Tag Archives: God’s Word

The Danger of Neglect

 

When we began this series, we expressed the “need to heed” warnings in our lives.  This is especially true of spiritual warnings.  In the book of Hebrews, the author shares with a group of believers five (5) spiritual warnings he saw emerging within their community.  These warnings represented dangers that would ultimately end their faith walk, their witness, and their work.

These five spiritual warnings are still relevant in the 21st century.  Because of its relevance, we share the first of these warnings–the danger of neglect.

What is this thing called neglect?

Neglect is described as the state or fact of being uncared for.  Its origin is from two Latin verbs meaning ‘not’ + ‘choose’.  The Jewish Christians were considering to “not choose” Jesus.  They were at risk of “drifting away” (Heb. 2:1).

In the opening verses of chapter 2, the writer shares with the audience several points to consider before returning to Judaism.  Rejecting the gospel would have definite spiritual consequences.

Pay Attention!

The readers were urged “to heed” to what they have heard.  In the past God communicated through the angels.  God’s Son Jesus is now elevated far above the angels to reveal His message of truth and redemption.  If the Jewish Christians respected the angels before, they should be even more attentive to Jesus (Heb. 2:2).  The Message conveys this thought: “If the old message delivered by the angels was valid and nobody got away with anything, do you think we can risk neglecting this latest message, this magnificent salvation?”

Since Jesus Christ is much better than the angels and has received by inheritance a more excellent Name than they (the angels)–since He is both essentially and officially inconceivably superior to these heavenly messengers, His message has paramount claim on our attention, belief, and obedience.[1]

The writer of Hebrews wanted his reader to fully understand the consequence of their behavior.  By rejecting the gospel, they would be “storing up” for themselves the wrath of God: “How shall they escape?”  (Heb. 2:3)

Neglect in the 21st century

Today as I look around at our current world, I wonder if we too are at risk of drifting way.  During the current health pandemic and social upheaval, conversations about “our belief and obedience to Jesus” are, unfortunately, becoming rare.  This is especially true among the generations that will follow the Millennials.

It appears that we, as a nation specifically, are “not choosing” Jesus Christ.  And while the Jewish Christians were in danger of returning to Judaism, what options are people, including Christians, choosing?

What does neglect look like in the 21st century?  A well-known Bible scholar and author, highly regarded within both Christian and Jewish academia, gave the following predictions as to how the world would look if Christianity “drifted away.” We warn you the words shared are very graphic and disturbing.

Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth…these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. [2]

Better Choice

We can learn from the warnings in Hebrews and find new ground on which to stand fast in our faith. (Rom. 15:4) We can avoid the danger of neglect by being intentional in our thinking and our actions.

First and foremost, it is important that we value the gift that we have received as a result of God’s grace (Eph. 1:3-14).  We deserved to die for our sins which separated us from our Creator.  Jesus reconciled us back to God (2 Cor. 5:19).  Having tasted the goodness, the greatness, and the generosity of God through Jesus Christ, how could we ever want to return to our old way of living? (1 Pet. 2:2-3).

Secondarily, we must repent and return to Christ.  Especially if we have begun “to drift” to other options the world would offer.  The Apostle Paul shared with the church at Colosse a similar message concerning the sufficiency of Christ over other things this world may offer (Col. 2:6-10).  In Christ we have everything we need.

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.  For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 

Lastly, we must listen as God speaks to us through His Son and in His Word.  Be protective of your time and intimacy with Jesus.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern those things that compete for your attention and your time (Matt. 6:33).  Through the practice of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, meditation, and journaling, we can better recognize Jesus’ voice over the noise of the world (John 10:27).

Pay close attention lest you too drift away.  Beware the danger of neglect.  Next week, we will focus on the second warning in Hebrews, the danger of unbelief.

[1]  Dr. Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews

[2]  2 Timothy 3:1-9

Time for a New Thing

Is it time to do a new thing?  Can we maintain status quo in the wake of the coronavirus, a shrinking economy, and social unrest?   These realities have changed each of our lives.  This new normal appears to be here for the long haul dictating our daily routine and our future plans.    Is it time to change?

It is human nature to resist change.  Change is hard especially if it is the result of something we had no say in.  As we attempt to move to some sense of normalcy in this nation, we are being asked to do something new.

