Coronation

It’s Christmas time and that’s the time of year when we frequently get to hear the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. It’s such an amazing work of art that even unreligious people are struck by the divine nature of this music.

A few years ago, Michael Christie, musical director of the Phoenix symphony said to the Arizona Republic that although he is not a particularly religious person, “I come out of ‘The Messiah’ and think, ‘Wow. I feel devout in this moment.’ It’s like I’m converted for those couple of hours whilst it’s happening. And I’ve felt that way every time.”

While it’s a familiar piece of music, many may not recognize that the words of the chorus are quoted directly from the book of Revelation. These words are sung at the “coronation” of Christ as the eternal King. The old world of sin, death, and decay is passing, making way for a new world of everlasting purity, peace and joy.

When the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation from the isle of Patmos, he was writing to people undergoing extreme persecution for their Christian faith. Their property was being confiscated. Their loved ones were being arrested and tortured. Their movements and actions were under constant scrutiny and suspicion. They had no power or clout. Their freedom was severely curtailed.

Through John, God gives these people a prophetic vision of a future kingdom where their freedom will be perfect. Their power will be restored, their peace will be eternal, and their joy will exceed all boundaries.

All of this will be brought about by the coronation of their eternal King, Jesus. Because of him, they have hope and a future. Because of him, they have an eternal kingdom waiting for them.

For any Christian of two thousand years ago or today, no matter what troubles we are facing in life we are confident. Because of Jesus, we may be hard pressed, but we are not crushed. We may be perplexed, but we’re not in despair. We may be persecuted, but we’re not abandoned. We may be struck down, but we’re not destroyed.

Because of Jesus, we are more than conquerors and our reward awaits.

“The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

‘The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.’

And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:

‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
    and have begun to reign.
The nations were angry,
    and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
    and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
    both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth'” (Revelation 11:15-18, NIV).

Jesus, you are my hope and future. Thank you for making me more than a conqueror, despite my sins and guilt. Thank you for rescuing me from my troubles, giving me strength to endure, and an eternal place in your kingdom, under your everlasting rule.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 19, is Ezra 4:6 – 5:17, Revelation 11:1-19 and Psalm 145:1-7.

Header image based on "Hallelujah Chorus - it's Handel Messiah season." by brownpau, CC By 2.0

The Win/Lose Scenario (Or, When I’m Worried About Being A Loser)

What do you do when success for someone else means failure for you? David had to ponder this question a number of times, starting as a boy, when he fought off lions and bears to protect his flock.

This became a refrain in David’s life. Once he was anointed to be the next king of Israel, this roused King Saul’s jealousy, and Saul made numerous attempts on his life. The Philistines didn’t much care for David either. Sometimes his own people — even his own officials — betrayed him and fought against him. Finally, his own child, Absalom, came against him and drove him from his throne.

In each of these situations, there was no intention of creating a win/win scenario. Former friends and family members turned into mortal enemies. And for them to win, David had to lose. So David had to learn how to handle his fears, sustain his hope, stay strong in faith, and be courageous in battle.

If you read the Psalms that were composed during these periods in his life, a pattern begins to emerge in David’s prayers. He would often follow a version of this pattern:

  1. Lord, I see my situation. I am going to be real with you, God. This situation frightens me. It keeps me up at night. It gives me an upset stomach and high blood pressure. I struggle to calm my troubled thoughts, or to get this situation out of my head, or even to think about anything else.
  2. Lord, I see you. I know you are my God. You are my powerful Deliverer. You are my shield from harm. You have promised to be my Savior from sin, my protection in danger, and my hope in death.
  3. Lord, I see your goodness. We have a track record with each other, God. You have always been kind to me, and sheltered me from harm. You gave me strength to slay the lion and the bear when I was still a little boy — with my bare hands! That was not me, Lord. That was you. Remember what you did for me when Goliath came at me? You sent that very first smooth, round stone into Goliath’s forehead. Remember Saul? Or that time with the Philistines, when they were attacking me? Each time, you helped me. You protected me.
  4. Lord, I see your victory. Others may have their plans to see me fail — to see me stumble and fall. But you have victory in store for me. It may be earthly victory, Lord, if that’s your will. Or it may be eternal victory, if that’s your choice for me. One thing I know about you. You love me as your child. You have a special place in your heart for those who have been humbled. And you will see to it that in the end, justice is done. Because I am your child, I will rise victorious and your name will be glorified.

What a great pattern for any of us to follow when we find ourselves in our own win/lose situation. If you find yourself in that set of circumstances right now, can I urge you to find a quiet place, take several deep breaths, close your eyes, maybe even count to ten, and say,

“Lord, I see my situation… Lord, I see you… Lord, I see your goodness… Lord, I see your victory…

…May your name be glorified, Lord!”

“O LORD, I say to you, “You are my God.” Hear, O LORD, my cry for mercy. O Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, who shields my head in the day of battle — do not grant the wicked their desires, O LORD; do not let their plans succeed, or they will become proud… May slanderers not be established in the land; may disaster hunt down the violent. I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. Surely the righteous will praise your name, and the upright will live in your presence.” (Psalm 140:6-8, 11-13, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, December 11, is Esther 1:1 – 2:18, Revelation 2:18 – 3:6 and Psalm 140:6-13.

Header image based on "how I feel inside" by Tinou Bao, CC By 2.0

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.

Header image based on "Entrance to heaven" by Wonderlane, CC By 2.0

How to Be Patient

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance,” wrote Samuel Johnson.

There’s a reason for the fact that great works are performed by perseverance. It’s because truly great works are performed by God. Sometimes we go through troubled times because God needs to teach us to know this. He wants us to rely on him rather than our own wisdom, ability or strength.

