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Real Love Involves Sacrifice

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Today’s Bible Reading: Lamentations 4-5:22; Hebrews 2:1-18; Psalm 103:1-22; Proverbs 26:23

Old Testament

The people of Jerusalem – God’s people – were once like gold but they had lost their sparkle and value (Lamentations 4:1-2). More precisely, God had taken it from them because of their sin. He had given them everything they could have needed or hoped for (Lamentations 4:4) – the best of the best – yet because they ignored Him and turned to other “gods”, God took it all away. Think of a parent who provides for her children yet gets no appreciation.

The United States was given so much by God: wealth, protection from enemies, influence, power, natural resources and beauty. Yet we are doing the same thing Israel did – we are eliminating God from our society. We are fools if we think God will allow us to keep these gifts He has given us if we continue to act this way. Why should He continue to bless us if we show no appreciation or even recognition of Him?

No one on earth would have thought that Jerusalem could have been conquered (Lamentations 4:12). Likewise, the idea of the powerful United States being defeated by a smaller enemy (just about any enemy would have to be smaller) seemed ludicrous at one point. But no more. I think everyone realizes that we are vulnerable, especially those who hate us. If we don’t turn back to God we can be sure that He will remove His protection from us just like He removed it from Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem.

Sin builds up over time. God is patient and gives people time to repent, even into future generations. Our ancestors who made bad decisions have died and will escape punishment on earth. Those of us who are alive will have to bear the punishment that is required for their sins (Lamentations 5:7). We are all the “victims” of someone else’s bad decisions. The ripple effects of these decisions are felt for generations.

After five years we still live with the effects of the greed associated with the housing bubble. After 200+ years we still live with the effects of slavery. After thousands of years we still live with the effects of Adam & Eve’s sin. That is life.


New Testament

It is important that we pay attention to God’s truth (Hebrews 2:1). This means being in God’s word everyday and keeping His truth on our minds through music, verse memorization, and fellowship with other believers. Like a boat that is not anchored, we will drift away if God’s truth is not holding us secure.

Despite the fact that human beings are “lower than angels” in God’s organization chart He has given us dominion over everything on the earth (Hebrews 2:7-8). God owns the earth and everything on it. But we get to manage it. God has clearly given us tremendous responsibilities that even the angels do not have.

In chapter 1 of Hebrews the author explains the deity of Jesus (He was God). Here in chapter 2 the author explains the humanity of Jesus (Hebrews 2:9). God told us in verse 7 that humans are “lower than angels” and so, too, did Jesus become lower than angels. He did this for our sake – so that He could suffer the death that we deserved. He had to become one of us and die in order to break the power death has over us (Hebrews 2:14). Only God can overcome death.

Real love involves a sacrifice. God demonstrated His love for us by giving up His glory in heaven and becoming one of us – one of His own creations. Only then could He make a sacrifice – and demonstrate His love at the same time – for us. If someone isn’t willing to make sacrifices for another, that person cannot have love for the other.

The ones who can offer the most and best empathy to others are those who have gone through what others are going through. Since Jesus was God in a human body who lived on this earth He was able to experience the same trials we go through. Unlike other “gods” (e.g. Allah, Brahma, etc) who remain far-off in their distant heavenly domains, God knows exactly what it is like to live on this earth. Therefore He is completely able to empathize with us and help us (Hebrews 2:18).


Psalms

Too many people have the wrong impression about God. They think He is aloof, always angry, and gets a kick out of punishing us. Not true. We’re more than 80% of the way through the Bible in 2013 and we’ve seen no passages that support such a theory. The Bible paints just the opposite picture. God is forgiving (Psalm 103:3). He has provided an escape from death (Psalm 103:4). He provides only good things (Psalm 103:5). He is compassionate and merciful (Psalm 103:8). God is our Father who wants to give us nothing but the best of everything He has to offer.

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

Something We Never Asked For

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Today’s Bible Reading: Lamentations 3:1-66; Hebrews 1:1-14; Psalm 102:1-28; Proverbs 26:21-22

Old Testament

God is good. Not everything that happens on this earth is good – people do cruel things to each other. But God can bring good out of the bad that we do. Notice that God is good to those who search for Him – not only those who already know Him (Lamentations 3:25). If someone sincerely seeks to know God and approaches Him with an open mind willing to find truth then God will be actively involved in that person’s life.

Without a doubt, the earlier in life someone gives their life to Jesus, the better their entire earthly life will be (Lamentations 3:27). It took me 28 years before I became a believer after years of resistance and denials but I wonder what my life would have been like had I made that decision years before.

God does not enjoy seeing us hurting. He will allow us to go through painful experiences – usually by giving us what we think we want – but He’s always ready to show compassion (Lamentations 3:32-33). God wants to bless us. The reason we don’t experience that blessing is because we want to make our own decisions which circumvent or negate it.


