Ending Well

While there’s life, there’s hope, but there’s also danger.  Will you be ending well? Here is an exhortation for all of us.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 17-19; Hebrews 13

Selected Verses

The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.   But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Ezekiel 18:20-21

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7

Reflections

In Ezekiel’s day, the people had a saying ‘‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (18:2).  The Lord rebuked them for using this proverb. He said that each person held responsibility for himself as to his obedience or disobedience.  Whatever path a person chose, righteousness or sin, was his own and he would enjoy the blessings or suffer the consequences.  A parent’s sin could not make his child incur guilt, nor could a parent’s obedience merit forgiveness to a sinful child.  Each one stands alone before God with his own record.

But change is possible.  No one is locked into a lifestyle of sin or righteousness based on choices in his youth.  It’s how you end up that matters.  After a life of crime, the repentant thief on the cross pleaded for mercy and found forgiveness at death’s door (Luke 23:39-43).  It is also possible that one might prove to be unfaithful at the end of life.  See? It’s how you end up that counts.  It is never too late to repent, but it’s also never too late to rebel.

The writer to the Hebrews gives his readers an assortment of commands in light of all he has written.  Several of them have to do with their relationship with their spiritual leaders, those who had taught them God’s Word (vs. 7, 17).   They must observe the outcome of those godly lives and imitate their faith.  How did those men’s lives turn out?  If they were faithful to the end, the outcome was good.  If not, one ought to be forewarned that even those who at one time show some signs of true faith and obedience to God can veer off and prove to be unbelievers.  This does not mean that anyone can lose his salvation. It does mean that anyone can act pious for a time and then fail to endure to the end [See Matthew 7:21-23; 13:1-23; 2 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:19].

Think about it

Be on guard against the schemes of Satan.  Do not be presumptuous of your ability to resist every temptation and trap.  We all know some who have not. May you and I endure faithfully and finish by ending well.

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.

Arrogant Unbelief

God is pleased with those who turn away from arrogant unbelief and trust Him even though death overtakes them still waiting.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 10-12; Hebrews 11:1-19

Selected Verses

 And the word of the Lord came to me:  “Son of man, what is this proverb that you have about the land of Israel, saying, ‘The days grow long, and every vision comes to nothing’? Tell them therefore, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will put an end to this proverb, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel.’ But say to them, ‘The days are near, and the fulfillment of every vision.’” Ezekiel 12:21-23

 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Hebrews 11:13

Reflections

The people of Judah and Israel had heard the visions of the prophets but had not seen their fulfillment. They grew impatient, then dulled, and, finally, arrogant in unbelief. “Nothing is going to happen,” they told themselves as they went on with their idolatry, seeking power from pagan gods.   All kinds of evil arises when a society collectively begins to assume that there is no God or that, if there is, He is powerless or complacent towards sin.

Ezekiel warned them of the soon coming fulfillment of the visions. All those prophecies about the fall of Babylon, the rise of Persia, and the return of the Jews to Jerusalem all came to pass on God’s schedule. He showed them all up for fools who demanded that God do their bidding on their schedule.

But our waiting patiently in faith for God to act pleases Him. Hebrews 11 is a monument to those who trusted God to their dying day without seeing His promises fulfilled. They were included with all who “draw near to God [believing] that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (vs. 6)

Think about it

Not everyone lives to see the fulfillment of God’s promises. We are privileged to live in the era of the last days, following the first advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, including His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the building of His Church throughout the nations. Yet there is more–much more–to come.

Be sure you don’t fall into the arrogant unbelief of the people of Ezekiel’s day who thought nothing would ever happen and who demanded that God perform for them. Christ will return, but, even if not in our lifetimes, God will be pleased as we draw near to Him in unwavering faith believing that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.

Goodbye to the Good, Old Days

The destruction of Jerusalem brought inconsolable grief, a deep longing for the good, old days, but God had something new and far better planned.

Today’s Reading

Lamentations 3-5; Hebrews 8

Selected Verses

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old—
unless you have utterly rejected us,
and you remain exceedingly angry with us. Lamentations 5:21-22

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. Hebrews 8:6-7

Reflections

The writer of Lamentations pours out his grief for Jerusalem, which lies in ruins. The best he can imagine is some kind of return to the wonderful days of peace and prosperity, maybe the reign of Solomon when Israel was one kingdom, rich in wealth, politically dominant, free from oppressors.  Ah, to return to those days again!

