Joy Comes From Obeying God

Psalm 1 provides a beautiful start to the book of Psalms, pointing to the joy which can be found in serving God instead of the wickedness of the world.

Oh, the joys of those who do not
    follow the advice of the wicked,
    or stand around with sinners,
    or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
    meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
    bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
    and they prosper in all they do.

But not the wicked!
    They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.
They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
    Sinners will have no place among the godly.
For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
    but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.

 So elegantly stated… yet direct. It speaks for itself.

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God’s Law Demands A High Standard

Jesus explains the full measure and expectation in the law regarding “murder” in Matthew 5:21-26. He reveals exactly how high God’s standards are and reveals to those of us that are listening that we continue to fall short of those standards.

21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’[c] 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone,[d] you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot,[e] you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone,[f] you are in danger of the fires of hell.[g]

23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice[h] at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

25 “When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.[I]

Jesus commands us not to hold unrighteous anger toward others. Instead we should seek to be reconciled with them. Holding anger toward others creates bitterness and separates us from God and the joy filled life He wants us to have.

We also see in this scripture that as sinful beings we will never perfectly meet the standard of God’s law. This realization should help us to turn toward Jesus and accept His offer of grace through His death on the cross. Only in this way can we be set free from the bondage of sin.

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Jesus Did Not Come to Abolish the Law of Moses

Many Christians misunderstand the ongoing importance of studying and understanding the Old Testament  even after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus Himself clearly spoke on this topic Matthew 5:17-20.

17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”

God’s commandments revealed through Moses and the prophets are still incredibly relevant. Throughout His earthly ministry Jesus points back to scripture in the Old Testament and obeys its commands Himself (e.g. as with Sabbath day of rest).

I personally have found that including the Old Testament as an important part of my study of God’s word has helped me tremendously in growing closer to God. I encourage each of you to do the same.

Jesus also points clearly to the hypocrisy of the teachers of religious law. They took God’s law and kept changing and adding to it and essentially lost sight of God in the process of focusing on an ever more complicated man-made set of rules.  They made a good showing to the people, but God knew their hearts.  We should challenge ourselves not to just give lip service to God or his word, but to truly change our behaviors and live for Him.

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Evidence Proves the Bible is True

All too often I hear Christians either disregard the authenticity of the Bible as the source of God’s revelation or rely solely on “blind faith” without taking time to study or understand the evidence that proves the Bible is true.

This approach may work for those that have already placed their faith in Jesus Christ, but for those that have placed their faith in a false god(s) or deny God altogether, it is not a compelling argument to turn toward Jesus. It also fails to prepare many Christians to defend their faith when the world challenges them and mocks them. Too many are lost from the faith due to lack of understanding.

I have faith in gravity. The most compelling faith is not because I read about it in a book or because someone told me about it. The most compelling argument for faith in gravity is witnessing it at work in the world around us… watching things fall or drop. The same is true for God and the truth of His revelation in the Bible.

Hank Hanegraaff compiles and presents a convincing summary of   evidence in his book Has God Spoken?

  • There is strong evidence supporting the reliability of scripture over thousands of years thanks to discovery of countless scrolls and copies of the Bible. Errors that may have been introduced were minor (e.g.  grammatical) and were not the same errors across the broad body of manuscripts. Thus we can confirm that the detailed processes for oral tradition and those making written copies were very effective.
  •  Archaeology continues to identify more sites and artifacts that prove the historical accuracy of the biblical text, and none that are inconsistent with it. Of course, we have not yet unearthed specific evidence for every word and event in the Bible, nor should that be expected. That is not the standard for any objective evaluation of history based on archaeology.
  • The Bible records many prophecies which were predicted accurately in advance of the events they foretold. This was possible only by God’s revelation through His prophets. It is easy for those who already reject God to rationalize why these prophecies are not to be considered accurate accounts. But for those who study the Bible objectively, the evidence is there in the text and in other independent historical records.
  • The Bible, like other literature, contains multiple styles of writing (e.g. historical narrative, fantasy imagery, parable, etc.). To properly understand the Bible for all it is worth one must read each part in the manner in which it was intended. By doing so I continue to be amazed how one document written by so many authors across many centuries can be so consistent to reveal God’s character and relationship with His people. Only God could manage that.