New Testament

We begin the book of Hebrews today. This book, written by an unknown author, exhort Jewish Christians be strong in their faith in light of who Jesus is and what He did for us.

No one has ever seen the sun. All we ever see are the rays of light which emanate from the sun. In a similar way, we have not seen God but we experience God in the person of Jesus (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus was 100% God living in a human body.

Far too many people think they can make themselves right before God. They think they can clean up their act and then God will accept them. But this is not true. Jesus is the only one who can cleanse us from our sins (Hebrews 1:3) which He did without us even asking. We had no idea we needed such cleansing. But God did. Out of His immense love for us He gave us something we never asked for but which He knew we desperately needed.

Jesus is not simply a human being and the author of Hebrews takes the time to prove this in this first chapter by demonstrating that Jesus was (and is) greater than even the angels (Hebrews 1:5-14). Notice that angels are servants (Hebrews 1:7, 14) but Jesus, the Son, is God (Hebrews 1:8-9) who made the earth and the heavens and who is not mortal, but ever lasting (Hebrews 1:10-11).

As we’ve read a few times already this year, angels live a life of constant service. They serve God (Hebrews 1:7) by taking care of human beings (Hebrews 1:14). There are no recorded passages of an angel ever sitting down as Jesus did when His work was done on earth. When God was finished creating the earth after 6 days He rested. When Jesus ascended back into heaven he rested. Angels apparently don’t rest.


Psalms

This earth is a tough place to live. Many things go wrong and cause people much pain and sorrow. Like the author of Psalm 102 we can be overwhelmed by our situation to the point where we have no energy or appetite and feel like we are all alone (Psalm 102:4-7). But our circumstances never change the fact that God is still in control and sees all that is going on in our lives (Psalm 102:12, 19-20).

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

Never Cease; Forever Increase

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Today’s Bible Reading: Lamentations 1-2:22; Philemon 1:1-25; Psalm 101:1-8; Proverbs 26:20

Old Testament

Today we start the book of Lamentations which is a poetic collection of ‘laments’ about the fall of Jerusalem. This once great city had been destroyed because of her many sins (Lamentations 1:6-8). As if being conquered wasn’t enough, there was mental anguish as well as the people remembered just how wonderful Jerusalem once was. The saying is true: “we don’t know what we’ve got until its gone”.

The people of Jerusalem had it all. But they were living for the moment, seeking immediate gratifications without giving any thought to their future (Lamentations 1:9). They thought the good times would never end. They were wrong.

The wealthy person (or country) is popular as long as his money lasts. But as soon as he falls on hard-times, his fair-weather friends flee. Jerusalem found no one to care that she was decimated (Lamentations 1:12). There was no loyalty between nations.

I can’t help but read these verses and think of the United States. We are a country that does not consider the future consequences of our present actions. We borrow tremendous amounts of money with no plan to repay. We declare sinful behaviors to be acceptable without realizing what this will lead to. Can we be so haughty as to think we will escape God’s discipline?

If God was willing to destroy His very own city and Temple (Lamentations 2:1) how much more will He be willing to destroy us? We are a country obsessed with “rights” but despite what we think we have no “right” to exist. Only God decides what nations continue and which ones don’t. We are not too strong to be defeated.

Notice that Israel was defeated because God removed His protection from her (Lamentations 2:3). Make no mistake… the only reason good things happen in this world is because God prevents much (but not all) evil from taking place. This is why hell will be so bad. God will not be there to protect people from each other. Everyone there will be on their own. Everyone there will have to learn to defend themselves from the evil that is in their fellow human beings (and fallen angels). The only way to do that will be to do evil in return. Therefore the evil will never cease and will forever increase.


New Testament

Today we read the one-chapter letter from Paul to Philemon. Philemon was a fellow-believer who had a slave, Onesimus, who had escaped and fled to Rome. Somehow (by God’s hand I’m sure) Onesimus ended up meeting Paul who lead Onesimus to Christ (Philemon 10). Now Paul urges Philemon to take Onesimus back without retribution.

In those days slaves could be crucified for a much lessor offense than running away. Paul appeals to Philemon not to exercise his rights under Roman law with regard to Onesimus.

God used this entire situation for good. Onesimus became a believer by meeting Paul and will now be in heaven (Philemon 16). Paul implores Philemon to consider this when taking Onesimus back. Even though he (Philemon) had experienced a loss, he really had experienced a gain – the gain of a brother in Christ. Onesimus’ salvation trumped Philemon’s “rights”.

The law was on Philemon’s side. But God wasn’t interested in Philemon taking up his legal rights. God was interested in changing Philemon’s heart. And that is what this appeal from Paul is all about. Major social changes are not accomplished by passing laws. Doing this only creates more controversy and animosity.

