Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Truth about Heaven!

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:44-46

Would you like to win the lottery? Perhaps many of us have daydreamed about what we would do with the money if we won. Did you ever as a child imagine finding a buried chest full of treasure? Divers search the ocean floor for sunken ships and the treasure that they hold. But, in these instances the treasures in our imagination are physical. The greatest treasure we can ever possess is spiritual, and it’s for real and available to us.

Jesus was telling what the kingdom of heaven is like. Heaven is the greatest treasure a person can possess. Its value is emphasized in two of Jesus’ parables which teach the same truth.

The first parable tells about a man who discovered a treasure hidden in a field. There were no banks or safes in Jesus’ day, and people often buried their wealth in the ground to hide it from thieves. The man in the parable hid the treasure again. Then he sold everything he had and used that money buy the field.

The second parable says the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who was searching for fine pearls. He found one of great value, and he sold everything he had and bought it.

These two parables teach us the same truth. The kingdom of heaven is of such great value that a person should be willing to give up everything that he has in order to gain it. And this is what it takes--total commitment to God our Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Paul called upon us to be “living sacrifices” and called that our “reasonable service”.

We can look at the two parables from a different perspective We can liken the person who pays the great price to Jesus and the treasure to mankind. Certainly, Jesus paid the highest price ever paid for anything when He died on the cross for us. Knowing Him and belonging to Him is worth everything that we have to give--ourselves in commitment, service, and obedience. One hymn says, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus.” Spending eternity with Him and God the Father and our constant companion, the Holy Spirit, is certainly worth everything we have to give.

Father, may we give ourselves to You in total commitment, with gratitude for all You have given us and with great anticipation for what You have prepared for us in heaven for eternity. May we realize that it is worth everything we have to give. Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What You Need to Know to Live the Best Life

Ecclesiastes 1-12

“I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 1:13a (NIV 1984)

Ecclesiastes is one of the most practical, up-to-date books of the Bible. Solomon carefully examined the way to get the most out of life, the happiest way to live. I want the best life that I can possibly have. Don’t you?

Solomon’s purpose in Ecclesiastes was to find the answers to the big questions people have asked throughout all generations and are still asking today. Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Is there meaning, purpose, and value for my life, or is all of life meaningless? Does God exist? Is there life after death, or is this world all there is? Max Lucado writes, “Mine deep enough in every heart and you’ll find it: a longing for meaning, a quest for purpose. As surely as a child breathes, he will someday wonder, ‘What is the purpose of my life?’”

The author of Ecclesiastes--and the probability is that Solomon is the author--begins his writing by saying in chapter 1, verse 2, “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’” He gives four reasons to support that conclusion: 1. Life is monotonous; 2. Death is certain; 3. Wisdom is in vain; and, 4. Wealth is futile.

Solomon talks about the monotony of life. He says it’s the same old, same old over and over. The sun rises, and the sun sets. Then it rises again. Generations come and generations go. I have lived long enough to be seeing the fourth generation in my lifetime, and there is much repetition in the way people live from generation to generation. Solomon implies that mankind is just going around in circles but getting nowhere.

Twenty-seven times in the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon uses the phrase “under the sun”, denoting the human viewpoint, trying to understand life from man’s wisdom alone. But life and the world look very different from God’s point of view. I don’t see the reliability of the universe as being monotonous. Rather it assures us of the eternal unchanging dependable nature of God. Ecclesiastes 1:11 states an indisputable fact that Solomon abhors but cannot circumvent: we will all die and soon be forgotten. The wise and foolish alike will die. If a man works hard and does well, he will one day have to leave everything he has amassed to someone else. That is life under the sun. But, with God, what wonderful possibilities open up and give us hope for an incredible future with Him.

Solomon says if life under the sun is all there is, it doesn’t make a lot of difference whether we live wisely or foolishly. Both kinds of people will end up dead. But from God’s point of view, the way we live this life is the foundation and preparation for eternal life. It makes all the difference when we see life from God’s point of view! Contrary to human thinking, man's wisdom and education will not give him the answers he is seeking to the ultimate questions of life. No amount of human effort can explain life’s meaning and purpose or give man eternal life. Only God can do that.

Father, thank You that knowing and serving You is the purpose for our lives. It gives fulfillment in this life and prepares us to spend eternity with you. Amen.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Is life unfair? Surprising answer.

Job 1-42

“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…” Job 13:15a (King James Version)

Life is not always fair. And there will be times when we don’t understand what God is doing nor why He is doing it. Have you ever felt like you have fallen into a pit too deep to climb out and people are throwing dirt in on top of you? Job must have felt that way when his life caved in on him.

Job was a man who always tried to do the right thing. Job 1:1b tells us, “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” You might think that such a person would, and should, have smooth sailing all through life.

God had blessed Job abundantly. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 donkeys. He had many servants as well.

One day the angels and Satan came before God. God asked Satan if he had noticed Job and how upright he was. Satan said, in essence, why wouldn’t he be good? You have given him great wealth. But if you take it all away he will curse you. God gave Satan permission to test Job by doing whatever he wished with Job’s possessions, but Satan wasn’t allowed to harm Job’s body.

Satan struck Job with a vengeance. He destroyed all of his livestock and killed all of his children. Both God and Satan were watching closely to see what Job would do. What would you have done? What do you think Job did? He fell to the ground and worshiped God. He said, “The Lord gave me everything I had, and they were his to take away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21 The Living Bible “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job 1:22 NIV

God and Satan had a second conversation about Job. God bragged on Job, and Satan said if Job’s body were afflicted, Job would certainly curse God. God gave Satan permission to strike Job’s body, but he was forbidden to take Job’s life. Notice: it is God who sets the times and the limits to our trials and testing.

Satan afflicted Job with painful boils which covered his whole body. Job 2:8 give us a picture of how pitiful Job was when it says, “Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.”

Mrs. Job brought her husband no comfort. She said to him, “Are you still trying to be godly when God has done all this to you? Curse him and die.” Job 2:9 The Living Bible

Job’s friends came to visit and insisted he must have sinned for such calamity to befall him. Job told them, “What miserable comforters all of you are.” Job 16:2b The Living Bible With friends like that, Job didn’t need any enemies! This story tells us plainly that good, innocent people may suffer.

Job kept protesting his innocence and reiterating his faith in God. Since Jesus had not yet come and the resurrection had not yet taken place, Job wondered aloud, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” Job 14:14a The Living Bible Later he made this declaration of faith, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” Job 19:25-26 NIV But, to me, Job’s most amazing statement of faith is found in Job 13:15a, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” Job passed God’s test with an A plus plus! He didn’t make the mistake many people make, letting their suffering embitter them against the only One who can help them. As a friend of mine once said, when her husband died, “I can’t afford to be made at God. I need Him too much!”

The story of Job had a happily ever after ending. God gave Job twice as much wealth as he had before. He also gave him ten more children and 140 more years in which to enjoy his children and grandchildren.

Father, may our faith in You be as strong as Job’s faith was, regardless of our circumstances. Amen.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

What is the kingdom of heaven like?

Matthew 13:31-46

“The kingdom of heaven is like…” Matthew 13:24b

What is the kingdom of heaven like? In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus told seven parables to explain what the kingdom of heaven is like. The first one was the parable of the sower, or the soils, which describes how the kingdom begins. It begins with the sowing of God’s Word which plants the seed of salvation in people’s hearts. The Word of God is living, and it can impart life to all who believe and obey it. When God’s Word takes root in a heart and is cultivated, it bears fruit for the Kingdom of God.

We have an enemy, Satan, who is fiercely opposed to God’s kingdom. God warns us about his desires in the parable of the tares, or weeds. In this world, Christians and unbelievers live together. The weeds represent non-Christians who mix and mingle with believers. The owner of the wheat field said to let the plants grow together until the harvest. But there are graphic word pictures to depict the end of believers and unbelievers. The tares, or unbelievers, will be collected and burned, a picture of everlasting damnation. The believers will be gathered into the owner’s barn, a picture of God gathering those who are His in heaven.

