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This article concerns eternity.

Saints reigning in the heavenly kingdom.

And humility.

At the end of the Book of Revelation, we see a partial view of heaven’s eternal reality. The sun and moon no longer exist. Jesus has made all things new. “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).1 We read this and think, “Hmm. Wow,” but give it very little further thought. I understand why, because comparatively little is written in Scripture about saints reigning. None of the New Testament writers spend much time teaching about Christians ruling in the God’s kingdom. But it shows up once is a while, and since it is one of the rare statements about the state of saints in eternity, it is a worthwhile topic to consider, since our lives here are as temporary as one beat of a humingbird’s wing and our lives in eternity are, well, eternal.

Other passages come quickly to mind concerning our participation as rulers in God’s kingdom, and some are clearer than others. For instance, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). The problem we face with this sentence, however, is not its clarity. It’s that it is so well known that we pass over it. It’s a beautiful sentence placed on coffee mugs and adorned with flowers. Christians should be meek. It’s a good thing, apparently, somehow. Let’s move on. However, within both passages above rests an interesting, seemingly contradictory, conundrum. How can one be meek and reign someday with Jesus? How can one be meek and be a king? The answer lies within the question. One will be given the earth and rulership because he or she is meek.

Clear as mud?

So, what does it mean to be meek as a Christian? That one must be soft-spoken and non-confrontational? Not necessarily. Sometimes strongly raising one’s voice for a righteous reason is necessary, such as confronting misleading error, injustice, or disastrous sin. But meekness means, at its center, that one has surrendered—in faith—to the One who is Master, Lord, and King.

However, the Lord adds to meekness another vital trait in His kingdom mix: Endurance. We must not isolate endurance from humility, because humility is required for one to persevere. Perseverance requires bowing the knee to a sovereign God who is the great driver of your history as well as that of the world. He is sovereign. You are not. He is in control of circumstances and situations. You are not. You must yield to that truth, that reality. Here is an interesting scripture to contemplate regarding the need for perseverance to enter the Kingdom:

In Acts 14:21–22, Luke wrote: “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Continuing faithfully in tribulation requires humbling oneself to the will of God, regardless of how distressing conditions are.

Thus, those who are meek, who bow to God’s sovereignty, will live in an eternal kingdom where this will be one of their tasks: “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3a).

Who will inherit the earth? Who will reign with Jesus?

The meek. The one who humbly concedes control to the only one who is in control. That is how we learn to reign like kings.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

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Judas, one of the disciples of Jesus, is universally condemned as a traitor. The gospel writers made this clear. Jesus allowed this betrayal, even encouraged it. But what was going on in Judas’ heart and head during the Lord’s ministry?

Some background.

“And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor. And they scolded her’” (Mark 14:3–5).1 Jesus defended this woman, saying she had anointed Him for his burial.

Here’s what happened next:

“Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him” (Mark 14:10–11).

What was it about the woman’s act that pushed Judas over the edge to betrayal? When Mary, Lazarus’ sister, anointed the feet of Jesus with “expensive ointment,” Judas protested: “But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:4–6). Judas was a thief; but more than a thief. He was a self-centered disciple of Jesus.

Let’s look at a little more background to help us understand the realities that may have begun to affect Judas’ thinking.

The disciples rarely understood what Jesus taught. The references are many, but here is one of the more humorous ones: “Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?’” (Mark 8:14–17). Perhaps Judas wondered if he was joined to a man who spoke in terms none of the disciples could understand and asked, “Is this really a good idea? No one even understands what this man says.”

Rancor existed within the disciples about human hierarchy and greatness (Luke 9:46-48). They were also motivated by self-interest. James and John’s mother even tried to put pressure on Jesus, telling Him that He should, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Mathew 20:21b). “If James and John are attempting to raise themselves, I should, too,” he may have thought.

Peter, not to be outranked, once felt he had the right to rebuke Jesus (Matthew 16:21-23).

So, prior to his betrayal, Judas had some strange things going on in his heart. He was teetering on the outer edge of the circle of power, as he perceived it. Peter, James, and John were the clear insiders.

He was “on the outs.”

