The Danger of Prosperity

No one enjoys adversity, but did you know that a trial is not the worst thing that can happen to you? Are you aware of the danger of prosperity?

Today’s Reading

Hosea 12-14; Revelation 3

Selected Verses

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.
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

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  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

Reflections

It seems to be the experience of many that in difficult times faith flourishes and good character is strengthened, while in periods 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.

Think about it

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.

From a Cloud to a Kingdom

No fallen human being is able to merit favor with God, but He, by the work of His Son, changed His elect people from a cloud to a kingdom.

Today’s Reading

Hosea 5-8; Revelation 1

Selected Verses

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:4-6

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1: 5-6

Reflections

Hosea expresses God’s view of His people. He laments their instability. Their unstable love is like a morning cloud or dew. It melts away rapidly. Their sacrifices and burnt offerings were unacceptable for they were not done out of steadfast love or from knowledge of God. They went through the motions. What? Did they think God could be fooled? So the Lord, through Hosea, says “What shall I do with you?”

God Himself answered the question. What He did was to send His Son to free us from our sins by His blood. Why? Because He loves us. His love is unchangeable and unstoppable. Not only that, He desired a kingdom for His glory. His purposes are wise and good. Although Israel failed to become what He called them to be, through Jesus Christ, all the nations have been called to be a kingdom and priests to Him. And He is glorified and has dominion forever and ever.

Think about it

Unregenerate man attempts to please God with fleeting love and phony sacrifices, but God graciously acts to redeem a people who know God, who are freed from their sins and made a kingdom. A cloud vs. a kingdom, what a contrast! Give praise to God for His love and wisdom

Contend for the Faith      

Those in spiritual leadership must take care to contend for the faith, that is, to teach the truth accurately and oppose error. Why is this so important?

Today’s Reading

Hosea 1-4; Jude 1

Selected Verses

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.  Hosea 4:6

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 1:3-4

Reflections

In both readings today, we see God indicting those who have forsaken the truth and who misled those who looked to them for guidance.

Hosea, like other prophets, had a message of warning and hope for Israel and Judah.  The Lord called him to depict God’s mercy and grace toward His faithless people by taking a prostitute for his wife. God told them they were destroyed for lack of knowledge. Their teachers taught lies rather than God’s law. The priests had facilitated national sin.

In a similar way, God called believers in Jude’s day to contend for the faith, that is, the doctrine He gave the Church through the Apostles and Prophets. False and wicked teachers attacked this truth in their deceitful and treacherous ways. They misused God’s grace as an excuse for sensuality. They denied the Lord Jesus Christ. Among other vices, they relied on their dreams. They claimed to get their own truth by direct revelation, a practice Paul also condemned (Colossians 2:18). [1]

Think about it

Truth matters. It matters what we believe, and, if we are in the position of teachers, it matters to all whom we influence for good or bad.  Be sure you know the truth of God’s word and that those you learn from contend for the faith and are not relying on the inventions of their minds.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible, Sanford, FL, Reformation Trust, 2015, p. 2292.  See note on verse 8

Defying Authority       

The solution to abusive authority is not to question the concept of authority altogether but to reject authority which defies God.

Today’s Reading

Daniel 11-12; Third John 1

Selected Verses

 And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done.  Daniel 11:36

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.  So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. Third John 1:9-11

Reflections

As we see in today’s readings, the problem of defying authority is prevalent down through history and in all areas of life, political and ecclesiastical.

Daniel had a vision about a self-exalting king who lifted himself up above every other god and spoke against the true God of Israel. He would seem to be invincible for a time conquering kingdoms and amassing wealth, but in the end he would fall with no one to help (Daniel 11:45).

In John’s time, there was a man named Diotrephes who had a similar defiant attitude. He disregarded the apostle and spoke against him. He treated strangers heartlessly and excommunicated those in the church who attempted to be hospitable. In short, the man was a picture of selfishness and pride. No wonder John tells his readers not to imitate evil but to imitate good. A person like Diotrephes can influence many to follow his wicked example.

Think about it

“Question authority” may be a popular bumper sticker but the solution to the abusive use of power is not to question the concept of authority. We need to submit to God’s authority and to all duly instituted authority in the civil sector. Heed the warnings of Scripture (Romans 13:1-7; Hebrews 13:7,17).

Overcoming Faith        

Believers in Jesus Christ will not achieve sinless perfection in this life. but they should expect changed lives and faith which overcomes the world.

