worship

What is heaven like? Worship. Incredible worship. I hesitate to use the word “incredible,” because it can also mean “not credible.” However, the meaning has changed over time and has come to mean “amazing” or words like it. Once again, I find myself unable to use descriptive words from the English language to describe what heaven is like as well as the worship there. So, if you can find more adequate adjectives, please feel free to throw in.

I really enjoy worshiping God when I pray. I won’t detail how I do this, but my involvement in it increased dramatically when I set my mind that I was worshiping the Lord God Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, the God who possesses perfect power and perfect knowledge, allows or causes all that happens in the universe and on earth, the Almighty God who suffered punishment and died for us, the only such being in the entire universe.

Recently, I “came across” this passage from Psalm 148: “Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away. Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven” (Psalm 148:1–13). 1

What stood out to me as I read this was that the psalmist was actually telling these different entities to praise Yahweh.

Angels

God’s armies

Sun

Moon

Shining stars

Highest heavens

Waters above the heavens

Great sea creatures

Fire and hail

Snow and mist

Stormy wind

Mountains and hills

Fruit trees and all cedars

Beasts and all livestock

Creeping things

Flying birds

Kings, princes, and rulers

All peoples

Young men, maiden, old men, and children

I rejoiced at this. I began to include it in my praise time before the Lord. And it seemed so…right. So honoring. So powerful.

Perhaps, you may say, the psalmist was simply speaking metaphorically or was overly enthusiastic.

In Revelation 5, Jesus is the only one who was worthy to take the scroll and open it. After He took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders threw themselves to the ground before Jesus. They had harps and bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They worshiped Him. Then the angels joined in, “ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands.”

Then, this: “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:13).

Who was praising the Father and Jesus? Every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the sea. These creatures were talking. Or singing. I don’t know. Neither do I know how the created things in Psalm 148 praised God. Nor do I know how mountains and hills sing, or how trees and rivers clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12; Psalm 98:8).

So, Christian reader, let me encourage you to join your voice with the saints, angels, twenty-four elders and all creatures. Call upon created things to join you as you worship and worship with them—worship the most amazing Being who is possible for us to know.

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

Gif via gify.com

 

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What is heaven like?

In this country, we are often told that we will be checking in with Saint Peter before we enter heaven. Not true, but we will get to meet him. How can I say that with assurance? We will have eternity to meet people there.

Next, we are told that we will be wearing wings and flying around on clouds with harps.

No, no wings. No saints sitting on clouds. But there is biblical evidence for saints playing harps in heaven (Revelation 15:2). However, winged creatures are there. Very interesting creatures. More on that in a minute. An eagle, for sure (Revelation 8:13). And the Bible does indicate animals will be there. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den” (Isaiah 11:6–8). 1 Your pets? I don’t know.

Will we enter through the “pearly gates?” This one has some truth to it. All the gates of the heavenly city of Jerusalem with be made of pearl. So, yes, if you go into the holy city, you will be going through such a gate.

So, what is heaven really like according to Scripture?

We have a little bit of biblical evidence, and what we have is really…well, what should adjective should I use here? Weird? No, that sounds like the Twilight Zone or X-Files. Other-worldly? Redundant, since it’s heaven, after all, and a word used by spooky super naturalists. I’m stumped. Perhaps you can come up with one after reading this: “At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:2–8).

So, what do we have here?

God the Father has the appearance of what looks like semi-precious stones, jasper and carnelian. The jasper was probably green. Carnelian is brown-red. Got that? Right. God the Father, sitting on a throne, looks somehow like beautiful rock. Have you ever thought of Him this way?

Around the throne is a green emerald rainbow.

Never seen one of those before.

Around the throne are twenty-four elders, wearing white clothes and golden crowns sitting on thrones. Who those elders are, we’re not told.

Out of the Father’s throne come flashes and lightning, with accompanying thunder.

Seven torches of fire burn before the Father’s throne. I’m thinking probably not tiki torches here.

Also before the throne was a sea, like glass and crystal.

Four creatures are on each side of the throne. They have eyes in front and back, and, well, “around and within” them. One is like a lion. One is like an ox. One has the face of a man. One is like an eagle in flight. Each has six wings. They are always praising God.

So, what adjectives shall we choose to describe this? Beautiful. Noisy. Colorful. Fear-engendering. But which descriptive words for the creatures?

Let me know.

 

 

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

Gif provided by giphy.com

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Can God’s people make their hearts and spirits new? Look at this passage from Ezekiel:

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live (Ezekiel 18:30-32). 1

However, we also have this, penned by David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba:

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:9–10). 

So, how was Israel to make themselves new hearts and new spirits and thus participate in God’s new-creation work? According to the passage in Ezekiel, that would include:

  • Knowing they will be judged by the sovereign Lord God Almighty. Fearful words.
  • Repenting from all their transgressions because the iniquity they committed brought ruin. Humbling admission of the truth of God compared to theirs.
  • Casting transgressions away from them. Hard work, from the heart.

If they did these things, they would avoid death. The Lord has no pleasure in the death of anyone, we’re told. That’s good news. I hope we can hear the heart of God in these verses. Why does He not want us to sin? Because it kills us. It wrecks us. It destroys us. He does not want that to happen.

If God’s people did these things they would live.

So, assuming they wanted to live—and I’m not sure the evidence is clear they took the Lord and His prophet seriously—how should they repent, cast sin away from them and thus make new hearts and spirits for themselves—I mean in a practical, day-to-day way? From their not-new hearts, they would begin to do just as the Lord told them to—repent. Sincerely. In fear—their lives were at stake. They would stop doing the activities that had brought them under God’s judgment. However, having repented, they’d soon discover their inability to obey His commands. If their hearts were true, they would feel guilt and godly sorrow. They had failed their God. That’s when repentance would be required again, and they’d ask for help, for mercy, for forgiveness.

Then finding life and new hearts, they would move on. If they sinned again, repentance was required yet again.

They would strive, to return to Jesus’ command in Matthew, to “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13–14).

 Notice that Jesus said this way is “hard.” Arduous. Restrictive. We don’t like these words.

The other way is “easy.” Broad. No worries about compromising. No constraining boundaries. No difficult humility. This is where we would rather live out our days.

 No need to strive.

This is the nature of our struggle with the world and our sinfulness. We must strive. We work through these sins and accompanying untrue thinking with the Lord, on our knees, repenting. We do not stop. We realize that in this process He is loving us and does not want us to be destroyed. That love would undergird our striving. His steadfast love never ceases. His mercies never come to an end.

Nothing offered here from the Lord is easy. And, as in Ezekiel, there is no step-by-step, engineering handbook about how to do these impossible things. Jesus doesn’t give us the how, just the command.

With a strong dose of heat. Like in Ezekiel, Jesus warns us about not entering this way of striving. The easy, broad way leads to destruction. Ruin. Waste. Annihilation.

Hello. There it is. Fear. Wonderful love. Impossible commands. Life to the full.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to giphy.com for the gif.

 

 

 

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If you are a Christian, you may be familiar with the passages from Ezekiel where the Lord leaves His temple and His city, Jerusalem. He gives the people of God, the people of His own possession, the sons and daughters of Abraham, over to its enemy. This is Judah, keep in mind, who had witnessed what happened to the Northern Kingdom, Israel, but instead of taking heed, became worse:

She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the LORD (Jeremiah 3:8–10). 1

So, the question I would like to ask in this post is, would the Lord ever respond in a similar way to His Church, His chosen ones? Before you answer, please consider this: Jesus gave notice to the churches in Revelation that an unpleasant future lay ahead unless they repented of their actions. Since this is not an in-depth study of those chapters, here is a brief listing of His warnings:

He alerted the Ephesian church that unless they repented of their behavior, He would remove His lampstand from its place. Since the lampstands represent the churches (Revelation 1:20), the Ephesian church would no longer be a “church.” A church ceases to be a church when it no longer serves its Master with genuine love and dedication. “There is hard evidence that nominal Christianity dies a natural death within a generation or two and consequently disappears completely from the scene. The members may still come together, but they meet for social and not spiritual purposes.” 2

He warned the church in Pergamum that He would personally come and war against some of their members unless they repented of their actions.

