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From my very first days as a Christian, the Lord embedded me in the Pentecostal/Charismatic church, and I thank Him for it. In my years there, I heard many prophecies. I can remember almost nothing of those given publicly, but I would say that most of them—perhaps all of them—were encouraging and uplifting. As I have continued to learn Scripture, however, I found that my position on the nature of prophecy has changed. In both the Old and New Testaments, prophecies are not always encouraging and uplifting. On a personal note, this was gratifying as well, since most of the prophecies or words I had been given were not positive.

Pentecostals/Charismatics today hold to the position that prophecies are positive, I think, because of this passage:

The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church (1 Corinthians 14:4). 1

However, I now think that we have misunderstood the complete meaning of prophecy.

Prophecy is both negative and positive.

The negative usually comes first.

For example, all throughout the book of Jeremiah, the Lord told the prophet many times that He was going to send sword, famine, and pestilence upon Judah because they had forsaken Him. However, He often pronounced positives like this:

Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD (Jeremiah 23:3–4).

Bad news. Good news.

Terrible, suffering news. Good news, which ultimately builds up the Church because it brings hope to the sufferer, letting us know that He is the true sovereign of history and the Church. Thus, it’s true that prophecy is for the building up of the saints.

This truth brings us to another suffering, terrible word from Jeremiah that should make Christians more than a little uncomfortable. I was shaken when the truth of it was made known to me.

And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: “‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence, and those who are for the sword, to the sword; those who are for famine, to famine, and those who are for captivity, to captivity’” (Jeremiah 15:2).

God’s sovereign will is revealed here. If you’re destined for pestilence, for sword, for famine, or for captivity, that is what will happen to you. When we read this, we just think, “Wow. Those Jews in Judah really blew it when they disobeyed God. They were destined for pestilence, the sword, and famine.”

Well, it is more than that, because not all the Jews had forsaken God; nevertheless, all suffered this disquieting sovereign judgment. This should make Christians more than a tad uncomfortable because it is echoed in the Book of Revelation, and it concerns Christian believers. Look for the same words the Lord gave Jeremiah: captivity and sword. The “it” who makes war on the saints refers to a being that is called the “first beast.”

Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints (Revelation 13:7–10).

But then comes the positive. The end of the book of Revelation.

But believers will suffer before that ending. Bad news. Good news. The marriage supper of the Lamb. The new heaven and earth. The New Jerusalem.

Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Evangelicals may say, “We shall not suffer in this way. We are God’s children.”

But look at this passage from Ezekiel:

And the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 14:12–14).

Do you see the words, “when a land”? The Lord is not addressing Israel or Judah here. Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in this “land,” they would also suffer famine along with everyone else.

The Lord has some bad times coming for believers. Then some eternally wonderful positive-beyond-imagination times.

This is the nature of true prophecy.

Fellow believer, strengthen your relationship with the Lord. Stay awake. Strengthen your faith. Prepare to endure.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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Christmas presents a challenge to Christians. The celebration, it seems, has a questionable origin and roots, but surely we want to rejoice in the birth of Jesus, don’t we? Yet, this cultural—what shall I call it?—extravaganza we experience annually has wrapped itself around His glorious incarnation; perhaps I should say it has strangled it almost to death. We are awash, inundated, swamped by commercials and advertisements. It’s a cultural, materialistic tsunami. “Buy! Buy! Buy!” we’re told, ad nauseum. “Gifts bring joy! Happy family around the gorgeous tree! Warm, fuzzy tradition! Santa Claus! He’s coming! Gifts under the tree!”

So, what should Christians do? Bow the knee to it? Put up with it?

I say resist it. Resist it the best you can. Resist it because if you are a Christian, you should not be content with a “Christian” holiday the foundations of which are lies. Let’s enumerate some of them.

