For Now We Live

For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 3:8).

When you read 1 Thessalonians 3, you can see the heart of Paul was anxious as he thought about the brethren in Thessalonica. He was really concerned about them and how they were doing spiritually, now that he was gone.

Two times in chapter 3 the phrase, “When we could bear it no longer” is used. They couldn’t take it anymore. Paul sent Timothy over to Thessalonica to see how they were doing and bring back a report.

You can read chapter 3 to see a noticeable change in tone. Once Timothy came back with good news, Paul’s whole demeanor changed.

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
(1 Thessalonians 3:6-10)

Paul was in the middle of being persecuted for preaching the gospel, but now he could endure the trials and afflictions? Why? Because he heard good news about how his brethren the Thessalonians were doing. It gave him some more gas in his tank. His statement says it all, “for now we live if you are standing fast in the Lord.”

Grown kids need to remember this. Your stand for faith will give life to your parents. College students, remember this. When you stand for Jesus, even when your parents are not there, you cause your parents to live! You put gas in their tank. It’s amazing what we can endure when we know that others we love dearly are living strong for Jesus.

Moses Had God’s Heart

When I read in Exodus 2 about the early life of Moses, what I see is that Moses saw the suffering of mankind and the injustices that others were facing and he stood up and intervened. His heart was in the right place, even though he went about the wrong way.

In Exodus 2, we see the 40 year old Moses standing up for a fellow Hebrew who was being beaten. Then Moses tries to intervene and stop a fight between two of his brethren. He clearly saw that one was “in the wrong,” and was trying to stop it. After Moses fled to Midian, he saw women being mistreated at a well, and stood up to defend them.

Moses had God’s heart. Look at the last part of Exodus 2. God saw the suffering and injustice happening to His people, and He intervened. Guess whom He sent? Moses! The guy who had the same heart for the suffering.

Moses was misguided, impulsive, and maybe even a little arrogant in how he approached his intervention in human suffering. But God trained Moses for 40 years in Midian, and Moses became the most humble (meek) man on the planet. But that heart was still there. Moses, like God, cared about the suffering and injustice of humanity and would stand in the gap to defend and project the helpless.

What about you and me? Do we have the heart of Moses? Are we protectors and defenders? Do we, like God, care about the hurting people around us and intervene in some way to alleviate their suffering?

Daniel – Stand Firm and Take Action

He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.
(Daniel 11:32)

Daniel chapter 11 can get pretty confusing for me, but when I come to this verse I get the main point. Whatever is going on here in chapter 11, there are people who are seduced and break God’s covenant. That is sad, and that is the way of the world. However we also see that there are those who know God, stand firm and take action.

I’m seeing so many connections between Daniel’s theme and the book of Revelation. In both books, God’s people are being oppressed by a beast, and in both books the Son of Man, Jesus overcomes that beast. Also in both books, those who are with the Son of Man, Jesus, can and will overcome and conquer the beast.

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 
(Revelation 12:11)
This is our encouragement for today. We are in a war against Satan and any “beast” he sends our way to torture us. The Devil is, with all his might, seeking to destroy God’s work. But Jesus is on the throne, He has already conquered and He reigns supreme. Death, sin and the Devil have no power over Him. In Christ, the Devil has been disarmed and made powerless.
So stand firm today, men. Stand firm today in Christ. Fight the beast. Do not love your lives even unto death. You have a covenant with Christ to keep. You have His blood covering you. His word is always there to guide you. But standing firm means more than standing still. It means taking action.
Take action to say kind words and to forgive others. Take action to reach out to encourage someone else. Take action to say no to the Devil’s temptations. Take action to be honest when the pressure is extreme to be dishonest. Take action to speak up for God to your boss, your neighbor, your friends, etc.
Stand firm and take action.

 

Pressing On Through the Pain

In II Corinthians eleven Paul is dealing with false prophets and to make his point he starts listing all the evidence that supports him being a servant of Christ (verse 23). It reads like a summary of suffering and hardship and when he gets to the end of the list he punctuates everything in verse 28.
“Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” (II Corinthians 11:28)

Daily pressure? You cannot read through any of Paul’s letters without seeing his deep love and concern for all those Christians he has worked with. He completely invested himself in the spiritual well-being of others.

