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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.