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The Christian God is a most extraordinary being.

I state the obvious. Or as the current meme says, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.”

Here’s something extraordinary about Him for us to chew on. Jesus, God Himself who came to the earth in the flesh, is our servant. Let me hasten to add that He is also our Lord, our God, your King, and our Savior, who gives us eternal life and His own righteousness, freely.

Now, some readers may exclaim, “Right. So, I can just tell Jesus to do my bidding. He’ll do whatever I tell Him to do, like a servant would. You are one crazy individual.” Or words to that effect. No, Jesus is a servant in the ways He chooses. Are these two ideas incompatible? To us that seems certain.

Now perhaps the reader may understand one reason why the Christian God is so extraordinary and so perplexing to us. To help us out, the Lord tells us why we will be perplexed:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8–9).1

We don’t think the way He does. He is a servant. He is The Servant.

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:26b–28).

Jesus says here that His primary example of servanthood for us was to die for us. He did this in His wonderful love because “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

However, did Jesus’ servanthood stop after His cosmos-changing sacrifice and resurrection?

No. After His resurrection, He did this:

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast” (John 21:9–12a).

Scripture doesn’t tell us how he got the fish or the bread or how He made the fire. Did He say, “Let there be bread, fish, and fire?” Perhaps. But He served His disciples nonetheless. This is God Himself fixing breakfast for His followers.

His servanthood did not stop after His ascension, either. One day, Jesus will serve us dinner:

Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them (Luke 12:37).

Jesus will not do this because we tell Him to. He will do this because He wants to. He will do this because that is His nature. I wonder if at that time we might want to respond as Peter did when Jesus was washing His disciples’ feet: “Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet’” (John 13:8a). However, keep in mind how He responded to Peter’s objection: “Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me’” (John 13:8b). Interesting thing for Jesus to say, isn’t it? Concerning that word “share,” the Louw-Nida lexicon says, “to experience along with others— ‘to experience together with, to share in experiencing.”2 Servanthood is part of Jesus’ character—and should and will be part of ours as we grow in Him. As we experience His servanthood for us, we share in the knowledge of who He is, always has been and always will be, for eternity, it seems, as difficult as that may be for us to grasp.

 

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

2Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 808). New York: United Bible Societies.

Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

 

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Do you enjoy witnessing your favorite sports team win? Your friends or family members overcome a problem or succeed in life? I assume you do. We have been victorious over the other team. Your loved ones have conquered the situation, the problem. There is another victory for Christians, however, and it is far superior to earthly victories. It is an eternal victory over our adversaries, those many trials and dangers in life—even death itself. Paul wrote of this victory in this beautiful passage:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35–39). 1

The list of our adversaries is long in these verses, and we could write about them all. However, I’d like to direct our focus to the statement that Christians are “more than conquerors.” The lift-off for this focus is from these statements: “A conqueror is a person who defeats the enemy. One who is more than a conqueror causes the enemy to become a helper.”2

When an army conquers another army, one is the victor and one is the loser. However, if an army overwhelmingly conquers the armies of another country, they take over the defeated foe. “We are now your rulers. You will do what we command and help us remain conquerors.”

So, according to Romans 8, through the love of God in Jesus, trials, persecutions, and hardships are not only conquered, they become our helpers.

How can that be?

Paul wrote that we Christians are more than conquerors “for” or because nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus. Let’s expand that with this statement: God’s love is an immovable, impenetrable, undefeatable bulwark, and Christians who abide there are in that bulwark. They conquer tribulation in that bulwark. They conquer persecutions in that bulwark.

They conquer death in that bulwark.

However, not only are all these adversaries conquered, they help us remain conquerors.

How? Because they cause this to happen:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:16–17).

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:18–19).

We are heirs of God. What does that mean? Great question. That is quite a statement, and I confess my ignorance concerning the fullness of it. But we will be glorified with Him in eternity. Our trials helped bring us there, nonetheless. What does it mean that all creation eagerly longs for the revealing of the sons of God? I do not know. But here’s an interesting passage from Revelation:

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. And I will give him the morning star (Revelation 2:26–28).

