Counter Intuitive Wisdom

Biblical wisdom feels backwards to our human nature. Over and over the Bible gives a different perspective on life and truth.  Jesus said things like “...the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16 ESV).

The Truth

Here in today’s reading (Proverbs 19-21) we find another example of the difference between biblical teaching and conventional human wisdom.  Where society tells us to assert ourselves and look out for number one, Proverbs 19:11 tells us to be slow to anger and to overlook faults.

The Challenge

In this age of social media, anger spews forth and faults pile up.  Will you be sucked in to the fray or be slow to anger and overlook wrongs done?

God is glorified by those who resist the temptation to blast away and let anger fly.  Take heed to this warning when pressure to erupt comes.

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

Waiting Patiently

How long does it take to come full circle through the stages of waiting patiently?  That is, to move from despair, to prayer, to stability, to praise?  In today’s reading (Psalm 40-45), we find the psalmist going through these stages in what appears to be rapid succession.  Looking back he can report the progress as if it were almost instantaneous.  It probably wasn’t and won’t be for us either.  “I waited patiently for the Lord” he says (Psalm 40:1).

Are you waiting?  Are you patient?  Take hope in God’s faithfulness to bring you full circle in His time.  May you find peace in waiting patiently today.

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

All Things New

Those who believe God’s word live today in the light of a day to come when He makes all things new.

Today’s reading: Zechariah 13-14; Revelation 21

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one. Zechariah 14:9

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5a

The Urban Dictionary defines the “now generation” as “People who want instant gratification.” By definition Bible believers are not members of that group. We live for a day when His kingdom will come and the will of God will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Zechariah’s prophecy and the vision of John in Revelation intersect in today’s readings. Here we can see:

  1. God exercises authority over all things. He sits on the throne and there is no one who can compete with Him.
  2. All come to Him in worship.
  3. All things are made new. The fallen world with sickness, sorrow, tears, and death give way to a new heavens and earth where all is renewed.

Flee from the foolishness of the “now generation.” They want what they want and they want it now. Don’t fall for that illusion. Cling to the promises of God for a day when all things will be made new. The new year which is about to begin gives us an opportunity to consider how to make necessary changes to live more fully in the light of that day to come. How will you invest the year ahead to reflect an attitude of expectancy and faith in the day when the Lord makes all things new?

Silence in Heaven

Those who boast proudly before God will someday learn to keep silent before Him.

Today’s reading: Obadiah; Revelation 8
3 The pride of your heart has deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rock,
in your lofty dwelling,
who say in your heart,
“Who will bring me down to the ground?”
4 Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
though your nest is set among the stars,
from there I will bring you down,
declares the Lord.                                                                      Obadiah 1:3-4

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.                                                                                             Revelation 8:1

In John’s Revelation, the Lamb opens six of the seven seals. When He comes to the seventh seal, something unprecedented occurs. There is silence in heaven. The saints lifted up worship and loud praises to God, but now it stops. The guilty cry out in grief that the mountains should fall upon them to hide them. Now they all grow silent. It is as if they wait to see what the Lamb will do next. Then the judgment falls everywhere.

There was a time when the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, had grown so proud that they thought no one could bring them down. They vented their arrogance on suffering Israel. God sent Obadiah to warn them that He would bring them down. The judgment would be more thorough and complete than anything they could imagine.

The proud and foolish think that God, if He exists at all, has no interest or knowledge of people on earth. They see believers dying for their faith and do not know that the Lord receives them and keeps them safe. He reassures them that they will be avenged. The day of wrath comes.

What should be our attitude toward God? Prayerful humility behooves us. Silence before Him is befitting. Let all boastful pride be eliminated and replaced with prayerful humility and silence.

 

 

The Danger of Prosperity

Many can handle adversity, but few prosperity. Are you aware of the danger of prosperity?

Today’s reading: Hosea 12-14; Revelation 3

But I am the Lord your God
from the land of Egypt;
you know no God but me,
and besides me there is no savior.
5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness,
in the land of drought;
but when they had grazed, they became full,
they were filled, and their heart was lifted up;
therefore they forgot me.                                                        Hosea 13:4-6

17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.                                                                              Revelation 3:17-18

It seems to be the experience of many that in difficult times faith flourishes and good character is strengthened, while in times of ease and plenty laziness and arrogance grows. Can we handle prosperity?

Hosea delivered God’s brutally honest message to Israel and Judah. The Lord told them that He was with them in the wilderness and in the land of drought, but, when they got to lush pastures and were filled, they grew proud and forgot God. This led them to a spiritual wilderness and desert and to the need to recognize their sin and unfaithfulness.

In the letter to the Laodicean Church, the Lord made similar comments to those who were rich and prosperous. They were actually spiritually blinded by their apparent success and security. He diagnosed their true condition as being “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” They felt comfortable, but God found them lukewarm. Of course, being cold or hot does not feel comfortable. We prefer a moderate temperature, like lukewarmness. But God hates lukewarmness, spiritual lukewarmness, that is,  in those who claim to be His.

God in His grace and mercy sends His truth to His people. There is always a remedy for prosperity-induced laziness, arrogance, and lukewarmness. That remedy is repentance and confession of sin.

If these are not easy times, if you are in the wilderness or in dry lands, remember that the worst thing that can happen to you is not to suffer adversity but to forget the Lord. If these are good times in your life, be sure you are handling prosperity with humility and a God-glorifying focus. Beware the danger of prosperity.

A Time to Love; a Time to Hate

To hate what God hates is good, but not if we do not love what God loves.

Today’s reading: Hosea 9-11; Revelation 2

8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.                                                     Hosea 11:8-9

4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.                                                                                         Revelation 2:4-6

God’s love for His people is relentless, though He reveals in His Word how His heart recoils with the sinfulness of His people. Ultimately, God restrains His justice against His people and does not destroy them.

Hosea was sent to warn Judah and Israel of her impending judgment. This intervention by the Lord was another act of His patience and mercy. He gave them a chance to repent. He showed them through the sad, painful marital relationship of Hosea and Gomer, how God saw the unfaithfulness of His people toward Him. They repaid His goodness and blessing with idolatry and worship of false gods. Even after all that, God’s compassion toward them was aroused. As He said through the prophet Ezekiel, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” ( Ezekiel 18:23).

The Lord gave the Apostle John messages for seven churches of Asia Minor. Most of them contain warnings of impending judgment for their sin. In the letter to the church in Ephesus, He commends them for several qualities including their hatred of an heretical group called the Nicolaitans. While it was good to hate evil, they were also found to have abandoned the love they had shown earlier. Jesus tells them to repent of this attitude lest they lose their standing as a church completely.

Let this be a warning to us as well. Do not let hatred of evil drive out the love of God for those He is graciously calling to Himself. There is a time to love and a time to hate. (Ecclesiastes 3:8).

 

God Never Lets Us Go

God never lets us go.  But what if we sin, grievously?  Does He still hold on to us?

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 16; Hebrews 12

62 I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, 63 that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.”                                                                                                Ezekiel 16:62-63

5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?                                   Hebrews 12:5-7

Ezekiel delivers a brutal message to the exiles of Judah, a message filled with emotion and grief for the sins of God’s people in the face of His abundant mercy toward them. God poured out mercy and love on them when they were helpless and dying, but, as soon as they could, they responded with betrayal and spiritual adultery.

How did God respond to this? He cast them out of their land and sent them into captivity, but He did not forget His covenant with them. His punishment was discipline not rejection. There is a difference. God would restore them and keep His covenant with them. In fact, He would establish for them an everlasting covenant, a better covenant than the one they had broken.  What’s more He  promised to atone for them for all that they had done (vs. 53-63).  That is precisely what He did through the death of His Son, Jesus, on the cross.

The Hebrews, too, were experiencing God’s discipline. The Epistle called them to count this discipline not as rejection but as evidence of God’s love toward His sons. Instead of doubting the salvation that is in Jesus Christ, they are to “strive for peace with everyone and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (v. 14). When this is not the case and one or more of God’s people fail to obtain the grace of God, a root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble. The church is defiled by this process.

Welcome discipline. Take difficulties from God’s hand and let Him show you His grace to endure, to grow in holiness, and to be trained by it. Remember He atones for our sin, and He never lets us go. Never, despite our grievous sin.  If you are His.

Arrogant Unbelief

God is pleased with those who turn away from arrogant unbelief and trust Him even though death overtakes them waiting.

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 10-12; Hebrews 11:1-19

21 And the word of the Lord came to me: 22 “Son of man, what is this proverb that you have about the land of Israel, saying, ‘The days grow long, and every vision comes to nothing’? 23 Tell them therefore, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will put an end to this proverb, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel.’ But say to them, The days are near, and the fulfillment of every vision.                                                                   Ezekiel 12:21-23

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.                                                                                      Hebrews 11:13

The people of Judah and Israel had heard the visions of the prophets but had not seen their fulfillment. They grew impatient, then dulled, and, finally, arrogant in unbelief. “Nothing is going to happen,” they told themselves as they went on with their idolatry, seeking power from pagan gods.   All kinds of evil arises when a society collectively begins to assume that there is no God or that, if there is, He is powerless to act or complacent in condoning disbelief.

Ezekiel warned them that the visions were about to be fulfilled. All those prophecies about the fall of Babylon, the rise of Persia, and the return of the Jews to Jerusalem all came to pass on God’s schedule. Those who demanded that God do their bidding on their schedule would be shown up for fools.

But God is pleased with those who patiently wait in faith for Him to act. Hebrews 11 is a monument to those who trusted God to their dying day without seeing His promises fulfilled. They were included with all who “draw near to God [believing] that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (vs. 6)

Not everyone lives to see the fulfillment of God’s promises. We are privileged to live in the era of the last days, following the first advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, including His life, death, resurrection, and the building of His Church throughout the nations. Yet there is more to come, much more.

Be sure you don’t fall into the arrogant unbelief of the people of Ezekiel’s day who thought nothing would ever happen and who demanded that God perform for them. Christ will return, but, even if not in our lifetimes, God will be pleased as we draw near to Him in unwavering faith believing that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.

 

The Good, New Days

The destruction of Jerusalem brought inconsolable grief, a deep longing for the good, old days, but God had something new and far better planned.

Today’s reading: Lamentations 3-5; Hebrews 8

21 Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old—
22 unless you have utterly rejected us,
and you remain exceedingly angry with us. Lamentations 5:21-22

6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. Hebrews 8:6-7

The writer of Lamentations pours out his grief for Jerusalem, which lies in ruins. The best he can imagine is some kind of return to the wonderful days of peace and prosperity, maybe the reign of Solomon when Israel was one kingdom, rich in wealth, politically dominant, free from oppressors.  Ah, to return to those days again!

But Jeremiah had already prophesied that there would be a new covenant, not like the old one to which the people were unfaithful. [See Jeremiah 31:31-34.] The writer to the Hebrews reminds his readers that the new covenant made the old one obsolete. The good, old days were not so good, after all. The old covenant only served to show the sinful condition of the nation and the need for a better covenant, a better priest, and a better sacrifice. That is exactly what God did through Christ.

In the midst of difficult and trying times, it is easy to look back to some past era that seems to have been better. Resist that temptation and let go of the longing for some golden age of yesteryear. God, in Jesus Christ, has brought us a whole new covenant that far exceeds anything ever known. Pray that we may be faithful and live in anticipation of that day when His kingdom fully comes and all things are made new.

Vows of God

When God makes a vow, He swears by Himself and it will be done. Always.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 51-52; Hebrews 6

14 The Lord of hosts has sworn by himself:
Surely I will fill you with men, as many as locusts,
and they shall raise the shout of victory over you.

15 “It is he who made the earth by his power,
who established the world by his wisdom,
and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. Jeremiah 51:14-15

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. Hebrews 6:19-20

Just when it seemed like all was forever lost, Jeremiah delivered a message from God to the exiles from Judah in Babylon. Babylon, by God’s command, had desecrated and destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. All that was precious to Judah was in ruins. The kingdom was humiliated.

But God called them to turn their thoughts back to Him and back to Jerusalem. Babylon would pay for her devastation. Babylon was about to go into ruins. God had sworn by Himself to bring about this prophecy. This God is the One “who made the earth by his power…and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.” Nothing can stop Him. He does all that He decrees. He swears by Himself for there is nothing and no one greater.

The Hebrews also needed to be reminded of God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness as exemplified in His keeping of His covenant promises to Abraham which He swore by Himself. God’s covenant with Abraham was made unilaterally as a smoking pot and flaming torch passed between the severed carcasses of a heifer, a female goat, and a ram. [See Genesis 15].   Like the displaced Jews of the Babylonian captivity and the aging childless Abraham, the readers of the epistle were faced with tremendous pressure to discouragement and even to renounce their faith. They needed to remember that God proved true then, and He would prove true again.

If there is anything we can learn from the history of God’s dealings with His people, it is that He always fulfills His vows. He swears by Himself and He cannot fail. Do you wonder if God will complete His promises in your life? Do not doubt. You do not know how or when, but all that He vows to do, He will do. Trust Him.