The Beginning of the End

It’s Christmas! And through all the lights and the gifts, the food and the family celebrations, one thing sets this holiday apart from other holidays.

Thousands and thousands of years ago, immediately following Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, God arrived on the scene and saw what the two had done. The world would be cursed. From that point on their labor would be hard.

When they told God that the devil had deceived them, he turned to Satan, and faced down the ancient serpent. God declared war. He told Satan right then and there that he would send an offspring — a descendant — of Eve to strike him, and deliver a crushing blow to his head.

Satan was not willing to concede defeat. He and his evil angels have fought back ever since then. And many people have lost their souls in this interminable series of counter-attacks against God, and against his Son, the Lamb of God.

But Christmas tells us that the unending war is finally coming to an end. God kept his promise to send an “offspring ” of Eve. As the Magi said, the star indicates that this child is the “the king of the Jews.”

More than that, the tiny baby lying in a manger will be named Jesus — Savior. Years later he will show himself to be not only the king of the Jews, but the victorious Lord of lords and King of kings.

He will triumph over Satan, sin and death itself by dying on a cross, and shedding his infinitely precious and priceless blood. He will be the sinless Lamb of God who offers himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. In this self-sacrificial act, he will redeem us from our sins and win eternal life for all who are his called, chosen and faithful followers.

Christmas. It’s God’s kept promise to us. It’s the beginning of the end for Satan and his allies. It’s merely the first taste of triumph and victory for those of us who are with him by faith, who trust that the baby born in Bethlehem is our Savior and our Lord.

“They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers” (Revelation 17:14, NIV).

Jesus, Lamb of God, today I want to thank you for coming to be my Savior. I am so grateful that you kept the promise made long ago to Adam and Eve, a promise that was made necessary by their sin and mine. But most of all, I need to thank you for coming to triumph over sin, Satan and death. You called me and chose me to follow you. And you keep me in the faith. With you, we enjoy today as the beginning of the end, and the guarantee of our complete victory. Because of you alone, eternal glory is our true and final hope!

Our Bible reading for Friday, December 25, is Nehemiah 3:1 – 4:23, Revelation 17:1-18 and Psalm 147:12-20.

Header image based on "Nativity" by Jeff Weese, CC By 2.0

Jesus’ Long-Range Vision

Jesus has a vision for you. Did you know that? Right now today, he sees you sometime in the future seated next to him on his heavenly throne. You and I may not always be able to keep that vision — that long-range victory — in mind.

But it never leaves Jesus’ mind.

First of all, it never leaves Jesus’ mind because he himself experienced the thrill of that victory. Following the agony of the cross, God the Father raised his Son from the dead and seated him at this right hand on his throne.

Jesus wants you and me to experience that same eternal thrill. That’s why he is unafraid to do whatever it takes to keep us on track to receive our crown of victory. If it means rebuking and disciplining us, well, that’s OK. If it means calling us out, and urging us to make a U-Turn, that’s what he’ll do.

Jesus is the very best of coaches. He is outside the door of our heart, knocking and wanting to be invited in. He can’t do anything for us as long as we keep the door locked and barred. But if we hear his voice, the good news he speaks to us will transform our hearts and remold our minds. And it will impel us to open the door to him.

That good news of the cross and the empty tomb is the power for our salvation from sin, death and the power of the devil. His voice — the gospel — is the power to fully restore our sin-broken relationship with God. Through Jesus, our connection will be so thoroughly restored, so completely reconciled, that we will sit down and eat dinner with Jesus.

So if you feel like you may be under God’s discipline right now, rejoice! It means God loves you. It means he wants to eat with you at the heavenly banquet. It means he wants you to sit next to him on his throne, and share his power and authority forever.

That’s his vision. And he is not about to give up on it. Or give up on you.

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:19-22, NIV).

Lord, I want to receive the victory you’ve envisioned for me. Grant me a repentant heart, and faith in your redemptive authority. By nature, I have no power or desire to open the door of my heart to you. So, please change me. Transform my cold, dead heart into a heart of flesh, so that I may trust you as my Savior, and one day take my seat alongside you in heaven.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 12, is Esther 2:19 – 5:14, Revelation 3:7-22 and Psalm 141:1-10.

Header image based on "Twyfelfontein Binoculars" by Santiago Medem, CC By-SA 2.0

The Strongest Link

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

The well-known saying goes all the way back to the early days of our country’s history. In the year 1786, a gentleman by the name of Thomas Reid wrote, “In every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest” (Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man).