Does that sound like overwhelming victory to you?

This is God’s love in Jesus.

This is what God’s love in Jesus through trials—even death—wins for us.

Christian, remain faithful. Abide in His love.

Overwhelming conquering awaits.

 

1The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

2Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 12–13, p. 293). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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The word “repent.” Who likes it? I know I don’t.

Why not? Well, I’ve been successfully inoculated by my culture in a negative way to avoid using this word. Cartoons and images of Bible-thumbing, weirdos on sidewalks. Some long-haired, wild-haired prophet carrying a sign that reads, “Repent. The end is near.” I have been mocked into compliance. So, I repent. I must do better. I ask the reader to forgive me and pray for me.

People, believers and unbelievers alike, have a difficult time repenting. Take a look at these verses in which the Lord tells us that, even though people are dying from different diseases, they won’t repent:

The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts (Revelation 9:20–21).1

Diseased, dying bodies everywhere and no one turning to God.

And this:

They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory (Revelation 16:9).

Interesting. Those who don’t believe God exists will hate and curse Him.

I believe we are being prepared for this day. I think the world will say that this terrible heat and these pandemics are caused by global climate change. God is not sovereign, they think—climate is.

What will it take for people to recognize their Creator and their Savior? Well, Romans tells us that they already know God exists, even though they deny it. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:19). They actively suppress that truth. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). Their hearts are darkened. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21).

Sometimes I see people on television, in a store, on the sidewalk and think, “That person is talking, but someday they could very possibly be in hell.” Hell-bound person talking. As you would, I often pray for that individual when such a thought rampages through my brain. Hell is, to state the obvious, a horrible fate. Let me re-state that. It’s a horrible eternal fate.

The only quote I know from Dante’s Inferno is, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” It’s a sign that hangs over the gates of hell.

Let’s think about that for a moment.

In our lives, most of us live with some semblance of hope. Life is hard on everyone, but most of us have at least a little optimism that things will eventually get better. But what if no hope existed in any way whatsoever? I’m not only talking about a lingering illness, constant destitution, and an absence of friends and family. I’m talking about no light, the gloom of utter darkness, as Peter and Jude refer to it (2 Peter 2:17; Jude 12-13). No water. Unbearably hot all the time (Luke 16:19-31). You can’t turn on a fan or the air conditioning. No hope of anything ever, ever getting better.

Ever.

Just constant scorching heat and darkness.

Hell is such a place.

In Mark 9:47-48, Jesus describes hell as a place where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Their worm. I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if that means the desires of human beings just go on and on and never end, with never any hope of having them met.

Ever.

No hope.

Such a reality makes me shudder.

It’s true that hell is not often written of in the New Testament, but it’s there, clear enough. Our first reason for talking to people and encouraging them to repent should not be the threat of hell but God’s love and provision for forgiveness. Yet, hell is a possible dwelling place for the unbeliever with whom you are speaking. We should keep this certain future, certain reality in mind.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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I don’t have a lot of strong encounters with the Lord. I don’t keep track, but they are relatively rare. In the Spring of this year, 2018, I experienced one. I’ve written about it in a March blog, Will the Lord Ask Christians, “What Did You Do When You Knew Judgment Was Coming?” The message given: Judgment is coming. It was so strong, I wept. The problem is, even though the word was given to me, I tend to forget it. I need to be reminded. It is probably safe to assume the same holds true for the reader. I believe I have an obligation to proclaim it as many times as are necessary.

Judgement coming means that justice is coming, too. The justice to come will be the ultimate judicial event in the history of the cosmos. Everyone who ever lived—including you—will be judged and receive justice.

If you are a believer in Jesus, your justice will come at the hands of Jesus Himself.

