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Worth The Trouble

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Today’s Bible Reading: Isaiah 60-62:5; Philippians 1:27-2:18; Psalm 72:1-20; Proverbs 24:11-12

Old Testament

Even though God was going to bring destruction upon Israel He promised a future restoration to make them better than ever. A time is coming when all (not some) of the nations of the world will be attracted to the light emanating from Israel (Isaiah 60:3). This will happen when Jesus returns to earth and begins His 1,000 year reign, headquartered in Jerusalem.

Isaiah speaks of a regathering of Jews from all over the earth to the land of Israel (Isaiah:60:4). This prophecy began before Israel even became a country (in 1948) and continues to this day.

Some of the things that God promises Israel are truly amazing considering current events. People from all over the world will bring their wealth to Israel (Isaiah 60:5-11). The reason they will do this is to honor God (Isaiah 60:9). When Jesus rules on earth just about everyone will finally recognize Him for who He is – the one and only true God.This will include descendants of those who currently oppress and create problems for Israel (Isaiah 60:14).

While Israel is despised around the globe someday God will make all other nations serve them (Isaiah 60:16). And there will be no more car bombs or violence of any kind there (Isaiah 60:18).

All of this is so hard to imagine. But notice that these prophecies are really multiple prophecies in one. For God to remove violence there has to be violence to begin with. For God to end the hatred there has to be hatred to begin with. All of these prophecies were made while the nation of Israel was barely hanging on by a thread. It would be totally wiped off the face of the earth in just a couple of decades. God, through Isaiah, is predicting that Israel would be restored, would be hated by the world, and would then become the most beloved nation on earth. If such a prophecy didn’t come from God it would be preposterous.

But it is from God. Many world leaders have tried to bring peace to this region. All have failed. Only God can, and will, make it happen (Isaiah 60:22)

When Jesus read in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-22) He read Isaiah 61:1-2. Jesus came to undo what sin does. Sin creates broken hearts. Jesus brings comfort. Sin creates captives. Jesus offers freedom. Sin causes mourning. Jesus gives blessing. The world continues to look for solutions to the problems that sin creates. But sinful people can only make matters worse. Jesus is the only answer. Sometimes I think the world believes it can dig itself out of a hole. We need a lifeline. Jesus offers that lifeline. Jesus is that lifeline. But the world ignores Him and keeps on digging.


New Testament

One of my favorite Bible verses is Philippians 1:27 from the NIV: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ”. I try to keep this verse in my head every day so when I find myself in a situation where sin is tempting me I can (hopefully) over come it.

The NLT adds that we should live as citizens of heaven. If you were royalty and were temporarily living in an impoverished neighborhood you would always remember that someday you were going home to your palace. This is how Christians should live. This earth is not our home. It is a our temporary dwelling place and it is filled with disgusting sin. Someday we will be leaving here. While we wait we conduct ourselves in a manner that reflect the true place of our citizenship.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is filled with commands that are practical for everyday living. We should not be selfish nor should we care about impressing others. Instead we should be humble (Philippians 2:3). When I was an enemy of Christianity I thought being humble meant being weak minded – a pushover. But humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less. It means not only taking care of yourself but also taking care of others (Philippians 2:4). Notice that it is okay to look after ourselves. But it is not okay to look after only ourselves.

The ultimate expression of humility was Jesus Himself. Even though He was God and was living in heaven He was willing to lower Himself by becoming a human being – one of His own creations – and dying on a cross for us (Philippians 2:6-8). God could have stayed in heaven. He could have decided it was too much trouble to save a bunch of whiny, complaining people who paid no attention to Him. It would have been the easier thing to do. But He was humble enough to look out for our interests because He thought we were worth the trouble.


Psalms

Only God can rule over people like a refreshing spring rain (Psalm 72:6). Human leaders are not inclined to be like this. That is why we need to pray for them, asking God to give them the ability to rule with justice and righteousness (Psalm 72:1-2).

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

Always Us

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Today’s Bible Reading: Isaiah 57:15-59:21; Philippians 1:1-26; Psalm 71:1-24; Proverbs 24:9-10

Old Testament

God addresses the empty rituals of His people in Isaiah 58. Even though they acted piously it was all a facade (Isaiah 58:2). They acted like they were righteous. They thought they were doing God’s will. But they weren’t. What they were really doing was trying to impress themselves and each other (Isaiah 58:3). By partaking in their religious rituals (in this case, fasting) they were convincing themselves that their actions were scoring them points with God. But it wasn’t.

This is so true today of people who are part of religions such as Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam. Each has their man-made rituals (such as penance, confession, Hajj, or Puja) that does nothing at all to impress God. God isn’t interested in our outward actions. He is interested in our hearts. He wants us to be humble and selfless, sharing with others (Isaiah 58:6-7) not in order to impress Him but because we genuinely care about others more than ourselves.