“Hell no!  We won’t go!”

Local and state mandates have been issued in order to guard public health.  These instructions are not only being challenged but most often totally disregarded.  This is especially true among our young people.  I wonder who they learned that from.  Even when we’re told lives can be saved and the economy restored, we refuse to change.   Is it time to do a new thing?

From the head of this nation to the head of church congregations, resistance is seen as a rallying cry and badge of honor.  But is it?  Or is it really evidence of our inability to accept change?  Is resistance to exercising safe distance, wearing masks, and avoiding large crowds symptomatic of our unwillingness to do a new thing?   

God’s “new thing”

In the Old Testament, the use of “new thing” is cited in only three (3) texts:  Isaiah 43:19, Numbers 16:30, and Jeremiah 31:22.  Here they describe situations where God’s greatness and sovereignty is on display.  God invites man to join Him in accomplishing His divine purpose.

I will not conclude that the challenges we face are part of God’s divine purpose.  I do believe, however, that God throughout man’s history continually exercises His sovereignty and His authority.  This time in history, 2020, was viewed long before today.  God saw it from eternity (Is. 46:9-10).  Pandemics, politics, and problems in this world never catch God by surprise.

In the New Testament this concept of a “new thing” was manifested in the fulfillment of the Messiah who came to save us and to restore man to God’s original purpose. God was unable to fulfill His purpose through families, tribes or kings; through prophets, mediators or priests.  God brought salvation to earth through Jesus Christ—“God’s new thing”.

God’s new thing resulted in:

  •     The Kingdom of God coming to earth. (Matt. 4:17)
  •     Mercy, grace, and truth. (Ps. 85:10)
  •     Man becoming a “new creation”.  (2 Cor. 5:17)
  •     Freedom from the penalty and power of sin.  (Rom. 8:1)

God’s new things always result in our good and His glory.   As we seek stability during these tumultuous times, know that God is more than able to sustain and keep us (Ps. 46:1-3; 7-10).

Things are changing

As we move through the challenges we face as a nation, know that God is still doing new things.  The world we knew a year ago has changed.  The life we cherished 6 months ago will never return.  Our reality this week may be different than it was last week.  Things are changing.  How can we prepare for change—the new thing?

  • Trust God—believe in His ability and willingness to guide us to a new thing.
  • Position yourself to hear God—pray and read His Word.
  • Look for areas needing change in your life—be honest.
  • Identify and confess sin in your life—what’s interfering with God’s new thing?
But God

God is the key to change.  Most importantly, God can do a “new thing” even in the midst of change.  This includes COVID-19, financial downturns, and social injustices.  He invites us to join Him as we do a “new thing.”  When we trust God with our life, we can look forward with purpose and not fear (Jer. 29:11).

Dare to be a Truth Teller

I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings, And will not be ashamed.

Psalm 119:46, (NKJ)

Are you a truth teller?  This might seem like a strange question to ask but it provides a great starting point for personal reflection as we close this series.  We began by asking the question, “Can you handle the truth?”  We defined truth as the meaning and reality of life defined by God versus truth shaped by postmodern thinking.  The believer’s source of truth is presented by God Himself in His Word and through the direction of the “Spirit of Truth”, the Holy Spirit.  Truth defined by God becomes the compass by which believers are able to discern truth from error (1 John 4:6) therefore allowing them to live out their God-ordained purpose (Ep. 2:10).

How well am I doing with being truthful?   Following God’s truth may result in rejection and personal persecution.  Inside the safety of the church walls it’s easy to agree with the ethics and morality inherent in God’s truth.  However, once outside the “physical boundaries” of the church, it is the “heart” which must reflect God’s truth.  It is the heart that directs the mind, will, and emotions (the soul) to sieve the noise of the world through the filter of God’s truth.  Truth and obedience are closely connected as believers must choose between God’s instructions or man’s acceptance (Matt. 10:28).