So, the proverbial saying clearly has a long and illustrious history. And it’s hard to deny that it’s clearly true in the case of a literal chain. Nevertheless, in at least one case, the chain is really as strong as its strongest link.

The apostle John points out that our relationship with God the Father is linked to our relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the strong link in our relationship with him. A strong relationship to Jesus will always mean a strong relationship to our heavenly Father. And our possession of our eternal reward in heaven is linked to our restored relationship to the Father.

This is why John tells us to be very careful to guard and protect our faith in Jesus. If we lose Christ, we lose the Father. If we lose the Father, we lose our reward.

How do we maintain a strong relationship with Christ? How do keep our faith in him strong? John says, continue in the teaching of Christ. The more frequently we are reminded of the gospel, the stronger our faith will become. Grace, mercy, forgiveness, the cross, the empty tomb are our tie to Jesus. And his to us.

So the chain looks like this.

Me – the gospel – JESUS – God the Father – our heavenly reward.

What a chain that is! Step back for just a moment, and rejoice that with Jesus as the strong link in the middle, you stand at one end, and heaven stands at the other.

Pretty cool!

“Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (‭‭2 John‬ ‭1:8-9‬, NIV‬‬).

Jesus, thank you for being the strong link in the chain that will one day bring me into eternal life in heaven. Because of you, I know that my sins are forgiven, and the barrier of anger between the Father and me has been broken down. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Thank you for all the blessings you give me every day.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 6, is Haggai 1:1 – 2:23, 2 John 1-13 and Proverbs 29:19-27.

Header image based on "chained" by Trevor Leyenhorst, CC By 2.0

My Calm, My Safety, My Courage

What I love about being a Christian is that it calls out the best in me. It encourages me to make the kinds of changes in my life that will make me a better man. It spurs me to the kinds of changes that will bring my heart, my mind, my words and actions in line with the kind of person God wants me to be.

But my Christian faith does not leave me with mere encouragement. It follows up the encouragement with the very real power to make the changes God wants me to make. That power is the gospel. That power is Jesus Christ, my Savior, who died for me and lives in me.

That gospel message assures me that Jesus came because of his great love for me. I am a sinner in need of his deliverance. And Jesus came to win that deliverance for me. He, the righteous one, came to offer his own life in exchange for mine. He came to take my sins, and offer me his righteousness.

John, the apostle, puts it this way: “Christ’s forgiveness is the most amazing motivation to not sin again. Christ’s forgiveness is also the guarantee that when you do sin again — and you will sin again — then that sin too has been forgiven.

The gospel is the most highly-motivating “carrot” to lead us on to more fully experience our freedom from sin. And even more importantly, the gospel is the most secure safety net in which to land when we do fall into sin.

The gospel points us to Jesus Christ, the one who, as our advocate with the Father, offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins — the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. He offered his life up on the cross to atone for our sins, and reconcile us fully to God the Father.

It’s just like Van Gogh once said, “I feel a certain calm. There is safety in the midst of danger. What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

Jesus is my calm. He is my safety in the midst of danger — especially the danger to myself that’s created when I sin against God. He is my courage to attempt to become a man who brings glory to God in everything I do.

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2, NIV). 

Jesus, thank you for being the perfect sacrifice, the atoning sacrifice, for all my sins. Thank you for sacrificing your life so that I could be reconciled to the Father, and enjoy everlasting life in heaven with you. Give me courage to become the person you want me to be, bringing glory to you in all I do.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 30, is Daniel 5:17 – 6:28, 1 John 1:1 – 2:11 and Psalm 136:1-12.

Header image based on "Vincent Van Gogh I feel a certain calm..." by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

The Real Law of Attraction

How do we, as Christians, prove that God — and his love — are real? A lot of times Christians answer that question through apologetics, which uses logical arguments in support of the Christian faith. The idea is to uphold and defend Christianity against objections through the use of reason.

Peter takes another tack. He indicates that the very best Christian apologetic is to live in love ourselves. That includes a willingness to be misunderstood and mistreated without retaliating in kind. In that way, we don’t worry so much about persuading others via the brilliance of our arguments. Instead, we woo people through the “genius” of our love and gentleness.

Don’t simply, in other words, tell people what Jesus said. Not that this is at all bad. The gospel is the key power to change hearts and minds. Hearts and minds will not change without it. Peter has already made this point: For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23, NIV).

