September 30, 2015

God’s Story

Malachi 2:10–4:6, Acts 28:1–31, Job 31:23–40

The Bible contains 66 books all telling the same story. It could be outlined: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. The world is currently in the Fall-Redemption
God’s Savior has come and paid the penalty for sin. Sinners need to hear that good news, or have heard it and accepted it, or heard and rejected it.

Two of today’s Bible readings are in that Redemption section but before the first advent of Jesus Christ. Malachi prophecies that event; Job shares his faith in God’s promise of that event. The third reading is still in the Redemption section, but after Jesus came and before His return. It tells how the first Christians, particularly the Apostle Paul, shared the good news of Jesus with the rest of the world.

God said Jesus would come
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord . . . .” (Malachi 3:1–4)

Malachi describes more of what will happen when Jesus comes: “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. ‘They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.’” (Malachi 3:16–18)

Yet even before Jesus came, there were OT believers who trusted the promises of God and declared their faith by words and by changed lives. Job was one of them.

Job shares His faith
Job said he feared God and could not face Him if his life was not in order: “If I have made gold my trust or called fine gold my confidence, if I have rejoiced because my wealth was abundant or because my hand had found much, if I have looked at the sun when it shone, or the moon moving in splendor, and my heart has been secretly enticed, and my mouth has kissed my hand, this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges, for I would have been false to God above.” Job 31:23–28)

Job knew that the changes in his life were by grace, yet he was responsible to live by grace. His obedience demonstrated his faith in the God who had blessed him with a changed life. He refused to trust his wealth or anything else for that would ruin and make false his faith in God.

Paul preaches Christ to Jews and Gentiles
Paul persecuted the early Christians, but after Jesus appeared to him, his life changed. He believed the gospel, told others about it, and was arrested and put in prison. He asked to be tried in Rome so was sent there and allowed to stay by himself with a soldier who guarded him. After three days he called the local Jewish leaders and said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.”

These Jews knew nothing about this, but said, “But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”
So they came to Paul in great numbers. “From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.”

Paul finally told those who rejected the message, “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” Paul lived there two years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ boldly and without hindrance. (Acts 28:16–31)

Where do I fit in this? I’m a sinner redeemed by God’s grace. I’m left here on this earth to glorify God and tell others of His saving mercy until He takes me home or until Jesus returns!

September 29, 2015

God asks for my best

Malachi 1:1–2:9, Acts 27:1–44, Job 31:9–22

We once attended a church that was furnished by ‘gifts’ from the congregation, but those gifts were cast-offs and leftovers, mostly worn out and in need of repair. This is not what God asks of His people.

“ . . . O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 1:6–8) God asked for unblemished sacrifices, not the worst or useless animals of the flock.

“For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.” (Malachi 1:11–14)

Giving Him leftovers shows a total lack of respect for who He is, and reveals an attitude of disdain on my part. God wants the best that I can give Him because it shows that I totally trust Him to supply what I need, including everything that I willingly give to Him, or to anyone else for that matter.

Job knew that. He said, “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless has not eaten of it . . . if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or the needy without covering, if his body has not blessed me, and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep, if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, because I saw my help in the gate, then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket.” (Job 31:16–22)

Offering the best is one way of showing faith. It reveals a righteousness that comes from God, and a total lack of selfishness. My giving also shows what is most important to me.
Paul’s life showed that he valued the lives of others, obeying God’s desire that we love people. He was a prisoner on a ship heading for Rome when they encountered a severe storm. They managed to secure the ship’s boat after hoisting it up, and use supports to undergird the ship. Fearing that they would run aground, they lowered the gear, and were driven along and violently storm-tossed enough to jettison the cargo, even the ship’s tackle. After days of this, “all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” (Acts 27:16–20)

Paul was keeping his ear toward God. He told the sailors, “. . . I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.” (Acts 27:21–26)

The sailors wanted to escape so under pretense lowered the ship’s boat into the sea, but Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” They listened. His care for them earned respect. Then he urged them to eat, “. . . . For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.”

Then “he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.” (Acts 27:30–36) The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners so they could not swim away and escape. But the centurion wanted to save Paul. He kept them from carrying out their plan, ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. Because Paul valued the lives of others, God spared all of them. “And so it was that all were brought safely to land.” (Acts 27:42–44)

This points to an important principle. Give the best, and care deeply about others. God blesses and watches over me, not because I’ve earned it but because He has given me the best in Jesus Christ and enabled me to love Him with all my heart. I best show that love by deeply caring about the fate of others.

September 28, 2015

What to do between His appearances

Zechariah 12:1–14:21, Acts 26:1–32, Job 31:1–8

The Bible is clear that Jesus came once for redemption of sinners, and then will come again to judge the world and make all things right. Zechariah writes of the second coming when God will “pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10)

He also refers to the His first appearance when He was crucified: “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones” (Zechariah 13:7) and of the salvation He brings: “I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’ ” (Zechariah 13:9)

Yet his focus is “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward . . . . Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.” (Zechariah 14:4–5, 9)

Zechariah speaks of judgment and that those who survive will “go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths.” (Zechariah 14:16) Because all prophesies of His first coming have been fulfilled, and because this is the Word of God, I can expect these later prophesies to also happen just as Zechariah said. He knew that God was speaking.

Job understood the workings of God also. He said, “If I have walked with falsehood and my foot has hastened to deceit; (Let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!) if my step has turned aside from the way and my heart has gone after my eyes, and if any spot has stuck to my hands, then let me sow, and another eat, and let what grows for me be rooted out.” (Job 31:5–8)

Because God is just, Job could say this with full knowledge that in the end, his destiny was secure. His faith had produced a just and righteous life; God would be faithful to His Word; truly the just would live by faith.

Paul also declared the righteousness of God and how Jesus came to redeem sinners. Arrested and given audience by King Agrippa, he testified his manner of life as a Pharisee, and his hope in Christ which was the reason for the accusation by the Jews. He said, “O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:4–8) Such a thing was easy to believe because Paul knew the power and promises of God.

He told the king how he once opposed the name of Jesus and persecuted those who followed Him, but then was confronted by Jesus Himself who said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:12–18)

With further testimony to his conversion, Paul added, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” (Acts 26:27–29)

Paul and all others who believe in Jesus know that He will return. We don’t know the day or the hour, but as the world spins and wickedness increases, we greatly anticipate this promised event. We know that God keeps His promises.

Also as Paul, I want that all who hear the gospel might be filled with faith and live the rest of their lives trusting the Lord Jesus Christ. Being a Christian is about forgiveness and eternal life. All should know these gifts from God and all the wonders of being His child.

The Gospel also tells me how to live between His first appearance and His second — with great enthusiasm for all that He has done, sharing Him and His message with fullness of joy. I want everyone to experience that as well.

September 27, 2015

Leaders and Followers

Zechariah 10:1–11:17, Acts 25:1–27, Job 30:16–31

During the past few years, prominent Christian leaders have fallen into sin and embarrassed the church. We expect godliness, not shameful behavior. However, we should not be surprised when leaders slip. Even in 520 BC , God was angry with the lack of leadership in His people: “For the household gods utter nonsense, and the diviners see lies; they tell false dreams and give empty consolation. Therefore the people wander like sheep; they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd” (Zechariah 10:2) and pronounced judgment on them: “Woe to my worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! Let his arm be wholly withered, his right eye utterly blinded!” (Zechariah 11:17)

When those troubles came, it seems logical that the one being struck in punishment would cry out to God who was striking Him. Job realized that, even though he knew he was not being punished. But He did not know why God didn’t answer his cry for help. He would answer those who cried out to him, so why would God not answer his cries?

“Yet does not one in a heap of ruins stretch out his hand, and in his disaster cry for help? Did not I weep for him whose day was hard? Was not my soul grieved for the needy? But when I hoped for good, evil came, and when I waited for light, darkness came. My inward parts are in turmoil and never still; days of affliction come to meet me.” (Job 30:24–27)

Job was not being punished for being a worthless shepherd, but his faith was being tested. He’d been a good leader. For him, this did not make sense.

The idea of being a strong and good leader carries into the NT and into modern times. We are in the midst of election preparations in Canada, listening to leaders making promises and trying to win votes.

In the NT, the model of leadership was sometimes supplied by the Roman government. They showed more respect for Christians, at least at first, than did the Jews. The major Christian leader was Paul, a righteous man being persecuted by Jewish leaders who wanted to kill him. He was put in jail and tried by Festus, the Roman procurator. Paul’s accusers brought serious charges against him but could not prove anything. Paul defended himself: “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.”

Festus, a Roman, wanted to do the Jews a favor but gave Paul options. Unlike the Jews, he wanted the apostle to have a fair trial. Paul responded with: “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

Festus conferred with his council and said, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” (Acts 25:6–12) He sent Paul to King Agrippa, who also wanted to give Paul a hearing. When that happened, Festus described the situation again:

“King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.” (Acts 25:18–27)

Paul’s own people wanted to kill him for saying Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, and that He had died for their sin and rose again. The Romans were more interested in a fair trial. Later, when the Gospel was directed toward them, they also would kill Christians, but at this time, their leadership was much more in line with justice than was the leadership of God’s people, the Jews.

In my world, more people complain about the government than look for the good being done. We live in a freedom unknown in many parts of the world. We are blessed beyond measure, yet the human heart is never satisfied and always wanting more. This makes me sad. God tells me to be thankful, even content with my lot in life, and to support the leaders of my country and my church with prayer.

At one point, Jesus suggested in a parable that the people “did not want this man to rule over them.” Perhaps that is the biggest problem of all. Leaders may not submit to God’s principles of just and godly leadership, but if I am never satisfied with any kind of leadership, and if I want to run my own life and refuse to follow them, then how can they lead without a follower?