Permanent social changes happens when people’s hearts are softened. When the United States passed civil rights legislation it did not end racism immediately. In fact, one could argue that it only made the struggle more intense. It wasn’t until the hearts of people were changed that racism went away.

Perhaps Philemon had been mistreating Onesimus. This would have been against God’s law. Onesimus had been changed into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). God wanted to change Philemon through this incident as well.

Notice how Paul takes on any debt that Onesimus owes Philemon (Philemon 18). This is the exact same thing Jesus did for us. Jesus had no debt to pay, yet He took on the debt that every human being who ever lived owes because of our sin. He took the punishment we deserve by going to hell for 3 days in our place.


Psalms

Psalm 101 is a great psalm of dedication of one’s life to God, even if it isn’t realistic. Every believer has made these types of promises to God at one time or another (perhaps at many times). But our inherent sin will always prevent us from living this out for very long.

Notice though that David (the author) promises to live a life of integrity in his own home (Psalm 101:2). Our home is our private residence. No other human beings can see what we do there so we can be tempted to do things we wouldn’t want others to know about. But God sees everything. We may keep secrets from our friends and family but not from God. Living a public life of integrity begins with living a private life of integrity first.

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

Remember Where You Came From

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Today’s Bible Reading: Jeremiah 51:54-52:34; Titus 3:1-15; Psalm 100:1-5; Proverbs 26:18-19

Old Testament

We finish up the book of Jeremiah today with some final prophecy about Babylon and the recording of the downfall of Jerusalem.

Even though God had allowed Babylon to conquer Judah it was not right for them to do so. What they did was sin and it had to be repaid. Every sinful act or thought of every human being is known to God and must be accounted for because God is 100% just (Jeremiah 51:56). He is not like human beings who ignore sin or minimize it. It would be unfair to let any sin slide.

The payment for even one drop of sin is eternal separation from God (we call this “hell”). But since every person is sinful this means that no one could ever be in heaven. So God came to earth as Jesus, got nailed to a cross, and went to hell for 3 days to pay for the sins of the world. So in the end all sin is paid for – either by the sinner (you and me) or by Jesus. Those who believe in Jesus for the payment of their sins go to heaven (John 3:16). Those who choose to pay the penalty themselves do not.

Jeremiah’s prophecy about Babylon was given to King Zedekiah of Judah five years before Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 51:59, 52:4). This was 75 years before Babylon would fall to Persia which wasn’t a very large or powerful nation at the time of the prophecy. I’m sure the Babylonians did not take this message seriously when they heard it. But pride goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). No nation is too strong to withstand God’s discipline, even today.

Jeremiah 52 records the final destruction of Jerusalem including the taking of the items in the Temple which fulfilled the prophecy he had given earlier (Jeremiah 27:19-22). Notice that another alleged prophet, Hananiah, had erroneously predicted that the items already taken would be returned in 2 years as would those people already exiled. Neither of these things happened, demonstrating that the proof of a true prophet is if the things he says actually come true. Since we know that Jeremiah was a true prophet who actually heard from God we can believe all of his writings.

The book of Jeremiah ends on a somewhat happy note as Evil-merodach, the next Babylonian king after Nebuchadnezzar, releases Jehoiachin from prison and treats him kindly (Jeremiah 52:31-34). This foreshadows the ultimate release of the Jews from Babylonian captivity approximately 70 years later by Cyrus of Persia.


New Testament

Even though our government is increasingly, and almost exclusively, a-theistic Christians are commanded to obey the law (Titus 3:1). However, when secular law conflicts with God’s law I think we must follow God’s law even if there are penalties from our government for doing so. By standing up for God’s truth we will honor God and also teach others who are unaware of what God demands of us. Government decides what is allowed but God decides what is right.

The world around us is enslaved to many sins and Christians used to be like this (Titus 3:3). That is why we must be patient and humble with non-believers. We once lived just like they did. The phrase “remember where you came from” certainly applies here. We often hear stories of professional athletes who grew up dirt-poor but made it big. Some of them have a hard time with the fame and the money. But those who can remember their humble beginnings often display the most character. Its similar with Christians. We should never forget what we have been saved from.

Paul also reminds us that we are saved not because of anything we have done but because of God’s mercy (Titus 3:5). We didn’t ask to be saved. We didn’t even know we needed to be saved. God took it upon Himself, out of His great love and compassion for us, to give us a chance at new life. Keeping this in mind leads to humility.

The result of having someone save your life – including your eternal one – is gratitude. As thanks to God Christians are to commit themselves to doing good things (Titus 3:8). Notice that good works do not save – they come after salvation – and are a response to the merciful kindness God has shown us. These good works will be noticed by unbelievers and will in turn point them to God.