The reason people don’t get answers from God when they pray isn’t because God isn’t listening or unable to respond (Isaiah 59:1). It is our sin that separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2-7). While God is everywhere all the time, it is our relationship with Him that is broken because of sin. Imagine you live in a house with someone else – a relative or roommate – and something happens that causes tension between you. You are still physically near each other, but you become emotionally separated. That is what sin does to our relationship with God. He is still near us. But we cannot have true communication with Him while we live in sin.

The problem is never God. The problem is always us!

But we fail to see it. We hunger for justice but fail to see that we treat others wrongly. We thirst for righteous living but are blind to the fact that we walk in darkness (Isaiah 59:9-15). We can’t receive God’s blessing if we continue to live in sin. Less sin results in more blessing. Its very simple.


New Testament

Today we start Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi which he wrote in approximately 60 AD from a Roman prison while he awaited trial. Philippi was located in what is now modern-day Greece. Paul planted a church there on his second missionary journey.

At the moment of salvation God begins to do a work in a born-again believer which does not end until Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6). Of this Paul was certain and we can be too. When it seems like you are not making progress in your Christian life, don’t get upset. We all stall at times. I was stalled for years at one point. But God is always ready to move forward when we are. He isn’t giving up on any of us. He committed to do something magnificent in the life of every believer and He can be counted on to stay the course.

Note that this promise is only for His children – those of us who have been born-again and have therefore been adopted into His family. If you want God’s blessings then you have to accept His offer to cleanse you of your sins through Jesus (and only through Jesus). Then He can start working wonders in you. The main thing God wants to address in all of us – what matters most to Him – is our character (Philippians 1:10-11).

The Roman and Jewish authorities had placed Paul in jail because, according to their claims, he was spreading lies and inciting trouble. They wanted to stop the spread of his message. But putting Paul into prison only furthered God’s message (Philippians 1:12-14). Think about it. Today, almost 2,000 years later, Paul’s prison letters – Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians – are still being read around the world and are bringing people to Christ. This repeats one of the themes we’ve seen many times this year in the Bible – God is the Master as using man’s evil to bring about good (Romans 8:28).


Psalms

Those of us who are older have a great opportunity to teach those who are younger about God (Psalm 71:18). Sadly there is a tremendous dearth of people who study God’s word and who therefore have the knowledge that people so desperately need. And this scarcity only gets worse with each generation.

If you are a Christian consider how you might be able to get involved with a younger person. If you have children, then you already have such a mission field. If not, or if your children are grown, you can get involved in a youth ministry at your church.

A life of service doesn’t stop when we get older. There is no retirement plan when we work for God.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

So Much More

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Today’s Bible Reading: Isaiah 54-57:14; Ephesians 6:1-24; Psalm 70:1-5; Proverbs 24:8

Old Testament

God offers everyone the very best of everything. But to obtain it one has to be “thirsty” (Isaiah 55:1). If we satisfy ourselves with the things that the world has to offer we won’t have a thirst for God. And that is sad because what God has to offer far exceeds anything we can find in this world (Isaiah 55:2). The world offers satisfactions that are temporary at best. God offers life (Isaiah 55:3).

The reason for this is we don’t think or act like God (Isaiah 55:8). We think we know what we’re doing, but we don’t. One of my favorite quotes is:

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and hitting our mark.” – Michelangelo

God has so much more planned for us than we could even imagine. The things He wants us to have are beyond great. Yet we settle for what the human mind determines is good.

One of the most comforting passages in all of Scripture is Isaiah 55 in which God reaches out to those who don’t fit into society and promises that they are not beyond His blessing (Isaiah 55:3-8). God welcomes anyone with open arms no matter where they are in life if they commit themselves to Him. But note that God is going to work on changing us once we do. As a former pastor of mine used to say “God loves us right where we are. But He loves us too much to leave us there.”

The reason people don’t commit themselves to God is they don’t want to give up their sin. They think their ways are better than God’s ways. But this is not true. No matter who you are – male/female, gay/straight, young/old, asian/latino/black/white… God wants to bless you. And He wants to give you so much more than you can imagine. But you have to be willing to give up yourself.


New Testament

Paul continues discussing relationships today in Ephesians 6. Children should obey and honor their parents (Ephesians 6:1). This command comes with a promise – things will go well if we do. This is true throughout our life. Even as adults we are still children (if one or more of our parents is alive). We should continue to honor them as long as they live.

In verse 4 we see more evidence that God commands fathers to teach their children about God. Men will be held accountable for the spiritual health of their children. They should not leave it up to the youth pastor or, worse, to the child himself. People need to be “trained” to live a life that is pleasing to God. It does not come naturally.

Employees should serve their employers with honesty and enthusiasm. If one is a Christian then in reality he is working for God who sees all that we are doing and will reward us (Ephesians 6:7-8). Employers should remember that they too are being watched (Ephesians 6:9).

We are all involved in many different relationships – familial, professional, etc – and in any relationship there will be disagreement. But we must remember that our enemy is not other people. Our enemy is Satan (Ephesians 6:12). One of Satan most successful tactics is to disrupt relationships.

