God Never Lets Us Go

God never lets us go.  But what if we sin, grievously?  Does He still hold on to us? His Word gives us a clear and certain answer.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 16; Hebrews 12

Selected Verses

I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord,  that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.”

Ezekiel 16:62-63

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?  “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”  It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?   Hebrews 12:5-7

Reflections

Ezekiel delivers a brutal message to the exiles of Judah, a message filled with emotion and grief for the sins of God’s people in the face of His abundant mercy toward them. God poured out on them restoration and love when they were helpless and dying, but, as soon as they could, they responded with betrayal and spiritual adultery.

How did God respond to this? He cast them out of their land and sent them into captivity, but He did not forget His covenant with them. His punishment was discipline not rejection. There is a difference. God would restore them and keep His covenant with them. In fact, He would establish for them an everlasting covenant, a better covenant than the one they had broken.  What’s more He promised to atone for them for all that they had done (vs. 53-63).  That is precisely what He did through the death of His Son, Jesus, on the cross.

The Hebrew believers, too, were experiencing God’s discipline. The author of the epistle called them to count this discipline not as rejection but as evidence of God’s love toward His sons. Instead of doubting the salvation that is in Jesus Christ, they were to “strive for peace with everyone and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (v. 14). When this is not the case and one or more of God’s people fail to obtain the grace of God, a root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble. The whole church can be defiled as a consequence.

Think about it

Welcome discipline. Take difficulties from God’s hand and let Him show you His grace to endure, to grow in holiness, and to be trained by it. Remember He atones for our sin, and He never lets us go. Never, despite our grievous sin.  If we are His.

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.

Two Traits of True Believers

Although never perfect in this life, Christians will necessarily find sweetness in God’s Word and anticipate Jesus Christ’s return. Are these traits yours?

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 1-3; Hebrews 9

Selected Verses

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it; and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. Ezekiel 3:1

And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28

Reflections

God called Ezekiel to be a prophet to His people during the time of the Babylonian Captivity. Like Jeremiah, he would get a cold reception from his hearers, the exiled Jews.  The Lord commissioned Ezekiel to deliver a message, but with the assurance that he would not be successful in changing their hearts and minds. All who are called to serve God, are called first of all, to be faithful. Success is up to God.

The prophet embraced his calling. The Lord instructed him to “eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” He obeyed and found that–although the scroll contained a message of “lamentation and mourning and woe”–in his mouth it was “as sweet as honey.” But would his hearers agree? No, not at all.  God had already warned him that they were a rebellious people, impudent and stubborn (2:3-7).

The Hebrews, faced with pressures and trials, needed reassurance of the sweetness of the gospel of Christ, which is superior in every way to the Old Testament priesthood. Jesus Christ’s High Priestly ministry resulted in a once-for-all dealing with sin and His exaltation into heaven where He intercedes before God on their behalf.  They also needed reassurance that Christ would appear to them a second time to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.  The writer of the epistle gave them both of these reassurances.

Think about it

Distinguishing traits of believers are: diligent intake of God’s word which they find sweet, and eager anticipation of Christ’s return which overrides the trials, distractions, and seductions of this world. We are not fully sanctified, but pray earnestly that these traits will describe you more and more.

The Confusing Faces of Sin

Our enemy, Satan, never shows us the truth. Do you know how he uses a deceptive tactic we see in sports? Learn how he persists in confusing those he traps.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 43-45; Hebrews 3

Selected Verses

[The remnant of Judah said to Jeremiah]. “You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.” Jeremiah 43:2-3

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. Hebrews 3:12-14

Reflections

Defensive units in football excel by confusing their opponents with many different lineups, leaving the offense wondering what to expect. Satan is just as devious in hiding the true nature of sin, so that we confuse evil with good and good with evil. The deceitfulness of sin produces a hardened heart that is less, not more, sensitive to temptation.