Psalms

Its easy to forget that we are not our own. God made us and we belong to Him (Psalm 100:3). He owns us and takes care of us like a shepherd takes care of his sheep. For this we should be thankful and offer Him praise (Psalm 100:4).

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

One Of The Many Benefits

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Today’s Bible Reading: Jeremiah 51:1-53; Titus 2:1-15; Psalm 99:1-9; Proverbs 26:17

Old Testament

Babylon was a mighty and powerful nation that conquered and controlled what is now the entire Middle East, eastern Turkey and Egypt to the Nile River. Yet, they were not too powerful that God could not destroy them at the hands of an underdog.

Babylon had conquered what was left of Israel and mistreated God’s people. He let them do that in order to punish wayward Israel. But that didn’t make it right for Babylon to do this (Jeremiah 51:24). They were still evil. But God is the master of using man’s evil to bring about good.

God had never forgotten Israel and Judah even though He disciplined them (Jeremiah 51:5). As we’ve read a few times in other, similar, prophecies – it was always God’s plan for the Jews to return to their land.

Jeremiah 51:11 (and 51:28) contains a very bold prophecy. At the time it was written Babylon had not conquered Judah and the Medes (aka Persia) were a blip on the map. Yet God predicts that Persia would someday conquer Babylon and in-turn completely wipe them off the map (Jeremiah 51:25, 37). History, of course, proves that this happened just as described. The next major empire on the face of the earth was the Persian Empire which stretched even further than Babylon (it included all of Turkey, some of Greece and stretched eastward to modern-day India).

One thing we can learn by reading the Bible is just how devoted and fiercely loyal God is to those who love Him. By watching the way God deals with Israel in the Bible we learn how He deals with His children today. Remember, not every human being is God’s child. Only those who are born-again believers does God consider His children (John 1:12).

God’s devotion to us is shown in the fact that He avenges us against the wrongs that are done to us. He is our lawyer, pleading our case (Jeremiah 51:36). God is on our side. He is not against us. He is constantly looking out for our good. This is one of the many benefits of choosing to be adopted into God’s family.


New Testament

Titus was a young pastor on the island of Crete who had been trained by Paul. Paul’s letter gives Titus some further instructions on how he is to conduct his ministry. Even though most of us who read this letter are not pastors, we can still learn from it, especially this chapter which addresses the expected behaviors of various gender and age groups.

Notice that Titus was to teach older groups and younger groups as well as male and female groups differently. Despite what our culture says, men and women have different needs and different susceptibilities. Men and women are not interchangeable.

Its interesting that Titus was instructed to teach older men to live wisely and to exercise self-control (Titus 2:2). This type of living does not come naturally as we age. We have to be taught this. As I get older I am finding this out for myself. I am not as mature or wise as I think I should be at this point in my life. Hopefully I’ll make progress in the next few years.

Notice too that Paul instructs Titus, who was a young man, not to instruct the young women but to leave that up to the older women (Titus 2:4). It would have been a temptation for Titus to get too close to younger women. So instead he was to teach the older women who would, in turn, teach the younger women. This is wise teaching.

One thing the Bible teaches Christians is how we should live. Once a person commits their life to Jesus and becomes an adopted child of God, he/she should turn away from the sinful life they lived prior to that point and live a life devoted to wisdom and righteousness (Titus 2:12). Jesus gave (voluntary) His life (all He had to give) to free us from sin (for our benefit). The least we can do in return is live godly lives (Titus 2:14).


Psalms

God deserves our praise for many reasons. He is completely fair (Psalm 99:4). He answers prayer (Psalm 99:6). He gives direction to His people (Psalm 99:7). He forgives all our wrongs (Psalm 99:8). He also disciplines us when we go off course (Psalm 99:8). For all these reasons, God is worthy of our praise.

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

First We Have To Follow

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Today’s Bible Reading: Jeremiah 49:23-50:46; Titus 1:1-16; Psalm 97-98:9; Proverbs 26:13-16

Old Testament

Jeremiah delivers more prophesies to nations and cities surrounding Israel in our reading today. We know these cities and nations used to exist from historical artifacts. We also know that, with the exception of Damascus, none of them exist today. We’ve never heard a news story about the nations of Elam or Hazor. They were wiped out just as God said they would be.

One bright spot in these prophesies is Jeremiah 50:4 in which God says that after Babylon is destroyed the people of Israel and Judah will return home. The common strategy of conquering nations back then was to forcibly remove the smartest and most talented people from their land and take them back to the conquering nation.

This served two purposes. It benefited the conquerer by having more bright people in their society. And it also weakened the conquered nation and kept the remaining people under control. Some of the prophets we have yet to read, including Daniel, wrote from Babylon after being exiled from Judah.

