Not the Usual Picture of Jesus

When I think of Jesus, the words that first come into my head are words like this: Savior, Lord, love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, help in time of need. And I find great comfort and peace in thinking about Jesus this way.

So when I read John’s description of Jesus in Revelation chapter 19, it’s a little shocking to think of words like this: king, judge, warrior, ruler, powerful, truth, justice, punishment. Frankly, I feel frightened and discomforted when I think of Jesus in these terms.

And it makes me want to ask, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?

Am I right to be comforted by thoughts of Jesus? Or should I be frightened by him… frightened of him?

The answer, as we’ve seen so many times in the Bible, is that Jesus is “both/and.” And perhaps I’m going against the grain here, but I’m going to argue that “both/and” is not only who Jesus is, it’s also exactly who we would want him to be.

When I’m seriously wronged, treated unjustly, or injured by the selfish, greedy, arrogant, envious acts of others, I want to know that there’s justice in the universe. I long to know that there is someone “officiating” this game called life, someone who is interested in fairness and rightness.

If you don’t like the sound of this — of a Jesus like this — it may just mean that you haven’t yet been truly, deeply, seriously wronged in life.

Then again, when I’m the wrongdoer (which I all too frequently am), and I feel guilty and ashamed of the hurts I’ve caused God and others in my life, I want nothing more than mercy and forgiveness. I want to know I’m loved unconditionally, and will be shown grace by a Savior who doesn’t demand that I earn his love with my goodness.

The following picture of our Lord’s anger at the sin and rebellion he sees in his world is without question a frightening — even terrifying — picture of him. But, as John says here, this is the Savior who is Faithful and True.

And this means that Jesus is also faithful to his promises to forgive your sins and love you. And he remained true to you all the way to the cross, where he bled and died for you. He remained faithful and true to you all the way to the empty tomb, where he rose again, and now lives at the right hand of the Heavenly Father, constantly interceding for you in love.

Let this picture of Jesus — this image of his faithful and true grace — be the picture and the image that lingers in our hearts, even as we acknowledge the truth of (and the need for) the picture John gives us here of a Jesus who fights back against sin and injustice.

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 28, is Nehemiah 9:1-37, Revelation 19:11-21 and Psalm 148:7-14.

Lord, I know that I deserve your justice, your anger and your punishment. I am sinful, and I have far too often rebelled against you. Thank you for remaining faithful in your love and forgiveness toward me. Please be gracious to me and give me what I do not deserve. Give me instead what you have earned for me through your perfect life and innocent death.

Header image based on "Jesus Christ Wallpaper" by spurgeon1888, CC By 2.0

The Confident Life

Confidence is highly honored and praised in our culture. One of our society’s most well-known quotes comes from Henry David Thoreau, and it shows the esteem we possess for this attribute:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”

 As Christians, we have a high view of confidence, too. Search through the Bible and you’ll find more than a few passages that start with the phrase, “I am confident,” or “we are confident,” or “being confident of this.”

Our culture often builds it’s sense of confidence on what we accomplish in life. Have we, as Thoreau suggests, “lived the life we imagined”? Our preparation, our performance, our years of experience, our willingness to authentically “be who we are” — these are the things on which our society recommends we build our sense of confidence.

Our society says that we should stop looking outside of ourselves. True confidence is found by digging deep and looking within. Self-respect, self-worth and self-love all begin with self. And many in our world today believe this.

The Bible also wants us to learn and build confidence. But it suggests an entirely different path to confidence. This path directs us away from ourselves to God.

It’s tough to be confident with consistency when we base our confidence on ourselves. Our preparation is shaky at times. Our performance can occasionally be sub-optimal. What if we haven’t yet built up those years of experience? Or what about those times when we go through seasons of self-doubt, and aren’t really sure who we are?

Confidence is good. But we can possess a confidence that’s far more solid and consistent if we build it on the Lord.

As David writes, the Lord keeps all his promises. He always does what he says he’s going to do. He reaches down to us when we’ve fallen and gives us a hand up. He gives us our daily sustenance, and he satisfies our desires. Take note, he fulfills not just our needs, but even our desires.

Jesus. And Jesus’ accomplishments. Now there’s a solid place upon which to build our confident life.

“The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.
The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:13b – 21, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you alone are my confidence. Help me turn away from self to you, to resist the temptation to look at my own accomplishments and instead look to you and your accomplishments as my true source of confidence. You keep your promises, and I know you will open your hand and satisfy my desires.

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 21, is Ezra 7:11 – 8:14, Revelation 13:1-18 and Psalm 145:13-21.

Header image based on "Go Confidently" by Son of Groucho, CC By 2.0

Faith Over Fear

When trouble comes, do you run away from it, or do you run toward it? Does trouble put you on defense, and cause you to back off, or back down? Or does trouble put you on the offense, and spur you to step up, and step forward?

