A Call for Endurance

God calls His people to endurance, by faith, even in the most severe of trials, because His promises are sure and His power is invincible.

Today’s Reading

Habakkuk 1-3; Revelation 14

Selected Verses

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places. Habakkuk 3:18-19

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Revelation 14:12-13

Reflections

Down through the ages, the saints of God have been called to live by faith in His word. Often they have had to stand under intense opposition and persecution.

Habakkuk was perplexed about the spiritual state of Judah. Why did God seem to ignore the injustice and corruption in the nation? God responded that He would send the Chaldeans to discipline Judah. That answer drove Habakkuk to even greater confusion. How could God use such a wicked people to discipline His own people who while sinful were not nearly as evil as the Chaldeans? The Lord explained that when He was finished using the Chaldeans to discipline Judah, He would then turn His wrath on them, too.

Habakkuk gets it. He concludes with a psalm of praise and commitment to God. The prophet says he will trust God and rejoice in Him no matter what. Now that is an example of faith!

In Revelation, God gives John a picture of the things to come. There will be great trials. The saints must respond to the call to endure with obedience and steadfast faith in Jesus. Once that is over, they will be received into eternal rest where their deeds in this world will be remembered.

Think about it

Walk in faith and obedience, my brother and sister. The time will come soon when the stress and pressure of this world will be over. Our reward is certain, so endure.

Restoration after Tribulation

Tribulation is real, but it is not the end for God’s people. He promises a final and ultimate restoration for all His elect.

Today’s Reading

Amos 7-9; Revelation 7

Selected Verses

 I will plant them on their land,
and they shall never again be uprooted
out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God. Amos 9:15

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Revelation 7:13-14

Reflections

The prophet Amos had a gloomy message for Israel. God’s words through him moved the prophet himself. “O Lord God, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” he cries out again and again (7:2). But God relents and promises that all these dire warnings will not be final. There is a day of restoration and joy ahead. It will be permanent. There will be lasting prosperity and security.

Given the depth of sin and failure on the part of Israel, how is this blessing possible?

The gospel of Jesus Christ holds the answer. He is the Lamb of God whose blood atones for the sin of God’s elect. They wash their robes in it. Those filthy robes are made white. They endure the pain and suffering of the great tribulation and though, as Amos admitted, they are small, yet they stand.

Think about it

Do not wonder if you suffer for a time. Some of it, we bring on ourselves by our sin and stupidity and some of it is the sufferings of Christ that His people must bear because of their identity with Him. In the end, there is restoration. Be strong in the Lord, because tribulation is real but it is not the end.

The Danger of Prosperity

No one enjoys adversity, but did you know that a trial is not the worst thing that can happen to you? Are you aware of the danger of prosperity?

Today’s Reading

Hosea 12-14; Revelation 3

Selected Verses

But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt;
you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.
It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought;
but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled,
and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me.  Hosea 13:4-6

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.  Revelation 3:17-18

Reflections

It seems to be the experience of many that in difficult times faith flourishes and good character is strengthened, while in periods of ease and plenty laziness and arrogance grows. Can we handle prosperity?

Hosea delivered God’s brutally honest message to Israel and Judah. The Lord told them that He was with them in the wilderness and in the land of drought, but, when they got to lush pastures and were filled, they grew proud and forgot God. This led them to a spiritual wilderness and desert and to the need to recognize their sin and unfaithfulness.

In the letter to the Laodicean Church, the Lord made similar comments to those who were rich and prosperous. They were actually spiritually blinded by their apparent success and security. He diagnosed their true condition as being “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” They felt comfortable, but God found them lukewarm. Of course, being cold or hot does not feel comfortable. We prefer a moderate temperature, like lukewarmness.  But God hates lukewarmness–spiritual lukewarmness, that is–in those who claim to be His.

God in His grace and mercy sends His truth to His people. There is always a remedy for prosperity-induced laziness, arrogance, and lukewarmness. That remedy is repentance and confession of sin.

Think about it

If these are not easy times, if you are in the wilderness or in dry lands, remember that the worst thing that can happen to you is not to suffer adversity but to forget the Lord. If these are good times in your life, be sure you are handling prosperity with humility and a God-glorifying focus. Beware the danger of prosperity.

Safe in the Lions’ Den

God shows His power in the apparently impossible and hopeless crises of His faithful children who have even been found safe in a lions’ den.

Today’s reading

Daniel 5-6; First John 4

Selected Verses

 I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God,
enduring forever;
his kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion shall be to the end.
He delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders
in heaven and on earth,
he who has saved Daniel
from the power of the lions.

So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.                                                                                                   Daniel 6:26-28

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.                                                                      First John 4:4

Reflections

God’s people down through history have been tested and oppressed by evil forces in this world as was predicted in Genesis 3:15. They are not always delivered from those trials, but, by God’s grace and power, they remain faithful to Him and even in death are not defeated. [See also The Grand Narrative].

Daniel’s political opponents set a trap for him. He resolved not to compromise his faith but to trust God to see him through the consequences of maintaining his practice of prayer. God protected him through a night in the lions’ den. King Darius saw the power of God and decreed that all should tremble and fear before Him.

John reassured his readers of God’s power in the face of opposing spiritual forces in the world. He called them “little children” perhaps because of his tender love for them but, probably, also because they were not spiritual giants. Nevertheless, he said they had overcome the false prophets, also called the spirit of antichrist and the spirit of error.  Unlike those in the world, these little children did not listen to the false spirits.

