It had to start somewhere. Didn’t it? It starts small and then comes to a head at some unknown time in the future. That’s the way of all things. Small beginnings. Everything starts small. It continues to escalate. Sometimes for no good reason at all. And if all forces come together at the right time, momentum takes over and BOOM! We have a movement.
We see it in the news every day. And if we don’t watch the news, we read it online. Social media posts. Twitter. TikTok. Facebook. Instagram. And all those other platforms that are too many to name. People throwing shade at someone else. For many different reasons. The color of their hair is wrong. They’re the wrong size. They’re not loud enough. Or quiet enough. They said the wrong words. Or they didn’t say anything at all.
Others are being physically attacked. And being injured or killed. We see new examples almost daily of people being beaten and robbed on subways in large cities. Those standing around are too busy capturing the incident on their phones to risk their own lives by helping the innocent victim. Oh. They don’t want to get involved. Yet here they are. Recording the worst moment’s of someone’s life under attack by bullies. And no one calls for help except the one in need.
A young woman in Iran was jailed and then beaten. She later died. The reason? Too much of her hair was showing under her hijab. We can say. Oh. That’s just how her government does things. But basic human rights are another thing. Now thousands in her country are protesting. Risking their own lives to gain back some dignity and liberty. A young man in this country was arrested for defending himself. He ended someone else’s life in the fight for his own. Even though he was jailed, he eventually won his case in the court of law. But his name. And his fight will not be soon forgotten.
Sometimes it only takes one incident to get a crowd going. People have just had it with all the violence. And all the false narratives being thrown around. Many are fed up and they want meanies to stop being mean. All voices matter.
Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. Acts 8:1-3
Mistreatment of others isn’t anything new. We’ve seen it all the way back to Adam and Eve. One of their sons killed the other out of jealousy. And persecution has continued on from that day forward. Even after Jesus had returned to heaven, his followers were being tortured, imprisoned and killed for believing his message of truth. But all the threats and persecution didn’t stop them from telling his message. They continued sharing with others the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it got them into hot water. Still they didn’t let up. They knew they had a message to share. And they couldn’t keep quiet. Regardless of the cost.
A great wave of persecution began the day Stephen was martyred. Perhaps all it took to really crack down on followers of the Way was to kill one of their own. Perhaps they saw how easily they got away with it. So they continued with this wave of terror. Many knew it was wrong, but they stayed silent.
The killing of Stephen didn’t stop the believers from spreading the good news. They continued on with their mission. Even when they were under threat of imprisonment and death. The message of Jesus Christ could not be stopped. And it’s still moving forward today. There are millions of followers of Jesus around the globe. Many are being persecuted today. And their faith stands strong. Even in the face of uncertainty and possible imprisonment or death, they live their lives in obedience to biblical teaching.
Christians in China today are once again being told to stop meeting together. Even those in small home groups are told to shut it down. Students are advised to stop all church activities if they want to smoothly graduate. Their government strongly opposes Christians meeting together. But the believers continue meeting. Privately. Quietly. In the midst of threats and persecution, they continue to find ways to strengthen their faith by sharing with fellow believers. We must pray that they stand strong in their time of oppression.
Oh. They may not be able to shout out their message from the rooftops. But they can live their lives in such a way that they never go against the Word of God. It is possible. You know? Even in the midst of the deepest, darkest trials of life, our light can shine forth in this dark world.
It’s easy to have a comfortable faith when we aren’t challenged to defend it. But the stage is being set for harder times. We must prepare now for difficulties ahead. We don’t know if or when we’ll be commanded to stop attending church. Or sharing our faith. We don’t know when our livelihood or safety may be threatened because we stand for Jesus Christ. Let’s stand strong in our faith. Let’s defend the truth. At all costs.
I don’t always understand everything I read. I don’t know why. I know I’m not the smartest person who ever walked the earth. But I do have common sense. I also don’t remember everything I read or that I’m told. So I need to pay close attention when I’m hearing words that can make or break me. I need to know when I’m hearing constructive criticism or just plain negativity.
When I consider all the sermons I’ve heard in my lifetime, I should probably be a biblical scholar by now. When I remember that I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover more than once, I wish it all would have sunk in. When I hear Bible teachers and read authors teaching biblical truths, I want to place as much of the truth in my heart. But I’m human. There’s no way I can remember everything I’ve heard or learned. There’s no way I can be perfectly fluent in principles I don’t know.
But. I can choose what type of hearing I have when I hear truth spoken. I can choose to ignore it and go my own way. I can pretend to follow the truth, but then act the exact opposite when I think no one’s looking. I can claim to follow the truth, but then turn from it when I’m faced with what seems to be an insurmountable challenge. Or I can follow the truth I’ve been given and live a thriving, productive life. The choice is mine. Once the seed is planted in the soil of my heart, I must choose how to maintain it.
I think of the work that I do. I recall the training I received when I was new on the job. My boss gave me specific instructions on what to do and what not to do. And she told them that all mistakes were fixable. No need to panic. I know that in this job the buck doesn’t stop with me, but I help move the buck along. I need to heed the words of advice I’ve received. If I go rogue, then at some point I’ll find myself unemployed. I can’t close my ears to the truth of her instructions or I’ll be given the boot.
To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. Matthew 13:12
Some say truth is subjective. It changes with our moods or our feelings. But really. It doesn’t. The truth always stands strong. How can truth change just because my mood is cloudy today? Truth is solid. We can count on it to remain firm. We’re the ones who have moved the needle on truth. We move it to fit our circumstances. Our wishful thinking. We redefine truth so we can feel comfortable with our choices. And when we move truth to something it isn’t, we move our hearts further from God. We’ve then chosen to live a lie.
The longer we ignore or avoid the truth, the more it is distorted. And when truth becomes distorted, it’s hard to recognize at all. Or is it? Is the truth just staring us in the face, even though we’ve denied it? Do we recognize the truth and just glaze over because we deny it? Or. Do we really believe the lies that we’ve accepted as truth? When the truth pricks our conscience, we don’t want to hear it. Because then. We have to do something about it. Ignore it and go on our merry way. Or accept it and make a change. Truth demands action.
By continually ignoring truth, we harden our hearts to it. We no longer even seek it out. We accept whatever word is spoken without investigating the facts. It makes life more convenient and comfortable, as long as it pleases us. Because. As I said. Truth requires action. And the longer we tune out the word of truth, we forget what it is. Lord, help us.
But know this. There is still time to turn a hardened heart back to God. Today. There is still time. We can repent and bow our knee to God Almighty. Let’s not wait. Time is running short. Let’s accept the truth of our sin and run back to God who is waiting with open arms.
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. Hebrews 3:12-14
Boy. He sure has waited a long time for his moment in history. And it has finally arrived. I wonder if he’s excited about it, or if he’s overwhelmed. Of course. His waiting ended because he lost his mother. That’s why his time has come. But he’s waited an entire lifetime. And he certainly has. Seventy odd years. Makes you wonder how long his reign will be. Certainly not as long as his dear mum’s. But that’s OK. It’s not for everyone to break records that don’t need broken. He has plenty of time to do what he was trained for. His moment has finally arrived. I hope he’s up for the challenge.
Some say his time has come and gone. Perhaps he should abdicate and pass the crown to his firstborn. Basically skip a generation. He’s already an old man. And what can an old man accomplish? That’s the question on a lot of young minds as they see older folks in the path of the young who are pushing to succeed.
So. He’s not as popular as his mum. Or his first wife. Or his firstborn son and family. After all. He did do them dirty. And everyone knows that dirty laundry stinks. So let’s chuck the Charles. They say.
Looks like that won’t happen. He has been installed as the king of England. Even the national anthem has changed to honor him. And the changing of the guard is now the king’s guard. No longer the queen’s. Oh. The necessary changes that must occur when life hits unexpectedly. But was it unexpected? I mean. After all. She was ninety six. We did know this day would come sooner or later. And here we are.
But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Joel 2:32
There’s another man whose time had come. Oh. He didn’t have to wait seventy odd years. His years of waiting were only thirty. And like the new king of England, this king was being prepared for the role his entire life. No. He didn’t receive a red box of news everyday like the monarch of England does. And he didn’t have a public coronation. His death, however, was on public display. But for this moment, let’s consider not his death but his life.
There was a stir at the time of his birth. Angels sang and shepherds bowed to him. An infant who was helpless already had people immediately bowing to him. At eight days old, old prophets who saw him in the temple were prompted to proclaim the Messiah had been born. There was no formal publication announcing the birth of the Messiah. A star in the east guided wise men to worship and acknowledge this quiet event. Throughout his early years, he was learning Scripture in the synagogue. He observed the Jewish laws. He knew who he was even when others questioned it. He was about his Father’s business, and his mother pondered these things in her heart.
He didn’t need any earthly prodding to start his ministry. His was a natural role. And he undertook it with humility and dignity. There were those who opposed him. And oh. How they opposed him. We saw that in his death. But during his three short years of ministry, he faced opposition on every turn. He was called a liar. When he cast out demons, the Pharisees said he did it by the power of Satan. Oh. How wrong they were. He knew it. And they knew it. They lived in fear of his power. They lived in the shadow of truth.
Some dared to call him the Messiah. Others dared not speak those words aloud. But crowds swarmed him when they heard he was in their neighborhood. His words were powerful and effective. A simple yet profound message. One not easily forgotten. His message was different from anything they had ever heard. And then the miracles. Sick and lame people were brought for miles for him to heal. And he healed all who were brought to him. Others he healed from a distance.
Sure. His earthly reign was a short one. Only three years. But his life and teachings still survive today. He hasn’t been forgotten. He won’t be forgotten. Oh. There are those who try to stifle his teachings. They try to silence others who share his message. But a light on a hill will always shine bright in the darkness.
Oh. There’s no comparison between these two kings. That’s not the point. The point is that we can’t get our priorities mixed up. We know which king will be faithful to us through the end of time. And really. There is no end of time. Our earthly time will end, but eternity is forever. So we must choose to live each day as if it’s our last on this earth. King Jesus will be with those who call him Lord in eternity. King Charles must choose for himself who will be Lord of his life. The same goes for each of us. Do you choose Jesus as your Lord and Savior?
God spoke through Malachi to the people of Israel. He reminds them of his never ending love. And they say. Really?? How have you loved us? Most likely, the people are remembering the many, many years of hardship they have faced. Wars. Defeat. Famine. Loss. Taken exile to a foreign country by an enemy king. What they seemed to have selectively forgotten is that these troubles of were their own doing. Their ancestors had walked away from following God’s commands. They did as they pleased. They stopped obeying God. And this current generation was acting exactly like their ancestors. Disobedient to God.
As God reminded them of their sins, they responded with questions they wanted answered. Their hearts had been hardened to the truth, so God answered their questions and reminded them of how they were dishonoring him.
How have you loved us? In a mocking tone, they asked if God really loved them. In a moment of desperation, someone spoke the quiet words out loud. They didn’t see proof of God’s love, because all they saw was their lives in chaos. After years of being held captive in a foreign country, their families had been allowed to return home. Although they had been living in their ancestry homeland for many years, they were back to their old tricks. Doing their own thing. Giving less than their best to God. And he was calling them out on it. They didn’t feel loved by the One who loved them more than anyone ever could. God reminded them that they were his chosen people. He chose the Jewish nation over all other nations who were at his disposal. He loved them with an undying love. They didn’t feel secure in his love, because they had abandoned him.
How have we ever shown contempt for your name? Actions speak louder than words. It’s true. Israel’s priests were treating God with contempt, and they didn’t even realize it. They didn’t realize they were offending God by giving imperfect offerings to him. They did their work out of duty, not authentic allegiance to God. God knows the difference, in case anyone has forgotten. They weren’t giving of their best when only the best was acceptable. They were just going through the motions and expecting God’s blessings.
How have we defiled the sacrifices? The Israelites knew that when they brought their sacrifices to the temple, they were to bring their best offering. Not second best. Not blemished offerings. Perhaps they had forgotten or just chose to overlook this important fact, but God wanted their full allegiance and obedience. When they brought their sacrifices, God required spotless lambs without blemish. They were to bring the best of their livestock, but they were bringing animals unfit for sacrifice to an Almighty God.
God saw their acts of self righteousness and called them out for it. You’re not giving of your best to me, but yet you want my best. You want my blessings and my mercy and my grace, and yet you halfheartedly bring your sacrifices to me. God reminded them that their earthly rulers wouldn’t accept blemished offerings, so why should he. Yet they begged him for mercy as they brought crippled, stolen and sick animals to sacrifice. Why do they expect God to show them any mercy when they bring tarnished offerings?
How have we wearied you? The Israelites had a warped sense of right and wrong. They lived as though those who did evil were good in God’s eyes. They believed that God approved of wrongdoing. Oh. How self righteous they were. Trying to twist truth for lies. Trying to rewrite definitions of good and evil. And they tried God’s patience with this way of thinking and living. He was tired of the games they were playing.
How can we return when we have never gone away? God reminded the Israelites that they were the ones who had left him. He had not left them. Yet they thought they hadn’t walked away from him. How could they think that? Their years of exile and hardship happened because they disobeyed God. And they didn’t know how to return to him. They thought they had never left him. Unbelievable. Their hearts were so evil that they didn’t know right from wrong. God called them to repentance, and they didn’t believe they needed to repent.
When did we ever cheat you? The Israelites were robbing God, and they didn’t even realize it. They were stealing right from under his nose by withholding their tithes and offerings. And they thought nothing of it. They were required by Jewish law to give their first and best gifts to support the priests in their work. The Levite priests didn’t own land, so they had no way to provide food for their families. The other tribes were to provide out of their abundance for the priests, and yet they weren’t. They were holding back what rightfully belonged to God, and they didn’t even think twice about it.
What have we said against you? The Israelites would speak against God, and once again they weren’t aware they were doing it. How could they be so blind? Their hearts had turned so far from God that they no longer knew when they were sinning against him. They said it was useless to serve God. But they still wanted his favor. They were unwilling to humble themselves in service to God. They had forgotten that the reward for serving God was far greater than the cost. So they chose their own way, and God was calling them on it.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all. But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. Malachi 4:1-2
The Israelites had most likely been back home for one hundred years after their seventy years of exile in Babylon. One hundred years of sliding back into their old ways of disobeying God. Oh. People. How easy it is to forget God’s love when you’re focused only on yourselves. On self love. How easy it is to forget God’s goodness when you think being good is good enough. How easy it is to block out God’s voice when we hear him speaking words we don’t want to hear. To shrug off the touch of God’s nudge when he’s moving us in a direction we don’t want to go.
And then God offered mercy to those who feared him and honored his name.
God had shown the Israelites in so many different ways how wide and deep his love was for them. But they forgot. They forgot all the miracles and rescues and provision and forgiveness he had given to them each time they turned away and then crawled back in repentance. They had once again turned their heads and their hearts to their own leanings. And they weren’t leaning toward God. They were once again leaning in direct opposition to God’s commands. God never stopped loving them or showing proof of his love. They just weren’t looking for it, so over time they were blinded and their hearts were hardened against God.
And what they forgot was brought to their attention by God. Oh. He never misses a thing. He called them out on their bad behavior.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to the priests: “A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your father and master, where are the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for my name! “But you ask, ‘How have we ever shown contempt for your name?’ Malachi 1:6
Time and time again, the Jewish people expected good things from God, yet they’re not obeying him. Again. They’re giving of themselves halfheartedly. John writes in Revelation3:15-16 that you either hot or cold. If you’re lukewarm, God will reject you. God requires our best. When we give him only half of our allegiance, it’s basically no allegiance. When we write our own rules and live our own lives, and do our own thing without regard for God’s will and God’s commands, we’re disobeying him. We’re saying our ways are better than God’s ways.
The Israelites lived their lives as if they were better than God. They did what they wanted. They gave the sacrifices they wanted to give, not what God required. They did things their way not God’s way, because God’s way demanded too much of them. For many years later, the Jewish nation was still doing this to God. They were still giving their half best, or even less than half. And their lives were miserable.
I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! Revelation 3:15-16
Here we are today doing the same thing. We say we love God, yet we live in ways that dishonor his name. Without a second thought, we live for ourselves. We’re not loyal to God. But we expect all his mercy and grace when we’re in desperate need of a miracle. We’ve left God behind. And we wonder why our world is in such a state of disarray. We wonder why groups are working to destroy nations with high inflation, food shortages, unnecessary wars, and manmade disasters. We don’t even consider that we act spitefully against God. We don’t realize that we have wearied God to the point of exhaustion. We don’t understand that God’s patience won’t last forever. The clock is ticking, and Jesus will return whether we’re ready or not. Whether we believe or not. There is a price to pay for our selfishness and pride.
We’ve forsaken God. We’ve run as far from God’s love as we can get. But yet. He still loves us. When we ask how God can love us when we’re going through intense suffering, we’ve forgotten that he’s right there with us in that suffering. We forget that he knows all about our pain. We don’t understand that we’ve robbed God. When we fail to give him our tithes and offerings. When we offer him less than our best. When we ignore the needs of others, we are ignoring God’s commands.
We expect God to treat us well. To treat us as if we are his prized possession. And we are just that to him. We are his prized possession. We just don’t act like it. Yet we continue to do what pleases ourselves instead of what pleases God. We prize ourselves more than we prize God.
Those who have accepted him as Lord and Savior of their life are children of God. Only children of God will have eternal life with him. It’s not too late to turn to God in repentance. It’s not too late to ask forgiveness of our sins. To fall on our knees and bow in submission to God Almighty. Let’s not wait another day. While it is still today, there is time for repentance. Shall we pray.
Heavenly Father, we’ve fallen so far from your grace by our selfish acts. We’ve ignored your tender loving kindness far too long, yet we demand that you treat us well. We think only of ourselves in this life and not in our eternal life. As we bow in humble repentance, we ask you will hear our prayer. Forgive us of our sins. Shower us with your continual love as we seek to serve you first. Help us to cast aside our sinful ways and serve you only, as you are the only God. Heal our hurts and restore us to your good graces. Remove our arrogance and fill us with humility that only seeks your favor, and not the favor of others. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Daniel and three of his friends were taken captive when the Babylonian army invaded Jerusalem. They were among many young men of the royal family and other noble families who were forced to serve in the Babylonian king’s court. Yet they were foreigners. They spoke another language. They worshipped a different God. They followed different customs. They observed Jewish holidays. They ate a restricted diet. Yet God allowed them to be placed, exiles though they were, in a precarious situation.
Early on in their new roles, these four young men faced challenges. Their Jewish names were replaced with Babylonian names. Yet they chose to continue to follow the customs of their Jewish heritage instead of abandoning it for the sake of fitting in to a new environment. Instead of hiding their dietary customs, they chose to speak up and ask for a different food allotment. And it was granted for a period of testing. Of course. God was with them during the test, and they passed with flying colors. Their act of bravery, unbeknownst to the king, gave them favor with the chief of staff, the king and most definitely with God. They dared to speak up without knowing the outcome. With this test diet, they outperformed all the other trainees. And as they continued in their training, their wisdom and knowledge far surpassed anyone else’s. They remained true to their faith, yet they were given choice positions in the king’s service.
Later, the king built a gold statue for everyone to bow to in worship. Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, refused to bow. They served the one true living God and would bow to no other. Someone reported this act of defiant bravery, and they were thrown into a hot burning furnace. Yet they survived the fire. In fact, an angel of the Lord joined them in the fire. Although the king acknowledged the presence of the living God, he didn’t declare his allegiance to God.
