No Exceptions

The rules in Proverbs have exceptions, but there are no exceptions to the rule that God is with His people in their deepest trials fulfilling His purposes.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 15-16; Second Corinthians 1

Selected Verses

Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.  Proverbs 16:20

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.  Second Corinthians 1:8b-10

Reflections

There are several Proverbs here that seem to emphatically state that if one does right he will be blessed, and, if he does evil, he will suffer (Proverbs 15:6, 10, 22, 24; 16:3, 4, 7, 20).  Yet both in our personal experience and in other parts of the Bible, we see the wicked enjoying success, at least temporarily.  Conversely, godly people may go through unspeakable trials.  Paul himself was in this second category.   So was our Lord Jesus Christ as we already noted two days ago here.

The Apostle describes his suffering in terms of being on the verge of death.  He had no hope in this world, but his trust in God was strengthened.  God raises the dead.  Maybe that was His plan.  So Paul kept trusting God and was delivered.  He could look back on what he went through as a means of growing his faith and trust.

Think about it

Who doesn’t need to grow in trust in God?  I’m sure I do.

If trust in God, such that He is glorified in whatever situation we are in, is our goal (and it should be), what might He use to bring about the purifying of our faith?  In Job’s case, it was bereavement, financial devastation, chronic sickness and constant pain.   His insensitive wife and badly misinformed friends further compounded the problem.  In Paul’s case, it was some kind of near-death experience.

I do not wish for you or me to go through anything remotely resembling Job’s or Paul’s crises, but I am sure that the end result for us, like them, would be wonderful.  Pray for those who suffer today.  Pray that you will be faithful and that, whatever God chooses to send you, He will be with you and ultimately use it for great good and for a ministry of comfort to others.

When the Prosperity Gospel Goes Bankrupt

The prosperity gospel teaches “Believe in Jesus and you will have health and wealth.” But many of us find this isn’t true. What then?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 73-74; Romans 5

Selected Verses

 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.   Psalm 73:25-26

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings.  Romans 5:1-3

Reflections

As Psalm 73 opens, the writer is not satisfied at all—not in God, not with life.  He lays out a common complaint. “Why do the unrighteous prosper while good people suffer?” His observation is accurate in many cases.  You’d think the opposite would always hold. But keep reading.  The Psalm gives us two answers to that question.

The first, and most obvious, answer is that though the present life may be comfortable for them the end of the wicked is ruin, destruction, and terrors (vs.17-19).   In light of this, the Psalmist’s complaint turns into a confession of his ignorance and brutishness toward God (vs. 21-22).

Second, the righteous clings to the hope of a good final end, unfazed by the suffering of his present life.  He has the Lord with Him and enjoys God’s guidance.  The godly anticipate the glory to come (vs. 23, 24). God is all he desires, all he needs. He has everything in Him. Why complain and compare?

Paul in Romans 5 expands this thought as he describes the relationship which the justified sinner has with God. That new relationship is one of peace, grace, joy, and hope all through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Are there sufferings? Yes! But even sufferings are a cause for joy, because they serve to build endurance, character, and hope. How is this possible? Because of the love God has “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (vs. 5).

Think about it

Even for us who know Christ, envy of the wicked and complaints about our lot in life will crop up from time to time in our hearts.  Don’t let them take root and flourish. Instead find joy in the hope of coming glory and be satisfied in God alone. As pastor and author Dr. John Piper, famously says “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” We will not learn to be satisfied in Him without a good portion of suffering after the prosperity gospel has gone bankrupt.

 

When the Righteous are Afflicted

Isn’t it illogical that the righteous suffer afflictions?  Why wouldn’t God see that those who obey Him never suffer? Scripture enlightens those in the dark.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 34-35; Acts 22

Selected Verses

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.    Psalm 34:19-20

Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” Acts 22:22

Reflections

Righteousness does not exempt a person from afflictions, as the Psalmist’s words and Paul’s experience both affirm.  Above all, the only perfect Righteous One, the Lord Jesus Christ, sustained the greatest afflictions ever known.

