Holy Judge or Cosmic Cupcake?

Modern Man often misrepresents God as being all love and forgiveness, but, beware, for the Bible reveals a holy Judge who hates the sin we find comfortable.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 7-9; Hebrews 10:24-39

Selected Verses

Then he said to me, “The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. The land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice. For they say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see.’ As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; I will bring their deeds upon their heads.” Ezekiel 9:9-10

How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:29-31

Reflections

Ezekiel was sent to proclaim the wrath and judgment of God upon Israel and Judah. Why was He angry with them? They had committed abominable acts of idolatry and murderous injustice growing bold in their sin. They were sure that God had departed from them and did not see what they were doing. The Apostle Paul would later ask: “Do you suppose, O man…that you will escape the judgment of God? [See  Romans 2:3-5.] The people of Israel and Judah certainly assumed that they would escape the judgment of God. They could not see that by their sin they were storing up wrath against themselves and going spiritually blind because of their hard and impenitent hearts. The more they sinned the more comfortable they felt sinning.

The writer to the Hebrews issues a stern warning to his readers. Some of them are tottering on the edge of drifting away from the gospel, their only hope of salvation. Could they not see what they were doing? Didn’t they recognize that they were not merely adjusting to the pressures of life in a hostile society but were about to bring themselves under God’s judgment with those who had trampled underfoot the Son of God? Were they not terrified to profane the blood of the covenant by which Jesus was sanctified? Did it seem nothing to outrage the Spirit of grace?

Think about it

God will judge.  He will repay. Satan blinds the eyes of those who sin and glibly say “the Lord does not see.” Flee the company of those with hard and impenitent hearts. Repent of all known sin. Believe in Jesus and find forgiveness. You can only be saved by faith in Him, but you will be lost if, without Christ, you “fall into the hands of the living God.” He is no cosmic cupcake.

Good Attitudes about Good Works

God demonstrates that works–to be good–must be done with good attitudes of delight and enthusiasm never begrudgingly. And He commands that we do the same.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 31-32; Titus 2

Selected Verses

I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.  I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. Jeremiah 32:40-41

Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:13-14

Reflections

Jeremiah had a message from God that gave hope and perspective for the people of Judah in the midst of imminent captivity. God promised to restore them to their land, no matter how far He scattered them. Their disobedience had brought His anger and wrath. They deserved His punishment. But His commitment to them could not be terminated. He would do a new thing and bring them back and establish them. They would have His word in their hearts in that day. They would be stable in their faith and obedience. He would give them a new covenant to replace the old one they had so miserably disregarded. But God would not just do His people good. He would rejoice to do them good. He promised to plant them in the land “with all [His] heart and all [His] soul.”

That promised new covenant was brought about by the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul had met Christ in a dramatic way and spent the rest of his life proclaiming the good news of salvation through Him. He wrote to Titus to remind him that God redeemed His people from lawlessness so that they would belong to God and be “zealous for good works.”

Think about it

Do you do good works with joy and delight?  If we would be godly, we must not merely do the right thing but be sure that action is accompanied by correct attitudes. Seek to do good and to do it with a God-honoring spirit of grace and love.

The Calling to Carry a Cross

Obedience to God does not prevent all suffering. Two godly men were unjustly imprisoned, and Jesus calls His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 20-22; Second Timothy 1

Selected Verses

O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.
 For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.  Jeremiah 20:7-8

 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Second Timothy 1:6-7

Reflections

As we saw yesterday, God is the potter and we are the clay. That does not mean that we, who trust in and love Him, will automatically have smooth sailing through life. Both Jeremiah and Paul were imprisoned despite their faithfulness to God’s calling.  Their responses were different but God’s faithfulness to both was constant.

Jeremiah was beaten and imprisoned by a priest named Pashur. The next day, upon his release from the stocks, the prophet told Pashur that he would watch his friends die, then, he would go into captivity and die also. So Jeremiah seemed to be unaffected by Pashur’s oppression. Nevertheless, following that episode, the prophet records his lament before God. He says the Lord “deceived” him. He was given a calling and a message from God which he could not silence in himself lest he explode. As a result of his obedience, he was the joke of society–the village idiot on a national level.

Paul also was suffering imprisonment in Rome as he wrote his final epistle. There is some sadness and longing to see Timothy but no blaming of God. His focus is still on charging and encouraging Timothy to continued faithfulness in the ministry. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be ashamed of my suffering,” Paul writes him assuring him of his love and prayers, of God’s blessing Timothy with His Spirit, His Word, a godly heritage, salvation, and a calling to His service.

Think about it

As a follower of Jesus Christ, are you prepared to suffer?  How do you respond to undeserved suffering? Two faithful servants of the Lord demonstrate that whether you vent before God like Jeremiah or calmly keep serving Him like Paul, God is the potter and He will not let you go until He has made of you what He wills and used you as He pleases. Stay faithful, even when your cross gets heavy and you suffer injustice for His sake (Luke 9:23-25).

Don’t Put Out the Fire of the Spirit

Christians, beware! Although our relationship with God is secure, we can act in ways that seriously jeopardize our fellowship with the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Reading

 Isaiah 62-64; 1 Thessalonians 5

Selected Verses

But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit;
therefore he turned to be their enemy,
and himself fought against them. Isaiah 63:10

Do not quench the Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:19

Reflections

Need we be concerned about our responses to the Holy Spirit? Is there a danger we will in some way offend, resist, grieve, or quench the Spirit of God? Are we not secure in our relationship to God through faith in Christ? Could we, although believers, act in ways that seriously jeopardize our fellowship with Him? Both Isaiah and Paul tell us the answer is “yes”!

Isaiah described the attitudes of Israel as those of rebellious children, laden with iniquity, and despisers of the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 1:2-4). God’s people will go into captivity because they have turned the Lord against them through their rebellion and grieving of His Holy Spirit.

Paul commended the Thessalonians as those who “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Certainly, they had been born again and delivered “from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Nevertheless, Paul was concerned about their spiritual well-being and, now in his concluding words, he charges them not to quench the Spirit. He would not be warning them unless there were a danger that they could actually do it. He gives them several instructions as to their relationships with their leaders, their brothers who may be struggling, and their enemies. He tells them to rejoice, to pray, and to give thanks. Then he adds, “Do not quench the Spirit.” He warns them about two wrong responses to prophecies: despising them and believing them without testing them. He urges them to hold fast what is good and reject all evil.

Think about it

Yes, we are secure in our relationship to God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) through faith in Jesus Christ.  But our fellowship with Him varies in quality as we work out our salvation in obedience (Philippians 2:12,13).  Where salvation through faith exists, there will be obedience and, as needed, prompt confession of sin and repentance for disobedience.

The Holy Spirit has been identified with fire (Luke 3:16; Acts 2:1-4). Paul is warning his readers about the danger of pouring water on that fire in their lives through ungodly attitudes toward others, selfish living, prayerlessness, and other evils. The Spirit of God is Holy and never leads us into such behaviors. Beware of quenching or grieving Him.

Distress and Comfort

The Christian rests in his relationship to God through Christ and finds comfort when the spiritual state of those he loves distresses him.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 56-58; 1 Thessalonians 3

Selected Verses

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:15

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8

Reflections

Paul was anxious about the Thessalonians. Twice he uses the phrase “[we or I] could bear it no longer” (3:1, 5). He wanted to know how those new believers were doing. He finally sent Timothy to them and learned that they were not only standing firm in the gospel but were impacting the whole region.

Isaiah describes how God who is high and lifted up also dwells with the one who is “of a contrite and lowly spirit.” If God is with us, assuming we qualify as having “a contrite and lowly spirit,” do we need anything more? No, not really. God is enough. The psalmist said, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25).

Yet Paul could not bear the distress of not knowing if the young Thessalonian disciples were doing well, not reverting to idol worship. Did Paul lack faith? Did he focus too much on being successful? No. We can see that Paul had a tender heart toward those he taught. It was natural, not sinful. He made the sacrifice of sending Timothy to inquire about them. There was nothing wrong with doing that. We would not expect a sincere minister or missionary to be cold and uncaring about those he has served in the gospel.

Think about it

So we are right to be concerned, even worried, about those whose spiritual lives could be in jeopardy. We are right to do what we can to care for them and to keep up with their circumstances and progress. In the final analysis, however, our greatest comfort and joy will be that “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” dwells with us and revives our hearts. Don’t be unfeeling toward others, but let God’s presence be the bedrock of your spirit to comfort you in distress.

To Spiritually Multi-task

God’s people are called to walk in holiness and bear fruit that glorifies Him. By His grace and the power of His Spirit we can spiritually multi-task.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 27-28; Ephesians 5

Selected Verses

In days to come Jacob shall take root,
Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots
and fill the whole world with fruit. Isaiah 27:6

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2

Reflections

Paul has painted a glorious picture of the purposes of God in all the earth, uniting Jews and Gentiles in Christ. Christians are made alive in Him–made one with God and all other believers.  He calls them to live in a way that is worthy of their high calling.

In today’s reading the apostle uses the image of walking to describe the Christian life, that is, a life lived as imitators of God. That walk is to be characterized by love, reflecting the sacrificial love of Jesus for us. We are to walk as children of the light.  That means fleeing impurity, and covetousness, and even talk that shows approval of such behavior.   Wisdom should be evident in our way of life and in our use of time. This does not mean we live in joyless asceticism, but we exchange the artificially-induced peace and pleasure of drunkenness for the filling of the Spirit and God-glorifying, church-edifying singing.

Isaiah foretold of the time when Israel would fill the world with fruit.  Certainly it would be far more than he could have imagined. God planned to unite Jews and Gentiles in the Messiah everywhere from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Think about it

The kingdom has come in part and it will come fully when Christ returns for His bride, the Church. I can’t wait, can you? Meanwhile, let’s fill the world with fruit as we walk in love, light, and wisdom. By His grace, let us spiritual multi-task till He comes or calls us home.

Unquenchable Joy

Joy–not dependent on circumstances–springs up in the life of those who have God’s Spirit. Nothing and no one can steal that joy from us. It is unquenchable.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 10-12; Galatians 5

Selected Verses

You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.  Isaiah 12:1-3

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.   Galatians 5:22-23

Reflections

Judah and Israel were concerned about national security and relief from the oppressing nations.  Isaiah came to them to speak of a Holy God Whom they had offended.  He was justly angry with them.  Assyria would defeat Israel.  Judah was on probation.  But Isaiah also gave them hope of a future in which they would know God’s salvation.  They would be comforted in the knowledge that His just anger was turned away.

The sweet promise “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation,” brings to mind Jesus’ words in John 7:38, Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Jesus was describing the Spirit that all who believed in Him would receive.

Paul tells the Galatians that in Christ they have freedom: freedom from their sin, guilt, and condemnation under the law.  They have the Spirit of God and He bears fruit in their lives:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Think about it

There can be nothing to compare with the comfort which comes from being totally forgiven by God–that He holds no more anger against us.  If the Spirit of God lives in us, how can we not have a deep joy that springs up like water from a well?  Let the joy of your salvation fill you today. The joy He gives is unquenchable.

The God of Peace and the Peace of God

Deep disappointment, alienation, pride, and disagreement occur in relationships, but the God of peace is glorified with reconciliation.

Today’s Reading

Song of Solomon 4-5; Second Corinthians 13

Selected Verses

 I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.  Song of Solomon 5:6

Finally, brothers,  rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Second Corinthians 13:11

Reflections

Romantic love has its ups and downs, and Solomon paints that picture in his Song. Anyone who has ever been in love can relate to this: the exhilaration of the first glimpse of the one who steals your heart completely (4:9) and the agony of possible loss of that relationship forever (5:6). With all the benefits and risks involved, we feel these are risks worth taking, because God said on the sixth day of creation, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). So, most of us pursue a lifelong, loving relationship with a mate. Alas, it can be elusive.  When found, it is never without difficulties and setbacks. But it is pleasing to the God of love to find it, and to nurture it.

In the Church, Christians are called to live in love demonstrating true discipleship through a level of sacrificial love faintly reflecting that of Jesus Christ (John 13:34, 35). The Corinthian church of Paul’s day had plenty of challenges. They were divided.  Phony “super apostles” drew them away from the true faith. They were tolerant of gross sin in their midst. All this was unacceptable, but not fatal, to the fellowship. Paul instructed them in the two letters, which we still have, as to how to overcome these problems and be restored to a life of peace together. This is what God calls them to.

Think about it

All of us, believers, need one another in the context of the local church. We are called out to be His body and to work together for His glory. He is not glorified when sin is overlooked and tolerated and when there is division and competition that negates the message of reconciliation with God. That reconciliation with Him is the foundation for our reconciliation with one another. For us who are married in Christ, we also are called to model, on a human level, the relationship of Christ and His Church. The same commands and promises Paul gave the church in Corinth apply to us who are married. Seek to be such that the God of peace and the peace of God are always with you.

Poverty, Joy, and Generosity: the Macedonians

Here we meet a group who did not let their desperate need stop their generosity. How God is glorified by such people who give despite their circumstances!

Today’s reading

Proverbs 30-31; Second Corinthians 8

Selected Verses

 She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.  Proverbs 31:20

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

Second Corinthians 8:1-2

Reflections

Paul was concerned for the poor in Jerusalem. In an orderly way, he went about Macedonia and Achaia asking the churches to contribute to these needy brothers and sisters whom they had never met. [See The Importance of Giving to the Poor]. The Macedonian churches, those in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, were themselves suffering from affliction and extreme poverty.

There were two surprises here. One, Paul told them about the collection even though they were in need themselves. He did not want to rob them of the joy of doing what they could. Second, they gave far more than Paul expected. How were they able to do this? It was a result of the grace of God in their lives. Surely, they grasped “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (vs. 9).

Proverbs concludes with a picture of the godly woman, wife, and mother. We have met Lady Wisdom and her counterpart Ms. Folly in chapter 9. Now only the wise woman appears. One of her qualities is concern for the poor and needy. She gives to them and reaches out to them. She gives them resources and assists them in practical ways. Diligence, as exemplified by this woman, generally results in abundance. Abundance should result in generosity. Sadly, this is often not the case (Luke 12:13-21). One might think that poverty would squelch joy and generosity. In the Macedonian churches, the opposite was true. God’s grace makes the difference.

Think about it

There is no greater evidence of the presence of God’s grace than to have joy and generosity whether in need or in abundance. What glory that manifestation of grace brings to God! Look at Jesus, today, and learn joy and generosity whether you have much or little.

The Sniffable Christian

Christians are called to shoulder a heavy responsibility, one that even the Apostle Paul found daunting. Did you know you emit a distinct fragrance?

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 17-18; Second Corinthians 2

Selected Verses

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and the Lord tests hearts.  Proverbs 17:3

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,  to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?   Second Corinthians 2:14-16

Reflections

One of the themes in Proverbs is the dichotomy between fools and wise people, between the faithful and the slothful, between those who receive instruction and those who are wise in their own eyes. While it is not always evident to the observer the true state of another person’s heart, God is able to test hearts and He does. Precious metal is purified by fire. The hearts of people are tested by God. So God’s judgment will never be unjust. He is a Judge who truly has all the information. [See Romans 2:15-16]

Paul bares his thoughts and feelings about his ministry. He finds it painful to confront people on hard issues and when he does, he does it because he loves them. This does not mean that the responses he gets are always positive. He gets strong reactions to his mere presence because wherever he goes God “through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”

That fragrance will be either the scent of life or the stench of death depending on the heart condition of the one doing the sniffing. So God who tests hearts uses His people to reveal the state of hearts. This is not the only way God tests hearts, but it is certainly one way. And Paul exclaims, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

Think about it

Indeed, who wants to carry such a burden? Who wants to be the person who, when entering the room, causes the crowd to either flee from him or flock to him? But that is the role of the believer and, if we are such, we should assume this role with humility and submission.

No, we are not sufficient for these things. But it is not us. It is Christ in us. He “always leads us in triumphal procession.” Trust Him. Follow Him. Expect to be sniffed.

By the way, if you find Christians abhorrent, be forewarned. You are probably perishing. May God give you grace to repent, believe, and find life in Him.