue will become clearer as we get closer to Christ’s return. We will worship either God or the devil. If we choose to worship God, how will we worship Him? Where will we learn to worship Him? The answer is found in the Bible. The psalms will teach us and reform our worship if we will listen to them.

Psalm 150:1 tells us when and where we are to worship Him. We are to praise Him in His temple, which is the body of Jesus. As we are believers, we are incorporated into that body. Our individual bodies have become little temples where God chooses to dwell in His Spirit.

We are to praise God for His mighty acts, both in creation and in our daily lives. His acts reveal His character. We are also to praise Him for the multitude of His greatness. We are also to praise God with song and dance. Everything that expresses praise is a legitimate instrument of praise and is relevant for the culture and people using it. These include guitars, drums, and electronic instruments. Which instruments we use is not the issue. Why we use them and how we use them is the issue, as long as it comes from the heart, is Spirit-led, appropriate to the gathering, and is an offering to God.  

Everyone and everything is to praise God, even animals. If they can breathe, they are to praise God. We are to breathe the Spirit which God breathed into us back to Him in praise as we offer ourselves to Him.

Well-known evangelist Dr. Charles Stanley listed some of the benefits we get from praising the Lord:

  1. Praise magnifies God. It puts the focus on God, not on our problems. God’s power, presence and ability change our thinking.
  2. Praise humbles us. When we worship God, we gain a right view of ourselves. Praise deflates excess pride and ego. We gain a healthy self-image that is based on God’s view of us. By removing pride, praise strengthens us against temptation.
  3. Praise reveals our devotion to God. If we love Christ, we will praise Him. If He has the first place in our lives, we will honour Him with worship and thanksgiving.
  4. Praise motivates us to live lives that are pleasing to God. It opens our hearts to want to live the way God wants-holy and separated to Him, to do His will above our own, to want to be like Him more than anyone else. The more we worship Him, the more like Him we will become.
  5. Praise increases our joy. Joy is the constant companion of praise. If we feel depressed or discouraged, praising God will soon bring us joy.
  6. Praise establishes our faith. The greater we see our God, the smaller we see our problems.
  7. Praise elevates our emotions. Worry, fear, and doubt can’t survive for long in an atmosphere of praise.

Praise and thanksgiving are not optional for Christians, They are a requirement of God for obedient living. As I mentioned earlier in this message, as long as we are breathing, we have a duty to give thanks to God for all that He has done for us. We live in an ungrateful society where expressions of gratitude and appreciation are rare. We must not allow that spirit to infect our hearts, or it will have a devastating effect on our walk with God. We have to remember the words of the hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”:

Praise to the Lord,

the Almighty, the King of creation;

O my soul, praise Him

 for He is thy health and salvation:

All ye who hear

Brothers and sisters draw near,

praise Him in glad adoration

Praise to the Lord!

O let all that is in me adore Him

All that hath life and breath

Come now with praises before Him!

Let the Amen

sound from His people again:

Gladly for aye we adore Him.

If we want to see a difference in our relationship with Christ and in our walk with Him, we have to start praising Him today. We have to continue praising Him even when we feel like giving up. If we commit ourselves to lives of praise and fellowship with Jesus, we will experience the fullness of what God means by “joy.”

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 804)
  2. Kelly Hope, “Super Sawyer Praise.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org
  3. Williams, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 14: Psalms 73-150 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1989; pp. 529-533)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 842-846)
  7. Fadi E. Khairallah, “The Power of Praise.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  8. Dr. David Jeremiah, “This Rings True.” Retrieved from turningpoint@davidjeremiah.org
  9. Gloria Copeland, “Created to Praise.” Retrieved from paul@ncmcanada.com
  10. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “The Fear Antidote.” Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org
  11. Dr. Paul Chappell, “The Duty of All Nations.” Retrieved form daily@dailyintheword.org
  12. Joachim Neander, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” As printed in Common Praise (Toronto, ON: Anglican Book Centre; 2000)

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 A Heavenly Renovation

Addy tiptoed around the piles of junk strewn all over the floor. “This place is a mess,” she called to her dad. “I don’t know why you would want to live here!”

Dad grinned. “But this fixer-upper has so much potential, Addy! You have to look beyond the mess and see what each room could be like with some cleaning up and a little bit of paint!”

“A lot of paint, you mean!” said Mom as she came from the kitchen. “Did you see the color of the kitchen walls? Bright orange! I’d need to wear sunglasses just to cook dinner!”