He was not only on a path of self-interest; he was on a path of exclusion from all he had given his life to. When Jesus told His disciples that Mary had anointed Him for the day of His burial, it became clear to Judas that this errant so-called Messiah really was going to go die. He realized he needed an escape plan. Perhaps he thought, “How can I gain from my years in this ministry? Since it seems inevitable that the end of this ministry is nigh, I could come out of this mess with something for myself instead of nothing; a nice sum of money while ingratiating myself with the religious powers, who will be deeply appreciative. Nothing positive lies ahead for me among this group. I’m low on the list. Time to move on and up.” Into this self-centered milieu came his adversary as well as Jesus’: Satan. “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them” (Luke 22:3–4).

Judas’ mindset made him vulnerable to Satan, who took advantage of him to meet his own self-centered end—the destruction of the Messiah.

What in the world was Judas thinking? He was thinking of the world, of earthly things, not heavenly. When Judas made his betraying choice, he discounted all that was eternal for his own earthly gain, at the cost of his soul. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:25–26a).

The time is coming when Christians will be faced with their “Judas choice.” Jesus’ ministry, His Church, will appear to fail, and we will be tempted to look out for our own self-interests. And although we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37), we hold that victorious place “through him who loved us,” not in an earthly sense. One day, we will be conquered (Revelation 13:5–7). At that time, we will be tempted to make self-centered, earthly choices and ignore the reality of eternity, when Jesus will indeed make us more than conquerors through Him.

Lord, help us remember the eternal tragedy of Judas’ betrayal.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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My, oh my, love is difficult. I don’t mean to say that it is difficult for the Lord. He’s God, after all, and is the perfect personification of love. Although nothing is too hard for Him, His love for us did require the humiliation and offering of Himself in painful punishment and sacrifice. We will not understand the fullness of that sacrifice until eternity.

But loving you, Christian brothers and sisters, is challenging. Sometimes your quirks and idiosyncrasies are annoying. Sometimes you are offensive. Sometimes you say and do things that are so at variance to what I believe that I don’t know how to respond. Sometimes, well, I just don’t like you very much.

Of course, you feel exactly the same about me.

This is why the Bible so frequently talks about Christians loving one another.

It’s tough.

Jesus knew that loving others would be demanding. In the well-known passage about not self-righteously judging others and not treating them like pigs, the very next thing Jesus told us is that we would need to ask for help to do just that:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7–11). 1

I understand that most of the time, this passage is not taught as an antidote for our incapacity to love adequately, but we really should read it in context. Here is the verse immediately following Jesus’ admonition to ask for help to love others. It’s called the Golden Rule:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” His thought flow in verse 12 is still addressing love for others.

Then, following, another warning about how arduous this is:

“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).

Boom. Five truths about what love demands right in a row. Don’t judge people self-righteously and do understand that you’re a sinner, too. Ask for help to do this. Treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s going to be difficult, and few will be able.

If you would like to continue reading this chapter in context, you will find that the next passage refers to knowing how to tell false prophets from true: their fruit. Think that fruit would include love? Of course. Inwardly, false prophets are “ravening wolves.” Does that sound like love to you?

All the disciples who wrote in Scripture addressed the topic of Christians loving Christians. John, in his first letter, wrote words that challenge our Christian walk to the core:

“By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14).

So, if you don’t love your brother, you’re not of God, don’t know God, and abiding in death.

All love, sooner or later, will require sacrifice.

I recommend we follow Jesus’ admonition to plead for help in loving others. That’s what I do.

A lot.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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In this week’s article, I would like to lay out before the Christian reader a way of thinking about Jesus that has benefited me greatly. It is biblical, easy to do, and requires just a little practice. Contemporary usage might call this a “life hack,” but that rendering of a wondrous truth about Jesus seems misleading and ignoble to me. So, here is my biblical suggestion. When you read or think about Jesus, simply add this fact: He is not only Savior, Redeemer, and Lord, He is the Creator of the universe. The physics of it. The energy of it. The gravity and mass of it. Electromagnetism. Time. All the bosons and leptons. All the quarks: up, down, charm, strange, and the rest. The dark energy and dark matter that no one seems to know anything about. He created everything; simply everything that exists. A very clear passage from Scripture lays out why we can think in this way:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15–17).1

Here are some examples.

When you consider the Nativity account, think, “That was the Creator of the universe embodied in a helpless baby.”

When you read about Jesus being baptized by John Baptist, bear this in mind: “The Creator of everything humbled Himself in order to be baptized that day by a person He had created.”

When you read that Jesus healed people, think, “The One who holds everything together in the universe by His power healed that person.”

