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Hearing God

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Today’s Bible reading begins one of my favorite books of the Bible: Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul begins his Magnum Opus Systematic Theology by laying out the gospel message with a description of man’s descent from the time of Creation to his day — and to our day.

Paul says that God’s wrath is already being revealed against ungodliness because mankind has been able to clearly see God’s revealed glory, and yet refused to acknowledge God’s existence. He wrote this around AD 57. And yet, little has changed.

When the Jewish people cried out to the prophet Samuel for a king (1Samuel 8), he warned them that they didn’t need a king, since God was their king. The people said they wanted to be like other nations and to do that, they needed a king. The people kept asking Samuel for a king until he gave them what they asked for: King Saul. And he did everything that God warned the people he would do. (1 Samuel 8:11–18) They got everything they wanted.

In Romans 1, Paul says that God gave the people what they wanted. And the very thing that they wanted became their judgment.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Therefore God delivered them over in the desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.
For this reason God delivered them over to disgraceful passions. Their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The men in the same way also left natural relations with women and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error.
And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Romans 1:22–31 (CSB)

Finally, Paul complete his description of God’s judgment against Fallen Mankind:

Although they know God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die—they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them. Romans 1:32 (CSB)

Paul says, it wasn’t enough that people sinned against God. They took it one final step further: they encouraged other people to sin.

Even in my lifetime, I have witnessed this descent played out in society’s acknowledgement to leniency to approval of the sins that Paul spells out here. God has given mankind what mankind has asked for.

Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches. Romans 1:27 (The Message)

Here in verse 27, Paul is referring to Isaiah’s warning:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Isaiah 5:20 (CSB)

Application

You may not have personally participated in, approved, or encouraged other people to commit the sins that Paul spells out so clearly. But Mankind has. And America has. We, believers, are at least partially to blame for society’s sinful demise. We have not been the salt and light that we are called to be. (Matthew 5:13–16)

Believers, we must confess and repent for our own participation in the sins of our culture. And we must beg for God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy for our nation’s sins. Our only hope of avoiding God’s wrath being poured out on us is to repent and pray. (2Chronicles 7:14)

Pray for God to send a spiritual awakening and revival, unlike anything our nation has ever experienced. Pray for the Holy Spirit to convict believers of their own sin, as well as our sin of silence while the world has gone to hell around them. Pray that pastors will faithfully speak God’s Word and disciple new (and old) believers in the faith. And pray that believers will hear God’s invitation to seek Him with all that they are.

If we don’t pray, no one will. Lost people definitely won’t do it!
Prayer is our job!

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source: LumoProject

In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 27, we see Jesus’ last moments as He dies on a cross just outside Jerusalem. He cries out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Billy Foote’s song You are My King (Amazing Love) begins, “I’m forgiven because You were forsaken. I’m accepted. You were condemned.”

As I am typing this and considering the verse, Billy’s description, and the picture, tears are welling up in my eyes. Jesus voluntarily became God’s sacrificial lamb, dying on the cross and taking the wrath of God head-on, becoming the atoning sacrifice for sin that wasn’t His — it was mine and it was yours — all to bridge the chasm between our Holy Creator and us, the fallen creation.

His death accomplished what our feeble attempt at obedience to the Law wasn’t able to — and wasn’t designed to do: give God’s people eternal forgiveness and eternal life. His death reestablished a relationship between God and His people, a relationship that had been severed a long time ago in a garden (Eden). And Jesus’ battle in another garden (Gethsemane) secured the victory over sin, a victory that God’s people experience vicariously.

Application

Jesus was abandoned. Jesus was condemned. Jesus died. He endured all of these things so that you wouldn’t have to. Believer, your sin-debt has been paid. You have been adopted and you will never be abandoned by your Father. Because Jesus died and rose from the dead, power and desire to walk a life that pleases God is available to you.

Spend a few minutes worshiping God. Spend a few minutes expressing your gratitude for the incredibly selfless act that Jesus accomplished for you “on a hill far away”.

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reading One Book

In today’s Bible reading, we see a couple of occasions when the Jewish leaders posed “academic” questions, trying to entrap him, or at least distract him. “Should we pay taxes or not?” “Who will be a woman’s husband in the resurrection if her husband dies, her next husband dies, etc.?” “Which is the greatest commandment?” “What is the Messiah’s relationship to David?”

To think… The Sadducees asked Jesus questions about a Resurrection they didn’t even believe in.

Only one of these questions really mattered. I confess, it’s easy to get distracted with “academic” questions. I remember spending many late nights discussing deep theological issues in the stairway in the Men’s Dorm at Southwestern Seminary. Some of the questions were good and challenging. Many were just distractions from studies and many were distractions from my walk with the Lord.

I’m glad that someone asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment. The Jewish leaders had developed a commentary on the Old Covenant Law. Then they developed a commentary on the commentary. By this point, they had over six hundred laws that divided hairs on what could and what couldn’t be done without breaking the Sabbath. At least someone had the guts to ask Jesus that question!

As He often did, He cut right through all of the “academics” and went straight for the heart: The greatest commandment is to love God with all that you are and to love others as you love yourself.

Application

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I have several T-shirts to spare. It’s easy to get distracted with the “academics” and miss the “heart of the matter” which is actually the “matter of the heart”. It’s so easy to amass a library of hundreds of books about the Bible, prayer, the Christian life, etc. written by godly people and not read the one Book that God wrote. Making the connections between my head and my heart is a daily struggle.

How about you? Do you find yourself talking about God or talking with God? Do you find yourself reading about the Bible or reading the Bible? Do you find yourself talking about loving others or loving others? Do you find yourself talking about holiness or pursuing it?

Take some time today to think about what you think about. Then take some time to get to know the One you talk about by taking some time to actually open your Bible and read it, study it, and meditate on it.

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looking for God's will

A common concern for many Christians is finding God’s will. They read books. They listen to Bible teachers. They go on retreats. They fast. They pray, “God, I want to know your will. Show me your will.”

Many years ago, I learned an important principle in knowing and doing God’s will. Actually, the principle was the first point in a brand new Bible Study at the time from LifeWay called Experiencing God (affiliate link). The principle is to find out where God is working and join Him in what He’s doing.

In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 21, we see several instances where people missed out on what God was doing. There were lots of people in Jerusalem when Jesus came riding in on a donkey. Although they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9 CSB) many (most?) of them had no clue Who Jesus was; they were just celebrating the beginning of the Passover and welcoming everyone who had made the pilgrimage.

Jesus entered the Temple and overturned tables, driving out everyone who was making a mockery of God’s sacrificial system. The chief priests and scribes saw Him healing people. Instead of rejoicing like the little children, they were jealous that Jesus was attracting so much attention.

The leaders asked where Jesus got His authority to do what He was doing. He turned the tables on them and asked where John the Baptizer got his authority; they refused to answer, knowing that their hearts had been exposed.

Jesus tells a story of two sons whose father asked them to work in a vineyard. One said no, but did anyway; the other said he would, but didn’t.

Jesus tells another story of a vineyard. The owner sent out his people to collect the fruit that had been harvested. Instead of giving them the harvest, the workers beat the men who went to collect the fruit. This happened several times until the owner sent his own son to collect the harvested fruit. This time, the workers killed the owner’s son so they could keep the fruit and the vineyard.

So many people missed out in so many ways because they were unaware of God at work in the world around them. Many expected God’s blessings on what they were doing apart from His will. Many didn’t care about God’s will or His blessings.

Too often, we get caught up trying to discover God’s will,
when God is already at work, inviting us to join Him.

Application

It’s easy to miss God’s will when you’re spending so much time and effort looking for it. Instead of investing so much looking for God’s will, try looking for God. When you find Him, join Him in what He’s already doing. You’ll find God’s will there.

Do you want to find God’s will? Wherever you find God working, you’ll find God. And wherever you find God, don’t miss being a part of the greatest adventure you could ever dream of.

Where you find God, you’ll find God’s will.

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In today’s Bible reading, we come across a word that Matthew has only used one other time previously: parable. Those of us who have been around church for very long have heard about parables. But have you thought about why Jesus used parables? And that begs the question, “What is a parable?”

A parable is an extended metaphor. It’s a story with a deeper meaning. “Parable” literally means something that’s thrown alongside. You could say that a parable is an “object lesson” or a “word picture”. Many times as Jesus came across something in life, He’d tell a story about it with a practical application to the Kingdom of God. (On a side note, it’s very interesting that Jesus is the only person in the entire New Testament who used parables.)

I remember early in my ministry, children would hand run up to our Children’s Pastor and give him an object, a toy, or something they found. He would talk about that object and spin it into a gospel message. He was a master storyteller!

Not everyone who heard a parable understood what Jesus was trying to convey. Yes, He meant to do that. Many people (most people?) just thought Jesus was telling stories. Matthew 13:11 tells us two of the reasons that Jesus used these parables: to reveal things about the Kingdom of God and to conceal things about the Kingdom of God. Matthew adds a third reason in Matthew 13:34-35 – to fulfill prophecy.

One day Jesus and His disciples may have strolled through the market when they spotted a well-dressed man arguing with a common merchant about a collection of pearls at his table. Jesus may have used that occasion to tell His disciples about the “Priceless Pearl”. (Matthew 13:44–46)

A “regular Joe” may not care much about pearls, but a collector does. A pearl collector would recognize a unique, priceless pearl in a tray of pearls. And when he finds “the one”, a wise pearl collector would give everything he has to buy it. That pearl may look like every other pearl in a tray, but to a discerning eye, that pearl would stand out from all the rest.

To a common bystander, a kingdom is a kingdom. But to a disciple of Jesus Christ (then and now), the Kingdom of God isn’t a common kingdom among lots of other kingdoms. The Kingdom of God is a priceless pearl of a Kingdom. And for anyone with a discerning eye, the Kingdom of God is worth selling everything you have in order to get it.

Application

Do you have a discerning eye? Do you recognize the Kingdom of God when you see it? It doesn’t look like any other kingdom. And yet, it doesn’t even look like what most people would expect it would look like. And look at the King: most people didn’t recognize Jesus as the King. Neither did is disciples!

A few chapters ago (Chapter 6), Jesus told His disciples to have His Kingdom at the front of their minds. He told them to prioritize His Kingdom and His righteousness above everything else. To do that takes a lot of focus. And it requires putting a lot of other things out of focus.

The Kingdom of God is worth more than anything else you could ever conceive of.
Ask God to give you eyes to see its worth today.

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