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.

Holy Judge or Cosmic Cupcake?

Modern Man often misrepresents God as being all love and forgiveness, but, beware, for the Bible reveals a holy Judge who hates the sin we find comfortable.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 7-9; Hebrews 10:24-39

Selected Verses

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.’ 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

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

Reflections

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 growing bold in their sin. They were sure that God had departed from them and did not see what they were doing. The Apostle Paul would later ask: “Do you suppose, O man…that you will escape the judgment of God? [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 comfortable they felt 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?

Think about it

God will judge.  He will repay. Satan blinds the eyes of those who sin and glibly say “the Lord does not see.” Flee the company of those with hard and impenitent hearts. Repent of all known sin. Believe in Jesus and find forgiveness. 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.

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; First Timothy 5

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

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. 19). 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 (First 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 have no 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) who were truly in need. Paul’s thorough instructions aim to avoid excesses that would bring shame on the church.

Think about it

It’s all about knowing and glorifying God. That is why Judah existed and it is why the Church exists. Indeed, 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.

Conscience: Good or Bad?

The one whose conscience no longer functions is not content to merely destroy himself, but he seeks to bring down others with him.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 5-6; First Timothy 1

Selected Verses

O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?
You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish;
you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.

Jeremiah 5:3

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. First Timothy 1:5-7

Reflections

Jeremiah proclaims the Lord’s judgment on Judah. He declares to them that they have already received punishment and correction from God, but they have ignored it. They have blown it off as nothing. They have dug in their heels and determined not to repent. Punishment is not the final step in God’s discipline plan. He disciplines those He loves, but there comes a time when He no longer disciplines but “gives them up” to their evil (Hebrews 12:6; Romans 1:24-28). They mistakenly assume that God is too weak or too merciful to bother chastising them, but they are wrong. They then face only the wrath of God and eternal judgment.

Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to correct some problems in the church there. There were people affiliated with the congregation whose lives were off track, not characterized by love, a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. It was not enough that these people should go astray by themselves. They had to bring the unsuspecting along with them.  They did this by attempting to teach things they did not really understand. Did their uncertainty make them humble and tentative in their preaching? No, not at all. They were making confident assertions about their lies and shipwreck of their faith (vs. 19).

Think about it

What are we to take away from this? Let God’s word rebuke and correct you as needed. Seek to be receptive to the Lord’s discipline. Keep your conscience tender. If it seems like God is tolerant of your unrepentant lifestyle, beware that He may have given you up to your evil ways. Call on Him for grace to awaken your conscience and to make you repentant. Watch out for those who confidently proclaim that God won’t judge sin. Flee to Christ from the wrath to come.

Sin–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 in the area of sexual purity and love toward others.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 59-61; 1 Thessalonians 4

Selected Verses

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; 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

For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

Reflections

Sin 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 with it death! We all find sin 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 and 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 five 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.

Think about it

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.

God Wins; Don’t Fight Him

At the end of this age, God wins. Each of us must decide today. Do we take Him as our God or substitute something else, something earthly?

Today’s Reading

 Isaiah 45-47; Colossians 3

Selected Verses

Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.”   Isaiah 45:22-23

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. Colossians 3:5-6

Reflections

Isaiah predicts with detail the deliverance of Judah by Cyrus, king of Persia, an event that remained some 150 years in the future. God will do what He wills with mighty Babylonia. Judah will be conquered and taken into captivity by that empire, but then Babylonia would succumb to Persia and Cyrus would become the deliverer of Judah. God, through the prophet, keeps telling them “besides me there is no God” (45:5, 22; 46:9). When are they going to get this?

Paul calls the Colossians to holiness of life, beginning with their mindset. In order to focus on things above where Christ is, they are certainly going to have to turn away from the things below, earthly things like “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.” Sexual sin–for most of us men–is easy to spot. Guilt can be quickly detected and hard to ignore or suppress.

Covetousness, however, is more subtle. It is idolatry! We want things that others have because we love stuff. We rely on things to make us happy. Stuff seems to fill the emptiness in our hearts left by an earthly mindset. In reality, when we covet we replace the worship of God with material things. God’s wrath is going to be unleashed on those who practice that sin. It is not a harmless, little snake, all cute and cuddly. It is a deadly python whose venom can kill multiple humans. Put it to death, Paul tells them.

Think about it

The final victory of God over all evil and rebellion against Him is indisputable. He wins! What is not clear is whether we will bow before Him now, calling for His mercy and salvation, or later when we come kicking and screaming before His judgment. Don’t fight God. Seek to set your mind on Him, now and always.

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.

Spiritual Desperation-are you there?

Desperation, a sense of total helplessness and hopelessness, is essential to a minimal understanding of the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 19-21; Ephesians 2

Selected Verses

Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, “Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?”  Isaiah 20:5-6

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.  Ephesians 2:4-6

Reflections

God sent Isaiah to show Judah the folly of their trusting in Egypt and Cush for deliverance from the then-dominant power of Assyria. The prophet, under God’s direction, went about barefooted and naked for three years to show them how destitute they really were. God would have Egypt and Cush barefoot and naked before it was over.

