2Cor 5 Some long for riches and fame, which pass away as a cloud moves across the sky. Some long for a richer and more fulfilled life. Some like Paul, Polycarp, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer longed to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. All three faced martyrdom, and their lives speak to us from the grave of the truths found in God’s Word. Each had a life journey, and each found peace when the day came for their entrance into glory. What makes heroes of the faith?
Like Paul they chose to “walk by faith, not by sight..” [2Cor 5:7] making it “our ambition to please Christ.” [2Cor 5:9 author phrasing] All of these men saw and followed the example of the risen Christ. The author of Hebrews says, “the world was not worthy of them.” [Heb 11:38]They, along with the Hall of the faithful of Hebrews 11, are our spiritual heroes.
Polycarp, when faced with imminent death, replied Christ, “has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” Being led to the gallows, Bonhoeffer’s last words were, “This is the end–for me, [but] the beginning of life.”
Our purpose now as then is to be an ambassador for Christ who became “sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” [2Cor 5:21]
Romans 12 to 16 What is faith? How do you know you have it, or how do you know it is real? These are questions that come to us from those who are struggling in their walk with the Lord. Faith is an intangible gift from God. You can’t see it or feel or smell it or touch it, but it is real. Faith is proven not by our feelings but by our way of walking, trusting God for each new step along a path He has ordered in eternity past. It is, as James said, proven by our works. Paul says we prove it by presenting our bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God. He notes that it must be without hypocrisy, for love is the highest and greatest gift to God and mankind. That is the real test of faith.
We all have those in our sphere of influence who are weak in their faith. How then do we engage them and encourage them? We do it by not judging them for their walk. Practically we “who are strong [in our faith] ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not just please ourselves.” [Rom 15:1 author addition]Further on, we are to receive each other just as Christ has received you.
May this day be a day in which we don’t look inwardly at our faith but outwardly in the demonstration of our faith to others.
Acts 6 to 9 The gospel narrative revealed a fickle populace. They wanted miracles but not the Savior. After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples were moved by the Holy Spirit’s power to share the good news but just as with Christ; the message was accepted only as the physical needs were met but rejected when the spiritual needs were noted.
The Greek-speaking Jewish widows raised a complaint that they were being rejected in the food distribution. Out of this predicament, two men will surface; Stephen and Philip. Stephen will debate and preach but is finally rejected by the religious council, stoned, and left to die. Philip will leave Jerusalem and be used by the Holy Spirit to bring the gospel message to Samaria and Caesarea. A chief rejecter, Saul, meets Messiah on the road to Damascus, and his life is forever changed, yet he too is rejected by many.
No matter where God has placed us, we meet fickle people. They desire but do not have because, as James said, they ask amiss. [James 4:2] No matter the circumstance, the gospel message is used to pierce the hearts of men, so they are without excuse. [Rom 1:20]
God asks, do you love me more than these? [John 21:15-19] Will you pick up your cross and follow Him—no matter where it leads.
Acts 1 “Certainly the sovereign Lord does nothing without first revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.”[Amos 3:7] He revealed his plan to redeem mankind. It began in Genesis and we will see from Acts 1 onward how He used men and women to reveal his plan. God’s plan was to send his only begotten son because: “He does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” [2Pe 3:9]
You and I are to share the good news of [1Cor 15:3] “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.” From small beginnings to the farthest reaches of the then known world to today across all the continents the message went forth. It started using just 12 men and others who waited to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. From that encounter, they became “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.” [Acts 1:8]
Beloved, we are the recipients of their faithful witness. They shared and then others shared the news of 1Cor 15’s truth until the Good News traveled to the “farthest part of the world.” May we humbly praise and thank God for those who were the faithful witnesses and may we carry on to be as they—faithful witnesses.
Luke 4&5 Are you satisfied with your life the way it is? It seems that those in Israel were, and when Jesus arrives on the scene, they are amazed, astonished, or filled with resentment. Returning to his hometown, he is selected to read from Isaiah in his Nazareth synagogue. The listeners were amazed at the gracious words coming from him—until He explained that God healed those who were Gentiles. In an instant, the listeners were transformed from meek and mild Dr. Jekyll to the evil Mr. Hyde and, in their rage, sought to kill him. Leaving Nazareth, he headed to Capernaum, where three events show he is empowered and anointed to heal by the Spirit. First, he heals a demon-possessed man, then heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever and lastly, he rebukes the unclean spirits. Many are astonished, but not all. Jesus encounters the religious leaders who call him a blasphemer because he forgave a paralytic of his sins. In fact, Luke sums up these amazing, astonishing encounters with this idea; the old is good enough, or as we say, don’t rock the boat.
Do we, too, respond, “The old is good enough;” when we are not ready for Jesus to change us or our situation? Do we feel comfortable with excuses like I am not prepared? Jesus is challenging us to be filled as He was with the Holy Spirit and alter our landscape with His power.
