Saturday, March 10, 2012

Jesus Gives us Signs of the End Times in the Book of Matthew

    Today’s Reading:
  • Matthew 24:1 - 28
  • Matthew 24:29 - 51
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Matthew 24:1 - 51
I was completely caught off guard today with this reading.  One minute Jesus is telling parables and preaching against hypocrites, and the next he is telling signs of his return.  Until today I thought that the most specific notes about end times were in the book of Revelation, a book I have yet to read.  So when the reading started with Jesus telling the disciples what it would be like in the end times and the signs of the Son's return, I was immediately surprised and interested.  That's why I couldn't stop reading at the end of today's portion.

I must say, however, that I am certainly confused trying to make sense of it all.  Verse 24:36 tells us that not even the Son himself knows when all this will come to pass.  That I knew.  And in these verses Jesus talks about the suffering and sin that will run rampant throughout the Earth before his return.  Again, that I knew.  He talks of famines and earthquakes throughout the world being signs also.  He talks of wars of nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom.

All of those things are very much rampant in our world today and many of us do feel that time is short and the end is near.  But here's the one I didn't yet know.  It is verse 24:9:
Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed.  You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers
Jesus doesn't say that you will be hated, persecuted and killed in many parts of the world, except for the United States where people aren't allowed to persecute you based on religion.  No, Jesus says that we will be "hated all over the world."  All over the world.

I have a LOT of studying left to do, and this is just one small contention.  I could read something tomorrow that will make me feel differently about what I read today (and I DID -- see update below!).  But for what little I know right now, right this moment, I see that this one specific sign is missing from our world right now.

Again, I haven't studied so I don't know, but I wonder if the coming of the antichrist will cause that change to take place.  And the change could come rampantly, so don't get me wrong.  Don't think that I'm saying we are not in the very end of times.  I'm just saying that I don't see that sign right this instant.

Jesus says in verses 24:32-33:
Now learn a lesson from the fig tree.  When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near.  In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door.
When you see ALL these things.  I don't see all of them yet.  But that doesn't mean that I have any clue what I'm talking about.  That doesn't mean that our world won't turn upside down tomorrow.  That doesn't mean the end isn't near.  That doesn't mean that you shouldn't live your life for Him because you think you have more time.

Whether or not the Lord returns tomorrow we still have a responsibility to live our lives according to the Word of God.  You don't know when the Lord is going to return and you don't know when you are going to die.  So please live accordingly.  It's not a request out of fear of damnation, it's a request made out of love.  Life is truly more fulfilling when you live for the Lord.

UPDATE:  Since I have written this, I have read something else that has changed my perspective on what I wrote about that sign I don't see.  For more information, look up the post that I published about being wary of waiting for signs of the end times.

A Note About Today's Reading
Today I am combining the readings from two different days which is something I haven't done so far.  I really didn't want to split this particular reading up once I got started.  Tomorrow's post will contain only the Psalms that went with these two readings and the two readings after that will be Old Testament readings.  After that the daily format will be back to normal.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Ten Commandments

Today's Reading:
  • Exodus 19:16 - 21:21
  • Proverbs 7:1 - 5
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Exodus 19:16 - 21:21
God came down from the mountain in the form of fire that billowed smoke while the people trembled in fear.  We then jump into the Ten Commandments as well as crimes and punishment.  I have studied the  Ten Commandments numerous times.  I can't really say that I have gained much enlightenment from reading this time.  The one thing that did catch my attention was a promise given in the fifth commandment:
Honor your father and mother.  Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you. (20:12)
I don't see that any other commandment carries a promise in the commandment itself.  This one, however, says that we will live a long and full life if we honor our parents. 

I love God and I truly do want to be in Heaven with Him but I do want to live a long and full life on Earth.  I also believe God wants us to live our lives also because this isn't the first time I have seen promises of long lives given in the bible.  The point is that I want to live a long life.  I don't think that in itself means that I am not yet ready to be with the Lord and I love it when the bible tells me how to have a long and fulfilling life.

If I had to point out one commandment that I need the most work on, it would probably be fourth commandment to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy.  I do go to church regularly and enjoy doing so.  Sunday is also a great day for me to get in extra bible study and posts for this blog. 

The problem comes with avoiding doing the "ordinary" work.  I would suppose this includes ordinary stuff such as laundry (which is always abundant at my house with three kids), cleaning and organizing.  It's hard to try to set all of that aside, although I wouldn't mind doing so! 

