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December 31 - Are we getting READY for the ‘MARRIAGE of the LAMB’?

December 31st, 2016

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December 31 Bible Reading: Revelation Chapters 19-22

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Rev. 19:6-8)

As the book of Revelation comes to a close, Apostle John speaks about a wonderful event that is going to happen in heaven, which is the marriage of Jesus Christ (“the Lamb”) to His Church (“the bride”). Apostle Paul had earlier spoken about the relationship of Christ to His Church with that of a husband to his wife as being a great mystery: “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Eph. 5:32)

In order to get a better understanding of this event, we should look into the steps involved in a Jewish marriage. It all begins with the betrothal of the bride to the groom, which is as binding as marriage itself (Exo. 22:16). Due to this fact, the betrothed couple is normally referred to as husband (2 Cor. 11:2) and wife (Luke 2:5). During the period of betrothal, the groom prepares to pay the dowry to the father of the bride and also prepares room in his father’s house for his bride, while the bride prepares herself for the upcoming wedding. It is the father of the groom who decides when the interval of betrothal should end. With his father’s consent the groom along with his friends goes to the bride’s home, from which he brings her back to the home that he had prepared for his bride. There the wedding supper is held and the marriage is finally consummated through the union between the groom and the bride.

The above particulars of the Jewish marriage can be applied to the marriage of Jesus Christ and His Church, which has been announced many times in the Old Testament through God’s messengers, the prophets. While Israel is called God’s wife in the Old Testament (see Isa. 54:5–8; Hos. 2:19, 20), the Church has become the bride of Christ in the New Testament (see Eph. 5:23-27). When Jesus took on flesh and blood and came down to this sinful world, He became the sacrificial lamb for humanity and became betrothed to His followers (the Church) who accept Him in their hearts as their Lord and Savior. He paid the ultimate price (the dowry) by shedding His last drop of His blood on the cross at Calvary. Thereafter, He has left for His heavenly abode to prepare a place for us (His bride, the Church), and He has exhorted us not to be troubled about this matter (John 14:1-2).

One day, in the near future, Jesus will return for His bride, for so He has stated: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). In fact, in the last chapter (22) of Revelation, Jesus has emphasized three times that He will return quickly with these words: “Behold, I am coming quickly!” (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20) He will take us with Him to heaven to participate in the “marriage of the Lamb” (v. 7). This wedding imagery expresses the intimacy, love, and joy between Christ and His bride, the Church (Matt. 22:2–14; John 3:29). For the Jews, this wedding imagery stresses the intimate relationship that will exist between God and His people in the earthly messianic kingdom.

The “marriage of the Lamb” (v. 7) is thus the eternal union of the bride (Church) with Jesus Christ following the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:17). The basic clothing of the bride is the garment of salvation, which she received at her acceptance of the Lamb’s gracious offer of marriage (Isa 61:10). Her white garment signifies faithful obedience to God (Matt. 22:11, 12). The fine linen in the garment represents the righteous acts of the saints justified by faith in Jesus Christ, which has now been judged and purified at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:12–15; 2 Cor. 5:10).

As the bride of Christ, the Church has to make herself ready for the judgment seat of Christ, and take away her “spots and wrinkles” in order to receive rewards for faithful service. As we close out this year and complete our journey through God’s Word, a good question to ask ourselves today is: Are we getting ready for the marriage of the Lamb? Let us be truthful in our answer.

December 30 - SEPARATE yourself from this EVIL CULTURE of AFFLUENCE

December 30th, 2016

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December 30 Bible Reading: Revelation Chapters 16-18

And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her. In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.’ Therefore her plagues will come in one day--death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her.” (Rev. 18:4-8)

Bible scholars are of the opinion that in the book of Revelation, Babylon probably represents an entire world cultural system in rebellion against God. In fact, Babylon can be alluded to the Tower of Babel, which all the people living in that time in history united in a building project when the whole earth had one language and one speech. Instead of working in tandem with the purposes of God for this world, this was what they had proposed: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:4) Their underlying desire was to reach the heights of God’s throne - probably instigated by Lucifer (Satan) who had also wanted to ascend into heaven and exalt his throne above the stars of God (Isa. 14:13) – and also make a name for themselves. Eventually, God had confused their language and had scattered them over the face of all the earth (Gen. 11:5-9).

On another viewpoint, Babylon was the capital of an empire that had destroyed Jerusalem and had carried away God’s people into captivity, and very often, the Old Testament prophets had prophesied the fall of Babylon. Babylon represents a society that persecutes believers due to conflicting culture but which God will ultimately destroy. Babylon was trapped in the “deceitfulness of riches” (Matt. 13:22), which had delude the people into spiritual carelessness, greed, and ultimate ruin. Historically, Babylon had achieved wealth, power, and dominance through constant warfare, oppression, and deception. It was known throughout the ancient world for plundering others for its own gain!

In Revelation, Babylon is probably a symbol of an evil culture of affluence that operates in open rebellion against God (14:8). In fact, chapter 18 goes into great detail concerning the fall of Babylon (vv. 1-8); the mourning of the world at the fall of Babylon (vv. 9-20); and the finality of Babylon’s fall (vv. 21-24). Babylon becomes a dwelling place for demons (v. 2), luxury and promiscuity (v. 3), denial of any wrongdoing (vv. 4-8), and a broken down economic system (vv. 11–18, 22–23) that finally leads to destitution, depravity and desolation (v. 19). Thus, Babylon is a symbol of sinful humanity and its capacity for self-delusion, ambition, and sinful pride, thus representing a world culture in total rebellion against God. Babylon stands in contrast to the church as a society that persecutes God’s people and thus inevitably will be destroyed!

Let us understand that the dire future of Babylon provides a learning lesson to all Christian believers, especially as we live in a culture of affluence that denies and disparages everything that had to do God’s laws and His intentions for our world today. We are instructed not to ‘love the world’ for what it represents: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

Today, let us separate ourselves from this evil culture of affluence that we live today. We are actually commanded to morally separate ourselves from the iniquities of our world so that we are not condemned with the world when God judges it one day (see Isa. 48:20; 51:11; 52:11; Jer. 50:8; 51:6, 45). In every age, the church has had to identify its Babylon and separate from it. In the words of Vance Havner: “In our well-intentioned identification with the world, we do not mold it—it molds us. We are not to be isolated but insulated, moving in the midst of evil but untouched by it.”

Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." (2 Cor. 6:17-18)

December 29 - Three ‘REASONS’ for all NATIONS to WORSHIP GOD

December 29th, 2016

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December 29 Bible Reading: Revelation Chapters 13-15

And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested.” (Rev. 15:2-4)

In an attempt to describe his heavenly vision, Apostle John reaches back into the Old Testament to teach us about God’s judgment and grace. God had delivered Israel from the land of Egypt, after which they had sung a song of victory on the shore of the Red Sea (Exod. 15). In his vision, John saw a great company of people in heaven singing with their harps while standing on a sea of glass mingled with fire. They had overcome in their fight of faith by refusing to worship the beast, his image, and the number of his name during the tribulation period. The victory over the beast was won through their faith in Christ (1 John 5:4, 5) and their refusal to submit to the Antichrist. Truly, Moses, the servant of God, and the Lamb of God have come together to make this marvelous song of triumph possible!

This imagery of the sea of glass reminds us of the waters of the Red Sea where the defeat of Pharaoh and the pushing back of the waters foreshadowed God’s final victory over evil (Isa. 51:9–11). If so, the sea of glass (a place of worship before the throne of God, 4:6) pictures waters subdued under God’s power. Here it is seen mingled with fire, which is often a sign of God’s judgment. So, the sea of glass serves as God’s victory stand for all of His overcomers (12:11). The deliverance of Israel from Egypt prefigured the deliverance of the Tribulation saints from the Antichrist. They praise and worship God for His power and His righteousness. All nations will come and worship God in the future millennial kingdom!

The theme of the harp playing of the Tribulation saints is the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb (Exo. 15:1–18, v. 3) because the deliverance God accomplished through Moses in the Exodus foreshadowed the salvation accomplished by Christ at the cross. Thus, both the songs celebrate redemption and deliverance. In the song of Moses, it was God’s physical release of Israel from Egyptian servitude through the Passover Lamb. In the song of the Lamb it is spiritual liberation from the bondage of Satan and his agents through “Christ our Passover” (I Cor. 5:7). Thus, as Arthur T. Pierson so aptly points out in his book ‘Knowing the Scriptures’: “They mark the two bounds of Redemption history, and between them lies the whole history of God’s ransomed people.”