These are important questions for a Christ-follower to answer. That’s why the author of the book to the Hebrews puts the question to his readers.

The Hebrews had started out early in their journey of faith by being the bold ones. They needed a reminder of this, so that they could rediscover their original confidence and endurance: “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering” (Hebrews 10:32, NIV).

The fact was, their boldness had begun to wane, and their faith along with it. Some wanted to make a u-turn and go back to the Judaism they had left. And that’s the whole point of this letter to them. What they now had was superior. Why shrink back from the challenges they were now facing?

Are you sometimes tempted to make a u-turn in life and turn the clock back to a time when you were not a follower of Jesus Christ? Or do you sometimes long for a time when believing seemed easier and you didn’t feel the need to take your faith so seriously — or to exercise it so strenuously? Are the challenges you face to your life of faith causing you to have second thoughts?

Through the letter to the Hebrews, the Holy Spirit reminds us to stand strong in the love and power of God, keep the faith, and claim the crown that Christ has won for us. We are not the kind of people who cut and run.

We are the kind of people who let faith rule over fear. And in the power of him who is faithful to his promises, we endure.

“But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved” (Hebrews 10:39, NIV).

Lord, I repent of the times I allow fear to cause me to want to cut and run, to shrink back and to abandon my faith. Strengthen me by the power of the Spirit through your word and sacraments. Make me bold and remind me that I belong to those who have faith and are saved.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, November 11, is Ezekiel 20:45 – 22:22, Hebrews 10:19-39 and Psalm 123:1-4.

Header image based on "Hebrews 10:23" by Church Iglesia, CC By 2.0

Keep Your Head

Keep your head. That’s so much easier said than done.

When emotional situations arise, the easiest thing in the world is instead to abandon self-control. Throw a tantrum. Pitch a fit. Have a cow. Lose it.

And anytime you are involved in ministry — or life — hard situations are going to be thrown at you. When life is going smoothly, it’s easy to keep your cool. It’s when things go south that our self-control really gets tested.

Can we keep our head when others are pushing our buttons? That’s the real question.

Paul, the apostle, is writing from prison. From these dire circumstances, he can see pretty clearly what’s coming. But he remains calm and steady. Whatever might come — discouragement, persecution, or death — Paul knows what Jesus has accomplished on his behalf. He is convinced that Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, has him fully covered.

The finish line is coming, and Paul has never been more confident in Christ. He has kept the faith. While he anticipates his heavenly reward, he has words of advice for young Timothy, the pastor who will succeed him and keep advancing the gospel.

Hard situations are going to come, Paul tells him. I’ve been through them. In fact, I’m going through them right now. And you’ll go through them too.

But whatever comes, remain calm. Keep your head. Endure and persevere.

Most of all, don’t ever forget this. Jesus has always had my back. And Jesus will always have your back, too. So no matter what, let’s keep the faith and a crown of righteousness awaits us both at the end of this life. In fact, a crown of righteousness awaits everyone who confidently waits for Jesus.

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:4-8, NIV).

Lord, I can so easily lose my head in tough situations. Fear rules. Anger springs up. I ask for your forgiveness for the times in the past I’ve lost my head. Help me to have the peace and strength you gave Paul. Give me your Spirit and grant me endurance and faith in Jesus that does not end until I receive my crown of righteousness from him.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, October 25, is Jeremiah 51:15-64, 2 Timothy 4:1-22 and Psalm 119:97-104.

Header image based on "Jesse Jackson: Hold Your Head High" by BK, CC By 2.0

It’s All God, From Start to Fuel to Finish!

What God starts, God fuels. What God fuels, God finishes.

Sounds a little bit like running a distance race, doesn’t it? You make your start. You make sure you’re fueled up during the race. And then you overcome all the obstacles and “walls” and make it through to the finish line.

But in the race of faith, the subject of all those sentences is God. God makes my start. God fuels me up. God overcomes the obstacles and walls and sees to it I make it through to the end. That’s important to know. Because what this means is that we don’t have to start this race, fuel it, or finish it.

That might sound pretty crazy at first, but think of it this way. God chose us and called us by the work of the Spirit to come to the starting line. He did this by having the gospel taught to us — typically through someone he sent. It might have been a parent, a friend, a family member, or just someone we know at work or in our neighborhood who invited us to church.

God then fuels our faith. Again, this is not our work, but the work of the Spirit. He does this through Bible teaching, and through sacraments like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This fueling of faith is typically done at a church. Paul told the Thessalonians, they had only to stand firm and hold fast. In other words, don’t push the Spirit away. Don’t stop listening to the word. And as it imperfect as it can certainly be at times, don’t despise the church.

