Today’s Bible Reading: Ezekiel 35-36:38; James 1:1-18; Psalm 116:1-19; Proverbs 27:23-27
Edom was a nation that descended from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother and was situated to the southeast of Israel. Edom hated Israel with a passion (Ezekiel 35:5) and for this God promised to destroy them. Once again we read that any nation that is against Israel will pay a heavy price. The United States has long been Israel’s friend – recognizing her independence just 11 minutes after it was declared. But our foreign policy in recent years has put us on the brink of terminating that friendship. When we do, we can expect God to respond.
I think its very interesting that our God is alive (Ezekiel 35:6, 11). God is a living, breathing, hearing, and seeing being (to use human terms). As such He is independent from His creation. Many new-agers will claim that the earth is God or the universe is God. But that is not so. None of these things is alive.
Today Muslim nations that surround Israel desire the land for themselves. So did Edom (Ezekiel 35:10m 36:2). Not much has changed over the past 3,500 years. Israel has always been in a precarious position and will remain that way until Jesus returns and stabilizes the world.
Edom was going to be severely punished for the way they had treated Israel (Ezekiel 35:11). During the centuries of bitterness between the two nations God saw every hateful act and He heard every angry word Edom spoke against His people (Ezekiel 35:11-13). God sees and hears every evil thing that goes on – even the evil things that happen in our own hearts and heads that no one else knows about. All that sin must be punished and God is keeping track. He keeps track not because He is anxious to whack us. He keeps track because He is a meticulous and fair accountant who will make sure that every wrong is paid for.
At the time Ezekiel wrote these passages, Israel did not exist. The nation had been conquered and the people dispersed. But God promised that they would be returning home soon (Ezekiel 36:8). Some people dismiss the Bible because it says Jesus will return “soon” but He hasn’t show up yet. Soon is a relative term. To a little child, anything more than a few minutes is not “soon”. To an eternal God a few thousand years may not be “soon”. Its not for us to decide when “soon” expires.
God also promised to restore Israel by bringing Jews from all over the globe back to the land (Ezekiel 36:8-24). Clearly this prophecy has come true. He also promised to make the land productive (Ezekiel 36:29-30). This too has happened as Israel is one of the most productive nations on earth. With a per capita GDP of almost $35,000 Israel ranks 27th in the world which is remarkable considering there are 152 countries larger than Israel in area and 95 countries larger in population. Their economy is diversified – much more so than the oil-centric economies of their neighbors – having turned this once-desolate place into a vibrant, productive land just as God said it would be.
Today we start reading the wonderful letter from James. This is one of the most popular New Testament books because it contains much practical advice that can be applied to our everyday lives. This letter, like all the books of the New Testament (with the exception of the Gospel of John) was written to Christians so the commands and promises contained in it are not for everyone. The book of James is also noteworthy for being written by Jesus’ half-brother.
Jesus was the first child born to Mary. But after Jesus was born Mary did not remain a virgin, despite the teachings of the Catholic church. Jesus had brothers and sisters who are mentioned often in the Bible. We saw many of these references when we read the Gospels earlier this year.
James starts off his letter with some interesting advice: we should be glad when we have trouble in this life (James 1:2). Every trial is an opportunity for our faith in God to be tested. Notice that trials don’t produce faith. They reveal it. Just like a test in high-school isn’t designed to teach you something, it is designed to reveal what you already know or don’t know. Trials are designed to produce patience (James 1:4) and that patience will be rewarded by God (James 1:12).
Faith is not produced in trails. It is produced by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). That is why it is important to study (not just read) the Bible daily. The more of God’s word we fill our heads with the more faith we will have and the more we will be able to endure the trials that are sure to come. Just like food provides physical energy for daily living, the Bible provides spiritual energy – faith – for daily living.
When we find ourselves in the midst of a trial we often don’t know what to do. That’s okay. God does. And He is very willing to give us His wisdom if we just ask (James 1:5). God wants us to succeed. He wants to help us. But God will not force Himself upon us. We have to be humble enough to ask for His help. The reason the world has so many problems is we make decisions without asking God for wisdom. We can see where that has gotten us.
Some churches, including Catholicism and Mormonism, have an evolving doctrine. They believe that God hands down new information to humanity via their leaders (the Pope and Prophet, respectively), changing the rules as time goes by. A good example of this is same-sex marriage which many churches are now saying is acceptable, including the Mormon church. But this is not how God works. God never changes (James 1:17). And we should be glad about that because its awfully difficult, not to mention frustrating, to try to hit a moving target.
God wants us to have the same faith as a child has in a parent (Psalm 116:6). Children implicitly trust their parents to do the right thing – they don’t need all the answers and couldn’t understand them anyway. Its the same with God. In the end, life comes down to whether a person trusts in God or not.
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