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Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Passover

The Passover
The date was approximately 1,480 B.C. and the place was Egypt.  For several hundred years now, all of the Jewish people had become the slaves of the Egyptians.  They had been forced into cruel slavery since Pharaoh needed cheap laborers to build his empire. Sadistic Egyptian work bosses carried whips and heavy sticks, whipping, yelling and beating their Jewish slaves as they struggled to perform back breaking labor in the hot Egyptian sun. Prayers, moans and cries for mercy came up before God from the oppressed Jewish slaves! 
To make matters worse, Pharaoh was worried that the Jewish people were having too many babies.  Someday the Jewish people might out-number the Egyptians and try to break free from their hard labor! Pharaoh reasoned that if he killed all the Jewish baby boys then the Jewish people wouldn’t someday outnumber the Egyptians.
Pharaoh ordered that all new born Jewish male babies born throughout Egypt be thrown into the Nile River to drown. This decree was the law of the land.  Jewish mothers and fathers could only watch helplessly in horror as their new-born baby boys were drowned in the Nile River!  Prayers, screams and cries for help came up before God from terrified and broken hearted Jewish parents of new-born baby boys!  (Exodus 1:1-22)
God heard the cries of the Jewish people and He appeared to Moses in a flame of fire in the middle of a burning bush.  At that time Moses was a shepherd in the land of Midian and when he walked over to check out the bush, God spoke to him out of the flames.  First God told Moses to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground.
 God told Moses that He had heard the cries of the Jewish people and then God called Moses to go free his people from Pharaoh.   God was sending Moses to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. (Exodus 3;6-8) When Moses argued with God that he wouldn’t be able to persuade Pharaoh to let the Jewish slaves go, God promised Moses that He would be with him.
The Pharaoh of Egypt just laughed at Moses the first time he came before his throne!  Of course, Pharaoh would not let the Jewish people leave Egypt! What would Pharaoh do without his Jewish slave laborers?  But then God began sending plagues to Egypt.  Surely the Pharaoh would change his mind when he understood that God was sending the plagues because he was not letting the Jewish people go!  
First God caused the water in the Nile River to turn to blood.  Then God sent frogs, millions of them, in people’s houses, hopping on their dinner tables, jumping in their beds, everywhere.  Then there was an outbreak of lice and then flies.  Then cattle all across Egypt got sick and then Egyptians everywhere caught an infection of boils making many people miserable.  Next came fire and hail from heaven and then locusts were everywhere eating all of the crops.  And then darkness fell across Egypt and the sun didn’t shine.  During each of these plagues Pharaoh would promise to let the Jewish people go and then he would change his mind when the plague was gone. 
Finally, God told Moses that the last plague would cause Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go! God’s judgment would be poured out upon Egypt, and God would finally deliver Israel from slavery and death.  God would make a covenant or promise to the Jewish people that He would lead them to the Promised Land.  Moses told the Israelites to prepare for this final plague by slaughtering an unblemished lamb and roasting and eating it as a family. Many of the Jewish people were shepherds and had flocks of sheep. Each family was to take the lamb’s blood and brush the blood on the doorposts of their homes.    (Exodus 12:29-31)  
That night, God would send an angel of death throughout Egypt and if blood from the lamb was not brushed over the doorposts of the house, then death would enter that house and take the firstborn boy.  Also, death came upon the firstborn of every flock of sheep.  But when the angel of death would come to a home where the blood of the lamb had been brushed on its doorposts, then death would pass over this home. 
Every Jewish home and first- born child was saved because they obeyed God and applied the blood of the lamb on their home’s doorpost.  But every Egyptian home, including Pharaoh’s was visited by the death angel and there was great mourning throughout the land.  Pharaoh called Moses and told him to tell all of the several million Jewish people to go.  The nation of Israel was finally free and on their way with God guiding them to their Promised Lane!
Down through the thousands of years now the Jewish people have celebrated that night when God freed them from slavery and death.  That night when the angel of death saw the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doorposts and passed over every Jewish home.  Every single Jew obeyed God’s instructions through Moses and so every Jewish home had the blood of the lamb sprinkled on their doorposts on that terrible night.  Because the blood of the Lamb covered each Jewish home, death passed over each home that night.  And down through the ages the Jewish people have celebrated this night when death passed over them. And God saved them from slavery. Once a year they stop and celebrate their Passover Seder. 
The early Christian church saw the slaughter of the lambs used at Passover as giving us a picture of the death of Jesus.  Scripture says: “Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast.”  (1 Corinthians 5:7-8a) Scripture says that the blood of animals cannot actually take away sin.  Only Christ, the Lamb of God, can do that.
 Many Bible scholars believe that the shed blood of unblemished lambs that were sacrificed in ancient Israel pointed to the future unblemished Lamb of God, their Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Jesus was described as, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  (John 1:29)  The lambs sacrificed in ancient times had to be unblemished, perfect and healthy. That is another picture pointing to Christ, the Son of God who is sinless and perfect.
Jesus’ last supper with His disciples was on the night before His crucifixion during the annual Passover celebration.  It was not by accident that Jesus’ death occurred at the same time that the Passover lambs were being slaughtered. Jesus gave His disciples and all of us who love and follow Him a new feast to celebrate and remember His sacrifice for us.  With the breaking of bread Jesus told his disciples, “This is My body given for you, do this in remembrance of Me.”  And with the drinking of wine He said: This cup is the new covenant (promise) in My blood, which is poured out for you.”  (Luke 22:19-20)
Scripture also says: “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22) The Bible teaches that death is caused by the sin of the world. Scripture says: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23) He died that we might live. Jesus washes us from our sins, covers us in His righteousness, and gives us eternal life. 
For the nation of Israel, God’s saving act on their behalf happened on the night when death passed over them in Egypt and God liberated them from slavery and set them free.  And for Christians, God’s saving act was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God to take away our sins. Death (physical death) passed over every Jewish house that had the blood of the lamb sprinkled over the doorposts.  And death (eternal death) will pass over every person who has the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, sprinkled over the doorposts of their heart. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Haggai and Zechariah Prophesy About Christ's Second Coming

  Haggai and Zechariah Prophesy About Christ’s Second Coming
Down through the many centuries before Christ, the Jewish people had the experience of hearing God’s laws and messages and receiving His guidance through their many prophets. A prophet would be a Jewish person who was dedicated to God.  Most of the Old Testament prophets were men.  And God called each of these men to be God’s messenger and speak God’s Word to the people.  God would often raise up a prophet for Israel at a time when the nation specially needed God’s guidance.
 The power of the Holy Spirit would come over God’s chosen prophet and give him or her the words to say. Often prophets would see visions of what God would be doing in the future and their job was to pass God’s Word on to the people. God gave visions to many of the prophets.  Visions of lessons God wanted to teach them.  Visions of what would be happening far into the future and visions of the last days and the end of the age when Jesus will come again in glory.
Over several thousand years God would raise up seventeen or more Old Testament prophets.  The ancient Israelites were used to God sending these prophets when they needed special guidance, or when they had sinned. The Israelites expected God to save them from their enemies, since He promised them He would if they obeyed Him.  And the Israelites knew that God would punish them when they worshipped idols or broke His laws and did not repent.
 The prophecies from God given to Israel through their prophets were written down and carefully saved and are part of the Old Testament of our Bibles.  Sometimes the prophets were persecuted and hated by the Israelites.  Often this happened when the unpopular prophet was telling the people that God wanted them to turn from their sins.
The date was approximately 520 B.C. when two of the minor prophets, Haggai and Zechariah came on the scene. It had been nearly a century since God had sent Israel a prophet. The Jewish people had been released from their captivity in Babylon and had come back to their land.  They were busy rebuilding a wall around their city and rebuilding their houses that had been destroyed when they had been taken into captivity some seventy years earlier. 
The Jewish people wanted to build a new temple where they could worship and bring sacrifices to God.  Their old temple had been glorious.  Built by Solomon, it had massive pillars and gold, silver and jewels embedded into the walls. But the enemy had torn their temple down long ago and now the Jewish people worked together and laid the foundation for a new temple.  At first, they were excited about building the new temple.  But then the Samaritans and other neighbors vigorously opposed the project and threatened the Jewish people with harm if they continued their work on their temple. 
Older Jewish people who were alive before the first temple had been destroyed came around and fussed and cried.  These folks were disappointed because the new temple would be much smaller and less glorious than the first temple had been.  They wanted their old temple back. The Israelites didn’t have the money to decorate their new temple with gold and silver and jewels.  Soon the Jewish people became discouraged because of the criticism from their fellow neighbors and fearful of trouble from the Samaritans. Soon the Israelites stopped working on God’s house. The threats from the Samaritans and the disappointment over not being able to build another temple as grand as the first one had stopped them in their tracks.  Do things like that ever stop us in our tracks today?
This is the time that God sent Israel two prophets with words and visions of warnings and encouragements.  Haggai, along with the prophet Zechariah encouraged the Israelites to get back to work on God’s temple.  Both prophets told the discouraged people that God promised to be with them in their work. That His Spirit would give them strength.  That even the little things they did were important.  That God was jealous that they had put other things before Him and the building of His house.
God spoke through Haggai to the Jewish people.  God’s message was this: If the Israelites would build the temple and give God first place in their lives then God would send His blessings.  Obedience brings the strength of the Spirit.  This is a lesson for us today, as well as for these Israelites who lived over two thousand years ago. 
