God’s Providential Care

God’s people suffer, sometimes justly and sometimes unjustly. Either way, they trust in Him to deliver them for further service or to take them to glory.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 38-40; Acts 23:12-35

Selected Verses

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt!
Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”    Psalm 40:13-15

So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris.   Acts 23:31

Reflections

The Psalmist endured much pain partly from his own sin and partly from the severe oppression that was mounted against him unjustly.  There is a difference between suffering due to our own sin and suffering due to being God’s servant.  [See First Peter 2:18-25].  But it is often not easy to separate our suffering into such neat, clean categories.  The Psalmist was suffering and in these laments he mixes the two causes and appeals to the Lord for forgiveness and deliverance.  Unlike Job, he recognizes some responsibility for what he is having to endure but also cries out for relief from those who plot against him unjustly (Psalm 38:3-4,11-12, 17-20; 40:12).

The events of Paul’s life show the power of God working providentially to preserve him from unjust suffering and for further service.   Forty men conspire to kill him. His nephew overhears the plot and reports it to Paul.  Paul wisely asks the centurion to take his nephew to the tribune.  The tribune takes immediate action and  rescues Paul  whom he then sends to the governor for trial, and, let us add, to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Imagine how the conspirators were completely “put to shame and disappointed altogether”!

Think about it

Most of us do not suffer such opposition as Paul did, but we do suffer in smaller ways.  Do you know that He watches over you?  Do you know that while you may feel that your iniquities are more than the hairs of your head (40:12) God’s care for you is such that He has the hairs of your head numbered and your iniquities covered by the blood of Christ (Luke 12:4-7; 24:44-47)?  Trust His providential care.  No one can thwart His plan for you. No, not even yourself.

When the Righteous are Afflicted

Isn’t it illogical that the righteous suffer afflictions?  Why wouldn’t God see that those who obey Him never suffer? Scripture enlightens those in the dark.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 34-35; Acts 22

Selected Verses

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.    Psalm 34:19-20

Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” Acts 22:22

Reflections

Righteousness does not exempt a person from afflictions, as the Psalmist’s words and Paul’s experience both affirm.  Above all, the only perfect Righteous One, the Lord Jesus Christ, sustained the greatest afflictions ever known.

Nowhere in Scripture does God promise a life free from trials for His people.  He does promise to be with His own and to deliver them out of all their adversities.  But He does not give a time schedule.  It could be soon or it could be after death.  The specific promise of Psalm 34:20, we learn from the Apostle John (John 19:36), was made to Jesus and fulfilled at His crucifixion.

Paul’s life became increasingly difficult.  In Jerusalem, he faced angry mobs of Jews, and nervous Roman authorities who wanted to maintain order.  God was not displeased with Paul, His servant and messenger to the Gentiles, yet God assigned him some very great afflictions which Paul accepted and used as a platform from which to preach the good news of life in Christ.

It may seem illogical that the righteous suffer many afflictions.  Why wouldn’t life be better by living in a godly way?  Why wouldn’t God see that those who honor Him the most suffer the least?  Job certainly asked this question and waited in agony for an answer.  He didn’t know what the Bible tells us about his suffering, that it was to vindicate the name and glory of God before Satan.  Yet Job had no complaints in the end.  He stopped questioning God. He prayed for his friends. And God restored all his losses doubly.

Think about it

Believing reader, are you facing hard times which seem to have no relationship to any failure, foolishness, or sin in your life?  Take rest in God who promises to be near to the brokenhearted and to save the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).  He will deliver you in His time because Jesus Christ suffered to purchase your redemption and promised to deliver you from all affliction in His presence forever.

The Best Encouragers

A friend who knows how to encourage is always a wonderful thing.  But do you know what kind of person makes the best encourager?

Today’s reading

Psalms 22-24; Acts 20:1-16

Selected Verses

 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him. Psalm 22:22-24

After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia.  When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. Acts 20:1-2

Reflections

Sufferers make the best encouragers because they are more in touch with the realities of both earth and heaven than others whose lives are more comfortable and secure.

