The Good Shepherd

jesus-christ-good-shepherd-detail

John 10:11 I am the good shepherd, and the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Read John 10: 1-21 

John 10:1-21 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus the True Shepherd

10 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.

Jesus the Good Shepherd

Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.All who ever came before Me[a] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.13 The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

17 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

19 Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings. 20 And many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?”

21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

Footnotes:

  1. John 10:8 M-Text omits before Me.
New King James Version (NKJV)Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jesus talks about his qualities as a shepherd, and that his sheep are important enough to him that he would die for them.  We are his sheep, and Jesus is our shepherd, who takes care of us and leads us as Jesus describes in these verses.  However, we are sheep with a choice.  We can chose to follow our shepherd, or not (and in that case be eaten by wolves aka Satan). 

Jesus also talks about having sheep in other pastures.  He is talking about people who are not Jews.  Anyone who is not a Jew is a Gentile.  People in other faiths can come to know Jesus as well as people who are raised in Judaism or Christianity.  God loves all people, no matter what nationality, or race, or location you live in.  If a person is seeking God, God will help that person to be led to Jesus.  No matter which part of the world or what faith or lack of faith a person is raised, or invested in,  if the person earnestly  seeks God, then God will reveal himself to them.  The Bible is all about God’s revealing of himself to mankind.  So if you are seeking,  Jesus will lead you like a shepherd leads his sheep to the good pasture of God’s word.  As Christians we have to be open and not condemning of a person’s faith background.  

John 14:6New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

As it says in John 10:16  There will be one flock and one shepherd that Jesus will bring the sheep from the other flocks together.  The other flocks would be the people who are not Jewish, but they will still know who Jesus is and accept him as their shepherd.  The thing that all these “flocks” will have in common is Jesus Christ and it will show in their love for God and their love for one another.

John 13:34-35 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This does not mean that all religions will be one…don’t get confused!  It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with people who are seeking to know God.  Jesus was a Jew from birth until the end of his life here on earth…All of Jesus’ original Disciples were Jewish and so was Paul. People of Christ were not called Christians until Antioch in Acts 11:26.  This was when Paul was teaching them. (Though the Bible speaks of a one world religion…Revelation 17:1-18…that is a false religion and that is not what I am talking about here.)

philip2beunuchRead Acts 8:26-40 (ESV)

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south[a] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
    and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”[b] 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Now the thing about this story of the Ethiopian Eunuch is that the Eunuch was not Jewish, yet, God knew that his seeking of God, through trying to read scripture was sincere. God chose to honor that sincerity by providing a person who was knowledgeable in the scripture to help the Eunuch understand what he was reading.  Thus the Ethiopian Eunuch was led to Christ, and became a part of the other flock that came under the same shepherd.  Please note that there is nothing in the scripture that says that the Ethiopian Eunuch suddenly became Jewish.  He did not.  If he had we certainly would have been told this.  He met God as he was, and became a sheep who followed the Good Shepherd.  We don’t know what event or series of events inspired the Eunuch to start reading Isaiah, that is only known to the Holy Spirit who is the one who had a hand in it to begin with.

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Read Psalm 23  

Psalm 23 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Lord the Shepherd of His People

A Psalm of David.

23 The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell[a] in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Footnotes:

  1. Psalm 23:6 Following Septuagint, Syriac, Targum, and Vulgate; Masoretic Text reads return.
New King James Version (NKJV)Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Jesus – Arm of the Lord

851-yeshua-handIsaiah 53:1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the Arm of the Lord been revealed?

Read Isaiah 53  This is the prediction from the prophet Isaiah which describes Jesus’ life, and gives him a name which describes his function as the arm of the Lord.

Read John 12:37-50 This is where Jesus talks about the fulfillment of Isaiah 53.  Jesus states that he only says what God tells him to say.

Note:  In Isaiah’s prediction Jesus will be reviled and persecuted, and won’t be popular with many people, he won’t look pretty, or be attractive, there will be nothing in his humanity which will be attractive in and of itself.  In John 12, Jesus clarifies that he only says what God tells him to say, and that many people will not hear him.  He is not judging, but coming to save, and that those who are unaccepting of his words (which are coming straight from God) will be condemned by their lack of acceptance.

Jesus acts as the Arm of the Lord in his life.  Whatever, our brain tells our arm to do, is what our arm does.  Luckily for us that is an automatic thing.  We just think of what we want to do like pick something up from the ground, and we do it.  When Jesus was here as a human, he was listening to God as if he were a part of God’s body, such as the arm (which he was and is God,so he is a part of God).

Have you ever tried to be someone else’s arm? Here are a couple of things to try that can give you a picture of how tough it can be to act as someone else’s arm.

  1.  With a Partner stand behind the person where you cannot see what you are doing and have them direct you on how to do some activity  such as picking up some small things and putting them in a bowl.  It would be best if you are blind folded so that you cannot at all see what you are doing and try to do this completely on the instruction of the other person.
  2. Another thing to try if you don’t have a partner is to try and copy a picture onto a paper while never looking at the paper.  Just let your brain tell your arm what to draw.

In both of these activities you can see how difficult it is to do things solely on the instruction of another person without using your own sense of sight to do so.  Yet we know that Jesus accomplished perfectly everything that God told him to do.  That tells us just how perfect the communication was between God the Father and Jesus the Son.  They were perfectly in tune with each other.  Jesus’ complete goal in life was to accomplish just what God told him to do, and nothing else.  They were always in communion together.

 John 14:10  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

God wants us to always be in communion with him, through the Holy Spirit which dwells within us.

Romans 8:9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

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Isaiah 53 New International Version (NIV)

53 Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression[a] and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.[b]
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes[c] his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life[d] and be satisfied[e];
by his knowledge[f] my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,[g]
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,[h]
because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Footnotes:

  1. Isaiah 53:8 Or From arrest
  2. Isaiah 53:8 Or generation considered / that he was cut off from the land of the living, / that he was punished for the transgression of my people?
  3. Isaiah 53:10 Hebrew though you make
  4. Isaiah 53:11 Dead Sea Scrolls (see also Septuagint); Masoretic Text does not have the light of life.
  5. Isaiah 53:11 Or (with Masoretic Text) 11 He will see the fruit of his suffering / and will be satisfied
  6. Isaiah 53:11 Or by knowledge of him
  7. Isaiah 53:12 Or many
  8. Isaiah 53:12 Or numerous
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

John 12:37-50 New International Version (NIV)

Belief and Unbelief Among the Jews

37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”[a]

39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.”[b]

41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God.

44 Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

47 “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. 49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Footnotes:

  1. John 12:38 Isaiah 53:1
  2. John 12:40 Isaiah 6:10
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

bible verses by way of Bible Gateway.com

 

God Judges all people equally

lady-justice

Psalm 96:10  Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”  The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.

Read Isaiah 56:1-8  This is a statement of God’s acceptance of everyone who is upright and keeps his ways.  That God answers their prayers and looks on them as equals in his sight.  All of God’s people are equals.  You are either God’s or satan’s.  It doesn’t matter what nationality or gender you are, or what your physical body looks like.

Read Genesis 11:1-9  This is the story of the Tower of Babel.  Note that these men suffered from pride, and they could all communicate well enough for building this tower.  God took them down, by making them all speak different languages so that they could not communicate and continue building the tower.  They were not acting in an upright manner, so God demonstrated his Godhood by forcing their plans to go awry in a very harsh way.

Isaiah 56:1-8

Salvation for Others

56 This is what the Lord says:

“Maintain justice
    and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
    and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
Blessed is the one who does this—
    the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
    and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”

Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
    “I am only a dry tree.”

For this is what the Lord says:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose what pleases me
    and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
    a memorial and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that will endure forever.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
    to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
    and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
    and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
    a house of prayer for all nations.”
The Sovereign Lord declares—
    he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
    besides those already gathered.”

New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. (via Bible Gateway.com)

Genesis 11:1-9

The Tower of Babel

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Footnotes:

  1. Genesis 11:2 Or from the east; or in the east
  2. Genesis 11:2 That is, Babylonia
  3. Genesis 11:9 That is, Babylon; Babel sounds like the Hebrew for confused.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Our term for someone who is going on about nothing, or not making any sense is that they are babbling.  If someone tells you that God won’t accept you or forgive you because of something that has happened in your past even though you ask him for forgiveness and have moved forward away from that sin…then you can be sure that they are in fact babbling in the worst way!  God really doesn’t like it when people cause others to move away from him instead of closer to him.  That was in fact Jesus’ main contention with some of the Pharisees…they had added rules which made it harder for a person to follow God.  He challenged them in Matthew 15 about why they made their traditions more important than the following of God’s law.  Sometimes we are guilty of that too.  We tend to expand on God’s rules to the point where it is hard to remember them all.  Then we judge others when they don’t follow the expanded rules….

God is the only true judge of a person, and he judges all equally under his qualifications for them….faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and living in faithful obedience.  God doesn’t care where you came from, only where you are going now!

God’s Word is Powerful

IMG_5331Deuteronomy 8:3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Read: Psalm 119:9, 11, 105, Isaiah 55:10-11, 2Samuel 22:31, Proverbs 12:25, 25:11, John 1:1-5, 14.

Read Matthew 4:1-4.  This is Jesus answer to the first temptation.

Psalm 119:9-11  

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
    By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
    do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:105

105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,

 a light on my path.

Isaiah 55:10-11

10 “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,
11 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.

2 Samuel 22:31

31 “As for God, his way is perfect:
    The Lord’s word is flawless;
    he shields all who take refuge in him.

Proverbs 12:25

Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. 
Proverbs 25:11
Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a ruling rightly given.
John 1:1-5 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

John 1:14  

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Matthew 4:1-4
 

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

(Verses taken from Bible Gateway.com and Bible hub.com and are the NIV version of the Bible)
These are just a few verses in the Bible that tells us about the value of God’s word in our lives, and how powerful it is.  When reading the Bible it is always comforting to keep in mind that there is a word there for everyone.
One of the other things to keep in mind is that John 1:14 tells us that The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.   That Word that became flesh was the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is described as God’s Word becoming flesh, if that doesn’t tell us clearly how powerful the Word of God is, then I don’t know what does.  Yet that very Word of God laid down his life for us, though he had all the power of God behind him.  His life was voluntarily laid down for us.  I find it to be a very amazing thing that God loves us so much, no matter how many times I contemplate it…it is always very awesome!  Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all loved each other even a fraction as much as God loves us.   The only way that is possible is if we all live our lives with God’s powerful Word written on our hearts…living in obedience to Him…that is what the Kingdom of God is about.  We need to realize the power of God’s Word and take it into our hearts and lives, seriously.  Not just in a lukewarm way.
John 10:18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Matthew 26:53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?

Worthless Prayer

christ_at_the_cross_-_cristo_en_la_cruz
Look at this picture of Jesus on the Cross and the people at the foot of his cross…they are being depicted with the dedication that the Bible shows us they had..suffering the sight of the death of their savior…unknowing that he would rise again. By Carl Heinrich Bloch

Proverbs 28:9  He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.

Read Jeremiah 7, and Jeremiah 11 These chapters illustrate how God feels about people who turn away from Him, then God doesn’t like that person’s prayers. However, God still loves us, even when we are in sin…He will  love us straight to the gates of Hell and if you go through those gates, then God will still love you; but the separation is eternal. I think that permanent separation from God is what hell is actually all about.  (That’s just my personal opinion to be sure.)  

Just as a parent will allow their adult children to do the wrong things, and not approve, and also won’t stop them but still will love them. Even as you read these two chapters everything in them seems very harsh, doesn’t it?  This tells us how much God wants us to show our love to him through obedience to his word.  How much God hates the actions of those who say that they are his people, yet, don’t follow what he says to do.

Now, this is not about being legalistic in how you view God.  There is absolutely nothing that you can do to gain God’s approval besides accepting his son.  However, to accept his son, you also have to accept his son’s “yoke” or his son’s teachings. (Matthew 11:28-30) You cannot accept the blood sacrifice of Jesus and then go on about your merry way as you always have.  If a person has really and truly accepted Jesus as their savior then there will be changes in them.  Now, that does not mean that they are suddenly going to spring forth into perfection…no, but it does mean that they have a change of heart where they realize that they have been doing things that are (as my Pastor is fond of saying) “off the mark” of where they should be.  Another way of saying that they are not on target for what God wishes in their lives.  God is the one who changes the person by the Holy Spirit’s presence within them.

So, how does a person know what God wants of them?  Well, Jesus stated it clearly: (Matthew 22:36-40)

1.) Love God with all your heart, mind and soul.

2.) Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

If you follow those two commandments, then you don’t have to worry about all of the rest of God’s law because you cannot follow those two commandments and still break any of God’s law at all.  That is what Jesus’ taught.

Why is that?  Well, because if you love God, then you won’t disrespect him or any of his creation in any way. That includes yourself and others.

If you love yourself (most people love themselves the most if they are honest…we see it all of the time…), then you want the best for yourself.

The best marriage, best home, best children, best friends, best of everything, right?!!

So it follows that if you love your neighbor as you love yourself, then you will want the best for them also:  The best marriage, the best home, best children, best friends, best of everything, right?!!!

Now, in loving that person you also want them to have the most important thing…the best relationship with God that they could possibly have.  You wouldn’t want that person to have anything bad in their lives, right?!!

This means that in loving them you celebrate with them, and mourn with them as they go through life, and you help them whenever they need it to the best of your ability.

It also means that you recognize that your neighbor may have different needs than you do when it comes to home and family life.  After all, we are not clones of each other.  We have individual desires in many respects, but there is one thing we all have in common on this earth.  It is the desire to have the love and companionship of family and friends.  We all want to be loved, and to be able to tell that we are loved.

Sometimes when we are “loving” others in the Christian way, we end up not so much loving them as “judging” them. We end up telling them what they should and should not do.  Most people have enough people telling them how to live their lives…that is not what they need.  People need the chance to make their own decisions and to realize that they will still be loved.  That is the example that God gives us of loving.

God did not put us in charge of making the rest of the world behave.  He told us to follow him…follow his example of loving others.  God wants us to love people beyond their faults.  Jesus shows us that example time and time again.  He shows people that he recognizes that they have faults, but that he loves them anyway and that he cares about their needs.  God is the one who will work on that person’s faults and bad decisions with them.  We can help them with this, but we cannot condemn them..that is not our job or our responsibility.  We have different responsibilities when dealing with another Christian who we see going astray as we are to correct each other..but for those who do not know Christ we are responsible to simply show them the love of Christ by our love for them and how we live that love out in our lives. (Matthew 18:15-17)

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There is one time that we see Jesus demonstrating some anger to us…the context of that anger is simple…there are people in God’s very house, his temple, who are taking advantage of other people who are coming to worship God.  They are giving them unfair exchanges for their money when they are coming from out of town, and they are charging them unreasonably high prices for the animals that they are buying for sacrifice in the temple.  Jesus actually quotes Jeremiah 7:11 while he is overturning the money changers tables.  Jesus is referring to the time when God proclaimed that empty worship is worthless worship, and telling those who are taking unfair advantage of others that God is watching them and sees what they do.  The people whom Jesus was talking to most likely fully understood the reference…it probably scared them spitless!  They knew that they were guilty in the eyes of God! (Matthew 21:12-13) (Now John 2 calls it a market place and focuses on the disrespect shown to God’s house by buying and selling in it.)

To put this in more blunt and modern terms…if you are just going to church and warming a pew so that you can tell the world how great you are that you go to church…that is worthless in God’s eyes.  If you do not include God in your every day life then your actions of worship are worthless.  God wants relationship with you, that is the way in which God will bless your life the most.  Relationship with God on a day to day basis can get you through anything that happens in your life.  It gives you an inexpressible strength.

Jeremiah Chapter 7 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:

“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury,[a] burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.

12 “‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. 14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors. 15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’

16 “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you. 17 Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes to offer to the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to arouse my anger. 19 But am I the one they are provoking?declares the Lord. Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?

20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: My anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place—on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the crops of your land—and it will burn and not be quenched.

21 “‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! 22 For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23 but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. 24 But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. 25 From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. 26 But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors.’

27 “When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer. 28 Therefore say to them, ‘This is the nation that has not obeyed the Lord its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.

29 “‘Cut off your hair and throw it away; take up a lament on the barren heights, for the Lordhas rejected and abandoned this generation that is under his wrath.

The Valley of Slaughter

30 “‘The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the Lord. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it. 31 They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. 32 So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. 33 Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. 34 I will bring an end to the soundsof joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate.

Footnotes:

  1. Jeremiah 7:9 Or and swear by false gods

The Covenant Is Broken

Jeremiah chapter 11 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Listen to the terms of this covenant and tell them to the people of Judah and to those who live in Jerusalem. Tell them that this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Cursed is the one who does not obey the terms of this covenant— the terms I commanded your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the iron-smelting furnace.’ I said, ‘Obey me and do everything I command you, and you will be my people, and I will be your God. Then I will fulfill the oath I swore to your ancestors, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey’—the land you possess today.”

I answered, “Amen, Lord.”

The Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Listen to the terms of this covenant and follow them. From the time I brought your ancestors up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, “Obey me.” But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep.’”

Then the Lord said to me, “There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem. 10 They have returned to the sins of their ancestors, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both Israel and Judah have broken the covenant I made with their ancestors. 11 Therefore this is what the Lordsays: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. 12 The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes.13 You, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem.’

14 “Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.

15 “What is my beloved doing in my temple
    as she, with many others, works out her evil schemes?
    Can consecrated meat avert your punishment?
When you engage in your wickedness,
    then you rejoice.[a]

16 The Lord called you a thriving olive tree
    with fruit beautiful in form.
But with the roar of a mighty storm
    he will set it on fire,
    and its branches will be broken.

17 The Lord Almighty, who planted you, has decreed disaster for you, because the people of both Israel and Judah have done evil and aroused my anger by burning incense to Baal.

Plot Against Jeremiah

18 Because the Lord revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time he showed me what they were doing. 19 I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that they had plotted against me, saying,

“Let us destroy the tree and its fruit;
    let us cut him off from the land of the living,
    that his name be remembered no more.”
20 But you, Lord Almighty, who judge righteously
    and test the heart and mind,
let me see your vengeance on them,
    for to you I have committed my cause.

21 Therefore this is what the Lord says about the people of Anathoth who are threatening to kill you, saying, “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord or you will die by our hands”—22 therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will punish them. Their young men will die by the sword, their sons and daughters by famine. 23 Not even a remnant will be left to them, because I will bring disaster on the people of Anathoth in the year of their punishment.” (NIV via Bible gateway.com)

Footnotes:

  1. Jeremiah 11:15 Or Could consecrated meat avert your punishment? / Then you would rejoice

Prayer in Action

golden-wheat-field-1354390133xga2Samuel 24:24 No, I insist on paying for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing….

Read 2Samuel 24  and 1Chronicles 21 This is the story of David taking a Census of his men against God’s wishes and the penalty of doing so.  This chapter is a good story to demonstrate that when you pray, you must listen to God’s answer, and that sometimes, there is some action you must take for the answer to take place.  Note:  There is confusion in these two verses, but when you realize that in 2Samuel God is angry against Israel then you can see that what is described in 1Chronicles 21 as Satan inciting David to take a census and in 2Sam 24 as God inciting David to go and take a census is simply two ways of saying that God is sovereign and everything that happens is at his control/command…God does have control of Satan also and when God’s wrath burned against the people of Israel he used Satan to tempt David to sin by taking a census of his people.  David always had the option to not yield to temptation, which also would have lessened God’s wrath.  However he chose to go ahead and sin.  Then he had to pray to God for forgiveness to lessen God’s wrath.  God gave him a task to do to show his sincerity of repentance.  Let me be clear…the task is not what gained him the forgiveness…it was simply a demonstration of his sincerity and an obedience to God.  God does not “need” us to do anything, but does sometimes require us to do things…not for the sake of repentance (beyond accepting Christ), but for our own sake so that we can “feel” (for lack of a better word, though faith is a decision that you make, not a feeling that you have) that we have repented or that we have connected closely with God and rebuilt our faith in God.  Everything that God does or asks us to do has one goal….to bring us closer to him…to help us understand him better, and to bring others closer to him and to help them understand him better through us.  God does these things out of his extreme love for us.  After all, he is God why else would he bother with us, if he didn’t love us?!!

For example:  There is a story (not in the Bible) of a man who was living in a place where a flood was coming.  He was warned by the news, but he told his friends and neighbors who were packing up their cars to evacuate that he was going to wait for God to answer his prayer.  He was praying about it and that God would make everything all right.  After a while, the police came by and told him that he must evacuate that the water was rising quickly and he was losing time.  He assured the police that he was praying and that God would take care of the situation.  (I know that sometimes the police will force an evacuation…but this is an illustration.)   More time went by and the water had risen to the point where the man was having to go to his upstairs room.  Someone came by with a boat and offered to let him join them in the boat and get him safely away.  The man answered that he was waiting on the Lord that the Lord would rescue him as he had been praying about this situation.  The man in the boat left.  A couple hours later the man was forced to move up to his roof.  A helicopter came by, and dropped a rope for him, and told him to climb up.  The man repeated that he had been praying and was waiting on the Lord to answer him.  He refused to climb up.  You can probably guess the fate of the man, right?!!  He drowned.  Then he is standing in front of the Lord, and he asked, “Lord, I prayed to you and you did not answer me.  Why not?  Why didn’t you listen to me?”

The Lord responded to the man, “Son, my child…I did answer you, when you first prayed, I sent you the news that there was a need to leave because it was dangerous for you there.  Then when you did not leave, I sent you some police officers to make certain that you saw the authority in the order to leave.  You still did not listen.  So as things became more dangerous and perilous for you, I tried to rescue you once more in the form of a man with a boat, but you refused to get into the boat.  Finally, I sent some other rescuers with a helicopter and they practically begged you to cling to the ladder and be flown out of there.  Son, I made four attempts to show you my answer and provide for your safety, but you were so stubborn that you were only looking for the answer that you wanted.  You were not really looking for the answer I was providing.  I love you and it saddens me that you valued your home more than your life and more than your relationship with me.  That is why you perished.”

Sometimes, we just don’t recognize the answer that God is giving to us.  We are either too stubborn (in wanting our own way) to recognize it, or our prayer life and our relationship with God is taking a back seat to other “idols” in our life.  An idol can be anything in a person’s life which interferes with your relationship with God.  In the illustration above, the idol of the man’s life seems to be his home.

