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Oh, church, let’s stop talking about ourselves. What a great job we’re doing. How we’re helping the poor. Please. For our own good.

We are losing our reward.

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:1–4).1

Think about this. Would you go around telling people how good you are at giving to the poor? No? Then why do our churches?

Please, let us stop boasting about what great speakers our pastors are. Why? Paul told us.

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:3–5).

Paul wanted those folks in Corinth to be confronted by the truth of God’s word, not by his awesome ability to communicate, but only by the power of God. Listen. People are only convicted of their sins by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, not by our words. By our humor. By our “relevant” messages.

Only the Father—not our on-stage presence—draws people to Jesus. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44a).

Let us please stop talking about how wonderful our worship is. One church website wrote, “Our music is contemporary, and not only do we like it, we tend to think God likes it too, because He keeps showing up.” Now, think with me about this for a moment. Suppose you were telling someone about how you worship when you play an instrument. Can you imagine yourself saying, “You won’t believe it! God likes the music I play because when I play the piano, He keeps showing up!” Or even if you were in a small group. “Yeah! Our worship is so good that God shows up when we sing!”

Does that sound boastful to you? Or just plain weird?

I know it’s so church-counterculture to say, but we cannot deny that the Bible—the truth we claim to cling to—says this:

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends (2 Corinthians 10:17–18).

Jesus didn’t boast about what He did, either. There’s good evidence that He didn’t want people to talk about what He did at all.

Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat (Mark 5:41–43).

Can you imagine any church not broadcasting such an event to anyone and everyone?

If we did, we’d be boasting. Let’s be honest. It would be disingenuous to claim that we didn’t expect people to be drawn to our church because of such a miracle, don’t you think? That we never considered that might happen? No, rather, we should follow the example of the Lord God Almighty.

Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it” (Matthew 9:29–30).

Jesus didn’t need to advertise. Why do we?

And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them” (Luke 5:13–14).

Think about the question I asked above and get back to me. I’d really like to hear your answer.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

 

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gih

A few years ago, Tamil pastors who lived in Malaysia asked me why the United States had legalized abortion. I told them to pray for us. We had turned away from God, I said.

They were surprised, in a Tamil kind of way.

A little back story. The United States is loved, disliked, admired, and hated in countries abroad. Concerning the Church—I’m addressing the evangelical church here, since I have no experience with any other as a missionary—we have a mixed record as well. Nevertheless, Christians abroad have been hugely impacted by what we call “success” in our American church culture. Please understand the undeniable power of money in the world. It impresses. It is desirable. It oozes confidence. We American Christians have lots of it. We may not consider ourselves wealthy, but in underdeveloped nations, just the fact that we come from the United States indicates that we are. That’s just the way it is. We cannot change that perception. Thus, we are the I-want-to-be-like-that to most Christians, leaders, and lay folk in underdeveloped countries.

I bring this up because those Tamil pastors indicated a degree of bewilderment over the fact that a country, which they consider a successful (which in many Christians’ minds, indicates being blessed by God) country (it is not), could possibly countenance the murder of millions of children.

My wife and I have ministered several years abroad but have lived most of our lives in the United States. I greatly appreciate what this nation has stood for in the history of the world. I admire this country for the thousands of citizens who have bled, fought, and laid down their lives for freedom and the lives of their countrymen. However, I am ashamed of the way too many Americans have treated Native Americans, minorities—and killed sixty million children.

According to The National Right to Life Committee, over sixty million babies have been aborted since 1973, when abortion was legalized. Thankfully, the numbers have decreased in the last two years to under a million annually. But even with those reduced numbers, 2,538 children are slaughtered every day in this country. 106 per hour. Almost two every minute. So, while you have been reading this article—yes. Dead, helpless, innocent children.

So, a question. How does the Lord God Almighty view this nation? A couple of days ago, I was struck by these verses:

The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on the all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the heart of them all and observes all their deeds (Psalm 33:13–15). 1

And I can’t help wondering if we have or will fall under this condemnation from Jesus:

Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you (Matthew 11:21–24).

Western cultures are the most Christianized nations on earth. The Bible is freely available. Churches abound. Everyone knows something about Jesus. We have not repented. We stand on the shoulders of centuries of Christian truth which has enabled the freedoms we hold so dearly. We kill children, like the worshippers of Molech (2 Kings 23:10). We have no excuse. No excuse whatsoever.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

 

 

 

images.duckduckgo.com

Someday, many people will bow down to and worship an image. This will not be just any image, like an idol made of stone or wood. This will not be a hologram, a 3D projection.

