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

Heroic Quest

We think of love as a feeling.

God says that love is more than a feeling. It’s a feeling followed up by action. When we love God, our actions will align with his will. It becomes not a burden, but a joy to follow God’s commands.

Being obedient to God is no longer a “have to.” It’s a “get to” for the one who loves God.

This is all because spiritually, we’ve been reborn. This rebirth gives us a changed heart, a new state of mind, and a will to no longer be a victim of the world.

We have victory over the world through faith in Christ. Instead of victims, we are overcomers.

As people of our culture, we relate well to putting an end to the victim mentality, taking responsibility and being on a heroic quest to overcome. This is a cultural narrative that we live with, and most of us simply assume it to be the truest and best way to live.

Be aware, however, there’s a huge twist. In our culture, victory over the world is achieved when we vigorously go after and subsequently accomplish our own individual hopes and desires. In this narrative, we are heroes on a quest to actualize our dreams. We are only overcomers if we make an outstanding effort, find our true selves, and in this way fulfill our heroic quest.

John the apostle teaches a completely different way to overcome. It begins with understanding that Jesus is the true hero. And the quest is actually his. He made the outstanding effort to overcome the world by first allowing the world to seemingly overcome him. His quest was to seek us, and save us: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV).

It’s really quite beautiful. We don’t have to be victims anymore. We can be overcomers from now on!

And it’s really quite simple. We overcome the world when we are attached, by faith, to the One Who Overcame the World.

“In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:3-5, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for overcoming the world on my behalf. Grant me your Spirit so that I can trust you, stop being a victim and overcome with you. I know you love me, and with your help, I want to obey your commands so that I can thank you for all you’ve done for me.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 5, is Daniel 11:36 – 12:13, 1 John 5:1-21 and Psalm 139:1-10.

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God’s Answers to Big Questions

Our identity determines much about how we speak and act. Recognizing who we are is a critical piece of knowing how to respond to the various humbling challenges, mind-bending obstacles, heartaches and heart-breaks that arise in our lives.

This is true about other critical answers to big questions in life, not just the question, “Who am I?”

There’s destiny. Where am I going in life?

There’s purpose. Why am I here?

There’s possibility. What am I capable of?

And there’s community. Who will join me and support me on this journey?

All the answers to these questions can give us greater confidence and hope in our lives. Or the answers we have can demolish us and break our will.

If I’m “nobody” that will inform all my actions. If I believe my life is “going nowhere” that will affect my energy and my drive. If I’m sure that there is no end goal, no real purpose to my life, it can be pretty hard to even get going in the morning. Life becomes just one endless series of meaningless tasks.

If I think I have no gifts or talents, and no promise from a loving God to powerfully be with me, I will easily give up when obstacles arise. If I believe I’m alone is life, with no allies and no friends or family to support me, I will isolate myself and be subject to loneliness, frustration and spiritual attack.

That’s why I’m so grateful that God is clear about his answers to all these big questions. In the love that he has lavished on us, he has responded on our behalf to all five questions. He’s supplied those answers in Jesus Christ, and in the good news of his gospel promises.

Identity? By faith in Christ, we are called children of God, and that is what we are.

Destiny? Jesus is coming, and we know that when he appears, we shall be like him.

Purpose? The world does not know him, but God definitely wants us to let the world know about him! We have a Great Commission given us by Jesus!

Possibility? All who have this hope purify themselves, just as he is pure. Our sins have been forgiven and  it is now possible for us to live a Christ-centered life to the glory of God.

Community? We have a Father, we are his children, and that means we have — through faith in Jesus Christ — many brothers, sisters and friends!

Don’t let anyone commit “identity theft” on you! Or destiny theft. Or purpose, possibility or community theft either. Make no mistake, that’s what the devil and all his “criminal forces” want to accomplish.

Secure your ID by leaning on gospel promises like this. And hold on tightly to what Jesus has given you!

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3, NIV).

Lord, thank you for your Son, Jesus. Through your gospel promises, help me to hold on tightly to my God-given identity, destiny, purpose, possibility and community. Keep the devil far away, and prevent him from stealing any of these from me. Help me to glorify you in all I do by meeting challenges in my life on the basis of my gospel-given answers to the big questions in life.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 2, is Daniel 8:15 – 9:19, 1 John 2:28 – 3:10 and Proverbs 29:10-18.

Header image based on "Identity Theft" by GotCredit, CC By 2.0

Distracted

Do you know what the “Killer P’s” are? Here’s a partial list: Power, position, possessions, prestige, playthings, and occasionally, people.

Why are they the “Killer P’s”? Because these are the things in life that can draw us slowly away from God. This doesn’t always happen. But it can.