Jesus cautioned the church in Thyatira that He would throw a woman, whom He calls Jezebel, into a sickbed unless she repented and cast her “children” into great tribulation, even striking them dead. Yes, the New Testament God kills people.

He told the Christians in Sardis that unless they woke up and repented, He would “come against” them at an hour they did not know.

As for the infamous church in Laodicea, Jesus wasn’t even present in that group of people. He was at the door, knocking, trying to gain entrance.

Therefore, we have strong and adequate scriptural evidence that Jesus will indeed punish a church or even leave it if they are sinning and do not repent. So, do we know if He has departed from any churches operating today? Is he punishing any? Are there any true Christians in those churches?

Let’s be honest. We just don’t know. A remnant may remain of which we are not aware. In sinful Israel and Judah, prophets were speaking. And remember that when Elijah told the Lord he was the only one in Israel who had not forsaken His covenant and worshiped Baal, God replied, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18).

And how about your church? Is it possible the Lord would want to remove its lampstand? Is it possible “that you have abandoned the love you had at first”? (Revelation 2:4).  Of course, it is. Are there any teachings that are a stumbling block to believers as there were in Pergamum? Please do not think that impossible. Are your works “complete in the sight of my God”? (Revelation 3:2). Have you prospered and think you “need nothing” as those in Laodicea? Do not think such conditions have not been occurring in your midst. Paul warned the church in Rome, “So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you” (Romans 11:20b–21).

Humbly pray for your church.

Humbly pray for the Church.

We earnestly want Jesus to find faith on the earth when He returns (Luke 18:8).

 

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

2Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, p. 116). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

 

wake up 2

Three weeks ago, as part of our efforts to become more fully awake to the truth of God’s Word, we looked at the validity of what is called the Four Spiritual Laws. We found in the New Testament that a person coming to the knowledge of Jesus was not a 1-2-3-4 step, verse-by-verse-proof process. Were verses quoted in those salvation accounts about a person’s sin? Verses about how people were separated from God, and that He wants them to have abundant lives? No. People came to the Lord in different ways and many times through miraculous occurrences. Repentance, however, was an essential ingredient in all cases. Sin was a given.

The aspect of the Four Spiritual Laws I’d like to look at with you in this article is this claim: God has wonderful plan for your life.

Is that true?

Well, if that means God’s heavenly kingdom and eternity, certainly.

If it means a long life full of effective ministry, success, and prosperity…not so much.

Did God have a wonderful plan for Stephen’s life? After a short, active, powerful ministry, this happened:

Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out,  “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:58–60).1

Did God have a wonderful plan for Simeon’s life? He was a righteous and devout man and, like very few in Israel, the Lord told him about Jesus before He ever performed a miracle or spoke one word. However, he shows up only once in the New Testament, does not appear again, and may have died shortly after he took the baby Jesus in his arms.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:25–32).

Did God have a wonderful plan for the man who was born blind? Would you sign up for this?

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1–3).

Isn’t this God-displaying-His-works true of all those whom Jesus healed? The lame, the deaf, the paralytics?

How about Christians that you may know, those who have suffered and perhaps died from cancer, those who are in constant physical pain, or who die at an early age in accidents? Did God have a wonderful plan for their lives?

I have little doubt that Mr. Bright had good intentions in writing the Four Spiritual Laws. But here is the truth of God’s plan for your life:

The glorious God Almighty alone is the plan for your life.

He alone is your purpose. He alone is your salvation. He alone is your life. Your truth. Your way to His kingdom.

But, you may reply, “I don’t know how to do this. How am I to know Him? To receive salvation?”

Exactly.

I cannot fix that for you.

And He will not supply a step-by-step plan for you.

Why?

You must seek Him. Seek Him for salvation. Abide in him. Know Him.

And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23–24).

Jesus said, “Strive.”

The Greek word is agōnízomai.