When Jeremiah gave the remnant of Judah the message from God that they should not seek protection and security by going into Egypt, the leaders responded by accusing Jeremiah of lying. They even ascribed to him a motive for lying–that Baruch had pressured or bribed him into giving a false prophecy from God. Thus, those who were preparing to disobey God attacked the messenger, rejecting the message and impugning his motives. They deflected their own guilt by accusing the faithful prophet. Then they marched themselves down to Egypt filled with self-assurance and indignation towards Jeremiah.

The writer to the Hebrews warns his readers, whom he calls brothers, to “take care.” He is concerned that they are about to fall away from the living God as a result of evil, unbelieving hearts, hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. In today’s reading he describes various faces of sin: evil, unbelief, hardness of heart, rebellion, and disobedience. Our enemy does not want us to detect our own sin, but to see it is a good thing. God, however, calls sin by all those negative descriptors.

Think about it

Are you taking care to not be deceived by sin? Let us “exhort one another every day” but begin by exhorting ourselves through listening to God’s Word. Take care. Do not be hardened by the deceitful and confusing faces of sin.

Preparing for the Bad, Last Days

What should we do to prepare for the future? Scripture is clear. Know God’s Word well and you will be ready to complete whatever assignment God has for you.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 25-26; Second Timothy 3

Selected Verses

[Jeremiah said] “Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.”  Jeremiah 26:15-16

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. Second Timothy 3:16-17

Reflections

Paul writes to instruct Timothy in his pastoral duties and also to alert him (and all of us who have lived since him) as to the dangerous, difficult times that were and are to come. We read the list which begins with “lovers of self” and ends with “having the appearance of godliness but denying its power” (vs. 2-5). Narcissism would be rampant with phony, hypocritical uprightness.

Paul didn’t worry that Timothy would go astray. He knew the depth of character of his protégé. Not only that, Timothy had the Scriptures his whole life, the Word of God which brings wisdom for salvation and goes on to teach, reprove, correct, and train all who know it. Paul did want Timothy to continue to rely on the Word for his own life and for his ministry in light of the expected difficulties ahead.

Jeremiah affirmed to the rebellious leaders of Judah that he spoke God’s Word to them. They not only ignored it but pondered executing him for preaching it. He barely escaped death for standing on God’s Word. He might have died for preaching the truth, but his enemies would and did die by it.

Think about it

How do we prepare for whatever may come? There’s nothing wrong with stocking up on food, water, and firewood, but without a deep knowledge of the Bible it will be in vain. Be prepared God’s way, by His Word, given to us that the man or woman of God “may be complete, equipped for every good work” including enduring the bad, last days. The Bible brings us spiritual growth as we allow it to teach, reprove, correct, and train us throughout the years of our lives. Make the daily study of Scripture your priority.

The Calling to Carry a Cross

Obedience to God does not prevent all suffering. Two godly men were unjustly imprisoned, and Jesus calls His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 20-22; Second Timothy 1

Selected Verses

O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.
 For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.  Jeremiah 20:7-8

 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Second Timothy 1:6-7

Reflections

As we saw yesterday, God is the potter and we are the clay. That does not mean that we, who trust in and love Him, will automatically have smooth sailing through life. Both Jeremiah and Paul were imprisoned despite their faithfulness to God’s calling.  Their responses were different but God’s faithfulness to both was constant.

Jeremiah was beaten and imprisoned by a priest named Pashur. The next day, upon his release from the stocks, the prophet told Pashur that he would watch his friends die, then, he would go into captivity and die also. So Jeremiah seemed to be unaffected by Pashur’s oppression. Nevertheless, following that episode, the prophet records his lament before God. He says the Lord “deceived” him. He was given a calling and a message from God which he could not silence in himself lest he explode. As a result of his obedience, he was the joke of society–the village idiot on a national level.

Paul also was suffering imprisonment in Rome as he wrote his final epistle. There is some sadness and longing to see Timothy but no blaming of God. His focus is still on charging and encouraging Timothy to continued faithfulness in the ministry. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be ashamed of my suffering,” Paul writes him assuring him of his love and prayers, of God’s blessing Timothy with His Spirit, His Word, a godly heritage, salvation, and a calling to His service.