They often begin as mere distractions. But these distractions eventually draw us in deeper and deeper. It may be a slow, gradual, almost unnoticeable process. Or they may pull us in dramatically and very, very quickly. But whichever way it goes, the distraction will keep demanding more of our attention, more of our energy, more of our time and more of our resources.

We love the both/and. And we often tell ourselves that accepting the things of this world can be had without sacrificing our relationship with Christ. So we attempt the fence-straddle.

But that distraction just keeps distracting us. It simply keeps drawing us closer and closer. It’s power appears irresistable. It’s force is inexorable.

One day we look back and it’s been a really long time since we last attended church, or participated in a growth group, or served on a ministry team. We can no longer recall when we last received the Lord’s Supper, or thought about our baptism, or read a little section of our Bible.

John could see this process at work in the people he was pastoring at the end of the first century. From a distance, he watched as his beloved brothers and sisters in Christ were being drawn away from their faith in Christ by the killer “P’s” — the killer distractions.

John’s response was to go straight for the heart. Be careful what you love, he told his people, almost as if he had the words of Solomon on his mind: “Guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV). Be careful what you love, because what you love is what you will devote yourselves to.

If you love Jesus, you will “break-up” with the world. But if you love the world, you will at some point “break-up” with Jesus.

Keep in mind, John told his people, one of these objects of your love is only temporary. It’s going to pass away and it’s not going to come back — at least not in its present form.

The other is eternal. Divine. And will never let you down, or let you go.

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17, NIV).

Lord, help me to guard my heart. There are many distractions that the world throws at me. Forgive me for the times I have allowed these distractions to draw me away from you. I want to stay focused on what’s truly important. And that is you, Jesus.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 1, is Daniel 7:1 – 8:14, 1 John 2:12-27 and Psalm 136:13-26.

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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

Transparent Waiting

Transparency of heart is when the thoughts and feelings of our heart are apparent to all who watch us in action. For the follower of Jesus Christ, one of the marks of a transparent heart is a deep desire to do the will of God — to live a holy and godly life. It is not self-centeredness, but “Christ-centeredness.”

In the apostle Peter’s day, those who wanted to live a self-centered life would scoff at the idea that we are waiting for Christ, our King, to return. They wanted to live their selfish lives as if there was no King, no Judge and no day of judgment.

Sadly, their selfish way of life was deceiving some of Peter’s listeners. So Peter is forced to reaffirm that Christ is not going to be a “no-show.” His return is timed perfectly to match God’s patience. And God is patient because he wants as many people as possible to repent and be saved.

We don’t know what that timing is. But come he will. Swiftly and unexpectedly. And on that day, everything around us will be destroyed. Our entire material world will be laid bare.

As we wait for our King’s return, we are to live as people who know that the King is alive. We know this because we daily witness the living King’s work in our own hearts. Being transparent people, our actions allow people to see through to our hearts. And to see Jesus living in our hearts.

Meanwhile, we look forward to the glorious return of our King. And we wait for it expectantly — we speed its coming, as Peter says — when we live holy and godly lives. Living with a transparent heart is, in other words, the very best preparation for the return of our King.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:9-12a, NIV).

Jesus, my King, as I wait for your return, help me to live transparently, with holiness and godliness. Forgive me for the times when my sinful heart takes over. Wash me clean again in your blood, shed on the cross for me. I want to give you glory every day as I anticipate your coming.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 29, is Daniel 4:19 – 5:16, 2 Peter 3:1-18 and Psalm 135:13-21.

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Advent: He Comes!

In the “church year,” a calendar that many churches use to plan their weekly worship, this coming Sunday will be celebrated as “The First Sunday in Advent.” The Advent season is a time when Christ-followers look back to Christ’s first coming, and look forward to his second coming.

It’s valuable to have the perspective that Advent gives us, because it reminds us that God makes promises. And regardless of the opinions of the doubters and skeptics, he keeps his promises, too.

In Old Testament times, he promised to come as the Messiah. People waited a long, long time for that promise to be fulfilled. But when the timing was just right, God sent his Son to be born of Mary.

In New Testament times like today, we have the promise that Jesus will return to judge all mankind. Jesus told us that we cannot predict when this will be. But it will be rapid and unexpected.

The apostles — such as Peter — encourage the church (us) to have an “end times mentality.” In other words, we are wise to keep Jesus’ second coming in mind at all times.

Doing so will inform our decisions in life, and our character.

It defines our decisions because if we believe the end of all things is coming, we want to really think through each decision in light of the temporary nature of this life, and the permanent nature of the life to come.

It defines our character because when we believe that the Jesus who is coming again is not simply our Judge, but also our Savior and our Lord, we look forward to that day with joy.

We know we are loved, because the cross of Jesus proves his love. And so, flowing from gratitude, and filled with joy because of Jesus’ forgiveness and the gift of eternal life, we are drawn to become a little more like Jesus every day.

  • We live a little more alertly and a bit more expectantly, with a sober sense of life and self.
  • We love more deeply, knowing that love covers over all kinds of wrongs — our own wrongs, and the sins of others too.
  • Every talent we have is God’s gift. So we use the talents and gifts we’ve been given not to serve ourselves, but to serve others.
  • When we speak, we don’t express our own ideas and worldview. We express the ideas and worldview that God has taught us in the Bible.
  • When we serve, we know that it is God’s strength that keeps us going, growing and working.
  • We know full well that God deserves the glory and the praise for anything we are able to accomplish.

It’s Advent. Jesus is certainly coming. From our perspective, it may be sooner, or it may be later. But from God’s point of view, it’s very, very soon.

And knowing that changes everything.

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:7-11, NIV).

Lord, grant that I wait expectantly for your return every day. Forgive me for all the times when I have lost perspective and forgotten that you are coming soon. You have loved me and sacrificed your life so that I could be in heaven with you. Give me an eternal perspective to inform my every thought, decision and action in this life.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, November 25, is Ezekiel 47:1 – 48:35, 1 Peter 4:1-19 and Psalm 133:1-3.

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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.

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Suffering for Doing Good

So how do you feel about that old saying, “No good deed goes unpunished”?

Are you of the opinion that this statement is dead-on correct?

Maybe you’ve experienced it personally. You resisted the temptation. You made the right decision. You took the high road. You sacrificed and you patiently stood last in line. But at the end of the day, the end result was not pretty. You didn’t get ahead. You only got further behind.

Why does this happen? Wouldn’t you think that if a dearly loved child of God made good choices — moral, God-pleasing choices — that this would be rewarded?

But so often it feels as if instead of a reward, all we get out of our suffering is more suffering. Being in agony for doing good — it just doesn’t make sense to us. And we often feel victimized when it occurs.

Peter has an antidote for the victim-mentality and turmoil in our hearts when the aforementioned, unpleasant circumstances come to pass in our lives.

His solution is to point us to the suffering of Christ. Our willingness to suffer with peace and joy in our hearts comes from recalling the cross Jesus bore. He reminds us that Jesus’ suffering is to be an inspiring example for us.

More important than that, Jesus’ suffering leaves us with a grace-altered heart. We know now that we can entrust ourselves to God. He will judge justly in the end of things.

Most critical of all, because of his suffering and sacrifice on the cross, Jesus will not judge us for our sins. Instead, he will grace us, forgive us, and heal us from our sins. Jesus’ good deed will make sure that we go unpunished — and return us to our close relationship, our right relationship, with him.

Return to Jesus, the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul, and your entire perspective on suffering will be transformed. And this is especially true when the suffering involves suffering for doing good.

 “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

 ‘He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.’

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:20a-25, NIV).

It’s true, Lord. I have strayed like a lost sheep. But you, through your suffering and sacrifice have restored me to a right relationship with yourself. Thank you for your grace and forgiveness. By your Spirit’s power, teach me do good, even if I must suffer for it.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 23, is Ezekiel 43:1 – 44:31, 1 Peter 2:4-25 and Psalm 132:1-18.

Header image based on "Stray sheep on track." by Hefin Owen, CC By-SA 2.0

Imperishable Inheritance

There are a lot of things in life that get old, fade, spoil and eventually go away. Relationships end. Health fails. Money is squandered. Old t-shirts become rags. Possessions end up at the dump.

It gets old that everything in life gets old. It’s all temporary. And the suffering that results from our grief is inevitable. Because, sadly, the momentary, transitory nature of things applies also to the things we love the most.

But in the gospel there is hope. We have the promise of something that will never, ever get old. Something that will not fade or spoil. Something that will never perish.

There is something that is permanent.

That something is our eternal inheritance being kept for us in heaven. This is the inheritance that Jesus won for us through his death on the cross and three days later, his resurrection.

When the apostle Peter thought of the permanence of this inheritance, he couldn’t keep himself from rejoicing. The joy overflowed from his heart, tumbling from his lips in poetic words of praise.

Even in the midst of suffering, Peter proclaims, this promised inheritance brings us great joy. It gives us patience and perseverance. It stills our troubled hearts.

As the Psalmist wrote, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5, NIV). And Peter says it this way:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:3-6, NIV).

Heavenly Father, I praise you for your gift of heaven, and I thank you that because of your Son, Jesus, I can be confident that by faith in him, this inheritance is assuredly mine.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 22, is Ezekiel 41:1 – 42:20, 1 Peter 1:1 -2:3 and Psalm 131:1-3.

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