Think about it

Daniel prospered under the pagan kings. Those John addressed were victorious against the forces of spiritual darkness. The faithful do not always prosper in this world. But all who abide in Christ know God’s faithfulness and the ultimate deliverance of what Darius called the kingdom that shall never be destroyed. Stay faithful and confident. You are safe  even in a lions’ den.

Everyday Persecution

God’s people, living in a fallen world, must not be surprised if they are unrecognized, at best, and targeted for persecution and death, at worst.

Today’s reading

Daniel 3-4; First John 3

Selected Verses

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Daniel 3:28

The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. First John 3:1

Reflections

The Jews living in captivity in Babylon faced serious trials. Their faith and practice got them into trouble at times but the message of Daniel is that God always saw them through vindicating their faith and His power.

Nebuchadnezzar needed repeated evidence that the God of Israel was truly God Most High. When he mandated worship of an idol, the three friends of Daniel refused to bow.  He gave them one more chance to obey, but again they stood their ground.  He threw them into the fiery furnace. Yet even that fire could not destroy them. They came forth without so much as the smell of smoke. Nebuchadnezzar was forced to honor God and reward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

The Apostle John instructs his readers about the life of one who has fellowship with God. There will necessarily be a qualitative difference in the person who loves God. It affects his relationships with others and his attitudes toward the trinkets of this world. He practices righteousness and loves his brother. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you, he tells them” (vs. 13). Why? Because the world did not know God.

Think about it

Daniel and his friends endured severe tests of their faith. They prepared themselves for death. But instead they experienced quick vindication (Daniel 3:18).  Others will not be delivered from death but prepare to endure until they see Jesus Christ face to face “as he is.” Be ready for everyday persecution, but, if it costs your life, anticipate transformation by Him when you see Him.

Glory Revealed

History displays the ongoing conflict between Christ and Satan, but do you know how the story ends? It will culminate in glory revealed.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 38-39; First Peter 4

Selected Verses

So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.   Ezekiel 38:23

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  First Peter 4:12-14

Reflections

Israel and Judah were casualties in the cosmic battle of good and evil.  As God’s people they suffered for their sin and idolatry, but they would not ultimately be lost because God had chosen them for Himself.  He promised to do a new thing with them, make a new covenant with them, and restore them.  Here Ezekiel warns Gog, the enemy ruler, of the destruction which is coming upon him and his forces.  God will show His greatness and His holiness and make Himself known to them.

In short, God would be glorified before the seemingly invincible forces of evil. What an encouragement to the exiles in the Babylonian captivity, far from Jerusalem.

Peter, too, assures the suffering believers of his day that God is not unaware of their plight.  They suffer with Christ.  They do not suffer as a means of discipline for their sin but rather as a means to show the power and grace of God.  Blessing will be theirs, but, first, there is a time of trial to endure.  While they are not suffering for sin but for Christ, they do have God’s presence with them and assurance that their suffering will produce the purification of their faith (First Peter 1:6-7).

Think about it

There will come a day when God’s glory will be fully revealed and His judgment will be finalized. Those who have suffered and been maligned for Him will be rewarded with vindication and their growth in purity of faith will bring glory to Christ.

Do you suffer for Christ today?  Peter says be sure you suffer for Him and not for your sin.  Meanwhile, entrust your soul to your faithful Creator because the day of glory revealed is coming.

Suffering before a Perplexed World

Honoring Christ by maintaining hope even in the midst of great trials and suffering, makes the Christian life a huge curiosity to unbelievers.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 36-37; First Peter 3

Selected Verses

In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them.  But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, “These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.”  But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.  Ezekiel 36:19-21

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

First Peter 3:14-16

Reflections

The persistent idolatry of Israel and Judah brought on their downfall, but did they learn from it?  No!  They continued to profane the name of the Lord by not admitting before their captors that God was punishing them for their sin. The God of the universe did not fail so that enemy armies overthrew and captured His people.  So the captors scratched their heads and asked, “Why did this happen to them?”

Judah received a perfect opportunity to show repentance and to honor their God before pagan nations, but they failed.  So Ezekiel declared their guilt to them.  We will learn in the book of Daniel that there were at least a few Jews who were faithful to God while in captivity, but they seem to have been the exception and not the rule.

Peter wrote his readers–who were in a kind of captivity in the first century A.D.–that they should accept their suffering for righteousness sake.  In other words, they should submit to undeserved persecution and maintain hope and trust in the Lord.  He tells them to be ready “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  Hope in the midst of unjust suffering is as rare as it is hard to explain.  The question they should anticipate is, “Why are these people still so hopeful under all this opposition?”

Think about it

How do we prepare for the possibility of suffering for righteousness sake?  Should we prepare little sound bites or memorize trite phrases?  Peter told his readers then and us now, to “honor Christ the Lord as holy.”  Do not be like the Old Testament Jews who profaned the Lord’s name. Instead, by honoring Christ in your heart be ready to honor Him with your words.  Create perplexity in the watching world.

Arrogant Unbelief

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

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 10-12; Hebrews 11:1-19

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

Think about it

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

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

Goodbye to the Good, Old Days

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

Today’s Reading

Lamentations 3-5; Hebrews 8

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

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

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

Think about it

Ecclesiastes 7:10 advises us:

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

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

When God Makes a Vow

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

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 51-52; Hebrews 6

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

Think about it

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