Today’s Reading

Daniel 7-8; First John 5

Selected Verses

And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.  Daniel 7:14

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? First John 5:3-5

Reflections

Daniel recorded here his visions of what was to come.  He found them troubling because they were not easy to understand.  We have the advantage of history and can draw some lines between the things he saw and what later occurred.  The vision of the beasts seems to refer to the kingdoms of Nebuchadnezzar (Babylonia), Medo Persia, and Alexander the Great.  The fourth is not so clear, but some believe it to be the Roman Empire.

What was clear was that none of these kingdoms would endure.  The Ancient of Days gives the everlasting kingdom to the son of man, which points to Jesus Christ.  His kingdom will not pass away.

John the Apostle knew the Son of Man, his and our Lord Jesus Christ.  John wrote that He was the propitiation for our sins (First John 2:2; 4:10).  In Him we are given light and have fellowship with God and with all His people who also walk in the light with God (First John 1:7).  This fellowship with God results in a changed life.  This changed life includes: faith in Jesus Christ, love for God, and obedience to His commandments.  Those changes demonstrate a new birth and results in victory over the world.

Think about it

Should we settle for a hum-drum spiritual life?  No.  Not according to John.  We should expect substantial changes.  No, not sinless perfection.  We will always be going to Him to confess our sins and to be cleansed (First John 1:9).  If you do not see evidence in yourself of a new birth, call upon Him for mercy and grace to grant you overcoming faith.

Safe in the Lions’ Den

God shows His power in the apparently impossible and hopeless crises of His faithful children who have even been found safe in a lions’ den.

Today’s reading

Daniel 5-6; First John 4

Selected Verses

 I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God,
enduring forever;
his kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion shall be to the end.
He delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders
in heaven and on earth,
he who has saved Daniel
from the power of the lions.

So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.                                                                                                   Daniel 6:26-28

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.                                                                      First John 4:4

Reflections

God’s people down through history have been tested and oppressed by evil forces in this world as was predicted in Genesis 3:15. They are not always delivered from those trials, but, by God’s grace and power, they remain faithful to Him and even in death are not defeated. [See also The Grand Narrative].

Daniel’s political opponents set a trap for him. He resolved not to compromise his faith but to trust God to see him through the consequences of maintaining his practice of prayer. God protected him through a night in the lions’ den. King Darius saw the power of God and decreed that all should tremble and fear before Him.

John reassured his readers of God’s power in the face of opposing spiritual forces in the world. He called them “little children” perhaps because of his tender love for them but, probably, also because they were not spiritual giants. Nevertheless, he said they had overcome the false prophets, also called the spirit of antichrist and the spirit of error.  Unlike those in the world, these little children did not listen to the false spirits.

Think about it

Daniel prospered under the pagan kings. Those John addressed were victorious against the forces of spiritual darkness. The faithful do not always prosper in this world. But all who abide in Christ know God’s faithfulness and the ultimate deliverance of what Darius called the kingdom that shall never be destroyed. Stay faithful and confident. You are safe  even in a lions’ den.

Everyday Persecution

God’s people, living in a fallen world, must not be surprised if they are unrecognized, at best, and targeted for persecution and death, at worst.

Today’s reading

Daniel 3-4; First John 3

Selected Verses

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Daniel 3:28

The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. First John 3:1

Reflections

The Jews living in captivity in Babylon faced serious trials. Their faith and practice got them into trouble at times but the message of Daniel is that God always saw them through vindicating their faith and His power.

Nebuchadnezzar needed repeated evidence that the God of Israel was truly God Most High. When he mandated worship of an idol, the three friends of Daniel refused to bow.  He gave them one more chance to obey, but again they stood their ground.  He threw them into the fiery furnace. Yet even that fire could not destroy them. They came forth without so much as the smell of smoke. Nebuchadnezzar was forced to honor God and reward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

The Apostle John instructs his readers about the life of one who has fellowship with God. There will necessarily be a qualitative difference in the person who loves God. It affects his relationships with others and his attitudes toward the trinkets of this world. He practices righteousness and loves his brother. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you, he tells them” (vs. 13). Why? Because the world did not know God.

Think about it

Daniel and his friends endured severe tests of their faith. They prepared themselves for death. But instead they experienced quick vindication (Daniel 3:18).  Others will not be delivered from death but prepare to endure until they see Jesus Christ face to face “as he is.” Be ready for everyday persecution, but, if it costs your life, anticipate transformation by Him when you see Him.