So by all means, preach the gospel. Tell people what Jesus said. But also, Peter says, live what Jesus said. Live as Jesus did. And this act of worship will show others how much you really revere Christ in your heart as Lord.

This one-two punch — preach Jesus, and “be” Jesus — will far exceed any defensive arguments that we might be able to advance to try and prove the reality of our Savior-God and his love. It’s the real law of attraction. Attraction to Jesus, that is.

What Peter says here is no different from what Paul wrote to the Corinthians when he told them, If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians, 13:1, NIV).

“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing… But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:8-9, 15-17, NIV).

Lord, I know that you are real. You have proven that to me through your love for me expressed in the gospel. Help me to “prove” you and your love to others through teaching the gospel, and also through loving others the way you have first loved me. Give me strength not to repay evil for evil or insult for insult, but rather with blessing. By your Spirit, help me to revere you, Jesus, as Lord, and treat others with gentleness and respect.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, November 24, is Ezekiel 45:1 – 46:24, 1 Peter 3:1-22 and Proverbs 28:18-28.

Header image based on "HCD Apologetics" by Ryan Holloway, CC By 2.0

Why We Pray for God’s Enemies

The apostle Paul understood the power of government. Intriguingly, the Roman government of his day was not supportive of Christianity. Not even close!

Nero was in power at the time Paul wrote these words. He would become the instigator of some of the most violent persecution against Christians in all history. Yet, Paul still encouraged believers to pray for those in civil authority, even if they seemed to be God’s enemies.

Why? Because they are the ones who — from a human point of view — could create the conditions that would make the spread of the gospel much easier, or on the other hand, much more difficult.

God’s desire is that all people hear the gospel and be saved. There is only one who can mediate between God and mankind, Paul writes. That’s why spreading the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ — that sole mediator — is of paramount importance to God.

If our witness to Jesus Christ is critical, Paul reasons, then having the right conditions of peace, security, easy travel, fast communication and economic stability are extremely valuable.

We can still pray today for governments and civil authorities around the world. We pray not because we are of any party or political persuasion. We pray not because they are friendly toward God, or supportive of the spread of the gospel. Because they may not be friendly toward or supportive of either of these!

Instead, we pray that those in authority will create the right conditions for the gospel, so that it can be spread to more and more people, and they may know Jesus as “the Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

Sometimes we pray for God’s enemies simply so that God can make more friends.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:1-6, NIV).

Lord, I pray for those in civil authority. I ask that we who are Christians may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. I ask that you will allow me to be a witness to Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior. Through my witness may many people come to a knowledge of the gospel, to a knowledge of the truth about the ransom your Son paid for all mankind.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, October 17, is Jeremiah 35:1 – 37:21, 1 Timothy 2:1-15 and Psalm 119:49-56.

Header image based on "Roman Crown" by Shaun Dunphy, CC By-SA 2.0

Near the Church, Far from God?

There’s an old French proverb that states, “He who is near the church is often far from God.”

The church can seem like a very harsh and uncaring place. Church people can seem judgmental and hypocritical. Empathy and authenticity sometimes just don’t seem to be found in great abundance.

Even 2000 years ago, the apostle Paul knew how important it was for the church to demonstrate compassion, offer encouragement, and extend care and comfort to people. He knew how critical it was for Christ-followers to meet people where they’re at.

It was pure joy for Paul to share the gospel. But as he tells the Thessalonians, he also found great joy in sharing more than the gospel — in sharing his very life with them.

He worked day and night to support himself so he could selflessly teach people about Jesus, without needing their financial support. He lived a life that showed the Thessalonians step-by-step how a life with God is lived — an unselfish, righteous and pure life.

In this way, when the Thessalonians got near to Paul, they got a good picture of who Jesus is. They got a good picture of what the church is meant to be, too.

The good news about Jesus’ forgiveness. The love of Jesus reflected in actions. The power of Jesus for life-change. Hope. Encouragement. Comfort. And the challenge to grow in faith and obedience. That’s what the Thessalonians witnessed and received.

So when they got near the church, they also drew near to God.

“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:7b-12, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, October 9, is Jeremiah 18:1 – 20:18, 1 Thessalonians 1:1 – 2:16 and Psalm 119:1-8.

Lord, help me to love others as you first loved me. I ask you to strengthen me to follow the example of the apostle Paul, to share the gospel with those around me, and to sacrificially share myself as well.

Header image based on "St. Mary's, Stamford" by DncnH, CC By 2.0