In their singing, they sing to the “King of the nations” and proclaim that “all nations shall come and worship before God”. This song captures three reasons for all nations to worship God, as follows:

  1. The WORKS of God (“Great and marvelous are Your works”): God’s works are perfect as Moses mentions in his last song: "For I proclaim the name of the Lord: ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect" (Deut. 32:3-4). Also, God’s works are truth (Ps. 33:4; Dan. 4:37), gracious (Ps. 145:17), great (Ps. 92:5; 111:2) and awesome (Ps. 6:3). Let us join with King David and ascribe praises to God for His wonderful works in our lives: “Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works which You have done; and Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to You in order; if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.” (Ps. 40:5)
  2. The WAYS of God (“Just and true are Your ways”): God had made His ways known to Moses (Ps. 103:7), and through him commanded the Israelites to walk in His ways (Deut. 30:16). God's ways are justice (Deut. 32:4), right (Hosea 14:9), and past finding out by us (Rom. 11:33), which is exactly what God says: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the Lord. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa. 55:8-9) Let us ask God to show us His ways today (Ps. 25:4) to that we can glorify Him appropriately.
  3. The HOLINESS of God (“For You alone are holy”): God is holy in the core of His being, as is evident from the words of the seraphims in Isaiah’s vision (Isa. 6:1-3), and that of the four living creatures in John’s vision (Rev. 4:8). He is the Holy One (Isa. 41:14; 43:15) who is enthroned on our praises (Ps. 22:3). God is majestic in His holiness (Exo. 15:11), and He alone is holy (Ezek. 36:21-23). His name is Holy (Ps. 33:21; 97:12; Luke 1:49) and dwells on a high and holy place (Isa. 57:15). Today let us "exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool-- He is holy." (Ps. 99:5)

As part of the redeemed ‘nations’ of God, let us follow the instruction of the Psalmist as we worship God today: “Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth.” (Ps. 96:7-9)

December 28 - GOD’s ULTIMATE JUSTICE will PREVAIL in ETERNAL FUTURE

December 28th, 2016

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December 28 Bible Reading: Revelation Chapters 10-12

And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: “We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was and who is to come, because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, and should destroy those who destroy the earth.” (Rev. 11:16-18)

Here in the vision of Apostle John, God triumphs over evil as He holds the ultimate power (v. 17). The second cycle of God’s judgments (8:2–11:19) closes with a focus on the last judgment (v. 18) and the triumph of God’s kingly rule (vv. 15, 17) as He shall reign forever and ever (v. 15). The blowing of the seventh trumpet reveals that the Great Tribulation is over and the ultimate reign of Christ has begun. Falling on their faces before God, the twenty-four elders express thanks to Him because He has assumed His great power and inaugurated His reign.

The famous Bible preacher Charles H. Spurgeon has once remarked the following: “No doctrine in the whole Word of God has more excited the hatred of mankind than the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God. The fact that ‘the Lord reigneth’ is indisputable, and it is this fact that arouses the utmost opposition in the unrenewed human heart.” Let us understand that God will ultimately reign over all the earth and His ultimate justice will prevail in the eternal future!

In the above passage, God is worshiped by the twenty-four elders because what He promised has now been accomplished. They praise God’s power and wrath and the corresponding distribution of reward and judgment. God has finally consummated events on earth and now reigns in omnipotence. Significantly, God has already fulfilled five important parts of His ultimate justice in His millennial kingdom:

  1. Subjugation of the Gentile nations: The Gentile nations had exhibited defiance and arrogance against God many times in the past, but now God has subjugated the Gentile nations with Armageddon as an epitome (16:13–16; 19:19; Ps. 2:1, 2).
  2. Vengeance inflicted on God’s enemies: God will no longer manifest His patience against unrighteousness and the wicked people who oppose His purposes. The hour of God’s vengeance against His enemies has finally arrived (Ps. 2:5; 2 Thess. 1:7, 8) .
  3. Judgment of the dead: The dead of all ages will be judged at the Great White Throne in the distant future (20:11–15).
  4. Rewarding of the godly: This will occur for the church at the Rapture; for other saints it will take place at the resurrection of the righteous in the first resurrection where Old Testament and Tribulation saints who have died will be raised and rewarded (Is. 26:19, 20; Dan. 12:2; Matt. 25; Rev. 20).
  5. Destruction of the destroyers of the earth: Those who have tried to destroy the earth and those who carry out their diabolical purposes in the Tribulation Period will themselves be destroyed by God eventually (19:20, 21).

Thus, God’s ultimate justice will prevail in eternal future! God will be angry with unbelieving nations (see Matt. 25:46), judge those who do not have spiritual life, and destroy the destroyers. One the other hand, God will reward His own, prophets and people, small and great one day. Let us be mindful of this fact as we live every moment every day as we will surely be facing God’s judgment one day in the future.

“Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:9-10)

December 27 - Getting a ‘sneak preview’ of HEAVEN, our final DESTINATION

December 27th, 2016

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December 27 Bible Reading: Revelation Chapters 7-9

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10)

As we continue to follow the vision of Apostle John as he sees what is going to happen in heaven in the future, we are given a sneak preview of the variety of God’s people who will populate heaven one day. Before He left for His heavenly abode, our Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His followers to make disciples of all the nations (‘ethne’ meaning ‘people groups’, Matt. 28:19-20). Shortly after the church was established in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, Apostle Peter was directed through a vision to the new reality that God had accepted the Gentiles into the fold of the Church, and that all people have been deemed as God’s children (Acts 10:1-11:18). Further, there was “neither Jew nor Greek…slave nor free…male nor female” for every person was one in Christ Jesus being “Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise." (Gal. 3:28-29)

As John takes us into the throne room of heaven in his vision, we see the fulfillment of the mandate that Jesus had given to His followers. There, standing before the Lamb (‘Jesus Christ’) was a crowd so large that it could not be numbered, which was made up of “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” (v. 9). In fact, there were two groups present in the crowd that included the representatives from God’s people, the Jews (vv. 3–8), and countless Gentile believers (vv. 9–10). It was the direct result of the gospel starting out from Jerusalem and reaching out to people from “the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The prophecy of our Lord Jesus Christ had been fulfilled completely: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). Now Jews and Gentiles have come together to extol the salvation provided to them by their Lord Jesus Christ.

In the vision of Apostle John, he saw an innumerable multitude of people (both Gentiles and Jews) in heaven before God’s throne and they stood clothed in white robes, symbolic of their righteousness and holiness (v. 14; 19:8). White robes may be the garments of overcoming believers (3:5, 18) or, of martyrs (6:11). The palm branches that they held were typically waved by crowds at victory celebrations (see John 12:13), and thus symbolized their victory over the enemy. This great multitude consists all the redeemed out of all people groups throughout all of history, and together they praised God and the Lamb for their salvation.

What we can understand from this vision is that God intends to populate heaven with people from every ethnic background that has important implications for all followers of Christ throughout the world. God loves all the people in this world, and does not want anyone to perish: "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" (John 3:16). If God’s heart reaches out to the whole world in this manner, then our hearts should reach out to everyone in our world as well.

Another observation from this vision is that every person who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ will be on equal standing before God one day, and the focus of everyone’s worship will be Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God! Let us forgo every kind of discrimination that we hold deep inside us today (incl. denomination, race, ethnicity, gender, wealth, status, etc.), and look at every person as equal in the sight of God. Let us give all our worship, praise, and adoration to Jesus Christ, who alone will be glorified by all one day.

“Therefore God also has highly exalted Him (Jesus Christ) and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)

December 26 - Why is JESUS worthy to receive GLORY, HONOR & POWER?

December 26th, 2016

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December 26 Bible Reading: Revelation Chapters 4-6

“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth." (Rev. 4:11; 5:9-10)

In the above verses, Apostle John is seeing a glorious vision of Jesus Christ as the Almighty Ruler of the universe sitting on the throne of His glory, surrounded by worshiping creatures, and about to send judgment on the earth. The elders cast their crowns before the throne, symbolizing the willing surrender of their authority in light of the worthiness of God as Creator. Because no one but God can create, He alone should be worshiped and recognized as sovereign. When the crowned elders prostrated themselves before Jesus and symbolically subjected their power to His superior authority, they humbly acknowledged His sovereignty and His right to receive worship. Their verbal praise focused on the wonders of God’s creation as the evidence of His glory, power and deeds (1:6; Exo. 15:11; Isa. 6:3).

In both of the above scriptural passages, the worship language of two different entities are recorded, including the living creatures, who extol the character of God, and the twenty-four elders (church), who extol the creative powers of God. The living creatures represent creation praising the Creator (Gen. 1:28–31), while the elders represent God’s people worshiping Him. God alone has the right to rule and He alone has the sovereign authority to judge the earth because He is both holy and the Creator of all. Their worship acknowledges the Lord as worthy of glory and honor and power because He created all things, and by His will they exist.

John’s vision of “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” standing before God and singing His praise (5:9) gives us assurance that in the end we will all experience full equality. When God had initially reviewed His creation, He had concluded that it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Adam and Eve were given authority over creation and responsibility to tend the garden, but later sin had ruined this original design. Now, we are assured that people from every tribe and nation are among the leadership (v. 9), and everyone is empowered to be a “king and priest to our God” who will reign on the earth (v. 10). Thus, God’s original design will ultimately become a reality one day in the near future!

What we see ensuing in the heaven is that an innumerable host of angels joins the four creatures and twenty-four elders in ascribing worth to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God that include all glory, honor and power (4:11). The question that we must ask ourselves is: why is Jesus worthy to receive glory, honor and power? Jesus is worthy of our worship because of two main reasons:

  1. He is part of the Creator Godhead who has created all things in this world, and it is by His will that everything exists (4:11). The triune Godhead has created the universe and sustains it for our benefit (Gen. 1:1–31).
  2. He is our Redeemer who became the sacrificial Lamb of God in order to rescue us from our sins. As a Lamb, Jesus was honored in view of His death, His redemption of a people for God, His creation of a kingdom and priests for God, and His blessing of His people by allowing them to rule on the earth (during the Millennium). The Lamb was now worthy to execute judgment because of His redemptive work on the cross. Beyond redemption, God has made us kings  and priests to worship Him, to witness for Him, and to reign with Him in the future.

Let us give thanks to God today for both creating us and redeeming us by responding through our lives and work. By emphasizing on the creative activity of God, we must participate in efforts on sustaining our environment, and be good stewards of God’s creation by exercising dominion over the earth and its resources recorded in Gen. 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

By emphasizing on the redemptive activity of God, we should willingly communicate the message of Christ’s saving grace to everyone within our circle of influence make them the disciples of Christ thus fulfilling His Great Commission: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18–20).

