October 6 – Dying For the Return of Christ

Revelation 6; Nehemiah 8:13-9:37; Psalm 101

Numbers crunchers. Bean counters. Those are names used when discussing people who analyze numbers to help their bosses make decisions. They analyze costs versus income, factor in the expected rise in costs and then give your insurance agent the cost for your policy. The agent gives you the price, and, as you’re recovering from sticker shock, reminds you that the prices are so high because of the bean counters upstairs. You see them on TV during elections when they make projections about winners and losers in certain races and usually someone will talk about how the numbers crunchers work to project that candidate A will win even though less than 1% of the vote has come in and his/her opponent has a 10%-point lead. They crunch those numbers using certain key points and make their predictions. Those whose candidate is losing, scoff at the numbers as so much hocus-pocus. Those whose candidates have been predicted to win, marvel at their wisdom.

In general, though, bean counters and numbers crunchers are usually the bad guy in any story. Rarely do we see the accountant being the hero to any story. Somewhere in any movie or book an accountant comes into play, he or she is bound to utter the words, “boss, I got bad news” (or something similar). The company could only be saved if it still had time to fix the problem. It depends on the available time. As we look at the Revelation Jesus Christ gave to John, they are close to the end of time as we know it. Jesus, the only one worthy to open the scroll and the seven seals, has opened the scroll and unleashed the seals. The world has been visited by Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. The fifth seal is a look under the altar of God. There we see all those who’ve been martyred for the faith. As they are revealed, they ask a question that Christians still wonder about today: “They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.” (Revelation 6:10-11)

I’ve heard a lot of predictions about when the end of times will happen. I’ve heard a lot of rationale for those predictions. The most recent one in 2017 came from a guy who was crunching numbers and came up with the date that no one knows. There’s one number that I’ve never heard used when people start setting dates: the full number of those who are to die from persecution. I know, that sounds like a crass statement. If anyone had a right to ask God when they would be avenged, it would be those who had died because they were living and proclaiming their faith in Jesus. They had suffered horribly at the hands of the Romans. In response to their question about when, though, the only answer they got was that it would be a while longer.

That leaves me with a dilemma about my feelings over the end of the world. Imagine all those people who have died because they were preaching the gospel. It still isn’t enough. Think about those who are undergoing persecution now in other parts of the world. It still isn’t enough. We need more faithful witnesses to the love and grace of Jesus Christ, knowing that faithfulness will result in our deaths, if we do things God’s way. I want to see the return of Jesus. Knowing that it will require a full number of people who died due to persecution though, as much as I want Him to return, I want others to have to pay that price. Maybe, though, I need to be willing to do whatever God asks me to do until that time. Maybe I should be willing to be faithful even should persecution come.

Oh Lord, those are frightening words. Let me be faithful to You, even though the time comes that it will mean my death.

Advertisements
Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

October 5 – Let the Peoples Praise You!

Revelation 5; Nehemiah 7:5-8:12; Psalm 100

One of the sad truths throughout history is that people have hated others for being different. In the ancient days, our tribe was good, yours was bad. Warfare would spring up between tribes over various disputes: land, water, livestock, and sometimes, just because “we” wanted to show “you” that “we” were stronger and better. In more recent history, skin color became a cause for hatred. In America, we are still suffering the after effects of the horror of slavery imposed on people whose skin color was much darker than that of the ruling class. People thought that skin color denoted the quality of people: light skin was considered good, dark skin was considered bad. Even today, we are struggling with issues of people thinking that they are superior because of their skin color.

As Tom Lehrer put it in his song “National Brotherhood Week” – “To hate all but the right folks, is an old established rule.” When Jesus walked the earth, Pharisees and Saducees thought that everyone should bow down to them because they were the best people on earth, but that even the lowliest Jew was better than any Gentile – especially a Roman one. Guess what the Romans thought about themselves. When Jesus came, He upended those conventions and treated all people with love and dignity. In the worship scene in the heavenly throne room, John described what Jesus had done this way: “And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.’” (Revelation 5:9)

Let’s face it: Christianity is a mongrel religion. We are made up of people from every country – even those who would outlaw us, every language group – and one site put that at over 6900 languages, every nation, and every ethnic group. While churches may have membership requirements, mine does, the only requirement to be included in God’s Kingdom and to be sure to have a place in that heavenly throne room is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The crying in the throne room, because no one was worthy to open this scroll is replaced with rejoicing and worship as Jesus takes the scroll. This diverse, polyglot assembly from all the peoples of the world rejoiced that the Lamb of God had taken away the sins of the world and had led them into His Kingdom. It is a stark contrast to the reading in Nehemiah which detailed those Jews who came back to the promised land after their exile where those who couldn’t prove their lineage were put under probation, or earlier readings when those who had taken foreign wives were forced to put them and their children away if they wanted to stay in the assembly of the Jews.

Sadly, even among Christians we see divisions. Cults spring up because people know their own “special truth” that makes them better than other people – even other Christians – in their own minds. We still have followers of Christ who worry about skin color. Contrary to the belief of many, Jesus was a middle eastern Jew who had no remarkable appearance to set Himself apart from other middle eastern Jews. Any painting or portrait of Jesus that shows Him as “white” should be labeled “fake news” to use today’s popular term. Instead of seeking exclusivity, we need to remember that Heaven will be inclusive with all those who have committed their lives to Jesus being welcome there. When we gather in Heaven in those days, we will be praising God alongside people from different countries, people groups and languages. So here’s an idea – maybe we ought to start practicing now for God’s heavenly choir.

Lord, help us all to understand and love the beautiful diversity among Your people and share that love.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

October 4 – God, Author of ALL Creation!

Revelation 4; Nehemiah 5:1-7:4; Psalm 99

When you think of giants in the computer industry, two names come to mind: Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Those two built the two dominant computer companies from the basement or garage up to some of the largest companies in the world. Oh sure, they had partners, but when you think of Apple, you think of Jobs, not Steve Wozniak; when you think about Microsoft, you think about Gates, not Paul Allen. Those two are known as the main creators of the computer industry and they receive the accolades, and the criticisms due for what they’ve done. Let’s face it, if you’re reading this, you probably have one of those two to thank, if not both. (or blame, I guess)

Creators deserve plaudits for the work they do. Working among authors, I continue to be amazed by the creative story telling I see. How many ways can you manipulate words to produce stories. Just when you think all the possible good ideas have been taken, someone writes a story with an amazing twist on an old theme and we marvel at their cleverness. As we admire such work, we need to remember that while these creators use their minds in such amazing ways, ultimately credit for all forms of creation go back to the original Creator: God. The scene John describes in heaven reminds us that God alone has created all things. “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11)

Our world today is split between the idea that things “just happened” through a long, drawn-out process of evolution, or that God, in His infinite wisdom and creative power, created this world and all that is in it. While that argument didn’t exist back in John’s day, they argued over which of the gods created what part of the world. John’s word here, and the teaching of the Bible on this issue make an amazing statement of faith. This whole world, every creature, every rock and mountain, every tree and flower, every river and every ocean, the planets, the moons, and the stars have all been created by God and they were created for His glory. That is a statement of faith which flies in the face of a world that believes in chance. The ultimate question about our origins revolves around whether we are a part of a grand design, or whether or not we exist by chance. The message of John as he views heaven’s throne room is that we have all been created by God for a purpose and that ultimately, we will honor God.

One of my favorite things to do is photograph birds. I am amazed at their variety and how so many of them seem designed to perform specific functions in life. It’s a good thing, for instance, that hummingbirds don’t eat meat to survive. On the other hand, turkey vultures would have a hard time sipping the nectar from those little flowers. The amazing way that each of these birds function in our world, and the amazing variations of color and patterning scream to me that these birds are not an accident of nature; they are part of a grand design. When it comes to making a statement on the question of design or chance, I stand firmly in the belief that we have been created by God along with the whole of the rest of creation. And I’m going to make sure that you know where I stand: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs could not have achieved what they have without God’s work in their lives. Nobel Prize winners are being announced this week. We may marvel at the works that earned them this prestigious award, but ultimately, they used their God given brains to discover something about the world that God created. We cannot discover anything, unless God has created it. Without His creation of our minds, we would not be able to show any creative power at all. Praise God He has made us in His creative image!

Oh Lord, this world and all that is in it is Your creation. Even what we think we have made, comes from

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

October 3 – Open Doors

Revelation 3; Nehemiah 4; Psalm 98

As the movie “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is winding to a climax, Harry and his friends follow a vision Harry had, looking for Sirius Black, the man Harry thought of as a father. According to the vision, Sirius was being held in the Ministry of Magic. In order to reach the location Harry had seen, they needed to travel through the Room of Doors. There were twelve doors in this circular room and once you entered this room, you took your chances because each door looked exactly the same. And, lest you try to cheat by remembering which door led where, the room spun around each time you entered. You hoped that you picked the right door the first time when you had to pass through this room.

When we have to choose a door, it can be confusing whether that be one of the 12 doors in the Room of Doors or door number 2 or number 3 in “Let’s Make a Deal.” When we talk about choosing doors in life, we’re usually talking about deciding where we’ll go in life. When Christians talk about doors as being open or shut, we’re thinking of how God is leading us. We’ll often remind ourselves that when one door is shut, another door opens up. Jesus speaks to the church at Philadelphia an makes an amazing pronouncement: “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:8)

It is an amazing statement because Jesus is pretty much telling the people of the church in Philadelphia, whatever you want to do, do it. The door is open for you. It’s amazing because Jesus makes that statement understanding that He is telling those people, “I have faith in you. I know that whatever you do, you’re going to be doing things in my will.” What amazing faith Jesus had in that church! What amazing love and obedience to God the people in that church showed. Contrast that to the church in Laodicea. We use the story of Jesus telling them that He stands at the door and knocks (Revelation 3:20) to let people know how sweet Jesus is, knocking and waiting to enter our heart. The church at Laodicea, though, was proud, arrogant, and rebellious. Like petulant children, they had gone to their rooms and slammed the door shut, proclaiming that they “were too” following God. And Jesus, like a loving father, was trying to get them to let Him in. 

I look at those two examples, and as much as I’d like to claim to be in the Philadelphia camp, I’m probably in the Laodicea camp much more often. I wonder how many times I have to remind God that I’m a mature Christian, and I’m doing things the right way, and He can trust me…and then, when He reminds me of my shortcomings, I show Him who’s boss by running to my room, slamming the door and refusing to come out until He treats me as an equal partner. And then I wait God out, hoping to sneak out of my room when He isn’t looking. But He’s waiting. He still loves me. He treats me with tenderness and compassion. Oh, that instead, I would recognize my place in His plan! Oh, that I would love Him like He loves me. Oh, that I would be in such a close relationship with Him that when I asked His guidance He would say, “Whatever’s in your heart to do, do it. I’ve placed an open door before you because I know your heart and that I can trust you.

Oh God, teach me Your ways. Let me be so close to You that You can trust me with an open door. 

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

October 2 – First Love

Revelation 2; Nehemiah 3; Psalm 97

When my wife and I first started dating, we were insufferable. People had us pegged to be married within a week. We did a lot of handholding, talking incessantly until late at night, we would find ways to surprise each other with gifts or notes. A few times the Resident Assistant’s desk was the location where flowers were delivered to the oohs and aahs of the other girls in the dorm. When she was in New York City as a summer missionary, she wrote the cutest thing knowing that she would have a chance to meet my whole family who was in Connecticut to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday: “When you come, the whole city of New York can turn out the lights, because the glow on my face will be so bright.” The party was on July 16, 1977. The New York City blackout was July 13-14. We picked her up a day early because of the blackout. (Yes, this actually did happen.) We’ve been married a long time now. I don’t send flowers anymore – allergies. We don’t talk as much, sometimes sitting together in silence.

Still, our love is stronger than ever. There are some people who might look at us and wonder about our love. Sometimes, as love changes, people seem to think that they’re no long in love and troubles start. They worry about who their spouse is talking to. They lose trust and faith. They want to control their spouse. I think that’s what happened to the church at Ephesus. Their relationship began as a love relationship with Jesus and Paul spent a lot of time with them. Then, and this is my speculation, things started changing. Paul reminded them to remain united. He had to remind them that they came to Christ through grace. By the time John wrote this Revelation, the church in Ephesus had a real problem. “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:3-4)

It’s obviously speculation, since none of us were around during this time in Ephesus, but I think what happened is that when they first heard the gospel, they fell in love. They fell in love with Christ and with each other. They did all they could to support others. They grew in Christ and, as the Holy Spirit worked in them, their lifestyles changed. They left their old sins behind. As new people came to Christ, they forgot how much God had worked in them and expected new Christians to live at the same level they did. Perhaps it began with petty sniping among the “mature” Christians, but before long, they became judgmental. They had persevered and endured the initial hardships of following Christ. They had come to the point that they could not tolerate wicked people and tested false apostles. What they missed as they became more legalistic was their love of Christ and of His people. In their desire to walk the straight and narrow, they became legalistic and soon had no tolerance for Christians who were still growing.

I had forgotten my first love for Jesus for a while. Rather than continuing to grow in my relationship with Christ through that love, I thought it was important to show my devotion through my actions. Don’t misunderstand me, our love for Jesus will produce a changed life. It’s that a changed doesn’t necessarily show love for Jesus. Instead of reveling in my love for God, I became judgmental and legalistic. Only recently have I taken the message of Jesus to the church at Ephesus to heart and sought out my first love. There is such a joy in returning to that attitude of loving God first. There is such a joy in leaving judgment to God and sharing the love of Jesus with others. Yes, I believe God’s standards exist. Yes, I believe some things are wrong. We aren’t called to change people though. We’re called to introduce them to Jesus. Once they establish that relationship with God, He’s responsible to change them.

Lord, remind me every day of the love I had for You at first. Help me to share that love with others.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

October 1 – What Ya Got?

Revelation 1; Nehemiah 1-2; Psalm 96

You couldn’t miss the ads. Sometimes it was a famous person with a milk mustache, at other times it was someone unknown, but they all asked a simple question: “Got Milk?” Then you would be regaled with stories of how milk would make your bones stronger, your body healthier, and your life amazing. As with any successful ad campaign, there were parodies. Some were designed to poke fun at the overall campaign, others were designed to use the ideas of that campaign to promote their own products or services. Perhaps, that’s how you define a successful ad campaign.

I think sometimes people try to “market” Jesus with a similar type of campaign. It should run something like, “Got Jesus?” Then extol the “fact” that if you “get Jesus” your troubles will go away. Your body will be healed. Your relationships will be fantastic. You’ll never have money problems again. Anything you do will lead to success. That seems to be the kind of ad campaign that would really be successful. Of course, if you worked on that campaign, you’d have to do a lot of explaining away of biblical history. Take John’s “Got Jesus?” testimony. “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 1:9)

While the whole story told in the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ ends up in victory, it sure isn’t one where it seems like Christians have no problems. John reminds his readers that he was exiled because of his faith. He’d been sent away from the church in Ephesus to keep him from influencing others to come to Christ. Christians around the Roman world were being persecuted for not taking part in the emperor worship of the empire. They stayed true to their faith that ONLY Jesus was Lord and refused to take a pinch of incense and put it on the altar while saying “Caesar is Lord.” While the persecution may not have been widespread at that point in time, more and more groups were cracking down on these disloyal Christians. After all, the Emperor kept Rome together. Rome provided all sorts of benefits to the people in the Empire. And, lest they forget, they were living in a time of great peace, Pax Romana, that allowed them to build businesses and flourish economically. All the Romans asked was that once a year, people sacrifice the incense and say, “Caesar is Lord.” These Christians wouldn’t do it. Perhaps they understood that “Got Jesus?” didn’t mean that you had no troubles. They understood that “Got Jesus?” would lead them into opposition, but they were ready to face it because of Jesus.

Today, the idea seems to permeate through our society that if you follow Jesus, only good things will happen. In some areas of the world, following Jesus is like signing a death warrant. It may subject you and your family to all kinds of difficulties. Our society, though, is becoming slowly less tolerant of followers of Christ, if we live our faith on a daily basis. Now, we’re good if we keep our faith in the church and play nice with others. Those who define “playing nice with others” though, don’t seem to think that sharing our faith is a good way to play nice. We need to stop worrying about playing nice, and work on doing good. We need to love each other. We need to minister to our world. In a society that is at odds with each other, we need to bring the grace of Christ and work for reconciliation. In a society that is dealing with the after effects of many different natural disasters, we need to sacrifice and find ways to minister and help. We’re called to live out our faith and show the love and grace of Jesus every day. We are called to love others, not to be loved by others.

Lord, help me stay true to You and minister to our hurting world in all circumstances.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

September 30 – #ThatsGrace

Jude 1; Ezra 9-10; Psalm 95

Sometimes people misunderstand. Sometimes others do it deliberately. My then fiancé, now wife, and her roommate Terry used to make it a habit to misconstrue everything I said. I don’t remember all of the ways they did it, but these are the kinds of things they used to do. “Does this dress make me look fat?” “No.” “Oh, so the other one did?” “sigh” or “You look beautiful tonight!” “So I didn’t last night?” or “Which dress do you like best, the red one or the blue one?” “Blue” “So you don’t like the red and you didn’t say anything when I wore it last week?” They had a lot of fun antagonizing me by deliberately taking my words out of context, and, to be honest, I had fun when they did that too. It became a game of wits as I tried to find a way to say something they couldn’t do that with. I always lost.

As much fun as that deliberate word play was, things like that can be a problem when it’s done in real life by people who really misunderstand, or willingly do so to gain personal wealth. While we could probably have an interesting discussion about whether or not this is happening today, we do know that this has happened throughout history. This is true especially in the Church as people down through the ages have twisted words and concepts that are important to Christianity to fulfill their own desires. One idea that has been twisted is grace. “For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 1:4)

We sing the song Amazing Grace because God’s grace is so amazing! Someone asked me recently, “What is grace?” I told them it’s the free and unmerited favor of God. It’s the love of God not because I have earned it, but because God’s loves is in His nature. It is because of God’s grace that He forgives my sins, and the sins of all people. That’s where the problem started in the early church. They moved from the fact that God loves us so much because that’s in His nature, and He forgives our sins because of it, to telling people that they didn’t need to worry about how they lived once they turned to Christ because God would forgive them. They focused on the Greek interpretation that the body was bad anyway, so you didn’t need to worry about what you did, and then they would explain their (wrong) belief that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh; that He was just a spirit because the flesh, the body, was evil.

The truth about grace is that while it is the free and unmerited favor of God, it not only leads us to belief in Jesus, God’s grace is also a change agent, leading us to become more like Jesus and leave our sins behind. I’m not perfect. There are many people who could tell you that and provide examples of my imperfections. I give in to temptations, but I never think, “Oh, I can sin because God’s grace will forgive me.” I would never advocate sin because of God’s grace either. Jude pointed out that these are people who have been condemned already. They’ve perverted the grace of God so that they could justify their own immoral choices. The idea that I could do that both frightens, and saddens me. How could I take the death of Jesus on the cross for my sins and the grace God shows through that death and turn it into a license to do whatever I want. God’s grace doesn’t allow people to live contrary to His desires, it forgives them when they do, and slowly molds them into the image of His Son so that our lives would be shining examples of how God can change people. Grace is not an excuse for sin; grace is God’s way of showing His love and a change agent to mold us into the likeness of His Son. What amazing grace!

Oh Lord, Your grace is amazing. Thank You for loving me when I didn’t deserve it. Thank You for changing me to become like Jesus.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

September 29 – Evil: The Impossible Choice

3 John 1; Ezra 7-8; Psalm 94

One of the amazing things about Christianity is that our relationship with God is completely dependent upon Him. We come to that relationship through His grace. We stay in that relationship by His grace. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we must do to appease His wrath. In many religious traditions, people are called upon to make great sacrifices just to appease their god’s wrath. People have no hope of gaining their god’s love, they’re just hoping he/she/it doesn’t get angry with them. In ancient times, this desire even led devotees to certain religions to engage in sacrificing their own child, or another human being. None of that would please our God because of His love for all people. Instead of us seeking to make peace with God, He made peace with us through the death of His Son on the cross and His resurrection.

One of the problems with that understanding, and one of the earliest heresies of the church, was that how you lived was unimportant. You could do whatever you wanted and God would forgive you. In fact, God gave grace when He forgave sin, so the more you sinned, the more grace you got, according to this heretical belief. Paul asked the question in Romans “shall we sin that grace will abound?” and answered with a phrase loosely translated as “Are you out of your freaking mind?” In short, he reminded people that those who follow Christ should not sin deliberately. John addressed that same type of situation by noting: “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.” (3 John 1:11)

Evil is worse than bad. Sometimes we do bad things that are intentional, but don’t really hurt anyone. Still, they are sins that hurt us. While they don’t affect God’s love for us, they make it harder for us to love God and cause other people to may wonder if our faith is real. Sometimes people who are new Christians haven’t seen God take care of all of their bad habits and they end up doing bad things. John here talks about evil. Those are those things that people do that are wrong, knowing that they’re wrong because they intend bad things happening to other people. We see and hear stories of evil that people do every day. I don’t know what John would describe as evil, I’m not even sure that I could give a blanket definition, but to paraphrase a Supreme Court Justice in the past, I know it when I see it. John states without equivocation that God’s people do NOT engage in evil. They will still do things that are wrong – they’ll still sin, in other words – but they will not deliberately seek the harm of others.

This isn’t a matter of salvation. This is a matter of sanctification. Once the Holy Spirit enters the life of the believer, He’ll keep you from doing evil things. John would contend that if you can still do evil things, then you aren’t walking with God. This isn’t a question of “stopping doing evil things to be saved.” There are many people who don’t have a relationship with God through Jesus who don’t do evil things. This is an indicator of your relationship with God. If you have a relationship with God, you can’t do evil things. Let me give an example: I am married to a wonderful woman. Because of the love we share, I can’t even think about cheating on her or doing anything to destroy that relationship. I love her too much. Is it possible for me to do something wrong? Yes, but if so, it would indicate that things were not right between my wife and me. In the same way, if I have a relationship with God, I can’t do things that are evil, I can’t do anything to hurt others. If I were to do evil things, it would indicate that things weren’t right between God and me. Evil is never of God and if you are right with God, you can’t do it.

Lord, even as you protect me from evil things happening to me, keep me from doing evil things.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

September 28 – Don’t Even Welcome Them

2 John 1; Ezra 5-6; Psalm 93

The old joke used to be that anyone could throw on a bathrobe, walk the beaches of California, and utter a few incomprehensible sayings that seemed to have deeper meaning to start a new religion. Perhaps that’s being unfair to Californians, but when the joke first began, it seemed that every new religious fad started in California. That type of activity isn’t new, though. In ancient Greece, before the time of Christ even, philosophers would go from town to town and teach, hoping to gain some income from the townspeople. If their message was good enough, or had a unique quality about it, people would support them. The method has evolved through the ages, but the idea is the same: people seeking support find ways to reach people who will give support.

Now, you see “traveling” philosophers or purveyors of religious opinions finding a new audience: internet users. No longer do they have to travel from town to town. No longer do they have to pay for airtime on the radio or the television. Now, they can set up a Youtube channel and a gofundme account and make a living that way. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, though, people who claimed to be proclaiming the gospel had to do things the old-fashioned way. They would travel from town to town hoping to find someone who would give them lodging and a way to proclaim their message and put some coins in their purses. John reminded the church at Ephesus that anyone who came to proclaim the gospel needed to make love of the brothers (and sisters) a main part of their message. In fact, he told them to shun anyone who didn’t include that in their message. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.” (2 John 1:10-11)

It would be interesting to know what some of these messages were. We get hints from the New Testament, but we don’t have actual writings that I’ve seen. In this letter of John we see that false teachers were proclaiming that Jesus didn’t really come in the flesh, but that He came as God alone. This made the resurrection story moot because, how can you kill God? A lot of other false teachings made their way into the church back in those days, often because the resurrection was hard to imagine. So people tried to hold to the teachings of Jesus without the resurrection, not understanding that the resurrection must be the central focus of Christianity for many reasons. One of the greatest reasons is that it shows God’s love for us, and compels us to love each other. It tells us that the penalty for sin was paid, which meant that a lot of the frightening preaching where preachers emphasized how terrible all the people were didn’t make sense. God told us that we were so terrible that we needed this sacrifice, but He loved us so much that Jesus died on the cross, and rose from the dead for us.

John was so vehement against these folks that he said not even to welcome them into the house or you shared in their wicked work. I’m not sure what that means today. Since everything is internet based though, I would assume that we share in that wicked work when we share the work of someone who perverts the gospel, even when we share it to show how wrong they are. We must make our message one of love. It begins with God’s love because He loved us first, even before we realized we needed His love. Then it continues with our love for each other. It’s really a simple proposition that I think John would agree with. We are to show God’s love to people whom God loves, and we can hate those whom God hates – which means there’s no one left to hate. In other words, show God’s love to all people.

Oh Lord, let my life reflect the love You have for others.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

September 27 – The Lady or The Tiger

1 John 5; Ezra 3-4; Psalm 92

Frank Stockton tells a tale that most of us have read at one time or another in our school days: The Lady or the Tiger. He uses much more flowery language to set up the story, but the short version is that a barbaric king has an interesting way to mete out justice. The accused goes into a great arena where he has two doors to choose from. Behind one is a fierce tiger designed to tear the accused apart should fate find him guilty. Behind the other is a beautiful lady who, upon being chosen, will instantly marry the accused. He sets that story up to tell about a commoner who loved the king’s daughter and was discovered by the king. On the big day of trial, the guilty man bows before the king and the princess. The princess has discovered the secrets of the doors. She has a dilemma, though. The lady is one the princess hates, and she has concerns that her lover might have been flirting with the prize. Still, having discovered the secrets of the doors, she indicates to her lover the door to choose.

And that is the end of the story as the author leaves the ending for his readers to choose. It’s a maddening, shaggy dog story, but it presents an interesting ethical question. Would the princess allow her lover to marry a bitter rival, or would she rather see him eaten by the tiger? It’s an ethical dilemma that reminds us that our choices have consequences – in this case I think of the choice the princess made and how it would affect her life. There is a choice that has even more far-reaching consequences: the choice of whether or not to follow Jesus. “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

John makes the choice pretty clear: if you have the Son, you have eternal life; if you don’t have the Son of God in your life now, you don’t have eternal life. Perhaps before you get to that decision, you have to decide what you think about life after death. If you believe that life on this earth is all there is, then the question of eternal life has no meaning. If you believe in eternal life, though, the doors are set before you. There is no guesswork in choosing a door in this arena, though. God has labeled the doors before us. On one door we see the name Jesus Christ – the Son of God. If you walk through that door you are committing to live for Him. On the other door is the word “yourself.” If you walk through that door, you choose to live for yourself. You may talk about doing good deeds and nice things if you choose that door. Many people who live for themselves do wonderful things and support charities and help people – but they do it for themselves and they feel good about themselves when they do those things, as well they should. If you are living for Jesus Christ, you may do the exact same things, but you’re doing it for God, you’re doing it for His Kingdom and you thank Him for the strength He gives to be able to do them.

If I understand John correctly, the state of eternal life begins once we follow Christ and begin our relationship with God. The Holy Spirit takes control in our lives and begins molding us into the image of God’s Son. Instead of bitterness, we gain peace. Instead of seeking revenge when wronged, we seek to forgive. Most of all, our lives become full of the love of God to share with others. John has reminded us again and again throughout this letter that love is the key indicator that we are God’s children. He talks about not continuing in sin, sure, but that’s because we are compelled by the love of God and not the desire to exalt ourselves. When we are filled with God’s love, we seek ways to extend that love to others. The doors are set before you right now. Do you choose eternal life with Christ or your own way?

Oh Lord, I have chosen eternal life. Let me show the joy of that choice to others in all my actions.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment