- The book of Proverbs, especially the first part of it, is full of encouragement and instruction about it. However, today's wisdom does not guarantee tomorrow's wisdom. Solomon is the classic and ironic example.
- We live by the grace of God. The more we understand and believe this, the safer our spiritual future is. (Pro 3:13, Eph 2:8)
- If you want some excellent reading on the subject, I recommend chapter 10 of Knowing God, by J.I. Packer.
No matter what you are facing today, or what will come to you tomorrow, the very best is still ahead -- that is, if you are a follower of Jesus. This truth is designed to help us establish a higher-than-earthly perspective on our current situation. This requires faith, the faith Habakkuk so eloquently wrote about (2:4). In one of the most fantastic chapters of the Bible, Paul makes this statement to all who are joint-heirs with Christ, "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18)
Often it seems like men are. But Acts 13:29 ("when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down...") describes life as it really is, from the ultimate perspective. People think and act with freedom of choice, but God makes sure His will is carried out. Is that hard to understand? So is almost everything that is around us! We have not been given the ability to fathom many of life's mysteries, but we have been gifted with the privilege of knowing and enjoying God on a fantastic level. The Bible is the door and path to the most marvelous relationship ever imagined by the human heart.
God told Habakkuk that the righteous lives by faith (2:4). Paul later said, "We walk by faith, not by sight". This does not mean that we don't open our eyes or that we ignore what we see. That would be foolish. But it does mean that our bottom line is invisible. We act, moment by moment, based on an unseen reality, like Elisha showed his servant in 2 Kings 6:8.
"But thou didst trust in thine own beauty" (Ez. 16:15)
"And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (Acts 7:59)
Have you ever thought of what it would be like to take Stephen's place and experience the last few hours of his life? For many of us that would be rather disturbing.
Stephen himself probably had little opportunity to ponder why this was happening to him. The events unfolded too rapidly. He was accosted by a group of hateful men with a pre-established agenda and was in up to his ears before he knew it.
On the negative side, here are a couple of the things we could mention. First, he experienced the pain of a violent death (although it almost seems like the grace of God so powerfully flooded his body that he was impervious to the beating). And second, he missed the spectacular expansion of the Gospel from Jerusalem on out into the world.
However, when we switch over to a different perspective, the scene doesn't seem quite as ugly.
Even as he felt the rocks hit, he was seeing the One who gave it all meaning. Jesus, the Lord, the Origin of life itself, was making eye contact with him! Apparently, a few saints down through history have been granted a similar privilege.
But most are called to die by faith.
And then, as he slipped into the presence of the Holy One, he instantly gained a vantage point from which to watch the rest of the story from the first row of Heaven's balcony. Wow!
Furthermore, even as the rocks go still and the martyr's body stops breathing, the Holy Spirit turns our attention to a different man. This surprising shift of focus is designed to remind us all of a wonderful and comforting truth, one that is just as true today as it was in Acts 7.
God is always doing more than we think He is.
Again, He is ALWAYS doing more than we think He is!
And He loves to surprise.
Nobody was paying too much attention to the young man who watched the clothes. Surely Stephen hadn't noticed him--he was looking up at the right hand of God. The eyes of the violent religious men were looking for stones and taking aim. If there were Christians nearby, they were focused on Stephen and praying for help. Saul himself was observing, with a smug sense of satisfaction, the permanent silencing of an extremely vocal and powerful opponent.
Little did anyone know, but a pair of heavenly eyes were looking down at the young zealot. There may even have been the hint of a divine smile.
Saul would soon be changing his name.
But back to the Stephen...
Sometimes God takes away loved ones suddenly and without explanation. The shock and loss are excruciating and there is no avoiding the pain, or explaining it away. But God doesn't ask us to do that. Instead, He addresses the perplexing topic in a subtle but undeniable way.
Notice how He strategically sprinkled throughout the Bible certain stories, each with their silent and anonymous sufferers. These all experienced the torture of tragic surprises, and they may not have immediately been given a measure of understanding.
Think of Abel's mother, Eve. Think of Naboth's wife. Think of Uriah's siblings. Think of John the Baptist's friends... and there are others.
Each of these deaths brought piercing pain to those closest to them. Undoubtedly, tears were shed, questions were asked, and hearts were stunned.
But what occurred to them happens all around us today. Indeed, they are part of the same family, the family of godly Christians who die or suffer in what appears to be random, meaningless, and painful ways. Surely as you read these words a name or names come to your mind.
The message from God, in the example of Stephen, seems to encourage us to remember a few things. First, every Christian life is a tiny part of a very large picture. The picture is not only huge, but it is eternal. Second, God is always doing more than we think. Stephen leaves the stage at exactly the right moment for Saul to make his entrance. At the time, neither one understands the significance of the other.
But the Lord did.
He is the Author of the grand story of grace, the story that spans every continent and every age. It is the story that links every believer and the details of his life directly to the Cross. No death is insignificant, no matter how short or unknown or unappreciated it was by other people.
This truth makes it all worth it and can give comfort when we or loved ones are hit with unexplainable hurt.
Dear Father, how important to keep in mind Your view, the real one, and to know You guide every single event towards Your glorious purpose. Please use these words to encourage someone who is hurting. Amen.
Each one of us is a leader to some degree, for the simple reason that we make decisions in public, decisions that others see and analyze. In Genesis 44, Judah, who had quite a tainted past, showed that he was becoming a spiritual leader. His maturing character was seen as he stepped forward to take responsibility for past mistakes and offer to make repairs as best he could.
A good leader is not necessarily the one who sits or stands under the bright lights of the stage. It is the man or woman, youth or child, who sets an example worthy of imitating and following.
So, the leadership role is not really a choice we can take or leave, nor does indecisiveness provide an escape -- it is in itself a decision.
The question is not, "Are you a leader?", but "What kind of leader are you?"
"NOW THEREFORE, I PRAY THEE, LET THY SERVANT ABIDE INSTEAD OF THE LAD..."
Once upon a time there was a young country boy whose father trained him for an outside chore. His job was to watch over some of the family sheep. For years this became his main focus and he learned many lessons in the relatively calm setting of the green pastures around his home. Some of them were of the purest theology. One day he began to write down his thoughts...
and God Almighty made them immortal.
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..."
There is never anything wrong with God's memory.
But He chose here to use this verb form to express His dealings with believers.
Abraham and Lot are perfect examples of opposite poles of belief. The man who lived by faith was unconsciously a blessing to others, while the one who lived by the flesh brought upon others misfortune, fear, and death.
What kind of Christian am I? One whom it is good to be around or one whom people should keep at a distance?
"THAT GOD REMEMBERED ABRAHAM, AND SENT LOT OUT..."
It is always a delight to return to Genesis 1 to start the Bible again. The first phrase never gets old, never seems boring, never becomes irrelevant; nor does it lose its authoritative punch. To believe it brings understanding, purpose, color, and peace to life. To disbelieve it dooms the soul to wandering through this brief pilgrimage without a compass and without hope.
"IN THE BEGINNING GOD..."