“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9–10)1

This has become the prime motivator of my Christian life. I want to love Him with all my heart, soul, and strength and thus to please Him in what I do. I will give an account of my life to Him—not for sins, but for what I’ve done in Him, with Him, and for Him, to glorify Him. Let me be quick to add that I am amazingly inept at living the life I just wrote about.

But I keep trying, as I must, in His mercy and love.

Nevertheless, this is a passage you and I should think deeply about:

“Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12–15).

These are the words I want to hear:

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master’” (Matthew 25:21).

For those who do not believe in Jesus, however, there is another, never-to-be-wished-for fate:

“And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

Justice.

John the Baptist said of Jesus: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17).

Justice.

“The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:39b–43).

Justice.

The world mocks this idea of justice and the resulting eternal punishment. Many in the Church now deny it. But it will come, even if the whole world denies it.

We all want justice. Equal justice for everyone. People cry out against injustice, and I cry out with them. Evildoers should face a day of reckoning. Those who treat others unjustly because of their race or gender or status or wealth should face justice. Murderers, rapists, thieves, child molesters—justice cries out.

But we are all evildoers, just like the murderers and racists and rapists and thieves. Everyone is. Every. One. We are all guilty of denying, disobeying, and blaspheming the God who created us. We deserve punishment—not time in jail—eternal punishment—for shaking our fists in the face of the only one, true God who loves us.

Except there is Jesus. And this is where all can find forgiveness and relief. He, the Innocent One, was punished in your place—put to death, as you should be—except, after taking that punishment, He lived again, to be your lawyer, your advocate. Are you guilty? Yes. But no. No, because the Guiltless One took your guilt. You can be free. You can be not only forgiven, but one of His children, with an inheritance.

Come to Jesus. Come home to where love is.

Judgment is coming.

Justice is coming.

It is coming for you, and you cannot hide.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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I just don’t get it. If I watch a nature show on the BBC or Nature or some such network and see amazing videos of amazing creatures (For this, I thank the videographers and the networks, sincerely.), I sicken of hearing, over and over, ad nauseum, how Nature or Evolution provided this and that creature with the tools to survive or mate or do whatever the creature is doing. Now, if one were to ask a person how this is done, he or she would say, “It happens over time, millions and millions of years.” That’s it. That’s the answer. We dreamily imagine foggy time and grand, magical nature, and, there it is.

Case closed.

Now go away, you science-denying Neanderthal.

Recently, I had a discussion about evolution with an agnostic evolutionist. Nice guy. He had the same answer to my questions about how creatures evolved that I wrote above. So, I asked, “Do you realize how much that sounds like magical thinking to me?” He quickly answered, “Do you realize how much of what you believe sounds like magical thinking to me?”

I responded, “Looks like we’re both magical thinkers.”

Yes. I am a Christian, and I will go ahead and admit that to an atheist or agnostic, when I say that the sovereign Lord God created all things, it sounds like magical thinking to them. What I wish such a person would confess in return is that their “scientific” answers sound like magical thinking as well. I wish they would acknowledge that they don’t have the answers to how the fantastic creation we see around us every day came into being instead of stating it as fact.

Let’s start with what is called the Big Bang. This is a puzzle for which they simply have no answer. “Ex nihilo nihil fit.” “Out of nothing, nothing comes.” It is true, isn’t it? But here we are, with time and gravity and mass and electromagnetism and quarks and neutrinos and dark energy and dark matter and nuclear fusion and Goldilocks Earth and all living things.

Living things. This is the next one they simply cannot answer. Oh, they answer, readily enough. The Primordial Pool. Time plus chance. We go to foggy, magical dreamworld. Some organic materials globbed together and, um, lightning struck, and, um, well, something happened. The Spark of Life.

