April 24th, 2018

Thin Ice

Romans 14:4(a) “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” (NIV).

Observation: Paul’s question is intended to build harmony within the body by pointing out that all believers are fellow servants of the same Lord, Jesus Christ. The examples upon which Paul builds his argument include dietary laws wherein a strong, self-confident Christian understands that what is eaten or drunk carries no spiritual significance, while a weaker believer may find greater comfort and safety by moving within familiar structures, not transgressing predetermined boundaries.

Application: Using such terminology as “weaker” or “stronger” may seem itself to be inflammatory or judgmental; these are value-laden terms to us. But Paul goes on to say that our judge is God, not man, that each of us will stand or fall by the decision of our master, “and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:4b).

In other words, who am I to judge? This business of assuming I am among the stronger (surely that would be right, wouldn’t it Lord?) puts me on thin ice indeed. I run the risk of an arrogant skater who believes his great skill and speed will allow him to swiftly skirt dangers that would ensnare lesser skaters, only to find myself dunked in an icy wake-up call. I have no position from which to judge another, no standing from which to assess another’s heart condition. Most of the time I cannot accurately assess my own!

God’s path to righteousness is refreshingly unique for each of His children. Because of that, Paul’s command in verse 13 is essential to obey: “stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block . . . in your brother’s way.” That’s more than good advice; it’s a good command.

Upon honest reflection, I realize that the stumbling block in another’s way has too often been me. This is my own icy wake-up call to remember that my journey into Christ will never end this side of eternity. I have not arrived. I have stumbled and will stumble again. In this reality, the Lord calls me to don a spirit of compassion and encouragement for my fellow sojourners; after all, am I not desperately in need of the same from those who observe my own unsteady gait?

Prayer: Father, thank You for this reminder to not judge my brothers and sisters. I am in need of Your mercy and grace each day of my life. Forgive me, Lord, for any thought of being in Your eyes better than another.

April 23rd, 2018

Deliverance from Ice Cream

Romans 10:3 “Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (NIV).

Observation: Paul continued to express ardent hope that all might be saved, including his beloved fellow Jews. In this regard he affirmed their zealousness, but said they zealously pursued the wrong thing. Their zealotry was wrongly based in placing high value upon attempts to live so as to fulfill the law’s requirements rather than upon God’s righteousness.

Application: I am arrested by the phrase, “sought to establish their own.” How does that happen? How is it that a people zealous for God would seek to establish their own righteousness in a vain attempt to gain His fulness?

They gave assent to being God’s children simply because they were offspring of Abraham’s flesh. As such, they dug deep into man’s wisdom to develop complex rules intended to assure that observance of the law’s letter would be complete.  Yet consistent failure was the result.

The Jews found themselves in a familiar pickle. They are like the overweight person who shamefully assesses his condition and, filled with self-loathing, pledges to never again eat ice cream. Then, remembering there is a quart of the damnable stuff in the freezer, he decides to begin the commitment once this is gone. Because of zeal to lose weight quickly, it would be best to be rid of the stuff as soon as possible; it should be eaten this very minute, thus hastening fulfillment of the commitment to weight loss.

Paul was saying that no pledge to the law can ever be fulfilled absent Christ’s righteousness. I must fill my heart and mind with a greater pursuit than law in order to fulfill the law. I can never by dint of hard work and good intention achieve a satisfying result. Ridding the house of ice cream by eating it is no more satisfying to the flesh than is the attempt to follow man-made rules to please God satisfying to the spirit.

Only by substitution comes victory. Substitution for the flesh may lead to the treadmill or to more wholesome foods. Substitution for the spirit is the man Christ Jesus who by experiencing death on my behalf has made it possible at last for me to be His forever.

Prayer: Father, thank You for the unfathomable substitution of Your Son on a Roman cross for my well-deserved death. Cause me today to so pursue Him that temptations to lesser pleasures simply fade away.

April 22nd, 2018

Merely a Timeshare Exchange?

Revelation 5:6 “And I saw between the throne…and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain.”

