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?

Posted in Books of Moses, Leviticus, Old Testament | Tagged , | 2 Comments

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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II Peter 3:1-15 — The patience of God

We talked a couple days ago about the complaint people have that God seems to be doing nothing about all the evil and injustice in this world.

And we saw that justice will come, and that it is certain. It is the hope of those who believe and the fear of those who have rejected Christ.

But there are some for whom thoughts of judgment hold neither fear nor hope. And Peter addresses them here. He says,

First of all, you must understand that in the last days, scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

Two thousand years later, things have not changed. And perhaps, the reason for scoffing has only increased for unbelievers. But Peter tells us,

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word, the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction on ungodly men. (5-7)

In other words, though the people of Peter’s day said that God never seems to intervene and that nothing seems to change, they were wrong. For in creation, God intervened and brought all of the continents out of water, and created an atmosphere that was conducive to life.

And then when evil permeated throughout the earth, God once again intervened, destroying all the people of the earth through the great flood, saving only Noah and his family.

And now Peter warns us that God will intervene yet again. But this time the judgment will come through fire.

He 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. (10)

And again,

That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (12)

How literal this is, I don’t know. What is clear is that all that we know will be done away with. Either completely transformed, or destroyed and recreated. For Peter goes on to say,

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (13)

Why then the long wait? Why hasn’t God long since done away with this world and made all things new?

Peter tells us,

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (8-9)

And again,

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation. (15)

Basically, Peter is telling us God is giving more time because of his patience. But that patience is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, it gives more time for people to believe, and many more will believe and be saved before the day of judgment.

But by waiting, God is also giving people more rope to hang themselves with. By giving them more time, they truly have no excuse when he comes and passes judgment on them for their unbelief.

The question is, what will you do with the time has given you?

The choice is yours.

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II Peter 2:10-12 — Underestimating Satan

C.S. Lewis once said about demons, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

I would add to that one more. To underestimate them.

As we’ve seen in chapter 2, Peter is writing against the false teachers. And in this passage, we see that one of their problems was that they refused to recognize authority, those who were greater and in higher positions than they were.

First and foremost that would refer to God. Secondly that would refer to the apostles and true leaders of the church. But there is a third category. Peter says,

Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. But these men blaspheme in matters do they not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. (10-12)

In talking about “celestial beings,” Peter seems to be referring to Satan and his demons. For even the good angels, who are stronger and more powerful than we are, refuse to slander or blaspheme them in front of God, though Satan and his demons will be judged by God someday.

Yet these false teachers apparently took Satan and his demons lightly. How? It’s not clear. But perhaps when they were accused of being used by Satan by their teaching, they replied, “Satan? He has no control over me. I’m free. I’m my own master. I spit on him.”

It’s a dangerous thing to take a being more powerful than you lightly. Peter and the apostles never did so. Peter told these Christians in his earlier letter to be alert, because Satan is like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8)

You don’t take roaring lions lightly. If you do, you will find yourselves consumed. And Peter warns them of this.

That’s why you shouldn’t play around with fortune tellers. Or horoscopes. Or Ouija boards. Or anything occultic.

That’s why you don’t get involved with anything to do with idols. The idols in themselves are nothing, But Paul tells us there are demons behind those idols. (I Corinthians 10:20)

On the flip side, remember that you don’t have to be afraid of Satan and his demons either. For John tells us,

The one who is in you (the Holy Spirit) is greater than the one who is in the world (Satan). (I John 4:4)

And as we saw in that passage in I Peter, we are told to resist Satan. (I Peter 5:9)

But don’t ever underestimate him or take him lightly. He is a powerful foe. More powerful than you.

So as Paul said,

Be strong in the Lord and in his might power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:10-11)

In short, take Satan seriously. Don’t fool around with him. Instead stand close to Jesus. Stand in his power and strength. Only by uniting yourself fully with Christ can you stand victorious over Satan.

 

 

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II Peter 2:3-9 — A destruction that is not sleeping

Sometimes we wonder why God allows so much evil in the world. We wonder why God doesn’t do something now about the people who are doing evil.

And in addressing the false teachers and their fate, Peter gives us an answer to this.

He says,

In their greed, these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction is not sleeping. (3)

In short, though it seems like God isn’t doing anything and that justice will never come, it will come. Condemnation is hanging over the wicked, ready to drop. And their destruction is sure.

Peter then gives three illustrations of this from the Old Testament.

First there were the angels that sinned whom God sent straight to hell. This is actually kind of unusual, because for the most part, demons are not bound. They are free to roam the earth and wreck havoc. But apparently some demons were so bad that they were bound up and are now being held for final judgment. (We’ll talk more about this when we come to Jude).

Second, there were all the people on the earth in the time of Noah. People who were so bad that, “every inclination of the thoughts of [their] hearts was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5)

And for all the years that Noah built the ark, warning these people to repent, they continued on in their sin, seemingly unpunished. But when the flood came, judgment fell and they all perished. Noah and his family, however, were saved.

Third was the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. For years they lived in utter depravity, such that Lot was afraid that two visitors to the city (who turned out to be angels) would be raped if they stayed out in the open. Ultimately, his neighbors’ actions proved him correct. And so God judged that city, destroying it. But again he spared Lot from that destruction.

And so Peter concludes,

If this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. (9)

Some points here.

First, though it says that the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials, it does not mean we will never go through them. That bad things will never happen to us. But through them all, God will be with us and see us through. And ultimately, we will find rest with him in heaven.

But as for the evil, they will be judged. Peter tells us that they are being held for the day of judgment, and in the meantime, their punishment has already started.

Nobody likes the idea of hell and eternal punishment. I certainly don’t. But it is reality. Now, the final judgment won’t come until after the millennium  in which Christ reigns. But until that time, those who have died apart from God are undergoing punishment for their sins.

And on the day of final judgment, John tells us that they will be thrown into a lake of burning fire.” (Revelation 20:15)

Sadly, if the judgment of Satan is any indication, they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)

It’s not a pretty picture. But it’s the truth. And it’s justice.

Justice will be done someday. That’s the hope of judgment. And that’s the fear of judgment.

It’s the fear of those who have rejected Christ.

But for those who have put their faith in him, Jesus says,

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)

How do you see judgment day? With hope? Or fear?

 

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II Peter 2 — Our need to know God’s word

We saw yesterday that our faith is based not only on our experiences with God, valuable as they are, but also on God’s word. And now in chapter 2, Peter tells us why it is so vital to know God’s word well.

The reason? False teachers that slip into the church.

Peter wrote,

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Sovereign Lord who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves. (1)

What were these teachers teaching? Basically, they were saying that as Christians, you can live however you want. That you can live for your sinful lusts and God won’t care.

These teachers themselves lived that way, doing sinful things in broad daylight, perhaps even getting drunk at the Lord’s table, and sleeping around with as many women in the church as they could. (13-14).

More, they were in love with money, and when they taught, that was their aim: to rob the people of God. (14)

And they justified all this by saying that when you live that way, you find true “freedom.” (18-19)

But as Peter said,

They themselves are slaves of depravity — for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. (19)

And Peter tells us that these false teachers are now worse off than before they had heard the truth about Jesus. Why?

Because when they heard the truth, they temporarily ran away from the things that had enslaved them, but now they were right back where they started.

At least when they didn’t know the truth, there was hope that when they heard it, they could be saved.

But now they’ve come to know the truth. They’ve tasted the goodness of it. Yet despite all this, they have now rejected it.

What hope is there for them now? Precious little. None if they do not repent. And God will judge them even more harshly because they didn’t sin in ignorance, but in full knowledge of the truth. (20-21)

And Peter says,

Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” (22)

The problem is, of course, that if we fall in line with their teaching, we’ll fall into the same pit they do.

So the question is, “How well do you know your Bible?”

Do you know it well enough that if someone teaches something that is false, you can detect it?

How do you detect false teaching? The same way bankers detect false money. Not by studying the counterfeit, but by becoming so familiar with the real, that when a counterfeit touches their hand, they recognize it immediately.

Are you that familiar with the Word of God? You should be.

And if you are, you never have to fear being deceived by false teaching.

How well do you know your Bible?

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II Peter 1:16-21–What our faith is built on

What is our faith built on? Why do we believe what we believe?

At the very base, it’s built on God himself and who he is. And it’s built on our experience of him. We’ve experienced God; we’ve tasted the Lord and seen that he is good.

The problem, of course, is that God is invisible. We can’t literally touch him or have conversations where we actually hear his voice. So how do we know that we are actually experiencing God in our lives? That it’s not just our imagination?

And people from all over the world claim to have  had spiritual experiences as well, all the while denying the things we believe as Christians. How can we know that our experiences are superior to theirs? That it is our experiences, not theirs, that are based on reality and not on mere emotion or myth?

That is what Peter addresses here.

He says,

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (16)

Many people today try to deny that Jesus ever even existed. Or that if he did actually exist, we can’t possibly know the truth of what he actually said and did. They claim that the whole Jesus story was built on pagan sources and jump through hoops to try to prove that claim.

But Peter says, “No. That’s not what we did. We were there. We saw Jesus. When he was on the mountain of transfiguration, we saw his glory and heard the voice of God himself. (16-18).”

More Peter tells us,

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain. (19)

This verse is apparently a bit vague in the Greek. It’s possible that Peter’s saying that their experience had increased their confidence on the Old Testament writings. But the new NIV translates the verse this way:

We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable. (19)

In which case, Peter is saying, “Not only do we have our experience, but we also have God’s word to back up our experience and show that there is reality behind it.”

But either way, we base our faith not only on our experience but on God’s word.

Through God’s word, we see how he has worked in the lives of people in the past, and we see there is consistency when we compare their experiences with our experiences of him today. We also see the words of the prophets and how the things they prophesied actually came true. We see this especially in their prophesies of Jesus.

How can we know that the things in the Bible were actually true? Well archaeology has gone a long way to proving a lot of the historical facts of the Bible. But how can we know that the things written about God are true? That they actually God’s words right?

Peter tells,

Above all, you must understand that no prophesy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophesy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (20-21)

In other words, when people wrote the scriptures we had, they weren’t just writing what they thought was true about God. Rather, the Holy Spirit guided their thoughts and words. This is not to say that he dictated everything they said (although there are some examples of dictation). But God used each person according to their personality, education, and writing styles.

He used shepherds, fishermen, kings, priests, tax collectors, and doctors, among others. There were 40 different authors, from three different continents, using three different languages, and who lived over a period that spanned 2000 years. And yet their testimony all agree as to who God is and what he has done.

How can we not have confidence that our faith is true?

And so Peter says,

You will do well to pay attention to [God’s Word], as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our heart. (19)

The day dawning refers to Christ’s return, and the morning star is Christ himself. And so what Peter is saying is, until Christ, the true light of the world appears, pay attention to the light he has left us. His word is a lamp to our feet in this dark world. It shows us who God is and it shows us the path we are to walk in order to please him. So that’s what we are to build our faith on.

How about you? Is your faith based merely on your experience? Or on God’s word?

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II Peter 1:2-15 — If we truly know him and love him

I’ve been reading Luke 19:11-27 in preparation for a message I’ll be giving in a few weeks at church. And as I read this passage in II Peter, it caused me to reflect on that passage in Luke.

In Luke 19, Jesus tells the parable of the minas. And in it, Jesus talks about three servants who were given money by their master to invest. Two did, and were richly rewarded. The third merely hid the money. And in giving his excuse, he showed just how little he knew his master.

He portrayed his master as a hard man, a man who exacted much from his servants, and who profited off of others’ labors while doing nothing himself. And for these reasons, he refused to do anything with the money his master had entrusted him with.

Many people today are the same way. They may go to church and call themselves Christians, and yet they carry grave doubts about the very character of God. They think him harsh and unfair. And they find it hard to believe that God actually knows what is best and is looking out for their best.

In short, they doubt in their hearts that God is good. And because of that, they refuse to live for him and his purposes. Instead, they live only for themselves.

But for the person who truly knows and loves God, can they live that way?

No.

Certainly, as a young believer, you don’t know God very well, and your love for him is far from developed. But as you grow in your faith, these things should change.

And as Peter says in this passage, as you come to know God more, grace and peace will be multiplied to you. Why? Because you will see that God is good. And you’ll see all the gifts that he has given you. The gift of forgiveness. The gift of eternal life. The gift of his Spirit. And as you see these things, you can’t help but to love him all the more and to long to be like him.

  • You see the utter goodness of God and long for that goodness in your life.
  • You see the wisdom of God and long to learn from him.
  • You see the self-control that Jesus displayed when facing temptation, and long for that in your life.
  • You see how he persevered even to the cross, encouraging you to persevere under trial too.
  • You see how Jesus related to his Father, listening to and following his voice, and you long to do the same.
  • You see the kindness of God, and his love for you, and it causes you to want that kindness and love to be reflected in your life as well.

And Peter says,

If you possess these these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of Jesus Christ. (8)

And like the faithful servants in Jesus’ parable, Peter says,

You will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (11)

But Peter also tells us,

If anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed of his past sins. (9)

That’s what the third servant was like. He had forgotten all about the goodness of his master. And because of that he was nearsighted and blind, totally oblivious to the cliff he was about to fall off of when his master returned.

How about you? How do you see God? Do you see him as he truly is? Or do you have a warped view of him?

How you see him will shape your life. And it will show in your attitude toward him on judgment day.

What will God see in you on that day?

 

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II Peter 1:2-4 — That grace and peace may abound

One of my favorite passages in C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian is when Lucy meets up with Aslan, and she says, “Aslan! You’re bigger!”

And Aslan replies, “That is because you are older, little one.”

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

How true is that in our relationship with God. He is already as big as he ever will be. But as we grow in our knowledge of him, he becomes bigger in our eyes. Not because he actually grows bigger, but because we see him more as he truly is.

I believe that is why Peter says,

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2)

He expands on this in verses 3-4.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these, he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by sin. (3-4)

How can we know grace and peace in abundance in our lives? Through knowing God more. Through coming to know his glory and goodness more deeply.

That same glory and goodness by which he called us to be his own children. That same glory and goodness through which he has given us his very great and precious promises.

Promises of eternal life. Promises that the Holy Spirit will indwell us, counsel us, lead us, intercede for us, and day by day transform us into Christ’s likeness.

And because of these promises, we can actually participate in his divine nature, such that when people see us, they see our Father in heaven.

Through his grace we have already escaped the corruption in this world that destroys people. (The new NIV translates verse 4 more accurately: “having escaped the corruption in the world.”)

But now his power gives us everything we need to to live life to the fullest and to become the godly children he created us to be.

And as we live this way each day, God’s grace abounds to us and so does his peace.

Do you know that grace and peace today? If not, draw near to God. The word “godliness” has that very connotation in it. It was used of people who kept in close touch with the “gods.”

But here, Peter applies it to Christians and says that we should keep in constant touch with the one true and living God. That moment to moment, day to day, we should be aware of his presence in our lives, and to let that awareness shape our thoughts, our actions, our very lives.

And as you do, you will know his grace and his peace in your life, multiplied many times over.

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II Peter 1:1 — A faith that puts us on equal standing

It’s rare that I ever get stopped by a verse such that I just have to write about it and it alone. Particularly when it comes in a greeting. But this one stopped me.

Peter writes,

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.

I’ve read that verse many times in the NIV, and I’ve always liked it, but as I read the ESV today, that last part struck me. The ESV puts it this way:

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.

Think about that a minute. Here is Simon Peter, one of the 12 original apostles of Christ, and one of the inner circle to boot. And he tells a bunch of people who had never even seen Jesus before, “Your faith is of equal standing with ours.”

Perhaps as he said that, he recalled Jesus’ words to Thomas,

Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. (John 20:29)

“Yes,” Peter is saying, “I have actually seen him. I saw his glory on the mountain when he was tranfigured before my very eyes, and I heard the very voice of God. I saw Christ’s resurrection. But your faith is just as precious and of equal standing as mine in the eyes of God. For though you have not seen, yet you have believed.”

So often, we think of ourselves as second-class citizens as Christians. We put ourselves on a lower scale than others. Than the pastors in our churches. Than our Christian friends in the church. But if our faith is of equal standing with Peter in the eyes of God, then isn’t our faith of equal standing with the other believers around us as well?

That’s also a humbling message for those who have been Christians for a long time. It can be tempting to look down on others for their lack of Biblical knowledge or maturity.

And certainly God calls us all to grow. It is in fact one of the key themes of this book, that we would all grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, becoming more and more like him each day.

But remember, you are no better than anyone else.

Nor are you inferior to anyone else.

We are all saved by grace alone. We weren’t saved because we were any better than the others around us. Rather we were saved by the righteousness of Christ, who lived a perfect life on this earth and then paid the penalty for our sin on the cross. And now, through him, we are all declared righteous in God’s sight if we will only put our trust in him.

How do you see yourself? As better than other believers? As inferior?

Remember how God sees you. As people who are on equal standing. As people with a faith that is truly precious in the eyes of God.

So let us stop comparing ourselves to others. Rather, let us rest in his love and grace each day.

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I Peter 5 — Facing suffering as a church

Throughout this letter, Peter addresses Christians as they face persecution and suffering for the sake of Christ. He addressed them first as a collective body of Christians throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. As the living stones who were all part of that one spiritual house that God was building.

Then he addressed individual Christians, the slaves, the wives, and the husbands.

Then he addressed them once again as that collective body of believers.

But now in this final chapter, I think he addresses them as individual churches. When the whole church is going through suffering, how should it respond?

It starts from the top and the example the leaders set. Peter tells them to be shepherds who really care for the flock, especially in this time of trial.

It’s easy in times of trial to look out for number one. But leaders especially are not to do that. Nor are they to lord it over their sheep. Rather, they are to put their sheep and their sheeps’ needs above their own.

I’m not sure, but I think perhaps Peter was recalling God’s condemnation of the bad shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34, the ones whom God had charged to lead his people, but who instead only lived for themselves.

And it’s possible Peter was saying, “Don’t be like those shepherds. Care for your flock. God will hold you accountable for what you do. But if you are faithful, then,”

When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (4)

Peter then addresses the young men, telling them to be submissive to those in leadership. (5)

It’s easy, especially for those who are younger, to think they know all the answers and to criticize those in leadership. But Peter says, “Submit. Your leaders may not always be right, but submit. Don’t divide the church through your pride.”

Then he said,

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. (5-6)

Like I have said before, in times of trial, it can be easy for people to turn against each other, particularly because of pride. But Peter says, “Be humble in your dealings with each other. And more importantly be humble before God. And if you do so, he will lift you up out of those sufferings.”

Verse 6 is actually part of one longer idea found in verse 5. Humble yourself before God. Don’t think you can solve all your problems on your own. You can’t. Instead, cast your anxiety on him because he does care for you.

So many times, we can’t find peace in our lives because we fail to do just that. In our pride, we take all these burdens upon ourselves because we can “handle it.”

But God tells us, “Trust me. Humble yourself before me and lay these things in my hand. And I will handle it.”

Peter then tells the church to be on the alert. Satan would destroy them through these trials if he could. But Peter says, stand firm in faith. Remember you’re not alone in your sufferings. Other brothers and sisters are struggling too. So encourage one another.

He then concludes,

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (10-11)

And so we have come full circle. God has called you. He’s sanctifying you each day that you might become more like his Son. Part of that sanctifying process is the sufferings you endure. And God’s purpose in all things is that we might live for Jesus Christ.

But the thing to remember is we don’t have to do this in our own strength. Humble yourself before him. Trust him. And in the end you will come out strong, firm, and steadfast, to his glory.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ. (14)

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I Peter 4:12-19 — Living for the will of God (Part 3)

If there’s one thing that most people don’t think about when it comes to knowing the will of God in their lives, it’s that sometimes it’s God’s will that we go through suffering.

The more I read the New Testament, the more I feel that conclusion is unavoidable. But the other thing that I get is that through those sufferings, God is glorified and so are we.

And so Peter tells us,

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (12)

Translation: it’s something that is actually normal in the Christian life. It’s normal when people reject you for Christ’s sake.

Why?

Because Christ was rejected too.

Peter says,

But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (13)

In short, rejoice when you suffer unjustly, for Christ suffered unjustly too. But the day will come when he will return and his glory will be revealed. And on that day, all your struggles and suffering will be forgotten.

But even before then, Peter tells us,

If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (14)

I can’t help but think of Stephen, facing his accusers just before he was stoned, his face glowing like an angel. (Acts 6:15).

Or of the apostles coming back from their beating at the hands of the Sanhedrin, praying, and then being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and with boldness. (Acts 4:31)

When we suffer for Christ’s sake, the presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit rest upon us. And Peter says we are blessed because of it.

So Peter tells us,

If you suffer for as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (16)

He then says something a bit enigmatic.

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God. And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (17-18)

What does he mean by this? I think it means that as Christians, God puts all of us through times of testing. But as we’ve seen in James, this testing is not for the purpose of destroying us, but of refining us like gold, making us more like Christ. Nevertheless, the process is not pleasant. In fact, it can be quite painful.

But how much better is that than to stand in judgment before God when all your life you have rejected him?

And so though we may suffer for the will of God, know that it always is for our good. More than that, it will be to God’s glory, for when we come out of the fire, we will come forth as gold.

So Peter concludes,

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (19)

Are you going through a time of peace right now? Rejoice. Be thankful. But don’t be surprised if it doesn’t last, for we live in a broken world.

Are you going through suffering? Rejoice. Know that it is only temporary and it will not ultimately be for your destruction, but for your good.

But whatever the case may be, whether you are in times of peace or suffering, commit yourselves to your Creator, and continue to do good. And God will be glorified through you.

 

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I Peter 4:8-11 — Living for the will of God (Part 2)

A lot of people want to know what God’s will is for their lives. And they tend to think of it in terms of “What job should I have?” “What ministry should I join?” Or “Who should I marry?”

But when Peter talks about living for the will of God, he really doesn’t address these things. Rather, if there’s one thing that he says which describes living for the will of God, it’s this: it’s living for his glory.

A lot of people say they want to know God’s will, but in their everyday lives, they live for themselves and their own glory, not for God and his glory.

How do we live for God and his glory?

For one thing, love one another. It says in verse 8 to love one another earnestly. The word “earnestly” has the idea of being stretched to the limit, as a runner will stretch his muscles to the limit when he’s in a race. In short, live all out in your love for each other.

Peter says that as we do so, love covers a multitude of sins. In our relationships with those around us, especially with our brothers and sisters of Christ, love helps us overlook their faults and to forgive them when they sin against us.

But as we show Christ’s love for those who don’t know him, it also opens the door for Christ to work in their lives and to wash their sins in his blood as they turn to him. So in that sense too, love can cover a multitude of sins.

Either way, we bring God glory through the love that we show for others.

Peter also says to show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (9)

When we are going through suffering ourselves, it’s hard to be generous and give of ourselves to others. But as we follow the example of Christ, giving of ourselves even as we suffer, we again bring glory to God.

Finally, Peter reminds us to be faithful with the gifts God has given us and to serve one another. (10)

And once again, this not to our glory but to God’s. Peter says,

If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (11)

In other words, remember that all our gifts are from God. They will only be truly effective if they are empowered by him. And the end result should not be that people praise us, but him.

How about you? Do you desire to know God’s will in your life? God’s will doesn’t have so much to do with what your job is, what your marriage is, or the different minutia of your life. Rather it comes down to this:

Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (I Corinthians 10:31)

Who are you living for?

 

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I Peter 4:1-7 — Living for the will of God

From the very beginning of the letter, Peter made something very clear that he gets back to here. In chapter 1, verse 2, he let us know that we were chosen by God for obedience to Jesus Christ. And this is a theme that we see throughout this letter. We don’t belong to ourselves. We belong to God. We don’t live for ourselves. We live for God. At least we should be.

Now here in chapter 4, Peter reminds us yet again, we do not live for ourselves, but for the will of God. And it is for that reason reason that we endure suffering and put away sin in our lives. (1-3)

But living for the will of God is not merely avoiding sin and being willing to suffer for his sake. It’s living every moment of every day for him.

Peter says,

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. (7)

In short, remember that this life is temporal. Jesus is coming back. And so all that we do should be done with that in mind. Don’t let the pleasures of this world, the worries of this world, or anything else cloud your mind. And don’t let sin reign in your lives either. All these things take our focus off of what’s truly important: God and his kingdom. Each day, we should be drawing near to God and doing all we can to bring people into his kingdom. And that’s where most of our prayers should be directed.

But how often do our prayers remain purely self-focused? I’m not saying that we should never pray for ourselves. Jesus, in the model prayer he gave us, encouraged us to do so. (Matthew 6:11). But remember again, we don’t live for ourselves. And so when we pray, it should start with, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

When we are too focused on ourselves, when our minds our clouded by the things of this world and the worries of this world, we lose sight of that. And when we fall into sin, letting ourselves become slaves to it once more, we definitely lose sight of God and his kingdom in our lives.

That is why Peter writes, “Be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.”

I don’t think Peter is saying, “so that you may have the ability to pray.” Rather, I think he’s saying, “so that you can pray effectively.”

“So that you can pray according to the will of God.”

“So that you can pray in such a way that God will honor your prayers.”

The NASB puts it, “be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”

In short, we cannot pray effectively according to the will of God if our hearts are not right.

How we pray shows where our priorities are. It also shows how much we are truly living for the will of God.

What do your prayers show about you? Do they show a person living according to the will of God?

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I Peter 3:18-22 — The hope that we have

When people mock us for our faith, it can be disheartening. And when we are persecuted for our faith, it can be easy to ask why.

“Why does God allow this? Why does he let us suffer? And how long will we have to endure it?”

I think we can find at least some of the answers to that here as Peter compares our experience of suffering and persecution to that of Christ’s and Noah’s. He says,

For Christ died for sins once for all, the unrighteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body, but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

In it, only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him. (18-22)

Noah was undoubtedly mocked and possibly persecuted for warning the people about the coming judgment, and the salvation that God was providing through the ark. He suffered for many years like this before the flood came. Why? Because God was showing patience, giving people the chance to repent. Ultimately, they did not and died in the waters of judgment.

In the same way, many Christians suffer for Jesus sake, and that suffering may seem long. But the reason for this is that God even now is waiting for people to repent.

But just as judgment eventually fell on the unbelievers in Noah’s day, it will fall once again when Jesus returns to judge all people. And their judgment is certain. That, I think, is the point of Peter talking about the “spirits in prison.”

It’s a little unclear who these “spirits in prison” were. Some think they were demons who had had sexual relations with human women. Others think they were the humans living at the time of Noah who rejected God. I tend to think it’s the latter, but whoever they were, they are now in some kind of prison, apart from God, and awaiting judgment.

Some people think that when Christ went to preach to them, he was preaching one last chance at salvation. But as I said yesterday, the scriptures are clear that there is no second chance after death.

The word “preach” can also be translated “proclaim.” (The new NIV translates it “made proclamation.”) And I think what Christ did was proclaim his final victory to those who had rejected God in the past, and to let them know that their fate is now sealed.

But just as Noah was saved through the waters of judgment, so all who put their trust in Christ will be saved through judgment as well. Peter points out that this is one of the things that water baptism symbolizes, our salvation through judgment.

And that’s the hope that we have. That ultimately justice will come to those who persecute us and don’t repent. But more importantly, mercy and grace will be shown to us and all those who have put their faith in Christ.

But until that time, God is patiently waiting in order that he might show the mercy and grace he gave to us to as many people as possible.

Our suffering is but for a little while. So let us not lose heart. When we suffer for the sake of the gospel and of Christ, it will not be in vain. For Jesus is the king, with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him.

We may not see that now. But we will some day.

So remember the words of the writer of Hebrews.

In just a little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:37-39)

 

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I Peter 3:13-4:6 — Living for Christ that others may live

Throughout this letter, Peter has been encouraging his readers to follow the example of Christ in suffering. To not be afraid of people, but to instead set apart Christ as Lord in their lives.

One thing that struck me as I read this is that one of our goals in living for Christ, even to the point of suffering for him, is that others may live. That others may find the life we ourselves have found in Jesus.

That’s why Peter tells us to always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have. Because when people see us being willing to even suffer for the sake of Christ, they will ask why, and that opens up a door for God to work in their lives. (3:15)

So Peter encourages us, “If it’s God’s will, then be willing to suffer for doing good, because by doing so, others may find their way into God’s kingdom too.”

He then shows how Jesus was the ultimate example of this in verse 18. He says,

For Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (3:18)

Peter’s saying here, “Don’t you see? It was through Christ’s suffering that the door was opened for you to come into God’s kingdom. So be willing to do the same for others.”

Then after reminding us of our ultimate victory through suffering (we’ll get into this tomorrow), he tells us,

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in the body is done with sin. (4:1)

In short, since Christ was willing to suffer in order that you may be saved, take on that same attitude.  Be done with sin in your lives. Stop living for yourselves and your own comfort and start living for God. (4:2)

Peter presses on, saying, “You’ve wasted enough of your life living for yourself, indulging in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and idolatry. And all your non-Christian friends think you’re strange because your priorities have changed so much and you don’t want to join in with them any longer.” (4:3)

Not only that, but again, we may face mocking and persecution because we refuse to do so. But Peter reminds us,

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (4:5)

Judgment day is coming. People will be judged for rejecting Christ. And so Peter again reminds us of our mission while we are here.

For this reason, the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (4:6)

This is a little difficult to interpret, but I strongly doubt it’s saying that people get another chance after they die. Other scriptures argue against it (Hebrews 9:27, Luke 16:26). What it seems to be saying is that there are people who now dead who had the gospel preached to them. And the reason the gospel was preached to them is that though they might die physically as all do because of Adam’s sin, nevertheless, they will find life with God forever.

And that’s what we need to keep in mind. A day of judgment is coming. We may be saved, but others aren’t. What are we doing about them? Are we reaching out to them with the love of Christ? Can they even see a difference in us which makes them question why?

Or are we simply living for ourselves, not caring that many are going to hell each day.

God cared. He cared enough to send his Son for us.

The question is, do we?

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I Peter 3:8-17 — Living as servants of God (Part 4)

After addressing specific examples of how people should live as servants of God (slaves, wives, and husbands), Peter now addresses us all.

First he addresses how we are to relate to one another.

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. (8)

I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words at this point when he told his disciples,

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

In I Peter 3:8, I think Peter is merely expanding on the words of Jesus. Again, the context of this comes in part from chapter 2 verse 12, that we live such lives among the pagans that they can see our good deeds and glorify God. But this is difficult to do when we can’t even get along with one another.

He then returns to the topic of how we, as Christ’s servants, are to deal with suffering and persecution. And we are not to respond as the world often does, with bitterness and retaliation. Rather, we are to respond with blessing. (9)

Again, this echoes the words of Christ who told us,

Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:28)

And Peter says that if we bless others, we ourselves will receive blessing from God.

Peter also tells us that in the face of evil, we are not to respond with evil. (9)

Rather, he quotes Psalm 34 and admonishes us to watch our tongues, to turn from evil, and to seek peace and pursue it.  (10-12)

That’s hard to do. It certainly was in Peter’s time. Nero literally lit up Christians as torches at his garden parties. Peter himself was crucified under Nero’s order.

But Peter says,

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”  (14)

And then he comes to the key verse of this passage.

But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. (15)

Why should slaves put up with unjust treatment from their owners? Why should wives submit to their husbands? Why should husbands respect their wives? Why should we love one another in the church? Why should we turn from evil when persecuted and bless those who abuse us?

Because Jesus is Lord of our lives. At least, he should be. And Peter charges us here to set him apart as Lord in our hearts. To remember that ultimately we are his servants. And that as his servants, we are to shine his light to the world. But we can’t do that if we’re living for ourselves, putting our own personal desires and goals above his kingdom.

With that in mind, then, in the face of suffering and persecution, Peter tells us,

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (15b-16)

Eventually, if we keep living as Christ’s servants, people will start to wonder why, even our persecutors, and then they will ask. And when they do, it opens up the opportunity for us to bring them into God’s kingdom too. But that will never happen if we are living for ourselves.

That’s why Peter concludes by saying,

It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (17)

Certainly none of us wants to suffer. But if we suffer not because we did evil, but because we have been living as servants of Christ, we will see God’s kingdom increase and God will reward us for it.

How about you? Who and what are you living for?

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I Peter 3:1-7 — Living as servants of God (Part 3)

From the very beginning of this letter, we’ve seen that we were chosen by the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ. In short, we were chosen not to live for ourselves, but for Jesus Christ.

And in this passage we see how this extends to the family and how we relate to each other in marriage.

Peter tells the wives,

In the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1-2)

That’s not a popular message among many women today. Some try to completely tie this message to the culture of the day and say its not relevant for marriages today. And certainly, husbands in Peter’s day had far more authority in the home than we see today. But throughout Paul’s letters as well in Ephesians and Colossians, you see this same message given to wives. There’s no getting around it.

But the main question again is why? Why submit to your husband? Because you are first and foremost a servant of Christ. And he has told you to do so.

More, by doing so, you become a light to your husband. He sees not a woman that lives merely for herself, but one that lives for her Lord. One whose beauty is not simply in her jewelry, clothing, or hairstyle, but whose beauty is rooted in a transformed heart. A heart that reflects the Lord who saved her. And when he sees that, not only will he become more attracted to you, he will often times become more attracted to your Lord as well. And isn’t that our job as servants and ambassadors of Christ?

Sometimes women fear they will be taken advantage of if they submit to their husbands. Unfortunately, some will be. But Peter encourages you to be like Sarah, and do what is right, submitting to your husband and not give way to fear. (6)

And God will honor you for that.

As I mentioned yesterday, this does not mean submitting to physical abuse. If that’s happening, get out of there. Protect yourself. But through it all, maintain the attitude of Christ who, “when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (2:23)

Husbands, on the other hand, you too are servants of Christ. Your wife, however, is not your servant. She is Christ’s. And in Christ, she is a sister and fellow heir. So Peter says,

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (7)

Your wife may be physically weaker than you; she may, by your estimation, be more emotionally fragile. But that does not give you any right to impose your will on her as a common bully would. You are to treat her with respect because Christ treats her with respect. And as much as you have received the gracious gift of life, so has she. If you ever forget that, God will hold you accountable for it.

Peter even says God will not even hear your prayers if you treat your wife wrongly.

In short, remember that in marriage, you and your spouse are both servants of Christ. And that should show in how you treat each other.

How do you treat your spouse?

 

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I Peter 2:18-25 — Living as servants of God (Part 2)

I suppose one of the groups of people that had the hardest time submitting to authority were the slaves in Peter’s time.

One of the things that had to attract them to the teaching of Christ was the idea that “there is neither…slave nor free…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

And yet, they were still stuck in a situation where that didn’t seem true. They were slaves of another. Some had masters that were good and kind. But others had masters that were far from either. And sometimes these slaves were beaten for no good reason. It would be easy in that situation for the slaves to feel like running away or rebelling.

But Peter told them,

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable before God. (18-20)

In short, continue to treat your masters with respect, even if you feel that they don’t deserve it. In doing this, you prove yourself to be a true servant of God and he will commend you for it.

None of us, I’m sure, have to endure this kind of thing. Even people who have “slave-drivers” for bosses have the option to leave. Slaves in Peter’s day didn’t.

But there are those of us who are ill-treated by others for no reason. Even worse, someone who has authority over you may be treating you this way, and it may not be easy for you to get out of the situation. It may be a parent. It may be a teacher. Or it may indeed be a boss in a job that you absolutely have to have. But whatever the case, you’re feeling beat down and can see no way out.

And it would be easy in those situations to show disrespect back to those who disrespect you. To abuse those who abuse you. But to be a servant of Christ means to follow his example in the face of suffering. Or as Peter puts it, to “follow in Christ’s steps.” (21)

Christ, of course, was spat upon, slandered, beaten, and ultimately crucified. But in the midst of it all,

He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (22-23)

Why did he do all this? For us.

And he did this not so that we would continue to walking in sin, living for ourselves. But rather that we might, “die to sin and live for righteousness,” living as his servants and ambassadors. (24)

Once we had been going our own way, far from God, and making a wreck of our lives. But through Christ, he has healed our wounds, and we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. (24-25)

So let us not go back to our old ways, inflicting wounds on those around us, even when they seem intent on inflicting wounds upon us.

Rather let us live as God’s servants, following the example Christ gave us, and being his representatives of light, even to those who abuse us.

Am I saying then that if your health or life is in danger to stay in that situation? Not at all. Get out of there. Protect yourself.

But in all your dealings with those who abuse you, treat them as Christ treated those who abused him.

And God will ultimately reward and bless you for it.

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I Peter 2:12-17 — Living as servants of God

I mentioned in an earlier blog that sometimes Christians live as if God were an upgrade to their lives.

The result of this is that they pretty much continue to live as they did before but they add on a few things. They add on church. They add on Bible reading and prayer. And perhaps they get rid of a few “bad habits.” But other than that, they live the rest of their lives pretty much as they want to live it.

But God is not interested in being an upgrade in our lives. He’s interested in being our Lord. And he’s not interested in making us “better.” He’s interested in making us new creations, people who are the very likeness of his Son, and who represent him to the world.  And so Peter says,

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (12)

Those words are very reminiscent of Jesus’ own words when he said,

Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

As Christ’s servants, we are his representatives to the world around us. We don’t merely represent ourselves anymore. We represent him. As a result, God cares very much about how we act, because what we do reflects on him.

One of the chief ways we represent him is how we relate to authority in our lives. Do we have proper respect for the authorities that God has put in place, particularly government officials? According to Peter, we must (2:13-14). Why?

For it is God’s will that by doing good that you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. (15)

When we disrespect our government, thus showing a lack of respect for authority, it reflects poorly on us and the God we say we represent. Even worse, we do so in a very public manner. Paul was mindful of this even when he was on trial and unlawfully struck at the order of the high priest. (Acts 23:2-5)

But Peter’s key point is found in verse 16.

Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. (16)

In short, yes, you have been set free from the rules and regulations of religion. But your freedom should never be an excuse for sin and for living however you want to. Why not?

Because we are not our own. We were bought with a price. (I Corinthians 6:19-20). And now we are servants of God himself. So let us live that way.

How does that look? Peter tells us.

Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (17)

How about you? What kind of representative of God are you? When others see you, do they see him? Or do they see only you?

 

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I Peter 1:13-2:12 — Because we don’t belong here

Having lived in Japan for 20 years, I sometimes feel like a man without a country. Of course I am American, but having been out of country so long, I am totally out of touch with the culture there and how things have changed over the years.

On the other hand, even having been in Japan so long, I am in many ways still an outsider. Or as we say in Japanese, a “gaijin.”

But maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because I don’t belong to this world. Not really. And neither do you if you’re a Christian. Christ has purchased us at a great price, not with silver or gold, but with his own blood. (1:18-19)

And he bought us to be his own people.

Like I said before, one of the key words in I Peter is “exiles” or “strangers.” We don’t belong here. And Peter goes into great detail as to the implications of this.

He says,

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1:13-16)

In short, because we are exiles and strangers, prepare yourself for the things that are to come. There will be hardships and even persecution for following Christ. But don’t falter because of that. Don’t look back longingly on your old life. Rather, set your hope on the grace you will receive when Christ comes back. What grace? The grace of eternal life. Of things that will never perish, spoil, or fade, kept in heaven for you. (1:4)

And because of that hope we have, don’t conform yourself to the evil desires that would destroy you; conform yourself to God. Make it your goal to become more like him. To be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

Our lives are so often broken because of sin. And by clinging to sin, our lives become even more broken. But when we let go of our sin and of doing things our way, and when we turn to God, doing things his way, our lives are made whole and complete.

And on the day of judgment, we will be rewarded.

So as Peter writes,

Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. (1:17)

What does that mean to live as strangers here?

It means to live each day in faith, hope, and love. Faith and hope that God will do all that he has promised (1:21). And loving each other as he commanded us. (1:22)

It means to remember that the life that we have is something eternal. Life here on earth is short, but it is only preparation for what is to come after death. (1:23-25)

It means to get rid of the poisons that we drink in each day, poisons that the people of this world drink in daily, the poisons of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander (2:1). These poisons and other sinful desires wage war against our souls and will destroy us if we continue to drink them in. (2:11)

Instead, we are to drink in the milk of God’s Word so that we can grow as his children. (2:2)

Most of all, it means to come to the One that this world has rejected. To come to Jesus as people who belong to his house. To be a part of that spiritual house he is building. To be his priests, offering spiritual sacrifices to God in our speech, in our actions, in our lives. (2:4-8)

And as we do, we will shine his light to a world trapped in darkness. (2:9, 12)

So remember who you are.

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (2:9-10)

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I Peter 1:3-12 — The reason for our hope

Peter was writing to a people that were suffering persecution, most likely under Nero. We don’t know the exact circumstances under which Peter wrote this letter, but it was probably either just before Nero started his full bore persecution of the church or just after. Either way, it would have been easy for the Christians to get discouraged. And so Peter reminds them the reason for their hope.

And it goes back to the first two verses of this chapter. That God in in his foreknowledge chose them and purified them by the blood of Jesus, and sanctified them by the Spirit for obedience to Christ.

Now Peter goes into much further detail.

He says,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (3-5)

Here we see the exact basis of our hope: the resurrection of Christ. By Christ’s resurrection, God confirmed that Jesus’ payment for our sin on the cross was enough. And through that same resurrection, we now have hope beyond the grave. As Jesus told his disciples,

Because I live, you also will live. (John 14:19)

Now through his mercy, he has given us new life, our salvation is secure. Though Satan seeks to destroy us, God’s power shields us as we stand in faith, and his power will continue to shield us until the day Jesus returns. And on that day, we will receive an inheritance that can never “perish, spoil, or fade.”

Because of this, Peter can say,

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (6-7)

Why can we we rejoice in the midst of trial? Because these trials are just for “a little while.”

And God doesn’t allow us to go through these trials in order to destroy us, but to purify us and make us more like his Son. Jesus himself suffered greatly, and as we share in his sufferings, we become more like him.

How do our sufferings make us more like Christ? They cause us to remember that we are mere strangers in this world. As we saw yesterday, we don’t truly belong to this world. And as we see that, we start to focus not on the temporal, but the eternal. We lay aside the sins which promise temporary joy, for things that bring eternal joy.  And as we do that, all the junk that clings to us slides off and we become as pure as gold.

As Job said,

[God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)

And Peter says that all this is to God’s praise, glory, and honor first and foremost, for he is the one who chose us. But I also have to believe that we also will receive praise, glory and honor from God as well.

So with all this in mind, Peter concludes,

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your soul. (8-9)

Does that describe you, even as you go through trials? If not, then it’s time to get back to basics. Remember that God loves you and has chosen you as his own. Remember the cross by which Christ purchased you. Remember Christ’s resurrection by which we have hope of our own resurrection. Remember the inheritance that we have in heaven.

And if you do, you will come forth as gold.

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I Peter 1:1-2 — Who we are. Who we are called to be.

I don’t always take so much time looking at the greeting section of these letters in the New Testament. But as much as any letter in the New Testament, and perhaps more, this greeting connects to everything else that is written in this letter.

Peter starts by identifying himself and who he is writing to, saying

Peter, and apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. (1)

Asia-MinorHere we see two things about who we are and who we are called to be in this one verse. Peter calls us, “God’s elect.” Not that we are somehow in ourselves more “elect” or special than others. But that God in his grace chose to save us and make us his own. Not because of who we are, but because of who he is.

He also calls us “strangers in the world.” That can also be translated, “exiles of the Dispersion.” The “Dispersion” usually referred to the Jews who were scattered throughout the world, far away from their homeland. But here Peter uses the word figuratively of all Christians. We are all citizens of a heavenly country, and yet we are scattered all over this world, like strangers in a foreign land. And this is a theme that comes up more than once in this letter.

Peter then says of us that we have been

…chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood. (2)

Here again, we see how God in love chose us and through Christ’s blood purified us from all sin. But not only has he chosen us and purified us, he is constantly working in us. Day by day he is sanctifying us, and making us more like his Son.

And we were chosen not to live for ourselves, but for obedience to Jesus Christ. He is to be the Lord and King of our hearts, and we his servants.

That’s who we are and who we are called to be. And if you want to understand the rest of this letter, you need to understand these things.

But so often we don’t. Even many Christians fail to grasp this. They think of their Christianity as an upgrade to their lives in this world.

What they don’t understand is that God is not interested in upgrading our lives. He is interested in making us entirely new people. People who reflect his Son. People who no longer live as if this world is their home, but who remember that their true citizenship is in heaven.

And for this  purpose, he sent his Son into the world to suffer and die to take the punishment for our sins. And for this purpose, Jesus sent his Spirit into the hearts of all who believe in him to transform us into his likeness.

How about you? Do you understand who you are and who you are called to be?

Or do you still live as a citizen of this world, acting as if you truly belong here?

If you’re a Christian, you don’t belong to this world.

You were created by God and for him. You were chosen by him and sanctified by the Holy Spirit for obedience to Christ. And until you understand that and live that way, you will never truly understand who you are and who you are called to be.

Do you understand this?

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James 5:15-20 — A faith that pursues

The letter of James ends rather abruptly compared to a lot of the letters that you see in the New Testament. But it ends with one of its main themes: a faith that expresses itself in love.

And here we see a love that pursues a fallen brother or sister. In verses 15-16, it talks about dealing with a brother or sister who is not just physically sick, but spiritually sick. And he encourages us to pray that their whole body, mind, and spirit be healed.

But in the last two verses, he goes further.

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and over over a multitude of sins. (19-20)

Sometimes we see a brother or sister walk away from God. And too often, we just let them go without pursuing them. We may pity them, sometimes we even judge them. But we don’t pursue them.

But love doesn’t just let someone slip away without a fight. It pursues. Part of that pursuit is confronting them in their sin. Part of that pursuit is entreating them to come back. And part of that pursuit is praying for them. How do we pray for them?

I find it very interesting that just before he talks about bringing a brother or sister back, James talks about the kind of prayer that Elijah prayed. Elijah lived in a time when much of Israel had walked away from God. And so he prayed. What did he pray? He prayed that it would not rain. And it didn’t, for three and a half years.

And because of his prayer, it got people’s attention. It certainly got king Ahab’s attention. Eventually through his prayer, it brought people back to the worship of the Lord.

Sometimes we need to pray the same way. Like I said at the very beginning of this book, God brings trials into our lives to make us mature and complete. And sometimes God uses trials to bring us back to himself when we are wandering off. So sometimes we need to pray that way.

“Lord, bring a drought in so-and-so’s life. Help them see the futility of a life apart from you and bring them back to you.”

And I think God will honor that prayer.

It almost seems cruel to pray that kind of thing. But like God, we are to have a heart for people, not one that delights in the fact that they are struggling, but one that longs for their repentance and rejoices when they do.

How about you? When someone walks away from God, do you have a faith and love that pursues them?

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James 5:13-18 — A faith that prays

As I said before, a lot of James at first glance seems disjointed, but the more that I’ve read this book, the more I’ve come to see the overall flow of it. And here James comes back to an idea that he started in chapter 1, prayer in the midst of trouble.

In chapter 1, he said that if you are going through trial to ask God for wisdom, but to ask in faith. Faith that God is good. Faith that God’s way is best.

Now he comes returns to this thought, saying,

Is any of you in trouble? He should pray. (13)

Pray for what? Pray for wisdom and pray for help. But again, we need to pray believing in the essential goodness of God. Because if you doubt that, your prayers will be totally ineffective. (1:5-6)

But we shouldn’t just pray when we’re in trouble. James tells us,

Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

It’s easy to remember God in our times of trouble. But do we remember him in the good times as well? Do we thank him for his goodness? That’s part of faith too. Believing that every good and perfect gift comes from him. (1:17)

James then returns to the idea of praying through trials, saying,

Is any of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. (14-15a)

This is no guarantee of healing, no matter what some people may say. Paul himself prayed for people who didn’t get well. (II Timothy 4:20, for example).

But nevertheless, if we are sick, James says to pray and to have the leaders of the church pray for you as well. The oil was either a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s work in healing, or it was used as an ointment for healing. Again, though, the idea is that through prayer, we express our faith in God. By praying, we put ourselves in the hands of God to heal…or not, trusting that whatever he chooses to do is best.

There are times, however, when sickness is the result of sin. And so James says,

If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed. (15-16)

It calls to mind the time Jesus healed the paralytic in Mark 2. Before dealing with his physical ailment, Jesus dealt with his sin.

I’m not saying that all sickness is the result of sin. But there are many people, for example, who have suffered physical aliments because of bitterness and unforgiveness in their hearts. And by dealing with their sin first, their physical ailments were also healed. That’s another reason James says to pray when you are sick or troubled. Prayer can reveal these kinds of spiritual issues and bring healing to them.

He concludes by saying,

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (16-17)

In short, never think prayer is a waste of time. That it is ineffective. Even for the “ordinary” person, if we come to God in faith, prayer can accomplish great things. Not because we’re speaking some magic formula or incantation. But because the God we pray to is great. And when we trust him, he can accomplish great things in us and through us.

How about you? Do you sometimes think prayer is a waste of time? Or do you have the faith to pray in the good times and bad?

 

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James 5:1-12 — How faith responds to suffering

James started this letter by talking about how God uses trials to make us mature and complete. And for the last several chapters, he talked about how true faith should look as it matures. That true faith causes people to grow in love, speech, and in purity. And that is the endgame for God. That we would become more like Christ as we draw near to him.

Now having drawn that picture, he comes back to how we should deal with our trials.

On first glance, the first six verses of chapter 5 look like a continuation of his condemnation of the wealthy Christians that we saw in the last few verses of chapter 4.

But taking a closer look, it seems much more likely that James is echoing the Old Testament prophets who condemned those who persecuted or oppressed God’s people. That there were rich people who hoarded their wealth and failed to pay their workers their wages. Who condemned and murdered innocent men by their greed and self-indulgence. And James warns, “Your time of judgment is coming.”

But then he turns to the suffering Christian. And he says,

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains? You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (7-8)

In short, part of perseverance is faith. Faith that God will judge the unjust and that justice will ultimately come. Just as the farmer trusts God to provide the rains he needs so that his crop will grow, so we should trust God to provide the justice that we all long for. And as we wait in faith, we will bear the fruit of righteousness in our lives.

That’s hard, though. And sometimes in our frustration, we not only get angry with God, but we turn on each other. So James says,

Don’t grumble against each other brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (9)

If in our impatience and anger at our situation, we turn on each other, God will hold us accountable for that. So James tells us,

Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (11)

When you look at the lives of the prophets, many, if not all, suffered greatly. Yet in the midst of their struggle, they continued to to be faithful, preaching the Word of the Lord, no matter how much they were reviled. Job too suffered, and though he struggled with understanding the whys, he never gave up on his faith on God either. And in the end, God vindicated them all.

And so James tells us, “Learn from them. In the midst of your trials, be patient.”

It’s easy to say God is good when all is going well. It’s much harder when we’re going through trial.

Finally James says,

Above all, my brothers, do not swear — not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No”,” no, or you will be condemned. (12)

Here I think James is saying, “No matter how bad things get, hold on to your integrity. Don’t let your trials take that away with you. Always stay unflinchingly honest lest your dishonesty detract from your testimony.”

How do you face your trials? Do you turn against God? Do you turn against those around you? Do you let your trials take away from your integrity? Or do you stand unflinchingly in the face of it all, believing that God is good and will bring you through?

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James 4:13-17 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 8)

I think with this passage, James pretty much concludes his speech on how true faith expresses itself. And again, throughout his whole letter, he has focused on love, speech, and purity.

In these last few verses, I think he’s going back to the theme of purity and not becoming polluted by this world.

Part of that pollution is the love that people have for the things of this world. But part of that pollution is the arrogance that comes from having the things of this world. Here we see Christians who were pretty successful in the world, successful business people and merchants. And because they were so successful, they were starting to forget their need for God. They had forgotten that all that they had ultimately came from him.

And so James says,

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (13-16)

In a lot of ways, this is connected to verses 10-12.

In those verses, James asked, “Who are you that you think you have the right to judge your neighbor, to despise him by slandering him and treating him like dirt?”

Now he again asks, “Who do you think you are that you boast as you do? You’re nothing. You’re mere mist, here today and gone tomorrow. You don’t even control how much breath you have left in your life.”

So what do we get from all this? Put away your arrogance. Draw near to God and humble yourself before him.

And stop despising others. Rather, get back to what Jesus commanded and start loving your neighbor as yourself.”

James then concludes,

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do, and doesn’t do it, sins. (17)

And so we come full circle to what James said earlier in chapter 2, that faith without works is dead. For if you are walking in arrogance, judging others with your mouth, neglecting the needs of those around you, and living in adultery with the world, do you really have faith? Or is your faith mere words, an empty shell.

What kind of faith do you have?

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James 4:11-12 — How true faith expresses itself (part 7)

Having addressed hearts that had been polluted by their love for the world, James now gets back to the tongue and how polluted hearts can affect it.

James talked earlier about how they were always fighting and quarreling among themselves and how that caused them to hate each other. Literally he says, “kill,” but I highly doubt they were actually killing each other. Rather, I think they were killing each other in their hearts.

Why do people murder? Because they despise others in their hearts. They treat them as something less than someone created in the image of God. That’s why Jesus said,

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Here you see Jesus equating harboring anger in your hearts toward others, and as a result despising them, with murder.

I think James was doing the same. The people were so in love with the world, they started to envy and despise those who had more than they did. And that led them to say things they shouldn’t. To slander others and call them fools or worse.

So James says,

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. (11)

So often when we talk about not judging others, we think of not judging their sins. But here, I’m not so sure James is talking about judging people’s sins. I think he’s talking about judging them in terms of calling people “fools,” or “no-good,” or the like.

We saw another case of this in chapter two, when people in the church were sitting in judgment on the poor, despising them and giving more honor to others simply because they were rich.

So what James is saying is, “Don’t you dare judge people and see then as anything less than people created in God’s image. God’s law says you are to love them as yourself. God law says that you are not to despise or slander them in any way. And when you have the gall to judge them and see them as anything less than people created in his image, you speak against the law and judge it. You’re not keeping the law; you’re judging God’s law as not worth keeping.”

James then warns,

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you — who are you to judge your neighbor? (12)

In short, there is only one lawgiver and judge, and that’s not you. So get off your high horse, and as James said in verse 10, humble yourself before the Lord. Stop acting and speaking as if you’re so much better than others. You’re not.

How about you? How does your faith express itself when it comes to dealing with people? Do you sit on judgment on others, calling them no good? Calling them stupid? Wishing they were dead?

Or does it express itself with the love, mercy, and grace that God gave you?

 

 

 

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James 3:13-4:10 — How true faith expresses itself (part 6)

James here briefly gets away from talking about controlling the tongue (he’ll return to it later), and starts talking about the third way that faith expresses itself: purity.

He said back in James 1:26 that an essential part of true religion or faith is, “…to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Here he goes into more detail as to what he means.

There were more than a few among those James was writing to that had ambitions of becoming a teacher in the church. And as we saw before, James cautioned them, saying not everyone should become teachers because they will be judged more strictly. (3:1)

He then says, “Do you really think you’re wise and understanding enough to be a teacher? Look at your hearts! Many of you are harboring envy and selfish ambition in your heart. That kind of “wisdom” comes from the devil, not God. And all that kind of wisdom will lead to is evil. (13-16)

Having said that, he gets to the true root of the problem. These people were being polluted by the world. And it was affecting how they thought and acted.

He says,

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on our pleasures. (4:1-3)

In short, he’s saying, “Look at you! You’re so in love with this world that you actually hate and envy those who have more than you. And because of that, you’re constantly fighting and quarreling with them. But not only is your love for the world affecting your relationship with others, it’s affecting your relationship with God. The only reason you talk to God at all is that you hope to get the things of this world. And God won’t honor that.”

James then gets really harsh.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (4)

James echoes here the words of the Old Testament prophets, who compared the people of Israel to whores and adulteresses (Ezekiel 16 and the entire book of Hosea for example).

When we love the world, it incites envy in the heart of God (5). We often think of envy as a bad thing, but there is a righteous kind of envy. A husband or wife has righteous envy when their spouse cheats on them. And when we turn our backs on God to whom we rightfully belong in order to pursue this world, he envies intensely.

And yet, if we will return to him, he always shows us grace (6). So James tells us,

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands you sinners, and purify our hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up. (7-9)

What kind of faith do you have? Is it a double-minded faith? One that claims to believe in God, and yet prostitutes itself by seeking the things of this world?

We are called to be priests of God, holy and pure. And as priests washed their hands and purified themselves before approaching God, so we need to wash our spiritual hands which are stained with sin and purify our hearts before God. We are not to indulge in the “joy” of worldliness. Rather we are to repent of it.

How about you? Are you being polluted by this world? Or does your heart belong to God alone?

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James 3:2-12 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 5)

I suppose I could have just titled this blog, “The tongue,” or some other such title. But I wanted to remind myself that this is really part of a longer argument that James is making. That faith expresses itself in love, in purity, and in our speech.

This passage is kind of a revisitation of chapter 1 verse 26 where James wrote,

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

We pointed out when we first looked at this that the reason for this is that our tongue shows the true state of our heart.

So many times people will say apologize for something they said by saying, “Sorry about that. It just kind of popped out.”

But the question is why? Why did it pop out? It popped out because it was there in your heart. It didn’t just pop out of nowhere. It resided in your heart, and when the time was ripe, it burst out.

And the thing is, because we all have sin in our hearts, there are any number of things there ready to pop out when we least expect it.

That’s why James tells us,

We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. (2)

Words are much quicker to come out of our mouths then our body is to act on any thought we may have. And so if our heart ever comes to the point of maturity and completion that nothing bad ever pops out, it would be safe to say that we most likely would never do anything wrong.

But of course, as long as we are on this earth, there will always be sin in our hearts. And that’s why James says,

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. (7)

And the thing is, what we say can shape our lives as well as the shape of others. Just as a bit can turn a horse completely around, and a rudder can do the same to a ship, so the tongue can completely turn the life of a person for good or bad.

Unfortunately, too often it turns a person’s life for the worse. James compares it to a spark that can bring down an entire forest. What you say can destroy your whole life, or the life of another. And because of that, James says that such a tongue is set on fire by hell itself.

Jobs are lost because of our words. Marriages die because of our words. Children are crushed because of our words. Friendships are broken by our words.  And yet so often we speak them so carelessly. Is it no wonder that James calls them a deadly poison? (8)

James says,

With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. (9-10)

Put another way, how can we say we love God when we curse people who are made in his image?

He concludes,

Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (11-12)

The truth is, while these things should not be, they do happen when it comes to our words because of what’s in our hearts. We have both fresh water and salt water there.

So if you wonder why you struggle so much with your tongue, consider the source of your words? What is in your heart? What bitterness, anger, or other ugliness is there? Because until you let Jesus deal with what’s there, you will never be able to control your tongue.

So let us pray as David did.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

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James 3 — If you would be a teacher

As I look back on my life, I kind of marvel at how I have gotten to this point in my ministry. I just ask myself, “How did I get here?”

It all started simply enough, I suppose. My brother started working with an organization called Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) as a summer missionary when he was in high school and college. Then a friend of mine also decided join CEF, and one day said words that changed my life. “Are you going to join CEF this summer too?”

He seemed greatly disappointed when I said no. But that started the wheels in motion in my heart, and the next summer I started ministering to children teaching them God’s word. And from there it snowballed.

I went from teaching children to teaching my peers. Then I moved to Japan, and started teaching the Bible to my students. And then out of the blue, my pastor asked if I would speak at a home church. From there, that opened up opportunities to speak in larger church services. And here I am.

I almost want to say, “I didn’t ask for this.” But perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “I didn’t expect all this.”

But here I am, in the position I’m in, and I face this passage. And it’s a heavy one for me and all who would be teachers in the church.

James said,

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (1)

Why? Two reasons.

First, if we are not careful in our teaching, we can lead people astray from the truth that is in Christ.

Second, when we stand in front of people preaching God’s word, they then pay particular attention to whether we live those words or not. We are to be examples to God’s flock. And when we fail, we can cause great damage to that flock.

It is the second that I think James is more concerned about here. We’ll talk more about the tongue as it concerns Christians in general tomorrow, but I think it would be good to focus on it from the standpoint of those who preach God’s word first.

Paul talks about the damage that we can cause to people with our tongues. He calls it a fire that can consume and destroy. (6) He calls it a restless evil filled with deadly poison. (8)

And for teachers that is the ultimate irony. With our speech we can exhort, rebuke, and edify. But with our speech, we can also destroy. And James asks,

Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? (11)

Quite frankly, it shouldn’t. As teachers, our mouths should be instruments of God, but when we tear people down, using biting sarcasm and cutting words, they instead become instruments of Satan. And this shouldn’t be.

James then gets to the root of all this: our hearts.

He asks,

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (13)

In other words, a truly wise and understanding teacher proves himself not by his words preached on the pulpit, but by his life off of it. And a truly wise teacher walks in humility, concerned with nothing but loving God and the people God has given him.

But some teachers are not this way. They are always comparing themselves with others. They compare themselves with other teachers with more successful ministries. Or they compare themselves with their flock, always looking down on them. And James warns,

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (14-16)

What is the wisdom that should characterize the teacher? James tells us.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (17-18)

Teachers, what kind of harvest are you raising in your church? One of chaos and evil? Or one of peace and righteousness? If you see a lot of the former, before you judge anyone else, look at your own life. Which characterizes your life more? Verses 14-16? Or verses 17-18?

What standard are you living up to?

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James 2:17-26 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 4)

There was something that I wanted to add in the last blog, but it was getting long as it was, so I decided to put it here.

One thing that I have been trying very carefully to do is to make clear that maturity and completion as a Christian takes time. One does not become a perfect Christian the day he or she is saved.

Abraham certainly wasn’t. I talked yesterday about how his faith was made complete with his putting of Isaac on the altar. But he did struggle with this faith a lot up until that point. We saw that with his sleeping with his wife’s slave Hagar. We also see it in Genesis 20 where he lied to a king named Abimelech, saying Sarah was his sister (technically true, she was his half-sister, but not the whole truth) because he was afraid Abimelech would kill him in order to take Sarah.

I say all this to make two points.

First, I have challenged you to think about your faith. And it would be easy for you to focus on your failures, and say, “Maybe I’m not really saved at all. After all, I still don’t see all the fruit of love in my life I should have, and I still fail in so many ways.”

But that’s not my intention nor was it James’. The people we are challenging are those who claim it is possible to be a Christian, and simply live the way that they want to. The people who say, “I have faith, you have deeds,” as if there were no connection whatsoever between the two.

But as we have seen, there is a connection. True faith in God always leads to a change in life. Because if you truly have seen his love for you in the cross of Christ, and you truly do love him for that, then you will naturally want to do the things that please him.

The question I would ask you if you’re questioning your faith is this: “Do you really love God. Do you have a burning desire to please him?”

If you can say yes, then I wouldn’t worry too much about you, because change will happen. Like I said, it may be hard and it may be painful. But it will happen.

Second, I think we need to be very careful about judging those who we feel are not changing “fast enough.”

People grow at different paces. And while actions often show the state of the heart, you know as well I do that it’s not a perfect measure. Some people look really good, but in their hearts are not right before God. On the other hand, other people may seem hypocritical, but when they are at home in their room before God, they are crying out, “God why am I this way? Forgive me. Help me.”

The only people whose faith we should be questioning are those people who blatantly don’t seem to care about becoming godly. Who always make excuses when they hear the Word of God and reject any rebuke for their actions on the basis that they are “saved by faith alone.”

These are the people that I’m challenging, and I believe James is too.

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James 2:17-26 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 3)

We said yesterday that it’s not simply enough to say, “I believe in God,” in order to be saved. Nor, for that matter, is it enough to say “I believe that Jesus died for my sin and rose again” in order to be saved. True faith always leads to a changed life, and that first and foremost expresses itself in love: love for God and love for others.

A “faith” that never grows to express itself in that way is not true faith at all. It’s merely empty words. As empty as saying to a needy person, “I hurt for you. God bless you,” and then walking away without doing anything to help them.

James then says,

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do. (18)

It’s difficult to know how to take this verse, especially since we don’t know where the quotation marks should be. (There are no quotation marks in Greek.)

One way this could be read is that the “someone” mentioned is an outsider, a non-Christian, who looks at the so-called Christian who claims he believes in God but shows no love or compassion to those around. And this someone is saying, “Why should I follow your God? You have your faith, but I’m a much better person than you.”

The other way it could be read is that James is that “someone” and that all those words should be in quotes.

Either way, James is saying, “Do you really have faith? Prove it. Talk’s cheap. You say that you really believe in God, but how do I know? I can’t see your heart. All I can see is your deeds. And your deeds, particularly your lack of love for God and others, make me seriously doubt that you really have faith in God at all. Because if you really knew God’s love, it would eventually start to flow out from your life.”

And this, I think, is how we deal with the seeming contradiction between James and Paul. Paul says we are justified by faith apart from works (Romans 3:28). James says we are justified by faith and works. (2:24)

We are justified by God by faith alone, but we are justified (or “proven”) as true believers before people by what we do. Why? Because God can see the heart. People can’t.

The interesting thing is that James and Paul use the same person and passage to prove their points. James says,

Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. (21-22)

The question is, who was he considered righteous by? By God? To an extent, yes. But more importantly, his outward actions proved to the people around him that he truly believed in God. They couldn’t see his heart. For all they knew, he was a total hypocrite. In fact, his previous actions may have made them think just that. After all, he had had so little faith earlier that he slept with his wife’s slave (with his wife’s permission) in order to have an heir. Why? Because he had started having serious doubts that God would give him an heir through Sarah like He had promised.

But when Abraham later was willing to sacrifice Isaac on the altar, even though Isaac was the one through whom God had promised Abraham’s family line would continue, it showed everyone around that Abraham really did have true faith. He had grown from the man who wavered and sometimes acted hypocritically into a man who truly lived out his faith.

That’s what James meant when he said,

And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. (James 2:23)

When did Abraham believe God and have it credited him as righteousness. Before the sacrifice of Isaac? Or after? Well before. In fact it was before Isaac was even born. (Genesis 15:6)

God knew his heart right then and there. He knew Abraham believed him, and so he justified him on the basis of that faith. But that faith came to maturity and completion when Abraham put Isaac on that altar.

Like I said yesterday, maturity and completion of faith may take time. It may be a struggle, and it may be painful at times. But where there is true faith, there will always be progress, and eventually people will be able to see it.

What kind of faith do you have?

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James 2:14-26 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 2)

I think it’s easy at times to parse the Bible into neat little sections, especially as we do our daily Bible reading. What I’ve been noticing more and more over the past year, though, is that when we do that, we often miss the flow of what is being said.

So often people kind of detach these verses from all that was said before, but really, it is all part of one long argument. And this specific argument goes back to chapter 1 verses 26-27, where James talks about how true religion, true faith, leads to love, a tongue under control, and a pure life.

More specifically, this passage is continuing James’s thought of faith expressing itself in love. Paul himself talked about this, saying,

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)

James has been specifically talking about this in terms of how we treat the poor and lowly, and said that when we mistreat them, we are acting as sinners. We may not be committing murder or adultery, but we are nevertheless lawbreakers in God’s sight. And so James tells us, don’t judge the poor and lowly as lesser people. Rather show mercy to them. (2:8-12)

He then uses this line of thought to reinforce his general point, that true religion and faith should lead to a changed life.

He says,

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? (2:14)

Again, in the context, he’s talking about deeds of love. Can you claim to have faith if you have no love?

He then illustrates his point.

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead. (2:15-17)

Here, James shows the emptiness of words if it is not backed up by action. If someone tells a person in need, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” it sounds good. It sounds loving. But if it never leads to action, that lack of action proves that all those words had no real meaning behind them. They’re just empty words, and not love at all.

In the same way, if someone says, “I believe in God,” it sounds pious. It sounds Christian. But if over the course of time, that person’s life never changes, their life proves those words of faith have no meaning behind them. They’re just empty words, and not faith at all.

James emphasizes the point, saying,

You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder. (2:19)

In short, mere mental assent to the truth is not enough to save you. Merely saying, “I believe in God,” is not enough. True faith always leads to a transformed life. In particular, it leads to a life in which you truly love those around you. Change may take time. It may be a struggle. But if there is true faith, there should always be progress.

If then you look back on your life and you can’t see any changes that God has brought about in your life, making you more mature and complete in him, then it’s time to question, “What kind of faith do I have?”

More on this tomorrow.

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James 1:26-2:13 — How true faith expresses itself

One of the things that James really is strong on is that true faith expresses itself in more than just saying, “I believe in God.”

Many people today say, “I believe in God.” But as we will see in later passages, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a saving faith.

A saving faith leads to a transformed life. We saw that one reason God allows trials into our lives is so that we might be transformed, that we might be made whole and complete as we learn to trust in him through those trials.

And as we look at the next few chapters, we see three ways we should see our lives changing if we are truly saved. One is in speech. The second is in love. The last is in purity. (It strikes me that Paul also talks about all these things in I Timothy 4:12)

James says first,

If anyone considers himself religious, and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. (1:26)

James will get much more into this later, but I will say this. Many people today who struggle with their tongue often take it lightly. They swear, they lie, they slander, they verbally abuse. And it never occurs to them that their words show what is in their hearts. If there is garbage in your heart, garbage is going to come out. If you think you’re a good Christian and garbage is spewing out of your mouth, James says you’re deceiving yourself and your Christianity is worthless. It’s worthless because your “faith” has yet to transform your heart. There’s garbage there and you don’t even notice it’s there.

James then says,

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (1:27)

James will explain later what it means to keep from being polluted by the world. But at this point, he goes into great detail on the third way in which our lives should change if we have true faith: the love we have for others.

If we have true faith, we should have a heart that has mercy on those around us. On the widows and orphans. (1:27) We should have a heart that does not discriminate showing more honor to those who are rich, while despising the poor. A heart that judges not by appearance but through the eyes of God who has chosen many that the world despise to be his children and to inherit his kingdom. (2:1-2:7)

And James tells us,

If you are keeping the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (2:8-9)

So many people say, “Yes, I’m a good Christian. I don’t murder, I don’t steal, I don’t commit adultery.”

And yet they fail to love those around them with the love of Christ. Instead they despise them. James says of such people, “You’re not as good as you think. In God’s eyes, you are a law-breaker because you don’t love the people around you.”

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were much the same. They didn’t love. They kept a lot of other rules, some of which God didn’t even require. But they discriminated, they judged, and they despised many of the people around them. And Jesus rebuked them for their hypocrisy. How many people that call themselves Christians would Jesus rebuke today?

So James concludes,

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (2:12-13)

When we live by the law of love and mercy, we set people free and show ourselves to be God’s children. When we judge and despise people, we show ours faith is not as strong as it should be.

What do your words and actions show about your faith?

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James 1:19-25 — Open hearts

At times, I must admit this letter James wrote seems a bit disjointed. He just seems to jump from topic to topic. But the more I’ve been reading this letter as a whole, the more united it has become.

In this passage, at first glance, seemingly out of nowhere, James brings up something very similar to what we see in Proverbs. He says,

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (19-20)

There is, of course, much truth to this in our relationships. If we would be quicker to listen to people, slower to speak, and slower to get angry, our relationships would be much better.

But I’m not so sure that James is talking here about our relationships with others. I think he’s talking about our relationship with God. Earlier he talked about how God uses our trials to make us mature and complete. That during these times, he teaches us to trust him and to do things his way.

The problem is that during times in of trials, too many times, we’re not willing to listen. Instead we rage at God, saying, “Why are you letting this happen to me!”

But James told us in verse 18 that through his word of truth, he gave birth to us. Through the word of the gospel we heard and accepted, he saved us from our sin and made us his children. And it is that same word that transforms us day by day into Christ’s likeness, making us whole and complete.

So James is saying here, “Be quick to listen to that word. In your times of trial be quick to listen to what God is trying to tell you. Be slow to speak. Be slow to complain. Be slow to rage against God because of your trials. For that kind of anger will not bring about the righteous life that God desires to develop in you.”

He then says,

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (21)

In short, God is trying to purify you through these trials and his word. So when he speaks, open your heart to what he’s trying to teach you. His word can save you not only from your trials, but save you from the multiple problems that come when you sin.

So don’t just mentally assent to what God is saying to you. Do it.

James puts it this way,

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does. (22-25)

A lot of people think of God’s law as taking away our freedom. They think his law takes away from the enjoyment of life. But God’s law actually brings us freedom. It frees us from bitterness and resentment. It frees us from the chains that destroy our marriages, our relationships, and our lives. It frees us to have the full life that God intended for us from the very beginning. And as a result, we find blessing.

How about you? As you go through struggles in your life, are you getting resentful and bitter toward God? Or do you open your heart to him? God wants to use your trials to make you whole.

When he whispers, do you listen?

 

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James 1:13-18 — For our good

“Why is God doing this to me? Does he want me to fall?”

Sometimes, as we go through trials, that’s how we feel. That God actually wants us to fail so that he can punish us.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, God allows trials in our lives, but it is not to punish us or break us. Rather, he allows these trials that we might become “mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (1:3)

And so James tells us,

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (13-15)

The word “tempt” in Greek is actually the verb form of the word “trial.” Because of that, perhaps James’ readers got confused when hearing that God “tests” us. Many people have the same confusion today.

Yes, God tests us. He wants to see what is inside of us, and he wants to use these tests to strengthen our faith in him.

But God never tempts us to do evil. He never says, “Hey why don’t you lust after this girl,” or, “Why don’t you start berating your spouse,” or, “Why don’t you curse me?”

All these temptations, James tells us, come not from God, but from our own sinful selves. Our own sinful desires lure us, and if we take the bait, it gives birth to sin, and eventually leads to death.

But that’s not what God desires for us.

Rather James tells us,

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (16-18)

In other words, every act of giving from God is good. And every gift that he gives us is perfect. There is no malicious giving on his part. And there is no gift that he gives that is defective. And that shows in the gift of salvation. God could have left us to die in our sins. But rather, he chose to give us life through his Son.

And God is not like shifting shadows, who one day will seek to bless us, and the other to destroy us. Rather, again, his goal is that we might become whole and complete. That we would, as the writer of Hebrews puts it, “share in his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10).

So remember that whatever you’re going through, God is not trying to destroy you. He’s not trying to wreck your life. We do enough of that on our own.

Rather, through our trials, he’s trying to teach us to trust him. And as we learn this, we see God’s goodness and faithfulness, and come out through the fire as pure gold, whole, complete, lacking nothing.

 

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James 1:9-12 — Where we put our trust

Who or what do you put your trust in? Trials tend to reveal this clearly.

For many, it’s in worldly wealth. They think that money is the solution to all their problems. And so for those who have wealth, they pour all their money into their problems. And for those without, they waste all their time pining after it.

But in doing so, they become double-minded. While they may be asking God for wisdom to deal with their trials, they’re really looking toward money to solve their problems.

So James says,

The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position—because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. (9-11) 

In times of trial, it’s easy for those without worldly wealth and status to moan after them as if these things would be the solution to all their problems.

But James says, “It’s not wealth or worldly status that counts, but the heavenly wealth and status that you have in Christ. So though you may be struggling through these trials, keep your eyes on the things that are eternal, not the things of this world. And be content with what you have, knowing that God is with you and will help you through your trials, whether you have money or not.”

It’s in fact very similar to what the writer of Hebrew said to his readers.

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6) 

On the other hand, it’s easy for those who are rich and who think they should have it all together to be humbled by their trials and to wonder what’s going on. To wonder if God has abandoned them.

But James tells the rich, “Take a lesson from the low position you are now in. All your wealth is not saving you from your trials. All your riches, all your possessions will pass away. You will pass away. So let your trials refocus you on the things that really matter. And stop relying on the things of this world to save you. Put your faith in God.

Then he says to both rich and poor,

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (12)

In short, don’t waver under trial. Don’t waver by seeking the things of this earth and putting your trust in them. This earth with all its wealth and all its trouble will pass away. But you are looking toward something that will never fade away, everlasting life in heaven, and rewards that will never perish.

What trials are you going through now? Where is your focus in the midst of them? Where are you putting your faith? In money? Or in God?

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James 1:1-8 — That we may be mature and complete

What is God’s intention and desire for us?

In a word, “wholeness.”

That we would be whole in our relationship with him. That we would be whole in our relationships with each other. That we would be whole in every aspect of our lives.

That’s a comforting thought, isn’t it? We all want to be made whole.

The next thought might not be so comforting: It is for the purpose of being made whole that we go through many of the trials and struggles we do.

That’s why it’s hard for us to accept James’ word to us when he says,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (2-3)

Pure joy? When we face suffering?

Yes. Pure joy. Why? Because these trials produce perseverance in our lives. Why is perseverance so important?

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (4)

In short, the path to wholeness is one of persevering through trial. For through those trials, we learn to cast aside trusting ourselves and our own wisdom.

The reason our lives are so broken is that we have spent our entire lives trusting ourselves and our own wisdom. But through our trials, we learn just how vain life is living that way.

But when we turn to God, learning to trust him and his ways, and we persevere in living that way even through trial, then we find wholeness. In our relationship with him, with each other, and in every aspect of our lives.

That’s why James tells us in the next verse,

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (5-8)

As I read this, I can’t help but think of Hebrews 11:6, where it says,

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Wholeness comes down to trusting God. If we doubt God’s goodness in our lives, we will never do the things he asks. And if we don’t do the things he asks, our lives will remain the broken shells they are.

How about you? Do you want to be whole, when all the while you’re holding on to your wisdom and your ways? You can never be made that whole that way. That way leads only to brokenness and despair.

But if you will trust in God, he will bring you out of the trials you are going through. And he will bring you out mature, whole, and complete.

What will you do?

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Hebrews 13:20-25 — Equipped

I love how the writer of Hebrews closes his letter.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (20-21)

So often in our Christian lives, we forget the grace of God and think we have to live this life in our own strength. That when trials come, we must endure in our own strength. That we must hold on to faith through our own mental toughness and willpower. That we must achieve holiness through our own efforts and those efforts alone.

But here, the writer of Hebrews brings us back to basics: that it is God who gives us the grace to do all these things. That Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins and make us right before God. And now, that same power God used to raise Jesus from the dead is at work in us.

It is God himself who equips us with everything good in order to do his will. And day by day, he works in us what is pleasing to him.

We’re not on our own. We were saved by God’s grace. And we live each day by his grace.

How are you living your life? Are you living each day tired because you are relying on your own strength and wisdom to achieve the things you think God wants you to do? Are you discouraged because you just don’t seem to have the willpower to change yourself with all your sins and faults?

Remember that you were saved by God’s grace. And that grace is not simply for your salvation, but to transform you into the person God has created you to be. You are not on your own. So don’t try to live that way. Instead live each and every day resting in his grace.

Grace be with you all. (25)

 

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Hebrews 13:17-18 — Following and praying for your leaders

I have great respect for the pastors who have been over me.

I’ve been teaching God’s word for a long time, but have never sensed the call to be a pastor. If all being a pastor meant was teaching God’s word, I could probably do that. But a pastor is called to do much more in shepherding the flock God has given them.

We forget that sometimes. And not only do they have the responsibility of shepherding the church, they have the everyday responsibility of shepherding their families as well.

These are heavy responsibilities. And most take them seriously. For they know that one day they will answer to God for what they have done. And because of the specific responsibilities they have over God’s flock, they are held to higher account than most people.

And so the writer of Hebrews tells us,

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage of you. (17)

Like I said, being a pastor is tough as it is. It becomes even tougher when his own flock starts sniping at him. Criticizing him. Tearing him apart for every mistake that he makes. Questioning every decision he makes in leading the church.

The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Don’t do that. Follow them. Submit to their authority.”

Why? Because God is the one that gave them that authority. And ultimately, he is the one they are accountable to. He is the one who will judge them if they go off the right path, not you.

When we are constantly criticizing and tearing down our pastors, their job becomes a burden instead of the joy God intends it to be. And that is not only bad for them. But it’s also bad for us. Instead of being able to focus on all the things God has called them to do, they are forced to put out all the fires in the church.

And all the while Satan laughs.

So don’t be a part of that.

Is there no room, then, for criticism of a pastor? Certainly there is.

If they’re getting into false teaching, they must be confronted. If they’re neck deep in sin and immorality and will not repent, they must be confronted. And Paul deals with such situations in I Timothy 5.

But if you’re simply dealing with differences of opinion, in the direction of the church, in how things are run, etc., follow the leader God has given you. It’s entirely possible that they see things that you cannot.

And if your pastor does make a mistake in these things (and they inevitably will)? Don’t snipe. Don’t criticize. Build them up. Encourage them. And above all, pray.

The writer of Hebrews said,

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. (18)

Most pastors are the same. Even though they feel like they have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way, they still fall. They still make mistakes. So pray for them.

What is your attitude toward your pastor?

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Hebrews 13:7-16 — Serving the one who never changes

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (8)

This is a famous verse, and one of my favorites. It reminds me that my Lord is unchanging. And that is comforting in a world where people change all the time, and not always for the better. In Jesus, we have someone we can always rely on, someone whose word we can trust, and someone who will always be faithful to us.

That’s why the writer of Hebrews tells us,

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (7)

For the Jesus that transformed them, and who worked in them and through them is the same Jesus that transforms us, working in us and through us. So as we look at our leaders faith and all that God did in their lives, we can be encouraged that if we walk in faith, we too will see God’s work and faithfulness in our lives.

And it’s why the writer of Hebrews tells us also,

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. (9)

In other words, Jesus brought us the message of grace. And because he is unchanging, his message will not change. He will not all of a sudden say, “Hey, you need to eat and avoid certain kinds of food to be right with my Father.”

So we should run from anyone that would bring us teaching that would take us away from the grace of God. We no longer live by law, but by the grace of God. Our goal is no longer to please God to earn our salvation. Rather, because we have already received our salvation through Christ, we seek to please him out of gratitude and our love for him.

The writer of Hebrews then tells us the great privilege we have in Christ. He says,

We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. (10)

What is he talking about? He’s talking about the priests and the sacrifices of atonement they offered for sin. The priests were allowed to eat from some of the sacrifices, but they could not eat from the sacrifices made on the Day of Atonement. Instead the sacrificed animals were completely burned outside of the camp where the Israelites pitched their tents (11).

But at the altar of the cross, we “eat” of the one who is the Bread of Life. That is, in coming to Jesus and putting our trust in his work on the cross, we now have eternal life. So the writer of Hebrews tells us, “We have a right that even the priests of the Old Testament didn’t have. They could not take part of the sacrifices of atonement. In Christ, we can.”

And then the writer of Hebrews goes back to the theme of the unchanging Christ.

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. (12)

That is, this Jesus in the past offered his life completely to atone for our sins outside of Jerusalem.

Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. (13)

In other words, let us now go to that same Jesus who is waiting for us outside the camp, that is this world. Put another way, let us leave behind all the sin and pleasures of this world, being willing to suffer for doing so, just as Jesus suffered for us.

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (14)

This world is not our true home. Our true home is in heaven, where this same Jesus reigns forever and ever.

And so the writer of Hebrews concludes,

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (16-17)

Each day then, through our words and our deeds, let us glorify this Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

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Hebrews 13:5-6 — What we love, what we put our trust in

I’ve gotta admit, having money makes life easier. It makes it easier to deal with serious health problems, as we can afford more expensive types of treatments. It allows us to have better cars or homes when our old ones are breaking down. And of course, it not only makes life easier, it can make life more comfortable and enjoyable as well.

But I suppose the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What do we love?”

And just as importantly, “What do we put our trust in?”

Those are the questions, the writer of Hebrews poses to us. He says,

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (5-6)

What do we love? Money, and the things that money can buy? These things pass away. They can buy happiness for a short time, but eventually we tire of them, or they grow old and break, and discontent stirs in our hearts again. And there are many people in this world who go through this endless cycle of discontent, never finding true happiness.

On the contrary, many people actually wreck their lives out of their love for money and things. They go bankrupt, they destroy their marriages and families, they wreck their health, all for the love of money and pleasure.

And so God says, “Keep your life from the love of money and be content with what you have. Stop pursuing these things. You will never find contentment from these things. You can only find contentment in a relationship with me. I will never leave you nor forsake you. All that you need to make you happy and content you can find in me.”

Who or what do we trust to solve our problems? Again, it is so easy to put our trust in money. Money can solve a lot of our problems. But it can’t solve all of them. And in some cases, it can actually make things worse. But when we turn to God, we find the one who can uphold us in all circumstances. More, he will not abandon us in the hard times.

And because of that, we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.”

How about you? Who or what do you love? And who or what do you put your trust in?

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