The writer of Psalm 22 expresses great agony and great trust in the Lord through all of his sufferings. He never loses sight of either his pain or his God but shows that godly perspective which sees the here and now and the “there and then.” The words of this Psalm were on Jesus’ lips on the cross and, no doubt, comforted Him as He suffered and died.

Paul was certainly a suffering encourager. He had just endured jail time in Philippi,  ridicule in Athens, and the riot in Ephesus. The Jews were working on a plot to assassinate him (Acts 20:3), yet he went about encouraging the believers. What could stop the progress of the gospel ministry through Asia and Europe? Not riots; nor assassination plots; nor beatings and imprisonments. Nothing. Paul was in a unique position, as the lightning rod for the gospel, to reassure the saints that the preaching of the gospel could not be stopped. Adverse circumstances would not change the truth of the gospel nor the mandate of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19,20).

Think about it

If you would be an encourager, learn God’s word and be ready to suffer. God is able to strengthen you for that ministry which is always in great demand.

Cultural Collision Coming

There is no place for both the true God of heaven and earth and the idols of humankind.  The gospel and popular culture are on a collision course.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 19-21; Acts 19:21-41

Selected Verses

Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.  Psalm 21:13

“Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth.  And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.  And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”  Acts 19:25-27

Reflections

The Psalmist exemplifies true worship as he praises God for all He is and has done.  He thanks the Lord for His mercy, grace, and goodness to His people and  prays for God to be exalted.  He commits to sing and praise God’s power.  And he desires that God be pleased with his thoughts and words (Psalm 19:14).

On the other hand, Paul was preaching in Ephesus,a stronghold of false worship and idolatry. His message threatened the lucrative business of the silversmiths and others who profited from the cult of Artemis.  One of the tradesmen, Demetrius, called a meeting to warn the community of the danger that would come to them if Paul should succeed in diminishing the worship of this false goddess.  Chaos ensued.  The crowd worked itself up to a frenzy until the town clerk quieted them.

Think about it

Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father, except through me”  (John 14:6).  We may not impose the gospel by force on unbelievers. But the secular culture convulses when  we proclaim the truth and hearers believe.  We cannot settle for some benign multicultural coexistence because Jesus calls His disciples to tell the good news of life in His name.  They will teach, preach, explain, reason, debate, prove, and live by faith before the watching world.  Force can silence them, but they will not shrink back in fear nor shut up.

Are you prepared for the impact of the gospel on a culture which is increasingly hostile to the exclusivity of the message?  Prepare yourself.  Remember it is enough to please God with the words of your mouth and the meditation of your heart.

Glory Stealing Can Be Fatal

It is a dangerous thing to receive praise from people and fail to give God the glory He deserves. Here are two men whose lives demonstrated this truth.

Today’s Reading

Job 29-30; Acts 12

Selected Verses

I chose their way and sat as chief, and I lived like a king among his troops,
like one who comforts mourners.  But now they laugh at me, men who are younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock. Job 29:25-30:1

And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!”  Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.   But the word of God increased and multiplied.   Acts 12:22-24

Reflections

Job remembered a time when he had been at the top of the food chain. Everyone was in awe of him. No one questioned his decisions.  He had the final word. Now that has all gone. He is the laughingstock of his former kingdom. Now the people of low status look down on him.

King Herod played to the crowds but lacked any reverence for God. He found that executing James brought him popularity, so he arrested Peter. The Lord sent an angel to release Peter, but Herod just blamed the disappearance on the sentries and had them put to death. He left town for Caesarea. Meanwhile, the people of Tyre and Sidon sought reconciliation with Herod. His accepting their praise of him as a “god, and not a man” brought God’s wrath and his immediate death.

The difference between Herod and Job is that the latter attributed his prosperity and success to God. His losses were, to him, evidence that God had withdrawn His favor from him.  Job never stopped seeking God. Herod never began to seek God. Death was the last chapter in Herod’s life.  Suffering was only the mid-point of Job’s life.

Jesus asked the disbelieving Jews, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).   God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying, “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?  My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11).