The definition from Zodhiates’ Complete Word Study Dictionary:

ἀγωνίζομαι agōnízomai; fut. agonísomai, mid. deponent from agṓn (73), conflict. To contend for victory in the public games (1 Cor. 9:25). It generally came to mean to fight, wrestle (John 18:36). Figuratively, it is the task of faith in persevering amid temptation and opposition (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7). It also came to mean to take pains, to wrestle as in an award contest, straining every nerve to the uttermost towards the goal (Luke 13:24 [cf. 1 Cor. 9:25; Phil. 3:12ff.; Heb. 4:1]). Special pains and toil (Col. 1:29; Col. 4:12). Implies hindrances in the development of the Christian life. 2

I encourage you to reject the easy, seemingly logical 1-2-3-4 way to salvation, the easy, unstriving prayer. Strap up, strap in, and seek the most wonderful God possible—the only God possible.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers

 

 

 

 

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When I was writing The God We Do Not Know, I had a wonderful time working through the chapter, The God Who Is Perfect. It was fantastic to think about how God is perfect. His works. His judgments. His thoughts. His sacrifice. So, this thought buzzed through my mind a couple of days ago:

God’s weakness is perfect.

So, it looks like I’m still waking up.

You and I know how the world works. By means of power. Wealth. Influence. Physical strength. Military strength. All these at once or in some combination. It has been thus since Cain used a rock to murder his brother. But weakness in the world? It doesn’t have any power at all. It is those without power who are usually at the mercy of those who possess it. Therefore, they are usually the ones who suffer when power moves its hand. However, power can be used for good as well as evil purposes. Time and space limit us from exploring this topic in any depth, but it doesn’t require an abundance of thought to understand how employers, families, governments, military, and police, to name a few, can use their powers either negatively or positively.

The Lord God Almighty, the Creator of all things, is the apex power among all others. No weaknesses or flaws exist which would enable another power to overcome Him. We see the magnificent use of this power in creation, or at least we should. One day, we will see how the greatest power in the universe exercises His incomparable strength to establish His righteous throne and perform ultimate good forever.

Regardless of what people believe about the Lord and His acts, He cares not at all and is not the least intimidated by human power in any of its manifestations.

“The kings of the earth establish themselves, and the rulers conspire together against Yahweh and his anointed: ‘Let us tear off their bonds, and cast their cords from us!’ He who sits enthroned in the heavens laughs. The Lord derides them. Then he speaks to them in his wrath, and in his fury he terrifies them: ‘But as for me, I have set my king on Zion, my holy mountain’” (Psalm 2:2–6)1

Paraphrase:

“We, the powerful leaders of the nations of the earth, have no need of You, God Almighty, or Your so-called anointed Messiah. We, together, reject You, Your outdated, constricting law, and Your supposed sovereignty. We don’t need you and never will.” The Lord God who created all things laughs and holds these power holders in derision. He mocks them. He terrifies them by His acts. “I—not you—have set My Ruler over all things upon the  mountain. Your claims to power mean nothing. I am the One who brought you to power and gave you the authority about which you boast. I am the One who will bring you down from that power and authority. Your nations are nothing—less than nothing.”

However, in mind-boggling contrast, He accomplished His most significant act in a way that no one anticipated.

Through weakness.

That weakness was perfect; perfect because it included all of humankind and all of creation. Perfect because He performed it by means of the weakest act possible known among mortals:

He died.

However, we need no reminder, do we, that the King of the Universe was born a helpless baby.

In addition, He emptied Himself. He, the Upholder and Sustainer of all things by His power, became a servant.

In His incarnate time on earth, He became least of all creation.

Thus, we read from Paul, writing as he was led by the Holy Spirit:

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).2

What is foolish? Dying to accomplish something. That foolishness is wiser than the wisest thing man can do.

What is weak? Dying. No weaker act is possible. The weakest thing God can do is stronger than the strongest thing man can do.

So, let us consider the Lord’s answer to Paul, when he prayed for deliverance from infirmity:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9). 3

Let’s think about this for a moment. Let’s think about what these verses mean regarding, not only how the world thinks—because this is unthinkable to the world—but to how we in the Church think. We may well discover little difference between the world and the Church. Why? Because we in the Church cannot accept that anything at all can be done by weakness. We can only accept that we must accomplish change through strength of effort and expenditure of human resources in order to succeed. It must be effective and thus verifiable and countable. Remember, however, that His power is made perfect in weakness. He did not say that His power was made perfect through human effort and strength, human wealth, and human power.