Mark 7 Mark wanted his audience to see that our lips and our outward worship may say we love God, but it is the inward heart that is God’s measuring rod. “God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” [1Sa 16:7]
What did the religious leaders care about? It was the traditions passed down through the centuries. So they came asking Jesus: “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders.” Their priority was the legalism of rules which cleansed the outward man but failed to seek cleansing of the heart. Jesus caustically rebuked them using Isaiah’s words: you honor me with lip-service, but your heart is caught up in the traditions established by your ancestors. In fact, you are so caught up, you find loopholes to set aside God’s commandments to satisfy your sins. Listen, God sees your heart and what lurks there: evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetousness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. In essence, he was recalling [Prov 14:17], “a quick-tempered man acts foolishly.”
When your heart is pure and cleansed, it is revealed in the humility of the heart. To say the words “I love you, God,” but your actions say otherwise is repulsive to God.
Haggai 1 & 2 Today, a refrain is heard: I have bills to pay, and whatever is leftover, I may give to the church. But, God is clear; your thinking is backward! “Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse; Test me and see if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing for you until there is no room for it all.” [Mal 3 author’s paraphrase] The point being: when we put God first, He blesses, and as the Israelites were experiencing, the reverse is also true. Is it any wonder then that Haggai came to the people and rebuked them for wrong priorities? Was it right for them to live luxuriously while the house of the Lord lay in ruins? Then he asked them to consider their priorities.
Haggai’s message was convicting! The people turned and put God first, and then God did just as Malachi said. Their crops rebounded, and their pocketbooks were replenished. God is clear: if I am first, I will be with you, and I will bless you.
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” [Matt 6]
Is church and giving to the work of the Lord on the bottom of your list?
Nahum 1-3 Nahum, the Elkoshite, prophesied to the wicked Assyrians about their short-lived repentance. One hundred years earlier, when Jonah spoke the entire city, both man and beast put on sackcloth and ashes in repentance. But, now, they had returned to their cruel ways. Some today may make a faith profession, but later it is as if they had never heard. Just like the Ninevites, they had short memories. The “message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.[Heb 4:2] Although Jeremiah wrote that God’s mercies are new every morning, He will call all accounts due sooner or later.
‘Listen Assyria; God is slow to anger not willing any should perish, but all come to repentance, yet He is also zealous and will avenge His people. Whereas your king of old repented and you were spared, your new king is indolent and degenerate. You are ripe for enemy nations.’
Just because you think it won’t happen doesn’t mean it won’t. Assyria was destroyed, and their idols burned. Scoffers say to us: “where is the promise of his coming? It is as it always has been.” [2Pet 3:4] Amazingly, in 1845, an archaeologist stumbled upon Nineveh’s site and found an extensive library proving Nahum’s words were true and accurate.
Beloved, God is merciful, but He will be patient just so long. If Jesus were to return today, would you be ready?
Amos 4 to 6 When we go to court, we place our hand on the Bible and swear that we will tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us, God. This is a solemn oath that we take, reminding us of the consequences of not telling the truth. As we do that, we are following the pattern of God, who confirms an oath by his own holy character. What He says is true, and it will never be altered because He is the “way, the truth, and the life.”
Amos was given the task to remind them that God has plans for their future, yet they still did not come back to Him. Amos says: the day of the Lord will come swiftly as lightning; therefore, they should prepare to meet God. It is because of God’s great compassion that He reveals his plans to men. But, just as in Amos’ day, the world is busy about spending that which will decay on material possessions but not time hungering and thirsting for the Word of God. If God were to blow the trumpet, what would He find us doing?
Ecclesiastes reminds us: When you make a vow to God, do not delay in paying it. It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay it. You took an oath/vow that you believed in Jesus. Does your life reflect that oath/vow? Thus we should seek the Lord to live, once in this lifetime and then again in the hereafter.
Daniel 4 to 6 Daniel, the righteous, served under several kings. Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius were given opportunities to renounce the gods of silver and gold, yet they clung to that which would not last. Nebuchadnezzar’s words show that he believed in Yahweh – at first. Daniel pleaded with him to renounce his ways, but he put it off and was humbled by God for 7 yrs. God sent Belshazzar a dramatic visual lesson, yet he chose to ignore the warning. That very night, he was assassinated, and Babylon fell. King Darius listened to the voices of fools and regretted that a righteous man, Daniel, would be thrown to the lions.
Nebuchadnezzar and Darius learned how gracious God is when they repented and gave glory to God. But Belshazzar, like Esau, sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. All three learned the hard way; God meant what He said.
Three kings, three decisions. Their choice was to accept God’s grace. However, like Pharaoh they thought, I will do it tomorrow. Principle: “Proud men will be humiliated, arrogant men will be brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day” [Isa 2:17]
Two life lessons:
(1) Does God have to bring drama into your life to get your attention?
(2) God always has His person in place to speak for Him. Where has God placed you that you might be a godly influence?