Observation: John had been given a vision of heaven’s throne and of one sitting on the throne holding an unopened book in His right hand. One of the elders identified Jesus as the only one qualified to open the book (Rev. 5:5) because He was “standing as one slain.”

Application:     Whatever else I may think of Jesus, I ought to put out of my mind the idea that His time on earth was simply a thirty-three year interruption in His otherwise eternal dance with the Father. This life for Him wasn’t just a fleshly intrusion upon His heavenly existence, merely the longest timeshare exchange in history. 

I must understand that He became a man forever, never again to morph back into only God-ness. As evidence, I see His appearance as one slain. The King of kings, the Creator and Lord of the universe, opened a book with hands still bearing marks of mangling by the rough spikes of crucifixion. He carried these marks directly to the throne of God as His qualification to open the book. Later I see “myriads of myriads” of angels, living creatures and elders around the throne, all shouting loudly, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” (Rev. 5:12). His being slain: what an astonishing qualifier to open the book.

But my own death comes into focus when in Revelation 6:9 the souls of countless men and women who have died for their faith speak out. Crying from beneath the altar, they asked God how long He would refrain from avenging their blood. Then comes this sobering response: they should “rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also” (v. 11). 

Since Christ came voluntarily to be my sacrificial Lamb, and since these dead saints were killed for their voluntary testimony of Him, isn’t there suggested here an invitation for me as well to lay down my life for my King? Or do I really, deep down, prefer to view His trip here as little more than a timeshare exchange? I can never know whether the laying down of flesh’s pursuits will result in my physical execution or merely my final freedom from sin’s grasp. But if He is exalted for being slain, if His death was my paid entry fee into eternal life, should I not resolve to join that company of slain brethren? My attainment of everlasting life comes at a terrible price, but it isn’t just a price He paid; it requires my own payment, as well.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You call me to become as You are, to identify with You in death, burial, and resurrection. Show me moment by moment how to participate more fully in Your life; show me what I must still die to in order to gain Your life.

April 21st, 2018

Carpet Time

Revelation 22:8-9 “I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, ‘Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God.’”

Observation: With unsurpassed astonishment, John had witnessed the unfolding of events around the throne of God at the end of the age. He had seen elders and living creatures fall on their faces as they worshiped God. He had heard a great multitude of voices sounding like mighty peals of thunder as they sang praise to God. He saw Christ on His throne, robe dipped in blood, a sobering reminder that His own death had been the source of that blood. He watched the beast and false prophet thrown into the lake of fire, and armies slain, their flesh eaten by hordes of birds. He witnessed the new Jerusalem descend to earth, and he looked upon the judgment of the dead as they were resurrected from graves and reconstituted from the sea. In response, he fell at the feet of the angel who had shown him all this, and worshiped.

Application:     Could any response be more natural? There is in the angel’s correction of John’s misdirected worship no hint of exasperation or disappointment, no sense of serious wrong having been done. Instead, the angel merely points John to the only One in all the universe who is worthy of worship, at the same time telling him that he (the angel) is simply a fellow traveler. 

My proper response to manifestations of God is always to do as John did: to fall on my face in absolute devotion. It is the same response as the elders and creatures around the throne, the same as prophets’ so many years before. Ultimately I will find myself before the throne. In that moment, I will not need to remember a proper response; face-on-the-carpet time will be inevitable. But how about now, when there remains within me the slightest morsel of belief that I deserve my good fortune, that I have earned the right to “the best” by dint of good training and hard work? 

As the sun runs its course each day and I count on innumerable tomorrows, how many manifestations of God pass before me clothed in the familiar? Do I take note of His good hand in my life but resolve to thank Him when I am less occupied? In this, I am even more to be pitied than the pagan who says he will consider the claims of Christ tomorrow; my eyes have supposedly been opened, yet do I see? It is enough for me to fall on my face simply because of Who He is.

Prayer: O Lord God, I choose today to live in awe and wonder of You. Reveal even more to me of Your majesty and beauty, Lord. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

April 20th, 2018

Who Will Pay?

Revelation 15:3 “And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.”

Observation: In Revelation 13, John had described astonishing visions of a ten-horned beast with seven heads, each with a blasphemous name, and another beast with two horns whose miraculous powers bring massive deception to the earth. He had seen the Lamb on the throne surrounded by 144,000 who had been “purchased from among men as first-fruits to God and to the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4).

A series of angels then announced the coming judgment and issued dire warnings of approaching destruction. Finally, seven more angels took center stage, each with a unique plague about to be released upon the earth. John wrote that these plagues are the last “because in them the wrath of God is finished” (Rev. 15:1). These angels broke forth in the song of verse 3, a song of Moses and the Lamb, a song that unifies Old and New Testaments, the beginning and the end.

Application: Listen for a moment to heaven’s music sung by these seven angels: “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!  Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; all the nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed.” Then John said that the angels were given seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, and the temple was filled with such smoke from the glory of God that no one could enter until the wrath had been poured upon the earth.

The mind reels in sensory overload in reading this passage. The song of Moses (Ex. 15:1-18) and the song of the Lamb (Rev. 5:9, 12) coming together in majestic chorus moments before God’s pent-up wrath is poured upon earth. Were no reservists needed in heaven’s workshops to sharpen swords and tune up the armaments? Apparently not, for this battle would be fought with voices lifted in song. By this time, all choosing is done. Jesus, whose meek coming as a sacrificial lamb had brought the offer of salvation, will now be revealed in the fullness of His roles as King and Judge. God’s wrath is no longer to be a mere threat, useful to motivate the watchful among us to improved behavior like the patrol car gaining in our rear-view mirror.

As baffling as it is for a law-abiding citizen to understand, there are some who floorboard the gas pedal as flashing lights approach; these people, once cuffed, will then curse the authority holding them to account. But accountability is coming. The payment of every debt is certain; the only question for me is who will pay my debt? Will I accept Christ’s payment, or foolishly insist upon paying it myself? 

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, as the songs of heaven fill the universe, I thank You that Your payment for my debt is sufficient.

April 19th, 2018

So What?

Revelation 2:7 “To him who overcomes…”

Observation: Christ’s revelation to John contains messages to seven types of churches and to believers within. These were specific first-century places, but they were also representative of churches that always exist:

  • Ephesus, which had abandoned its first love;
  • Smyrna, which was about to go through great tribulation;
  • Pergamum, some of whose members held to false teaching;
  • Thyatira, where Jezebel and her false teachings were tolerated;
  • Sardis, a spiritually dead place;
  •  Philadelphia, affirmed in its commitment to Christ and the Word;
  • Laodicea, where lukewarmness reigned.

Application: While Christ’s affirmation and criticisms were toward the churches themselves, it is worth noting that His promises of reward are unfailingly directed toward individuals:

Ephesus: “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life” (2:7).

Smyrna: “He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death” (2:11).

Pergamum: “To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and…a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but him who receives it” (2:17).

Thyatira: “He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations;…and I will give him the morning star” (2:26, 28).

Sardis: “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (3:5).

Philadelphia: “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God” (3:12).

Laodicea: “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with me on My throne” (3:21).

Churches will not populate heaven; overcoming individuals…men and women who wholeheartedly pursue God will populate it. As such, I am without excuse.  My church may have left its first love or be lukewarm or dead; it may have suffered tribulation or unsound doctrine or, like Philadelphia, it may be outstanding. But the “so what?” of all this is that I am still individually accountable for my response to the greatest love story in history. My church need never prevent my heart from burning with passion for God. It makes church hopping seem a little pointless, doesn’t it?

Prayer: Father, thank You that You have a plan to advance Your kingdom one heart at a time, and that You do it even through the most imperfect of institutions.  

April 18th, 2018

The Stones Did Cry Out

John 19:2-3 “The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to Him again and again, saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ And they struck Him in the face” (NIV).

Observation: Pilate, the Roman governor, confronted Jesus in his courtyard. In response to Jewish leaders’ rabid demands for His death, Pilate had asked Jesus enough questions to satisfy himself of Jesus’s innocence. Still, the crowd’s pressure increased and Pilate’s resolve weakened as he sought ways to pacify the crowd without violating Roman law. When the crowd demanded that Pilate release Barabbas rather than Jesus, Pilate’s appeasement was set. His flogging soldiers mocked Jesus repeatedly, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!”