Paul paints a vivid picture of lost people. They are not merely weak in spirit, not just sick. Rather, they are stone cold dead in trespasses and sins. They may have been trusting that they were good enough to pass muster in a relative sense, that is, good enough to pass if graded on a curve instead of against the absolute perfect righteousness of God. In reality, they deserve hell, but instead God, who is rich in mercy and great in love, makes “them alive together with Christ” and saves them by grace alone.

Then what? Does He send them back into the world to try to improve their future record? No. He raises them up with Christ and seats them in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And these were previously dead, hopeless people. Spiritually bankrupt, they had nothing to offer God.   They could not earn their acceptance nor pay their debt. All they could do was believe and receive what God did.

Think about it

Do you hold out some hope that you will eventually measure up to God’s perfection? Or does desperation describe your spiritual state?  Do you see your true condition apart from Christ: dead, alienated, condemned? It is not a good feeling to be desperate, but let us be desperate so that we can appreciate the great mercy and love of God for us.

Judgment–Maybe Today?

God rules in judgment over all. No one escapes.  For you and me, our meeting with Him could be sooner than we think. Are you ready?

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 13-15; Galatians 6

Selected Verses

This is the purpose that is purposed
concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
over all the nations.
For the Lord of hosts has purposed,
and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
and who will turn it back? Isaiah 14:26-27

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Galatians 6:7-8

Reflections

Isaiah saw a clear vision of God, Holy and lifted up.  Now he proclaims oracles against various nations: Babylon, Assyria, Philistea, and Moab. All of these kingdoms were, at one time or other, a threat to Israel and Judah. God assures His people through Isaiah that all these nations are under His control. He will deal with their arrogance and pride and injustice.

Paul has admonished the Galatians to reject the false teaching of those who had come to bewitch and unsettle them (3:1; 5:12). Now he reminds them that God sits on the throne.  He will act in judgment on those who are deceived–who think they can sow to their own flesh and get away with it. Two errors concerning sin are in view. One, that by keeping the law we can be justified before God. This is also called “works righteousness.” Two, that sin is of no importance so we may sin all we please with no consequences. Only through the cross of Christ may we find forgiveness of sin. God will judge those who reject His Son, who is the only Savior and the only means of salvation.

Think about it

The nations of the Old Testament world have gone, removed from their proud perch. They failed to believe that God rules. Judgment is sure, and judgment is final.

We now face death and judgment.  What do you believe will happen to you?  Are you trusting your own good works to be acceptable before the Judge?  Are you presuming that God is not really serious about our sin? Do not fall for those deceptions.  Christ’s death is the only way to salvation. Do not trust in your good works. Do not foolishly assume that God is not serious about our sin. Be ready to meet your God. It could be today.

Heart Check Time

We need to be watchful never to forget that the horror of our sin and the holiness of God put Christ on the cross for us who believe. It’s heart check time.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 4-6; Galatians 3

Selected Verses

Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,
and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.
 But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice,
and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.  Isaiah 5:15-16

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.    Galatians 3:13-14

Reflections

Failure to see the holiness of God and the horror of sin is a problem which repeatedly crops up in human hearts.  It happened in ancient Judah in Isaiah’s day and it happened in Galatia in Paul’s day.  It continues to happen today.

Isaiah warned Judah of her sin and reminded them of the reality of death, the gaping mouth of Sheol consuming all humanity one by one.  The people were living in denial.  They presumed upon the grace and mercy of God as they relied on their own wisdom and ignored the perfect holiness of God.  It would take a reawakening to the imminence of death and their utter failure to attain to God’s purity to humble them.  They needed to see Him “high and lifted up” (6:1).  At the same time, they needed to see themselves as people of “unclean lips” (6:5).  They needed to see how darkened were their minds as they reversed the definitions of good and evil (5:20).  We do too.

The Galatians situation is even more perplexing.  Here were people who had heard and believed the gospel, repented of their sin, and had received the Holy Spirit by faith, but now through the influence of some false teachers were turning away from trusting Christ and returning to law keeping as the basis for their hope.  Paul is astonished.  Yet experience tells us that this is always a potential problem.  It appeals to our pride to achieve our own acceptance before God.  This attitude comes from either not seeing the holiness of God or not seeing the heinousness of our rebellion against Him. In our minds, we either dilute God’s holiness or our sin.  Usually both.

Think about it

God means for us to humble ourselves before Him, to see the awfulness of sin as reflected in the agony of Christ’s death.  He had to become a curse for us to free us from the curse upon us through the law.  Do a heart check today.  Beware of any creeping self-righteousness that diminishes your complete reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ for your standing before God.