Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Some devotional thoughts on current events

I've been writing a devotional where I comment on a Bible verse for each day. I do this the very first thing to start the day, before anything else. I thought that with all that's going on in our country, several recent posts seemed especially relevant:

Ezekiel 33:11: Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked … (KJV)

The demise of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, which had occurred in a fire fight with US Navy SEALs the day before, sparked celebrations around the world (and consternation among Islamic countries). The page-size headline on the New York Daily News over a picture of bin Laden even read, “ROT IN HELL!”

To be sure, bin Laden needed to pay for masterminding the murder of 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001. The US forces who killed him, and President Obama who gave the order for the strike, acted honorably in defense of our country. But one dimension caused me to take pause: bin Laden is one more soul who has been consigned to eternity in hell. In light of the verse above, we are forced to consider whether God is “celebrating” bin Laden’s death—and what our reaction should be as followers of Jesus.

According to scripture (and putting aside the pretzel logic of a certain “emerging church” leader in a recent book), hell is such a terrible place, it forced a sinner who was there to ask Abraham to send warning to his brothers, so they would NOT share in his misery (Luke 16:27-28). Is the fact that anyone is sent there worth celebrating? And as one campus evangelist asks lukewarm college Christians, do we really live and share our faith as if hell actually exists?

Esther 4:14: “Don’t imagine that because you are part of the king’s household you will be the one Jew who will escape. If you keep quiet at this time, liberation and protection for the Jews will appear from another source, while you and your father’s household perish. It may very well be that you have achieved royal status for such a time as this!” (NET Bible)

It would have been easy for Queen Esther, raised from being a humble captive to a ruler over a pagan nation, to stay silent when Haman’s plan to wipe out the Jewish people—including her uncle Mordecai—were about to be carried out. For some reason, she appeared to be in some sort of disfavor with the king at this point, for she had not been allowed to approach his throne for 30 days. Whatever the circumstance, Mordecai reminded Esther of the Divine hand that had brought her this far—and that saving the Jews from an approaching slaughter could well be the reason she was placed at the king’s side as queen.

“For such a time as this”—what powerful words I need, to remind myself that God’s unseen hand is in control of all situations and circumstances, that He makes the divine appointments in my life in which I must show my faith by obedience to Him! Winston Churchill, in his World War II memoirs, said that he felt everything that had happened in his life—good and bad—had all prepared him for the moment when he would take the reins of the British Empire in its darkest hour, when it appeared conquest by Nazi German was imminent. We must also see that anything we have come through in our lives could well be preparing us to serve God in a special way. Even the simple, humble tasks could be special training for a ministry He is preparing for us, as Moses and David found out in shepherding sheep before being raised up to shepherd God’s chosen people. As the Karate Kid found out, the seemingly innocuous “paint brushing” and “floor waxing” tasks his instructor put him through made him a powerful fighter—and those simple “insignificant” tasks we do could well be sharpening us into being powerful tools in God’s hands!

It has always fascinated me that this book does not mention the Name of God even once—but how can one miss the Divine hand at work, is raising up Esther to save her people! Whether or not we see God’s hand visibly moving in our lives, we can nonetheless be assured that He is always at work in and around us, to prepare us “for such a time as this.”

MAY 12
Psalm 9:17: The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. (KJV)

The word here in the Hebrew that the KJV translates “hell” is actually “sheol,” which in Hebrew thought generally refers to the underworld of disembodied spirits. However, some Bible commentators believe there is an implied punishment in the context, which is more accurately reflected by the KJV translation.

I wonder about how our country has forgotten God—and what I as a Christian could do to reverse this. Part of the answer for the church lies in the next verse: “For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.” (ESV) Is the church making the needs of the poor and needy a MAJOR priority, as did the first century church?

This forgetting the needy is a result of a people who do not have God in their thoughts—including a good many in the church. “They will not live in his fear,” Adam Clarke observes. “There are both nations and individuals who, though they know God, forget him, that is, are unmindful of him, do not acknowledge him in their designs, ways and works. These are all to be thrust down into hell. Reader, art thou forgetful of thy Maker, and of Him who died for thee?”

BreakPoint columnist Regis Nicoll made the following observation about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer—the German pastor and theologian who opposed Hitler in defending the Jews and paid with his life—which offers a sobering thought for the church in America: “But perhaps the greatest lesson from Bonhoeffer is that the strength of a nation will not exceed that of its moral foundation. If the foundation is laid with the gold, silver, and costly stones of God’s Word, the superstructure will endure. But if it is laid with the wood, hay, and straw of the world’s principles and values, it will endure for a while but, eventually, collapse. Bonhoeffer reminds us that it is the Church’s duty to lay that foundation and build on it with 'living stones' whose rule of life is conformed to, and aligned with, the Cornerstone ... Bonhoeffer was a man who ‘understood the times,’ and took seriously the call of God upon him, even to the point of death. Despite his all-too-brief time on earth, Bonhoeffer is a towering example to Christians everywhere of incarnational faith, and of what it means to be the Church.”

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