The One who is on the throne (Psalm 9)

Sometimes, we look at the world, and it can get discouraging. We see all the evil and all the people who are hurting. Sometimes we ourselves are hurting.

And we wonder where God is.

But to David, the answer was very clear. God is on his throne. He has not abandoned it. He is not out on vacation somewhere.

He is on his throne. And the day will come when he will judge evil and bring justice to this world.

And for all those who are hurting now, he will bring healing and peace.

So if you’re struggling, if you are wondering where God is, remember: he is on his throne.

He has always been there, and he always will.

So let us worship and sing,

Blessing and honor and glory and power
be to the one seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb, forever and ever! (Revelation 5:13)

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Falsely promising life (Ezekiel 13:22)

I don’t typically read the New Living Translation, but I have been listening to an audio Bible using that translation recently.

And today, this word struck me:

And you have encouraged the wicked by promising them life, even though they continue in their sins. (Ezekiel 13:22)

There is much turmoil in the church today, with a lot of people taking on standards, not of God, but of the world around us. (Ezekiel 11:12)

But throughout chapter 13, God condemns the “prophets” for whitewashing the sins of the people. For saying the people had peace with God, when in reality they had no peace at all.

Why didn’t these people have true peace with God? Because instead of repenting and turning from their sins, they continued in them.

We cannot do what these “prophets” did. We cannot encourage the wicked, promising them life when they have no life.

We cannot whitewash their sin, calling the evil they do “good.” For if we do, God will not only judge them, but will hold us responsible for those false promises we gave them.

So let us not falsely promise people life when they have no life. Rather let us boldly proclaim the truth so that they might repent and find true life.

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The one who is in control (Isaiah 14)

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this many times before, but it’s good to remember this in a world that often seems like it’s going crazy: God is in control.

In declaring judgment on Babylon and Assyria, he said,

As I have purposed, so it will be;
as I have planned it, so it will happen. (24)

And again,

The Lord of Armies himself has planned it;
therefore, who can stand in its way?
It is his hand that is outstretched,
so who can turn it back? (24-27)

Assyria was a world power wreaking havoc, and Babylon came after them wreaking even more havoc. As a result, Israel suffered greatly. But ultimately, it was God who was in control. It was God who allowed these nations to torment Israel because His people had turned their backs on him.

But after his purpose was accomplished in disciplining his people, God said he would then turn on their tormentors and bring judgment on them.

So many times we fret about the leaders that are in power around the world, or even in our own countries. But don’t think for a minute that God has lost control of the situation. No one can checkmate God.

And in the end, his purposes will stand.

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What does the Bible say? (Romans 4:3)

As I read this passage, I thought of something a famous pastor was telling his congregation not too long ago.

He was ranting, “Here’s a question we gotta quit asking…What does the Bible say, what does the Bible say, what does the Bible about that…this is a really bad question we have to quit asking…Let me tell you a better question: What does the New Covenant teach? Or let’s be more specific, What does the New Testament teach? Or even better, What does Jesus teach?”

Now let me be clear: there is a germ of truth to what he says.

The Old Testament is always to be interpreted in light of the New, never the reverse.

The New Covenant does supercede the Old.

And of course, Jesus is absolutely authoritative when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture and how we are to live.

With those qualifications, it’s going too far to say that we should quit asking “What does the Bible say”. From the above statement, what you see he really means is that we shouldn’t ask what the Old Testament says about the questions we face concerning our faith and lives.

I respectfully disagree. This passage is an example of why. Paul was dealing with a core spiritual issue: how are we justified, by our faith or by keeping the law? What did Paul say in answering the question?

“What did Jesus say?”

“What does the New Covenant say?”

No, he points to the Old Testament and the life of Abraham and asks, “What does Scripture say?”

And when he talks about the blessing of the person whose righteousness comes apart from works, does he say “What does Jesus say?” or “What does the New Covenant say?”

No, he again points to the Old Testament, essentially saying once more, “What does the Scripture say?”

This is no accident. His whole argument up until that point had been steeped in “What does Scripture say?” This includes his key thesis statement in chapter one. What does the Scripture say? “The righteous shall live by faith.” (1:17)

The practice of the apostles when they taught and made key decisions (see James’ statement in Acts 15 for example) was not only to ask what Jesus taught, but to ask, “What does the Bible say,” which, by the way, meant to them, “What does the Old  Testament say?” They saw no inherent conflict between the two. Why should we?

So let us not try to separate the Old Testament from the New to the point where we say “Let’s get rid of the question, ‘What does the Bible say?'”

Instead let us continue asking, “What does the Bible say,” using and interpreting it as the apostles did.

When you have questions about God’s grace and mercy, ask, “What does the Bible say?” (Exodus 34:6-7)

When you have questions about God’s wrath and judgment, ask, “What does the Bible say?” (Romans 1:18-32)

When you have questions about how the New Covenant differs from the Old, ask, “What does the Bible say?” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

When you have questions about who salvation is for, ask, “What does the Bible say?” (Joel 2:28-32, Isaiah 42:1-7)

When you have questions about the meaning of the cross, ask, “What does the Bible say?” (Isaiah 53)

When you have questions about moral standards, ask, “What does the Bible say?” (Exodus 20, Matthew 22:37-38, 1 Cor. 5-6, Lev. 18-19)

And again, remember: The New Testament interprets the Old, because the New Covenant supercedes the Old. But even what is superceded should not simply be discarded. See why the old things were there and why they were discarded.  They were there for a purpose. Learn what those purposes were. They were all meant for your instruction and benefit. (I Cor. 10:6-11, 2 Tim. 3:15-17)

So as you face each day with all the questions and trials you may encounter, always ask yourself, “What does the Bible say?”

As the psalmist wrote,

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105 — NIV)

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The Lord is my salvation (Psalm 3)

As I read this psalm, the very last verse struck me: “Salvation belongs to the LORD.”

That is pretty much what Jesus’ name means. “The Lord is our Salvation.”

Those are words that are worth meditating on: “The Lord is our Salvation.”

When we were dying in our sin, Jesus died for us on the cross: “The Lord is our Salvation.”

And even now, when we go through the problems of life. “The Lord is our Salvation.”

When we cry out to him, he answers from heaven: “The Lord is our Salvation.”

When our Enemy attacks, he is our shield: “The Lord is our Salvation.”

When we’re down and depressed, he lifts up our head: “The Lord is our Salvation.”

Do you believe that?

Throughout the day, meditate on those words: “The Lord is my Salvation.”

Or “Jesus is my salvation.”

If you’re having a good day, remember your salvation and thank him. “The Lord is my Salvation.”

If you’re struggling, hold on to Jesus, and cry out, “Jesus is my Salvation.”

Salvation belongs to the LORD;
may your blessing be on your people. (8)

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What we take for granted (Romans 1)

I think as a life-long Christian I sometimes take for granted the things that I read in the Bible. It’s almost as if when I read it, I say in my mind (if unconsciously), “But of course.”

I wonder, though, if Paul still retained the wonder of the words he spoke when he wrote his letter to the Romans. That same wonder that Peter no doubt had when he was sent to Cornelius and saw the Holy Spirit poured out on Gentile believers (Acts 10-11).

My guess is Paul did.

Think about this for a moment. Paul was a lifelong Pharisee. A “Hebrew of Hebrews.” (Philippians 3:5). One, who all his life, thought of the Jews as being above every other race, particularly when it came to a relationship with God.

And yet he said to these Gentile Roman Christians,

Through him (Jesus) we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the Gentiles, including you who are also called by Jesus Christ. (5-6)

Paul was saying, “This gospel I have received is for all peoples. And, wonder of wonders (at least for me, a Jew), that includes you.”

Or as Paul wrote in another letter,

So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13)

All that, I think, was in Paul’s mind when he wrote his much shortened version of those words in Romans 1. And so he could say to these Roman Gentiles, “You are loved by God, called as saints. (7)

Paul stood in wonder at all this. The question is, do we?

Or do we just take for granted that God’s gospel, his love and his grace have been extended to us?

Let us never take his grace for granted. But let us take a step back whenever we read these kinds of words in scriptures…and marvel.

 

 

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A never-ending battle (I Chronicles 20:4-8)

If there was one enemy that often came against the Israelites, it was the Philistines. Time and again, the Israelites conquered them. Time and again, the Philistines came back to war against the Israelites.

In the same way, as Christians, we face a constant struggle with sin. We may overcome temptation one day, but the next day, the temptation comes roaring back. And until we enter God’s kingdom, we will face that battle every day.

But don’t get discouraged. Just as God gave David victory over the Philistines, he will give us victory over sin. And even when we fall, he is there to pick us back up.

So in our battle against sin, let us always remember Paul’s words.

“Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.” (Ephesians 6:10-13)

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The joy of our salvation (1 Chronicles 16)

In this passage, we see David doing something very important in the psalm he wrote: he recalls the joy of his salvation.

(You also might want to read Psalms 96, 105, and 106, where this psalm came from…or vice versa).

You can see this most clearly in verse 23.

Let the whole earth sing to the Lord.
Proclaim his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his wondrous works among all peoples.

Do we do this? Proclaim his salvation day after day?

David declared the salvation that God gave Israel from Egypt and all their enemies. But we have a much greater salvation: salvation from sin and death.

Of course we should declare his salvation to those around us day by day so that they can know him.

But I think we need to declare it to ourselves as well. It’s easy to take our salvation for granted. To forget to be thankful for the grace we have received.

Or worse, we start to think that God has given up on us.

Either way, we lose our joy.

How about you? Do you live in the joy of your salvation? Or has the fire started to die down?

Take time to read the words of praise in this psalm. Highlight them. Underline them. Better yet, read them out loud. And don’t just read them out loud, read them like you mean it. Try doing it every day for the next week.

As you do, perhaps it would also be good to pray, “Restore the joy of your salvation to me.” (Psalm 51:12)

And let us never forget to say each morning,

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his faithful love endures forever. (24)

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Devoted to the Word (Acts 18:5)

I was reading this passage in the ESV, and this translation struck me,

Paul was occupied with the word

What does that mean, “occupied with the Word.”

Well, it doesn’t mean that he was simply holed up in his house reading God’s Word. Rather, he was “testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.”

Which is why the CSB translates the verse this way,

Paul devoted himself to preaching the word.

That word, “occupied,” or “devoted,” is the same word that is used when Paul himself would say this,

For the love of Christ compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If one died for all, then all died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14)

“Occupied.”

“Devoted.”

“Compelled.”

How often can these words be used of us when it comes to God’s word?

How much does the reading and sharing of God’s word with others occupy our time and thoughts?

How much are we devoted to the reading and sharing of God’s word?

How much do we even feel compelled to do these things? Not simply because it is the “Christian thing to do.” But because Christ’s love for us drives us to do so. Because his love causes us to live no longer for ourselves but for him and his kingdom.

How about you? What place does God’s word have in your life?

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What we do with what we learn (Acts 17)

One more thought on this passage.

Luke writes of the people in Athens,

Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new. (21)

It reminded me of what Paul would write to Timothy years later.

(They are) always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:7)

Some people just learn for the sake of learning. Or for the sake of being titillated with new ideas.

But it’s not enough to hear and learn new things. If what you learn never changes your life, it means nothing. Particularly when it comes to God and his Word.

The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were like that. They knew the Bible backwards and forwards. And yet time and again, Jesus asked them, “haven’t you read (in the Scriptures)?” (Matthew 12:3, 12:5, 19:4, 22:31).

That question must have been highly offensive to these religious leaders.

“Of course we’ve read these passages.”

But they never truly understood them. They never came to a knowledge of the truth. It never changed them.

How about you, when you read the Scriptures, do you come away changed by its truth? Or do you simply walk away proud of what you know (or think you know)?

 

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Acts 17 — An unknowable God?

In this passage, we see that the Athenians worshiped an “unknown god.” Basically this was their way of covering their bases. They didn’t want to upset any god unintentionally. But the truth was, when they actually heard who this God was and that they were accountable to him, many wanted nothing to do with him.

Many people today are the same way. They are comfortable with saying that there’s probably a God out there somewhere. Unlike the Athenians, they tend to think that this God is generally benevolent, a doting grandfather in the sky, so to speak. But like the Athenians, they are content to think of him as someone that is basically unknowable.

“Oh, it’s all well and good to talk about God, but we can’t truly know him, can we?”

Why is it comfortable to think that way?

That kind of unknowable “God” is very convenient to “believe” in. You can basically shape him into whatever form you like. And in most cases, as I said, he is very non-threatening.

But do as Paul did, and present God as someone to whom we are accountable to and by whom will we be judged someday, and most people will run as fast as they can from him.

But as one song puts it,

You can’t package faith in some shrink-to-fit size.
You can’t market truth wrapped up in happy, happy lies.

How about you? Are you content with an unknowable God? Or will you accept him as he truly is and submit to him?

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Acts 11:19-30 — God’s irony

When I read this passage today, something struck me.

The whole reason why there was a Gentile church in Antioch and other places outside of Israel was that Saul had persecuted the church, causing the Christians to scatter from Jerusalem. Saul had indirectly caused the birth of these churches.

And now in the great irony of God, this same Saul went to the very churches he had indirectly started in order to strengthen them.

Sometimes as Christians we can’t see God’s plans. Bad things happen to us and we can’t understand why. But let us take comfort in the fact that whatever happens to us, God hasn’t lost control. He still has a plan, and he can turn the worst situations into something beautiful that brings glory to him.

And if we will trust him, we too may see the great irony of God…and rejoice.

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Acts 10 — The whole gospel

Something struck me as I read Acts 10: the gospel message of Peter.

He talked about how Jesus had come with power, healing the sick and doing good. He then talked about how Jesus was crucified and subsequently resurrected. And then he said this,

 He (Jesus) commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that… (42a)

Okay, you fill in that blank. What do you think they were commanded to preach and testify about to the people?

I’ll wait….

Ready?

Are you sure?

Okay, here’s the finish to that sentence.

…he is the one appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead. (42b)

Surprised?

I was. How many people, when they come to the crux of the gospel and what the death and resurrection of Christ mean, start off with that sentence?

“Judgment day is coming. And on that day, Jesus will judge you.”

It’s so easy for us to preach the love of God. But we also need to preach the judgment of God.

Before there can be good news, people need to know that there is bad news: we all are worthy of condemnation because of our sin, and like it or not, judgment day is coming.

After that, we can pass on the good news. What is it?

All the prophets testify about him that through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins. (43)

The price for our sin has already been paid by Jesus on the cross. Our Judge is also our Savior. And if we will put our trust in him and the work he did on the cross, we will be forgiven.

That’s the whole gospel.

Let’s not sugarcoat the gospel. Let’s tell it as it is. Like Peter did. Like Paul did (Acts 17:30-31).

And by God’s grace, many will hear and be saved.

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Acts 8:9-24 — What’s in our hearts

When I was looking at the story of Simon, it made me think about what’s in my heart. In my church, I have a very visible position when I teach. And so it’s very easy to desire honor and praise from people.

That’s what Simon wanted.

Before he became a Christian, he was famous among the Samaritans. He had won their accolades as “the Great Power of God.” Everyone paid attention to him because of all the powers he displayed.

And then Phillip came performing signs and miracles, and people were coming to know Christ. Simon himself made a profession of faith.

But when Peter and John came, Simon saw them laying hands on people and the Holy Spirit falling upon those people in power. And so he offered Peter and John money, saying,

Give me this power also so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit. (19)

But Peter rebuked him, saying,

May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your heart’s intent may be forgiven. For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by wickedness. (20-23)

“Your heart is not right. It’s poisoned by bitterness and bound by wickedness. Therefore, you have no part or share in this matter.”

Some people when they do “ministry” suffer from the same problem. Their hearts are not right. Their hearts are poisoned by bitterness. Bitterness when people more skilled than they arrive in the church. Bitterness when their position and “glory” is taken away by another. Hearts bound by wickedness, solely centered on self, instead of God and his kingdom.

And Peter says of such people, “You have no part or share in our ministry.”

So I have to ask myself, what is in my heart? Where is my focus? On my own personal glory, success, and praise? Or on God and his kingdom?

How about you? Where is your heart? Are you truly serving God? Or yourself?

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Praying for our leaders (2 Samuel 23:3-4)

I was just reading this passage with my wife this evening, and verses 3-4 really struck me.

The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me,
his word was on my tongue.

The God of Israel spoke;
the Rock of Israel said to me,

“The one who rules the people with justice,
who rules in the fear of God,

is like the morning light when the sun rises on a cloudless morning,
the glisten of rain on sprouting grass.”

My first thought in reading that was, “Why can’t Prime Minister Abe (I live in Japan) and President Trump (especially President Trump — I am an American citizen) be like that?”

My second thought was, “How often do I pray for them?”

It’s so easy for us when we’re praying to complain about our leaders. But God doesn’t call us to complain about them.

He calls us to pray for them.

Specifically,

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (I Timothy 2:1-4)

If we want to “change the number” in our countries, that is, to see many more people come to know Christ and give their lives to him, we need to start praying for our leaders.

Don’t waste your time praying about your leaders’ failures and stupid choices. Pray for them.

Won’t you join me in praying for them today?

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How we see God (2 Samuel 22:26-27)

This past Sunday, I was preaching on the Sermon on the Mount, and in particular, Matthew 5:7-8.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (ESV)

I wonder if Jesus was at all thinking of the words of David when he said this.

With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you deal purely,
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. (2 Samuel 22:26-27 — ESV)

How do we see God? Some people see God as tortuous. For example they look at how God passes judgment on people in scripture and they call it unfair. Or, ironically, they see how God shows mercy on the undeserving and again scream, “Unfair.”

Why? Because they themselves are twisted in their thinking.

All you have to do is look at society and you can see the twistedness of people’s thinking. What God calls sin, they call acceptable and good. And so when God condemns and punishes such sin, they scream that he is being cruel or unjust.

On the other hand, when people wrong them, they think it only natural to “punish” them in return. And if God shows grace and mercy to the person that wrongs them, they again scream that he is unjust.

But what they fail to realize is that all of us are worthy of God’s wrath. All of us are in need of God’s mercy.

It’s why Jesus died on the cross. He took the punishment for all our sins so that we could receive mercy.

And it’s those who realize and accept this that find that mercy and are transformed.

They accept God’s standards for good and evil, and seek to follow them.

When they fall, they repent.

Because they themselves have received mercy, they extend it to others.

But as long as people fail to accept that God’s standards are good and right, as long as they fail to understand that they themselves are in need of God’s mercy, they will always see God as tortuous.

They will criticize God when he condemns and punishes sin in the world, and criticize him when he shows mercy to those they feel are unworthy.

They “punish” those who sin against them, and get angry when God punishes their own sin.

How about you?

When you see God, do you see him as tortuous, unfair, and unjust?

Or when you see him, do you see his purity, his mercy, and his grace?

How you see him is how you will respond to him.

How do you see God?

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Always eligible for grace (2 Samuel 19)

As I read the part about Mephibosheth in this passage, his words to David struck me. Apparently, Mephibosheth’s servant had wrongfully accused him of turning on David when David was fleeing for his life from Absalom.

But after offering his defense, and knowing he couldn’t prove his servant’s lies, he basically told David to do as he saw best, saying,

For my grandfather’s entire family deserves death from my lord the king, but you set your servant among those who eat at your table. So what further right do I have to keep on making appeals to the king? (28)

Those words are striking to me.

For we too deserved nothing but death from God because of our sins. And yet, God has welcomed us into his house, not just as servants, but as sons and daughters, and one day we will dine at his table in glory.

But let us always remember that when bad things happen to us, whether through our own fault or not, we always have the right to keep coming to our King and making our appeals to him. For he is not just our King, but our loving Father. And he never tires of seeing us or hearing our requests.

As Paul said,

He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything? (Romans 8:32)

This doesn’t mean of course, that God will grant us everything we ask. After all, sometimes we ask for “snakes and rocks” thinking they are “fish and bread.” And God only gives us good gifts.

But we are always eligible to receive his grace and to come to him with our requests.

So as the writer of Hebrews says,

Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

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God’s plans (2 Samuel 17)

As I read this passage, verse 14 struck me.

For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.

Sometimes we look at the evil in the world and wonder if God is really in control. We see the earthquakes, the floods, the evil that people do, and think, “Why doesn’t God do something?”

But God is not just sitting in heaven fretting about what’s going on here on earth. He has a plan, even if we can’t see it. And in his time, he will move. The question is will we trust him until he does?

Jesus said this,

“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7-8)

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Declaring God to the next generation (Psalm 145)

As I was looking at this Psalm today, these words struck me.

One generation will declare your works to the next and will proclaim your mighty acts. (4)

And then David seems to model what he said in the next few verses.

I will speak of your splendor and glorious majesty and your wondrous works.

They will proclaim the power of your awe-inspiring acts,

and I will declare your greatness.

They will give a testimony of your great goodness and will joyfully sing of your righteousness. (5-7)

The question is, who do “they” proclaim and give testimony to? To their own generation certainly. But also to the next. And by God’s grace, those who follow them will keep that cycle going.

They will speak of the glory of your kingdom and will declare your might, informing all people of your mighty acts and of the glorious splendor of your kingdom. (11-12)

May we be people that pass on what we know of God to our children and to all who come after us, that they may declare together with us,

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; your rule is for all generations. (13)

 

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How we see sin (2 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51)

In these passages, we see one of the horrid sins of David, committing adultery with Bathsheba and then murdering her husband. And God had some hard words for David concerning that sin.

“Why then have you despised the Lord’s command by doing what I consider evil…you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hethite to be your own wife. (2 Samuel 12:9-10)

Think about this a minute. David sinned terribly against Bathsheba and against Uriah. And yet, God looked at that sin and said, “You have sinned against me! By that sin, you have despised me!”

David recognized that in his psalm of repentance. He wrote,

“Against you—you alone—I have sinned
and done this evil in your sight.” (Psalm 51:4)

How do you look at your sin? Do you see it as God does…as despising him? Because at root, that’s what sin is.

When you say something or do something that wounds a loved one or coworker or whoever it may be, you’re not only despising them, you’re despising God.

When you hold bitterness and unforgiveness in your heart towards someone, you’re not only despising them, you’re despising God.

So when we sin, let us recognize it for what it is: despising Jesus who went to the cross to die for our sins. And let us pray as David did.

“God, create a clean heart for me
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

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Clinging to what we shouldn’t (Joshua 7)

As I read the first few words of this chapter, these words struck me.

The Israelites, however, were unfaithful regarding the things set apart for destruction. (1)

It says here that the Israelites were unfaithful. How? Because of how they dealt with things set apart for destruction.

Now in context, the meaning is that God had told the Israelites to destroy all the people of Jericho and all the things in it, except for the silver, gold, iron, and bronze things which were to be given to the Lord’s treasury. (Joshua 6:17-19)

And in this story, a man named Achan was unfaithful to the Lord in that he took some beautiful and valuable things for himself.

But how often do we as Christians cling to that which God has determined should be destroyed in our lives, namely sin?

Like Achan (and for that matter, Eve back in the garden of Eden), we see, we covet, and then we take for ourselves that which God has forbidden. As a result, not only do we bring trouble upon ourselves, we bring trouble on those around us as well.

God was very severe in his judgment toward Achan. There was no mincing of words. He said,

“They have stolen, deceived, and put those things with their own belongings.” (11)

God says the same thing when we cling to our sin, claiming rights to sin that we do not have.

And God warns,

I will no longer be with you unless you remove from among you what is set apart. (12)

In short, God will not be mocked. If we cling to our sin, he will withdraw his presence from us. He will not answer our prayers. He will not bless us. And we will pay the price for our sin.

Some of you may ask, “Are you saying you can lose your salvation?”

Here’s what I’m saying. God will discipline his children until they repent. You don’t lose your status as God’s children because of sin, but you will be under his discipline until you repent. And that is a miserable thing.

But if you can willfully stand in rebellion against God, clinging to what is to be destroyed in your life, I would strongly question whether you are God’s child at all.

So would Jesus (Matthew 7:21-23, John 8:34-47).

So would his apostles (James 2:18-26, I John 2:3-5, 3:4-10; Romans 8:1-14, 1 Peter 1:13-23).

So let us listen to the words of John who said,

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does the will of God remains forever. (I John 2:15-17)

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Who is in charge? (Joshua 5)

This is always a striking passage when I read it. And it always makes me think  about my relationship with God.

So many times, people ask, “God, are you really for me?”, as if we were the center of the universe. As if we were the ones calling the shots and God has to fall in line with us.

But God answers us as he did Joshua in this passage. “No. I have now come as commander of the Lord’s army.” (14)

In short, “Wrong question. I’m the one in charge. I’m the one calling the shots. So the question is not whether I am for you and will support you in your plans. The question is whether you will fall in line with me and my plans.”

Joshua’s response?

What does my lord want to say to his servant? (14)

And he worshiped.

Lord, you are worthy of my worship. You are worthy of my obedience. So like Joshua, I ask, “What do you want to say to your servant?” Help me to hear your voice clearly. To not just charge ahead with my own plans. But to submit myself to yours. Let my whole life to you be praise. In Jesus name, amen.

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A channel of grace and mercy (2 Samuel 9)

As I read Mephibosheth’s words in this passage, “What is your servant that you take an interest in a dead dog like me?” (9:8) it reminded me of David’s words to God in chapter 7.

Who am I, Lord God, and what is my house that you have brought me this far? (7:18)

Why was David so filled with grace and mercy towards Mephibosheth? Because David himself had received so much grace and mercy from God.

If we do not truly grasp the wonder of God’s grace and mercy in our lives, we are not likely to be channels of that grace and mercy to others.

I know that I need to grasp God’s grace and mercy much more in my life.

How about you?

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Grace (2 Samuel 7)

What is grace?

I think we see it in this passage.

So often, we, like David, think to impress God by doing something for him. And God reminds us that what we can do for him pales in comparison to what he has done and will do for us. Not because we are better than anyone else. But because of his grace.

God tells David,

I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, to be ruler over my people Israel. (8)

I have destroyed all your enemies before you. (9a)

I will make a great name for you… (9b)

I will designate a place for my people Israel…(10)

I will give you rest…(11)

The Lord himself will make a house for you. (11)

I will raise up after you your descendant… (12a)

I will establish his kingdom. (12b)

I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (13)

And in Jesus, God ultimately will keep his promise to David. He will establish his kingdom forever.

In Jesus, we have many promises of grace as well.

He will crush our enemy Satan. (Genesis 3:15)

He dwells within us through his Holy Spirit. (John 14:16-17)

He gives us spiritual rest. (Hebrews 4:9-10)

He calls us his sons and daughters. (2 Corinthians 6:18-19)

Though he may discipline us, he will never take his love from us. (Hebrews 12:5-13, Hebrews 13:5)

He is preparing a place for us, and one day, we will be with him. (John 14:2-3)

So how do we respond? Like David, all we can do is stand in awe of his grace.

Who am I, Lord God, and what is my house that you have brought me this far? (18)

There is no one like you, and there is no God besides you, as all we have heard confirms. (22)

Lord God, you are God; your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now, please bless your servant’s house so that it will continue before you forever. For you, Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing your servant’s house will be blessed forever. (28-29)

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Trust (Psalm 131)

As those of you who follow this blog know, this has not been an easy week for me.

And when we come face to face with the storms and trials of life, it’s easy to ask, “Why.”

The truth is, many times we will never find out that answer. We simply can’t see all that God is doing. His purposes are much greater than we can possibly comprehend.

So when we face those times, we can respond in two ways. We can scream and cry out “Unfair! Why?”

Or we can trust.

David chose to trust. He said,

“Lord, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.

I do not get involved with things
too great or too wondrous for me.

Instead, I have calmed and quieted my soul
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like a weaned child.” (Psalm 131:1-2)

Will you trust God, even when you can’t understand what he is doing?

It can be a very hard thing. But remember this: because Jesus became a man he understands you. He understands your pain. He himself experienced pain, even to the point of death. But because of his death, we now have hope. His pain and suffering were not in vain. And neither is ours.

So people of God,

“put your hope in the Lord,
both now and forever.” (3)

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Hearts set on the highway (Psalm 84)

I love this psalm. It is a beautiful psalm from start to finish. I could spend days meditating on it.

But here’s what struck me today.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion. (5-7, ESV)

So often, we forget a very important truth: this earth is not our home. Our home is in Zion, that is, Jerusalem. Not the earthly Jerusalem, but the heavenly one. And so our hearts are not to be set on this world, on this life. Our eyes are always to be lifted to our true home.

In this world, we often go through the valley of “Baca,” that is, the valley of tears. But as our eyes turn to God, he fills us with the fresh and living water of his Spirit.

We don’t walk this path, this highway alone. The Holy Spirit walks with us, filling us with dirt highwaynew strength day by day. And he will do so until the day we appear before God in heaven.

That’s how people like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived. All of them suffered through pain, loss, and tears in their lives. (Genesis 23:1, 24:67, 47:9, 48:7). All of them experienced times of silence from God. But they all remembered that they were mere foreigners, or at best, temporary residents of this world. And so they kept walking the path God had given them, believing that he is good. As the writer of Hebrews put it,

These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth.

Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one.

Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

So through all our trials, all our troubles, all our fears, let us all keep walking down that highway, with the Spirit at our side, setting our sights on the city God has prepared for us all.

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His faithful love (Psalm 118)

You’ll have to pardon the direction my thoughts naturally go this week. As I mentioned yesterday, my pastor and friend passed away this week, and today is the day of his funeral. Thinking about him colors a lot of what I’m reading, and I’m seeing the scriptures in new ways.

More so than ever, the first few lines of this psalm ring in my heart.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his faithful love endures forever.
Let Israel say,
“His faithful love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His faithful love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His faithful love endures forever.” (1-4)

“The Lord is good. His faithful love endures forever.”

That’s the whole reason we have hope, isn’t it? If he were not good, if his love were a fickle thing that comes and goes, we’d have no hope at all.

But now, Jesus through the cross has become our salvation. And so even in the darkest of times, we can cry out with confidence,

 I will not die, but I will live. (17)

And when Jesus comes  to take us home, at heaven’s gates we will sing with joy,

Open the gates of righteousness for me;
I will enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the LORD’s gate;
the righteous will enter through it.
I will give thanks to you
because you have answered me
and have become my salvation. (19-21)

So while we’re here on earth, in all we go through, both good and bad, every morning as we wake, let us turn to God and sing,

You are my God, and I will give you thanks.
You are my God; I will exalt you. (28)

And remember always: His faithful love endures forever!

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Costly (Psalm 116)

I suppose it’s apropos that this passage come up at this time of my life. I actually was thinking on this passage a couple of days ago, when for the second time in several months, I lost a pastor to cancer. I hadn’t seen either of them in some time, but both made their marks in my life.

Leave it to God’s timing to bring this passage up again in the devotional I’m going through.

The ropes of death were wrapped around my two friends and eventually took them. They encountered trouble and sorrow, and yet in their dying days, they both cried out as the psalmist did,

I believed, even when I said,
“I am severely oppressed.” (10)

But what strikes me is something that was noted by the writer of the devotional I mentioned. In verse 15, the psalmist wrote,

The death of his faithful ones
is valuable in the Lord’s sight. (15)

Most translations say that the death of his faithful ones are “valuable” or “precious” in God’s sight. But another possible translation is “costly.”

The death of God’s faithful ones is costly in his sight. It breaks his heart to see his beloved fall to death. To see them suffer. To see the grief that their deaths leave behind in their loved ones.

But the truth is, we all deserve death because all of us have sinned. Yet God was not satisfied to let his people simply die for their sin.

He saw the our brokenness, he saw our grief, he saw our pain…and he sent his Son. There on the cross, Jesus bore the ultimate cost of our sin. And so while we still face death in this world, it is not the end.

Instead, because of Jesus, even in death, we can say,

Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, rescued me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.

I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living. (7-9)

How can we repay the Lord for all his good he has done for us? We can’t. All we can do is lift up the cup of salvation he has offered to us and call on his name.

O Lord, I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. Hallelujah. (17, 19)

 

 

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What is my heart saying? (Psalm 27)

What is my heart saying?

In good times?

In bad times?

In normal times?

What our heart says often shows to whom we belong.

It’s clear who David’s heart belonged to.

My heart says this about you:
“Seek his face.” (8a)

And so David cried out to God,

Lord, I will seek your face. (8b)

How often does my heart cry out for God? How often does it cry out, “Bruce, seek God!”

How often is my heart’s desire for him? To behold his beauty. To seek him?

How often does my heart cry out for other things instead, without even a thought toward God?

What is my heart crying out?

