Tag Archives: Old Testament

The Voice Behind You

Adversity and affliction are good things. Yes, I’m serious. We all face adversity and affliction at certain points in our lives. While usually manageable, sometimes it seems they are about to overtake us and we become discouraged, frustrated, or angry. If you are in that situation, I offer here a different perspective for consideration.

O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help. As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” ~ Isaiah 30:19-21

Have you ever considered the notion that adversity and affliction could be our teachers? Have you ever considered them as bread and water? When we are walking with God, adversity and affliction are all of these things.

Adversity and Affliction as Our Teachers

We all experience difficult times in life; times during which adversity and affliction seem to rule the day. As they are happening, life can be difficult. It can be painful. We may feel as if we are in a deep, dark cave with no escape in sight. All we want is to be out of the cave and back in the light. Once we are delivered from the cave we take a deep breath and move on. As I consider those times I realize in hindsight that they have molded and shaped me into the man I am today. I learned lessons from having gone through those difficulties. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, adversity and affliction were teaching me some very important life lessons.

God teaches us here that adversity and affliction are, in fact, teachers. He uses these difficult times for our ultimate good! Knowing that, and walking through life trusting the Lord, I now handle adversity and affliction completely differently than I did in the past. Instead of anger, I am eager. Instead of downcast, I am positive. Instead of experiencing stress, I experience peace. I trust God: I know I am being taught. I know the difficulties will end. And I know that, upon escaping the cave, I will look back and appreciate the lessons I have learned.

Adversity and Affliction as Bread and Water

This blew me away the first time I read this. Why does God refer to “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction?” Bread and water are the basic nutrients of life. Prisoners being punished used to be put on bread and water diets – no pleasure food, just the basic nutrients needed to keep them alive as they served their punishment. As Israel traveled through the desert after their release from Egypt, God provided manna and water to nourish them on their journey. Bread and water are important to nourishing and preserving life. Could it be that adversity and affliction are somehow important, too?

Just as I can look back on times of adversity and affliction in my life and realize I have learned lessons from having experienced them, I also realize in hindsight that I am a better person for having experienced these things. I have gained confidence. I have gained wisdom. I have gained compassion. My faith in God has been strengthened. I am a better man, and even more important, I am a better Christian. Indeed, I have been greatly nourished through the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, and I thank God for that nourishment.

The Voice Behind You

God’s promise given to us through the prophet Isaiah (30:21) in this passage is one of my favorites in Scripture:

“Whether you look to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘this is the way, walk in it.’”

Read it again. And again. Do you hear the compassion? Do you hear the caring? Do you hear the Love? You see, when we walk with God we are never alone. He is always there, teaching us, nourishing us, guiding us, and loving us. Adversity and affliction will come. It’s OK. God has proven time and time again that He will use them for our ultimate good. God cares about your life and He cares about mine. He cares about what is happening to you and to me right this very moment. His path is perfect, and when we tune in to Him, He will show us the way out of that cave. At all times, but especially during times of adversity and affliction, we must listen for His voice. We must be in His Word. We must be in prayer. And we must listen.

Prayer for Today

Heavenly Father, thank you for your unfailing mercy, grace and love. Thank you for the lessons you have taught me thus far in my life, and thank you for being that voice behind me, showing me the way. Help me, Lord, to be in your Word and to walk with You through all my remaining days. Through Jesus I pray, AMEN.

The Treasure of God’s Word

Are you a Christian who believes that the Old Testament has nothing to offer we Christians in these modern times?

Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. ~ Luke 24:27

Soon after His resurrection, Jesus joined two of His followers as they walked along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They were kept from recognizing Him. Jesus asked them what they were discussing along the way, and they described the recent events concerning Jesus’ death, burial, and reported resurrection. They expressed their disappointment that Jesus of Nazareth apparently was not the Messiah as they had come to expect.

Jesus then opened the Scriptures to them, explaining the prophesies of the Old Testament that point straight to the Messiah. Later, as they dined together, Jesus broke bread and their eyes were opened; they recognized their risen Lord and Savior!

God reveals Himself to us in many ways. We look at the wonder of creation and see His handiwork all around us. We see Him in the faith and sacrifice of those Christians who have gone before us. God reveals Himself to us in His Holy Word – the Bible.

I’m always amazed when somebody claims that the Bible is nothing more than an elaborate hoax on humanity. Some claim that it is all made up, and that we believers are fools for believing it. They claim that it is out of step with modern-day humanity; that it was useful before, but no longer useful in this so-called evolved and intelligent society. They accuse those of us who believe God’s word of wallowing in fantasy. Such thought, my friends, is the work of the devil himself.

Many modern day believers set themselves up to fall into this trap by ignoring God’s Word, or by only studying portions of it. When we Christians limit our study of Scripture, we do not partake of God’s full revelation of Himself and we open ourselves up to buying into the hoax. As I read God’s Word, the majesty of who He is springs forth from the pages. As I read Old Testament prophesy and New Testament revelation, I see a more complete picture of God and I realize that those proffering the hoax theory are the fools.

In this passage, Jesus intentionally keeps His companions from recognizing Him so that He would have the opportunity to relate Scriptures to Himself – to alleviate their doubts, from God’s Word, that Jesus is the Messiah. Later, when He opened their eyes over dinner, the full picture of Jesus became crystal clear to them and they were ready to share the good news.

Christian, if you are not studying God’s Word in its entirety, you are missing out on God’s gift of revelation to His people. It’s not too late. On January 1, I began a one-year Bible reading plan. Each morning I read passages from the Old Testament and the New Testament as well as Psalms and Proverbs. The reading plan is sequential – I am in the Old Testament book of Judges and the New Testament book of Luke as I write this. And, already, my understanding and awe of my Lord and my God is rapidly growing. As He reveals Himself to me in this Treasure of His Word, my faith is growing stronger as well. Bible reading plans don’t have to start on January 1 – won’t you join me?

For the complete account of Jesus’ encounter with His followers along the road to Emmaus, read Luke 24:13-35.

Beginning at the Beginning ~ John 1:1-5

Imagine that you have been asked to introduce someone to a group of your coworkers. He has been retained to help your work team build improved work habits to increase efficiency and productivity. The person you’ve been asked to introduce is a true expert in his field, yet you know that some will be skeptical. They’re not sure who this person is, or why he’s here. They don’t feel the need for expert counsel or advice; they know their jobs. In fact, many will feel threatened by his presence as they wonder, “What does he have to do with me?” In introducing this person, you want to immediately establish his credentials; you want your group to realize quickly that this person is one to whom they should listen.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. ~ John 1:1-5

The opening sentences of John’s Gospel provide such an introduction. My analogy is a bit flawed, for John isn’t just introducing an expert on life; John is introducing the Creator and Savior of the world. In these five sentences John tells us everything we need to know about the credentials of this Jesus of whom he writes. Indeed, these five verses of Scripture present a simultaneously succinct and thorough introduction of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Many tend to perceive Jesus as the middle of the story of man. We mark history according to His birth (Before Christ; Anno Domini). Some shy away from the Old Testament and its books of history, poetry, and prophecy incorrectly presuming that it has nothing to do with Christ; after all, He is not formally introduced until the Gospels, right? Some view Jesus as God’s “Plan B” with the Old Testament describing God’s failed “Plan A”. It is this flawed human logic that leads some skeptics to ask why I place my faith and trust in this Jesus. It is this flawed human logic that leads many believers in Christ to the conclusion that God’s Word is subject to amendment at man’s will and whimsy.

John introduces us to Jesus by making these points abundantly clear:

  1. Jesus is eternal. He didn’t ride in on his heavenly white horse to solve an unforeseen problem; His act of redemption was planned from the beginning of eternity. When does eternity begin? It doesn’t – see what I mean? Jesus has been here all along.
  2. Jesus is God. That’s the only way He can be eternal, after all. As God, Jesus has all power, authority, and dominion. What He says goes. What He wills happens.
  3. Jesus created all things. Hence His eternal existence. Jesus is the Author of Creation. Nothing exists that He didn’t will to exist. It’s that simple.
  4. Jesus is the source of life itself. Science cannot explain the genesis of life. Here, John is introducing Life Himself. As Jesus authored creation, He breathed life into all living things, including man.
  5. Jesus lights the only way to life as He, life’s source and creator, intended it to be. On his own, man wallows in the dark depths of sin. By grace, Jesus came that we might have life as He intended it to be. His Light pierces the darkness of sin, and sin cannot overcome His Light. Jesus, The Word, is the only source for knowing how to live life on earth as well as what we believers can look forward to for eternity.

I take great comfort in the reality of my Savior. Man’s theories are full of holes. They’re based on supposition and hypothesis. But, ultimately, whether you believe in the True God of the Bible or whether you place your trust in something or someone else, it ultimately boils down to faith, does it not? Either you place your trust in God’s Word or you place your trust in man’s conjecture. Friends, there is much, much more to life and our existence than any man can possibly fathom. Knowledge of that Truth begins right here with these opening verses of John’s Gospel.

As I embark on my Journey through the Gospel of John, I’m looking forward to broadening my relationship with the Savior of the World – my Savior and yours, Jesus Christ. As I journey through this great account of Jesus, I will be sharing my thoughts and insights right here on my blog. I hope you’ll join me.

My Prayer for Today: Heavenly Father, Thank you for revealing Your Truth through Your Holy Word. As I embark on this study of the Gospel of John I pray that You would open my ears and my heart as you give me the gift of discernment. As I record my thoughts and insights, I pray that they would be helpful to any who might choose to join me in this study. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.

Bloom Where You’re Planted

 

‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ ~ Jeremiah 29:7

English: Roanoke City as seen from at dusk in ...

English: Roanoke City as seen from at dusk in Virginia, USA. Italiano: Roanoke City vista dalla . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My favorite place I have lived is Roanoke, Virginia. I confess that I sometimes lament that I don’t live there now.

This passage comes from a letter written by Jeremiah, as directed by God, to the Israelites living in exile in Babylon. In the letter, God tells the exiles to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper,” (verse 7, NIV). Bloom where you’re planted, perhaps? These people are in exile; they don’t want to be in Babylon. They want to go home. False teachers are telling them it won’t be long before they return to their homeland, but that is not God’s plan. In verse 10 God says through Jeremiah, “…when 70 years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.”

Israel is exiled as punishment for disobeying God. But even through the course of punishment, God loves His people and promises to restore them when the time is right. Even through the course of punishment, God gives them the hope and reassurance that He has not abandoned them. I can’t help but think that God also wants the people of Babylon to see Him through the exiles. God’s Word is ultimately for the world, not just for Israel. Jesus came to save us all.

God’s letter to the exiles offers one of the most oft-quoted promises conveyed by God in the Old Testament:

‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’ (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

The Keller water tower bathed in blue lights after a Keller High School victory!

The Keller water tower bathed in blue lights after a Keller High School victory!

In reading Jeremiah’s letter to the Israeli exiles in Babylon, I am convicted. No, I haven’t been exiled to Dallas/Fort Worth, but God has me here for a reason. He wants me to fully embrace this community, to pray for it, and contribute to its well-being. As I consider this passage, I am reminded of the times I have lamented having left Roanoke. I am reminded of the groaning and complaining I’ve offered concerning our search for a church home, the traffic, the pollution, the crowds and I realize I have missed the point. God wants me to be a part of this community; that’s why I’m here.

What about you? Are you dissatisfied with your lot in life? Are you grumbling about your employer, your neighborhood, or your school? Does the grass look greener someplace else? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, I encourage you to read this passage and then go to God in prayer. Ask Him what He wants you to do to contribute to the well-being of the community to which He has led you; the place in which you find yourself right now. Then go out and serve the Lord where He has planted you.

My prayer for today: Dear Heavenly Father, as I look out my window I see my community differently after having read this passage. Thank You for Your Word, and thank You for calling me here. Show me, Lord, each and every day how I may serve You here. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

God Keeps His Promises ~ Jeremiah 21:1 – 23:8

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The LORD our righteousness.’ ~ Jeremiah 23:5-6

Here we see Jeremiah’s prophecies coming to fruition. In chapter 21, King Zedekiah asks Jeremiah to go to God in his behalf and ask God to intervene with miraculous acts to defeat Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who was on the attack. Not only does God decline this request, He further says, “I Myself will war against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm, even in anger and wrath and great indignation.” (21:5)

God pronounces judgment against wicked kings. These are kings who rule by oppression and extortion, seeking power for themselves at the hands of the people. These evil kings force people to build grand palaces but do not pay them for their labor. They rule selfishly, with no regard for the wellbeing of their people, especially the poor and needy among them. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; Then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?” Declares the LORD. (22:16)

With God’s righteous wrath raining down on Israel, He never forgets His love for His people. In chapter 23 He promises redemption through “…a King who will act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land” (23:5). This, of course, is God’s promise of salvation through the coming Messiah.

Are you a believer who feels the Old Testament is irrelevant today? Think again. The parallels between Israel in Jeremiah’s time and the world today are striking. Ongoing wars in the Middle East, mass murders at the Washington Navy Yard, our country teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and the growing divide between rich and poor in the United States are just a few examples of the evidence and result of sin all around us. When we seek the things of this world, when we honor false gods, turmoil ensues.

Have no fear, for God offers peace even amidst the turmoil of our modern world. God always makes good on His promises. The Righteous Branch prophesied by Jeremiah has come. His name is Jesus. Through Him our separation from God is bridged. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24) Turn to the One whom God sent to redeem you and rest peacefully in the assurance of eternal life in God’s presence. In Him, and only Him, can one find true peace and hope.

Ponder this: Do you know Jesus? I do, but I often wonder if I am truly living according to my faith. What can I do to share this Good News? Are there changes I must make to my priorities?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank You for fulfilling your promise of a Savior through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank You for the peace that comes through knowing Him. Help me, in response, to live a life that honors my Savior. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.

Truth Exchanged for Lies ~ Jeremiah 3:6-5:31

“A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” ~ Jeremiah 5:30-31

Throughout this passage God is pronouncing his judgment against Israel and Judah for abandoning Him. They have embraced the gods of foreign lands. They are living the proverbial “good life” as they turned their collective backs on God. Not only have they rejected God’s way of living, they have rejected His sovereignty. God is clearly angered by their sin. As a consequence for their sins, God promises to raise up an army from a foreign land to overtake Judah and Israel; they will destroy them, but not completely.

As I read Jeremiah, I continue to see many parallels between Israel at the time of Jeremiah and the United States today. We are a blessed nation that has turned from God. Our society rejects Christ as it embraces various false understandings of God. Those who follow such false religions are often lauded as full of wisdom in our society. Open-mindedness is a religion unto itself as it celebrates so-called progressive thought and false teachings. Indeed, we are a nation that embraces such modern-day “foreign gods” as we reject the True God and look down on those who stand firmly upon God’s Holy Word.

Even the American Christian church-at-large is guilty of seeking after false gods. The Episcopalian church, for example, has developed a rite of union for gay couples (see http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2012/12/03/liturgy-for-blessing-same-gender-relationships-begins-provisional-use/). Many believers have embraced the notion of “universal salvation” rather than stand firmly on the teachings of Scripture that Jesus is the only means of salvation (see John 14:6). Many churches today refuse to read and study the Old Testament, claiming it has no relevance in a “New Testament world”. When the church cherry-picks the Scriptures it will preach and teach while rejecting the rest, the church is acting under its own authority rather than God’s, just as God said it would in the passage above. And when it sets out down that deceitful path, it’s no wonder that many believers are led astray by the very people God has entrusted with the Truth. Yes, even in the church, we reject God’s ways of living for philosophies and lifestyles based on prevailing thought or human wisdom. May God have mercy upon us.

God says in chapter five “If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city” (5:1b). The fact is, that person does not exist – not then and not today. There is, however, one Person who fits this description. He is Truth Himself: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As I shudder at the depravity of modern-day living I rejoice at the reality of God’s mercy shown through His Son. God is angered by sin, and the consequences of sin are clear. But even in His anger He offers reconciliation and redemption through Jesus. Let us confess our sins to Him and seek the forgiveness God so freely offers through His Son. And upon doing so, let us reject society’s false gods and stand firmly upon God’s Holy Word – all of it.

Ponder this: Are there teachings in God’s Word that I have set aside in exchange for human wisdom?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, the enemy is active among us as he seeks to distract and deceive us. Forgive me, Lord, for the times I have rejected Your Truth and instead placed my confidence in human wisdom. Help me to seek You, and only You, as I live out my time on Earth. And as I do so, help me, Lord, to always speak Your truth in Christian love. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Remove the Yoke! ~ Acts 15:1-41

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” The apostles and elders met to consider this question. ~ Acts 15:5-6

Upon arriving back in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were advised that some of the Pharisaic Jewish believers still questioned the validity of Gentile salvation through the Messiah. They felt that Gentile believers must first obey the Law as handed down by Moses and be circumcised before they could be accepted into the church. The Pharisees are known for their legalism, so this comes really as no surprise.

English: Strongmen event: the Yoke Walk or the...

English: Strongmen event: the Yoke Walk or the Heavy Yoke or the Super Yoke. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem to address this question with church elders. Peter reminds the brethren that God has given the gift of the Holy Spirit to Gentile believers, just as He has to Jewish believers. He continues, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (15:10-11) James, citing Old Testament prophecy, validates Peter’s position. The decision is reached not to hold Gentile believers to a legalistic, law-based set of rules as proposed by the Pharisaic Jews; rather, to direct them to follow these precepts for living, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” (15:19-20). A letter is written and sent with messengers to be shared with Gentile believers. “The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.” (15:31)

Even today, there are some in the church who seek to burden we believers with complicated rules. To be clear, we are to glorify God in the way we live our lives, but when legalistic preaching and teaching supplants the Gospel it’s time to reexamine our priorities. That’s exactly what the brethren did in this passage. The Law cannot save us; only the Savior can do that. Let us go forth and celebrate our freedom from sin and death by sharing the Gospel with those still living under the yoke of sin.

Ponder this: Am I overburdened with rules to the point at which I forget the Gospel?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of your Law, for through the Law I see clearly my need for a Savior. Thank you also for the gift of faith in your Son, Jesus Christ, through whom my transgressions are forgiven. Let my living be a witness to You today and every day. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

%d bloggers like this: