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I happened to reconnect with an old friend the other day, who attended the last church at which I was senior pastor. We spent quite a bit of time catching up, and during that conversation, he told me about his conversion.

Mark (not his real name), was a very violent man in high school. He not only wanted to hurt people—which he did—he wanted to kill them, which, thankfully, he didn’t. After a friend suggested that Mark talk with his pastor, he gave his life to Jesus. Mark is not a complex sort of fellow. Things are black and white for him. He confessed to the pastor that he got angry very easily, and when he did, he wanted to punch people in the face. The pastor told him that he didn’t need to fight because the Lord would protect him. That was a straightforward truth to this new believer, so he left trusting that the Lord would do just that.

One day shortly thereafter, one of Mark’s old nemeses started an altercation in the school’s hallway and shoved Mark against a locker. Mark reacted in anger, but remembering what the pastor had told him, put his hands in his pockets. Mark’s adversary threatened to punch him in the mouth. Mark said, “Go ahead. The Lord will protect me.” Mark told me he closed his eyes, so he wouldn’t see what was about to happen. Suddenly he heard a loud bang against the locker behind him, and his enemy started yelling in pain. “Ow! I broke my wrist!” He fell to his knees and started crying.

He had broken his wrist.

Afterward, the principal questioned Mark. “What happened?” Mark told him that he didn’t fight. The principal was skeptical, since he knew his history. However, he told the principal that he didn’t fight because he knew the Lord would protect him. “I knew the Lord would do this. Do you?”

Apparently, that ended the conversation; at least that’s where Mark ended it.

What shall we do with this account of responding nonviolently to a physical attack while trusting the Lord?

Great question. I think the issue of defending oneself is relatively easy to answer. If you want to deny yourself the impulse to defend yourself and trust solely in the Lord, you are free to do so. As you may be aware, Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38–42).1 It seems clear Jesus is talking strongly about humility and self-denial. In addition, we know that many Christians throughout the centuries and even now have not resisted and been martyred.

However, the issue of defending others under attack is a bit trickier. The first biblical instance that comes to mind is Peter cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant when a small force came to capture his master. Jesus told him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Doesn’t that prove that we shouldn’t defend others? Well, I hold that this case is unique. I’m unsure of Peter’s motive. Was he fighting to defend someone who was defenseless or protecting someone whom he thought was soon to launch the kingdom of God by force—which is the only political power Peter understood.

I am certain I could not simply stand by and watch my wife, daughter, grandchildren, or any other weaker person be raped or beaten. I just couldn’t do it. If it is truly sinful (I’m not sure it is), I would have to intervene and ask for forgiveness later. The only reason I would not step in would be because the Lord had clearly told me not to.

Did Jesus protect my old friend, Mark, in a miraculous way to prove His love and reality to a graciously saved new believer? I think so. We are not promised in Scripture that the Lord will always protect us from physical harm. Scripture—the martyrdom of James and Stephen, for example—bears this out, as does reality.

Thus, what should Christians do and remain obedient to the Lord? I have no Scripture from the New Testament to back up my stance about defending others. However, I cannot shake the belief that to do so is the honorable and right thing to do. If you have a biblical truth to cause me to re-think or reinforce my position, please inform me.

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

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Have you ever seen an angel? Have you ever given a prophecy?

Some people say they have. Should I believe them?

Well, yes—unless they give further information that contradicts scriptural truth. However, if we boil it down, if I just hear or read about such an encounter without further information, it doesn’t really matter if I believe them or not. However, what I would like to discuss in this blog is another aspect of such supernatural encounters: how we view such people and how they view themselves. So, let me begin with a broadside: You saw an angel. Good. A donkey saw an angel once. I write that because I want to diminish, not what God did, but to diminish our view of the people involved in such occurrences, to urge caution about such events.

I know a wonderful, gentle Christian lady who prays a lot for people who are sick or oppressed by forces of darkness. Years ago, she prayed for a spiritually oppressed man, and he was thrown against a wall in the room. Because of this, my friend garnered a reputation for being spiritually powerful. She now had cred. This woman, thankfully, was wise enough to reject such accolades. She knows who did it, and it was not her. The Lord possesses power. We do not, unless He bestows it.

So. Back to angels.

Several people in the New Testament saw angels. Joseph, Mary, shepherds, Zechariah, the women at Jesus’ tomb after His resurrection, Peter, Philip, Cornelius, Paul, John, and, of course, Jesus. Should we exalt such people because they saw angels? No—except Jesus, of course. Why did God allow these people to see angels? Well, it appears that each angelic appearance had a purpose. The angels didn’t just show up to give these people a thrill.

Why did God choose them? We don’t know. God chooses whom He chooses. And, most of the time, it is people we would not expect—because they are nobodies.

So, what about people who give prophecies? Should I believe them?

Well, yes—unless they give further information that contradicts spiritual truth. But let me offer another broadside: You prophesied. Good. Balaam also prophesied—beautiful prophecies about Jesus. However, he was later killed for leading Israel astray (Numbers 31:8). Murderous King Saul prophesied, too (1 Samuel 19:20–24), as well as Caiaphas, one of the priests who agreed to crucify Jesus (John 11:49–52).

Devilish, deceptive thoughts and feelings sprout up like weeds among Christians when these and other supernatural events occur. We start lifting up people and struggle with lifting up ourselves, as well.

The person through whom the Lord chooses to be involved in a marvelous spiritual event must seek humility. He must reject being elevated as more spiritual or somehow better than other Christians. As for those who know about the event, they must not treat the gifted individual any differently than any other Christian. I write “gifted” in a biblical way, not a worldly way. God gives spiritual gifts. Gifts are not earned. They are freely given without merit. This not-earning truth should be evident to Christians, but all too often, we err. We lift up people for spiritual gifts, whether it’s angelic visitations, prophecies (that come to pass, of course), speakers, leaders, singers, and musicians.

I think Christians of evangelistic/Pentecostal/Charismatic bent have fallen for a worldly deception. Exalting gifted people is what the world does. Christians should not do this. God allows angelic visitations and prophecies and all manner of spiritual gifts for His own purposes, the specifics of which are largely unknown to us. He does not give them to extol individuals so they can “build churches” or “build ministries.” He does not need great churches or ministries. Jesus will build His Church. He gifts people to glorify Himself and accomplish His purposes.

And to test us.

Whom are you elevating when you praise your pastor or a Christian singer on social media? Please keep in mind that the Lord uses people of insignificance to do His wonderful works—not famous people. Who was Joseph? Mary? Who were the shepherds? The women at the tomb? Peter? Paul?

Have you ever planted a seed in the ground? You stick it in the dirt and cover it up. You water it. Then, mysteriously, a sprout appears. Did you cause that seed to sprout? Of course not. This is what Paul referred to when he wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6–7). 1

This truth should be obvious to us. It is not.

Do not boast in men.

“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:28–31).

 

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

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It is interesting living as a Christian in the United States. Better said, puzzling. Confusing.

A few examples.

Here in the United States, we often hear the Christian song Amazing Grace performed at secular funerals and other events. As most U.S. Christians are aware, the first lines of that song are, “Amazing grace. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” I wonder what is going through the minds of those non-believers when they sing such lyrics. They’re calling themselves wretches who were lost and now found? They were blind but now they see? What do these lyrics mean to them? I must assume the words have no meaning. Are they just pretty cultural poetry?

Another example. The first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 are often read during wedding ceremonies. 1 Corinthians 13 is a very well-known passage. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3). 1 Really? Speak in tongues? Tongues of angels? Many Christians, much less unbelievers, do not even believe that tongues are a legitimate Christian behavior. I just can’t imagine what goes through the minds of those who say these things. I assume that to them the words are just cultural poetry, with some kind of meaning but surely nothing literal.

I am also puzzled by the ubiquitous presence in media of Christian hymns and songs in African-American churches. The songs are wonderful, beautiful, sung by spectacular voices. They’re about Jesus. The Lord. But why are they allowed by the overwhelmingly liberal, God-denying media? I’m not sure I have ever seen the same kind of singing in the churches of other races in the United States. My answer to this puzzlement is the same: pretty cultural poetry.

And thus meaningless; meaningless in any significant way that causes us to stop and think—which is odd.

Maybe not, concerning the nature of music. We could sing any number of secular songs that have no meaning. For instance, Kesha’s stunningly sung Praying mentions God and forgiveness, but the song’s tone is defiant concerning her former lover: “And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known. I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain, oh-oh. When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name.” I don’t know if someone who had had a former lover would actually mean that he or she would bring thunder or rain upon a former lover. That’s, um, a little difficult to do. Ed Sheeran’s Castle on the Hill is a love song, well-written, but it is not different in essence from countless other love songs. One could sing it just because it’s a nice, catchy tune, but one that has no relevance to one’s life. I mean, many of us sang Hey Jude or Hotel California back in the day, songs that had no relevance to us, either. But they were fun to sing along with, right—maybe even gave us goosebumps.

Pretty cultural poetry with little meaning.

I’ve also been puzzled by the usage of this sentence. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the victims of this tragedy.” How in the world does a prayer “go out” to anyone? These words have no meaning. Why can’t the speakers simply say, “We’re praying for them?” But perhaps that has no meaning, either. I mean, if Kesha can pray for her former lover while at the same time saying that when she was done, “they won’t even know your name,” what does praying for someone mean?

So. My conclusion? I’m not entirely sure, but please allow me at least to proffer an insight. And a fear. My fear is that Christian verbiage in the culture of the United States has become meaningless. They are words with no spine to them. If you were to quote the Bible, the words are easily ignored; ancient words from an ancient book with dubious legitimacy and little relevance to the world today. The words to secular songs may have little meaning, too, but at least they move the soul. However—and it’s a big however—since Christians believe the Bible is God’s words put to paper, we are never to doubt that, when spoken, the Holy Spirit is at work, making those words real and pertinent to the listener in a way that the words of a love song never, ever will.

This culture is strong. But our sovereign God has strength that cannot be overcome.

Christians in the United States live in a puzzling, post-Christian culture. Let us push through the meaninglessness, the confusion, with God’s truth—because He is the only truth. The only One with amazing grace. The only One with true, real, eternal love, without which our words are noisy cymbals. Far from being meaningless, His meaning for life, for truth, for us, is far deeper than any song will capture.

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

 

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Last week, we looked at Jesus’ claim that He was the greatest among those born of woman. However, He also stated that he was least in the kingdom of God. Welcome to our amazing paradoxical God. The least being the greatest is a difficult idea for us to understand. Clearly, Jesus is not the least. He is exalted. He sits with the Father on His throne. He is God Himself, incarnate. However, when He walked the earth, He became the least. For further clarification about this, I refer you to last week’s article under Jim’s Ramblings: “Sorry, Christian, You Are Not the Least in God’s Kingdom. That Spot Is Taken.”

Jesus calls Himself the greatest again in Matthew 18:1–4: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” 1

I have experienced some difficulty finding an audience that will accept that Jesus is referring to Himself in this passage. Part of the dilemma lies in what was mentioned above: We cannot imagine Jesus humbling Himself like a child. However, there are other reasons for the rejection of this idea. One is that we rank greatness and “least-ness” according to our worldly understanding. The ones who have the most power, the most money, the most influence are obviously the ones who are great. Jesus, of course, had little of the above when He walked the earth. We cannot seem to comprehend the earthly powerlessness He had on earth. Note that I wrote “earthly powerlessness.” He possessed enormous spiritual power everywhere, all the time. But He denied Himself the use of this power-over-all: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).

Another difficulty lies in the compromise the English language has made in the use of positive, comparative, and superlative forms of adjectives. Hang in there with me. This is not difficult. A good example for our use here is great, greater, and greatest. One thing is great, but this other thing is greater. But only one is the greatest.

At least, that’s how it should be. However, we have compromised these meanings in English. You hear it all the time. “You’re one of my best friends,” for example. However, according to Merriam-Webster, the word “superlative” means “surpassing all others.” Either your football team is the greatest team of the year because it won the Super Bowl or World Cup, or it is not. The team that lost to yours cannot possibly be “better.” But let’s get to the point. Was Jesus the greatest man to ever exist, or was He one of the greatest? If He was only one of the greatest, then it is possible that another may be as great or even greater. We cannot talk about God Almighty in these terms. He is the greatest Being who may be known to us. He is the most powerful, not one of the most powerful; the Possessor of perfect knowledge, not among the possessors of perfect knowledge.

So, when in Matthew 18:4 Jesus said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” to whom was He referring? No man or woman can be greater than Jesus. He was referring to Himself. He is God Almighty. You are not that Being.

The ramifications of this statement are stunning. Jesus humbled Himself like a child?

Yes.

Powerless, as children were in those days and still are, compared to earthly power.

The least, as children were in those days, considered slaves.

Yes. Jesus became like a slave.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5–7).

The word “servant” in this passage, and in many New Testament passages, is “doulos,” also translated “slave.”

Please note that Paul wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves…”

We are supposed to empty ourselves and be servants?

Become like powerless children?

It’s right there in black and white.

 

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

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In the eleventh chapter of Matthew, John the Baptist’s followers come to Jesus with a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3).1 Jesus responds in the affirmative, but I want us to look at the last few sentences of His response. After giving John high praise, He ends by saying these two challenging sentences:

“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).

The first sentence is quite a statement. I’ll let those who want to sift through, off in a corner somewhere, the possibility that John was greater than Abraham, Moses, David, or any of the prophets. My initial take on it is that God does not rank people in the way we do. God chooses insignificant people. Try ranking that.

However, another question looms large here. Jesus’ proclamation that no one born of woman—everybody, in other words—is greater than John, would include Jesus Himself.  We know this cannot be true. Jesus was and is God Almighty incarnate. That is the summit of greatness. There is none higher.

So, how do we solve this issue?

Jesus disentangles it for us with His last statement: “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom is greater than he.”

Ah. So, that’s who Jesus is. The least in the kingdom.

I know. This presents a problem. Jesus isn’t the least, He is the greatest.

Yes. And that’s precisely what He said. The one who is least in the kingdom is greater than John, and John is greater than anyone born of women.

So, how do we reckon that Jesus is least?

I hope that what I am to write next will be a source of wonderment for you, good Christian brothers and sisters. Here is the simple logic of it:

No being exists that is greater than the Lord God Almighty. He is perfect in power. No power exists that is more powerful. Nothing at all is impossible for Him. He is perfect in knowledge. He knows everything that is possible to know; after all, He created it. He is perfect in sovereignty. Nothing happens in the universe or on the earth that He does not cause or allow. He is the Creator of all that exists. Sustainer and Upholder of all that exists. There were no gods before Him. None beside Him. There will be none in the future.

Need I go on?

Therefore, when the most powerful Being imaginable takes on flesh, coming to this dark planet as a helpless infant, emptying Himself and not trying grasp at sovereign-over-all power, lowering Himself to the position of slave, even dying (Philippians 2:5-8), He has reached the pinnacle (or nadir, if you prefer) of “least-ness.” You, my Christian friend, cannot be “least-er” than He.

Therefore, the One who became least has been exalted:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11).

So, when you lift up your voice to praise Jesus, include in your worship the acknowledgement that Immanuel, Almighty God incarnate, lowered and emptied Himself like a slave so that He could bring you eternal life through His sacrifice.

If that doesn’t inspire wonderment, then I’m not sure what will.

 

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

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don't judge me

In the last few posts, we’ve been looking at the characteristics of heaven. The results have been astonishing, and it is a joyful thought that this home awaits us because of God’s plan of redemption and the fulfilment of it through Jesus. Christians have the stunning place now of conversing and having a relationship with the Creator of all that exists, to be His sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and friends, as incredible as that sounds. What an absolutely amazing reality. So, I trust you all had a meaningful, joyful Christmas, celebrating the sacrificial coming of Immanuel, Lord God Almighty in the flesh. May it ever be so until you are joined with the Lord.

Today we will be looking at a topic, a truth, that, like the other aspects of heaven, is very difficult to comprehend. The topic is what saints will be doing in that eternal, heavenly kingdom. We already looked at the false meme that in heaven we’ll be floating around on clouds while playing harps. It’s not entirely clear what Christians will be doing in that kingdom, but a couple of things are clear.

We will be judges.

We will, in some manner, be rulers.

So, to those who say, “Don’t judge me,” sorry. One day you will be judged, by the very people whom you despise.

Now, how these two actions will be done is very unclear to me. We know that Jesus is the Judge. So, this is a reason, I think, why we are shy to address this subject. Nevertheless, we must deal with the biblical text, and these verses are clear.

Saints will judge the world and angels:

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! (1 Corinthians 6:1–4). 1

Christians will be rulers. They will, in some way yet unclear, reign with Jesus.

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:10–13).

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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 3:21–22).

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 (Revelation 2:26–27).

As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom (Daniel 7:21–22).

When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, “Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.” And he said to him, “Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.” And the second came, saying, “Lord, your mina has made five minas.” And he said to him, “And you are to be over five cities” (Luke 19:15–19).

These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever (Daniel 7:17–18).

There are other verses in the New Testament about receiving an inheritance. Just think about that rich uncle who has died and left all his wealth to you, but in your case the one who has died is Jesus who is eternally alive. The inheritance you will receive is because you are sons and daughters of the Father, a relationship given totally by grace. What that inheritance will look like, again, is unclear. However, I would like to leave you with something Jesus spoke in His Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

The contrast of truths about the eternal kingdom baffles me. It baffles me because I associate rulership and judgeship as elevated positions. I have spent the last years attempting to challenge the Church’s upside-down view of leadership, status, and position—to little avail. So, how are Christians to deny status on the earth—becoming meek servants as Jesus was—and then rule and judge in heaven?

I don’t know. My best guess is that somehow we will be like Him, and therefore whatever judgments He makes we will make likewise. We already have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), so it seems logical that we will possess it perfectly there. We will also be one with Him (John 14:20). I find the verses to follow comforting because apparently John didn’t know what our lives in God’s kingdom would be like, either. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2–3).

One last verse to add to our joyful puzzling over what awaits us: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19).

Again, what does that mean? I don’t know! But it sounds astoundingly wonderful, doesn’t it?

 

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

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I appreciate how Christians all over the world try to add meaning to what used to be a beautiful religious observance that has “magically” been transformed into a greed-filled, money-making extravaganza, filled with false gift-induced joy. I guess this shouldn’t surprise us, knowing the nature of mankind.

Christians read the wonderful accounts in Matthew and Luke at Christmas time, as they should. They talk about the shepherds, Joseph, Mary, the angels, the kings from the East, the star, and the stable. All good stuff. However, one monumental truth that is not emphasized should be, and if and when it is, will take the misty, warm stories about the birth of Jesus and turn them to jaw-dropping, fall-to-our-knees truth.

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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.

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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.

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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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