Who does it belong to?

How about you?

What is your heart saying?

Who does your heart belong to?

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Calling evil, “evil” (Deuteronomy 19)

I’m thinking about my next message I’ll be giving at my church, where Jesus talks about “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” versus forgiveness.

I think one thing that many people don’t realize is that “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” was never, not even in Moses’ day, to be interpreted as justification for personal revenge. No one person had the right to take an eye for an eye or a tooth for tooth, nor a life for a life.

You can see this, when Moses said,

“One witness cannot establish any iniquity or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (15)

Verse 16 makes clear that this was to be done in front of the priests and judges who would decide these kinds of cases. The other thing to remember is this “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” was very rarely, if ever, literally interpreted by the priests and judges. Rather, the idea was to limit the severity of the judgment, that is, to match the punishment with the crime. The judges were not to kill a person, for example, for knocking out another person’s tooth.

So when Jesus talks about forgiveness in Matthew 5, he is not contradicting God’s law. Nor is he saying that we are to let injustice run rampant in society. Rather, he’s saying, “Don’t apply to yourself a law that was meant for judges in order to execute your own personal revenge. Let the law take care of them. And even if the law fails you, leave it in God’s hands. But as for you, you are to forgive that person and pray for them.”

But there is one more point. In applying this law, Moses said,

You must purge the evil from you. Then everyone else will hear and be afraid, and they will never again do anything evil like this among you. (19-20)

How often do we call evil, “evil” nowadays?

How often do we call adultery “evil”? Or any kind of sex outside of marriage “evil”? How often do we call lies, “evil”? Or filthy or coarse language “evil”?

Too often, we take sins lightly. We call them “faults.” Sometimes, because of our culture, we don’t consider them as bad at all. As a result, we do not think it necessary to purge them out of our lives. Or out of our churches.

But God never takes sin lightly. And neither should we. In fact, Paul uses those words, “purge the evil from among you,” when talking about disciplining a man in the church who was unrepentantly committing sexual sin. (I Corinthians 5:13)

Again, the church was not like the judges of the Old Testament who were authorized by God to execute someone. But they were to expel the person from the church. We are to do the same with unrepentant people who claim to be Christians in our churches. And of course, by the power of the Spirit living in us (for we can’t do it in our own strength), we are to purge sin from our own lives. But we won’t seriously consider doing that unless we see sin as God does.

How about you? How do you see sin? Do you see it as God does? Do you see it as evil?

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God’s wisdom. Our wisdom. (2 Samuel 5)

In this passage, we see both David’s good points and bad points.

His good point was that he sought God’s wisdom. So when he fought with the Philistines, he always asked, “God, what should I do?”

His bad point? Ironically, it was that at times, he didn’t seek God’s wisdom. Not only did he have multiple wives, but he had multiple concubines as well.

Now in those days, that was considered totally normal. Kings in surrounding countries often had multiple wives and concubines.

But that wasn’t God’s will for David.

Jesus said this concerning marriage.

Haven’t you read…that he who created them in the beginning made them male and female,” and he also said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two (not three, four, or more) will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate. (Matthew 19:4-6)

Not only that, God had commanded this concerning kings in Israel.

He must not acquire many wives for himself so that his heart won’t go astray. (Deuteronomy 17:17)

Why did David have all those wives and concubines then? I don’t know. But perhaps there were two reasons.

1. David just thought it was natural for kings to have multiple wives and concubines. As a result, he didn’t even think to pray, “God should I marry more women?”

2. Because he was influenced by his culture and those around him, when he read God’s command in Deuteronomy, he thought, “I’m not marrying that many women. Besides, I will stay faithful to God.”

But in the end, because of these multiple wives and concubines, David and his family experienced many troubles. (II Samuel 13-18; I Kings 1-2)

How often, because we are influenced by our own culture, do we overlook what God has taught or misunderstand it?

Each day, let us seek God’s wisdom in all we do.

As Paul wrote,

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)

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Working our own salvation (I Samuel 25)

I was reading this story in the ESV, and there’s a turn of phrase that quite’s different in it from the other translations.

In verses 26, 31, and 33, most translations have David and Abigail talking about how it would be wrong for David to avenge himself.

But the ESV, as usual, is more literal here (although you also see it in the footnotes of the NASB). In the ESV, they translate it “saving with your own hand,” “working salvation himself,” and “working salvation with my own hand.”

The NET Bible puts it, “Taking matters into one’s own hands.”

It’s pretty clear why most Bibles translate it “avenge.” Because that’s basically what it means in the context.

Often times we are hurt, and in our anger, we feel the need to take things into our own hands in order to deal with the situation.

But as I looked at the ESV, it just widened my view on the application these verses have to our own lives.

How often do we feel the need to take things into our own hands to save ourselves from whatever trouble we are in?

It might be in business. It might be a family situation. It might be our personal finances. Whatever situation it might be, we are in a crisis, and we think, “I’ve got to do something NOW!”

But unfortunately, so often in those times, our judgment can get clouded. We fail to seek God. The thought to seek him never even crosses our mind. And as a result, we make terrible mistakes that compound the situation.

So often in David’s life, we see him seeking the Lord. “God what should I do? Where should I go?”

But in the midst of this situation with Nabal, the idea of seeking God never even passes through David’s mind. All he can think of is revenge. And because of it, he almost made a terrible mistake. Mistake is not even the right word for it. He would have committed a horrible sin.

The same can happen to us if we get swept away by our circumstances or the crises we find ourselves in. And when we look back, we suffer “grief or pangs of conscience” for what we did in trying to work salvation for ourselves.

So as we turned to God for the salvation of our souls, relying upon him and his grace to save us from our sins, let us turn to him when we face the different situations and crises we face in life. If we do, we’ll find that the same God who saved us before by his grace, will save us again by that same grace. And we’ll suffer none of the grief or pangs of conscience that come with trying to work out our own salvation.

 

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Anger and bitterness (2 Samuel 2)

As I was reading this passage, I was struck by Joab’s words.

“Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness?” (26)

On Sunday, I gave a message about holding on to anger in our lives (among other things), and when I read Abner’s words, I thought about that message again.

Joab had good reason to be angry. Twelve of David’s men were killed, and Abner himself killed Joab’s brother. Because of that, Joab thought to kill Abner and all his men.

But when he heard Abner’s words of wisdom, he stopped and returned home.

How often do we hold on to anger in our lives? We may have a good reason for our anger, but we need to let it go.

In Joab’s case, he never truly let go of his anger. He later killed Abner, and for that crime (among others), he himself was killed.

In the same way, if we hold on to anger and bitterness, it will lead us to a bitter end. That anger and bitterness will bind us up, and not only affect our relationships, but our health as well. (Anger and bitterness will lead to stress, after all).

So if you are holding to anger or bitterness in your life, turn to Jesus. Ask for his help to deal with these things. He can understand you. After all, people hated him so much, they killed him. But on the cross, he prayed, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Are you struggling with anger and bitterness? Remember these words:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

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My kingdom come. Your kingdom come. (I Samuel 20, 23)

It really is amazing to think about Jonathan. Here he was, the heir to the throne, and yet that didn’t matter at all to him.

Saul raved,

Every day Jesse’s son lives on earth you and your kingship are not secure. (20:31)

Jonathan knew that, but he didn’t care. He even told David,

You yourself will be king over Israel, and I’ll be your second-in-command. (23:17)

In point of fact, Jonathan wasn’t even that. He had already died when David was crowned as king.

But his attitude was, “David, forget my kingdom. Let your kingdom come. You must increase. I must decrease.”

That should be our attitude toward the one David points to: Jesus.

The world will tell us, “If you yield to Jesus, you cannot establish your own kingdom, your own life. What will Jesus ever do for you?”

But like Jonathan, we need to realize that no matter how hard we try, our “kingdom” will never truly be established. Even if we are successful for a time, even our lifetime, all we build will eventually crumble and be forgotten. So let us say the same thing that Jonathan did:

“Jesus, let your kingdom come. You must increase. I must decrease.”

And let us live for him.

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Why we have hope (Psalm 88)

This is probably the most depressing psalm in the Bible. And yet as I read it today, I saw something different: I saw Jesus.

This is not what is typically thought of as a Messianic Psalm. And of course, not all of it applies to Jesus. But much of it does, particularly on the cross.

I can easily imagine him singing this psalm in Gethsemane.

Lord, God of my salvation,
I cry out before you day and night.
May my prayer reach your presence;
listen to my cry. (1-2)

Then on the cross, abandoned by his friends, with death drawing near, and God’s full wrath falling upon him, Jesus could have easily lamented,

For I have had enough troubles,
and my life is near Sheol.
I am counted among those going down to the Pit…
Your wrath weighs heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have distanced my friends from me;
you have made me repulsive to them…
Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Your wrath sweeps over me;
your terrors destroy me. (3-4, 7-8, 14, 16)

Then while his body was within the tomb, his spirit may have sung,

I am counted among those going down to the Pit.
I am like a man without strength,
abandoned among the dead.
I am like the slain lying in the grave,
whom you no longer remember,
and who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest part of the Pit,
in the darkest places, in the depths. (4-6)

But the amazing thing is that the answers to the psalmist’s darkest questions are found in Jesus.

Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do departed spirits rise up to praise you?
Will your faithful love be declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Will your wonders be known in the darkness
or your righteousness in the land of oblivion? (10-12)

For the psalmist, the answers were all negative.

But in Jesus, the answers are all yes.

God worked wonders for the dead, raising Jesus to life. Not only did Jesus’ spirit rise to praise him, his body did as well.

Through Jesus, God’s faithful love and faithfulness were declared by angels at the empty tomb, and his wonders and righteousness proclaimed in a land darkened by sin and death.

And because of that, we have hope. We have hope that no matter how bad things get, God is faithful, and his love never fails. Or to use Jeremiah’s words,

Because of the Lord’s faithful love
we do not perish,
for his mercies never end.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:22-23)

 

 

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The ends and the means (I Samuel 29)

As I looked at this passage today, I saw it in a way I had never seen before.

Here we see the Philistines about to battle the Israelites, and the Philistine ruler Achish expected David to join them. Why? Because David had stopped trusting God and had gone to live in Philistia. In the process, he deceived Achish into thinking that he was attacking cities in Israel.

What was David thinking when Achish asked for his help against the Israelites? I’ve always thought that if he was forced to fight, he would have fought against Israel. But it strikes me that the Philistine rulers were right: David and his men would have joined the Israelite army and fought against the Philistines. The Philistines had actually experienced this in their battles against Saul and Jonathan before which is why they now distrusted David. (I Samuel 14:21)

But God stopped David. Why? Because while battling his enemies were fine, it was wrong to do so while pretending to be their friends.

I wonder. When Achish used God’s name, and said to David, “You’re an honorable man,” was David’s conscience stung?

So many times we think the ends justifies the means. But in God’s eyes, it never does. Sin is always wrong in his eyes, even when we think our motives our right.

 

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A house on sand? (I Samuel 28)

As I read this passage, something interesting struck me. Samuel’s ministry ended it the same way it began: with a message of judgment.

The first message was one of judgment on the high priest Eli. The second was a message of judgment against Saul. Why were they judged? Because as Jesus would later teach, they had built their lives on sand.

In Eli’s case, he was judged because he honored his sons more than God. His sons were also priests, but they committed horrid sins. Eli knew of it, but refused to do anything about it. And so when the storm came, Israel was defeated by the Philistines and Eli and his sons died.

In Saul’s case, time and again he refused to listen to God and just did things his own way. So when the storm came, he too died in a battle with the Philistines.

How about you? What are you building your life on? Are you building it on sand, making decisions based on your own wisdom?

Or are you building it on rock, trusting God and obeying his Word?

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Right with God (2 Samuel 23)

David’s words strike me here.

Is it not true my house is with God?
For he has established a permanent covenant with me,
ordered and secured in every detail.
Will he not bring about
my whole salvation and my every desire? (5)

Obviously, David is talking about the specific covenant that God made with him, that God would establish a house for him, a dynasty that would last forever. (2 Samuel 7)

And God will ultimately fulfill that promise in Jesus.

But through Jesus, we also have a permanent covenant, ordered and secured in every detail. It brings about our whole salvation, and ultimately our every desire. Desires for righteousness, justice, peace, and love.

It is permanent, ordered, and secured because Jesus took care of everything for us on the cross, and is not dependent on our efforts to be righteous. Our house, our lives, are right with God because God has clothed us with the perfect righteousness of Jesus.

As Paul wrote,

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9)

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Psalm 18 — The God who came down

It’s strange how my diverse reading plans come together at times. I was reading Psalm 18 yesterday, and by chance came across II Samuel 22 today. They’re two different passages, but the same psalm are in them.

And something struck me today that didn’t strike me yesterday. David is talking here towards the end of his life about how God had delivered him throughout his life. And one theme we see time and again is that God came down to help David.

David talks about how in his despair when he thought he was about to die, God “bent the heavens and came down.” (9)

And again,

He reached down from on high
and took hold of me;
he pulled me out of deep water. (16)

And again,

You have given me the shield of your salvation;
your right hand upholds me,
and your humility exalts me. (35)

That word “humility” is translated multiple ways. “Gentleness” (ESV), “help” (NIV), you stoop down (old NIV), and “condescending gentleness” (Darby translation).

At any rate, it all has the same idea. God lowered himself to order help David when he was in trouble.

And in Jesus, he did the same for us. For Jesus,

who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross. (Philippians 4:6-8)

The eternal God becoming man was an incredible display of humility. Jesus bent the heavens, coming down as a tiny, helpless baby, dependent on a human mother and father, subject to sickness, weariness, hunger, and thirst. Nor did he come as a king to rule, but as a servant. And after 33 years of life here, he died on an ugly death on a cross.

Why? To save us. We deserved nothing from him except judgment for our sins. But he loved us enough to die for us.

So let us meditate on his love for us, and sing as David did,

The Lord lives—blessed be my rock!
The God of my salvation is exalted. (46)

 

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Grace and truth (Psalm 57)

We all face troubles at times. David certainly did so, running for his life from Saul. What sustained him?

Two things: God’s faithful love and truth.

God had promised that he would make David king. And because of God’s faithful love and unbreakable word, David could say with confidence, “God will fulfill his purpose for me.” (2)

He sang,

He reaches down from heaven and saves me,
challenging the one who tramples me.
God sends his faithful love and truth. (3)

Faithful love and truth. Those words are repeated time and again in the Old Testament. And when the Old Testament was translated into Greek, it came out “grace and truth.” Sound familiar?

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…Indeed, we have all received grace upon grace from his fullness, for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:14, 16-17)

God’s faithful love and truth. These things are also given to us. Through Jesus, God reached down from heaven to save us, challenging Satan who tries to trample us. In Jesus, God sent his faithful love and truth. And he will fulfill his purpose for us. What’s his purpose?

For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)

And so Paul says,

Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

So in the midst of our troubles, let us remember God’s faithful love and truth, singing like David did!

I will praise you, Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your faithful love is as high as the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches the clouds.
God, be exalted above the heavens;
let your glory be over the whole earth. (9-11)

 

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Mercy and Grace (I Samuel 24)

As I look back on my older blogs, particularly on the Old Testament, I think I looked for a lot of practical, moral lessons. I think to some degree that is fine. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that these things are written as examples for us and for our instruction. (I Corinthians 10:1-13)

But as I’ve noted before, Jesus said that all these things in the Old Testament also point to him. (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47).

And so as I look at the life of David, especially as the ancestor of Jesus, I see pictures of our Savior.

Here is David, who committed no sin or crime against Saul, who in no way was rebellious, and yet was persecuted by Saul. (11)

He seemingly had every right to kill Saul, and yet instead he showed mercy. Though Saul committed evil against David, David repaid him with good, and so Saul told him,

Now I know for certain you will be king, and the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hand. (20)

In so many ways, this is a picture of Jesus.

Jesus was sinless, and did no wrong. And yet we wronged him, rebelling against him. But unlike David, who in reality had no right to kill Saul, Jesus had every right to destroy us for our sin. And yet he showed us mercy.

Though we rebelled against him, though we sinned against him, he repaid us with good, taking our punishment on the cross.

And that is the biggest contrast between Jesus and David. David pleaded to God to judge between himself and Saul. And God eventually repaid Saul for his sin.

But when God judged between Jesus and us, he placed the judgment we deserved on Jesus.

As Paul put it,

But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

And because of what Jesus did, Jesus is king, and all will be established in his hand. For as Paul also said,

For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

 

 

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Continually (Psalm 71)

There are advantages to a more “literal” translation at times. And one of those advantages is that you can see repetition of words more clearly within the same passage. This is one of those cases, and so I’ll be using the ESV for this particular post. (I must say, though, the CSB has really grown on me).

It strikes me that so often, we come to God by his grace, but after being saved by his grace, we then so quickly abandon it. Perhaps abandon is too strong a word, but we do not continually make of practice of dwelling in it.

But look at what David says,

Be to me a rock of refuge,
to which I may continually come. (3)

My praise is continually of you. (6)

But I will hope continually
and will praise you yet more and more. (14)

Even when he doesn’t use the word continually, similar words keep popping up.

My mouth is filled with your praise,
and with your glory all the day. (8)

My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
of your deeds of salvation all the day,
for their number is past my knowledge. (15)

And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long. (24)

Do I continually come before the Lord, trusting him to be my refuge? Or do I trust in my own wisdom and strength?

Do I continually put my hope in him? Or do I put it in money, financial security, or other such things?

Do I forget the grace he extends to me day by day? Or am I often reflecting on how every day his mercies are new every morning.

And is my mouth constantly filled with his praise because of what he has done for me. That for reasons I cannot grasp, he gave the command to save me. (3)

One more thing strikes me here.

So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come. (18)

I’m starting to get up there in age. Who in the next generation am I to proclaim God to so that they can know him as I do?

O God, do not let me leave this world until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power  to all those to come.

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Unhitched? (Or, is the Old Testament still relevant to us?)

Normally, I don’t do this, but I’d like to interact with some things that a well-known pastor in the States was saying in a message about a week ago. This pastor was preaching from Acts 15, and while I agreed with about 80% of what he said, there were other things he said that were disturbing to hear.

What I want to do, however,  is not so much to criticize him, as to make clear how the Bible relates to us, specifically the Old Testament.

Now his key point, I think, was that we don’t have to become Jews to become Christians. We have been, to use his words, “unhitched” from the covenant that the Jews were under. Now we all come to God equally based on his grace, “as sinners in need of a Savior.”

This is what I think he was trying to say. And if he had said it that way, there would have been no flack at all. But what he said was things like this:

“The old covenant, the law of Moses, was not the go-to source regarding sexual behavior for the church…The Old Testament was not the go-to source regarding any behavior for the church.”

“You are not accountable to the ten commandments. You’re not accountable to the Jewish law. We’re done with that…Thou shalt not obey the 10 commandments because they’re not your commandments.  Yours are better. Yours are far less complicated. But they are far more demanding…” (I.e. love your neighbor as yourself.)

“Peter, James, and Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from the Jewish Scriptures. Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures. Not just how a person became a Christian. They unhitched  the church from the entire thing, the whole worldview…They elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures…we must as well.”

Let me rephrase each point and I think you will see the contrast between what he said, and what we see in scripture. Let’s start with the last.

1. Peter, James, and Paul elected to unhitch the idea of being a Christian from being a Jew. They unhitched the church from the worldview that you had to become a Jew to be saved, and that you had to follow every single law that was written in the books of Moses. We must as well.

Nevertheless, the Old Testament was an integral part of the teaching of the New Testament church and the faith they held to.

Paul commands Timothy,

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. (I Timothy 4:13).

When Paul says “Scripture,” what is he talking about? He’s not talking about the Bible as we have it today. Timothy didn’t have access to all of the New Testament as not all of it was written yet. Also, only twice in the New Testament is “scripture” used to mean New Testament writings (2 Peter 3:15-16 — Paul’s writings, I Timothy 5:17-18 — possibly Luke).

So when Paul tells Timothy to read the scripture publicly, he is mostly talking about the Old Testament scriptures.

Which brings up another problem that I have with this pastor. He claims that the apostles’ faith wasn’t based on a book because they didn’t have one. Now again, at that time, the New Testament was not all written. But they definitely had and taught the Old Testament. Whether they had the whole Old Testament in each and every church or not, I don’t know, but what I do know is that the apostles made a practice of quoting the Old Testament in their letters, in their gospels, and in their messages. And as we just saw, Paul told Timothy to read the Old Testament in their church gatherings.

Also, this pastor loves to say that the main thing the apostles preached in the book of Acts was the resurrection. He says that the resurrection was the foundation of their faith, not the Bible. Now the resurrection was indeed foundational to their faith. But take a look at each message they give to the Jews in the book of Acts. Each time, they not only talk about the resurrection; they also quoted the Old Testament and said, “Look, God told you this was going to happen.”

And in fact when Paul preaches the resurrection to the Corinthians, he bases it first and foremost on…the Old Testament. (I Corinthians 15:3-4)

So the Old Testament was a vital part of the church. The difference was they were looking at it through different lenses, the lenses that Jesus had given them after his resurrection. (Luke 24:26-27, 44-47).

And if you have any doubt about that, look throughout Acts, and for that matter the epistles. Time and again, the Old Testament was taught with the lenses Jesus had given them. There is clearly no unhitching of the Old Testament from the apostles’ teaching. The difference was the lens. What was the lens? That all the Old Testament pointed to Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus is just one example of that.

That lens is also why the ceremonial laws don’t apply to us anymore. They all pointed to Jesus. Jesus fulfilled them, and so they aren’t needed anymore. (See Hebrews 8-10).

The civil laws also pointed to Jesus. For example, they showed the need to be holy, and just how serious sin is in God’s eyes. If you think the punishments for sin in the Old Testament were serious, just look at what Jesus did for you at the cross. But because he did, the time for those civil laws have passed. Still, we are to always look back on them and remember: “This is why Jesus came.”

2. The Old Testament and its laws were the “go-to sources” for the church when teaching about sexual immorality or any sinful behavior. “Sexual immorality” may be a very vague term for most people today. But Paul was very specific about what it was and it came from the Old Testament law. He said in Romans,

What should we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet. (Romans 7:7)

While Paul talked about coveting here, you can stick any sin here as well. He could have as easily said, “I would not have known what it is to commit sexual immorality, if the law had not said, “Do not commit adultery, do not commit homosexual acts, do not sleep with animals, etc.”

But while the law does tell us what sin is, it does not give us the ability to do what is right. For Paul also said,

For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law. (Romans 3:20)

A map can tell us where our destination is, but it cannot lead us by the hand to our destination. And when we are lost and frustrated because we can’t understand the map, it cannot comfort or help us.

God’s law is the same way. It can tell us what righteous behavior is and what sin is. But it does not give us the power to fight sin and live right. And when we’re struggling and frustrated because of our weakness, it can’t help us. It can only condemn us. And that’s why we need Jesus.

3. If you’re a Christian, you will obey the 10 commandments. I don’t say that as a command. I state that as a fact that is true of every believer. This is not to say that you’ll keep them perfectly, but as you walk by the leading and power of the Spirit, you will start walking more in conformity to them. You’ll obey them because the Spirit is in you leading you, changing the way you think and live. (Romans 3:31, Galatians 5:16-18).

But not only will we keep the letter of those commandments, we’ll keep the spirit behind them, namely to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In that sense we can say these are better commandments to keep in mind because there are no loopholes.

To sum up, while we are unhitched from the requirement to become Jews, we are not unhitched from the Old Testament. The whole reason we non-Jews are in the church now, is because James kept the church hitched to the Old Testament where it said,

After these things I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
I will rebuild its ruins
and set it up again,
so the rest of humanity
may seek the Lord—
even all the Gentiles
who are called by my name—
declares the Lord
who makes these things known from long ago. (Acts 15:16-18)

No, we don’t “mix-and-match” the old and new covenants. But neither do we now say the Old Testament is completely irrelevant to us. Instead we look at it through new lenses. Through Jesus’ lenses.

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures (i.e, the Old Testament). This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46-47)

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The poor in spirit (I Samuel 22)

A couple of things strike me in this passage.

First, the kinds of people who joined David. They were desperate, in debt, and discontented. In short, they were as Jesus put it, “poor in spirit.”

They were far from perfect men, but they became part of David’s kingdom.

It’s the same with us. Many us come to Jesus in weakness. We are hurting and struggling, and the things of this world just don’t satisfy us.

We also see how broken we are because of our sin.

But Jesus receives us, and says to us,

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:3)

The second thing is that through David’s sin (his lie to the priest at Nob), many perished. He took responsibility for his own sin, and gave the priest Abiathar shelter.

We, on the other hand, caused the death of David’s descendant Jesus through our sin. And yet, he took responsibility for our sin, taking upon himself the punishment we deserved on the cross. So now when we come to him, humble and broken, he says to us, “Stay with me. Don’t be afraid…You will be safe with me.”

And he gives us peace.

 

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A better high priest (Numbers 20)

As I read this passage, I thought about Aaron.

He was the first high priest that Israel ever knew.

But he was a flawed man.

While Moses was up on the mountain getting the ten commandments, Aaron gave into pressure from the people, built a golden calf for them to worship, and then had the gall to call it “Yahweh.” (Exodus 32)

Then here, in this passage, he (along with Moses this time) fail to honor God as holy. I am a little puzzled as to why God included Aaron in this rebuke, as it was Moses who struck the rock instead of speaking to it. Aaron so far as we can tell was just standing by when it happened. But God sees the heart, and there was apparently something wrong in Aaron’s heart that day as well.

But the most important thing that shows the inadequacy of Aaron comes at the very end of this chapter: he died. He was not a priest who could intercede for God’s people forever. Because of his sin, he too had to die, and another had to take his place.

What does all this show? The need for a better and greater high priest.

And that’s what Jesus is for us.

Unlike Aaron, he always obeyed his Father in heaven. Not once did he fail to honor his Father as holy.

More importantly, though he died (for our sins, not his own), he rose again, and lives forever never to die again.  Because of that, the writer of Hebrews writes,

But because [Jesus] remains forever, he holds his priesthood permanently. Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them. (Hebrews 7:24-25)

That’s the hope we have. Aaron couldn’t do it for us. Nor could any of his sons or descendants after him. But Jesus can and does.

So as the writer of Hebrews says,

Since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:21-23)

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Striving…to rest (Psalm 62)

As I read this Psalm today, I saw it in a different way from how I’ve always seen it.

David writes,

I am at rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him. (1)

And again,

Rest in God alone, my soul,
for my hope comes from him. (5)

Obviously, David is talking about resting in God in times of trouble. And he was looking for physical salvation from his enemies.

But today, I looked at this psalm from a spiritual point of view.

So often we strive to be holy. Or we strive to succeed in ministry.

Now those are good things, but for what reason are we striving?

For many Christians, we still feel somehow that we need to earn God’s favor.

“Oh yes, I’m saved by grace. But I’ve got to prove to God that he made a good choice in saving me.”

And so we pour all our time and energy in trying to prove ourselves to God. (And to others, for that matter. “I’m a good Christian! See all that I’m doing?).

The result? We get tired. We burn out.

But God says, “Rest. You have nothing to prove to me. I love you. I chose you. You’re already mine. Rest.”

And if we can truly understand that, our whole motivation for everything we do changes. We strive to be holy, we strive to serve God’s kingdom, not to prove ourselves to God or others, but out of a heart of joy and gratitude. Because we are already accepted. We are already loved. We are already saints.

Are you tired because of ministry? Are you burnt out from trying so hard to be holy?

Rest in God. Your salvation comes from him. And if you must strive, strive as the writer of Hebrews commands us.

 Let us then make every effort to enter [God’s] rest. (Hebrews 4:11)

 

 

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Barely seeing (I Samuel 3)

Yes, I know I wrote on this fairly recently. But sometimes the 3 different Bible-reading plans I’m using overlap, and today happened to bring me back here. And it struck me even more strongly today than it did the last time.

In those days the word of the Lord was rare…One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his usual place. (1-2)

Today I was thinking, “How often do I hear the Lord speaking to me? How is my spiritual eyesight? Do I see as clearly as I think I do?”

I think I can say I definitely have been hearing God better than I did a year or two ago. At least, I have been sensing his leading in my life. I see changes in how I use my time, the things I read, and in how I’m making more of an effort to reach out and touch people that God has put in my path.

That said…

I don’t spend nearly enough time praying. That is probably the weakest area of my spiritual life right now. Taking the time to pray. And listen. So when I’m asked my opinion on things or a crisis hits, I really wonder how much I’m a conduit for God’s Spirit, and how much I’m operating on my own wisdom.

“The word of the Lord was rare.”

I can remember two times in my life when God spoke as clear as day. Where he clearly broke into my life and intervened.

There are still times when I sense his gentle leading, or his subtle direction. That’s what I mean when I say I have been hearing from him better lately.

I’ve also been seeing new things in his Word, and learning new things, so in that sense I have been hearing his voice.

And when I sin, of course, the Holy Spirit is always right there to prick my heart.

But outright, clear as crystal speaking..life-changing stuff. Only twice in my life.

No, I didn’t hear a voice out loud from heaven. But thoughts came into my mind that clearly did not come from me. I haven’t had that in perhaps over 20 years.

That’s what I need more of. That’s what I long for.

Lord, as you did with Samuel thousands of years ago, come and stand by my side. Speak. And give me ears to hear. I long to hear your voice. I hunger for it. I thirst for it. Increase that hunger and thirst for you in me. And then fill it. Give me full spiritual eyesight. To see what you see. To see your will. To see you. In Jesus name, amen.

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Separate, but interceding (Numbers 16-17)

As I was reading different passages from the Bible today, several things struck me, but perhaps this passage most of all.

Some of the Israelites had rebelled against God, and Moses told the community,

Get away from the tents of these wicked men. Don’t touch anything that belongs to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins. (16:26)

The truth is, if we become too entangled with the people of this world, we can get entangled with the consequences of their sin. There is a reason we are called to be separate from this world. (John 17:14-17; I John 2:15-17)

And yet, we are not called to completely abandon those headed for destruction either, at least while there is still time for their salvation. So in chapter 17, when destruction was headed for the Israelites because of their rebellion, Moses told Aaron to make atonement for the people. Aaron raced into their midst, and it says in verse 48,

He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was halted.

We too are called to stand between the living and the dead. We ourselves cannot make atonement for those who are spiritually dying. But we can introduce them to the One who can. And we can pray.

So as God’s priests, let us find that balance. Let us not so entangle ourselves with sinners to the point that we get caught up in their sin and the destruction that comes with it. But let us also intercede for those who are dying, that they too might find the life we ourselves have so graciously received.

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Conscious of our sin (Psalm 51)

I’ve probably seen (and sung) this psalm hundreds of times.

Today, verse 3 strikes me. David writes,

For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me.

There are two kinds of problems Christians face when it comes to sin.

One is a complete lack of consciousness of their sin.

The  other is an overwhelming sense of sin and guilt despite the fact that God has already forgiven them.

After David’s sin was exposed, he was overwhelmed by guilt. No doubt the fact that his child born of adultery was dying kept his sin ever before him. This despite the fact that Nathan had proclaimed God’s forgiveness to David. (2 Samuel 12:13)

God will forgive, but that does not mean he will take away all earthly consequences for our sin. Perhaps one reason is to remind us just how awful it is. And it is a reminder to us that though we may be suffering the consequences of our sin, the price Jesus paid for us was much more costly.

So if your sin is ever before you because of the consequences you face, look to the cross. Remember what it means. You may be paying a price for your sin. And it may be painful. But Christ paid the ultimate price for your sin. And because of it, your debt is paid in full. Because of Jesus, your sin is blotted out. Cling to that truth. You are forgiven.

But perhaps a worse problem Christians face is not feeling guilt at all for their sin.

For a long time, David felt no real guilt when it came to his sin with Bathsheba. I’m not saying that he was not aware of it at all. If that were the case, he would have brazenly told Uriah to his face what he had done. There would have been no subterfuge in first trying to hide the fact from Uriah, and then murdering him. He would have done it for all to see. (Think of Herod the Great or Herod Antipas for example).

No, David knew better. And yet he was not even close to repenting. It’s hard to say what he was thinking, frankly. What kind of excuses was he making for his sin to shove down the guilt he was feeling.

And so the question for me is, how lightly do I take my sins? Am I even conscious of them? What excuses do I make for them?

Lord, let me become more conscious of my sins. Help me to see them as clearly as David saw his. And let those sins drive me to your cross. To weep at the incredible love for me that nailed you there. Day by day cleanse me. Create a clean heart for me, and renew a steadfast spirit in me, a spirit that revels in your grace and sings of it, so that those around me may find that grace for themselves.

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Where’s the love? (Judges 14-16)

As I read the story of Samson, several things strike me.

Unlike the other times in the books of Judges, the people weren’t crying out to God for help from the Philistines. There was no sign of repentance at all on their part. Instead, it seems they were either content, or at the very least, resigned to being under the Philistines’ thumbs. (15:11).

Samson, while definitely not happy with the Philistines, shared many of the same characteristics of his people.

1. He did what was right in his own eyes (14:3, 14:7).

2. He prostituted himself spiritually by involving himself with idol worshipers. (14:1-3, 16:1, 16:4).

3. And he broke his vows of being holy or separated for God. (See Numbers 6, and then compare it to Samson’s actions in these chapters).

But the most striking thing was two women, who should have had no claim on Samson’s life at all, basically asking him the same question: “Where’s the love? Can you truly say that you love me?” (14:16, 16:15).

How often can the One who has all the claim on us in the world say the same thing to us? We hold things back from him. We prostitute ourselves to our sin and lusts. And we’re content to live that way. Or we say, “Well, that’s just the way things are. It’s who I am.”

Can you imagine your husband or wife, hiding things from you, cheating on you, and when you confront them, saying to you, “It’s just the way things are. It’s who I am”?

He is our God, and we rightfully belong to him.

Therefore, come out from among them
and be separate, says the Lord;
do not touch any unclean thing,
and I will welcome you.

And I will be a Father to you,
and you will be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)

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Stop fighting! (Psalm 46, I Samuel 19)

It’s been a few days since I last posted. I’ve either been fighting a cold or hay fever since last week, and it’s hard to tell which. Not to mention the fact that it’s been a slow week for insights as I’ve read the Scriptures.

There have been things here and there, but nothing worth really writing about.

But as I was looking at the two passages listed in the title, I saw a connection there.

Here is David running for his life from Saul. But as he did, he found what the author of Psalm 46 discovered.

God is our refuge and strength,
a helper who is always found
in times of trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

What do we make of what happened to Saul at the end of I Samuel 19? Perhaps it was God’s way of saying to him,

“Stop your fighting, and know that I am God,
exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.” (10)

God humbled Saul that day. Yet Saul never stopped fighting God.

Had Saul ever stopped struggling against God, he would have found peace. He would have found that God is our refuge and strength. Instead, he constantly lived in fear, sinned greatly because of it, and eventually perished.

As I think back to my last blog, I can’t help but draw parallels between Jacob and Saul.

Like Saul, Jacob struggled to say, “My God.”

Like Saul, Jacob struggled against God.

But unlike Saul, Jacob learned to stop fighting God, and to follow after him. As a result, he ultimately found peace.

How about you? Are you still fighting God, doing things your own way, living only for yourself?

Or do you look at him and say, “You are my God. You are the one I trust”?

If we will do so, we too will find that,

The Lord of Armies is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold. (Psalm 46:11)

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Your God? My God? (I Samuel 15)

I have probably read this passage dozens of times, but today I noticed something new.

It’s always been there, of course, but I never noticed it until now.

Three times, Saul talks about offering sacrifices to God or worshiping God. Three times, he says “the Lord your (Samuel’s) God,” rather than, “the Lord my God.”

I don’t know if Saul meant anything deep in those words, but they strike me as the very heart of his problem.

Not once can I find one place in the Bible where Saul calls God, “My God.” Though Saul from time to time invokes God’s name, no where can I find any real sense of true love or allegiance toward God.

You see this in how quick he was to turn from God’s commands. You also see it in his “repentance.” When he finally asked for forgiveness, it was for Samuel’s forgiveness he asked, not the Lord’s. (15:25)

It was almost as if Saul didn’t notice or care that the one he sinned against most was not Samuel, but God.

And so even when it says that he worshiped the Lord in verse 31, the words ring very hollow, particularly when you see the Lord’s and Samuel’s reaction in verse 35.

Contrast that to David who time and again, acknowledged God as his God, particularly in the Psalms (Psalm 18, for example). Who, when he was confronted with his sin, cried out,

Against you—you alone—I have sinned
and done this evil in your sight. (Psalm 51:4)

How about us? Can we honestly say, “the Lord my God”? Do we have such a strong sense of love and loyalty toward him that we obey him? When we sin, do we immediately realize that it is to him first and foremost that we need to repent.

If not, all our pious words, all our pious deeds, and all our pious service in his name will always ring hollow in his sight.

 

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Failing to see God and ourselves for who we are (Psalm 36)

There are two kinds of blindness in this world. And one affects the other.

There is the blindness as to who God is. David writes,

An oracle within my heart
concerning the transgression of the wicked person:
Dread of God has no effect on him. (1-2)

In other words, they can look at God and they don’t see his holiness. They do not see his justice. And because of that, when they see God, it doesn’t faze them. They see nothing special about him.

That in turn leads to the second blindness: blindness to their own unholiness. David says of them,

For with his flattering opinion of himself,
he does not discover and hate his iniquity. (2)

So many people today think, “I’m not so bad. Actually, I’m better than most.”

But they cannot see the sin in their own heart. They are completely blind to it. Or they shrug them off as “minor faults.” Nothing to really worry about.

Contrast that to Isaiah who when standing before God in all his glory, cried out,

Woe is me for I am ruined
because I am a man of unclean lips
and live among a people of unclean lips,
and because my eyes have seen the King,
the Lord of Armies. (Isaiah 6:5)

So many people think of “unclean lips” as minor faults.

“Okay, so I swear sometimes. No big deal. And sure my tongue can be a bit sharp sometimes. Sometimes things just slip out.”

But as James said,

And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among our members. It stains the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:6)

Before I get too far off topic though, when we see God, do we see him for who he is? A holy God. A God whose “righteousness is like the highest mountains,” and whose judgments like “the deepest seas.”

Do we even pause at seeing his holiness? Or do we just walk by without a second thought?

You will never know how awesome a thing the faithful love of God is until you understand his holiness.

That this holy God could love a sinful people like us should make us stand in wonder at his grace.

How often do you stop to ponder the holiness of God? Only when we do will we truly understand David when he cries out,

How priceless your faithful love is, God! (7)

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Seeking the Lord’s favor? (I Samuel 13)

Here we see the first of Saul’s two major failures that led to his loss of the throne God had given him.

He was supposed to wait for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice before engaging the Philistines, but Samuel was late. And with his troops panicking and deserting him, he “forced himself” to offer the sacrifice. After all, he needed to “seek the Lord’s favor.”

It’s interesting to see Samuel’s words in verses 13-14.

It was at this time that the LORD would have permanently established your reign over Israel, but now your reign will not endure.

One wonders if Samuel’s lateness was really a test to see if Saul would obey God even under extreme pressure, much in the same way that God tested Abraham in the offering of Isaac.

I don’t know. Maybe Samuel was just late and all he was saying was that the battle against the Philistines was supposed to solidify Saul’s reign in Israel.

But here’s the thing: Samuel said,

“The Lord has found a man after his own heart, and the LORD has appointed him ruler over his people, because you have not done what the LORD commanded. (14)

Saul made the mistake that many people do: they think that God is most interested in religious rituals, religious works, or even works of ministry. They think these are the ways to gain God’s favor in their lives.

But what God is really after is our heart. All our religious works, rituals, and ministry  work mean nothing if God doesn’t have our hearts. And that’s a theme we see throughout the Bible.

Had God had Saul’s heart, Saul would have had a successful reign. What Saul showed in his actions was that God truly didn’t have his heart. His foolish actions that day were the mere symptom of that much larger problem.

Were God to test your heart, what would he find? Would he find a heart that belongs to him?

God is not primarily interested in your ministry and how successful it is. Nor is he primarily interested in how much you tithe, or how often you read your Bible, or pray.

All these things are important. But the thing he wants most from you is your heart. And if he doesn’t have your heart, in his eyes, he has nothing.

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Walking with the Spirit (I Samuel 12)

As I read this passage, I thought about the message I gave this past Sunday. In it, I talked about how the Holy Spirit is with us to teach us, to guide us, and intercede for us in our weakness and struggles with sin.

We see something similar here in this passage through the life of Samuel.

The people of Israel had sinned terribly by rejecting God as their king and asking for another. And when they realized the depth of their sin, they cried out,

Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so we won’t die! For we have added to all our sins the evil of requesting a king for ourselves. (19)

But Samuel answered,

Don’t be afraid. Even though you have committed all this evil, don’t turn away from following the Lord. Instead, worship the Lord with all your heart. Don’t turn away to follow worthless things that can’t profit or rescue you; they are worthless. (20-21)

Sometimes because of our struggles with sin, we think, “It’s not use trying to be good. I might as well give up.”

But here God tells us, “You may have sinned, but don’t give up. Don’t turn to the things of the worthless things of the world. They will only leave you empty. Continue to worship me all your heart.”

Then he encourages us,

The Lord will not abandon his people, because of his great name and because he has determined to make you his own people. (22)

I love that phrase, “He is determined to make you his own people.” He will not give up on us or cast us aside. Not because of how wonderful and good we are. But because of how wonderful and good he is. We are his.

And then Samuel encouraged the Israelites with these words.

As for me, I vow that I will not sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you. I will teach you the good and right way. (23)

In the same way, the Holy Spirit never ceases praying for us. More than that, he is always by our side teaching us the good and right way. (Romans 8:26-27; Isaiah 30:20-21)

And because of that,

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

So as Samuel said,

Fear the Lord and worship him faithfully with all your heart; consider the great things he has done for you. (24)

What has he done for us?

For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)

This is getting long, but be sure to read Romans 8:31-39 too. And each day, rejoice in the grace we have received.

 

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Transformed (I Samuel 10)

This week, I’m preaching from Romans 7-8 in my church. And I hit on a phrase that really got me thinking.

But now we have been released from the law, since we have died to what held us, so that we may serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the old letter of the law. (Romans 7:6)

When you think about it, the phrase “newness of the Spirit” is very clunky. So clunky that the Japanese Bible translators (I attend an international church in Japan) translated it, “New Holy Spirit.”

It almost sounds in the Japanese that there is a “New Holy Spirit” as compared to an “Old Holy Spirit.”

Perhaps a better way to translate it would be “the newness that comes from the Spirit,” just as when we talk about having the “righteousness of God,” we mean we have the righteousness that comes from God.”

In Romans 6:4 Paul uses the same word and grammar when talking about walking in the “newness of life.”

In this verse, I do think Paul is saying we have a new life, and we relish in it. (You can see why translating can be such a bear).

In short, what Paul seems to be saying in Romans 6:7 is that we no longer attempt to serve God in the old way of trying to keep the law in our own strength. Instead, we serve walking in the newness of life that comes from the Spirit.

We see this in Saul. Samuel anointed him as king and told him,

The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully on you, you will prophesy with [the other prophets], and you will be transformed. When these signs have happened to you, do whatever your circumstances require because God is with you. (6-7)

In the same way, when we become Christians, the Spirit comes down upon us and transforms us. God himself now is with us, and he enables us to do his will. Not only to overcome sin, but to do the good that he wishes us to do.

So as Paul says, let us walk and serve every day in the newness of life that comes from the Spirit.

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When we reject God as king (1 Samuel 8)

When I look at this passage, I can’t help but think about Romans chapter 1.

Here, though the people legitimately rejected Samuel’s sons as judges, they came up with the wrong solution: they rejected God as king.

God said to Samuel,

They have not rejected you; they have rejected me as their king. They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning me and worshiping other gods. (7-8)

But God didn’t say no to their request.

He warned them of the consequences, but when they insisted on a king, he said to Samuel, “Listen to the people and everything they say to you.” (7)

In Romans 1, Paul could have been describing the situation in Samuel’s day. He said,

For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man…They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen. (Romans 1:21-25)

In Samuel’s day, they exchanged the glory of God for a mere human king. They exchanged the glory of the Creator for a mere creature.

Paul continued,

And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. (Romans 1:28)

The Israelites didn’t think it was worthwhile to acknowledge God as king, and so he gave them over to their corrupt desires and gave them another. But ultimately, it didn’t lead to a wonderful life. Some of their kings loved God and followed him. During those times, things were good. But most of Israel’s kings were awful. They led Israel into sin, ultimately leading to the Israelites’ misery and destruction.

We see the same in the world today. People have turned their backs on God, and what do we see?

[People] filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving,and unmerciful. (Romans 1:29-30)

“That’s the just the way things are,” you may say.

No, that’s the way things are when we reject God as king.

If we reject him as king, God will allow us to do so. But the question is, will we like it when we do?

 

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Who can stand in the presence of a holy God? (I Samuel 6)

In verse 20, the Israelites in Beth-shemesh cried out “Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?”

Here the Israelites realized what the Philistines realized: No one is worthy to stand before God.

The Philistines’ god Dagon couldn’t. The Philistines couldn’t.

And when judgment fell on the Philistines, they themselves cried out, “Give glory to Israel’s God,” (5) and sent the ark back.

But the Israelites couldn’t stand before God either. Moses had warned them: Only the Levites were to carry the ark, and even they were not to touch or see it. (Numbers 4:15-20)

And because they deliberately broke that command by not immediately covering it when it arrived, judgment fell on them.

And so they cried out, “Who can stand before this holy God?”

The truth is, no one is worthy to stand before God. Because God is holy, and we are unholy. All we are worthy of is judgment. All have sinned. All fall short of his glory. (Romans 3:23)

But through Jesus, now we can stand before this holy God. Paul wrote,

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

Why can we stand before God? Because through Jesus’ work on the cross, we now have peace with God. On the cross, all our filthy rags of unrighteousness were put on him. And when we put our faith in him, God clothes us with Christ’s righteousness and holiness. And so now, clothed with Christs’ righteousness and holiness, we have free access to God.

We don’t always see that righteousness in our lives. And when we sin, we can feel dirty and unworthy. But here is our hope: “When he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is.” (I John 3:2)

So we don’t fear when we see God’s glory. We rejoice, because we have been accepted through Jesus Christ. And one day we will be fully clothed in that glory. As Paul says,

We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

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No glory? (I Samuel 4)

In this passage, we see the people of Israel, who have been living their own way and not following God, doing something worse: they were treating God like a genie. They thought they could control him and use him to defeat their enemies.

But the author of 1 Samuel insists, “The Lord Almighty…is enthroned between the cherubim.”ark

Usually when you see that expression, it’s talking about the ark, because God usually met with Moses and the priests in a cloud over the ark. (Leviticus 16:2)

But was that what the writer was saying? In this story, the cloud of God’s presence was nowhere in sight.

I think it’s possible that the writer wasn’t talking about the ark, but the heavenly reality that the ark represented. That in heaven, the cherubim honor God as he deserves. This in contrast to the lack of honor for God that the Israelites had.

And at the end of the story, the daughter-in-law of Eli gives birth and names her son, Ichabod, which means “No glory” or “Where is glory?”

She meant, “Where is the glory? God has left us. There is no glory here.”

But perhaps God was asking the same thing to the Israelites and us.

Where is the glory and honor he deserves?  The cherubim rightfully give it to him. Do we? At church, in our homes, at our work, in our lives, do we honor and glorify God?

Or does God look down and say, “Where is the glory? There is no glory here.”

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Blind and deaf (I Samuel 2-3)

Sometimes, you can see some sharp irony in the Bible. I think this is one of those cases.

It says in verse 1,

In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.

This was in the time of the judges, when “everyone did whatever he wanted.” (Judges 21:25).

When you look at chapter 2, you see this extended even to the priests. Little wonder that God refused to speak.

In verse 2, you see the irony. Eli, the high priest, had failing eyesight. But he was not only losing his physical eyesight; he was losing his spiritual eyesight. Why? Because Eli failed to truly honor God in his life. Instead, he honored his sons above God. His sons blatantly sinned both against God and the people, and Eli refused to remove them from the priesthood. And so God was going to take the priesthood from them all. (2:29-36; 3:11-14)

On the other hand, you had Samuel. Again you have some irony here: the priest who could not see gives insight to Samuel on how to see. He told Samuel,

If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ (3:9)

You then have the picture of the Lord standing by Samuel’s side, calling him. And Samuel did as Eli told him to. He said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

How often does the Lord stand by our side calling us and we can’t perceive him? We can’t perceive him because we shut our eyes and ears to him. Instead, we cling to our sin. If we do so too long, God will stop talking to us.

Jesus said,

For this people’s heart has grown callous;
their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
otherwise they might see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears, and
understand with their hearts,
and turn back—
and I would heal them. (Matthew 13:15)

When God calls you, who will you be? Eli, who clings to his sin, refuses to listen, and becomes blind and deaf? Or Samuel, who when his Lord calls, says, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”?

 

 

 

 

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Why we need a Savior (Joshua 24)

The interaction between Joshua and the people is very interesting.

Joshua basically told  the people, “I don’t care what you folks decide, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

When the people insist that they too will serve the Lord faithfully, Joshua responds, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God.”

But again the people insist, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

“You are witnesses against yourself that you have made this promise.”

“Yes we are witnesses.”

Joshua then charged them to throw away what idols they still had (it’s amazing to me that any of them would still have some hidden away), and when the people again reaffirmed a fourth time that they would follow the Lord, Joshua reaffirmed the covenant with them.

I read this and think about Peter. How Jesus told the disciples that they would all fall away, and Peter insisted, “Even if everyone else abandons you, I will not.”

And when Jesus told him, “You will deny me three times,” Peter insisted that he would not, and so did the other disciples.

But like the people of Israel, Peter and the others fell. When the emotion and fervor of the moment fell away, so did their faithfulness.

For Peter and the disciples, it was a matter of hours. For the Israelites, it lasted as long as Joshua and the other elders were alive. But eventually, all of them fell away.

And that’s why we need a Savior. Because despite all our fervor, despite all our promises, we all fall.

For Joshua, however, all he could do was encourage and admonish the people to follow the Lord, and to set an example for them.

But Jesus did more. He went to the cross to pay the price for our sin. And now he has given us his Holy Spirit so that we can obey him.

Moses clearly laid out our problem when he said to the Israelites,

You saw with your own eyes the great trials and those great signs and wonders. Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a mind to understand, eyes to see, or ears to hear. (Deuteronomy 29:3-4)

But then he told them,

The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live. (30:6)

And that’s what the Holy Spirit does for us. As Ezekiel put it,

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Jeremiah says basically the same thing.

“I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin. (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

Lord Jesus, thank you that while I was still powerless, utterly incapable of keeping your law, when I was still your enemy, you died for me. I thank you that you don’t just tell me, “Here’s what you need to do. Do it.” Instead you have given me your Spirit so that I can obey.

Holy Spirit, circumcise my heart. Give me a heart that loves and follows you. I desire to obey. Now grant me the power to do so. I can’t change myself. But you can.  Help me to fall more in love with you each day. In Jesus name, amen.

 

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When God listened to a man (Joshua 10)

As I was reading this passage about how God made the day longer and helped the Israelites conquer their enemies, this verse struck me.

There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord listened to a man (Joshua), because the Lord fought for Israel. (14)

Certainly what God did that day was incredible. But since the time that those words were written, we have seen such a day when God listened to man. Ironically, that man had the same name…Joshua, or in the Greek form of the name, “Jesus.”

The writer of Hebrews wrote,

During [Jesus’] earthly life, he offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was the Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. After he was perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…(Hebrews 5:7-9)

Certainly, there were many days that Jesus prayed. But the crucial time came when he hung on the cross, and cried out, “It is finished. Father into your hands I commit my spirit.”

The Father heard him, and three days later raised him from the dead.

Truly there has never been a day like that before or since when the Lord listened to a man’s cry, saved him, and in the process saved us. All I can say to that is, “Thank you Father. And thank you Jesus for all you’ve done for us.”

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Taking what belongs to God (Joshua 7)

This is a pretty familiar passage to me. I’ve read it dozens of times, it being the story of Achan taking things for himself that should have been devoted to the Lord.

But as I read it, God’s words to Joshua came across very strongly to me.

Israel has sinned. They have violated my covenant that I appointed for them. They have taken some of what was set apart. They have stolen, deceived, and put those things with their own belongings. This is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies. They will turn their backs and run from their enemies, because they have been set apart for destruction. I will no longer be with you unless you remove from among you what is set apart. (11-12)

“They have stolen.” “They have deceived.” “They have put those (stolen) things with their own belongings.”

And then, “I will no longer be with you unless you remove from among you what is set apart.”

Why did Achan take them?

When I saw among the spoils a beautiful cloak from Babylon, five pounds of silver, and a bar of gold weighing a pound and a quarter, I coveted them and took them. (21)

“It was beautiful. It was valuable. I coveted them.”

How often do we keep from God what rightfully belongs to him? I’m not just talking about tithes and offerings. I’m talking about our very hearts.

God may tell us to give up something, even something that might be good in another context. He asks us to give up a hobby, or at least cut down on the time we spend on it for things of more eternal value.

Or he tells us to get rid of something that is definitely evil such as porn.

But we hold back these things back from God. They’re beautiful to us. They’re precious to us. We just have to have them.

But in failing to give our whole hearts to him, God says to us, “You have stolen. You have deceived. You have put things that rightfully belong to me, either to use for other purposes (your time, for example), or to utterly destroy in your life (sin), and called them your own.”

And he says to us, “I will no longer be with you unless you remove from among you what is set apart.”

This is not to say that we will lose our salvation. But we will start to notice a definite lack of his presence or power in our lives. Where we once felt his warm approval, there will now be a cold distance. Our prayers will bounce off the ceiling. Our times in his Word will dry up. And we will sense a lack of power in our daily lives and in our ministry.

Why? Because we have stolen. We have deceived. We have taken things that rightfully belong to God and called them our own.

And we will not know his presence, we  will not know his power again until we surrender what we have taken as our own to him.

How about you? Is there something that you have taken as your own that you need to surrender to God?

 

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For whom the fruitful tree prospers (Psalm 1)

I was reading this Psalm earlier this week, but didn’t get a chance to write about it, so I thought I would do so today.

The psalmist wrote,

How happy is the one who does not
walk in the advice of the wicked
or stand in the pathway with sinners
or sit in the company of mockers!

Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night.

He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams
that bears its fruit in its season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers. (1-3)

Here we see that when we are rooted in and watered by the Word of God, we bear fruit, and we prosper.

But have you ever thought about for whom we bear fruit? For whom we prosper?

The fruit tree doesn’t primarily bear fruit to nourish and bless itself. Rather it is meant to nourish and bless others.

So with us.

So often, people take these passages and think, “If I meditate on and delight myself in God’s Word, I will be blessed.”

That is true. But more importantly, we will become fruitful and God will use us to bless others.

How rooted are you in the Word of God? Are you daily watered by it?

If you are to make an impact for God’s kingdom, if you are to be fruitful and touch the lives of others, you need to be like the tree in this psalm, rooted in and watered by God’s Word. Are you?

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Better to die? (Jonah 4)

What’s striking in this passage is Jonah’s attitude toward people headed for destruction in contrast to Jesus’.

When God spared the Ninevites because of their repentance, Jonah was furious. He wanted them to perish. They were the enemies of the Jews. And since the Jews were God’s people, weren’t the people of Nineveh enemies of God?

So when God showed mercy to the Ninevites , Jonah screamed, “Lord, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

It strikes me that Jesus said the very same thing to the Father, but for very different reasons.

Jesus saw us hurting because of our sin. He saw a people headed for hell. And with great love and compassion, he said to the Father, “Father, take my life from me. For it is better for me to die on the cross for their sins, than to simply live here with you and watch them die.”

That’s the love Jesus had for you and me. May we have that same compassion for those who are perishing around us.

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Salvation (Jonah 2)

I’ve really been looking at Jonah through different eyes which has been kind of cool.

Here we see Jonah’s cry from the fish, but we also see Jesus in kind of a reverse mirror image. Jonah, of course suffered for his own sin. Jesus suffered for ours. But that aside, the parallels are remarkable.

Like Jonah, Jesus was thrown into the waves of death.

Like Jonah, Jesus cried out, “I have been banished from your sight. Why have you forsaken me?” (4)

But like Jonah, though Jesus sunk to the pit, he was raised again. The Father heard his cry, raised him from the grave, and brought him, not to the earthly temple, but the real one in heaven, where Jesus presented the blood he had shed on our behalf.

By his faithful love, Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice and fulfilled his vows to the Father. And in so doing, he fulfilled the meaning of his name, “The Lord saves.”

Or as Jonah cried out,

“Salvation belongs to the Lord.” (9)

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And the lot fell on…Jesus (Jonah 1:7)

I was reading Jonah again today, and again thought about the parallels between Jesus and Jonah.

I didn’t talk about it yesterday, but it did strike me that both in the boat and at the cross lots were cast.Lots

Coincidence? Maybe. Certainly, the casting of lots were for totally different purposes.

At the cross, it was to decide who would get Jesus’ garment.

In the boat, it was to decide who was responsible for the storm.

In verse 7, it says,

So they cast lots, and the lot singled out Jonah. (Jonah 1:7)

My first thought was that had Jesus been in the boat, the lot would have fallen on everyone else but Jesus.

But then I thought about the cross.

If lots had been cast that day to decide who was guilty, who was responsible for all the tragedy, all the pain, all the evil in the world, who would have it fallen on?

If Jesus had stood on one side, and we on the other, who would have it fallen on?

Obviously it should have fallen on us.

But on that day, 2000 years ago, it fell on Jesus.

Not because he was at fault. But because he took all the blame that we deserved on himself.

As Isaiah said,

But he was pierced because of our rebellion,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on him,
and we are healed by his wounds.

We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the Lord has punished him
for the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)

Thank you Jesus, that 2000 years ago, the lot fell on you. That you took the blame for all our sin. And that because you did, I can now have peace with the Father. May I never take for granted what you did for me on that day. In your name I pray, amen.

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Reluctant savior. Willing Savior. (Jonah 1)

As I was reading Jonah today, I thought about how Jesus compared his death and resurrection to Jonah going into the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. (Matthew 12:39-40).

So as I read today, I thought about how the stories of Jonah and Jesus were both similar and different.

Jonah was the son of the “faithful one.” (“Ammitai” means faithful.)

Jesus was the Son of our faithful God.

Jonah was given a mission to save…and ran away.

Jesus was given a mission to save…and he came willingly in love.

The sailors were unwilling to cast a guilty man into the sea.

The Jews shouted of an an innocent man, “Crucify him.”

It pleased God in both cases to sacrifice one to save the many. And when the man was sacrificed, his wrath ceased.

Through the sacrifice of Jonah, the sailors were saved and worshiped God.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus, we are saved, and came to worship God.

And as Jesus said, as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights and then came out alive, Jesus was in the grave for three days, and came out alive.

The sailors cried out to Jonah, “Maybe this god (of yours) will consider us, and we won’t perish.” (6)

God did consider us, and because he sent his only Son, everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

That’s what this Passion week is all about. So as the sailors did, let us fear God, worship him, and give our lives to him.

 

 

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Who truly leads us (Deuteronomy 31)

At the end of his life, Moses said something to the Israelites that must have left them with a sick feeling in the pit of their stomachs.

I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you… (2)

Moses had been their leader for so long. For Joshua, he had been a beloved mentor. But now Moses was about to die, and he could no longer lead them.

How did they feel? Scared? Inadequate?

Probably.

But Moses encouraged them,

The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. (2-3)

No matter how good a leader is, he or she cannot lead you forever. No matter how revered a mentor you may have, that person will not always be there for you.

But God himself will always be with us. And he can take us to places where our leaders and mentors cannot.

So even while they are with us, let us not focus or depend so much on our leaders, pastors, or mentors. For the time will come when they depart, and we will be left behind.

But as Moses told Joshua, he tells us now.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (8)

And God himself confirms to us,

I myself will be with you. (23)

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The Lord who is our life (Deuteronomy 30:20)

The words here strike me.

For the Lord is your life. (Deuteronomy 30:20)

Do we really believe that? “The Lord is my life.”

Can I honestly say that? “The Lord is my life.”

What does that mean exactly?

He is the source of life of course. He gives me life and breath. Each breath is  a gift from him.

But when we say he is our life, I think we also say that he is the source of joy in life. He is the one that makes life worth living.

Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, you see the concept that we are meant to enjoy life. But that life can only be enjoyed when in the presence of the Lord. (12:7, 12:18, 14:26, 27:7).

Some people think that they can only truly enjoy life and find true joy apart from God. They seek it in money. In their job. In a husband or wife. In their children. In all the things this world offers. But apart from God, they are left empty and hungering for more.

Worse, to abandon the One who is life, who is joy, ultimately leads to despair and misery (Deuteronomy 28).

Who is our life? Who is our joy?

Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, love the Lord your God, obey him, and remain faithful to him. For he is your life… (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

 

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Forgive us our debts… (Deuteronomy 15:1-2)

I’ve now hit Deuteronomy in my Bible reading, and actually covered about 10 chapters or so. I use a Bible with no chapter numbers or verses, and it’s amazing how quickly the chapters fly by when you don’t know they’re there. (And actually, there were no chapter or verse divisions in the Bible until about 500 years ago or so).

There’s a lot I’d like to write on. But here’s what struck me today. In Deuteronomy 15:1-2, it says this,

“At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how to cancel debt: Every creditor is to cancel what he has lent his neighbor. He is not to collect anything from his neighbor or brother, because the Lord’s release of debts has been proclaimed.

“The Lord’s release of debts has been proclaimed.”

I’ve never thought of it this way, but at the Cross, the true “Lord’s release of debts” was proclaimed.

Paul put it this way,

And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

And since God proclaimed a release of our debts on the cross, how much more should we release others from the “debts” they owe us.

I’m not talking about monetary debts, of course, but all the grudges we hold in our hearts toward others for the wrongs they’ve done to us.

For the Israelites, the 7 year mark was a time for them to remember that it was time to let go of debts owed to them.

How often, though do we hold our grudges for year on end?

Perhaps for us, it would be good to think not in terms of every 7 years, but every 7 days. Every Sabbath, remember the spiritual rest that God gave us in Christ. That because of Jesus’ work on the cross, our debts have been forgiven. Then think of the debts that people owe us from that week.  And let them go.

Is that easy? No. But another theme from the passages I read today is one of dependence. we are never to forget our dependence on God. And perhaps one of the reasons God allows us to experience hurt in our lives, is to remember just how much we need to depend on him. In this case, it means to depend on him for strength to forgive. To depend on him for the love that others refuse to give us. To depend on him to heal our hurts.

So when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we should remember that we depend on God not only for our physical needs, but for our emotional and spiritual needs as well.

And with that heart of humility and dependence, we also pray,

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

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Angry at God? (James 1)

Sometimes we get angry with God because of the trials we go through. We shout, “Do you really hate me that much? Do you WANT me to walk away from you?”

But James reminds us of something important. God is good. He proved it by choosing us to be his children. He didn’t have to do that. He could have let us die and go to hell for our sin. But because he loved us, he saved us and chose us to be his children.

And God is not like shifting shadows, one day saying, “I love you,” and the next saying, “I think I’ll make your life miserable today.”

Instead every good and perfect gift comes from above. In short, he is a good father.

And no, he doesn’t want you to walk away. He wants you to grow stronger. He doesn’t want you to stay a baby. He wants you to become mature and complete lacking nothing. But that can only happen when we face adversity in the face, and say in faith, “God is still good. I will not doubt his Word. I will keep obeying no matter what.”

So be quick to listen to God, slow to speak, and slow to get angry at him. That kind of anger does not product God’s righteousness in your life. Instead, humbly receive his word in your life.

And when you have stood the test, you will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

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Going beyond what God has said (Numbers 22-24, 2 John)

My daily reading and my church’s Bible reading plan (2 different things) have a certain parallel that I found interesting.

In Numbers, God tells Balaam that when he goes with the men of Balak (who wants Balaam to curse Israel),

“You must only do what I tell you.” (Numbers 22:20)

When Balaam seemingly goes with the intention of circumventing that order, God stops him and warns him again,

“I came out to oppose you, because I consider what you are doing to be evil…Go with the men, but you are to say only what I tell you (22:32,35).

And so when Balaam meets Balak, he tells him straight out,

“Look, I have come to you, but can I say anything I want? I must speak only the message God puts in my mouth.” (22:38)

When Balaam then goes to hear from God, God sternly warns him once again,

Return to Balak and say what I tell you. (23:5)

Balaam, of course, is commanded to bless Israel and so he does. And when Balak complains about it, Balaam replies,

Shouldn’t I say exactly what the Lord puts in my mouth? (23:12)

The same thing happens a few more times until Balak finally gives up and sends Balaam away.

What does this have to do with II John?

John told the church,

Anyone who does not remain in Christ’s teaching but goes beyond it does not have God. The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home, and don’t greet him; for the one who greets him shares in his evil works. (2 John 9-11)

Different context, of course, but the same idea: It is very unwise to go beyond the words that God has given us. And if we do, we just may find ourselves in opposition to God.

How faithful are we to God’s Word? Do we take into our hearts teachings that stretch his words far beyond what he intended? Do we take into our hearts teachings that are in absolute contradiction to his Word?

That’s a dangerous place to be, as a teacher or as a listener.

We who are teachers cannot simply say anything we want. We must only teach the things that God has said. To do more than that puts us in a very precarious position. If we stretch God’s words or flat out contradict them, it may make us popular with the people around us, but it will also put us under God’s judgment. And if our listeners buy our poison, they’ll fall right along with us.

That’s why it’s important for everyone to test everything they hear,  and never accept any teaching that goes beyond or contradicts the Word of God.

Let us ever be careful to remain in the teaching we have received from Christ.

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Numbers 15:30-40 — Following our own hearts

“Just follow your heart!”

How often have we heard that said to us? How often do we say it to others?

I suppose that there is some truth to it. When our hearts are aligned with Christ’s, they will often lead us in the right direction.

The problem is, however, that so many times our hearts are not aligned with Christ’s. As a result, our hearts often end up leading us into bad decisions, trouble, and heartache.

That is why God told the Israelites,

“Speak to the Israelites and tell them that throughout their generations they are to make tassels for the corners of their garments, and put a blue cord on the tassel at each corner. These will serve as tassels for you to look at, so that you may remember all the Lord’s commands and obey them and not prostitute yourselves by following your own heart and your own eyes. This way you will remember and obey all my commands and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the Lord your God.” (39-41)

Here God clearly tells the Israelites that by following their own hearts and eyes, they could quickly fall into prostituting themselves spiritually if they did not have God’s commands and ways at the center of their thinking. The tassels were merely a physical reminder of this.

The tassels were also a reminder of who their God was, and just why he deserved their loyalty: because he proved his love for them through his deliverance of them from Egypt. It wasn’t that God capriciously made up rules for them to follow. He truly was looking out for their good.

When we forget these things, and just “follow our hearts,” it leads to the defiant sins that provide the immediate background to this command.

So let us not merely “follow our hearts.” Let us follow the heart of the one who loved us and gave himself up for us on the cross. (Galatians 2:20)

 

 

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Despising God (Numbers 13-14)

Lots here that stand out to me. But perhaps the most are these words:

The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people despise me? How long will they not trust in me…(14:11)

How often do we link failing to trust God with despising him?

Why would that be true? Ultimately, we are insulting him. We are insulting his faithfulness. We are calling him a liar.

That’s what the Israelites essentially did.

If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to die by the sword? Our wives and children will become plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt? (14:2-3)

In short, they were convinced that God was lying to them. At the very least, they thought he was promising more than he could deliver.

And in doing so, they despised God.

But concerning Caleb, God said,

Caleb has a different spirit and has remained loyal to me. (14:24)

What was different about him? How did he remain loyal? By trusting God. By saying unequivocally,

Let’s go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it…The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land. (13:30; 14:7-8)

“Extremely good.” Those are the plans God has for us.

The question is, do we believe it? And will we follow him where he leads?

Or will we fail to trust him by insisting on going our own way, in essence, calling him a liar, and insulting his faithfulness toward us?

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Spiritual babies (Numbers 11)

It strikes me just how childish the Israelites were in this passage.

The Israelites wept again and said, “Who will feed us meat? We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now our appetite is gone; there’s nothing to look at but this manna!” (4-6)

“Free fish.” Yeah, I suppose if you consider working as slaves, and being beaten down physically and mentally every day no problem, the fish in Egypt was free.

Here God provides for their needs daily, and all they can do is cry like babies.

That’s certainly how Moses saw them as he started his own whining.

“Why have you brought such trouble on your servant? Why are you angry with me, and why do you burden me with all these people? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth so you should tell me, ‘Carry them at your breast, as a nanny carries a baby,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are weeping to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I can’t carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me. If you are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now if I have found favor with you, and don’t let me see my misery anymore.” (11-15)

And when God promises meat for a month for the Israelites, Moses, despite seeing manna drop out of the sky day by day, whines about the impossibility of it all. To which God replies,

Is the LORD’s arm weak? Now you will see whether or not what I have promised will happen to you. (23)

And he does exactly as he promised.

I wonder: How often do we members of the church act like spiritual babies, making our pastors and leaders act like baby sitters? How much of a burden do we put on them by our selfish attitudes?

And how often do we as pastors and leaders get frustrated because we are trying to carry the burden of leadership by ourselves. All we can see is the immaturity of our people, and we start acting childish ourselves by wasting our time complaining to God about them.

What does the church need? We don’t need people acting like spiritual babies. We need people filled with God’s Spirit.

We need Spirit-filled leaders who do not simply complain about the lack of maturity on the part of their people (spiritual babies though they may be), but leaders who pray that God would fill their people too. Leaders who train the people in their care to use the gifts God has given them.

And we need people who don’t burden the leadership through their constant complaints, but who through God’s Spirit support the leadership by doing their part in ministry.

The body of Christ is not, or at least should not be top heavy with the leaders doing all the work and all the rest just taking in food like a baby. Rather each person, filled with the Spirit, should be fulfilling the roles and tasks that God has given them. In that way, we will

all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ. From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part. (4:13-16)

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A single misstep (Numbers 6:1-21)

Something struck me here as I read the law concerning the Nazirites. Nazirites were people who for a period in their lives set themselves apart for God.

There were several rules for the Nazirites, one of which was that they were to avoid dead things. They were not even to attend their own relatives’ funerals during that time.

There is a connection with us as Christians. As people set apart for God, we are to separate ourselves from spiritually dead things, namely sin. That is not to say we are not to separate ourselves from spiritually dead people (unless they are having undue influence on us), but we are to avoid their sin.

But what really strikes me is what happened if someone suddenly died in a Nazirites’ presence. God said that in that case, “…do not count the initial period of consecration because it became defiled. (7:12)

In short, for the Nazirite, one “defilement,” one contact with spiritually dead things, could wreck a whole period of being holy before God.

It’s the same for us as people standing before a holy God. It was true for Adam and Eve. They were set apart for God as his people, but one sin ruined it all. And it’s the same for us. Even if theoretically we could stay pure for the first 60 years of our lives, one sin would defile the entirety of our lives.

For the Nazirite, they had to start their consecration period all over again, and if it was completed perfectly, then it was accepted before God. That wasn’t necessarily difficult. It’s not every day that a person dies in your presence.

But for us, no matter how often we try to “do better,” we always fall into sin. And that’s why we need a Savior. A Savior who never did fall, and therefore could take the penalty for our sin, as the doves (or pigeons) did for the Nazirites.

One more thought I had as I thought about this passage. A person in ministry can have  a long and fruitful ministry, but have it wiped out by one misstep. One infidelity. One bad choice. We’ve seen it happen too many times. For all of us in ministry, that is something that we always need to remember. So for us especially, the words of Paul ring true.

Whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall. (I Corinthians 10:12)

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Resting in grace (I Peter 5)

Two blogs in one day. Pretty unusual, but I wrote something for my church, and I figured I might as well share it here as well.

You know it’s easy as we’re facing trials and struggles in our lives to think, “I have to get through this myself! I have to do all I can to make it through these problems.”

But it strikes me that that’s not how God wants us to live. Peter says,

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you. (I Peter 5:6-7)

Some English versions separate verses 6-7, but it’s really just one thought. In short, “Don’t think you have to solve all your problems on your own. Humble yourself. Admit that you can’t make it without God. Ask for his help. And he will lift you up because he cares for you.”

This doesn’t mean that we just “Let go and let God.” Peter calls us to resist Satan and stand firm in our faith. (8-9) But we are to do so in God’s strength, not ours.

And then Peter says,

Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little. (10)

God allows us to struggle sometimes, to suffer. But by the same grace that saves us and will bring us into his eternal kingdom, he will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support us. So never think you have to fight through your struggles on your own. Humble yourself. Cast your cares on him. And rest in his grace.

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Made holy (Leviticus 20-22)

Yes, it’s been a while since I blogged here. I’ve been working on a message for next Sunday. And I’ve been meditating a lot on Leviticus 18-19 and the laws there. I won’t get into it here, but I think it’s instructive as you go through those passages to underline in different colors words like “unclean,” “perversion”, “abomination,” and “depravity.” (That’s the ESV version. The words may be slightly different in your translation).

Look at what are listed under those categories, and how the punishments are different for those categories. There are a lot of arguments nowadays on how we as Christians should view these things and how consistent we are on those views. The main thing that I will point out here is that there does seem to be a fundamental difference between what is listed as merely “unclean,” and what is listed as “perversion,” “abomination,” and “depravity.”  There is of course, overlap. What is perversion, abomination, and depravity all make you unclean. But it seems to me that not all that were unclean for the Jews, are “perversion,” “abomination,” and “depravity” in God’s sight. Other words to look at are “iniquity,” “whoring,” “profane,” and “disgrace.”

But what strikes me is that time and again in chapters 20-22, God says, “I am Yahweh who sets you apart.” Often times, he couples that with another thought: “Consecrate yourselves and be holy.” Sometimes that is explicitly said, other times, it’s said in slightly different ways. “Don’t profane…” “Keep my instruction…” “Keep my commands.”

In short, there are two things to note:

  1. We have already been set apart by God and for God. He has saved us and made us his own.
  2. As people that have been set apart, we are to live that way. We are not to go back to our old way of life, doing things our way, but doing things his.

But it’s that first point that drives the second, not the reverse. We don’t live differently from the world so that God accepts us. Rather, we live differently because God has already chosen us. We have tasted his love for us. We know that we he has adopted us as his children. And in response, out of our love for him, we live like his children.

Reversing that order leads to legalism and frustration. Keeping that order leads to a life lived by grace.

 

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A God who understands (Leviticus 13)

Last Sunday, one of our preachers was giving a message on Mark 1:40-42, in which Jesus healed a leper.

And since I was going through Leviticus anyway, I decided to look again at the passages on the lepers. And in chapter 13, verses 45-46, it says something very disturbing.

The person who has a case of serious skin disease is to have his clothes torn and his hair hanging loose, and he must cover his mouth and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ He will remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He must live alone in a place outside the camp. (45-46)

Granted, for health reasons, this was undoubtedly necessary for the sake of the community. But to a person seeing this for the first time, it would be easy to think, “This is so heartless. To be outcast, living alone, treated as unclean, totally despised. How could a loving God allow for this? Doesn’t he understand the devastation it would cause to the one with the disease?”

But as I read another passage the preacher brought up in the message, something profound hit me. It was Isaiah 53.

Talking of Jesus, it says,

He was despised and rejected by men (as was the leper),
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was (as the leper did).
He was like someone people turned away from (as they did the leper);
he was despised, and we didn’t value him (as was the leper).

Yet he himself bore our sicknesses,
and he carried our pains;
but we in turn regarded him stricken, (as was the leper)
struck down by God, and afflicted (as was the leper). (3-4)

In short, when Jesus came, he experienced all the pain and hurt that the leper did. But more than that,

he was pierced because of our rebellion,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on him,
and we are healed by his wounds.

We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the Lord has punished him
for the iniquity of us all. (5-6)

In Mark, the man said, “Jesus, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus said, “I am willing, be clean.”

And in the same way, to a world crying out in desperation, “If you are willing, you can make us clean,” Jesus said, “I am willing.” And he went to the cross, paying the price for our sin.

That is truly amazing grace.

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Atonement (Leviticus 16)

Some things strike me here as I read this passage.

First, the Holy Place, the tabernacle, and the altar were considered stained by the sin of the people.

Some people wonder why God can’t just allow anyone into heaven. The reason is that sin stains whatever it touches. That’s how powerful it is.

But the blood of Jesus is even more powerful, purging away even the deepest sin.

Second, the High Priest had to be specially clothed when bringing the blood into the tabernacle. On his turban, was written, “Holy to the Lord,” as he took the guilt of the people upon himself (Exodus 28:36-38). And on his shoulders and over his heart, he wore the names of the people whose guilt he bore (Exodus 28:9-21).

In the same way, Jesus, when he entered the true tabernacle in heaven, was Holy to the Lord, set apart for his Father’s purpose, taking our guilt upon himself. On his shoulders and over his heart, he bore the names of all he died for. And his was a perfect sacrifice, and as such, never to be repeated again. As Peter puts it, it was a “once-for-all” sacrifice. (1 Peter 3:18)

And our atonement, the purging of all our sin, was all accomplished by him. We don’t atone for ourselves. Atonement is made for us. Our high priest goes into the Most Holy Place, and does all the work for us. All we can do is rest in the work Jesus has already done for us.

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Pictures of sin (Leviticus 11-15)

This is one of those passages that make a lot of people go, “Huh?”

To be honest, probably most of the Israelites themselves said, “Huh?” when they heard these commands.

Looking at these commands, they can seem so anal. Why would God command all that he did concerning “clean” and “unclean” things?

I think that essentially, God was teaching the Israelites to think as he did. Namely, that despite what the world thinks, there are things that are unclean and unclean. There are things that we must despise as God’s holy people. And if touched by these things, we must be cleansed and atoned for.

And to drill that idea into their heads, God put the concept into their everyday lives. Into what they ate. Into normal bodily functions. And into skin diseases that could strike anyone. Into mold that could invade clothing or house walls. All these were daily reminders to the Israelites: “You are different. You are not to think as others think. There are things you must despise, because if they touch you, they can make you unclean, and separate you from your God.”

And so God, for example, told the Israelites to avoid eating or even touching certain animals. He said, “They are to be abhorrent…to you. They are unclean…to you.” (Count or underline how many times this is said).

In short, God was saying, “To others, these things might not be abhorrent. To some, these things might be attractive. To some, these things might be delicious. But to you, they are to be abhorrent.”

In this world, there are sins that are attractive to the people around us. Extra-marital sex and porn for example. And when people see our reaction to these things, they can’t understand it. “Why are you disgusted by these things? They are so delicious!”

But they are things that make us unclean in the eyes of God. And they cut us off from a relationship with him. And because we love God so much, the things that are abhorrent to him, also become abhorrent to us. They become disgusting in our eyes. At least…they should.

And as God told the Israelites not to be contaminated and defiled by these foods, he tells us that as his people, we are not to be contaminated and defiled by the sins this world treats as normal, or even delightful.

Time and again, the words, “washing” and “atonement” are mentioned in this passage. (Try counting or underlining these words too). And this was just for contact with animals, for diseases, and bodily functions. How much more are washing and atonement needed for our sin which truly makes us unclean before God?

Some contaminated things could be washed with no lasting effects. Others, however, were considered to be forever stained and were broken forever as a result. (11:31-35, 14:33-48).

Sin is the same way. Some effects of sin can cause temporary damage, but by God’s grace, those effects are taken away and forgotten. Others sins, however, cause permanent damage that cannot be simply washed away. People’s bodies have been permanently damaged by drugs, for example. Marriages and families have been destroyed by adultery.

Other times, sin leaves scars, although the people themselves have been cleansed. (13:23, 13:28)

Ultimately, though, the point of these things is found in chapter 11:44-45.

Do not become contaminated…do not become unclean or defiled by [unclean things]. For I am the Lord your God, so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy. Do not defile yourselves…For I am the Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God, so you must be holy because I am holy.

Do you consecrate yourselves daily to the Lord? Or do you let yourself be defiled by what the world calls normal or even delightful?

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How we regard God (Leviticus 9-10)

Yes, I know I’m going backward. Actually this year, I’m reading through each book of the Bible at least twice, using two different translations.

I’ve been thinking about leadership in the church, and how we are to be held to a higher standard. And this passage shows that in no uncertain terms.

It’s interesting to me that in chapters 9 and 10, the exact same words are used, “Fire came from the Lord and consumed…”

In the first case, it consumed the burnt offering, and all the people stood in awe of God’s glory and were blessed.

In the second case, it consumed two of Aaron’s sons, because unlike in chapter 9 where you repeatedly see them and Aaron doing things as the Lord commanded, these two sons offered “unauthorized fire” in contradiction to what the Lord commanded (10:1). And as a result, the people stood in fear as God’s glory was displayed in his judgment of these two men.

And God told Aaron,

I will demonstrate my holiness
to those who are near me,
and I will reveal my glory
before all the people. (10:3)

The ESV shows another possible reading of the Hebrew.

Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.

If we take the ESV reading, God is saying, “I will be treated as holy by those who would draw near to me. I will not be treated as some common or unholy thing. And I will be glorified before all the people by those who draw near me. You cannot just take me lightly and expect me to stand by and do nothing.”

The CSB reading makes it even stronger. “If you will not treat me as holy, I will demonstrate my holiness such that you will never make that mistake again. If you will not glorify me before the people by the way you treat me, I will glorify myself so that they will know who I am.”

Either way, as a leader in the church, it gives me pause. How do I treat God? In my actions, do I display his holiness to those around me? Do I glorify him in what I do?

Will God display his glory in my life in such a way that people stand in awe of him, and be blessed?

Or will God display his glory in my life in judgment, causing people to fear?

Both are possible. It happened in the New Testament days as well. Just look at the story of Barnabas, and Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 4:34-5:11).

God will not be treated lightly, especially by those who are supposed to lead. One way or the other, God will display his holiness and glory in my life. I prefer that it be in a way that people see it and are blessed, not see it and fear.

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“I am Yahweh” (Leviticus)

I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the LORD (Yahweh) your God… (Leviticus 26:12-13)

I wrote about this a couple of days ago, but as I read Leviticus 22-27 again, those words continue to ring in my mind.

He is God. He is the Lord. More than that, he is my God. He is my Lord.

But how often do my decisions fail to take that into account?

When I face difficult decisions, and I wrestle with what is right to do, he says, “I am Yahweh.”

When  I wrestle with what I know is right, and yet I continue to flirt with going in a different direction because it is the easier path, he says, “I am Yahweh.”

When God confronts me with my sin, and I try to make excuses, he says, “I am Yahweh.”

When God shows me a path I don’t want to take, and I start to argue, he says, “I am Yahweh.”

And yet there is grace in that name.

When I fall, but turn to him in repentance, he says in love and forgiveness, “I am Yahweh.”

When life is hard, when I am broken and I feel I simply can’t go on, he says, “I am Yahweh.”

These are words I need to meditate a lot more on throughout the day.

“I am Yahweh.”

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How we see sin (Leviticus 20)

It strikes me here how God sees sin.

It is perverse. (12)

It is detestable. (13)

It is depraved. (14)

It is a disgrace. (17)

It is impure. (21)

Do we see sin, the same way God does? Or do we take it lightly?

This world laughs us off when we talk about sin. They call us narrow and bigoted.

But we can’t afford to see sin as this world does.

God said,

I am the LORD your God who set you apart from the peoples. Therefore you are to distinguish the clean…from the unclean… (25)

Yes, I know verse 25 is specifically talking about “clean” and “unclean” foods, and that Jesus has since proclaimed all foods clean. But the principle holds. Because we are set apart from the world, we are to distinguish between clean and unclean, between what is good and what is evil in God’s sight.

So let us remember who we are and what kind of people we are called to be.

You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be mine. (26)

As God’s people, holy to him, let us have the same view of sin that he does.

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Contemplating God (Leviticus 18-19)

As I read these passages, the same words are repeated again and again: “I am the LORD (Yahweh) your God.”

“Worship me alone. I am Yahweh your God.” (19:4)

“Set aside time for me. I am Yahweh your God.” (19:3)

“Honor my name. I am Yahweh your God.” (19:12)

“Do not follow the practices of your old life and of the people around you. Do not defile yourself with sinful practices. I am Yahweh your God.” (18:3, 24-30)

“Flee from sexual sin. I am Yahweh your God.” (18:6-20)

“Do not lie, spread slander, or curse others. I am Yahweh your God.” (19:11, 14, 16)

“Do not harbor hatred against your brother or sister. I am Yahweh your God.” (19:17)

“Love your neighbor as yourself. I am Yahweh your God.” (19:18)

How often do we contemplate God in our lives?

Why do we set aside time for him? Simply because he is God and he is worthy of our time and praise.

Why are we to be people of integrity? Because he is the God of truth.

Why do we flee from things that would defile us? From sexual sin? From filth and lies that come from our mouths? Because he himself is holy.

Why do we love others as we love ourselves. Because he himself is love.

Why do we forgive others that have hurt us? Because he forgave us.

How often do we contemplate God and who he is? How would it change our lives if we contemplated him more?

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Reboot

I have recently decided to restart this blog. It’s been a while since I’ve put any real new material here, and I think it’s time.

There will be some key differences I think in how I do things.

  1. It will not be daily. It will come as God shows me things that I feel I just “have to share.” I have no idea how often this will be. We’ll see how things go.
  2. It will be more along the lines of what I originally intended: not so much trying to teach and apply, as insights I gain as I read. Thus I suspect each “article” will be shorter than before.
  3. It will not be nearly as comprehensive as before. I will not be covering as many individual chapters. I tend to read more chapters at one time than I used to.
  4. It will not be covering the Bible chronologically as I originally did. I am going through the Bible from cover to cover, however. As I write this, I’m in Leviticus.
  5. I think I’ll be switching to the Christian Standard Bible going forward. I like it better than the NIV at this point. That may change, however.

May God bless you as you read.

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Epilogue (Or: “About this blog”)

This blog has recently been posted on our church’s website, so for anyone who is new to this blog, this is what you should know.

First, this blog was made to be a “devotional commentary” on the Bible. As such, it can be used on a day-to-day basis as a devotional that can take you through the Bible. Or it can be used to check particular passages you may have questions on. It is not meant to be a verse-by-verse commentary, however. Nevertheless, I have tried to tackle any major questions that people typically have.

To find passages, you can look through the menu, and find the blogs categorized by Bible book. As this is a blog, all the posts at the top are the latest ones. So if you want to see the earlier chapters, you need to scroll down. You can also use the search feature in the blog to find passages.

Second, particularly in the Old Testament, I tried to do things chronologically. So, for example, the prophets are intermixed with the historical narratives, and where there are more than one account of the same story, they are grouped together.

Third, this blog is officially finished. That is, no new posts are being made at this time. There are occasional corrections that are being made, however, as I translate this blog into Japanese. Most of them are scripture reference corrections, although from time to time, I find myself changing views on certain issues, in which case more extensive changes are made. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

Finally, the views expressed in this blog are not all necessarily the views of Crossroad church. So if there are any questions on that, please ask me or the pastor of our church, Fumi Chito. I would guess he would agree with over 90% of what I wrote, but there is that remaining 10% to deal with. 🙂

My hope is that through this blog, you can better understand the scriptures. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to write them in the comments sections.

May God richly bless you as you read.

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A new venture

Well, it’s been some time since I posted anything on this blog.

As I mentioned in my last post, as far as I’m concerned, except for some minor editing and occasional changes to previous posts, I’ve pretty much left this blog alone. For the most part, I’ve been working on translating this blog into Japanese, which with my wife’s help has been moving right along.

However, in the past several weeks, one thought started coming to mind. I preached a message at my church, and one of the main things I challenged our people with was, “Is the gospel an integral part of your life? Or is it something that you heard once and responded to a long time ago, but now has little relevancy to your life?

The gospel is not supposed to be that way. It is supposed to be something that permeates your entire life, affecting the way you think and act each day.

Over the weeks since I gave that message, a strong conviction came over me that I needed to expand on that thought.

Thus my new venture: a new blog on the gospel. It will be very short, especially compared to this one. It’ll be 10 chapters plus the preface.

The format will be somewhat different from what I did with this blog. Basically it will be something like a Bible study. You read a passage at the beginning, I’ll give my thoughts on the passage, and then there will be questions for you to think about following that.

It’s something that can be used in a Bible study group, or just for your own personal study.

I’ve already published the preface and the first chapter and over the next several weeks, I’ll be publishing more chapters.

If you’re at all interested, the link is here.

God bless.

 

 

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The end of all things (this blog)

I started this blog on May 26, 2011. By the grace of God, I have been able to post something on this blog almost every day since then. This blog makes 1,766 total posts which means I could officially rename this blog, “Through the Bible in 4 years, 304 days” or “Through the Bible in 1764 days” (not including my opening explanatory post and this finale.)

But I think I’ll keep the name as it is.

It started out as a blog to post my thoughts on the Bible, but it quickly turned into somewhat of a devotional commentary. I never imagined doing anything like this, but hopefully, it’s been a blessing to all you have been following me over the past 5 years.

So what will happen to this blog?

It won’t be going anywhere. I need it as I’m translating all this stuff into Japanese. While I’ve done this blog nearly daily, my Japanese translation is roughly three to three and a half years behind.

It’s my opinion that Japanese Christians need something like this as they go through the Bible. Unlike in the States, there are no study Bibles in Japanese, and most Japanese aren’t going to go out and buy commentaries. Hopefully, this will be a bridge for them. That’s my prayer anyway, and I’d appreciate your prayers as well.

I find it interesting that I now have as many daily readers of my Japanese blog as I’ve had readers of my English blog, although I’m no where near completing the Japanese one. I’m interested to see what will happen as I start translating more of these things into Japanese.

But as for this blog itself, aside from minor corrections of errors I find (usually Bible references) as I translate stuff into Japanese, and the occasional rewriting of things I find myself changing my mind on (I actually had to do this a couple days ago), this blog is done.

If I start writing another one, it will be closer to what I originally intended for this one: thoughts on my meditations in the Word. And each post will be much shorter. Should I start such a venture, I’ll make one last post in this blog to announce the new site.

I’ll still be posting my Sunday messages as I give them (about 6-8 times a year at my church). That can be found here –> https://sundaymessage.wordpress.com/

In the years since I started this blog, much has changed. The NIV changed (Total bummer. The last website that had the NIV 1984 changed to the 2011 a few months ago, and I found myself having to type the verses in). Although I found a great Bible in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, my main Bible has actually changed to the ESV. (You can get this one for free on Kindle).

On the personal side, my wife and I celebrated our tenth anniversary. My daughter has turned from a 2-year old in diapers into a 6-year old elementary school student. God has also blessed me with a much more stable job for which I am grateful. And last year marked my 20th year in Japan.

On the sad side of things, I also saw my dad pass away, although happily, he went to be with Jesus.

But overall, God has been good, and I am so grateful that he has been with me, not only through this journey of going through the Bible, but through this journey of life.

I’m going to miss doing this. It’s been fun.

For you, my dear readers, I close with this prayer:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen.

 

 

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Revelation 22:7-21 — Because Jesus is coming soon

If there is one theme throughout these final verses of Revelation, and indeed of the Bible itself, it’s that Jesus is coming soon.

He says it in verses 7, 12 and 22.

What should our response be to this? We see it in verse 17.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears, say “Come.” (22:17a)

I find it interesting that even the Holy Spirit cries to the Son, “Come!” Perhaps this in connection with his intercession for us that we see in Romans 8:18-27.

But we, the Bride of Christ, are also to long for his coming. We are to set our hearts on his return. How do we do that?

First, be faithful in all that God calls you to do.

Jesus tells us,

Behold I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. (12)

Like we saw in chapter 20, there are two books. One is the book of our deeds, and the other is the Lamb’s book of life.

But just because your name is written in the latter doesn’t mean the former has been wiped out. I do believe that we will stand before God and we will be judged according to what we have done. It’s a theme we see again and again in the gospels and the epistles.

God will judge us for how faithful we’ve been with what he’s given us. If we’ve been faithful, we will be rewarded. If we haven’t, we will be saved, but only as someone escaping flames (I Corinthians 3:10-15). And so as Jesus warns, be ready. (Matthew 24:36-25:30).

Second, strive for holiness.

John tells us in his first epistle,

We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (I John 3:2)

In other words, because we have the hope of Christ’s return, and that we will be like him someday, let us work to that end even while we are waiting.

And so Jesus says,

Let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy. (22:11b)

Third, worship God.

There are so many things that can captivate us and our imaginations. Some of them are even good things. But they are not to be worshiped. Twice, John nearly fell into that trap by starting to worship something that was good: an angel. (19:10; 22:8). And twice the angel said,

Do not do it…Worship God! (Revelation 22:10)

Don’t worship the creation. Worship the Creator.

Finally, be faithful to the words of God.

We have seen many admonitions in this book. We saw them especially in chapters 2-3, but they are throughout the book. And Jesus calls us to be faithful and obey them.

He said,

Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophesy in this book. (22:7)

And we are warned sternly to neither add to these words or take away from them. (22:18-19)

This then, is how we are to live until he returns.

But if you do not yet know Jesus, these next words are for you:

Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (22:17b)

God will not force you to come to him. If you choose to stay in your sin, he will let you. (22:11a)

But his desire is that you would come to him and be saved.

He says,

Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. (22:14)

How do you wash your robes? By your own efforts to “clean up your act?”

No, you wash them in the blood of Christ shed on the cross. And when you put your trust in him, he purifies you from all sin. (I John 1:7)

Won’t you do so today? It starts with a prayer.

Lord Jesus, all my life, I have gone my own way, hurting you, hurting others, and hurting myself. Forgive me. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Make me clean of all my sins and failures. You are King of kings, and Lord of lords, and I give myself to you today. In your name I pray, amen.

I now close with the words of Jesus and John.

Jesus said,

I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the Bright and Morning Star…Yes I am coming soon. (22:16, 20)

And John responds,

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (20)

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with God’s people.” (21)

Amen and amen.

 

 

 

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Revelation 21-22 — What cannot enter heaven

Yesterday, we talked about the glory of heaven and of God’s people. We saw all the wonderful things that will be in heaven.

But there is one thing that cannot be a part of heaven: sin.

And anyone who lives in defiant sin cannot be a part of God’s people or share in their inheritance. That was true in the Old Testament days (see Leviticus 18 for example). And it is certainly true in the New.

Why not? Why can’t God be more “tolerant?”

Heaven is a place with no more death, mourning, crying, or pain. (21:4). But if God allows sin into heaven, all those things will come flooding into heaven along with it. Just look at this world, and you’ll know what I mean.

I don’t know about you, but I want no part of that.

So God says,

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars, — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. (21:8)

And again,

Nothing impure will ever it (the new Jerusalem), nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (21:27)

And yet again,

Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters,and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (22:15)

Note something here: It’s not just the murderers that are kept out of heaven.

It’s everyone who lies.

It’s the idolaters: all those who put anything ahead of God in their lives.

It’s the sexually immoral. Those who engage in any kind of sex outside of a marriage relationship between a man and woman.

It’s anyone who has ever done anything shameful and deceitful.

But most importantly, it is the unbelieving: those who refuse to put their faith in God. Who refuse to put their trust in Jesus and his work on the cross, and instead follow their own path.

None of these can ever enter heaven.

Do any of these things describe you? Then you can’t go to heaven.

Unless.

Unless your name is written in the Lamb’s book of Life. Unless you have repented of your sins and given your heart to God.

Like I said before, your eternal destiny is based on what’s written in one of two books. One book is the Lamb’s book of life, and the names written there are based on Christ’s finished work on the cross.

The other is the book of all our deeds. Not just the good. But the bad. All the bad. And the problem is, it is not the good things we do that keep us out of heaven. It is the bad. Just one bad thing on your record is enough to keep you out of heaven. And no one has just one bad thing written on their record.

So if you want to get to heaven based on your deeds, you’re never going to make it. You can only make it if your name is also written in the Lamb’s book of life. And your name will only be written there if you give your heart to Christ, making him your Savior and King.

The apostle Paul wrote this:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

What will you choose? Won’t you choose Christ today?

 

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Revelation 21-22 — Here comes the bride!

No, we are not yet finishing up Revelation in this post. We’re going to spend forever in heaven someday. We might as well spend a few days talking about what it will all be like. 🙂

It’s very ironic to me that one of the angels who poured out the bowls of wrath on the earth now comes to John and says, “Come I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” This angel who participated in the destruction of the old heaven and earth now introduces the new heaven and earth to John.

And like I said yesterday, I’m not sure if this description of the New Jerusalem is describing a literal city, God’s people, or both.

But as I read this, I think of that parable of the pearl of great price. Where a man sold everything he had to get it. (Matthew 13:45-46)

Jesus bought this precious pearl of the church, his bride, with his own blood spilled on the cross. He shed his blood,

to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:26-27)

And now we see his bride coming in all her beauty. John says,

It shone with the glory of God and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (21:11)

Throughout the description of this bride, you see “twelves” and multiples of twelves, sometimes multiplied by 1000, a symbol of perfection. The twelves themselves seem to be interpreted in 21:12 and 21:14 and reflect how all of God’s people are made up of the 12 tribes of Israel of the Old Testament and the 12 apostles in the New. In other words, we are all made up of the community of faith, starting with the believers of the Old Testament (represented by the 12 tribes of Israel), and all believers of the new (represented by the apostles).

This bride is also decked with jewels (21:19-20) as the high priest once was (Exodus 28:15-21), and with the jewels of Eden itself (Ezekiel 28:13-13).

This bride has no need of a temple to go and meet God, for God himself and the Lamb are its temple. In fact, all the glory of God and the Lamb shines on it. (21:23)

And the bride herself shines. All nations are lit up by her light and bring their splendor into her. (21:24)

This bride will also be perfectly secure. There will be no fear of invaders coming in the night, and so her gates will always be open. As Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed in the beginning because they felt absolutely safe, so will Christ’s people be absolutely safe and secure with one another.

The water of life flows through us as we are filled with the joy of God’s Spirit (John 7:37-39), and we take part of and bear the fruit of life. (22:1-2)

But the best part of heaven and this life to come for this bride? We will see God’s face. (22:4).

This city is described as a cube (21:16). There is only one other cube in the Bible: the Most Holy Place in the Temple where God dwelt. (I Kings 6:20)

As we saw yesterday, God says,

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (21:3)

And again,

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him…they will reign forever and ever. (22:3, 6)

Why is all this possible? Because 2000 years ago, Jesus hung on a cross for our sins. And because of his work, we will shine as his precious jewel, and live and reign with him forever in glory as his bride.

I can’t wait for that day!

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Revelation 21:1-7 — When all scripture is finally fulfilled

We’ve been going through the whole Bible from beginning to end over the past four years. And in this chapter, we see the culmination of all things, where all scripture is finally fulfilled.

We started in the garden of Eden where Adam and Eve walked with God before the fall. But even after the fall and everything was cursed, God never gave up on us. Instead he chose Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to  be his people. Then all of Israel became his people and he their God. After Christ’s death and resurrection, that title  of being God’s people was then extended to all who would put their faith in Christ.

And now comes the consummation of all these things. John sees a new heaven and a new earth. And there is no longer any sea.

I don’t know if that last is literal or not. The thing is, the sea has often been used in Revelation as a symbol for evil. The beast in chapter 13, for example rises from the sea. And so perhaps, John is merely saying that all evil and all the chaos that comes from it is now completely gone.

Then John says,

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (2)

Again, I wonder at the literalness of this. Is it truly a city that John sees? Or is it all the people of God, whom Paul calls the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-32). Or is it both?

Whatever it means, the key point comes in the next verse.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (3)

At one time, God dwelt with Adam and Eve with the Garden of Eden. They were his people and he their God. Then they fell into sin.

When God promised to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt, the Israelites were told that he would be their God and they his people (Exodus 6:7) and the tabernacle was a sign of his dwelling among them. (Exodus 40:34-35)

When they moved into the promised land, the temple took the place of the tabernacle, but it too was a sign of God’s dwelling among them. (I Kings 8:10-12)

But again the people sinned and God’s Spirit departed the temple (Ezekiel 10:18). The temple was destroyed and rebuilt more than once after that before finally being destroyed for good in A.D. 70.

Now the people of God are his temple, and he dwells within us (6:19).

But on that day when all is fulfilled, we will forever be in the presence of God and we will see him face to face.

And God gives us these words of hope.

I am making everything new. (5)

Then echoing Jesus’ words on the cross, he says,

It is done. (6a)

But whereas Jesus’ words were talking about how the payment for our sins was finally paid, now God’s plan of salvation is completely fulfilled and we’re all finally home.

And he who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End of all things, says,

To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (7)

We all go through times of hardship and suffering in our lives. And sometimes it seems interminable. Unbearable.

But it won’t last forever. God is control. He always has been and ever will be. He has already written the end of the story. And the end of the story ends with us being with him forever.

So set your eyes on him. Know that your trials will not last forever. He will bring you home. And on that day, John tells us,

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (4)

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Revelation 20:11-15 — Two books

I love reading books. It became a lot more convenient to read when I got my Kindle Fire. Now, I can carry around any number of books, including a number of different Bibles without putting a strain on my back.

Here, though, we find two books. And perhaps more.

John tells us that on the day of judgment, he saw all the dead both great and small standing before God’s throne with the books were opened. What is in those books? Apparently everything we have ever done in our lives.

In addition to those books, there is another book: the book of life. And in it is the name of every person who belongs to God; all those who have put their trust in Jesus and his work on the cross for their salvation.

And John tells us,

The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.

If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (12-15)

What do we learn from this?

We have a choice. We can either put our trust in ourselves and our works to get us to heaven or we can put our trust in Jesus and his work on the cross for our salvation.

If we do the latter, then our names are written in the book of life and we will be saved.

But if we choose to do the former, all of our works will be found lacking before God. Lacking because he sees not just the good we do, but the evil. Lacking because even when we do good, many times we do so with wrong motives and attitudes. But most of all, lacking because we have rejected Jesus as King and Savior in our lives.

In short, if we insist on being judged for what we’ve done to get to heaven, none of us will ever make it. Every one of us will fall short.

I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be judged by what I’ve done to get me into heaven. I’d much prefer to rely on Jesus’ completed work on the cross for me.

The choice, however, is yours. Which will you choose?

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Revelation 20:1-10 — Why people do evil

Why do people do evil? Does the devil make them do it? Are they simply products of their environment? The injustice, poverty, and the evil around them has so shaped them that they simply have no choice?

Or is there something else?

I think we find the answer in this passage.

After Jesus returns and the antichrist, his prophet, and their armies are all dealt with, Jesus will reign for 1000 years. Whether this is a literal 1000 years or not I don’t know. But anyway, it’s for a considerable period of time.

All the resurrected people of God will also come to live on the earth and will reign with Christ (4). Who will they reign over? Apparently all those who survived the wrath that God poured out on the earth.

The resurrected saints will never be subject to death again (6), but unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the survivors of the wrath of God.

For while there will be heaven-like aspects to the conditions, it will not quite yet be heaven. There will be perfect justice, and a time of great peace. People’s lives will start to extend as it did before the time of the flood. And yet, people will still die.  Why? Because there will still be sin in the world. (Isaiah 11:1-9, 65:17-25)

And in this time, Isaiah seems to picture Jesus still needing to judge cases that are brought before him. Unlike now, however, there will be perfect justice. There will be no hiding of the facts from him, no loopholes to escape through, or any technicalities that people can get off on. (Isaiah 11:1-5)

But this raises a question. In a world of perfect conditions, perfect justice, and no Satan to tempt people, why do people still sin and die?

The reason is that people are innately sinful. People don’t become sinners because they sin. They sin because they are sinners. And while Satan can tempt, and our backgrounds and environments can influence, nevertheless, people sin because that is their nature. David recognized this (Psalm 51:5) as did Paul (Ephesians 2:1-3).

The millennium will prove this once for all. And it will prove once again why we need a Savior. People will never be good enough to deserve God’s salvation even in a perfect world. Many people will come to realize that and will put their trust in Jesus as Savior during that time.

Others, however, won’t. And when Satan is released one last time, millions will flock to his side to wage one final war against God. But like the war of antichrist and his prophet, it will be no war at all. With a single act of God, they will be destroyed and Satan will be tossed into the lake of fire with all his minions. (7-10)

So let us be honest with ourselves. We don’t sin because God allows Satan to run around. We don’t sin because of our environments or backgrounds. We sin because we are sinners. And that’s why we need a Savior.

If you haven’t already, won’t you turn to him today?

Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. And there’s no excuse I can give for my sin. I sin because I am a sinner. But Jesus you died so that my sin could be forgiven. Not only that, you died so that I could be transformed into your likeness. That I could become as perfect, sinless, and whole as you are someday. Thank you for that. Please save me and be my king. I want to follow you. And as I do, even now, please change me. Make me the person you created me to be. Make me like you. In your name I pray, amen.

 

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Revelation 19:9-10 — The spirit behind prophesy…and all we say and do

I must admit, I can finally see the finish line after all these years of blogging. And it’s very tempting to just rush ahead and finish this as quickly as possible.

But John thought it necessary to take a small break in the narrative, and so I will too. And actually, it’s a reminder to me of why I started writing this blog in the first place.

After the angel tells John about the wedding supper of the Lamb, John falls at the angel’s feet to worship him.

It would be easy to imagine why. Here is this angel, glorious and holy, much more so than John is. It’s easy to see why for a fleeting moment John might think that this angel too is worthy of worship.

But the angel said,

Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with our brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophesy. (10)

In other words, “John, I am not showing you all these things so that you can worship me. I am not at the center of all these things, any more than any of the prophets were the center of the prophesies they gave, or you are the center of these prophesies I am showing you now. Jesus is the center of all these things. All prophesy is given to testify to Jesus.”

That’s so important for us to remember. That Jesus is the center of everything. He’s the center of prophesy. But he’s also the center of everything we say and do. At least he should be.

When I write this blog, or give a message at church, it shouldn’t be to glorify me. It should be to glorify Christ.

When you serve in the church, or serve in the community, it shouldn’t be to bring you glory, but to testify to Jesus to those around you.

And if we lose sight of that, we get into trouble. We start worshiping fame. We start worshiping money. We start worshiping the praise and respect of others. And Jesus gets lost in the midst of it all, when he should be at the center.

So here’s the question: As you serve in the church, are you doing it with a worshiping heart that points to Jesus? As you reach out to your community, are you doing it with a heart that glorifies God?

Who or what are you falling before and worshiping?

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Revelation 19 — When justice comes

I was reading a letter from an elementary school that my friend in Hawaii posted on Facebook today. It talked about how a child going to school was accosted by a stranger who threatened to kidnap her. A high school student was nearby so the child quickly ran to the student for help, and the stranger immediately left.

It really is scary to see all that is going on in society. And often times, we wonder if justice is ever going to come. We saw the saints crying out that very question in chapter 6.

But here in this chapter, we see that justice will finally come on all those who do evil and on the society that gave them birth. Antichrist, the prophet, Babylon, and everyone who follows them all fall.

The Antichrist and his army rise up for one last war against God, and Jesus returns to take back what is rightfully his. He who is faithful and true finally comes to prove that he truly is these things. He proved it on the cross where he shed his blood for our sins (13), and he proves it now by bringing justice and salvation to the earth.

One would think that it would be a full-scale war, reminiscent of all the great battle scenes that you see in the movies. But it really is no contest. With a word, the enemy’s army is destroyed (21), and the antichrist and his prophet are thrown into the lake of fire (20). Babylon is destroyed, and the smoke of its destruction rises forever (3), while the birds of prey feast at the banquet of the damned (17-18, 21).

The end result? Worship. For justice has finally come.

All heaven roars,

Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants…Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever…Amen, Hallelujah!  (2-4)

And with the banquet of the damned completed, another banquet is prepared. A voice from God’s throne cries out,

Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great! (5)

And all heaven responds,

Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (6-7)

The angel then turns to John and says,

Write: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb…These are the true words of God.” (9)

The point of this all? Justice is coming. And with justice will come great joy for all of us who are the bride of Christ.

Though we did nothing to deserve it, though we too deserved to join the banquet of the damned, he has clothed us with his righteousness, and that righteousness has become our own. We have become his own, Christ’s beloved. And we will rejoice with him for all eternity.

So as we see all the injustice and corruption in this world, let us hold on to that hope. Justice is coming. Jesus is coming. And on that day, all heaven and earth will ring out in worship of him who truly is faithful and true.

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Revelation 17-18 — When you put your hope in this world

Here in this passage, we see the fall of the great prostitute Babylon, which John later defines as “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” (17:18)

As we’ve seen before in chapter 14, John and his readers thought of it as Rome, but Rome itself is a symbol for a godless society, a world system that rebels against God. It rides the beast we saw in chapter 13, a beast with 7 heads. The 7 heads, the angel says, represent the 7 hills of Rome on which the woman sits, and also 7 of Rome’s kings. Five of those kings had already died, one was currently living in John’s time, and the seventh was yet to come. (17:7). And the Beast himself, the antichrist, will come later as an eighth king (17:11).

The beast will ally himself with ten rulers (whether a literal number or not, I don’t know; it could be symbolic all the kings of the earth).

And people will follow this beast. Why do they follow after it? Part of it is his power. Part of it is because of his power to deceive. We saw all this in chapter 13.

But another major reason is this prostitute. She sits on “many waters,” which the angel tells John represents the people of the earth. People see what the prostitute has to offer: her riches and glory, and they drink it all in (4).

But the truth is, when they take in what she has to drink, they’re drinking in “abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.” Things God detests. Things that cause people to commit spiritual adultery against the One who created them. And as we saw in chapter 14, people go “mad” over these things (14:8).

In short, people fall for the beast in great part because of their love for this world system and all it has to offer.

But this world system is indeed allied with the beast. It is impossible to be friends with her and friends with God. We see this in that she is drunk with the blood of the saints. (17:6; 18:24)

The thing we see here, though, is this world is coming to ruin. Probably because of their war against God, the Beast and his ten allies strip the prostitute of everything. In other words, they are so hostile against God, they are willing to destroy this world in order to fight against him. This in part probably means they are willing to ruin the world economy in order to prepare for this battle. But it probably also means they are willing to use weapons of such destructive power that it actually destroys this world (17:16)

But the angel tells John,

God has put it into their (the kings’) hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled. (17:17)

I think what this means is that God is planning to allow this world to be devastated, and while some of this will probably be directly from God’s hand, a lot of it will also actually come by our own hand. We will be our own demise. But in the end, though this beast and these kings fight against God, even destroying the world to do so,

The Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings… (17:14)

What do we get from all this?

The people who belong to this world system boast in all they have. They boast in what they have accomplished. And they think that it will last forever (18:7).

But God says in a single day, it will all come crashing down, and all that this world promises will be shown for what it is: an illusion. (18:8)

God will thrust it into the sea like a millstone and it will be destroyed. All that the people rejoiced in and relied upon will be gone. (18:21-23)

And because of it, the people of this world will all mourn and be terrified. (18:9-19)

Mourn because all they relied on will be gone in an instant. Terrified because they know the judgment that fell on Babylon will soon fall on them.

What am I saying then? Don’t put your hope in this world. This world will fall, as will all who put their faith in it.

So let us heed the words of God who warns,

Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes. (18:4)

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Revelation 16 — Though judgment falls

We saw in chapter 14 the warning of eternal judgment that would fall on all those who rejected God, and instead took the mark of the beast. And like I said earlier, there are those who really get upset at this idea of eternal judgment.

But as we saw in Revelation 9, there is a reason that it is eternal. The reason? There comes a point in people’s hearts where they reach the point of no return. They have so hardened their hearts, that no matter what judgment falls, no matter how painful it is, they simply refuse to repent. Instead, they simply curse God more and more.

And that’s exactly what we see in this chapter. Here we see the wrath of God being poured out in full strength. And whereas there had been limits in the seal judgments (one-fourth) and in the trumpet judgments (one-third), there are no limits now. Instead, the whole world is affected.

All the people who have the mark of the beast are covered with painful sores. (2)

The sea turns to blood and every living thing in it dies. (3)

The rivers and springs of water all turn to blood because of the blood that they themselves shed in killing God’s people. (4-7)

The protections that we have to keep the sun from harming us are stripped away and people are burned by its intense heat. (8)

The people’s response?

They were seared by the intense heat, and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues but they refused to repent and glorify him. (9)

“Surely if these judgments keep up, they will repent, though, right?”

The whole world is thrown into darkness as Egypt once was. The people are are in total agony because of their pains and sores. (10-11a)

But they refused to repent of what they had done. (11b)

“Yes, but surely, they can’t keep holding out like this, can they? They must eventually come to the point where they will repent, right? Nobody could possibly be that stubborn not to repent.”

The Euphrates River is dried up, and with that barrier out of the way, now all the kings of the East come together for one last war against God. (12)

Evil spirits come performing miraculous signs, trying to give the kings of the earth hope that they will be able to stand against God. They gather at Armageddon, and the final bowl of wrath is poured out.

Lightnings, rumblings, peals of thunder and the worst earthquake in the world’s history hits the earth.

The cities of the nations collapse and this empire that stood against God is given the full fury of His wrath. Islands sink. Mountains fall. Huge hailstones fall to the earth crushing men. (20-21)

The result? Repentance?

No.

And they cursed God on account of the hail, because the plague was so terrible. (21)

What’s my point? There can be no escape from hell without repentance. But all that we see from this chapter is that when people harden their hearts, there comes a point of no return. And when they go to hell, they have definitely reached that point. Even if were theoretically possible for a person to repent in hell and escape, no one ever will.

So if you’ve been rejecting God to this point, soften your heart now before it’s too late. God has no desire to send you to hell.

He sent his Son to die for you so that you wouldn’t have to go to hell.

And now he says,

Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked…Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live…Repent and live. (Ezekiel 18:23, 32)

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Revelation 14-15 — God’s glory in judgment and salvation

I have said many times before that I believe we will have to face antichrist. What I am not so sure about is if we’ll face God’s final wrath poured upon the earth as seen in the 7 bowls.

My guess, however, is that we won’t. My eschatology has changed somewhat as I’ve studied these passages, and I’m not entirely sure I am right. I’ve always thought that the rapture would come, we would meet Jesus in the air, and then come right back down again. I’m not so sure anymore. Rather, it looks very much like after Jesus comes, we will all wait until the bowls of wrath are poured out before Jesus sets foot on the Mount of Olives.

Why do I say this? Because of what I see in these next couple of chapters.

Here we see an angel calling out to a person seated on a cloud, someone like “a son of man,” with a crown on his head and a sickle in his hand.

Who is it? I believe it is Jesus.

And the angel calls out, “It is the Father’s time. Take your sickle and reap.” Jesus does, and the earth was harvested. Who does he harvest?

My guess is he harvests all those who are his. The final warning had been given and was either heeded or ignored. Now there is no time left, and so Jesus takes his people to be with him.

All that is left on the earth now are those who have rejected him.

Another angel comes out of the temple in heaven, and he too has a sickle. And the angel in charge of the fire at the altar calls out to the other angel and tells him to swing his sickle too.

What is this fire of the altar? It probably goes back to the altar of incense in chapter 8 where the saints’ prayers for justice rise to God. (8:3-4)

Why do I say this? Because when the angel swings the sickle, the grapes are gathered and thrown into the winepress of God’s wrath.

And as grapes were trampled in those days to make wine that would flow out of the winepress, so those who have rejected God will be “trampled,” and their blood will flow rising several feet high for over 180 miles. It is truly a bloody picture.

Chapter 15 then, gives us more detail on what just happened in chapter 14.

John looks up and he sees a sea of glass mixed with fire. And next to it are all those who had been victorious over the beast, and have just been harvested by Christ.

The sea was often seen as a place of great evil and chaos. And the saints are seen to have now come out of that, through the fire of their trials. And they sing the song of Moses and the Lamb.

Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the Ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are Holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed. (3-4)

But then the temple opens and 7 angels come with 7 plagues. And each are given 7 bowls filled with the wrath of God. And it says in verse 8,

And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed. (15:8)

That last verse really strikes me. You see, God’s glory is shown in his salvation. That is true. We see it in the worship of those who are saved.

But God’s glory is also shown in judgment. Why? Because it shows that he is not just a God of love, but of justice.

If we have a God that is love but is not also justice, is he really a good God? No. For he would leave evil unpunished forever. And no good God can do that.

But while God is patient, he will ultimately bring justice. And in doing so, he shows his glory and goodness.

So let us always remember, we cannot separate God’s love and justice when we think about who he is. For both are indispensable parts of his glory.

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Revelation 14:6-11 — A final warning

I have said more than once over the past five years I’ve been writing this blog that God is patient, but that his patience will not last forever.

And here in this passage, I think we see that patience just about to run out.

Here we see an angel flying out, proclaiming the gospel to every nation, tribe, language, and people one last time. And he shouted,

Fear God, and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the springs of water. (7)

I wonder if this is a real angel or if it’s merely symbolic of the gospel going out to the whole world. (Matthew 24:14)

Or perhaps it’s both. Either way, the gospel goes out one last time. And with it comes warning. “Now is the time to turn to God. His patience has run out and the time for judgment has come. Fear him. Give him glory. And worship him. Before it’s too late.”

The warnings are intensified by the next two angels.

Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries. (8)

This is a preview to what we will see later. Babylon had once been a great empire, but it was totally pagan, a people who had turned their backs on God and were committing adultery with the world.

John no doubt saw Babylon as a symbol of Rome. And for us today, Babylon and Rome are symbols of a godless society, a society in which antichrist will arise. But this angel cries out, not only that Babylon will fall, but that it has already fallen. It is dead while it yet lives. It’s only a matter of time before all will see it.

Then the third angel cries out a final warning.

If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. (9-11)

In short, there is no middle ground. You have to choose sides. Either you worship God or you worship the beast. And if you choose to worship the beast, all of God’s wrath will be poured upon you.

A lot of people hate the idea of hell. They can’t believe that a loving God would punish someone forever in conscious torment. But it can’t be any clearer here. There will never be rest, day or night for them. Rather, they will face torment for all eternity.

Why does this have to be so?

Number one, we were created eternal beings. The question is not whether we will live forever. The question is where.

Number two, if people will not receive God as king, they must be separated from him, if for no other reason that they don’t want to near him. But the thing is, life without God is hell.

If you don’t believe me, look at the world around you. We have tried to live in a world where God is not king. What’s the result? Murder. Rape. Terrorism. All manner of atrocities.

The experiment has failed.

And this is a world where God is still here, working in the lives of people. What will a world completely devoid of God be like?

But it doesn’t have to be that way. On the cross, Jesus drank the wine of God’s wrath for us. He experienced the full strength of God’s anger so that you don’t have to.

But if you reject him, then you’ll have to drink it yourself.

What will you choose?

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Revelation 14:1-13 — We who belong to God

We saw in chapter seven, 144,000 of God’s people being sealed in preparation for the judgment to fall on unbelievers.

Then in chapter 13, we saw the people of the beast receiving their own mark. And whoever did not receive that mark was persecuted.

So on one hand, those who were received the seal of God were protected from God’s wrath, but on the other hand, they received the wrath of the beast for refusing his mark. And the question becomes, is it worth it? Is it worth it to go through that persecution? For many people, they find it hard to say yes. No one likes to go through persecution.

But if you remain faithful and endure, what will happen? We find the answer in chapter 14.

The 144,000 reappear in this chapter. And again, I believe these people are the entirety of the redeemed of God, not just a certain select. And as we saw in chapter 7, they are sealed with the Father’s name written on their foreheads.

But whereas in chapter 7 we see them preparing for the trials to come, it seems that we see them here having come out of the fire. What are they doing?

Complaining about all the persecution they had endured? Questioning God about why they had to suffer for his sake? No.

Rather, they were singing a new song. A song that no one else could truly learn. Why not? Because while the angels, four living creatures, and the elders can probably technically learn and sing this song, they didn’t experience all that these 144,000 did. All the suffering, all the trials. And because they didn’t go through the fire of these things, they can’t truly understand the joy of deliverance. But these people of God can.

“They did not defile themselves with women for they kept themselves pure,” it says in verse 4. Does this mean then they were all men who were literally virgins? No. I believe this is symbolic of all believers who remain faithful to Christ. We are called the bride of Christ, and by not joining ourselves to the Beast and all he represents, but remaining faithful to Christ despite persecution, we remain pure before Him.

And John says that as his faithful bride, we follow him wherever he goes. For we were purchased by his blood and are now offered as an offering to God and the Lamb.

So again we are encouraged,

This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus…”Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor for their deeds will follow them.” (12-13)

How about you? Can you see beyond our present sufferings to the glory that awaits us? If you can’t do that, it will be difficult to stand, both now through whatever you’re going through, and later when we face the antichrist.

So as I said a couple of days ago, fix your eyes on Jesus. He knows what it means to set his eyes on the joy set before him in the face of suffering. And he can show you how to do it too.

Remember too the words of Paul who said,

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:18, 26-28)

 

 

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Revelation 13:11-18 –A need for wisdom and insight

We now hit the second beast.

This one comes out from the earth. He has two horns like a lamb, but spoke like a dragon. In short, he looked innocent, like the Lamb of God, himself. But his words were that of Satan.

And while the first beast tries to use brute force to get people to follow him, the second beast uses deception. Not just in the things he says, but in performing miraculous signs. The end result, however, is the same: persecution of the saints.

And the thing is, there is no middle ground. You either have the mark of the beast or you have the mark of God. If you have the mark of the beast, you’ll be just fine in this world, able to live life, buying and selling the things you need to live.

But if you have the mark of God on you, you will be persecuted.

For this reason, I’m not so certain the mark of the beast is a literal one or not. If the mark of God is not a literal one we can see, (7:3-4), why should the beast’s mark be? Still, I suppose we won’t find out for sure until that time comes.

What do we get from this? You may be ready for persecution. But are you ready for deception?

Jesus told us that “false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24)

And this second beast will be the final one of these false prophets.

How will we recognize him and the first beast he represents? John tells us to discern them, we will need wisdom and insight. (18)

He gives us the number 666 as the number of the first beast. There’s a lot of speculation on what it means and the truth is, it’s hard to be sure what it means. Which of course means we really will need wisdom and insight when the beast comes. 🙂

Perhaps the meaning is simply this: 7 is the number of perfection, and so 777 reflects God in trinity. 6 is something less. It’s incomplete. And so 666  reflects that whatever the dragon, the first, and the second beast are, they will only be an incomplete image of the one true God.

And so to be truly wise and discerning, we need to know the true God so we can identify the counterfeit.

Some of you may say, “I understand what you’re saying, but what’s the point? I don’t believe we will face the antichrist and his prophet. We’ll be raptured away by then.”

But again, even if you believe we won’t face them, remember there are other antichrists and false prophets, even if they’re on a smaller scale.

And like the second beast, they come into our churches looking like lambs. They look like us and sound like us. But the truth is, they are savage wolves. And if we are to keep from being deceived by them, we will need God’s wisdom and discernment.

How much do you have?

How well do you know your Lord, and his Word? Are you able to discern the true from the counterfeit?

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Revelation 13:1-10 –A need for endurance and faithfulness

There’s a lot going on in this passage, and as usual, there’s a lot of debate over what it all means. There are two beasts that appear with the dragon (Satan). And to keep this short(er), I’ll take on these two beasts in two blogs.

The first beast comes out of the sea. It’s a strange beast that mixes the characteristics of the four beasts we read about in Daniel 7. It has all the power of the dragon, but receives a fatal wound to one of its seven heads. To the astonishment of the world, however, it is healed and restored. The result? The people fall down and worship the beast and the dragon it represents.

What does it all mean?

To some degree, this one beast could be symbolic of  all the empires that were represented by the four beasts in Daniel: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. They rose up, received a fatal wound, but came back in the form of a different empire. The end result, however, is the same: empires that worship the dragon and persecute God’s people. And in the same way, the people who follow this new beast and is part of its regime worship the dragon and persecute God’s people.

It’s interesting to note in chapter 17, that when the beast is further explained, he is described as one who once was, now is not, but will come again. (17:11)

So John seems to say that this beast had appeared before this time period John was writing in, but was not currently in the world as John was living. It’s possible he was referring to one of the former Roman emperors, perhaps Nero. Whoever he was, this emperor received a fatal wound, but will come back again as another ruler who will blaspheme God and persecute God’s people.

And this gives some credence to the idea that this beast represents not just one man, but many throughout history. As John says, there have been any antichrists from his time to the present age. (1 John 2:18). They keep appearing, dying off, and coming back again. But in that same verse, John also says that there is one final antichrist who will appear. And as we see in this passage, like all the antichrists of the past, he leads people to worship the dragon.

Oh it probably won’t be so blatant. He probably won’t be saying, “Let’s all worship Satan.” But like the Roman emperors of the past, he will have them worshiping him as their savior. As the one who brings peace and prosperity to the world. But what the people won’t know is that they are really following Satan’s representative.

More, in this time, he will blaspheme the true God, and there will be mass persecution of Christians. (7)

And from verses 7-8, it seems that everyone who is not a Christian will fall right in line with the beast.  It will become politically correct to persecute and kill all Christians.

What do we get from all this? When we face the first beast, he will come with brute force against God’s people. And so John warns,

If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints. (10)

It’s very similar to what Jesus told the church in Smyrna, and I would guess it really resonated with them as they heard it.

Here, though, all of us are told: Be ready. Persecution is coming. But endure, and be faithful. And you will receive the crown of life. For you will not be hurt at all by the second death if you do so. (2:10-11)

I know. I’m beating the same drum I’ve been beating since we started Revelation. But again, even if we don’t face the antichrist, it’s very possible we will face persecution before then. From our family, from our friends, from our neighbors, from our coworkers, and very possibly from our own nations.

People in North America are already seeing signs of this. It has become politically correct to slam Christians in the States even as I write this.

Are we really that far from out and out persecution?

So brace yourself. Be faithful. Endure. God may call you to go through persecution.

But if you do, remember, Jesus went through it first.

So as the writer of Hebrews said,

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

 

 

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Revelation 12 — A beaten foe, a wrathful foe

“But why must we suffer? Why must we go through persecution? Why wouldn’t God just take us out from it all?”

If you’ve been reading through Revelation with me, especially if you believe we will be raptured before all the trouble with antichrist begins, you may be wondering why I hold so fast to this idea.

To be honest, I wish very much that God would just pluck us out. But I just don’t see it from anything I see in Revelation, and particularly in this passage.

Here we get a bird’s eye view of all that’s been happening since the time Mary was pregnant with Jesus. John tells us of a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. And she was in labor, on the verge of giving birth.

Although I just mentioned Mary and it would seem that this is talking about her, it probably isn’t. When you see the symbolism of the sun, the moon, and the 12 stars, the very first thing that should come to mind is Joseph’s dream, which showed Joseph’s father Jacob (or Israel, as God renamed him), mother, and 11 brothers all bowing down to him. (Genesis 37:9-10)

So this pregnant woman seems to symbolize the nation of Israel. For it was Israel that gave birth to Jesus, the Messiah, the King.

But Satan, symbolized by the dragon (9), tried to destroy Jesus while he was on earth. We see this in Herod’s murder of all the babies (Matthew 2:16-18), and in Christ’s crucifixion. But of course, after Christ’s crucifixion, Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven.

John then sees a flashback in which he sees a war in heaven in which Satan is cast out along with his angels. And when he was thrust down to earth, he chased after the woman Israel to destroy her.

I’m not sure, but I tend to think this was particularly seen in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In this attack, Satan was trying to destroy Israel. But not all Jews were destroyed. The Christians, in particular, took Jesus’ warning to heart (Matthew 24:15-21), and fled Jerusalem before it was destroyed.

With Satan unable to destroy Israel completely, he then set his eyes on destroying her other “children.” Not the Jews by blood, but “those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (17)

That is, the church. For we are the true children of Israel now, all we Jews and non-Jews who have put our faith in Jesus. (Galatians 3:29)

Why is he so full of wrath against us? Why is he so persistent in trying to destroy us?

John tells us,

He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short. (12b)

And so John tells us that while those in heaven rejoice over his being cast out of there,

Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! (12a)

What do we get from all this? First, we are facing a beaten foe. He has already lost. And he knows it. His time is short, and he will be judged.

But second, until that time comes, he will take out his wrath against us. And as we have seen and will see in Revelation, that means some of us will be “conquered”, that is killed by him.

Yet the ultimate victory is ours. He may kill our bodies, but he can’t take our souls. When Satan was cast out of heaven, a loud voice cried out,

Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. (10)

In other words, because of Jesus’ death on the cross, Satan has lost all right to accuse us. When he tries, God overrules all of Satan’s objections against us.

More, John tells us that though Satan may overcome the saints for a time, ultimately,

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (11)

So though Satan may attack us, though he may kill us, in the end, we win. Why?

Because Jesus won the victory for us on the cross. And by our lives and death, we testify to the change that God has brought in our hearts, proving that all of Satan’s accusations no longer have any basis.

Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them. (12a)

We already have won.

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Revelation 11 — From bad to worse…to salvation

I mentioned earlier that I was in deep waters trying to explain these things. The waters just keep getting deeper. 🙂

There’s a lot of disagreement among Christians about what this chapter all means. Again, all I can say is my conclusions are tentative, but here’s what I think.

John is given a measuring rod to measure the temple and the altar, and is told to count the worshipers. But he is told to exclude the outer court because it has been given to the Gentiles, and they will trample the Holy city for 42 months.

What is this all about? There seems to be some allusion to Luke 21:24, where Jesus prophesies the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Because of this, many people take it quite literally and say this will happen again in the future. And it might. This would mean, of course, that a new temple would have to be built.

But it’s also possible that this past event is used symbolically for what will happen in the future. That the temple and the Holy city is representative of the people of God (I Corinthians 3:16-17, Revelation 21:2). And that while many will be protected by God, others will be persecuted. This is a theme you see time and again throughout Revelation as we have already seen, and we’ll see it again in chapters 12-13. It’s also something you see in Daniel (7:21, 12:7).

Throughout the next few chapters, and in Daniel, it talks about 1260 days, three and a half years, and a time, times, and half a time. All refer to the same thing. Three and a half years of intense suffering on the part of God’s people. That may be a literal time period. Or it could simply be referring to the fact that the time of suffering is not perfect (7 is a symbol of perfection), but is cut off. And indeed, Jesus talks of the tribulation being cut off for the sake of God’s chosen people. (Matthew 24:22)

Then we see two witnesses testifying to the world God’s judgment and salvation. Again, there is dispute among Christians whether they are literal people or whether they represent the church. I don’t know, but considering that the church is compared to lampstands in chapters 2-3, I think there’s a good chance it refers to the church. That Zechariah refers to two olive trees as both a ruler and a priest (Zechariah 3-4), and that the church plays both roles, (Revelation 1:6, 5:10) only adds to that conviction.

Whoever they are, these two witnesses prophesy, apparently during that three and half years of intense persecution of the church. God protects them for a time, and brings judgment through them, but at the end of that time, the beast, that is, the antichrist kills them. And all the world rejoices. Why? Because of how these witnesses tormented them with their preaching, and the judgment that came because of their prayers. (5-10).

I’m not certain if this refers to all the martyrs who have died for Christ’s sake, or whether this is yet to come. If verse 6 is purely symbolic, evoking memories of Elijah and Moses, then it could represent all the martyrs. If it is to be taken literally, then I’d have to say this is future. Verse 5 would tend to make me think it’s symbolic since I highly doubt fire will literally come out of their mouths to destroy people. Even Elisha (not Elijah) didn’t do that (See 2 Kings 1:9-12)

Anyway, the witnesses lie dead for a time, and then God resurrects them and calls them to heaven in front of all their enemies.

And if these witnesses are symbolic of the church, I tend to think this is referring to the rapture when God calls all the dead in Christ back to life. For we see soon after, the 7th trumpet being blown, and voices calling out,

The kingdom of the world had become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever. (15)

The elders then worship, singing,

We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and  your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and your saints, and those who reverence your name, both small and great — and for destroying those who destroy the earth. (17-18)

Then John sees God’s temple in heaven opened and the true ark of the covenant that can never be destroyed. Then judgment falls in a great storm, an earthquake, and a hailstorm.

What do we get from all this? Things will go from bad to  worse for God’s people. Jesus warned of this in the gospels. He warned of this in his letters to the 7 churches. And we see it here. Persecution will come. But it will not last forever. It will be cut short. Jesus will come back and when he does, we’ll see salvation.

Justice will come. And if we endure to the end, not only will we be saved, we’ll be greatly rewarded. And every tear we’ve cried will be wiped away.

I know. I’ve already mentioned all this. But this is the theme running throughout Revelation. We’ve seen it earlier. We’ve seen it here. And we will see it again through the final half of this book.

Why does God repeat this over and over? Probably because our suffering will be intense. It will be incredibly difficult to endure. But God wants us to know that it will not be forever.

So as we continue through the rest of this book, look for this theme. For Revelation is not simply meant to give us a peek into the future or to brace us for hardships to come. But it is to give us hope. As Paul once prayed,

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

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Revelation 10 –Sweet words, sour words

Yesterday, I asked the question: how does heaven see judgment? And the answer was, “not with joy, but with solemnity.”

When the 7th seal was about to be opened, all of heaven, usually a place of joyful celebration, fell silent.

Today’s question is, “How do we view God’s judgment?”

Here in chapter 10, we see a mighty angel coming from heaven, holding a little scroll. (1-2) What is on the scroll? Probably what we see in chapters 11 and following. Words describing the persecution of God’s church, the coming of Christ, and God’s final judgment.

This angel stands on the land and the sea. It’s interesting that the two beasts (antichrist and his prophet) that join with the dragon (Satan) in chapters 13, come from the land and the sea, to form an unholy trinity.

So in standing on the land and the sea, and radiating with God’s glory, perhaps this angel symbolizes the fact that there is still only one God who’s in control, no matter what Satan tries to do. And judgment is coming.

You see that in the 7 thunders that John hears, which appear to be words of judgment, though John is told not to reveal those words. (3-4)

Then the angel proclaims, “There will be no more delay.” (6)

In other words, “the 7th angel is about to blow his trumpet, final judgment is coming, and all of God’s plans will now come to fruition.”

Then John is told,

Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land. (8)

He obeys, and the angel tells him,

Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey. (9)

John does so, and the scroll indeed tastes sweet, but then becomes sour in his stomach.

Then the angel told him,

You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings. (11)

What is this all about?

We see a similar occurrence in Ezekiel 2-3. Ezekiel is given a scroll to eat and it is as sweet as honey. And he is told to prophesy what is on the scroll, words of lament, mourning and woe. He is told however, that the people will not listen to him, and Ezekiel leaves the presence of God in bitterness and in the anger of his spirit (3:14).

Why is he bitter? Why is he angry? Perhaps he is angry at how the people will respond. And he is bitter because these are people he loves who will be judged.

I think John felt the same way. When he took in the words of God, they were sweet to him, as God’s words usually are. It’s such a privilege to have the living God speak to you, to understand his plans, especially his plan of salvation, and to be part of them.

But when people reject these very words you find sweet, and you realize that these people you love are facing judgment as a result, it is a bitter thing indeed.

And that’s how we as Christians ought to see judgment. Not as a sweet thing. But a bitter thing.

It’s bitter especially when we see people we love facing judgment. But remember: to God, it’s bitter for him to see anyone facing judgment, because he loves us all.

Sometimes, we look at passages like Luke 19 and the parable of the minas, and we think God almost delights in the destruction of his enemies. (Luke 19:27)

But we forget that shortly after teaching this parable, Jesus stood outside Jerusalem weeping over the destruction that would fall over Jerusalem, saying,

If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace. (42)

So let us never rejoice over God’s judgment of the wicked. Rather, let us weep. And like John and Ezekiel, let us pray and reach out to these people in love that they may never have to face God’s condemnation.

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Revelation 8-9 — The gravity of judgment

How does heaven see injustice? And how does heaven see judgment when it comes?

I think we find both answers here. Normally, heaven rings with the worship of the cherubim, seraphim, the elders, and all the saints. But when the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was dead silence. Why? Judgment was coming.

Oh, it had already come in part by the opening of the earlier seals. But from here on out, the judgments only grow in intensity and awfulness, as we shall see.

But it all starts with an angel coming with much incense to the altar of God. And he offers it to God along with the prayers of the saints. What prayers? Most likely the prayers we saw in chapter 6; the prayers of the martyrs crying for justice.

At that time, God said, “Wait a little while.”

But now the time for justice had come.

Seven angels are given seven trumpets. And one by one, they are blown.

Again, a lot of this language is fantastic and highly figurative, so it’s hard to know exactly what it’s talking about.

But the hail and fire coming after the first trumpet is reminiscent of the plagues God sent down on Egypt. (Exodus 9:23-25)

That could very well be literal considering that it happened to Egypt. And a third of the earth and the trees are burned, and all the grass as well. The “third” may be literal or not, but considering how they often use that number throughout these two chapters, I think it merely has the idea of a significant number.

The second trumpet is blown and a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, perhaps referring to volcanic eruptions and their after-effects. (There was an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79  which destroyed ships and killed marine life).

The third trumpet is blown and a great star fell from heaven making a third of the waters bitter, and killing many people. Whether this is some kind of meteorite, or simply a symbol of something that contaminates the water, I don’t know. Again, this and the death of the those in the sea from the second trumpet are reminiscent of the plague on Egypt when God turned the Nile to blood. (Exodus 7:20-24)

The fourth angel blows his trumpet and a third of the sun, moon, and stars are struck. This is why I says the number 1/3 is probably symbolic. How in the world do you strike a third of the sun. And even if you do, do you really reduce it’s light by exactly one-third? At any rate, like with Egypt, an unexplained darkness falls upon the earth.

And then things get worse, what the eagle calls the three woes. (8:13)

The fifth trumpet is blown, and swarms of locust from hell itself come out to devastate the earth, again a reference to one of the plagues on Egypt (Exodus 10:12-15)

But these are not literal locust. They seem to be demons. Why? Their king is an angel whose name is Abaddon or Apollyon, Hebrew and Greek for “destroyer.”

Second, their attack is not on the plant-life, but on people, to torture them. Third, the attack is specifically on those who are not sealed and protected by God (see chapter 7).

Then the sixth trumpet is blown, and the four angels from chapter 7 that were held back from wrecking destruction on the earth are released. And the picture seems to be that of full-scale war, with a third of mankind being wiped out as a result (an increase from the fourth that were killed in chapter 6 verse 8).

And yet, people do not repent. Rather, they continue in their sin for which they were being judged.

Sometimes people wonder why hell has to be eternal. After all, wouldn’t some, if not all, repent after being sent there? I think we find the answer here and later in chapter 16. And the answer is a resounding no. Despite their suffering, they continue in their sinful attitudes and even curse God.

Is it any wonder that all heaven was silent at the opening of the seven seals?

God does not delight in judgment. But he is a God of justice. And he will not put off the cries of his saints forever. He hears their prayers. And he will bring judgment.

So remember: If you’re a Christian crying out wondering where justice is in this world, God hears. And the time for justice will come.

But also remember that judgment is not something to be taken lightly. Heaven doesn’t. Neither should we.

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Revelation 6:15-7:17 — Those who will stand on the day of wrath

At the end of chapter 6, in looking at the events coming with the sixth seal, the great and small of the earth cry out to the mountains and the rocks,

Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand? (6:16-17)

Who can stand? The answer is found in chapter 7. Here John sees four angels, ready to release the winds of judgment upon the earth. But another angel comes, and says,

Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the forehead of the servant of our God. (7:3)

This is very reminiscent of another time when God sealed his own people to protect them from the judgment that was coming in the book of Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 9:3-7)

And here we see God sealing 144,000 people from the tribes of Israel.

This is one of those things that people argue endlessly about. Who are the 144,000? I think the number is symbolic of all the redeemed. You see 12 (tribes of Israel) times 12 (apostles) times 1000 (a number signifying completeness). These compose the new Israel that is in Jesus Christ.

Why wouldn’t they be literal Jews? First, it’s not the original 12 sons of Jacob (Dan is omitted and Manasseh, Joseph’ son is included), nor is it the 12 tribes that inherited the promised land (Dan is omitted, Levi is included, and Joseph is listed instead of Ephraim). Add to to the fact that all the tribal lines are completely mixed, and it seems unlikely they are talking about literal Jews.

And just as you see a mixing of metaphors concerning Jesus where he is the Lion and the Lamb in chapter 5, it seems likely to me that there’s another mixing of metaphors where the 144,000 are the great multitude seen in 7:9; a people from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne of God and the Lamb.

And they cry out,

Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. (7:7)

The elder then explains to John,

These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe every tear from their eye.” (7:14-17)

What is he saying?

Times of trouble are to come. When antichrist comes, there will be persecution, and many will die for the sake of Christ. But as Jesus told the church of Smyrna (2:8-10), it is only for a time.

Though we may face the wrath of the Satan and his antichrist, we will be sealed and protected from the wrath of God and his Christ.

And in the end, we will stand before God, and serve and worship him forever. Never again will we have to suffer as we do on earth. And on that day, we will see Jesus face to face. He will give us life eternal. And every tear we’ve cried while here on earth will be wiped away. That is the hope for all who put their faith in Christ.

So we have a choice. Do we take the seal of God and face the wrath of Satan? Or do we take Satan’s mark and face the wrath of God. There is no other option.

What will you choose?

 

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Revelation 6:9-11 — How long until justice comes?

We jumped the fifth seal yesterday because it takes a slightly different perspective from the other five we looked at. Seals 1-4 and seal 6 all have to do with the judgments going on upon the earth.

Here in seal 5, we see something that happens in heaven.

Jesus opens the seal and John sees under the altar the souls of those who died for Jesus’ sake. And they cry out in a loud voice,

How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood? (10)

Who are these martyrs? I think these are all those who have died from the time of Stephen (Acts 7) on.

Throughout history, many have died for the sake of Christ. And it’s easy to wonder, where is the justice?

When we are persecuted and for Christ’s sake, why don’t we see God’s justice?

Jesus’ answer to these martyrs is very interesting. He told them to “wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.” (6:11)

In short, there will be persecution all the way until Christ’s return. Until that time, God is patient. Why? Because he’s still waiting for as many people to enter the kingdom before he returns. But when he comes, justice will come.

And in the meantime, he will give those who have died for his sake peace and rest.

This world often seems unfair. We often suffer and we can’t understand why.

Jesus never promises we won’t face trouble. He guarantees it. (John 16:33)

It’s one of the reasons why I’m skeptical that Jesus will pull the church out before antichrist comes.

But though we may suffer, know justice will eventually come. And remember the words of Jesus.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b)

 

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Revelation 6 — The beginning of the end

I am now officially in deep waters. For that matter, so is everyone else who starts trying to comment on these passages. The number of interpretations for these passages are legion. All I can I say is that many of my interpretations are at best tentative.

In Revelation, you see three categories of judgment, the 7 seals, the 7 trumpets, and the 7 bowls. Some people think they are all concurrent judgments. Some think they are chronological. One thing is certain: things will go from bad to worse before our Lord comes.

My guess, is that these judgments are chronological with a possibility of overlap between them. These seal judgments in particular seem to be what Jesus refers to as not the end itself, but rather the “beginning of the birth pains.” (Matthew 24:8)

And I think there’s a good chance that a lot of what’s written here is happening even as I write this.

Jesus opens the first seal, and out comes a white horse with a rider who has a bow and a crown and who is bent on conquest. (2)

To me, this symbolizes what Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24:6-7. Wars. Rumors of wars. Nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. Sound familiar at all?

Jesus opens the second seal and a fiery red horse comes out, and its rider is given power to take peace from the earth and make men slay each other. (4)

In other words, not only will people will die because of war, but people will start murdering each other. Not to say that this had never happened before in history, but it will become almost epidemic. Again, does this sound familiar? Just read the news everyday with all the terrorism, murders and mass murders.

He opens a third seal and a black horse comes out with scales saying,

A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine. (6)

This seems to indicate famine, where a small amount of food costs an inordinate amount of money. This famine is not as bad as it could be, however, as the oil and wine are not touched. Again this seems to refer to Matthew 24:7 where Jesus tells us there will be famines as part of the birth pains.

Jesus opens the fourth seal, and a black horse comes out representing death. And this seems to to sum up the previous three seals with two additional things: plague and even the wild beasts of the earth turning against people.

I’ll come back to the fifth seal tomorrow, but for now will go to the sixth seal. Here we see a great earthquake, the sun turns black and the moon turns to blood with stars falling from the sky. The sky recedes like a scroll and every mountain and island is removed from its place.

Is all this literal? I don’t know. Perhaps the main point of all this is that there is a great earthquake; everything else is figurative of how things feel to the people of the earth after experiencing the earthquake. That is, because of the the earthquake’s awesomeness, the whole world seems to be falling apart.

Here in Japan, we have suffered two great earthquakes in 1995 and 2011, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of those who went through it would look at these passages and say, “Yes, that’s what it felt like.”

So what do we get from all this?

A theologian named D.A. Carson once said something like this: We can look at all the problems the earth has. War. Murder. Famine. Earthquakes. Plagues. And when asked about the cause, we can point to a lot of of sociological and natural explanations.

Or we can say God has allowed all these things.

Both are true, but what is more fundamental?

The truth is, because of sin in this world, judgment is coming. And all these things we see on earth now are a mere prelude to the final judgment. God has allowed them all. Why? Is it just to judge us?

No. It is also in part to drive people to him.

If there were never any trouble in this world, I guarantee you that a majority of people would never turn to Christ because they would never see their need for him. But because of the judgments of God, they see their sinfulness and their need for his salvation, and repent.

The question is, when you see these judgments, how will you respond? Will you merely cringe in fear? (15-16)

Will you scream in defiance? (Revelation 16:9)

Or will you repent?

Judgment is coming. Are you ready?

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Revelation 5 — The one on whom all God’s plans rest

I have to admit, until recently, I had never really thought about Revelation as being centered around the gospel. But we saw very early on in chapter one, that Revelation starts with the gospel, and here now we see that it is centered on the gospel. And in the final chapters, we see the gospel consummated.

In chapter 4, we saw God the Father sitting on his throne receiving all the worship and adoration he deserves. And now in chapter 5, John notices something new. There is a scroll in the Father’s right hand, with writing on both the front and back, and sealed with 7 seals. It seems very reminiscent of a Roman will in which the outside writing summarizes the details within. And the only only way for the will to be executed is for someone to break the seals and to see what is in it.

In this scroll contains all God’s purposes for history. But the seals prevent them from being carried out. And so a mighty angel cries out,

Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll? (2)

The response? A deafening silence.

Think about this. The 24 elders sitting on their thrones were there. The 4 living creatures were there. Thousands upon thousands of angels were there. There were wonderful Christians living on the earth. People like John. There were wonderful Christians who had died and were now with God in heaven. People like Peter and Paul. Not one was worthy to break the seals and open the scroll. (3)

And so John wept. All God’s plans were for naught. They would remain sealed in the scroll, forever dormant. (4)

But then one of the elders said,

Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. (5)

John looks up expecting to see Jesus. Or perhaps a great lion symbolizing Jesus. And he sees…a lamb. And not just a lamb, but a lamb looking as if it had been slain.

Indeed, John probably made the mistake that many Jews had made. When they thought of their triumphant Messiah, they thought of a conquering Lion. And Jesus is a Lion. But he conquered by dying like a Lamb. He is the Lion and the Lamb.

He had 7 horns, symbolizing great power, and 7 eyes which symbolize not only his omniscience, but the Holy Spirit of God within him. The same power and Spirit that raised him from the dead in victory. (Ephesians 1:19-20, Romans 8:11)

Jesus took the scroll from the Father’s hand, and when he did, the four living creatures and the 12 elders took a break from their usual refrain (4:8, 11), and sang a new song.

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals. (9a)

Why?

…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. (9b)

In these words we see the fullness of the gospel, and God’s plans for eternity. That through the blood of Jesus, we were redeemed from our sin and made his people, his kingdom, and his priests. And we will serve God forever, reigning in the new heavens and earth when he makes all things new.

And because of this, all creation in heaven and on earth cry out,

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise…To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever…Amen. (12-14)

This is what Revelation is all about. It’s about the gospel, and the Lion and the Lamb who made it all possible.

And through this gospel, we can know that we have hope, for all God’s plans will come to fruition.

So let us sing with all God’s angels and all creation, “Worthy is the Lamb!”

 

 

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Revelation 4 — Honoring our King who sits on the throne

“I am a friend of God,” says one contemporary worship song.

“We are children of God,” proclaims the apostle John in one of his epistles. (I John 3:1)

And yet while both are true, one thing that we should never forget is that he is also our king. And he is worthy of our honor and our praise.

Here in Revelation 4, we step into the very throne room of God, and we see God in all his glory as king.

As is often the case when people try to describe God, John finds it impossible to describe Him in detail. All he can do is give us glimpses of His glory, comparing Him to precious stones such as jasper and carnelian, and emerald. (3) Not to say that God is a gem, of course, but that His glory radiates with great beauty.

John then tells us that from his throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder which recall the awesomeness of God’s power which the Israelites witnessed on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 19:16)

And before the throne were 7 blazing lamps or torches. (5) Back in those days, torches were set before rulers to show their authority. But John tells us these lamps also symbolize the “seven spirits of God,” which we saw in chapter 1 probably refers to the Holy Spirit.

Leading up to the throne was a sea of glass, like crystal. It’s not clear whether this is an actual sea that John sees or it’s a pavement of glass that sparkled like crystal (NLT). Either way, imagine approaching God on that.

Before you even get to God, you have to go past some beings which are glorious in their own rights.

First are the 24 elders on their thrones. People dispute who they are, but my guess is that they are a high order of angels, who also perhaps represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles joining as one people before God. They are dressed in white, showing their holiness, and have crowns on their head, perhaps showing the authority they have.

Second are four living creatures which seem to merge the characteristics of the angels called cherubim (Ezekiel 1:5-14; Ezekiel 10), and seraphim (Isaiah 6:2-3). These creatures are also angels of high order who would later help execute God’s judgment on the earth. John says one was like a lion, another like an ox, the third like a man, and the fourth like a flying eagle. And perhaps they represent all of creation serving and praising God, the wild (lion), the domesticated (ox), humanity, and the birds (eagle).

It’s also possible they represent God’s majesty (lion), strength (ox), intelligence (man), and loving care (eagle — see Exodus 19:4).

But the thing that stands out to me, is that as awesome as these beings are, they all bow in worship to God.

The four creatures cry out day and night,

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. (8)

And as they do so, these mighty elders, rulers in their own right, throw their crowns before the God who gave them their authority singing,

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (11)

What can we get from all this?

First and foremost, that though God is our father and our friend, he is also the king upon the throne. He is the almighty God. And he is worthy of our worship.

Sin comes when we refuse to recognize this one all-important fact.

Second, he is the king, and he is in control. Although this world sometimes seems out of control, and things will go from bad to worse as we will see later in Revelation, God is on his throne, and nothing happens apart from his will. And ultimately, he will triumph, to his praise and glory.

Amen. Come soon Lord Jesus.

 

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Revelation 3:14-22 — Self-sufficent, indifferent, and useless

When my daughter was really young, I would often come home and when I did, she would come running to greet me with a happy, “Daddy!”

But nowadays, I’ll come home, and if I’m lucky, I’ll hear her say, “Okaeri” (which means “welcome home” in Japanese).

But many times, she’ll be so involved in what she’s doing, she won’t even notice me.

It’s pretty sad how excited love can turn into utter indifference.

In a lot of ways, the church in Laodicea was that way. It is the one church among the seven that Jesus talks to that he says nothing good about. At least with the church in Sardis, he mentioned a few people that were excluded from his rebuke. He makes no exceptions here.

What was their problem? Jesus tells them,

I know your deeds, that you are neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (15)

What is Jesus saying here?

Near Laodicea, there were two cities famous for their water. Hierapolis was known for its hot springs that were good for healing. Colosse was known for its cold and refreshing drinking water. Laodicea, on the other hand, had to get its water from some hot springs from the south through a six-mile aqueduct. And by the time the water got to Laodicea, it was tepid, and near undrinkable.

In short, their water was totally useless. It was neither hot enough to relax in as a hot spring, nor was it cold and tasty enough to drink.

The church, when it is functioning right, can be very useful to its Lord. When it touches people, it brings spiritual healing to them, just as the hot springs of Hierapolis brought physical healing to the people that went there. Through the love of Christ, the church can also bring refreshment to those who are weary and tired from being beaten down in this world.

But Laodicea did neither. They were totally useless to the Lord, and because of that, he told them, “You are just like your water. And I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Why had they become this way? They thought they were self-sufficient, and as a result became totally indifferent to their Lord.

Jesus told them,

You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But  you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. (16)

This church was filled with people who were totally reliant on themselves. They were part of a city, in fact, that when it had been leveled by an earthquake, refused help from the Roman government, saying, “We’ve got this. We’ll rebuild our city ourselves.”

This church was the same. They were so wealthy, and so self-sufficient, they no longer saw their need for Christ. Church had simply became a social club to them. The result? They became totally useless to Christ when it came to touching this world for him. Worse, they had become so indifferent to him, they had literally pushed him out the door, saying, “We’re good. We don’t need you.”

But the reality was, they were in desperate spiritual straits. And so Jesus told them,

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (18)

All these were strikes against the Laodicean’s self-sufficiency. They were rich, mostly because of the black wool and eye salve they sold. But Jesus said, “All this is not enough. You are dying without me.”

I know many non-Christians here in Japan that are that way. One of the biggest problems we face is that so many people are “self-sufficient.” They think their lives are good enough, and they are blind to their own spiritual need. They see no need for Christ.

What’s even worse is when Christians become that way. They totally forget their need for Christ.

Oh, maybe in the past they needed him, but now they say, “I’m good,” and push him out the door. They may still go to church. But in every other aspect of their lives, their time, their finances, their work, their relationships, they push him out the door. He is no longer a part of any of these things.

When Christians become this way, they become useless to their Lord. And when the church is filled with people like this like Laodicea was, it’s in real trouble.

And so Jesus told them,

Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. (19)

I like how the NLT translates “repent” in this passage. It says, “Turn from your indifference!”

Then Jesus said,

Here I am! I stand at  the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me. (20)

The Laodiceans had pushed Jesus out the door. Now he was knocking, and he was saying, “I still love you. I’m offering you a chance to renew our relationship. Won’t you open the door?”

How about you? Have you become indifferent to Jesus? Have you pushed him out the door, basically telling him, “I’m good. I don’t need you anymore.”

Jesus still loves you and he wants to make you a useful part of his kingdom. And if you will turn from your indifference, one day you will reign with him in glory. (21)

But if you don’t, discipline is coming.

How about your church? Has it simply become a social club for the self-satisfied?

If it doesn’t repent, it will be removed from its place as a light to this world.

What is Jesus saying to you and your church today?

 

 

 

 

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Revelation 3:7-13 — Never shut out

All of us know what it is to be shut out. To be left out by others and snubbed.

I remember walking up to a bunch of guys in high school, and one guy turned to me and said, “What are you doing here? Get lost!”

That’s what the church in Philadelphia was facing. Like the church in Smyrna, they were being snubbed by the Jews living there, and couldn’t even enter the synagogue to worship.

But Jesus tells them, “I am the one who holds the key of David.” (7)

In other words, “I am the one that holds the key to the everlasting kingdom God promised to David and his descendants. For I am the one who is the fulfillment of all those promises.

“And I have opened the door to you. No one, not even these Jews can shut you out. In fact, they are not true Jews at all. They are a synagogue of Satan. Now you are the true Jews, along with all those who have put their faith in me. And the day will come when these false Jews will admit this.” (7-9)

Then he tells them,

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (10)

I’ve mentioned before that I think we will have to face the antichrist someday. There are those, however, who look at this verse and think this means we will be taken before he comes. I think there are two problems with this view.

First, there are many other scriptures that seem to say we will have to face him and endure the great tribulation. Second, Jesus was talking to the church that existed in John’s day. And I don’t think anyone believes the Christians in Philadelphia were raptured away before their trials came. What I think Jesus was saying is that in the midst of the trouble that was coming upon the world, he would protect them.

When I think of open and closed doors, I think of Noah, and I think it’s a fitting symbol here. The door to the ark was open for Noah and his family to enter, but after they did, God himself shut it. (Genesis 7:16)

And during the flood, God didn’t “rapture” Noah and his family to heaven, or whisk them away to another land untouched by the flood. Rather, in the midst of the flood, he protected them.

As we look at the rest of Revelation, I think we see that this is exactly what will happen during the time of antichrist and the great tribulation.

The thing to remember in tribulation is what Jesus says next.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. (11)

I think one thing that people fear is that in the face of tribulation they will be to weak to stand. That they won’t be able to hold on and that they will lose their crown.

But look at what Jesus told this church.

I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and not denied my name. (8)

This church too saw itself as weak. Jesus himself said, “You are weak.” And yet, in the midst of trial, they stood strong.

I think that what it shows is that our own personal strength or will is not important in whether we stand or not. Rather, what’s important is the grace of God in our lives. And by his grace, we will stand.

And Jesus says,

Him who overcomes, I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. (12)

In short, you will never be shut out. I have established you as a pillar in my house and I have written my name on you. You are mine and ever will be.

As I read that, I can’t help but think of that old song.

Jesus loves me, this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong.
They are weak but he is strong.

Yes Jesus loves me.
Yes Jesus loves me.
Yes Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.

 

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Revelation 3:1-6 — If we are caught unprepared

The city of Sardis was supposed to be a near impenetrable city. But twice it fell. Why? Because their watchmen were asleep on the job.

And here Jesus uses their own history to try to wake up the church that dwelt there.

He said,

I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. (1-3)

What is Jesus saying here?

Like the city it dwelt in, the church seemed strong, healthy, and alive. But it was dead as it stood. Why? Because Jesus was coming in judgment, and the church  wasn’t ready for it.

In what ways was the church not ready? Jesus tells them, “I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.”

What does that mean? I’m not entirely sure, but I think there were probably two things. Number one, they had let holiness slip in their lives. They had started to compromise and do things they knew were wrong.

That’s why Jesus draws a sharp contrast between those who were “sleeping” and those few in the church who had, “not soiled their clothes.” (4)

But there is probably another thing he meant. This church in the past had probably done a lot of good, touching the lives of the world around them. But perhaps, they had now become self-centered. They were no longer focusing on touching the world. Instead, they were resting on their laurels, looking with pride at what they had done, but doing little else.

As a result, they were dying spiritually. Their works were incomplete in holiness and in mission.

And Jesus said, “Get back to basics. Remember the things that are truly important. Repent from your inward way of thinking. Repent of your sins. For if you don’t, I will come back, and you will be judged.”

It is in fact, very similar to all the parables Jesus gave in Matthew 24-25.

Often times, we look at these parables and this letter to Sardis, and think of them in individualistic terms. Are we as individual Christians ready for our Lord’s return?

And there is definitely an element of that here, particularly in verses 4-5 when Jesus addresses the individual faithful in the church.

But remember that this letter for the most part is addressed to the church at large.

And like the church in Sardis, many churches have the reputation of being alive, but are dead. They seem so vibrant because of their dynamic pastors, emotional worship, and bright atmosphere. But inside they are rotting from the undealt with sin in their lives. From the compromise that belies their professions of faith.

Other churches are resting on the laurels of what they did years ago. Before they were reaching out and touching their community for Christ. But now, they look around at each other and what they accomplished, and they spend all their time congratulating themselves. They have essentially become a social club, simply enjoying the fellowship they have with each other. But they forget that their work is not yet finished, and will not be until Jesus returns.

And that’s the key thing to remember. Jesus is coming back. When he comes back, how will he find our churches? Will he find us alive, touching the world for him? Or will he find a self-centered church? Or just as bad, a soiled church?

What does he see when he sees your church?

 

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Revelation 2:12-29 — Tolerating evil in our midst

Tolerance.

It used to have such a good meaning.

It used to mean that even if we disagreed with someone, we could still love them and at the very least have a civil relationship with them.

Now it means that you can’t ever say that they’re wrong. Particularly when it comes to sin.

And the problem with many churches today is that this is exactly what they do. When sin comes into the church, they tolerate it. Not in the sense of welcoming non-Christians and working to bring them to Christ that they may be saved.

But in the sense of looking at their sin, worse, looking at other Christians’ sins and saying that it is not sin at all.

And that’s what was happening in the churches of Pergamum and Thyatira.

These churches had their good points. Pergamum had remained faithful to Christ even in the face of persecution, and the death of one of their own, a man named Antipas. (2:13)

And Thyatira, unlike Ephesus, continued to show their passion for Christ, doing more than they had at first. (19)

But both had fallen into the trap of “tolerance.”

The church at Pergamum tolerated people who held false beliefs. Beliefs that led them into idolatry and sexual sin.

These were the very sins that Balaam had led the Israelites into back when they were traveling in the desert. Because God forbade Balaam from cursing Israel directly, Balaam took the back door by getting the Israelite men to marry Moabite women, knowing it would lead them into idolatry and the curse of God.

Now these people at Pergamum were falling into the same kind of sin, and the leaders were doing nothing about it.

The church at Thyatira did much the same, tolerating a prophetess that Jesus derisively named “Jezebel.” In Israel’s history, a woman named Jezebel had once led her husband King Ahab, and as a result all of Israel into idolatry.

And now this woman, in teaching the “deeper secrets of God,” was leading the Thyatirans into idolatry and sexual sin as well.

And Jesus warns, “Judgment is coming.”

In revealing himself to the Pergamum church, he emphasizes the double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. But this sword is not to heal, but to cut and judge. (12, 16)

To the church at Thyatira, he reveals himself as the one whose eyes are like fire, seeing the evil going on in the darkness and burning away all the veils that would hide their evil, and with feet like bronze to trample on all the evil that was going on. (18)

He in fact warns that because Jezebel refused to repent despite multiple warnings, he would make her and those who followed her suffer until they repented. And if they would not repent, they would die. (22-23)

Did Jesus mean this literally? I think he did. We see this in Acts 5:1-10, I Corinthians 5:5, and I Corinthians 11:27-30.

For while we may be “tolerant” of evil, Jesus is not when it is infecting his church.

But if we will fight and overcome this evil in the church, Jesus says that he will give us some of the hidden manna and a white stone. (2:17)

The Jews believed that when the Messiah came, the Ark of the Covenant would reappear and all would eat manna at his banquet. In that context, the white stone could refer to the stone given to victors at games for entrance at a celebration banquet.

More, Jesus told the Thyatirans that he would give them authority over the nations when he comes back to rule as king. And he would also give them the morning star. Jesus himself, is called the morning star (see Revelation 22:16), and so perhaps this is a reference to a close relationship with Jesus himself.

But for those who refuse to repent, only judgment remains.

As bad as “tolerance” is right now in the church, it will only get worse when antichrist and his false prophet appears. When that happens, the only thing that won’t be tolerated is the true faith that we preach.

And if we are tolerating evil now, what will happen when antichrist comes?

How about you and your church? Are you tolerating evil in your midst?

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Revelation 2:8-11 — Though we may go through trial and tribulation

I mentioned a couple of blogs ago that these letters to the churches were meant to prepare us for the antichrists and tribulations to come .

And again, I know many of you who read this believe that we won’t see the final antichrist when he comes or have to endure the great tribulation.

But as I read through Revelation and the other books of the New Testament, I don’t see that at all. What comes through time and again is that we will go through trial and trouble in this world, and particularly when antichrist comes. I don’t see anything in scripture that makes me believe we’ll escape these things entirely.

What I do see is that though we may not escape these things, that God will never abandon us. That these things are only for a time. And that God calls us to keep holding onto him no matter what happens.

And we see all these things in this passage.

Jesus is talking to a church called Smyrna. And as Jesus addresses them, he refers to himself as the first and the last, the one who died and came to life again. (8)

That latter is particularly interesting because Smyrna itself died and came to life again. It was destroyed in 600 BC and remarkably restored in 290 BC.

Now, the Christians in Smyrna were facing death because of their faith in Christ. And so Jesus encourages them by reminding them that no matter what happens, he is in control for he is the first and the last. He had the first word when this world was created, and he will have the last when all is said and done.

More, he was the one who conquered death. And though these Christians were facing death, like Jesus, they too would rise again to eternal life.

He told them,

I know your afflictions and your poverty — yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (9)

Apparently, these people were being persecuted by the Jews. By this time in history, the Jews were starting to tell the Roman Empire, “These Christians are not a sect of Judaism. Many are not Jews at all. They’re Gentiles. So when they refuse to worship the emperor like your law requires, they are not under the same religious protections we are under. Go after them.”

As a result, persecution was starting to come to the Christians.

But Jesus tells them, “Don’t let them tell you that you are not true Jews. You are. You are the true descendants of Abraham because you have come to me by faith just as Abraham did. They are the false Jews. And their synagogue is not a synagogue of God, but of Satan.”

Then he tells them, “Don’t worry, persecution won’t come your way. I’ll rescue from all trouble that may come your way.”

Is that what he said? Hardly. He said,

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. (10a)

In short, “You will suffer. But don’t be afraid. Satan will have his way with you, but it won’t be forever. It will only be for a little while.”

The same is true today and the same will be true when we face antichrist. We will face suffering. But Jesus reminds us, “It’s only for a moment.”

And so he admonishes us,

Be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. (10b-11)

Jesus said pretty much the same thing to his disciples when he was still on earth. He said,

He said,

Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One (God) who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

If you fear God, you need not fear anything else, not even death. For though people can destroy your body, they can’t touch your soul. And Jesus says the second death, that is hell, won’t touch you. Instead you will have life with him forever in heaven.

How about you? Are you facing persecution because of your faith? Remember that it is but for a short time. And no matter what people may say or do to you, they can’t touch what’s really important.

So be faithful. For even if you should die for his sake, yet shall you live. (John 11:25)

 

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Revelation 2:1-7 — If the church has not love…

We now come to the first admonition to the church in Ephesus. Jesus actually has a lot to praise them for. They were working hard for him. In the face of hardships, they persevered and didn’t grow weary. (2a)

More, they were quite vigilant against false teachers, testing those who claimed to be apostles but weren’t. And when they were found to be false, the church kicked them out. (2b) They simply wouldn’t tolerate any kind of false teaching. (6)

But still there was a problem. Jesus told them,

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first. (4-5)

Too many churches are like this today. They work hard in their ministries. When persecution comes, they endure.

More, they are very vigilant in their doctrine. They are quick to warn against false teachers. And they refuse to tolerate sin in their midst.

But they’ve lost what is most important: their love for God and their love for others. And without that love they become a shell of what God wants them to be.

And God tells them, “Repent. I don’t want you to simply be hardworking servants. I don’t want you to simply be patient martyrs. I don’t want you to simply be vigilant soldiers. I want you to be a people who actually love me. And I want you share the love I’ve given you with those I’ve put around you.”

If we don’t?

I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (5b)

Remember here that the lampstand represents the church, not salvation. So when he says this, he’s saying, “If you, my church, don’t return to its first love, I will remove you from its place. Oh you may still have your church services, but I will no longer use you as a light in this world.”

I think of I Corinthians 13 as I read this. Let me paraphrase.

If our churches are sound in their doctrine, calling out false teachers and kicking them out, preaching holiness and denouncing sin, but they have not love, they are only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.

If our churches are hardworking, giving to the poor and doing all sorts of ministry within the church and without, but have not love, they are nothing.

If our churches endure persecution and stand fast in the midst of it, but have not love, they gain nothing.

Antichrists are here. The antichrist is coming. And many troubles will come along with him. But if we have not love, we are not ready to deal with any of these things.

How is your church? Is it ready to deal with these things? Or is it about to be removed from its lampstand?

And how about you? Have you lost your first love?

Jesus says,

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (7)

This word is for you and your church.

If you can overcome antichrists, troubles, and persecution, all without losing your love for him and others, Jesus says he will give you the right to eat from the tree of life, which in the paradise of God. (7b).

What will Jesus say to us when we stand before him on judgment day?

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Revelation 1:10-20 — In order that we might be prepared

I was intending to dive straight into chapter 2 today, but I felt there was something that I needed to say before we started.

By far, the parts of Revelation that are preached most often in churches are chapters 2 and 3. Why? Because they’re probably the “easiest” to understand. They sound very much like the other epistles that Paul and the other apostles wrote to the churches.

But I think there’s something we all need to keep in mind. There was a reason that Jesus spoke these messages to the church. The reason? The end is near.

I’ve mentioned before that we are in the last days, and we’ve been in the last days since the days of the apostles. (Acts 2:16-17, Hebrews 1:2, I John 2:18).

And as John mentioned in his letter, while an ultimate antichrist will someday come, there will be many antichrists in the meantime. In fact, many antichrists had already come in John’s time. (I John 2:18)

And we are warned that with these antichrists will come false prophets and teachers. People will go about deceiving and being deceived. If that weren’t enough, God’s people will be persecuted for their faith.

Because of all these things, God will pour out his judgment on the earth. Some of it will come through people, as in wars and violence. Some of it will come through natural means, such as natural disasters and plagues.

These are things that are mentioned time and time again in the book of Revelation.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? It should. We’ve seen it throughout the history of the church. And it’s happening even now.

And God’s word to the church in John’s time is the same as it is now. Because the problems plaguing the church then in the face of their antichrists are basically the same problems that plague us now as we face ours.

So these letters to the churches are not just meant to be ordinary “peacetime” admonitions. These are admonitions to prepare us for the antichrists we face now, and the ultimate antichrist we will face in the future. They are to prepare us for the tribulations we face now, and the tribulations we’ll face when the ultimate antichrist comes.

As we look at these letters in the next several days then, keep this in mind. I know many of you who read this don’t think we’ll face the antichrist or the great tribulation. I hope we don’t.

But even if you believe that, remember that the church has always faced antichrists and tribulations. So even if God in his grace pulls us out before the antichrist shows up and the great tribulation starts, we will face other antichrists and tribulations before then. And these letters are meant to prepare us for them.

Are you prepared? To be prepared, we need to listen to what Jesus has said.

So as Jesus says time and again in these letters,

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (2:7)

 

 

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Revelation 1:9-20 — The one to whom we must give account

Judgment day.

It is coming for all of us. And it comes first and foremost for us who believe. This is something that we see from this passage to the end of chapter 3.

In his vision, John hears a voice call out to him, and when he turns, he sees Jesus walking among 7 lampstands with 7 stars in his hands.

But this is not the Jesus he remembers, at least not entirely. He sees Jesus in his glory.

One thing that I’m not sure of is if John literally saw Jesus as how he describes or if he is simply using figurative language to get across his meaning.

Either way, I think what he is saying is that we as the church are accountable to Jesus, and he will judge us.

There are a lot of symbols in Revelation. Some are explained clearly and some are not. In this passage, the symbols of the lampstands and the stars are explained. Jesus is walking among the lampstands, which Jesus says are the 7 churches John was to write to, while the seven stars are their angels. (20)

What he means by angels have been disputed since angels can simply mean “messengers.” But considering that angels do seem to play some part in the churches (I Corinthians 11:10), I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that there are angels assigned to each church.

But again, the picture is of Jesus walking among the churches, and as we shall see in chapters 2-3 he is inspecting them. And though he has given charge to his angels to watch over these churches, these angels themselves are in his hands.

As we look at the description John gives of Jesus, we see certain things about our Judge.

First, he is wise. That’s what his white hair symbolizes. Not that he is some decrepit old man, but that he is infinitely wise in his judgments.

Second, his eyes like burning fire symbolize the fact that he sees through everything. (See 2:23). His eyes burn away all the veils that would cover the truth and lay bare the things that are hidden.

Third, his feet are like bronze, crushing everything that is beneath them. In other words, he brings judgment, and it can be hard judgment for those who refuse to repent of their sins. (See 2:21-23)

His voice like rushing waters speaks with the power and authority of the Almighty. (See Ezekiel 1:24).

From his mouth came a two-edged sword. Two-edged because Jesus’s words of judgment to us both cut and heal. They cut those who are in sin, but bring healing to those who are hurting. And we see both in chapters 2 and 3.

And in his face, we see the utter glory and holiness of God.

When John saw Jesus like this, he fell on his face in fear. Most people would when facing a holy judge who is all-wise, all-knowing, and all-powerful.

But Jesus comforted John as he does us, saying,

Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys to death and Hades. (17-18)

Why did John not need to fear? Because through the cross of Christ, Jesus paid for our sin, and by his resurrection, God the Father showed that he accepted Jesus’ payment. And now he has set us free from death and we have eternal life in him.

So no matter what judgment we may face, we can know that nothing will separate us from his love.

But we will be judged. Jesus is walking among the lampstands. And even among the lampstands, as we shall see in his letters to the churches, Jesus sees each individual in them.

So as we look at these letters over the next several days, let us take them in. Let Jesus’ words cut you and heal you. If you need to repent, it’s better to let those words cut you now than later. And if you are hurting, let his words comfort you. But whatever your situation, remember the words of John in his first letter.

We know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment., because in this world we are like him.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. (I John 4:16-19)

 

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Revelation 1:4-8 — The gospel behind Revelation

This being Easter Sunday in the States, I suppose it’s only fitting that we see the gospel here in this passage.

Most people don’t think of Revelation being a book about the gospel. But it is. And we see it laid out beautifully here by John. He says,

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father — to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth shall mourn because of him. So shall it be. Amen. (4-7)

Some things to note about the gospel.

First it comes from God in Trinity.

It comes from God the Father, who is, and who was, and who is to come. This title reflects the name God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, the great I AM. The Eternal One.

It comes from the seven spirits before his throne, which seems to be a figurative way to speak of the Holy Spirit. Many scholars think this alludes to Isaiah 11:2, where the Holy Spirit is called 7 things: the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge,  and the fear of the LORD. Seven is also the number of completeness or perfection in the Bible, which shows the Spirit’s perfection and completeness as God.

The gospel also comes from Jesus. And it’s interesting what John calls him, for in these titles we see the gospel itself. John calls him the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

The word “witness” comes from the Greek word where we get our English word “martyr.”  Initially, the Greek word simply meant “witness,” but even in John’s time, we start to see a change in meaning to “someone who bears his testimony to the point that he’s willing to die for it.” (See Revelation 2:13).

So John seems to show Jesus as the one who died as a martyr for us.

But Jesus is also the firstborn of the dead. This does not mean, however, that he was the first one ever to rise from the dead. Jesus himself raised several people from the dead. The word “firstborn” has the idea of preeminence. In other words, Jesus is the preeminent one of all who have ever risen from the dead. Why?

He tells us in verse 18.

I am the living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

While all those Jesus raised from the dead would later die a second time, Jesus never did die again and he never will.

But not only is he preeminent over all who ever rose from the dead. He is preeminent over all who will rise in the future. Why? Because he alone has the keys of death and Hades. He alone gives eternal life to whoever he pleases.

And now, he is king forever, the ruler of all other kings of the earth.

So from God in Trinity, we have this gospel of grace and peace.

What exactly is this gospel?

That God loves us.

That Jesus died for our sins and set us free from them. We are no longer slaves to sin, nor are we condemned for them.

More, we have been made part of God’s kingdom. We are now God’s priests, with direct access to God, and charged with serving him and ministering to the world on his behalf.

And one day, Jesus will return and judge this world.

How can we know these things for sure? Because of what God says in verse 8.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

In short, God is in control. He is the beginning of all things and the end of all things. And all things are in his hands.

And because of that we have hope.

That’s the message of the gospel. That’s the message of Easter. And that’s the message of Revelation.

To Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (6)

 

 

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Revelation 1:1-3 — That we may know God’s blessing

Happy Easter from Japan! And welcome to the book of Revelation!

I think for a lot of people that try to read this book, they think, “Why Revelation? Why do we need it? It’s so obscure and difficult to understand. Is it really that important?”

In a word, yes.

If there’s one thing in this chapter that strikes me, it’s that despite the fact that many churches (even, admittedly, the one I go to) tend to avoid it like the plague, it was meant to be read to the church. And to be understood.

We see this in the first two verses.

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John who testifies to everything he saw — that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (1-2)

We see something of a chain here. God the Father gives this revelation to Jesus Christ,  who passes it along to his angel, who passes it on to John. And now John passes it on to the church. Why? To show us what must soon take place.

I think one reason people tend to skip Revelation is because they think it has no relevance for the here and now. That it has to do with future events that are far beyond us.

But as we shall see, even for John’s readers and all their succeeding generations, Revelation had much relevance to their lives. When it says, “what soon must take place,” it means what it says. These events John talks about would soon take place.

This is not to say that everything that is written in Revelation would soon take place. There is much that is yet to happen. But I believe the events John wrote about started within his readers’ lifetimes. We can see them through the lens of history even to the present day.

And like I said, these things are meant to be read and understood. You still don’t believe me? Read John’s words in verse 3.

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (3)

These are not the words of someone who thinks these words are obscure and impossible to understand. These are the words of someone who expects us to read these words and be blessed. And he expects this because the time for these events he writes about are near. They were near in John’s day, and in part were fulfilled. And in our lifetime, they are still being fulfilled. Perhaps, they will even be consummated.

In short, Revelation is meant to be fiercely practical. And as we will see, it is meant to admonish us and to encourage us as we live each day in this world.

So as Jesus said, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

And if we do, we will find blessing.

 

 

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Jude 22-25 — When others fall

As much as it is important to contend with those who would attack the faith, we must care for those who have been affected by these attacks.

So Jude tells us first of all to be merciful to those who doubt. (22)

It would be easy to put down or insult people that are starting to have doubts, but we are to reach out to them, speaking the truth in love, and praying that God would open their eyes. (Ephesians 4:15)

We are also to snatch others from the fire and to save them. Some people are headed right into the fire by falling in with false teachers, and they don’t even know it. They think that these are legitimate teachers.

So Jude tells us, “Don’t let them just fall into the fire. Pull them out of there. Warn them of the danger they’re heading into.” (23)

And to those who have fallen captive to these false teachings, we are to show mercy and compassion for them. Even for the false teachers themselves. We are to lovingly plead that they repent and return to the God who bought them with his own blood.

But at the same time, we are to be careful that we don’t fall into the pit of sin they have fallen into. Instead, we are to hate “even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

Sin corrupts everything that it touches. Don’t let it corrupt you.

And through all your reaching out, remember that it is by the grace of God alone that you yourself stand. That apart from him, you could be where the doubting, the deceived, and the fallen are.

So don’t look down on them. Rather, give thanks to God as Jude did.

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy — to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore. Amen. (24-25)

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Jude — Recognizing those we contend with

The problem with deception is that it is by its nature difficult to detect. That’s why it can be so easy for false teachers to slip into the church. They don’t come out blaring to the church, “I am a deceiver.”

Rather they look like us. They talk like us. To some degree, they even act like us.

But when you take a closer look, they are wolves in sheeps’ clothing. How do we detect them?

Mostly by what they teach. As we saw yesterday, the false teachers in John’s day were turning God’s grace into a license for immorality. Though they claimed Jesus as Lord, their lives showed that they were in no way submitted to him as Lord. (4)

And that leads into the second way we can detect them: through their attitudes and actions.

For one thing, they reject all authority, including their Lord’s. (8)

For another, they don’t understand spiritual things and as a result, they speak abusively against them. This was true even of their attitude toward Satan. They mocked him despite the fact that he was more powerful than they. Even Michael the archangel refused to do that, even when he was in the right. (8-10).

Meanwhile, the things they do understand, their base instincts, lead them to destruction.

Because of this, Jude condemns them in language vaguely reminiscent of Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees. He calls them murderers (having taken the way of Cain), greedy (following the way of Balaam), and rebellious (as Korah was when he tried to lead an insurrection against Moses). (11).

Perhaps referring back to Korah, he also calls them grumblers and faultfinders, people who follow their own evil desires, boasting about themselves and using flattering words to gain followers. (16)

He then gets picturesque, calling them blemishes at the Lord’s table, shepherds who fed only themselves rather than the sheep, and clouds without rain, promising much but delivering nothing, while being blown about by every wind of teaching they encountered.

He also called them fruitless trees headed for destruction, waves that are uncontrolled and unresting, whipping up only their shame, and as wandering stars that lead anyone who tries to find direction through them astray. (12-13)

Their end? Judgment. (14-15).

And even at that thought, they scoff and continue in their ways, dividing the church and following their own instincts instead of the Spirit of God. (18-19)

The ironic thing of all this? They had once seemed like sheep, looking and sounding like us.

But this is nothing new.

The Israelites who came out of Egypt under Moses were like this. Though they were all “saved” from Egypt, nevertheless, they died in the desert because of their lack of faith. (5)

In the same way, Jude talks about angels who left the place God had assigned to them. (6)

Some believe this has to do with some of the angels following Satan after he rebelled, while others think it has to do with them marrying the daughters of men in the time of Noah. (I find the latter a bit hard to believe).

Either way, the point is the same. They seemed to have a spot secure among God’s chosen, but because of their sin found themselves under judgment.

In the end, these false teachers in Jude’s time simply abandoned themselves to sin as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah did. As a result, Jude warns that these teachers will be judged with eternal fire as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were. (7)

And if we follow them, we’ll end up where they’re going.

So Jude exhorts us,

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring us to eternal life. (20-21)

In short, if we are to recognize these teachers for what they are and avoid their fate, we need to stay rooted in Christ. To grow in the grace and knowledge of him and stay connected to his Spirit. To stay in his love, knowing that the judgment that awaits them is our hope because Jesus has paid the price for our sins on the cross.

How about you? Are you so rooted in Christ, that you can recognize false teachers when you see them and contend for the faith against them?

 

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Jude — Contending for the faith

I love how Jude, the brother of Jesus opens this letter.

To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ. (1)

This phrase bookends with the last two verses.

To him who able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and great joy — to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forever more. Amen. (24-25)

All very encouraging words. That we are loved by God and kept, not by our own power and strength, but by Jesus Christ himself. And these things are essential for us to understand in the light of Jude’s reason for writing.

Why did he write? Jude tells us,

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (3)

A couple of things that are important to note here.

First, the gospel has been entrusted to us and it is complete. As we saw in John’s second letter, there is no need to go “beyond” it. (II John 1:9)

Anyone who claims to have deeper truths than the gospel the apostles preached is lying. The faith we have was entrusted to us once for all time.

Second, we need to contend for it. We need to fight for it. Why? Because Satan is always trying to tear it down. And if he can’t destroy it from without through persecution, he will try to destroy it from within through deception.

This was happening all the way back in the time of the apostles. Paul warned against this (Acts 20:30-31), as did Peter (2 Peter 2:1), John (I John 2:18-19), and now Jude.

He said,

For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (4)

Things have not changed in 2000 years. People still claim to be Christians, justifying their sinful ways by saying, “Oh, it’s okay. I’ll just sin and repent later, and God will forgive me.”

In doing so, though they claim Jesus as Lord, they deny him by their actions.

What’s worse is when they teach others to think and live this way as well.

And so Jude tells us we need to contend for the faith. To contend with these false teachers and false teachings.

But as we contend for the faith, remember that the victory has already been won. We’ve been called by God, loved by him, and kept by Jesus Christ. And because of Jesus, we will stand before God one day, without fault and with great joy.

So let us never be discouraged in our fight, but let us contend strongly for the faith until Jesus comes again.

Maranatha. Come soon, Lord Jesus.

 

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III John — Walking in truth and love (part 2)

As we look at III John, we see many of the same themes that we see in II John, and for that matter in I John: those of truth and love.

Here, though, we have a very practical application of these things: the support of missionaries and other ministers of the gospel.

As we saw in John’s last letter, there were many traveling teachers who went from church to church, missionaries if you will. They seemed to be not only going to the churches, but preaching to unbelievers as well, as John makes specific note that they received no support from the “pagans.” (7)

Because these missionaries were doing this service for the sake of Christ, John encouraged Gaius, the recipient of this letter, and apparently a leader in the church, to support such people in giving them a place to stay, and providing food, drink, and other needs that they might have. (This is in sharp contrast to what John told the church in II John 1:10 concerning false teachers).

Many Christians don’t think of this, but by supporting missionaries, we are walking in truth and love. We walk in truth in that we support the spread of it to those around us. And we walk in love by helping those who preach it. And not only are we showing love to those missionaries, but love for those they take the gospel to.

Unfortunately, a man named Diotrephes refused to do this. He was another leader in the church, but instead of living a life of truth and love, he lived only for himself. John said that he loved to be first (9) and would have nothing to do with the leaders of the church and those missionaries who spread the gospel. Instead, he spread gossip about them. More, he threw people out of the church who tried to support the missionaries that had come to them. (10)

In short, out of his pride, Diotrephes told his congregation, “I don’t recognize these people, and neither should you.”

Unfortunately, there are pastors like this. Because they are so concerned about their own position, they refuse to work with anyone else outside their own organization. What’s even worse is when they refuse to accept any authority besides themselves because of their pride.

But John tells Gaius,

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. (11)

In other words, “Don’t be like Diotrephes, Gaius. Walk in truth and love as we do and as you have been doing until now.”

How about you? Do you support the truth and those who preach it with your finances? Do you support your pastor? Do you support the missionaries you know?

Do you seek to bless such people who are working for the name of Christ?

Or do you instead snipe at them from behind?

This world needs Jesus. But they will never find him if we are not walking in truth and love. And one big way to do that is to support those spreading the gospel.

Are you?

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II John – Walking in truth and love

Here we have a very short letter, written to a church that the apostle John lovingly calls, “the chosen lady,” probably in reference to the church being the bride of Christ.

And I don’t think you have to look very hard to see the two main themes in this very short letter.

He writes,

The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth — and not I only, but also all who know the truth — because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever. Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love. (1-3)

In this passage, we see the word truth no less than 4 times.

And you see it in the very next verse as well.

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded. (4)

As much joy as it gave John to see believers walking in truth, it gives God the Father even more. But what does that mean, “to walk in truth?”

I think first of all it means to believe all that God has said, especially concerning Jesus. That he is the Christ, the one God has sent to save us from our sins. That Jesus actually came down to this earth as a man, died on a cross to pay the price for our sin, and that he rose again.

To deny this is to call God a liar as we saw in John’s first letter (I John 5:10).

And yet many people did deny it, and John called them deceivers and antichrists (7). And he warns,

Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. (8-9)

To walk in truth then, is to stay in the teaching we have received from Christ and which he gave to his apostles. If you run ahead of that teaching to embrace another, John says that you do not have God.

That’s especially important in the world today where many people are claiming to speak for God and yet run way beyond anything that Jesus and his apostles taught. As a result, they stray from the truth. So John says, “Don’t do that. Stay with the truth that you have received.”

To walk in truth also means to have nothing to do with those who teach things contrary to what Christ and his apostles have said. John says,

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. (10-11)

This is not to say that we are not to welcome unbelievers into our houses. Rather, in those days, traveling preachers often came and taught in home churches. To welcome false teachers into your house in that situation would be to promote false teaching.

Unfortunately, we see numerous false teachers coming into legitimate churches, spreading their false teachings. And that has to stop. Pastors need to be very discerning as to who they let take the pulpit. If they don’t, they will be held responsible by God for supporting those false teachings.

The other main theme in this letter is to walk in love. John says,

And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (5-6)

Many churches hold on to truth, but unfortunately don’t hold on to love. Instead, within the church there is gossip, back-biting, infighting, and worse.

It is not enough to know the truth. We need to live it too. And the one thing we really need to live is a life of love.

How about you? Are you walking in truth and love?

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I John 5:16-21 — A sin that leads to death

John has a somewhat curious thing to say in verses 16-17. He says,

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is a sin that leads to death. (16-17)

It seems to me that John is referring to something that James also talked about. James said,

Is any of you sick…The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14-15)

Most times, illness is not the result of a person’s sin, but is merely the result of living in a fallen world. But James leaves room for the judgment of God as being a reason for a person getting sick. And he says that if you pray for such a person, God will not only heal them, but forgive their sin.

But in this passage, John adds a caveat to James’ words. He says don’t bother praying for people whose sin leads to death. What does he mean by that?

I think we find the answer in verses 18-19.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (18-19)

One thing that John warns us of again and again is willful, deliberate sin. Again and again he tells us that a true child of God does not make a practice of sin. In verses 18-19, he says the reason for this is that Jesus himself works in us, and that though the whole world is under the control of Satan, we are not. The world may not be able to resist the temptations Satan throws at them, but through the power of God, we can.

For the brother, then, that makes a constant practice of sin, with no sign or remorse or repentance, they are headed for death.

That can mean one of two things. First, that God will bring physical death upon them for their sin. We see this in more than a few places in scripture (Acts 5:1-10, I Corinthians 5:5, 11:27-30)

The other thing it could mean is that such people were not truly ever saved, and that they are headed for eternal death. They knew the truth, they claimed to believe it, and yet by their lives proved they never belonged to God. And he holds them especially accountable because they know the truth. There is no excuse for their behavior. (Hebrews 10:26-31)

In short, not all sins are alike. All of us sin. And as John said, all wrongdoing is sin. But there is a difference between falling into sin and deliberately plunging ourselves into it.

If you fall into sin and repent, God will forgive you. But if you refuse to repent and turn from your ways, there can be no forgiveness for that, only judgment, either in this life or the next, and possibly both.

But John has better hopes for us. He says,

And we know that Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (20)

In other words, Jesus has come, and has opened our hearts and minds to his truth. Now we know God and are in Jesus Christ. He abides in us and we in him, and because of that, we have life.

And so John concludes,

Little children, keep yourself from idols. (21)

John’s telling us, “You belong to the truth now. You belong to the true God. So don’t deliberately offer yourselves to sin and the things of this world. They are mere counterfeits of all that God wants to offer you. Run from sin. And run to Jesus, offering yourself to the one who truly is Life.”

Who are you offering yourself to?

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I John 5:13-15 — When we have confidence in God’s love

I have to admit, it seems at times that John jumps around a lot in his thoughts. And the jump between verses 13 and 14 seems a bit startling as well. How do we go from talking about the confidence we have in our salvation and God hearing our prayers and answering them.

But in this case, perhaps the jump isn’t as big as we might first think. The apostle Paul wrote,

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

In other words, if God loved us so much that he would give what was most precious to him, his Son, won’t he give us all things we need?

And I think John is making the same point here. He says,

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know he hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him. (13-15)

Sometimes we are reluctant to come to God with our requests. Perhaps we feel we are being too selfish or self-centered.

But as children of God, we should come before God with confidence no matter our request. Why?

Because if we loved us enough to save us when we cried out to him, he will love us enough to listen to us whenever we come before him with any request we may have, large or small.

And because he saved us, we can be confident that he is looking out for our best. That means he will never give us anything that would harm us, but only the things that would benefit us.

That’s where the caveat comes in. If we ask anything according to his will, he will hear us. If what we ask for is something he knows is for our good, he will hear us, and grant our request. If it is not, he will not.

So let us not hesitate to come before God with our requests. But let us come before him as trusting children. And as his trusting children, let us always believe that he desires our best through his yeses and nos.

After all, through the cross, he has certainly proved himself worthy of that trust.

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I John 5:6-13- The testimony of God

It is very interesting to me that God in trinity testifies to the way of salvation. I’d never really thought about that before. John tell us,

This is the one who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. (6-8)

I think for most people reading this, John’s words can be confusing because they don’t know the background. But there were people in John’s day that said that Jesus wasn’t always the Christ. Instead, they had this weird teaching that “the Christ” descended as a spirit on Jesus at his baptism, but departed at his death.

So according to them, Jesus wasn’t the “Christ” when he died and thus he didn’t truly pay for our sins.

But the truth is Jesus proved himself to be the Christ at his baptism and death. At his baptism, the Father expressed his approval of him and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. Then at the cross, he paid the price for our sins, just as the scriptures predicted that he would.

So we have Father, Son, and Spirit all testifying to the way of salvation, and that is through Jesus the Messiah.

Why is this important? Because if God says something, there’s no room for argument. And that’s what John tells us in verses 9-10.

We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. (9-10)

In short, we often believe people’s testimony. How can we not believe God when he speaks?

And now because God has spoken, we cannot reject God’s testimony and still claim to be following God.

What is God’s testimony? John tells us in verses 11-12.

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (11-12)

Many people, however, don’t like this testimony. They want to believe there are many ways to God besides Jesus. But John tells us that for us to say that is to call God a liar.

But if we will only believe it, we can peace and confidence concerning our salvation. Why? Because our salvation is not based on anything that we do. It’s based solely on the grace of God and the work Jesus did on the cross for us. All we have to do is to accept it.

In John’s words,

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (13)

Note that John wrote not that you might think you have eternal life, but that you would know it in your heart.

How about you? Have you accepted the testimony of God? Do you know that you have eternal life?

 

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I John 4:9-10 — The love God has for us

I said yesterday that I wanted to get back to some verses from chapter 4 that I skipped a couple of days ago. And they are absolutely vital because it goes back to something I said yesterday.

I said yesterday that as we come to drink more deeply of the love, our whole perspective on ourselves and others change.

Let’s take a deeper drink of that love today.

John writes,

This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (9-10)

Think about these verses for a minute.

God could have let us all go to hell. He would have been perfectly within his rights to do so. He didn’t have to save anyone.

He certainly didn’t send Jesus to save any of the angels that sinned against him.

And when he sent his Son into the world, he could have sent him in judgment. To destroy all of us who had rebelled against him. But that’s not why he sent Jesus. He sent him that we might have life.

The amazing thing is, it’s not like we were looking to be saved. It’s not that we said, “God I really messed up. But I truly do love you. Please save me.”

Rather, we were perfectly content living in our sin. We had no intention whatsoever of turning our eyes toward him.

But God’s eyes were already turned on us. Not to judge us. But to save us.

And so he sent his Son to be an atoning sacrifice for us.

I’ve mentioned before that atoning sacrifices were usually made by people to appease an angry God. But God didn’t even wait for us to do that. The truth is, we didn’t care enough to make one, nor could we make any sacrifice that could appease him even if we wanted to.