December 25 - Are we EAGERLY WAITING for the RETURN of JESUS CHRIST?

December 25th, 2016

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December 25 Bible Reading: Revelation Chapters 1-3

“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” (Rev. 1:7)

Today is Christmas Day, the world’s most famous holiday that is associated with the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, when He arrived on our planet 2000 years ago as a baby born to a virgin in Bethlehem. This is a unique historical event that is worth celebrating, for it reveals the extent of God’s love and the enormous sacrifice that He undertook in order to save humanity from eternal death. The same Jesus is going to return back to earth someday, and the revelation given to Apostle John highlights the events that must take place in the future (v. 19) including the event associated with the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. With the words “Behold, He is coming”, we are introduced to the theme of the book of Revelation.

The above scriptural passage is the actual fulfilment and in congruence with what had happened when our Lord Jesus Christ had ascended up to heaven in the sight of all His disciples after being on the earth for forty days in His resurrected body: Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven (Acts 1:9-11). The ascension of Jesus described as “a cloud received Him out of their sight” corresponds to the manner of His return: “will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (1:11).

The scriptural passage (Rev. 1:7) also contains the first prophetic oracle of this book and it summarizes the main features of the revelation to follow, which include the return of Jesus Christ back to earth in chariots of clouds recalling Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man (see Dan. 7:13). Our Lord Jesus also applied Daniel’s vision to His glorious second coming (see Matt. 24:30).  According to this prophecy, Christ will be universally visible at His second coming, in contrast with His first coming in Bethlehem. At that time, the people who were guilty of His crucifixion will be aghast with consternation. Zechariah has prophesied that Israel will come to a point of mourning their rejected crucified Messiah (see Zech. 12:10; John 19:34, 37). In fact, all the people groups of the earth will be plunged into sorrow because Jesus will come to judge His enemies and set up His eternal kingdom on earth.

When Jesus Christ returns to the earth, four aspects of His return are mentioned in this key prophetical verse, each of which alludes to another passage of Scripture: Jesus will come with the clouds in the sky (Dan. 7:13); every person living on the earth at that time will see him (Matt. 24:30); these include those who crucified Him (Zech. 12:10); and, those who had rejected Him earlier will wail over Him (Zech. 12:11). Thus, the principal features of the prediction are: Christ coming back; His coming with clouds; every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth mourning at His coming. The key feature of this prophecy is that the return of Christ to the earth will be seen by everyone on the earth at that time, including Israel and all the other nations.

Bible scholars have taken different approaches concerning the actual timing of the return of Christ mentioned in Rev. 1:7. The futurist approach takes this statement somewhat literally, seeing in it a prediction of the Second Coming of Christ in the clouds at the end of the present age in order to establish His kingdom. The spiritual approach sees this as one of several references to the Second Coming of Christ through the ‘Rapture’. Some other Bible scholars suggests that the passage does not predict the literal Second Coming of Jesus, but is a figurative description of Christ’s coming in vengeance to destroy Jerusalem. However, the broad consensus is that the return of Jesus will be actual, personal, and visible to everyone, and He will be coming back to judge the earth.

Are we eagerly waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to return to earth? Towards the end of this book of Revelation, we see that Jesus has declared: "Behold, I am coming quickly!" (Rev. 22:7) Jesus will return as a thief in the night during a time when we least expect Him. Let us be always conscious of the fact that Jesus is going to return one day to the earth as He promised. Let us daily “watch and pray, lest (we) enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). The writer of Hebrews sums this up very well: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” (Heb. 9:27-28)

December 24 - Are we TRAINING our CHILDREN to ‘WALK in TRUTH’?

December 24th, 2016

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December 24 Bible Reading: 2 John, 3 John, Jude

I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father. And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. This is love that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.” (2 John 1:4-6)

The second general epistle of Apostle John was written to an elect lady who was close enough to the apostle to make him pen a short note asking her to continue loving other people and to continue standing against false teachers who had infiltrated the church. It is possible that this unnamed lady had previously written to Apostle John about how she had taken a stand against the false teachers who had tried to make inroads among the Christian believers, and this letter was a reply to her letter. This lady was someone chosen by God (hence was called “elect”), who had lived in truth and love, and had influenced even her children to ‘walk in truth’.

Apostle John was obviously stationed at some distance away from this elect lady and so he wrote to her a few lines that were in his mind, which were of an important nature. However, John reassured her that he had many more things to share, which he would do when they would meet shortly so that their joy would be complete (see v. 12). The children of this elect lady’s elder sister were in close proximity to Apostle John, and it is possible that he had a chance to closely observe some of the children of this elect lady.

What Apostle John observed was that these children of this elect lady were walking in Christ Jesus, the ‘Truth of God’ (John 14:6), as they were led by the Holy Spirit. These children were a dynamic testimony of the truth that God had planted in their hearts for God’s Word is truth as well (John 17:17; 2 Tim. 2:15). They were walking in the truth in the light of God’s Word as they were trained from an early age by their dear mother (the elect lady). Clearly, these children were “living by the truth,” or in accordance with God’s revealed word and will.

Today, God’s Word instructs every parent as follows: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Our duty as godly parents is not only to train our children to walk in the light of God’s Word (Ps. 1:1-2), or, to walk abiding in Christ (John 15:4), but also to walk being led by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16), who alone will provide wisdom (through God’s Word) to discern truth from error. It is the Holy Spirit who guides us in all truth (John 16:13), and He will show clearly to discern good from evil. Finally, we should train our children to walk in love as well, and in the words of Apostle John: “This is love that we walk according to His commandments”. In order to properly reflect the very character of God, our children should make love a way of life (Lev. 19:18; John 13:35; 1 Cor. 13:4-7), and we have to sow the seeds of love in their hearts very early in their lives.

Just as the Lord Jesus was the living embodiment of truth, so He expects our lives to be testimonies to the truth as well. When our children walk in truth, they will walk in integrity as well. Someone has defined integrity as Christ-like character in work clothes. When our children walk in integrity, they will walk securely as the scripture states: “he who walks with integrity walks securely” (Prov. 10:9), and their integrity will guide them throughout their life’s journey (Prov. 11:3).

The question to ask ourselves today is: are we training our children to walk in truth? The truth is not just something to be believed with the mind, but something to be lived out in everyday behavior. Let us ensure that truth is present and active in the lives of our children, and they have hearts to discern error and reject it. This can be done through study of the Word, prayer, meditation, and, most importantly, being led by the Holy Spirit every day.

Let our children live out the truth of God’s Word as they model this prayer daily: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Ps. 119:105).

December 23 - Our GOD is GREATER than our GREATEST PROBLEM!

December 23rd, 2016

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December 23 Bible Reading: 1 John Chapters 4-5

“Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:1-4)

Apostle John gives us clear parameters about how we can discern if a person is led by the Spirit of God, for “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). The way we can clearly infer that a person is a child of God is that this person will freely confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh on this earth. In other words, the person must accept Jesus Christ as God who took on a human form, came into this world as a baby born to a virgin in Bethlehem, died a lowly death on the cross, and was resurrected on the third day. It is true that as the children of God we have the power and authority to overcome all evil forces for the God who dwells in us is greater than Satan who is in the world. The Spirit of God calls on us to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and to commit our lives to Him.

Let us remember that our God is greater than the greatest problem we face today for He is the Almighty God (Ed-Shaddai). There is no one on this earth or outside it who can match His strength and power. Our God is stronger than anything or anybody who will come against us, and we "can do all things through Christ who strengthens" us (Phil. 4:13). Jesus Christ indwells believers; Satan is likewise the lord of his own followers. But Christ is greater than he who wreaks havoc in the world, and God’s power can turn even the worst situation into something good, and God’s power to restore is greater than Satan’s power to destroy! It was our Lord Jesus who stated: "The thief (Satan) does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).

The powers of evil under Satan including principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12) thus are of no match to the power of God within us, for our God is greater: "Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places" (Ps. 135:6). In fact, the power of Satan is limited to what God allows, and he plays by the rules set by God, as in the case of Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). Since God is in charge over everything, as His children, we do not need to be afraid or fearful as we have the authority (Matt. 28:19-20) and power (Acts 1:8) from God over demons, sickness (Mark 16:17-18) and even death (1 Cor. 15:55).

In its hostility to God, the world is pervaded by the purposes of the devil, who has captured the human race through temptation. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19). One way we can overcome by recognizing false teachers and refusing to follow them. By the illumination of the Holy Spirit, who is greater than Satan (the spirit of error), we can overcome deceiving teachers. Since our God is greater than our greatest problem, let us abide under His shadow (Ps. 91:1), and not be afraid of the terror by night or the arrow that flies by day (v. 5). Let us be rest assured that victory is already ours in Jesus Christ!

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57)

December 22 - Accept God’s FORGIVENESS through the BLOOD of CHRIST

December 22nd, 2016

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December 22 Bible Reading: 1 John Chapters 1-3

“The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:7-10)

Apostle John is clear about one fact – we all have the element of sin in our lives, and we can never deny that we have not sinned before God. Apostle Paul had already declared this matter in his epistle to the Romans: “There is none righteous, no, not one...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10, 23). Sin is all about ‘missing the mark’ that God has set in His righteousness, and as long as we are housed in our lowly body that bears the elements of sin, we commit sin in some form or another, whether in our thoughts, words, or action.

It is interesting to note that Apostle John makes a distinction between sin (v. 8) and sins (v. 9). Sin refers to our corrupt, evil nature. Sins refer to evils that we have done. There are ‘sins of commission’ (doing the evils that we are not supposed to do), and there are ‘sins of omission’ (not doing the good deeds that we are supposed to do). Then there are also sins of thought, sins of act, secret sins, and public sins. Our Lord Jesus Christ has died both for our sin and our sins. We may appear righteous on the outside, but God knows our hearts and the wickedness inside (Jer. 17:9). When we are sensitive to His interactions and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot deny either that we have not sinned or that we do not commit sin.

However, the good news is that we can receive forgiveness from God from our sins when we boldly and unashamedly confess all our sins to Him. This is a crucial element in receiving forgiveness from God. Confession is agreeing with God about our sins and receiving forgiveness from Him. Unless we openly confess our sins, we cannot receive forgiveness from God. There are many among us today who do not feel the need to or, do not feel convicted enough to confess our sins before God. When there are unconfessed sins lurking in our lives, we have set up a barrier before God, and God cannot hear our prayers as the Psalmist says: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Ps. 66:18). On the other hand, if we cover our sins we will not prosper “but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Prov. 28:13). To confess our sins is thus a prerequisite to receiving the God’s forgiveness and cleansing.

King David is a prime example of someone who tried to hide his sins initially, but God took note of it and send His prophet Nathan to confront David (see 2 Sam. 12:1-13; Ps. 32:3-5). Upon realizing the extent of his depravity, David pleaded for mercy from God, and his outpouring is detailed in Psalms 51. David realized three truths from this experience: his sin was an affront to God; he deserves judgment from God for his sins; and he need to get forgiven and cleansed of his sins by God. Our Lord Jesus has taken all our sins and our due punishment for our sins upon Himself by dying on our place. So, He can create in us a “clean heart” when we cry out to Him (Ps. 51:10). We have the blessing of confession and forgiveness from God that will lift us up when we are down.

So, we should accept God’s forgiveness through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ today. When we do that, God accepts us as righteous because He imputes to us the righteousness of His Son Jesus Christ. Instead of living in the shadows of yesterday, we need to walk in the light of today and the hope of tomorrow. The only way that we can cope from defeat and disappointment is to ask God to forgive us. God’s pardon and forgiveness will enable us to start again with a pure heart as we focus on today’s opportunities and move forward in our journey of life.

“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)

December 21 - GOD will DELIVER us if we STAY TRUE to our CALLING

December 21st, 2016

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December 21 Bible Reading: 2 Peter Chapters 1-3

“The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed.” (2 Peter 2:9-10)

Apostle Peter wrote his second general epistle to all the believers in order to remind them of their need to stay true to their faith in Christ and to be established in the present truth of the gospel (1:12). Through this, he wanted to stir up their pure minds by way of reminder so that they would be ever mindful of the words that were spoken to them earlier by the prophets and apostles and stay true to their calling (3:1-2). In the course of justifying his arguments, Peter points out to three examples of apostates in the past who did not stay true to their calling, and as a result of which God did not spare them from His righteous judgments:

  1. The angels in heaven who sinned against God (2:4; Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:12-18): These were the third of all the angels in heaven who aligned themselves to Lucifer and rebelled against the authority of God.
  2. The ungodly people in the ancient world (2:5; Gen. 7:11-23): These were the people who lived on this earth during the time of Noah who refused to hear the warnings of Noah and enter into the ark that was prepared for their safety. Ultimately, they all perished in a watery death as a result of God’s impending judgment through the flood waters, except Noah and seven members of his family.
  3. The wicked people dwelling in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (2:6-8: Gen. 19:1-29): These were the wicked corrupted ungodly people who refused to heed the warning of the two angels that God had sent to Sodom to issue a warning from God to escape the wrath of God. Ultimately, God destroyed all the people dwelling in the two cities by raining fire and brimstone due to which the cities were turned to ashes. Only, Lot and his two daughters escaped with their lives, and Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt.

The implication of above three examples is clear: God will surely judge the wicked and deliver the righteous. God is in full control of all events, and He delivers the godly out of their trials. God will make sure that the ungodly people (esp. those who live in unclean lust and those who hold authority in contempt) do not escape their day of punishment. The wicked are reserved for hell (v. 9) and hell for the wicked (v. 17). By way of contrast, an inheritance is reserved for righteous believers, and they are kept for the inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4, 5).

Another reality emerges from these incidents: the wicked could have been saved in spite of their evil, and God wants future generations (like ours) to avoid their mistakes. God had sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ into this world so "that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). God is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (3:9). However one fact remains…God will deliver His own from the coming universal judgment!

Let us have no doubt that God will deliver us if we stay true to our calling. Today, our steps are "ordered" by God and He will not allow us to be "utterly cast down" even if we fall, for God upholds us "with His hand" (Ps. 37:23-24). God knows the godly and will deliver them, as He knows the ungodly and will judge them. It is His desire that every Christian believer be able to appear before Him in purity. So, let’s persevere in godliness and stay true to our calling knowing fully well that this is the safest place that we can be.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor. 10:12-13)

December 20 - The STEPS to VICTORY in our FIGHT against SATAN

December 20th, 2016

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December 20 Bible Reading: 1 Peter Chapters 4-5

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)

The story of humankind reveals that the devil (a.k.a. Satan) has played a prominent part in bringing a rift between God and man by planting doubt and allurement in the minds of Eve and Adam in the Garden of Even (Gen. 3:1-8). From that moment, Satan has become the #1 enemy of humanity that was part of the first prophetical curse in the scriptures, stated as follows: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" (Gen. 3:15). The ‘Seed of the woman’ Jesus Christ did indeed bruise the head of Satan on the cross at Calvary. Now, this bruised ‘animal’ is all set to attack God’s children using any means whatsoever.

In the above passage, Apostle Peter wants us to be aware about the attacks of our only ‘real’ enemy Satan. Peter tells us that Satan wants to devour us by winning us over to his ways just like he did in the Garden of Eden. He does it very effectively by polluting the truth of God’s Word (John 8:44), and trying to deceive us (Gen. 3:1). As God’s children we should adopt the following seven steps in our lives very seriously if we have to be victorious in our everyday fight against Satan:

  1. Recognize our enemy. God’s Word is very clear that our enemy is not any human being, but Satan and his forces: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12). We should understand that it is the wicked Satan who throws the fiery darts against us (Eph. 6:16b), and he alone is our enemy.
  2. Be on high alert and watchful always. Peter tells us to be “vigilant” at all times so that we can successfully evade our enemy. We should be always alert and clear-headed (“sober”). When we live in this state of active readiness at all times, we can discern false teaching (see 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7-11) and overcome temptation at all times (Matt. 26:41). We can then see the danger lurking from a distance, and be ready for the attack of Satan when it comes.
  3. Recognize that our enemy is not really powerful as he appears. We should note that Peter has described Satan who “walks about like a roaring lion”. He is acting like a lion, but we serve the true “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5). We will be victorious in the end!
  4. Put on the whole armor of God. The way we can resist the attack of Satan is to put on the ‘whole armor of God’ that include integrating truth, righteousness, preparation of the gospel of peace, faith and salvation in our personal lives. We also have the Word of God to attack Satan, and prayer to empower us (Eph. 6:13-18). This is exactly how our Lord Jesus faced the attack of Satan in the wilderness after being empowered through fasting prayer and having hidden the Word in His heart (Matt. 4:1-11).
  5. Resist the attack of the enemy. When Satan attacks us, we should not keep silent, but rather resist his attacks through prayer and God’s Word. James counsels us to resist the devil and he will flee from us (4:7). We do not have strength in ourselves to oppose him, but as we are firm in our faith, in our dependence on the Lord, we can resist him boldly (1 John 5:4). We should resist him “steadfast in the faith” since we have God on our side to lead us to victory.
  6. Be aware that Satan attacks every child of God in the same manner. We should be rest assured that we are not the only ones whom Satan attacks and persecutes. Rather "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12).
  7. Seek God’s help as we draw closer to Him. Ultimately, it is God alone who will give us the victory over the attacks of Satan. Victory comes when we remain committed to God, because He is greater than our enemy (1 John 4:4). When we humble ourselves in the sight of God, He will lift us up (James 4:10). We should submit ourselves to God, and draw near to Him so that He will draw near to us (James 4:7). We can then lean upon His strength as He is greater than our spiritual enemy, and He alone will make us victorious in the end!

Today, let us cling to God, dwell in His secret place and under His shadow in order to resist the attack of Satan in our lives: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.’ Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.” (Psalms 91:1-4)

December 19 - Do WE have any REASON to PRAISE GOD?

December 19th, 2016

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December 19 Bible Reading: 1 Peter Chapters 1-3

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Many years ago an unnamed psalmist has declared a very important truth regarding praising God: “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful” (Ps. 147:1). Quite similar to this is another expression in this context: “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being” (Ps. 146:1-2).

Many times when we are searching for a reason to praise God, we should realize that we should praise God for two reasons: for who He is, and for what He has done (see Ps. 117:1-2). In the Old Testament, we see many instances of people praising God for what God has done, for e.g. Moses and Miriam praising God for their deliverance from the Egyptian army (Exo. 15:1-21), or, for who God is, for e.g. King David dancing in the street before the Ark of the Lord and praising God unashamedly (2 Sam. 6:14).

When Apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to the born-again pilgrims scattered in different parts of the world (1:1), he wanted to let them understand that they have many reasons to praise God. In fact, Apostle Peter elaborates on seven reasons for us to praise God, which are as follows:

  1. We are a chosen generation. We have been chosen before the foundation of the world to belong to Christ (Eph. 1:4), elected by God according to His foreknowledge and born again to a living hope in Christ (1:2–5). God had called us out of the world from the clutches of sin to be part of His redeemed people.
  2. We are a royal priesthood. We are the actualization of God’s plan to prepare a kingdom of priests for Himself (see Exo. 19:6; Isa. 61:6; Rev. 1:6). We are to worship God by presenting our own bodies as living sacrifices to do His will and live for His purpose (Rom. 12:1).
  3. We are a holy nation. We have been called by God to be separate for Himself (Isa. 52:11; Ezek. 20:34, 41; 2 Cor. 6:17-18) as the holy people of God (1:16; Exo. 19:6). We are to reflect the very character of God by our lifestyle.
  4. We are a special people. We have been called to an intimate and unique relationship with God and to one another as a community of faith. We are His special people (Exo. 19:5) whom He has redeemed with His own precious blood (1:18-19), with having unique and immediate access to His very presence (Eph. 2:18).
  5. We have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light. God has delivered us from darkness out of the clutches of Satan, and “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6; Isa. 9:1).
  6. We have been made the people of God. Just like the Israelites in the Old Testament (Hos. 1:9; 2:23; Rom. 9:25), we have been made the people of God, and we are left on this earth to work towards building God’s Kingdom here on earth (Matt. 6:10).
  7. We have obtained mercy from Him. Just like in Christ, we have become God’s new people; in Christ, we have also obtained mercy from God (Ps. 86:5; 145:9; Eph. 2:4). Even today, God’s mercy extends to all undeserving Jews and Gentiles alike.

Thus, we have plenty of reasons to praise God today! When we think about who God is and what He has done for us; we should lift up our voices and sing praises of God. We should praise God even though we are in adverse circumstance, just as Paul and Silas praised God within the Philippian jail (Acts 16:25). The truth of God’s Word is our foundation for praising Him. God is worthy of our praise, even today! (See 1 Chron. 16:25; Rev. 5:11-14)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Col. 3:16-17)

December 18 - CONFESSION & PRAYER will result in HEALING & DELIVERANCE

December 18th, 2016

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December 18 Bible Reading: James Chapters 4-5

“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16)

As James brings his epistle to a conclusion, he turns his attention to believers in a church setting who are suffering (v. 13), sick (vv. 14-18) and backslidden (vv. 19-20). To effectively deal with sickness among believers, James proposes two things: the confession of faults to one another and praying for one another. Confession of faults to one another is necessary if there is to be healing since many sicknesses originate as a result of sin. This is evident from what Jehovah God had spoken to the Old Testament Israelites: “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you” (Exo. 15:26).

Our prayer of faith cannot operate as long as sins are not confessed:  “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Prov. 28:13). When confession is made, definite sins should be mentioned: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Confession of faults is necessary, especially to those against whom the sins and injustice have been committed. If one sins against an individual, confession should be made to that individual. When there is trouble between individuals, they should get together and ask for pardon, and do all in their power to make things right (restitution). This was what our Lord Jesus had spoken: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23, 24). This is especially true when one partakes of the Lord’s Table as our unconfessed sins can bring sickness and sometimes even death (see 1 Cor. 11:27-32).

We should not only confess our sins to one another, but we should pray for one another as well. Instead of holding grudges and allowing resentments to build up, we should maintain ourselves in fellowship with others through prayer. We see that God restored Job's losses when he prayed for his friends and as much as he had before (Job 42:10). However, as per James, in order for our prayers to be effective and powerful, we should meet the following five conditions:

  1. We should become righteous before God. This happens when we repent, confess, turn away from our sins, and live righteously. We should not allow sin to cloud our conversation with God as God will not hear us when sin lurks in our hearts (Ps. 66:18).
  2. We should pray fervently. For our prayers to be heard and answered, we should pray with passion, sincerity, diligence and discipline.
  3. We should pray effectively. For our prayer to be effective, we should expect results as we pray.
  4. We should pray specifically. Our prayers should be specific and to the point. This was how Elijah prayed - specifically, first for a drought then for rain.
  5. We should pray based on God’s Word. We are required to pray in accordance with God’s will (1 John 5:14), just like Elijah prayed based on God’s directive in Deut. 28:12, 24.

Confession and prayer will result in healing and deliverance! Effective prayer is characterized by the earnestness, fervency, and energy exhibited by a righteous man/woman in Christ. Prayer is powerful when we have faith, ask earnestly and boldly as we persevere and surrender to God’s perfect will. Powerful results can happen from even a short time of prayer, as we can see from the prayer examples of Elijah (1 Kings 18:36-37) and our Lord Jesus Christ (John 11:41-42). God longs to meet with us and show His power in our lives. Prayer is really a child’s helpless cry to the father’s attentive ears. When we are helpless and cry out to our heavenly Father, He will hear and answer us speedily!  

So, let’s join with King David and pray this prayer today: “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,' and You forgave the iniquity of my sin. For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You in a time when You may be found.” (Ps. 32:5-6)

December 17 - Our FAITH without WORKS is USELESS & INEFFECTIVE

December 17th, 2016

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December 17 Bible Reading: James Chapters 1-3

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

In the above passage, James tackles the important relationship between faith and works in the life of a Christian believer. Is faith alone sufficient in the life of a child of God? Or, should our faith be accompanied by our works, which is ‘faith in action’? Genuine faith will naturally produce good works; the two complement each other. Works are actions which follow the “royal law” of love (vv. 8, 15, 16). What James was implying is that our faith in Jesus Christ will demonstrate itself in our sincere love for others, which was what our Lord Jesus Christ had commanded His disciples in John 13:34, 35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

So, the obvious answer to the question posed by James “Can faith save us?” is that our faith without works cannot save us. Faith that yields no deeds is not saving faith. The New Testament teaches that we get justified when we have true faith in Christ, but thereafter, our faith should be accompanied by our works, which is evident to the world by the fruit we bear. On this subject, this was what our Lord Jesus Christ had categorically stated as well: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matt. 7:21).

Thus, James does not set faith against works, but rather discusses two kinds of faith: a dead faith and a saving faith. Saving faith is not simply an empty claim (vv. 14-17), but which produces an obedient life (vv. 21-26). James insists that a faith that does not result in good works cannot save, and gives three arguments in support of this truth:

  1. Faith without works is no better than words without deeds (vv. 15–17).
  2. Faith can be neither seen nor verified unless it shows itself in works (v. 18).
  3. Even the demons have an intellectual belief in God, but it does not lead to their salvation (v. 19).

This teaching of James reflects neither a negative nor a positive response to the teachings of Apostle Paul in his Roman epistle. James does not contradict Paul, and both affirm that true saving faith results in a changed life as evidenced by works. For Paul, justification is by faith (Rom. 4:5). For James, justification is by a faith that worksby a genuine faith that manifests itself in post-conversion works. Thus faith by itself if it does not have works, is dead! A faith without works is not real faith at all.

In order to prove his point, James introduces two people: one has neither adequate daily food nor clothing, but the other has both but is not willing to share them. When the latter says a benediction to the former without actually helping him, it is of no use at all. Similarly, when Christian believers say empty platitudes without actually helping those in physical need, what doth it profit? How many words can fill a hungry stomach? What James is emphasizing is that we are not saved by a faith of words only but by that kind of faith which results in a life of good works. In other words, works are not the root of salvation but the fruit. Calvin has thus remarked: “We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.”

Thus, true faith and good works go hand in hand, and they are two parts of God’s work in us. Faith brings a person to salvation, and works bring that person to fruitfulness. Faith is the cause, works are the effect. What matters is not faith and works, it is not faith or works; rather it is faith that works! Our good works will affirm that our faith is real, and proves that truthfulness of our words. Thus, true saving faith is seen in activity, and it is something that motivates our life so that we think of others and serve them. That is exactly what Apostle Paul means when he writes that we “have been saved through faith” for “good works”!

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10)

December 16 - How can we PREPARE ‘WELL’ for the RETURN of CHRIST?

December 16th, 2016

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December 16 Bible Reading: Hebrews Chapters 10-13

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:19, 22-25)

In the above verses, the author of Hebrews describes the relationship between faith, hope, and love, and thereby reveals how we can prepare well for the return of Jesus Christ. It is by our faith in God that we can place our hope in His promises. It is when we restore a right relationship with God that we can restore our relationships with others. Our love for God demonstrates itself in and through our love for others. The above verses exhort us to faith, hope, and love through three commands: “let us draw near” (v. 22); “let us hold fast” (v. 23); and “let us consider one another” (v. 24).

During the times of the Old Testament, people were kept at a distance from God with priests only able to minister from the Holy Place, and the High Priest being able to minister in the Holy of Holies only once a year on the Day of Atonement. However, now we are now encouraged to draw near into His presence by faith at any time and from any place on earth since we are brought near through the blood of His cross in Christ Jesus. We can trust in the person and work of our great High Priest who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” (4:15).

The writer to the Hebrews has devoted an entire section explaining how we should live and prepare well while anticipating the arrival of Christ:

First, "let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (v. 22a). We are now privileged to draw near to God in four ways:

  1. With a true heart. The people of Israel drew near to God with their mouth, and honored Him with their lips, but their heart was often far from Him (Matt. 15:8). Our approach should be with utter sincerity.
  2. In full assurance of faith. We draw near with utter confidence in the promises of God and with the firm conviction that we shall have a gracious reception into His presence. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).
  3. Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience. When we are born again through trusting Christ, we appropriate the value of His blood as we sprinkle our hearts with it, just as the Israelites sprinkled their doors with the blood of the Passover lamb. This will deliver us from an evil conscience when we continually draw near to God.
  4. Having our bodies washed with pure water. The washing of the body in pure water is an allusion to water baptism. While the sprinkling of the heart with the blood of Christ accomplishes spiritual cleansing, we then bear testimony to that cleansing by following Christ in the public witness of baptism.

Second, "let us hold fast the confession of our hope" (v. 23a). Biblical hope is the confident trust in God and what He is doing in the world and in our lives. Our God is faithful in regard to His promise (3:6), and He can be trusted in everything that we will ever face. So, when our hope has its foundation in God, we will not crumble under the pressures of life. This hope keeps us focused on Christ's promise to return for us (John 14:1-3). So, let’s hold on to hope and develop a sense of high destiny!

Third, "let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works" (v. 24). Our love for one another in Jesus Christ must manifest itself in works of love and gathering together in His name, especially in the light of His imminent Coming. The author of Hebrews asserts that this practice of assembling together ought to increase as the believing community sees the day of Christ approaching. The assembling of God’s people provides opportunity for reciprocal encouragement, strengthening, and the stirring up that can be gained from one another (Col. 3:12–16).

So, in view of all that Christ has accomplished for us we need to approach God confidently in worship, maintain our Christian confession and hope, and help one another by meeting together regularly for mutual encouragement until the Lord Jesus Christ returns. The central activity of Christianity is the gathering of believers together for encouragement, education, and edification as the disciples gathered in the early church: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42).

Finally, our worship to God must be based on an assurance of the justifying power of the blood of Christ (Rom. 5:1) and the sanctifying cleansing of the Word of God (Eph. 5:26). The roots of our stability comes from being grounded in God’s Word and prayer as we pursue godliness in our lives (2 Tim. 3:12). Let us gather often with God’s people to encourage and urge them on in righteousness. Let us prepare for Christ's return with faith, hope, and love: "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13)

December 15 - JESUS CHRIST is the MEDIATOR of a ‘BETTER’ COVENANT

December 15th, 2016

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December 15 Bible Reading: Hebrews Chapters 7-9

“Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.” (Heb. 8:1-2, 6)

After delving at length on the qualifications and appointment of Jesus as the ultimate High Priest (2:17—3:1; 4:14—7:28), the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews now starts to describe His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, even the true tabernacle. The atoning work of Jesus is so superior to the ministry of the Jewish priests that He has replaced the old system by His eternal and perfect priesthood. The ministry of Jesus Christ as our High Priest involves a specific kind of service that includes a covenant, a sanctuary, and a sacrifice and is superior to Aaron’s because Jesus officiates in a better sanctuary (vv. 1–5) through a better covenant (vv. 7–13).

We have such a High Priest in Jesus Christ who is the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament tabernacle, priesthood, offerings, ceremonies and even the temple of God in Jerusalem. As our High Priest, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. We should recall that there were no chairs in the Jewish tabernacle or temple because the work of the Jewish High Priest was never finished. However, Jesus finished the work of redemption on the cross of Calvary (John 19:30) and thereafter sat down on the throne in heaven (10:11–14). We not only have a High Priest who has taken His seat at God the Father’s right hand, but we have One who now ministers as a High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. No other high priest ever sat down in recognition of a finished work, and none ever held such a place of honor and power!

As High Priest and King, Jesus occupies the place of supreme power as He serves the people in the sanctuary of heaven. This is the true tabernacle, of which the earthly tabernacle of Moses in the wilderness was a mere copy or representation. The sanctuary refers to the heavenly reality represented by the Most Holy Place (9:2, 8, 24; 10:19; 13:11), which is the very presence of Almighty God. Our High Priest Jesus serves there and desires to bring us there one day in the future (10:19).

Thousands of years of Jewish history were built on God’s covenant with Israel, but Christ now offers a superior covenant rooted in better promises (v. 6). The covenant is better (1:4) because it really works (7:19), and is superior to the old covenant as it is based on promises that offer us something better than ritual cleansing (vv. 10–12). Also, the priestly ministry of Jesus Christ is more excellent than the ministry of the Aaronic priests because He can really bring people to God. Jesus offered His own blood to put away sins and opened the way for us to enter into the very presence of God!

A mediator is a legal intermediary who represents two parties and through whose work a new relationship is established. Moses is described as the mediator of the covenant of law (see Gal. 3:19, 20) that promised blessing for obedience but threatened death for disobedience. It required righteousness but did not give the ability to produce it.

However, Jesus is the Mediator of a better covenant because it is founded on better promises. The New Covenant that Jesus mediated is an unconditional covenant of grace, which imputes righteousness where there is none and teaches us to live righteously through empowerment, and rewards us when we obey Him. As Mediator, Jesus stood between God and humanity to bridge the gap of estrangement by offering Himself as an eternal atoning sacrifice for sin (9:14, 15; 12:24): “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1 Tim. 2:5-6)

Can we present our petitions to Jesus Christ (‘our Mediator’) today, who is currently seated on the right hand of God the Father and interceding for us? Apostle Paul has explained this very well: "Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us." (Rom. 8:34)

December 14 - DONE a REALITY CHECK of your ‘SPIRITUAL MATURITY’ lately?

December 14th, 2016

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December 14 Bible Reading: Hebrews Chapters 4-6

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Heb. 5:12-14)

It is not uncommon for parents to watch eagerly as their children grow up, and point to others with pride to each new sign of physical growth. In today’s age of digital photography, parents record the physical growth of their children and proudly share with relatives and friends through year-end greeting cards, sharing online photo albums, etc. We also get our children checked up physically at least once yearly to make sure that they are growing physically in height, weight, etc. The same concept should be applied for our spiritual growth as well.

As our heavenly Father, God is also eagerly watching for our spiritual growth every day. After we are born-again (John 3:3), God expects us to nourish ourselves with the spiritual food that He has provided through His Word and grow up "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). Our spiritual growth and maturity is expected from us as we adopt this theme: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child; I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11). So, the three ways how our spiritual maturity is revealed are through our speech, in our understanding and in our thinking!

In the above scriptural passage, the writer is berating the Hebrew believers concerning their lack of spiritual growth. They had been receiving instruction long enough now so that they should be teaching others. Given the length of time that they have come to the faith, they should have grown spiritually to become mature as role models/mentors and should have been currently ministering as Bible teachers and spiritual instructors. However, sadly, they were still requiring elementary instructions of the oracles of God from other believers (see 1 Cor. 3:1-2). They were only being able to digest spiritual ‘milk’ instead of spiritual ‘solid food’! (1 Pet. 2:2)

In order for us to understand the difference between the two, we should ask ourselves where milk comes from. It comes from a body that has eaten solid food and produces milk. The milk has come through the mother’s digestive process. On the spiritual sense, the milk is the basic primary spiritual truth as opposed to the more advanced spiritual truth that comes through the practical application of primary truth (1 John 1:6-7). The milk of God’s Word represents the first principles of the Christian life, that is, what Jesus Christ did for us when He was on earth. The solid food of God’s Word is the teaching about what Jesus is now doing for us in heaven, His ministry as High Priest. Professing believers who stay on a milk diet are unskilled in the word of righteousness as they remain in a state of perpetual infancy as just hearers of the Word!

God’s order is that every believer should mature to the point where he/she can teach others. While it is true that some have a special gift of teaching, it is also true that every believer should engage in some teaching ministry. Mature believers should be skillful in using God’s truth in their personal lives, and they can also teach others. Growing up spiritually and maturing involves reaching higher level of knowledge, accepting more responsibility, and performing more significant duties. By obeying God’s word, mature believers are able to form spiritual judgments and save themselves from moral and doctrinal dangers.

Let us understand that by constant application of God’s Word to our lives we can exercise our spiritual senses (just as an athlete exercises/trains his body), and can easily discern truth from error. We can then discriminate between sound and unsound doctrine and between wholesome and unwholesome conduct, and then make informed decisions in harmony with God’s will. Our spiritual maturity arises from spiritual discernment developed through consistent obedience to God’s will. We should recognize that it is only through a sustained daily effort to apply God’s Word to our lives that we will become spiritually mature. Have you done a reality check of your spiritual maturity lately?

This was Apostle Paul’s prayer for the Philippine believers: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil. 1:9-11)

December 13 - JESUS CHRIST is GOD’s CHANNEL of COMMUNICATION for us TODAY

December 13th, 2016

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December 13 Bible Reading: Hebrews Chapters 1-3

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” (Heb. 1:1-2)

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews begins with a prologue that introduces two definite time periods when God has been speaking to His people: “time past” (v. 1) and “these last days” (v. 2). Our Lord Jesus Christ entered into our world as a babe in swaddling clothes at the beginning of “these last days” to become God’s spokesman and provide us with the gift of salvation just as God had promised in the past through the prophets (Jer. 23:20; Hos. 3:5; Mic. 4:1; 1 Cor. 10:11). The book of Hebrews sustains one thought from beginning to end: Jesus the High Priest, in His ministry and atonement for sins, is superior to anything offered by the collective ministry within Judaism!

At the beginning parts of this book, the author immediately shows that Jesus Christ, the epitome of God’s revelation, is far superior to all the Old Testament prophets. These verses contrast God’s old revelation with the new, specifically by presenting God’s Son as superior to all other previous modes of revelation. In the past, God has revealed Himself through various means, such as visions (Is. 6), dreams (Dan. 2), poetry (Ps. 139), face-to-face conversations (Deut. 5:4), tablets of stone (Deut. 10:4), and history (1 and 2 Chronicles). Compared to Christ, the messages through the prophets were fragmentary and incomplete, and came in bits (see Isa. 28:10) by various means (visions, dreams, and face-to-face communication) and in various ways (supernatural events and natural phenomena such as storms, plagues, and other historical events).

The periodic, partial, and differential prophecies of the Old Testament era have now been overshadowed by God’s pre-eminent and final revelation in the person of His Son. God’s most recent and final revelation had come through His own Son, Jesus Christ! As John said, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18). The Lord Jesus said concerning Himself, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Through the words of Jesus in Scripture, we can “hear” God’s heart and God’s voice–and know what God is truly like!

The words of Jesus Christ were clear, concise and complete as He initiated the start of the end time with these words: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). This revelation is qualitatively superior to that given through the prophets. Moses, the greatest prophet, was only a servant in God’s house; Christ is “a Son over His own house” (3:6). The Son speaks, as the prophets did, but speaks as the Son whose revelation is final. Eventually, all the words of Jesus will be fulfilled when He returns to earth to reconcile and restore all things to Himself (Acts 2:16, 17; 3:19–21; 1 Pet. 1:20).

God’s timeless message of hope is still waiting to be received by many people today. God is still speaking, and God’s Word tells us: “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks” (12:25). Jesus Christ is God’s last word for humankind! In Him, divine revelation is seen and heard in its fullness; and in Him, God’s revelation is complete. Through Christ, we understand where everything came from, where it is going, what keeps it going, and why it is here. There is no fine print in God’s communication with us today. God wants us to understand His plans and purpose clearly so that we may love, obey and cling to Him. Let us understand that Jesus Christ is God’s channel of communication for us today!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (John 1:1-2, 14, 16-18)

December 12 - Can we FORGIVE others just like GOD has FORGIVEN us?

December 12th, 2016

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December 12 Bible Reading: Philemon Chapter 1

“If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay--not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (Philemon 1:17-21)

In the above passage, Apostle Paul is interceding on behalf of a runaway slave named Onesimus to his master Philemon by putting his own friendship, money and reputation at stake. Paul actually did not have to write this appeal letter, for Onesimus deserved the just punishment that was due to him as a thief and a runaway slave. Nor did he have to send back the runaway slave to his former master as per the Old Testament Law, which has drawn up certain clear rules regarding runaway slaves. This is how the Old Testament Law appeals to the person (like Paul) who has received the runaway slave: "You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him" (Deut. 23:15-16).

However, Apostle Paul was now operating under a higher law of Jesus Christ, which was the law of grace and forgiveness. Christ did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). Onesimus had to go the second mile (Matt. 5:41) and do restitution (good) to his former master (Matt. 5:44). Philemon, on the other hand, had to not only forgive the transgressions of his former slave, but had to accept him back not only as a slave but as a beloved brother in the Lord (v. 16). 

So, Apostle Paul appeals to his beloved friend and fellow laborer Philemon (v. 1) to receive Onesimus in the same way as he would receive Paul. His request is startling both in its boldness and in its tenderness and reflects the statement of Jesus: "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me" (Matt. 10:40). This reminds us how God has accepted us in the Person of His Son Jesus even though we were enemies, sinners and transgressors of His Law (see Rom. 5:8-10).

We should note that Paul never questioned Philemon’s right to have his slave returned or receive reimbursement for the theft. According to Roman law, Onesimus could have been executed for his crimes! But he had become a brother in Christ, and Philemon had to forgive him and receive him back as a brother (16). True reconciliation is not cheap; there is a price to pay. Paul knew this and was willing to pay the price himself. By doing this, he was imitating his Lord Jesus Christ! (Isa. 53:6)

We too were once estranged from God because of our sin, but through the death and resurrection of Christ the cause of our enmity has been removed and we have been reconciled to God. Two statements in Paul’s letter to Philemon remind us of what Jesus did for us. “Receive him [Onesimus] as you would me” (v. 17) reminds us that we are “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). “Put that on my account” (v. 18) reminds us that Jesus paid the price for our redemption (Rom. 4:1–8; 2 Cor. 5:21).

Let us put ourselves in the place of Philemon, and ask ourselves this question: Can we forgive others who have wronged us just like God has forgiven us through Christ? We deserve eternal death and hell on account of our own misdeeds, but Christ has forgiven us freely and has offered us eternal life instead. Won’t we be willing to do the same for others as we obey God today? “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

December 11 - True SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP involves PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY

December 11th, 2016

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December 11 Bible Reading: Titus Chapters 1-3

“For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you-- if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” (Titus 1:5-9)

Titus was a Greek-speaking Gentile who came to the Christian faith through Apostle Paul and worked with him as a traveling companion and coworker in establishing churches throughout the Roman world. He was both dependable and diligent, so Paul left him on the island of Crete to bring order to the church there and establish spiritual leadership (v. 5). The full scope of Paul’s assignment to Titus included both developing spiritual leaders who could be trusted and are personally accountable (1:6–9), and training believers to pursue changed lifestyles reflecting integrity, control, and purity (2:1–15). History reveals that Titus fulfilled his assignment very well and in due course of time he became the first bishop of Crete!

Titus’s first step toward completing his task was to appoint elders in every city of Crete to oversee and teach in the churches (see Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 5:17). The Greek words for elder and bishop (literally, overseer) seem to have been used interchangeably by Paul (v. 7). Elder perhaps speaks more of the office and its authority, while bishop may speak more of the person’s function and the ministry of oversight (see Acts 20:17). In the New Testament, there are four major texts dealing with their qualifications: Titus 1:5–7; Acts 20:28–35; 1 Tim. 3:1–7; 1 Pet. 5:1–4. They are mature Christian men of character and integrity who provide spiritual leadership in a local assembly as they guide the believers through their instruction, exhortation, encouragement, rebuke, and correction.

Apostle Paul has categorized seventeen qualifications for a spiritual leader in three areas: family life (v. 6), personal life (vv. 7, 8) , and doctrinal beliefs (v. 9) as detailed below:

  • The first three are social and domestic qualifications catering to family life (v. 6) that include being blameless, being a faithful husband, and having children under control and well-trained in God’s Word.
  • Then Paul divides the personal qualifications into two groups: (a) five vices to avoid including not being self-willed, quick-tempered, not given to wine, not being violent, not being greedy for money (v. 7); and (b) seven virtues to adopt including being hospitable, loving good only, being sober-minded, being just with others, being holy before God, being self-controlled and being sound in the faith (vv. 8–9).
  • Finally, there are three doctrinal qualifications to adhere including holding tenaciously to the fundamental scriptural doctrines taught by the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles, so that he will be able to give the saints a balanced diet of sound doctrine, and also silence those who speak against the truth (1:9).

Let us understand that any Christian spiritual leader (whether Elder, Bishop or Pastor) should involve other qualified persons to help him oversee the people of God. The primary role of the Christian leader is teaching and mentoring, and he should instruct people in godly living. He should guard believers from false teachers and deceivers who twist God’s Word to meet their needs. Finally, the leader’s teaching should be reflected first through his own life so that believers should be able to follow his example just like Paul who said: "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). It is obvious that true spiritual leadership involves personal accountability!

December 10 - KEEPING the FAITH until the END is ALL that MATTERS

December 10th, 2016

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December 10 Bible Reading: 2 Timothy Chapters 1-4

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:6-8)

Apostle Paul’s second letter to his spiritual son Timothy is believed to be the last letter that he wrote before he became a martyr before the Roman Emperor Nero. The above scriptural passage is believed to be Paul’s valedictory address that summaries his entire faith journey and his earnest expectation for the future. Paul had given up almost everything for the sake of the gospel, which included his freedom (he was currently locked up in a Roman prison, 1:8), his possessions (he did not have his cloak, books and parchments, v. 13), his family (he chose to remain single for the sake of the gospel, 1 Cor. 7:7-8), the churches he had established (he would never be able to visit them again), and his future (he was sentenced to die shortly, v. 6).

In the end, it cost Apostle Paul everything that he had except his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but this was all he needed until the very end. This is how Paul justifies his faith journey: “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (1:12). He had indeed taken to heart the very words of Jesus: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

When Paul wrote the above words to Timothy, he believed that he would die very soon (v. 6). His life was presently being “poured out” as a sacrifice to God like the daily drink offerings in Judaism (see Exo. 29:40; Num. 15:1–10; 28:11–31), and soon there would be nothing left. Paul’s death was a sacrifice poured out before God and, as such, enabled him to share the sufferings of Christ. This is what Paul wrote to the Philippine believers: “Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Phil. 2:17). In the words of Hiebert about Apostle Paul: “His whole life has been presented to God as a living sacrifice; now his death, comparable to the pouring out of the wine as the last act of the sacrificial ceremony, will complete the sacrifice.” 

In fact, Paul was getting ready to depart this earth, as a traveler leaves one country for another. He had faithfully run the race set before him (Heb. 12:1), which was his gospel ministry. As a spiritual athlete, Paul had struggled in spreading the gospel in his known world, had endured the sufferings for Christ, had disciplined himself to showcase himself as an example, and finally had emerged victorious by persevering, being vigilant, and keeping his faith (1 Cor. 9:24-27). He now looked forward to finally seeing His Lord Jesus and receiving his just reward (“the crown of righteousness”) that was reserved for him (Matt. 5:10–12).

The most significant thing to note was that Apostle Paul had kept his faith in the Lord Jesus until the very end! This means not only that Paul himself had continued to believe in and obey the whole doctrine of the Christian faith, but also that, as a steward, he had guarded the doctrine which had been committed to him and had passed it on to others in its original purity (2:2). Whether Paul regarded his life as a battle, a race, or a test of the truth of the gospel, he had achieved victory. His past had been completed with its many duties; his present was secure in faith; and his future promised a great reward for him, which he would receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Paul thus understood the eternal potential of a lifetime of faithful service to Christ!

When we are faithful in our walk with the Lord and in our service for Him as we keep the faith, we too can face death courageously like Apostle Paul who was content with his record of service (v. 7), and confident of his reception by his Lord (v. 8) . God wants us to finish our work/ministry faithfully by persevering in our service for the Lord Jesus Christ and keeping the faith until the end. After all, keeping the faith until the end is all that matters!

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:11-13)

December 9 - How can RICH BELIEVERS truly SERVE GOD?

December 9th, 2016

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December 9 Bible Reading: 1 Timothy Chapters 4-6

“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

Just before Apostle Paul concluded his first letter to his spiritual son Timothy, he remembered that there were many rich believers in the church in Ephesus, where Timothy was pastoring. Some followers of Christ had a lot more money in their possession than others. The church in Ephesus was unlike the early days of the church in Jerusalem where "all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need" (Acts 2:44-45).

It is a known fact that money has incredible power to create feelings of pride, superiority, and self-sufficiency (v. 17), and people of means have to learn to look beyond their money to God, the ultimate source of wealth. So, Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that he should command the rich people to do five specific things so that they can truly serve God alone:

  1. They should not be proud of their riches, but be like Christ (see Phil. 2:5–8).
  2. They should not trust in their riches that may not last forever but in God alone (see Luke 12:21).
  3. They should be rich in doing good works and store up true riches in heaven (see Matt. 6:20).
  4. They should be ready to give generously for worthwhile causes (see Eph. 4:28).
  5. They should be willing to share with people who are less fortunate (see Deut. 24:18, 22).

Today, God wants us to join Him in the work that He does, and we must excel in doing good works that God has prepared beforehand for us: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). God requires of us that we “be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2), “do good and be rich in good works” (v. 18) and also that we “maintain these good works” (Titus 3:8). We do have a lot to give others, including the spiritual gifts we possess along with our experiences, training, talents, time, and treasures. We should never let gold be our god as we honor God with our possessions (Prov. 3:9) and serve Him alone (Matt. 6:24).

The great British evangelist John Wesley’s rule of life was, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Someone has once said: “we make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give”. Freely we have received from God; so we should freely give (Matt. 10:8). Our natural tendency is to grasp what we have instead of freely giving to those in need. When God gives us material riches, we should not forget God (Deut. 8:11), rather, we should remind ourselves where riches come from and how much we should be thankful for. So, we should love the Giver - who is God (James 1:17) - more than the gifts that we receive! When we are focused only in owning stuff, it can lead to spiritual loss as the more we have, we will forget our need and even our desire for God.

In fact, we do have a lot to be thankful to God, and the best way to express our thankfulness is by opening out to others. Let us never forget that God has redeemed us when we were in distress, and in doing so, He has "blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). Let us also not "forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb. 13:16).

December 8 - UNDERSTAND the GREAT MYSTERY of GODLINESS

December 8th, 2016

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December 8 Bible Reading: 1 Timothy Chapters 1-3

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16)

The above verse written by Apostle Paul to his spiritual son Timothy is perhaps one of the greatest, most profound statements ever recorded in Scripture. The rhythmic construction of the summary statement suggests that Paul may be quoting an early hymn or creedal confession. God has made His plan—this great “mystery of godliness”—known to us only by special revelation (see Ephesians chap. 3). Through the above verse, Paul is trying to unravel one of the greatest secrets that ever existed until that point of time, which has the express purpose to produce godliness in humans who are born in sin. It is a mystery of “godliness” since it leads to and results in godliness in those who accept it, and it is “great” due to its importance and scope.

The “mystery of godliness” points out to the person of Jesus Christ, who is the essence of this mystery and whose work as completed on the earth. He is God incarnate, who was made flesh, and was manifest in the flesh as He lived among us (John 1:14). Though condemned as a sinner, and put to death as a malefactor, Christ was raised again by the Spirit, and so was justified from all the false charges with which he was loaded. He was God manifest in the flesh, to take away our sins, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Thus, the person and work of the Lord Jesus is truly marvelous and wonderful!

J. N. Darby in his collected writings has explained this verse as follows: “This is often quoted and interpreted as if it spoke of the mystery of the Godhead, or the mystery of Christ’s Person. But it is the mystery of godliness, or the secret by which all real godliness is produced—the divine spring of all that can be called piety in man...Godliness springs from the knowledge of the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ...This is how God is known; and from abiding in this flows godliness.”

Apostle Paul elaborates on this “mystery of godliness” in six different phrases as listed below:

  1. Manifested in the flesh refers to Christ’s incarnation, the fact that Jesus became man and lived as a servant for about 33.5 years (John. 1:14). True godliness was manifest in the flesh for the first time when the Savior was born as a Babe in Bethlehem’s manger.
  2. Justified in the Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit’s role in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus was vindicated by the Holy Spirit of God at His baptism (Matt. 3:15–17), transfiguration (Matt. 17:5), resurrection (Acts 2:32-33; Rom. 1:3-4), and ascension (John 16:7, 10).
  3. Seen by angels refers to the angelic witness of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus was seen by angels at His birth, temptation, His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, resurrection, and ascension (Acts 1:10-11).
  4. Preached among the Gentiles refers to the proclamation of Christ to the nations (Col. 1:23). From the Day of Pentecost onward, Jesus has been preached among the Gentiles in the farthest corners of the earth.
  5. Believed on in the world refers to the response of individuals to God’s plan of salvation (1 Cor. 1:18–25). It describes the fact that some from almost every tribe and nation have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ.
  6. Received up in glory refers to the ascension of Christ to heaven after the work of redemption had been completed, after which He is seated at the right hand of God in heaven (see Acts 1:9; 7:56; Heb. 1:3-4).

According to some Bible scholars, this list of events is presented chronologically: manifested in the flesh refers to the incarnation; justified in the Spirit refers to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection; seen by angels describes His ascension into heaven; preached among the Gentiles and believed on in the world are the events that followed His ascension; and, finally, received up in glory refers to a coming day when all His redeemed are gathered, raised from the dead, and received up with Him to glory. It is only then that the work of this “mystery of godliness” will be truly complete.

Let us understand that this great “mystery of godliness” is none other than Jesus Christ, and it is only when we serve Him sincerely can we ascend the steps to godliness in the coming days!

“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

December 7 - Does GOD count us WORTHY of His CALLING?

December 7th, 2016

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December 7 Bible Reading: 2 Thessalonians Chapters 1-3

“Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess. 1:11-12)

Apostle Paul had a unique calling by God for the ministry. While he was on his way to Damascus to capture and bind followers of Jesus Christ and then bring them to Jerusalem for trial and punishment, Paul was confronted with a bright light from heaven that threw him to the ground. It was there that Paul heard the voice of Jesus calling him to the ministry (Acts 9:1-6), which was later revealed as towards the "Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel" (Acts 9:15). From that moment, Paul endeavored to walk and live worthy of his high call in Christ Jesus!

Now as Apostle Paul was writing his second letter to the Thessalonian believers, he prays sincerely that God would count these believers worthy of their calling by God. This is the first of five prayers of Paul for the Thessalonian believers in this short letter (1:11; 2:16–17; 3:5, 16, 18). In fact, one of the constant prayers of Paul and his companions was that the Thessalonians would continue to experience purification in the midst of their various trials, and that God would take note of this and approve their worth. They also prayed that God’s purposes would be fulfilled in the lives of the Thessalonian believers. The reason for this is because God is the One who had called them to His own kingdom and glory (2:14; 1 Thess. 2:12).

When Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica, they were in the midst of intense suffering for the sake of the gospel (vv. 4–5). However, they were to endure their trials through faith and hope. They were to be faithful in interceding for other believers and in confronting those who are out of order by exhorting them to repent. They were also to look beyond their immediate troubles to the return of Christ and the affirmation they would receive from Him at that time when He returns (vv. 6–7). God would judge all their enemies in due time (vv. 8–9). Jesus Christ would be ultimately glorified in His saints and admired among all believers one day! (v. 10)

Thereafter, Paul prayed the words of encouragement he desired to impart to the believers in Thessalonica. Only God could accomplish His will in the lives of these believers, so Paul prayed that God would first count them worthy, and then fulfill His good pleasure in their lives. Their lives would be counted worthy of such a high calling, and God’s mighty power would enable them to obey every impulse to do good to others, and to accomplish every task that they undertake in faith. The resultant answer to this prayer according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ would be two-fold: first, God would be glorified through the exemplary lives of the believers. This means that they would give an accurate representation of Jesus to the world, and thus bring glory to Him. Second, the believers would be glorified in God. Their association with Jesus, their Head, would bring honor to them as members of His Body. All this would be accomplished only by the wonderful grace of God!

Thus, Jesus Christ should be glorified not only among but also in us as we reflect His glory by living in a manner worthy of His call in our lives. Let us always remember that God's calling in our lives is holy (2 Tim. 1:9), heavenly (Heb. 3:1), according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28), irrevocable (Rom. 11:29), and "into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:9). God calls us as His people to finish our lives well by holding on to the truths that last through maintaining lifelong faithfulness (2:15).

Is God being glorified by our lives? Does God count us worthy of His calling? This is what Apostle Paul had to say: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)