Addy’s parents had been wanting to move out of the city, and this house seemed like a good fit. But Addy wasn’t sure she wanted to move into such an ugly house even though she would like having a small yard and space to ride her bike.

“Come take a look at this bedroom, Addy!” Dad said. “It could be yours to decorate however you wanted.”

Addy walked into the room and grimaced at the cobwebs and faded wallpaper. But then she started imagining the room painted in a pale purple with white curtains around the big window and her giant stuffed panda in the corner. Maybe she could like living here.

Addy’s parents decided to buy the house, and after several weeks of cleaning and painting, they were ready to move in. Addy couldn’t believe the transformation.

“This house looks amazing!” Addy told her parents as they were unpacking boxes. “I can’t believe how this ugly little house turned into something beautiful!”

“I know how you feel,” said Mom. “I never would have wanted to live in this house before we fixed it up. But now it looks warm and inviting.” She smiled at Addy. “It reminds me of how Jesus changes us. He takes our sinful, ugly hearts and transforms them by filling them with His love and joy. He makes each of us a new creation!”

Addy smiled. “Well, this house sure is a new creation, and I’m glad Jesus has made me a new creation too!”

There is no more beautiful description of the work that God has given Christians to do in the world than is found in Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that Christ has “given us the ministry of reconciliation.” True religion is always interested in the nature of man’s relationship with God. In the sense that every child has some kind of relationship with his or her parents, each and every one of us has some kind of relationship with God. It was God’s intention since creation for people to live in a relation of trust and obedience. But sin entered the world and created a hostility to God’s will and an estrangement from Him. Then God’s action through Christ was a reaching out in love to reestablish the relationship. When Paul had to define his ministry and ours, he took a phrase from the world of politics: “We are ambassadors for Christ.” In Paul’s world this metaphor would be clearly understood as describing the act of representing Christ in the Roman Empire. In verse 20 Paul is relating this to our role. We play that same role for the kingdom of God.

Paul was raised in a religious world that glorified in the deed and ignored the motive. in his relationship with Christ he realized that fear, guilt, a sense of duty or a desire to impress God or others were not good reasons for sharing the Gospel. The primary focus was on Christ’s love for us and not our love for Him. The belief that on the cross Christ acted on behalf of the human race became the basis for Paul’s thinking and actions.

Paul believed that on the cross sinful humanity was destroyed in principle and a new humanity was created. As Paul moved out into the cities of the then-known world to proclaim the Good News, there was a note of victory already won, a feeling that he knew the ultimate outcome. This passage from 2 Corinthians is filled with hope.

Paul was talking about an inner change that only God can make. It ties together our past, our present, and our future. Jesus didn’t come to help us overcome our sinful nature. He came to completely remove it so that we no longer have to be a slave to sin. We don’t need to change our circumstances or our surroundings. We need to change our hearts. Our hearts need a new birth, a spiritual transformation.

God took the sins of the world and on the cross piled them on the back of Jesus Christ, the one who had never committed a single sin. Because all of God’s wrath against us because of our rebellion was poured out on Jesus, God has no more anger left for us. He only has kindness, tolerance, and patience for us. Once we accept Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we gain His righteousness. That’s why when God sees us, He sees Jesus and His perfect character. Jesus took our punishment so that we might receive His righteousness. He identified with our sin through the cross so we could identify with His righteousness by faith in His redemption. Now we are clothed with His righteousness.

When we come to Jesus, we are a new creation, even if we don’t feel like a new creation. The moment we are born again, our old selves died and we became new people with the life and nature of God. Understanding our identity in Christ is vital to our success at living the Christian life. We can’t consistently behave in the way we see ourselves. If we think we are bums, chances are that we will live like bums. If we see ourselves as children of God who are spiritually alive in Christ we will live in victory and freedom as He lived. The two most important truths in our lives are knowledge of God and knowledge of who we are.


God won’t let us stay where we are. Once He touches our lives, we will never be the same. As a result of being a new creation, the world’s standard of judgment no longer applies. The key phrase “in Christ” is a favourite of Paul’s. This passage does not mean that in the moment of regeneration a person’s lusts, temptations, and carnal thoughts dissolve. In Christ the old has gone, in us those struggles rage on. But with the Spirit’s help, the Christian’s “practice” will align more with his or her position day by day until the Son returns and makes every believer whole.