But God promised to destroy Babylon which He did by sending Persia against it. After Persia conquered Babylon, its king, Artaxerces, allowed the Jews to return home. We read about this when we read the books of Nehemiah and Ezra earlier this year. This fulfilled the prophecy recorded by Jeremiah here in Jeremiah 50:4

Notice the reason God gives for destroying these sovereign nations: they loved their idols and did not love God (Jeremiah 50:38). Human beings are sinful creatures. We lie. We steal. We are arrogant. The list goes on. God knows this. But God didn’t destroy any of these nations for these reasons. He destroyed them because they didn’t acknowledge Him.

The first of the Ten Commandments is “You shall have no other god before Me” (Exodus 20:2). When asked what the greatest commandment was Jesus said “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). All our other sins stem from not loving God. Just like we can’t get cured of a disease if we don’t go to a doctor, God can’t heal our brokenness if we don’t have a relationship with Him.

So God sends warnings to nations who blatantly disregard Him. If they don’t respond the warnings get “louder”. If all else fails, He will destroy them. He does all this  in the hopes that its citizens will be humbled and turn to Him. Its only at this point that can He fix all the rest of the things that are wrong with us. After all, Jesus’ first command to His disciples wasn’t an order to “Change!” it was a request to “Follow?” First we have to follow God. Then He can turn us into better people.


New Testament

In the opening line of Paul’s letter to Titus he calls himself a “slave” of God (Titus 1:1). The Greek word Paul used is “duolos” which is the word used for someone who was a slave by choice. Obviously, someone would work for someone else only if that employer treated him well.

Christians, being slaves to God, have an “owner” who isn’t intent on mistreating us, as some would conclude when they read the word “slave”. We voluntarily put ourselves under God’s authority because we know that He can, and will, take great care of us. The Biblical concept of being God’s “slave” is nothing like the modern-day concept of slavery. I know a lot of people who reject the Bible because they misunderstand this.

God’s word is all about truth. God wants us to understand the truth about Him, the truth about us, the truth about life. This truth teaches us how to live and also gives us confidence that we have eternal life (Titus 1:1-2). Notice that eternal life was always in God’s plan. Even before the earth was created it was God’s intention to create people so that we could live with Him forever.

Have you ever wondered by Jesus came to earth at the time He did? He came at “just the right time” (Titus 1:3). Evil as the Roman Empire was, its existence actually made it relatively easy to spread the Gospel. The Roman Empire  covered a large land area (pretty much all of modern Europe, most of the Middle East and north Africa) and at this time was enjoying the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) so it was pretty safe and easy to get around. There was also a common language used throughout the empire – Greek – so that documents didn’t have to be translated and people from different areas could communicate verbally.

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

Make Someone Feel Better

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Today’s Bible Reading: Jeremiah 48-49:22; 2 Timothy 4:1-22; Psalm 95-96:13; Proverbs 26:9-12

Old Testament

Jeremiah continues his prophecies against the nations in Jeremiah 48 & 49. In chapter 48 he predicts the destruction of Moab. Archaeological discoveries confirm the existence of the specific cities mentioned in this chapter. One of these discoveries is the Moabite Stone, now on display in the British Museum in London.

Notice the reasons God gives for destroying Moab: they trusted in their false god instead of trusting in Him (Jeremiah 48:7, 13) and they were full of pride – they trust in themselves and their own abilities (Jeremiah 48:29). Notice, too, how he brought about the destruction of Moab. He didn’t use natural disasters or miraculous events. He sent their enemies to conquer them. We’ve seen this pattern before. God allowed Assyria to conquer Israel. God allowed Babylon to conquer Assyria and Judah. He allowed Persia to conquer Babylon. God is the master of using the evil of human beings to bring judgement upon the earth.

By reading the Bible we can learn how and why God did what He did in the past. Since God does not change, we know that He will do the same things today for the same reasons. Therefore, if we want to receive His blessings we can do the same things people did to receive them. If we want to avoid His judgements we can not to the things that brought His judgement. God’s goal in all of this is to get us to follow Him into eternity because He knows what awaits if we don’t. Everything that He allows to happen – everything we would consider “good” or “bad” – He allows out of love for us in order to get our attention. Sadly, we are too wrapped up in ourselves, as Moab was, to pay attention.

In Jeremiah 49 the prophet issues a similar warning against the nation of Edom. Both Moab and Edom were invaded by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon about 2,500 years ago thereby fulfilling these prophecies.


New Testament

Paul wrote 2 Timothy to Timothy, who was a young pastor, giving him instructions on how to do his job well. Even though most of us who read this letter are not pastors, there is certainly much we can take away from Paul’s words.

While we don’t formally “preach” as pastors do, all Christians should still be ready, willing, and able to speak about the Bible to others (2 Timothy 4:2). No time is the wrong time to discuss spiritual matters. There is nothing more important than our eternity.