I wonder about cooking.  I LOVE to cook, and Sundays are usually filled with me cooking for a few hours -- dinners, fresh baked goods to serve and to freeze, desserts -- you name it, I'm in the kitchen doing it because Sunday is the best and most relaxed time to do it.  I also know that because I've spent the day worshiping the Lord that I am in a great mood and I want to cook and bake for my family and friends. It's one of the ways I show them that I love them. 

So I have to wonder if I am in violation of this commandment by doing so?  It's not really "ordinary" work for me.  Ordinary work would be planning and making dinner and getting it all out in time and cleaned up so that we can move on with the next thing on our list before bedtime hits.  I don't get to make little mini pies and fresh baked breads and time consuming comfort foods like chicken and dumplings during the middle of the week or even on Saturday.  It really is more of a hobby than it is "ordinary work".  So I really hope it is okay.  Anyone have thoughts on this?  But I guess I do need to make an effort to avoid the regular household chores, the things I do because they need to be done.

 Proverbs 7:1 - 5
 Follow my advice, my son; always treasure my commands.  Obey my commands and live!" (7:1-2)
This verse is a prelude to more caution about the immoral woman and extramarital affairs.  Regardless I do not think those words simply apply to that situation.  Funny how I was just writing about God wanting us to live out our lives.  He wants us to be with Him, but He also wants us to have a long and fulfilling life here on Earth.  Stay true to Him and you will find that fulfillment.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Becoming Right with God Instead of the World

    Today’s Reading:
  • Matthew 23:13 - 39
  • Psalm 28:1 - 9
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Matthew 23:13 - 39
Jesus has some strong words for the Pharisees as he calls them out for all kinds of behaviors.  The underlying message of it all was hypocrisy.  Practice what you preach and what is preached to you.  And remember -- appearances might fool some people, but appearances will not fool God.  Jesus says to clean the inside first and then the outside will be bright and shiny (23:26).

I'd say the majority of us put on our best face for church.  We might choose not to disclose our problems.  We might seem as if we are always cheery and a happy family.  I don't think there's anything wrong with that.  But don't be a hypocrite.  Practice what you preach. 

Also, don't be judgmental just because you don't struggle with the same affliction someone else does.  You might be right with the Lord in one aspect of your life, but surely there's something else that you could use help with. We all have our problems, we all have areas in our lives that need work and we are all sinners. 

We should have compassion and understanding with each other.  That's not the same thing as agreeing with something they are doing, but no one said we have to agree with someone to show compassion. 

Let's say someone succumbs to a drug overdose -- does that mean that their entire life was worthless?  That there should be no sympathetic thoughts when something like that happens?  That family and friends still aren't hurt by the situation and needing to be comforted?  In the end their soul is not ours to judge.  But we are told to LOVE one another.  We can control how choose to react to these situations.

Psalm 28:1 - 9
This Psalm simply and handsomely asserts God's protection for His people.  It is a psalm of complete faith that the Lord will judge those who are wicked differently than He judges his own people and that the Lord will strengthen and rescue His people.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Are All Sins Equal?

    Today's Reading:
  • Exodus 17:8 - 19:15
  • Proverbs 6:27 - 35
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Exodus 17:8 - 19:15
Moses and his people are now in the Sinai wilderness.  The first account of today's reading tells of how they fought the armies of the Amalekites.  The bible states that Moses told Joshua to gather an army to fight the men while Moses, Aaron and Hur climbed a mountain top. 

I'd like to stop briefly here for a quick question: Who is Joshua?  I think this is the first I have seen him mentioned.  I wonder if he is the same Joshua as is written in the book of Joshua?  I imagine he probably is, I just don't yet have a good enough frame of reference of the bible yet.

Moses had the task of raising his staff over his head as the battle raged on.  Whenever he lowered the staff his people would start to lose, and whenever he raised it they would again be winning.  The bible says that Hur and Aaron helped Moses keep his arms up as he became too tired.  Can you imagine?  Try keeping your arms up in the air for 15 minutes with nothing in them -- you would get extremely tired.  But the bible says that Moses held his staff above his head until sunset when the people of Israel won the battle.

Then Jethro (the father in law of Moses) came to visit Moses in the wilderness and to bring Moses his wife and children back.  I don't know at what point they were sent away, I don't recall reading anything about them being sent off. 

It also seems that Moses was trying to handle all the problems of the 600,000 men (plus women and children!) all on his own.  Jethro saw this and suggested to Moses that he teach others the decrees of God and then appoint leaders to groups of 1000, 100, 50 and 10.  Moses implemented that suggestion.  I imagine he was quite relieved after that point!

The story ends as the people of Israel prepare for God's coming to the base of the mountain.  God said that He would let all the people hear Him speak to Moses.  The Israelites were to spend the next three days in preparation. 

