As I write this post, we are nearing the end of 2020, which by many accounts will go down in history as one of the most tumultuous single years in American history. With being a very contention election year, Covid19, government lockdowns, mass unemployment, widespread rioting, and mask mandates, nearly one-third of Americans reported struggling from anxiety and depression. According to the Center for Disease Control, that is nearly the double the number from 2019, and about one-tenth of Americans said they had considered suicide in 2020. It can be impossible for people to feel at peace when they feel like their life is a leaf being blown around by forces beyond their control. Times like these is when it is good to be reminded of the words of Stephen in Acts 7 where he gives an amazing sermon summarizing all of Old Testament history and explaining that Jesus is the Messiah and demonstrating that through biblical theology. Toward the end of that incredible message he says, “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’” (vv.48-50). In other words, God is the one who is completely unaffected by the things that happen in this world. He is the divine mover. He is the one who moves but is himself unmoved. We look at the world around us and it can seem like no one is in control, like we are all at the mercy of chance and circumstance, and it creates an enormous about of frustration. But God is not frustrated. God is not in heaven pulling out his hair on his hands and knees pleading with people to do the right thing. Rather, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, sits upon his throne and he rules with a mighty arm and he is moving all of world history in the direction he desires it to go in. Heaven is his throne, and the earth is his footstool. Thus, regardless of what you see happening around you, know that this is not chaos. This is all a part of God’s perfect plan.
We now live in a time where up is down, right is wrong, and black is white, where vices are praised and moral standards are a sign of weakness. As a result, people see it as praiseworthy to simply speak one’s mind and let the chips fall where they may. I have heard people defend this kind of behavior by saying, “Well at least with me, you know where I stand. You don’t have to wonder what I’m thinking because I’ll tell you,” never considering the ramifications and the consequences of their words. Or worse, not caring. Sadly, this is why so many marriages don’t last. Too many carry this way of thinking and communicating into their marriage, only to cause irreversible damage. Proverbs 25:11 reminds us, however, that “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” What a beautiful sight to behold! Imagine seeing that as a center piece! Apples of gold on a silver platter! Proverbs 25:11 reminds us that just because something is true, that doesn’t mean it needs to be spoken. Some thoughts are far better left unspoken. And when we do speak, we should think before we speak. We should carefully choose our words because a word spoken is like toothpaste—once it’s out of the tube, there is no putting it back. Often we are simply left with trying to clean up the mess. Today, let’s practice thinking before we speak and choosing our words carefully. Let’s do our best for God’s glory to present with our words golden apples on a silver platter. Words that will be pleasing to the ears and easy on the heart.
We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds. (Psalm 75:1)
Today as we celebrate Thanksgiving, as we enjoy the smell of Turkey roasting, pies baking, and gravy simmering, as we take in the sight of fall colors and the sound of a fire crackling or football playing, let us remember that Thanksgiving is not primarily about the here and now because the here and now can be difficult for some. Thanksgiving can sometimes be difficult to celebrate if you are experiencing trying times. In fact, Thanksgiving is known to be a time when many people will go into depression—people who are lonely, who may be struggling financially or dealing with some physical disability or may have recently lost a loved one. Thus, if we focus on the here and now, Thanksgiving for many can be difficult because living life in a fallen world is often difficult. Rather, Thanksgiving should primarily be about ‘recounting God’s wondrous deeds’ which took place two-thousand years ago on a hill called Calvary. It should be a time of remembering that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6 ESV), a time of remembering that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21 NASB). It’s a time of remembering that if all we have in this world is Christ and the salvation he has given to us, we have more treasure and more to be thankful for than we can ever possibly imagine or deserve. Today, let us not reflect on what we don’t have, but on what we do have.
It is interesting that in Numbers 35 God establishes “cities of refuge.” These cites are where someone can flee who has committed manslaughter and be spared from the “avenger of blood.” Anyone living in a city of refuge cannot be harmed so long as he remains inside. “But if the manslayer shall at any time go beyond the boundaries of his city of refuge to which he fled, and the avenger of blood finds him outside the boundaries of his city of refuge, and the avenger of blood kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood” (vv.26-27). Additionally we are told that “he must remain in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest, but after the death of the high priest the manslayer may return to the land of his possession” (v.28). Thus, as long as the high priest lives and the guilty person remains in the city of refuge, he remains safe and secure. What is clear from passages like Gen. 6:5; Ps. 58:3; Jer. 17:9; Matt. 5:21-30, Rom. 3:11-18; 8:7-8, is that we have all committed murder in our hearts, and worse. And the “avenger of blood” who seeks to destroy us is God himself. We have all violated the Laws of God and in the Old Testament God made clear that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). But there is a way of escape. In Psalm 18:2 we read, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” The very one who demands the soul that sins shall die is also the very one who is our city of refuge. So long as we run to God and remain in him, we are safe from the justice and the wrath of God. And just as in Number 35, we are safe so long as our high priest lives and we remain under his care and protection. The good news is that Hebrews 7:24-25 tells us that Christ “holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Praise be to God we have a high priest and a city of refuge that will last forever!
One of the most frightening stories in the Bible is the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. There we are told in chapter 4, leading up to chapter 5, that there “was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (4:34-35). All of the believers in amazing generosity and charity were selling their possessions and then distributing the proceeds to all the believers so that no one had any need. Of course, Ananias and Sapphira saw this and wanted to be a part of such exciting events. They loved seeing how people were being blessed by the generosity and how those who were doing the selling and giving were being praised by others for being such a blessing. But the idea of selling all their property and giving away all the proceeds just seemed a bit extreme to Ananias and Sapphira. And so they concocted a plan to sell their portion of their land for an undisclosed amount. They would then give to the distribution of the saints a portion of the proceeds without telling anyone how much they sold the land for, and if people just happened to assume they were giving all the proceeds from the sale of their land, well, Ananias and Sapphira would not correct them, but they also were not going to lie and tell people they were donating all the proceeds. If people wanted to assume they were, Ananias and Sapphira could not help that. It was the perfect plan to do something good, to make a little profit and, at the same time, receive praise from men for giving away ‘all the proceeds’ from the sale of their land. That is, until Peter calls them out on it and says, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God”, and then Ananias falls over dead (5:3-5). Three hours later Peter says to Sapphira, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she says, “Yes, for so much.” Then Peter says to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” She then falls over and dies. Through it all, Ananias and Sapphira never "spoke" a lie. Presumably when Peter asked Sapphira if they had sold the land for X amount of money, she answered truthfully. Then why did God strike them both dead? They were lying by their deeds. They were behaving in such a way so as to deceive people into thinking they were donating ‘all the proceeds’ from the sale of their property just like everyone else was doing. Lying is a sin that can be committed with or without words. It’s called deception.
As you read through Joshua chapters 13-19, which describes all the allotments that were given to the various tribes of Israel, what is interesting to notice is what is said about the tribe of Levi. “But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the LORD God of Israel is their inheritance” (13:33). The tribe of Levi is where the priests of Israel were to come from. Every priest in Israel was required to come from the tribe of Levi (Num 18). Thus, they were to have no land of their own, no allotment in the land of Israel. Rather they were to be supported by the tithes and offering given by the people of Israel. Their job was to minister to the people on behalf of God and speak and teach the word of God to them. Thus, they were to delight not in the land, not in material possessions, they were to delight in God. In 1 Peter 2:9, scripture tells us that all believers “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood.” Believers are priests of God in that, much like the Levites, God has chosen us to be his own possession. God has chosen us to be the ones who minister to the world on behalf of God and preach and teach God’s word—the gospel—to the world. We have been placed here for a purpose. Thus, this world is not our home. We are simply passing through. For this reason, we are not to seek to find our delight in the things of this world, rather the Lord God is our inheritance. Christ is our prized possession. The apostle Paul clearly understood this when he wrote, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). Paul was willing to give up all the things of this world because it is all rubbish in comparison to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.”
In John 20:19ff., on the evening of Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to all but one of the disciples—Thomas. As a result, we are told that when the disciples told Thomas they had seen the resurrected Lord, he says to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe" (v.25). I don’t think Thomas was being obstinate or that he simply did not trust the men he had spent the last three years with, but Thomas was not interested in a blind faith. If he was going to commit his life to following someone he saw die on a cross, he needed more that words. He needed a reason to believe. Something we all need and should all demand of our faith. Christianity is not a blind faith. We don’t believe the gospel story simply because it seems like a good story to believe. We believe because there is a reason to believe. Thomas was asking for the same. Words would not be enough. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails,…I will never believe.” In Galatians 2:20 the apostle Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Paul was crucified with Christ to his old way of life and that was evident in the radical shift in his worldview and in his behavior, in the way that he loved people and was willing to serve them and sacrifice for them. He later points this out when he says, “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (6:14). Paul did not expect people to simply believe his words. He expected people to look at the evidence of his transformed life. He gave them a reason to believe. The late 19th century British pastor and theologian, G. Campbell Morgan, stated it best when we said that what Thomas said to the disciples, the world is saying to every Christian—“Unless I see in his [or her] hands the mark of the nails,…I will never believe.” Are we expecting the world to simply believe our words about Christ or are they able to see the evidence of a life transformed by the gospel? Do they see in our hands the print of the nails? Do they see that we have been crucified with Christ; thus, it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us? Are we giving them a reason to believe?