Yesterday we read a verse that perfectly described the times we are living in. Today we read another one. Clearly our present times are characterized by people who follow their own desires and who only accept what they want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3). People reject the notion of absolute truth in exchange for believing whatever makes them feel good. If it makes someone feel better to believe there is no god, or they are good enough to enter heaven, or something else they will believe it. They don’t let the facts get in the way.

Instead they believe in myths that have no evidence, such as evolution (2 Timothy 4:4). It has been over 150 years since Darwin proposed the theory of evolution and, to date, there is not one archaeological find that backs it up. That is why it is still officially called the “theory” of evolution. Yet people cling to this myth because it makes them feel good. If there is not God, then there is no one to answer to and we can feel free to pursue a selfish life.

I used to be one of these people. I believed there was no God and the Bible was simply a book of mythology that might contain some pithy sayings in it but was otherwise useless. But I had no facts to back up what I thought and said. I had never looked into it. I was too busy chasing after “life” to care whether I was right or wrong. In my mind I was right and that was all that mattered.

But truthful conclusions are never attained without evidence. And I had none. All I had was my pride which led me to seek out only that which I wanted to believe.

2 Timothy is the last recorded words we have of Paul. He was executed by Nero shortly after writing this letter. Since Paul was a Roman citizen he could not be crucified so he was most likely beheaded.

Paul began his life as a fervent Old Testament Jew who executed Christians. But he finished up as a man totally repentant and devoted to Jesus Christ. That is why he could say that he had “fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:6).

God doesn’t care about how we start. He cares about how we finish. Anyone can turn their life around from one without God to one with God. He is always willing to forgive and will always take anyone back. He will never reject anyone who sincerely seeks Him.

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

The Logical Thing To Do

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Today’s Bible Reading: Jeremiah 44:24-47:7; 2 Timothy 2:22-3:17; Psalm 94:1-23; Proverbs 26:6-8

Old Testament

Human beings are fragile creatures susceptible to making mistakes. God knows this. He doesn’t expect miracles from us. But He does want us to follow Him and only Him. He wants this solely for our benefit because He knows what a mess we’ll make of things if we don’t. It wasn’t their imperfections that caused God to destroy Israel and Judah. It was their following after false gods (Jeremiah 44:24).

In modern-day culture we don’t have physical, carved idols we worship. Instead we worship self. We think we are “all that” and don’t need God. Albeit in a different way, we’ve eliminated God from our lives. And the penalty for that it eternal separation from Him for eternity. Notice that the Judeans who insisted on following their false gods would never be let back into the Promised Land (Jeremiah 44:27). Similarly, anyone who dies without having a relationship with God through Jesus will not enter heaven.

In Jeremiah 45 we read about Baruch, who had helped Jeremiah by writing down the prophecies he (Jeremiah) received from God. Apparently Baruch had suffered because of this and was overwhelmed by his emotional pain (Jeremiah 45:3). Following God is not easy. It comes at a cost. It seems Baruch had big plans for his life but he never got to realize those dreams. Instead, God gave Him something much better – eternal life (Jeremiah 45:5).

Whatever the world has to offer – no matter how big or how shiny – is temporary. When the game is over it all goes back in the box. Your hearse won’t be pulling a U-Haul. That is why Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14 that “few” people will follow Him. Too many people will chase after the temporary and perishable things the world has to offer at the expense of something glorious and permanent. That isn’t a wise decision.

The next few chapters of Jeremiah prophesy defeat for several nations. Chapter 46 discusses two defeats that Egypt will suffer. The first would be the battle of Carchemish (Jeremiah 46:2). In this battle Egypt came to the aid of Assyira against start-up nation Babylon. Leading the Babylonian forces was then-Prince Nebuchadnezzar. it was this battle that put the proverbial nail in Assyria’s coffin and launched the Babylonian empire. The Bible doesn’t give all the details of this battle. But we know it happened due to numerous artifacts in museums around the world including the Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle, housed in the British Museum.

Approximately 40 years later Nebuchadnezzar, now King, would conquer Judah via the siege we’ve been reading about and then move down to Egypt bringing that sovereign nation under Babylonian control (Jeremiah 46:13-24). Anyone who thinks the Bible doesn’t record verifiable events (as I used to think) doesn’t have a leg to stand on. When I learned that the Bible records specific facts that are corroborated by outside evidence, I changed my mind about the Bible. As famous economist John Maynard Keynes said “When the facts change, I change my mind.” That is the logical thing to do.


New Testament

When we are young we are tempted by sex, fame, power, and money. But these are mirages. They are death traps. Its very telling that Paul warns Timothy to “flee” or “run” from these youthful pleasures (2 Timothy 2:22). He doesn’t say to “walk” away or to “turn” away. But to run, indicating just how much influence they can have on us. If we don’t get off to a good start when we are young, it can be hard to turn our lives around.

