Ending Well

While there’s life, there’s hope, but there’s also danger.  Will you be ending well? Here is an exhortation for all of us.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 17-19; Hebrews 13

Selected Verses

The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.   But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Ezekiel 18:20-21

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7

Reflections

In Ezekiel’s day, the people had a saying ‘‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (18:2).  The Lord rebuked them for using this proverb. He said that each person held responsibility for himself as to his obedience or disobedience.  Whatever path a person chose, righteousness or sin, was his own and he would enjoy the blessings or suffer the consequences.  A parent’s sin could not make his child incur guilt, nor could a parent’s obedience merit forgiveness to a sinful child.  Each one stands alone before God with his own record.

But change is possible.  No one is locked into a lifestyle of sin or righteousness based on choices in his youth.  It’s how you end up that matters.  After a life of crime, the repentant thief on the cross pleaded for mercy and found forgiveness at death’s door (Luke 23:39-43).  It is also possible that one might prove to be unfaithful at the end of life.  See? It’s how you end up that counts.  It is never too late to repent, but it’s also never too late to rebel.

The writer to the Hebrews gives his readers an assortment of commands in light of all he has written.  Several of them have to do with their relationship with their spiritual leaders, those who had taught them God’s Word (vs. 7, 17).   They must observe the outcome of those godly lives and imitate their faith.  How did those men’s lives turn out?  If they were faithful to the end, the outcome was good.  If not, one ought to be forewarned that even those who at one time show some signs of true faith and obedience to God can veer off and prove to be unbelievers.  This does not mean that anyone can lose his salvation. It does mean that anyone can act pious for a time and then fail to endure to the end [See Matthew 7:21-23; 13:1-23; 2 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:19].

Think about it

Be on guard against the schemes of Satan.  Do not be presumptuous of your ability to resist every temptation and trap.  We all know some who have not. May you and I endure faithfully and finish by ending well.

Commended by God

Every disciple of Jesus Christ should aim to please God and to be commended by Him at the end of this age. Every other award pales in significance.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 13-15; Hebrews 11:20-40

Selected Verses

 Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life,  therefore you shall no more see false visions nor practice divination. I will deliver my people out of your hand. And you shall know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 13:22-23

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,  since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.  Hebrews 11:39-40

Reflections

We make much of awards and recognition in our society. But honors only hold meaning when either they come from an important source (like the Medal of Honor given by the President of the United States of America) or they reflect true achievement (e.g. the Eagle Scout award). My wife taught at an elementary school in Texas where at an  end-of-the-year ceremony every student automatically got the “Shark Award” just for being enrolled in the school. It didn’t reflect perfect attendance much less exemplary behavior or outstanding academic achievement. Even the youngest kids quickly understood that the award meant nothing.

God rewards and punishes mankind according to their performance. Through Ezekiel, the Lord told the false prophets of Judah that they had failed. Their so-called prophecies sent a deceptive message to God’s people–discouraging the faithful and encouraging the wicked. God stopped them in their tracks and shut down this kind of evil influence.

In Hebrews 11, we read of those who were faithful to their deaths, faithful even though the final fulfillment of God’s promises did not appear. God commended them for their unwavering faith. He calls them people “of whom the world was not worthy” (vs. 38). Now that is a commendation worth getting!

Think about it

What recognition do you seek? Are you after a mere “Shark Award” or are you seeking to please God and receive His “well done”?  No award in this world compares to hearing  God’s approval. Seek His commendation.

Arrogant Unbelief

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

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 10-12; Hebrews 11:1-19

Selected Verses

 And the word of the Lord came to me:  “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’? 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

 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

Reflections

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 or complacent towards sin.

Ezekiel warned them of the soon coming fulfillment of the visions. 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. He showed them all up for fools who demanded that God do their bidding on their schedule.

But our waiting patiently in faith for God to act pleases Him. 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)

Think about it

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, ascension, and the building of His Church throughout the nations. Yet there is more–much more–to come.

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.

Two Traits of True Believers

Although never perfect in this life, Christians will necessarily find sweetness in God’s Word and anticipate Jesus Christ’s return. Are these traits yours?

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 1-3; Hebrews 9

Selected Verses

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it; and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. Ezekiel 3:1

And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28

Reflections

God called Ezekiel to be a prophet to His people during the time of the Babylonian Captivity. Like Jeremiah, he would get a cold reception from his hearers, the exiled Jews.  The Lord commissioned Ezekiel to deliver a message, but with the assurance that he would not be successful in changing their hearts and minds. All who are called to serve God, are called first of all, to be faithful. Success is up to God.

The prophet embraced his calling. The Lord instructed him to “eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” He obeyed and found that–although the scroll contained a message of “lamentation and mourning and woe”–in his mouth it was “as sweet as honey.” But would his hearers agree? No, not at all.  God had already warned him that they were a rebellious people, impudent and stubborn (2:3-7).

The Hebrews, faced with pressures and trials, needed reassurance of the sweetness of the gospel of Christ, which is superior in every way to the Old Testament priesthood. Jesus Christ’s High Priestly ministry resulted in a once-for-all dealing with sin and His exaltation into heaven where He intercedes before God on their behalf.  They also needed reassurance that Christ would appear to them a second time to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.  The writer of the epistle gave them both of these reassurances.

Think about it

Distinguishing traits of believers are: diligent intake of God’s word which they find sweet, and eager anticipation of Christ’s return which overrides the trials, distractions, and seductions of this world. We are not fully sanctified, but pray earnestly that these traits will describe you more and more.

The Use and Abuse of Authority

All authority comes from God, so it must be used in God-honoring ways. Here we have contrasting examples of men in authority.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 36-37; Philemon

Selected Verses

As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot.  Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. Jeremiah 36:23-25

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required,  yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. Philemon 8-10

Reflections

Jeremiah received a message from God for the people of Judah. By God’s instruction, he had his scribe Baruch write the message down on a scroll. Since Jeremiah had been banned from the temple area, the prophet sent Baruch to read the message to the crowd gathered to worship on a fast day. Word came back to the king’s servants about this reading and they investigated further. As these officials of the king listened to Baruch read, they were gripped with fear (Jeremiah 36:16). They knew the king needed to hear the message, so they arranged to take the scroll, send Jeremiah and Baruch into hiding, and have the scroll read to King Jehoiakim.

The king listened to the reading, but had the scroll cut into sections and burned. Such was Jehoiakim’s abuse of God-given authority. He would pay for it with the end of his reign and a shameful death without so much as a pauper’s burial.

Paul, on the other hand, shows great restraint in the use of his authority over Philemon. He appeals to his friend to take kind and forgiving action toward his slave, Onesimus. In God’s providence, Onesimus had met Paul and, through him, Christ. Paul wrote to the Colossian church, possibly about the same time, as to the proper attitudes of a master toward a slave (Colossians 3:22-4:1).

Think about it

As king, Jehoiakim discouraged his officials from what appears to be an initial desire to obey God’s word. Paul encourages obedience to his friend but without being heavy handed.  Beware of ungodly authorities. Beware of the abuse of authority. Submit to God and to His authorities when appropriate. Use your authority with grace and restraint.

Preparing for the Bad, Last Days

What should we do to prepare for the future? Scripture is clear. Know God’s Word well and you will be ready to complete whatever assignment God has for you.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 25-26; Second Timothy 3

Selected Verses

[Jeremiah said] “Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.”  Jeremiah 26:15-16

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. Second Timothy 3:16-17

Reflections

Paul writes to instruct Timothy in his pastoral duties and also to alert him (and all of us who have lived since him) as to the dangerous, difficult times that were and are to come. We read the list which begins with “lovers of self” and ends with “having the appearance of godliness but denying its power” (vs. 2-5). Narcissism would be rampant with phony, hypocritical uprightness.

Paul didn’t worry that Timothy would go astray. He knew the depth of character of his protégé. Not only that, Timothy had the Scriptures his whole life, the Word of God which brings wisdom for salvation and goes on to teach, reprove, correct, and train all who know it. Paul did want Timothy to continue to rely on the Word for his own life and for his ministry in light of the expected difficulties ahead.

Jeremiah affirmed to the rebellious leaders of Judah that he spoke God’s Word to them. They not only ignored it but pondered executing him for preaching it. He barely escaped death for standing on God’s Word. He might have died for preaching the truth, but his enemies would and did die by it.

Think about it

How do we prepare for whatever may come? There’s nothing wrong with stocking up on food, water, and firewood, but without a deep knowledge of the Bible it will be in vain. Be prepared God’s way, by His Word, given to us that the man or woman of God “may be complete, equipped for every good work” including enduring the bad, last days. The Bible brings us spiritual growth as we allow it to teach, reprove, correct, and train us throughout the years of our lives. Make the daily study of Scripture your priority.

Flee Idols; Worship God

God rules over all things including us. He promises blessings as we flee idols and honor and submit to Him willing. If not, great suffering will be ours.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 17-19; First Timothy 6

Selected Verses

 Then the word of the Lord came to me:  “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” Jeremiah 18:5-6

He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,  who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. First Timothy 6:15-16

Reflections

God reveals Himself in Scripture, but His revelation is not exhaustive due in part to the limitations of human language. In today’s readings, God compares Himself to a potter and His people to a lump of clay (Jeremiah 18:5-6). Then in Paul’s letter to Timothy lofty language is used to describe Him. These descriptions are true but of necessity are only able to capture partially all the majesty and splendor of the Holy, Eternal God.

As the One who created us, God is our God. We owe Him our allegiance, our obedience, our submission, our honor, and our worship. His Word should be our command. The Lord showed Jeremiah that He had rights over Israel in the same way a potter has rights over a lump of clay to make out of her whatever seemed good to him. But Israel was rebellious and embraced false gods and served them, totally disregarding their true and living God. They would pay the price by defeat before their enemies.

Paul’s words about God are set in the context of warnings about the dangers of loving money and seeking to be rich. The Apostle urges his young disciple, Timothy, to flee these dangers, to pursue godly qualities, to fight the good fight of faith, and to live a blameless life. Why? Christ will return, He who is King of kings and Lord of lords. He alone is immortal. He “dwells in unapproachable light.”

Think about it

We, too, owe our God everything we are and have. He is our potter and we His clay. He is worthy of every exclamation of praise and every act of humble service that we can offer to Him. Praise Him. Love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. In so doing, you will be fleeing the idols of money and pleasure.

What God Wants

God needs nothing from us. Everything we have comes from Him and belongs to Him. But there is something He wants from us. Does He find it in you?

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 65-66; Second Thessalonians 1

Selected Verses

Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,  and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:1-2

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. Second Thessalonians 1:9-10

Reflections

In the closing chapters of his prophecy, Isaiah describes the coming new heavens and new earth.  Every pain, every disappointment, every sorrow of this world will be eliminated and forgotten (65:17).  Who will enjoy this new creation?  Who will have God’s favor?  Surprisingly for those who don’t know God well, it is not those who have pompously tried to impress God.  God doesn’t need our works.  He doesn’t need a “house.”  He inhabits the universe.  There is nothing we can build for Him that would adequately reflect His glory.

But there is something in humans that gets God’s attention: a humble and contrite spirit that shows itself in trembling at His word.  God is glorified properly by all who bow before Him and who take His word seriously.  They may also be used by Him to do great things, but the key element of their lives is a heart that bows in worship before Him.

Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, puts his call to holiness in the context of the return of Jesus Christ in judgment.  Believers suffer at the hands of those who neither know God nor obey the gospel of Christ.  Paul wants his readers to focus on living in a way that is worthy of the kingdom of God, worthy of His calling.  He prays to God to work in them to this end, and he charges them to make every effort in this direction, too.

Think about it

God looks for the contrite, humble heart, one that fears no one but God.  Does He find that in you?

Life Under Surveillance

Believers are under surveillance, and they are called to live so that neither their lifestyle nor their speech enable disbelief by others.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 48-49; Colossians 4

Selected Verses

Because I know that you are obstinate,
and your neck is an iron sinew
and your forehead brass,
I declared them to you from of old,
before they came to pass I announced them to you,
lest you should say, “My idol did them,
my carved image and my metal image commanded them.” Isaiah 48:4-5

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:5-6

Reflections

Paul concludes his letter to the church at Colossae with some final charges. They are to live wisely in their relationships with outsiders, that is, unbelievers. Two areas for concentration and care are the management of time and the quality of their speech. If a professing Christian is careless with his use of time, he enables unbelievers who observe him to discount either the genuineness of his profession or the veracity of his doctrine. More often than not, it is the latter option which prevails. By the same token, if the believer speaks in ways that are coarse, hurtful, lacking grace, or even corrupt (i.e. salt-less), he gives evidence that the gospel he professes is either not true or is powerless to change lives. Clearly, unbelievers are quick to grasp inconsistency in Christians to buttress their case against the call of the gospel.

God through Isaiah addressed another tendency of His disobedient, faithless people in Israel. The Lord tells them that His prophecies are designed to remove their claims that the deliverance which He planned for them was the work of their idols. It was a tendency in Isaiah’s day, and it continues to the present, for unbelievers to take credit for anything good that occurs, but to use problems and tragedies as an excuse to blame God or reject His existence.

Think about it

If you are identified with Christ, your life is under constant surveillance, not just by the Lord but, by your agnostic and pagan friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors. Be sure your life shows consistency with your profession. They may not believe because of you, but avoid making it easier for them to disbelieve.

Authenticity in Worship and Work

God hates hypocrisy whether done in the name of religion or done in the workplace. We ought to be alert to its presence and repent of it promptly.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 29-30; Ephesians 6

Selected  Verses

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
whose deeds are in the dark,
and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?  Isaiah 29:15-16

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,  rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,  knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.

Ephesians 6:5-8

Reflections

Isaiah calls the people to worship with truth, not pretense, thinking that God cannot see their hearts and that He will be impressed by their phony professions of faith.  Some think darkness is a safe cloak for their sin.  These ideas are laughable.  The prophet compares them to a lump of clay taking credit for its own existence and denying its own maker.

This arrogance is laughable, but very real and persistent.  Jesus quoted Isaiah’s words (from 29:13-14 in Matthew 15:8,9; Mark 7:6,7) as He indicted first century Judaism.  It could easily be applied today.  People trust in their own works, but even good religious works (like baptism, Bible reading, and church attendance) are not able to deliver us from God’s wrath.  Only the grace of God in Christ to those who repent of their sin and believe in Him is sufficient.

Paul addresses another kind of hypocrisy in his letter to the Ephesians.  He tells bondservants to obey their masters as they would Christ.  Their service is not for them but for Him.  Some of these servants were only creating an appearance of work which the Apostle called “eye-service” and people pleasing.  The Christian is always serving Christ, no matter who he works for.

Think about it

In the gospel, we learn that through faith we become Christ’s own people.  As His people, we are called to authenticity in our worship and in our work.  Let it be so every Lord’s Day and every work day.