God has no need to be reconciled to humanity, but humans have a desperate need to be reconciled to Him. The word “imputing” means “keeping track of, entering into the record.” Through the work of Christ, every believer’s record of sin is blotted out and he or she is reconciled to the Father. So instead of noting every believer’s sins and failures, as sin deserves, God throws out the ledger altogether.

In Christ we have received the great gift of grace. When I was doing the research for this message I found this little acrostic that will make it easier to share Christ with other people. It’s based on the letters G-R-A-C-E:

  1. “G” stands for the “Gift” of salvation. We have done nothing to earn God’s grace. It’s a gift.
  2. “R” stands for “Repentance.” To repent means to turn. In our sin, we were walking away from God, but then we turned from sin and began to follow Christ!
  3. “A” stands for “Almighty” God. We need to develop a relationship with Almighty God…the one who loves us and who has a wonderful plan for our lives.
  4. “C” stands for “Commitment.” We are called to live in a committed relationship with Jesus, the bridegroom. He died for us, He lives within us, and He’s coming again to receive us to himself!
  5. “E” stands for “Eternal” life. We receive the gift of eternal life by faith the moment we come to Christ!

If we don’t surrender to God, we will surrender to something else such as our moods, our circumstances, our fears, or our self-control concerns. If we do, we will end up becoming downcast and distraught.

We tend to see others through the eyes of the world. Christ has made us a new creation. If we believe that then with the new eyes Christ has given us we have to be open to seeing and accepting others. We have to put aside the old standards of social standing, race, wealth, etc. If we are in Christ we have a new existence in Christ.

Since Jesus no longer walks this earth in the flesh, His people are His ambassadors, speaking and acting on His behalf for those who do not know Him. Christians are His head (or the mind of Christ), hands (or the works of Christ), and heart (or the love of Christ) to those who need Him. Every day we have opportunities to show God’s love and compassion to others. We can meet their needs, bring them healing, and offer hope and encouragement. Every day we can sow good seeds into the lives of others that will reap an eternal harvest.

The greatest transaction in the history of the world occurred when Jesus (who knew no sin) exchanged His righteousness for humanity’s sin, taking it on Himself (becoming sin for us). He received what every person really deserved-death on a cross. By faith, sinners receive what He deserved-God’s acceptance and eternal life with Him.

Has Jesus transformed you from a fixer-upper into a new creation? He can change the ugliest heart full of selfishness and pride into a beautiful heart full of His love. Jesus makes us new creations from the inside out! Trust Him as your Savior and see the amazing work He does in you.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1606-1608)
  2. Chafin, K.L & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 30: 1,2 Corinthians (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 233-236)
  3. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. Vikki Burke, “No Guilt, Inferiority, or Condemnation.” Retrieved from dbm@dennisburkeministries.org
  6. Dr. Neil Anderson, “A New Creature.” Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com/devotionals/dailyinchrist/
  7. Jerry Savelle, “You Are a New Creation.” Retrieved from paul@ncmcanada.ca
  8. Dr. Neil Anderson, “A Matthew of Being Someone.” Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com/devotionals/dailyinchrist/
  9. Dr. Jack Graham, “Songs of Encouragement.” Retrieved from jgraham@powerpoint.org
  10. Joni Eareckson Tada, “God’s Anger.” Retrieved from communic@joniandfriends.org
  11. Pastor Ed Young, “Trading Spaces-Rebel Trouble.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  12. Dr. Ed Young, “Don’t Stay put.” Retrieved from ministry@winningwalk.org
  13. Selwyn Hughes, “Talking with God All Night.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  14. Dr. Jack Graham, “All in the Family.” Retrieved from jgraham@powerpoint.org
  15. Joel Osteen, “You Are Somebody’s Miracle.” Retrieved from devotional@goto.joelosteen.com
  16. Kendra Angle, “The Fixer Upper.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org
  17. Jerry Savelle, “Righteous Means Righteous.” Retrieved form paul@ncmcanada.com
  18. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 4th Sunday of Lent -C-, March 27, 2022.” Retrieved from firstimpressions@lists.opsouth.org

Luke 11:14-23 It’s Time to Choose

In Luke 11:14-23, Jesus has to deal with two enemies-a demon and the Pharisees. Demons could be disguised in many forms, including physical ailments. In this case, the demons controlled the man’s vocal cords and prevented him from speaking. The demon was no match for Jesus’ power and authority.