Nowhere in Scripture does God promise a life free from trials for His people.  He does promise to be with His own and to deliver them out of all their adversities.  But He does not give a time schedule.  It could be soon or it could be after death.  The specific promise of Psalm 34:20, we learn from the Apostle John (John 19:36), was made to Jesus and fulfilled at His crucifixion.

Paul’s life became increasingly difficult.  In Jerusalem, he faced angry mobs of Jews, and nervous Roman authorities who wanted to maintain order.  God was not displeased with Paul, His servant and messenger to the Gentiles, yet God assigned him some very great afflictions which Paul accepted and used as a platform from which to preach the good news of life in Christ.

It may seem illogical that the righteous suffer many afflictions.  Why wouldn’t life be better by living in a godly way?  Why wouldn’t God see that those who honor Him the most suffer the least?  Job certainly asked this question and waited in agony for an answer.  He didn’t know what the Bible tells us about his suffering, that it was to vindicate the name and glory of God before Satan.  Yet Job had no complaints in the end.  He stopped questioning God. He prayed for his friends. And God restored all his losses doubly.

Think about it

Believing reader, are you facing hard times which seem to have no relationship to any failure, foolishness, or sin in your life?  Take rest in God who promises to be near to the brokenhearted and to save the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).  He will deliver you in His time because Jesus Christ suffered to purchase your redemption and promised to deliver you from all affliction in His presence forever.

Strength for Today; Hope for Tomorrow

God, who is unchanging, gives His people strength to do His will today and hope that someday our struggles and burdens will end when we see Him.

Today’s Reading

Job 19-20; Acts 9:23-43

Selected Verses

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! Job 19:25-27

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.  Acts 9:31

Reflections

Job continues his complaint against God in vivid terms. He has been abandoned by everyone he knows. But suddenly he seems to recall that he has a Redeemer, One who will save him. That Redeemer is alive and will reveal Himself after Job has finally died. God has stripped poor Job of every comfort and dignity of this life, but there will come a meeting. Job will see his Redeemer.

The church had been devastated with persecution, but God had turned it to good by sending out His people to proclaim the good news of Jesus throughout the nearby nations. Saul went after them but found Jesus himself. He then became a preacher of the gospel he had been seeking to silence. He had to flee for his life from his former allies. Meanwhile a measure of peace came to the church in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. The church grew spiritually and numerically. The disciples were “walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.”

Think about it

No matter what your situation today, seek to walk in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. If you are suffering, like Job, remember that your Redeemer is alive. He awaits you when this life is over. As the old hymn goes,

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,

Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

(from “Great is Thy Faithfulness” by T.O.Chisholm 1866-1960)

When Believers Suffer

Believers are not automatically sheltered from suffering, but God is sovereign, good, and trustworthy whether or not He reveals His purpose for it.

Today’s Reading

Job 10-12; Acts 8:1-25

Selected Verses

I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me. Job 10:2

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.  Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. So there was much joy in that city.  Acts 8:4, 5, 8

Reflections

To Job, his suffering seemed like condemnation from God. It felt like God was punishing him and he wondered why. His assumption was wrong. God was not punishing him, so the question why could not be answered by some failure in Job.  He was truly left in the dark for quite some time. His friends did not help with their comments and mixed-up analyses. Some of what they said was true, but they certainly had less insight into what God was doing than even Job.

Job says some wise things in the midst of his pain. For example, “In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip.” (12:5)   In other words, suffering is ready to pounce on you when you slip, but those who have no suffering look with disdain on those who do. We are truly sustained by God’s mercy and grace. Our heart beats and our lungs breathe at His will.

Some who suffer for their faith get a glimpse of why it is. The disciples were scattered from Jerusalem due to the severe persecution that began with the stoning of Stephen. They naturally told the good news of Christ and the hope of the resurrection wherever they went. Philip, one of the seven men chosen with Stephen to wait on tables, saw powerful results from his preaching in Samaria so “there was much joy in that city.” Ask one of those Samaritans why they thought God allowed a persecution against the believers in Jerusalem. You would probably get an enthusiastic answer to the effect that the persecution brought them the gospel and life eternal.

Think about it

God is free to do with us what He will. He is also free to reveal His reasons or not. He calls us to walk by faith, even in the dark. But He has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6). Walk on in pain, if that is your lot today. He had a purpose for Job and the disciples in Jerusalem. He knows what He is doing with you, too.

What to do when obedience brings ridicule

The price of obedience to God can be extremely high.  Obedience must be by faith, because it does not always bring instant positive reinforcement.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 29-31; John 18:1-23

Selected Verses

So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them.  However, some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.  The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.  2 Chronicles 30:10-12

When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”  Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” John 18:22-23

Reflections

Hezekiah set out to turn Judah and Israel back to the Lord.  After cleansing the temple and consecrating the priests, his next step was to celebrate the long-neglected Passover.  The king sent out couriers to the northern kingdom inviting them to join in the feast, but it seems the typical response was to laugh them to scorn.

There were exceptions, of course, as “some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.”  Why did these few respond?  The next verse says it was the hand of God which “was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.”  It is God Who works in human hearts to bring about obedience and faith.  Otherwise, people mock and scorn the Lord’s messengers as they did the couriers of the king.

Jesus’ obedience was the most costly of anyone in all of human history.  In His trial before Annas, He was questioned about matters of public knowledge as they searched for grounds on which to charge Him.  Jesus spoke the truth but was struck for it.  This was only the beginning of the sufferings, mocking, and abuse He would receive.

Think about it

When you obey God and suffer for it, are you tempted to second-guess your action?  Do you expect to have your obedience to God instantly rewarded?  Neither Hezekiah’s couriers nor Jesus did.  Obey by faith and be ready to follow the steps of your Savior who suffered for you.  His reward was not instant, but it was great and it was eternal.  Your reward may be delayed, too, but it will come in God’s time.

People who Please God and Rock the Boat

Once while under arrest the apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men”  (Acts 5:29).  That is true and simple but not easy nor comfortable.

Today’s Reading

I Samuel 17-18; Luke 15:1-10

Selected Verses

And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him.  And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him.  But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them. I Samuel 18:14-16

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2

Reflections

He who faithfully does the will of God is likely to attract the attention and animosity of the vested elite of society.  David and Jesus turned the course of history by doing God’s will.  They were both beloved by the rank and file people of their day but drew scorn and hostility from those whose positions of power were threatened.

David distinguished himself early by his passion for the glory of the living God who Goliath and the Philistines disrespected (17:26).  So vocal was he that he irritated some and attracted others, even King Saul (17:31).  But David’s success with Goliath and in subsequent battles eventually unsettled Saul who was increasingly fearful of him.  Saul began to look for ways to eliminate David.  Saul sought his own glory and completely misunderstood the glory of God that David so passionately defended.

Jesus brought division to His society.  The outcasts loved Him.  He brought them hope of forgiveness and redemption.  The Pharisees and scribes grumbled because of the Lord’s acceptance of sinners.  They sought to justify themselves before God and completely misunderstood the holiness of God and His mercy toward sinners.

Think about it

Those who know God well and proclaim His name faithfully are liable to upset the powers that be.  Seek to know God well.  Seek to lift up His name faithfully.  Accept the consequences.  God’s approval is all that matters.  Go ahead, rock the boat if God is glorified.

 

When Suffering Doesn’t Make Sense

God providentially controls our suffering. But why He sends suffering is not always obvious to us.  How do we handle such situations?

Today’s Reading

I Samuel 7-9; Luke 13:1-21

Selected Verses

As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. I Samuel 7:10

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Luke 13:1-3

Reflections

While cause and effect relationships exist in our experience, it is not always possible to draw perfectly correct conclusions about those relationships because God intervenes in ways we sometimes do not understand.  Suffering doesn’t always come as punishment for some failure.  In fact, it can come when we feel we are walking closely to the Lord.

The Israelites suffered for years under oppression by the Philistines. Finally, they cried out to the Lord for deliverance. Samuel called them together for prayer and repentance. Immediately, the Philistines were suspicious of this gathering and mounted an attack which intimidated the Israelites. It must have seemed to them like the national prayer meeting was a really bad idea that was actually making things worse.

But then God intervened sending tremendous thunder so deafening that the army of Philistea was thrown into confusion and defeat. The men of Israel chased them and struck them down.

In Jesus’ day there were two incidents which resulted in speculation about causes and effects. Some Galileans were killed by Herod while attempting to offer sacrifices to God. A tower fell on some people at Siloam causing their deaths. Were those people merely reaping the consequences of their sins? Jesus denied that those victims were any worse sinners than their neighbors. He warned His hearers to repent or they would also perish.

Think about it

There can be an apparent disconnect, at least in the short term, between a person’s spiritual life and their outward circumstances. Sometimes evil people prosper while godly people may face enormous suffering (Psalm 73). Turning to the Lord is not a quick fix for all our difficulties. It may bring on greater difficulties. Ultimately, the Lord promises that His people will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).  Are you suffering despite your obedience to God? Plod on in faith. May God give you grace as you await your eternal home.

Hated, Excluded, Reviled, Spurned, Blessed

What? Hated, Excluded, Reviled, Spurned, Blessed.  This is how Jesus described His disciples.  An odd group of words and an odd group of people.

Today’s reading

Joshua 21-22; Luke 6:1-26

Selected Verses

No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, “What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel?”  Joshua 22:24

Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.  Luke 6:22-23

Reflections

In the book of Joshua we come to the end of the conquest of the land.  The war was over and occupation had begun.  It was now time for the eastern tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh) to return to their territories across the Jordan River.  They nearly set off a civil war by building an imposing altar on the western banks of the river without explaining what they were doing or what they meant by it.

Driven by fear of future exclusion from the rest of Israel and from the worship of God, the eastern tribes erected what was suspected to be an unauthorized worship site potentially leading to apostasy and the wrath and judgment of God.  The whole nation was still smarting from the wickedness of Achan that had brought God’s judgment on them (Joshua 7).  Fear on both sides of the Jordan almost resulted in war.  Diplomatic talks clarified the issue and reduced everyone’s fears.  War was averted.

In Luke today we find Jesus experiencing hatred and rejection by the religious authorities of His day.  The plotting against Him has begun.  He knows opposition will ramp up and He will soon die. So will some who follow Him, but He does not tell them how to avoid opposition that comes on His account.  He tells them to welcome it “when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil” because as they experience it, they are blessed and their reward will be great in heaven.

Think about it

Do not fear persecution on the account of Jesus Christ.  Stay calm if they accuse you of being evil.  This is nothing new.  In ancient days, the prophets suffered and sometimes died for being faithful to God.  Do not take extreme measures, like the eastern tribes, to attempt to avoid being misunderstood.  Be faithful to the Lord and the gospel.  God will bless any suffering and reward you both now and in eternity.

Note: please consult your physician before attempting to leap for joy.

 

Understanding Family Hostility

Today’s reading

Genesis 29-30; Matthew 10:1-23

Selected verses

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!”

Genesis 30:1

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Matthew 10:21-22

Reflections

Does family hostility always prove God’s displeasure?  From today’s readings, we learn that wonderful harmony at home may elude even those who faithfully follow Christ.  We should not pursue unity among relatives at all costs.

Jacob got where he got by several deceptive moves (taking advantage of his brother and father).  He met his match with Laban who married off his homely daughter to him and tricked him out of 14 years of labor for the wife he really wanted.  This led to conflict between the competing wives.  The family would experience lifelong misery. Still, Jacob generally did what God called him to do.

Jesus warned the disciples that those who followed him would be hated by all for His name’s sake and even experience conflict with their closest family members.  The faithful disciple would not be able to count on support where he might expect it.

Think about it

What goes through your mind when you face rejection or conflict with those you love as a result of your faith in the Lord?  Do you wonder if you are truly being a faithful disciple of Christ?  Do you doubt your faith?  Dr. Steven Lawson wrote about the life of Job: “When all hell breaks loose, you might be doing something right.”

As the twelve disciples took on an increasingly public role in proclaiming the gospel of their master, they could expect increasing hostility.  So can you and I, but remember we have a promise “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”