 God spoke again. Disobedience and rebellion would bring curses.  Zechariah brought the people a vision from God showing that their rebellion against God brings a curse.  In his vision, Zechariah saw a flying scroll. (Zechariah 5:1-4) On one side of the scroll it said: “Every thief will be banished” and on the other side of the scroll it said, “Everyone who swears falsely will be banished”. The scroll was flying across the land coming into their houses with the curse.  It sounds like these ancient people had given in to the sins of stealing from one another and of swearing falsely.  God was calling His people to repent of their sins back then, just as He calls us to repent of our sins today. 
The Lord also spoke to the people about their new smaller temple. God told them not to be disappointed with their new temple. God promised that the glory of their new temple would be greater than the glory of that first larger glorious temple. (Haggai 2:9) Haggai even prophesied that God would shake the nations and that “the desire of all nations” (Jesus Christ) would come, and will fill this house (the temple they were building) with glory, says the Lord Almighty.”  (Haggai 2: 7) The Israelites were encouraged by God’s Word and got back to work.
The temple these Israelites built was partially destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D. when the Jewish people were dispersed.  The outer walls of the ancient temple (approximately 2,525 years old) built by those discouraged Israelites and encouraged on by Haggai and Zechariah, still remain today in Jerusalem.  One of the famous walls, the “Wailing Wall”, is visited every day by hundreds of visitors and worshippers. Someday those walls may be renovated with a roof and floor and when Christ comes again in all of His glory He will enter the temple and fill it with His glory, just as the prophet Haggai prophesied that He would!
God’s promises spoken through the prophets to the people of Israel were not just promises for them during their lifetime but God’s promises extend far into the future – all the way to the last days and to the Second Coming of Christ, when every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord! (Revelations 21 and 22) The faith of those ancient Jewish people was strengthened by the prophet’s visions of God being with them. 
 But I believe their faith was also strengthened when God gave them a vision of the end times when God’s original purpose for Israel will be realized.  And all evil will be overcome forever through Christ Jesus our Lord.  When we become discouraged with our life and work like those Jews back then, our faith can be strengthened today when we read God’s prophetic promises!  Promises that when we pass from death into eternal life, we will be dressed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and we will be victors in Christ and reign with Him forever!
There is significance in the prophet Zechariah’s name, because the name “Zechariah” means “The Lord Remembers”.  God remembers His covenant promises and takes action to fulfill them.  In the book of Zechariah, God’s promised deliverance from Babylonian exile and a restored Jewish community and a functioning temple. But Zechariah’s and Haggai’s prophecies lead into even grander pictures of the salvation and restoration to come through the Messiah and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Finally, the books of Haggai and Zechariah as a whole, teach the sovereignty of God in history, over people and nations, past, present and future!  




Saturday, September 2, 2017

Do You Enjoy Life?

Do You Enjoy Life?
Jesus promises believers that He will give us joy and peace.  Joy and peace are found in believing.  Jesus said: “I have spoken these things to you that My joy might remain in you and that your joy might be full.”  (John 15:11) God wants His children to enjoy life. Life is meant to be a celebration!  Have fun, be thankful and sing praises!  The Bible says: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we are promised is the gift of joy! But we must decide to open up our gift and enter in to our joy!  Hold on to it and never let it go!  Our joy can be stolen away from us, you know.  We need to watch for all the thieves of joy!  Every gift that Jesus provides, Satan tries to steal. Be on guard.  Scripture tells us that “the thief (Satan) comes to kill, steal and destroy, but Jesus comes that we might have and enjoy life.” (John 10:10) There is a spiritual battle going on here on earth.
Regret is one of the things that steals our joy.  We have regrets about choices we made in the past and we dread what may happen to us in the future.  God promises to forgive our sins and mistakes from the past and He asks us to receive His forgiveness and move on.  To receive is to believe. Christ took away our sins, so receive and believe it. Faith in God through Christ is the same as believing. God calls us to a faith walk. Have faith that God forgives you just as the Bible tells us that He does.  Great joy is found in believing.
Dread and fear of the future can also steal our joy.  There are so many things to fear.  Death, sickness, accidents, money troubles, rejection, war, the list goes on and on.  How do we enjoy life when there are so many things to worry about?  God, our heavenly Father answers this. 
God promises us that He will go before us and that He will always be with us and take care of us and help us.  Scripture says: “Fear not, for I am with you, be not afraid, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness.”  (Isaiah 41:10)   God’s Word also promises that Jesus is our Pioneer. He goes out ahead of us and makes a way for us.  (Hebrews 2:10) Believing God’s promises brings you into His rest. Hold on to these glorious promises and never let them go!
Joy is never released if you don’t believe but it is always released when you do believe. Scripture says: “But without faith it is impossible to please God.  For whoever would come near to God must believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him.”  (Hebrews 11:6)   And Jesus calls to us with these words: “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) 
When we believe in Christ, along with the gift of salvation, we are given many more gifts!  One of our gifts is joy.  Scripture says: “But the gifts (fruits) of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23) Believe and receive! 