In a culture that is increasingly becoming post-Christian, it can sometimes be difficult to adhere to our biblical convictions. There was once a time when believing that marriage is between one man and one woman, that adultery is dishonorable, that abortion is wrong, that homosexuality is immoral, that prayer in public schools is good was the norm rather than the exception. Today, those who hold to Christian moral values find themselves in the minority and more frequently the target of ridicule. However, regardless of the reasons, Christians being persecuted for their faith has always been the norm. In Acts 5 we find the apostles in prison having been arrested for preaching the gospel and performing miracles. Then in v.27ff. we read that the “high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” The apostles understood that although we are to respect those in positions of authority, we answer to a higher authority than any man or institution on earth. This is because, as Peter goes on to say, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” In other words, in light what Christ has done for us and in light of what he was willing to suffer for us, how can we not proclaim the gospel and be willing to suffer for him? How can we not be willing to live out our convictions and our faith? If you are a believer in Christ, I pray the words of Peter will be your lifelong motto—"We must obey God rather than men.”
In Joshua 9 there is an interesting event we read about regarding the Gibeonites deceiving Joshua and the Israelites regarding who they were and where they had come from. To summarize, the Gibeonites had heard about the conquest of the Israelites and had become very afraid about the prospect of having to face them on the battlefield, so they come up with a plan to take advantage of the Israelites' kindness and deceive them into making a covenant of peace with them. We are told that they came to Joshua and the leaders of Israel and said to them, “‘We are your servants.’ And Joshua said to them, ‘Who are you? And where do you come from?’ They said to him, ‘From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the LORD your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”’ Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey’” (vv.8-13). Thus, Joshua and the leaders make a covenant with them and promise not to harm them. But then we are told later that Joshua and the leaders discovered that the Gibeonites had deceived them and tricked them into making a covenant with them and that many of the people of Israel wanted to put the Gibeonites to death. “But all the leaders said to all the congregation, ‘We have sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them. This we will do to them: let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath that we swore to them’” (vv.19-20). Truly amazing that the Israelites chose to keep their promise even though they had been deceived into making it. Psalm 15:4 tells us that a righteous person “swears to his own hurt and does not change.” And in Matthew 5:33ff. Jesus says we should let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no’. In other words, we should say what we mean and mean what we say. As Christians we should be people of our word no matter how difficult it may be to keep that promise or whether we think we have been deceived into making that promise. This, of course, is why we should follow the instruction of James 1:19 and be “quick to listen and slow to speak.” We should think carefully before making promises. But once we do, we should keep our word.
One of the most amazing and interesting stories in the Bible is the event of Jesus interacting with Peter after he had been raised from the dead. In John 21 we are told that Jesus, post-resurrection, appeared to seven of his disciples, Peter included, by the sea of Tiberias. And while they are eating a breakfast of fish and bread on the shore, cooked over a charcoal fire, Jesus turns and says to Peter, “‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’” (vv.15-17). Why does Jesus do this? Most understand this to be related to Peter denying Jesus three times on the night of his betrayal and arrest (John 18). Still, this being the case, why does Jesus ask Peter three times if he loves him? We are told in Luke 22:61-62 that after Peter denied Jesus for the third time and then heard the rooster crow, he “remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” Undoubtedly, Peter was struggling from guilt and possibly a lack of salvation assurance and his level of commitment and love for Christ. Thus, when Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, it is not because Jesus did not know the answer to the question. And he does not ask Peter two more times because he is questioning Peter’s honesty. Jesus, being God, knew what was in Peter’s heart (see John 2:24-25). Jesus was not doubting what was in Peter’s heart, but Peter was. Thus, Jesus wanting to restore and heal Peter’s brokenness, knew that Peter needed to hear it for himself. He needed to confess his love and devotion to Christ for each time he had denied him. Here is an important lesson in the power and value of confession. Not just confessing our sins privately in our minds to God but confessing our sins to others when we sin against them and confessing our sins to each other as a means of mutual accountability. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” This does not mean we need to find a person to whom we confess all our sins on a regular basis. We are not talking about going to confessional here. It does mean confessing grievous sins we are struggling with to a trusted friend can be used by God as a means of grace, restoration, and encouragement. Since Peter’s sin was a private sin committed against Christ, Jesus did not have him confess his sin publicly. But he did have him confess his love for Christ as a means of grace, restoration, and encouragement. There is power in confession.
Daily Thoughts is a daily short post to encourage and help you grow in your faith. If you would like to receive these direct to your in-box, please subscribe.