But God made that sacrifice for us. John’s words here echo Paul’s when the latter said,

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

As I write this, Good Friday and Easter are coming up soon. And it would be so easy to just take for granted all that God has done for us.

Don’t do that. Memorize these verses in I John and Romans. Meditate on them. Drink them in.

And they will transform you forever.

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I John 5:1-5:5 — If we truly know and love God (part 2)

Just a quick note. There were some verses in chapter 4 that I skipped last time and I really want to get back to. But before I go there, I want to complete my thoughts from yesterday.

As I said yesterday, if we truly know and love God, love for others should be the natural outgrowth that comes from that. For as John says,

Everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. (5:1)

And as John said at the end of chapter 4, how can we claim to love our heavenly Father who we cannot see and not love his children who we can see. (4:20)

Still, this is not to say that if come to know Christ, we will automatically love everyone God puts in our path. The fruit of love is like all other fruits of the Spirit. It takes time to grow. And yet…it should grow.

Verse 2 here is very interesting. John tells us,

This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. (5:2)

From what we saw in chapter 4, we would have expected John to say the opposite. That is, “This is how we know that we love God: by loving the children of God.”

But instead, John says, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.”

It’s almost the same, but there is a subtle difference between the two. The difference is the focus.

In the first, we put our focus on trying to love others as proof that we love God. And that can be a burden, because not all of his children are so lovable.

But in the second, the focus is not on loving the children of God, but on loving God. He, not others, is the focus. But in focusing on God, his love for us, and our love for him, we naturally start wanting to do the things that please him. And so we keep his commands. What are the two greatest commands? To love him first and foremost. And then to love others. So again, by focusing on loving God first, love for others becomes the natural outcome.

It also becomes less of a burden to love others when we put our primary focus on God. Why?

By focusing on God, we come to know his love for us more deeply. And as we drink in of his love more deeply, as I said yesterday, our whole perspective changes. Our perspective on ourselves changes. And our perspective on others changes.

We no longer judge ourselves or others by our or their loveliness. Rather we see ourselves and others through the eyes of God. And he sees through all the ugliness that mars us to the true image of himself that he instilled in us from the very beginning. And when we see that image, it makes it easier to love ourselves and others.

That’s why John can say of keeping God’s commands, and especially of keeping the command to love,

His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (5:3-4)

Everyone born of God grows in their knowledge of his love for them, and it is only natural that they respond with love back for him and for others. The result? We overcome sin in our lives. We overcome hatred. We overcome everything that the world throws at us because it hates us.

But remember the key.

Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (5:5)

How about you? Do you believe that Jesus is God’s Son? That God loved you enough to send him to die for you? That is the truth you need to soak yourself in. For if you do, it will change your life.

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I John 4:7-5:1 — If we truly know and love God

Jesus once said of false prophets,

By their fruit you will recognize them. (Matthew 7:16)

And while Jesus was specifically talking about false prophets, we can say the same of all those who claim to be Christians. Many people claim to be followers of Christ. They claim to know and love God. But what does the fruit that comes out of their lives show?

The number one fruit that should come out of their lives is love.

And so John tells us,

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (4:7-8)

A few verses down, he says again,

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (11-12)

According to John then, what is the proof God lives in us and his love is complete in us? It’s that we love one another.

He then expands on this idea. After proclaiming that God sent his Son to be the Savior of the world, he shows us the natural outcome of coming to know this truth in our hearts. He says,

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. (15-16)

That second part of verse 16 almost sounds as if our relationship with God depends on our ability to learn to love. But actually, it is the exact opposite. Because we live in God and God in us, we start to live in love. Why is that?

The reason is that if we truly understand what God has done for us, our whole way of thinking changes. We no longer live wondering about our self-worth. We no longer base our value on what others think of us. Rather, we have full confidence in the love God has for us, and that confidence transforms our lives.

And that will also show on the day of judgment when we stand before God.

John tells us,

In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (17-18)

John then sums this all up by saying,

We love because he first loved us. (4:19)

For this reason, John tells us,

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. (4:20-21, 5:1)

“His child” seems to be referring not only to Jesus, God’s Son, but all of God’s children as well. In short, if we truly know and love God,we will also love his other children.

Is this saying then that if we struggle to love others in our lives that we are not Christians?

No.

Love is a fruit of our relationship with God. And like all fruit, it starts small and then grows. But as we grow deeper in our relationship with God and understand his love more fully, our love for others should grow as well.

More on this tomorrow.

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I John 3:24-4:6 — Testing the spirits

There are many today who claim to follow Christ, to have the Holy Spirit, and to preach the gospel. The question we always need to be asking, however, is if they follow the true Christ, have the true Holy Spirit, and preach the true gospel.

Paul once wrote with great concern to the Corinthian church, saying,

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. (II Corinthians 11:3-4)

It was with this same kind of concern that John wrote to his readers. After telling them that we can know God dwells in us by the Spirit he gave (3:24), he immediately warns them,

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (4:1)

I don’t think there’s a disconnect in thought between 3:24 and 4:1. I believe they’re strongly connected. John’s saying on one hand that we as Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But then he swiftly warns us to watch out because the Holy Spirit is not the only spirit around. There are a lot of evil ones out there too, and most times, they come portraying themselves as “angels of light.”

And just as there were many false prophets in the Old Testament days, there were false prophets in John’s day and there are false prophets even in our day, all powered by these spirits. So John says, when someone claims to speak for God, test them. Don’t be fooled by sweet sounding words or by spiritual experiences.

How can we discern the false spirits from the Holy Spirit?

One thing is to test what they say about Christ. In John’s day, the big thing was whether Jesus had actually come in the flesh or not. Many people claimed that he hadn’t. That he had just appeared to have flesh, but was not truly human.

Not many deny Jesus’ humanity nowadays, but many do deny his deity, that he truly was God come in human form. But John says that anyone who fails to confess Jesus as he truly is, both God and man, is not from God. (4:2-3)

The other test is if they contradict the things that the apostles have already taught about Jesus and the gospel. He says,

We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (4:6)

Those are strong words, and they show the authority that God had given the apostles. As a result, you cannot claim to follow God and yet deny or contradict what the apostles taught. So if you hear anyone who does that, you know he cannot from God.

The sad thing is that many people do not test what they hear. They believe everyone who says they follow Christ, and because of that, they fall into darkness. They are in fact following antichrists, not the true Christ.

But if we test the spirits, we don’t need to fear about falling into confusion or darkness. For John tells us,

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (4:4)

Are you testing what you hear?

 

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I John 3:16-22 — But am I really saved?

“But am I really saved?”

I’ve mentioned before that I really struggled with this question when I was a child.

And to be honest, it’s a hard question to answer. It’s hard because only God truly knows the human heart. And it’s hard because though we’ve looked at all the marks of a Christian in the past three blogs, we can all see our failures. Our failures in righteousness. Our failures in love.

About the only thing we can say with any conviction (I would hope), is “Yes, I truly do believe in Jesus. I have trusted in him for my salvation.”

One word of comfort I can give to you is this: the fact that you can see your faults and are concerned about them makes me think that you are probably saved. It is the people who don’t care and yet claim to be Christians that worry me.

As I’ve mentioned before, true Christians long to be like their Lord. They long to be like him because they love him so much. And so when they fall short, it bothers them.

False Christians have no such desires to be like Jesus, so when they fall short, it doesn’t bother them at all.

It is the false Christians that repeatedly make excuses for their sin and lack of love. It is the true Christians that mourn over these things and repent.

That said, as you look over your time as a Christian, you should be able to see some change. You should see some change in your attitudes toward those around you, namely an increased compassion and love for them. And you should start seeing a sheer discomfort with sin that you never had before. Sin that never bothered you before, should start bothering you now.

It’s striking to me that John does not even entertain the thought that a Christian would not see these changes.

But there’s one more thing, and it is reflected in some of the newer translations, particularly the new NIV. It translates verses 19-20 this way:

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

In other words, if you are really feeling under a load of guilt because you feel you haven’t changed enough, or you constantly feel guilty despite seeing the changes in your life, understand that your feelings aren’t the final judge of whether you’re saved or not. God is. And he knows everything. He knows if you truly love him or not. He sees the changes he has worked in you. And that’s all that counts.

The encouragement I would give to you if you are laboring under guilt is to simply keep pursuing him. Seek to become more like him each day. Share the love he’s given you with those around you. If you fall, confess and repent. Then get up, and keep on going. Know that he is on your side. He’s not constantly condemning you. If you truly love him, he sees that, and will never give up on you.

And as you come to understand his grace more deeply in your life, that feeling condemnation will fade. And at that point, John says,

Dear friends, if your hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. (21-22)

In other words, your fears will fade, your confidence in his love for you will increase, and you will see change in your life, leading to an even deeper relationship with  God. Why? Because your thoughts will start aligning with the Father’s to the point that you start praying things according to his will. And as you do, he will answer, bringing you joy and even more confidence that you are truly his.

But until that day, pursue him, remembering the words of James.

Come near to God, and he will come near to you. (James 4:8)

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I John 3:16-18 — The mark of a child of God (part 3)

Actions speak louder than words.

That is true of anyone who is truly a child of God. We saw that in James, and we see that here as well.

Jesus’ actions spoke volumes.

John said,

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (16)

In other words, true love is fiercely practical. Jesus showed his love by dying on a cross for us. In the same way, we are to show love for others by laying down our lives for them.

In case we missed the point, John goes on, saying,

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (17-18)

In short, true love does not stand still. When it sees others in need, it has compassion and reaches out.

And that should be the mark of any child of God. Not just words of love. But deeds of love.

If we can see those who are hurting around us and have no compassion at all, if instead we think solely of ourselves, how can we say that we are God’s children? Especially in the light of the love we have received from him.

How about you? Does love mark your life? Do you have compassion for those who are hurting around you? Or do you not even care?

Remember the words of Jesus,

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me….whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. (Matthew 25:40, 45)

What does the love you have for others say about you?

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I John 2:28-3:24 — The mark of a child of God (part 2)

We saw yesterday that the mark of a child of God is righteousness. That true children of God seek to be pure as the One they love is pure.

And that when they sin, they can’t do so without feeling remorse for it and repenting.

I remember the one and only time I ever swore in my life. I was just a kid at the time, and I remember making a very deliberate decision to do it. I felt so awful about it afterward that I never did it again. I think that was a sign that I truly was a child of God. No Christian can make a practice of deliberate sin and not eventually repent of it.

It is possible for them to sin, however. So John encourages us,

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. (2:28)

How do we “continue in him?” He tells us at the end of chapter 3.

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (3:23-24)

The words “continue” and “live” are actually the same word in Greek. And John is saying, “If you want to be confident and unashamed when Jesus comes back, obey God. Do what he says.”

What has God told us to do? First and foremost, to believe in Jesus. To put our trust in him for salvation.

That actually is the first mark of a Christian. The whole problem with the human race is that we have turned our backs on God and said, “I’m living for myself. I’m doing things my way.”

The first thing a Christian does is to turn their back on that way of thinking. To say, “Not my way, any longer, Lord. But Your way.” And the first step to doing that is to embrace the gift of salvation that God offers in Jesus Christ. To stop trying to earn your salvation through your own efforts or through other religions. But to put your faith in Jesus and his work on the cross alone.

But the second part of his command is to love one another. John makes it crystal clear:

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. (10)

Why is John so strong on this point of loving our brother?

For one thing, it is part of the very core of the Christian message. He says,

This is the message that you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (3:10)

This is not advanced Christianity. This is Christianity 101.

For another, if we truly know the love of Christ in our lives, it should naturally flow out from us.

John says,

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (3:16)

So a sure mark of a Christian is the love they have for others.

John tells us,

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. (3:15)

How about you? Do you have the marks of a child of God?

 

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I John 2:28-3:10 –The mark of a child of God

How can we know we are truly children of God? That we are truly saved? I remember having that question when I was a kid. I had received Jesus when I was about 7 years old, but for a long time, I was never quite sure if I was truly saved.

Here in this passage, we find the answer.

John says,

If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him. (2:29)

The ESV puts it,

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

In other words, if you are truly saved, righteousness will mark your life. This is not to say that you will ever be perfect, but when people look at you, they will see someone who makes a practice of doing what is right.

This is in sharp contrast to how the rest of the world lives. And so John says,

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (3:1)

When we live as children of God, practicing righteousness, the world has a hard time figuring us out. They can’t understand why we don’t live like they do. Why? Because they don’t know God. And if they don’t know him, they won’t understand us.

John then tells us,

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as [Jesus] is pure. (3:2)

What is our motivation for righteousness as children of God? Is it that we are trying to earn our way into heaven? Is it that we’re trying to impress other people?

Not at all. Rather John tells us that our motivation is our love for God. He has lavished his great love upon us and called us his children.

Not only that, we have the hope that we will one day be like the One we love. When Jesus returns, we will receive new bodies that will reflect the glory of Jesus himself and we will be like him, perfectly righteous in every way.

Some people think, “Why bother fighting sin? I will never overcome it.”

But if you are a Christian, that’s not true. The day will come when we will be made perfect. There is hope. And John tells us that because true believers have that hope, they desire even now to be pure as Jesus is pure.

So all true Christians long to be pure as the Lord they love.

If you don’t have that longing, can you truly call yourself a Christian?

John tells us that Jesus came to take away our sins. That in Jesus himself there is no sin (3:5)

More, Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work. (3:8)

How then can anyone who claims to be a Christian just sin without conscience, promoting the very work that Jesus came to destroy? They can’t. If anyone does, you have to seriously question if they are saved or not.

Do you think I’m being judgmental? Look at what John says.

No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. (3:6-8)

And again,

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. (9)

Again, this is not to say that true Christians will never sin. This is saying a true Christian cannot just sin and feel no remorse over it. They will repent and seek to turn from that sin.

So John concludes,

This is how we know who the children of God are, and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. (10)

Whose child are you?

 

 

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I John 2:18-27 — The anointing we have

One of the things the false teachers were apparently telling the people was, “What you have learned from the apostles is not enough. We have a special anointing from God that neither they nor you have.”

But John tells his readers,

 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (20)

And again,

 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit — just as it has taught you, remain in him. (27)

What is this anointing John is speaking of? He’s speaking of the Holy Spirit whom God gives to all believers.

And what John says here echoes strongly the words of Jesus himself. Jesus said,

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you…When he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. (14:26; 16:13-14)

Two things here: First, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is ultimately our teacher. What will he teach us? Things clearly contrary to the things Jesus has said? Of course not. Instead he reminds us of what Jesus has said. And if he does not speak on his own, but speaks only what he hears, he will never contradict anything Jesus said. So if you hear anyone saying, “I have a special anointing from God,” and yet they contradict what Jesus has said, you can safely ignore them.

Second, in bringing us the words of Christ and making them known to us, he always brings glory to Christ. He will never, as some of the false teachers did in John’s day and do even now, deny that Jesus is God or degrade him in any way.

John is not saying then that we don’t need teachers in the church. (He himself was teaching the people in this very letter.) What he is saying is you don’t need these teachers with special “anointings” who try to teach you something contrary to what you have already heard. Instead, just as the Holy Spirit taught you from the very beginning, remain in Jesus. Acknowledge him as Lord and God, and surrender your life daily to him.

Are you listening to the Words of the Spirit today?

 

 

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I John 2:18-25 — What Satan tries to sell us

I think it is easy sometimes to think of Satan merely as that roaring lion. The one who out and out seeks to destroy us.

But the truth is that as often as he takes that tactic, he also takes the tactic of the harmless sheep. That’s clearly seen in the Antichrist.

We hear the word Antichrist, and we immediately think of him as this terrible figure who will wreak havoc on the world. And he will. But before he does so, he will appear to be like Christ. As someone who is looking to bring peace and salvation to this world.

He has yet to come (so far as we know), but throughout history, even in the time of John, there were many antichrists, people who appeared to be harmless, who in fact seemed be a blessing to the church, but who instead spread deadly poison in the church and who had to be cast out. John says of them,

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (19)

What kind of poison were they spreading? The same kind of poison that’s spreading even now: a denial of Christ.

There are many people who have no problem saying, “I believe in God” or “I believe in a higher power.” That concept is not offensive to them at all. But bring up Jesus Christ and their whole tone changes. He is an utter offense to them.

But John tells us,

Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist — he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (22-23)

In other words, you cannot truly claim to believe in God if you reject Jesus. To deny Jesus is to deny God himself. Why? Because Jesus is God.

That was one of the things that the Jews failed to understand in Jesus’ day. That the Christ is divine.

And so when Jesus asked them, “Why, if the Christ is David’s son, does David call him Lord? If David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son,” they were stumped. (Matthew 22:42, 45)

The answer is that not only is Christ the son of David, but he is God himself. Jesus said as much. (John 8:58, John 10:30-33).

But people will go out of their way to deny that. They will call him a prophet, a good man, even the Son of God. All of them are true. But he is also God, and has been from all eternity. And to deny that is to swallow the poison that Satan is selling.

So John tells us,

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us — even eternal life. (24-25)

The ultimate question that everyone has to answer is this: “What do you think of Christ? Whose Son is he?”

Your eternal destiny rests on your answer.

Who do you say that he is?

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I John 2:15-17 — In love with the Father? In love with the world?

As I read this, I can’t help but think that John was reflecting back to Jesus’ own words when He said,

No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money…What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. (Luke 16:13, 15)

Remarkably close to what John says in this passage.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. (15-16)

Imagine telling your wife, “Yes I love you. But I love this other woman just as much. So I will give of myself to both you and her.”

How would your wife respond? How would you respond if you were the wife? Not well, I would suspect.

But that’s just what so many Christians try to do. All week, they are pursuing and clinging to the things of this world. They chase after money, possessions, power, and pleasure, trying to grasp all the things this world offers. Temporary things. Fleeting things.

And then on Sunday they go to church and sing with tears in their eyes, “I love you Lord.”

But John says that’s not love. You cannot love the things in this world and still truly love God. Your spouse would never accept that kind of love. And neither will God.

He desires our whole heart, not half of it, not three quarters, not even 99 percent. Anything less is unacceptable to him. He needs to be first in our lives, and everything else a distant second.

John says,

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (17)

In short, we can pursue what is fleeting or what is eternal. Why pursue a world that is fleeting and will ultimately leave you empty? You might as well pursue a long-term, loving relationship with a prostitute. Both will eventually cast you aside, having taken everything from you and ultimately leaving you with nothing.

But when we pursue God, that’s when we find true life, true love, and true joy. Life, love, and joy that are lasting.

Which will you choose?

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I John 2:12-14 — As we mature

As I read John’s words here to his different readers, it strikes me that there are different stages that we go through in our Christian lives.

First, as children.

John writes,

I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. (12)

And again,

I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. (13c)

I think that when we first become Christians, two things strike us above all things.

First, that God has forgiven us.

So many of us come to God weighted down by our sins. We see what a mess we have made of our lives because of our choices, and in our desperation we turn to God. And John tells us, “Your sins are forgiven.”

I think of the woman who came to Jesus, a woman who had been burdened by her sins, weeping and wetting his feet with her tears. And Jesus said to her gently, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:36-50)

That’s the joy that all new Christians know.

Second, we come to know God as Father. It’s a theme that John will come back to later in this letter. (3:1-3)

The thing is, we don’t come to know God first as the awesome other-worldly being that transcends the universe. As the great King of all kings. As someone so far removed from us that we couldn’t possibly draw near to him.

Rather, we come to know him as Father. As someone who is approachable because he truly loves and cares for us. As someone who is never too busy for us, but will stop whatever he is doing when we come to him because he delights in us as his children.

But as we grow as Christians, we don’t remain mere children. We become mature and strong.

So John says,

I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (14b)

In other words, as the word of God lives in us, as we get beyond the milk of the gospel and take in the solid meat of the word, and by our constant use of it train ourselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:12-14), we overcome the evil one and all his attempts to destroy us.

We learn to recognize the false teaching he throws at us to lead us astray from God. And we learn to overcome the temptations to sin that would destroy us. We will see more of these themes throughout the rest of this letter.

Finally, as we become mature in our faith, we start to see God as he truly is. John writes,

I write to you fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. (2:13a, 2:14a)

As C.S. Lewis put it, the more we grow, the bigger God becomes to us. Not because he actually grows bigger. But because we see him more clearly as he truly is. We see that he is not just our loving Father, but the creator of all things and ruler of the universe. That he is the eternal one, with no beginning or end. And we bow down at awe of him.

But we will bow, not just because of his greatness. But because of the fact that as awesome as he is, he still loves us and calls us his children.

Because at the end of the day, no matter how much we may grow and mature as Christians, we will never outgrow our Father or our need to see him as such.

So each day, let us grow in the grace and knowledge of him who loves us and calls us his children.

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I John 2:1-2 — When we fall

We saw yesterday that though we are children of light and are called to live that way, we do fall at times. And when we do, if we confess our sins and repent, God will forgive us. (1:9)

Here in these two short verses, we see the basis of that forgiveness.

John tells us,

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1-2)

Again, John emphasizes here that as children of light, we are not to live in darkness. But he then comforts us by saying that if we do fall into darkness, we have someone who defends us. That Jesus himself stands before the Father as our defense attorney.

What is the basis for his defense of us? His atoning sacrifice for us on the cross. What does that mean exactly?

For a lot of pagan cultures, they made sacrifices to appease the wrath of the gods and regain their favor.

John uses the same picture here…with one huge difference. It is not us who makes the sacrifice that appeases the wrath of God and makes him see us with favor once again. Rather, it is God the Father himself who sent his Son as a sacrifice. As Abraham once put it in a story that foreshadowed his heavenly Father’s work,

God himself will provide the lamb for the [sacrifice.] (Genesis 22:8)

And so God did on the cross. He provided the lamb, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. Jesus who never sinned or did anything wrong, took the punishment for our sins. And as Jesus was on that cross, God poured all his wrath on him.

The result? Jesus now stands with us before the Father and says, “Father, I have paid the price for their sins and failings.”

And the Father answers, “That’s right.” And not only does he dismiss our case, he pours out his love upon us once again.

That’s mercy. That’s grace. It belongs to all who are truly his children. And it comes to us through Jesus Christ.

How then can we not live lives of gratitude for the one who saved us? How can we not want to be like him?

Lord Jesus, thank you for what you did on that cross 2000 years ago. That through your sacrifice, my sins are forgiven and God’s love and grace are poured down on me. Now Lord, make me like you. I want to be like you, reflecting that love and grace to those around me that they may know you too. Work in me, changing me into your likeness. And work through me that others may know that love and grace too. In Jesus name, amen.

 

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I John 1:8-10 — Our struggle with sin

It would be easy, having seen the last two blogs I have posted, to get the impression that I’m saying a true Christian should be perfect. That there should be no sin in our lives at all.

And John does seem to have this tendency to put these things in black and white. But one thing that is also crystal clear from his writing is that though we are children of light, and that true children of light walk in that light, we still sin. We still fail.

In fact, John tells us,

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (8)

And again,

If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (9)

How does this all fit into what we have said before?

Several things, some of which we have already touched on.

  1. A true child of God does not make excuses for their sin. They do not try to explain away scripture to justify their sin. They do not try to say their case is an “exception” to the rule.
  2. A true child of God does not blatantly ignore scripture. When they read it, they do their best to follow it.
  3. A true child of God struggles with their sin. They don’t simply say, “This is the way I am. I’m never going to change.” Rather they mourn over their sin. And they long to be different.

This is not to say that true Christians never do any of the above. Sometimes they do make excuses. Sometimes they do blatantly ignore scripture. Sometimes they do say, “This is the way I am. I’m never going to change.”

And sometimes, Christians simply have blind spots. They simply can’t see their sin for what it is. They haven’t reached the point of maturity where they can discern all that’s good and evil. (Hebrews 5:13-14)

But a true Christian will not simply continue living this way. The Holy Spirit will not allow it. And if the Christian will not listen, he will bring discipline into their lives.

The good news, however, is that when we repent, God will forgive. John tells us,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (9)

Are you a child of God? A child of the Light? Then stop making excuses for your sin. Stop ignoring God’s Word. When God chastises you, repent. And God is gracious. He will forgive you.

We will never be perfect while in this world, but that should always be our goal. If we truly love Jesus, we should long to be like him.

Do you?

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I John 1:5-2:11 — To have fellowship with God (part 2)

We saw yesterday that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. So if we are going to claim to have fellowship with him, then we need to be walking in that light with him. If we try to explain away his commands or blatantly ignore them and still claim fellowship with him, we are liars.

John then gives one specific example which he will get back to again and again in this letter. He says,

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you had since the beginning. This old  command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; it’s truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. (2:7-8)

What is this old/new command? I think John is specifically referring to loving your neighbor, although as we will see in later passages, loving your neighbor goes a long way to proving your love for God too. In Moses’ law, God said to love your neighbor as yourself. That was the old command.

But the new command as seen in Jesus is this: to love one another, not merely as we love ourselves, but as Jesus himself loved us. (John 13:34-35)

In short, it is to know the love of God so much in our lives, that his love can’t help but flow out of our lives to others. And so John says that this truth is not just seen in Jesus, but in us who truly believe in him. For his true light of love is already shining in our hearts, while the darkness which formerly marked our hearts is departing.

Therefore, John says,

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in darkness; he does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded him. (2:9-11)

All this links right back to chapter 1 verses 5-7. There is no way we can claim to have fellowship with God if we hate our brother. A person who hates is still walking in darkness, not light.

This hatred can manifest itself in bigotry or racism of course. It can also manifest itself in jealousy or envy. But one place it most often manifests itself is in unforgiveness. And many people stumble around in darkness, bound in bitterness and hatred because they can’t forgive.

And like I said before, for such people, it can be very easy to either try to explain away scripture or blatantly ignore it, all the while holding on to their hatred toward the person that hurt them.

But if we truly understand the love God has for us and the forgiveness he has extended toward us, can we truly hold on to that hatred?

A true child of God can’t.

Now I’m not saying that Christians should never struggle with unforgiveness. They do. And it’s not easy to forgive, especially when the pain is deep. But if you are truly born of God, you cannot simply stay in the darkness. You cannot make excuses for your hatred, saying things like, “What he did was unforgiveable. I can’t forgive. I won’t forgive!”

To say such things is to step out of light into utter darkness. And to claim to still have fellowship with God in that state is to make yourself a liar.

A true child of light will step out into the light and receive the healing touch of Jesus. And by his grace and power, they will forgive.

How about you? Is there someone you hate? That you can’t forgive? You can’t hold on to those things and have fellowship with God.

Healing will require time. It will require prayer. It will require emotional support from your brothers and sisters in Christ. It may require counseling. And it will definitely require the love and power of God’s Spirit working in your life. But stop making excuses, and step out into the light.

Until you do, you will find your relationship with God stunted, if not impossible.

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I John 1:5-2:11 — To have fellowship with God

In a lot of ways, the word “Christian,” is applied to far too many people. Many people claim to be Christians, but by their lives show themselves to be anything but.

At this point, many people may scream at me for being judgmental. But Jesus himself said,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ (Matthew 7:21-22)

In a modern context, people might say, “Lord, Lord, didn’t I go to church? Didn’t I put money in the offering basket? Didn’t I do this good thing and that good thing?”

But Jesus will say to them,

I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers! (Matthew 7:23)

In short, your life cannot be divorced from your actions. And your actions prove who you are.

That’s what John is saying in this passage.

He says,

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. (1:5-6)

Too many people live in their sin, explaining away scripture in some cases, blatantly ignoring it in others.

But John tells us that God is light. There is no sin in him at all. And so if we live in utter rebellion to what he has taught in his Word, explaining it away or blatantly ignoring it, and we still claim to have fellowship with him, we’re liars.

John is very straight here. He says, “You are a liar. Truth is not  in you.”

But then he says,

If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1:7)

If God is in light, then if want to have fellowship with him, we need to walk in light too. Because God certainly isn’t going to join us in the darkness of our sin. But if we will step out of our rebellion to him and submit to him as Lord, then Jesus’ blood will purify us from all our sin. But we need to step out of that rebellion. To stay in rebellion against God and to claim fellowship with him is pure impossibility.

In case there is any doubt as to what John is saying, he goes on.

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his Word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (2:3-6)

In short, we can tell if a person has a relationship with God by their attitude toward Him. Is God’s love so complete in them that they respond with loving obedience? That they desire to be more like their Lord and to walk as he did? That they mourn over their sin when they fail and repent? If not, then there should be serious doubt as if they are truly saved or not.

How about you? What does your attitude toward God show about your relationship with him?

 

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I John 1:1-4 — Proclaiming He who is life

And so we come to the last “long” letter of the New Testament. Or at least the last letter with multiple chapters, anyway.

And from the very beginning, you can almost hear the emotion coming from the apostle John who wrote this book. From this man who was called the beloved disciple.

He says,

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. (1-2)

It never really struck me until very recently that everything in here is pointing to Jesus himself. He is the Word of life. He is the very expression of life itself. All that life is supposed to be is found in him: whole and complete in every way, with no defects.

And he is the expression of Life himself. The Author of Life expresses himself to us in Jesus. And Jesus himself is Life.

So when John says in verse 2, that the “life” appeared,” he’s referring to Jesus in his incarnation. He came to earth as a man, and John and the other apostles were able to hear his voice, see him with their own eyes, and touch his nail-scarred hands after the resurrection.

And John calls Jesus, the “eternal life.” He was with the Father before time began, having no beginning or end. And now he gives life to those who are dead. He gives life to those who are spiritually dead, living apart from God. And the day will come when he will give life to those who are physically dead, giving them new bodies that are like his own.

With that in mind, John says,

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (3-4)

In short, John and the other apostles weren’t content to revel in the joy they had because of their fellowship with God. Rather, they didn’t consider their joy complete until others could join them in that fellowship. And so they were bold to proclaim all that they had seen and heard.

In that, as well as many other things, we are to follow in their footsteps.

Too many Christians are just happy to be saved. To revel in the love that God has for them and the forgiveness he has imparted to them. To rejoice in the healing God has brought in their lives.

But we can’t simply be satisfied with that. To be satisfied with that and that alone is pure selfishness when many other people are dying apart from Christ. They don’t know his love. They don’t know his forgiveness. They don’t know his healing in their lives. How can we not weep for them?

And so like John and the other apostles, we need to go out and proclaim this Life that has been given to us that they may share in that fellowship with Him too.

How about you? Are you so focused on rejoicing at your own salvation that you can’t see those around you that need that salvation just as badly?

Let us go out. Let us proclaim the gospel to our loved ones. To those in our neighborhood, workplace, and schools. And when we do and see people come into God’s kingdom, that’s when our joy will be made complete.

 

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II Peter 3:10-18 — Because this world isn’t forever

If there’s one thing that’s crystal clear in this passage, it’s that this world will not last forever.

Peter says,

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare…That day will bring the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (10, 12)

Most of the time, we don’t even consider this. Instead we waste our lives on things that don’t matter. We waste our lives on temporary pleasures, on work, on money. But in the end, all these things will burn. And not only will the earth be laid bare, so will our hearts. And God will judge us for how we lived our lives here.

And so Peter says,

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. (11-12)

In short, keep your priorities straight. Since these things will be destroyed, don’t set your hearts on them. Instead set your heart on God and his kingdom. Live lives pleasing to him. And each day, seek to expand his kingdom. Touch the lives around you, sharing the love of Christ with them.

It’s hard to imaging that we can “speed” the day of Christ’s coming. But in a sense, we can. For when the final person God has called receives Jesus as Savior and Lord, the church’s work is done, and there is no reason left for God to delay Christ’s coming.

Before we worry about bringing peace between God and mankind, however, we need to make sure that we ourselves are at peace with him. As Peter puts it,

Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him. (14)

But we cannot be at peace with God if we are living merely to please ourselves. Nor can we be at peace with God if we distort his teachings.

That’s apparently what some people were doing with Paul’s writings as well as the other scriptures, “to their own destruction.” (16)

Too many people pick and choose what they like from the Bible. And if something God teaches makes them uncomfortable, they ignore it or try to explain it away. In some cases, they outright change it. But we can’t do that and be at peace at God. We need to accept him as he is, not as we would like him to be.

So Peter tells us to be on our guard against people who would distort God’s word in that way.

And then he closes the same way he started, saying,

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (18)

Put aside any teachings that would diminish Jesus or his Word. Rather draw near to him and learn from him, and as each day passes, he will seem bigger to you than he ever was before.

And grace and peace will abound to you.

To him be the glory both now and forevermore. Amen. (18b)

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