So, we should ask, “How does death, how does weakness, accomplish anything that is effective, verifiable, and countable? How is weakness world changing?”

If you are a Christian, I encourage you to jettison the you-must-be-a-world-changer meme of the Church. I encourage you think how God gets things done without the agencies of human power and effort.

 

1Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

2The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

3Ibid.

Thanks to Doragoon for the gif.

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The message above has been God’s message to me for the last twenty years or so. It may have been longer than that, but perhaps I just wasn’t able to hear. I am too often a lazy, la-tee-dah Christian. Regardless, I will give thanks to the Lord for enabling me to hear, to search, to wake up to His words. Not that I have in any way got all of this Christian walk figured out. God is so full of wonder and lovely complexity, while I want to put Him in a nice, figure-out-able box.

For example, how many times have I read the Book of Revelation? Or Jeremiah? I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t been counting. Quite a few is the best I can do. So, a couple of mornings ago, I read this in Jeremiah:

Then the LORD said to me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! 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 15:1–2). 1

God is an immensely challenging God. Jeremiah says that the Lord told me to send you, Judah, out of His sight. The people say, “Where?” The Lord says, (paraphrasing), “Oh, to Pestilence Town. Just down the road there.” And Swordville. “Turn right at the next road.” And to Captivity Heights. “Just up the hill.”

Oh my.

The Lord of all things had decided in His wisdom and justice and love that judgment was necessary for His people, Judah. The decision was final. If you’re destined to plague, then you will get sick and possibly die. If you’re destined for famine, you will go hungry and perhaps starve to death. If you are destined to be captured, an enemy will come and take you and your family from your home and your country to another place all together, where the language is not yours and the culture is radically different.

So, who cares? That was a long time ago. Judah worshiped idols and was even worse than the Northern Kingdom, Israel. Sure. They deserved it.

Well, read this about a time that is yet to come:

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 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 13:5–10).

These are not happy words for Christian believers. But the situation in Revelation is the reverse of that in Jeremiah. In Jeremiah, the cause of the attacks from God were sin and apostasy. In Revelation, the attacks will be for faithfulness.

Is this surprising? Well, it is to me. However, let’s think about this a bit deeper. Paul, in the beautiful outpouring of his heart concerning his desire to know Jesus, wrote, “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10–11).

Share in Jesus’ sufferings? Become like Him in His death?

My first response? Um, is there another way to become like Jesus, like attending church services, praying, and reading the Bible? My second response: Lord, help me. And help the saints. Will I be able to say, with the prophet,

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

I do not know. I do not know what I will do when what God allowed to happen to Habakkuk, a faithful man, may happen to me, a man who is likewise endeavoring, with other believers, to be faithful.

Your thoughts and Your ways, Lord, are higher than mine. Be merciful.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

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For much too long in my Christian life, I was somewhat asleep to many spiritual truths. For the last two decades or so, the Lord has been trying to wake me up to them.

In the mid-1960s, Bill Bright introduced what is called the Four Spiritual Laws.

  1. God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life (John 3:16; 10:10).
  2. Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore, he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life (Romans 3:23; 6:23).
  3. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for man’s sin. Through him you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians. 15:3-6; John 14:6).
  4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives (John 1:12; 3:1-8; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 3:20).

The Four Spiritual Laws is based on the truth of Scripture (except for Revelation 3:20, which is problematic—it was spoken to a church), and if one reads these verses, they will discover the truth of man’s condition and God’s redemptive plan to save us from sin by grace and faith. It is true that the Lord requires belief in Jesus and repentance from our sinful way of life. It is a tight, orderly way of explaining God’s saving work, and it appeals to our logical, Western way of thinking. The problem is, I cannot think of any biblical examples where anyone came to know Jesus or the love of God using these organized 1-2-3-4 laws.

I am willing to be corrected.

It appears to me, as I read the New Testament, that people coming to know Jesus and His salvation is not so structured and methodical.

Consider the case of the tax collector Zacchaeus. Jesus invited Himself over to his house, and Zacchaeus said, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8).1

To which Jesus replied, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9–10).