It will breathe.

It will speak.

But first, let’s talk about beasts. Yes, beasts.

The first beast that arrives in the Book of Revelation is a nasty, blasphemous, violent being. The Church will suffer under its power (Revelation 13:5-10). If that weren’t bad enough, however, John soon sees another one: “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon” (Revelation 13:11).1 I don’t know what a dragon speaks like, but it looks like one day people will know. This second beast will be a being that is difficult for us to imagine. It will have great power, both secular and spiritual:

It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666 (Revelation 13:12–18).

This second beast will perform miracles. Perhaps that is why, when the image is given “breath” (pneúma), it seems reasonable. This image will be animated without electricity, projected lighting, or any other earthly power, which holograms and robots require today. People will worship it. But what does “worship” mean? Will people raise their voices and sing hymns about it? Well, worship is much more than singing, like Christians do in church. Here is BDAG’s definition of “worship” (proskunéō):

προσεκύνησα (Trag., Hdt.+. Freq. used to designate the custom of prostrating oneself before persons and kissing their feet or the hem of their garment, the ground, etc.; the Persians did this in the presence of their deified king, and the Greeks before a divinity or someth. holy.) to express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure, (fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully…2

So, no singing or raising of hands will be necessary. People will acknowledge that they are dependent upon this image and the beasts for their very lives instead of the Almighty God, the creator of heaven and earth.

If they do not worship it, they will die.

This is the devil’s great triumvirate. This is the unholy trinity. Three blasphemous beings. (Only two of these, it seems, will have existence, because only the beast and the false prophet, also known as the antichrist and the lawless one, will be thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 19:20.)

However, those who worship this unholy trinity will face a terrible end themselves. They will die without God.

I wonder if the second beast, who will perform miracles, or perhaps all three, will say something like this:

“Look upon me. Bow to me. I am the one for whom you have been waiting. You have seen the miracles I have performed. You have seen that I control nature itself by the miracles I have done. How have I been able to do these things? I am god but not-god. I have purged from me all genetic imperfections. I am the height of all perfection. I know no race but am every race, the offspring of every people, of all people, of even ancient alien spawn races, of whom you know not but will know. I am born, not of woman, but of man-woman. I am star and starfish and lion and lamb and all living things. I bring my peace to the world. Indeed, I am peace. But I have all power and shall give my power to the world. Indeed, I am power. I know no laws. I need no laws. I am free from laws but the fulfillment of every law. I am freedom. If you do not give all to me, you will have no freedom. I have water and will give water to the whole world. No more will anyone thirst. Truly, I am water. I have food and will give food to all the world. No more will you hunger. Truly, I am bread. I am light and life, as you can see in this living image. You will joyfully give all to me, and you will know of me. I am wealth and will take your wealth to make you rich beyond measure. You must submit to me, or you will have no life.”

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

2Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 882). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

 

 

giphy 4

The Christian God is so full of wonder, overflowing in adventurous mystery. As long as we live in these earthly bodies, we will not fully comprehend the nature of this stunning, sovereign God. His ways are higher than ours. Not just a little higher: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). 1

So, as a case in point, I’d like to dig with you into the call of Paul. No, not the conversion of Saul, but his calling to the mission field.

Here are the verses we’ll be looking at, as well as the portion that will follow:

“Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:1–3).

So, a question. How did those gathered know the Holy Spirit said this? Did He speak through a prophet? Who? That is unknown. And here is where those who deny the present reality of the gifts of the Spirit cannot comprehend what happened that day. I think we can properly assume that more than one person heard from the Holy Spirit in that gathering. Or, relying upon my experience in such circumstances, many of those in that place experienced what is often called a “witness in their spirit.” I guess it could also be called a divine amen. You just know that you know that you know that it’s the Lord.

So, based upon this biblical experience—and that’s what it was—these believers fasted, prayed, and “laid their hands on them and sent them off.”

All is well, right? Well, not if you are Paul and Barnabas, because immediately the question must have come to mind, “Where are we to go?”

We are not told in the verses that follow this sending off how these two men decided where to go. We read next, “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them” (Acts 13:4–5).

