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.

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.

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.

What a Church Leader Needs

Local churches need leaders but what do those leaders need? Here we find a clear answer from the Apostle Paul and a vivid example from the Prophet Jeremiah.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 9-10; First Timothy 3

Selected Verses

Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing. Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not.  Jeremiah 10:24-25

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. First Timothy 3:14-15

Reflections

Jeremiah was devastated by the sin of his people, God’s people, but he did not become self-righteous.  He knew that even as he preached against the sins of the nation, he himself needed God’s guidance. He pleaded for God’s just correction with restrained anger.  Jeremiah understood the power and holiness of God and his own failures that could bring him to nothing.

Paul, in writing to Timothy, instructs him in the standards for elders and deacons in the church. Their personal lives need to be exemplary in every way. These instructions cannot wait until Paul’s next visit to Timothy. The matter of godly behavior is urgent. The Church, he writes, is “the household of God.” God lives in His people. Furthermore, it is God’s Church, not Timothy’s, not Paul’s.  Finally, it is “the pillar and buttress of the truth.” Although living in a different era, Jeremiah was the kind of man that Paul would have wanted Timothy to have as an elder or deacon in Ephesus.

Think about it

A local congregation must not have phony, hypocritical, self-righteous leaders. They will not be perfect, but they must be teachable, repentant, god-fearing men. God is a God of holiness and wrath.  He will not let His name be associated with sin in His Church.  It is a dangerous thing to be a leader of His church without a broken and contrite spirit.

If you are a church officer, do you seek to grow in conformity to these Scriptural standards? We who lead in the church must be teachable and repentant, recognizing our need for guidance and gentleness from our Lord. Do you pray humbly for yourself that God will correct you gently? As a church member, do you lovingly hold your officers to such standards knowing that we all stand in need of God’s gentle correction?  May we be diligent to honor God in our churches.

Complete in Him

Do you feel incomplete in yourself?  We should, because God’s full deity is in Christ and only in Him are we complete having all we could ever need.

Today’s Reading

 Isaiah 43-44; Colossians 2

Selected Verses

But you have burdened me with your sins;
you have wearied me with your iniquities.

I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins. Isaiah 43:24b-25

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,  and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. Colossians 2:9-10

Reflections

Isaiah describes the sorry spiritual state of Israel.  He expresses God’s weariness with their empty religiosity but also the Lord’s mercy towards them. Yes, He has had enough of their hypocrisy. They have demonstrated again and again that they only go through the motions of repentance as they offer sacrifices. Their best is worthless. But God will not let them go. He will do for them what they cannot do for themselves. He will not blot them out. No! Instead, He will blot out their sins, the sins which have burdened Him. This is the grace and mercy of God.

But how will He do that?  Later, Isaiah will explain how God will do this, without compromising His holiness and justice (Isaiah 53).

Fast forward to Paul’s letter to the Colossians. We find the Apostle laying out for his readers the glories that are found in Jesus Christ. All the deity of God is in Christ. God is fully and completely with us in Christ. Christ is God incarnate, Deity in human flesh. He is filled with wisdom so we need never seek other philosophies. He died and was raised from the dead so that in Him we are raised to life. In Him we are complete, filled, with nothing more to need or long for.

Think about it

This plan of God revealed partially and progressively in the Old Testament and fully and finally in the New brings God all glory and His believing people salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life.   Let nothing and no one delude you, says Paul. Keep walking with Him deeply rooted and built up in Him (2:6-7). Resist the attraction of anything that promises to fill you apart from Christ.  In Him alone we are complete.

It’s About God

What is life about? The Bible tells us there is coming a day of judgment. Every knee will bow before God and recognize Him.  Life is about Him–not us.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 34-36; Philippians 2

Selected Verses

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
 it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Isaiah 35:1-2

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:9-11

Reflections

No matter where we open our Bibles and read, we are never far from the theme of the glory of God. His glory is proclaimed everywhere, but, between the fall of Man and the final judgment, humanity falls short of that glory. Contrary to popular culture, it’s not about us.  It’s about God.