God gives Christians many tools to fight Satan’s attacks (Ephesians 6:11-17) which are described in term of military armor. Notice that we need to put on “every piece” of this armor. If we neglect even one of these items we are susceptible to Satan who will attack us at our most vulnerable spot.

One thing we must do as Christians is stand our ground. This does not mean being rude or intolerant of other’s opinions. But it does mean not caving in when someone attacks our faith. It means not being willing to give up ground even when we can’t advance God’s kingdom. We do this by knowing the truth and by standing firmly rooted in peace.

The belt of truth, the armor of God’s righteousness (note: not our righteousness) and the shoes of peace are physically attached to our body. They should be part of who we are and how we live. Our character should reflect these virtues always. The only offensive weapon in our arsenal is the Word of God which has the power to cut through any lie, objection, or misconception that anyone may raise. Therefore, we must know what the Bible says.

Finally, all of these things will do us no good if we don’t pray (Ephesians 6:18). We should pray at all times for others, but certainly also for ourselves so that we use these weapons effectively.


Psalms

Sadly in this world there are actually people who enjoy seeing others fail or who want to harm others (Psalm 70:2). If you are ever on the receiving end of this it can be tough. The only one who can help is God. Those who search for Him will be filled with joy (Psalm 70:4). The implication is that those who don’t will not experience true joy.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

Role Models

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Today’s Bible Reading: Isaiah 51-53:12; Ephesians 5:1-33; Psalm 69:19-36; Proverbs 24:7

Old Testament

God can be trusted today because of all the wonderful things He has done (Isaiah 51:1-2). God is unchanging. He did great things for people in the past and will continue to do great things today and tomorrow if we only listen to Him and trust Him as Abraham and Sarah did.

God’s history is one of pouring out blessing on faithful followers. Man’s history is one of pouring out vengeance and selfishness on other people. The phrase “history repeats itself” is certainly true, isn’t it? Man will continue to be evil while God will continue to be good.

Nevertheless, there is no reason for us to fear man, as long as we love God (Isaiah 51:7). People who aim to hurt us and insult us will be taken care of. God will see to that (Isaiah 51:8). All of humanity is weak and destined to die. We should have no fear of such weaklings (Isaiah 51:12).

Despite the judgement that God was going to deliver upon Jerusalem for their unbelief, He was not going to let this endure forever (Isaiah 51:11-23). God promised to conquer those who conquered Jerusalem. And this is exactly what happened when the Persians defeated the Babylonians and became the known-world’s super power.

God promised to restore Jerusalem (Isaiah 52:2). While Jerusalem is once again a thriving city, the best is yet to come when Jerusalem becomes the capital city of the world once Jesus returns and sets up His earthly government there. This will happen at the end of the seven-year Tribulation.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 contains an abundance of specific prophecies about Jesus’ first and second appearances on this earth. Those that pertain to His first appearance all came true: He was beaten (Isaiah 52:14); His message was not believed (Isaiah 53:1); He was despised (Isaiah 53:3); He was pierced with a sword (Isaiah 53:5); He did not defend Himself when on trial (Isaiah 53:7); He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea who was a very wealthy man (Isaiah 53:9) to name just a few. Precise predictions like this can only be the work of an all-knowing God.

Notice that it was God’s plan all along for Jesus to go through all this pain and torture. God was pleased by this (Isaiah 53:10). Not in a masochistic sense – God did not enjoy seeing all this happen to His Son. Rather, God was pleased because Jesus’ experience made it possible for many to be counted as righteous (Isaiah 53:11). Without Jesus bearing our sins – which is what He did on the cross – no one could enter heaven. Appropriately, Jesus deserves all the honor we can possibly give Him.


New Testament

I often hear young athletes identify who their idol is – some famous sports star they want to be like. This is a worldly way of thinking. God doesn’t want us to imitate another human beings. He wants us to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1). God is our role model. He is the only perfect one. No other person is close to perfect so we shouldn’t want to be like anyone else. Nor should we want anyone to imitate us. In 1993 pro-basketball player Charles Barkley famously stated that he (and other professional athletes) are not role models. His comment caused a very public debate that even included the White House. But he was right.

Non believers will attempt to minimize their sin (Ephesians 5:6). We see this every day in our culture. Lying isn’t so bad. Homosexuality isn’t so bad. Gay marriage is appropriate. But as children of God we should not do the same with our own sin nor should we ignore the sins of others. Sin, no matter who engages in it, affects everyone. So we all have a vested interest in identifying sin and working to see it reduced in our society (Ephesians 5:11). This is the way to make our world better. We don’t need more laws. We don’t need more bombs. We don’t need more diplomacy. We don’t need higher taxes. We need less sin.

In Ephesians 5:21-33 Paul gives instructions to husbands and wives which include in infamously-taken-out-of-context verse in which he admonishes wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22). A full discussion of this passage is not possible here – the commentaries I use each dedicate many pages to these 12 sentences. But suffice it to say that God is not telling women they need to be doormats or robots in their marriage. Nor is He giving husbands carte-blanche to act as tyrants.

Rather God is establishing a hierarchy of authority in the family. God has placed the husband at the top of this hierarchy. This does not mean that husbands/men are more valuable than wives/women. As I discussed back in August, being under someone’s authority does not imply inferiority. Women are not inferior to men in any way. But God does give us different roles and responsibilities. And He has given husbands the responsibility for the spiritual health of his family. Remember, with responsibility comes accountability. Every husband/father will have to answer to God for how well he lead his wife and children in their spiritual walk.

It should not go unnoticed that in this same passage God calls on the husbands to sacrifice themselves for their wives (Ephesians 5:25-30). These verses are conveniently ignored by those who claim the Bible is misogynistic. As a former pastor of mine used to say: “By following two simple words people can understand the Bible better. Those two words are ‘keep reading'”.


Psalms

Psalm 69 concludes with David offering praises to God despite being in a very desperate fight for his life against those who wanted to kill him. Its easy to remember to ask God for things and to ask forgiveness of Him. Its harder to remember to praise Him. But praise should be on the tips of our tongues for God is always ready to help us. He is never deaf or blind to what we are going through.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

We Should Stand Out

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Today’s Bible Reading: Isaiah 48:12-50:11; Ephesians 4:17-32; Psalm 69:1-18; Proverbs 24:5-6

Old Testament

The human race has been quite successful over its history. We have made quite a lot of progress especially over the past couple of decades with respect to technology and medicine. Yet there is still no peace on this planet. And people seem to be more evil than ever. That is because we haven’t relied on God by listening to His commands (Isaiah 48:18).

The human race is good at creating meaningless things that have no eternal value like iPhones and the rainy day cigarette holder or things that destroy anyone and anything we don’t agree with like atomic bombs. But we cannot create peace. We cannot create righteous living. The only way for us to attain these things is to obey God’s commands which are designed for this very thing. If we don’t not only will be not have peace, we have to experience God’s discipline (Isaiah 48:19).

The words in Isaiah 49 are the words of God the Son who would be called Jesus upon His birth as a human being. This chapter is filled with prophecy about His first and second arrival on earth. Even though Jesus was, and is, despised and rejected by governments (without question, a fulfilled prophecy) a time is coming when they will humble themselves before Him and serve Him (Isaiah 49:7). This will happen when Jesus rules the earth for 1,000 years after His return.

So many people reject Jesus because they think that He demands difficult things. But just the opposite is true. Jesus didn’t come to make life hard for us – He came to make it easier. He came to protect us and to give us freedom from the bondage and penalty of sin (Isaiah 49:9). He came to give us comfort (Isaiah 49:10). He came so that our lives could be easier (not necessarily easy) than they would be otherwise (Isaiah 49:11). Jesus, who is God in a human body, came to serve us. He did not come to conquer us. Instead He conquered our worst enemy – sin.

Jesus endured all the suffering that an unbelieving and arrogant world had to offer and He did so willingly (Isaiah 50:6). He did this because He understood the Father’s will for His life. God spoke to Him and He listened (Isaiah 50:4-5). Even though he knew what lie ahead – the mocking, the physical and verbal abuse, the pain of being nailed to a cross – He kept moving forward in life because He was totally committed to what God was doing through Him. He loved God – and God’s people – more than He loved His own life.

When people are abused or even the slightest bit offended they go running to a lawyer to demand their rights in court. Jesus did no such thing. He knew that this life on earth was nothing to defend. He did not get side-tracked by these distractions. His focus was on eternity. Not His, but ours.

Christians today face abuse too. In the Middle East Muslims threaten to kill Christians unless they convert to Islam. They take hostages in shopping malls in Kenya and kill the non-Muslims. Christianity is still illegal in China. Even the United States, the so-called place of freedom, has enacted numerous roadblocks (aka “laws”) making life difficult for Christians.

Yet we should not act like non-believers who sue to have our way. Jesus is our way. We need to remember that God sees everything and is always in control of every situation. Just like Jesus, we need to keep marching forward through life living for His glory instead of for our own comfort.


New Testament

This segues perfectly into our reading in Ephesians today (the Bible is so consistent, isn’t it?). God, through Paul, commands us not to live like non-believers who live with no real direction in life (Ephesians 4:17). We should act differently. Not because we are better (we are not), but because we have something better. We have knowledge of God. We have His love. These are things the world does not have because it has rejected Him (Ephesians 4:18).

Many Christians try to “fit in” with their non-believing friends, family, and co-workers. This is wrong. We should stand-out. We should live differently. What we believe should not be a bumper sticker on our car or where we are on Sunday mornings. What we believe should be evident in our lifestyle (Ephesians 4:21-24). If it is, God will bless us and that will make those around us take notice.