Lie #1: We give gifts to one another because gifts were given at Christmas. True, gifts were given, but they were given to Jesus and His family. How that got finagled around to giving gifts to each other is a history too long to tell, substantially bolstered by Dickens’ well-meaning, if off-the-Jesus-centered mark, A Christmas Carol. So, we wonder if we should deny our children and others joy if we don’t give mounds of gifts. Nobody wants to be like Scrooge. Bah! Humbug! However, that meme is a lie, as well. Scrooge ended up giving a grand turkey to the family of a handicapped boy. He was kind to his financially struggling employee. He helped the poor. This is a good thing to do at Christmas. It has nothing to do with giving gifts to work mates, family, or friends.

Lie #2: Santa Claus exists. Parents spoon this to their children because the cultural meme is too strong to oppose. To be frank, it’s a lie. So, think about this for a moment. What would Christmas look like in the U.S. if Santa Claus wasn’t part of it? Interesting thought. I am angered, righteously, I would argue, that a god-like mythical being who knows the thoughts and actions of children has become the center of Christmas rather than Jesus.

Lie #3: Receiving gifts brings joy. No, receiving a gift brings momentary happiness that dissipates in twenty-four hours. I don’t know about you, but I was enlightened when my little children tossed aside the first gift they had just opened in their exuberance to find the next best thing, the next I’ll-be-made-happy-by-this-package frenzy. It was something to see such, um, raw greed on display.

Lie #4: Christmas is wonderfully joyful for American families. Certainly, there is a truth here. Gathering as a family is a good and biblical thing to do. But the commercials we see portray wonder and joy because everyone is thrilled about receiving their presents, as if somehow this is the dream of a lifetime. But what message do the poor receive from this false narrative? What about broken families? Families that have experienced tragedy? Will they experience this “joy”?

Resist the lies.

However, resistance isn’t all. Consider the poor. Consider those who have less than you.

Do these words from Jesus mean anything at Christmastime?

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:37–40). 1

The wise men traveled a great distance to sacrificially give gifts to Jesus. We can’t do as they did. But we can endeavor to sacrificially give to Him and those who are His, regardless. This will please Him. This will honor Him.

Thank You, Jesus, that though You were rich, for our sake You became poor, so that we by Your poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). You emptied Yourself and offered Yourself in sacrifice for sinners. What an amazing, wondrous God You are. Help us follow Your example and not be compromised by a misleading love for the things of this world.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

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All Christians are sons of God, and although at times believers are also called the children of God, “son” denotes a characteristic that “children” does not. It denotes an inheritance after the manner of sons depicted in the Old Testament. Inheritance was passed down through the male. Sisters in Christ should not therefore be put off about being called sons. It’s all about inheritance. And remember that men are also called the bride of Christ.

So, what do Christians inherit? It is not entirely clear to our way of thinking, as in, “At my grandfather’s death we inherited his farm.” One can imagine a farm. A house. A barn. Animals. Crops. But the inheritance the Lord has for us is in Scripture does not appear as physically graphic as that.

For one thing, and most importantly, we inherit salvation. Concerning angels, the author of Hebrews wrote, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14).1 Peter eloquently penned much the same in the first chapter of his first letter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). 

Other interesting hints about this inheritance appear along the way, if we will look for them. Let’s begin with a glorious blockbuster. In this passage, the four “living creatures” and the twenty-four elders sing this song after Jesus takes the scroll that no one else anywhere was qualified to open: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9–10).

This is the only place in Scripture where this amazing truth is proclaimed so clearly, but there are statements that allude to it, if we are listening. Jesus said to the church in Laodicea, a church that was so fallen that He was trying to gain entrance: “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). It is interesting, don’t you think, that Jesus used this truth about believers’ future rulership as an encouragement to the Laodiceans to repent and return to Him?

One of the first things Jesus taught was, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5).

Reigning on the earth. Inheriting the earth. Sitting on Jesus’ throne. Interesting, true words that leave us wondering, “What would that look like?”

And consider this wondrous, bewildering passage from Romans: “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. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:18–21). This revealing of the sons of God is “That status is what all Christians long for, and Paul now associates all material subhuman creation with them in such a longing.”2

So, somehow, everything that has been created has been longing for us to be revealed. Strange to think that creation “longs.” I cannot enlarge upon this truth because I do not know how to further its sense. Perhaps it has to do with redeeming all that God created, returning to His original plan, back to the placing of Adam and Eve in the garden.

The Lord God Almighty, sovereign over all things, has chosen to keep the details of these weighty truths hidden from us. Although we should be reminded of this stunning future that awaits, it is wise not to think on them too much; wiser to make supreme loving Him with all our hearts, obeying Him, and seeking to please Him, as Paul did. “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).

Yes. There is that to consider in this discussion about inheritance and reigning. Let us not be found wanting in that day.

 

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

2Fitzmyer, J. A., S. J. (2008). Romans: a new translation with introduction and commentary (Vol. 33, p. 507). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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Most people in the United States have no time for the Christian God. Many simply ignore Him or concoct a cornucopia of beliefs that are a mixture of Christian truth and misunderstood and thus twisted truth. Some deny He even exists. This last group of people are quite firm and content in this state of non-belief. This rejection of and ignorance about the Christian God has had a devastating effect on the culture of the United States. I am sure books have been written about these disastrous effects, but recently, in some ways, my God-denying culture, surprised and annoyed by what they have assisted in creating, is trying to enforce a kind of strict cultural morality, a social legalism in order to correct what they deem immoral behavior.

Strange antics from the sort of people who for a very long time have ridiculed puritanical morality.

Who dismiss Christianity as a myth, an ancient superstition.

A backward, ignorant, desperate clinging to a crutch, a hopeless hope.

A lie, even a dangerous deception.

This is where we find ourselves—in a degenerating, God-denying American wilderness.

This cultural deterioration has not gone unnoticed. Having seen the outrage of sin, the God-deniers now want to stop it—some of it, anyway—the breaking of laws they have chosen. They do not and would never call it sin. Rather, it is a mistake. Hurtful-to-others behavior. Sometimes, outrageous, hateful, enraging behavior. The supreme tragedy—perhaps we should call it tragi-comedy—is that they have no answer, no clue whatsoever, about how to curb the things they find disturbing.

What should we expect? Christianity has been tossed, by the majority, onto the rubbish heap to cheers of success. However, Americans will continue to attempt to find secular answers because the problems we face are real. For example, some school officials now establish dress codes to help curb the students from having sex in the restrooms which is like trying to establish an island of puritanism in the middle of a sea of pornography, fornication, and sexual uncleanness.

Secular leaders attempt to impose speech restrictions to stop language that is judged bigoted, racist, or insulting. Those who find such speech offensive attempt to control speech by shouting, “Stop it! You’re a terrible person! I condemn this!” Sometimes free speech is inhibited by rioting.

Drug programs. Alcohol programs. For some, like pedophiles and rapists, well, there is no help.

Our God-denying culture has no answer for these behaviors and a host of others. All their answers are retreads of an ancient legalism. However, legalism has no power whatsoever to stop sinful behavior. Paul wrote that submitting to the human precepts and teaching which demand that we submit to human regulations “…are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). 1

Crying “Stop it!” means nothing. Trying to force others to stop behavior means nothing.

It is foolish of us, is it not, to expect any other response from folks who deny the existence of a gracious, life-changing God? However, the people of the U.S. can come to know the answer, the answer of liberation from a lie that we can fix ourselves and others through the works of our God-absent hearts and minds. It is possible to possess the will to do good and love others, but a change of the heart must occur, a new person must be created; Christian truths which have been available for two thousand years. May the Lord be merciful and gracious to those who deny Him, as He was gracious to the believers now reading this article. Only one avenue is available out of the American wilderness in which we find ourselves: Him. Him and all His life-changing love.

If we do not come to this gate, this life-saving path, great concern should grip our hearts. We cannot better ourselves. We cannot ourselves reverse the slide into degeneracy, hatred, and immorality. It will not fix itself. There is only One who can.

