Jesus Among His Churches

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me. When I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was one like the Son of Man… “The mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” ~ Revelation 1:12-13, 20

Revelation is a hard book. There are many symbols and different prophecies that have left well-educated men and women stumped for centuries. Yet, despite the debate of the minutia, Revelation is also an easy book.

John received a message from Jesus to write to seven churches. The main point of the letter: The world is filled with many distractions and hardships that seek to lead people away from Jesus. Yet, Jesus has already won and will bring his people into victory through whatever trials and sufferings. If we are faithful to him, in the end we get the joys of eternity, ruling under Jesus over a new heavens and new earth. Therefore, worship, follow, and obey King Jesus.

That core message is easy to understand, despite the details of different symbols.

And it is a message that we need. The Bible speaks a lot about persevering in our faith and remaining faithful to Jesus. The reason is that we can get easily distracted or led astray if we don’t stay focused.

John’s letter opens with a beautiful reminder to help us stay focused and fight spiritual drift: Jesus dwells among his churches.

And in his image, John saw Jesus in power and might. Revelation 1:14-16 describes Jesus in this way:

The hair of his head was white as wool, white as snow–and his eyes like a fiery flame. his feet were like fine bronze as it is fired in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of cascading waters. He had seven stars in his right hand; a sharp double-edged sword came from his mouth, and his face was shining like the sun at full strength.

Each of the seven churches in Revelation was different. Some were small, some were big; some had relative comfort at the moment, some suffered great persecution. And Jesus walked among each, calling them to faithfulness.

This is the encouragement for us: It doesn’t matter if our church is big or small. It doesn’t matter if we are rural or urban. It doesn’t matter if the congregation is older or filled with young families and children. It doesn’t matter if the church’s finances are strong or a struggle. What does matter is that Jesus dwells among his churches.

And that should encourage us to remain faithful, no matter our situation.

Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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The Confidence of Faith

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

“If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” ~ Daniel 3:17-18

Faith in God gives us confidence to face difficult circumstances and even death.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three friends of Daniel, served well in Nebuchadnezzar’s government. Yet, when the king built a giant statue and demanded everyone under his rule worship before it, these three, being faithful Jews, refused. When the music played and everyone else fell to the ground, they stood firm, even in the threat of death.

They were given a second chance, and even then, they refused. When faced with the rage of the king and the threat of death via a fiery furnace, they still stood firm. And why?

Because they knew that God was greater than the king of Babylon, the most powerful nation of that time. They knew that God was big enough to rescue them. Yet, as they told Nebuchadnezzar, even if God did not spare their lives, they would still not worship the idol. They knew that God was worthy of supreme glory.

Such confidence we can have by faith in God through Jesus.

We hope not to face a threat like these three faced, but even if we do, our faith leads us to strength and confidence.

Jesus, after all, is the Resurrection and the Life, as he told Martha in John 11. If we have Jesus, even if someone is to kill us, the worst they can do is usher us into the joyful presence of our Savior-King. Even if they destroy this body in a fire, we will get a glorious one in the resurrection.

Faith gives us confidence to face the extremes. How much more the ups and downs of daily life?

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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The Folly of Sin

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

Then a large crowd of the Jews learned Jesus was there. They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus. ~ John 12:9-11

Sin blinds us. Sin makes even intelligent people do foolish things.

The religious leaders of the Jews during Jesus’ time on earth were not dumb men. Most were well educated and knew the Torah from front to back. Yet, in their sin, they seethed with a hatred for Jesus. In their pride, they wanted to kill him because they felt he was robbing them of followers.

Yet, as John explained, they not only wanted to kill Jesus but also Lazarus.

In John 11, we are told the story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection. Though he was in the grave for four days, Jesus arrived, spoke into the darkness of the tomb, and Lazarus emerged wrapped in burial clothes but very much alive.

Because of the miracle, many among the Jews began to follow Jesus and sought him out to see Lazarus as well. (It’s not everyday, after all, that one meets a person who was days dead and then alive.)

Throughout the Gospels, we don’t read about the scribes, Pharisees, or priests denying that Jesus did miracles. Instead, they attributed them to devilish origins. The raising of Lazarus seems to be no different: They did not deny what had occurred.

But they thought of a less than brilliant plan–they would kill a person who had already been raised from the dead. Never mind the fact that if they were successful, and the Bible never tells us their plan went beyond the initial thought, then Jesus could easily just raise him from the dead again.

Sin blinds us to the obvious. This is why the Proverbs say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The way to overcome the blindness of sin is by trusting in the God who sent Jesus to be the solution to our sin. May God be the source of our wisdom!

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

The Glory of God Among the Nations

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

“I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the judgment I have executed and the hand I have laid on them.” ~ Ezekiel 39:21

There is no greater good than God. There is no greater treasure than Jesus. There is no greater sight to behold than the glory of God on display in the world.

As you read through the Bible, you realize that God is passionate about his glory. Glory is a term that means brightness or majesty. In terms of God, it speaks to his goodness and character. Glory is very much a part of the nature of God. He is light and in him there is no darkness, James tells us. And none is good but God, Jesus said. God is also all-powerful and all-pure, thus why he told Moses that no person could look upon his glory and live.

In a world that has been broken and corrupted by our sin, God puts his glory on display most fully through judgment and salvation. The closing sentences of Ezekiel 39 speak to both these realities. God declared his glory would be displayed to the nations of the earth at that time as they saw the exile of Israel due to their sin and unfaithfulness but also as they saw his love for his people and his grace upon them after the exile.

This, in part, is a picture of the greater glory we see as God saves and judges through Jesus.

God brings his wrath against sin. God also gives grace and love to sinner. When Jesus went to the cross, he took all the sins of all his people–all who will trust in him as their Savior-King. In love, Jesus willingly bore all the wrath of God for sin. In turn, he grants complete forgiveness for those all who recognize their sinfulness and rely on Jesus alone. This is the glory of God in his grace through salvation.

Yet, when Jesus returns, he will also stand as judge over the sinners who have refused God’s grace and have chosen to bear the weight of their own sin. God’s wrath against sin is described as an eternal fire. The judgment against sin is final. As perfect goodness, he will not allow evil, corruption, and rebellion remain in his creation forever. He will purify creation by removing sin from it. This is the glory of God in his righteousness through judgement.

In both cases, God puts his glory on display. The day will come where all people will see the glory of God through Jesus. The choice is ours today whether we will see that through salvation or judgment.

Scripture quotes taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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Spiritual Growth

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

I am writing to you, little children, since your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you have come to know the one who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have conquered the evil one. ~ 1 John 2:12-13

Like in physical life, where we are born, grow, and mature, in spiritual life we are born again through faith in Jesus, then meant to grow and mature. The book of Hebrews speaks about feasting on spiritual milk, like a child, versus spiritual meat, like an adult. In his first letter, John also speaks of this growth as he gives his purpose for writing.

John saw his audience in terms of three main stages of spiritual development: Little children, young men (young person), and fathers (parents). These speak to the three main stages of our spiritual growth.

Little children are those who have new life in Jesus. They have experienced the grace of God, know God as their Father (2:14), and have their sins forgiven. They are God’s precious sons and daughters, but they are just starting out in their faith (or have a faith that is undernourished and not yet very mature). They have much growth to experience in the years to come.

Young men (young persons) are those who have been faithfully following Jesus into a spiritual adolescence or young adulthood. Physically, adolescence and young adulthood is the stage where are most full of energy and experience the most change. Spiritually, this stage is similar. This is the stage of a spiritual warrior, a person who is growing strong in their faith and understanding of God’s word. A person who has “conquered the evil one” as they learn to rely more on Jesus and scripture (2:14). They are learning to put sin to death and are becoming more faithful to Jesus.

Fathers (parents) are those who have stepped into maturity. They have a deep relationship with God and a mature understanding of his nature and work in the world. More than this the term fathers indicates they have had a hand in producing a new generation of believers. They share their faith and the gospel with others and have taken responsibility to help others grow and mature in Jesus.

John’s descriptions give us a general picture of the spectrum of spiritual growth and maturity. Where do you see yourself in terms of your spiritual growth? Commit yourself to continue to grow and mature and to become spiritual parents to others to help them grow and mature in Christ.

Scripture quotes taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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The Motive Behind the Money

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

I saw that all labor and all skillful work is due to one person’s jealousy of another. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind. ~ Ecclesiastes 4:4

Money is a part of life. Without money, we can’t pay bills, buy food and clothing, or travel. In normal life, we work, we make money, we spend money, we might save a little money, and we do the same the next day.

The Bible’s view of money and wealth is neutral–it can be used for good or bad. What defines it as such is our use of it and our motive of obtaining it. In Ecclesiastes 4, Solomon, the richest man of his time, pondered the motive. He noticed that people go out and work and make money, some work even extra hard. He also noticed that many did this out of a jealousy for others. They wanted to keep up with their neighbors.

We live in a consumeristic society when it comes to money built on the very thing Solomon lamented. We work, earn, and spend so that we can have the newest best thing, or at least have what our neighbors have. Advertising firms know this. So do credit card companies.

Yet, as Solomon wrote, such an attitude is futile. Life isn’t supposed to be about keeping up with our neighbors.

In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Paul gave a better motivation for money: Use it to be generous and to enjoy life. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with buying things that we want or enjoying ourselves, so long as such things honor God and so long as it doesn’t temper our willingness to share with others.

When we have a heart of generosity, we’re not so interested in what others have so that we can go and gain the same, but we’re interested in what others lack so that, if possible, we can help them gain. Let’s seek to have that heart and motivation behind what we earn.

Scripture quotes taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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Pure Religion

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

God cares deeply about the poor, needy, and afflicted. Psalm 113:7-8 says, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the trash heap in order to seat them with nobles–with the nobles of his people.” It is no wonder, then, that God requires the same for his people.

When we speak of “religion” we speak of a system of beliefs that one holds with a sense of devotion which usually involves devotion to a deity of some kind. Religion, then, involves how we worship and how such worship impacts our lives.

Believing there is one God in three persons, Christians worship God through Jesus. We sing, pray, share, preach, and celebrate all with a focus on what God has done for us through giving Jesus his Son. Jesus even says that to have eternal life is to know the one true God and Jesus whom he sent.

Yet, if we limit our religion to the adoration of God through Jesus with no concern about other people, then we are missing the mark. In telling us to care “for the least of these,” Jesus said that as we do for them, we do for him (Matthew 25:31-46).

It is no wonder, then, that when James wrote of our practice of our religion, he defined it as such: “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27). Later, James will write about how true faith is a faith that works, that does good. True religion, then, is putting our faith into practice.

The world is filled with needs. We see them around us day in and day out. No one person can meet every need. God never intended that to be so outside of Jesus. Yet, we can meet the needs we see and are able to meet. We can put our faith into practice and help take care of those less fortunate than us, just as our Father in heaven raises up the poor and needy and sits them in the place of nobles.

All scriptures taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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