By the time Daniel was an old man, a new king had risen to power. Daniel had had great success in his career, and his coworkers were jealous. He was being promoted again, and he would serve over the entire Babylonian empire. Those green with envy were determined to bring him down. Oh. They knew his track record on the job was spotless, and there was nothing to criticize. They decided to fight him where it hurts. His faith. They knew his Jewish faith was the one thing that set him apart, so they set up a challenge. A diversion of sorts. They challenged the king to create a law that required everyone to bow down to him only for thirty days. Worship of other gods was forbidden, or the offender would be thrown into the lion’s den. Of course. Daniel continued to pray at his open window three times a day. Nothing changed for Daniel. But then they came for him. And he was thrown in with the lions. But God wasn’t finished with Daniel just yet, so Daniel’s life was spared. When Daniel was removed from the den the next morning, there was no sign of a struggle at all. The lions’ mouths had been shut by God.
For the full story of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, read Daniel 1-6.
Then there was Esther. The Jewish girl who was thrust into the harem of an ungodly king who was looking for a new queen. The current queen had refused to play his games and publicly humiliate herself. In her refusal, she humiliated the king. So he was on the hunt for a new queen. The audition: Give up your virginity to the king.
After four years of deflowering young women, the king still hadn’t found one he fancied. But then. Esther’s name was called. It was her night. And if she pleased the king, she would be crowned the new queen. In her humble act of selflessness, she won the king’s heart. Esther was now the queen. But the king didn’t know that his new wife was of Jewish descent. And when a mortal enemy of the Jews wrote a proclamation that all Jews were to be annihilated, the king gave his written permission. The law could not be changed. So Esther’s uncle went into action and let her know that her time had come to defend her people. And boy. Did she defend her people. Through God’s help, the enemy of the Jews was killed. And on the day the Jews were to be killed, they were allowed to defend themselves. No Jew was harmed on that day. Esther’s brave act of courage and selflessness saved the chosen people of God.
For Esther’s full story, read the book of Esther.
If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this? Esther 4:14
We as believers must be willing to face the consequences of living truthfully. Of living biblical lives not only in private, but also in public. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. Do we trust our heavenly Father even when life is tough? When life calls for us to declare our faith publicly, will we stand? Or will we be silent and look the other way?
We don’t know what the cost might be, but we must be willing to pay it. Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den. And he survived. God spared his life. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace. And an angel of God joined them in the fire. They survived without a burn on their bodies. Not a hair on their head was singed. Esther was forced to give up her virginity to the king not knowing if he would choose her to be the queen. God used her impossible situation to eventually save her Jewish people.
These brave people didn’t flaunt their faith in public. They quietly lived their lives in obedience to God. They acted publicly on their faith at times when a tough decision was required. Esther kept her Jewish faith quiet for a long time, never letting her husband know of her heritage. She spoke up when her life and the lives of all Jewish people was at stake. She didn’t make a scene. She trusted that God would pave the way as she spoke and acted in faith.
We may think these kinds of situations will never come our way. Hopefully, they won’t. But other situations will arise. We are at a crossroads in this country, and we have no idea what lies ahead for us. We may be commanded by those in authority to bow to their gods and their demands. We too may have to choose who will will serve. Will we bow only to God? Or will we dip the knee to a smaller, lesser fake god who can’t save us, let alone hear us?
Being faithful to living biblical truth doesn’t mean you won’t be burned in the fire. Or that you won’t be eaten by lions. Or be forced to give up a sacred piece of yourself. But being faithful at all costs will reap eternal benefits. And that is our ultimate goal. Regardless of how difficult life may get, God is in those days with us.
Life is difficult. You can’t do life without God. Take your pain, jump into his lap. Let him cradle you through it. Let him be your mighty warrior. Expect beauty out of ashes. There are God stories in each of our days.