The Reliability of God’s Word

Isaiah 55:10-13

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

  and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

    it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

 “For you shall go out in joy

    and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

    shall break forth into singing,

    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

and it shall make a name for the Lord,

    an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

This is one of my favorite passages as it speaks of the absolute reliability of God’s Word.

Remembering that all Scripture is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), we get a vivid picture of God’s word at work.

We can easily understand the purpose of rain and snow from the illustration in the text. We know that without the rain and snow, rivers and streams would run dry; reservoirs would sit empty.  Crops would cease to grow, and people would starve.

As rain and snow serve a clear, tangible purpose of God, so it is with his Word:

  1. It comes from God, as “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)
  2. It is sent with purpose, and it always accomplishes and succeeds in that purpose. The first and most vivid example is the creation itself. God said: “’Let there be light’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3). From the creation of the rest of the heavens and the earth, to the creation of man, God said, “let there be…” and there was.

With this knowledge and assurance as our foundation, we can confidently place our hope in God’s Word.  It behooves us to get to know God’s word with all its promises, exhortations, and yes – warnings.  For just as God spoke and created, so he also warned his creation of the consequences of disobedience.

Let us read Gods’ word; let us meditate and think about God’s word, day and night (Joshua 1:8). What it says is reliable; we can obey it with complete confidence.

What does it say about us?  For starters, we know that “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13); we can be “sure of this, he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6).

He has sent his word to us, with a purpose, and his purpose will succeed.  Be encouraged, for God’s word can be trusted!


Facing Temptation: 10 Things You Need to Know

There is much that we can learn from the time of Jesus’ temptation in the desert; here are 10 things that we can learn – but make sure you read the text first…

Matthew 4.1-11 (Mark 1.12-13; Luke 4.1-13)

  1. This was a God-ordained, God-purposed time of testing.
    Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit.
    We must remember that God is working all things 1) according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1.11), 2) toward its proper end (Prov. 16.4), and, 3) together for the good of those who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8.28).  What we may see as random has been purposely willed by God.
    That is why James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1.2-4)
  2. Satan can only come as God ordains and allows. He does not come after us when God’s attention is diverted elsewhere, or when he thinks he can get the upper hand (refer to arm wrestling meme).
    God is omnipresent – there isn’t a place where he is not; he is omniscient – there isn’t anything that he does not know; he is omnipotent – there is no power that can overcome him.
    Remember Job; Satan could only do what God allowed (Job 1.12; 2.6).  Remember Peter; Satan demanded to “sift him like wheat.” (Luke 22.31)
  3. We can only successfully pass through times of testing in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus entered this time of testing full of the Holy Spirit.
    We may think that we’re strong and self-sufficient, but the reality is we cannot face the devil on our own, in our own strength, for greater is he who is in us, than the one who is in the world.”  (1 John 4.4)
  4. We will be tempted when we are feeling strong, and we will be tempted when we are feeling weak.  Jesus went directly into the desert from his baptism. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 10.12)
  5. Whatever our particular weakness might be, Jesus can sympathize – he knows what we are going through. We do not know what specific temptations Jesus was subjected to outside of what is given in the text, but we do know that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” (Heb. 4.15).
  6. There are 3 areas of desire in play when temptation comes, described by the apostle John in his first letter (1 John 2.15-16): “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”
    1. The lust of the flesh – the desire for things that bring us physical pleasure.
    2. The lust of the eyes – the desire for possessions.
    3. The pride of life – the bragging that comes from accomplishment and status.

These are the same desires that were at play when Eve ate of the fruit (Gen 3.6); they are the same desires that are at play in us.  She “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise…”

  1. It’s interesting to note that the tree of which God said not to eat from was not the only tree that was good for food and a delight to the eyes as “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (Gen. 2.9)
    We must be careful that we don’t start to view God’s provision as insufficient, or worse – we start to despise it.  In Numbers 11.1-6, the Israelites came to despise the manna that God sent from heaven to feed them in the desert.  If we do that, we open the door for temptation and become vulnerable to deception.
  1. We need to understand the deception of Satan; it is the two-fold lie that says: 1) there will be no consequences for our actions (“you will not certainly die.”), and 2) that you are lacking something – God is keeping something from you (“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”).
    When we start to see things that we desire as entitlements that have somehow been denied to us – look out –temptation is on its way.
  1. Just as Jesus was armed with the Word of God when he faced the devil, we need to be armed with the truth as we face temptation:
    “Everything created by God is good…” (1 Tim. 4.4).
    “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…” (James 1.17).
    God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Eph. 1.3
    “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” (Prov. 34.10)
  2. Most of all, we need to remember that “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Cor. 10.13)
    (“The devil made me do it” is not a valid defense.)
    God has given us all that we need to face temptation and endure it.
    “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life”  – (2 Peter 1.3)

At the end of his time of testing, Luke’s gospel says that the devil “departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time.” Satan is always on the prowl, “looking for someone to devour.”  God himself tells us that “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen. 4:7)

Let us be watchful; let us be diligent; let us stand firm – always.

Are You a Mountain Dweller?

From Psalm 15:

“Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?”

Who may live on the Lord’s holy mountain?  “The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart.”

At first pass, this answer can be discouraging, for “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’ ”? (Proverbs 20.9).  Then we remember Christ Jesus, who lived a sinless life, fulfilling the Law; whose righteousness is credited to us who believe.

Hallelujah – we’re in! We can approach the throne of grace with confidence! (Hebrews 4.16).  But we’re not off the hook…

Before we boast of being ‘mountain dwellers,’ we need to read the rest of Psalm 15, which goes on to describe the characteristics of the mountain dweller:

  • speaks the truth from their heart;
  • tongue utters no slander,
  • does no wrong to a neighbor,
  • casts no slur on others;
  • despises a vile person, but honors those who fear the Lord;
  • keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind;
  • lends money to the poor without interest;
  • does not accept a bribe against the innocent

These characteristics point to how we treat one another.  They are not acts that we must perform to earn a place on God’s holy mountain; they are the fruits or evidence that we are indeed dwelling on God’s holy mountain.

Jesus reinforced this thought when he spoke to his disciples in the upper room:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another.”
– John 13.35

Treating each other as described in the Psalm is the evidence that will be weighed by those around us. Conversely, if we don’t treat each other with love, that will also serve as evidence to be weighed by those around us.

Are we dwelling on God’s holy mountain?  If so, the evidence will be found in how we treat each other.

Who are you afraid of?

Read Psalm 27.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation…the Lord is the stronghold of my life…”

David opens with a declaration; and with that declaration, he asks the questions,
“whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid?”

David is not boasting that he is tough and fearless; if you read the other Psalms, you will see that he is anything but.  David is telling us where his confidence lies.  Because the Lord is his light and salvation; because the Lord is the stronghold of his life, there is no need to be afraid of anyone.

When the wicked come – and they will come – to devour (or slander); when they come in numbers to wage war, David says, “my heart will not fear.”  There is no fear of man.

Granted, we are not in David’s situation; none of us here is a ruler of a nation, where war and assassination are real threats. We are just everyday people who go to school, or work (or both). What is there for us to be afraid of?  Who are we afraid of?

As followers of Christ, we must realize that we have enemies; the main one being the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8).  We can however, walk in the confidence that “the one who is in [us] is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4.4b).

But there are other things that we are afraid of that may not be as obvious.  What are they?

The opinions of others, such as classmates, coworkers and even family members; peer pressure or political correctness at school, work or among friends can place in us a fear of being rejected, hated or labeled as intolerant.  This kind of fear can be a snare to us if we give in to it, as it keeps us from speaking or standing for Christ when we should.

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”- Proverbs 29:25

Fear of man traps us in embarrassment and timidity. Instead of being bold witnesses for Christ, we become quiet faint of heart; at its worst, fear of man can keep us from obeying God.

In David, we have an example of what it means to be free of the fear of man.  With his confidence completely in the Lord; David was free to pursue the Lord, to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of [his] life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” David is free to sacrifice with shouts of joy; he can sing and make music to the Lord, despite the presence of his enemies.  In the New Testament, we see Paul and Silas singing hymns of praise in the Philippian jail, despite being beaten and having their feet in chains (Acts 16).  There was no fear of man; there was only the presence of the Lord.

God wants us to be free from the fear of man; he wants us to be able to be joyful, making melody in our hearts to him, despite the presence of those who would mock, reject and even persecute us.  Let us cast off that fear of man “tor the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1.7).

Unrestrained Mercy, Unrestrained Praise

Psalm 40.1-11

God does not restrain his mercy toward us.

The apostle Paul tells us that God has lavished the riches of his grace on us (Eph. 1:7-8); the apostle John tells us that God has lavished his great love on us (1 John 3.1).

And here in this Psalm we see the results of that unrestrained mercy:

“he turned to me and heard my cry.
   He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
   He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.”

In the light of God’s unrestrained mercy, we are challenged to ask ourselves: Have we restrained our lips?  Have we held back from proclaiming his saving acts to one another? Have we hidden his love and faithfulness from one another?

God does not restrain himself when it comes to his love and his mercy toward us.  He has turned to us; he has heard our cry; he has lifted us up out of the mud and given us a firm place to stand. He protects us; he preserves us; he keeps us.  As we read earlier this week, “He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1.8-9).  “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim 2.13).

Let our time together (and apart) ever reflect God’s unrestrained mercy and love toward us.

Let us be unrestrained in our thanks and praise, for it is as we do that, that “many will see and fear the Lord, and put their trust in him.”

Without a Doubt

(Read Luke 2:1-14)

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
(Luke 2:11)

I love the specificity of this account.  Luke, who was writing an “orderly account” of the events surrounding the life of Christ gives us specific, historically verifiable information regarding the birth of Christ.  He gives us a time frame and names (“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…when Quirinius was governor of Syria…”); he also gives us an occasion (“a census”).

Luke gives us background information on Joseph. He tells us where Joseph lives, (“from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth”), and he gives us Joseph’s family lineage (“he was of the house and lineage of David”).

In other words, Luke is telling us: this is what happened; this is when and where it happened; this is who it happened to, and why it happened to them. There was research; there were interviews from eyewitnesses to the actual events.  Luke’s gospel is an investigative report.  Luke was conducting an investigation so that Theophilus would “have certainty” of the things he had been taught.  Theophilus would be left without a doubt.

Then we have the announcement of the angel to the shepherds in the field. The revelation to the shepherds came with a ‘when’ (‘this day’) and ‘where’ (‘in the city of David’), a ‘what’ (‘a baby…lying in a manger’) and a ‘who’ (‘a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’)

The long-awaited Messiah was clearly revealed.  He was revealed by an angel from heaven, accompanied by the glory of the Lord, and followed by praises to God from a multitude of the heavenly host. There was no doubt, there was no confusion in the angel’s message:  The Messiah has come.  Heaven came to earth to point the way to the Savior.  Hallelujah!

Meanwhile in Matthew’s Gospel, there was someone else who needed to have his doubts removed:  Joseph, the husband of Mary.  His betrothed wife was with child – and not by him. (Questions of Jesus’ paternity would follow him into adulthood – you know how people are).

It took an angel from heaven to tell Joseph that his wife was carrying one conceived by the Holy Spirit; he was THE ONE who would save his people from their sins.

From the time of Moses (and even before then) and through the time of the prophets, a Savior – the Messiah – was promised in the Scriptures. Many Jews like Simeon and Anna, who were at the temple when Jesus was presented (Luke 2), were waiting for the salvation of Israel.  Before them were countless others who “though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.” (Hebrews 11.39).

But we have received what was promised.  Not only do we have the writings of Moses and the prophets, we have the account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have the account of the early church. We have the teaching of the apostles. We have the Scriptures, “written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15.4)

Like Luke’s friend Theophilus, we can have certainty concerning Christ; may this Christmas find us without a doubt.

Merry Christmas!

Call to Worship – Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
    An ever-present help in trouble.…

God is not an abstract helper; He is not a thought or concept that we use as a coping mechanism to see us through difficult times.  He is present – not just present, but actively present.

God does not passively observe the things that happen on earth and in our lives. He is sovereign; he does whatever pleases Him (Psalm 115.3).  He is actively working out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster (Prov. 16.3). He is with us in every circumstance; there is no place that we can go where God is not (Psalm 139.7-12). He does not take a break; he neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121.4).

That is why the psalmist writes, “therefore we will not fear though the earth give way; though the “nations are in uproar [and] kingdoms fall,” the city of God and the people of God will not be moved.  The things that we see happening in the earth that strike fear into the hearts of men are all part of God’s workings.

What do we need to know?  We need only to know that the Lord Almighty is with us…he is our fortress.

What do we need to do? We need only to be still, and know that He is God; He will be exalted among the nations.

He is indeed a mighty fortress!