Jesus said: “This is the work (service) that God asks of you, that you believe…” (John 6:29) Our work, our job, our mission in life and our service to God is to believe!  It’s that simple! As the words of the old famous hymn ‘Rock of Ages’ goes: “Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling!” 
Being given salvation along with all of these amazing gifts (love, joy, peace, etc.) sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? That is probably why many people never believe.  We humans try to complicate our lives.  We think we are too intellectual to believe something that glorious and simple. We think we need to “earn” our salvation, work for it, get special indulgences, be better than others. But our job is to believe.  Believe in Christ as Savior and Lord.  It’s that simple!
But God’s plan for us is called the “gospel” or the “good news” His plan is so good and so simple that we can easily miss it!  Jesus said: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not accept and receive the kingdom of God as a little child does shall not enter it. “(Luke 18:17) A little child simply trusts her parent to take care of her.  A little child simply believes what his parents tell him.  Jesus says that we are to be like a little child.  Put our lives in His hand and trust Him.  It’s that simple!
After we believe and accept Christ, we can still be hit with doubts.  Once we hear the Word and believe it, do we continue to believe without wavering?  We need to make a simple decision to believe and keep on believing. God is holding onto us (Jude 24), but we must be willing to let Him hold on.. The Bible says that every person is given a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3) Faith is also a gift.  But we need to use it.
Scripture tells us that we need to pray to God believing that He hears us and will answer.  But James 1:6-8 says that a double-minded person is unstable in all of his ways and he should not think that he will receive what he asks for when he prays to God. What does this passage of Scripture mean?  The Bible tells us that our prayers are powerful and that God answers them.  But this passage says that we must not ask God and expect answers if we are of two minds. 
Perhaps this “two minds” problem means that if the Christian faith we have in our heart and the secular beliefs we have in our head are opposite, then we will not see what we half way believe come to pass.  We believe in our heart that God will answer our prayer but our mind has negative, doubtful and unbelieving thoughts which go against the beliefs we hold our heart. If our mind and our heart are not in agreement then this passage seems to say that we cannot count on having our prayer answered.  It would seem that God wants our heads (our reasoning and our intellect) to believe His promises too and not just give them lip service.  We can have peace and joy when we can believe in our rational mind as well as in our heart that God will answer our prayers.  Believe that our deepest trouble is in God’s hands and He will take care of it in due time.
How can we Christians rejoice and believe that God will take care of our deepest troubles when really “bad” things happen to “good” people. My husband and I went to the movies this week to see “All Saints”. This movie is a true story about how God answered the prayers of a Christian pastor and his church.  This Episcopal church in Tennessee had once been a large loving thriving church, but now there were only a few members left. They loved their church and prayed and asked God to help them pay the bills and keep their church doors open.  But the little church was going bankrupt and the bishop and elders of the church had decided to sell the property and close the church doors.
Nearby there were a group of Burmese Christian refugees who needed help in finding jobs and learning the English language and integrating into the U.S. society.  One night when the church’s pastor was walking in the fields around the church praying, he felt that God spoke to him and told him to take the Burmese refugees in and house and feed them.  The Burmese refugees could help the church congregation farm the acres of land around the church.   Perhaps they could pay off their bankruptcy and keep the doors of their beloved church open. 
You will need to see the movie “All Saints” to get the exciting details. Let’s just say that the church people agreed to take in the Burmese refugees and they all started a farm on the land around the church.  But, If God actually did tell the pastor to start a farm with the Burmese Christian refugees, wouldn’t God see them through and give them rain so that their crops would grow?    
The movie ends with the bishop and elders voting to sell the church. Everyone is heartbroken! The pastor’s son asks the pastor if he knows for sure that God told him to farm the land with the refugees.  And the pastor answered that he didn’t know for sure.  Then the son asked his father/pastor why God didn’t send the rain like they thought He would.  And again, the pastor answered that he didn’t know the answer to that either.
So many times, throughout life we may find ourselves in the same situation as the pastor.  We don’t know for sure if God told us to do something.  And other times in life we believe that God should answer our prayers a certain way, and He doesn’t.  Our answers to those questions would be the same as the pastors – we don’t know!  In this life, we walk by faith and not by sight. Just as the little church in Tennessee was closing its doors for the last time, God came through in a most surprising way.  The church was saved, its’ doors are still open and now the church is packed with hundreds of new members.  If you walk the “faith walk” with God He will most likely have surprises for you too. 
Some of the ideas for this blog were taken from Joyce Meyer’s book: “Enjoy Where You Are on the Way to Where You Are Going.”

Saturday, August 26, 2017

How to React When a Friend Insults You

How to React When a Friend Insults You
Recently I was insulted by a acquaintance who is part of a group that I belong to.  At first, I was shocked that this person I thought was a friend had been so rude to me and I promised myself that I would stay away from him in the future. But then I realized that I couldn’t avoid seeing him since he and his wife are part of a group that my husband and I belong to.  And I didn’t want to leave the group.  What was I to do? 
