2 Thessalonians (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven…” for His loved ones 

The power of the written word!  This is something I don’t take lightly.  From this power, countries have formed, wars have commenced and love has flourished.  The written word is a powerful impacting force that affects our lives every day.  Facebook has become a new form of written communication that delivers spontaneous and immediate information, sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it’s not.  A post can be removed with a simple tap of the finger, but for those few moments it remains online, the words are out there with a destiny that is difficult to predict.  As a rule, once the written word leaves our hand, it’s difficult to retrieve it and impossible to control how it is perceived.  Paul found this to be true in his own life.

Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica was intended to be one of encouragement and hope regarding future events, but instead it brought confusion and distress to the church.  Some in the church were grieving over fellow believers who had died, and Paul wrote these words of comfort in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.”  Well, I don’t know about you, but these words make me want to shout!  They bring encouragement to us; but for the Thessalonians, not so much.

2 Thessalonians
False prophets took Paul’s first letter and ran with it saying that this prophecy had already begun, and they caused fear and turmoil for many in the church.  Paul assured them that it was not true and other events would first occur before the prophecy was fulfilled. (2:1-4)  Others adopted an “escapism” mentality and thought Christ’s imminent return was an excuse to quit work and wait for the shout and the trumpet. They sat around leeching off others and meddling in their business.  Paul, not one to mince words, reminded them, “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” (3:10)  I like that.

Strange that these same responses to Paul’s first letter still happen today, but in this day and age, we are without excuse.  At the writing of the letters to the Thessalonians, little to none of the New Testament had been written and circulated.  The church had grown through verbal teachings based on the life of Christ and the Old Testament.  Today we are privileged to read the entire Word of God – the Old Testament prophecies, the Gospels with the prophetic words of Jesus, Paul’s Holy Spirit inspired messages of the end times and the glorious Revelations of John.  The written Word is powerful, and I am encouraged just as Paul intended!

When I was young, I was often called over to the window or to the kitchen screen door by my mom where she would point to the sky and say, “See those clouds, Phyllis.  Someday Jesus will come back in those clouds to take us to heaven.  Make sure your heart is ready for Him and listen for His shout, listen for the trumpet.  He’s coming back.”  She anticipated His imminent return. However, she didn’t just sit back and wait for that day.  No, she worked every day for Him and testified to hundreds and hundreds of individuals about Jesus until the day she died.  One thing I know from Paul’s writing, and there’s no debate here, is that should the Lord return for us today, my mom will rise first to meet Him from the grave, and she would like that. 

Moving Forward: I went to my window this morning and looked at the clouds hoping to see Him and to hear the shout because I’m expecting Him to come any moment. Until He comes, however, I’m going to work for Him just as hard as I can. 

Tomorrow @ Leviticus 25-27

Ezekiel 13-18 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is faithful to His everlasting covenant with us

Ohhh…some rough reading today. The Northern Kingdom had already fallen to Babylon and now judgment was about to fall on Judah, the Southern Kingdom.  The prophets had given warnings to no avail, and most of the Israelites remained in their idolatry and sinful ways even in captivity.

At the end of Chapter 12 we read, “You’ve heard that proverb they quote in Israel: ‘Time passes, and prophecies come to nothing.’  Tell the people, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:  I will put an end to this proverb, and you will soon stop quoting it.’ Now give them this new proverb to replace the old one: ‘The time has come for every prophecy to be fulfilled.’”(12:22-23)  And then the judgments began.

Judgment prophecies were given through Ezekiel regarding: 1) false prophets of the day who whitewashed the truth so that the Israelites would feel only good about themselves, 2) mediums who used magic and charms to ensnare the people away from God, and 3) leaders who set up idols in their hearts to worship instead of worshipping the true and living God. (14)  The similarities today are remarkable.

The Babylonian captives believed that Jerusalem, the Holy City, would survive the siege, but God called Jerusalem and its people a useless vine, “The people of Jerusalem are like grapevines growing among the trees of the forest.  Since they are useless, I have thrown them on the fire to be burned.” (15:6)  Even more devastating was His charge that Jerusalem was His unfaithful wife, who, worse than a prostitute, had many lovers and didn’t even charge them because she so wanted to be with them.  Jerusalem was filled with altars and shrines to the gods of neighboring countries and final judgment was coming to Jerusalem.

The riddle of Chapter 17 speaks of the besieged Jerusalem attempting to make an alliance with Egypt to fight against Babylon, but both were crushed by the mighty Babylonian army.  I’ve wondered if it was as perplexing to God as it was to me when I read of this alliance with Egypt, the very country that had enslaved the Israelites without mercy for so many centuries.  Why would they seek to go back to the very ones who had bound them? It was as if they would do anything to keep from trusting God.

Early in our ministry we had an evangelist friend that God had miraculously delivered from drugs and given a powerful ministry, but over time he slipped back into the bondage of drugs once again.  I’ve never really understood how it happened, but I believe it had to do with pride in what he had accomplished, forgetting Who it was that had delivered him.  Likewise, Israel, so proud of the nation they had become, trusted only in their own plans, rejecting both God and the warnings of Isaiah and the prophets against this alliance with Egypt.  But then, wasn’t it pride that started the whole sin thing with Lucifer? Anytime we consider ourselves equal to God, we are headed for destruction as well.

Well, before we fall right through the floor in depression, let’s remember that Israel is alive and reasonably well on planet earth today.  “Now this is what the Sovereign Lord says:  I will give you what you deserve, for you have taken your solemn vows lightly by breaking your covenant.  Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” (16:59-60)

God remembered His covenant with Abraham, and He would take the remnant that turned toward Him, the Daniels and Shadrachs, and build a nation.  The everlasting covenant, Christ Jesus, is available to Israel today; and when we pray, let’s pray they will accept Him and escape final destruction.  After all, hasn’t His Word asked us to pray for Israel? 

Moving Forward:  May I not take lightly my solemn vows to God’s everlasting covenant with me through Christ Jesus.  I reject even the slightest bit of pride in anything I may accomplish.  May it be He who sits on the throne of my heart today. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 15-16

Acts 21-22 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He places a resolve in yielded hearts to do His will

I know several missionary families that have left the comforts of home to travel and live in dangerous parts of the world.  Some met with opposition from family and friends at their decision to do so; but with resolve, they moved forward in obedience to God.  Paul, the greatest missionary that has ever lived, faced some opposition in his decision to return to Jerusalem.  When prophets shared a word from the Lord to discourage him from going to Jerusalem, Paul stuck to his resolve.  Was he right?

@ Acts 21
“We went ashore, found the local believers, and stayed with them a week. These believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem.” (4)  “Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, ‘The Holy Spirit declares, “So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.”’ When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” (10-12)

This was Paul’s resolve in response to their warnings, “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lies ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” (20:22-24) And so it is with the missionaries that preach the gospel around the world.  They are bound by the Spirit who calls them, and their lives are worth nothing unless they do the work God has assigned them.  Those who love them must understand this.

Were the prophets who warned Paul in error?  Let me just say that the life of the prophet can be as difficult as the life of the missionary.  The responsibility of the prophet to speak only what God has revealed to them, without their personal input and interpretation is a challenge.  Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 5:20-21, “Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said.  Hold on to what is good.”  God had revealed truth to the dear brethren who were warning Paul about his trip to Jerusalem, but how he should respond to that truth was between Paul and the Lord.

“Even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture.” (I Corinthians 13:9) Only part of God’s plans for Paul had been revealed to the prophets, and there was a higher purpose in Paul’s trip to Jerusalem.  It was the first step toward his movement to Rome, God’s final purpose and destination for Paul.  Bound by the Spirit, Paul was moving ahead in his calling.

“Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.’  When it was clear that we couldn’t persuade him, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’  After this we packed our things and left for Jerusalem.”(21:13-15) Paul’s companions were not going to desert him now.  They would give aid, comfort and support to Paul to accomplish his mission.

How could we do any less for those we love who are fulfilling God’s calling on their lives?  To parents, support the calling God has placed on the lives of your children no matter how difficult.  To children, support the calling God has placed on the lives of your parents regardless of personal desires – He will reward you.  The very least we can do for those bound by the Spirit to do God’s will is to not hinder them, and God will bless all our efforts to support and enable them. 

Moving Forward:  Bound by the Spirit to present the gospel, may we not be hindered or discouraged by those who see only part of the picture. 

Tomorrow @ 2 John