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Last night, I had the opportunity—privilege, really—to teach at a small Bible study. The passage I dealt with was Matthew 18:1-4. In this passage, the disciples come to Jesus and ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus responds with two answers. One has to do with the disciples, and the other has to do with Himself. Without going into a lengthy study of these verses, please allow me to sum up the topic of this passage: The meaning of greatness in God’s kingdom. I encourage you to do a study of this portion and discover Jesus’ view on greatness in His kingdom.

So, last night, I attempted to explain the implications of Jesus’ teaching in these first verses of Matthew 18. I was flabbergasted with the response. It seemed like I was talking about one topic and everyone else was talking about another. It’s as if I was teaching on one planet and everyone else was teaching on another, with no discernable means of communication between the two parties. It was the most baffling teaching experience I’ve ever had. One person said the topic of this passage was about purity. One said it was about innocence. Another person said it was about trust and conversion. I kept telling them that Jesus was responding to a question about…greatness. Not purity. Not innocence. Not trust. Not conversion.

Greatness.

They couldn’t hear it. It’s not that they wouldn’t hear it—they couldn’t. Let me make it clear that these are all good, sincere Christian folks. I’m not criticizing them. I wasn’t angry with them during the study. No contention arose. I was just stunned that they simply ignored or were unaware of the plain meaning of words in this text.

When I was praying about last night this morning, I think I understood why this was so difficult for them, apart from their clear inability to deal with the plain meaning of these verses. It’s because they thought that entering the kingdom of God is only about salvation. True, salvation is part of it, because Jesus said that unless we were born again we would not see the kingdom of God. However, there is more to God’s kingdom than this, as crucially important as being born again is. God’s kingdom is more complex than this. The kingdom of heaven is about rulership. It’s about who is the king and who isn’t. It’s about humility for us and greatness for Jesus. Smallness for us and enormity for Jesus. However, it’s about following Jesus’ example of smallness and humility when He walked the earth. Philippians 2 tells us to have the same mind Jesus had when He “emptied himself” and becoming obedient to the point of death.

Thankfully, I think a couple of lights of recognition blinked on when I talked about insignificance in Scripture. Who was the first person to see Jesus after His resurrection? Mary Magdalene, a formerly demonized woman, whose testimony was almost worthless in Jesus’ time. I read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, about whom God chooses. I mentioned a few of the many, many other examples, all throughout Scripture of the Lord choosing those of insignificance. David. Ruth. Esther.

If you’re a Christian, I plead with you to deal with the plain meaning of words in Scripture, even if they somehow oppose what you have been taught or thought you understood in your history. If they agree, which they certainly may, well and good. If they don’t, wrestle with the text. Our God is not a vanilla, churchy God. He is a God who, because He loves us, will blow up our religious suppositions and traditions for our spiritual good.

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When the Christian lady prayed for the young woman and then said, “Keep saying, ‘I am healed,’” it didn’t surprise me. I had heard this positive confession teaching for a very long time. However, in my own little snarky self, I said, “Perhaps she should rattle some snake bones, too.”

Ok, please forgive my snarky self. At least I didn’t say it aloud. And let me be clear. I am happy that the woman was praying and believed in the power of the Lord to heal. She’s a fine Christian lady. However, again, I can’t help but ask, “Where did we Christians get this stuff?”

In this case, I think I know the answer, if memory serves. It’s from Romans 10:8–10.

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

So, do I believe that it’s important to confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord?

Yes.

Do I believe that it’s important to confess with my mouth that I am healed?

No.

Why?

The primary reason is that we are not told to do so in Scripture. No prescriptive passages teach us to do so.

Second, we don’t see anyone in Scripture doing that. No descriptive passages indicate people did so. (And keep in mind that the Bible describing someone doing something is not the same thing as the Bible telling us to do something. Such descriptions are helpful but are not commands.)

Third, this practice makes my healing dependent on me, not on God. If I just keep saying, “I am healed,” the healing will “work.”