Handling the Spiritual Conflict

Beware! The conflict of lawless people versus God’s people began in the Garden and continues to this day. Here’s how to handle it.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 45-46; Second Peter 3

Thus says the Lord God: “Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness. Cease your evictions of my people, declares the Lord God.”  Ezekiel 45:9

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.  Second Peter 3:17-18

Reflections

God had a special message for the princes of Israel through the prophet Ezekiel. They were not to abuse their power bringing violence and oppression on the common people. On the contrary, they were to execute justice and righteousness. They were to abide by the same laws as everyone else in such matters as worship and property rights. There was to be no privileged class in Israel, not even the royal family.

The political situation of God’s people changed between Ezekiel’s time and Peter’s day. The Church did not live in their own designated land but was dispersed among the Gentile nations of the world (First Peter 1:1).  Believers were subject to the ridicule of scoffers who openly doubted that the Lord would fulfill His promise to return. These unbelievers conveniently ignored the evidence of God’s power and presence in the Creation and the Flood. This made it easy for them to dismiss the promised “day of judgment and the destruction of the ungodly”.

Peter reassures his readers that the Lord is not time-bound as we are and that He will carry out all His judgment on His schedule. Meanwhile, he charges them not to be carried away with the error of the lawless who were given over to the lust of defiling passion and the despising of authority (Second Peter 2:10). Instead, they were to focus on growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Think about it

These two qualities, grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, are bound together. By His grace He has made Himself known to us. By the knowledge of Him we grow in grace, being ever more assured that our faith is not in vain. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, and gain stability in the midst of our on-going spiritual conflict.

Glory Revealed

History displays the ongoing conflict between Christ and Satan, but do you know how the story ends? It will culminate in glory revealed.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 38-39; First Peter 4

Selected Verses

So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.   Ezekiel 38:23

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  First Peter 4:12-14

Reflections

Israel and Judah were casualties in the cosmic battle of good and evil.  As God’s people they suffered for their sin and idolatry, but they would not ultimately be lost because God had chosen them for Himself.  He promised to do a new thing with them, make a new covenant with them, and restore them.  Here Ezekiel warns Gog, the enemy ruler, of the destruction which is coming upon him and his forces.  God will show His greatness and His holiness and make Himself known to them.

In short, God would be glorified before the seemingly invincible forces of evil. What an encouragement to the exiles in the Babylonian captivity, far from Jerusalem.

Peter, too, assures the suffering believers of his day that God is not unaware of their plight.  They suffer with Christ.  They do not suffer as a means of discipline for their sin but rather as a means to show the power and grace of God.  Blessing will be theirs, but, first, there is a time of trial to endure.  While they are not suffering for sin but for Christ, they do have God’s presence with them and assurance that their suffering will produce the purification of their faith (First Peter 1:6-7).

Think about it

There will come a day when God’s glory will be fully revealed and His judgment will be finalized. Those who have suffered and been maligned for Him will be rewarded with vindication and their growth in purity of faith will bring glory to Christ.

Do you suffer for Christ today?  Peter says be sure you suffer for Him and not for your sin.  Meanwhile, entrust your soul to your faithful Creator because the day of glory revealed is coming.

Suffering before a Perplexed World

Honoring Christ by maintaining hope even in the midst of great trials and suffering, makes the Christian life a huge curiosity to unbelievers.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 36-37; First Peter 3

Selected Verses

In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them.  But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, “These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.”  But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.  Ezekiel 36:19-21

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

First Peter 3:14-16

Reflections

The persistent idolatry of Israel and Judah brought on their downfall, but did they learn from it?  No!  They continued to profane the name of the Lord by not admitting before their captors that God was punishing them for their sin. The God of the universe did not fail so that enemy armies overthrew and captured His people.  So the captors scratched their heads and asked, “Why did this happen to them?”

Judah received a perfect opportunity to show repentance and to honor their God before pagan nations, but they failed.  So Ezekiel declared their guilt to them.  We will learn in the book of Daniel that there were at least a few Jews who were faithful to God while in captivity, but they seem to have been the exception and not the rule.

Peter wrote his readers–who were in a kind of captivity in the first century A.D.–that they should accept their suffering for righteousness sake.  In other words, they should submit to undeserved persecution and maintain hope and trust in the Lord.  He tells them to be ready “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  Hope in the midst of unjust suffering is as rare as it is hard to explain.  The question they should anticipate is, “Why are these people still so hopeful under all this opposition?”

Think about it

How do we prepare for the possibility of suffering for righteousness sake?  Should we prepare little sound bites or memorize trite phrases?  Peter told his readers then and us now, to “honor Christ the Lord as holy.”  Do not be like the Old Testament Jews who profaned the Lord’s name. Instead, by honoring Christ in your heart be ready to honor Him with your words.  Create perplexity in the watching world.