Three major problems here. What they say “just happened” has never been duplicated in a laboratory. All these wonderfully intelligent scientists—I’m not being sarcastic—they really are wonderfully intelligent—with all the technology available, cannot create life from adding electricity to a murky, globby pool. What astounds me is that they think that even though they cannot do it with intelligent, creative minds and tech, that it just happened without an intelligent, creative mind.

The second major problem is that, in order for a creature to pass down its characteristics to the next generation, genetics must be in play. But how do genes evolve? If a glob in a murky pool struck by just the right amount of electricity from lightning (A bit of a stretch if you think about it. Perhaps you’ve noticed that creatures struck by lightning are always affected negatively.), sparked to life, how would it pass on its “life”? Genetics would have to evolve within that very first “creature.” How on earth would that happen?

The third ginormous problem is genetic mutations which evolutionists maintain lead to positive evolutionary changes. If we close our eyes and go to dreamy, magical-thinking world, we can somehow believe that, given millions and millions of years, there was one mutation that was positive which lead to another mutation which was positive and so on. But how does a wing evolve? A bump on some creature? How does that increase the creature’s ability to survive? How does an eye evolve? From some light sensitive spot? How does it connect to the brain? We could ask such questions about the evolution of bioluminescence—well, shall we add just about everything else? How about ants that cut grass, use it to cultivate algae, and then eat that algae? Large brains, those ants. How about bats and sea creatures that use echolocation? Monarch butterflies that have both a sun compass and a magnetic compass? We’ll just skip how a caterpillar dissolves in a cocoon and comes out a completely different creature with long, spindly legs, antennae, and wings.

Concrete answers, please. Please just start at the murky pool—I’ll give you a pass on ex nihilo nihil fit—and tell me what happened. I know. You have a theory. Just stop talking as if it were a fact.

Murky pool. Go.

Think I haven’t been nice? Well, the Lord is less so:

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good” (Psalm 53:1). 1

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

 

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When I was preparing the post for a recent blog entry, I ran into Jesus’ interesting response to the rich man who didn’t end up with a happy eternal dwelling.

Some background.

In the parable about the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man, who is in a very hot place, asked Abraham if he would send Lazarus to warn his (the rich man’s) brothers so they didn’t end up going where he is, which, to put it bluntly, is hell. Jesus doesn’t call it hell, but the man is “in anguish in this flame.” Abraham responds to the rich man’s request by saying, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

So much for post-life sympathy.

This rich man and his brothers did not “hear” Moses and the prophets. Now, what did they not hear, precisely? It seems clear, in light of the context of the parable, that these brothers had been deaf to the Old Testament’s commands to love God, love one’s neighbor, and give generously to the poor. Jesus is putting His foot on the neck of the love of wealth at the expense of the poverty of others. He had said earlier in this chapter that one cannot serve both God and money, because you will hate one and love the other (Luke 16:13–15).

I guess the rich man hated God.

However, that is not the issue I would like to address in this post. The issue is Jesus’ startling statement that even if one saw a person who had been dead get up, talk, and walk around, it would do no good if he or she didn’t hear God’s word, which we must assume means “hear, believe, and obey.” So, according to the God who knows all things, the primary instrument of belief is God’s word, not miracles. This makes sense. After all, Jesus had raised Jairus’ daughter, His friend Lazarus, and the son of the widow of Nain from the dead. He Himself was raised from the dead, and many still did not believe in Him or what He taught.

Think with me about God’s word for a moment. It has many characteristics, but one of them is indestructibility. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Peter, quoting Isaiah, wrote, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1 Peter 1:24–25). God’s word is imperishable, unlike our flesh and grass and flowers, which wither and fall. Human experience bears out this truth.

God’s word is not like the frail things of earth. Nothing, not even time, can cause it to decay or cease to exist. We have a difficult time comprehending this idea, because everything we know can be destroyed, even mountains (I’m thinking of Mount St. Helen’s right now), which are probably the most solid material things we can think of. You can throw fire against God’s word, molten steel, massive jolts of electricity, nuclear explosions, but it cannot be destroyed because it is not a material thing; it is a spiritual thing. Attempting to destroy a spiritual thing with a material thing is an impossibility. Let us hasten to add that the Bible says that Jesus is the Word, and men tried to destroy Him but failed. He is alive today.