Some ways in which we should behave differently than the world is we should not lie or let anger control us (Ephesians 4:25-26). We should not steal or use foul language (Ephesians 4:28-29). We should not grieve the Holy Spirit by doing worldly things when we should be doing godly things (Ephesians 4:30). I’d say this includes things like wasting time watching TV or working too much overtime. God didn’t save us and give us His Spirit so we could do things like that.

Finally, we should be kind to everyone and forgive everyone because that is exactly how God treats us (Ephesians 4:32).


Psalms

Just like David in Psalm 69 we’ve all had times in our life when things seemed hopeless (Psalm 69:2). Yet, like David, we should continue to seek help from God (Psalm 69:3). But we need to approach God with humility (Psalm 69:5) and continue praying (Psalm 69:13). We should not turn to anyone or anything else in these times. God is the only one who can save us from the troubles of life (Psalm 69:18).

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

Inventions Of The Human Mind

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Today’s Bible Reading: Isaiah 45:11-48:11; Ephesians 4:1-16; Psalm 68:19-35; Proverbs 24:3-4

Old Testament

God really wants people to believe in Him. Not because He is an egomaniac but because He knows that no other “god” can save anyone (Isaiah 45:20). One big proof that the God of the Bible is the one and only God is all the prophecy in the Bible. Who else could make such specific predictions that come true exactly as stated besides God? No one (Isaiah 45:21).

There is no prophecy in the Koran. There is no prophecy in the Mormon books. There is no prophecy in Hinduism. Prophecy is only found in the Bible. And there is a big reason why. Those previous writings and belief systems were made up by men who could not predict the future and would have easily been revealed as frauds if they did and even one prediction did not come true. The very fact that these writings lack any measurable prophetic statements proves they are inventions of the human mind and nothing more.

One interesting thing all the false gods of the world have in common is that their followers serve them. But the God of the Bible seeks to serve His creation (Isaiah 45:4). The so-called gods of Islam, Hinduism, et al. demand to be served. This is exactly the type of god the human mind would invent. But the God of the Bible is contradictory to our natural way of thinking. God not only made us, but He cares for us. He wants to carry us and save us. No human being would make this up.

Just like God predicted Israel and Judah would be conquered, God also predicts that one day Babylon (who at the time of this writing wasn’t even a world power) would be demolished (Isaiah 47:1-5). God used the evil of Babylon to correct Israel (Isaiah 47:6). We’ve seen that this is how God works – He uses the evil of one to discipline another. But that does not let the one doing the evil off the hook. They still have to answer for their sin and arrogance (Isaiah 47:10-11).

When trouble comes in life we often turn to friends and family. But that does us no good. People look out for themselves (Isaiah 47:15). Even if someone wants to help they are often powerless to do so. Better to turn to God for only He has the power we need.

God tells us in advance what is going to happen so that we will recognize that such events are from Him when they do happen (Isaiah 48:5-6). The predictions in the Bible that seem to be the most absurd are proof that the Bible was not invented by man. If any of the human authors had intentionally sat down with the intent of creating a religion for all the world to follow for all time, they have only included things that people would believe. They would not have come up with a virgin birth or the Rapture. The more outrageous the claims of the Bible the more proof that it is divinely inspired.


New Testament

When someone does something nice for us we want to pay them back. If someone were to save our life we would feel forever indebted to that person. So after Paul has explained the wonderful salvation God has graciously provided for us in Ephesians 1-3, he now turns to how born-again believers should live in response to God’s great gift.

We are to live a life worthy of what God has done for us (Ephesians 4:1). In practice this means being humble. It means being gentle and patient with each other (Ephesians 4:2). We shouldn’t be “building a brand” or pushing our own selfish agenda. We should tolerate other people’s mistakes, which is what God does.

Each believer is generously given a special gift with which to serve Him. Other gifts are listed elsewhere in Paul’s writings but here he lists positions of spiritual leadership (Ephesians 4:11). Notice the responsibility of people with these gifts. They are to equip the rest of the believers to do God’s work. If you are in a church where the leadership is not training you and preparing you to spread God’s message in some manner, then you are in the wrong church. Or, if you are going to church to hear funny anecdotes or out of obligation to please God, then you are going to church for the wrong reasons.

One sign that we are getting the most out of attending our local church is maturity (Ephesians 4:14). The measure of the efficacy of our spiritual leaders as well our own intentions is whether we are more mature today than we were yesterday. Mature people speak the truth, but they do so out of love for others rather than to bring attention to ourselves (Ephesians 4:15).


Psalms

In the second half of Psalm 68 David recognizes God as the one who delivers us from our enemies. No matter what you are going through – if you have enemies at work or in your family or even in your head – God wants to smash them. He doesn’t want anyone in bondage to lies and deception.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

Don’t Have To Be Shy

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Today’s Bible Reading: Isaiah 43:14-45:10; Ephesians 3:1-21; Psalm 68:1-18; Proverbs 24:1-2

Old Testament

One way we can trust people to do what they say they will do is to look at how they behaved in the past – we look at their reputation. It is the same with God. God promised to relieve Israel from captivity by sending another nation against Babylon (Isaiah 43:14). God points to His past faithfulness and miracles as proof that He can be trusted to do what He says (Isaiah 43:15-20). If you ever doubt God, just look at all the wonderful things He has done. He will continue to do more.

