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)

Exodus 34:29-35 Being With God Changes Us

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to experience God’s glory? Have you ever wondered how God’s glory would change you? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions (or both), then you can appreciate what happened to Moses in Exodus 34:29-35. This passage gives us a glimpse of God’s glory. He provided another glimpse of His glory in the person and ministry of Jesus.

When Moses came down from the mountain and gathered the Israelites together to share with them what God shared with him, the skin on his face shone so brightly that the people were afraid to come near him. Moses reflected the glory of God. The experience of the Holy had so transformed Moses that he wore a veil so no one could look upon him. In one sense, when we spend time communing with God, we too “shine” with His glory.

Moses’ veil obscured him from everyone around him who didn’t go up on the mountain. It made him a bit mysterious, a bit removed from them. We have similar experiences when we experience God’s glory. They are wonderful and exciting for us, but they put veils over our faces to everyone else, and if they weren’t there, or if they haven’t experienced something similar, it can become alienating or frightening.

The phrase “he was not aware that his face was radiant” points to Moses’ humility. Humble people don’t know they are humble. People who are rich in God’s grace are usually the ones who feel they lack it the most. Moses was humble. For example, he didn’t feel that he was worthy enough to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Once Moses became aware that his face was reflecting the glory of God, he also realized that it was an ever-fading reality. Moses did not want the Israelites to know that it was fading away. He went from not being aware of it to needing to protect it. He covered his face with a veil, but in time this veil became a barrier between the Israelites and God. It was similar to the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. That veil was torn in two when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus destroyed the barrier between the people and God. We do not need a mediator to approach God. We can approach Him directly.

In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul interpreted the veil. He said that Moses wore the veil so that the Israelites  would see that the glory of the Old Covenant that was made between God and man on Mount Sinai was fading. It would be overshadowed by Jesus. Paul compared the veil to the blindness of the Israelites. They could read the Scriptures, but they could not understand their meaning. Only Jesus could remove the veil.

It wasn’t radiance Moses found for himself. It wasn’t a glowing reward he earned by reaching the summit. Rather, it was from Moses’ direct relationship with God. Alone, we may be unable to put on radiant faces; however, God treks up every mountain with us, joins us at the summit, guides us back down, and remains with us across the valleys of our daily lives. Through our relationship with God, we reflect God’s radiant glory.

Moses’ face glowed after every encounter with the Holy One. Yet, every encounter pushed him down the mountain to bring guidance to the wayward and recalcitrant people he led. Our moments of spiritual clarity are meant to shine a light on – and give clarity to– the challenges of daily life. In seeing the light, our calling is to be the light for others – exposing falsehood and guiding with truth. When we find the perspective of the mountaintop, we can face the uncertainties of our congregations and personal lives with a sense of trust in God’s ultimate providence and care.

Before any person can go before the people and speak about God, he or she must first go before God. He or she should spend more time in prayer that he or she spends preaching in public. Spending time alone with God in prayer, reading Scripture and meditating helps us to release our fears and entrust our lives to a merciful and gracious God. We attempt to go to Scripture and bring back from our search a word that can challenge and refresh us. This work can involve a veil that blocks both our searching and our speaking. Moses put the veil on to help the people hear what he had to say, and he took it off when he wanted to speak to and listen to God. Those of us who speak the word of God often veil ourselves as we try to talk to God instead of standing before God without any veil separating the two of us. Too often we take the veil off when we try to talk to the people instead of taking the word of God so seriously that a veil would help us tell the people about that seriousness, that divine truth that should not be reduced to easily digestible pieces.

We might not be able to see how our experiences with God change us over time, and our transformation won’t be as physically apparent as Moses’ beaming face. As we spend time with God and turn our lives over to Him every day, we can reflect His love. God will draw others closer to Him as the evidence of His presence shows in and through us. When we spend time with God, we reflect His glory, His pain, the glory of the search for an answer or the ability to live with questions, the clarity of God’s presence or the luminous desire for that presence. Other people will notice, and some people may be moved by the same thing that moved us.