Isaiah prophesied of a day of restoration when deserts would blossom and dry land would be refreshed. In that blessing of the earth, all would see God’s glory.

At the time of this writing, the eastern United States had gone through ten days of rain. In Virginia, our joy at seeing rain after weeks of drought began to give way to gloom as the cloud cover remained day after day and steady rain saturated the ground. Floods arose taking out a hundred-year-old covered bridge. We prayed for relief and for safety from trees falling before expected high winds.

Then on the eleventh day, here at Thistle Dew Farm, we woke to cloudless, blue skies. The sun shone brightly, drying up the mud and restoring the beauty of early autumn.  I praised God and I’m sure I was not alone.

Jesus knew the suffering of becoming a human, a servant, and a prisoner. He knew condemnation and the unspeakable pain of flogging and crucifixion. He bore that to save His people from their sin. God exalted Him and glorified Him. One day every knee will bow and recognize His Lordship. This will bring glory to God the Father.

Think about it

We live in a time characterized by fanatical self-worship. To be free, to be autonomous, to act however we please with no consequences, to be enraged that any one should call us to bow to God–these values rule our day. But it’s not about us. It’s about Him. Be sure you trust in Christ for forgiveness and life. Do not let the day of restoration be your day of condemnation. Your life and all of human history is about God

Zion: A City Filled with Righteousness

The ultimate aim of the Christian is to bear the fruit of righteousness that comes from God and brings Him glory and praise. Our destiny is Zion.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 31-33; Philippians 1

Selected Verses

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
and he will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.  Isaiah 33:5-6

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11

Reflections

The fall of Man in Genesis 3 touched off the millennia-long battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, Jesus Christ. The enmity goes on, but never doubt the certainty of final victory through the resurrection of Jesus.  He has already defeated Satan. Those in whom God has begun His work will be perfected at the day of Jesus Christ, the day of resurrection, the final judgment, and the glorification of the elect (Philippians 1:6).

The work of Christ in His people has already begun. It bears the fruit of righteousness through the Lord.  That fruit brings God glory and praise and pleases Him. It is not to the credit of any human but to God. It fulfills the original purpose of mankind whom God made in His image and according to His likeness.

Isaiah makes a similar connection between the glory of God and the righteousness He produces in His people. “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness.” God wants Zion filled with righteousness and He will do it.

Think about it

Meanwhile, we pray for growth in righteousness and eagerly await that day of completion. In a city filled with righteousness, God “will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.” Rather than trust in gold and silver, “the fear of the Lord [will be] Zion’s treasure.”

World leaders promise to bring about stability and prosperity, but which of them proclaims the need for the fear of the Lord who produces true stability and prosperity through righteousness? When Christ returns, there will be no more competition for dominance or for honor. Until then, pray that day may come soon when we shall dwell in Zion.

To Spiritually Multi-task

God’s people are called to walk in holiness and bear fruit that glorifies Him. By His grace and the power of His Spirit we can spiritually multi-task.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 27-28; Ephesians 5

Selected Verses

In days to come Jacob shall take root,
Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots
and fill the whole world with fruit. Isaiah 27:6

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2

Reflections

Paul has painted a glorious picture of the purposes of God in all the earth, uniting Jews and Gentiles in Christ. Christians are made alive in Him–made one with God and all other believers.  He calls them to live in a way that is worthy of their high calling.

In today’s reading the apostle uses the image of walking to describe the Christian life, that is, a life lived as imitators of God. That walk is to be characterized by love, reflecting the sacrificial love of Jesus for us. We are to walk as children of the light.  That means fleeing impurity, and covetousness, and even talk that shows approval of such behavior.   Wisdom should be evident in our way of life and in our use of time. This does not mean we live in joyless asceticism, but we exchange the artificially-induced peace and pleasure of drunkenness for the filling of the Spirit and God-glorifying, church-edifying singing.