By the way, this entire prophecy (freeing Israel from Babylonian captivity) was made even before Babylon became a world power and conquered Israel. This is not unusual for God. He lets us know in advance what He is going to do so we can know that these events are from Him. The next big event on God’s timetable is the Rapture when living believers will be taken off the earth in a split second. Those who remain will attribute it to some thing else – a conspiracy by Christians; a previously unknown evolutionary process to maintain world population – because they won’t be familiar with God’s promises.

Despite the many sins of Israel (Isaiah 43:22-24) God promises to forget them all (Isaiah 43:25). This offer still stands for you and me. God doesn’t want to hold our sins against us because that means that we would be separated from Him forever. He wants to forgive us. But that can only be done through Jesus, which is why most people reject Christianity. They want to make their own way to heaven They try to impress upon God that they are worthy. God is fair – He will allow us to present our case if we want (Isaiah 43:26) but it won’t help matters any. Anyone who tries this will be found guilty.

In our culture we don’t make physical idols to worship like people did in the past and some still do (Isaiah 44:9-15). Instead we worship things such as sex, money, and career – things we live for and which motivate our lives. Or we worship false gods like Allah or Brahma. Mostly we make ourselves out to be gods – we think that truth exists in our own minds. These religions and false gods are pointless (Isaiah 44:18-20). They do nothing but lead people away from the one true God.

Isaiah 45 contains one of the most amazing prophecies in all of the Bible. In it God declares that He will raise up a king named Cyrus who will conquer Babylon in order to set Israel free from captivity (Isaiah 45:1-4). This spectacular prophecy was made over 150 years before Cyrus was even born and before Babylon became a world power and conquered Judah. It is prophecies like this – specific and measurable, not to mention fulfilled (we know from history this happened) – that led me to conclude that the Bible is divinely inspired.


New Testament

There was some disagreement back in Paul’s day about whether Gentiles were part of God’s salvation plan. Some Jews did not think so. Even today, Jews believe that they are the only ones who are part of God’s family and that a person must become Jewish in order to see heaven. Paul debunks this theory in Ephesians 3:3-12. This was not something that God had fully revealed in the Old Testament, hence Paul calls it a mystery. This does not mean that it is something not to be understood, as we know the term “mystery”. It just means that it was not something that God had fully explained before.

Another mystery that God touches on the Bible but doesn’t fully explain is the fact that angels are watching us all the time and are learning from us (Ephesians 3:10). We also saw this in 1 Corinthians 11:10. Exactly what they are learning I don’t know. Somehow they learn about God by watching our lives. Its also interesting to realize that they see the big picture whereas we don’t. They have access to God and probably understand more about us and our situation than we do. I don’t understand it all but its pretty cool to think about.

Ephesians, like all of Paul’s letters, was written to believers so the promises in it are only for those who are born-again children of God. One of the more amazing promises is that we (believers) can come boldly and confidently into God’s presence anytime we want (Ephesians 3:12). We can’t just walk into our boss’s office anytime we want. Nor can we walk into the Oval Office anytime we want. But those of us who are God’s children can be with God 24/7 and we do not have to be shy about it at all. We can talk to Him about anything or ask Him for anything. He can do more than we can even think of (Ephesians 3:20).


Psalms

Those who are enemies of God don’t have a very good future, to put it mildly. But those who belong to God have every reason to rejoice and be glad (Psalms 68:1-3) including the fact that He leads us out of undesirable circumstances, taking care of us the entire time (Psalm 68:6-14).

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

At This Very Moment

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Today’s Bible Reading: Isaiah 41:17-43:13; Ephesians 2:1-22; Psalm 67:1-7; Proverbs 23:29-35

Today is the 266th day of the year. We now have less 100 days until we complete reading the Bible in 2013!

Old Testament

Isaiah’s prophecy of future blessing from God for Israel continues in our reading today. God can do what seems impossible (Isaiah 41:19). He is more than willing to do these things in our lives. I think God enjoys surprising us with blessings that we would never even think of. When He does He gets all the glory and He also gets to enjoy watching how amazed we are.

Isaiah 42 records prophecy about the coming Messiah, who was Jesus. Jesus came as a servant (Isaiah 42:1) who treated weak people with gentleness and concern (Isaiah 42:3). Jesus has no intention of harming us. We are already broken and flickering, trying to get through this difficult life. His goal is not to inflict more pain, but to rescue us (Isaiah 42:7, 16).

No matter what happens in life God is right there with us (Isaiah 42:2). Life is full of problems. No one is immune. We can expect to have difficulty on this earth. We can also expect God to go through it with us because He has promised He would. We are never alone.


