As we struggle to live in a morally loose society, we need the examples of great men and women to encourage us. James pointed out that the prophets of the past serve in this way. “As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:10) Many prophets come to mind: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc. All of them lived exemplary lives in difficult circumstances. Many other great prophets are mentioned, but we don’t even know their names.
In our Sunday a.m. Bible class, we have been reminded of the difficult life of Daniel. He quickly gained the respect of Babylonian kings. Belshazzar said of him, “…illumination, insight, and extraordinary wisdom have been found in you.” (Dan.5:14) When Daniel’s enemies attempted to find some condemning flaw in his life, “they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him.” (6:4)
Here is the amazing thing about these prophets: while they were well known as great, godly people, at the same time they were despised and hated. They suffered violence and attempts on their lives. Yet they insisted on living righteous lives in their difficult surroundings. It would only be until future generations that they would be acknowledged for their patience and godliness, as James and Jesus later testified (James 5:10; Matt.5:12).
So, what is the lesson for us today? While it may be useless to live in an upright manner when nobody around us seems to care, God cares; people you may not know may care; people of the future may look back and care. Above all else, you are to care. Like the prophets of old, you are to live your life the way God wants it lived, not to please everyone around you.
This may be hard to do, but when has it ever been easy?
– Tim Johnson
From time to time I have to wait in the hospital food court. It is a place where a full range of human conditions can be seen. Boisterous nurses crowd around a table, indifferent officials punch away on their phones, patients in gowns seek some space away from their rooms, anxious families huddle in corners, and worried people sit alone with coffee. Other than a few noisy conversations, it’s a sombre place full of difficult needs.
Jesus often walked into places like that. In John 5 He entered an area around a pool protected from the weather by roofed-over columns. “In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered.” (v3) While He only healed one man, word spread quickly that the Master of healing was at hand. Mobs of needy cases soon sought Him out, and He gladly made them well. Mark records, “ …for He had healed many with the result was that all those who had afflictions pressed about Him in order to touch Him.” (Mk.3:10)
Jesus brought to Palestine a marvelous sense of hope. People came from everywhere to find His help and hear His words. Sadly, it only lasted a few years before He went back to heaven. His miraculous abilities didn’t have to continue for long, for the message was complete: Here is One who always stands by to help us. The Hebrew writer said, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (2:18) And, “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” (4:16)
Jesus may not heal a man from disease or injury now, but He arranges mercy and grace to help us with anything that weighs life down. Even in a hospital food court.
– Tim Johnson
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the first world war battle of Vimy Ridge. We’re hearing a lot about it because it was won mostly by young Canadian men. There had been 150,000 French casualties from prior attempts to win control over the infamous ridge, but the Germans resisted. In three days 100,000 Canadians threw themselves into the battle and took the hill. Over 3600 of our men were killed and 7,000 wounded.
Historians have developed many theories to explain how we did it when others couldn’t. In his 2008 book Vimy, Pierre Berton explained that most of our young soldiers were farm boys used to horses and fixing machinery. Both skills were invaluable in WW1. Nervous horses were dealt with in the noise of battle, and there was plenty of help to keep the machines of war going. The result was a very patient army that slowly and firmly overcame the Germans. Patience and skill won the day.
James wrote about the need for patience when we encounter trials. He said, “And let patience have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (1:4) The writer of Hebrews also said, “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (12:1) And, “You have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promises.” (10:36)
Patience gives us the energy we need to endure, it helps us deal with obstacles in the way, and it guarantees victory. It won the battle at Vimy. How many battles will it win for you?
– Tim Johnson
The past few weeks have seen many upsetting things happen in the world. Terrorist violence in London, England, outraged people around the globe. Our national budget promised to plunge us into tremendous debt, sparking worries in the financial sector. Similar anxiety took place in the United States with the realignment of their finances, possibly leaving the poor and elderly in difficulty. It seems that every week brings new worries and surprises. Many people tend to throw up their hands and give up.
When young Daniel was taken to Babylon, he and is Jewish friends faced a barrage of upsetting events and changes that would cause any normal person great stress. I’m sure he longed for home, but Jerusalem had been destroyed. New uncomfortable responsibilities were demanded of them, and soon their lives were threatened by a demanding king who insisted on an interpretation to his dream. Like many people today, Daniel could have thrown up his hands and given up.
But he was smarter than that. He got together with his three friends and spent time in prayer to God, who promptly gave them wisdom. When his appointment before the king arrived, Daniel stood before him with the confidence that only faith can bring. One of his first statements is something we always need to remember: “However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” (Dan.2:28) The king had demanded something impossible, “however, there is a God in heaven.” Daniel’s life had been threatened, “however, there is a God in heaven.” They had been forced to move to Babylon, “however, there is a God in heaven.” Do you see the point? When things seem hopeless and people can’t see beyond the clouds above, we need to remember God. He’s still in control; He gives wisdom generously; He promises to look after His people; He has a plan.
Yes, our world regularly seems bent on falling apart and nobody seems to have adequate answers. God is not acknowledged, and few seek His compassion. That’s when we need to remember what Daniel said: “However, there is a God in heaven.”
– Tim Johnson
We’ve all been encouraged with the great characters found in Hebrews 11. The people listed there lived their lives by faith, which is the focus of the chapter. In moving terms the author describes the courageous nature of each of them and the heroic things they did way back in history. While some of them became famous in the Old Testament, many lived out of history’s view. It didn’t matter if anyone was watching them, they lived and died for the Lord anyway.
One statement in verse 38 stands out, although it’s only parenthetical: “…men of whom the world was not worthy.” How could people who were forced to “wander in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground” be considered so great that the world wasn’t worthy of them? Surely such people looked miserable, stressed, poor, and weak. What made them remarkable is that they endured hardships because, in their circumstances, it was necessary in order to be faithful. They chose the hard road because it was the only road to heaven. God considers people like this to be the greatest in the world. Faith makes all the difference.
What a contrast to the people today the world considers great. Attention always goes to the fabulously rich, to the outrageous, rebellious, immoral, and the reckless. The world likes people like this and gives them honour. But God views people of faith as the cream of the crop.
Don’t spend your time worrying about getting rich or trying to look cool and reckless. You might get some attention, but God will only shake His head. He wants you to live for Him in a way that will move you to sacrifice and endure hardships – if that is necessary – and to make the right decisions for yourself and your family, no matter the social repercussions. If you do, in God’s view, the world is not worthy of you.
Read Hebrews 11 again. Could your name fit in there?
– Tim Johnson