“All Scripture is God breathed…” 2 Timothy 3:16
The Bible is one of God’s most startling revelations of Himself. It was written over a period of 1600 years by over 40 different human authors with a variety of backgrounds, from three different continents, and in three different languages, yet it is one story, one history, with one message. It is by far the best selling book in history. You probably have one, or maybe even a few, lying around your house. The question is how does one read the Bible in a way that he will find God and not just be frustrated by the seeking?
There were two major religious groups at the time of Christ that had access to the Scriptures but didn’t find God: The Sadducees and the Pharisees. To the Sadducees Jesus said, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29) They were a group that had exalted intellect and human wisdom above the word of God. They didn’t believe in angels, miracles, or the resurrection of the dead, even though the Old Testament Scriptures taught these things. Because of this grave error they lost all understanding of spiritual things. Many in America have made a similar mistake. When you put your opinion above the word of God and only believe the parts of the Bible that agree with your thinking, you make yourself out to be the final authority and end up denying the God of the Scriptures. Submit your heart to the Scriptures, humble your mind before God, and you will find yourself being changed by God’s word as you seek to apply it to your life.
The other group who had access to the Scriptures was the Pharisees. Jesus said to them, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life.” (John 5:39) The Pharisees believed every jot and tittle of the Scriptures from Genesis to Malachi, but they had exalted them to the place of God. They lived for rules and interpretations and spent much of their time arguing doctrines and splitting hairs over who was the most right, while attacking anyone who didn’t share their insights. Unfortunately many Bible believing people get caught in this trap today. The Bible is not an end in itself. Its purpose is to reveal a living Person who is in love with us. Truth itself, Jesus said, was not a belief system, but found in His Person. He said, “I am the truth…” (John 14:6) He is the Word that became flesh. He is the One that the Scriptures were written to reveal. Read your Bible to find the One behind it and you will find life in Jesus Christ.
“Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy and all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near.” Revelation 1:3
The God who helps us with our smallest problems is the Ruler over history. History will one day be seen to be His story, and knowing that brings a blessing to our lives especially at times when they seem pointless or chaotic. John wrote Revelation from Patmos, an island prison where the emperor, Domitian, had sent him because of “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 1:9) As God revealed His bigger plan, we can imagine John’s comfort in the soon coming of the Lord and the assurance of His ultimate victory.
The evil and darkness of this world will be short lived. As surely as Jesus came the first time to save us from our sins, He will come a second time to secure His bride, judge the world, and set up His kingdom. (2Timothy 4:1) Just how these events will unfold is unclear. There are many pieces to the end times’ puzzle and no one but God knows exactly how they fit together, yet John tells us in the text above that there’s a blessing in just contemplating the mystery. What exactly is the blessing? I believe it’s more of the fear of the Lord. Let me explain.
Paul tells us to “behold both the kindness and severity of God” in Romans 11:22. Our tendency is to only behold His kindness because it’s pleasant, but it’s in beholding His severity that we grow in the fear of the Lord and stay in a place where we will only experience His kindness. The end of Romans 11:22 goes like this: “…to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” Jesus wants nothing for us but kindness, but to ensure that blessing, we must have the courage to behold His severity. When someone warns me of danger I feel love, not offense.
Jesus came the first time as a Lamb to save the world; He’s coming a second time as a Lion to judge it. At that time it won’t matter how close our theology about the end times matches what actually happens, but only that we are in a right relationship with God. May God engage both your mind and heart as you join me in contemplating the end times’ puzzle over the next few days.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places.” Habakkuk 3:17-19
God wants you and I to have a joy in His love and union with us that transcends our circumstances. Habakkuk is declaring an absolute freedom from God having to do anything a certain way or give a certain outcome. God is Sovereign and it doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life or on this planet, it really doesn’t change anything. He loves me, He delights in me, and His joy and salvation are my strength. Whatever faces me, God will show me how to walk on my “high places,” or as the Amplified version says, “make me to walk (not stand in terror, but to walk) and make (spiritual) progress upon my high places (of trouble, suffering, or responsibility)!”
We live in a culture that is addicted to short-term pleasure and has often lost the ability to sacrifice for long term joy. Paul said that in the end times people would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” (2Timothy 3:4) God is all about pleasure, “at His right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11), yet He is more concerned about the long term than the right now. This is a problem for us because we want pleasure now, and if we aren’t having it we can be tempted to think that God has left us or is somehow mad at us because obviously, in our minds, “He’s not blessing me now!”
Yet to become godly we will go through much suffering, internal and external, and often be called to sacrifice short term success in man’s eyes for Christ’s sake. We can resent this, or like Moses, we can by faith “see Him who is invisible” and choose to embrace ill treatment with the people of God rather than live for the passing pleasures of sin. (see Hebrews 11:25-27)
God does care about what we’re going through. He cares so much that He will not short-change a process that He knows will lead to our long term joy.
“I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day…Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” 2Timothy 1:12, 14
Paul writes about two things: something we entrust to God that He guards; and something that He entrusts to us which we guard. Let’s look a little closer at both of these.
First, Paul recounts to Timothy the suffering he has had to go through and is going through for the sake of the gospel. He is not having an easy or comfortable life, and in fact, is currently in prison for his faith. He assures Timothy that it will be worth it. God has seen every sacrifice; He has witnessed every accusation and every injustice. God knows that Paul has persevered and continued to turn away from self-pity or bitterness and has tried to be faithful to his calling. Paul believes he will be generously rewarded for his attitudes and actions on the judgment day, and that God Himself is guarding over his reward.
After telling us about something valuable God guards for us, Paul writes about a treasure God expects us to guard. The treasure includes our “sincere faith” (1Timothy 1:5); our ministry “gift” that needs to be continually stirred up (1Timothy 1:6); and the salvation that God has given us “not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus.” (1Timothy 1:9) How do we keep this treasure safe?
- Value that which you have in Christ above everything else. If you don’t recognize the treasure you have it becomes vulnerable to the enemy who Jesus called a thief. (John 10:10)
- Stir up your faith by reading, praying, and obeying every day.
- Don’t become offended with God when you go through trials, confusion, or persecution. Remember Jesus didn’t promise a lack of trouble, but peace within it. (See John 16:33) My favorite bumper sticker: “Life is hard, but God is good.”
- Plan to persevere. “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:35-36)
- Ask for help. One of the things the Holy Spirit does for us, according to the text above, is to help us guard the treasure.
“Then the Philistine (Goliath) said, ‘This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.’ On hearing this, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.” 1Samuel 17:10-11
I believe there was a spirit of intimidation behind Goliath’s threats that still seeks to paralyze the people of God today. If we listen to our fears we will do little to advance the kingdom of God in our lives. The Bible tells us that David, “served the purpose of God in his own generation.” (Acts 13:36) He didn’t live a sinless life, but God was able to accomplish what He wanted through him. If we fulfill our purpose, it will be because we broke intimidation the same way David did. Consider with me three common sources of intimidation:
- The opinions of family. “When Eliab, David’s brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, ‘Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.’” (1Samuel 17:28) We love our families but we dare not allow their expectations to determine our destinies. It’s hard for them to see us beyond the role we played in the family growing up.
- The way others have done it. “‘I cannot go in these,’ David said to Saul, ‘because I am not used to them.’ So he took them off.” (1Samuel 17:39) Saul put his own armor on David because that’s what Saul would have worn if he was fighting. Others have an opinion about us but it’s often based more on who they are then on who we are. We will never fulfill God’s purpose trying to be someone we’re not.
- The taunts of the enemy. How did David boldly confront the same enemy who had paralyzed the entire Israelite army for forty days? I believe the key is found in the previous chapter: “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.” (1Samuel 16:13) The key to breaking intimidation is being filled with the Holy Spirit. We have nothing to fear, God has given us the Spirit of power, love, and a sound mind. (2Timothy 1:7) Be yourself, filled with the Holy Spirit, and know with confidence that you and God can accomplish anything together.
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” Acts 2:17
A few years ago the pastors of our region decided together to have teens and young adults lead some of our monthly worship gatherings. Why young people? I believe we will never have the fullness of God’s presence without the generations coming together. God blesses everything as much as He can and we praise Him for all He’s currently doing, but there is a longing in many of our hearts for more.
I am convinced young people need to honor the older generation and value their covering, but am equally convinced that the older generation needs to release their sons and daughters to prophecy. What if they say something that’s wrong? What if they become filled with pride? Then we are here to guide them and teach them, but God wants them to speak now, and not just when they’re “mature.”
In January of 2014 I had the privilege of speaking to our youth group. I told them the church is stuck without them. They are not the “church of tomorrow;” today’s church needs them to rise up and grab ahold of God.
In Eli’s day there were two types of young people: Hophni and Phineas were one; Samuel the other. So it is today. Hophni and Phineas represent those who are “ungrateful, disobedient to parents,… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” (2Timothy 3:1-4) while Samuel represents a whole generation of young people who love the presence of God (1Samuel 3:3), begin to hear His voice (1 Samuel 3:10), and speak to their culture with great authority. (1Samuel 3:19-20)
We must encourage our young people to become all God desires them to be to have His full blessing in the days to come.
“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.” Matthew 14:30-32
God wants us to walk in faith. We might think that when Jesus told Peter to come out of the boat and walk on water that He would keep the water still to make it as easy as possible, but that’s not how He works. Peter got out and the wind got stronger leaving Peter a choice to either keep his eyes on Jesus or to look at the waves and give in to the fear of self preservation. Clearly the wind was under the Lord’s control because as soon as they got to the boat the wind stopped and the waves calmed. The test was then over, Peter got rebuked for his lack of faith, but he was no worse for the wear for going through it. It wasn’t really about life or death as Peter might have thought; it was just a test.
How does God see our present difficulties? He could easily solve every problem we have right now, but He’s trying to build our faith. The wind is blowing and seemingly calling for our attention, but we must keep our eyes on the Lord to stay walking on top of our circumstances instead of under them. As Paul says, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (2Corinthians 5:7)
Where will we focus our eyes? Joshua could have looked at God’s promise and presence or at the giants they would face in the land. Gideon could have looked at the odds of his army of 300 defeating the Midianite army of 135,000, or he could look at the One who sent him and gave him a promise. David could have looked at Goliath or at the One who made Goliath look like a little school yard bully that needed to be taught a lesson.
A verse we should all have memorized is 2Timothy 1:7: “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self discipline.”