Fourth, this activity shifts my faith in the Lord to faith in my healing. Faith has an object. I must have faith in something. Christians are to have faith in God, not in an action or activity.

So, finally, since such “positive confession” makes my healing dependent on my works, not on the Lord God of the universe who has the power to do anything, I become something like a pagan, who must do and say certain “magic” things to cause God to work. So I hope that explains the snarky self-talk about snake bones.

If this makes you uncomfortable, I encourage you to study cases of healing in Scripture. I would be happy to be corrected and be told where to find cases of people who were told to confess their healing in order to be healed. In addition, I would encourage you to challenge some of the traditions that you have been taught, not to disrespect faithful men and women, but to make sure that what you think and say lines up with Scripture. Jesus was very unhappy that religious leaders taught “as doctrines the commandments of men.”

Telling people to keep saying, “I am healed,” is a commandment of men, not of God. The Lord can heal. However, He doesn’t heal everyone, according to His will and purpose. That may be hard to swallow, but it’s true. Trying to conjure up a healing by doing certain “right” things will not alter this sometimes brutal truth.

By the way, the reason I used the above photo is that this man, Pastor Francis, prayed for thirteen people to be raised from the dead—at least that was the count over ten years ago when we talked to him in Papua New Guinea. And none of those raised had to keep saying, “I am raised” in order to stay raised.

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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One of the puzzling things Christians have been saying for the last fifteen years or so is, “God has a purpose for your life.”

However, that doesn’t sound puzzling, does it?

But it is.

It’s puzzling because there’s some truth running around in that sentence, but there’s a lot of cranial smoke and theological fog swirling around it.

If you don’t know what I mean, here’s a sentence that should clear up the smog:

Jesus is your purpose.

Please allow me to explain.

If a person becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ (see Luke 14:25-34 ), Jesus will, by His Spirit, lead him or her into all truth. Jesus said He was, after all, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Because that statement from Jesus is so familiar to us, let’s pause a moment and think about what it means. One of the problems Christians have after reading and hearing the Bible quoted for several years is that we switch on the, “Yeah, yeah. I know that” self-talk. This can be very dangerous, because we think we know biblical truths when we only know them superficially.

Jesus said that He was the Way, Truth, and Life after He had told the disciples that He was going to go and prepare a place for them, and that they knew the way to where He was going. In spite of this, however, Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5).

Jesus then replied with the well-known truth: He was the way to where He was going.

In other words, all that is necessary for us to be with Him and the Father both here on earth and forever are in Him. He is The Way to that destination and all that entails.

In addition, since He is the Truth, He will tell us all that is truly necessary for us to get there, with no omissions or mistakes. The Lord is not inattentive. He is not unaware of—anything. We just too often think He is. No. He has the stunning power to attend to you, along with everyone else on the earth.

And since He is the Life, there is no genuine life in anyone else, in any other place, or in any other truth. Period.

And finding your purpose is not finding life. Purpose is not life. Jesus is life.

So.

If we are His disciples, He will provide all that we need for the way of life and the truth of life; indeed, life itself.

It’s not that He knows about life and can teach us about life.

Life is Him.

And thus, our purpose is Him.

Now, to clear up any remaining spiritual smoke. Does the Lord have something specific that He wants you to do?

Sure. And He will tell you what that is, because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He will make the way of it, the truth of it, very clear. The believer doesn’t have to spend hours in prayer and fasting to discover these things. He knows how to make His will known to you, unmistakably. I encourage you to read the Bible about how the Lord made it clear to people what He wanted. Hint: There was no silent meditation involved. Jesus speaks and things happen. His voice is…compelling.

Will it be a call to ministry? Will it be a call to be a mom or dad? Does He have a gift or gifts that He has given or will give you?

It could be one or all of those things. He knows.

And He will let you know.

So, if you hear someone say, “God has a purpose for your life,” say back, “Jesus is my purpose.”