Proverbs 6:27 - 35
We read here that adultery will not be left unpunished by man.  Verses 31 and 32 say that thieves might sometimes have excuses -- they will have to pay back what they have stolen -- but they still might have an excuse (for example, they were starving).  But the adulterer destroys himself and will be utterly disgraced with shame that will never be erased (6:33).

I would like to note here the comparison between the sins of thieving and the sin of adultery.  I find it highly interesting how a distinction is made between the two, with the adultery being the higher crime. 

I know that other distinctions are made elsewhere in the bible for sins and their punishments; some come with death, others do not.  So there are levels of severity in sin.  This is significant to me because I have come from the thoughts that all sins are the same -- someone who steals is no less bad than someone who murders another.  I am not so sure that is the truth anymore. 

Of course any and all sin keeps us from the Lord and that is why we need the blood of Jesus Christ.  I realize that without question.  But I'll have to decide throughout my reading if sin has tiered severity -- not just in the eyes of humans, but in the eyes of God.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

There is no "Catch" to Christianity -- Christianity is Based on Love

Today's Reading:
  • Matthew 22:34 - 23:12
  • Psalm 27:7 - 14
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Matthew 22:34 - 23:12
"'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind'.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments."  ~ Jesus Christ, Matthew 22:37-40
Christianity is based on love -- Jesus came right out and said that.  It's not a hidden secret of the bible.  You don't have to search and search to find the Love.  It's there, in the open, for all to find. 

It kills me how some people think there is some sinister purpose in those who are trying to convert others to Christianity.  I was recently talking to a skeptical friend of mine about letting the bible speak to his heart.  He then said something along the lines of "plenty of books speak to you, Hitler's speeches spoke to many people's hearts."  Ouch.  I could be wrong because I have never read one of Hitler's speeches, but I'm pretty certain that the basis of his speeches weren't love, tolerance, forgiveness and simple obedience.

I could see how people might get overwhelmed with the Old Testament. There is much judgement and condemnation and long lists of required steps to atone for sins.  The Old Testament has much value for us and does have many things to teach us.  But please realize that our covenant with God is held through the New Testament and the blood of Jesus Christ. 

I haven't found a single thing yet that makes me think I'm falling victim to a cult (yes, same person, same conversation!) or that anything bizarre is being asked of me.  Yes, it can be hard to jump off and believe in this one being who created everything.  And yes, it can be hard to take the bible as God's divine word because it went through centuries of committees and translations and seemingly man-made decisions.  I really can't help you there.  All I can say is that if you believe in God Almighty then you have to believe that He had the power to completely shape the bible as He wished it to be.

Let the bible speak to your heart.  Turn off your head and let the words speak to your spirit.  Even if you are skeptical, say a little prayer before you read for understanding and for the bible to speak to you.  Trust me, if you open your heart and do that, the bible WILL speak to you.  Love.  Love is the greatest commandment of them all.  That's not really so bad, is it?

Psalm 27:7 - 14
Here David cries to the Lord to save him from his enemies.  His enemies are sneering at him, telling him to let his God save him.  David says that he has known God from the time he came from his mother's womb and that God has been there with him always. 

God has been there for each of us, always.  The question is, have we been there for God?  Have we been willing to receive Him and let Him come to our rescue?  I feel like God has always been there for me.  I can't recall a time where I haven't known Him (that doesn't mean I've always obeyed or lived righteously!). 

I believe it would be substantially harder to find your way to the Lord after you have passed your childhood.  But it's far from impossible.  Whether you've known it or not, the Lord has been there for you since you were in your mother's womb.  Yes, I'm talking to YOU.

Hey -- you who I was talking about back there -- you know who you are.  I love you anyway :)

As a friend, of course.  Don't go getting any funny ideas! Muwahaha!

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Real Story of Deliverance from Egypt as Told by Exodus; Seven Things the Lord Hates

    Today's Reading:
  • Exodus 13:17 - 15:18
  • Proverbs 6:16 - 19
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Exodus 13:17 - 15:18
Today I finally got to read the most anticipated part of the Moses story -- the actual deliverance from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea.  I thought I knew most of the story as a whole (birth of Moses, plagues and deliverance) because it is one of the most famous stories in the bible.  But what I have come to find out is that there things I didn't yet know, as well as a few discrepancies between what I thought happened and things that actually happened.

The first thing I will note is that Joseph's bones were carried out of Egypt by Moses (13:19).  I knew that Joseph was the reason that the Hebrews were in Egypt and the reason they had grown to be so prolific.  I also recall that Joseph commanded that his bones be taken when the people were delivered from Egypt (Genesis 48:25).  Even then I didn't really connect those things into a contiguous flowing story until today.