We long to live in the presence of God. We pray to see the face of God, to be there in His presence, to know what it is like. It’s a scary thing because we will be changed by the experience. Will other people turn away from us because they are afraid of our shining faces and the truth we speak? The more time we spend with God, the more our lives will reflect the renewing of our minds. We have to let ourselves be a conduit between God and others, just like Moses was a conduit between God and the Israelites. Moses’ shining face helped the Israelites know that God was working through Moses.

In Luke 9:28-29, Jesus also went up a mountain and prayed. While He prayed and talked with Moses and Elijah, His face changed and His clothes became dazzling white.  In Christ we have everything. We have the life that He is. We are changed into His likeness from glory to glory. He is the light of the world, and in Him we are lights of the world.

The parallels between Jesus and Moses are striking because Jesus is the new Moses. Just like Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, Jesus leads us out of the slavery of sin. Moses was the mediator of God’s covenant with Israel. Moses was the mediator between the Israelites and God. The Israelites could clearly see by the radiance of Moses’ face that he was the mediator of God’s presence. They also knew that Moses was the mediator of the restored covenant as he would tell the people what God told him. Jesus mediates a new covenant with all creation. Both Jesus and Moses revealed the radiance of God in powerful ways. Moses spiritually radiated because he spent time with God. Similarly, we should be working toward the ability to radiate God in our own lives.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1761-1762)
  2. Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 2: Exodus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987; pp. 348-350)
  3. MacArthur. J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  4. Joni Eareckson Tada, “Humility That Matters.” Retrieved from info@joniandfriends.org
  5. A.W. Tozer, “Prayer: Long Before the Lord.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@e.Biblegateway.com
  6. Xochitl Dixon, “Reflecting God’s Love.” Retrieved from donotreply@email.rbc.org
  7. John Nunnikhoven, “Exodus 34:29.” Retrieved from noreply@ailbe.org
  8. “Wilderness: The Two Letters That Changed Everything.” Retrieved from farmteam@seedbed.com
  9. “Last Epiphany, March 2, 3019.” Retrieved from info@livingchurch.org
  10. Wade Reddy, “Exodus 34:29-35.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu
  11. Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-Transfiguration Sunday-February 27, 2022.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2022/02/the-adventuruos-lectionary-transiguration-sunday-february-27-2022/#disqus_thread
  12. Mary Simpson Clark, “Exodus 34:29-35.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu

Hebrews 11:32-12:2 Keep Your Eyes on Heaven’s Prize

“You should have a good game today, Noah,” said Brad, who had recently gotten his driver’s license and was taking his younger brother to the baseball park. “And you’re going to be the pitcher, right?” Brad asked.

“I sure am, and I’m gonna strike out all those guys,” Noah boasted.

Brad smiled. “I hope you’re right, but don’t be too sure,” he cautioned. “That team creamed you guys last year, you know.”

“Yeah, but our coach worked us hard all summer,” replied Noah. “He taught us a lot and he says we’re a much better team now. We’ll win this time.”

Noah kept up a constant chatter about the upcoming game, and Brad smiled and nodded his head now and then. “I hope I get good enough to play in the major leagues some day! Wouldn’t that be great?” asked Noah, eagerly turning to look at his big brother. Noah frowned. “Hey, Brad, you’re not paying attention to me,” he complained. “You never even look at me when I’m talking to you.”

“No, but I hear you,” Brad assured him. “But Dad gave me strict instructions before letting me take the car.”

“What kind of instructions?” Noah asked.

“Mostly stuff I already know–like to keep my eyes on the road and not be distracted,” said Brad.

“Oh. I thought he probably told you something the Bible says about driving,” said Noah with a grin. “Dad seems to find Bible verses for everything.”