Application: “Hail, king of the Jews!” In the context of the soldiers’ proclamation we hear echoes of accumulated jeers and sarcasm of the ages. Man’s arrogance and pride from Adam till today were pressed together and repackaged as vitriol to be poured from the mouths of soldiers torturing the only good man to have ever lived.

Imagine their blind rage. Picture the roiling fury by which they were driven to spit their epithet: “Hail, king of the Jews!”

As Jesus heard their words I wonder if He experienced a wry flashback to the moment a few days earlier when to the crowd’s acclaim He had ridden a donkey into Jerusalem. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shouted. When Pharisees objected, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:38, 40, NIV).

Now it was happening, though perhaps in a way different from Jesus’s earlier meaning. The soldiers’ hearts of stone indeed cried out. Cold, hardened hearts carried the day, overwhelming those few in the crowd who cowered in fear and hid their anguish.

The great tragedy in all this is how few there were who objected. None in the crowd spoke up. But that was then; what about today? What about me? This story comes down to the question of my own response to Christ. Is my silence deafening in the face of those who today behave like Roman soldiers, or am I willing to give joyous testimony in the face of strong opposition? When He is opposed, do I bite my tongue and swallow words of life? Am I one whose manifest joy confronts stony hearts’ judgments, or does my silence grant permission to Pilate’s solders?

Prayer: Father, You have filled my heart with overflowing joy in Your son, but there remain places of fear, as well. Cause faith to rise within, that all fear would be forever banished.

April 17th, 2018

The Customer Is Not Always Right

John 19:4 “Pilate came out again and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know I find no guilt in Him.’”

Observation: For forty verses Pilate was on stage as an integral player in John’s narrative leading to Christ’s crucifixion. These verses tell of Pilate’s role in questioning, scourging, and ultimately sentencing Jesus to die. Along the way he had moments of genuine exchange with Jesus, seeking to understand why Jewish leaders were so angry, and clarifying whether Jesus intended to threaten Roman rule by establishing a rival political kingdom. Pilate concluded that no valid threat to Rome existed, and that Jesus was guiltless. In fact, Pilate announced that conclusion twice, but he ordered Jesus scourged anyway and allowed the guard detail to horribly abuse Him. 

Application:     It is possible to read these forty verses and come away with at least a multidimensional view of Pilate, if not a sympathetic one. Here was a Roman governor doing his level best to pick his way through a minefield laid by his customers (Jews) on the one hand, and pressures from the home office on the other. But any thought of sympathy for Pilate ought to be fleeting. Pilate will be judged not only for what he did, but for what he did not do. He had a great deal of information about Jesus and an unparalleled opportunity to question Him face to face. 

Ultimately, though, Pilate will be judged by the standard applied to the screaming crowd, and to me: what is to be done with this One who claims to be Savior of the world? (see Matt. 27:22). Jesus told Pilate, as He tells me, “For this I have been born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). Is Pilate accountable for Jesus’s death? You bet. Are the Jewish leaders responsible? Absolutely. Am I? Yes. It always comes down to this: it is not my sins that condemn me, those frustrating, self-disappointing failings I am prone to; rather, it is my unwillingness to accept the best deal in history. I am invited to trade in my old sin nature to become an unblemished, new creation, one no longer touched by sin now hidden beneath His shed blood—the Blue Light Special of all time!

Pilate and Lot (see Genesis 19) had similar choices. Lot did all he could to protect God’s angels from the lustful demands of the crowd. Pilate, though he twice determined Jesus to be innocent, chose not to protect Him. My response to God, and my response to the culture always presents choices. His heart’s cry is that I would choose life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for this review of Pilate’s role in Your death on a cross, a role that for him was the same as my own. Clarify issues that may confuse my heart and mind, Lord, that I might choose You in every instance.

April 15th, 2018

The Death Wish

John 17:1 “Lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.’”

Observation: Jesus had just completed His “Last Will and Testament” to believers, magnificently summing His life’s work on earth. But in John 17 the focus shifted. Here He began the true Lord’s Prayer: His prayer to His heavenly Father. In the first verse He twice uses the word glorify, once regarding Himself (“glorify Your Son”), and again as applied to His Father, (“that the Son may glorify You”).

Application: Jesus had spent His entire ministry on earth with one primary focus: to bring glory to the Father. He only spoke what the Father told Him to speak; He only did what the Father told Him to do. So this business of praying that He might bring glory to the Father was a perfect extension of everything His life had been about. He wanted above all else to shine a brilliant light on the Father, to exalt His beauty, His splendor, His majesty. 

But think for a moment about His other use of the word glorify as applied to Himself: “glorify Your Son.” Here the meaning is surely something profoundly different. It is inconceivable that in His last days on earth He would suddenly violate all His life principles by making Himself the focus, that He be the one seen as magnificent. In His applying the word glorify to Himself, I must see His voluntary agreement to die for me. His glorification was His death wish, a journey to the cross where He would be lifted up in a final spasm of agony mixed with ultimate victory. In this, He becomes my model, the substitutionary sacrifice, the Lamb of God made scapegoat for me. And astonishingly, He calls me to follow Him, participating in His suffering. 

He seals His remarkable plea in its application to me when He says in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am.” There is within me complete and utter resistance to joining Jesus “where He is,” headed to His glorification on the cross. But without my voluntary death, I can have no part in Him. Without death, there can be no resurrection into newness of life. I must ask myself, what do I value? Is any part of my treasure to be found in clinging to hopes, aspirations, or treasures upon earth? Have I yet died to all things considered important here, that I might be alive to what He has said is important?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, how narrow indeed is Your path, and how easy it is to miss it entirely. There is no room for wandering, but only a call to perfectly and fully identify with You. I love You, Lord, and I choose to follow Your example. Bring me to the complete end of myself.

April 14th, 2018

Laughingstock of the Temple

John 12:1 “Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.”

Observation: John 11 leaves us watching all Israel preparing for the Passover. Chapter 12 begins with a description of events in Bethany where Jesus stopped for a last visit with His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus before heading on to Jerusalem. Most teaching on these verses has focused on two incidents: Mary’s anointing Jesus with costly perfume and Judas’s objecting to her supposed wastefulness. But some fascinating side comments are made about Lazarus that are fun to consider as well. In verse 1, John reminds us that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, and in verse 9 we are told that multitudes of Jews learned that Jesus was in town and had come to see not only Him, but also Lazarus whom Jesus had raised. This led the chief priests to plot how to kill Lazarus also, “because on account of him many of the Jews were…believing in Jesus” (v. 11).

Application:     John 12:2 says that Lazarus was reclining at the table with Jesus and his friends.  What do you suppose conversation with him was about that evening? “Hey Lazarus, have you had any more resurrections lately?  What was it like to be dead? Did you feel anything? Were your mind or your spirit aware of anything? How did ears four days dead hear Jesus call you out of the tomb?” The Word simply says he was reclining at the table, but we can be sure more was going on because “the large crowd of the Jews” came to see Him and then many became believers. And what of the poor, hapless chief priests? Could anything be more comical than for them to plot to kill Lazarus? He had already been dead once; had they succeeded in killing him again what would have become of their lofty reputations had Jesus raised him yet again? Surely Mrs. Caiaphas hissed that night to her husband, “Are you insane? You’ll make us the laughingstock of the temple!” This is the last we read of the plot against Lazarus. He was not going to stay dead ‘til it suited Jesus for him to stay dead.

What a great lesson for me to remember as I respond to life’s body blows. There will indeed come a day when I will be ushered into His presence, but until that moment arrives, all the demons and dark principalities together cannot defeat me. Our enemy is a tired, mangy lion with no teeth or claws; he even had Lazarus in the grave yet could not hold on to him!

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, the truth of this causes my spirit to soar today. You have set me far above my enemies and have placed a hedge of Your protection around me. How I rejoice in Your good plan for my life. Grow me up, Lord, so I, like Lazarus, might recline at Your table and talk of Your exploits.