Think about it

Don’t be clueless like the egotistical Herod or the faithless Jews who basked in the glory of man. Job knew that God was the source of all blessing, and he would learn that God’s ways and wisdom may not be questioned. Walk humbly giving Him all the glory, because glory stealing can be fatal.

Strength for Today; Hope for Tomorrow

God, who is unchanging, gives His people strength to do His will today and hope that someday our struggles and burdens will end when we see Him.

Today’s Reading

Job 19-20; Acts 9:23-43

Selected Verses

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! Job 19:25-27

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.  Acts 9:31

Reflections

Job continues his complaint against God in vivid terms. He has been abandoned by everyone he knows. But suddenly he seems to recall that he has a Redeemer, One who will save him. That Redeemer is alive and will reveal Himself after Job has finally died. God has stripped poor Job of every comfort and dignity of this life, but there will come a meeting. Job will see his Redeemer.

The church had been devastated with persecution, but God had turned it to good by sending out His people to proclaim the good news of Jesus throughout the nearby nations. Saul went after them but found Jesus himself. He then became a preacher of the gospel he had been seeking to silence. He had to flee for his life from his former allies. Meanwhile a measure of peace came to the church in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. The church grew spiritually and numerically. The disciples were “walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.”

Think about it

No matter what your situation today, seek to walk in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. If you are suffering, like Job, remember that your Redeemer is alive. He awaits you when this life is over. As the old hymn goes,

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,

Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

(from “Great is Thy Faithfulness” by T.O.Chisholm 1866-1960)

When Believers Suffer

Believers are not automatically sheltered from suffering, but God is sovereign, good, and trustworthy whether or not He reveals His purpose for it.

Today’s Reading

Job 10-12; Acts 8:1-25

Selected Verses

I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me. Job 10:2

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.  Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. So there was much joy in that city.  Acts 8:4, 5, 8

Reflections

To Job, his suffering seemed like condemnation from God. It felt like God was punishing him and he wondered why. His assumption was wrong. God was not punishing him, so the question why could not be answered by some failure in Job.  He was truly left in the dark for quite some time. His friends did not help with their comments and mixed-up analyses. Some of what they said was true, but they certainly had less insight into what God was doing than even Job.

Job says some wise things in the midst of his pain. For example, “In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip.” (12:5)   In other words, suffering is ready to pounce on you when you slip, but those who have no suffering look with disdain on those who do. We are truly sustained by God’s mercy and grace. Our heart beats and our lungs breathe at His will.

Some who suffer for their faith get a glimpse of why it is. The disciples were scattered from Jerusalem due to the severe persecution that began with the stoning of Stephen. They naturally told the good news of Christ and the hope of the resurrection wherever they went. Philip, one of the seven men chosen with Stephen to wait on tables, saw powerful results from his preaching in Samaria so “there was much joy in that city.” Ask one of those Samaritans why they thought God allowed a persecution against the believers in Jerusalem. You would probably get an enthusiastic answer to the effect that the persecution brought them the gospel and life eternal.

Think about it

God is free to do with us what He will. He is also free to reveal His reasons or not. He calls us to walk by faith, even in the dark. But He has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6). Walk on in pain, if that is your lot today. He had a purpose for Job and the disciples in Jerusalem. He knows what He is doing with you, too.

Wanted: Celestial Mediator

The dilemma of fallen man since the Garden of Eden is to learn how to be right before God.  Job called in agony for a celestial mediator. And God answered.

Today’s Reading

Job 7-9; Acts 7:44-60

Selected Verses

Then Job answered and said: “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.” Job 9:1-3

Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.

Acts 7:52-53

Reflections

Job struggles with the reason for his suffering while his would-be comforters heap accusations on him in an effort to explain the frowning providence of God in his life.  Job does not claim to be perfect, but he does not understand how his suffering is punishment that fits the crime.  He recognizes that a man cannot be right before God on his own terms.  But destitution, poverty, bereavement, and relentless pain seems over the top.  “There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both,” moans Job (9:33).  So here God is showing us through Job that there must be a mediator between God and man in order for reconciliation to take place.  That can only be God Himself, His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, God Incarnate.

