Sometimes Christians struggle to believe that God is just. This is, in large part, because we see injustices being done to innocent people all the time. In fact, this was Habakkuk’s complaint to God–that innocent, God-fearing people were suffering in poverty and oppression while the oppressors lived high on the hog. It’s very easy to get discouraged when we see this pattern repeated over and over again.
But Hebrews 6 tells us that it’s impossible for people who have once been enlightened and tasted the goodness of the word of God to come to repentance. The message is clear: “But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:8 ESV). At this point the Christians might be questioning where God’s justice is in all of this.
There is tremendous hope for saints who serve other saints: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (vs. 9, 10). Not only does God care for the saints who serve others, but they “have full assurance of hope until the end” (vs. 11). The people who are patient and serve others will see God’s justice and receive full assurance of hope until the end!
Not long after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea they became hungry and started to complain. The wilderness was quite brutal. They were in one of the most hostile places on the planet, where the daytime temperatures get very brutal. When they complained, God provided bread from heaven. When they moved camp the became thirsty and were angry with Moses. Moses cried to the Lord: “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me” (Exodus 17:4 ESV).
To add injury to insult, when God provided water the Amelekites attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Rephidim was a place that had fertile ground, a rare site in the desert. Here the flocks could find pasture and it seemed like Israel had found a place of peace. But the battle would prove otherwise. Based on Moses’ response with the water situation it appears he was very burned out. Retaliation against him was a reality.
Moses persisted, though: “Tomorrow I will sand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand” (vs. 9). As long as Moses held up his hand Israel was winning. But when his hands grew weary they would start to lose. Aaron and Hur put a rock under Moses and held his hands up until the sun set. “And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword” (vs. 13). This is a reminder to us to be present for people who are fighting spiritual battles. Moses couldn’t have done this alone even though he possessed the staff of God in his hand. We all need support and this is what helps us make it to the next day!
One day James and John’s mother brought them to Jesus and kneeled before him. It’s not certain that James and John knew what their mother was going to ask for. But ask she did! When Jesus asked her what she wanted, she said, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 ESV).
Jesus told her she didn’t know what she was asking. He then asked the brothers if they could drink the cup he was to drink. He was asking if they were able to suffer like he was about to. They affirmed. Jesus told them that they would drink his cup but that he couldn’t grant who gets to sit as his right or left. Only the Father can deicide that.
What Jesus could decide, however, is that “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (vs. 26-28). God is not concerned with people climbing their way to the top. Instead, he wants us to serve those in need–to care for the poor, broken, orphans and widows. It is they who will be first in the Kingdom.
Diets are important. What we consume is what fuels us. We will either be productive or we won’t. We will lie in bed for the day or we will get up and get working. Jesus referred to himself as both the bread of life and the living water. He is the vine; we are the branches. The branches cannot live without the vine.
So what is our steady diet? Are we feeding on Jesus every day? Do we have a steady diet of scripture or do we consume junk “food?” Paul had this to say to Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:1-2 ESV). Paul told Timothy in an earlier letter to immerse himself in the scriptures: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. . . Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. . . Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:13, 15, 16).
Paul prescribed Timothy a steady diet of the Scriptures. He wasn’t just to read Scripture, he was to practice them. This was a daily discipline. Christians weren’t to “find time;” living the Scriptures was their time. Everything they lived and breathed was to be rooted in the Word. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it sure does mean improvement.
Living on a steady diet of the Word requires a plan. It requires us to think through how we become productive. It’s a vital part of being Christian. Living the Word daily is important to our salvation.
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When Paul was on his very first missionary journey, he endured incredible challenges. It is not surprising, because the Lord told Ananias that he would show Paul how much he would suffer for his name. And suffer Paul did. From the very first step he took on the mission trail, Paul experienced opposition.
When Paul and Barnabas came into Lystra, Paul was stoned and left for dead. Luke records that “when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe” (Acts 14:20 ESV). When they had gone on to Derbe, they circled back and entered Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
In the midst of hardships, Paul and his companions were strengthening the church, encouraging people to remain faithful, and were appointing elders in every church. This is such an example of what the church could and should be doing! Most people shut down when they are discouraged. It is normal to feel defeated. But what happens when we share our pain and suffering and use that to the glory of God? Luke records that, in those same churches, “the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Acts 16:5). God will bless the church when we lean into him and endure hardships together!
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The past week was a great reminder of just how many people in our congregation really get Jesus’ words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24 ESV).
In the past week I’ve witnessed people selflessly give of themselves–both their time and their money–to help others who are in need. I was teaching the Bible class when literally half of the class abruptly got up and walked out. At first, I wondered what I said to offend them. In my ten years of teaching and preaching here, I’ve never had a group just up and walk out. Then I saw the reason–a recent widow walked in the door and they ran to embrace her, cry with her, and pray over her. My heart smiled at the disruption and it reminded me of how well our congregation loves others.
Several people personally handed me money to help various people in need. Others quietly gave and did not let their left hand know what their right hand was doing. We received a beautiful card in the mail from a church member who lives in another state. I’ve heard of so, so many stories of people who have received phone calls, visits, emails, and even money from church members.
This congregation is heeding the words of Jesus to deny yourself, pick up your cross daily, and follow Jesus.
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As we’ve been doing a series on caring for the poor, we cannot forget about the foreigner. We are in a political climate where a lot of attention and emotion is being poured out on account of foreigners. Immigration is nothing new. Right now in the United States we have almost 50 million immigrants living among us. These are people who were not born in the United States but are now residents. As Christians, we need to look at what God says about how we welcome and treat foreigners.
In Isaiah 56:1, God reminds Israel to “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.” When foreigners resided in the Promised Land, Israel was commanded to take care of them and instruct them with God’s word. “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people'” (Isaiah 56:3). The godly foreigner shouldn’t live in fear that they will be separated. God grafts them into the holy family.
God is clear that foreigners who obey the commandments are honored: “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds to my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:6-7).
We are commanded to care for the foreigners and sojourners who are in need, just the same as everyone else. With nearly 50 million immigrants living with us, we should consider it an honor to treat them with care.
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