But Jeremiah had already prophesied that there would be a new covenant, not like the old one to which the people were unfaithful. [See Jeremiah 31:31-34.] The writer to the Hebrews reminds his readers that the new covenant made the old one obsolete. The good, old days were not so good, after all. The old covenant only served to show the sinful condition of the nation and the need for a better covenant, a better priest, and a better sacrifice. That is exactly what God did through Christ.

Think about it

Ecclesiastes 7:10 advises us:

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

In the midst of difficult and trying times, it is easy to look back to some past era that seems to have been better. Resist that temptation and let go of the longing for some golden age of yesteryear. God, in Jesus Christ, has brought us a whole new covenant that far exceeds anything ever known. Pray that we may be faithful and live in anticipation of that day when His kingdom fully comes and all things are made new.

When God Makes a Vow

Biblical history shows that when God makes a vow, He swears by Himself for there is nothing and no one greater. It will be done. Always.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 51-52; Hebrews 6

Selected Verses

The Lord of hosts has sworn by himself: “Surely I will fill you with men, as many as locusts,
and they shall raise the shout of victory over you.” It is he who made the earth by his power,
who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. Jeremiah 51:14-15

 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.”  And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. Hebrews 6:13-15

Reflections

Just when all seemed lost forever, Jeremiah delivered a message from God to the exiles from Judah in Babylon. The Babylonians, by God’s command, had desecrated and destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. All that was precious to Judah was in ruins. The kingdom was humiliated.

But God called them to turn their thoughts back to Him and back to Jerusalem. Babylon would pay for her devastation. Babylon was about to go into ruins. God had sworn by Himself to bring about this prophecy. This God “made the earth by his power…and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.” Nothing can stop Him. He does all that He decrees. He swears by Himself for there is nothing and no one greater.

The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews also needed reminding of God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness. The writer exemplified this recalling to them how God kept His covenant promises to Abraham. God made His covenant with Abraham unilaterally as a smoking pot and flaming torch passed between the severed carcasses of a heifer, a female goat, and a ram while Abraham slept. [See Genesis 15.]   Like the displaced Jews of the Babylonian captivity and the aging childless Abraham, the readers of the epistle faced tremendous pressures to discouragement and even to renounce their faith. They needed to remember that God proved true then, and He would prove true again.

Think about it

If there is anything we can learn from the history of God’s dealings with His people, it is that He always fulfills His vows. He swears by Himself and He cannot fail. Do you wonder if God will complete His promises in your life? Do not doubt. You do not know how or when, but all that He vows to do, He will do. Trust Him.

Drifter, Be Warned

Few set out intentionally to disobey God, to defy His commands and ignore His truth, but many a drifter can be lost by carelessly neglecting His Word.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 40-42; Hebrews 2

Selected Verses

For you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, “Pray for us to the Lord our God, and whatever the Lord our God says declare to us and we will do it.”  And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God in anything that he sent me to tell you.  Now therefore know for a certainty that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to live. Jeremiah 42:20-22

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.  For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? Hebrews 2:1-2

Reflections

The remnant of Judah–poor people and some armed bands left after the fall of Jerusalem–had seen the land devastated by war. Nebuchadnezzar allowed them to stay in the land under the appointed governor, Gedaliah. They were allowed to enjoy reaping whatever harvest there was. Jeremiah also chose the option offered to him and remained in the land. At Gedaliah’s assassination the remnant got nervous. They went to Jeremiah for advice. “Should they go to Egypt?” They promised to do whatever Jeremiah said the Lord wanted them to do. They had good intentions. But when the answer came, it contradicted their preferences and they decided to go anyway. Jeremiah warned them of the grief they were bringing on themselves by their disobedience, but they would not listen.

The writer to the Hebrews warns his readers of the dangers of disregarding the gospel of salvation through the Son of God. There was a definite danger of drifting from it or neglecting it. We will learn that these readers were facing persecution and the author fears for their spiritual well-being.

It is easier to set out on a path of faith and obedience than it is to continue on that path when the trials and temptations arise. Jesus warned of this in His parable of the sower. The remnant had Jeremiah telling them to stay in the land according to God’s will. The Hebrews had the message of salvation “declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit” (vs. 3-4).

Think about it

Beware of drifting away, of neglecting God’s great salvation disclosed in His Word. Read it and heed it, every day. Fellow drifters, heed the warning.