As Stephen closes his defense, which could also be called a sermon, he indicts the Jewish authorities for their killing of that Mediator.  They have continued in the footsteps of their forebears, resisting the Holy Spirit, persecuting the prophets, and, now, executing the Righteous One, the arbiter that Job longed for.  They prove Stephen’s point by immediately stoning him to death.

Think about it

Two men, Stephen and Job, suffer for their faith.  One is delivered by death almost immediately and the other is made to stagger on in suffering a while longer before experiencing relief.

God has different paths for each of His children to trod, but in the end, those who are His trust Him, do not justify themselves but seek the Arbiter whom the Lord has appointed, Jesus, the Righteous One, who alone can mediate between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5; Acts 4:12).  Walk on trusting Him, my fellow disciple.

Obedience by Faith

Queen Esther risked her life to obey God.  So did the apostles.  We applaud them now, but at the time they had to practice obedience by faith.

Today’s Reading

Esther 4-6; Acts 5:17-42

Selected Verses

Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.  Esther 4:16

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”  Acts 5:17-20

Reflections

Obedience to God must be by faith, because it does not always bring pleasant results immediately and, sometimes, it can even cost you your life. Yet for the Christian, his obedience always has a positive outcome because even loss of life brings him into the glorious presence of God.

Esther was queen, but she and all the Jews were under a death sentence because of Haman’s instigation of the king’s decree. Mordecai challenged her to go to the king and plead for a reprieve from the law. After some back and forth, Esther agreed, knowing that, if the king did not hold out the golden scepter to her, she would be executed. She uttered her famous words, “if I perish, I perish.”

Of course, in her case the king received her and heard her plea. She did not have to wait long for the reward of her obedience.

The apostles continued to preach the gospel of the risen Christ, and the high priest and the Sadducees had them thrown back into prison. This time the angel of the Lord opened the door of the prison and sent the apostles back to the temple to preach. The officials looked like fools when they sent to the prison and could not find them. Finally, a report came in that they were preaching in the temple again. At their hearing they maintained that they “must obey God rather than men.”

Think about it

There really is no downside to obedience by faith to God for even if we perish, we win the victor’s crown (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Be ready to obey by faith today, no matter what the outcome.  If you are persecuted for your obedience,  you may go straight to glory.  But, if not, you will be able to rejoice “that you were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

Praying to a Big God for Big Things

How a person prays reflects much about his or her faith in and knowledge of God. Today we get a look at the prayer lives of three great men of God.

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 12-13; Acts 4:23-37

Selected Verses

Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love. Nehemiah 13:22

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.  And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.”  Acts 4:23-24

Reflections

A notable feature of the book of Nehemiah is his prayer life.  On a number of occasions, he asks God to “remember him” (Nehemiah 5:19; 13:14, 22, 31).  It appears that Nehemiah is comfortable turning to God in the midst of his writing.  He shows recognition of God’s holiness and his own need for forgiveness despite his many works of obedience.  At times, it seems like he is offering his works as a basis for his acceptance before God, but we should probably not judge him too severely if he did not grasp as fully as we can the grace of God through the atonement for sin made by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Certainly, in the verse quoted above, he shows an awareness of and dependence on the love of God.

In Acts, Peter and John have been released from arrest by the chief priests after being warned not to preach in the name of Christ.  What do they do?  They look for their friends, their fellow believers, they make a report as to what had occurred, and then they begin to pray.  How do they address God?  They address Him as the “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.”  But notice what they do not request.  Do they ask for safety? No!  Nor do they pray for the destruction of their enemies.  They pray for boldness to keep speaking God’s Word.  And God hears their prayer, fills them with His Holy Spirit, and gives them continued boldness.

Think about it

What can you learn from the examples of prayer in the lives of Nehemiah, Peter, and John?  Be sure you remember who God is and what He wants of us.  Pray to a big God. Pray for big things–things that you know He wants.  After all, He is the Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, isn’t He?