“By the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”

Today’s reading is Revelation 12

I particularly like verse 11.  I find it extremely powerful and motivating.

“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Revelation 12:11)

Verse 11 points out to all of us that the critical blow for Satan came when the Lamb – Jesus Christ – shed His blood for our sins. This means that the ultimate victory was won and continues to be won by sacrifice – Christ’s death in our place to pay the penalty for our sins, and the sacrifices we are obligated to make when we are faithful followers of Christ.

I believe Satan is real and exists in the world today. Satan presents temptations to us and encourages us to act upon those temptations. As we face the battle with Satan we should not fear it but we should follow the example of Christ. Jesus Christ provides us the power to resist Satan’s temptations.

By resisting Satan, our testimony can be inspirational to others. Our actions can influence the actions of others, and this can help draw others into a relationship with Christ.

1 Timothy 1

Recently I was having a conversation with a lady in a courtroom. She had been found guilty of several crimes and was waiting for her sentencing, unsure whether she would be headed home or to jail for up to a year. Through the conversation she shared other struggles she was facing and her hopelessness. I invited her to come to church and suggested that she may be able to find useful resources through church that would benefit her family. Her response was, “Oh – I can’t go to church, that’s for religious people. People like me don’t go to church.”

Timothy says “…though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” 1 Tim 1:13-16

Sometimes I wish there were magic glasses that I could put on which would allow me to see only what is inside a person without the distraction of all that is on the outside. God is able to do that – appearance means nothing to him. How “religious” someone acts does not impress. He gave mercy so that through His mercy to us we would be an example to others of His perfect patience.

How do you think non-believers perceive Christ’s love and mercy through you?

 

 

 

 

 

All have sinned

Romans 3 is a reminder of the amazing gift of life given to us through Christ on the cross. Through our own actions, no matter how hard we try to be “good” and live as Christians, we are reminded that ALL of us are sinners. Without the blood of Christ – the gift given freely for all – heaven and eternal life would be unattainable.

My kids love to point out my flaws. I’ve never been so aware of how many mistakes I make (big, small or otherwise) as I am with four sets of eyeballs on me holding me accountable at all times. The mistakes can range from being incorrect about what time a certain restaurant closes to how closely I follow the speed limit. I realize that I am constantly in the wrong, whether intentional or not, and even over (seemingly) very insignificant things. The good in this though is that I am able to humble myself to my children and, swallowing my pride, admit to them that I am not always right, or that I do not always do the right thing. I am able to set an example for them in admitting fault. I am also then reminded about how many ways there are to fall short. Failing to remember, being wrong, getting angry, breaking the laws of our land (even if only by a few mph). If becoming perfect like God was in our own hands we would all be condemned. Be thankful for God’s willingness to fill the gap with the blood of Christ.

Legal does not equal “Right”

Our reading today is Acts 5, I’ll focus on verses 17-29.

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

Peter and the apostles answered: “We must obey God rather than men.” 

In his powerful book Unspeakable, Os Guinness wrestles with the problem of evil in the world. In one section, he focuses on the Nuremberg trials that followed World War II. The Nazi officers, having been charged with crimes against humanity, offered the following defense: “I was merely following orders.” The verdict, however, was that the soldiers had a moral obligation to defy orders that – though legal – were clearly wrong.

In a much different context, Peter and the disciples were arrested for presenting the message of the risen Christ and brought before the religious rulers in Jerusalem. Rather than allowing themselves to be shaped by the mood of the mob, the disciples declared their intention to continue preaching Christ.

The orders of the religious establishment may have been legal, but they were wrong. When the disciples chose to obey God rather than the godless religious leaders, they raised a standard of conviction that rose above the opinions of the rulers of this world.

The trials we face may test our commitment. But we will find opportunities to exalt God if we trust Him for the strength to go beyond the words of the crowd-pleasers to do what is truly right – NOT just what is acceptable under the terms of legality in our society.

 

In my Father’s House are Many Mansions

Today’s reading is John 14

My 5 year old son, Samuel, asks a million questions a day (at least it seems like a million!). Recently, he asks a lot of questions about heaven. What it looks like, who is there, what people do in heaven, etc. Inevitably the conversations eventually turn to the topic of losing someone, and he makes declarations that he doesn’t want to die and doesn’t want me or anyone else in our family to die. These kind of conversations are challenging – especially with a 5 year old child – but also with mature adults. God has given us so many things on earth to love and cherish that our finite minds have difficulty comprehending the eternity of heaven.