At one time or another, most likely all of us have had our dignity attacked by a friend or an acquaintance.  As Christians, what are we to do when this happens? When another person insults us, it can be easy for us to let our anger control us. We can open a door for the devil, if we are not careful!  Our hurt feelings can cause us to try to pay the offending person back either with more hurtful words or hateful deeds.  As God’s children, we are commanded not to get involved in these “hate” games.
The Bible says: “Be angry and sin not, do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  (Ephesians 4:26) In other words, don’t stay angry and let hate fester.  Give your anger and your problem person up to God. Pray that God will help you move on and not get stuck in unforgiveness, judgments and bad feelings. 
 Pray that God will surround you with His presence and help you forgive, - help you the next time you run into the offending person. Scripture says: “Dearly beloved, do not pay back the one who sins against you, but give up your anger, for the Lord says: ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’”  (Romans 12:19) God will deal with any injustice that has been done to you.  He will take care of you. Your job is to forgive and forget. Trust God and He will take care of your reputation and the situation.
Scripture commands us to forgive the other person and not to hold a grudge.  We are told to pray for our enemies or for those who treat us badly.  Matthew 5:44 says: “Love your enemies and pray for those who despitefully use you.”  We can defeat Satan with a good strong love walk.  Scripture says: “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us.”  (Ephesians 5:2) 
I was upset for a while right after I was insulted.  I fumed and fussed and it ruined my day.  I lost my blessed peace for a while. One of the gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit as believers is the gift of peace. And Christ leaves us His peace also. (Galatians 5:22, John 14:27)   But we have to hold onto this gift of peace that we have been given.  Never let it go. Do whatever we can to keep peace in our life, as long as we don’t give up what is right and good. 
Scripture tells us that we Christians are in a spiritual battle here on earth.  A battle between good and evil, and a battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of satan. Ephesians 6 says that we do not fight against flesh and blood (other people) but against principalities and powers and wickedness in high places. Perhaps we have not been attacked by the person who we are mad at.  We have been attacked by Satan.
God gives us weapons to fight the battle.  Ephesians 6:14-15 says: “Stand therefore, having clothed your waist with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.”  One of our weapons in fighting the battle are the shoes of “peace”.   Put on those shoes and keep on walking in peace.
 We are called as Christians to be peacemakers.  Scripture says: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”  (Matthew 5:9) We cannot easily make peace with our enemies if we are not at peace ourselves. And to hold onto the peace God has given us we need to spend time with God.  Put Him first and praise and honor Him.
 Jesus has this message for us: “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and overburdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. “ (Matthew 11:28-29)  When you are upset, run to Jesus and spend a little time with Him.  Take your problems to Jesus and He will give you rest for your soul! 
One-day Jesus was telling his disciples some of the things that will happen in the end times.  In those terrible last days there would be wars and famines and earthquakes and Jesus also said that because there will be so many sinful acts happening at that time, “that the love of many people will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12) A great many people will have “cold” love. It is easy to have “cold” love when people insult us or sin against us.  And when we see greed, murder, immorality and injustice on every hand. But as Christians we are called to “walk in love”, even when evil is abounding all around us.  What kind of brotherhood or sisterhood in Christ do we have if we do not really care for one another? 
Some people are afraid to care after they have been hurt in a relationship.   We must not use this as an excuse to stop loving.  God will heal us from any hurts that we may have received from others, if we allow Him to.  St. Paul tell his fellow Christians not to look back but to keep on going forward in Christ. We are called as Christians to walk in love.  Scripture says: “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us…”  (Ephesians 5:2)   We are to follow Christ’s example and walk in His Spirit.   
I struggle with this command to love because I become angry when people treat me badly.  Instead of gossiping about the person who insulted me or treating him badly in return, I will move on but will not allow this person to humiliate me again. Scripture says we are to be “wise as serpents but harmless as doves.”  (Matthew 10:16)
It is so easy for me to be selfish and resentful.  And I am asking God to help me walk in love.  I know that when I live a selfish lifestyle it becomes impossible to walk in the Spirit.  The Bible says that love is not selfish or self-seeking.  (1 Corinthians 13:5-7) Love does not do the right thing to get something: love simply does the right thing because it is the right thing.
Jesus tells us that when we pray we are to forgive anyone who has hurt us or insulted us. (Mark 11:25) In order to walk in love as God has commanded, we have to take this command to love and forgive seriously.  Walking in love is not always easy.  It may mean living in a whole new way.  Learning to live beyond our feelings. If we try to seriously obey the Lord and walk in love, this love walk will be a blessing to many others. And most of all, it will bring joy to our Lord and Savior who always walks that love walk for you and me!
Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, “Eight Ways to Keep the Devil Under your Feet”

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Rejoice, the Lord is King Psalm 99

Rejoice, the Lord is King
Psalm 99
Psalm 99 starts right out with these words: “The Lord Reigns!”  This declaration is central to all of the Bible and to our Christian faith.  “The Lord reigns” and the words that follow call His children to stand in awe before Him and worship Him.  Let’s read this short Psalm.
