December 8, 2016
How do we prepare to exercise faith during trials and spiritual battles?
I once attended a men’s ministry weekend with the Church of God in South Carolina. A seasoned minister who had pastored for a few dozen years gave a rousing teaching—as only an old-school Pentecostal preacher can. His mantra throughout the teaching to men was, “In the time of peace prepare for war.”
His Scripture text was the Biblical witness of King Asa. The account of King Asa’s reign over the nation of Judah is summarized in 1 Kings 15, “And Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as David his father had done…the heart of Asa was wholly true to the Lord all his days.” (1 Kings 15.11,14) Of his reign, the author writes, “And there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days.” 1 Kings offers a few more details about his reign and actions, but if we look to 2 Chronicles we learn even more about the king.
We can learn at least two essential elements of the Christian faith from the chronicler. We learn, as the preacher said, to take advantage of times of peace to prepare for war. We can also learn that we must always seek the Lord first and develop our devotion and dependence on him.
When Asa became king, he had peace and the land had rest for ten years. During these ten years of no war, King Asa was active on two fronts. Firstly, he cleansed the land of idols and inspired a revival to the Lord. As an example of his spiritual fervor, “He took away the foreign altars and high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment.” (1 Kings 14.3-4)
King Asa’s second project was to fortify the nation of Judah—during a decade of peace and rest. The chronicler emphasizes this point in the following verses,
“He built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest. He had no war in those years, for the LORD gave him peace. And he said to Judah, “Let us build these cities and surround them with walls and towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the LORD our God. We have sought him, and he has given us peace on every side.” So they built and prospered. And Asa had an army of 300,000 from Judah, armed with large shields and spears, and 280,000 men from Benjamin that carried shields and drew bows. All these were mighty men of valor.” (2 Chronicles 14:6-8)
During the decade of peace, Asa was preparing for wars. Wars came for King Asa and Judah. We read that a million-man Ethiopian army comes out against Judah. King Asa, even with his robust army, called upon the Lord for victory. The Ethiopian army was “broken before the Lord and his army.” (1 Chron 14.13) The king had prepared for battle by building up his military and his devotion to the Lord. Both were essential and led to victory for Judah.
This Biblical witness instructs Christians today; it emphasizes an ongoing, mature obedience to James’ command and encouragement,
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:7-10)
King Asa submitted himself and his nation to God, and they prepared for resistance against their enemies. Asa demonstrated a prescience that an enemy existed and would come against them from one place or another. He knew they had to be humble, holy and fortified. The same is true for us. We will face a trial from some place or something. Within our trials, the enemy, the devil and his demons, always come to tempt, deceive, accuse and oppress. We must know how to submit to God and resist the enemy. This includes holiness and godliness lived out individually and corporately.
Sometimes we will be alone—just us in the silence facing our trials and enemies. At that time, we have to be able to endure and overcome. Other times, we need to call on praying brothers and sisters with whom we have developed interdependent ministry relationship—this is why we need to go to prayer meetings even when we don’t think we need prayer or simply don’t want to go. As King Asa developed a standing army of armed warriors, our churches need a standing army of prayer warriors who know how to engage the spiritual forces of evil and to intercede for others.
If we have not developed the skills and disciplines during peaceful times, we may not be able to stand during trials. I recently watched an episode on the Military Channel that documented a hostage rescue performed by a British SAS unit. Before going into the enemy camp and rescuing their mates from a hostile force, they practiced every maneuver and step they would make in the battle. That precise training came on top of years of grueling discipline and training in preparation for a real conflict. These soldiers knew what to do. Christians need to take note and similarly train for spiritual battles.
Following King Asa’s and his army’s victory over the Ethiopians, they gathered the bounty of victory and then “they returned to Jerusalem.” (2 Chron 14.15) This significant verse illustrates that for God’s people victory comes from the Lord, and he gives us blessings that are merited on his work. He is gracious, kind and generous to his followers. His generosity and goodness is based on the righteous sacrifice of Jesus and not our own merits, even if we have been obedient and have done good works. The reward belongs to the Lord who blesses his followers graciously.
So after we have been blessed victoriously through a trial, we must not boast in or applaud ourselves or our churches. It is so easy for Christians and churches to look at visible blessings and accomplishments and applaud themselves. Even when we are faithful and obedient and receive God’s abundant blessings, Jesus shows us that our proper posture ought to be like the obedient servant, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'” (Luke 17.10)
The Lord puts it another way through his word to Isaiah, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66.2) Now I am aware of and firmly embrace the many Scriptures that confirm our sonship (or daughters who have the same status as firstborn sons), our belovedness, our exalted position in Christ, our righteousness in Christ, etc. The key here is that our good positions are “in Christ” rather than in ourselves. We cannot boast of anything but Christ.
When we experience a victory from the Lord, especially some blessing in the world or glorious ministry, may we urgently resolve to know nothing except “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2.2) Paul writes, “I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Corinthians 11:30) Humility and wisdom teach us to boast of Christ and our dependence on him who works through and for us.
After his battle, King Asa returned to Jerusalem, the seat of the Lord and his king. We, too, must return to the Lord and to the “place” where God speaks to us and reveals himself to us. As King Asa approached Jerusalem, the Bible tells us that a prophet of the Lord, Azariah, received a word from the Spirit of the Lord for the king and the nation of God’s people.
“Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The LORD is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest and without law, but when in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them. In those times there was no peace to him who went out or to him who came in, for great disturbances afflicted all the inhabitants of the lands. They were broken in pieces. Nation was crushed by nation and city by city, for God troubled them with every sort of distress. But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.” (2 Chronicles 15:2-7)
To me, this word from the Lord is remarkable for a few reasons. First, it demonstrates the Lord’s posture to people. He stands toward us with arms opened wide to embrace; yet, people turn from him, and he will not gather us to himself against our will. It is always his prerogative to chase us down and confront us with his glory, as he did to Saul of Tarsus. We can be sure that he is present to us and longs to be found by us and desired by us.
Secondly, without a commitment to the Lord and his presence in our lives—as Lord, we have no peace; in fact, without his centering hold on us, we are broken in pieces by the pressures of the world. Distress, disturbance, dissipation and despair are the lot for those not devotionally committed to the Lord. When we recognize such distress and turn to the Lord, he will come to us and help us. We cannot let this truth allow us to slip into complacency, though. I don’t subscribe to the axiom that it is never too late to turn to the Lord. I believe that the Scriptures indicate clearly that at some point it will be too late!
Thirdly, King Asa and his army have returned from a bold victory against their enemy, and God tells them now to “take courage” and not to “let your hands be weak.” Courage now? They just conquered and showed their strength. In the lives of Christians, the Lord never shrinks back from going forward and conquering more evil in and through them. The Lord will not become complacent with the state of our lives or the world. Therefore, he “does not faint or grow weary.” (Isaiah 40.28) We must continually take courage and not become lazy, slack or complacent which is what letting “your hands be weak” indicates. I believe Emerson was correct when he wrote, “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”
Finally, our work will be rewarded. On one hand, we cannot boast in our works, and on the other hand, our work will be rewarded. It is not our passiveness, our leisure, our niceness, our success, our personality, etc.; it is our obedient, faithful work in and through the Lord that will be rewarded by him.
King Asa and the people respond obediently to the Lord. The Scripture says, “They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul.” (2 Chron 15:12) The Lord rewarded their obedience to him with rest from their enemies all around them until the thirty-fifth year of King Asa’s reign.
The Self-Destruction of Self-Dependence
Sadly, in addition to the above, King Asa’s life holds another lesson equally important. In the thirty-sixth year of King Asa’s reign, King Baasha of the northern nation of Israel led his army against the nation of Judah. Rather than turn to the Lord for help, as he had done in previous battles, King Asa turned to another king. Listen to what the godly King Asa does,
“Then Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the LORD and the king’s house and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria, who lived in Damascus, saying, ‘There is a covenant between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.’” (2 Chronicles 16:2-3)
King Asa’s strategy works. King Baasha withdraws to defend himself against the betraying, bribe-induced King Ben-hadad. King Asa and his army are able to go out and pillage the supplies of Israel’s army that have been left behind. Seems like a win-win for King Asa. Students of Scripture know otherwise and mourn at King Asa’s failure to turn to the Lord. King Asa has followed the way of the world and trusted in bribes, horses and chariots rather than in the Name of the Lord.
The Lord rebukes King Asa through a word that comes from a prophet named Hanani,
“”Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”” (2 Chronicles 16:7-9)
What a turn of events. It gets worse. Upon hearing this rebuke, King Asa hardens his heart against the Lord. Instead of repenting and humbling himself, he cruelly attacked the prophet and others with him.
The blessings we receive from the Lord can propel us to a new level of stability in life. In that stability, peace and rest, we will be tempted to relax and become complacent and secure. We need to often take the warning of the prophet Amos to heart, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria.” (Amos 6.1) Whether you are at ease among God’s people or feeling safe in the world, you are in danger of falling. The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
In the silence of God’s presence, he reminds us to maintain spiritual fervor and courage. King Asa lost his nerve and his verve. In his “competency” as king, he literally stole from the Lord and relied on an alliance with a peer. The treasures of the Lord he gave to the King of Syria are also figurative for the faith and trust he took from the Lord and gave to a man and worldly power. The Lord called him on it. Jesus called his followers on it, too, when he said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) Jesus’ statement caused his listeners to marvel. God will speak to us in the silence and through Scripture and cause us to marvel at his presence and revelation.
Three years after his rebuke from God, King Asa developed a disease that became severe. He looked for help from everyone but God and died a few years later apparently still bitter against the Lord.
In the time of peace, we must prepare for the next worldly trial and spiritual battle. We must continually submit to the Lord and resist the devil. I take a lesson from a movie quote that seemed to scream at me at the close of the movie To End All Wars. The movie follows Allied prisoners of war in a Japanese prison camp during WWII. When they are liberated, one of the freed prisoners asks a seasoned colonel, “What are you going to do after the war?” The colonel responds gruffly, “Start preparing for the next war.”
This may seem pessimistic. It may seem despairing. Does it lack faith or hope in Jesus’ blessings to us? Does it conform to the Biblical witness? In light of the book of Revelation, is this a good spiritual discipline? We face wars and rumors of war, as the spiritual battles rage, until Jesus returns.
This is reality in this world for Christians. We are not at home; we are at war. If we are feeling comfortable, content and complacent, it might be time for us to go on the attack and win a victory of the Lord. I appreciate the initiative and faith of Jonathan, son of Saul. While his father and other Israelites were hiding in caves from the Philistines, Jonathan snuck off with his armor bearer to attack the enemy, as the Lord would lead him. He said to his armor bearer, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.” And again, as they approached the enemy, he said, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:1, 6)
The Philistines mocked Jonathan and cajoled him to come and learn his lesson, but when Jonathan and his armor bearer began to fight they struck down dozens of the enemy warriors: “And there was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and even the raiders trembled, the earth quaked, and it became a very great panic.” (1 Samuel 14:14-15) This initiative led to a rout of the Philistines by Israel’s army.
We have the power to overcome the spiritual enemies of God’s kingdom and people. We may need to take initiative to take the fight to the enemy. What camp of the enemy is God leading you to attack in prayer?
October 9, 2016
This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said: 4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.
10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
Perhaps one of the top five of often quoted Scriptures, Jeremiah 29:11 rarely is mentioned in accordance with the context in which it was written and directly applies. It has even become known by its simple summary of “God has a plan.” I don’t want to drain the verse of its encouragement to individuals that God means good for them and wishes for them to flourish. I do want to set this promise of God in its context, because it is only when the promise is interpreted based on its context that it becomes sure footing for believers to abound in hope of God’s goodness and grace for them. Otherwise it wrongly becomes associated with the context of the latest meme or picture that could mean anything — right, wrong or delusional.
Jeremiah 29:11 occurs in the text of a letter sent by the prophet Jeremiah from Jerusalem to the exiles from the nation of Judah who had been carried into Babylon around 586 BC. It is a letter of instruction, encouragement, promise and warning. The letter conveys the word of the Lord that contrasts the words of the false prophets and the immediate hopes of the exiles for the destruction of the Babylonians and their return to Israel. God’s word says otherwise. The prosperity, hope and future God promises differs from what the people of God in exile imagined and intuited on their own.
The people of God have been “carried” into exile by God as a consequence for their rebellion in sin. He is now speaking to them regarding how to live as God’s people in Babylon. They are going to be there for seventy years – a generation. They are not to live in a cloistered community or to live in conformity with the pagans. Rather, they are to live as God’s people being witnesses among the fallen, lost people of Babylon.
If we put ourselves in the context of God’s people living in a “fallen Babylon world,” (this is a phrase used by Dr. Robert Mulholland) we find a timely and apropos word from the Lord for us today. God’s word to the exiles contributes to us finding an answer to the question: “How shall we live as Christians in the world?” Like the exiles of Israel, we are outside the physical promised land of God due to our sin; however, we are not outside of God’s presence and kingdom.
Another letter written to God’s people living in a “fallen Babylon world” is the book of Revelation. Revelation offers to the New Testament people of God the promise of a hope and a future of prosperity in God’s everlasting kingdom.
I believe that Revelation shines a light on Jeremiah 29 to show us how to live in a world under the rule of the evil one and full of people for whom Jesus died. I am going to use Revelation chapter 8 in particular to frame applications from Jeremiah 29 for the church today.
How do we apply Jeremiah 29:1-14 today?
- Pray – pray for the prosperity and flourishing of the city, its peace and welfare.
God encourages the exiles to pray for the welfare of the people of Babylon. For them, as for us, this is the role of God’s people as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6) God promises that as we bless the community, city, nation and world where we live, we will find our welfare.
Revelation 8:1-5 illustrates the prayers of the saints arising to the throne of God. The rabbi’s taught that this silence in heaven indicates a time of burden for the saints of God to pray and for heaven to listen. We are to be people of prayer who make intercessions to God. Our prayers and devotion ought to be earnest to maintain open communication with an open heaven. He hears our prayers and responds to them.
We ask God:
Psalm 43:3-5 3 Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! 4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
Paul encourages this ministry of intercession for all people, because Jesus died for all people, even the worst of us. Who knows if God doesn’t allow people to really perturb us so that we might be moved to pray for them?
1 Timothy 2:1-6 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
- Pray for Salvation of the lost who are now objects of God’s wrath and in danger of hell. Apart from God’s intervention, the people of world will die in their sins and remain apart from God. We are to help facilitate their “shalom” with God.
Revelation 8:7 shows the wrath of God in fire and blood upon the people of the fallen Babylon world. The people of historic Babylon, like the people outside of Christ today, are subject to God’s wrath. God asked the exiles to adopt his heart and compassion for those on the road to hell. The instinct is for our hearts to become angry, resentful and hateful toward those we perceive to wrong us or mistreat us. God asks us to have the heart of Jesus and to pray for them, bless them and do good to them; in other words, we are to live our lives in community with them. (Luke 6:27-29) God knows that some people are our enemies. Jesus is more realistic that we are. He says to bless them anyway, so that they won’t become exiles from him forever. As it is written:
Revelation 20:15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
In our ministry of priests unto God (Revelation 1:6), we serve as ministers of reconciliation and evangelists of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus. Paul writes:
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
- Pray for his kingdom to come and his will to be done. His kingdom is the rule of Jesus Christ. We pray for the “ruler of this world to be cast out” and for all nations and people to come under the authority of Jesus.
So much of God’s plan can be seen in the Lord ’s Prayer. God’s plan is for his kingdom to come to earth and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. His plan is much bigger than we imagine, and he is involved in the details of our life. God’s instructions for the exiles in Babylon involved their individual lives and decisions regarding houses, finances, marriage and children. It also involved the community as a whole living as a godly witness together following the commands of God. The same is true for us today. God’s plan, purpose, hope and future involves our particular callings and vocations, the decisions we make day-in and day-out. It also involves the people of the world, our churches and his mission in the world to bring all nations under the authority of Jesus.
Jesus confirms his calling for our initiative to involve God’s kingdom and not only our own lives:
Matthew 6:33-34 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Revelation 8:8, I believe, shows God’s judgment on the fallen Babylon world and much collateral damage and destruction that goes with it. As we seek God’s kingdom in this world, we are seeking the diminishing of the rule of the evil one and the freedom of those under his deception and oppression. When God’s kingdom comes, so do many of the good and wonderful elements of it for people yet in this world. His kingdom in experienced in the fruit and power of the Holy Spirit who is poured out on all flesh.
The prophet Daniel demonstrates faithfulness to God’s rule even while serving Babylon. The story of Daniel is the story of the fulfillment of God’s promise in Jeremiah 29. Daniel obeys God and experiences God’s presence and manifestations in his life. Daniel and his three friends are examples for us in living in faithfulness to God for the welfare of our communities. Whether in Babylon in exile or in our cities we await the coming of the King.
- Be sanctified in truth by his Spirit and word. This is God’s plan and purpose for us…to be conformed to the image of Christ.
Revelation 8:10-11 shows a star falling from the sky turning the waters bitter. The star’s name was Wormwood. This fallen star may indicate the fallen angels that seek to deceive all people and lead them astray by their lies and temptations. Scriptures show us that these demons face judgement by God and will eventually all be cast into the lake of burning fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41)
The exiles in Babylon were being led astray by the lies of the false prophets telling them the same old lies that everything was going to be fine. As Jeremiah says elsewhere, “’Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14) The Lord reserves hard criticism and dire warnings for these false prophets. The warnings are no different or less severe for false teachers in the New Testament.
The imperative for God’s people in exile in fallen Babylon is to adhere to God’s word and live according to the truth. Jesus tells us that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. We constantly face the draw of his lies and must with earnestness be sanctified by God’s word of truth. This is Jesus’ prayer for us:
John 17:14-19 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. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Peter warns us from getting deceived by false teachings and temptations of sin:
2 Peter 3:17-18 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The lawless living that Peter abhors is indicative of people who have become disconnected to God in the world. They are living in divorce from the Lord’s Spirit and eternal covenant of marriage to his people. Christians who live this way are in danger of being carried away with the unbelievers. Jesus’ warnings in Revelation to the churches of Pergamum, Thyatira and Laodicea address people in the church in danger of God’s wrath.
God’s people will not live as God’s people spontaneously or naturally. The holy life requires earnest initiative and discipline that is practiced by God’s power and grace with our intention and striving.
- Be the light of the world letting Christ’s light shine through you. This is living in the fulfillment of our hope and future that is Jesus Christ.
The devil and his horde work to keep the world in darkness. God’s people serve as a light shining God’s goodness into the world. When God sent his people into exile in Babylon, he knew where they were going. He knew the nastiness of the Babylonians, yet he commands his people to live among them and seek their welfare. What could be more beneficial than shining God’s light into the darkness of oppression and sinfulness. It would be futile and suicidal except for the reality that the light of God overcomes the darkness. (John 1:5)
In Revelation 8:12, darkness comes upon much of the world. However, God’s people are in the world to be the light of the world. We have the privilege of working with God to rescue people, even the worst, from the kingdom of darkness into the Lord’s marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
Paul explains that this requires effort and mindfulness informed by God’s goodness and grace. He writes:
Philippians 2:14-16 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life—
We are called to shine like stars in the heavens and display God’s splendor over and against the deceitful agents of Satan who masquerade as angels of light but are demons of darkness. We have a holy purpose and calling to fulfill, even as it is God who fulfills this great purpose through us. (Psalm 138:8)
- Jesus Christ the Prosperity, Hope and Future of God for All Who Believe
In our sins, we are promised “woe, woe, woe;” however, through Jesus Christ, we are promised eternal life. Revelation 8:13 reveals the plans of God for those outside of Christ. Revelation 21-22 reveal his plans for those in Christ.
In Jeremiah 29:11, God says that he knows the plans he has for us. His plan is for our goodness and not harm. He plans to prosper us and give us a hope and a future. As this promise was made to his people in exile, it is made to us in a fallen world. The fulfillment of this promise for every person who accepts it is Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ fulfills the Law and the Prophets. The promise of God is not fulfilled by anything this world has to offer. The promise comes from heaven. The promise is experienced in his kingdom, even while in exile. God’s kingdom is present in the Spirit of Jesus Christ within us and among us.
There is no fulfillment of Jeremiah 29:11 apart from new life in Christ. He alone brings us home from exile into God’s family and kingdom. For the exiles in Babylon, God promised them return to their homeland in seventy years. For believers today, we are given the Holy Spirit as an assurance of God’s kingdom within us and that is coming with Jesus’ return to us. We are called to “hold fast” and to keep the faith in the meantime as we live in this fallen world that calls for “patient endurance.” Our hope and future is with us always: Jesus Christ.
This is the ultimate fulfillment of Jeremiah 29:11
September 26, 2016
“19 There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house– 28 for I have five brothers–so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”
Several of the parables in Luke are about money and caring for the poor. This story one is about money and hell and much more. You may imagine that you want a preacher who preaches like Jesus. Well, Jesus preached and taught about money and hell a good bit.
This story seems to be more than a normal parable. Some church Fathers wondered if this was in fact a true story. Several commentators consider it an “example story” rather than a traditional parable, because it seems real and makes several points rather than one.
The story begins with contrasting characters. The rich man is offensively rich and self-indulgent. He reminds me of King Ahasureus who reigned over Persia and Media during the time of the book of Esther. He indulged himself and his nobles for 180 days of feasting and splendor. This rich man seems to live like a king continuously in a gated estate. The purple garments and linen underwear were signs of his luxurious living. His offensive wealth and self-indulgence contrasts with the offensive poverty of the poor man Lazarus—a Hebrew name that means “God helps.” Lazarus is grossly steeped in ill health and want. He hungers desperately for the crumbs that the rich man sweeps to the floor. He is sickly and afflicted not unlike Job. The image of dog’s licking Lazarus’ sores isn’t meant to indicate affection by the dogs. These are not the little dog’s that “eat crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:27) These are big dogs that scour the countryside devouring carcasses and scraping up food where they may. They lick Lazarus’ sores perhaps wondering if he is yet dead.
To the rich man and the religious leaders of the day, a poor man like Lazarus was indeed dead to them and considered a corpse or blight upon the people of God. To them, he was an impediment to the restoration of the glory of Israel.
The scene changes to two widely contrasting eternal scenes. The rich man dies, and you can imagine with what great ceremony he was laid to “rest.” I imagine his five brothers spared no expense to feast in his remembrance and regale each other with stories of his hospitality and parties. His body would have been placed in a rich man’s tomb and mourners would have been hired to accompany his body and wail over his tomb. However, his soul and spirit are exiled to torment in Hades. This torment describes the kind of torture applied to a prisoner in order to force confession or information. It is a severe torment.
On the other hand, Lazarus’ dead body probably laid where it was for days until someone noticed he was dead and demanded that servants depose of him in the place of the dead where dogs and worms would gorge on his flesh. Or, perhaps the dogs themselves carried him away as they did the wicked Jezebel. (2 Kings 9:33-37) Lazarus’ spirit and soul receive the treatment of a prince, as angels carry him to Abraham’s bosom where he will spend eternity in the paradise of God.
The Rich man does not repent even in torment. He continues in his pride to see himself as entitled and on par with Abraham. He is like those people of the world described in Revelation who despite their torment refused to repent and give God glory. (Rev. 16:8-9) He speaks to Abraham to send Lazarus to him to quench his thirst and then to his brothers to warn them. He demonstrates no humility or love for God.
Abraham explains that there is an eternal chasm between torment and paradise that cannot be crossed. He asserts to the rich man that his brothers have “Moses and the Prophets” that are sufficient to lead them to paradise rather than torment. If they will not adhere to the Scriptures of God’s word, they will pay no attention the amazing wonder of a man returning from the dead.
I believe this story conveys eternal truths for all people. The following four are those that stand out to me.
Compassion for the Poor.
Jesus said that the poor would always be with us (Matt 26:11). He echoes Deuteronomy 15:11: For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ We always have an obligation to help the poor…the financially poor, emotionally and mentally poor, physically poor and those in temporary need of some kind. The presence of the poor does not excuse us from reaching out to them and helping them. Lazarus was literally as close a neighbor to the rich man as possible. He was outside the rich man’s gate. We are commanded to love such people as we love ourselves.
We may help someone in a temporary need, or we may enter into an ongoing helping relationship with someone or an organization. For example, we might buy a meal for a stranger one time and never see them again, or we may commit to child sponsorship through Compassion Intl for the duration of a child’s participation in the ministry. We may even be led to initiate an ongoing ministry. Methodist pastor and seminary professor Randy Jesson and his wife founded Global Hope that operates three orphanages overseas to help children in poverty. This is an ongoing expression of compassion and help for the poor.
Several obstacles to helping the poor can creep into our lives. These include busyness, apathy, cynicism or selfishness. I encourage to ask God to lead you to the poor outside your gate and how to help them.
Finality and Eternity of Death or Life.
This story shows us the finality of our eternal destination. The rich man has no second chance or avenue to leave his place of torment. Jesus encourages us to focus on the eternal and to pursue treasure in heaven. Paul also teaches about the value of the eternal: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:18) Invest in eternity today.
It is good to meditate upon the cross of Jesus and the suffering that he endured for us. The severity of his suffering and humiliation indicate the severity and the finality of the death and torment from which he died to save us. It is because eternity is forever, and his love compelled him to save us from eternal torment.
We have the opportunity to store up for ourselves treasure in heaven. (Mark 10:21). How do we live for eternity? We can pursue relationships that will endure for eternal life. Let Scripture inspire you to see beyond appearances and to imagine eternity. Our works of faith that we do through and by Jesus endure for eternity. Take steps of faith in good works through Jesus. Ask yourself “what am I doing for eternity today.” Likewise, ask the Lord, “What can I do for eternity today?”
Obstacles exist to keep our focus on worldly pursuits and love of money. We need to be intentional about keeping an eternal perspective. Our eternity will rest in our own hands or in God’s hands. Only one of us has the power of eternal life in our hands. On our own, we will end up in torment outside of God’s paradise just like the rich man.
Urgency of Evangelism Now
This story shows us the urgent need to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people today. The rich man wants to warn his brothers of what they will encounter unless they repent. This is his desperate plea; however, there is no going back. We know this truth today while we are yet living. We have the capability to warn our loved ones and to urge them to be reconciled to God through Jesus. (2 Cor 5:20). We must adopt the urgency of the Apostle Paul who writes, “Necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16)
The final words of Matthew’s gospel indicate the urgency of evangelizing others. Jesus gives his disciples the “Great Commission” prior to his departure from them. He commands them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)
How can we approach this? We can begin in prayer by praying for a few who need salvation and praying earnestly and generally for all people in the world who need God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. It is necessary that we tell people about Jesus—his salvation and how he has blessed us in our lives. We don’t have to share the entire Bible or our entire history of faith, but we can share substantially as God leads and inspires us.
Obstacles to evangelism include all those above plus apathy, unbelief and shyness. We need the heart and love of Jesus for the lost. We also need to reaffirm to ourselves the Scriptural message that it is only through Jesus Christ that anyone is saved. Apart from being born again through Jesus, there is no salvation. (John 3:3) Those who die outside of Christ will be exiled from God forever. We have to overcome our own unbelief to gird up our courage and faith to speak out for Jesus. Likewise, we must fight through our shyness and unwillingness to offend others. These are not excuses to keep our mouths shut from proclaiming the gospel.
Word of God
Abraham’s response in the story regarding the significance of “Moses and the Prophets” shows that that Scripture bears the burden of the message of salvation for all people. “Moses and the Prophets” point to the Old Testament that was the Jewish Scripture of Jesus’ day. This is the same Scripture that Jesus unfolds to show all that he fulfilled in this death and resurrection. (Luke 24:44). Paul writes that All Scripture is breathed out by God. (2 Timothy 3:16) And Jesus says of his word: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
The gospel or word of God is the power of salvation for all who believe. (Romans 1:16) The word presents Jesus and salvation and revelation for each day. If we are honest, I think we have to say that there is little excuse for Christians not to be in Scripture everyday as it is possible. We need this word. God tells us that it is our life. (Deut 32:47) None of the excuses we use hold water. In order to be disciples or to fulfill Jesus’ command to make disciples, we need to read, study and meditate upon the Bible.
The Compassionate and Generous Rich Man
Any command of God or any act or thought of obedience to God has been fulfilled on our behalf by Jesus. Jesus Christ is the true Rich Man. Jesus lived in the paradise of heaven. In all glory and splendor and riches that are beyond imagination. We, humans, dwelled in exile in the fallen world of pain and suffering outside the gates of paradise. We were impoverished in sin, death, sickness and despair beyond imagination.
Rather than ignore us or despise us, Jesus left the riches of heaven to come to us and save us. He has become for us the gate into the riches of his glory. God has not neglected us but has come to save us. Through Jesus Christ we are comforted and may enter into his paradise. He did more than throw us some crumbs or help us out a little bit to get on our way. He became sin and death for us. He took on our hideous state of being in sin and death. (2 Cor 5:21) Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
While we were in our worst condition—dead in sin and enemies of God, Jesus loved us and saved us. Now the riches and glories of heaven can become our eternal home through him.
And it is through him and only through him that we can fulfill each of the four elements highlighted above. Through Jesus, we are more than conquerors who can bear much fruit. So let us walk in the way of love.
August 23, 2016
Luke 13:10-17: Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.
Luke tells us this story of a woman who had a spirit that disabled her and made her infirm. Jesus, with a word and the laying on of his hands, delivers the woman from the evil spirit. She responds by standing up straight and praising God. Jesus describes her as having been bound and crippled by Satan for 18 years, until he set her free and restored her to health.
For 18 years, this daughter of Abraham lived among God’s people and was oppressed by an evil spirit from Satan. Until the kingdom of God showed up through the person of the king, Jesus Christ, in power and wisdom, she was helpless in the darkness of evil. This, John says, is the reason Jesus came: “to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8) The light of the kingdom of God overcomes the darkness of the evil one.
In neglecting the state of this woman for 18 years and then in objecting to Jesus’ sabbath ministry of healing and deliverance, the synagogue ruler shows that he and his ilk are content with “having the appearance of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:5) The form of religion that lacks the power of God to heal and deliver from evil, sin and death exists in futility and delusion.
In his love and by his power, Jesus has come to set the captives free and to give sight to the blind. He brings joy and gladness in the gift of eternal life here and now. He subverts the ways of the world that is under the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19). His kingdom has come, is present and is coming in fullness.
How and why are people in bondage to evil spirits? We know that Jesus has defeated Satan and disarmed him from having power and authority in light of God’s kingdom. However, Satan and his minion demons continue to wage a sort of guerrilla warfare against humanity. Often through deception, subtlety and intimidation, they try to oppress and disable people from flourishing in life through Jesus. Here are some ways we can find ourselves disabled or bound by Satan. We must not become defensive against the reality of our weaknesses, vulnerabilities, sinfulness and failures. We must not shy away from reality due to our desire to avoid blame or hurt feelings. The fault of sin is in all of us. In all ways, we are offenders and victims. By God’s grace, power and wisdom, let’s grow up in the faith and deal with it.
- Habits of Sin: We have forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ in whom there is no condemnation. The wages of sin is death–a statement of fact and truth. No sin is inconsequential. I believe each sin also has the potential to lead to bondage through habitual sin in our lives. Imagine that behind each temptation to sin is an evil spirit tempting and enticing us to give in to the sinful nature. For example, if we are considering stealing a product from store. If we give in and take it and walk out the store, we have just made a new friend with the spirit of stealing who will be our companion and potentially bind us to the ongoing sin of theft. This bondage to theft will disable us in our life and prevent us from living abundantly through Christ. I believe any sinful habit can develop a binding relationship with an evil spirit who becomes our companion in that activity until we confess, repent and receive deliverance and spiritual healing. Because we have all sinned, none of us are innocent bystanders and are all vulnerable to evil spirits due to our sinfulness.
- Rejection or Neglect of the Ministry of the Church: Throughout the book of Acts, we see the church gathering together to worship, ministry, disciple and fellowship. God has given gifts to his body for mutual edification. The kingdom of God exists through Jesus Christ who is present in the world through his Spirit and his body–the church. Scripture tells us that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17) It is trendy for Christian spokespeople to banter about hating the church and listing all of the things wrong with the church. However, the church is God’s people, and it is through these people that God works. I believe that the Lord leads his sheep to his flock where they can be nourished with his prophetic word and anointed ministry for them. Where God’s people gather is where his angels also are gathered and where his glory rests. To be outside of the spiritual authority, anointing and power of the people of God is to be in a place where you are vulnerable to the evil one. The Spirit of the Lord is the Spirit of love, power and a sound mind. We must continually seek his fullness among the worship, ministry and sacraments of God’s people who have been gifted for our sake.
- Opening Doors to Demons: The door of our spiritual lives can be opened purposefully or left open and unlocked neglectfully. The result may be the same: an evil spirit comes in and takes up residence with us. Is it so easy for an evil spirit to come in and attach itself to you as looking at pornography on the computer, coveting someone’s house, car or life, a little gossip, a little pride or getting a little high or a little drunk. I suggest that these all have the potential to welcome the work of the evil one. It may seem simple to us, but evil spirits have been working for centuries to get that door open, and they will take advantage of it. Before you open the door, think about what is on the other side. To the evil one, leaving the door open and unguarded is as good as an invitation. They will grab some friends and come on in to rob, steal, cripple, bind and destroy. They must be evicted and banished by Jesus and his heavenly host.
- Victimization and Abuse: Through traumatic experiences and especially abuse and violence, demons can attach themselves to us in oppressive and tormenting bondage. Is this fair? No, it is not. When it comes to spiritual warfare and the behavior of demons, throw fairness and justice out the window. Heck no it is not fair for the child of abuse to then have to deal with demons of accusation, fear and bondage! Nevertheless, it must be done. Even as a parent can bring a child forth for infant baptism, a parent can bring forth evil spirits upon his or her child through torment, abuse, exposure to sin and by opening doors to demons. The devil doesn’t care if you don’t think that is right or fair. The reality is that trauma and abuse often have accompanying demons that further victimize and abuse and must be dealt with by deliverance and healing in the Name of Jesus.
- Purposeful Engagement with Demons: Initiating any contact with the spiritual realm outside the kingdom of God–whether done seriously or in jest, opens the door wide open and invites demons inside to sit at the head of the table. Involvement in false religions is in fact engagement with demons. Seeking some kind of power, knowledge, position, control or effective curses through accessing the spiritual realm is Satanism by any other name. No matter for what reason you let this tiger out of its cage, it is out and is a killer. The only hope is to access a greater power in Jesus Christ.
- Being a Child of God Through Jesus Christ: If you are in Christ and participating in the kingdom of God, the devils know your name and scheme to oppose you. The devil and his demons do, in fact, prowl around like hungry, vicious lions seeking whom they may devour. (1 Peter 5:8) Mature Christians are not unaware of the evil spirits’ schemes. Complacent and immature Christians ignore spiritual warfare and become subject to the fiery darts and the deceptive whispers and deathly shadows of the evil one. The evil spirits try to disable active Christians in any way they can do it. Inactive Christians have made themselves disabled spiritually, so the enemy just keeps a finger on them lest they rise up through Christ. Our Christian devotional lives must include prayers of deliverance and healing for ourselves and others. We must continually invite the angels to minister to us and protect us through our prayers to the Father and our words of blessing and life.
As Christians, we must continually live into our baptismal declarations that we made or were made on our behalf at baptism. Here are the declarations from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer:
- Question: Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? Answer: I renounce them.
- Question: Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? Answer: I renounce them.
- Question: Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God? Answer: I renounce them.
- Question: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? Answer: I do.
- Question:Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? Answer: I do.
- Question: Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord? Answer: I do.
I encourage you to recommit to these declarations. Where you have failed, confess and repent. Ask the Lord to deliver you and heal you. Seek the prayers and ministry of those gifted and mature in the ministry of healing and deliverance.
Here is one particular resource that I have found to be excellent. At the Above & Beyond Christian Counseling website you will find myriad resources including reading material and podcasts. Devour it!
August 15, 2016
I think that we preachers try very hard to avoid associating Jesus and Christianity with judgment. We carefully phrase our words to make sure people do not think we are judging them or trying to make them feel badly about themselves. We emphasize truths about Jesus that proclaim his love, grace, mercy, goodness and compassion. Jesus possesses and expresses all of these qualities. Jesus also highlights himself as judge and warns of coming judgment. When the apostles Peter and Paul preach the gospel, judgment is an integral element. The gospel message of heaven itself includes the blatant presentation of judgment. To preach the gospel according to the New Testament must include presenting Jesus as Savior, Lord and Judge who will judge all people. The gospel does in fact warn of a coming judgment that has eternal consequences. I believe the failure to rightly incorporate this judgment in our preaching produces an incomplete and potentially damning message.
If we were hosting Jesus at a gathering at our home or church, how would we promote this gathering? We would be inclined to invite people to come and experience his healing, wisdom, teaching, deliverance, blessing and goodness. Maybe people coming would come with dreams and imaginations of what Jesus would do for them. Jesus does all of those good works among us today. There is no doubt about it. There is more.
Jesus also describes his coming another way: “I came to cast fire!” and “I have come to give division!” Fire and division! (Luke 12:49-53) These are what Jesus brings, too. The author of Hebrews lets us know that “Our God is a consuming fire!” (Hebrews 12:29) God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah and tells us “My word is like fire.” (Jeremiah 23:29) Jesus brings the fire of God’s presence and the fire of God’s word. When John the baptizer pointed to Jesus, he described him as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
What about division? In Jesus, the kingdom of God has come, and it comes against the kingdom of darkness. When God spoke through Jeremiah, he was indicting the false prophets and his people who taught and followed lies about God. They fabricated images of God, made up explanations about God and led people to follow Baal, a demonic spirit that led God’s people astray into evil. God warns them that they can make up all they want to about God and truth, but God’s word is like fire and “like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.” (Jer 23:29) There is ongoing division between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of evil. Division exists between lies and truth. Jesus comes to establish the division between those who belong to God and those who do not. He is drawing people into God’s kingdom and salvation. Those who receive salvation will be divided from those who do not. Think about the sheep and the goats. This division becomes eternal.
Jesus then warns the people with the following analogy of eternal judgement:
“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.” (Luke 12:57-59)
What is Jesus saying here? Who is our “accuser?” Is it Satan? His name means “accuser.” He is our adversary. I don’t think Jesus is encouraging us to reconcile with Satan. He is and will be our enemy. Rather, I think that in this case Jesus is describing the law and commandments of God as our accuser. The commandments of God will accuse us before the judge, and if we face the accusations of the law and commandments of God, we will without a doubt be found guilty and condemned. As Jesus states, we will not get out of that prison, because we will never pay the last penny. We owe too much due to our guilt: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23a) If we go before God as our judge and are measured against the accusations of the law, we will be condemned into eternal division from God and into eternal fire of judgement. This is why Jesus warns us to reconcile with our accuser before judgement.
How do we avoid judgment of God based on the law? Can we become good enough to get by? Can we meet the law’s demands and follow all of the commandments of God? The answer is “No!” If you don’t believe me, just try it the rest of the week.
We are reconciled with the law through Jesus who fulfills every iota, every jot and tittle of the law for our sake. Earlier in chapter 23 of Jeremiah, the Lord is described as “The Lord our Righteousness.” (Jer 23:6) We have sinned and deserve condemnation; however, we become innocent and acceptable by the free gift of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we have peace with God and do not face judgment and exile.
Jesus encourages us: “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) The opposite is also conveyed in the New Testament by Jesus others that if we do not believe him and accept his salvation we will come into judgement and remain in death. We must accept the free gift of Jesus’ gift of fulfilling the law, lest we find ourselves being judged according to our own works. That is a judgment we will fail every time.
The eternal gospel of heaven includes the reality of the hour of judgment coming on the earth. This may surprise us today in the church that the gospel includes the message of judgment to the unsaved. We tend to set judgment over and against what we call “the gospel” or “good news;” however, Scripture sees them as conjoined. For example, when Peter preaches the gospel to Cornelius’ household he proclaims the following: “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:42-43) Peter preaches judgment and forgiveness of sins, but not one without the other.
Similarly, Paul includes the coming judgment in his gospel message to the Greeks in Athens: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment: “Concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:9-11) As the ruler of the world is judged, so his followers will be judged if they do not repent. It is God’s hope that the Spirit’s conviction will lead to sorrow, repentance and salvation.
This eternal gospel that includes judgment goes into all the world warning people to repent and believe in Jesus. The judgment of God draws the praise and worship of heaven rather than the moans and groans that it meets on earth. John testifies to the praise of heaven regarding God’s judgment, “”Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just.” (Revelation 19:1-2) Jesus himself will come in righteousness to judge and to make war! (Rev 19:11) He comes to bring fire and division.
We are on the way to the judge. We will see him face to face. We will have various reactions to seeing the face of our Savior and judge. Some will cry to the mountains and rocks “”Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.’” (Revelation 6:16) Can you imagine anyone hiding from the face of the Jesus that has been caricatured by our culture? He is soft and cushy and cartoonish in his passivity. This is not the image of Jesus of the New Testament. He is the holy God.
Many others will weep and wail at the face of Jesus. (Rev 1:7) They will mourn in regret and tragedy of neglecting and rejecting the Savior who is the Judge. Who would ever be sad in the light of the Jesus of our cultural imagination? Doesn’t he bless everyone? There will be that day when time ends and lack of decision for Jesus’ salvation results in eternal division. The New Testament tells us that Jesus tell people to depart from him into eternal exile into the fires of judgment.
For those who have received Jesus’ forgiveness of sins and salvation, they will rejoice at his coming and bypass judgement to enter into the paradise of eternal life: “But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7) These receive the fire of God’s holiness now and are saved from all that is not from God. These receive the fire of God’s word into their hearts and lives now recognizing that today is the day of God’s salvation. Let the fire come to us today and burn away our sinfulness and death.
The gospel confronts us with the reality of Jesus as righteous judge and the reality of a final and eternal judgement. The gospel shows us our guilt and offers us Jesus as our innocence and freedom from condemnation. We will face and accept Jesus as our savior, or we will face him in our guilt as judge and the law as our accuser. Our works will not be able to save us. So let us repent and receive the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of Jesus. If you invite the Lord’s fire into your life today, it will burn what separates you from him and facilitate abundant life. If you wait for the time of judgment, fire will consume you and separate you from abundant life forever
August 8, 2016
What sort of welcome do we express to those outside of our church and outside of the body of Christ? We may think that by announcing “All are welcome” people ought to be rushing through the doors to join our worship of Jesus and family of faith. If they don’t, we are inclined to think that there is something wrong with them.
But can you imagine a person who grew up in a broken family or a person who has lost their family and who is lonely and in need of companionship, parenting and brotherly love walking up to an attractive house in a comfortable neighborhood where a family seems to live in peace and love and then knocking on the door, opening it and walking into the living room, family room and then the kitchen and sitting down at the dining table to enjoy the meal along with the family? It is preposterous. It doesn’t happen. As families and homeowners, we don’t want it to happen, and we lock doors and keep an eye out to make sure it doesn’t happen. Our expectations that someone in need would overcome our home protectiveness, the social awkwardness, our tribalism and the challenge of finding a loving home and coming and sitting down at our table to eat is about on par with how a church often treats welcoming visitors. The result is that it rarely happens, and when it does we might be a bit surprised. In reality, from the perspective of the outsider and non-church goer, our welcome may be as inviting as the welcome sign on the door in the picture below. The outsider might wonder “Hmmm. How does this work? What’s going on there?” They might have heard that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” so they are not going to risk it. They choose to stay away.
Without the conscious intention of it happening, our churches might seem difficult to approach like a home in a private community or one without an open porch rather than a home in a “front porch” community. Ambridge, PA, where we lived while I attended Trinity School for Ministry for over two years billed itself as a front porch community. Even though it was far passed its prime. The homes in Ambridge were built close to the neighborhood streets with front porches equal to the width of the house. The pattern of the town and style of the homes contributed to relationships and neighborliness. If you sat on the porch, you would see your neighbors and interact with them.
Church of the Redeemer’s physical porch is far off. We are not in a neighborhood. People don’t walk by and interact with the church. I am thankful that we do have some geographic neighbors active in our church, but we have few who live in proximity to our location. Most people drive a while to come to Redeemer. We could sit on our church porch all day and not interact with our neighbors. However, the porch is still relevant and a necessary step to welcoming people into our lives—at home and at church. The porch still becomes the real and figurative place where people meet, shake hands and talk comfortably about things like the weather, kids, sports and politics. Those porch conversations lead to the fellowship at the table that leads to the relationships that change lives. We know that when people come in they experience the hospitality and love of the Lord just like they would if they walked up and sat down at our family’s table with us. Those who are lost from Jesus just don’t know they can do it or why they should.
As a church, we need to extend the welcome of our porch further into our neighbor’s lives. Together as a family of faith, we experience the treasures of the kingdom of heaven every time we gather at our church. God is present with us. He works among us to produce his fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, patience and self-control. When we gather together at our church, God works to transform us. His Spirit works among us in power and love. This is a supernatural reality that we experience, and God wants us to share all that he does and invite people into his presence and into our lives. I know that each time I enter Church of the Redeemer, God is present and invited to express himself however he wants. I know that anytime I am in the building, God is likely to speak and manifest himself to me and others. People outside of the church have no idea that sort of dynamic happens among us.
Every new person that enters God’s kingdom or that becomes a part of our parish family of faith brings new gifts and a new dimension of God’s treasures among us. I am thankful for every person God leads to worship at our church and participate in our ministries. We are each an integral part of Christ’s body and add to his body. As the Anglican Divine, John Donne wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” We are blessed by every person coming to Christ among us.
I think when we start telling a non-church goer about church and speaking in churchy language their reaction is something like an author describes a common reaction by us when we hear about some new technology: “I don’t understand it. I don’t need it. I don’t like it. You’re scaring me.” When we extend the porch of our church and our welcome to someone, we can start with why we would hope they might come to church. Reasons like Jesus gives us peace. Jesus heals us in many ways. Wherever God’s Spirit is there is freedom. As a church, we try to love as Jesus loves. You can come and experience God’s presence. Jesus removes guilt and shame. God hears our prayers, and we pray for one another. All of these are true. The greatest truth we can share is that Jesus gives us eternal life, and we can live in the promise of his kingdom today. Perhaps we have come to take these treasures for granted and think they are no big deal. The truth is that this is the biggest deal in the universe. We cannot keep it to ourselves or keep to ourselves the wonder of how God works among us.
An Ambridge Porch with Friends from Seminary
Look at the way God worked in the early church. On one hand, people outside the community of believers respected them, but on the other hand, people were uneasy about joining them. Yet, people were added to their number daily. It seems like a contradiction.
“Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” Acts 5:12-16
The church was meeting on the “porch,” and nobody “dared join them.” It seems that the believers must have taken that porch out to where the people were and reached out their hands to walk them into their midst where miracles occurred. Through the outreached hands of the believers, more and more people were healed, freed and saved.
Each one of us can be the figurative porch of our church extending the love of Jesus and our faith out into the community. Through our porchfront conversation and handshakes, we can lead people comfortably into the hospitality of the Lord’s Table and family. We can let them know there is nothing to fear, and they don’t have to be alone. We can let them know where God is and how to enter his love. We can let them know that we’ll be there with them, too.
Let’s build porches of welcome!
I completed two weeks plus of residency in pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY. The campus is a picturesque setting this time of year, as is the surrounding countryside. God has brought together a diverse group of 55 or so men and women in ministry from all parts of the globe. Many states of the US are represented as well as Australia, Philippines, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Israel, Liberia, Nigeria, England, Ireland and Canada. At the first session of orientation, we had assigned seating. Beside me happened to be a pastor from Ohio, Brian, who grew up in Edenton, NC and whose parents met while attending ECSU, a local college. Beside him was Simon, an Anglican priest from the Province of Kenya who, of course, knows our friend Qampicha Wario, now Bishop of the Diocese Marsabbit and “one of our best bishops” according to Simon.
The three days of orientation and learning sessions focused on the overall scope of the program and on the initial phases of the dissertation process that will continue over 3-4 years. The seminary faculty and staff were impressive in their preparations and focus for the students and program. It clearly has been continually refined over several years to be the best and most fruitful possible experience it can be. The orientation activities facilitated new relationships and even team building among our assigned small groups. Throughout the residency, the hospitality shown to the students was overwhelming. From the leaders of the program to the RA’s who unlocked my dorm room a few times (a story in itself — thanks Tory!), we were treated like VIP’s. I know that we were prayed for prior to and during the residency.
Because I was able to complete my pre-residency work prior to coming, I was able to use some free time to explore hiking trails nearby. These outings were some valuable “alone time” during days full of interaction with people. I was blessed to be directed to some beautiful trails and areas. I included a link with some pictures. These adventures included encounters with deer and snakes and one time ending up six miles from where I started and being blessed to meet a family who gave me a ride back to my car.
One of the most rewarding experiences of the residency was the development of the relationships between the members of my small group. We met about every day, had meals together, prayed for one another, laughed and joked, told stories and talked about all sorts of things. I believe these will be lifelong friends and cohorts in ministry.
On the first Sunday, Simon Thiongo, the Anglican priest from Kenya, and Mike Mwangi, a Pentecostal pastor from Kenya, and I visited a nearby Anglican church – St. Aidan’s. It is a five year old church that was planted by an Asbury graduate named Fr. Lee Rogers, now an Anglican priest. The service and worship were excellent and used the liturgy from the Anglican Province of Kenya. My Christian brothers from Kenya felt right at home. Our international Christian brothers and sisters have much to contribute to our faith and Christian maturity. I have already benefited greatly from their witness.
The second Sunday, I drove to The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, the Trappist Monastery where the monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton lived. Celebrating the Holy Communion with the monks and about 25 guests was an incredible mystical experience. The picture of the fawn is from the garden in front of the church at the Abbey.
I am very thankful to everyone who has facilitated and supported this effort. It is especially a blessing to have two trustworthy priests at our church, Fr. Erich Junger and Mother Jessica Lee, to lead worship and preach while I am gone. Along with our deacons Rev. Susan Witwer and Rev. Dr. Fred Moncla and all of the other leaders and members of the church, all was in good and capable hands. Most importantly, God is present with us always.
In our discussions in class and in our small groups, three things truths continually arose to me:
- All of us in ministry provide a personal and Biblical view of God — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit who is uniquely expressed through our personalities and giftedness.
- All of us have experienced challenges in life and ministry that God has redeemed by grace.
- All of us have benefited greatly from spiritual mentors who have taken us under their care and faithfully nurtured our spiritual development.
Some of the activities of the D. Min. program resemble elements of the M. Div program; however, we all have several years of pastoring and ministering behind us, so we bring to it all a more mature, seasoned approach. In other words, our eyes have been opened. We have more wisdom and spiritual gifts to share, and we have more wounds that need attention. We’ve experienced the blessings and challenges of God’s vocation. We come asking, “I need to know about this.” or “I need help here.” We also come offering, “I can help you with this.”
The professors of the program who taught the classes all demonstrated deep devotional lives, seasoned experience, passion for God’s word and a love for students and for teaching. We were truly discipled, challenged and inspired by our professors.
Throughout the residency program and my hikes on the trails, the Spirit of the Lord was present and ministering. A constant theme of it all was that God loves us and really enjoys us when we are enjoying him and his creation. A message from the Lord that he impressed upon my heart was this: “Jesus really loves me and enjoys me and gives me freedom to enjoy life with no fear.”
Bringing people into the reality of that statement is ultimately the goal of ministry. It implies and relies upon the constant presence of Jesus to reveal himself and make alive. I am confident that the work of this program and the ministry I receive will serve to better facilitate this work of God. So, may the paper writing continue…
Along those lines, the purpose of my dissertation project is to develop a training in spiritual formation to help equip the staff and volunteers of pregnancy resource centers for their ministry of life. (helpful resource materials are welcome!)
Here is the link for pictures: