Going Home

Of all the places I have been in life, there is nowhere like home.  Would you agree?  The encouraging words in the Bible are that death is really going to our true home for the believer in Jesus!

The Bible tells us that the reality of death is something to be pondered rather than avoided since we all must face it.  The wisdom of King Solomon is shown in Ecc. 7:2 when he says,

“It is better to go to a funeral than a feast.For death is the destiny of every person,
and the living should take this to heart.”

The wise person then should think deeply about death and what happens after it.  In this way, a person can maximize life and be prepared for death.

As I was thinking about this, I was encouraged by something the Psalmist said,

Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.” (Ps. 116:15)

What does it mean for the death of his saints to be “precious”?

“The point is not that God delights in or finds satisfaction in the death of his followers! The psalmist, who has been delivered from death, affirms that the life-threatening experiences of God’s followers get God’s attention, just as a precious or rare object would attract someone’s eye.” (NET Bible note)

God is intimately aware of the circumstances and the events related to the death of one of his saints. God does not take our death lightly.

Additionally, Knight suggests the following,

“As the Jerusalem Bible renders it, ‘The death of the devout costs Yahweh dear’. That is to say, the Lord feels the death of his Covenant folk. He mourns with those who mourn, because he is actually present with them through the bonds of the Covenant.”

In addition to God assigning a precious value to the death of his committed followers, mourning with them, and being present with them when death comes, Dahood has suggested,

“This statement that Yahweh puts great value on the death of his faithful assumes that he will take them to himself when they die.

The possibility of the thought of God taking us to be with him at death makes me think of a couple of things Jesus stated in the NT. In Jn 11:25 Jesus said,

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

And in Jn 14:1-3 Jesus said,

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

The NT describes the death of a saint as going to sleep (1 Thes. 4:13-18), going on a journey (2 Tim. 4:6) and going home into the very presence of Jesus (Jn 14:1-3). The end of physical life is very challenging and hard. God, though, is intimately aware of our suffering, is present with us through death and will take us home as we transition from earth to heaven. These truths should give us magnificent hope as the end of our life nears.

Father, thank you for not leaving us alone at the time of death. Thank you that our faithfulness, life, and death are precious to you. Thank you for loving me and for the promise to personally escort me home to heaven when I die.

Following Jesus with you,

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One God

We are bombarded today with the devotion of people to their gods. Citizens in America are allowed to worship any god they want. They also are free not to worship God at all. Even though these freedoms are available, it does not make them right.

This tolerance of multiple gods can be confusing at times for the Christian. How may gods are there? Are the Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, and Jehovah Witnesses all worshiping the same God as the Christian?

Notice what 1 Ki. 8:60-61 say about that,

“May all the peoples of the earth know that the Lord is God; there is no other. Let my heart be fully committed to the Lord my God, to walk in Your statutes and keep Your commandments, as at this day.”

There were many “gods” worshipped by many nations in the Old Testament very similar to today. Sincere efforts were often made to please these gods. Unfortunately, they worshipped God in ignorance. Why? Because there is only one God and he has only made himself known through his Word. Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-25, that man rejected the true God and began creating the gods they wanted.

It may be common for people to worship a god, but the Bible tells us there is only one true God. He is the triune God of the Bible. All other gods are man made and are not gods at all. There may be sincere efforts to worship the true God by people throughout the world, but God is only found in the Bible through Jesus.  Therefore, the wise person is the one who seeks the God of the Bible and is true to him alone.

Father, I am so thankful that you chose to reveal yourself to us through your written Word, the Bible. In it, we gain a picture of your nature and your expectations. May I seek you alone and may my heart be faithful to you alone.

Following Jesus with you,

The Foundation For Life

If you are like me, you have noticed a clear decline in the morals of our country. Times have changed so much from when I was growing up in our great country. Right and wrong was easier to distinguish then than it is today.

I am sure there are many reasons for these changes, but one reason seems to be the lack of clarity as to absolutes. In our politically correct world, tolerance is the new absolute. In fact, if a person is not tolerant of what other people think and feel they are treated as if there is something wrong with them, and they are the problem. Those who believe in absolutes are considered out of touch with the times and lack “love” which they think is the virtue that trumps all others.

The problem with this approach to life is that it ignores the clear teaching of the Bible. The Bible is God’s inspired and inerrant Word. It is our guide for life and is our moral handbook. Morals start with God. He is the one who establishes right and wrong.

The Bible is not to be a book that we are to pick and choose what we like or what we think fits our view of God. In fact, the Bible tells us that God is just, as well as loving and is able to be both in complete harmony. Disobedience to his will can never be excused because of love.  Yes, God loves us, but it took the death of his Son to allow us to experience that love.  His justice had to be satisfied for love to be experienced.  They work together.

I was reminded of the value of the Bible in Ps. 111:10 which says,

“To obey the LORD is the fundamental principle for wise living;
all who carry out his precepts acquire good moral insight.”

What we need today is good moral insight and that is one of the things the Bible gives us. The belief in a supreme God brings the reality that we need to yield to his wishes whether we like them or not.

He is in charge and we are not. His Word is to be our authoritative guide for life. This understanding of life leads to an understanding of what is right, wrong and morals. As the Psalmist said, the wise principle upon which we should build our life is obedience to his Word. As a result, we will gain real moral insight.

We as disciples of Jesus need to get back to unashamed complete obedience to God and live by his Word whether it is popular or not.

Following Jesus with you,

The Need For Speed

One of my favorite characters in the Old Testament is Ezra. As the Jews returned from their 70-year exile, Ezra was the pioneer God used to help reestablish the temple practices so that the returned exiles could worship God the way he designed.

Notice how this great hero of the Faith is described in Ezra 7:6, 9-10,

“Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him…For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

The first thing to notice here is that Ezra was “skilled” in the Law of Moses. During the captivity, Ezra diligently studied the Torah to the point that he was “skilled” in it.

“The word translated ‘skilled’ has at its root the idea of speed. He was so conversant with his material that he could make considered judgments rapidly. And this level of expertise had been achieved because ‘he had set his heart to study the law of the Lord.’” (McConville)

I love that description. He studied the Word to the point that he could quickly use it to govern his life and help others understand and live it. This is a great challenge for me and should be for all of us. I need to be so familiar with the Word that I can navigate it with ease.

The second thing that stood out to me in this passage is that Ezra “set his heart to study the Law of the Lord.” This is describing the motivation of Ezra. He had a strong desire to do this. He was not complacent or riding on the coattails of others.

Finally, he did not just desire to study it; he wanted to practice and live it out in his life! McConville rights observes,

“How readily the means can become the end! The business of study itself, or the mere mechanics of any area of Christian service, can be so attractive that it can cease to be subjected to the governing hand of God. Ezra, however, had not only ‘set his heart to study the law of the Lord’, but also ‘to do it.’. . For Ezra, to know the law of God was to know his mind, both in terms of promise and expectation, for his people. It was impossible, therefore, merely to study it. It had to be lived.”

Father, thank you for the great model of Ezra. He was a passionate follower of you. He sought to know your will by studying your Word. BUT, he did not study to know more, he studied to live more in line with your will. His model of study and application served to be the foundation of his teaching. Help me to be as passionate about knowing your will as Ezra so that I can live as you desire and help others do the same.

Following Jesus with you,

Obedience Not Sacrifice

What does God really want from us? How do my sacrificial acts of service impact my experience of God’s favor? These are good questions. These thoughts came to mind when I read about Josiah today.

In 2 Chronicles 35:18-19 I was struck by the amazing description of King Josiah. Notice what it says,

No Passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet. None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah, and the priests and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah this Passover was kept.”

This story of the Passover celebration is so impressive that the author says there had never been another celebration like it including during the time of David and Solomon! Wow, this must have been amazing to see and experience.

I must admit when I read that story I expected to see in the next verses God’s blessing in his life for the incredible Feast he put on for God! My subconscious thought was a good God would reward him for such sacrifice! But notice what the next verses say,

“After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah went out to meet him. But he sent envoys to him, saying, ‘What have we to do with each other, king of Judah? I am not coming against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war. And God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you.’ Nevertheless, Josiah did not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to fight in the plain of Megiddo. And the archers shot King Josiah. And the king said to his servants, ‘Take me away, for I am badly wounded.’ So his servants took him out of the chariot and carried him in his second chariot and brought him to Jerusalem. And he died and was buried in the tombs of his fathers. All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah.”

In the verses above, after a festival to celebrate Passover like never before in Israel, Josiah is killed! How is that fair? Didn’t he earn God’s favor for what he had done? The obvious answer is no. God does not think like we do. We cannot earn our standing before God. He desires obedience more than sacrifice. Josiah could not do enough good works to protect him from his sin of disobedience. Yes, God is fair and just and loving and holy and so many other things, but God is all of these things in unity and harmony without one aspect of his nature trumping the others.

Notice what Josiah forgot and was said by the prophet Samuel in 1 Sam. 15:22,

“Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.”

It is so easy to loose sight of what God really wants from us. He doesn’t delight in our great works for him if we are not obedient. He wants our obedience more than our sacrifices for him. God does not “owe me” anything for my acts of service. Those should be done out of love for him without expectation of temporal blessing. If he rewards and blesses for our faithfulness, all the better. My job is to be faithful and obedient.

Following Jesus with you,

A Man For Tough Tasks

There are so many great heroes of the faith found in scripture. Today I was impressed with Titus. He is one of those significant contributors to our faith that we often do not think about. As I was reading the letter to Titus, Paul says this in Titus 1:4.

“To Titus, my true child in a common faith.”

First, Titus is mentioned as one of Paul’s converts. We see in Gal. 2:1-3, that Titus was a Gentile, who was uncircumcised and Paul used him as an example of how God was at work among those who were not of Jewish heritage. He was a miracle of God’s grace.

Second, we see that Titus had a “common” faith with Paul. The word “common” is koinē. This is the same word used when we say koinē Greek, the language of the New Testament. It was used for the New Testament because it was a language common to the Roman Empire. Louw and Nida explain the significance of its usage here when they say,

“ Since the emphasis in Tt 1:4 is upon the fact that Paul and Titus have the same faith, one may also translate as ‘… the faith that you and I have’ or ‘… the faith we both believe in.’”

Since Paul and Titus had the same common Faith, a Faith that they both shared, the same can be said of us today. We share the same Faith that the early apostles and Christians had. This is an amazing truth to remember.

As a result of God’s miraculous work in Titus, he was used for some hard tasks in the early church. Some of those tasks include:

1) We see God using him to help correct the errors in the church at Corinth (2 Cor. 7:6-9). Can you think of a harder church to be open to for God’s service?

2) He was also selected to be the person to complete the collection for the poor in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:6).

3) He was given the task of addressing the needs of the church on the island of Crete. This church was,

“Beset by a rise in false teaching and declining morality, Titus was told by Paul to strengthen the churches by teaching sound doctrine and good works, and by appointing elders in every city (Titus 1:5).” (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary)

4) As Paul awaits his execution, he mentions that Titus is not with him because he was out doing mission work in Dalmatia (modern Turkey). Titus was out furthering the mission of the Church as Paul anticipated his death. He was a hard worker.

Titus always seems up for the tough task.  Whether he was addressing tough problems in the church, risking his safety in delivering the offering to Jerusalem, teaching and appointing elders in the church at Crete, or taking the Gospel to the mission field, He is a great model for us to follow. I want to be like Titus.

Father, thank you for the example of Titus. A Gentile that was miraculously changed by the Gospel. He turned out to be a man that was dependable, reliable, courageous, hard-working and compassionate. Help me to be like Titus as you use me for the advance of the Kingdom.

Following Jesus with you,

“A Whole Heart”

In the Old Testament, David is a man praised for serving God with a “whole heart.” As I contemplated what that meant, I saw something that helped me understand this concept when I looked at the life of Solomon in contrast to the life of David.

As David was getting close to death, he prepared Solomon to reign without him and to build the Temple. Notice how this scene is described in 1 Chronicles 28:10,

“And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. aIf you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.”

David charges Solomon to serve God with a whole heart and a willing mind. The word for “whole” is talking about the concept of an “undivided” heart. Solomon is to have an undivided heart in relation to his loyalty toward God.

The word “willing” is describing the expectation of “delighting in,” or “taking pleasure in” serving God. Solomon was to willingly and gladly have an undivided heart toward God and take delight in knowing and serving him.

Notice how this need is further described by David’s comments to Solomon in 1 Kings 8:61 which says,

“Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the LORD our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.”

David taught Solomon to have an undivided heart in relation to his allegiance to God.  David had a whole heart toward God and could say that to Solomon even though he made significant mistakes. How can that be? One other passage that shows a contrast between David and Solomon and helps to explain a “whole heart” is 1 Kings 11:1-4 which says,

“Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.”

The concept of a “whole heart” specifically relates to allegiance to God above any other gods. God wants no competition for my allegiance or for my ultimate affection and obedience. David had a whole heart even with his shortcomings. He maintained a loyalty to God that never waned. Solomon, though, allowed his heart to be turned away from God to other gods because of his disobedience in marrying so many foreign women.

Father, above all else, help me to have a “whole heart” toward you. May my choices not lead me astray from my allegiance to you above anyone or anything else. By your grace, this is something that can be true of me throughout my life even though I fail and sin. Thank you for the encouragement of this concept of maintaining a “whole heart.”

Following Jesus with you,

Reflections

As Paul nears the end of his life, he makes a simple but challenging statement summarizing his life. In 2 Timothy 4:7 he says,

I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!”

Paul describes the Christian life in three ways. It is a competition, a race and something to which he pledged his loyalty.

In relation to the Christian life being a contest, the NET Bible makes this observation,

“The expression I have competed well (Greek “I have competed the good competition”) uses words that may refer to a race or to a boxing or wrestling match.”

As Eugene Minor observes, this wording,

“Describes the quality of fighting/contending Paul exhibited in the contest of life and is translated adverbially: ‘completed it well.’”

The word translated “well” can have the emphasis of “grand” or “noble.” Paul did his best as he competed in the great contest of the competition of the life of faith. Paul does not describe himself as perfect, or as fighting against other Christians, but as someone who competed well in the arena of life assigned to him. He did his best. He gave it his all and as a result is pleased with his effort as he reflects on life.

Paul also describes the Christian life as a “race.Paul finished the contest. The emphasis can be that he “ran the full distance.” Paul did not take shortcuts, did not loaf; he did not quit when obedience was challenging, and he climbed the hills as they came.  He ran the whole race. He endured and he finished.

Finally, Paul describes the Faith as something he “kept.” Paul can say with a good conscience that he had “guarded” the Faith that had been entrusted to him. He was “loyal” to it to the end of life.  He now is trying to pass it on to his son in the Faith, Timothy.

Father, may I be able to say at the end of my life that I have competed well, I finished the whole race, and I guarded and was loyal to the Faith all my days.

Following Jesus with you,

“But As For You..”

When I look back on my life, I can see key passages, verses and even books outside of the Bible that God has used to encourage, challenge and train me for a life of following him. One of those passages I read this morning. In 2 Timothy 3:14, Paul says the following:

“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them.”

In this section, Paul continues to prepare Timothy for his challenge of leading the Faith once Paul is gone. The letter of 2 Timothy is the last letter we have of Paul’s and was written during his second imprisonment as he awaits his execution. I have often wondered what I will say at that point in life myself. What is most on Paul’s mind is the continued faithfulness of his son in the faith Timothy and the pure teaching of the Gospel.

As Paul calls Timothy up to be the man God wants his to be, he reminds him of a couple of important things. I am impressed by:

1) “You, however.” Or, the ESV says, “But as for you.” Paul had been talking about his life of faithfulness and the cost he paid to follow Jesus. Paul doesn’t ask Timothy to experience all he had, but he does point out that there are some specific things he must do at this stage in his life.

2) The word “continue,” means to “remain faithful,” “stand firm,” or “be loyal to.” Timothy must understand that his obedience to Jesus goes beyond his loyalty to Paul.

3) Timothy has learned the faith from Paul and his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5). But, he must do more than “learn” the Faith.

4) In addition to learning the faith, he had to “become convinced of” it. Timothy is being commended for making that critical transition that we all must make–knowledge to ownership. The faith of his family and his mentor had become his own.

5) Timothy can also have high confidence in his spiritual heritage when the false teachers were trying to lead him astray. He could recall that he learned his faith from those who modeled it for him. He learned it from those who demonstrated character over a lifetime. His memories should give him confidence for his convictions in the midst of an evil world.

All of these observations should help Timothy step up to biblical manhood and contribute to lead the next generation of faith. We must do the same things Paul asked Timothy to do so that we can continue the Faith as designed by God.

Father, thank you for allowing us to have a Faith that is intellectually believable and yet needs to be owned by each of us. Help me to be like Paul and demonstrate my faith through good times and hard times. May I be able to call people to remember how I lived and may they be challenged to follow my path of obedience.

Following Jesus with you,