The Use and Abuse of Authority

All authority comes from God, so it must be used in God-honoring ways. Here we have contrasting examples of men in authority.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 36-37; Philemon

Selected Verses

As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot.  Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. Jeremiah 36:23-25

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required,  yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. Philemon 8-10

Reflections

Jeremiah received a message from God for the people of Judah. By God’s instruction, he had his scribe Baruch write the message down on a scroll. Since Jeremiah had been banned from the temple area, the prophet sent Baruch to read the message to the crowd gathered to worship on a fast day. Word came back to the king’s servants about this reading and they investigated further. As these officials of the king listened to Baruch read, they were gripped with fear (Jeremiah 36:16). They knew the king needed to hear the message, so they arranged to take the scroll, send Jeremiah and Baruch into hiding, and have the scroll read to King Jehoiakim.

The king listened to the reading, but had the scroll cut into sections and burned. Such was Jehoiakim’s abuse of God-given authority. He would pay for it with the end of his reign and a shameful death without so much as a pauper’s burial.

Paul, on the other hand, shows great restraint in the use of his authority over Philemon. He appeals to his friend to take kind and forgiving action toward his slave, Onesimus. In God’s providence, Onesimus had met Paul and, through him, Christ. Paul wrote to the Colossian church, possibly about the same time, as to the proper attitudes of a master toward a slave (Colossians 3:22-4:1).

Think about it

As king, Jehoiakim discouraged his officials from what appears to be an initial desire to obey God’s word. Paul encourages obedience to his friend but without being heavy handed.  Beware of ungodly authorities. Beware of the abuse of authority. Submit to God and to His authorities when appropriate. Use your authority with grace and restraint.

Good Attitudes about Good Works

God demonstrates that works–to be good–must be done with good attitudes of delight and enthusiasm never begrudgingly. And He commands that we do the same.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 31-32; Titus 2

Selected Verses

I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.  I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. Jeremiah 32:40-41

Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:13-14

Reflections

Jeremiah had a message from God that gave hope and perspective for the people of Judah in the midst of imminent captivity. God promised to restore them to their land, no matter how far He scattered them. Their disobedience had brought His anger and wrath. They deserved His punishment. But His commitment to them could not be terminated. He would do a new thing and bring them back and establish them. They would have His word in their hearts in that day. They would be stable in their faith and obedience. He would give them a new covenant to replace the old one they had so miserably disregarded. But God would not just do His people good. He would rejoice to do them good. He promised to plant them in the land “with all [His] heart and all [His] soul.”

That promised new covenant was brought about by the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul had met Christ in a dramatic way and spent the rest of his life proclaiming the good news of salvation through Him. He wrote to Titus to remind him that God redeemed His people from lawlessness so that they would belong to God and be “zealous for good works.”

Think about it

Do you do good works with joy and delight?  If we would be godly, we must not merely do the right thing but be sure that action is accompanied by correct attitudes. Seek to do good and to do it with a God-honoring spirit of grace and love.

False Teachers: why they abound & what to do

False prophets and deceptive teachers are everywhere now and always. But do you know why so many follow them? Do you know how to protect yourself from them?

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 27-28; Second Timothy 4

Selected Verses

And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.’”

 In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died. Jeremiah 28:15-17

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. Second Timothy 4:3-5

Reflections

The answer is simple. People listen to false prophets and teachers because they prefer their message to the truth even when they suspect it is a lie.

In Jeremiah’s day, he was opposed by those who claimed to be speaking for God. One such person was Hananiah. He directly contradicted what Jeremiah was saying. The false prophet told the people that Nebuchadnezzar would not suppress them or anyone else. He assured them that the king would be returned from captivity and the stolen items from the temple would all be brought back and replaced. Jeremiah said not only would Judah be subjugated but all their neighboring kingdoms would as well. Someone was lying. Jeremiah was proven right when he prophesied of Hananiah’s death and it occurred on schedule. Would this convince everyone that Jeremiah was to be trusted? Read on and find out.

Paul was writing his final words to Timothy and to us. His warnings and charges are urgent. There would be difficult days ahead. People would not listen to sound teaching. Timothy would have to focus on fulfilling his ministry of preaching the word, including, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting. After all, that is what the Word of God does (Second Timothy 3:16).

Things have not improved in our time. Vast numbers of people still listen to those who tell them what they want to hear without checking to see what the Scriptures teach. “God is all love and everyone is going to heaven.” No! That is not what Jesus or the rest of the Bible says. “God just wants you to be happy and healthy.” No! God calls you and me to repentance and faith in Him. He looks for people with broken and contrite hearts, not presumptuous self-esteem. [See Psalm 51:17; Mark 1:15.]

Think about it

Study God’s Word. Watch out for the false teachers and phony prophets. They will end up like Hananiah.

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.