There is no better example of this than I Thessalonians.

“For this reason, when I could endure no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we live, if you stand firm in the Lord.” (I Thessalonians 3:5-8)

Knowing what the Christians were facing, his concern is palpable. I can almost picture Paul waiting by the window, watching for Timothy, praying for a favorable report. His response to the good news says everything, “now we LIVE, if you stand firm in the Lord.”

The thought of carrying that kind of sincere concern for other Christians frightens me. It exhausts me. To my shame I don’t know if I have ever truly felt that away about someone else’s faith.

This week I was able to visit with a couple that I dearly love. They are humble and godly and are constantly thinking of ways to serve others. Their most recent act of service was taking in and taking care of a six year old little girl who had to be removed from her mother. They embraced her like she was their own, showing her love and affection and providing her safety and stability. They introduced her to the gospel and involved her in bible studies and worshiping with the saints. They established routines for her and starting laying a foundation to provide this little girl an eternal future. The little girl bounces around, smiling, full of energy. She is thriving in the environment they have created.

Earlier this week they were informed that she will be returning to live with her mother. Friday will be her last day in their home. My heart breaks for many reasons. It breaks because this little girl is being taken from warmth and love and stability and being put back into an uncertain situation at best. It breaks because she is being removed from a home filled with the love and knowledge of God and returning to a home saturated with the world. It breaks because I know my dear friends have received just as much from this little girl as they have given. My heart breaks because their hearts are broken. I have no doubt that their concern for her is exactly the same as Paul’s concern for those Christians in Thessalonica.

So I’m left here wondering what to do? How would I handle such a situation? I’m a little angry and I’m a lot sad. There are so many instances in life when we open ourselves up and expose our hearts just to have them broken. It is easy to shut down and say, “Why bother?” and close ourselves off to others. I believe this is what many of us do in order to protect ourselves from such heartbreak. So how did Paul handle it?

“Brethren, I do not regard myself of having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

In Philippians chapter three Paul is expressing the overwhelming value of knowing Christ Jesus. He is expressing how utterly useless all of his accomplishments are in comparison to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection. He has completely sold out so that he might gain Christ. Paul says, “forgetting what lies behind…I press on toward the goal.”

So how does this apply to my dear friends? They will hurt and there will be pain. The pain might lessen over time but it probably won’t go away completely. But they will press on. They will continue to serve. They will embrace the opportunity to open themselves up again and will, most likely, be hurt again. Why would they do this? Because it is what Jesus did and their goal is to know Christ.

Did Jesus know that He would be rejected? Did he know that the very people He came to save would stand in front of Pilot and shout, “Crucify! Crucify!”? Did Jesus know that His dearest friends on this earth, friends He had poured Himself into, would abandon Him and even deny Him at His darkest hour? Yet He opened Himself up, He embraced those around Him and He pressed on.

The reality is that we never reflect the character of our Lord more fully than when we have been hurt and we have been rejected and we decide to open up our hearts and continue to love and serve those around us.

Daniel – Men Who Didn’t Cower

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.
(Daniel 3:28)

It’s not just a little kids’ story about 3 Jews and a Fiery Furnace. What we see here is the power of faith in God and the courage it gives men and women to stand in the face of overwhelming persecution.

What we see here is a King who was filled with rage and fury because people under him dared to stand and oppose his orders. He wasn’t used to that. Everyone cowered and whimpered and caved in to his every demand. That’s because everyone knew the penalty of going against the King. So when these three men stood and refused to bow down to the King’s golden image, he was furious. In fact the Bible tells us in Daniel 3 that he was so angry that he had the furnace heated 7 times its normal heat. His anger led to the death of the men who were commanded to throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace.

This is how those in love with themselves and their power react when others go against them. They can’t handle it. They are used to everyone bowing down and being “Yes-men.” When someone dares bring up an opposing idea, or stands up and says, “No,” then that power hungry man goes into a full out rage. The goal then becomes to simply destroy the opposition and stamp out any hint of disloyalty.

We see in this in college campuses, churches, board rooms, and in government. There are those who cannot “tolerate” someone with an opposing view, even while they may be making a claim to be tolerant and accepting. But how do they (we) respond when someone stands up and questions the dear leader? If you see a Nebuchadnezzar response then you can understand what kind of leader you are dealing with.

But be encouraged by men like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, because eventually (with God’s mighty hand of help) they gained the respect and admiration of King Nebuchadnezzar. He saw, as the above verse says, that they “yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.” Granted, not every time we make a stand will we gain the respect of those who oppose God’s ways, but many will see your courage and conviction and will marvel at such faith. Nebuchadnezzar did. He went from trying to execute them to promoting them!

May God give us the courage and conviction of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

For The Place Where You Are Standing Is Holy

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so (Joshua 5:13-15).

As the people of Israel were preparing to conquer the Promised Land of Canaan, God met with Joshua. Just like Moses, Joshua was told to remove his sandals from his feet because where he stood was holy ground. Before Joshua could effectively lead the people of Israel, he had to be reminded of and impressed by the holiness of Almighty God.

Here are three simple observations about Joshua standing on holy ground:

  1. God is Holy.
  2. Wherever God’s presence dwells is to be regarded as holy.
  3. Changes must be made to recognize and honor the holiness of God.

#1 – God is Holy

Whenever mankind was put in the presence of God and shown His glory, they immediately were brought to their knees and they trembled. But why? Because of the holiness of God. Isaiah, for example, the moment he saw the vision of the Lord, he knew right away that he was a sinful man with a dirty mouth (Isaiah 6).

Here is a passage about Jesus that I believe helps to explain holiness:

Hebrews 7:26 – For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.

Innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted. This is why as man we tremble in the presence of the glory of God, because He is sinless and completely pure. Adam and Eve, before sin, did not fear and tremble before the presence of God. Sin brought fear and separation. Through the blood of Jesus, we can be reconciled and made pure so that we can dwell in the presence of God without fear and boldly come to His throne.

#2 – Wherever God’s presence dwells is to be regarded as holy.

Was there something special about the dirt by the Jordan River? No. It was holy because God was there. Another example is in 2 Peter 1:18 when Peter was reflecting upon his experience during Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. Peter called that mountain a “holy mountain.” It was no different than any other mountain, but what made it holy was the presence of God.

Think for a moment on just a few places the Bible says He dwells. God dwells in the heart and spirit of the Christian, we are His temple and dwelling place (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). He also dwells within the body of Christ, the church; collectively we are His temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Marriage is to be regarded as holy and undefiled, because God’s presence is there as well (Hebrews 13:4; Malachi 2:14-16). Where the holy God dwells is to be counted by us as holy.

#3 – Changes must be made to recognize and honor the holiness of God.

Remove your sandals, in other words, take off the defilement of this world before you meet with God. When people were going to meet with God, there were preparations that had to be made. They had to purify themselves, wash themselves, change their clothing, and put away the wickedness/idolatry of the world (Genesis 35:1-5; Exodus 19:9-15; Isaiah 1:10-20). We can’t be unholy and meet in fellowship with a holy God. Just like Moses and Joshua had to remove their sandals, we have to take off the filthiness of the world, wash ourselves in the blood of the Lamb, and put on a new man (Ephesians 4:20-24; Revelation 7:13-14; 22:14).

2 Corinthians 7:1 – “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

Hebrews 12:14 – Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

1 Peter 1:15-16 – but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

This week, we are going to focus on this passage, and use the concepts from today to apply to our various relationships in life.

Standing Like King Hezekiah

We are currently studying the life of King Hezekiah in our adult Bible class at the church building. Last night, we were impressed with King Hezekiah’s leadership, his full-blown commitment to following God, and his trust in God.

Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty-five years old, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abijah the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them. He brought in the priests and the Levites and assembled them in the square on the east and said to them, “Hear me, Levites! Now consecrate yourselves, and consecrate the house of the LORD, the God of your fathers, and carry out the filth from the Holy Place. For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the LORD our God. They have forsaken him and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the LORD and turned their backs. They also shut the doors of the vestibule and put out the lamps and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the Holy Place to the God of Israel. Therefore the wrath of the LORD came on Judah and Jerusalem, and he has made them an object of horror, of astonishment, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes.
(2 Chronicles 29:1-8)

Here are a few quick observations that we made last night:

  1. Hezekiah chose a different direction than his father. Hezekiah’s father, King Ahaz, was the wicked king who defiled and defaced the temple, and he closed its doors. Hezekiah watched his father do great wickedness, but he chose to listen to God and His word. You do not have to follow in your family’s footsteps, if they are not walking with God. You can choose your own direction like Hezekiah did.
  2. Hezekiah was prepared to serve when the time came. When Hezekiah became king at 25, he hit the ground running. The first month of the first year, he started making changes. That tells us that before this time, he was preparing his heart to listen to and serve God. It’s not like he didn’t know what to do when he became king; he was already prepared in heart and mind to make the changes God required. He was ready because he was informed, and he was informed because his heart had been searching out the word of God.
  3. Hezekiah did not waste time cleansing the temple and restoring the worship back to God’s way. Again, it was the first year and the first month. It’s like Hezekiah was watching all of this wickedness happen, and the moment he had the reins of power, he starting taking care of business. “This changes today, now!” He had a sense of urgency about getting things right with God.
  4. Hezekiah was young, but made no excuses for it. I’m sure that there were several of his father’s advisers around, and plenty of older men and women around him that were fine keeping things the way they used to be, but that did not deter Hezekiah. Even as a young 25-year old, he stood for God and led a whole nation in restoration. Just like Timothy, Josiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and David, young men can do incredible things for God. There is no defined age for leadership.
  5. Hezekiah made changes that no leader before him made. The Bible said there was no king like him, before or after (2 Kings 18:1-6). 2 Kings 18 tells us that he destroyed the bronze serpent that Moses made because the people were worshiping it. Think about that – it had been 700 years, and no leader between Moses and Hezekiah had destroyed it. Hezekiah went all the way when it came to obedience to God. It didn’t matter how long people had been practicing something, or how deeply entrenched the people were in a religious practice, his commitment was to completely following God’s word.

He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered… (2 Kings 18:5-7).

Took their stand with him

And from all their territories the priests and the Levites who were in all Israel took their stand with him (Rehoboam). For the Levites left their common-lands and their possessions and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had rejected them from serving as priests to the LORD. Then he (Jeroboam) appointed for himself priests for the high places, for the demons, and the calf idols which he had made. And after the Levites left, those from all the tribes of Israel, such as set their heart to seek the LORD God of Israel, came to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the LORD God of their fathers. So they strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and made Rehoboam the son of Solomon strong for three years, because they walked in the way of David and Solomon for three years (2 Chronicles 11:13-17).

Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, began making significant religious changes. This left the faithful people of God in that kingdom in a serious dilemma. They continued to follow God’s law and to stand for God, and because of this they were “rejected.”

God’s faithful remnant needed a new home, a welcome place to serve and worship the God of Israel. Notice the priests and Levites left all their property and possessions behind. This property was God-given to the priests and Levites (Numbers 35:1-8), but they were forced to leave it. Maybe King Jeroboam seized their assets as part of his religious intimidation. At any rate, they left for Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. Just like the Hebrew Christians, being faithful to God was more valuable than holding on to possessions (Hebrews 10:32-34).

Many of the people of Israel who were faithful to the Lord also left and came to Jerusalem. These citizens of Israel had “set their heart to seek the Lord God of Israel.” During this brief time, for 3 years, they found a welcome home with King Rehoboam in Jerusalem. They helped the King and Judah stay faithful and strong.

Took their stand with him

So, with whom are we making our stand? It is clear that not everyone left Jeroboam in Israel. Most folks stayed and lived with the changes. They took their stand with Jeroboam. Their choice was to be safe rather than sound.

Are we willing to leave behind precious possessions and relationships in order to be part of a congregation that holds fast to God’s word?

Is our congregation a welcome home for the faithful? Even in this culture where many churches are abandoning God’s word for better entertainment and political correctness, there are still believers who care more about being faithful to God’s word. But what about our congregation? Are we more concerned with revenue, numbers, and drawing in the crowds? Or are we focused on the spiritual matters, simply following what Jesus and the apostles told us to do?

Jesus was rejected by men, just like those faithful few in Jeroboam’s kingdom. But to God, He is chosen and precious (1 Peter 2:4). May the same be said of us. We don’t belong here anyway, our hearts should be set on the heavenly kingdom. Let’s learn a lesson today from these rejected priests and Levites who took their stand with God and His faithful people.