Silence before God

It is good and instructive to keep silence before God, to listen to His Word, and to observe His mighty acts. Today we meet some who learned this truth.

Today’s Reading

Job 38-39; Acts 15:1-21

Selected Verses

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” Job 38:1-3

But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. Acts 15:11-12

Reflections

Job and his friends have ranted on for thirty-five of the first thirty-seven chapters of the book. The complaining of Job did not relieve him nor vindicate him before his friends. His would-be counselors’ opinions and lectures did not strike home to either help Job or indict him. At last God interrupts the futile discussion and answers Job out of the whirlwind as he seems unable to hear anything soft and gentle. God hurls questions at Job to show him his weakness and ignorance. He can only be silent for he has no answers. He is stilled before the Almighty Creator Who not only knows all things but has made all things.

God was also doing a great work in the days of the Apostles.  Persecution sent the disciples everywhere proclaiming the gospel of the resurrected Christ. Even Gentiles heard and believed. Peter had seen this first. Paul and Barnabas were seeing amazing conversions of Gentiles, too.

What should have been great news, however, was disturbing to some of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. They could accept Gentile believers but not uncircumcised Gentile believers. The apostles called a counsel to discuss the question and to determine their policy on how Gentile believers should be treated in light of the Law of Moses. Peter was helpful in clarifying the truth of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone for all who believe whether Jews or Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas’ report of the work of God made all the assembly fall silent.  Like Job, they learned to be quiet, to listen, to think, and to observe what God had done.

Think about it

As we saw yesterday, there is a time to “stop and consider.” Stop the endless babble of personal opinion and pomposity. Consider what God has done in Creation and in Salvation. As the prophet wrote: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).

Can we have a Barnabas or two?

Here we meet a man who demonstrated that wise words spoken by one filled with the Holy Spirit can be used by God to accomplish great good for His glory.

Today’s Reading

Job 26-28; Acts 11

Selected Verses

Then Job answered and said:

 “How you have helped him who has no power!
“How you have saved the arm that has no strength!
“How you have counseled him who has no wisdom,
and plentifully declared sound knowledge!”  Job 26:1-3

They sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.  Acts 11:22-24

Reflections

Job complains again about the ineffectiveness of his friends’ counsel and advice in the face of his great and obvious need.  He has no power or strength and no answers as to why he is suffering.  He needs to hear truth, but they accuse him and ply simplistic views based on “recrimination theology” that God judges without mercy and grace giving to each his just desserts, no more, no less. Wisdom is a treasure not found in this conversation.  He ends today’s reading with the observation, “ Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (28:28).

Barnabas goes to Antioch to check out a report that Hellenists (Greek-speaking, uncircumcised Gentiles) were being converted.  They had heard and believed the gospel from the refugees who had been scattered by the persecution.  In contrast to Job’s friends, Barnabas, full of the Holy Spirit, exhorts and encourages them “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.” As a result, “a great many people were added to the Lord.”  Despite Peter’s testimony to God’s work among the gentiles, the church is in uncharted territory with this spiritual awakening among non-Jews.  They want to understand how God is at work in new ways.  Barnabas is a man who had shown, by his openness to the converted Saul, that he is a good man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  His mission to Antioch is eminently successful, blessing the church there and bringing glory to God.

Think about it

If we are to be used by God with our words, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith.  We need to be people who fear God, holding Him in awe and reverence.  Pray that you will be a “Barnabas” for the world in which you live. Job needed one and so do we.

God’s Timing: does He schedule things?

Does God control both what happens and when? Jesus Christ’s disciple knows that God orchestrates all of life down to the minutest detail. Timing included.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 21-22; Luke 22:1-30

Selected Verses

Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”  II Samuel 21:1

For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!  Luke 22:22

Reflections

A famine came upon Israel.  David understood that it was not due to bad luck or some unfortunate coincidence.  He knew that God ruled over the harvest whether it be light or heavy.  David turned to the Lord for answers and guidance.  The Lord revealed to Him the reason for the famine.  It had to do with the guilt incurred by Saul over the breaking of a treaty with the Gibeonites and the attempt to annihilate them. Though the treaty itself was foolish and based on deception, God held Israel responsible to maintain their integrity and honor the treaty perpetually (Joshua 9).  Seven of Saul’s descendants were executed to satisfy the demand for justice.  The famine ended.

In Jesus’ final days before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion we are allowed to see all the forces at work to bring Him down.  The chief priests and scribes were plotting to kill Him. Satan was entering into Judas. The disciples were preparing for the Passover and arguing about which one of them was the greatest. Jesus was serving and teaching them the meaning of His death.

In a matter of a few hours all these protagonists would converge in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the final act would begin on Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Was it a coincidence?  No, not at all.  It was by God’s decree that all this would come about at that precise moment for the salvation of the nations.

Think about it

Are the random incidents in your life really random or are they carefully sent by God according to His plan?  Do you ask “why this?” or “why now?” How would it change your attitude to have a clearer conviction about the providence of God?  Yes, God does schedule things–all things. We may not always understand God’s actions and timing, but we can always be sure it is Him who is doing it. Furthermore, He has a purpose and plan for our good and His glory.

Chaos: the old normal

Chaos is not the new normal.  It has happened before and it will happen again.  But there is a wisdom and guidance from God for His people.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 19-20; Luke 21:20-38

Selected Verses

So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.  II Samuel 20:2

But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.  Luke 21:34-36

Reflections

After Absalom was overthrown, the kingdom of Israel did not simply pick up where it left off. David created a problem immediately by going into such grief over the death of his son that Joab had to sternly exhort him lest the nation reject his return to the throne. David wisely responded and warded off a dangerous situation. But then there was a conflict between Judah and the other tribes over who should reinstate the king. That resulted in another civil war. David named Amasa as a commander and Joab promptly assassinated him. The kingdom was coming unglued on every level. Chaos reigned. David seems to have held steady through all of this until his kingdom was restored.

That would not be the last time the world would see such turmoil. Jesus prophesied that there would be a time of destruction of the temple. This occurred in 70 AD.   He further indicated that there would be worldwide terror that would come upon all people. No one would escape the distress of nations, the cosmic upheavals.  This is yet to come.

Think about it

Chaos is really the old normal. It has always been with us.  How can we handle it? We can learn from what happened in the past, and we can learn from what Jesus taught us. He said, “Watch yourselves. Stay awake. Pray for strength.” He promised that if we did we will stand before the Son of Man. Jesus said, “Watch your hearts.” Take comfort in God’s Word. Get guidance from His Word. Hold to the Lord who promised that we who do will stand before Him. To the extent that faithful men and women know and believe the Word of God they are prepared for whatever may come their way.

When Suffering Doesn’t Make Sense

God providentially controls our suffering. But why He sends suffering is not always obvious to us.  How do we handle such situations?

Today’s Reading

I Samuel 7-9; Luke 13:1-21

Selected Verses

As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. I Samuel 7:10

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Luke 13:1-3

Reflections

While cause and effect relationships exist in our experience, it is not always possible to draw perfectly correct conclusions about those relationships because God intervenes in ways we sometimes do not understand.  Suffering doesn’t always come as punishment for some failure.  In fact, it can come when we feel we are walking closely to the Lord.

The Israelites suffered for years under oppression by the Philistines. Finally, they cried out to the Lord for deliverance. Samuel called them together for prayer and repentance. Immediately, the Philistines were suspicious of this gathering and mounted an attack which intimidated the Israelites. It must have seemed to them like the national prayer meeting was a really bad idea that was actually making things worse.

But then God intervened sending tremendous thunder so deafening that the army of Philistea was thrown into confusion and defeat. The men of Israel chased them and struck them down.

In Jesus’ day there were two incidents which resulted in speculation about causes and effects. Some Galileans were killed by Herod while attempting to offer sacrifices to God. A tower fell on some people at Siloam causing their deaths. Were those people merely reaping the consequences of their sins? Jesus denied that those victims were any worse sinners than their neighbors. He warned His hearers to repent or they would also perish.