New Testament

Everyone is born spiritually dead and grows up living a life of sin, which is an inherent part of our nature (Ephesians 2-3). But that did not stop God from loving us and giving us new life through Jesus’ resurrection (Ephesians 2:4-5). As verse 4 states, God did this because it is in His nature to do so. God doesn’t love us begrudgingly or because He pities us. He is a God who is full of mercy, wanting to help us out of our dreadful condition.

After all, this is the only way we can be saved (Ephesians 2:5). There is no other way. There is no other God. There is nothing good or good-enough about us to warrant our being with God forever. The only way for us to escape an eternity separated from God (we call that “hell”) is by God’s grace. Only by God taking the initiative and creating a salvation plan can anyone get to heaven.

And, in fact, that is where believers already are. Not physically, of course. But our position is already secured in heaven (Ephesians 2:6). Even though we still live on this earth, we have a reservation waiting for us — we are citizens of heaven at this very moment. We just happen to be living here on earth for a while longer. This should be of great comfort when we go through difficult situations. Not only is God with us as we read in Isaiah today but we know, without a doubt, that our home is in heaven and we will be there at the end of this life.

This heavenly citizenship is a gift from God. No one is saved from the penalty of their sins of their own accord. Otherwise, we’d be able to boast about being “better” than others. Salvation is not a reward for our behavior. It is a gift that God has offered us by His own will (Ephesians 2:8-9). Just like any gift, it can be accepted or refused. God will not force you to take this gift. Love does not force itself. God offers it to everyone and He lets everyone decide for themselves if they want it.

Ephesians 2:10 is one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture. In this verse God calls believers His “masterpiece”. God considers us to be something beautiful that He made. The original Greek word that is translated “masterpiece” is poiema from which we get our English word “poem”. It was the word the Greeks used to describe a beautiful work of art (in fact, some translations use this phrase).


Psalms

In Psalm 67 David expresses his desire for all nations and all peoples to know God and praise Him (Psalm 67:2-6). The only way this is going to happen is for those of us who believe in Him and who experience His grace and mercy to tell others about Him. We should also look for and accept God’s mercy in our lives (Psalm 67:1). When we are blessed others will see it and they will want to be blessed too. They will want what we have – a relationship with the only and only living God.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

Something To Celebrate

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Today’s Bible Reading: Isaiah 39-41:16; Ephesians 1:1-23; Psalm 66:1-20; Proverbs 23:25-28

Old Testament

The events of Isaiah 39-41 are also recorded in 2 King 20-22. See my comments on those passages.

Hezekiah, who was a very good king of Judah, had just been miraculously spared a certain death by God and granted 15 additional years to live when he gets a visit from envoys from Babylon (Isaiah 39:2). I don’t think this is a coincidence. It is not unusual for God to test us right after He blesses us. We’ve seen this a few times including in the New Testament when Jesus tested His disciples with a storm on the Sea of Galilee immediately after they had just witnessed Him feeding the 5,000.

Tests like these are great opportunities to reinforce what we just learned about God as we have a chance in a trial to apply the truth we just learned in the blessing. Usually, though, we miss these opportunities to cement our faith just like the disciples and Hezekiah did because we focus on ourselves and what we can’t do rather than the power and strength of God that we just witnessed. If we would only go through life a little slower and be ready for these lessons we could be much better people. Sadly, we aren’t as interested in the quality of life as we are in the quantity of it.

The first 39 chapters of Isaiah were focused on God’s judgement of His people and the surrounding nations. Beginning in chapter 40, Isaiah records promises of blessings from God towards Israel. Those people who claim that the God of the Old Testament is mean fail to consider the many, many verses that proclaim His blessings. God’s goal is never to permanently crush our spirits. Its important to learn and remember that God’s discipline is always followed by comfort and restoration.

The greatest comfort anyone could have is knowing that their sins have been pardoned (Isaiah 40:2). Despite all our sinful behavior (just like Israel), God still offers reconciliation. That is an amazing truth that reveals much about God’s character.

Throughout history many have tried to eradicate the Bible. Diocletian, the Roman Emperor, ordered copies of Scripture burned (this was before the Bible as we know it existed). But this effort failed. Voltaire, the famous French philosopher erroneously predicted that Christianity would cease to exist within 100 years. Its now been over 300 years since he died and Christianity is still the best hope of man. Isaiah lived 2,200 years before Voltaire but has been proven to be a better prophet (Isaiah 40:8).


New Testament

Today we start reading Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus. Ephesus was a coastal city in what is now modern-day Turkey:

Paul had planted a church there, but it appears that his letter was intended to be a “circular” letter in that it was written to multiple churches in the area – it was circulated among them. Since this letter was written to believers (as were all of Paul’s letters) we should understand that the instructions and promises it contains are for believers. Although non believers can learn from this letter, it was not written with them in mind.

