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