Think about it

There can be an apparent disconnect, at least in the short term, between a person’s spiritual life and their outward circumstances. Sometimes evil people prosper while godly people may face enormous suffering (Psalm 73). Turning to the Lord is not a quick fix for all our difficulties. It may bring on greater difficulties. Ultimately, the Lord promises that His people will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).  Are you suffering despite your obedience to God? Plod on in faith. May God give you grace as you await your eternal home.

What to do while longing for the Kingdom

It’s natural and good to be longing for the full arrival of the kingdom of God. But Jesus gave us an assignment while we are waiting.  Do you know what it is?

Today’s reading

Judges 20-21; Luke 11:1-28]

Selected Verses

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25

And he said to them, “When you pray, say:  ‘Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.'”  Luke 11:2

Reflections

The theme of the book of Judges is “there was no king in Israel [so] everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Especially the final chapters of the book show selected incidents which illustrate this same theme.   People disregarded the law.  Their worship of God was corrupted.  Their marriages were in disarray.  There was sexual immorality reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah.     It is not hard to see that public opinion in Israel would soon favor installing a king.  That would happen soon.  But would a king in Israel solve the problems that existed under the Judges?

Hold that question for a bit and fast forward to the Gospel of Luke where Jesus’ disciples observe His prayer life.  They ask for instruction about prayer.  Jesus gives them the prayer we usually call “The Lord’s Prayer” with its assortment of sample petitions.  After addressing God as Father and praying that His name be held as holy, the Lord gives them this petition, “Your kingdom come.”

Now, back to the earlier question.  The kingdom of Israel would not solve the problems of their society, much less the problems of the world.  But Jesus came announcing the first stages of the arrival of the kingdom of God.  He also gave His disciples the assignment of praying for the kingdom to come in its fullness.

Think about it

We have a responsibility to the secular governments or kingdoms we live in now. However, the only government that will last forever is the kingdom of God ruled by the Prince of Peace and the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Are you longing for that kingdom to fully come?  Isn’t it hard to wait for the eternal reign of our Lord, where peace will be permanent, sin will be unknown, love and justice will be the norm, and there will be no more sickness, sorrow, and death?  We know from Scripture that this is God’s ultimate will.  It is right to be longing for the kingdom, but Jesus told us to pray that it may come soon.  Pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. This is a prayer God is going to answer.

Hated, Excluded, Reviled, Spurned, Blessed

What? Hated, Excluded, Reviled, Spurned, Blessed.  This is how Jesus described His disciples.  An odd group of words and an odd group of people.

Today’s reading

Joshua 21-22; Luke 6:1-26

Selected Verses

No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, “What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel?”  Joshua 22:24

Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.  Luke 6:22-23

Reflections

In the book of Joshua we come to the end of the conquest of the land.  The war was over and occupation had begun.  It was now time for the eastern tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh) to return to their territories across the Jordan River.  They nearly set off a civil war by building an imposing altar on the western banks of the river without explaining what they were doing or what they meant by it.

Driven by fear of future exclusion from the rest of Israel and from the worship of God, the eastern tribes erected what was suspected to be an unauthorized worship site potentially leading to apostasy and the wrath and judgment of God.  The whole nation was still smarting from the wickedness of Achan that had brought God’s judgment on them (Joshua 7).  Fear on both sides of the Jordan almost resulted in war.  Diplomatic talks clarified the issue and reduced everyone’s fears.  War was averted.

In Luke today we find Jesus experiencing hatred and rejection by the religious authorities of His day.  The plotting against Him has begun.  He knows opposition will ramp up and He will soon die. So will some who follow Him, but He does not tell them how to avoid opposition that comes on His account.  He tells them to welcome it “when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil” because as they experience it, they are blessed and their reward will be great in heaven.

Think about it

Do not fear persecution on the account of Jesus Christ.  Stay calm if they accuse you of being evil.  This is nothing new.  In ancient days, the prophets suffered and sometimes died for being faithful to God.  Do not take extreme measures, like the eastern tribes, to attempt to avoid being misunderstood.  Be faithful to the Lord and the gospel.  God will bless any suffering and reward you both now and in eternity.

Note: please consult your physician before attempting to leap for joy.

 

Leave all; Plod on

Jesus Christ calls His people to leave all and follow Him.  Are His promises and presence enough to keep you plodding on to the end?

Today’s reading

Exodus 16-18; Matthew 19:16-30

Selected Verses

And the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  Exodus 16:3

Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”  Matthew 19:27

Reflections

God calls His people to leave all and follow Him.  The Israelites experienced hunger, thirst, and war after their exodus from Egyptian slavery.  Their faith faltered.  They thought about the comforts and delicacies of Egypt.  Selectively, they remembered the good times and tasty foods in Egypt and forgot  the daily quotas of brick production, the scrounging for straw, and the beatings by the taskmasters.  They filtered out the bad memories and complained about present conditions.  That was their default position.

Jesus, too, called His disciples to leave all behind and follow Him.  Peter waxed nostalgic, it seems, as he pondered the cost of following the Lord.  “What then will we have?” he asks.

Jesus is quick to reassure him.  What will they have?

  • A new world where Jesus Christ will sit on His glorious throne.
  • Thrones where the apostles would have power and authority to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • All that they had given up 100 times over.
  • Eternal life.

Think about it

How do Jesus’ promises sound to you?  They sound sublime to me.   Can we plod on another day, maybe many more days?  I think so.  Whatever it takes.

Nah, I don’t miss Egypt.

Do you?

 

How to Know You’ve Learned

Like people in Bible times, we struggle to apply what we think we have learned in the past to current challenges. How can we tell we have learned?

Today’s reading

Exodus 13-15; Matthew 19:1-15

Selected verses

When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah.  And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”   Exodus 15:23-24

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people,  but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:13-14

Reflections

Not much changed in people, even God’s people, from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus Christ. Not much has changed from those times until today.  Don’t we struggle to apply what we think we have learned in the past to current problems and challenges?

The Israelites saw God deliver them from Egypt by a series of plagues. Then Pharaoh’s army jeopardized their exodus and pursued them. They cried to God in desperation, and God delivered them again. They rejoiced as the cadavers of their enemies washed up on the shores of the Red Sea while they watched safely. Could God deliver them from anything, repeat, anything? Yes, yes, a thousand times, YES!

But within hours they were complaining about the lack of water and then, when they found water, they complained that it was bitter. Sure enough. They had forgotten the lesson of the Red Sea.

Jesus taught the disciples that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is a child (Matthew 18:1-3), but when little children were brought to Jesus those same disciples rebuked the parents who brought them. They forgot the lesson of the little child quickly.

Think about it

God is patient with us, slow learners and thick-headed disciples. We really don’t get it, do we? Let’s face it; we are often repeating the same foolish mistakes of the Israelites and the disciples. How many times do we need to be re-taught the same lessons of faith, patience, and prayer? How quickly we forget what He has done in the past and cave in to doubt, complaining, whining, and panic.

Trust Him to act. Call upon Him with confidence to do more than you can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20-21). Transfer what you learned before to the trials and uncertainties of today. Then you will know that you have really learned.  Oh, and praise God for His patience. He has a bigger plan than we know.

How long, Lord?

Today’s reading

Exodus 4-6; Matthew 16

Selected verses

Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.  I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.  I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’”  Exodus 6:6-8

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.  Matthew 16:27

Reflections

God’s promises are clear, but from our human viewpoint the fulfillment of those promises is slow in coming. It was true for Israel in Egypt. It was good news that God sent Moses to them with assurances that the Lord was going to deliver them from slavery and take them to the land He had promised Abraham, but in the short run all they got was more oppression. Pharaoh made them find their own straw and required the same daily production of bricks.

Jesus promised that a day would come in which He, the Son of Man, would come with His angels in the glory of His Father. He would repay each person according to what he has done. That day has still not come. Meanwhile, those who follow Him are called to carry a cross. We, no less than the Israelites, must wait in faith that the Lord Jesus Christ will come on His schedule and bring just and final judgment.

For now we cry with the psalmist:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Psalm 13:1-2

Think about it

How long? The answer is “as long as God wills.” Even though we cry for His kingdom to come, we have His promises and His loving presence to sustain us till then. Are you carrying a cross? You aren’t the first.  So did Jesus. And His disciples. You are in good company. Press on.