The way to die
Revelation 14: Blessed are those who die in the Master from now on; how blessed to die that way!
In this passage the harvest of the world is about to be described but prior to that there’s another description of God’s people standing “passionately patient, keeping God’s commands, staying faithful to Jesus.” Then John is told specifically to write about those who finish their lives while being “passionately patient.” They serve God through their lives, looking for Jesus to return, overcoming the hardships and trials of their journey. In the specific case of this passage there’s considerable pressure on them to follow the general population in worship of the Beast. These saints resist and at personal cost persist in being “faithful to Jesus.” Now, for them, the battle ends. Their “hard, hard work” is over and “God blesses them for it all in the end.” I’ve known people such as these described in this passage. They loved the Lord and served him through their lives. When hard times came, they wished for a way out, but way out or not, they continued to trust God. Physically, they were ultimately defeated. Spiritually though, they were victorious. John is told to remind God’s people that those who “die in the Master” are blessed. Unless Jesus comes back first, my turn’s coming. I want the same kind of passionate patience, the same faithfulness to God’s commands, to be the hallmark of my life. As this passage says: “how blessed to die that way!”
Take Away: Live the right way so you can die the right way.
Responsibility of seasoned saints
Galatians 6: So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good.
The church is, obviously, an imperfect body. After all, it’s filled with imperfect human beings. Within its number are mature, settled saints and new, raw believers and folks everywhere in between. It’s a challenge to be a part of such a diverse family. The Apostle reminds the “trained” and “mature” believers that they have a responsibility to enter into “a generous common life” with those who’ve gone before and at least implies that they’re to do the same with those who are trailing behind them on their spiritual journey. He knows that this kind of communal living takes effort and can be a real energy drain so he frames the issue using a familiar crop growing illustration. The farmer works the fields, not because he likes what he’s seeing right at that moment but because of what he believes is coming. As “seasoned saints” patiently love and encourage others within the body of Christ they do so with two truths in mind. First, they remember where they came from and how others accepted them when they were young, frustrating, inconsistent believers. Second, they anticipate what the Lord’s going to do in the lives of these folks. The language he uses is that of self-responsibility: “Let’s not allow ourselves…” he says. Some folks haven’t yet gotten beyond the children’s end of the pool. Those who are experienced, capable “swimmers” are to, in Paul’s words, “Work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.”
Take Away: There are people at all stages of spiritual growth in the family of God.
When the Lord says to wait….
Acts 1: Judas must now be replaced.
The story of the resurrection doesn’t conclude the story of Jesus. This is no “and they lived happily ever after” kind of story. Now we learn about the response to the Gospel and how it, empowered by the Spirit of Jesus, begins its spread across the face of the earth. That journey, though, gets off to a rather poor start. Jesus told his followers to wait in the Upper Room for “power from on high.” Peter, though, (bless his heart) thinks that while they’re waiting they can conduct some business. He has some scripture to quote and some logic to apply as he suggests that they make good use of this waiting period to select a replacement for the fallen and now dead Judas. Criteria are laid out and people are nominated. Then, using an ancient method, they select a good man, Matthias. Since hindsight is 20/20 we know that this isn’t the Lord’s intention. Matthias, good man that he is, isn’t intended to be the replacement disciple. The criteria, as Biblical as they are, aren’t going to be applied. The man God has selected is, right now, a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He’ll soon be the greatest enemy of Christ on the face of the earth. The lesson to be learned here is simple: when the Lord says to wait, just wait.
Take Away: The best of disciples must guard against running ahead of the Lord.
Waiting for God’s response
Habakkuk 2: If it seems slow in coming wait…it will come right on time.
The prophet has stated his concerns to the Almighty. He’s troubled that a holy God would use such unholy people as his workers in the world. Having asked his questions of God, Habakkuk braces himself for God’s answer. The first thing he hears from God is that the Lord does, indeed, have an answer for him. The second message he receives is that sometimes God’s answers appear to be slow in coming but they’re worth waiting for, and when they do come, it’s plain that God not only answered well, but the answer came at just the right time. This passage is a wonderful blessing to all who have dealt with hard things in their lives; who have asked God for help in understanding them but haven’t yet received an answer. At such times God’s word to Habakkuk is also his word to us: “wait.” I’m not a big fan of waiting but in this passage I’m reminded that God hasn’t forgotten me and he isn’t ignoring me. At just the right time – in God’s time – the answer will come. When it does, it will have been well worth the wait.
Take Away: Sometimes the Lord’s answers appear to be slow in coming but they’re worth waiting for.
Communicating with kindness
Proverbs 15: Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.
Several years ago I started watching a news talk show on CNN named “Crossfire.” Every day a conservative and liberal team of hosts interviewed a guest who was caught in their “crossfire.” Depending on the guest, one host played “good cop” and the other played “bad cop.” I found the show to be unique and interesting. That program has influenced a lot of TV news and we see programs similar to it all the time now. Aside from TV though, I don’t think “Crossfire” influenced society as much as it reflected society. Kindness and gentleness is out and “Telling it like it is” is the approach of the day. On the internet I’ve seen people who I’m sure are fine, caring Christians in person who can however, when on line, cut and slash with their words without mercy. I think there’s a great need for kindness in society. Most people don’t need to be put in their place nearly so much as they need to be treated as people of value. Whether we’re talking about how we conduct ourselves while driving in traffic or how we speak to the slow moving clerk at Walmart God’s people ought to lead the way in this. We’re to be “helpers” and “healers” and not “wounders” and maimers.”
Take Away: When under pressure or when somehow operating “out of the box” our words are windows to our hearts.
God, patiently working
2 Samuel 4: And so they anointed David king over Israel.
It’s been a long time coming. David remembers being called in from the fields as he cared for his father’s sheep to meet the old man of God, Samuel. In a private ceremony Samuel anointed him king of Israel. However, Israel already had a king and Saul wasn’t about to give up his position of power, so David waited. He faithfully served Israel, doing anything asked of him. He honored Saul, even as Saul became his enemy. It isn’t that David’s made no errors along the way; he has. The bottom line, though, is that he’s faithfully adhered to this philosophy: if God had him anointed as king, then he’ll be king in God’s own time. Now, the result of treachery in Ish-Bosheth’s camp, the door is finally open and all Israel comes to make David king. The deaths of both Saul and Ish-Bosheth were not by David’s hand. In fact, it isn’t the way he wanted it at all. Still, God works in all things, even things he doesn’t design, to accomplish his purpose. David isn’t the only one who’s been patient. God, Himself, has worked in and through and even around the events that have taken place to move history in the direction he desires. The end result is that, just as Samuel said years earlier: David is king of Israel. Here’s a picture of how God works: not orchestrating and micromanaging events to get his way, but directing the outcome of even bad things, like murder, to accomplish his purposes. He doesn’t motivate the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite to kill Ish-Bosheth, but when they do, the Lord uses it to accomplish his purpose of bringing David to the throne of Israel.
Take Away: As Sovereign God the Lord works in this world, even though poor choices made by people, to accomplish his purposes.
Hurry up, Lord!
1 Samuel 13: So I took things into my own hands.
As we leave Samuel’s sermon in chapter 12 and move to chapter 13 there’s a leap of several years. In fact, the first words of the next chapter tell us that Saul has now reigned for many years. Apparently, he’s doing a good job. For decades there have been no stories of failure. Life continues, securely and peacefully. Also, we see that Samuel is doing what he said he would do and is faithfully praying for them and providing spiritual guidance. Saul handles the day to day running of the country and Samuel’s the spiritual leader. Then historic things begin to happen. Saul’s son, Jonathan, attacks the Philistines at Gibeah and there’s war. Outnumbered, Saul’s army flees and things are unraveling for Israel. The call goes out to Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice. God’s help is needed here! As Saul waits on Samuel his men are deserting, slipping away one after another. Finally, Saul decides he can wait no longer. Crossing the line that has existed between his authority and Samuel’s he offers his own sacrifice. Of course, it’s all a test. Will Saul follow God’s plan for how Israel is to function or will he abandon God’s approach when it seems necessary? His failure’s obvious. I can be pretty hard on Saul if I want to. God has been with him, always on his side, now he’s messed up (royally!). The trouble is that I have to admit that I can identify with Saul here. How good am I at waiting for God to move when I’m under pressure? Do I tend to take matters into my own hands? This is a spectacular failure for Saul. Is it anything less when I fail in the same way?
Take Away: Waiting for God to move may be our greatest test of faith.
God keeps his promises
Joshua 21: Not one word failed from all the good words God spoke to the house of Israel. Everything came out right.
The battles are over, the land divided, and the special cities designated. It’s a time now for reflection. Soon Joshua will call the people together and preach a “conclusive” sermon of his own, even as Moses did decades earlier. Here’s the thing: God has kept all the promises he made to them. Today, I operate under certain promises: “believe and be saved,” “I am with you to the end of the age,” “I will come back and take you to be with me.” Sometimes just the receiving of God’s promises takes an effort on my part. Beyond that it almost always calls for my patience and trust as I wait to realize it in my life. The great phrase before me today is this: “Everything came out right.” With that in mind I stay the course. God has made promises and everything will, indeed, come out right.
Take Away: Receiving God’s promises almost always takes patience.
From Jailhouse to Penthouse
Genesis 41: Joseph was in charge of the entire country of Egypt.
Within a matter of hours Joseph is elevated from being a prison trustee to being second only to the king. After years of misery God’s plan unfolds and in a matter of hours an event greater than Joseph’s highest hopes is realized. This is so sweeping a change that even Joseph must have problems grasping it all. Beyond that, there’s a feeling of “rightness” about it. Joseph takes off his prison garments and puts on those of royalty and, well, they fit him perfectly. He immediately begins to discharge his duties with authority. You see, he was born for this moment. It was a terrible thing when he was betrayed by, first his brothers, and then Mrs. Potiphar. However, at the same time, the Lord used those events to prepare Joseph for what was coming. Those years in jail were long and unwelcome, but the Lord used them to Joseph’s benefit. I haven’t been as low and I’ve never risen to the heights described in this story. However, I’ve found that the Lord is incredibly patient in accomplishing his purposes. I’ve also found that when it all comes together it all fits perfectly. In fact, it works so well that, if I’m not careful, I miss God’s hand in it and chalk it up to being merely a natural flow of events.
Take away: God is incredibly patient in accomplishing his purposes, but the end result is just right.