Does the world want to know the truth?  Or is truth simply a remnant of the 20th century—no longer relevant in today’s fast-paced, high tech world?  Unfortunately, truth is often defined by what’s trending on social media.  To further complicate the search for truth, corporate/community leaders and aspiring politicians create “untruthful” responses to difficult social issues that simply satisfy people who don’t really want to know the truth; so the community and nation are given a lie (instead of truth) to make them feel better.  Unfortunately people would rather believe a lie than the truth—think about that for a minute!  Are people really being deceived or are they simply choosing to believe a lie? It’s easier (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

Am I ready to be a truth teller?  We must ask ourselves why we sometimes choose to believe a lie rather than the truth.  The truth may be related to our life style, our family, or even about us personally.  Perhaps we are judgmental, critical, or unforgiving.  That’s why it is so important to regularly pray that the Holy Spirit expose those areas that interfere with receiving the truth of God.

To be a truth teller requires boldness to stand for holy “rightness” (Heb. 13:6) and to proclaim what is God’s truth versus what is politically or socially correct (Luke 12:4-5; Ps. 119:46). When Jesus taught the Beatitudes to His disciples, He established a new standard of truth that was to be actualized in the life of the believer—a standard that would result in holy and sanctified (set apart) living.  Paul declared himself to be a truth teller.  While it resulted in his persecution and polarization from the mainstream, he boldly proclaimed:  “None of these things [persecution and prison] move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I can finish my race with joy.” (Acts 20:24)  Dare to be a truth teller.

The Spirit of Truth

 

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you do, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.”   John 14:16-17 (NLT)

John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the USA, shared the following observation about truth.

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.”  

Likewise regarding truth, the Apostle Paul warned the young minister Timothy of the dangers that await him as new converts would “turn away their ears from the truth, and be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:4).  Truth, unfortunately, is being packaged in many forms; many are more speculation and creative editorializing, than substantive truth.  Because of this trend, it is important that believers have a “real-time” reliable and trustworthy compass by which to navigate in this world.  While our primary guide is the Word of God, as we discussed last week, God has also provided another source—the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.

Earlier we defined truth as that which agrees with reality. For the believer, our reality has been defined by what God has placed in His written Word.  For the disciples in our text today, however, there was no written Word as they faced a hostile world without the presence of their Beloved Jesus (John 15:18-20).  It was Jesus’ presence that gave them the courage to challenge the spiritual tyranny of the religious leaders.  It was Jesus’ loving response to the diseased and disenfranchised that modeled what true love looked like.  They would need God’s truth as they turned their focus to witnessing (Acts 1:8), baptizing and teaching (Matt. 28:19-20).

In John 14 Jesus promises to send the Spirit of Truth that would abide with them forever.  It was the Holy Spirit Who would now come to live within them.  We generally think of the Holy Spirit in terms of gifting or empowering believers to accomplish the purposes and ministries of Christ.  However, the attribute Jesus chose to share with His disciples in John’s text focused on “truth”.  It would be the Spirit of Truth that would assist the disciples as they were persecuted for their belief in Jesus Christ.  They would be tempted to denounce and deny Him Whom “the world could not receive, because it neither saw Him nor knew Him” (v. 17).  They would need the Spirit of Truth to call “to remembrance” the life and ministry of Jesus Christ—especially His work of salvation for sinners (John 14:26).  The Spirit of Truth would assist the disciples in accomplishing the “greater works” promised by Jesus (John 14:12).   Jesus was indeed “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”.  After Jesus’ departure, the ministry of truth would continue because the Spirit of Truth.

Like the disciples of the first century, believers in the 21st century have the assistance of the Spirit of Truth to assist them especially in exposing the spirit of error.  The spirit of error is seen in the morays and life styles of the world.  For unbelievers, it leads them to be deceived and disobedient to the purposes of God in their life (Ep. 2:2).  For the believer, the spirit of error tempts them to doubt God truth and draw them away from the leading of the Holy Spirit (2 Thess. 2:15).  The Spirit of Truth stands ready to silence the lies, myths and fables of the 21st century.  Our confidence lies in the promise, power, and presence of the Spirit of Truth.  He is our True Compass as we search for truth.

The Whole Counsel of God: What is it?

 

For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.  Acts 20:27  (NKJ)

One of the things this nation is not short on is advice.  If you turn on the television, every station has its personal brand of advice—The Real, The Talk, The View.  And let’s not forget social media.

Life and spiritual coaches have been added to the deluge of resources ready to “create a better life for you”.  Online counseling by Chat, Video or Phone.  Get Help and Get Happy.  Therapy Anytime, Anywhere.   Each of these resources and programs are targeting different groups of viewers—boomers, millennials, Xers to influence their thoughts and actions.  And the real question is influence for what?

If ever there was a need for reliable counsel, it is now!

Definition of Counsel

The noun “counsel” means advice, especially that given formally.  Counsel is synonymous with guidance, direction and instruction.  The Hebrew word that best communicates the concept of counsel is ‘esah, which adds purpose or plan to the definition.   It is both used of God’s counsel and of human counsel.

Counsel Given—Counsel Received  

The Old Testament portrays counsel as that which is usually given to kings (1 Chron. 13:1).  Counsel may have come from trusted advisors but more frequently through God’s prophets (Deut. 18:14-21).

Proverbs suggests that one should seek counsel from many with the thought that human beings are limited and need contributors to be sure all alternatives are considered (Prov. 11:14;  Prov. 20:18).

In the New Testament, especially in the church, though they were a close-knit fellowship, involved in one another’s lives, there is almost nothing about counsel or acting on the advice of others.  The closest thing to “counsel” would have been that given to the early churches via apostolic letters.

Regardless of the counsel received, no advice or counsel frees the person’s responsibility for making his or her own choice. Such was the case in our text as Paul gives instructions to the Ephesian elders.

What constitutes “the whole” ?

What is the “whole counsel of God”?  If you search different Bible versions for clarity, you may still be left asking, “What is it?”  In our text, the different Bible versions read, “the whole counsel of God” (ESV) or “the whole will of God” (NIV) or “the whole purpose of God” (NASB).

The phrase the whole counsel of God was introduced by Paul in Acts 20:27 in his farewell speech to the elders of the Ephesian church.  In this context, the whole counsel of God refers to the “gospel message”.

Paul spoke the complete gospel—the whole truth about God’s salvation including the “mystery” of God extending His plan of salvation to Gentiles as well as Jews (Ep. 3:9).  Paul’s declaration of the “whole counsel of God” made him “innocent” of anyone’s decision to reject God’s truth as revealed, at that time.

The whole counsel of God, in summary, is God’s truth revealed in His purpose and His will.  God communicates His whole counsel in two key ways—the Bible and the Holy Spirit.

Paul witnessed to the fact that, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, NRS).   The Bible is the “play book” which helps believers live in alignment with God’s will and in right relationship with one another.

Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit believers relate God’s truth to present situations—guiding them in actions they are to take.   Although the Spirit may use any number of avenues to help believers sense His direction, He ultimately guides us to decisions that are in harmony with what God purposes for us (Jer. 10:23).

Living in 21st century, postmodern America, it is critical that we have access to good counsel.  We need counsel that is sure and dependable; trustworthy and timeless.  We need counsel to help us live out of the heart God created for us.  We need the whole counsel of God.

We will continue next week with this series, “The Whole Counsel of God.”

God Is His Word!

“The law of the LORD is perfect.” Ps. 19:7 (NKJV)

People often use the phrase, “good as his word” to assert one’s personal dependability and trustworthiness.  Words reflect a person’s true character and show what he or she is about (Matt 12:34; Mark 7:15).  This is especially true of God.  However, where human words are frail and finite, God’s words are creative, perfect, and powerful.  God’s Word reveals much about His nature.  God is His Word!

The Word of God refers to Scripture itself.  It was Moses who first received the written Word from God.  Although written on pillars of stone, The Ten Commandments outlined God’s expectation of man.  By obeying them, the Israelite people would be better prepared to live in “right relationship” with God and his fellowman.

In preparing the nation of Israel to enter the Promised Land, God instructed Moses to strongly emphasize adherence to His commands, decrees, and laws (Deut. 6:1-19).  These would serve as an abiding written record of God’s person, presence, and ways.  The men, specifically, were to “teach and talk” about them in their homes.  God’s Word was to not only influence but also shape everything they did—from when they “lied down to sleep at night to when they rose in the morning.”

Different yet all key in revealing God’s nature

In Psalm 19, we see different names that are used for God’s Word such as the law, the statues and the judgments.  In each verse, a different set of nouns are used to describe God’s nature revealed in His Word.  In using this literary device, the psalmist, highlights the transforming power of God.  Through His Word, God converts and makes wise: He rejoices and enlightens the eyes (Eph. 1:18-19).  God true character is reflected in the Word He speaks.

The final couplet speaks to the righteous durability of God’s Word—“it endures forever and is true and right.”  The Prophet Isaiah rejoiced in the fact that, “The grass withers, the flower fades but the word of God stands forever (Is. 40:8).” God’s Word can even penetrate and judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12-13).  Just as “there is nothing hidden from the sun’s heat” (Ps. 19:6), there is “nothing in all creation hidden from God’s sight”.  God is Eternal Creator, Transformer, Everywhere present, and All-knowing.        

Pursuit of God’s Word is to be desired

God’s Word is to be desired more than monetary riches or physical luxuries.  Through His Word, God offers “incorruptible” rewards—spiritual discernment and godly wisdom that will provide the knowledge and sensitivities needed to navigate this world.

Ps. 19:11 offers a final declaration as to the essential benefit of God’s Word—“by them [the Word of God] we are warned and in keeping them there is great reward.” God’s Word is the “fail safe” for man’s conscience.  It offers truth that is desperately needed in a postmodern world that denies the need for absolute truth and moral standards.

Our 21st century culture is “imploding” as a result of misinformation and propaganda through intentional abuse of social media thereby making it difficult to differentiate between truth and lies.  The acceptance of untruth is so pervasive that a new word was added to the dictionary in 2016 to describe it—post truth.   But as believers we are dependent on God, who through His Word, offers the “the way, the truth, and the light.” God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19). Consequently His Word can be trusted (Heb. 6:18).  God is His Word!

How to Untangle a Knot

When He was alone with His Disciples, Jesus went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.  Mark 4:34 (The Message)

The crowds and the Disciples were amazed as Jesus taught (Matt. 7:29; 13:54).  He was “never without a story” and used them to help His audience gain a greater understanding of God and to resolve real-life problems.  Mark describes this as “sorting out tangles” and “untying knots.” We conclude this month’s series, “Returning to our First Love”, with an examination of the benefit of listening to God’s voice through His Word to sort out the tangles and knots in our life.

Learning to Sort out My Tangles

Have you ever been faced with a knotted shoe lace or tangled necklace?  It can be frustrating trying to find the biggest knot that will results in the ultimate resolution to your problem.  Knots can impede the full use and benefit of a person’s possession or ability i.e., knots in a tie or tangled chords of a wind chime.

How did you learn to untangle and untie knots?  While I can’t remember my “first knot” or most “frustrating tangle”, I do recall that if I had problems with either of these, my mother was always available to help me based on two things:  First, I had to realize my limitations—I was unable to resolve this challenge on my own and secondly, trust that she was both available and able to help me with my problem.

Life is Full of Knots and Tangles

Our world is full of knots and tangles—the challenges of life that appear to us as “insurmountable messes” we seem unable to resolve.  Life cycle knots—work, family, and relationships.  Personal tangles—financial challenges, health problems, dying and death.  Societal snarls—turmoil, instability, and uncertainty.  Some knots and tangles are the natural result of living in a fallen world; others may be of our own creation. What is the answer to these kinks and twists of living?  How are we to manage these real situations in our lives?  It’s all in the Word.

It’s In the Word  

There’s an old gospel song entitled, It’s All in the Word that retorts:  “The answer to your problems, if you haven’t heard…it’s all in the Word.”  The Psalmist put it more eloquently in saying that God’s Word is a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path”—in close proximity to keep us from stumbling yet broad and sufficient to protect us from potential danger and pitfalls (Ps. 119:105).  Psalm 19:7-11 speaks to the great worth of God’s Word.  “Warning and reward” are key benefits in embracing God’s Word.

The world offers futile solutions to life’s knots and tangles.  It suggests resolution through substances (alcohol, drugs, and food), through systems (affiliations, power, and influence) and through stuff (materialism and riches) (1 John 2:15-17).  These answers are temporary and subject to change (2 Cor. 4:18). However, God’s Word is eternal and provides needed insight into His nature and the realities of life, inviting believers to trust, peace, and contentment (Ps. 37:1-6, 23-27).

