Acts 23: That night the Master appeared to Paul: “It’s going to be all right.”
Paul, the former pursuer and persecutor of Christians is now himself, a Christian who is pursued and persecuted. When similar pressure broke out in other places the believers have secreted him out of town and out of danger. Now, though, he’s held prisoner by the Romans. When forty or more men take an oath to kill Paul the Romans take action similar what has been done before; they move him out of town. Paul, at the center of this whole storm, is surprisingly calm and filled with hope. Why? It’s because he’s heard from the Lord that “It’s going to be all right.” His confinement has just begun and things will get worse. How many times will he return in spirit to that night at the Roman garrison in Jerusalem when the Master, himself, came to encourage him? This visitation of the Lord will become his anchor as the storm of adversity crashes down on him. We not only need some midnight visits from the Lord as we deal with the issues of life, but we also need to cherish them; to remember them and draw strength from them. Then, as the storm’s fury is unleashed on us we can draw from those midnight visitations and be strengthened to perseverance and peace.
Take Away: We not only need some midnight visits from the Lord as we deal with the issues of life, but we also need to cherish them as well.
From persecutor to follower
Acts 9: Things calmed down after that and the church had smooth sailing for awhile.
From the Day of Pentecost on there’s tension between the followers of Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Obviously, the murder of Stephen is the primary example of that. Now, Saul, who was there as Stephen’s last words were addressed to Jesus, becomes the main enemy of the believers. He terrorizes them, showing no mercy. Then, on the way to Damascus to root out even more Jesus followers, he encounters Jesus, himself. It’s a dramatic turnaround. The greatest enemy of Jesus and his people is now one of them. Saul is as zealous for Jesus as he had been zealous against him. Following the martyred Stephen’s approach Saul debates the enemies of Jesus in Damascus. Then, when opposition is stirred to murderous proportions he returns to Jerusalem. Thanks to Barnabas, Saul is welcomed into the Church there. Soon he’s debating with the Hellenists of that city. Before long they decide to deal with Saul as they dealt with Stephen. Saul is hustled out of town and soon is sent to his distant home town, Tarsus. It’s only then that things calm down for the infant Church. As I read of these events, I once again wonder if debate is the best way to advance Christianity. It’s Stephen’s use of this approach that touches off the firestorm of opposition and it’s when Saul, with his debate style is moved from the mix that things calm down and the Church advances under a banner of peace. Also, I can’t help but wonder if Saul’s conversion doesn’t frighten the enemies of the Church. Saul was one of them, in fact, the most zealous of the lot. If attacking followers of Jesus can somehow make a person into one of “them” maybe it’s best to just leave them alone! No real application here but there’s plenty to think about as I consider this chain of events.
Take Away: Debate probably isn’t the best way to influence people for Jesus.
Palm Sunday foretold
Zechariah 9: Your king is coming!
Israel is without a king and under the rule of the Persian King Darius. As the returned exiles accept the call of God to rebuild the Temple, the Lord encourages them through the messages and visions of the prophet Zechariah. God’s pleased with them and their commitment to the huge Temple project and promises to be with them. He’ll do for them what they cannot do themselves. Good days are ahead. Not only will the Lord help them in the reconstruction project, he’s going to make them into a great nation that will influence all the nations of the earth. The day will come when they’ll be freed from the rule of Darius and will, instead, be ruled by a King sent from God. That king will come into Jerusalem, not riding a mount of war, but upon a mount that symbolizes humility and peace, a donkey. It will be 500 years before that event takes place and then at least 2000 years more before the promise Zechariah gives is totally fulfilled. However, the “donkey riding King” has already ridden into Jerusalem. It happened when Jesus, the Messiah, rode a borrowed donkey into Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday. When that took place, the words of long dead Zechariah were proven literally true.
Take Away: The Lord always keeps his promises.
Open, Under New Management
Micah 4: Nations will…quit learning how to kill one another.
Micah’s promise of world peace always sounds good and it’s especially attractive when strife and war are close at hand. Later on, when the Messiah comes his arrival is accompanied with heavenly cheers of “peace on earth.” Every reasonable person is drawn to the possibility of world peace. Some have declared the promise of Micah and then of the Gospel writer to be a sham. And why not: we’re no closer to world peace than we were when Micah first said these words. The thing is our world hasn’t cooperated with this promise. Micah describes this when he says, “Meanwhile, all the other people live however they wish.” The solution offered in the Bible is a spiritual one. As people and nations yield to the sovereignty of God, peace reigns. As people and nations reject God peace becomes more and more distant. God’s answer is to march onto the world scene and reorder it all. When that happens we’ll see the equivalent of an “Open, Under New Management” sign placed on the world, and peace will, at least, reign.
Take Away: We can’t expect to receive the promises of the Lord while we, at the same time, refuse to cooperate with him.
Don’t worry about it
Daniel 12: Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax.
The things Daniel sees contain some disturbing and confusing information. He’s concerned about that. He doesn’t want to miss out on the message he’s been given. However, God’s messenger tells him not to worry about it. What he’s been shown is a long way off and, while some will waste a great deal of energy “running around, trying to figure out what’s going on” Daniel isn’t expected to grasp it all. Rather, he’s to merely pass the word along and when the time is right it’ll be opened up to those who need to understand. When he’s done that, Daniel’s off the hook. He’s to go about living life without fretting or worrying about how it will all play out. The Lord’s final message to Daniel is “relax.” I firmly believe that there are crucial events in world history when God puts specific people in a specific place for just that moment. However, most of us are called to simply live for God day by day. We don’t have to figure it all out and we don’t have to become famous Christians. If I give my life to Jesus and by his grace live for him I can “relax.” As Daniel’s promised, “When it’s all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward.”
Take Away: Most of us are called to simply live for the Lord day by day.
The Peace Maker
Isaiah 2: No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore.
We think that our day, with all its international stress points, is somehow unique but we know it really isn’t. It isn’t war that’s unique to human experience, its peace. Human history, including that which is included in the Bible, is filled with war and every generation seems to take its turn at it. Israel’s possession of the Promised Land started with a war and it’s still at war today. Isaiah’s promise of peace sounds as fantastic today as it did then. However, his promise isn’t that of a politician who sincerely promises a “war to end all wars” but all too soon sees an even more devastating conflict break out. Isaiah’s promise isn’t man-centered, but is, instead, God-centered. The secret to peace on Earth isn’t “one more war” or “bigger weapons” or even the leadership of some gifted peace-maker. That’s because the real battle field isn’t in the Middle East or any other geographical location. Rather, it’s the human heart. James put it this way, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1). Until the conflict of the human heart is resolved there isn’t a chance “in the world” of peace between nations. Our hope then is Christ. It’s the peaceful rule of the Messiah that Isaiah looked to. Today, I’m reminded that the dominion of the one who “on earth brings peace to men” begins, not out on the battle field, but in my heart.
Take Away: The only hope of peace in the world is Christ.
Psalm 7: I’m feeling so fit, so safe: made right, kept right.
Don’t you just love those “safe days”? What a blessing to look inward and see a heart made right and kept right. How pleasant it is to think serene thoughts, imagining soft, easy-going days in which I relax in the assurance of God’s pleasure with my life. It’s too bad that that’s not the message of this Psalm at all. David is under attack and he’s running for his life. He’s been accused of all kinds of failure, including spiritual failure. If his enemies get their hands on him he’s finished. This isn’t a day at the beach. This is war. And it’s in the middle of this war that David looks to God for help and vindication. As some of his life’s most difficult days rage all around him, he looks upward and finds hope. He looks inward and finds peace. While I really do love soft “safe days” I know that the real test of God’s work in my life is out on the battle field. If I can sense his pleasure with me and find inner peace there, well, I can find it anywhere.
Take Away: Life isn’t always easy but the Lord is with us and in us even on hard days.
Nothing special, just life
2Kings 15: He was king for fifty-two years in Jerusalem.
The stories of the twin kingdoms are told in parallel but they’re very different stories. Judah is rather stable with kings generally ranked as “good with some failures” while kings of Israel receive failing marks. Because of that, God blesses Judah with consistency of leadership that’s lacking in Israel. In fact, Israel’s throne at this time has the feel of a revolving door. There are numerous assassinations and one fellow, Shallum, only manages to hold the throne for a month. Meanwhile, Azariah and his son Jotham, rule Judah for 68 years. Judah isn’t perfect, but there’s a spiritual, God-connected element that’s missing from Israel and during this period of their histories one place we see it is in the stories of their kings. While intrigue and subterfuge make for the best stories, I think most citizens will say that peace, security, and prosperity make for the best lives. Israel might be more often talked about in the region but Judah’s the better place to call home. Thank God for the blessing of living, more often than not, a life that doesn’t make the headlines.
Take Away: We tend to take common, day to day life for granted; but we shouldn’t.
1 Samuel 21: He pretended to go crazy.
It’s been confirmed that Saul intends to kill David, so David’s desperately on the run. He has no provisions and doesn’t have so much as a sword for self-defense. He temporarily remedies that by stopping at the place of worship at Nob where he’s given bread and the sword of Goliath that’s been stored there. Now what? He decides to seek refuge at Gath. His intention is to go there incognito, but he’s immediately recognized. King Achish will almost certainly turn him over to Saul. So, what can he do? We’re told that he pretends to go crazy. Apparently, he put on a pretty good act; good enough that Achish wants nothing to do with him and sends him on his way. Now David is a skilled fighter and he has an excellent weapon, so maybe he could have fought his way out. Or, he might have been able to play “let’s make a deal” with old king Achish. In fact, he’ll do just that with the king of Moab. In this case, though, he fakes insanity. I wonder why he did that. Maybe, as he has entered Gath he’s seen a number of poor, demented people, so insanity is on his mind (pun intended). King Achish alludes to that when he says, “Don’t you think I have enough crazy people to put up with as it is without adding another?” Anyway, I’m thinking about the value of “strategic insanity” here. Sometimes it’s better to simply not notice an offense than it is to force a confrontation. It can be better to be blissfully ignorant of what people are saying or thinking and using “strategic insanity” to just go on loving them as though they’ve never said or done anything negative about us. I know that this isn’t always true, but on this day David saved himself a fight and walked away because the king thought he was so crazy that he wouldn’t be of any use to him. There are probably situations in my life in which “strategic insanity” is the best response too.
Take Away: Sometimes ignorance is, indeed, bliss.
Can’t we all just get along?
Genesis 45: Take it easy on the journey; try to get along with each other.
Having revealed his true identity to his brothers Joseph informs them that the famine will continue for another five years. He urges them to relocate to Egypt where he can take care of them. As he sends them back to Canaan he adds, “Take it easy and try to get along.” Isn’t that an odd statement? They’re returning home with lots of good news. Joseph is alive, he’s a powerful man, and he’s going to take care of them all. It’s been over 20 years since he spent time with them, but he’s experienced firsthand the results of the rivalry among them. With that in mind he cautions them against disagreements in their number. Centuries later, Paul says something similar to the Christians at Rome: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Ro 12:18). Apparently even people with good news and better things to do sometimes fail to get along. Joseph wants his brothers to keep the big picture in mind. Paul wants the same thing for the church. Once in a while, maybe all God’s people need to be reminded to take it easy and to try to get along.
Take away: Getting along sometimes takes real effort on our part, but it’s a worthy goal.