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

 

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The Lord God does not think the way we do (Isaiah 55:8-9). Not only are His thoughts higher than ours, His ways not our ways, our thoughts not His thoughts, but His thoughts are so much higher than ours that we simply will not be able to comprehend them, unless He reveals them to us. Thankfully, by His grace, He has made known His thoughts via Scripture. If we look closely, we will find that He will act in ways that we may view as unwise, unworkable, and even doomed to fail—at least at first.

Long ago, we sang a praise chorus based on Psalm 118:24: “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” That was it, that one verse sung a couple of times, maybe three if the song leader pressed it. It was a “bring-them-in-from-the-parking-lot” chorus, for those unfamiliar with church-speak. However, again, to my shame, I never bothered to investigate the passage’s context. Here it is:

The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone.

This is the LORD’s doing;

it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day that the LORD has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:22–24).1

Do you see why believers are to rejoice?

The builders rejected the stone that the Lord had provided. What stone is this? Paul wrote, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19–21).

The stone is Jesus. Israel, “the builders,” who should have installed this rock, rejected Him.

Jesus told His disciples in Luke 20:9-17 that the rejection in Psalm 118 spoke of Him. He taught them a parable about a land owner who let his vineyard out to tenants and  “went into another country for a long while.” When the harvest was ready, the owner sent his servants to collect some of the fruit. The men overseeing the land in the owner’s absence beat up one servant, stoned one, and killed another. The owner sent more servants, and the overseers did the same to them. Finally, the owner sent his son, whom they killed. Then Jesus quoted Psalm 118:22 about the rejection of the cornerstone. A cornerstone, according to the Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon, is “the cornerstone or capstone of a building, essential to its construction.”2  Israel would reject the One who was crucial to their lives; nevertheless, their plan would fail. His would succeed. He would be installed—exalted—as the cornerstone. This was to be marvelous in our eyes.

It is.

Think about that for a moment. The Lord made the day when He Himself would be slaughtered on a cross. He created the day of rejection of Himself, so His victorious purpose would come to pass. This is not snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat; this is planning the defeat that will lead to a victory.

Who does that?

Counter-intuitive, I-will-plan-My-own defeat thinking.

We—none of us—would ever make a plan so we would purposefully fail in order to gain some kind of victory. The outcome would be too uncertain. It sounds like insanity, doesn’t it? Only one Person possesses the high-as-the-heavens-are above-the-earth thinking as well as the ability, to pull this off.

It was a day the Lord made. It is marvelous in our eyes. We will rejoice.

All glory to the sovereign Creator of all things.

 

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. 87). New York: United Bible Societies.

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Have you ever been given a scriptural insight that has changed the way you read a passage? It happened to Laurie and me a few days ago. We considered, in a new light, this beautiful psalm which we have sung and read for decades.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!

Serve the LORD with gladness!

Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the LORD, he is God!

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

and his courts with praise!

Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the LORD is good;

his steadfast love endures forever,

and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:1–5).1

The insight was delivered from the Lord via a martyred missionary, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. His name is Jim Elliot, murdered over a half-century ago in Ecuador. Jim wrote to the woman who would become his wife: “Dearest Betty, I charge you in the name of our Unfailing Friend, do away with all waverings, bewilderment, and wonder. You have bargained for a cross. Overcome anything in the confidence of your union with Him, so that contemplating trial, enduring persecution or loneliness, you may know the blessings of the ‘joy set before.’ ‘We are the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.’ And what are the sheep doing going into the gate? What is their purpose inside those courts? To bleat melodies and enjoy the company of the flock? No. Those sheep were destined for the altar. Their pasture feeding had been for one purpose, to test them and fatten them for bloody sacrifice. Give Him thanks, then, that you have been counted worthy of His altars. Enter into the work with praise.” 2

This changes the nature of how we read and sing this psalm. We Christians are on our way to sacrifice as we enter His gates.

What are we told to do on our way?

Make a joyful noise. The earth is joining you in this raucous rejoicing, which may be the reason it’s a bit noisy:

Praise the LORD from the earth,

you great sea creatures and all deeps,

fire and hail, snow and mist,

stormy wind fulfilling his word! (Psalm 148:7–8).

Serve the Lord with gladness—not sorrow. You will experience sacrificial suffering, but you are sharing Jesus’ sufferings. “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

Come into His presence with singing, knowing that the One into whose presence you are entering is our Creator. He has made us—we didn’t. He has made us sheep destined for the altar, for slaughter. Paul told the Philippians, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” (Philippians 1:29).

Thank our sovereign God and praise Him because He is good. His plans are good. He has the ability to make all things work together for good. He loves us steadfastly and will love us forever. Keep that in mind. Forever. The Lord will always love you. I’m sure you can recall this beautiful passage from Jeremiah in the great book of his lamentation for the suffering condition of God’s people.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:22–24).

The Lord is the believer’s portion. Our portion is not some possession on this earth. Not some happy-all-the-time living condition. Our portion is Him, simply, not land or wealth or fame or status or comfort.

When this song comes to mind now, I will try to remember to praise Him in the knowledge that I am a sheep being sacrificed, according to His good and loving will.

Lord, give us the strength in that journey to your courts to rejoice in You. That is our strength.

 

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

2SHADOW OF THE ALMIGHTY: The Life & Testament Of Jim Elliot. Copyright ©1958 by Elizabeth Elliot. HarperCollins Publishers, 195 Broadway, New York, New York 10007.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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I have a soft spot in my heart for the prophetess Anna. She makes a very brief appearance in the book of Luke, a lovely appearance, then we hear of her no longer.

“And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36–38). 1

She was, shall we say, a heavenly-minded woman. She was “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem,” and she realized that this baby who had just come into the temple was the promised Redeemer.

However, a common saying exists in our culture that would indicate we should discount a person such as this: “She’s so heavenly minded that she’s no earthly good.”

I suppose Anna isn’t worth much in the way the world thinks. Oh, that Anna, poor thing. No earthly good. Just one of the very few in Jerusalem who knew that the baby who had arrived was the promised Messiah for which Israel had been waiting for millennia.

I’ve been thinking the last few days about the origin of and reason for that accusation about heavenly mindedness. I’ve been hard put to come up with anything, unless it’s from someone who didn’t like the actions and/or words of Christians. Praying too much like Anna, for example. Truth is, the saying should be, “That person is so earthly minded that he’s no heavenly good.”

Jesus had a lot to say about the necessity of being heavenly minded. He strongly told us that we should be waiting for the same kind of redemption Anna longed for, although this time for the second coming of the Messiah, not the first as Anna did. He told us to be always heavenly minded, so we would be prepared for this return. For instance, Matthew 25 contains three parables, all about His return. The first is about the ten virgins, five of whom were not ready for the bridegroom. Jesus ended this parable saying, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13). The second parable in Matthew 25 concerns a master who went “on a journey” and “entrusted” his “property” to three men. Two put their money to work, the third did not (Matthew 25:14-30). The man who did not found himself at an unpleasant destination. The third parable in this chapter concerns the final judgment and those who knew the Son of Man and those who did not. Those who did not know Him, again, had an unpleasant destination.

Sounds like we should be ready for an extremely important, life-or-death event to come which is heavenly, not earthly.

A beautiful, stirring, encouraging statement about having an eternal, heavenly perspective is contained in these verses that Paul wrote in Romans: “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). Is this heavenly mindedness of no earthly good? On the contrary. It is the highest earthly good possible because it gives hope to the sufferer, a hope that earthly-minded people cannot and do not possess. Those without a heavenly mindedness would find no reason for their suffering. Bitterness and anger would surely enter their hearts. Hatred of God would dwell in their thoughts. Why did this suffering happen to them? Was it bad luck? A twist of fate? Would they wonder what they had done to cause karma to inflict this upon them?

I reject the cultural meme that those who are heavenly minded are of no earthly good. We are to wait and be ready for a Savior from heaven, not from the earth. We are to have faith that one day, at the end of all things earthly, Christians will experience a revealed glory. What does the revealing of the sons of God mean? I don’t know, but it will be gloriously magnificent because “all creation waits with eager longing” for it to occur. At that time, we will know that all that we have suffered will not be worth comparing to those yet-to-be revelations.

Blessing, honor, glory, and power be unto Him who sits on the throne and unto the Lamb forever and ever. Wonders beyond all thought and imagination await believers.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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Dear younger Jim,

Well, we’ve made it this far, and you’ll be happy to know that we have kept the faith and are still fighting the good fight. Decades ago, we were joyfully, sovereignly saved. Filled with the Holy Spirit. All was so new, so wonderful, so simple. This early simplicity you are enjoying will soon be under siege. You will have to fight to remain there. To help you on your journey with Jesus, I have a few words of advice; advice I wish someone had given me. It will keep you out of trouble and perhaps get you into some.

For a start, study the verses that you hear referenced in other’s preaching to understand what the verses mean in context. Do not easily swallow supposed truths ripped out of context. When you study like this, the Lord will open your eyes to a fuller understanding of truth.

In a related way, do not believe without question everything church leaders teach. Reject the Word of Faith heresy that you will hear early on. Don’t fall prey to the teaching of the superstar pastor and his predilection for allegorizing Scripture. Allegorizing Scripture was and is dangerous. Don’t fall for it. Stick with the plain truth of Scripture.

Be more serious about sermon preparation. Do not think you can prepare your messages on Sunday morning and assume that is all you need, along with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; although, yes, sometimes He will take you off plan. But those times should be exceptions rather than the rule. That sort of ill-preparedness will cause you to circle around certain themes over and over again. Widen and deepen your knowledge of Scripture, not just the amount of verses you read or memorize. Learn the meanings of texts in context and in comparison to the whole of Scripture.

This next piece of advice may seem insignificant, but it isn’t. Check out the truthfulness of the praise and worship songs you hear and teach. Don’t teach songs that are contrary to the truth of Scripture. If we sing praise and worship songs that aren’t the truth, we are not worshipping in truth as Jesus told us to. Our worship becomes meaningless. Make your worship true.

Pray more. Don’t be arrogant and spiritually lazy, thinking that you don’t need to seek the Lord earnestly and regularly. Learn intercession. People are in need: in need of healing, salvation, protection, and provision.

Be wary of power, money, and status in the Church. You will see the effects of these powerful deceptions in your first church staff job and every pastor, associate pastor, and missionary ministry after.

Reject the Old Testament law of tithing and the misleading teaching from Malachi 3:10. Study to discover the truth of what Malachi wrote about.

It will be extremely difficult but avoid the death trap and sins of envy and competition involving numerical church growth. Instead, learn what discipleship means and ignore the pressure to “grow your church.” Take seriously Jesus’ requirements for discipleship in Luke 14:25-35 and teach it. It will be better to have two or three true disciples of Jesus than two hundred sitting in chairs about whom you know almost nothing. Be brave and strong in the Lord and His truth. Learn early that the Lord always chooses people of insignificance—you are such an individual. Rejoice in this and do not despise it. The Lord chooses such to glorify Himself.

Seriously question why the gifts of the Spirit are not operative in churches. This will lead you to some uncomfortable conclusions about the church system in which you minister.

Seek to understand what it means that the Lord God Almighty is perfectly sovereign over all things.

Take seriously the Day of Judgment for Christians. You will stand before Jesus and give an account of what you have done. Someday, in some way, you will rule in His kingdom.

Rejoice in the spiritual fact that you can actually talk to the Lord of the universe who created all things—not only can you talk to Him but have a relationship with the only one true God. You, by His grace, are a son and will inherit all that Jesus has for you in eternity. You could never have achieved any of these realities by some human effort on your own. These are freely given to you by the Lord.

Wondrous days are ahead. Difficult days are ahead. Don’t lose that initial joy and divine surprise that the Lord gloriously, sovereignly saved you. Love Him. Seek to please Him in all that you do. Ask the Lord to help you love others. Loving others should be easy, but it isn’t. That’s why the New Testament tells us repeatedly to love one another!

Be strong in the Lord.

Rejoice in all things.

Your older self,

Jim

 

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

200w

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.

 

giphy

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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