For those who are willing to listen to Jesus’ voice, there are many promises and privileges (John 10:27).  As believers stay connected to God through His Word and the Holy Spirit, we have access to wisdom and knowledge so desperately needed to navigate these perilous times (Eph. 1: 8).  God may not choose to always remove the knots and tangles in the believer’s life.  They may be needed to mature and strengthen those who chooses to be “trained” by them (Hebrews 12:11).  However, believers can depend on God to always be available and ready to help us “find the big loops” (John 16:33).

Also read:   In God We Trust

SELAH:    Jesus is ready to help you with the tangles and knots of your life.  What are the things that you’ve been unable to resolve?  Draw near to Him is willing and able to help you.

Closed Doors

“The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them,

for the LORD has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’ ” Deut. 17:16 (NIV)

My favorite aunt gave me a small wood plaque to hang on the wall in my office. On it are written these words, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” The inference is that God in His wisdom and providence will always provide a “way” for us.  God’s way sometimes involves closed doors.  This week we continue our series, “When God Speaks.”  God speaks volumes when He closes doors.  Ever ask yourself, “What is God saying?”

Closed doors often lead to new opportunities in our lives. Closed doors force us to try new options, meet new people, and exercise spiritual gifts and talents that may never have been used. Joseph faced many closed doors in his life. The first door closed when his brothers sold him into slavery; the second door slam in his face when Potiphar’s had him falsely imprisoned. The final door, he thought, shut tight when the cup bearer forgot him for two years. Though the closed doors were first “used for evil, God used them for good.” (Gen. 50:20)

Closed doors result in the strengthening of two important spiritual muscles–“trusting by faith” and “learning to wait.” In Hebrews 11 we see the “Faith Hall of Fame”, made up of those individuals who trusted God even when the doors appeared closed. (Hebrews 11:4-31) Though the closed doors were first viewed as obstacles, they trusted in God’s promises and waited … even unto death. The results were both rewards and “great faith.”

Closed doors position us to accomplish God’s purpose and plan for kingdom building. The Holy Spirit forbade Paul to preach the word in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). God had a different plan for Paul that would first take the gospel to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10).  Though this door was first viewed as a detour from proclaiming the gospel, God expanded Paul’s ministry beyond anything he could have imaged; his Epistles would become part of Holy Scripture, read and preached in countries around the world.

In the game show, “Let’s Make a Deal,” contestants choose from “prize doors” that offer either a rich reward or an ugly, disgusting “zonk”. Knowing this, contestants must choose to open the right door and leave others closed. Our omniscient God doesn’t operate like this game show. Whenever God speaks through a closed door, we can be assured it will lead to our good and His glory.

SELAH:  What door has God recently closed in your life?  What was He saying to you in that action?

God Speaks Through Circumstances

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Romans 8:28-29 (NRS)

 

In our culture, it is not unusual for people to greet one another with the inquiry, “How are you?”  In response, a multitude of replies are available but my favorite is, “I doing fairly well under the circumstances.”  This is my opportunity to respond, “Why are you under your circumstances and what are you doing to get back on top?”  Circumstances are conditions or facts that affect a situation.  These can be either positive or negative.  They define a state in which an individual, group, or even a nation may find itself.  This week we will explore how God speaks to us through circumstances.

There are many biblical examples that illustrate how God used circumstances to speak to His people.  Circumstances dictated that Moses would be set adrift in the Nile.  It was there that he would be found by the king’s daughter and adopted into the royal household by the ruling Pharaoh (Ex. 2:1-10). God later spoke to Moses after his 40-year circumstance and re-directed him to deliver Israel from bondage.   In the book of Acts, we find God speaking to the early church by using the political and social circumstances around them.  Jesus had clearly articulated the scope of the church’s ministry:  “and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  While it was within their “comfort zone” to stay in Jerusalem, God spoke through the circumstance of persecution to move the gospel to a larger audience.   Throughout the Bible we find God speaking to people through special favor, through personal loss, or through miraculous deliverance.  God spoke to them through their circumstances.