Wise farmers  get this. And they are also smart enough to know that you can’t rush the harvest. The finish line is the finish line. Crops cannot be rushed. There are no shortcuts. You do what you can do, and you trust God, and you keep your eye on the day when the harvest will be brought in.

The Old Testament prophets also got it. There were times when life was pretty unbearable for them. Think of Elijah under the constant threat of Ahab and Jezebel. Or consider Hosea being asked to marry — and then redeem and remarry — his unfaithful wife. Or recall Jeremiah who was thrown into a muddy, mucky cistern for a prison cell and left to barely survive.

Job understood too. Job’s patience in all his troubles is legendary. After all Job went through — including losing his property, his possessions, his friends and most of his family — he was hurting and he struggled, but he persevered in his faith in God.

You get the picture. Life was often extremely difficult for an Old Testament man or woman of God. The only thing that kept them going was their Lord, and their faith that God would make good on his promises. Patience and perseverance was the result of having an eternal perspective. They knew there would be a finish line. They knew a harvest day was coming.

And so, in the midst of all their difficulties, they kept their eye on the end goal, not knowing exactly when it would arrive, and they waited for God to perform a great work in their lives. Whatever events were telling them, they clung to their faith that God’s plan for them was full of compassion and mercy.

The truth is, when our trials and troubles seem to provide proof that God has disappeared from the scene, God’s promises assure us that his plans never fail. There is an end in sight, because the Lord is coming.

So in the meantime, we can recall that great works are performed not by our strength, but by God’s strength. Knowing that, we can be patient and persevere.

“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near… Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5: 7-8, 10-11, NIV).

Lord, I know your plans and promises for me are great. It is hard for me to be patient and to wait for your plans to come to fruition. I fail many times at being patient. Please forgive me and help me to always keep the finish line in mind as I wait for you to do great things in my life.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, November 21, is Ezekiel 40:1-49, James 5:1-20 and Psalm 130:1-8.

Header image based on "Henri J. M. Nouwen Let's be patient and trust..." by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

A Wise Expectation of Hardship

As Paul and Barnabas went on their way teaching people the gospel in various towns and cities, they met opposition. In fact, at times they encountered far more than mere opposition. They were met with violent animosity.

Nevertheless, they continued to share the gospel. Town to town. Person to person.

And they keep their expectations in the right place.

We live in a day and age when as a nation, and as individuals too, we are blessed with great wealth and position in our world. One of the issues with this is that our expectations can get skewed. The danger is that “the right to pursue happiness” can become “the right to always achieve happiness.”

And when something doesn’t make us happy in an environment like that, our tendency is to dispose of it as quickly as we can.

Had Paul and Barnabas bought into this line of thought, they would have abandoned their work long before this. But they had a different expectation.

They knew that living a life for the purpose of serving the One who suffered for our sins would bring suffering of its own. They realized that living a life with the intent to honor the Savior who humbled himself “even to death on a cross” would involve hardship.

So Paul and Barnabas kept teaching. They persevered — and even returned to places they had been kicked out of previously — to strengthen the believers, and to encourage the newly minted Christ-followers to stay true to their belief in Jesus.

All because they had a wise expectation of enduring hardship, instead of an unwise expectation of enjoying constant happiness!

“They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said” (Acts 14:21-22, NIV).

Lord, help me to be prepared for many hardships in my life as I follow you and carry out your purpose. Through the hardships that led you through Gethsemane to the cross, grant me entrance into your eternal kingdom.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, June 21, is 1 Kings 8:22 – 9:9, Acts 14:8-28 and Proverbs 15:11-20.

Header image based on "Gethsemane" by Waiting for the Word, CC By 2.0

God Made Human

One of the most powerful — yet highly unusual — messages of the Bible is that God became a human. In doing this, Jesus did not leave his divinity behind. In a mysterious and supernatural way, Jesus is truly God and truly man in one person.

There are far, far more religions that actually teach the opposite. That is, they promote the idea that humans can and will become gods. As we advance in morality, science, and other types of knowledge (these people say), we will gradually become more and more divine in nature.

How interesting that the Bible teaches that Jesus, in order to rescue us, needed to become a man, rather than elevate us to become gods. Jesus became a human to understand our human hardships and suffering. He became a human so that he could be our substitute, and live perfectly — obeying God’s law in our place. He became a human so that he would have a body to sacrifice for our sins, and blood to shed for our transgressions.

This is really the message of the entire Bible in a nutshell. Rather than giving us rules through which we are to elevate ourselves, God gave us a rescuer, who lowered himself into position alongside of us.

Think of the people stuck on Everest in the past several days at Base Camp. The rescuers could have given the survivors of this avalanche directions on how to save themselves and all the injured with them. But the reality is the situation is impossible. No one would be able to follow the instructions and make their way past the avalanche. So instead, the rescuers sent helicopters, which landed alongside those who were stranded and injured, and lifted them out to rescue.

We are buried behind an avalanche of our own making. It’s our own sin. And were we to try to climb out by trying to obey God’s rules, we would only end up dying for eternity.

That’s why Jesus became a human. He landed here alongside of us who are stranded and injured by our own sins, and by his death and resurrection, he lifted us out to salvation.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, April 29, is Joshua 15:1 – 16:10, John 1:1-28 and Psalm 53:1-6.

Lord Jesus, thank you for being willing to become a human being to rescue me. You know what it is to be a human. And you know death even, because you gave up your life as a perfect sacrifice for my sins. I thank you for this, and for winning eternal life for me through your death and resurrection.

Header image based on "Helicopter taking off near Namche" by Meg and Rahul, CC By 2.0