This led to another kind of evil-opposition from the Pharisees. What caused people to hate Jesus? It was their pride, their vanity, and their sensuality. These are at the root of all of our sins. That’s why we stay the stupid things that we say and do the stupid things that we do. That’s why some in the crowd said the ridiculous things that they said and did the most scandalous thing possible-accusing Jesus of healing by the power of Satan.

Jesus’ opponents tried to discredit Him, claiming He had cast out demons by Satan’s power. Because the Pharisees had already rejected previous miracles, another miracle would prove nothing. Jesus used His harshest language for the audience in this passage. They represent the forces opposed to this Holy invasion. They were spiritually blind. In Old Testament times, sickness was considered to be a result of sin. When the man was healed, the people decided that the man was healed by the power of Satan. Satan doesn’t heal people and make them whole. He blinds, deafens, cripples, distorts, and destroys. Casting out demons by the power of Satan is ridiculous. Why would Satan fight against his angels? It would be like the Allies winning World War II by working with Adolph Hitler!

Jesus answered the Pharisees with this logic:

  1. Satan wants to control people.
  2. The mute man was freed from the devil’s control.
  3. The power to conquer possession of the devil is against the devil’s will.
  4. If this was Satan’s doing, then his plan will fail.

The time had come to choose sides. Earlier, Jesus said that those who were not against Him were for Him, but fierce and growing opposition from the religious leaders had changed the situation. His hearers needed to make a decision, either with Him or against Him. In this spiritual battle, the time for sitting on the fence had passed.

When we accept Jesus as our Saviour, He establishes a beachhead in our lives, just as invading armies establish a beachhead. Most invasions lead to resistance by enemy forces, and when Jesus rules our lives, Satan tries to resist. Satan’s attempts won’t succeed if we remain strong in our faith.

Jesus explained that His ability to cast demons out of people was proof that the kingdom of God had come upon them. Then He explained that what He was doing by casting out demons was casting out the strong man so that He could plunder the strong man’s goods. The strong man was Satan and the goods were the people that Jesus saved by casting demons out of them.

When we call evil good and good evil, we endanger our very souls. Today we tend to glorify all that is seamy and degrading in life. That’s why supermarket tabloids such as the National Inquirer are so popular.

Many people are like the crowd in this passage. Why? Perhaps we are so obsessed with our own selves. Perhaps we regard ourselves as we think that we are smarter than Jesus. Perhaps that’s why we don’t believe. Perhaps we believe but don’t follow Jesus’ teachings.

The consequence of not believing in Jesus is enormous. We can’t be neutral. We are either for Jesus or against Him. If we don’t support Jesus, Satan will reclaim our souls. God does not admire neutrality.

Jesus saw His miracles as bringing about something unprecedented-the coming of God’s dominion. Satan knows that a kingdom must be unified in order to succeed. One of his greatest attacks is to cause much division in our homes, churches, and communities. He will try to make us believe that the attacks are coming from those we are called to love and serve. Division leads to stagnation.

The first step to freedom in Christ is to renounce previous or current involvement with anything that involves the occult, false religions, or that denies Jesus Christ. Anything that offers guidance through any source other than the absolute authority of the written word of God or requires secret initiations must be forsaken.

Jesus is the strong man who defeated Satan on the cross and can still defeat Satan today. He equips us with the full armour of God that Paul writes about in Ephesians 6. With this equipment, we can have victory over Satan. Jesus has plundered the house of the strong man Satan. He has bound Satan. The final victory is coming. God’s kingdom is stronger than the devil and the powers of evil in this world.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1409)
  2. Larsen, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 201-203)
  3. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible; New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  4. “God Does Not Admire Neutrality.” Retrieved from ministry@winningwalk.org
  5. “What Did Jesus Understand About His Own Miracles?” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  6.  “Victory in Unity.” Retrieved from www.crosswalkmal.com/devotionals/beloved-women
  7. Br. Keith Nelson, “Breathing Room.” Retrieved from www.ssje.org/2017/03/breathing-room-br-keith-nelson/#comments
  8. “Jesus Flips a Vicious Insult.” Retrieved from noreply@ailbe.org
  9. Dr. Neil Anderson, “No Middle Ground.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  10. Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights n Luke (Carol Stream, IL: Zondervan; 2012; pp. 294-298)