Psalm 99:   (1)“The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble: He sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. (2) Great is the Lord.  In Zion, He is exalted over all the nations.  (3) Let us praise your great and awesome Name.  He is holy.”
(4) “The King is mighty, He loves justice.  You have established fairness.  In Jacob, You have done what is just and right.  (5) Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His footstool.  He is holy!”
(6) “Moses and Aaron were among His priests, Samuel was among those who called on His Name.  They called on the Lord and He answered them.  (7) He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud. They kept His statutes and the decrees He gave them. (8) O Lord our God, You answered them. You were to Israel a forgiving God, though You punished their misdeeds.  (9) Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy!” 
We notice in this Psalm that each paragraph ends with the words, “He is holy!” or “the Lord our God is holy!”  His holiness is only one of many marks of His kingship. Our God is a many splendored King.  His holiness and His righteousness, His goodness, forgiveness, and His abundant love are all important marks of His divine kingship! 
God is the all-powerful Creator of the universe, which is another mark of His kingship. And He is the One who rules over chaos.  For ancient people, chaos among the nations or people was symbolized by the unruly waves of the sea.  Much of God’s work in creation dealt with calming or taming of the seas.  The Lord rules over the chaotic waters!  Jesus can calm the storms. (Matthew 8:23-27) His power and control are more marks of His divine kingship! 
The image of God as king also supports His image as a Protector, Shepherd and Warrior. Throughout the Bible God is referred to as a “Warrior” because He fights against evil and because He protects His people against their enemies.  (Revelations 17:14, Ephesians 6:11-17, 1 Timothy 1:18, 2 Timothy 2:3-4, James 4:1-2, Exodus 15:3)
The second part of Psalm 99 (verses 4-5) declares that the Lord “loves justice”.  Scripture declares that “righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.” (Psalm 97:2b) Other Psalms, (Psalm 96:13 and 98:9) speak about God’s judgment over the whole world.  Psalm 99 describes God as the ruler over all the nations” (verse 2)
All through the Bible, God is spoken of as our Judge. This is another mark of His kingship.  As Judge, final judgment and punishment and the structure of the universe are left to God.  Because we humans are sinful and often unable to judge with fairness, it is good news that our Judge and King who is in charge of judgment will be merciful, loving, forgiving (Psalm 99:8) and fair.  If we are followers of Christ we will be covered with His righteousness and we will inherit eternal life. (John 3:16)
We humans will always be ruled by something.  As Christians, we believe, as Psalm 99 declares, that God is our ruler and king as well as our heavenly Father.  But if we do not believe in God as our ruler and king then we may allow the values of the culture or the delusions about our human wisdom to rule us instead.  If we do not accept God as our ruler, then we will be ruled by something else! And it won’t be good. Scripture says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Proverbs 14:12)
Some folks will argue that if the kingdom of God exists and if God is king, then we wouldn’t be having wars, shootings, terrorist attacks, sickness, child abuse, etc.  There are times when the presence of the kingdom of God is hard to discern in this troubled world. In the Bible, the kingdom of God is compared to the tiny mustard seed. (Mark 4:31) And to yeast hidden in dough. (Matthew 13:33) And to buried treasure in a field. ((Matthew 13:44)
Not all of the kingdom of God has yet been revealed.  Some parts are “now” and others are “not yet.”  Scripture says: “We see through a glass darkly, but then face to face, now we know in part but then we shall know even as we are known. “ (1 Corinthians 13:12)  The kingdom in part is our present reality.  But the kingdom complete will be our future reality.
The problems and tragedies of today are not the last word.   We humans are still in charge of much that happens in our world.  Scripture says that God gave Adam and Eve (mankind) dominion (We can rule) over the earth.  (Genesis 1:26-29, and Chapter 2) But the Day will come when Christ returns and the world will be ruled by God!  One verse of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” is taken from Revelation 11:15 and declares: “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.”. 
We Christians believe that the kingdom of God will come. Scripture says: “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low, and the rough places plain.”  (Isaiah 40:4) The belief in heaven where God rules and we are in Christ, gives us blessed hope and that belief changes and purifies us according to Scripture.  (1 John 3:2-3) We are delving into mysteries we don’t understand here. Our faith is a holy mystery.  
 Not to believe or have the hope of this future kingdom of heaven leads us to despair and hopelessness.  We Christians wait for the fullness of God’s kingdom.  Scripture says “He (Christ) must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  (1 Corinthians 15:25-26) We Christians can join with the writer of Psalm 99 and many other Psalms and shout triumphantly, “The Lord Reigns”. 