Here is their journey thus far.

Selucia. Nothing happened.

Cyprus. Nothing happened.

Salamis. Nothing happened.

Then, according to the narrative that follows, they went to Paphos. Here, a magician named Elymas was saved (Acts 13:6-12). They met no resistance in Paphos; nevertheless, they moved on to Perga, where again, nothing of note was done by the Lord.

This is when John Mark left for Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).

Paul and Barnabas then traveled to Antioch in Pisidia. Paul preached a great message, probably for ten or fifteen minutes. The Gentiles, whom Paul in his sermon had notified could receive eternal life, rejoiced. However, the Jews were unhappy and forced the two men to leave (Acts 13:14-52).

Paul and Barnabas then traveled to Iconium, “where a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1). By His grace, the Lord did wondrous things there: “So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3).

However, once again, the Jews resisted them, and they fled to Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:5-7).

What lesson can we learn from this narrative?

We don’t know how Paul and Barnabas made the decision to head off first of all to Selucia, Cyprus, Salamis, and Paphos. We are not told in Scripture why John Mark left. Paul was angry with him (Acts 15:37-40), although they later reconciled (2 Timothy 4:11). But I can’t help wondering if John questioned why they should leave Paphos after the only spiritual event yet had just occurred—a powerful one. “Why leave now?” If John had stuck around, however, he would have been with them when things began to pop in Iconium.

However, this dispute is not the focus of this article. The point I’m attempting to make is the mysterious process of discerning the Lord’s specific, directional will. Yes, the call comes. Yes, we act upon it. However, the Lord gives us no further input. What are we to do?

You were called, so go. Pray. Act. Seek. Move. Keep moving. Keep seeking. Keep praying. The first three attempts—Selucia, Cyprus, and Salamis—may seem to be outside of God’s plan. Members of our group may think we have erred, missed God’s leading. Paphos may seem to be what God intended because miraculous ministry occurred, but Paul and Barnabas felt the need—prayerfully, we assume—to move on. Antioch seemed good. But they stayed in Iconium “for a long time.”

I hope this little treatise is helpful to you. We must be sure of the Lord’s call. Then we pray. Seek. Move. Love one another despite differences. Honor elders, those who have been called. Forgive when you think they have missed it. And always remember that the Lord is perfect in all His ways and is not hindered by your mistakes. His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). His ways are so high above yours that you cannot see them. You will never know them unless He reveals them to you, and that revelation is not a given.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

Gif compliments of giphy.com

 

 

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The Book of Genesis details the life of a greedy, proud individual named Laban. Christians can all learn a noble lesson from reading about his life.

Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, needed a wife. This is the family God Himself had chosen to be the forefathers of the One who would come to bless the whole earth:

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2–3. See also Galatians 3:8 and Acts 3:25). 1

In light of this promise to Isaac’s father, Jacob’s parents were adamant that Jacob should not seek a wife among the Canaanites, a group of people that had been cursed by Noah: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers” (Genesis 9:25). So, they insisted that Jacob restrict his search for a spouse within the family. Rebecca, Abraham’s wife, had a brother named Laban. Seek a wife there, he was told (Genesis 28:15).

He obeyed and set off to a place called Paddan-aram, where Laban lived. Jacob found Rachel at a well, where she had come to water her father’s flock of sheep. (Genesis 29:1-13). The courting of Rachel went well at first. Jacob loved her but was not too keen on her sister, Leah. Laban promised Jacob that he could have Rachel if he worked for him seven years. Jacob agreed. So, after seven years of toil, Jacob was more than ready to receive his beloved Rachel into the marriage bed on their wedding night. However, in the darkness, Laban the Abominable slipped in his first-born daughter. Jacob and Leah slept together and thus became man and wife.

Jacob was a bit peeved.

However, Laban the Abominable had an answer. If Jacob worked for him seven more years, he could have Rachel after all. Laban said, “We just don’t marry of the younger daughters before the older ones around here. Sorry about that. I knew you’d understand.” Or words to that effect.

Jacob’s stay with the Laban the Abominable was turning into a stay at the Hotel California. He had checked in, but he might not ever be able to check out. Nevertheless, the Lord prospered Jacob. He eventually had twelve sons and an immense herd of sheep. Then, this happened: “Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.’ And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you’” (Genesis 31:1–3).

So, without notifying Laban, Jacob and his family fled, herds and all.

Laban was enraged. Not only had Jacob left without saying good-bye, his household idols were missing. He assumed that someone in Jacob’s household had stolen them. So, he set out in pursuit of Jacob and his family. Laban was right. His own daughter had taken them. But that’s another subject for another time.

When Laban caught up with them, he launched into an angry diatribe. Jacob defended himself and told Laban, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night” (Genesis 31:42).

Apparently, this meant nothing whatsoever to Laban, because he offered this stunning response: “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine” (Genesis 31:43a).

Translation: “God has prospered you and rebuked me, but everything that you own is actually mine.”

What would move a man to make this claim?

Pride. One of the great scourges of the earth. “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished (Proverbs 16:5). Laban could not accept that Jacob had been so successful.

We all are subject to this abomination. Pride exists in our governments, our businesses, and yes, in our churches and religious organizations. I expect this in the world, but our ministries should not be exemplars of that sin. How do we model it? When we boast about our ministries. We have led this many to Christ. We have added this many members. We have fed this many people. We have helped these ministries, ones that protect the unborn, help dig wells in Africa, and so on. Good things, but remember Jesus’ admonition? “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:2–4).

I exhort my Christian brothers and sisters and their ministries, to cease boasting. Let us not follow the abominable example of Laban and lose our reward. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

 

1All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

giphy

Some Christians believe God would never speak to or through believers whom they think are in error. Of course, that means that the person making that declaration is without error him/herself. This is a difficult claim to make in light of who our God is. My biblical stance is this: The sovereign God of the universe will speak to and through whomever He chooses. To validate that position, let’s look at one woman who was trouble with a capital T, to whom God spoke, to whom He made promises, and who very well could have told others what the Lord told her, thus placing her in the category of prophetess. However, she might not have been the kind of woman you would want to hang around with. Her name?

Hagar.

Hagar was the female servant of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Sarah was barren and concerned Abraham, who was getting old like she was, wouldn’t leave a male heir. She suggested that he have a child via Hagar. And that’s what happened. However, it wasn’t long before Hagar kicked up rancorous dust. Hagar, in her odd brain, held Sarah—the mistress of the house, wife of the master of the house—in contempt (Genesis 16:4).

What was Hagar thinking?

Sarah dealt harshly with her and she fled. (Genesis 16:6).

But that’s not the end of the story. After her departure, an angel appeared to her. If you’re familiar with the Bible, angelic appearances are relatively rare. Nevertheless, not only did the angel appear to her, he made a promise:

The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen” (Genesis 16:9–12). 1

Just another day in the ancient Middle East.

So, Hagar the troublemaker returned to Abraham—and Sarah’s household.

Wish I could have been there for the homecoming.

However, this woman’s disgraceful behavior would still taint her son and the family dynamics.

The Lord appeared to Abraham again and promised him a son, Isaac was born.

Then this happened:

And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac” (Genesis 21:8–10).

Once again, Hagar was out of the household. She and the child Ishmael were given a loaf of bread and a skin of water and bade adieu. Big surprise. After wandering around in the wilderness for a time, Hagar thought Ishmael was going to die. Then an angel spoke from heaven to this unwise, mischief-maker.

“What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink (Genesis 21:17b–19).

I don’t know about you, but I have never seen an angel nor has one spoken to me from heaven. Nor do I know anyone who has. Either one of those events would be milestones, I would think, in the life of any believer. But here is this despicable woman, who enjoyed humiliating others, with two such events.

To whom and through whom does the Lord speak? Anyone He chooses. But keep in mind that everyone in the Bible, even the “good people,” were sinners, as are we all. David, a man after God’s heart, had an amazing encounter with an angel—who was about to destroy everyone in sight because of what David had done (2 Samuel 24:15-17).

How about this:

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad (John 11:49–52).

And Balaam. What shall we say about him?

So, fellow Christian, be careful when you’re tempted to say, “God would never speak through her!” Or, “That man’s doctrine is haywire. How could the Lord speak through him?” The real question is, “Is this God speaking or not?” We are told to test the spirits to see whether they are from God (1 John 4:1-3). That’s our job. God speaking to and through people—that’s His job.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

giphy

Last week, we looked at Jesus’ claim that He was the greatest among those born of woman. However, He also stated that he was least in the kingdom of God. Welcome to our amazing paradoxical God. The least being the greatest is a difficult idea for us to understand. Clearly, Jesus is not the least. He is exalted. He sits with the Father on His throne. He is God Himself, incarnate. However, when He walked the earth, He became the least. For further clarification about this, I refer you to last week’s article under Jim’s Ramblings: “Sorry, Christian, You Are Not the Least in God’s Kingdom. That Spot Is Taken.”