Keep the center of life on Him, not on you.

Blow away the smoke.

All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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Why do Christians say things that are so puzzling? They learn them from others without questioning, without doing due diligence to discover if what a teacher or leader is saying has any basis in Scripture.

For instance, it seems that many Christians have gone into the “I declare” zone. Here are a couple of random, typical examples from a blog site:

“I am like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, I am yielding fruit in season—NOW! THIS IS MY SEASON; my leaf does not wither and in whatever I do, I prosper.”

“From Proverbs 11:25 I declare: ‘I will be exceedingly generous and I will be exceedingly prosperous. I water and I am watered.’”

Sounds scriptural, doesn’t it? However, is this practiced in the Bible, or are believers instructed to do this in Scripture? In the New Testament, believers do make declarations. However, most of them concern what God has already done, whether it’s a healing, a deliverance, or a salvation. There are too many examples to cite here, so I encourage you to check this out with your own study. However, here is one example: “And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed” (Luke 8:47). The others are declarations concerning preaching the gospel: “…for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). All the examples I found glorify God or His truth. None of them were personal declarations that laid claim to God’s promises or were attempts to claim for an individual believer something the Lord had said.

Let’s pause a moment and ask what I hope is a sensible question. Why do I need to speak into existence or “claim” something that God has promised? Isn’t He the One who keeps and is able to keep His promises? Does He need our help to keep His promises?

The Lord performs enormously wondrous works, all by Himself. Those things that He has promised He will perform according to His will and purposes, in His time. Please note how the declarations cited from the blog above center on the speaker, not God. This should give us pause. It almost seems that this practice attempts to turn the speaker into a demi-god, a god who has some but not all of the powers of God.

This declaration nonsense is just another example of a self-centered belief system held by misled Christians that a declaration about what God has already promised makes any difference whatsoever. It is a goofy spouting of pretend power that these hoodwinked Christians think they possess.

I remember, years ago, often encountering the destructive, condemning, legalistic teaching that unless you declared or claimed your healing, you might not be healed. Or that the reason you had not been healed was because you had not declared or claimed healing. What oppressive, faith-in-the-grace-of-God-destroying heresy!

Christian believers. Remain true to the Word of God. Check out what has been told you by powerful, influential preachers. There’s a lot of junk out there.

All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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I cannot tell you with any accuracy where I picked up some of the strange things that were inserted into my Christian vocabulary as I grew up in the church. These words, thankfully, were not implanted into my belief system because, truth be told and to my shame, I didn’t really think about them and therefore they didn’t take root. They just became inattentive ChristianSpeak. I didn’t pause to consider whether some of the things I prayed and said were actually biblically true. However, as I have (hopefully) matured a bit over the years, I look back on some of these statements, sayings, and proclamations and wonder, “Where on earth (or anywhere else) did they come from?”

Let’s start with one that came late enough in my life that I was able to question it from the start. Numerous times when I have prayed with Christians the last few years, I hear this: “Lord, be with so-and-so as he or she does this and that.” I’m not sure what this request to the Lord means. I don’t know what the pray-er is asking of the Lord, because all Christians know and agree that Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us. He told us He would never leave us (Hebrews 13:5), which echoes what He announced to His people Israel: “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8). In addition, we are instructed that the Holy Spirit actually indwells believers: “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14). If the Lord is with us, will never leave us and even lives in us, why are we praying that He will “be with” a believer? He is already present and in-dwelling. I am dozy and ignorant if I lend credence to a non-biblical prayer by adding my I-agree amen.

The second puzzling prayer request is one that has been around for quite a few years: “I plead the blood of Jesus over so-and-so.” Again, I don’t know what this actually means. We know that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin, redeems, ransoms, and purifies us. So, then, to what purpose is this “pleading the blood of Christ” over a fellow believer? So they will be forgiven? Redeemed? Ransomed? Purified? This cannot be, because all of that is accomplished in the Lord’s work of salvation. So, I just don’t understand why we are praying for Jesus’ blood to be at work this way, and I don’t know why we are “pleading” it. So, Christian brother or sister, if we are praying together, you won’t hear my affirming “amen” when and if you plead the blood of Jesus over someone. I really don’t know what you are asking the Lord to do.