Many of the ideas in this blog were taken from Jerome F.D. Creech’s booklet “Psalms” Interpretation Bible Studies.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Prayer that Does Not Quit

 Prayer that Does Not Quit
The Bible tells us that when we wait a long time for our prayers to be answered we should not become discouraged.  We should not give up but keep on waiting and praying and believing for God to answer.  God hears us the first time we ask. But perhaps our faith is developed more during those times when we must wait for the answer.  Our timing isn’t always God’s timing. And sometimes we are called to wait for a very long time!
God loves to answer our prayers and give us good things.  Scripture says: “Ask and it will be given to you: Seek, and you will find: Knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)  Our prayers are very important because we need to ask in order to receive. Many of our prayers are answered quickly.  But some are not. 
Jesus tells a parable meant to encourage us to keep on praying and waiting for God’s answer. His parable is about the widow who wouldn’t quit asking.  (Luke 18:1-6) Jesus begins his story by telling of a judge who didn’t fear God or respect people.  And of a widow who needed protection from an enemy who was harming her. This widow with the problem came to the difficult judge asking for help.  But the judge refused to hear her case.  Jesus continues his story saying that the widow did not’ lose heart when the judge didn’t answer her.  She just kept coming back to the judge asking again and again for him to help her. Tiring him out with her pleas and bothering him with her begging. Finally, the judge was so worn down by this persistent widow that he gave her what she asked for – just to get her off his back.
 Jesus’ story teaches us not to give up when our prayers are not answered quickly. To keep on asking and believing. Jesus’ point is that if an unjust judge can be worn down, how much more will a just and loving God do for us when we keep coming to Him with our requests? Jesus said: “Will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off?  I tell you He will see that they get justice, and quickly.” (Luke 18:7-8)
Another story in the Bible tells of how God values a person who follows after Him and won’t give up or take “no” for an answer. This mysterious story takes place at night in the wilderness.  Jacob will meet his brother, Esau the next day and he is afraid of his brother.  Esau had threatened to kill Joseph years before and now Esau is coming to see Jacob with an army of fighting men.  Jacob leaves his large family and his flocks of sheep and goats and goes off alone to be with God.  This is how the story is told in Scripture.
“Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him all night until daybreak.  When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip, so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.  Then the man said to Jacob, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’.  But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’.  The man asked Jacob, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob’, he answered.
Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but your name will be Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.’  Jacob said, ’Please tell me your name.’ The man replied, ’Why do you ask me my name?’  The he blessed Jacob there.”.  (Genesis 32:24-29) 
The name “Israel” means “He who struggles with God.”  This was to be Jacob’s new name.  God was very pleased with Jacob because he held on and wouldn’t give up. And the Lord will be pleased with us if we hold on and refuse to stop believing. Jacob wrestled with the angel of God all night and he would not let him go until he would give him a blessing.  Sometimes we must be like Jacob and fight all through our earthly night, holding on to the Lord and telling Him, “I will not let you go until You bless me.”
We are told in Hosea 12:4 that when Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord, he wept and asked for a blessing and prayed. These were his weapons. Jacob had many faults and weaknesses, but God seemed to be pleased with him perhaps because he held on to God and would not let Him go. Scripture says that Jacob was “A Prince of God”.  And he was also one of the Patriarchs of Israel.
We don’t believe that Jacob wrestled in his own strength but in the strength given to him from God.  We cannot prevail with God without the strength He gives us to prevail.  Prayer requires a commitment. But it is work in the Spirit that accomplishes great things here on earth. And sometimes we, like Jacob, may also need to struggle with God for the blessings He wants to give us.  And God does want to bless us and answer our prayers. 
We sometimes think that we won’t have serious troubles in our lives if God is there blessing us.  But God blessed Jacob and he still had his share of troubles. Shortly after that night when he struggled with the Angel of God and received God’s blessing, Jacobs’ wife, Rachel, died in childbirth, breaking his heart.  His favorite son, Joseph, was sold into slavery by his own brothers, (Jacob’s other children) and for many years poor Jacob mourned and grieved believing that his son Joseph was dead.  Jacobs other sons lied to their father and covered up the fact that they had sold their brother Joseph into slavery.
Several of Jacob’s sons ran through a neighboring village killing all of the men and stealing their women and animals.  Reuben, Jacob’s oldest son, had sex with Jacob’s concubine.  You get the picture that Jacob, a man blessed by God, had troubles in his family life.
God’s blessing to Jacob did not keep him from normal human problems. But God can even take the bad things that come into our lives and work them out for good.  Years after Jacob’s beloved son, Joseph was sold into slavery, a terrible famine occurred all over the land.
By then, Joseph was no longer a slave but he had become a ruler in Egypt and he was able to save his father, Jacob and all of his brothers and their families from starvation during this famine by bringing them to Egypt and feeding them from the stockpiles of food that he had stored for Egypt.  Joseph forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery.  He told his brothers that the evil that they had done to him was turned around for good by God.  Since his brothers sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt, with God’s help, Joseph was able many years later to become a ruler in Egypt and to be in a position to save his whole family from starvation during the famine.     