In his greeting to the Ephesians Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Jesus by God’s will (Ephesians 1:1). Paul lived his life according to God’s will. Its important to do what God has designed us for. God has given us each talents and gifts. We should use those talents and gifts to serve Him.

Believers have every spiritual blessing that God has to offer (Ephesians 1:3). Notice the verb tense is in the past. So many Christians are waiting for God to bless them but He already has. And He has already given us all the blessings He has to offer. We don’t have to wait for them. We don’t have to earn them. We need to use them.

The main message of the Bible is that God is creating a family and He wants to adopt you into it. This has been God’s plan all along. It is something He enjoys doing (Ephesians 1:5). Everyone is invited. But notice that the only way in is through Jesus. This is where people have trouble. They want to make their own way to God by pointing to their own good works or allegedly moral behavior. But that is not the way. This concept is not something to be disdained for being closed-minded. In fact, it is something to celebrate (Ephesians 1:6).

Without Jesus there would be no way into God’s family. God didn’t have to let us in. We are undeserving. Yet He decided to. This is something we should be thankful for. But this attitude requires humility. And human beings don’t like being humbled.


Psalms

On a related note, Psalm 66 is all about praise. It encourages us to praise God (Psalm 66:1-2). To do that we first have to stop and consider all the wonderful things He has done (Psalm 66:5), not the least of which is sending His Son to earth to die so that a way could be made for you and I to spend eternity with Him.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

Absolutely No Reason

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Today’s Bible Reading: Isaiah 37-38:22; Galatians 6:1-18; Psalm 65:1-13; Proverbs 23:248

Old Testament

Isaiah 37 and 38 recount the same events that were recorded in 2 Kings 18 and 19 (see my comments).

Hezekiah was a good king who reacts properly to the bullying from Assyria. He recognized that Judah needed God’s help. He prays. He sought God’s counsel through the prophets (Isaiah 37:1-2). When we face troubling times we should do likewise. When we are under attack God is there to help us and lead us out of it.

Later when Hezekiah receives a letter from Assyria reiterating the same threats he takes it right to God and prays (Isaiah 37:9-20). God is our Father. He loves us and wants us to bring our problems to Him. There are no spiritual rewards for toughing it out on our own. That is pride. We are weak and God knows it. He wants us to know it too. Judah was no match for Assyria. There was no way Judah could win even one battle, never mind the war. Hezekiah admitted his weakness to God with confidence, knowing that God can, and will, take care of it.

Through Isaiah God assures Hezekiah that He is in control of the situation and that Assyria’s threats would amount to nothing (Isaiah 37:5-7, 21-29). And, sure enough, that is exactly what happened (Isaiah 37:8-9, 36-38). Assyria’s many chariots and military might were no match for God. Anyone who thinks they can defy God or, worse, thinks that God does not exist, is in for a rude awakening.


New Testament

Critics of Christianity point to Christians who sin as proof that Christianity if false. This, of course, makes no sense. That is like saying that all education is a joke because of the failures of a single teacher. And no one says that. It interesting how atheists have one litmus test for the Bible and another litmus test for everything else.

Christians are people just like everyone else. We are still prone to sin. If we weren’t God wouldn’t give us so many warnings about it in the Bible. It is even possible for a Christian to fall into sin such that the sin takes over their life. In this case that person’s church family should help restore that person (Galatians 6:1). We should make each person’s burdens our own (Galatians 6:2).

Yet, we are not responsible for another’s behavior. We are each responsible for ourselves (Galatians 6:5). This is not a contradiction. We should always reach out to help someone who has fallen. But the ultimate responsibility of that person’s spiritual restoration is with that person. If someone rejects the help that is offered, they will have to answer for that.

There is nothing more important than the spiritual health of another human being, especially a brother or sister in Christ (Galatians 6:9-10). Not football. Not work. We are commanded by God to help each other. It is not optional.

Paul wrote this letter to the churches in Galatia because they were starting to think that faith in Jesus was not enough to be saved. They had come to believe that they needed to keep certain rituals as well. This is a big lie of Satan. In the case of the Galatians it was circumcision. In modern-day denominations, like Catholicism, it is baptism and other “sacraments”.

Baptism does not save anyone. The Bible makes this clear. Baptism is a public profession of faith that is to be made after a person is saved. Catholics believe that baptizing an infant assures that child of going to heaven. Not true. All that matters is whether a person has been transformed into a new creation (Galatians 6:15). And the only way to be transformed into a new creation is to be born again (Romans 12:2 et al.)


Psalms

God is owed praise (Psalm 65:1). Sadly, though, we do a very poor job of praising God. Its amazing to me how little attention we give God, how much time we spend thinking of ourselves, and yet how much love God has for us. His love for us is completely disproportionate to our love for Him.

This is the most amazing thing about God, in my opinion. Why would God love us so much? We give Him absolutely no reason to. He loves us this much because He chooses too. His love is unconditional and unmerited. The Greek word for this type of love is “agape” and only God is capable of giving it.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post

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