Isaiah foretold of the time when Israel would fill the world with fruit.  Certainly it would be far more than he could have imagined. God planned to unite Jews and Gentiles in the Messiah everywhere from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Think about it

The kingdom has come in part and it will come fully when Christ returns for His bride, the Church. I can’t wait, can you? Meanwhile, let’s fill the world with fruit as we walk in love, light, and wisdom. By His grace, let us spiritual multi-task till He comes or calls us home.

God’s Grand Narrative

Though we live in a time of corruption and conflict, God’s grand narrative for His people comforts us and assures us. He will complete it with certainty.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 24-26; Ephesians 4

Selected Verses

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name,
for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. Isaiah 25:1

 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16

Reflections

God planned the “grand narrative” of the Bible, as Sinclair Ferguson calls it, from eternity past.[1]  We can summarize it by the terms: creation, corruption, conflict, and consummation.  As Isaiah expressed it, these are “plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” Nothing ever catches God by surprise. He wrote all of human history before it started. What He plans He completes.

Isaiah observes the chaos of the times and anticipates the coming judgment. But he also makes sweet promises. God will swallow up death forever and wipe away tears from all faces. The Lord will keep in perfect peace all who keep their minds on Him (Isaiah 25: 8; 26:3). “Trust in the Lord forever,” writes Isaiah, “for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (26:4).

Paul, too, has the big picture in view as he exhorts the Ephesians to live in the unity of the Spirit of God. What has God done for them? He has sent them apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers to equip them for His service. Why? God has done this so that they may grow in unity and maturity in Christ. These two objectives go together.

We still live in the middle period of the grand narrative which began with creation and continues with corruption (Genesis 3:1-13) and conflict (Genesis 3:15). But Jesus Christ has come announcing that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He told His disciples to pray that the Kingdom would come, so we know there is more to come (Matthew 6:10).

Think about it

As you look at the ongoing corruption and conflict of this world, do you lose sight of the Kingdom? Do you  forget that God is completing His plans perfectly? Trust in the Lord, as Isaiah said. Seek unity and maturity as Paul admonished. God will fulfill His grand narrative

[1]  Sinclair Ferguson, From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying the Bible, Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982, 2014, p. 76

 

God’s Re-purpose Project

The Bible is the cosmic story of creation, corruption, and redemption. In the end, God wins because through Jesus Christ, He will re-purpose us for His glory.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 16-18; Ephesians 1

Selected Verses

In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense. Isaiah 17:7-8

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:4-6

Reflections

Isaiah speaks of a day when man would look to the true and living God, the Creator, who is the Holy One of Israel. In looking to Him, man would turn away from his own feeble religious offerings, his own efforts to commend himself to God, his false gods and blasphemous altars. Only by looking to God will anyone find forgiveness.

Paul elaborates on this in the first chapter of his letter to the church in Ephesus. In a tightly packed paragraph-sentence, the apostle lays out in soaring words the purpose of God for the world and His means of accomplishing it. At the heart of His purpose is His glory. He calls us to live for the praise of His glorious grace. But in ourselves, we are not able or qualified to fulfill that grand purpose. We need redeeming from our corruption. God has done that by giving His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to bear our sin and guilt. Through Him we have forgiveness of sin, are adopted as His sons (yes, male and female both enjoy the privileges of sons), and sealed with His Holy Spirit while we wait for all this to be completed.

Think about it

To re-purpose means to change something so that it can be employed for a new end. Although, to be precise, believers in Christ have recovered God’s original purpose for us, it is not a stretch to say that we who were spiritually dead, and who were following the prince of the power of the air, have been re-purposed for God. What a glorious purpose! It is the only purpose worthy of all our life, all our strength, and all our love. May God give us grace to grow in fulfilling His every intention for our re-purposing.