I don't remember if I've mentioned this previously or not, but I also didn't realize the involvement Aaron had in this.  I've heard so much of Moses, Moses, Moses for my entire life, but I haven't heard much about Aaron.  I didn't realize that Moses played the more passive role while Aaron did the majority of all the speaking.  It doesn't matter who did the speaking because they were all God's words, but still I always pictured Moses fighting this battle by himself.

The next thing that drew my attention is how the people were actually led out of Egypt.  Verse 13:21 says that the Lord led the people with a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.  Later in the story the following is mentioned:
"the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp.  The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them" (14:19).
I will start by saying I'm a teensy bit confused; was that first verse (13:21) referring to the angel of God?  Verse 14:19 refers to the pillar and the angel as being two separate things -- could the people see this angel? 

The answers to my previous questions don't really matter, I was just a bit intrigued to see the reference to the angel of God leading the people out.  What does matter is that I didn't realize the people were led by God via this supernatural phenomena. 

I also didn't realize that the approaching Egyptian army and the parting of the Red Sea didn't occur simultaneously.  I always thought that the Israelites fled across the Red Sea as soon as the Egyptian army came after them.  Instead the bible says that the cloud/fire pillar moved to be between the Israelites and the Egyptian army, and there it stayed until the Hebrew people got far enough across the Red Sea to outrun the onslaught of the Egyptian army. 

The final thing I want to remark upon is the parting of the sea itself.  I never stopped to picture in my mind how exactly that would look or feel.  I have seen the movie The Prince of Egypt (fabulous movie for kids!) and I know that in that movie you see the people of Israel cross through the sea and there is literally a wall of water on each side.

I guess I always thought of that scene as being a theatrical interpretation.  I never stopped to ask myself how I would picture this event happening, or what would happen with the water -- I guess I just thought a dry path would just appear.  Tonight, however, I have learned that the people of Israel really did walk between two walls of water.  It doesn't say how tall those walls were, but perhaps the Prince of Egypt interpretation wasn't that far off.  Regardless it is pretty incredible when you truly stop to think about it.

Proverbs 6:16 - 19
These verses lay out seven things that the Lord hates:
  1. Being haughty (snooty, conceited, superior, arrogant, self-important, pompous, patronizing are just a few of many synonyms of this word)
  2. Lying
  3. Killing innocent people
  4. Plotting evil
  5. Jumping at opportunities to do wrong
  6. False witness/testimony
  7. Provoke discord within one's family
I am happy to say that I don't rush out to do or be any one of those things.  Most of the things on that list I would never do -- such as committing murder, plotting against someone, lying to get someone in trouble or causing or encouraging a riff in my family.

I think a few of those things we all do at some point ("white lies" anyone?) and it's also easy to forget sometimes -- no matter how hard you work to get yourself where you are -- you are nothing without God and it is God who grants you every step you take along the way.  So thank you, Lord!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Parable of the Wedding Feast

Today's Reading:
  • Matthew 22:1 - 33
  • Psalm 27:1 - 6

Matthew 22:1 - 33
In this reading Jesus tells the Parable of the Wedding Feast.  He says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a great wedding banquet that has been prepared but that no one who is invited will attend.  He talks of the great feast and celebration that awaits, yet no one will attend.

Not only will no one attend, but some of the king's own messengers are taken and killed.  So instead the servants go outside the palace and invite anyone who wants to come inside and many people show up.  One person who shows up is not clothed as he should be and when he refuses to answer the king, so he is bound and thrown outside to despair.

When you think of the Kingdom of Heaven in this matter it is astounding that so many people refuse to attend the celebration and feast that the Lord provided to them.  It is also remarkable that the messengers who try to tell the others of this feast are killed for doing so.

Why are there people in this world who don't want to join in the Kingdom of Heaven?  It's a truly glorious place for us to be -- an end to all our troubles and suffering, where all our needs are met and where people are truly completely happy.

Furthermore, why would people want to harm those who try to invite them to the Kingdom of Heaven?  It's a glorious place and it's waiting for us!  If you don't want to go then don't go, but don't take that out on us who are trying to share the glory with you.  We love you and we only want you to share the joy with us because there is truly enough for every single person to share.

Psalm 27:1 - 6
With faith in God we will overcome all evil thrown at us.  Trust in Him to deliver you from your enemies and to provide for you and He will always do so.  And even if we lose our earthly bodies in the fight the Lord will be there to welcome us in our new heavenly bodies.  The Lord loves us and will not abandon those who keep their faith in Him.