Posted in 2Corinthians, Hebrews

An Inconvenient Truth 

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.   Since then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.” 2Corinthians 5:10-11

 In 2006 Al Gore released a documentary on global warming called, “An Inconvenient Truth,” urging us to do something to make changes in the environment before it’s too late.  It’s not just about us, he urged, it’s about the world we’re giving to our children.

While I’m all for stewardship of the earth and reducing carbon emissions, there’s another inconvenient truth that troubles me way more than global warming – it’s the final judgment.  It turns out that our lives on this planet will one day appear like a vapor in light of eternity, and that the choices we’re making now determine how our judgment will go then.  To live in light of that day is to know the fear of the Lord.  To live ignoring our accountability to God is reckless and dangerous.  As Hebrews 10:30-31 says, “For we know Him who said, ‘It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  That is, it’s terrifying to be completely unprepared for our judgment day.

Here’s the inconvenient truth that must be told:  Jesus came the first time as a Lamb to save the world, but He’s coming the second time as a Lion to judge it.  I want to be ready for that day and I want to persuade others to be ready as well.  Let’s change our lives now, let’s serve God now, and let’s seek His presence now before it’s too late.  Jesus took God’s judgment on sin when He died on the cross, so that we could be forgiven.  Let’s make our identity in Him and receive His love now instead of being exposed by His holiness then.

Posted in 2Corinthians, Daniel, Jeremiah, Luke, Mark, Matthew

Two Events of Judgment

“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.  But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.  For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.”  Matthew 24:34-37

 I have come to believe that Jesus is describing two events of judgment in His discourse on the future (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 17 and 21) and that they are very different to prepare for.

One event, the destruction of Jerusalem, will happen in their lifetime, or their “generation.”  It is a time of God’s wrath on the Jewish people for rejecting Christ (Luke 21:22-24); it will feature an abomination of desolation being set up in the holy place (Matthew 24:15); and  it will be horrible but “cut short,” otherwise all of the Jewish elect would be wiped out.

  The rescue for the church at this time is to flee Jerusalem when you see these things happening.  “All these things” were to be expected within their generation and they would be as visible as a fig tree budding indicating that summer is near.  There will be a fulfillment of  “all that is written” (Luke 21:22), a reference to Daniel’s seventieth ‘seven’ (Daniel 9:27), and Jeremiah’s allusion to a time of Jacob’s trouble. (Jeremiah 30:7)

   The second event Jesus describes is not just in Judea, it’s world-wide (Luke 21:35); Jesus doesn’t know when it’s going to happen; the elect don’t have to flee, they are taken; and there are no signs to prepare for it, so people have to live ready.  This coming event is not a judgment on the Jews for rejecting Christ (that already happened in the destruction of Jerusalem), but on the Gentiles who have rejected Christ. (Luke 21:24) 

 By the end of their generation this second judgment will be imminent, or “at the door,” (Matthew 24:33-34) because it will occur immediately after Jesus appears in the clouds.  We are now living between the first and second judgment events in a time of God’s favor. (2Corinthians 6:2)  This is the time to respond to God’s salvation!

Posted in 2Corinthians, John, Luke

The Joy Serving

“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed (happy, joy-filled) if you do them.” John 13:17

When people arrived at a feast in that time, it was customary for a slave to wash everyone’s feet as they entered, but in all the preparations for the last supper the disciples had missed this detail. Each of them apparently felt that this job was below them, so it appeared it would go undone. Then the unthinkable happened. One far above them went lower than they were willing to go. Not only did Jesus wash their feet, He called them to wash each other’s feet (willingly serve each other), and in the text above said this was the key to their happiness.

He explained that this attitude was also the key to their greatness: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-26)

Our level of joy is not to be a victim of our own sense of entitlement. In other words, we don’t have to wait until we are treated in a certain way to have joy. Our joy can be found in God’s delight in us regardless of how other people are treating us. I found out this truth the hard way while pastoring in northern Minnesota.

A group of thirty wanted me out of the church and had started a secret campaign of visiting members in their homes to try to get the necessary votes to remove me. God was moving in the congregation and so was the enemy. There was a deacon who represented the thirty, but whenever I tried to meet with them it got postponed. It finally occurred to me that they didn’t want to be reconciled, they wanted me gone. This was their church and they weren’t going to leave, so I would have to.

How do you pastor a church Sunday after Sunday when this is happening? The Lord made it clear that they didn’t have to like or respect me, for me to serve them. I wasn’t to defend myself or be offended by their attitudes.  I was to serve them for His sake. (2Corinthians 4:5) His affirmation was better than theirs anyway!

Emptying ourselves, rolling up our sleeves, and serving whoever God puts in front of us is the key to lasting joy.

Posted in 1Corinthians, 2Corinthians

Idolizing Leaders

“For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” 1Corinthians 3:4-7

We are in danger of erring in two ways in our attitude toward those leading us. We can dishonor them and lose the benefit God wanted to bring through them, or we can idolize them and lose the benefit God wanted to bring through other leaders who are different from them. Let’s look at the second one today.

Paul says that when we identify with only one leader and set Christian leaders in some type of a contest against each other, we are acting like mere men. God has called us to the high calling of favored sons or daughters who are carriers of God’s own presence.  We are the very temple of God! (2Corinthians 6:16)  Yet when we reduce Christianity to our favorite speaker we have missed the whole point. 

To say you follow Paul instead of Apollos means that you are missing out on what God wanted to give you through Apollos. From God’s perspective, Paul, Apollos, and Cephas (Peter) belong to you; they were raised up and anointed for your benefit so you could come into fullness. To choose one over another or exalt one over another is to miss what the other one was supposed to bring to your life.

To idolize a leader is to set them up for a fall. A few years ago a man was set up as the greatest prophet in America so much so that it was thought he didn’t even need to be part of a local church. He would come from his place of being alone with God and tell us the word of the Lord and we honored his unique place; many times in an idolatrous way. He succumbed to an addiction to alcohol and also was found to be involved in sexual sin. Would this have happened if we had prayed for him more instead of idolizing him? I don’t know.

What I do know is that at the end of the day those who plant and water, however gifted they may be, are nothing, but only instruments that help you grow in the grace of God. Honor leaders, receive from leaders, but please don’t idolize them. It puts them at greater risk and it keeps you from seeing the reason for their existence.

Posted in 2Corinthians, Acts, Exodus, John, Revelation

Thinking Right

“But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” Acts 14:2

Belize and Mexico are two places I regularly go for missions trips and in both places you can’t drink the tap water. It looks fine but is contaminated, so you can’t drink it or you become sick. A few years ago our whole team got sick and it was traced back to a restaurant where they had cooked the chicken we ate in contaminated water. You only have to get sick once to become very careful about what you drink!

Are we as careful about our thoughts? In our text we have a group of Jews who “refused to believe” the good news of God’s love and redemption through Christ and then poisoned others with their judgments. When we stop seeing ourselves and others as loved and worth redeeming, we tend to take up the enemy’s accusations instead. (Revelation 12:10) This is poison. Satan sows suspicion and bitterness toward others in our minds if we let him, and he can even use us to divide homes, friends and churches. He knows that a kingdom divided will not stand and is the master at using poisonous thoughts to bring offense, isolation, envy, and jealousy.

The judgments we make appear to be “the truth,” so we justify ourselves in thinking them and even speaking them, but judgment isn’t the whole truth. God loves people and sent His Son into the world to save us, not to condemn us. (John 3:17) We overcome the accuser by testifying about the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11) which was shed for us and for everyone we know. The whole truth, therefore, is not just what is wrong with people, but must include what God has done through His Son to make them right. (2Corinthians 5:19)

When the children of Israel came out of Egypt, they drank from a water source that was poisonous. Moses cried out to God, and God showed him a tree. (Exodus 15:25) He cut it down, threw it in the water, and it became sweet. God didn’t show him a different place to drink that had pure water; He redeemed that which was bitter and made it sweet. He wants to do the same thing with our thinking. Why don’t we identify our poison, bring it to the cross, and allow God to sweeten our thoughts toward even the most difficult sinners in our lives.

Posted in 1Timothy, 2Corinthians, Ecclesiastes, Genesis, Luke, Malachi, Proverbs, Psalms

Monopoly Money

“Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb; and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.” Ecclesiastes 5:15

If you play Monopoly by the real rules a game should take about an hour. During that brief period Monopoly money has value – you can buy property, improve property, and pay your debts with its currency. But when the game is over you put everything away, put the box on the shelf, and there is no longer any worth in those dollars. It will be seen that the same is true of our money on planet earth.

Compared to eternity our time here is called a breath or a vapor. Money has value during this time and how we use it is one way God tests our hearts. Jesus said, “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth who will trust you with true riches.” (Luke 16:11) A few verses later He went on to say: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13)

How do we pass God’s money test?

  1. Recognize we are stewards, not owners. We are to love God and use money; not love money while trying to use God.
  2. We are to give back to God the first fruits of our income (Proverbs 3:9-10) which Scripture defines as a tithe or ten percent. (Genesis 14:20; Malachi 3:10-11)
  3. We are to be willing to share in any good deed as God leads us. (2Corinthians 9:7-8)
  4. As riches increase, we are to guard our hearts. (Psalm 62:10) Money is a useful servant but a terrible master.
  5. We are to trust God as our Source and be thankful because He “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1Timothy 6:17)
Posted in 2Corinthians, Isaiah, Psalms

Is Your Calling Hard? 

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ He said, ‘Go and tell this to the people: be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn and be healed.’” Isaiah 6:8-11

Is it hard to do what you do day in and day out? Do you ever find yourself growing weary and falling into self pity? I sure have. In times like these it’s helpful to remember some of those who have gone before us.

Consider Isaiah’s calling in the text above. Basically God is telling Isaiah that if he does exactly what God wants, and says exactly what God says, people will get worse. God is in essence saying: “They don’t want the light so your ministry will actually make them harder but I want you to go to them anyway.” Really? And I thought my calling was hard.

Consider Paul’s calling. “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; I’ve been in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2Corinthians 11:24-28)  Maybe my calling isn’t that hard?

Consider David’s calling. Psalm 54 was written by David when he was in the wilderness being chased by Saul and about to be betrayed by some of his own people, the Ziphites. This is the David who God had anointed king and had been called because his heart was after God’s heart. At this point he had not disobeyed in any way, yet he is not only not king but is living day by day with an army chasing him down.

How is your life compared to these? It’s amazing what a little perspective will do!

Posted in 2Corinthians, John, Matthew, Romans

Hidden Treasure – Part Two

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44

Yesterday we saw that the treasure of God’s unconditional love is hidden from our experience when our identity is in our performance. The second treasure the gospel reveals is salvation in Christ, yet this remains hidden from our experience when we cling to unbelief.

Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of their sin “because men do not believe in Me.” (John 16:9) No one minds believing in the historical existence of Jesus or in the inspirational teaching and example He gave. What people struggle with is that He claims to be the Savior. (The name Jesus means savior)

To believe in Jesus as Savior means I’m not a good person who just needs a little instruction and encouragement. I am a sinner who needs saving. Really believing in Jesus means that I am no longer the hero in my own story which is why the self-righteous often persist in unbelief even when God has given them ample evidence that they are sinners.

Some people struggle with the simplicity of receiving salvation as a gift, yet this is the only way one can experience this treasure. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Think of someone who loves you and has bought you an expensive gift for your birthday. When they give it to you, you don’t try to pay for it, do you? That would be an insult to the giver. You say, “thank you,” and unwrap it and when they see you enjoying the gift they freely gave, it makes the price they paid worth it to them.

God saw our need and paid a very high price (the blood of Jesus) to get us an “indescribable gift” (2Corinthians 9:15) called eternal life. To own it we just have to admit we’re sinners and receive it with the faith of a child. When we begin walking in the relationship that is included in this gift, we bring joy to the One who purchased it for us.

Posted in 2Corinthians, Genesis, Revelation

Free From Shame

“I advise you to buy from Me… white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed.” Revelation 3:18

Jesus is speaking to the church at Laodicea who has lost any place of deep connection with Him. He actually pictures Himself outside the door of their hearts, knocking to gain entrance. Part of what is keeping them from opening the door is shame.

“The shame of your nakedness” is a reference to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. When God first placed them there, they were “naked and unashamed.” (Genesis 2:24) It was when they disobeyed God that shame came into their spirits and they looked around for things to hide themselves with.

When shame is on our spirit, even as Christians who love God, we live in a fear of being exposed as not good enough. Living in fear reduces our lives, so many don’t ever know or develop who they really are. Jesus is ready and waiting to take away the fear shame brings, so His children can put on the righteous robes He paid for. Paul writes: “He (the Father) made Him who knew no sin (Jesus) to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2Corinthians 5:21)

If you feel dirty, you will live dirty. Jesus wants us to feel clean on the inside so we don’t have to hide or pretend any more. He delights in us even though we are weak and immature – He’s knocking on the door because He wants to free us from the power of shame. Let’s open our hearts wide to His love and break all agreement with the enemy’s accusations over our lives.

Posted in 1Corinthians, 2Corinthians

The Gospel Guarantee

“For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” 2Corinthians 5:4-5

The gospel guarantee for our bodies is resurrection when Jesus comes back, not physical healing in this present age. While healing is available now and should be prayed and believed for, the bigger plan for our bodies is that they be raised at Christ’s coming.

Our current bodies are referred to as tents – they are temporary. God has a redeemed, perfect body for us who believe that is permanent. “Now we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven.” (2Corinthians 5:1)  All physical healing now is evidence of the resurrection power that will one day raise our earthly bodies (whether we’ve died or are still alive) and give us the redeemed body that can’t be worn down or worn out. (See 1Corinthians 15:52)

In Jesus first coming, He secured forgiveness for our sins and peace for our souls. At His second coming, He will reverse the curse that causes our bodies to “waste away” in this present age. (2Corinthians 4:16) We need to live in our tents until we die, so I thank God for His power for us to be healed now, but it’s really important that we don’t guarantee the wrong thing to people.

A dear friend at a former church was dying and on his deathbed started to doubt his salvation. He was such a brilliant, giving Christian, so I couldn’t understand why he was struggling at the time he most needed his faith. He explained: “If Jesus died for my sicknesses the same way He died for my sins, then how can I believe I’m forgiven if I’m not healed?”

Those of us who believe in healing need to be careful to not overreach in what we promise or we create confusion in those God loves. I told him that God loved him and Jesus died so that he could be forgiven and go to heaven whether he got physically healed or not. Physical healing now is available to be asked for but when it doesn’t happen, we thank God that a more complete healing is coming – our resurrection.