The illustration is an extreme example of someone who the Bible would describe as “stiff necked”.  Think for a minute about what it means to be stiff necked.  I have had a stiff neck at times, and it makes it really hard to look around.  A stiff necked person in spiritual terms is someone who refuses to turn back from their own agenda, and follow God.  There are many times that the people of Israel were called a “stiff necked people”.  Set in their own ways, and unable or unwilling to see the truth that God reveals for them.  Now a days we would call that person stubborn and unyielding.

Think about yourself…is there a time that you have been too stiff necked about what you wanted?  That you haven’t been able or willing to understand that God has answered your prayer perhaps because the prayer’s answer was not what you wanted it to be?  I know that I have had times in my life like that.  Then there may have been times when you take an action to make something turn out the way you wanted it…ask yourself..how did that turn out for you?  I know that for myself the answer would be that it usually didn’t turn out too well.  In the Bible it also didn’t turn out well when God promised something, and then told them to wait upon him….there are many examples of that…King Saul, Abraham and Sarah just to name a couple of examples.

Genesis 16:1-2 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

In the case of Sarai/Sarah she came to regret her decision because it caused her to have trouble in her home and she suffered from jealousy and her slave, Hagar, started looking down upon Sarah.  Sarah tried to rush the God, instead of waiting on him.

This is in contrast to David, who was told to go and make an offering to God.  David had to buy the threshing floor where he was told to make the offering.  How great the temptation must have been to accept the place for free when it was offered.  However, David sets an example to us…if we are going to make an offering to God it should be something that belongs to us, or costs us in some way.

Sometimes we simply need to do something in order for a request to be fulfilled.  If you are looking for a new home, or a new job, and you pray for God to help you with that…you cannot expect the Lord to magically beam you to the new job or the new home, right?  You still have to go out and look for that new home or new job.  God will guide you to the place that will fulfill the desires of your heart.  He actually knows better than we do what the desires of our heart really are in life.

Psalm 37:4  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

The key thing about this verse is that you need to delight yourself in the Lord first….that way your desires will line up with the Lord’s wishes for your life and happiness.

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Hannah’s Son – Prayer for God’s Blessing

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This is a dress in a window display in a mall I saw on vacation it is made with the pages of books (it was a book store).  It just seems very cheerful, and it kind of gave me a mental lift of our prayers winging their way to God!

 

Roman’s 9:15-16 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

Read 1Samuel 1:10-11 Hannah prayed for the Blessing of a son, and promised God that she would give him back to God for all the days of his life, and his hair would never be cut. God answered her prayer and Samuel was born and given to Eli the Priest at the Temple after he was weaned (1Samuel 1:22, 26-28)  God blessed Hannah with many more children after Samuel. (1Samuel 2:5)  Note that Hannah’s prayer was answered and she was blessed with more children for her faithfulness to her promise.  Hannah’s prayer included an offer of personal sacrifice of the thing wanted most.  Sometimes when a prayer is really important we can fast and sacrifice our meals or give up fun activities in order to honor the seriousness of the prayer.  We do this most often either for healing of someone or ourselves, or during the season of Lent in an effort to experience a small part of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  Sometimes when a matter of prayer is crucial to you, you feel that just prayer alone is not enough, then it is appropriate to fast so that you can concentrate on God more.

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Read Judges 11  Here is the story of another person who wanted a blessing from God, and made a vow to God.  However, this is a case where there is a lot of controversy.  We can learn a lot from Jephthah’s wild seemingly ill considered vow.  He vows that if God will let him win a war, then he will offer to or sacrifice to God whatever first comes out of his house when he returns safely.

Have you ever made a vow or promise that you wish you had never made?  I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t.  I am sure that Jephthah had regrets…as his one and only child…his daughter is the one who first came out to meet him.  Now there is controversy among scholars about whether he actually burned his daughter as a sacrifice, or if she was just offered as in the case of Hannah offering Samuel to God as a servant in the temple, or maybe she was just set aside and never allowed to marry, but stayed in her father’s house.  I am going with the idea that Jephthah was known to be a man of God and knowing that God had prohibited human sacrifice he would never go against God.  (Deuteronomy 12:29-32) After all, he was chosen as a leader of his people by God.  That is why he is mentioned in Judges in the first place.

Also his daughter mourns her virginity and it tells us she never knew a man. So her mourning of her virginity in this case would be the never having a husband and children.  For a Jewish woman of her time, that was a horrible fate to have.  A woman’s worth as told to us in the story of Hannah and many other women throughout the Old Testament was based on whether she could provide sons for her husband so that his lineage could continue.  The same could be said of a Jewish man, having a son was his top obligation.  So much so that if his brother had a wife and died without a son, then he was to marry the widow and raise up a son as his brother’s child so that he would have a son to carry on his line. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)

So when we see this story of Hannah, she was miserable and she wanted a son to validate her worth.  Jephthah had only a daughter and he, undoubtedly loved his daughter as we can see from his response to her appearance.  Jephthah was someone who had no proper family when he was growing up, and was actually rejected and ejected from his father’s house, so family was probably doubly important to him over others who were raised in a family where their Mother was respected and loved.  Saying this, it seems to me that his vow to God really was a painful burden to him.  As his daughter would not be able to provide him with a continuation of his family line, and she was his only child.

Unlike in the story of Hannah and her son, Samuel, we are not told that Jephthah suddenly started having other children.

So both of these people prayed for a blessing and tried to give something to God in return.  Hannah ended up with the greater blessing, as the scorn she received from her husband’s second wife was abated and she had many children.  The way I feel when I read Hannah’s story is that she is a woman in misery, and is praying for God with all the humbleness of her heart to remove her misery.

On the other hand, when I read of Jephthah, he seems like a person of great pride.  He is a person who is a bargainer.  When his family called him back he bargains with them to become the head of the family if he fights for them and prevails.  Then he offers God a bargain, that he will give God a sacrifice of whatever comes out of his house first if God will just let him win against his enemies.  Jephthah was not miserable in the sense that Hannah was, but he was also looked down upon by members of his family and community.  He was a “can do” type of person, his relationship with God was almost completely different from Hannah’s.  Hannah was a “can’t do anything about it” person.  She was humble and laid her problem out to God.  Jephthah on the other hand probably would have gone into battle anyway, and hoped for the best; but felt that if he offered God something that maybe God would make certain of his victory.

The thing is in both cases, God did bless these people with the desires of their hearts.  Jephthah in the end needed and desired the respect of his family after the way he had grown up.  By offering his daughter to God, he also gained more community respect.  We are told that for four days a year the Jewish girls would go into the desert to lament his daughter’s virginity.  In this case, to honor it, as well as mourn her sacrifice of having no family.  Another thing about not having a son, is that there was no one to care for her in her old age….though, as she was a “living sacrifice” to God I am sure that God made sure she was cared for.  Just as he will care for us if we make ourselves into “living sacrifices” to him. For us to be living sacrifices means that we are living our lives fully invested in following God’s plan for our lives.  We are setting aside our selfishness and our need to control things, and allowing God to work in us.

The thing is that there is nothing other than ourselves that we can offer to God…God does not do bargains.  He listens to our prayers and our repentance of our sins, and he wants to give us the desires of our hearts.  Just like any parent wants to give their children the desires of their hearts….without any bargaining!    God does not bargain…he blesses whom he will bless and he curses whom he will curse.  Generally, he blesses those who love him…maybe not the way they wish to be blessed on the surface, but he gives what the person really needs to help them grow closer to him, and to fulfill their plan.  The thing is we don’t always understand the actual blessing that God has given us when it is given to us.  Sometimes, we have to have time to see it.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:33-37 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (ESV)

 

 

If there are 10 Righteous Men…

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Genesis 18:32 Then he said May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only 10 can be found there?

Read Genesis 18:20-33 God tells Abraham that he will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah that their sin is too great.  Abraham prays to God that he not destroy the city of Sodom if 10 righteous men could be found in either one of them.  God agreed, but could only find 1 righteous man, Lot, and so saved Lot and his family and still destroyed  the city.  So although  the city was destroyed, God listened to Abraham, and looked for righteous people first thereby saving Lot.  Without Abraham’s intercessory prayer, God may have destroyed the entire city.  Prayer affected the outcome for Lot.

There is a bunch of history between Abraham and Lot.   Lot is Abraham’s nephew by one of his deceased brothers.  When God told Abraham to pick up and move to a new country with his wife and family, Abraham took Lot along.  He and Lot ended up having to go their separate ways after a while because their family groups were too large and their flocks were too large.  This caused a bunch of fighting between their herdsmen.  Abraham was kind enough to let Lot choose which of the new land he wanted for himself.  Lot demonstrates a bit of his character to us by choosing the best and greenest land, and leaving the desert area for Abraham. Later his area is raided and he and his family members are kidnapped…Abraham goes to the rescue with a few hundred men and gets them back.

John 3:16-21  

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (NKJV -Biblegateway)

Now in this story we find that the town that Lot is living in (Sodom) is about to be destroyed by God.  God has found the town to be so filled with sin that he considers it irredeemable.  In our society there is a belief that everyone is going to be redeemed.  That is simply not true.  It is purely wishful thinking…however, it is good that we have that desire to see everyone redeemed.  God has the same desire, and wants us to have that desire also.  He wants us to love others to that point where we wish the best for them, and would like to help them achieve it.

2Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The promise that is spoken about in 2Peter 3:9  is the return of the Lord…he is not slow in returning because he wants us to suffer more, but because more can have time to make the decision to follow Jesus, and gain their salvation and restored relationship with God.  God leaves people here on earth who have already gained their salvation so that they can be instrumental through their knowledge of God, and through the way they live out their faith….in bringing others to the knowledge of salvation also.

Abraham always loved Lot and wanted him to be saved, but he also did not want the people of Sodom to be destroyed either…he was hoping that there would be enough people in the town of Sodom that Lot could continue to live his life there, and that God would not destroy the town.  That there were enough people still in Sodom that they could witness to those who were living in sin and thus help them to repent and return to God.  However, as we know from the Bible, Lot was the only person left in that town whom God considered to be righteous.  If you read more about Lot in the Old Testament you will find that he wasn’t really all that righteous…he had a knowledge of God, but not necessarily a very strong character.  He tried to be obedient to God, but he didn’t seem to cling to him the way he should.  It is a good thing that Abraham was around to look out for his nephew, and to pray to God for him.  God wants us to look out for others, especially for other Christians who may be new to the faith, or weaker spiritually.  We are to lift them up in prayer and bolster their faith as much as we can.

Notice that God never got mad at Abraham for how he questioned him repeatedly about his actions.  God does not get mad at us either for wondering about what his plan is and what he is doing.  God wants relationship with us, if we have a question about what God is wanting us to do, or what is happening or why…we should feel free to pray and ask God to help us to resolve these questions, and to have a closer understanding of him and his plan.  God is gracious and loving and understands us more than we understand ourselves.  Use prayer to relate to him and he will give you answers and contentment about how he is doing things.  When there isn’t prayer/communication..there isn’t understanding either.  So pray and ask God what is going on and how to proceed whenever you are in doubt…it will definitely build your faith up…beyond your dreams!

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Moses Intercedes with God

IMG_0579Exodus 32:14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Read Exodus chapter 32:  The Israelites made a Golden Calf, and God was going to destroy them in his anger, then Moses prayed an intercessory prayer to God that he not destroy them that the world would then think that the only reason God brought the Israelites out of Egypt was to destroy them.  God listened to Moses and changed his mind about destroying the Israelites.  In this story God was angry and Moses prayed on behalf of his people that God’s anger would be calmed and that God would not be so angry.  

When I look at God’s righteous anger over the idolatry of his chosen people it tells me that God has a limit to his patience.  Here we have God who has taken this group of people out of slavery, using Moses as their leader.  Moses goes up the mountain to speak with God and because he is gone a while these people get all worried that he has abandoned them, or God has killed Moses, or something.  So they decide that they cannot worship what they cannot see, and demand that Aaron make them a new god.  This same Aaron, who was Mose’s brother and the spokesperson whom God gave to Mose’s because of his stumbling tongue, or other difficulty with words.  This Aaron who should have been large and in charge and reassuring the people tells them to get him their gold and then proceeds to give the people what they wanted…a Golden Calf to worship.

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When Moses gets back down the mountain, and finds all of Israel worshipping this Golden Calf, he asks Aaron what happened.  Aaron’s response is to deny his own responsibility!  This is a typical response we find in our own society today….”it’s not my fault…they/he/she did/wanted/said…therefore…it’s their fault that this (fill in the blank) bad thing happened!”  Most of us want to throw up our hands whenever we encounter this response from a person when we are trying to find out what happened…or how a situation came about.  It is most frustrating, isn’t it!  We should ask ourselves…why is it like this?  Well, in the case of the Israelites they had been slaves…so they were living in fear for their lives at all times.  If they did something wrong and they were at fault the circumstances could be dire either beating or death, or both.  They were not used to being allowed to take responsibility and it not end very badly.  They were literally, as far as life went, and as far as following God went…children in their level of maturity.

That being said, in God’s eyes what they had done would be the equivalent of a child running out into the road, or sticking their hand into a fire!  This situation of idol worship was not something to take lightly, it was not just a life threatening problem….it was a soul threatening problem.  God had chosen these people to teach them about who he was in order that they would worship him and only him, so that they could show the world who God truly was…that God was a loving and caring God who was worthy of worship; but also that God was a jealous God who did not allow for the worship of any other Gods besides him!

Moses had just received these rules and before he could even deliver them to the children of Israel they had already broken the first and second rules!  No wonder he threw them to the ground and broke them, they were already broken! How frustrating that these people who supposedly had Mose’s right hand man there to keep them straight couldn’t hang out and wait patiently  until Moses returned without getting into trouble.  They were led out of Egypt, but they had not really left emotionally, as the calf was one of the gods of the Egyptian people.  They were sticking with what they knew.

How many of us do that all the time…we give up a bad habit, because to do so sounds like a good idea, but then the first time we have an idle moment we fall right back into that same habit.  In my case, I have a sweet tooth, and so I decide to diet, then immediately am confronted with someone flashing a sweet in front of me, and it is “abandon all hope” of not eating it!  lol!  I do love sweets!  It takes a lot of effort to turn it down.  We all have weaknesses like this.

So we look back at Moses who grew up around these people and he knew what they were doing, but he had a bad temper and had frustration from the situation.  God tells Moses that he is just going to destroy these people as they are hopeless, and stiff necked…essentially that they cannot be taught.  God says, “Hey! Moses!  I think I will destroy them and just start over again with you…I will just use your offspring to make a great nation instead of this group!”

This might have been pretty tempting to Moses.  Don’t you think?  Maybe that was why God said it…to get Moses to take a look at himself and see if  Moses was really that fed up with the people he was leading…essentially with his own relatives!  Sometimes, when you are upset and someone says something really outrageous that is a bit further than you would ever really go with your thoughts, that can snap you right back to your senses, can’t it?!!!  I think this is what happened to Moses….Moses was upset and tossed the first set of the ten commandments tablets to the ground and God jumped in there and went right along with Mose’s thoughts and said that he was fed up himself, and that they were stiff necked and unteachable and he would just wipe them all out and start over with Moses!  How shocking…so Moses then says, “Oh, No!  You can’t do that, God!  If you do that, then the whole world will believe that you led these people out of Egypt just to kill them in the desert!  What would that say about you?  Is that the kind of God you want to be known as?  The whole world will believe that you brought them out for an evil purpose.”

Another way to look at this is that Moses was telling God that the world would be thinking that he was a God of evil and not good!  I find it wonderful how Moses was immediately looking out for God’s best interests rather than his own!  This really tells us a lot about Moses’ character, doesn’t it?!!

Now Moses, standing in front of the people tells them that whoever among them is for the Lord to come and stand next to him.  All of them, but 3000 did so, and then Moses ordered that those who had come back to the Lord kill the group who were not willing to turn away from their sin.  We are told that the penalty of sin is death…that is still true today…those who do not turn away from sin and turn toward the Lord suffer the penalty of death, and those who turn to the Lord gain everlasting life.  It is just that in Mose’s time this group suffered from a painful lesson about how real the God who led them out of Egypt was and how immediate the penalty of turning away from him.  There was no “king in the land” no “parliament” no “congress”…judgement and justice were swift and final.  Moses was their leader and he was trying to get God’s anger to subside…so that only the unrepentant were slain.

When Moses approached God again after this slaying of 3000 of his brethren, his words to God were, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

Moses was saying that if after all of this that his brethren who were guilty were forced to slay those who were also guilty, but who were unrepentant, if after all of this, then if God would not forgive them, then to just take Moses name out of the book of life also!  Moses was saying to just blame him because he had not led them well enough.   Moses, who was with God the whole time and hadn’t done anything wrong, was telling God to just put the blame on him too!

This was Mose’s powerful intercessory prayer with God for his people….Moses is a type of savior, to his people.  He offered himself in intercessory prayer to God in the place of his people.  Interestingly, on the day that God handed the Law down to Moses 3000 people were killed, and on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was sent to live in the hearts of God’s people 3000 people were saved!