But we all pursue something. If we aren’t going to pursue these things we need to replace our pursuits with something else. These should be righteous (godly) living, love, and peace. Its also helps if we spend time with others living this way (2 Timothy 2:22).

One of the hardest things for me is to tolerate difficult people (2 Timothy 2:24). I don’t work well with people who are arrogant and who bully others (me). Frankly, I don’t want to be patient with people like this. But God tells me to so I need to try.

Is there a verse in the entire Bible that sums up our current culture better than 2 Timothy 3:2? I don’t think so. People are lovers of themselves. They are boastful and proud. They scoff at the notion of God and consider nothing to be sacred. They are unloving and unforgiving with no self control – seeking nothing but pleasure. That sums up our world. Couple these verses with the one before it in which Paul says that this description will characterize the “last days” (2 Timothy 3:1) and we can see why we are very close to Jesus’ second arrival on this earth.

During this time any one who wants to live a quiet life honoring Jesus will suffer while evil people will succeed (2 Timothy 3:12-13). This is certainly true. For example, I decided to write this blog back in January as a simple way to study the Bible and honor God. In return I’ve received all kinds of harassing emails and tweets, including death threats, by people who don’t love God and apparently have nothing better to do than hassle those who do.

People such as this, who are working hard to remove God from society, may think they are doing the right thing. God will let them win the battle. He will win the war (2 Timothy 3:13).


Psalms

Exercise breaks our muscles down and causes them pain. This results in a body that is stronger and able to endure even more next time. The trials of life serve the exact same purposes on our minds and spirits. God will send us through tough times. But just like using proper form at the gym, we have to handle difficult situations correctly – without whining or complaining but instead keeping our eyes on Him – if we are to come through them successfully (Psalm 95:12-13).

This answers the ubiquitous question that people utter in an effort to question the existence of God: “Why does God let bad things happen?”. The answer: “To make us better”. If you avoid going to the gym you won’t get any stronger. If you avoid going through the trials of life you won’t get any wiser.

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

How It Works

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Today’s Bible Reading: Jeremiah 42-44:23; 2 Timothy 2:1-21; Psalm 92-93:5; Proverbs 26:3-5

Old Testament

Today we read a scene that is similar to what still happens today. Some Judeans ask for God’s advice (through Jeremiah) and promise to do whatever He says (Jeremiah 42:5-6). But when God responds in a way that they don’t want to hear, they go back on their promise (Jeremiah 42:10-18, 43:1-2).

So often we vow to follow whatever path God sets for us only to decide later that we’d rather do things our own way. This is the story of human history – doing things our own way rather than God’s way. In the end the remnant of Judah got nothing but trouble. So too have we created nothing but trouble for ourselves.

When we do our own thing and make up our own rules we are only destroying ourselves (Jeremiah 44:7). What’s even sadder is that people don’t seem to care and, as a whole, show no remorse for these decisions (Jeremiah 44:10).

Just like the Judeans our country doesn’t want to listen to God. We do what we think will make things better (Jeremiah 44:16-17). Yet the problems the United States faces keep growing with nothing getting solved. We actually believe we can dig ourselves out of the hole we’ve created and we don’t need God’s help.

The Judeans blamed their problems on giving up their false gods for the true God (Jeremiah 44:17-18). Similarly, at some point our country decided that our problems can actually be solved by eliminating the Bible from our culture. Removing prayer and any mention of Jesus from schools is somehow beneficial to children’s development. Allowing same-sex marriage will make society better. Raising the debt ceiling (again) and running up $17,000,000,000 debt (which we just passed a week ago) is somehow wise. Making abortions cheaper and more plentiful allegedly improves our lives.

Eliminating God is not the answer – it is the problem. We’ve been eliminating God for at least 60 years and things have only gotten worse – much worse. Yet the vast majority of our country, including our leaders, don’t even want to consider this. The success and prosperity the United States enjoyed for 200+ years came from God and God alone. If we eliminate Him we eliminate any chance of future success and prosperity. God tells us as such in the Bible. And, without question, the past few decades confirm this fact.


New Testament

Timothy apparently had a difficult time being strong in the face of adversity. 2 Timothy 2:1 is one of twenty-five times Paul tells Timothy to “be strong”.  Notice that Paul didn’t tell Timothy to find the strength within himself which is what we tell ourselves today. Paul tells Timothy to find strength in the grace that God provided in Jesus. Knowing that we are one of God’s adopted children for whom He will fight is a great encouragement. But… this promise is only for those who are Christians (Paul’s audience for this letter is Timothy – a born-again believer).

Timothy was taught by Paul. Paul subsequently commands Timothy to teach others who can be trusted to teach even more people (2 Timothy 2:2). God’s truth is not meant to be buried in our own minds. We are to share it with those who do not know it. Studying the Bible is not simply an intellectual exercise. It certainly makes us more knowledgeable. But we should be willing to tell others what we’ve learned.