When you read about how Jesus fed the four and five thousand, add this: “The One who created all that exists in less than one second, fed those people.”

To pause a moment, we could include this verse, as well:

“All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).

When you read that Jesus healed the blind and the deaf, think, “The One who made all things, things that we still cannot comprehend, restored the eyes and ears of those unfortunate people by His compassion and unfathomable power.”

When you read the account of how He changed water into wine, reflect on this: “Yes. That would have been very easy for Him to do. He created water. He created grapes. He created the process of fermentation.”

Finally, let’s look at this passage from Hebrews:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:1–3a).

When you read about when He walked on the sea and stilled the storm, think, “Of course. He’s the One who created the world. He was exhibiting His incomprehensible power over its material substance. And He was restraining Himself.” Yes. Restraining. Remember, He emptied Himself and did not think that equality with God was something He should grasp (Philippians 2:5–7).

So, when you read that Pilate’s soldiers flogged and then crucified Him, take this truth into account: “The Lord God Almighty, the King and Creator of  and who upholds the universe by the word of His power was being mocked, whipped, and killed by the men whom He created.”

All hail the power, love, and wonder of Jesus’ name. Let angels and saints prostrate fall. Let every kindred, every tribe on this celestial ball to Him all majesty ascribe. He is crowned Lord of all.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

 

 

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In last week’s article, we looked at Jesus’ command not to call anyone father or teacher. The reason, Jesus said, was because we have a Father who provides all that we need both physically and spiritually and have Christ, the Suffering Servant, for our teacher. If we give place to men and women to take on these roles, we end up exalting them, in a measure, to the place of God. We should look to no man or woman for our sufficiency in anything as if we needed their knowledge and vitality for our spiritual lives. Men and women who get exalted to such places, Jesus said, do things to be seen by others and love the best seats in meeting places. From such high places, they are under pressure to maintain them. If you are in a fellowship with leaders who behave this way, Jesus has told you to do as they say but not as they do.

This week, we are going to study the implications of a very difficult word from Jesus. “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).1 Jesus reiterates this harsh reality at least two other times. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18–19). “And I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).

Oh, how I like to be liked and have friends. I am not fond of this truth. But I cannot deny Jesus’ words. I cannot deny His truth.

It isn’t wrong to have friends, but how can we do that and yet be hated by the world? What do we do with this tendency to want “all people to speak well” of us?

I think the answer begins with understanding what true friendship—the truest and most steadfast friendship—is: the friendship which Jesus offers. Jesus made this challenging statement in John: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). It is challenging because friends do not place this stipulation on each other, that one must do what the other commands if they are to remain friends. If you read this blog regularly, you may know what I will write next. Being a friend of Jesus is manifestly different than being a friend to a college buddy. The truth is that we do not know how to be friends with the Creator of the universe. He must teach us how. If we keep His commands, we will learn to be His friends.

Friends with the One who created the universe. Sounds like an amazing, eternal friendship, doesn’t it?

We could begin to solve the conundrum of how to have earthly friends yet realize that many will hate us with this:

Have friends but do not compromise Jesus’ commands.

To have all people speak well of us can only happen if we compromise God’s truth and thus deny friendship with Jesus. Christians are to learn how to have friends yet not sin like this. Let me launch out by confessing that this unenviable trait of compromise seems to run strongly in me. I think it has kept me from saying strong words about God at times. I say, “I think,” because often I honestly don’t know if it is me compromising or following the Holy Spirit’s leading to keep my mouth shut. It has been a lifelong discernment issue. I like interesting conversations and knowing about people’s lives and would rather those conversations continue. I do not think this is wrong. Nevertheless, I also must confess that I am repulsed by the reality that I could be hated but drawn to the idea that people would speak well of me. And that’s where the sinful fault lies. Right there. My need to be liked may prevent me from obeying Jesus’ commands and even cause me to deny Him. I realize how far I am from accepting this you-will-be-hated truth and being a faithful friend of Jesus. If this is you too, I know the Lord is full of grace and merciful and will love me and you as we endeavor to do this. Let’s pray for each other.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

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A few times in my life—not many—I have felt a bit envious when a Christian told me that a particular believer is his or her spiritual son or daughter. I thought that would be such a fulfilling relationship to have. Envy is a sin, but my sin meter was less finely tuned in those days; and somehow it seemed like a good envy to have. The problem with my desire to have a spiritual son was that it placed me in direct conflict with how Jesus thinks about such relationships.