I also refrain from singing certain lyrics when I am worshiping with the church, for the same reason. For instance, when a song says that we are dancing before the Lord, I’m not dancing, and no one is dancing, I feel I am being insincere before the Lord and the church by singing that I’m dancing when my feet are embedded in concrete, which, in my Western worship experience, they usually are. It’s just the way it is, and the way I am. Even in Papua New Guinea, where they joyfully danced in worship, the best Laurie and I could come up with was a “holy sway.” Boy, did we feel white, foreign, and Western. Or worshipfully poverty-stricken. Or something. Thankfully, the gracious nationals did not care.

Thus, if a song says, “We lift up our hands,” I lift my hands. If I don’t lift up my hands, I remain silent, because then my worship would become untruthful and dishonest before God and the church. People in gatherings should know that our worship and theirs is marked by godly integrity. Otherwise, we may as well be singing “la, la, la” from Hey Jude.

There have been many examples in my experience as a Christian where praise/worship songs contained lyrics that I didn’t understand but sang anyway. For instance, what does it mean to “Shout to the north” or “Sing to the east and the west”? I’m not sure, but I confess that I sang these words anyway, completely careless about what I was proclaiming. I looked recently in my concordance for passages in Scripture where God’s people were exhorted to shout, and the only One whom we are told to shout to is the Lord. There are none that instruct us to shout to a direction on the compass.

It is not wise to pray or sing lyrics that we do not understand or give thought to. It is a lazy, religious, churchy way of prayer and worship, one that lacks sincerity and truthfulness.

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to Joe Watson for the photo.

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One of the themes of the Bible is the contrast of the city of man to the city of God. We are told not to love this worldly city—“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15)—but to seek a spiritual one. The author of Hebrews wrote that men and women of faith “…desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16). There will be comfort, peace, glory, and apparently, some kind of inclusive rulership there (Revelation 5:9-10, 7:17, 21:4, 22:3-5).

We see those two cities in most vivid contrast in the book of Revelation. The city of man, Babylon, represented as a prostitute in chapter 17:1-5, is eventually destroyed (Revelation 18:10-13). However, the wondrous city of God is established afterwards. “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:2–4).

The New Jerusalem is the place of eternal residency that eventually awaits us. Therefore, while we are here living in and under the influence of the city of man, it is necessary that we are continually challenged to walk by faith in our magnificent God and not according to the dark, burdensome, yet attractive reality of what the world presents. In the passage that follows, we will find Paul telling the Corinthians that although there will be affliction in this life, an eternal, not temporal, hope awaits.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 4:16–5:7).

These are profound verses. However, its encouraging promise is an answer to the reality of earthly hardship and affliction. Does God allow suffering? Yes. Does He even cause it? Yes. This is His purpose and plan to bring us into a future that is eternally glorious beyond all comparison. We do not see it that way and are often quite unsure we want it. However, in spite of our uncertainty and even at times, blatant unfaithfulness, He desires what is best for us, although discomfort awaits. In our ignorance, we prefer a comfortable life with no weight of everlasting glory; a limping walk on a broken leg that impedes our anemic journey instead of a re-broken, healed one that allows us to summit the mountains of eternity.

This is the God of discomforting love, peace, sacrifice, and victory.

This is the God we do not know.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

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Laurie and I once taught English to a family from the Karen tribe of Burma that had immigrated to the United States. They had lived for thirteen years in a refugee camp in Thailand. When the father was a child, his family had been attacked, and he ran into the jungle for safety. Tragically, he never saw his parents or siblings again. This family’s experience is just one in our world’s long history rife with heartbreaking accounts of people groups that have been uprooted from their native lands, dispersed, or forced into settlement or refugee camps. Time and space will not allow us to adequately recount these tragic events, some of which are occurring at the time of this writing. However, if we investigate Scripture, we will see that God’s people, both individually and nationally, became displaced people more than once.