God did not kill the entire group, but said that whoever sinned against him would be blotted out of his book, and when the time comes to punish he would punish for sin.

Now, this could be taken that God was telling Moses that his method was wrong because although in Exodus 22:20 Moses had already heard the penalty of idol worship…the people of Israel had not.  After all, Moses still had a lot to learn about God’s character himself, even if he was their chosen leader.   God sent a plague on them, but it doesn’t say that any of them died from that plague.

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Sometimes a plague may just make people miserable…you know plagues of locust, plagues of boils, etc.  About 45 min. or so North of us there was the outbreak of the 17 year locust….now many of those people would call that a plague.  One of my cousins was very plagued by them, they were on her car, on and in her house…they were every where…they were a pain, but no one died from them!

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Due to Mose’s intercessory prayer and willingness to lay himself out before God on their behalf, God was willing to forgive.  It tells us that God relented…God changed his mind.  You could say that God decided to go with his original plan and being a God who comes through on his promises…he continued to follow through with the promise he made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph to make them a great nation.  We learn so much from this story of Mose’s and the Golden Calf….God is gracious to show us our own faults and to help us to recognize who he is, and to be swayed by our prayers for others….but there are also God given penalties for unrepentant people and those God given penalties will not be avoided without repentance.

There are also man made penalties for breaking the law of the land, which are separate from God given penalties. Ex. If someone steals money from another person, and asks God with a repentant heart for forgiveness God would forgive them. The same person  usually cannot avoid the legal penalty for their earthly crime against society.

Prayer for the People

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Read 1Kings8: Solomon’s Prayer at the dedication of the temple.  Solomon prays that God will be with his people as long as they are humble before God, and turning away from their sins by asking for forgiveness, and attempting to be obedient to God.

This is really a beautiful prayer, and it is notable that Solomon recognized within the prayer that the reason God had chosen them to be his people was so that they could show the world what a loving and faithful God that the God of Israel was.  Solomon’s God is a God who keeps his promises, and is loving enough to forgive wrong doing when people sin and ask for forgiveness.  Solomon even includes foreigners who were not of the people of Israel in his prayer.  He says, if someone comes from a far away land in order to talk to God that he prays that God will listen to them if they are in the temple or facing the direction of the temple. Amazing! This shows us that Solomon knew that God was there for others also.

This is the same God that we Christians worship today, God has not changed at all.  We all recognize that God is loving and faithful and just to forgive us when we ask with a sincerely sorry heart. God is there for anyone who approaches him, and he wants us to pray and be concerned for those who don’t know him yet, also.

Anyone reading Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple can see that he truly knows who God is, and he really trusts God.  He really desires that God be with his household and with his people no matter where they are and what they are doing.  He wants God to be with them in their everyday life.

This is how we should be praying for others when we pray.  We want to pray that they have all of the blessings of the presence of God in their lives.  Sometimes when we pray for people we are very specific about their health, or the finances, or their emotional situation.  These prayers are okay too, but we also want to remember that we should be praying that God’s will for them will be carried out, not our will for them. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Sometimes our will or what we want for people is different from God’s will.  We need to remember that the Bible tells us that  according to Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

God’s will always works out for the best even if in the short run it doesn’t appear like it is.  You are probably thinking….about making lemonade from lemons about now.  Well, that is the attitude of trust that we all need to have toward God…we need to realize that when something is hard to go through, then there is a purpose for it even if we don’t immediately know what it is.  We need to trust God that the purpose is there and hang on to our faith as we go through it, or as we pray others through their situations.

That is one of the main things about praying for others, our love and trust in the Lord can bolster a person who is going through a difficult time and help them to get through it a bit more easily. Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

The other thing that we notice about Solomon’s Prayer is that he constantly states that when the people are praying, (if they are not in the temple where God resides)then they must be facing the direction of the temple even if they are in a foreign land. (Now this bit is similar to the Muslim idea of facing Mecca or the Holy Land).  Well, back in Solomon’s Day it was the accepted belief that God was actually residing in the temple in the Holy of Holies.  Now if you notice, Solomon despite believing this, also acknowledged clearly that God was too big to be contained inside the smallness of the temple.  So then, you must be thinking, why did he think it was necessary to face the temple when praying?

That’s because this is the place that God said he would reside and be available to them when they went to make sacrifices and pray.  Back in Solomon’s time if someone needed to really talk to God they  went to the temple, made a sacrifice and the priest went before God on their behalf. 1Kings 8 tells us that Solomon made a great number of offerings at the dedication of the temple…in fact he had a feast that lasted for so many days with the whole of Israel that the number of offerings is actually pretty mind numbing until you know that they were eating these sacrifices at the feast. (Leviticus 17)

What is the difference for us Christians today?  Well, we don’t need to look toward a certain place when we pray, because God is living within us in the form of the Holy Spirit. God does not care if you are standing on your head when you are praying.  It is about your humbleness of spirit, not about the position of your body.

The other very important thing that Solomon did after praying in supplication to God for all of Israel was to praise God for all that He had already done for Israel!  We need to remember to praise and thank God as a matter of course even when we are praying for someone or something.  We need to thank God for the answer that he is going to give to us for our prayers even if we don’t yet know what that answer is to be.  That is an act of faith on our part, that we are acknowledging that we trust God to answer our prayer.

Just like when you ask someone to do something for you and you thank them while you are handing them the instructions…example someone watches your home or pets while you are on vacation.  You don’t generally wait to thank them until you get back from vacation.  You start thanking them right away because you appreciate them so much!  Then we thank them again when vacation is over and you come back and your pets and home are safe, right?  We should appreciate God at least as much as we appreciate the acts of other people, right?  After all, God does so much more for us each day than any one person, and God is the one who put those lovely people into our lives in the first place.

Always make it a point to be thankful, even while waiting in prayer.