Silence in Heaven

Those who boast proudly before God now will someday learn to keep silence before Him. What should be our attitude toward God?

Today’s Reading

Obadiah; Revelation 8

Selected Verses

The pride of your heart has deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rock,
in your lofty dwelling,
who say in your heart,
“Who will bring me down to the ground?”
Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
though your nest is set among the stars,
from there I will bring you down,
declares the Lord.  Obadiah 1:3-4

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  Revelation 8:1

Reflections

In John’s Revelation, the Lamb opens six of the seven seals.  When He comes to the seventh seal, something unprecedented occurs.  There is silence in heaven.  The saints were lifting up worship and loud praises to God, but now it stops.  The guilty cry out in grief that the mountains should fall upon them to hide them.  Then they all grow silent.  It is as if they wait to see what the Lamb will do next.  Then the judgment falls everywhere.

There was a time when the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, had grown so proud that they thought no one could bring them down.  They vented their arrogance on suffering Israel.  God sent Obadiah to warn them that He would judge them.  That judgment would be more thorough and complete than anything they could imagine.

Think about it

The proud and foolish think that God, if He exists at all, has no interest or knowledge of people on earth.  They see believers dying for their faith and do not know that the Lord receives them and keeps them safe. He reassures them that they will be avenged.  The day of wrath comes.

What should be our attitude toward God?  Prayerful humility behooves us.  Silence before Him is befitting.  Let all boastful pride be eliminated and replaced with prayerful humility and silence.

Keeping the Tension between Equality and Calling

The New Covenant brought a wonderful equality and calling in the Church unknown under the Old Covenant but created a tension we must maintain.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 41-42; Second Peter 1

Selected Verses

When the priests enter the Holy Place, they shall not go out of it into the outer court without laying there the garments in which they minister, for these are holy. They shall put on other garments before they go near to that which is for the people.  Ezekiel 42:14

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Second Peter 1:1-2

Reflections

In the new temple of Ezekiel’s vision, God specified the priestly functions and designated the places for those functions.  The priests took great care in the ordering of the ministry.  They wore holy garments for their service and they were not to leave the Holy Place and mix with the people in those vestments.  God was teaching them to respect His holiness and the service that they offered to Him.

What a contrast with the New Covenant!  Peter identifies himself as a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.  Then he tells his readers that they “have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.”  They, like him, have a standing based on “the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  The members of the Church of Jesus Christ enjoyed an equality never known in ancient Israel.  The old covenant people observed sacrifices that could, at best, point to the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29,35,36).  All those who believed in Christ were and are on equal standing before God. As the saying goes, “the ground is level at the cross.”

Of course, this equality is not absolute.  There are differences in gifts and calling within the Church.  Believers will distinguish themselves by their growth in God.  Not everyone will “make every effort to supplement [their] faith with virtue (vs. 5).”   Some will be more or less ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ (vs. 8).  Some, but not all, are called to shepherd the flock (First Peter 5:1-5).  There are a variety of gifts given by the Spirit to the members of the Body (First Corinthians 12:4-31; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16; First Peter 4:10-11).  The equality is not of gifts and calling but of standing before God based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Think about it

Peter models both a respect for his office and a respect for all other believers who, like him, stand before God because of Christ alone.  In your relationships with fellow believers, be sure to maintain the tension between the equality and calling each one has.

Seeing Yourself Correctly

Seeing yourself correctly is important but here we meet someone with an inflated view of himself. Is your view of yourself clear and accurate?

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 32-33; 1 Peter 1

Selected Verses

“You consider yourself a lion of the nations,
but you are like a dragon in the seas;
you burst forth in your rivers,
trouble the waters with your feet,
and foul their rivers.
Thus says the Lord God:
I will throw my net over you
with a host of many peoples,
and they will haul you up in my dragnet.  Ezekiel 32:2-3

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  1 Peter 1:3-5

Reflections

Pharaoh was one of those people who had a faulty and exalted opinion of himself. He saw himself as a “lion of the nations”, but God had another view of him. Through Ezekiel, the Lord told the king of Egypt that he was no lion but a dragon who was fouling the rivers and who was about to be caught and destroyed.

Peter wrote that Christians are heirs of God. It is not their own doing. They didn’t earn this status. God, by His mercy, has granted it to His people. There is a process.

First, He caused them to be born again. He did it. They did not will themselves to be reborn. Jesus told Nicodemus a new birth was an absolute prerequisite in order to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). Rebirth is a gracious gift from God’s mercy. Second, because of that new birth, believers have a living hope through Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Whatever they hoped in before is perishable, defiled, and fading. This new living hope is in an inheritance totally unlike any material and earthly inheritance. Third, they cannot lose this hope because the inheritance is kept in heaven (not Wall Street!) for them and they are guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation which they will see at the last time.

