Strengthened in God

Today’s reading: 1 Samuel 28:1-31:13

As we saw yesterday, David had been anointed king of Israel, but the coronation was delayed.  Meanwhile, David learned how to trust God and to strengthen himself in God even when all hope seemed lost.

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

Godly Leadership: Giving Reassurance of His Presence

Today’s reading: Joshua 3:1-6:27

Secular leaders generally attempt to convince their followers of their own competence, intelligence, and wisdom. Godly leaders point their followers to God. Which kind of leader are you?

[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].

There’s a War On

Since the Fall of man, the cosmic war has been going. Satan and his minions deceive and oppose God’s people.

Today’s reading: Daniel 9-10; 2 John 1

13 The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, 14 and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”                                                                    Daniel 10:13-14

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.        2 John 1:7

Daniel was in a time of deep mourning for three weeks. He fasted and prayed. God sent an angel to him, but, at first, he was more frightened than strengthened. The angel addressed him kindly and called him a man greatly loved. Daniel’s prayers had been heard from the first day of that three week period, but the angel had been opposed by the prince of the kingdom of Persia.

John, in this second epistle, warns his readers about the deceivers in the world. They are identified as those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. The Reformation Study Bible [1] notes observe that a heresy called Docetism taught that Jesus did not have a real human body but was some sort of phantom who only appeared to be human. John declared these false teachers to be of the antichrist.

Once again in these passages, we see the very real nature of the spiritual war going on around us. Satan and his forces wield a certain amount of power, but God does hear His children when they pray. He does send aid. He will judge all the hosts of wickedness and deliver His own safely to glory (Isaiah 24:21; Ephesians 6:11-12; 2 Peter 2:4; Revelation 17:8; 20:10).

There’s a war on, but God has all things under His control. Trust Him and obey His truth. As we saw yesterday, His children will be victorious over the world through Jesus Christ.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible, Sanford, FL, Reformation Trust, 2015, p. 2279

Fellowship with God

Whatever else we may say about salvation and the eternal state of believers, it centers around fellowship with God.

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 47-48; 1 John 1

And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord Is There.” Ezekiel 48:35b

3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:3

Ezekiel concludes the long description of the temple, the city, and the land with redistributed territories for the twelve tribes with the simple words, “And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord Is There.” What more can anyone desire than that the Lord should be there? Knowing that God is with us gives confidence in the face of huge danger and the threat of death itself (Deuteronomy 31:6-8; Joshua 1:4-6; Psalm 23). Several Old Testament figures learned the devastating impact of being abandoned by God (Exodus 33:3, 15; 1 Samuel 4:21-22; Judges 16:20). Not that they could actually ever be totally away from His presence, but they could be, and sometimes were, under His wrath and judgment and without His blessing and favor (Psalm 139:7-12).

The Apostle John also refers to the blessing of fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. God came to dwell among us, he says, and we saw Him. We touched Him. He came to give us eternal life and fellowship with the Father and the Son.[See also John 1:14-17;17:3].

To know Him in truth and to be forgiven and accepted, that is what eternal life is about. The city which Ezekiel described points to that heavenly city, the New Jerusalem where God dwells and where His people live with Him. As John would write later:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3).

So whatever else we may say about the eternal state of believers, it will be unclouded, undiminished fellowship with God. Be faithful as you wait for His coming.

Confidence in the Worst of Times

God’s people can be confident in the midst of any kind of trial, because He keeps His hand upon them and uses the worst circumstances for good.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 46-48; Hebrews 4

27 “But fear not, O Jacob my servant,
nor be dismayed, O Israel,
for behold, I will save you from far away,
and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
and none shall make him afraid.
28 Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
declares the Lord,
for I am with you.
I will make a full end of all the nations
to which I have driven you,
but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
and I will by no means leave you unpunished.”                       Jeremiah 46:27-28

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.                         Hebrews 4:16

Jeremiah delivered God’s messages of judgment on the nations. From chapter 46 to 51, beginning with Egypt and ending with Babylon, the prophet declares both God’s sovereignty over and His judgment upon the neighbors of Judah and Israel. But in the midst of these pronouncements, God reassures them of His salvation which He will accomplish. Jacob has nothing to fear. He “shall return and have quiet and ease.”   Jacob is still God’s servant and will be kept while the other nations are laid low. Israel will be disciplined but not destroyed.

The original recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews seemed to be struggling with fear. The writer tells them not to be like those of another generation who doubted God and rebelled against Him in the wilderness. There are similarities with the New Testament believers who face giants in a Promised Land of rest. We, too, need to learn from those who fell in the wilderness, not to doubt God. Jesus is our High Priest. We can come to Him and find mercy and grace to help in the worst of times.

The trials you face today are not beyond God’s knowledge and control. He will use them to discipline you for good. He will hear your pleas for mercy and grace. He will help you. Trust Him. Seek Him in prayer. He is able and willing to save you.

 

Why We Can’t See God

Sin is what blocks us from seeing and hearing God. He calls us to holiness, but we disobey, especially, although not exclusively, in the area of sexual purity and love toward others.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 59-61; 1 Thessalonians 4

1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
2 but your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.                                                        Isaiah 59:1-2

7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.                                                                            1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

The problem is sin. It has been the problem since our first parents listened to the serpent and ate of the forbidden fruit. What did they get? They got the knowledge of good and evil. And we got it, too, along with death! We all find evil attractive, even irresistible. It may be as subtle as a snarky put-down or as grotesque as murderous rage, as imperceptible as a flirtatious glance or as devastating as serial adultery. Sin comes in many colors and shapes, all of them tempting and soul-killing but none of them truly satisfying. Worst of all, it results in our not seeing or hearing God. We tend to conclude He is not there.

Isaiah wrote to ancient Israel telling them that their sin was what was blocking their eyes and ears from seeing and hearing God. It was not God who was hiding from them. He is there in plain sight, seen and heard in His acts of Creation and Providence. Seen and heard in His revealed Word.

Paul admonished the church in Thessalonica with the words, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (vs. 3a). He then specifically mentions abstinence from sexual immorality for the next 5 verses, topped off with a paragraph about brotherly love.

In case they don’t see the urgency of this, he turns to the subject of the return of Christ, His descent from heaven, the cry of command, the sound of the trumpet, and the resurrection of the dead.When Christ returns, all eyes will see Him. There will be no vacillating. We will be exposed at last. The shouts of rejoicing will mix with the cries of remorse.

Is there hope for sinners? Yes, indeed! For God has done what no human being could do. “His own arm brought him salvation…” writes the prophet (Isaiah 59:16). In the end, “…nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:3). The dead in Christ will rise first followed by those who are still alive and “so we will always be with the Lord.” But the time is now. Do not assume there is no God. Assume that it is your sin that blinds your eyes. But He may be found because “all who call upon the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:8-13). Call on Him, today.

Distress and Comfort

While the Christian rests in his relationship to God through Christ, he is not unaffected by the circumstances of everyday life, including the spiritual state of those he loves.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 56-58; 1 Thessalonians 3

15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.                                               Isaiah 57:15

6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.                                                                                        1 Thessalonians 3:6-8

Paul was not a little anxious about the Thessalonians. Twice he uses the phrase “[we or I] could bear it no longer” (3:1,5). He wanted to know how those new believers were doing. He finally sent Timothy to them and learned that they were not only standing firm in the gospel but were impacting the whole region.

Isaiah reports how God who is high and lifted up also dwells with the one who is “of a contrite and lowly spirit.” If God is with us, assuming we qualify as having “a contrite and lowly spirit,” do we need anything more? No, not really. God is enough. The psalmist said,  “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25).

Yet Paul could not bear the anxiety of not knowing if the young disciples in Thessalonica were doing well, not reverting to idol worship. Did Paul lack faith? Was he too dependent on being successful in his work? No. We can see that Paul had a tender heart toward those he taught. It was natural, not sinful. He made the sacrifice of sending Timothy to inquire about them. There was nothing wrong with doing that. We would not expect a sincere minister or missionary to be cold and uncaring about those he has served in the gospel.

So we are right to be concerned about those whose spiritual lives could be in jeopardy. We are right to do what we can to care for them and to keep up with their circumstances and progress. In the final analysis, however, our greatest comfort and joy will be that “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” dwells with us and revives our hearts. Don’t be unfeeling toward others, but let God’s presence be the bedrock of your spirit to comfort you in distress.

 

God Is…

Today’s reading: Psalm 93-95; Romans 11:22-36

4 Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!

5 Your decrees are very trustworthy;
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, forevermore. Psalm 93:4-5

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33-36

God is too great and glorious to be described in human words, but we must try. When we have exhausted our efforts, we worship Him by ascribing to Him all glory forever.

How do you describe God? Psalm 93 uses an analogy to the highest human authority, the king. Admittedly, that comparison falls far short because God is a king whose reign always was and always will be. He is eternal. He rules, but not over some limited territory, over the whole earth.

How do you describe God? The Psalmist draws from the most powerful forces in nature: a flood, mighty waters, the sea. The waters roar. They sweep away everything in their path. But that is not an adequate description of the power of God for He is mightier than the sea. He is on high above it all.

How do you describe God? Human kings make decrees, but they cannot guarantee their fulfillment. Maybe the kingdom will be overthrown. Maybe the king will die suddenly. The king’s decree is only a statement of his intention. But God’s decrees are “very trustworthy.” He is holy, set apart, completely other. Forever.

Paul compares God to the wisest counselor or the richest man on earth. They could add nothing to the Lord’s understanding nor supply Him with anything He lacks. The Apostle seems out of superlatives as he cries out, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! …To him be glory forever. Amen.” We cannot adequately describe God, but give it a try. He is worthy and accepting of all our feeble, but heartfelt, efforts to praise Him.

God Is For Me

Today’s reading: Psalm 56-58; Acts 28:1-15

This I know, that God is for me.
10 In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?                                                                        Psalm 56:9b-11

And so we came to Rome. 15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.                                                                           Acts 28:14b-15

There is no substitute for real life experience in knowing God. Biblical truth may be perceived with the mind and believed but it becomes reality in the actual rough and tumble of life where God shows Himself to be faithful to His people.

Throughout the Psalms we are told of the trials and afflictions that come to a believer. He may be unjustly treated, falsely accused, betrayed, ridiculed, and pursued by an army. The godly man or woman clings to the Lord, delights in His law, and trusts God no matter what. Through those trials the disciple learns that even when life is difficult, God is there. God is for me.

Paul went through months of trials as a prisoner, shipwrecked, and even snake-bitten. But everywhere he went the Lord was there keeping him and using his life to minister to others. Finally, he made it to Rome and, right away, he met brothers who were anticipating his arrival. All the stress of that trip melted away as, again, God showed that He had a purpose for Paul in Rome, a purpose which included service to the church in Rome.

Paul had written earlier to the Roman Christians telling them, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32). Might this have been Paul’s way of expressing the thought of Psalm 56? Paul was no novice when he wrote Romans 8, but God proved Himself in even more ways by the time he met the believers face to face in Rome.

Wherever you are in life, young, old, or in-between, seek to know God through His Word and to prove His promises through your experience of trusting Him. There is no way to learn how powerful and present God is other than daily faith and obedience.