For a deeper dive into the details of each of these categories I encourage you to get a copy of Hank’s book Has God Spoken? and then read it for yourself. You can read the detailed evidence and then follow up by studying and validating more through other historical sources. The internet makes this kind of research available to most of us at low cost.

Of course for those who have already decided they do not believe, they will not find the truth, but rather make up more excuses why they reject it. Pray that God would give you ears to hear and eyes to see so that you may understand the fullness of the truth of the Bible… for yourself and so you can share the good news effectively with others.

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On the Seventh Day God Rested

Why did God rest on the seventh day of creation? Was He tired?

[Genesis 2:1-3]So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested[a] from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.

 A review of the broader context of scripture reveals  that God tells man to set apart the seventh day as holy… as a day to rest and to focus on God. Scripture also tells us that this rest is for man’s benefit, not for God’s.

[Exodus 20:9] “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

[Leviticus 23:3] “You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of complete rest, an official day for holy assembly. It is the Lord’s Sabbath day, and it must be observed wherever you live.

[Exodus 34:21] 21 “You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but on the seventh day you must stop working, even during the seasons of plowing and harvest.

[Luke 4:16] 16 When [Jesus] came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.

[Matthew 12:9-12] Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, 10 where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.)

11 And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. 12 And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.”

[Mark 2:27] 27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. 

There is much more that can be shared from scripture regarding the Sabbath, but here are a few points to consider as a start:

  • God rested on the seventh day following creation.
  • God observed in Sabbath in the person of Jesus Christ during His ministry on earth.
  • God commands us to honor the Sabbath.
  • Sabbath was made as a help for man, not for God.
  • Sabbath was made as a time for rest and for focusing on God.
  • We should prepare in advance while we work for six days to be ready to honor Sabbath.
  • Sabbath should be honored even during busy times, like harvest. Work is not an excuse to ignore Sabbath.
  • We are permitted to do good works on Sabbath. Jesus demonstrated personally by healing on the Sabbath.

Since I have started observing Sabbath I have genuinely found a slice of peace in one day of every seven. I spend it focused on family and God and at times on doing good works such as acts of service in Jesus’ name. It is truly a blessing to follow God’s command to honor the Sabbath.

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In the Beginning God Created

Scripture documents God’s creation of the universe in Genesis 1. The scripture is written such that even young children can understand. However understanding the full revelation of the creation has enough complexity that even Biblical scholars can have a healthy debate on whether or not it is a literal account. Of course the world dismisses it consistent with their rejection of the rest of God’s holy scripture.

I am personally enjoying a deeper study of the debate for creation as literal or literary as I seek to know God more intimately. However, for now, I will attempt to simplify.

Much of Jesus’ teaching during His ministry on earth was using parables. Parables are stories that help us understand God’s character even though they are not specific historical events. Whether we read Genesis 1 as an historical event or parable, let us consider it as truth and seek to understand what God is telling us.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.[a] The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day.

Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day.

Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. 10 God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.” And that is what happened. 12 The land produced vegetation—all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit. Their seeds produced plants and trees of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.

13 And evening passed and morning came, marking the third day.

14 Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. 15 Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.” And that is what happened. 16 God made two great lights—the larger one to govern the day, and the smaller one to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set these lights in the sky to light the earth, 18 to govern the day and night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

19 And evening passed and morning came, marking the fourth day.

20 Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” 21 So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.”

23 And evening passed and morning came, marking the fifth day.

24 Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind—livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.” And that is what happened. 25 God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings[b] in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth,[c] and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

27 So God created human beings[d] in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

29 Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. 30 And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.

31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!

And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day

There are several key points to highlight:

  • God created the heavens and the earth.  Overwhelming evidence (for those willing to study with open mind) proves creation as a series of random events is not possible. I will come back to this as a future topic for more discussion.
  • God created man in His image. Man is given opportunity and responsibility to reign over the animals, fish, and birds, etc.  Man is special amongst God’s creations.
  • God created man as male and female, intending them to work together as a team to fill the earth and reign over it. Men and women are not intended to compete against one another and try to be the same. They are created to be different, to complement one another… or  He would not have made two kinds.
  • God took time to review and evaluate each step in creation. He was pleased with what He created. Nowhere is there an indication He felt disappointed in His creation. He was methodical and created exactly what He intended, without error.
  • Creating the universe was not challenging for God. He is truly amazing to consider who He is and what He is capable of.