Growing up, I went every Memorial Day with my dad to the cemetery on the edge of town. Many of his loved ones were buried there. His father (who died in his forties), his sister (who died when she was 4 days old), his grandparents, and many more. We would tidy up the areas around their headstones and leave flowers. But the best part of the trip was that my dad talked about them. He told stories about their lives and made me feel like I knew them, although I had never met any of them. And always he spoke of their love for God. He would remind me that while we didn’t get to be with them now, that because they were in heaven with God we would all someday rejoice together for eternity.

As Christians, the concept of eternity is one of the most important things that separates us from non-believers. Death and what comes after should not be frightful for us. In fact, everything we do should be centered around the eventuality of reaching heaven and praying that everyone we know and love will be there too.

I am thankful not only for the memories made all those years ago with my dad, but for the way he was able to bring faith to life about what happens after death. Hopefully the talks that Samuel and I have about heaven will leave him at peace about the concept of mortality and eternity, both of which he is just beginning to grasp.

I am so thankful for the words of Jesus, which are not only comforting, but (to me anyway:) ) exciting as well:

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” John 14:1-4

Do you have everything you need?

In John 6, Jesus feeds more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, walks on water across the sea during a storm in the middle of the night, and then declares to a crowd of people that in order to live they must eat His flesh and drink His blood.

To be honest, some of the events in this chapter seem a little scary. Not just because Jesus talks about eating flesh and blood, but because the concept of eating flesh and blood is difficult to comprehend. Many in the crowd felt the same, “from this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him” (John 6:66).

Walking on water and making bread join a long list of miracles along with raising people from the dead and opening blind eyes.

Jesus’ miracles and His controversial “eat my flesh” statement all convey the same message: Jesus is the point. In this life and the next, we can never be satisfied apart from Jesus. And on the opposite end of that spectrum, if we have nothing but Jesus, we have everything.

“Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’” (John 6:35).

For God So Loved the World

John 3

I can’t remember a time that I did not know the words to John 3:16. It’s one of the verses I learned when I was so young that I can’t even remember not knowing it. My first inclination when writing this post was to focus on verses other than that one, simply because, well – we all probably know it already. Reading through the chapter to prepare for today though, that verse kept popping out at me. I started realizing that, probably because of its familiarity, maybe it’s something I take for granted?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” 

I want us to read this verse today like it’s the first time. Who does God love? The world. Everyone. All of the people of every nation and race, rich and poor, sick and healthy, etc. Jesus tells us God’s love is for each and every individual – no exclusions. Not only that, he loves us even before we acknowledge Him. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

“He gave his only Son…” My children are so far from perfect it’s almost difficult to analogize this, but I cannot think of any earthly circumstance in which I would offer up one of them to be tortured and put to death on behalf of someone else. Much less if they other party was guilty and my child was innocent. As parents, we love our children and fiercely protect them from harm. My mind cannot even conceive of the kind of love that God has for the world that he could let His perfect and blameless son die the way he did for ME.

“…that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Notice what God asks of us in return? Nothing! Jesus doesn’t start talking about the 10 Commandments and all of the laws and rules of the Old Testament. The gift God gave us was given freely. The gift of Jesus’ death on the cross is for everyone and anyone – The only caveat is that we have to believe in Him. God takes away the punishment for our son in exchange for our Faith.

Challenge yourself today to really meditate on this verse. Think about (1) God’s love being for E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. (something my pride struggles with sometimes); (2) the only thing God of us asks is that we believe (no “to-do” list of good acts before God lets us into heaven); and (3) give thanks to God in prayer for His merciful love.

Are you in “hesed” with God?

The terms contract, agreement, treaty and covenant have the same basic legal interpretation. Two or more sides, or parties, have agreed to carry out obligations or responsibilities in exchange for favors from the other party.

We live with these kinds of agreements on a daily basis. When we write a check, use a credit card, take out a loan, or sign a lease, we are engaging in a covenant relationship with the merchant or lender. With our signature on the check, credit card or loan application, we promise to pay for the goods or services in the future. We must be faithful to carry out our regular payments, or the agreement will be terminated by the other party. If either party becomes dissatisfied with the behavior of the other party, the right to end the relationship is exercised.

When I hear the word “covenant,” I am reminded of the marriage vows, most sacred of all covenants in our human world. The man and the woman take vows to love and support each other in the good times as well as the bad and to forsake all others while putting one another first. If one person breaks the covenant, the relationship is tested, or perhaps broken. It is a covenant made and ratified in heaven.

So how often do we hear or think about the word “covenant” when describing our relationship with God? This idea of covenant was important to the formation and continuation of the political, military and economical relationships among many of the ancient kingdoms. Alliances and empires were built largely upon covenants — covenants which were often very fragile.

God chose to pursue his people by the use of this covenant idea. In Malachi 2 we find several references to this idea that God reveals who he is through covenant-making. God’s covenant sets him off from all other gods and tells us that there is none other than him. He is a God who keeps his promises, and his nature promotes obedience in us his people. As we look deeper, we find that the covenant that God offers his people has a quality that is not found in any of the other covenants. God’s covenant includes grace and love and is expressed by the Hebrew word “hesed.”

Hesed can be defined as “passionately loyal, a deep, never-ending love.” Both sides in the covenant “doing hesed” toward each other. Scripture reveals that the ancient Hebrews soon realized that God’s hesed was everlasting. Here was a God who kept on “doing hesed” with them even when they had broken relationship with him.

John Oswalt writes in “Where Are You God?”: “What sort of God is this? Not only is he trustworthy, but persistently trustworthy, not only loving, but insistently loving. It was embarrassing! Had he no pride? Slowly, but surely, these ancient people realized they had not found God, but that he had found them, and his very nature was hesed.”

The God of the ancient covenant is the same God of the Christian faith today. The invitation is the same today as we hear the words paraphrased from scripture, “I will be their God, they will be my people, if they turn their faces toward me and surrender themselves completely.” Our God is a God who is “passionately loyal” to us his people, desperately wanting to “do hesed,” eagerly pursuing us.

Are we consistently in covenant with the God of hesed?

Bold prophecies

The Lord instructed Ezekiel to draw a picture of Jerusalem on a clay tablet and to stage a miniature siege of the city, complete with siege ramps, enemy camps, and battering rams. The prophet was also to place an iron pan between himself and the city. This action perhaps illustrated the unbreakable nature of the siege or represented the barrier between God and His sinful people.

God also instructed Ezekiel to symbolically bear the punishment of Israel. He was to lie on his left side for 390 days, corresponding to the years of the Northern Kingdom’s punishment. He was then to lie on his right side for 40 days, corresponding to the years of Judah’s punishment.

At the Lord’s command Ezekiel made bread from various grains and stored it in a jar. During the 390-day period he was to eat a daily portion of eight ounces of bread, supplemented by two-thirds of a quart of water. This restricted diet would symbolize the food rationing that would be necessary during the coming siege of Jerusalem. The Lord also told Ezekiel to cook his bread over a fire fueled by human excrement. Though the Old Testament law does not specifically prohibit this, it does suggest it would be regarded as unclean (Duet. 23;12-14). Ezekiel’s action would portray Judah’s spiritual uncleanness and the plight of the exiles, who would be forced to eat food in an unclean foreign land. When Ezekiel objected that he had always kept himself ceremonially pure, the Lord allowed him to use cow manure as fuel.

Applying this prophecy to my daily walk with the Lord, and putting something into words to share with you this morning was a challenge. What meaning do these prophecies have in our lives here and now? Probably more than my feeble mind can comprehend 🙂 Today though, my takeaway is this: How many of us would be willing to so dramatically portray the sins of our nation?

I need to pray for greater boldness in my witness for the Lord.

 

Because He is Good

Nahum 1

Jonah describes a Nineveh that repents of their sin, but Nahum describes an unrepentant Nineveh that is under God’s wrath. Nahum goes into great detail about the power and strength of God, especially in his role as an avenger.

But before we get the impression that God is only about wrath, Nahum reminds us that God is good. In fact, God’s wrath toward Nineveh is not based on hate toward Assyria but rather love toward Israel. God stands up for his people because he is good.

Sometimes we need a reminder of God’s goodness. With all of things that happen in our world and in our lives, we sometimes forget about this. We can think of God as Creator and Judge, but not necessarily God as good. God loves us no matter how difficult life seems. God loves us no matter how silent he seems.

Take some time to reflect on God’s goodness and how he has revealed that to you over the years.