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:6–12).

Jesus’ command about fathers is succinct, and the reason given is simple: You have one Father. He’s in heaven, by the way, which means He is sovereign over all things, can do all things, and is supremely adequate for all your needs, both physical and spiritual. People are never to be considered replacements for that sufficiency. So, we should tell those who are looking for a spiritual father to read this passage in Matthew and think on it.

Jesus is not saying we shouldn’t call our biological fathers, father. What Jesus is commanding relates to a spiritual and religious hierarchy that requires a person to regard it as a necessity for spiritual life. And when Paul told the Corinthians that he was their spiritual father, he was not advocating to be the all-sufficient source of their spiritual lives. He said this because he was the first man to bring them into the truth of the gospel and they should therefore imitate him (1 Corinthians 4:15–16). He had made it clear earlier in that letter how he was their servant and “nothing.”

Secondly, I will admit that I have been gratified through the years when people have told me that I’m a good teacher. I doubt my first thought was, “All good things you have heard from me came from Him.” Is there a desire in me to be the necessary truth-teller to my listeners? Well, everybody needs to be needed. Sinful again. Jesus commands here that we are not to call anyone teacher. Why? Because “you are all brothers,” and Christ Himself is our teacher. He is our essential truth-teller. No one else is. If we pause a bit to think about why Jesus used “Christ” here, I think we will understand that He is referring to Isaiah 53, where Christ is the Suffering Servant. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11). The greatest among them, Jesus taught, is their suffering servant, not their “father” or “teacher.” Jesus is telling us that no one is to be exalted or lifted up over another. He knew the dangers of that exaltation well, since He knew the nature of mankind and its leaders, the kings of Israel and Judah, and those He addressed in the verses that precede His commands about fathers and teachers:

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others (Matthew 23:2–7).

The issues Jesus addresses here concerning the scribes and Pharisees help us understand His prohibitions about calling others fathers and teachers. Those prohibitions have to do with how the elevation to those positions put leaders in danger of falling into hypocrisy and pride. Power and status are heady intoxicants. All Christian pastors, leaders, and mentors should take heed and consider themselves vulnerable to such dangers. Are they called great teachers? Do they like to sit in the places of honor? Do they promote the ministries of their churches so they will “be seen by others”?

To the Christian reader, I repeat Jesus’ admonition. Do not call any man your spiritual father or teacher. You are all brothers. And if leaders and pastors promote their ministries, do what Jesus commands. Do what they tell you but do not do the works they do.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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In last week’s blog, we looked at the truth that the Lord was more interested in Paul’s spiritual condition than his physical discomfort. In order to subdue Paul’s conceit, He allowed his “thorn in the flesh” to remain. God’s grace was sufficient for Paul’s life. That understanding of His grace was all Paul needed to proceed with his life and continue to engage in his battle with self-boasting.

This week, we are going to look at another time when Jesus purposefully allowed His disciples to be uncomfortable.

A little background.

Jesus had just finished feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus had just shown again His power over material substance in order to care for those in need. Here’s what happened next:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’ (Matthew 14:22–33).1

Jesus “made” the disciples get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake and then proceeded to climb a mountain and pray. He knew that the disciples would encounter a storm, so it is evident that He waited for this to happen. Why?

After a time—we don’t know how long—Jesus came down the mountain and walked to His disciples on the sea who had been struggling for some time in those troubled waters. When they thought He was a ghost, Jesus assured them that it was He and that they shouldn’t be afraid. Peter, for reasons unknown, (Perhaps to prove beyond doubt that this maybe-ghost was really who He said He was?), said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” Jesus replied. But something hindered Peter from completing his walk on the water to Jesus, and that something was a hard, frightening dose of reality. The wind was strong against Him. He cried out for rescue, and Jesus grabbed him out of the water, and they walked together back to the boat. Jesus then asked a question which Peter did not answer, and which you and I perhaps may not have answered as well: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” As soon as they got into the boat, the wind ceased. This is a perfect jewel on top of this story, an event that Jesus clearly caused to teach Peter and us a lesson.

But what lesson?

Jesus had just evidenced His power over the material stuff of the earth by feeding five thousand people with a few fish and loaves of bread. He showed that power here again when the wind ceased. He had done this before in Matthew 8:23-27. Is it a stretch to think that Jesus expected Peter, who had just seen those power-over-nature events, as well as others, to continue to believe that He had all of this under control? So, the question, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt” is, obviously, superbly legitimate. (As if Jesus would ever ask a question that was not.)

Jesus set all this up to teach Peter and us a lesson. A lesson not only about His absolute control over all things earthly and material—He created it all, by the way, so it makes sense He could control it—but also to show us our faith problem. I have no doubt whatsoever, if I was on top of the water in the middle of a storm with Jesus next to me, that if a strong wind blew against me, I would be frightened. I would doubt. Thus, my answer to Jesus’ question, “Why did you doubt?” is, “The circumstances overwhelmed me, overwhelmed whatever faith was in operation at that time. I was scared to death.”

Jesus purposed to make Peter and the other disciples uncomfortable to show them and us how puny our faith can be. How much in need of His help we are, and how He will help us, in spite of our lack of faith. How much we, like Peter, need to cry out for assistance when circumstances batter us like an overwhelming wind storm. Will He make us uncomfortable to do that? It appears to be the case, and we should rejoice. It’s a good thing to see how limited we are, and how unlimited God is, don’t you think? The disciples, after the wind ceased said, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Amen.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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How concerned is the Christian God with your discomfort?

Truthfully, not very much. He is clearly not as bothered with it as we are.

God’s seeming lack of concern may cause Christians to doubt His love and care. “What possible reason could there be for this kind of trouble? Please don’t tell me that ‘God has a plan!’ That’s insulting!” However understandable it may be that discomfort may cause us to doubt His love, we followers of Jesus are to believe that the Lord truly does love us in spite of what may indeed be uncomfortable circumstances.

Let’s consider Paul’s plight.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).1

When we are in some similar distress, our response to this passage may be, “That’s nice that God is gracious toward me. But I really need help! This hurts! This is crushing me!”

It’s here that believers are to don their faith and truth war-gear. Our present circumstances and the way we humanly think must be subsumed under the inviolable truth about the nature of God.

Let’s think about Paul for a moment. Not only was he given this “surpassing” great revelation, the magnitude of which, as far as we know, had been given to only a select number of believers, but Paul had also been given thorough insight into the grace of God like no one else. As far as we know, he had a ministry of starting and caring for churches that no other apostle did. Even though Paul made it clear in the first chapters of 1 Corinthians that he was a servant and “not anything,” the Lord told him that he needed this thorn to batter him so he wouldn’t be lifted up with conceit. It’s not difficult to imagine that Paul would have been tempted in this way.

The Lord cared more about Paul’s upright walk with Him than He was with his uncomfortable harassment. God hates pride. That discomfort was Paul’s reminder that he should not be conceited about what God had revealed to him. It was not because he was such a special and amazing man, but for one reason alone: His grace. So, Paul’s response was noble. He took the negative answer to his prayer for deliverance and incorporated it into his life. He gave in. He submitted to God’s word and will. He was willing to be buffeted so that he would know that God’s grace was one of the essentials of his life.

All that we have by way of provision—breath, heartbeat, money, food, employment, water, and all that we enjoy and possess—is from the Lord alone. All our natural as well as spiritual gifts are from the Lord alone. All that we have of life; yes, eternal life, and truth is from the Lord alone. Our righteousness and sonship, our relationship with him, are from the Lord alone. We have these things only because of His grace. We deserve none of it.

That’s it. That’s the sum of it. The Lord, in spite of difficulties, discomforts, and harassments from Satan, wants us to believe that grace alone—eternal grace alone—is sufficient for us. So, I encourage all Christian readers here to be strong in their faith regarding the Lord and this truth. I encourage them to take on an eternal perspective in their trials. All eternity is before us, and I have no doubt that we will count these difficulties and discomforts as nothing in the reality of that eternity.

 

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

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In this article, I would like to look with you at the following passage from the Book of Revelation:

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:10–11).1

Three questions popped into my head the other day about this passage. “How did these persecuted believers overcome the accuser—the devil—by the blood of the Lamb? How did the word of their testimony overcome him? And how is all of that connected to not loving their lives even unto death?”

Think carefully about how you will answer. The response, “They overcame by the blood of the Lamb because Jesus died on the cross, and they were forgiven,” is true enough, but much like the Sunday School student who knew the right answer to every question the teacher asked was, “Jesus.”

To begin, it is important to say that the Christians mentioned in the Revelation 12 passage did not conquer the devil in the natural sense of winning and conquering—many of them died. We in the evangelical church in the United States have been infected with the notion that we should always succeed in the natural way of things. We must not be perceived as being weakened or diminished in this world. Thus, we are blind to such verses as these:

“For when I am weak, then I am strong” (1 Corinthians 12:10b.)

The Lord’s power “is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a).

Paul did not boast about how powerful he was here. He was weak, he admitted it, and he rejoiced in it. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9b).

“…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).

Paul desired to share in Jesus’ sufferings. Does that sound like overcoming the devil to our Western minds?

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). This last verse clearly exposes our non-eternal, this-world-is-all-there-is way of thinking. The eternal kingdom of God will include humble and poor-in-spirit believers reigning on the earth, not here and now in the way we think in this world about reigning.

Our contemporary, earth-centered notions of winning and success over the devil are not present in Revelation 12. These Christians did not conquer him through declaring victory—only a confession of weakness and humility in light of what their Savior had accomplished for them. They took no credit whatsoever. Death and eternity were right there in front of these Christians, and they had to face them. These followers of Jesus overcame the devil because—he was accusing them, remember—by believing that their sins had been forgiven, and they were washed in Jesus’ blood; they were holy ones, saints, spotless ones, without blemish, unquestionably qualified to stand without accusation in God’s presence and the Judgment Seat of Christ through absolutely no merit of their own.

This is how they overcame their accuser.

So, to the second question. How did the word of their testimony overcome the devil?

These believers had no doubt they were Christians by grace alone. They could recount their life-saving testimonies about a forgiving God and how unworthy they were. They knew their eternal destination had been freely given and rejoiced in it.

Finally, this is also how they were able to love “not their lives unto death.” They knew that by the Lord’s grace they had an eternal destination. I should emphasize, albeit belatedly, that they did not love their lives. This is the opposite of what our culture and sometimes our churches, shout daily. They sought a glorious city made without hands, eternal in the heavens, whose builder and maker is God (2 Corinthians 5:1; Hebrews 11:10).

This is overcoming by the blood of the Lamb.

May we learn from them what true overcoming is.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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Christians, why do you want to stop sinning? This is an appropriate, vital question to ask ourselves. How would you answer? One of these?

I know it’s wrong. It’s against God’s law.

I don’t want to do something that is destructive to me and others.

I don’t want to do something foolish or stupid.

I’ll feel guilty afterwards.

These are all good answers in their way, but they are small stars within a constellation in which one star shines far brighter than all the others. Let’s begin by considering these interesting words from Jesus: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).1

Have you ever had one of your friends demand this of you? No, of course not; otherwise you would not be friends. However, a rather large gulf exists between your friends and the Creator of the Universe. So, what does Jesus mean? Underlying the Savior’s words is this uncomfortable truth: We do not know how to be friends with Jesus. He must tell us how to do so. In other words, if we do what He commands, we will learn how to be friends with the King of all things. He will teach us, by the Holy Spirit. He will open our eyes to true, eternal friendship. To maintain that relationship, we must obey His commands. So, the reason we want to stop sinning is because we want to be friends with the Creator of all things.

Not a bad idea, wouldn’t you agree?

But let us look a little more into why Jesus said we should not sin. He also said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

So, we see that our primary motivator—our guiding star—for why we should not sin is because we love Jesus. If obeying God’s law becomes primary, if all we do is think upon law and act upon law, love takes a hike. We are in danger of becoming legalists and viewing negatively others who don’t keep God’s law as we presume we do. We are sinfully tempted to condemn believers for being lawbreakers and thus feel superior to them. It is wiser to view others—and ourselves—as Christians who are endeavoring to grow in their ability to become Jesus’ friends and loving Him. It is a long road, it seems, for us to come to the place where we love Him more than our sins.

A life-long road.

Let’s admit that none of us are very good at loving Jesus and keeping His commandments. We will fail. We will repent and find forgiveness and mercy. We will fail again. We will try again. However, our efforts must be more than repentance. We must ask Him for the love to love Him. We do not adequately possess it. If you think you do, then you are proud.

We should ask for the love to love others, too, lawbreakers that we are, and keep this parable in mind:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10–14).

Christians, let’s pray that both we and our fellow believers will desire friendship with Jesus and love Him more than we love our sins and thus keeping His commands.

It’s a wonderful journey, isn’t it? Friends with the God of all creation!

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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