He cannot be destroyed.

So, if people reject God’s word, which is indestructible truth, should we expect them to believe in Him because of temporary miracles?

I believe God performs miracles. Healings. I believe the gifts of the Spirit are still active. I have seen and experienced amazing spiritual events—biblical ones—and no one can convince me to doubt them. It’s one thing to see something the Spirit has done; it’s quite another to experience it yourself. Now, I’m not advocating for Christianity based upon experience; however, if what you see and experience lines up with God’s word, what criticism can be thrown up against it? However, the effect of miracles and spiritual events soon dissipates. We should not seek after or promote such things to bring people to belief in God—we should seek after and promote Jesus alone and His indestructible word, which is able to save souls (James 1:21). If we try to find life and truth in anything else, we are in trouble. Life, true life, is found in Jesus and His truth alone, and that will never change, whether we ever see or experience another miracle or not.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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Have you ever prayed in public? Maybe at a church service? A family dinner? A ministry situation? Read the rest of this entry »

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Some scriptures batter my head and won’t stop.

It’s a good battering, though; soul-deepening.

One of the prevalent ones for the last twenty years or so concerns wealth and discipleship. When Jesus taught about the cost of discipleship, one of His requirements was for us to renounce all that we have: “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).1 This requirement, along with the others from Luke 12, loom large for all those who seriously desire to follow Him. I’ve wondered “Do I really love Him more than all that I have, more than wealth? Am I truly His disciple?” This is a good and noble question to ask; God-honoring. How much money does one really need?

Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Should Jesus’ disciples love God and despise money? As we shall see, we should be extremely careful with this commodity. Absolutely, we should not serve or love money.

However, I don’t see in Scripture that the Lord condemns wealth. In the Old Testament, it is sometimes looked upon as a sign of God’s favor, as in Abraham’s case, for example (Genesis 13:2). However, consider with me the Old Testament command about the Sabbath Year. Every seventh year, farmers were to leave their ground fallow (Leviticus 25:2-7; Exodus 23:10). After the sixth year, they could only eat from their land the produce which came up on its own. Can you imagine an American farmer leaving all his land fallow? This Sabbath-Year command intentionally diminishes wealth—or seems to. The Lord wanted Israel to obey this law in faith and teach them that He—not they—was the one who provided for them. I should add that Israel did not keep His Sabbaths (Ezekiel 20:19–21) and thus did not honor Him.

But enough about them. Do I truly trust God will provide for me?

No such Sabbath-Year law exists for Christians; however, in the New Testament, Jesus offers some challenges regarding wealth.

In the parable of the Good Sower, Jesus taught this about the seed sown among thorns: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). Riches, Jesus said, are deceitful. Have you been deceived by them? Have I? In the U.S., everyone, it seems, wants to be rich, to have “the best” of everything. Eat sumptuous food. Live in comfort. Retire on a beach. How much wealth should I keep? How much do I really need? How comfortable is comfort? How much do I give? We favor the accumulation of great wealth because we have swallowed the lie that wealth brings happiness. It surely makes life easier, but it does not bring joy. It is not fulfilling to our souls. It puts us in the place of the unfruitful, choking “cares of this world.”

Second, consider this: Jesus didn’t assign any of His disciples to a specific ministry, except one: Judas. Which ministry was that? Stewardship of the purse. Stunning. He gave the oversight of the money for ministry to the one who would steal from that purse and eventually betray Him. How much did money mean to Jesus?

Finally, we have the parables about two rich men. First, we will look at the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man was a fellow who “was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19), while Lazarus, the poor man, was “covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table” (Luke 16:20–21a). When the rich man died, he went to a very hot place. When Lazarus died, he went to “Abraham’s side,” where it was pleasant and comforting. This is a sobering story, is it not? Are we rich? How much care should we have for the poor?