Brad laughed as he carefully pulled into a parking space at the ball field. “Actually, Dad did say that driving is sort of like living for Jesus because it requires focus,” Brad said. “Dad says some people have wrecked their cars by being distracted and letting their eyes stray from the highway, and others have wrecked their lives by letting their eyes stray from Jesus.”

“What does that mean?” asked Noah.

“I asked that, too,” replied Brad, “and Dad said it means we can’t let anything distract us from what Jesus wants us to do. Keeping your eyes on Him means to focus on what He wants you to do in every situation.”

Noah grabbed his mitt from the floor and opened the car door. “Well, in baseball, you have to keep your eyes on the ball,” he said. He grinned at Brad. “But I’ll keep my eyes on Jesus, too, and act the way He wants me to while I play.”

All the heroes mentioned in Hebrews 11:32-12:2 were the foundation stone on which others would be laid. They would be completed in those who would come later. We are those stones. We give the saints of old the joy and satisfaction realized by those who are able to look back and see.

The heroes mentioned in this passage fall into two categories: those who knew victory before their deaths and those whose victory came after their deaths. Some, like David, subdued kingdoms. Some, like Abraham and Sarah, obtained promises through lively. unshakeable faith. Faith in God should be proportionate to the object of faith. Faith and God can’t be diminished.

Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah are from the age where the judges ruled Israel and everyone did that which was right in their own eyes. These four men served when Israel had no king to demonstrate the courage needed to stand up for what is right.

In the Hall of Faith, David alone represents the age of kings in Israel because he lived a life of complete devotion to God, and perhaps he faithfully trusted in God’s promise to make him king despite all the hardships he endured. The prophet Samuel so trusted God that he was willing to stand against the people, rebuke king Saul and wait for God’s anointed-king David.

The faith that equips people to be strong in victory also equips them to be hopeful in suffering. Even with the record of victories presented in verses 35-38, the writer shows that suffering is part of God’s purposes. When faced with the alternative between death and renouncing their faith, these champions, like the Old Testament prophets, refused to be broken. They accepted the world’s worst to gain God’s best. They would not sacrifice their future on the altar of the immediate.

Some heroes, like many Christians in Third World countries, were persecuted for their faith. The apostle Paul comes to mind. These Christians died without the promise, but they persevered in faith in anticipation of the future award that awaited them in heaven. Christians today in countries such as North Korea and Iran often suffer similar fates, but they also have the promise of a reward in heaven. Martyrs share a common belief-they are going to be with Jesus after their earthly deaths. They could see beyond their earthly lives to their eternal life in heaven. They were futurists-just like the heroes mentioned in this passage from the Letter to the Hebrews.

In verses 39-40, the writer summarizes that these people believed God, even though they never saw the final fulfillment of God’s promises. These worthy souls did all they did before the coming of the Messiah, trusting in the “something bigger” of God’s future promise of resurrection and redemption. The Old Testament saints had only the shadows and the promise; New Testament Christians have the substance and fulfillment-Christ. The faith of the heroes of old has been remembered in the songs, histories, pageants, and hearts of subsequent generations. They are tied to later generations by the living community of faith in God.

Of the great men and women of faith listed in Hebrews 11, one stands far above them all-Jesus. The heroes of chapter 11 help believers to see that in their own strength they cannot live a life of faith, but Jesus makes it possible. Because He has already finished this race, His people can trust that the obstacles have been cleared for them to finish their race.

African bushmen had a clever way to trap monkeys for food. They would use a box or some other container and put a hole in it just big enough for the monkey to stick in his hand. In the box was a banana that was used as bait for the unsuspecting monkey. The monkey would put his hand in the box to grab the banana only to find out that the hole wasn’t big enough to pull the banana out. Instead of letting go, the monkey would pull and pull and pull, hopelessly stuck, until the hunter would come and kill the monkey.

