The Limits of Wise Counsel

We must be careful to hear godly counsel while recognizing that even godly counsel is not infallible. Ultimately, we are responsible to obey God.

Today’s reading

Psalms 31-33; Acts 21:15-40

Selected Verses

But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!    Psalm 31:14-15

After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem.  Acts 21:15

Reflections

Paul had heard from several wise fellow believers that he would suffer arrest and adversity in Jerusalem. He also heard them urge him not to go. They loved him, and they did not want him to suffer and possibly die. Paul was not foolhardy. There were certainly several instances when Paul avoided danger (e.g. Acts 9:23-25; 29-30; 13:50,51; 14:19-20; 17:13-14). Indeed, Luke comments that Paul and Barnabas “shook off the dust from their feet against [Antioch in Pisidia] and went to Iconium” (Acts 13:51) following the policy Jesus had given to His disciples when He sent them out to preach to unresponsive people (Matthew 10:14).

Paul probably remembered the words of Psalm 31 quoted above. His trust was in the Lord. He knew that he had been given a purpose and a ministry to complete. He believed it included going into the lions’ den of Jerusalem where some believers had questions about him and where unbelieving Jews were out to get the former persecutor of the Church. Paul trusted God who had his times in His hands.

So he did not follow the advice of his many well-meaning friends. He got ready and went to Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t tell us how Paul was so sure he needed to do this. He just went. As prophesied, he did begin to suffer almost immediately, but he would remain faithful and use that platform of suffering to glorify God and proclaim the gospel in some very unusual settings.

Think about it

God does not guarantee that His path for us will be easy and pleasant or even “sensible” at all times. Be ready for anything, so that someday you can say:

 Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was in a besieged city.  I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.”
But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. Psalm 31:21-22

Obedience by Faith

Queen Esther risked her life to obey God.  So did the apostles.  We applaud them now, but at the time they had to practice obedience by faith.

Today’s Reading

Esther 4-6; Acts 5:17-42

Selected Verses

Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.  Esther 4:16

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”  Acts 5:17-20

Reflections

Obedience to God must be by faith, because it does not always bring pleasant results immediately and, sometimes, it can even cost you your life. Yet for the Christian, his obedience always has a positive outcome because even loss of life brings him into the glorious presence of God.

Esther was queen, but she and all the Jews were under a death sentence because of Haman’s instigation of the king’s decree. Mordecai challenged her to go to the king and plead for a reprieve from the law. After some back and forth, Esther agreed, knowing that, if the king did not hold out the golden scepter to her, she would be executed. She uttered her famous words, “if I perish, I perish.”

Of course, in her case the king received her and heard her plea. She did not have to wait long for the reward of her obedience.

The apostles continued to preach the gospel of the risen Christ, and the high priest and the Sadducees had them thrown back into prison. This time the angel of the Lord opened the door of the prison and sent the apostles back to the temple to preach. The officials looked like fools when they sent to the prison and could not find them. Finally, a report came in that they were preaching in the temple again. At their hearing they maintained that they “must obey God rather than men.”

Think about it

There really is no downside to obedience by faith to God for even if we perish, we win the victor’s crown (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Be ready to obey by faith today, no matter what the outcome.  If you are persecuted for your obedience,  you may go straight to glory.  But, if not, you will be able to rejoice “that you were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

Watchfulness: good and bad

Jesus said be watchful for His return.  Moses warned against a bad watchfulness that leads to sinful disobedience.  Do you know the difference?

Today’s reading

Deuteronomy 14-16; Mark 13:14-37

Selected Verses

Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, “The seventh year, the year of release is near,” and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin.  Deuteronomy 15:9

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.  Mark 13:26-27

Reflections

One of the functions of God’s word is to warn His people to obey Him and not look for creative ways to avoid doing right.

In ancient Israel, God instructed His people in how they were to manage their economy so that there would be no poverty among them.  God made provisions for addressing those in need. But the Lord knew their hearts.  He warned them against trying to evade their responsibilities.  If the year of release were near, a loan would be almost an outright gift.[1]  He warned them not to take into account the coming year of release, as they were considering the needs of their poor brother.  One might be tempted to ignore the appeal of the needy, but the Lord would hear his cry and bring judgment on the neglectful, unresponsive relative.

In Jesus’ teaching about the coming time of tribulation, He also warned people to be watchful, but for a different reason.  The coming of the Son of Man in power and glory is certain but the time is unknown.  In contrast, the years of release or of Jubilee came predictably every seven years or every 49 years. There is a godly watchfulness and an unrighteous watchfulness.

Think about it

Believers should live each day as if the Lord could come.  We ought not to think that today does not matter because final judgment seems to be delayed.  Neither ought we to neglect our duties in this world because we are convinced the Lord will be here within hours.  We are called to be watchful in a good way not calculating so as to disobey.

Do the things God has called you to do today.  When He comes you will be glad you did.

[1] See note in the Reformation Study Bible, page 275

The Obedient Life: Cost and Rewards

Through the ages, God’s people learn that great blessing comes through being obedient to Him no matter the cost.  May we learn this today.

Today’s reading

Numbers 32-33; Mark 10:1-31

Selected Verses

Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land.  We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance.  Numbers 32:16-18

 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”  Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.  Mark 10: 28-30

Reflections

In two incidents separated by centuries, God’s people were called to leave their homes behind in order to obey Him.  In the first case, the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh requested permission to take possession of the eastern lands that were conquered before the nation crossed the Jordan.  Moses warned them that they would discourage the other tribes and possibly bring judgment on themselves similar to what the nation experienced when the spies had discouraged everyone from entering the Promised Land forty years earlier.  The response of the tribes was excellent.  They committed to fight till all the other tribes got their territories also.  Moses found their commitment satisfactory.  Stay tuned to find out how this turned out.

In the second case, the disciples of Jesus left their homes to follow Him.  Peter sounds wistful, but Jesus reassures him that they will receive much more than they gave up.

Think about it

What about you? How has being obedient to God been costly to you?  Have you given up home, relationships, or career possibilities?  Trust Him that His rewards to His faithful followers are blessings out of this world.

Bear Fruit and Be Blessed

God wills that His people be blessed and flourishing. But God’s blessings depend on something else, something for which we are responsible.

Today’s reading

Numbers 5-6; Mark 4:1-20

Selected Verses

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

 The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:22-27

But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”  Mark 4:20

Reflections

God wills that His people be blessed and flourishing.  He gave a stirring benediction for Aaron to pass on to Israel.  But God’s blessings depend on the obedience of His people.  Sin and disobedience thwart God’s best gifts.  As Jesus taught in the parable of the soils, people must hear His word, hold it fast, and be careful to let it bear fruit in their lives.

This does not always occur.  We could even say it frequently does not occur.  If we are honest, there are too many lapses in our hearing, holding fast, and bearing fruit.  The word gets snatched away because it never even penetrates our minds.  We have an immediate enthusiastic, but superficial, response which results in short term impact but long term death.  This is the result of shallow penetration of the truth into our hearts and minds.  Then come the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things that kill the potential fruit when the seed does take root and grow.  When we overcome these obstacles the seed will bear fruit and the blessing will be poured out.

Think about it

True blessing comes from God and it comes to those who hear the Word, hold it fast, and remain vigilant to let it bear fruit. Beware of the obstacles to fruitfulness. As Jesus told His disciples, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples,” John 15:8.   Real disciples bear fruit. They are blessed.  And that glorifies God as we were meant to do.

Fighting Self-Deception

Bible trivia and Self-deception

God graciously gave us His Word to teach, reprove, correct, and train us so that we will be equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  But do we assume that intellectual knowledge is the same as growth in godliness?  We can know something but then ignore it.  All of us can think of things we know but don’t do.  The Scriptures are given to train us in righteousness not merely to fill our heads with information.    The Christian life is not about winning at Bible trivia.  We need to know the Bible well but also practice it diligently. Fight self-deception.

Today’s reading: 

Hebrews 13:1-James 3:12

My selection:

 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

James 1:22

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.

Life’s Too Short

In a Houston, Texas eatery a sign reads: “Life’s too short to live in Dallas.”  I am told that Dallas people say the same thing about Houston.  Either way, life is short.  But it is not so much where you live as what you do.  Paul knew what he was to do. His life purpose was given to him by the Lord Jesus Christ and he stuck to it for the rest of his life. Whether you live in Dallas or Houston or somewhere else, life’s too short to be unfocused on God’s message and mission for your life.

Today’s reading:

Acts 25:1-27:26

My selection:

But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,  delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you  to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’  Acts 26:16-18

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.

Resisting our Default Position

As we continue today in Proverbs 1:8-3:35, it’s clear that this book is filled with warnings and promises about how to live in a way that pleases God.  Our default position is to give in to peer pressure and to avoid anything that is uncomfortable.

Believers in Jesus Christ have the command to “… be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10b ESV).  We are not strong in ourselves but only in Him and in the strength of His might.

Be strong in the Lord and have a blessed day.

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

Spiritual Drought: Getting through It

Do you go through times of spiritual drought?  David did.  But he did not accept it as inevitable nor permanent.  In today’s reading (Psalms 58-64) we can get help seeing how to handle those dry times.

In Psalm 63:1-3, look for David’s analysis of his condition, his response to it, and the outcome that he experienced.  Does this not suggest a path out of the doldrums of spiritual lethargy?  Try it and see.

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

Weekend readings May 28-30, 2016

Here are our scheduled readings for the weekend.  The book of Nehemiah tells the story of a wise leader who changed his nation for God’s glory through prayer, faith, and obedience.

Saturday, May 28 — Nehemiah 1:1-4:23  Exemplary Leadership

Sunday May 29  — Nehemiah 5:1-7:72 Work Done with the Help of God

Monday May 30 (Memorial Day in the USA) – Nehemiah 7:73-10:39 The (Often) Missing Element in Prayer

See you on Tuesday!

For more on these passages see my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 Days available on Amazon in either Kindle ($4.99) or print format ($12.99).