Battle for Morality

Reformed and evangelical Christians believe that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.  But in our pluralistic society not everyone is reformed or evangelical.  So, many (probably most) do not hold to this belief. Moral codes and laws depend on broad acceptance and support.

Should Christians vote for and work for laws which reflect biblical views?  If they believe that all mankind is answerable to one God who has revealed His law in Scripture, then the answer is “yes.”   Bible believers will be told they are trying to impose their views on others, to make their standards normative for all.  But if the Bible is true, it is God who has imposed His standards on us all and we ignore them to our own peril.  As laws are made in our congress or state houses, someone’s view is imposed, a biblical view or a secular one.  I think a biblical view is better than a secular one, even for those who otherwise have little or no regard for the Bible.  If you disagree, don’t worry.  I have only one vote.  If it fails, I will suffer the consequences that come.  Change my belief, I cannot.

Today’s reading:

Acts 27:27-Romans 1:32

My selection:

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:32

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

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

A Warning against Stereotyping

Why is it so tempting to engage in stereotyping?  With a little reflection on today’s reading (Proverbs 28-30) we can see that there are exceptions to the profiles we tend to develop.   For example,

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity
    than a rich man who is crooked in his ways. Proverbs 28:6 (ESV)

Rich people may be honest or deceptive.  Poor people may be lazy or diligent.  Although society tends to honor material success, God holds up the honest, hard-working poor as better than a wealthy swindler.

We stereotype because we resist thinking deeply about truth and reality.  In the present atmosphere of my country, deep divisions and animosity rock us.  These are often based on this dangerous practice of painting with a broad brush various categories of people based on ethnicity, political views, gender, religion,  or socioeconomic status.

What can we do?

Christians are commanded to pray. Paul wrote:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 2:1-4 (ESV)

Pray for our national and local leaders. Pray that we will not fall prey to a simplistic way of seeing everything.  Pray that God’s people will model wisdom and speak the truth in love.

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

Job:True Confidence or Naive Denial?

In today’s reading (Job 19:1-21:34), Zophar, argues that Job’s sufferings prove his guilt.  Job retorts that wicked people often prosper so why should suffering always indicate guilt?  Who’s right?  Keep reading and we will find out in a few days.

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

God’s Absolute Justice

Here’s a perfect example of how God’s wisdom and justice is far above ours.

Today’s reading:  1 Kings 14:1-16:20

Baasha carries out God’s justice but also receives it.

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

Words from Heaven

Today’s reading: Exodus 20:22-23:13

We may find some of God’s rules for ancient Israel to be largely irrelevant in our modern society, but they do show that all of life is lived before the face of God. He is properly concerned about how we deal with others: showing care, love, and justice.

NOTE: Your thoughtful comments and respectful criticisms are welcome below. Please allow a day or two for approval to see your reply on-line.

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

Final Victory

God will bring final victory over all the forces of evil, therefore He calls His people to separate themselves from those who are doomed.

Today’s reading: Zechariah 4-6; Revelation 18

6 Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. 7 Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’”  Zechariah 4:6-7

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities. Revelation 18:4-5

There have been many moments in history when it appeared that God’s people had no hope of final victory. The Lord always sent messengers to reassure the Church that she would not be ultimately defeated.

In Zechariah’s day, the temple was in ruins and God commanded its rebuilding. It seemed impossible and, in fact, it was. But it did not depend on the strength or might of human beings, even of those who loved the Lord and longed to see worship restored. Through the vision, the prophet understood that it would be successful through the Spirit of the Lord of hosts. God commands all the armies of angels and He does His will which no one can thwart.

John was permitted to see the fall of Babylon. She had commanded the world, economically and culturally, and seemed invincible. All who dealt with her enjoyed wealth and pleasure. But her end is assured. She will be brought down to nothing. Her ruin will be mourned by those who depended on her. God called His people to come out and not to go down with her in judgment.

What is your view of the dominant culture of our day? Are you optimistic that God’s truth will ultimately triumph? If you are one who has been bought by the blood of the Lamb, flee either pessimism or compromise. Final victory is  assured.

 

 

Living God or Cosmic Cupcake?

God is frequently misrepresented today as being all love and forgiveness, but, beware, for the Bible reveals a living God who will judge the sin which becomes so comfortable to us.

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 7-9; Hebrews 10:24-39

9 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.’ 10 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

29 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? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:29-31

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. They had grown bold in their sin thinking that God had departed from them, and did not see what they were doing.  They could not imagine the danger they were in, as the Apostle Paul would later ask: “Do you suppose, O man…that you will escape the judgment of God? …But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” [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 they felt comfortable 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?

God will repay. He will judge. Satan blinds the eyes of those who sin and glibly say “the Lord does not see.” Do not be found among those of hard and impenitent hearts. Repent of all known sin. Believe in Jesus and be forgiven. 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.

The Longed-For Kingdom

The reign of Jesus Christ, unlike that of Zedekiah, is founded on righteousness and will endure forever. This is the eternal kingdom to which all God’s people belong.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 38-39; Hebrews 1

6 The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah at Riblah before his eyes, and the king of Babylon slaughtered all the nobles of Judah. 7 He put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. Jeremiah 39:6-7

8 But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” Hebrews 1:8-9

As I write this, it is Election Day in the USA, the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. National Public Radio this morning reported on the rapid decline in religion in this nation. Belief in God is down. Identification with a particular church is down. It appears that hostility and disrespect frequently characterize public conversation about the political, social, and spiritual state of affairs in this country.

But we, reformed, evangelical Christians, do share some common dreams and longings even with those who do not agree with our theology. I think it is fair to say, we all long for a government led by honorable, just leaders, with laws that facilitate the flourishing of every person. Can anyone doubt that, if we somehow could achieve this utopia, we would want it to endure till the end of time?

Israel was not that utopia. The kingdom first established under King Saul benefited from the reigns of David and Solomon, but split in two, under foolish King Rehoboam. Neither the populace nor many of the rulers loved righteousness. Captivity devastated both kingdoms ending with the shameful capture and blinding of King Zedekiah.

But there was a promise. That promise was that a righteous king would rule on an eternal throne. That promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. His kingdom is forever!

The readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews were painfully aware of the failure of their nation to establish a permanent, just kingdom. We, too, should know that our nation is not the fulfillment of the promised kingdom. The writer points us to the Only One who could fulfill it, the One who is the Son of God, the radiance of His glory and the exact imprint of his nature. I long for His return and the final fulfillment of the promise. Do you? If so, pray that we will be faithful until that day, and that it may be soon.

Handling Injustice

Two godly men were unjustly imprisoned, but their responses to suffering were quite different.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 20-22; 2 Timothy 1

7 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.
8 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

6 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, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.                                                         2 Timothy 1:6-7

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, but notice how differently they responded to their situations.

Jeremiah (ch. 20) 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. Paul assures 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.

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 if you suffer injustice for His sake.

Competition for Glory

When God is ignored or rejected, the vacuum left is filled with something else, something which usurps the glory due to Him.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 14-16; 1 Timothy 5

20 Can man make for himself gods?  Such are not gods!”

21 “Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord.” Jeremiah 16:20-21

7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 1 Timothy 5:7

The messages in the prophecy of Jeremiah center around Judah’s failure to honor and worship God and the judgment that was about to come upon them. This judgment would spill over into the whole earth as God always has all the tribes, families, language groups, and nations in view, not only the Jews. Again and again the purpose of God to make Himself known to mankind comes piercing through.

In chapter 16, Jeremiah says, “to you shall the nations come…” (vs. 19b). The nations will come and confess that their fathers had believed lies and trusted in man-made gods. These were powerless and empty. God responds to this kind of confession and makes Himself known.

The Church of Jesus Christ has a special responsibility to be faithful to the Lord at every level, even in the matter of interpersonal relationships with older men and women, and younger men and women (1 Timothy 5:1-2). Paul goes into detail about the care of widows, balancing corporate responsibility with familial obligations. There is a place for the church to assume a major role in the care of the true widow. Her character must be godly. She must not have other sources of support and be beyond the age of remarriage and childbearing. There were dangers of condoning laziness and sloth, but, also, of selfishly neglecting widows (or others) that were truly in need. Paul’s thorough instructions aim to avoid excesses that would bring shame on the church.

It’s all about knowing and glorifying God. That is why Judah existed. That is why the Church exists. That is why mankind exists. Is that your purpose? Beware of other gods that creep into our hearts: self-glorification, power, prestige, pride. “Such are not gods!” Let nothing compete for God’s glory that you and, as far as it depends on you, His church be above reproach.