Jesus calls Himself the greatest again in Matthew 18:1–4: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” 1

I have experienced some difficulty finding an audience that will accept that Jesus is referring to Himself in this passage. Part of the dilemma lies in what was mentioned above: We cannot imagine Jesus humbling Himself like a child. However, there are other reasons for the rejection of this idea. One is that we rank greatness and “least-ness” according to our worldly understanding. The ones who have the most power, the most money, the most influence are obviously the ones who are great. Jesus, of course, had little of the above when He walked the earth. We cannot seem to comprehend the earthly powerlessness He had on earth. Note that I wrote “earthly powerlessness.” He possessed enormous spiritual power everywhere, all the time. But He denied Himself the use of this power-over-all: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).

Another difficulty lies in the compromise the English language has made in the use of positive, comparative, and superlative forms of adjectives. Hang in there with me. This is not difficult. A good example for our use here is great, greater, and greatest. One thing is great, but this other thing is greater. But only one is the greatest.

At least, that’s how it should be. However, we have compromised these meanings in English. You hear it all the time. “You’re one of my best friends,” for example. However, according to Merriam-Webster, the word “superlative” means “surpassing all others.” Either your football team is the greatest team of the year because it won the Super Bowl or World Cup, or it is not. The team that lost to yours cannot possibly be “better.” But let’s get to the point. Was Jesus the greatest man to ever exist, or was He one of the greatest? If He was only one of the greatest, then it is possible that another may be as great or even greater. We cannot talk about God Almighty in these terms. He is the greatest Being who may be known to us. He is the most powerful, not one of the most powerful; the Possessor of perfect knowledge, not among the possessors of perfect knowledge.

So, when in Matthew 18:4 Jesus said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” to whom was He referring? No man or woman can be greater than Jesus. He was referring to Himself. He is God Almighty. You are not that Being.

The ramifications of this statement are stunning. Jesus humbled Himself like a child?

Yes.

Powerless, as children were in those days and still are, compared to earthly power.

The least, as children were in those days, considered slaves.

Yes. Jesus became like a slave.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5–7).

The word “servant” in this passage, and in many New Testament passages, is “doulos,” also translated “slave.”

Please note that Paul wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves…”

We are supposed to empty ourselves and be servants?

Become like powerless children?

It’s right there in black and white.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif complements of giphy.com

Kid-Climbs-up-Wall-for-Candy

In the eleventh chapter of Matthew, John the Baptist’s followers come to Jesus with a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3).1 Jesus responds in the affirmative, but I want us to look at the last few sentences of His response. After giving John high praise, He ends by saying these two challenging sentences:

“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).

The first sentence is quite a statement. I’ll let those who want to sift through, off in a corner somewhere, the possibility that John was greater than Abraham, Moses, David, or any of the prophets. My initial take on it is that God does not rank people in the way we do. God chooses insignificant people. Try ranking that.

However, another question looms large here. Jesus’ proclamation that no one born of woman—everybody, in other words—is greater than John, would include Jesus Himself.  We know this cannot be true. Jesus was and is God Almighty incarnate. That is the summit of greatness. There is none higher.

So, how do we solve this issue?

Jesus disentangles it for us with His last statement: “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom is greater than he.”

Ah. So, that’s who Jesus is. The least in the kingdom.

I know. This presents a problem. Jesus isn’t the least, He is the greatest.

Yes. And that’s precisely what He said. The one who is least in the kingdom is greater than John, and John is greater than anyone born of women.

So, how do we reckon that Jesus is least?

I hope that what I am to write next will be a source of wonderment for you, good Christian brothers and sisters. Here is the simple logic of it:

No being exists that is greater than the Lord God Almighty. He is perfect in power. No power exists that is more powerful. Nothing at all is impossible for Him. He is perfect in knowledge. He knows everything that is possible to know; after all, He created it. He is perfect in sovereignty. Nothing happens in the universe or on the earth that He does not cause or allow. He is the Creator of all that exists. Sustainer and Upholder of all that exists. There were no gods before Him. None beside Him. There will be none in the future.

Need I go on?

Therefore, when the most powerful Being imaginable takes on flesh, coming to this dark planet as a helpless infant, emptying Himself and not trying grasp at sovereign-over-all power, lowering Himself to the position of slave, even dying (Philippians 2:5-8), He has reached the pinnacle (or nadir, if you prefer) of “least-ness.” You, my Christian friend, cannot be “least-er” than He.

Therefore, the One who became least has been exalted:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11).

So, when you lift up your voice to praise Jesus, include in your worship the acknowledgement that Immanuel, Almighty God incarnate, lowered and emptied Himself like a slave so that He could bring you eternal life through His sacrifice.

If that doesn’t inspire wonderment, then I’m not sure what will.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

don't judge me

In the last few posts, we’ve been looking at the characteristics of heaven. The results have been astonishing, and it is a joyful thought that this home awaits us because of God’s plan of redemption and the fulfilment of it through Jesus. Christians have the stunning place now of conversing and having a relationship with the Creator of all that exists, to be His sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and friends, as incredible as that sounds. What an absolutely amazing reality. So, I trust you all had a meaningful, joyful Christmas, celebrating the sacrificial coming of Immanuel, Lord God Almighty in the flesh. May it ever be so until you are joined with the Lord.

Today we will be looking at a topic, a truth, that, like the other aspects of heaven, is very difficult to comprehend. The topic is what saints will be doing in that eternal, heavenly kingdom. We already looked at the false meme that in heaven we’ll be floating around on clouds while playing harps. It’s not entirely clear what Christians will be doing in that kingdom, but a couple of things are clear.

We will be judges.

We will, in some manner, be rulers.

So, to those who say, “Don’t judge me,” sorry. One day you will be judged, by the very people whom you despise.

Now, how these two actions will be done is very unclear to me. We know that Jesus is the Judge. So, this is a reason, I think, why we are shy to address this subject. Nevertheless, we must deal with the biblical text, and these verses are clear.

Saints will judge the world and angels:

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! (1 Corinthians 6:1–4). 1

Christians will be rulers. They will, in some way yet unclear, reign with Jesus.

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:10–13).

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 3:21–22).

The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father (Revelation 2:26–27).

As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom (Daniel 7:21–22).

When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, “Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.” And he said to him, “Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.” And the second came, saying, “Lord, your mina has made five minas.” And he said to him, “And you are to be over five cities” (Luke 19:15–19).

These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever (Daniel 7:17–18).

There are other verses in the New Testament about receiving an inheritance. Just think about that rich uncle who has died and left all his wealth to you, but in your case the one who has died is Jesus who is eternally alive. The inheritance you will receive is because you are sons and daughters of the Father, a relationship given totally by grace. What that inheritance will look like, again, is unclear. However, I would like to leave you with something Jesus spoke in His Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

The contrast of truths about the eternal kingdom baffles me. It baffles me because I associate rulership and judgeship as elevated positions. I have spent the last years attempting to challenge the Church’s upside-down view of leadership, status, and position—to little avail. So, how are Christians to deny status on the earth—becoming meek servants as Jesus was—and then rule and judge in heaven?

I don’t know. My best guess is that somehow we will be like Him, and therefore whatever judgments He makes we will make likewise. We already have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), so it seems logical that we will possess it perfectly there. We will also be one with Him (John 14:20). I find the verses to follow comforting because apparently John didn’t know what our lives in God’s kingdom would be like, either. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2–3).

One last verse to add to our joyful puzzling over what awaits us: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19).

Again, what does that mean? I don’t know! But it sounds astoundingly wonderful, doesn’t it?

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

giphy

I appreciate how Christians all over the world try to add meaning to what used to be a beautiful religious observance that has “magically” been transformed into a greed-filled, money-making extravaganza, filled with false gift-induced joy. I guess this shouldn’t surprise us, knowing the nature of mankind.

Christians read the wonderful accounts in Matthew and Luke at Christmas time, as they should. They talk about the shepherds, Joseph, Mary, the angels, the kings from the East, the star, and the stable. All good stuff. However, one monumental truth that is not emphasized should be, and if and when it is, will take the misty, warm stories about the birth of Jesus and turn them to jaw-dropping, fall-to-our-knees truth.

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