The parable of the net has the same message as the parable of the wheat and the tares. All kinds of fish were caught in the same net. When the net was full, the fishermen pulled it to shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but they threw the undesirable fish away. Matthew 13:49-50 says, “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. It is one of the tiniest seeds, but it grows into a tree where the birds can come and perch. The kingdom of God had a small beginning, but it is large enough to accommodate all who believe in Christ, and they will find rest there.

As yeast permeates a batch of dough and changes it, so the indwelling Holy Spirit permeates and affects every area of a believer’s life. And Christians are like yeast in the world, permeating and changing society by their witness and influence.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

We have seen clearly in the parable of the weeds and the parable of the net what will happen to those who do not belong to the kingdom of God. The tree grown from the mustard seed pictures a place for all who believe in Jesus in heaven. The parable of the yeast encourages Christians to use their influence in the world so many people will come into God’s kingdom. The hidden treasure and the pearl show the tremendous value of being a part of God’s kingdom. A person should be willing to give up everything he has to attain it. 

Father, the greatest thing that can happen to a person is to believe in Christ, enter Your forever kingdom, and be assured of going to heaven after death. May we make sure of our own salvation and use our influence to help others come to Christ. Amen.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

This is how it will be at the end of the age.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

“This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:49-50

I had an uncle who was a minister. I remember asking him one time why God poured out His gifts on bad people as well as good people, why He “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45b My uncle said if God gave His gifts to the righteous only, many people might try to be righteous just to receive God’s gifts. Their motives for serving Him would be wrong.

Another reason that God pours out His gifts on all people is because He is hoping that will bring some people into His Kingdom. He is giving them every chance to repent and accept Christ. He doesn’t want anyone to perish, so He patiently gives many opportunities for people to come to Him.

These thoughts should help us understand the parable of the weeds. The parable says that a man sowed good seed in his field. But while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds in the field with the wheat seeds. When the wheat came up, so did the weeds. If you have ever gardened, you will realize that this is a common occurrence.

People in Decatur, Alabama have been know to sow seeds in the shape of football game scores in the yards of their friends who support different teams.

The servants of the owner of the field came and asked him where the weeds came from since he had sown only good seed. The owner told them that an enemy had done this. The servants asked if they should go pull up the weeds. The owner told them no because they might pull up wheat along with the weeds. The owner told the servants to let the wheat and the weeds grow together until time for the harvest. Then he would instruct the harvesters to gather the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned. Then they were to gather the wheat and put it in the owner’s barn.

The disciples came to Jesus later and asked Him to explain the parable of the weeds. Jesus said that He is the One who sowed the good seed. The field represents the world, and the good seed stands for those who become God’s children. The weeds are children of Satan, sown by him. The angels will be the harvesters. They will weed out of God’s kingdom all who do evil and everything that causes sin. Then the weeds will be burned in a fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But the righteous will enter God’s Kingdom.

There is a parallel parable. A net was let down into a lake, and all kinds of fish were caught in it. The fishermen pulled the net to shore, sat down, and separated the fish. They collected the good fish in baskets, but they threw the bad fish away. Again, the angels will separate the righteous from the unrighteous.

We should be sufficiently warned to make certain our destination will be heaven for eternity, and, hopefully, we will do all we can to help as many people as possible enter God’s place of glory and reward as well.

Father, once we know we are secure in Christ Jesus, may we be used of You to help others, and especially those we love the most, become secure in Him as well. Amen.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Matthew 13:1-23

“Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed.’” Matthew 13:3

This parable is best known as The Parable of the Sower, but it really is a parable about the different soils where the seed fell. That’s what made the difference in how the seed grew because the sower and the seed are constants.

