Tags: FreeSaeed, Iran, Jesus Christ, Matthew 25, Pastor Saeed, persecution, religious liberty, Saeed Abedini, SaveSaeed
Pastor Saeed Abedini is a Christian pastor and American citizen who has been imprisoned in a brutal prison in Iran after being unjustly accused and convicted in January, 2013. He has been sentenced to serve eight years in prison, and is suffering greatly while being denied much-needed medical care and treatment. He is a father and husband, and has been abandoned by the U.S. government. If you are reading this and you are a Christian, may I encourage you to pray fervently and diligently for the persevering of Pastor Saeed’s faith in Jesus, his health and safety, and for comfort for his wife, children, parents, and loved ones? Please pray, too, that Christ would be glorified and that souls would be saved. Let me also encourage you to contact your Representatives, Senators, and other elected government officials, and to try to persuade them to secure Pastor Saeed’s release.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Tags: Bible study on Ezra, commentary on Ezra, dealing with sin, Ezra, Ezra 10, repentance, Sunday School lessons on Ezra
Ezra Chapter 10 is an example of sin being dealt with clearly, quickly, and decisively.
Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it.
During a time of exile, God’s people had become unclean. They needed to feel the remorse that comes with true repentance, and they needed to take action, which is the evidence of true repentance.
Below are links to the previous lessons on the Book of Ezra:
Tags: commentary on Exodus, Egypt, Exodus 7, parable of the husbandmen, parable of the tennants, Pharaoh, Sunday School lessons on Exodus
In the Book of Exodus there are many ways to view the role of Pharaoh, but it seems that the Holy Spirit intends for the reader to see him as a vassal or a husbandmen given stewardship over a “vineyard” known as Egypt. Jesus taught a parable about how the Jewish religious leaders had rebelled against God and His messengers, and it is interesting to note some of the parallels to the Exodus account.
Then began he to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time.
God had placed the Jewish people in Egypt to survive a famine. They prospered there at first, but eventually were placed into bondage and servitude by the Egyptians.
And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty.
This reminds us of God’s servants, Moses and Aaron, going to Pharaoh with God’s demand to let the people go, then being sent away “empty” again and again.
And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty. And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out. Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.
Egypt belonged to the one true God, but Pharaoh neither acknowledged that fact, nor did a good job managing God’s property. It was time for him to give an account, and to learn a lesson about making God’s people serve a man who saw himself as a god.
And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.
Tags: fake friends, friendship, Jesus Christ, John 15, Proverbs 17, Proverbs 19, Proverbs 27, Romans 5, true friendship
The is the second part of a lesson on Christian friendship. In Part 1 I wrote that Christian friends should be:
They should also be:
Being earnest means telling the truth – being honest – being real. This can be one of the hardest parts of friendship, because sometimes the truth hurts. “How do I look?” I ask my friend (with ketchup on my face, mustard on my tie, and my pants unzipped). “Oh, you look fine,” he replies (immediately calling into question whether he is really my friend after all). Friends don’t enjoy hurting each others feelings, but:
Faithful [are] the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy [are] deceitful.
A fake friend stabs you in the back; a true friend stabs you in the front. Remember the “F” of F.R.I.E.N.D.S.hip – forgiveness – when you are on the receiving end of “earnest” friendship.
This is a funny verse:
He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him.
One of the easiest things to forget about friendship, especially when you have a really, really good friend – someone to whom you can say anything – someone who knows all your secrets – someone with whom you’re comfortable joking around – is to be nice. In other words, it’s easy to become presumptuous. Christian friendship is about serving, not being served. You can joke around and be relaxed, and yet still be polite. The Bible says evil communication corrupts good manners. Don’t make the mistake of being a funny friend who turns into an obnoxious friend. People act like giving compliments and building up other people with words is corny, but don’t you be deceived. People still like and respond to kindness, so be as nice (or nicer) to your friends as you are to strangers.
How do you gain someone’s trust? By being trustworthy. By being loyal. A good friend is there through thick and thin.
Many will intreat the favour of the prince: and every man [is] a friend to him that giveth gifts.
Plenty of people will want to be your friend when you can do things for them, or give them things.
All the brethren of the poor do hate him: how much more do his friends go far from him? he pursueth [them with] words, [yet] they [are] wanting [to him].
But fake friends hit the road when you are having a hard time.
A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Adversity is when everything is going wrong – when you are not popular – when it’s not considered cool to be around you. That’s when you find out who your real friend is – the one who’s there for you at all times.
Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
How does iron sharpen iron? By scraping against it – by friction. It costs the iron something to sharpen another piece of iron. Sacrifice is when you give up something for your friend, when you do what is hard, or what is costly to yourself, for the sake of your friend. It’s when you give up your own comfort and go the extra mile. The things that are valuable in this world are things that are costly. If you have a friend, ask yourself, “What is this friendship costing me?” If it’s costing you nothing, it may be because you’re not being the best friend you can be.
Ultimately, Jesus is by far the best friend you will ever have.
F.orgiving: Apart from the forgiveness of your sins you could have no part with God, no place in Heaven, no pardon from hell. Jesus arranged your forgiveness on the Cross.
E.arnest: Jesus cannot lie. “Verily verily” was one of His favorite expressions. He said you can believe in Heaven because if it were not so, He would have told you. He tells the truth about Himself and the truth about us.
N.ice: Can you think of anything kinder, more loving, more giving than Jesus coming to our world to lay down His life for us? People can say many things about Jesus, but no one could ever say He wasn’t nice.
D.ependable: He will never leave you nor forsake you. When young people use the expression “BFF” (best friends forever) the “forever” is a youthful exaggeration. But not with Jesus. He keeps His promises completely.
S.acrificing: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Tags: 2 Corinthians 6, 2 Samuel 13, Biblical friendship, Ephesians 4, friendship, James 4, Luke 11, Proverbs 27, true friendship
But Amnon had a friend, whose name [was] Jonadab, the son of Shimeah David’s brother: and Jonadab [was] a very subtil man.
II Samuel 13:3 (emphasis added)
Christians are supposed to have friends and we are supposed to be friends. Did you know there is a difference between being friends with someone and being a friend to someone?
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
II Corinthians 6:14
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
As Christians, we are not supposed to get involved in the sinful activities of non-Christians, which means you really shouldn’t be friends with non-Christians, but you definitely should be a friend to all sorts of non-Christians. Therefore, we serve and love them, but we shouldn’t compromise our stand for Jesus, and we should make sure they know that your loyalty to Christ comes before our loyalty to them. So, if a lost person falls down, you help him up – that’s being a friend to him; but if he fell down because he was doing something wrong, you don’t start doing it to, because that would make you friends with him.
Let’s look at what it takes to be friends with another Christian.
One of the most important things to remember about being a Christian is that you are a forgiven sinner. You can’t be a Christian without acknowledging your sinfulness. Therefore, when two Christians are friends, that means two sinners have become friends. And sinners sometimes sin against each other. Friends make mistakes, they hurt each other’s feelings, they say the wrong thing, they let each other down sometimes. But if they are truly friends they respond to the sin of their friend the way that Jesus responds to our sins.
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
If your friend is a Christian, then that means God punished Jesus on the Cross for what your friend has done wrong to you. Would it be right for you to punish your friend for something for which God has already punished Jesus? No. Be a good friend. Be forgiving. Be gracious. Be merciful.
Being a good friend doesn’t mean you always do what your friend wants you to do, but it does mean that you respond when your friend has a real need.
And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.
A good friend listens; he doesn’t just wait for his turn to talk. Even though listening is important, “doing” is usually the most significant part of service in Christian friendship, but not just “doing something.” They key is in doing what’s right for your friend in each situation – which means listening closely when your friend has something to say. Anybody can talk; it takes skill and patience to listen. God gave us two ears and one mouth – some of us need to take the hint.
A good friend is someone who gives good advice. That means he evaluates what’s going on, and then finds out what the Bible has to say about something before he just blurts out whatever comes to mind.
Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so [doth] the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel.
Things that smell good are attractive – and they make people happy. The insight of a friend is the same way. “Hearty counsel” means insight or advice that turns out to be right. A good friend will pray about it, seek God’s will about it, look in the Bible, talk to someone wise about it, then carefully give good counsel. A bad friend says let’s just do the first thing that seems right, or let’s just do what everyone else does in this situation.
You can probably tell by now that I’m using an acrostic – F.R.I.E.N.D.S. – to list some qualifications of Christian friendship. Next time, we will look at the E.N.D.S.
Tags: Cinco de Mayo, Cinco de Mayo devotions, fear of God, fear of the Lord, Judges 5, mountains, rockslides, Song of Deborah
In ancient times mountains were both landmarks and symbols of religious significance. Because of their majesty and immensity they were thought of as timeless. As monuments which extended toward the heavens, they were thought of as potential meeting-places between God and man. In fact, God did meet with Moses the Law-giver on Mount Sinai, and the people cowered in fear when they saw it smoking.
That incident was later used as imagery in the song of Deborah and Barak after the defeat of Jabin, the king of Canaan.
The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.
This is a good reminder to us when we think about the power and danger that may be exhibited when the Lord takes action. For some of us, it is easy look at the “mountains” in our lives: our jobs, our families, our friends, our government, our intelligence, and our health, and to believe that these things will always be there for us – as constant as a mountain range on the horizon. However, there is nothing in our lives that will stand before the power of the Lord if He decides to move against it.
Tags: Biblical prayers, commentary on Nehemiah, confession, God's glory, great prayers in the Bible, Nehemiah 10, Nehemiah 9, revival, Sunday School lessons on Nehemiah
As the the people remembered God, they remembered that:
God is good.
And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red sea;
God is great.
Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.
God is gracious.
And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them; but hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage: but thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not.
God is generous.
And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness.
God is glorious.
Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.
Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies. But after they had rest, they did evil again before thee: therefore leftest thou them in the hand of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them: yet when they returned, and cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and many times didst thou deliver them according to thy mercies;
Nehemiah Chapter 10 presents the evidence of the sincerity in the prayer of Chapter 9. Are you asking God for a revival in your nation? In your church? In your family? In your own heart? A revival is not a religious show or a religious exercise. It is a surrender to the Word of God.
They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes;
We must approach the Bible with humility, willing to admit there is much we do not yet know. We must also be willing to separate from the World as we immerse ourselves in the Word of God.
And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt.
The test of whether you are experiencing a true revival is not what you “feel” during a church service. The test is in how we live afterward. Many of us study Bible lessons on a regular basis – and that’s good – but then we quit. We need to study a Bible lesson, and then live a Bible lesson. We expect God’s blessings for keeping “part” of the covenant, but we ignore the fact that God isn’t likely to bless a disobedient child.
Tags: Biblical prayers, commentary on Ezra, confession, Daniel 9, Ezra 9, fasting, Nehemiah 9, Sunday School lessons on Ezra
Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.
One of the most common areas where “exiled” believers fell into unholiness is in the area of sexual immorality. The Jewish men had lusted after foreign women – unbelievers – which was forbidden. We might say, “Well, at least they married them,” but that argument becomes preposterous when you realize that they divorced their Jewish wives to do it! (Malachi 2:10-16)
Ezra found out this was going on because people told him about it. Did this make them a bunch of tattletales or gossip-mongers? No, because the offenders were their spiritual leaders. Ezra did not ignore this information, or sweep it under the rug. He did not preach an ambiguous sermon about it. He did not rush out in anger and confront them about it. No, he began to pray, weep, grieve, tear his clothes, pull out his hair and beard, and confess.
And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied.
Are we this shocked over the sins of God’s people and our own sins?
And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God,
Ezra experienced this “heaviness” as a result of his fasting, and he fasted not to obtain God’s favor, but because he was too sick to eat. Are we sickened by the sin of our spiritual leaders?
Father, I pray that we would return from any areas of our lives where we have been in spiritual exile, and that we would put to use the great gifts You have given us. In the name of Christ Jesus I pray. Amen.
Tags: commentary on Exodus, Exodus 10, Exodus 11, Exodus 14, Exodus 4, Exodus 7, Exodus 8, Exodus 9, Romans 9, Sunday School lessons on Exodus
God said He would harden Pharaoh’s heart:
And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.
And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.
And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.
Sure enough, God kept His Word.
And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.
And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him:
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go.
And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.
And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel: and the children of Israel went out with an high hand.
There are times when the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is expressed passively, as though the fact that it happened is being emphasized more than the agency by which it happened.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go.
And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said.
Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.
And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.
And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, neither would he let the children of Israel go; as the LORD had spoken by Moses.
Sometimes the Bible says that Pharaoh is the one who hardened his own heart.
But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.
And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.
And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.
Here some things we can learn from these different categorical descriptions of Pharaoh’s heart:
1. His heart was hard.
2. Pharaoh and God both played a part in the hardening process.
3. God said it would happen.
4. It happened for a reason, not by chance.
5. Pharoah’s heart was not hard enough to stand in the way of God’s will.
For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,
Let’s think of it this way: Did God make Pharaoh’s heart hard? Yes. Disobedience to God is evil and sin. Did God create fresh evil in Pharaoh’s heart? No. He withdrew His gracious restraint and allowed Pharaoh’s own evil to have full reign. We need to be careful. That could happen to us too if we decide to barter and compromise with God. God’s greatest judgment against a person may be to let him have his own way. External influences on the human heart have different effects depending on the preexisting condition of the heart itself. The same sun that melts the ice also hardens the clay.
Tags: cliffhangers, Ephesians 1, Hebrews 3, James 1, mysteries, Proverbs 16, Psalm 119, The Bible, Word of God
Last time I addressed the misconception that the Bible is boring. Here are three types of excitement in the Bible:
1. The danger in it
In many places the Holy Spirit employees a style of writing which we might describe as a “cliffhanger.” In other words, a narrative will build up to a moment of suspense, then there will be a pause in the action before it is resolved. In Genesis 22, for example, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac – and at the last instant tells him to stop. Then He provides a ram (which itself is another cliffhanger that does not get resolved until the sacrifice of Jesus in the New Testament.) The end of Genesis Chapter 2 is another example. The Bible makes an ominous statement about Adam and Eve being naked and not ashamed… right before the serpent shows up in Chapter 3.
There is another danger in the Bible, though, too: a danger for us. For when we read it, we can obey it or reject it.
While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
There are great blessings in reading your Bible – if you practice what you read. But there is great danger in reading it and then ignoring its commands.
2. The mystery in it
Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; [even] in him:
Ephesians 1:9-10 (emphasis added)
Bible mysteries are really not mysterious in the way we normally think of that term, because if you read it they are revealed. It is obvious there is a Creator just from looking at everything around us, and we can learn much about Him just by observing His creation, but to really know Him – and to be partakers of the mystery of His Gospel and His will – even for our own lives – we must dig into the Bible.
3. The fascination in it
The Bible is a page-turner, and not just because of its suspenseful passages, but because it is so intensely interesting – in a supernatural way. The Holy Spirit illuminates the Word of God to make us want to understand it and to want more and more of it.
How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.
Honey is not something you eat quickly. You chew slowly and savor it.
Next time I will give some practical tips for getting more out of your Bible-reading.