Monday, November 23, 2015

Sinister Syncretism

READ Zephaniah 1-3

One of Zephaniah’s accusations against Judah is very fitting for today. It is perhaps one of the chief sins of those who call themselves Christians today. Wherever we turn, we see this manifested in so many lives of those call themselves by the name of the Lord. We find it in chapter one verse five: “those who bow down on the roofs
to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom.” Notice the sinister syncretism found in this verse.

These people still thought of themselves as God’s people. They were, after all, Judah, God’s faithful portion, not like the sinful Northern Kingdom of Israel that had been long ago overthrown by Assyria and scattered to the four winds. No, they were still the chosen ones. But notice what commandment they were violating: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3). The very first of the Ten Commandments. In that command the word “before” is best translated “besides.” God was not just saying you cannot have any gods that take precedence over me. He was also saying you cannot have any gods along with me. This was the sin of Judah that Zephaniah denounces.

What about us today? We claim to be faithful people of God yet so often we still bow down to the other gods around us — Gods like materialism, pleasure, greed, success, power, leisure. We say we worship the one true God but we let other things push him out of his rightful place of worship in our lives. Let us each examine our own hearts to see if this be true, in any way, of us.

Prayer: Father, forgive us for letting our hearts be diluted from the pure worship of you. Help us to resist the lure of other things that take your place in our affection. Forgive us from trusting in anyone or anything but you. Help us in our unbelief.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Every Real Pastor's Dream

READ Jonah 3-4

Every real pastor’s dream! That’s what Jonah experienced when he first went to Nineveh. God gave him a message to preach and he preached it. Then the people heard the message and believed God and responded obediently to what they had heard. Hear the words yourself again, “And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.” (3:5)

That’s it. That’s what we pray for and long to see happen in our churches today. We have been commanded by the Lord to “Preach the Word…with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2) so that “we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28) I think I can speak for all true preachers of the Word that our greatest joy is found in knowing that our hearers are hearing the Word and doing the Word. God didn’t call us to develop the Word; he only called us to deliver it. We pray that he will bring about the right response in those who hear.

What about you? Are you a hearer and a doer? Do you, like the Ninevites, “believe God” and then do you live based on that belief?

Prayer: Father, I pray for all who preach the Word that you will help us to be faithful and deliver it in your power. Also, Father, please help all of us who hear the Word to “have ears to ear” so that we believe it and live it to your glory.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Good Guys" on Jonah's Ship

READ Jonah 1-2

Sometimes those who do not know and worship God still do noble things. Just one verse in today’s reading prompted my thinking on this. The sailors on Jonah’s ship to Tarshish were religiously syncretistic as a whole, with a sort of a “Heinz 57” amalgamation of different gods that were worshipped (1:5). Obviously, none of them was a believer in the One True God, Jonah’s God. But notice what they did when Jonah told them the answer to their fear of the storm was to throw him overboard. “Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.” (1:13) These pagan sailors were unwilling, at first, to kill Jonah to save their own lives.

We see this many times in our lives today: unbelieving doctors and medical researchers who tirelessly give themselves to saving lives, lost military personnel who are willing to sacrifice their own lives for the sake of others, public safety workers who put themselves in harm’s on our behalf, teachers who dedicate themselves to the good of their students in selfless fashion, and many, many others of similar quality. There is even an illustration of this in one of the parables Jesus’ told. The Samaritan was certainly not thought of nor depicted even as a follower of God, but he acted in a manner that was “good.”

What’s my point? Simply, gratitude. You and I can still be thankful for the contributions to the good of society and the world from those who do not share our knowledge of God. They may not worship as we do, but they can still do good things. And we should thank them and honor them for this. But we should also remember that those things are temporal. We are an eternal people who have the message of eternal life. So, along with our gratitude we should also seek to love them into the kingdom of God. Their “good works” will not save them.

Prayer: Father, thank you for the better aspects of those who are still lost apart from you. Thank you for their contributions to the world in general and to our lives specifically. God, please use us to show them your love and the glory of the gospel.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Worship-minded People

READ Amos 5-6

Once again we see God rejecting the worship of the people (5:21-23). This time the focus is on their dealings in the marketplace and in the gates (5:10-12). God is wanting them to see that their dealings with people need to be just and righteous (5:24). These are just as much acts of worship as gathering together in feasts and solemn assemblies.

You and I also need to realize this about our lives today. We so often fall into the trap of thinking that worship is only what we do on Sunday morning. We think we can live any way we wish the rest of the week then come and worship God as if all was right. But no, the Scripture makes plain that every act of our lives is potentially an act of worship —how we think, how we speak, how we relate to others — are all to be done “as unto the Lord.”

Paul makes this abundantly clear in Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Presenting ourselves to the Lord as a continual, on-going sacrifice of worship is what God desires from us. We can’t, like the unfaithful Israelites, think we are worshipping God on Sundays while being unjust and unrighteous the rest of the week.

Prayer: Father, you alone are worthy of worship. You are One who creates the heavens, who makes the morning out of the night, who controls the waters of the sea. You alone are worthy of our worship. And you are worthy of our complete worship every moment of every day. Help us to be worship-minded people.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sanctifying Christ as Lord in the example of Daniel

READ Daniel 5-6

In 1 Peter 3:14-17 we have instructions from the Lord about how we are to live in a culture that is in opposition to our faith in Christ. “But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God' s will, than for doing evil.”

As you know, the NT tells us that the OT was written for our instruction and for an example to us in our Christian lives (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11). Well, in Daniel 6 we have a great example from the life of Daniel of being willing to suffer for our faith and also seeing those who oppose us “put to shame.” Daniel remains faithful to God despite the efforts of his opponents and for this he is thrown into the lions’ den, even though the king very much does not want him to be killed. Even this pagan king, Darius, knows that Daniel worships God and he hopes that God will save him from the lions. You know the end of the story. Daniel is saved and those who have schemed to have him killed are killed themselves in the den of lions.

For you and me this story stands as a challenge to live for Christ completely. We must “honor the Lord as holy” in our hearts and live in such a way that others will see the a true hope in us, just as Darius saw hope in Daniel and his God. People around us are watching, wanting to see if what we say with our mouths is shown in what we do with our lives.

Prayer: Father, we need your grace always to live in such a way that others will know we worship you. Help us to humbly recognize that we are always on display as trophies of your grace and how we live casts a reflection on you. Give us the strength and the courage to be faithful, just like Daniel.