I believe that Jacob’s blessing was spiritual. God made a covenant or a promise to be with Jacob (Israel) and with his children (the Israelites) as long as they tried to obey His laws. If they worshipped other gods or seriously broke God’s commands then God did not promise to bless them.  God promises to be with us and bless us if we believe in Christ as Savior and try to follow His laws.  
Scripture says: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  (Psalm 37:4) If we delight ourselves in the Lord then we will desire what He wants.  So when we pray according to His will we can know that He will answer that prayer.  We have His Word.
Even if the answer takes longer to come than we may hope. We can still have peace while we are waiting because we know that the answer is on the way. And we can picture our answer and thank God that it is ours, even though we can’t see it yet. And keep on believing and keep on thanking God.  Until that day when our miracle arrives and our faith finally becomes sight!im

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Put off Your Old Self and Put on Your New Self

Put off Your Old Self and Put on Your New Self
How Christ’s followers are called to live
As a person takes off dirty clothes and puts on new clean ones, so we Christian are called upon to renounce our sins and to try to live according to Gods’ laws. Scripture says: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.  And to be made new in the attitude of your minds: and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  (Ephesians 4:22-24) 
“When we believe in Christ as Savior and Lord and want to follow Him, the Bible proclaims that a miracle happens and we become a “new creation”.  Scripture says: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are gone and the new things have come.!”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)  
Scripture also says: “Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you (your old self) has died, and your life is now hidden in Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, you will also appear with Him in glory. Therefore, put to death whatever belongs to your old earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”  (Colossians 3:1-5)
What a mystery!  Our lives have been raised with Christ and hidden in Him!  We will appear with Him in glory!  (Colossians 3:1-5) We can only imagine what all of this means! These glimpses behind the curtain between here and eternity are all so glorious.  It is more than we can understand!  But since we believers have been given a new life in Christ and such a high honor by our heavenly Father- the honor of being “raised with Christ”, we are asked to do our small part.  To take off the old and put on what is new. 
We are asked to do some housecleaning.  To leave behind old sins: any sexual immorality or greed or lust. The list goes on.  Scripture continues saying: “Now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to one another as you have taken off your old self.”  (Colossians 3:8-9)
Paul, inspired by God, writes: “You must no longer live as the Gentiles (non-believers) live in the futility of their thinking.  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity with a continual lust for even more. You did not come to know Christ this way.” (Ephesians 4:17-20) 
The list of sins goes on.  “In your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.  He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up…and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you are sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:26-31)
New believers in Christ are given more rules too.  Christians are commanded to forgive those who sin against them. The Ten Commandments are also meant for God’s people to follow.  You can find them in Exodus 20:3-17 Briefly they command us to: (1) Put God first and love Him most.  (2) Do not make any graven images (idols) and worship them. (3)  Do not take the Name of the Lord in vain.  (4) Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Rest on the Sabbath and worship God. (5)  Honor your fathers and mothers. (6)   Do not kill. (7) Do not commit adultery. (8) Do not steal. (9) Do not give false testimony against your neighbor. And (10) Do not covet what others have.  Covet means “lust after”.  When a person becomes a Christian he or she is called on to follow Christ and to turn away from sin and try to keep God’s laws. 
And after we have taken off our old dirty clothes we can put on our robes of righteousness. (Matthew 22:1-14) (Jesus is our righteousness) (Isaiah 61:10) Scripture says: “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all of these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. “ (Colossians 3:12-14) 
The instructions concerning our new clean clothing continues: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, such as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ live in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  (Colossians 3:15-17)   All through Scripture Jesus promises us that He will give us His peace.  But we need to be willing to clean out our junk and make room in our lives to receive Jesus’ promised special peace. 
Because we believers receive the Holy Spirit into our lives, we can also receive what the Holy Spirit wants to give us. And Scripture says the Holy Spirit has nine “fruits” and He wants to give us these “fruits” or gifts when He comes into our lives.  But of course, we can reject these fruits the Spirit has for us. We always have free will.  Scripture says: “The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. “ (Galatians 5:22-23)
Scripture goes on to say: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)   How does a person “keep step with the Spirit”? I have known Christians who don’t show much love or joy or peace.  They don’t seem to have grown much in the faith or be “keeping step with the Spirit.”  And I have known many other Christians that radiate Christ’s love. Their faces are changed. They show Christ’s peace and joy and they live good and faithful lives. How does a Christian “keep step with the Spirit”? Or put on their “new self”?
Scripture answers this question with these words: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) To “crucify our sinful nature” that sounds pretty radical, doesn’t it?   We must kill it – not feed it – resist it, not play its game. It isn’t always easy to take off our old dirty clothes.  The Holy Spirit will give us the strength to turn from our sin, but we have to be willing to let it go.  It’s an on-going battle.  But Scripture says that in the end we will be victorious in Christ.