And it’s God who finishes the work, too. By grace he encourages us to eternity. By his steadfast love he gives us good hope. And with his forgiveness and power, he strengthens us to experience life-change. Our deeds and words change over time and become more and more attuned to the deeds and words of Jesus. Stay in touch with word and sacrament, with Christian friends and leaders, with growing and serving, and God will finish his work in you.

In the book of Hebrews, God is called “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” And in the book of Philippians, we read that the apostle Paul is confident that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

That’s really what Paul is also saying in today’s reading. But here in his second letter to the Thessalonians, he gives us just a little more detail about how that works. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther described the process beautifully in his explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church he forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you are the impetus, the fuel and the finishing power in my race of faith. Give me the strength to overcome every obstacle and wall in my race. By your forgiveness, your wisdom, your power, and most of all, your love, take me through to victory!

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, October 14, is Jeremiah 29:24 – 31:14, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 and Psalm 119:33-40.

Header image based on "Spartan Race 092411 472" by Edwin Martinez, CC By 2.0

3 Things God Plans for You

Have you ever felt “banished”? Or “in captivity”? Or perhaps, “exiled”? The Israelites were far more than feeling this. They were experiencing it.

God’s chosen had been banished to Babylon as discipline for their sins of idolatry, lovelessness and injustice. They were in captivity and the Babylonians told them what they could do and not do. They were exiled and could not go home to the place they loved.

It would have been a major temptation to think, “God no longer loves us. He plans to punish us here forever, and we have no hope of ever escaping this. All we can expect is more pain, more trouble, more defeat, more loneliness.”

In times of trouble and hardship, it becomes really easy to believe that God only wants to bring us hurt and harm. We lose our optimism about the future. We feel like we’re just going to be held down and beaten up. We throw planning out the window. “Why plan?” we think to ourselves. Some disaster is just going to happen and demolish our plans anyway.

That’s why Jeremiah 29 is so important. In this chapter, Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon from Jerusalem. And he reassures them that God’s plans for them are loving plans, plans to help them prosper, plans to give them a wonderful future.

Hope is so necessary, and so powerful. And we all need a message of hope from time to time.

That’s why Jeremiah 29:11 is a great passage to take with you wherever you go in life. It’s a great passage for the dark times. We can use it to remind ourselves that — no matter what current events seem to be telling us — we have a God who gives us hope.

So, never forget. God plans three things for you. You have a God who plans 1) to prosper you, and 2) to give you hope, and 3) to give you a future.

And never lose sight of this, either. God loves to have you seek him out through his word. He promises that when you do that, you will find him — and find your hope again!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:11-14, NIV).

Jesus, thank you for your sacrifice for sins, and for your resurrection. This tells me you always intend to reconcile with me, and that there is always hope and a future. Help me to trust that you always want me to prosper in the end. And especially help me to trust this when I am undergoing tough times in life.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, October 13, is Jeremiah 27:1 – 29:23, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 and Psalm 119:25-32.

Header image based on "hope" by pol sifter, CC By 2.0

Memorize and Meditate

Sadly, both memorization and meditation have become lost arts in today’s world.

Stephanie Weisman, author of the book, The Secrets of Top Students, and founder of the valedictoriansguide.com, writes about the serious consequences, “Memorization has gotten a bad rap recently. Lots of students, and even some educators, say that being able to reason is more important than knowing facts; and besides, why bother committing things to memory when you’ve got Google?”

Stephanie continues, “My response to this – after I’ve finished inwardly groaning – is that of course reasoning is important, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know facts as well. It’s not like you have to choose between one or the other. Besides, facts give you a foundation on which to reason about things.”

That last statement is so important: “Facts give us a foundation on which to reason about things.”

The author of Psalm 119 would have supported that. Clearly he believed in memorization: “I have hidden your word in my heart.”

And just as importantly, he also knew the value of meditation: “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.”

So what is your memorization plan to “hide” some of God’s word in your own heart? Do you have a list of 5 or 10 key verses that you’d like to always have at your fingertips because you’ve got them memorized?

And what is your meditation plan? Do you have a regularly planned “quiet time” each day when you can simply reflect on God’s words and promises?

The practical advice offered us in Psalm 119 would suggest that it would be extremely wise to weave both memorizing and meditating into the daily fabric of our lives.

Looking for a place to start? Here are a few passages that I really enjoy, and find useful for meditation:

“I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lordteach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119:10-16, NIV).

Lord, help me to hide your word in my heart, meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I want to seek you with all my heart, as the Psalmist did. I want to remain on the path of your commands. And most of all, Jesus, I want to know your grace and forgiveness, won for me at the cross.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, October 10, is Jeremiah 21:1 – 23:8, 1 Thessalonians 2:17 – 3:13 and Psalm 119:9-16.

Header image based on "Bible and Ballcap (4)" by Eric Golub, CC By 2.0