Think about it

Do you see yourself in the way Peter described, an heir of God with a living hope? You should, if you know the new birth has been granted to you and your faith is in Jesus Christ. Consider if your view of yourself is accurate and in accordance with the way God sees you. Remember seeing yourself correctly glorifies God.

Humility before God

It behooves every human being to learn humility before God. We can find a horrible example in the history of one nation that learned the hard way.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 27-28; James 4

Selected Verses

Because you make your heart
like the heart of a god,
therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you,
the most ruthless of the nations;
and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom
and defile your splendor. Ezekiel 28:6-7

 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—  yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  James 4:13-15

Reflections

The prophet Ezekiel spoke for the Creator God, the God of all flesh. So he addressed the neighboring nations of Judah, like Tyre. God indicted Tyre for her arrogance and pride. She was prosperous and presumptuous. Tyre boasted of her greatness, her wealth, and her beauty. She elevated herself and brought on the judgment of God.

James warned his readers of the same danger on a personal level. Some were guilty of a total lack of humility before God. They set goals and made their plans and schedules as if they controlled their own destinies, as if they were immortal, unstoppable. Where is the recognition that we are all no more than “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes”?

Think about it

In centuries past, godly people routinely wrote D.V. in their correspondence when making plans. “I will come to see you by New Years, D.V.” I searched the internet for “D.V.” in order to see what came up. On the third page of hits, I found a list of fifty possible options for D.V., things like Darth Vader, Death Valley, and Desktop Virtualization. Obviously, none of these were what the Puritans had in mind. About thirty-fifth in the list was “Deo Volente (Latin for ‘Lord willing’).” Yeah, that’s it.

In our society, few know Latin and too few know the Lord who reigns and has the final say-so over our lives. I don’t think the folks in ancient Tyre used D.V in their correspondence and neither do we, but, even if you don’t write it or say it, my fellow mist, remember to keep it in your mind and heart as you make plans. Always seek to maintain humility before God.

Two Kinds of Wisdom

There are two kinds of wisdom. They are very different. Which kind do you have? Learn how you can distinguish between them.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 24-26; James 3

Selected Verses

For thus says the Lord God: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel, therefore, behold, I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations. And I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries; I will destroy you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.    Ezekiel 25:6-7

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  James 3:13-16

Reflections

James warns his readers about the dangers that lie in the power of the tongue.  While it may be attractive to be a teacher, one must beware of the danger of stricter judgment that will come to teachers.  A teacher who lacks wisdom will lack meekness and will be subject to judgment.  Godly wisdom is accompanied by a gentleness and humility not known in the world where those who are considered wise are frequently arrogant, boastful, bitterly jealous, and selfishly ambitious.

The Ammonites, in Ezekiel’s day, demonstrated precisely that kind of earthly, demonic “wisdom” in their attitudes and statements at the time of the fall of Jerusalem.  They rejoiced at the judgment upon the city and kingdom.  God promised to bring worse judgment on them for this. They were not the only ones to receive God’s punishment. In each case, the prophet concludes by telling them, “then you will know that I am the Lord.”

Not knowing the Lord is at the heart of the problem because it is the foundation for not fearing the Lord. Since Scripture is clear that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; [and] fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7), it is obvious that those who lack fear of the Lord will be ignorant fools no matter how educated and esteemed they may be in this world.

Think about it

Beware of those modern-day Ammonites who boast about themselves and arrogantly look down on those wayward believers whom God is judging.  The absence of the meekness of wisdom is the evidence of an earthly counterfeit wisdom we must avoid.

The Man Who Stood in the Breach

Those who trust in the Man who stood in the breach should be filled with humility and gratitude which is evidenced by mercy and impartiality toward others.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 22-23; James 2

Selected Verses

And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.  Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God.

Ezekiel 22:30-31

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. James 2:1

Reflections

In Ezekiel’s day, invaders broke through the walls of the city. The false prophets did not risk their lives to close these breaches or to stand in them (Ezekiel 13:5). God looked, but there was no one who would do this. My study Bible notes refer to the contrast with Moses who, as a true and faithful leader, stood up in the spiritual breach for Israel when they crafted and worshiped a golden calf. Moses pleaded with God to spare Israel their just punishment and God heard him. [1]  Now the so-called prophets ignored this need. God poured out His wrath on the nation.

Finally, God Himself took on flesh and lived among us to bring atonement for sin and mercy for His people. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Man who stood in the breach against our enemy. He is the Good Shepherd who did not flee when danger came. He bore the pain of death for us. [John 10:7-18]. James calls all who hold the faith in Him to reflect that faith in our actions and attitudes toward others. There should be no partiality based on socioeconomic classes. There should be no favoritism toward the rich nor discrimination against the poor. Those who have received mercy must be merciful or they show they deserve judgment.

Think about it

Be sure your relationships show mercy and not partiality. You have been saved by the Man who stood in the breach for us. Pride and haughtiness have no place in our lives.

[1] Reformation Study Bible p. 1415 note on 22:30-31

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.

What God Wants

God needs nothing from us. Everything we have comes from Him and belongs to Him. But there is something He wants from us. Does He find it in you?

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 65-66; Second Thessalonians 1

Selected Verses

Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,  and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:1-2

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. Second Thessalonians 1:9-10

Reflections

In the closing chapters of his prophecy, Isaiah describes the coming new heavens and new earth.  Every pain, every disappointment, every sorrow of this world will be eliminated and forgotten (65:17).  Who will enjoy this new creation?  Who will have God’s favor?  Surprisingly for those who don’t know God well, it is not those who have pompously tried to impress God.  God doesn’t need our works.  He doesn’t need a “house.”  He inhabits the universe.  There is nothing we can build for Him that would adequately reflect His glory.

But there is something in humans that gets God’s attention: a humble and contrite spirit that shows itself in trembling at His word.  God is glorified properly by all who bow before Him and who take His word seriously.  They may also be used by Him to do great things, but the key element of their lives is a heart that bows in worship before Him.

Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, puts his call to holiness in the context of the return of Jesus Christ in judgment.  Believers suffer at the hands of those who neither know God nor obey the gospel of Christ.  Paul wants his readers to focus on living in a way that is worthy of the kingdom of God, worthy of His calling.  He prays to God to work in them to this end, and he charges them to make every effort in this direction, too.

Think about it

God looks for the contrite, humble heart, one that fears no one but God.  Does He find that in you?

The Christian’s Identity: God’s Lowly Farmhand

God gives you a role in His work of growing disciples. But do you know your identity in the spiritual harvest? Are you taking yourself too seriously?

Today’s reading

Psalm 119:1-48; I Corinthians 3

Selected Verses

Lead me in the path of your commandments,
    for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
    and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
    and give me life in your ways.. Psalm 119:35-37

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.  1 Corinthians 3:7–9

Reflections

All progress in our personal lives and our ministry to others depends on God.  He commands us to be diligent in our use of the means of grace and in our proclaiming the gospel to the world, but He is the One who ultimately changes hearts and brings about growth.

The Psalmist proclaims his delight in God’s law, but, at the same time, prays to God for help in following that law.  As committed as he is to God’s word, his pleas to the Lord reveal an awareness of his dependence on God.  Of course, delight in God’s law is a good, admirable trait.  It is just not constant enough to be a reliable basis for one’s spiritual life.  God will have to work because there are innumerable other distractions, like selfish gain and worthless things.

The writer of the longest chapter in the Bible knew his own heart.  There were good moments when he could focus on the Lord and His Word with great exuberance.  He is not being deceptive when he professes to love the law, but he also knows the weaknesses of his flesh.  He can be drawn away by money and entertainment.  Jesus warned His disciples against these sorts of things in His parable about the sower.  He told them the good seed of the Word can be “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” (Luke 8:14)

Paul, too, understands his dependence on God for fruitful ministry.  The Corinthians needed to learn that they are indebted to God for their responsiveness to the gospel, not to Paul or Apollos.  Their divisiveness was partly a result of their misplaced adulation of their mentors.

Think about it

Give all praise to God, if you are walking in His ways, maturing as a disciple and bearing fruit.  He alone causes the growth.  At most, our identity is that of unprofitable servants and God’s lowly farmhands.

The Role of Government

What does God say about the role of government in the life of the Christian? Should a believer ever disobey the powers that be? If so, when?

Today’s reading

Psalms 99-102; Romans 13

Selected Verses

I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me. No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes. Psalm 101: 6-7

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.  Romans 13:3-4

Reflections

The authority of government comes from God, so those who govern are responsible to Him to punish bad behavior and encourage good and those who are governed are responsible to submit and obey as to God.

In Psalm 101 David sets high ideals for his reign.  He says he will praise God, a necessary activity for one who could easily lose sight of the true King over all the earth.  He acknowledges his need for the Lord’s help and presence and vows to bring justice to those who do wrong. Instead, he will create a favorable climate for those who do right.  David determined not to suffer deceivers in his cabinet.  He promises to act quickly in dealing with crime.  These noble goals describe a kingdom in which any upright person would love to live.

Paul continues addressing the Christians in Rome moving on to the issue of their relationship to the government.  The Old Testament era of theocracy in Israel is no more.  Since then and up to now, God’s people live under secular authorities who are under God whether they recognize Him or not. Often, they do not.  Yet Christians are commanded to submit to these officials, pay taxes, and show proper respect and honor.  The government is to encourage those who do good and punish those who do not.

We know from other Bible passages that this general teaching of submission is limited to those situations in which the government does not command citizens to do what God prohibits or prohibits them from doing what God commands (Acts 4:18-20;5:29).

Think about it

What is your understanding of our responsibility to the government?  Remember a ruler is “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”  Pray for your leaders, those who govern, and seek to encourage them when they fulfill their roles properly before God (First Timothy 2:1-4).