I encourage you to spend time reflecting on how these simple points should be reflected in your attitude toward God, man, woman, and the rest of God’s creation. How you view creation, the Creator, and the role of man sets a foundation for how you live your life.

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Wisdom Shouts in the Streets

Proverbs 1:20-33 highlights the importance of pursuing godly wisdom for the decisions in our lives, and God’s desire for us to find His wisdom.

20 Wisdom shouts in the streets.
    She cries out in the public square.
21 She calls to the crowds along the main street,
    to those gathered in front of the city gate:
22 “How long, you simpletons,
    will you insist on being simpleminded?
How long will you mockers relish your mocking?
    How long will you fools hate knowledge?
23 Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
    and make you wise.

24 “I called you so often, but you wouldn’t come.
    I reached out to you, but you paid no attention.
25 You ignored my advice
    and rejected the correction I offered.
26 So I will laugh when you are in trouble!
    I will mock you when disaster overtakes you—
27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
    when disaster engulfs you like a cyclone,
    and anguish and distress overwhelm you.

28 “When they cry for help, I will not answer.
    Though they anxiously search for me, they will not find me.
29 For they hated knowledge
    and chose not to fear the Lord.
30 They rejected my advice
    and paid no attention when I corrected them.
31 Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way,
    choking on their own schemes.
32 For simpletons turn away from me—to death.
    Fools are destroyed by their own complacency.
33 But all who listen to me will live in peace,
    untroubled by fear of harm.”

This scripture is written elegantly and passionately to get our attention. A few key points that we should all consider:

  • God wants us to have wisdom. God’s wisdom “shouts” to us, but we must actively seek it and not reject it.
  • Fools have chosen not to fear the Lord.
  • Fools prefer mocking others rather than seeking true knowledge, for they already decided what they want to do.
  • Fools ignore the correction they receive from God.
  • God lets us choose. He does not force us to obey Him. Those who reject His wisdom “eat the bitter fruit of living their own way”.
  • The wise find “peace, untroubled by fear of harm”.

Take a few moments and reflect personally on whether or not you are really seeking God’s wisdom  in the detailed decisions of your life. He cares about us and wants to guide us… we need to listen!

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What Does God Say About Homosexual Behavior?

With recent news regarding the United States supreme court ruling that same sex marriage is now legal, many seem in an uproar on one side or the other. For those of us who follow Jesus, the answer is not dictated by one or more governments but rather by the very words of God Himself. We can point to countless examples of governments throughout history that reject God’s instruction and choose to endorse immoral behavior as legal.

[Matthew 9:4-6 4 “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’[a] And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’[b] Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”

[1 Corinthians 6:9-11] 9Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

[Romans 1:25-28] 25 They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. 26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved. 28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done.

[Leviticus 18:22] 22 “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.

Genesis 19:1-13 tells of the wickedness of sexual sin that led to God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Despite many governments or cultures throughout human history that try to re-define what is moral… God is very clear and consistent on the issue of homosexual behavior.  Throughout Old and New Testament He confirms the same message, that it is a sin… an act of rebellion and rejection of God.

That is not where the story has to end though for any sinner. Jesus loves sinners and through God’s grace has made a way for us to come back in relationship with Him. Repent from your sin, turn to God and seek Him wholeheartedly, and ask forgiveness. He can set you free from your sin.

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You Are the Salt and the Light

Jesus provided important insight into the kingdom of God when He taught a crowd of followers during the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:13-16 He shared two simple but powerful metaphors for us as His followers to understand our roles in this world.  

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Our lives should be visible, public testimonies to our faith in Jesus Christ. We should stand out and apart from the world through our behaviors and actions. If we blend in with the world and fail to live for Jesus we are like salt that has lost its flavor or a light that is hidden under a basket.

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Sermon on Mount

Matthew records an historical sermon in which Jesus taught a crowd of people. There is important insight to be gained regarding God’s kingdom by reading and studying this sermon.

Mathew 5:1-11

 One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

The blessings do not always show up in a way that the world recognizes, because God’s kingdom is different from the world. The blessings may not show up even in a way you are looking for, but His promises are true none the less. Perhaps the richest blessing of all is developing a close relationship with God as we follow Him and obey His instruction.

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