When it comes to sin, many of us behave in the same way. We hold on relentlessly to the bait of the enemy-the sin that entangles us-until it ultimately destroys us. The heroes of faith in this passage are cheering us on as we run the race of faith. They are encouraging us to get rid of anything that will hinder us during the race. It could be anything such as overconfidence, arrogance, sin, or our worldly lives. We can run the race successfully when we look to Jesus. He designed several aspects of the race He has called us to run:

  1. He set the pattern of identifying with those in need.
  2. He claimed that His own life was the essential base for life itself.
  3. He accepted social outcasts and ministered to them without being repulsed by their outward appearance or behaviour.
  4. He set a difficult portion of the race, that of loving our enemies.
  5. He set His lordship under those He served in order to hold them up to their highest potential.

Why did Jesus run this race of servanthood and suffering? He could see beyond the suffering to a future of redemptive blessing for all humanity. He was willing to suffer short term pain for our long-term gain.

The word “therefore” offers a crucial transition, drawing attention to the conclusion of this section. These witnesses are not a crowd of spectators who are watching believers on earth; they are experts whose experience testify to God’s faithfulness. Christians who succeed them should look to them and be encouraged that they too” …can run the race of faith with endurance” until they reach the finish line of heaven.

The word “looking” means “to look away from something and fix your gaze on the right thing.” Christian men and women should look with spiritual eyes beyond their immediate trials to Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith. He exemplified completing the Father’s will for the heavenly joy that awaits. Becoming a Christians and following Christ does not mean forfeiting joy; it only means that it may not be fully realized in this life.

When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we end up focusing on the big picture-spending eternity in heaven. Anything that discourages us seems so insignificant-like life’s challenges and disappointments. God is calling us to prepare ourselves and walk with Him more closely than ever before. He is calling us to be mighty, fearless warriors of faith. Satan can’t defeat us. He can only make us quit, but God will help us endure. Taking our eyes off of God will lead to failure, just like keeping our eyes on Him will lead us to victory. We must “keep our eyes on the prize.”

Do you keep your eyes on Jesus? When you have a bad day, do you go to Him for comfort? When you have a need, do you trust Jesus to meet that need? When you don’t know what to do, do you ask Him to show you? Fill your mind and life with things that please Jesus. Don’t let problems–or fun things–distract you from what He wants you to do.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1761-1762)
  2. Evans, L.H. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 33: Hebrews (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 198-219
  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; pp. 1703-1708)
  5. Doug Fields, “Changing Your Focus Overcomes Discouragement.” Retrieved from www.homeword.com
  6. Vikki Burke, “Wrestling With Weakness.” Retrieved from dbm@dennisburkeministries.org
  7. “How to Steer Clear of the Enemy’s Trap.” Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org
  8. “No Distractions.” Retrieved from newsletter@cbhministries.org

Psalm 19 How Does God Speak to Us?

During World War II a proverb developed among military men: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” The meaning is that in times of crisis every human being seeks a Higher Power-even those who strenuously object to the existence of God during times of peace. The Bible supports the idea that every person understands that there is a God-even atheists. The Bible also adds in Romans 1:18-32 that humanity has a sinful aversion to acknowledging the proof that God exists. This proof can be found in Psalm 19.

Psalm 19 reveals the God who continually speaks to us through His deeds and His Word. He does this to reach us. He even uses nature to speak to us. God is not limited to words when He speaks to us. He uses angels, visions, dreams, impressions, and mental pictures. Since God is the communicator, we need to hear Him speaking to us beyond the limited capabilities of our lives. His presence may not be verbal, but it is real. Humanity is accountable to God because of His verbal and non-verbal communications.

This psalm points out the two areas where God has chosen to reveal Himself. “The heavens” refer to what appears in the sky above. “The firmament” means the expanse of God’s creation. The entire universe testifies to the Creator and brilliantly displays the glory of God. God has placed the sun (an object of worship among the pagans) in the heavens and is therefore supreme over it. The figures of the bridegroom and the runner picture the sun’s glory and power as it moves across the sky. Since it is so glorious, how much more glorious must its Creator be.

The elements of creation declare God’s glory in such a way that humans are without excuse because they are surrounded by the evidence of God’s existence. This evidence is found in nature, so why do so many people refuse to acknowledge it? In Romans 1:18,22,25 and 28, Paul writes that the reason is because people have exchanged the truth of God for the lies of Satan, They worship God’s creatures instead of God. Paul goes on to argue that they are fools when they deny that God exists.

God also speaks to us through the Bible. It is filled with so many gems of wisdom to help us live. It tells us how to have healthy relationships, raise our children, how to work, and provides comfort when we experience feelings of loneliness, depression, grief and other emotions. The hidden treasures in this book are endless, but if we keep the Bible on a shelf and never bother to read it, we will experience spiritual poverty and never know the riches that the Bible contains. We have to study it and put it in practice in our lives to experience the benefits and live abundantly.

In Old Testament times, God spoke to the Israelites through the Law. It revealed His holiness and the sins of the people. The full revelation was given when the work of the Law was done. That happened when Jesus died on the cross, especially when He said, “It is finished.” When God speaks, He tells the truth. We can put our weight on God’s testimony and it will hold us up.

The Ten Commandments are pure because they were given by a holy God. They are literally clean and morally right. They are sanctified by God and therefore they bring enlightenment to our eyes. Our eyes transmit the light of God to our souls. In Christ we become light, and we are to live in that light.  When God reveals His will, it is awesome. It is also fearsome because of our sin. We cry out the words of Isaiah 6:5: “Woe is me.”

Testimony, statutes, commandments, and judgments are all synonyms for God’s law, the Bible. The connection between verses 1-6 (also known as creation) and God’s word in verses 7-9 is that as the sun is the centrepiece of creation, so must God’s Word be the centre of believers’ lives.

While God may seem silent at times, the problem is not that He isn’t communicating; it’s that we aren’t hearing Him. Withdrawing from the pain of life may have cut us off from the many ways God expresses His love: through the inner transformation of the Holy Spirit, through nature, through caring family and friends, through opportunities to serve. Our ears may be clogged with self-pity. Because of weak faith, we may refuse to believe God cares or continues to demonstrate His love.

The Bible teaches that man is basically sinful and he is born sinful. He is not a sinner because he sins; he sins because he is a sinner. Sin comes naturally to all of us. The Bible tells us that. It also tells us that human beings are capable of very evil things.

All of us have hidden sins. We are aware of some of them, and those are sins we often try to hide. Our hidden sins are also those that we are not aware of. There are so many things we should do in obedience to God that we have not done. There are also sins that we commit daily such as selfish or spiteful thoughts, and hurtful words and actions. How can we discern every sin? How can we know if we have committed a sin? We can find out through God’s Word-both written in the Bible and through nature (because of things such as climate change and pollution). God knows all of our sins, even the hidden ones. We cry out along with the psalmist “Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” If we accept Christ as our Saviour, we are declared innocent by God.

God has given us spiritual laws not to take away our joy and freedom, but to give us the fullness of life as well as eternal life. We defy these laws to our eternal destruction. We heed these laws not because we are legalists and have to obey them, but because we want and choose to obey them because we know we need to for our own well-being and that of our loved ones. His boundaries are for our good. God set them out of love for us. His commands are perfect, trustworthy, right, clear, true, fair, desirable, sweet, and a warning. When we follow His commands, our soul will be revived. We will gain wisdom. We will receive joy and insight for living. We will receive a great reward. God has even promised to help us obey.

The psalmist’s rhetorical question in verses 12-14 expresses that without God’s Word, it is difficult for people to know if or when they violate God’s will. The Word brings hidden faults to light and offers strong warnings about what displeases God so that the believer’s actions, words, and thoughts may receive God’s favour.

The writer of Psalm 19 warns about the danger of succumbing to those who are arrogant and insolent, who have no regard for God’s Law or creation. The psalmist asks God to restrain him and not allow arrogant people to take control of his will. The psalmist gives us a good example to follow. We must ask God to restrain us and not allow arrogant, sinful people to control our lives. We must ask God to take control of our wills.

The world can’t satisfy the human heart. Humanity was created for eternity, which leads to a longing for something beyond this world. This longing for eternity is a reflection of humanity being created in the image of God. Humanity contemplates eternity and the need for something bigger because of a longing to reconnect with the God of all creation.

Our understanding of God based on creation alone is not adequate for a saving knowledge of God. Our sinful natures must be quickened by the Holy Spirit to cause us to embrace the specific truth about salvation through faith in Christ. There is enough evidence, even to sinners, that God does exist.

To hear His Word and obey it is to build our house on the rock. To seek, study, and obey His Word is to labour with that which lasts. No precious metal can compare to God’s Word. There are three rewards in obeying God’s Word:

  1. The reward of doing God’s will.
  2. The reward of living a fulfilled life-converted, wise, rejoicing, enlightened, enduring, true, and righteous.
  3. The assurance of living ready to stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

Because of sin, God’s Word is not our natural instruction or our natural delight. The power of the Holy Spirit has to bring the Word and its power to convict us of our sins and cleanse us from our sins. The Holy Spirit will baptize us and protect us from sin. It sets us free from the bondage of sin so we can love God, serve God, and be acceptable to Him. The God who made the universe wants to use that same power on our behalf to help us speak, think, and act in a way that honours Him. He wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives.

Meditating on Scripture is like a song that lingers in our heads all day. We whistle and sing that song until our lives are consumed with the song. Meditating on God’s Word is to have God’s Word echo in every moment of the day. God values people who trust Him and boast in Him. Every part of the Christian life depends on the Word of God.

Biography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 718-719)
  2. Williams, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 13: Psalms 1-72 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1986; pp. 157-165)
  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. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 710-712)
  6. Charles R. Swindoll, “Listening with Returned Ears.” Retrieved from info@insightforliving.ca
  7. Dr. Ed Young, “The Meditating Heart.” Retrieved from ministry@winningwalk.org
  8. “Who Do You Boast In?” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  9. Richard Innes, “Hidden Treasures.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  10. Dr. Paul Chappell, “The Perfect Word of God.” Retrieved from daily@dailyintheword.org
  11. “Agreeing With God: God’s Boundaries.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  12. Pastor Greg Laurie, “What Makes a Person Wise.” Retrieved from www.harvest.org
  13. Richard Innes, “Successful Living.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  14. Dr. Carol Geisler, “Declared Innocent.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  15. “God’s Creation PREACHES! Psalm 19 Links Nature and Torah.” Retrieved from https://www.patheos.com/blogs/ecopreacher

Mark 3:7-12 Rest for the Weary

The events in Mark 3:7-12 happened after the Pharisees conspired with the Herodians to kill Jesus. He had to decide if He would force them to act immediately and risk short-circuiting His ministry or if He would leave the scene to bide His time while He prepared for a major move that would bring His ministry of servanthood to full maturity.

Jesus set a good example for us to follow. He withdrew to the sea to regain His balance in the rhythm of life. Work is an activity of high intensity and high production, but even creative work has to be balanced by a period of rest so we can work again. Modern society has upset the rhythm of life. Work has been devalued and play has been invaded by the purpose of work.  Because of the multitude of leisure options, play has been subjected to a time-clock schedule. Work is a necessary evil, play is work, worship has become idolatry and rest is a short course in death.

Those of us who live close to the sea understand how it can renew us. It has a message for us in the ever-changing water. It reminds us of the words in John 1:16- “grace for grace.” Grace is God’s free gift of love for us. Grace for grace is like the waves of the sea. God’s unending love washes over us and refreshes us.

Jesus’ periods of rest were often interrupted by the needs of the people He met, and the events in this passage from Mark are no exception. The demons knew that Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus rebuked them. He wanted His teachings and actions to proclaim who He was. His actions were proof to those willing to see who He is, and they will choose to follow Him, not just shout out His identity. Jesus doesn’t need any help from Satan, and He won’t take it either.

Jesus was followed to his place of rest by a crowd. They came from all over the countryside. His popularity caused great concern for the religious leaders. He was challenging their man-made system with all of its rules. Jesus came to free the people from this legalistic form of religion. The religious leaders began planning to get rid of Jesus. The people embraced Jesus as God’s Son. They weren’t disappointed. That is still true today. Our relationship with Him is the most important part of our lives. How can we be with Him?

Bibliography

  1. McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 72-76)
  2. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  3. Berni Dymet, “The Multitudes.” retrieved from berni@christianityworks.com
  4. Dave Wyrtzen, “The Jesus Movement Exploding.” Retrieved from truthenote@gmail.com
  5. Ron Moore, “The Crowds.” Retrieved from www.ronmoore.org
  6. Ramona Davies, “That They Might Be With Him.” Retrieved from Crosswlak@crosswalkmail.com

Ezekiel 3:4-11 A Vision From God

Have you ever had a vision from God in which you were given a message to share with the people? If you have, how was the message received by the people? Was it accepted or rejected? If it was rejected, you can sympathize with how the prophet Ezekiel felt in Ezekiel 3:4-11.

Ezekiel was a priest who had favour in God’s eyes. Ezekiel suffered because of the sin of the Israelites. The Israelites were a people descended from a common ancestry. They were God’s chosen people and a nation among others. They were Ezekiel’s own people, the people he grew up with, the people who spoke the same common language he did. Ezekiel’s life was changed by God’s call just like our lives are changed by God’s call.

In the vision, Ezekiel was given a scroll and was told to eat it. The scroll was full of lamentations, mourning and woe. The vision foretold how Ezekiel would be satisfied with God’s message, even though it revealed the sorrows that would happen to the Israelites for rejecting his message. Ezekiel’s task would not be easy because the people were rebellious, but God never expects anyone to proclaim His Word in his own strength. God gave him the strength and resolve to carry out his mission.

There is an old saying that God does not call the equipped, but He equips the called. It means that God will give us everything that we need to accomplish the mission that He has laid out before us. Our skills can be useful to God, but we don’t need any particular skills to serve Him. We are enough, and our lives are enough.

Ezekiel is also a good example of Jesus’ comment that a prophet receives honour everywhere but in his hometown. Foreigners listened to Ezekiel but the Israelites didn’t. To the foreigners, Ezekiel was someone new, an outsider. Ezekiel knew it would be difficult for the Israelites to receive his offer to repent, but he continued his mission. They had the same hostile attitude that Pharoah had toward Moses.

Ezekiel had to understand that the rejection he encountered was not directed to him personally. He could acknowledge that any lack of acceptance of his message was not his fault. Jesus gave us the same message to preach. The gospel we preach must not be one we create. It must be God’s Word. We are to clarify it and not invent it. Conviction and strength proceed more from the heart than from the head. Hearing God’s Word is not enough; the message must penetrate the soul, where it takes root and branches out into a person’s being.

The word Ezekiel means, “God Strengthens”. Because Israel was so adamant in its rebellion against God, the Lord made the prophet even more determined to faithfully declare divine judgment against the nation’s sin. Effective ministry requires not only compassion and empathy but also strength, conviction, and firm resolve.

In order to carry out his mission, Ezekiel had to listen to God. Listening to God is essential to walking with God. It requires not only straining to hear His word but taking His words so seriously that they set up shop in the deepest places in our hearts.

Biliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1055-1056)
  2. Stuart, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 20: Ezekiel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1989; pp. 37-41)
  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)
  5. “Bible Pathway-Sept. 1, 2017.” Retrieved from www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/biblepathways