God is the sower and the seed is God’s word. Some seed fell along the path. The gardens were edged with paths that were beaten down and packed by the foot traffic so the soil was hard. Seed that fell on the ground would just stay on top until the birds came and ate it. The birds are a picture of Satan snatching away the word.

What makes the human heart hard? Sin--the desire to go our own way and do our own thing and ignore God. Author James Montgomery Boice tells of a conversation he heard between two women. One asked the other, “Why is America in such a declining moral state?” Her friend replied, “Because the people love sin.”

Some seed fell on rocky places where there was not much soil. The seed sown on stony ground with little soil represents people who receive God’s word with joy and excitement, but in a time of testing they fall away because they lack roots and nourishment. They are shallow Christians. We never know when trouble will come, but we need to be prepared by putting our roots down deep in Christ when we have opportunities.

Some seed fell among thorns which grew up and choked out the plants. The seed that was sown on thorny ground and was choked out by the weeds represents people who hear the word but they become so caught up in worrying about the problems and details of living and in enjoying wealth and leisure that the seed of God’s word can’t grow and mature. We can become so involved in the things of the world that we do not grow and bear fruit.

Finally, the seed was sown on good ground and produced a bountiful harvest. A fruitful Christian, represented by good soil, is one who studies God’s word and is obedient to what he learns.

The application of this parable is obvious. We are led to examine our lives to see what kind of soil we are. Are we fruitful Christians? If not, why not? How can we change?

Father, I want to be good soil for Your word to grow in my life and make me be fruitful for You. Amen.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Matthew 13:11-17

“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables…” Matthew 13:1-3a

Have you ever wondered why Jesus taught by parables? The disciples wondered too, and they asked Jesus about it. A parable is a story that has one main point. It usually teaches a particular spiritual truth. Wiersbe defines it this way, “It is a story, or comparison, or illustration that is put alongside something else to help make a lesson clear.” Another good definition is “a heavenly truth illustrated by an earthly story.” A parable is different from an allegory. In an allegory, like Pilgrim's Progress, almost every detail has special meaning, but a parable usually makes just one major point.

Jesus told His disciples that He taught by parables for three reasons: 

  1. because it was prophesied that He would do that; 
  2. because of the hard hearts of some people; and, 
  3. to further the understanding of those who were receptive to His teachings. 
He also used parables for teaching because of the impact they made on His listeners and because they were easy to remember and share with others--parables are great teaching tools.

Jesus fulfilled prophecy when He taught by parables. Matthew 13:34-35 says, “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’” This prophecy is from Psalm 78:2.

Jesus spoke in parables because of the hardened hearts of many of His listeners. His enemies were seeking ways to discredit Jesus with the people who were following Him and who thought He was wonderful. The Pharisees and others wanted to kill Jesus, but they didn't want to cause an uprising among Jesus’ followers. If they could trap Him into saying something that would be unpopular, it would help their cause. But those who were opposed to Jesus or indifferent to Him would not understand the parables because they had closed their hearts and minds to His teaching. Because they did not understand, they would not be able to trap Jesus with His words or use what He was saying against Him.

Matthew 13:13-15 says this about those who opposed Jesus, “This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’’” No one is so blind as one who refuses to see, and no one is as deaf as one who refuses to hear.

Jesus also spoke in parables to enhance the understanding of those who were listening and open to what He had to say. He told those people how blessed were their eyes because they saw and how blessed were their ears because they heard. And then Jesus told the crowd that they had an incredible privilege of hearing and seeing what many prophets and righteous people had longed to see and hear in the past--the long awaited Messiah Himself.

Think of the incredible spiritual privileges we have today. We have the whole Bible. We know that the Messiah has come and who He is. We have many years of church history and the lives of many saints to challenge and encourage us. We have our local congregations of the church where we can meet regularly with others who are like-minded. We have the privilege of prayer at any time and any place for any need. And we have the Holy Spirit who opens our minds and hearts to God’s Word. How blessed we are!!!

Father, thank You for all the spiritual privileges you have given us. May we learn and obey Your Word and pass it on to others. Amen.