Moses, exiled from Egypt, considered himself a stranger in a strange land (Exodus 2:21–22).

The Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians and dispersed because they had egregiously sinned against the Lord by worshiping other gods and setting up for themselves “pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree” (2 Kings 17:5–12).

Judah, the Southern Kingdom, was taken captive to Babylon because “All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the LORD that he had made holy in Jerusalem. The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:14–16).

The Lord allowed the diaspora of Israel and the captivity of Judah because His people had worshiped idols and turned away from Him. They became foreigners in lands not their own. He removed them from their ancestral home because He loved them and desired what was best for them: to love, know, and obey Him.

A Reminder of Uncomfortable Transience: the Feast of Booths

Israel’s celebration of the Feast of Booths is an instructive example of how the Lord reminded His people of their need for an abiding sense of uncomfortable transience. He did not simply think this was a good idea—He commanded it: “You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:42–43). The people of Israel needed to be retold that there was a time when they had no permanent dwelling place. I believe one of the reasons the Lord established this annual feast was to challenge Israel’s tendency to give in to a self-contentment in what He had given them—the Land of Promise, flowing with milk and honey. After what their forefathers had experienced as slaves in Egypt, living freely as the chosen nation of God was another day in Paradise in comparison. They would be tempted to forget the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 8:11-28).

Christians Are Transients As Well

In the New Testament, God’s people are referred to in Hebrews 11:13 as strangers and exiles: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” The idea that Christians are temporary residents on earth still exists as a stream of thought among Western Christians, but it seems to have been reduced to a trickle. Songs with lyrics like, “This world is not my home. I’m just a-passin’ through” seem to have been reduced to whispers. Our materialistic, this-world-is-all-there-is culture speaks with a very loud voice. Nevertheless, the impermanent condition for the Lord’s sinful-but-forgiven loved ones has been His heart throughout Scripture.

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The ultimate driver for prophetic utterances in the Church is God’s love for His people. Prophecy provokes and convicts, revealing the secrets of one’s heart (1 Corinthians 14:24-25) but ultimately builds up the believer (1 Corinthians 14:3-5) because the Lord will inevitably fulfill His great and precious promises. An example of this contrast is in Isaiah 48:18–19. Here, the Lord is grieving through the prophet about the upcoming judgment:

“Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me.”

However, in the very next chapter, the Lord spoke these delightful words of joy, comfort, and care:

“Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. But Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me’” (Isaiah 49:13–16).

The Lord our God is a God of discomfort. However, He is also the God of love, peace, and unyielding victory. He will bring His repentant people to overwhelming triumph, though the road may be spiny and steep (Romans 8:35-39).

Jesus Will Turn Up the Heat

Let’s take a closer look at Jesus’ unsettling prophetic voice in His letter to the Laodiceans. Jesus is clearly dissatisfied with that church’s ministry to Him. When He “takes a drink” from them, it is neither hot nor cold. A hot drink is comforting when the weather is cold, and a cold drink is rejuvenating when the day is hot. However, lukewarm water is rarely preferable to anyone at any time, unless he is dying of thirst. Therefore, Jesus told these believers that He would spit them out of His mouth. Not only that, He was not even in the church. He was standing outside it (Revelation 3:20).

Jesus’ first admonition to remedy their predicament was to buy of Him gold tried with fire. What does that mean? Twenty-four carat gold melts at 1,945 degrees Fahrenheit. To be heated to the temperature of molten gold sounds a bit uncomfortable. However, what does it mean to buy of Him gold tried with fire? The only answer that seems sensible is that Jesus wants His followers to prayerfully tell Him they are willing to be refined in this uncomfortable way so they will be pleasing to Him and thus not be ejected from His mouth. Keep in mind that our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), not a campfire for roasting marshmallows. Inviting His divine conflagration into our lives may include living sacrificially, with the heat of circumstances turned on. Gold is melted in order for its impurities to be removed. We should not force ourselves into a troubling situation, so our only answer is for the Lord to tell us how we can enter into His sacrificial, refining life and remain steadfast through it. Paul told Timothy, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:3–4). How does one do that? There is only one answer, and we will not find it in a book entitled Ten Ways to Live as a Good, Suffering Soldier of Jesus. Setting up a list of laws or, rather, principles, as we like to call them, is misguided. That will only lead to self-satisfied and self-righteous legalism. No, we will find the how-to as we seek Him and read His Word. He is, after all, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Even then, we will need to keep a check on our legalistic tendency. That is why Jesus’ next admonition to the Laodiceans was to buy white garments from Him. He was instructing them to make the foundation of their righteousness certain. That source would not be found in how well they followed His narrow way—it was found only in His righteousness. It would be necessary for them to be humble and poor in spirit, not proud of any sacrificial accomplishment. Jesus’ third admonition was that they should anoint their eyes with eye salve so they might see. Living sacrificially as a soldier and giving only mental assent to our need for His righteousness and the denial of our pride will not be enough for those who seek to follow Him. We fully must see Him, our Savior and our Creator, and His Word clearly, not simply adhere to a religious code of conduct. However, all too often, we read over life-challenging passages without being aware of their import. The truths in Scripture that we ignore or are blind to are available and accessible by His Spirit. We must ask Him to open our eyes.

However, as uncomfortable as our walk with Jesus may be, there is richness here. Remember that Jesus told the Laodiceans, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich…” When Jesus said this, He did not mean that if they would ask to be refined by fire and thereby suffer loss, that there would be a payoff at the end with more earthly wealth. He was talking about spiritual abundance to a church, which by virtue of its material prosperity, thought it was rich when it was actually quite poor. This is the One who said, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33–34). Jesus’ desire is that we possess treasure in the heavens, not store up what could be spiritually dangerous treasure on earth. The wealth that is in heaven is true treasure, true, eternal riches indeed.

Why was Jesus so blunt with these Laodicean believers? He tells them. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19). When Jesus finished His admonition, He said, “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” (Revelation 3:21). Is it important to us that we sit with Jesus on His throne? Regrettably, perhaps not. Because I do not know the reality and fullness of its meaning, I am prone to simply dismiss this truth. It may not be important to me in the least. However, it should be, and it will be, by His disquieting grace. He is the God of our discomfort.

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If the previous scriptural examples are not sufficient to convince us that God’s will is for us to be ill at ease, let’s look at what the Lord, through Paul, told the believers in Corinth. Twice he exhorted them in 1 Corinthians 12 to earnestly desire to prophesy (verses 1 and 39). Why would that make a Christian uncomfortable? Because we know what prophets did in Scripture. In the Old Testament, they were continually poking Israel or Judah in their chests, demanding that they abandon their idols, trust only in the Lord, and return to Him. Prophets were often foretellers of misfortune because of the unrepentant sinfulness of God’s people. We see in the Gospels that Jesus Himself was a prophet, and that aspect of His ministry was similarly set about with thorns. He did not win followers from the religious community when He told the Pharisees that the devil was their father (John 8:44). Jesus did not make Himself popular by informing the Jewish authorities that they were hypocritical leaders who were clean on the outside but filthy on the inside (Matthew 23:25) and that for the sake of their tradition they had made void the Word of God (Matthew 15:1-11). He did not spread sunshine, joy, and promises of prosperity when He declared that Jerusalem and the temple would one day be destroyed (Luke 19:42-44; Matthew 24:1-2). In the Book of Revelation, Jesus reprimanded the church at Ephesus for leaving their first love and commanded that they repent (Revelation 2:4). He alerted the church at Smyrna that they were soon going to suffer, and some would be thrown into prison (Revelation 3:10). He warned the church at Pergamum that He would war with the sword of His mouth against those who held to the teaching of Balaam and the Nicolaitans and demanded that they repent (Revelation 2:14-16). He announced to the church at Thyatira that He would cast one of the women in their midst into a sickbed and those committing adultery with her into tribulation, insisting on their repentance. (Revelation 2:20-22). He rebuked the church at Sardis for being spiritually dead and called them to repent (Revelation 3:2). He told the church at Laodicea that although they thought they were rich and prosperous, they were, instead, “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked,” again charging them to repent (Revelation 3:17).

However, believers were also called to the office of prophet in the New Testament. Agabus prophesied disastrous news about a coming famine (Acts 11:28). He also warned Paul, after binding his own feet and hands with Paul’s belt, that “This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles” (Acts 21:11). Paul foretold misfortune and loss when he warned the centurion, pilot, and ship owner not to sail to Crete (Acts 27:10-26). Paul informed the Galatians that they were deceived, and he wished the Judaizers who were troubling them would emasculate themselves (Galatians 5:12). He declared to the Corinthians that they were infants and fleshly for preferring certain Christian personalities over others (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). He also notified them that they were weak and sick because they were not discerning the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 27-32).

Prophets are called by God to make God’s people uncomfortable and repentant, while foretelling the consequences of rebellion. Therefore, when the Lord exhorts us to earnestly desire to prophesy, He is informing us that it is His will for a measure of discomfort to be present in our fellowships, perhaps a very large measure. He wants His bold, disrupting voice to be heard in our midst. Does God like to stir up trouble? Yes, and He has a glorious reason: He loves us. He knows how prone we are to sinful complacency and self-satisfaction. Status quo is our default human setting. It does not take long for His children to think they have this Christian thing figured out, switch on the go-easy spiritual autopilot, and turn our attention to other things. This complacency is the result of our sinful condition, of which our loving God is very aware. It is the reason, as we know, that we need a Savior who died for our sins. Therefore, we continually need to be brought up short so we can repent of our complacency, sin, or ignorance, ask for forgiveness, and move on in maturity.

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Through Amos, a prophet to Israel, the Lord said:

“‘I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord. ‘I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither; so two or three cities would wander to another city to drink water, and would not be satisfied; yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord” (Amos 4:6–8).

If you were an Israelite who was cultivating a drought-ridden field, yet knew of some land down the road on which it had rained, what would you think? Would you wonder if the Lord favored that farmer over you? You had worked as hard as he had, if not harder. Why the other family and not yours? The Lord tells us why He caused His people to experience lack: so they would return to Him. You may think, “These things wouldn’t happen to me. I’m a Christian, and I believe in Jesus and follow Him. I don’t need to return to Him.” Be very careful. Your status as a Christian believer may not be in doubt, but remember that the Lord told His chosen people that He would test them to determine if they loved the Lord their God with all their hearts and with all their souls. Is it possible that you do not love Him as wholly as you should? Of course it is. No human being is able to keep perfectly the first and greatest commandment of the Law: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Your loving Father would rather you suffer discomfort than live a life of pallid complacency, absent of tenacious love. His application of deprivation to your life so you will know Him better is an act of grace and love.

Perhaps you are aware of this admonition from the book of Hebrews, in which the author quoted Proverbs 3:11-12:

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:5–8).

These verses tell us that it is a certainty that our heavenly Father will discipline us. In fact, if we are not disciplined, it is an indication that we are not His children.

A doctor, out of necessity, may need to re-break a patient’s leg so that it will heal properly. Is the doctor evil, inattentive, or attempting to make his patient’s life more difficult by inflicting additional pain? No, the physician knows what must be done in order to heal the injury. Although Christians have become God’s children through re-birth, He loves them and wants what is best for their spiritual lives, and that will require what may be considered painful discipline. Are you a son or daughter of God? If you are, welcome to the fellowship of the God of discomfort.

All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version.Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

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