Think about it

As a follower of Jesus Christ, are you prepared to suffer?  How do you respond to undeserved suffering? Two faithful servants of the Lord demonstrate that whether you vent before God like Jeremiah or calmly keep serving Him like Paul, God is the potter and He will not let you go until He has made of you what He wills and used you as He pleases. Stay faithful, even when your cross gets heavy and you suffer injustice for His sake (Luke 9:23-25).

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.

The Danger of Neglecting God’s Word

When we neglect the Word of God and the Scriptures are not taught or not heeded or both, evil feels normal and people stand under God’s judgment.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 11-13; First Timothy 4

Selected Verses

But if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock has been taken captive. Jeremiah 13:17

Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. First Timothy 4:15-16

Reflections

Jeremiah describes Judah as those who have become “accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:24).  They have believed lies and lost the ability to do good. Doing evil feels normal.  They worship idols without hesitation.  The prophet says they have become useless like rotten underwear.  They live under the imminent threat of God’s judgment and their utter humiliation.

Is there any hope? They need a return to God’s covenant, His law.  They have neglected it both in the study of it and the doing of it.  Centuries later it was still a problem in New Testament times. Paul addresses that subject with Timothy.

Paul charges Timothy with teaching the church in Ephesus.  The goal is not merely that they get an education in the Bible but that they be trained in godliness.  Timothy is to model this for them, despite his relative youthfulness.  God calls pastors to grow and to make progress in the knowledge and practice of God’s Word.  Paul tells him to “immerse” himself in these things.

Think about it

If you are a pastor or church leader, do those you lead see your progress?  Do you challenge them by a life wholly given to growth in godliness based on the Scriptures?

While this is especially important for pastors, this same exhortation applies to all believers.  False teaching which is only slightly off-track from God’s Word can easily deceive us.  If we continue without course correction, over time we get farther and farther away from the truth.  Like Judah, we can become accustomed to do evil until it feels normal.  Beware of the life of your soul.  Immerse yourself in learning godliness through the careful study and application of God’s Word.

Life Under Surveillance

Believers are under surveillance, and they are called to live so that neither their lifestyle nor their speech enable disbelief by others.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 48-49; Colossians 4

Selected Verses

Because I know that you are obstinate,
and your neck is an iron sinew
and your forehead brass,
I declared them to you from of old,
before they came to pass I announced them to you,
lest you should say, “My idol did them,
my carved image and my metal image commanded them.” Isaiah 48:4-5

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:5-6

Reflections

Paul concludes his letter to the church at Colossae with some final charges. They are to live wisely in their relationships with outsiders, that is, unbelievers. Two areas for concentration and care are the management of time and the quality of their speech. If a professing Christian is careless with his use of time, he enables unbelievers who observe him to discount either the genuineness of his profession or the veracity of his doctrine. More often than not, it is the latter option which prevails. By the same token, if the believer speaks in ways that are coarse, hurtful, lacking grace, or even corrupt (i.e. salt-less), he gives evidence that the gospel he professes is either not true or is powerless to change lives. Clearly, unbelievers are quick to grasp inconsistency in Christians to buttress their case against the call of the gospel.

God through Isaiah addressed another tendency of His disobedient, faithless people in Israel. The Lord tells them that His prophecies are designed to remove their claims that the deliverance which He planned for them was the work of their idols. It was a tendency in Isaiah’s day, and it continues to the present, for unbelievers to take credit for anything good that occurs, but to use problems and tragedies as an excuse to blame God or reject His existence.

Think about it

If you are identified with Christ, your life is under constant surveillance, not just by the Lord but, by your agnostic and pagan friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors. Be sure your life shows consistency with your profession. They may not believe because of you, but avoid making it easier for them to disbelieve.