Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Tuesday, 27 April 21:
First, an observation from our Old Testament Readings:
1 Samuel 3:1 — “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”
Samuel 3 begins with the above ominous statement. The people had stopped hearing from God, and without God’s leading, they were doomed. The Book of Amos makes a similar statement — “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11). Today’s readings reveal not only that the “branch” had been separated from the “Vine” and was withering and dying, but the readings also reveal that the people were not aware of their condition – they felt that they were in a normal, healthy relationship with God.
Why had they ceased to hear God? Simple: Iniquity! (1 Samuel 3:13, 14) They had walked away from God and expected Him to follow them down their unholy path. So, when they were being defeated by the Philistines, they asked, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:3)?” Then, in desperation, they turned to the idol of ‘religious ritual’ and sought the ark of God (which had become for them an idol), believing that their salvation rested in it rather than God Himself — “Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies (1 Samuel 4:3).” Remember that similarly, Samson believed his strength came from his uncut hair rather than from his relationship with God.
Eli fell dead when he had heard the Philistines had captured the ark of the covenant, and the wife of Phinehas died in child birth “because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband.” Her dying words were, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” She did not understand that the glory of God departed long before the ark of God had been captured; it departed when the people departed from God.
Too many Christians have grown comfortable both with iniquity and with not hearing from God or experiencing his presence in their lives. They believe that the “distance” from God they feel, along with the silence, is normal. To fill the void, many people turn to religious activities, but religion is no substitute for relationship and fellowship with God which is manifested through the fruit of loving obedience, rather than empty works. Self-serving, self-justifying, presumptuous, and prideful religion has no real power. God does not honor ritual and ‘good deeds’ without love, and love naturally seeks to honor God through obedience — “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Only those who have a true relationship with God hear from God, though many who lack God’s revelation will mistake their emotions for the Spirit and self-talk for God’s word. Even Bible study can become an empty ritual for those who don’t see it as an encounter with God Himself and who have grieved and quenched the Holy Spirit by not responding to the conviction of the Spirit through God’s word. We must study God’s word, which is our primary source of revelation from God, but we must also abide by God’s word, walking with God in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
- James 4:8 — Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
- John 4:24 — God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
- 1 John 3:24 — Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
Second, and observation from our New Testament readings:
Romans 15:1 — We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
You must be patient with immature Christians who act inappropriately. When someone offends you, you may want to defend yourself and get gratification, but the Bible says do not, but rather to respond to abuse with love and kindness. As we read previously, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…. Do not take revenge… (Romans 12:14-19).”
Of course, wholeheartedly blessing those who persecute you is tremendously hard and goes against everything we are taught by the world. This spirit of grace is developed over time as we mature and grow in our appreciation of God’s grace bestowed upon us and as we continually practice this attitude under the counsel and coaching of the Holy Spirit. God knows how hard this is and commands us to have “endurance” but also to be encouraged by Jesus’ perfect example which ultimately resulted in the Cross – he knows better than anyone what you are going through: “For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” (Romans 15:3).
- Colossians 3:12-14 — Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
- John 15:12 — This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
- Romans 5:8 — …but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- Luke 9:23 — And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
You must take up your personal cross to follow Jesus, and this starts with denying self and considering others, particularly those who offend you, as more important than yourself, the lost sheep who are at the forefront of the mind of the Shepherd. Try this experiment for a while: stop defending yourself; respond to everyone who lashes out at you with love, kindness and blessings. See what happens. Remember Jesus’ first words on the Cross — “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Instead of focusing on what others are doing to you or not doing for you, consider how their behavior is affecting your personal love, joy, and peace, which should be unshaken because they are grounded on the rock of Jesus. Pray that God will help you carry your daily cross with joy for His glory and for the sake of others – “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
- Romans 12:10-12 — Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 — Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 27 Apr 21: Overlook offenses committed against you, remembering that people are weak and need mercy and grace just as you do. Don’t satisfy your own desire to defend yourself or to stand up for your ‘rights’ but rather consider how you can transmit the peace of God, grace, and reconciliation. References from today’s readings: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” (Romans 15:1-3) Strive in prayer today — committed, hard, tiresome prayer. (Romans 15:30)