The second parable about a rich man concerns the one who tore down his barns to build a bigger one when his harvest was abundant. “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16–21). It makes sense, does it not, to build a bigger barn if one’s harvest is more than can be contained in the existing structure?

Challenging. However, I find some comfort here. Wealth, according to Jesus, is a heart matter. It is not the treasure that is condemned here—after all, God provided it—but the laying up of treasure for ourselves and not being rich toward God.

I don’t know if the biblical truths about wealth are on your radar screen or not. If they aren’t, please pray that they will be. Join me in being battered about by Scriptural challenges about wealth, discipleship, the poor, and true treasure.

So, one last smack in the kisser: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).

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

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For all those whose fangs and claws are extended after reading the heading, who are going to tell me that the kingdom of God is not taken by force, I agree with you.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s look at something Jesus said that we must puzzle our way through. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). 1 Let’s say from the outset that no one really knows what Jesus meant here, because we know that He maintained just the opposite. He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). In addition, Jesus never used violence in any way to bring His kingdom. The only violent incident in His ministry (Although Jesus’ turning over tables in the Court of the Gentiles is worthy of consideration; however, no one was hurt physically.) is when Peter cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear, but Jesus told Peter to put his sword away and then healed the servant’s ear (Luke 22:49-51).

So what in the world—or what not of this world—is Jesus talking about in Matthew?

Let’s think about this for a moment. Let’s try to place ourselves just a bit in the time of John’s and Jesus’ ministry. There had been no prophetic word for at least four hundred years in Israel. During that very dry period, the religious establishment had ample opportunity to develop a powerful legalistic system and hierarchy. People were afraid of the Pharisees. To go up against them meant being kicked out of the synagogue and thus becoming an outcast. “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42–43).

But here comes John, out of the blue. Born to a couple who had been notified by an angel of his birth. This hadn’t happened since Samson, if memory serves. However, when John began his ministry, he was outside the religious system and hierarchy and not subject to their intimidating fear. He was not anywhere near the temple; instead out in the wilderness. Priestly garments? No. Prophet’s garb: goat’s hair. Baptizing people in the Jordan River and calling them to repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He was fiery. When the Pharisees and Sadducees “came to his baptism,” John didn’t exactly welcome them with open arms: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:7–9).

Yummy words for the religious leaders to chew on, I’m sure.

Not only was John fiery, he prophesied that the Anointed One, the Messiah, was coming; indeed, already there. Then that Anointed One showed up. Was He in the hierarchical religious system? No. He was baptized in the Jordan by the brazen wilderness baptizer, not in a mikva pool.

Two men, one of them God incarnate, showing up to minister outside that powerful legalistic and hierarchical religious system. No imprimatur from that system, only opposition. All of this was sovereignly from God. Two men who had spiritual power but no religious, hierarchical power. What these two faced was wall—a legalistic, powerful, we’re-always-right—wall.

How do you penetrate such a wall?

Violence.

Now, when I write “violence,” I obviously don’t mean physical violence. However, from the point of view of the wall-breacher, it was. Hammering one’s mind and soul against a powerful, arrogant religious system. What does one do? In God’s wisdom, John and Jesus knew they could not reform it from within. It could not be reformed. It must end. And that end must come as an assault from the outside. John didn’t refer to this action as the breaching of a wall, but as the cutting down of a tree. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). Please note that it was going to be God Himself who would be cutting down trees and throwing them into the fire. Yet, John and Jesus’ part—as men, so ordained by the Lord—was to engage the battle. It required strength of will. Perseverance. Willingness to suffer. Willingness to be alone.

By human reckoning, they both failed. Both were murdered by powerful systems. However, they were both conquerors. Jesus said John was the greatest born among women. And as we know, Jesus, God incarnate who suffered for our sins, was raised from the dead and conquered sin, death, hell, the grave, and the devil, and was exalted above all things.

So, a question. Did our Savior and John do violence against a religious hierarchy which was replaced by others in the future? Have you ever found yourself in a position of rightly, scripturally, challenging a religious hierarchy and system? I’m not referring to things like styles of worship or monies spent. I am addressing issues clearly from Scripture.

I have. Without going into details, here’s the crux of the matter: They simply could not hear the truth of Scripture. Nevertheless, we must continue to hammer our minds and souls against powerful, arrogant religious systems.

 

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

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If you were hoping this was a post about police officers, you are going to be disappointed. You tuned into the wrong channel.

The subject at hand is Jesus’ statement about pigs. It’s the only time He talked about them, in fact. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6).1 In my experience, the Church in the West has accepted the interpretation of that statement in the same way as the culture: Do not give precious truth to people who cannot or will not hear them. You have great things to be said and heard, but the listeners are, well, individuals unworthy of your “pearls.”

That’s an arrogant way to think, wouldn’t you agree? A bit self-righteous?

This arrogance is fleshed out when one looks at this statement in context. Jesus’ “pigs statement” comes directly after these verses: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1–5).

Does Jesus change the subject after this teaching about unjust judgment, specks, and logs, about judging people unrightly and arrogantly, treating them and speaking to them as if they are sinners and you are better than they?

No. Please allow me to prove it to you.

Pause for a moment and put the existing “pearls before swine” narrative out of your head and try not to rip verse six away from the previous five verses. If we don’t, Jesus makes this statement about pigs right out of the blue, for some reason. Now, I admit that I have come across passages where Jesus does seem to say something out of the blue, and I walk away scratching my head. Nevertheless, we should ask in such cases, “Why did He say that here?” It’s a good question to ask. We should always wonder if somehow, we are missing the context. I think there is a contextual answer for this passage. Here’s the question I ask to find it: When does Jesus ever refuse to give his pearls of truth to people who are “pigs”—unclean people like Gentiles or Samaritans?

Never.

Remember when He said this astonishing thing to the adulterous Samaritan woman at the well? “The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am he’” (John 4:25–26).

Talk about a pearl of truth! He was very constrained in revealing this truth about Himself to others. Yet, here He was, telling this immoral Samaritan woman straight out that He is the Promised One.

How about the Canaanite woman—an idol worshiper—who asked Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter? He tested her, but when she revealed her faith in Him, He said, “‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matthew 15:28). Jesus gave a beautiful pearl to this suffering mother: He commended the greatness of her faith. Would you like Jesus to say this to you? How would you feel? Would you feel loved? Affirmed? But this Canaanite woman was a dog in the eyes of some and did not deserve a pearl of truth but rather condemnation.

So, what did Jesus mean when He said, “Don’t give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest them trample them underfoot and turn to attack you”?

Here’s what I think Jesus is saying in the “pigs” verse: Don’t arrogantly and self-righteously treat and speak to people like they are filthy sinners, like pigs and dogs; otherwise, they will trample your precious “pearl of truth” underfoot and then attack you. Doesn’t that make sense? How far do you think you will get if you treat people like trash and then try to preach God’s loving truth to them? Do you think they will happily accept your pearl of truth even though it may be God’s truth indeed? No. They will turn on you and possibly attack you, trampling what is precious truth—God’s precious truth—under their feet.

Let’s ask the Lord to help us treat sinners as Jesus did when we interact with them. As Peter did when he preached at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10:34-48). As Paul did when he spoke to the Athenians (Acts 17:22-31). Terrible sinners? Yep. So are you. The righteousness of God has been imputed to you by grace and great love. You did nothing whatsoever to attain this status. We should never forget this. Looking down our noses in arrogance and self-righteousness at people whom we consider worse sinners than we will never bring fruitful ministry and will instead damage the good work we are trying to do.

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

 

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