Posted in 1John, 1Timothy, 2Peter, Ephesians, Galatians, Hebrews, John, Psalms, Romans

The Value of Godliness

“Train yourself to be godly.  Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1Timothy 4:7-8

 To train ourselves to be godly is to reorder our lives in a way that makes living close to God our highest priority.  Asaph said, “the nearness of God is my good.” (Psalm 73:28)  In what way is godliness good for us?

 First, Paul says it’s valuable in this present life.  Later in his letter he gives a qualifier: “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out.” (6:6-7)  The more we pursue godliness with contentment the more we live defined by God and the more all other definitions fade away.  We are not our financial net worth, or what other people think we are, or even how we define ourselves – we are God’s masterpiece! (Ephesians 2:10)  Only the godly grow away from the traps of this world into their true identity.  Letting the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us (Galatians 2:20) be the One who defines us is tremendously liberating.  His perfect love drives out fear and insecurity (1John 4:18), so that we can simply be ourselves filled with His Holy Spirit.

 Then Paul says godliness has value for the life to come.  Asaph says that those who live “far from You will perish; You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You.” (Psalm 73:27)  The ungodly will “perish like beasts” (2Peter 2:12) and “be consumed” eventually in the eternal fire (Hebrews 10:27), but the godly will share eternal life with God.  This is the simple gospel: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

 Godliness begins by forsaking our own works and by putting our trust in Jesus Christ because salvation is God’s gift to us.  “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness (right standing with God!).” (Romans 4:4-5)

Posted in Proverbs

Trees and Flowers

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

 How do we navigate all the relationships in our lives?  How can we love people and be loyal to people when we have so little time to share between so many? How can we reach out and love new people yet still give the necessary time and investment to the valued friendships we already have?  Only by giving all our relationships to God, and by discerning His purpose in each one. Each of us will be called to have a few trees in our lives, and many flowers.  Likewise, each of us will be called to be a tree to a few people and a flower to many others.  Let me explain.

 A tree is someone who is with you the rest of your life.  A tree may not be as beautiful, or as fragrant as a flower, but they are steady through good times and through bad.  They are the friend who sticks closer than a brother, the friend who loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17), the friend who is willing to speak the truth even if it hurts (Proverbs 27:6), and the friend who believes in your destiny in God even though they know all your sins and faults.  A tree is a blessing from God and should be valued and not taken for granted. As someone said, “you can make new friends, but you can’t make old ones.”

 Flowers are temporary. They are beautiful and fragrant and they enrich our lives by the grace they impart even though they aren’t called to be trees.  These are people God brings into our lives at just the right time to give us a message, to pray for us, or to pick us up when we’re down.  We must thank God for them and not resent their seemingly temporary nature in our lives.  All of them will be trees in eternity, but down here they are called to be someone else’s tree.  If you think everyone should be a tree to you then you will go through life feeling hurt and betrayed by those God called to be only flowers to you. “Why did they move away?”  “Why did they send such a short response to my email?”  “Why did they pretend to be my friend when they obviously weren’t?”  We can easily judge flowers we wanted to be trees and end up shutting our hearts down in self-protection so we don’t get hurt again.

You and I will be disappointed with some people and be a disappointment to others, but there is One we can always please who is the ultimate Tree – Jesus!

Posted in Isaiah, John

Kingdom Mode

“Of the increase of His government and peace (shalom) there will be no end… The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:7

The Father has promised the Son that His kingdom (government) and His presence (peace) will continually increase. The Father’s own zeal will accomplish this – not man’s efforts or programs. Where will this increase happen? In and through you and me, His adopted children. We are carriers of the kingdom and the Presence of the King Himself!

When the world goes into crisis mode, we can go into kingdom mode. On September 11th, 2001, I received a phone call from the manager of the area wide Christian radio station. The church secretary had to find me because I was in the sanctuary praying and meditating on the morning’s One Year Bible reading from Isaiah 8:12-14: “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the One you are to fear…and He will be a sanctuary (for you).”

The manager told me that one of the twin towers was hit by terrorists and that another plane was hijacked and he was asking pastors to pray over the air. There was such a presence of God on me because I knew that He had prepared me for this. Darkness was having its day, but God didn’t want us to focus on what the world was focusing on, or respond in the way the world would respond. We were to fix our eyes on Him and find sanctuary in Him, and that’s what I prayed for everyone who was in the midst of this horrible crisis.

The world goes into crisis mode when there is a crisis and many wrong decisions are made because they are based on the hurt, fear, anger, or frustration the situation has caused. This is when Jesus wants to increase His government and peace in us – we are to fix our eyes on Him and go into kingdom mode. Don’t focus on darkness or respond to it.  What is God saying? What does God want you to do? All you need to do to break darkness is bring a light into it. Light is always stronger than darkness.

“In Me you may have peace, in the world you will have trouble. Let your heart take courage for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) In every situation around us we are either a thermometer that simply reflects the environment, or a thermostat that sets it. God’s plan is that we would so host His presence, and have such confidence in Him that we would automatically go into kingdom mode when a crisis arises and be thermostats of His kingdom and peace.

Posted in John, Psalms, Romans

The Glasses of Faith

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14

My daughter, Anne, and I went out for a date together during one Christmas break and saw the movie, “Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” The main reason we wanted to go was that it was in 3-D and required special glasses to view. I loved it. A couple of times I took my glasses off to see what the screen looked like without them. Although you could tell something was there it was all hazy and confusing. If people had slipped into the wrong theater they never would have guessed the beauty that was there right in front of them. You can’t see right if you don’t have the right glasses.

Life is like that. If you put on the glasses of faith you are able to see God everywhere and behind everything. Even bad things that He allows are able to be worked for something good if we will give them to Him. (Romans 8:28) Jesus said in John 5:17: “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” God is working – He may not be doing what we want Him to do, He may not be moving at the pace we’d like Him to move at, but He is working if we choose to see Him.

Now the devil is also working all the time. Much of what he does in this world is quickly reported on the news, so if we get the wrong glasses on we can easily fall into despair. It takes discipline in this world to keep seeing God because our God glasses easily fall off in the midst of life’s difficulties. Without the glasses of faith you easily focus on your problems and that only leads to anxiety and discouragement. Church, prayer, and Bible reading are important because they help us keep our glasses on, or to get them back on if they’ve fallen off.

David said, “I would have despaired unless I had believed…” He had to choose to believe that God was in control and that His goodness would be revealed at some time in the future even though his present circumstances were horrible. 

The need of the hour was to wait for God to come through. There was nothing he could do to make his circumstances better, only God could. He needed to courageously trust God and refuse to give into despair. Is that where you are today? Let me encourage you to wait for God. You will see the goodness of the Lord in your circumstances if you’ll just remember to keep putting on the glasses of faith.

Posted in 2Peter, Luke, Matthew, Philippians

Living Ready for His Return

“Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealer and buy some for yourselves.’” Matthew 25:5-9

The great work of this life is to live ready for Christ’s return. He has delayed His return because He doesn’t want anyone to perish (2Peter 3:9) and is even now calling sinners to repent and turn to God. But what about the danger to those who have begun their journey but are now distracted by other things? How do we ensure we don’t end up like the foolish virgins Jesus describes in Matthew 25? There are three things we can do daily, so that we’re living ready for His return.

  1. We must stay awake. Jesus said that before Noah’s flood and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, people were “eating, they were drinking, they were marrying…they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building.” (Luke 17:27-28) The problem was that these legitimate things were all they were doing – they had lost track of a living faith in God. The busyness of this world easily lulls us to sleep and pretty soon we are relying on past experience instead of present relationship.
  2. We must trim our wicks. Yesterday’s sins, regrets, and successes have to be trimmed away to walk with God today. Listen to Paul’s encouragement: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) 
  3. We must have fresh oil. The foolish virgins think they can get oil from other people – it’s not possible. You can’t get your relationship with God from your grandma, parents, or pastor, however godly they may be. Go to the dealer Himself. He has fresh oil for every single day. The cost is only the time and effort it takes to seek Him for it. Jesus has already paid the price, so we can always be filled with the Holy Spirit. Your Father loves you, Jesus died for you, so all you need to do is ask each day.
Posted in John, Luke, Matthew

The Next Event

“When you see all these things, you know that it (His coming) is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Matthew 24:33-34

Jesus does not say His coming will be in their generation; He says it will be “at the door” in their generation. He says the sign of His coming will appear “immediately after the distress of those days…” (Matthew 24:29) Immediately, on God’s calendar, means imminently; His coming is the next prophetic event and has been since the fall of Jerusalem.

While the first rescue and judgment event was preceded by an abundance of signs so that God’s people would be prepared for the distress of their generation, the second rescue and judgment event will come unexpectedly.

While first century Christians were warned not to be trapped in Jerusalem, Jesus warns us not to be trapped in the things of this world before His coming in the clouds: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” (Luke 21:34-35) We need to live ready for His coming!

The rescue in the first century required Christians to leave Jerusalem. The rescue at the Lord’s coming won’t require anyone to leave, we’ll be taken. “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” (Matthew 24:40-41) The word translated “taken” is “paralambano” in the Greek and means: “to receive near to one’s self in any intimate act.” (Strong’s, 55) It is used in Matthew 1:24 when Joseph “took Mary home as his wife.” 

It is used of the rapture again in John 14:3 where Jesus makes this promise to His disciples: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take (paralambano) you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus is coming for His beloved bride. If He came today would you be ready?

Posted in Ephesians, Matthew, Revelation

Choosing Jesus In The Darkness

“As I watched the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll.” Revelation 6:1

In Matthew 24, Jesus gives to us the conditions on earth while the gospel is preached: false religion, wars, natural disasters, and persecution of the truth that in some instances ends in martyrdom.

In Revelation 6, we see these same four conditions but they are seen from heaven’s perspective. They are not incidental; they are necessary before the day of the Lord can come.

Seals were not part of a Jewish legal document – they were on the outside and represented conditions that had to be met before the document could be opened or enforced. Jesus is the only One who is worthy to break the seals which lead to the coming day of the Lord, but we must ask, “Why?” Why has God insisted that the gospel be preached in such darkness before He comes to actively rule the world?

Here’s my opinion: He wanted us to choose Him in the darkness, so we never reject Him again for all eternity. The first group, the angels, chose Him in the light and eventually a third fell away. Angels have free will even as we do, and a third of them chose self-rule over God’s rule even while living in a perfect heaven, and beholding God’s beauty face to face.

By having us choose Him in the midst of darkness, in the midst of the worst conditions and the ugliness of sin and horrors of the curse, it will be almost impossible for us to reject Him when we see Him face to face in the light and glory of heaven.

Ephesians 3:10-11 says this: “God’s purpose was to use the church to display His wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in heavenly places. This was His eternal plan, which He carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.” “All” means both the angels that fell away and those who remained true.

Those who fell away are judged as they see the church choose Him even while they can barely see Him, when they had rejected Him while seeing the beauty, glory, and power with absolute clarity. Those who remained loyal see through Christ’s coming and the church’s devotion more of the beauty of God’s love and humility. This strengthens them, I can imagine, and further secures them from the danger of ever falling away in the future.

When the day of the Lord begins, every eye will be able to see God’s active judgment and redemption, but right now we must choose Him in the darkness. God Himself has ordained this!

Posted in Revelation

The Seven Seals Of Revelation

“When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” Revelation 8:1

If Revelation stood alone, I would conclude that the seven seals are all future as many commentators believe, but the rule of Scripture is that clear truth interprets obscure passages, and not the other way around.

I believe the first five seals of Revelation have already been opened by Jesus. The five seals correspond exactly to what Christ said would happen in their generation before the fall of Jerusalem. (Deception; wars and rumors of wars; earthquakes and famines; death; martyrdom) They were opened by Jesus in the first century; they were already opened when John wrote Revelation from Patmos in 95 AD; and they’re still open today.

The fifth seal is the martyrdom of those who were killed “because of the word of God and because of the testimony they maintained.” John is writing to people that are in danger of being martyred under Domitian’s rule. He writes to them as one who is a fellow partaker “in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus.” He is on the island because of “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus,” the same reason the martyrs were killed. (Revelation 1:9)

He is writing because the Lord’s coming is very near – He ends the book with the words of Jesus, “I am coming quickly.” After the fifth seal has been opened, John sees those who have been martyred and hears their question, “How much longer?” There has been a delay and they are waiting for the coming day of the Lord to avenge their deaths. The answer: “a little while longer until all those who will be killed like you is complete.” (Revelation 6:11)

The second coming is imminent but delayed. Then John sees the sixth seal opened and the very signs Jesus gave for the rapture happen before his eyes. The earth prepares for the wrath of God while the saints are suddenly found before the throne of God. Jews come to Christ as a Spirit of mourning comes upon every tribe when they see the One they had pierced. One Hundred forty-four thousand Jews become evangelists who “follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” (Revelation 14:4)

Those who were ready for the Bridegroom’s coming are kept “from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world,” (Revelation 3:10) while everyone else must endure it. Let’s live ready!

Posted in Daniel, Revelation

The Beast

“The beast which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come out of the abyss and go to his destruction.” Revelation 17:8

In Daniel 7 the beast has its body destroyed and is thrown into the blazing fire when the Messiah returns to the earth. (Daniel 7:11; 13)   How can Vespasian be the beast when Jesus didn’t return to end his reign?  In fact, after the Jewish war ended Vespasian reigned six more years until his peaceful death in 79 AD.  How can he be the beast when everything that was supposed to happen to the beast didn’t happen to him?

Is it possible that the beast is both the one who appeared in history using Vespasian and the one who inspires and possesses a future anti-Christ?  The beast, according to the text above, is more than a human being; it is a creature of darkness that has been released in the past, now is restricted, and will be released again before the coming of Christ.

The Apostle John writes Revelation after one of the judgment events has already occurred in history (the fall of Jerusalem), and before the final one (after the second coming). John assures us that the beast who comes up out of the abyss, and once was (had already appeared), now is not (is not presently active in the world), yet will appear again before he is destroyed.  

What Daniel sees is a composite of both comings of the beast. Just like Old Testament prophecies about Jesus are sometimes confusing because they don’t distinguish or even see two comings of the Messiah; Daniel can’t see two comings of the beast.  He can only see what God shows him, so what he describes is everything that the beast will do until God destroys him.

In Daniel we’re told that after the beast changes Jewish law (Vespasian did this at the destruction of the temple), the saints will be placed under his control for a time, times, and half a time. (Daniel 7:25) This is a reference to his second appearance where John sees a future anti-Christ speaking “great blasphemies against God,” waging “war against God’s holy people and conquering them,” and being “given authority to do whatever he wants for forty-two months.” (Revelation 13:5-7)   Revelation 12:14 calls this same period, “time, times, and half a time,” the same words used in Daniel seven.

Posted in Daniel

The Little Horn

“While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it.” Daniel 7:8  

“The ten horns are ten kings who will rule that empire.  Then another king will arise, different from the other ten who will subdue three of them.” Daniel 7:24-25

Almost all scholars identify the fourth beast of Daniel 7 as the Roman Empire who would have “iron teeth” (7:19) and would “devour the whole world, trampling and crushing everything in its path.” (7:23) What they disagree on is who the ten kings were and who the eleventh king was who began as a little horn.  Instead of trying to figure out when the ten successive kings begin, I propose we focus on how he comes to power.  He begins as “the little horn” and doesn’t become king until three of the other horns or kings are subdued before him.

Remarkably there is an event in our history that fits this description.  When Nero committed suicide in 68 AD, the leadership of the Roman Empire was up for grabs.  Sixty-nine AD has become known as the year of four emperors.  Galba, Otho, and Vitellius all seized control for a time but eventually they were subdued before Vespasian.  Vespasian began as Nero’s general (a little horn – a leader, but not a king) and was then the emperor for ten years after coming to power.  If he is the eleventh king all we need to do is count backwards to find the first.  Five of the kings have already been accounted for (Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian), so who were the other six?

Before Nero was Claudius, then Caligula, before him was Tiberius (the emperor during Jesus’ ministry), then Augustus (emperor when Jesus was born), before him was Julius Caesar who wasn’t called an emperor but “Dictator”, and finally, before Caesar was Pompey, who wasn’t called emperor or dictator, but “Sole Counsel.”

Is there any logical reason why God would identify Pompey as the first of the eleven kings when there were many other Roman leaders before him?  There is. Israel did not belong to the Roman Empire until 63 BC when Pompey invaded Jerusalem and desecrated the temple.  He was the first leader (king) in Rome when God’s people, Israel, came under the rule of the Roman Empire.