God still speaks today through circumstances.  He will use conditions and situations from our everyday life to place us in a position to hear His voice.  Does God create circumstances to make us do His will?  No, God has created us as freewill agents and desires that we choose to live within His divine plan. But God will allow circumstances to flow into our life to accomplish His glory and our good (Rom. 8:24).  In addition, to conform us to the image of Christ, God will permit circumstances in our lives that will mature us and grow our faith (1 Pet. 1:5-7).  What may appear at first to be a “stumbling block” may, in actuality, turn out to be a “stepping stone”.  God speaks through closed doors as well as opened doors; through delayed prayers as well as answered ones.

As believers proceed in this Christian walk, we must remember that the intent of our life is to glorify God and to accomplish His purpose on earth (2 Cor. 5:15). That’s why it is important to be intentional in prayer and reading God’s Word especially during difficult and challenging times, regardless of the circumstance (Phil. 4:6-13).

Also read:  Divine Inquiry

As we develop our personal relationship with God, we will understand that He loves us and can be trusted with every aspect of our life. Then circumstances will not overcome us nor will we live “under them” (1 John 4:4).

SELAH:  Think about a time when you were “under your circumstances”.  What was God saying to you?

The Word of the Lord Came

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” Heb. 1:1 (NIV)

It’s not unusual for companies to employ individuals to interface with the public to share information about their company and its activities.  Countries appoint ambassadors to communicate their foreign policies and opinions with regard to world events.  In this nation, it is the presidential press secretary who frequently convenes press conferences with the media to communicate key messages from the White House.  Such positions, though not unusual, pale in comparison with a special groups of individuals called by God to speak His Word.  As we continue our teaching series, “When God Speaks”, we focus that unique group, the Old Testament prophets.

The Nation.  The people of Israel had become a nation.  They had been redeemed from slavery in Egypt and given the Law to guide their activities as God’s chosen people (Deut. 7:7-9).  God fully expected them to be committed to a life of obedience to those laws and to honor the “call” He had made on their life.  Unfortunately Israel constantly fell down in their calling.  God’s Law no longer proved effective in shaping Israel and the society in which they lived.

Also Read:  “Why Did God Choose Israel as His Chosen People?”

The Need.    The people’s slackness had grown into forgetfulness (Deut. 8:11-14).  Sometimes the fault was a result of the wrong priorities.  Other times, the people had allowed themselves to be pulled into the culture and worldview of their times, resulting in idolatry and sinful practices.  Even the nation’s religion was corrupted into “non-moral ritualism”—“having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).

The Notice.  The prophets were men raised up by God to put Israel on notice—they were to return to God or suffer the consequences.  In examination of both the Major and Minor Prophets, God’s message remained consistent and sure:  The Lord is Ruler of all history and He calls all to repentance. The prophets’ pronouncements always included a blend of judgement and hope, reflecting God’s heart and His desire that all would come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).  If Israel repented and returned, God would extend mercy and receive them to Himself once again.

The prophets did not share in their writings much about how they received their instructions from God.  We simply read:  “Thus says the Lord” or “the Word of the Lord came” (Jer.47:1; Ezek. 17:1; Zech. 8:1).  Came translates the Hebrew verb “to be” meaning “the word of the Lord became a living, present reality.”    In examining the historical books of the Old Testament and other writings from ancient historians, i.e., Josephus, Philo, it is clear that, when God spoke, things happened.

So how does God speaking through the Old Testament prophets relate to us living in the 21st century? My first observation is that for both believers and unbelievers, the view of our current world strongly resembles that expressed in “The Need.”   For believers, God still expects those He has chosen (Ep. 1:4-5) to follow His Word.  It is God’s moral instruction for living; for by it we are both warned and blessed (Ps. 19:11).  Old Testament prophecy provides for believer’s “blessed assurance” that God is still sovereign ruler of all history, including the 21st century.   For the unbeliever, the words of the prophets offer an opportunity for restoration with the God who sees and knows all—in time and in eternity.  For the unbeliever, it’s time to “come and see” Jesus (John 4:29) and accept His offer of salvation.  When God spoke through the prophets, His Word did not return “void” but accomplished all that it was sent to do (Is. 55:11). Even today it is still critical to listen as God speaks through His prophets.

SELAH:  The Old Testament prophets spoke of the salvation we have received.  Read 1 Peter 1:10-12.