The Roman government thought they could stop the spread of God’s truth by putting Paul in prison and subsequently executing him (which happened shortly after he wrote this letter). Killing Christians – like beheading them or feeding them to hungry lions in front of thousands of morbidly-excited spectators – won’t work.

The Bible has been attacked more than any other book through history. It has been burned, banned, mocked, twisted, and ignored – but it has never gone away. God will not let it because it is the truth that all people need. I see a day coming when the United States government treats the Bible similarly. Just two years ago the mayors of Boston and Chicago declared that Chick-fil-A was unwelcome in their cities because its owner is a Christian. We can expect more of this type of thing in the future.

God gives a clear warning to anyone who would deny Him in 2 Timothy 2:12. If anyone denies God He will deny them. God will let us make our own decisions. If someone wants to be an atheist or believe in a false-god, like Allah, God will let you. But when you die God will deny you. As Jesus said, He will have to tell many people, upon their death, to “go away” (to hell) because He didn’t know them (Matthew 7:23). If someone dies without having a relationship with God through Jesus, God will have to deny them entry into heaven. That is how it works. And its all up to you.


Proverbs

Proverbs 26:4 & 5 seem contradictory but they are not. When someone makes a  comment attacking the Bible that comment needs to be evaluated to determine whether a response should be given. If the comment touches on meaningless issues then its best to leave it alone. Otherwise arguing will only give credibility to the comment.

If, on the other other hand, the comment is in regard to an important theological concept then ignoring it will make the person think he is right.

Christians need to be slow to respond to comments that attack the Bible. We should first evaluate them to see if a response would be helpful or hurtful. This will often require prayer. Then, if necessary, a thoughtful response, directed by the Holy Spirit, should be given.

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

Ambassadors

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Today’s Bible Reading: Jeremiah 39-41:18; 2 Timothy 1:1-18; Psalm 90-91:16; Proverbs 26:1-2

Old Testament

As predicted, Jerusalem was besieged by Babylon and ultimately fell (Jeremiah 39:1-2). History confirms that this happened in 586 B.C. thereby fulfilling prophecy God had given through the prophets year before.

History also confirms the name of at least one of the Babylonian officers mentioned in Jeremiah 39:3. In 2007 a cuneiform tablet, dating to 595 B.C., was discovered with the title “Nergal-sharezer” on it, giving more proof that the Bible is accurate. Archaeology has yet to discover any artifact that contradicts or disproves anything written in the Bible.


New Testament

Today we begin reading Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Paul wrote this letter while he was imprisoned in Rome for the second time. This time he would be not be released. He would be beheaded by Nero’s government for being a follower of Christ. Certainly things picked up for Christians in the centuries following Nero. But they seem to be coming back full circle. The world hates Jesus and His followers. All over the planet Christians are martyred for their faith in numbers that far exceed the martyrs for any other religious or non-religious group. Even countries that have historically promoted religious freedom, such as the United States, are intentionally eliminating Jesus and Christianity from their societies.

Apparently Timothy was not confidently professing Jesus as his savior. Otherwise Paul would not have had to encourage him to be brave in this regard (2 Timothy 1:7-8). It seems that fear of repercussions prevented Timothy from being bold. He was not willing to suffer so that others could hear the Good News about Jesus.

This is certainly understandable. But we do not have to live with such fear. Such fear is not from God (2 Timothy 1:7). If someone is born-again and has the Holy Spirit living inside them then they have the full power of God living inside them (the Holy Spirit is God). And God does not fear anything man can say or do. Therefore neither should we.

Its no fun to be laughed at or, worse, suffer physically, for teaching people about Jesus. But Christian’s are God’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). We act on His behalf. Therefore, if people laugh at us or physically abuse us (I’ve suffered both) it is really God they are persecuting.

Notice that God does not save anyone because they deserve it (2 Timothy 1:9). No one can “earn” God’s forgiveness. None of us are worthy of it. Forgiveness is something God offers out of His own gracious love for us. Because He knows that if He doesn’t, we’re screwed for all eternity.

As an example to Timothy, Paul points out that he wasn’t even ashamed to be in prison (2 Timothy 1:12). I’m not sure I could say such a thing if I was ever put in prison. But Paul knew he was there by God’s will (2 Timothy 1:1) and that God could be trusted with his life.


Psalms

Those who trust in God get many benefits including His protection (Psalm 91:9-14). Verse 11 tells us that there really are such things as “guardian angels” (at least in some form or another) who are with us wherever we go. Its interesting to imagine just what these angels do. I’m sure that they have done some amazing things to protect me over the years – things that I don’t even realize they are doing.

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

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