Did Jesus tell this man to repent? It’s not in the text, but it’s implied because Zacchaeus’ encounter with God Incarnate convinced the traitorous, greedy man to give up his avarice. Thus, Jesus said that salvation came “to this house.” Do you see any 1-2-3-4 steps there? Do you see any well-organized way that the Lord led this man to come to salvation?

How about the woman at the well? Please read the account of this adulteress in the fourth chapter of John and tell me where Jesus tells her directly to repent of her sins. After a brief discussion about her life, the details of which Jesus knew intimately, and her religion in contrast to His, she said, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things” (John 4:25).

To which Jesus replied, stunningly and beautifully, “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:26).

The result? “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word” (John 4:39–41).

Did this woman repent? Yes. It is clearly implied. Was she convicted of her sin? That is implied, was well.

How about Peter’s message at Pentecost? After a crowd gathered because people were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke with tongues, Peter preached a message about Jesus, which included repentance. Then, when the men were “cut to the heart,” they asked Peter what they should do. “Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:38–41).

Some may argue that the gospel was not fully organized at the time of these events. Point taken. Nevertheless, people did come to know the Lord Jesus as Savior without that organization. And what shall we do with Paul before King Agrippa? Was the gospel not organized then? After Paul told the king the account of his conversion, he did not then offer Four Spiritual Laws in a last hopeful attempt to bring this man to the saving knowledge of Jesus:

“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:19–23).

People coming to know the Lord Jesus, according to Scripture, is not orderly, neat, and tidy. I urge you to reject plans and prayers that attempt to make it that way. More on the dangers of this systematic system of salvation next week.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

 

 

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God bends things. He makes things crooked.

I don’t want to mess your day up too much, but since I must deal with certain truths, I thought I may as well include you on this, um, unique journey with God that you and I are on. This is the first passage we shall consider:

“Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (Ecclesiastes 7:13–14). 1

The word “crooked,” עָוַת, has a negative meaning in the Old Testament except in a very few places like this one from Ecclesiastes 12:1–3: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed…”

I don’t know why the translators of the ESV and NIV rendered עָוַת as “crooked,” instead of “bent,” as the NET Bible and the NASB do, but I’m not sure it affects how we are to view this turning-our-world-upside-down text.

God bends things, and we cannot make them straight.

As mom used to say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

Many of us Christians think that God does only good things according to what we consider good, in our natural understanding. Therefore, He would never cause nor allow a hurricane, a catastrophe, or a disaster to bend things, to make things negative and difficult for us. He is, after all, a God of love. And love would not behave in this way.

So, let me say this straight up: Such a view of God in not biblical. Strum through these passages and let’s see if we can hear what may be a sour tune from our perspective:

“I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

“Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6).

In spite of these plain truths, however, I will tell you with sadness that many Christians reject such passages, saying “That’s the Old Testament. Things are different in the New Testament.”

Well, then what should we Christians do with Ananias and Sapphira? We can read about it in Acts 5:1-10, which is, um, in the New Testament. The Lord took their lives because of their deceit. And here’s what happened soon after that incident:

“And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them” (Acts 5:11–15).

Good, wondrous, miraculous things happened after God took the lives of two believers?

Let’s consider this horrific event in the New Testament:

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Rama, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more’” (Matthew 2:16–18).

The Lord God knew of this event and even spoke through Jeremiah about it. Why didn’t He prevent it?

Look at this Psalm, which refers to Jesus:

“He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth” (Psalm 110:6). This verse surely refers to the end of all things, when Jesus—yes, Jesus—kills people:

“And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh” (Revelation 19:20–21).

Is God good?

Yes.

Is He love?

Yes.

Is He just?

Yes.

Is He sovereign?

Yes.

Is He a God who only does good things according to our natural understanding?

No, He is not. He bends things and makes them crooked. He brings calamity and disaster. He brings the earthly existence of people to an end. All these things are done in love, done in goodness, done in holiness, done in supremacy. We Christians must deal with our God in light of these truths.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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The title to this post is misleading. It’s a bit of click bait because there is no such thing as wow humility. It’s an oxymoron, right?

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