Tuesday, January 30, 2018

3 John 1:1-8 (ESV)
[1]  The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
[2] Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. [3] For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. [4] I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
[5] Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, [6] who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. [7] For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. [8] Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.

In 2 John the readers are told to walk in truth and love. In 3 John they are told to walk in truth and show hospitality. They are also to oppose those who reject truth and fail to show hospitality and love. As I read John’s words I cannot help but think of Jesus. He was called a Friend of Sinners. He was gentle with the poor, the blind, and the broken. He had a harsh side to him, but his harshness was reserved for those who thought they were righteous, and who therefore assumed they were better than others.

John is clear, love and hospitality cannot be separated from truth. I have observed enough self-righteous hypocrisy to last a lifetime. But if I am honest, I have expressed self-righteous hypocrisy too often myself. I have to admit that there have been times, there are times, when internally I feel as though I am somehow better than the drunk, the sex-trafficker, the thief. I have to admit that there are some people I avoid simply because they are different (read “less clean”) than I am. God, forgive me.

I cannot see Jesus sayng, “This is Samaria. It is unclean. Let’s go around it.” What I see Jesus doing is walking through Samaria, stopping at a well, and talking to a woman that even the Samaritans would have considered unclean. I cannot see Jesus saying, “Here come the Lepers. We need to make sure we don’t touch them. They are unclean.” What I see Jesus doing is healing them. I cannot see Jesus saying, “This man is blind. He or his family must have sinned. Make sure you don’t get to close to him.” What I see Jesus doing is touching the man and healing him. It makes me wonder how often my actions toward others have contradicted the faith I claim to believe.

Truth is important, but it can never be divorced from love and hospitality. May God forgive us for how often we have failed to love in truth. May God forgive us for how often we have tried to proclaim truth without love. May God forgive us for seeing the dirt rather than seeing the person created in the very image of God himself. May God forgive us, and may he change how we see people. May his truth and love be clearly seen in me.

Friday, January 26, 2018

2 John 1:1-4 (ESV)
[1] The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, [2] because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:
[3] Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
[4] I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.
Five times in these four verse John refers to truth. This little letter of 2 John is all about truth. John loves truth. He is writing to those who know the truth. Truth is in them and will be in them forever. God’s grace, mercy, and peace in connected to truth. Those to whom he is writing are walking in truth. The command of God in this chapter is connected to walking in truth. Those who are bringing untruth are not to be shown hospitality. It is all about truth.

The lie that we have bought into is that truth is relative. What is truth for one person does not have to be truth for another, but that belies the very meaning of the word. Truth is truth. It is that which aligns with what it true. It is the expression of that which really is. In Christ we have truth. We do not have truth for us. We have truth. We are not to walk according to truth for us. We are to walk according to truth. We are not to guard our truth, we are to guard the truth. Truth is truth.

It is a sad condition of our times that even in churches that claim to stand on truth, divisions regularly occur over perception rather than truth. It is a sad condition of our time that we often embrace poor arguments to support our positions not because they support truth, but because they support what we want truth to be. It seems almost impossible to have a conversation around the scriptures with the humility that allows us to actually study the scriptures. “Where stands it written?” used to be the cry of the Christian whether preacher or layperson. Today it seems that we are more interested in preserving our positions, protecting our feelings, and guarding our idea of truth rather than humbly seeking truth.

Imagine if Luther had taken that approach, or David Brainerd, or the five missionaries who gave their lives to reach the Aucas, or the Northwoods preachers who brought the gospel to the logging camps of northern Minnesota. Where would we be then? Luther would still be Catholic. David Brainerd would never have taken the gospel to the Indigenous communities of this continent. The Aucas would still not have the gospel, and many families in Minnesota would never have been exposed to the gospel. But these individuals were willing to study the scriptures with the humility that caused Luther to recognize he had been wrong, and that challenged others to take the gospel to people and places they had no natural inclination to go.

Too many of us like to think of ourselves as standing on truth and standing for truth. But standing for truth starts with humility. Too often we have been driven more by the need to be right, or the desire to be safe, than by the humility to search the scriptures honestly and stand on them. Today, let us search our hearts and our motives. Are we more interested in being right or safe than in knowing and walking in biblical truth? Let us pick up our Bibles today with humility and ask the Spirit to speak.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

1 John 5:6-13

[6] This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. [7] For there are three that testify: [8] the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. [9] If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. [10] Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. [11] And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. [12]  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

[13] I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

John does not want anyone living in doubt. Jesus Christ is Messiah. He is the Son of God. Witness to Jesus is given by the Spirit, the water, and the blood (1Jn 5:6-7). We can debate exactly what that means, but one thing is clear. That witness is equated with eternal life. Verse 10 says that we have the testimony in us if we believe in the Son of God. Verse 11 clarifies, “This is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life.” The witness John refers to is eternal life John’s goal is that his readers will believe in Jesus, and that as a result, they will have full assurance of eternal life.

Faith is never alone. Faith results in love for God and love for others. John makes that point clear throughout this letter. But, he is just as clear that it is faith, not obedience, that saves. Over and over again in this chapter John references faith. He starts the chapter with these words, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1Jn 5:1). He ends with a statement of certainty. “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1Jn 5:20). We know the truth of Jesus so that we may know him. Knowing him, we are in him. In him is eternal life because he is God. John wants to leave no doubt. There is a surety and a certainty to his writing.

So why do we often find ourselves living in doubt? The simple answer is that we are looking at the wrong evidence. Certainty of salvation is found in the person of Christ. We are often looking at ourselves and trying to measure our level of holiness, commitment, purity, etc. But certainty of life is not found by looking in the mirror. It is found by looking at Jesus. He is our certainty. We need to stop looking at what other people think of us. We need to stop incessant self-examination. We need to look to Jesus.

Yes, Paul did write, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2Cor 13:5). So how does one test to see whether he/she is in the faith? I believe Paul’s answer is the same as John’s. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1Jn 5:1). Ultimately the question is not, “How good am I now?” The question is, “What do I believe and whom do I trust?”

Let us stop looking in the mirror. Let us stop looking at the assessment of other people. Let us look to Jesus and keep our eyes fixed on him. For, in him we have eternal life.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

1 John 5:1-5

[1] Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. [2]  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. [3] For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. [4] For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. [5] Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Here is a challenge, “Everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (1Jn 5:1). It’s pretty easy to love God. Loving other believers is challenging. It is easier to get offended, or to dismiss one another than to love one another. In verse 3 he says that love of God means keeping his commandments. What are his commandments? In chapter 3 John defined God’s commandments as a single command, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1Jn 3:23) To keep God’s commands means to believe in Jesus and love one another.

People find it easier to love God than they do to love one another. Of course, we can get angry at God too, but that is another issue. John warns us, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar” (1Jn 4:20). He goes on to argue that if we do not love our brother, we cannot love God. How often have we been guilty of worshiping God on Sunday morning while holding bitterness in our heart toward a brother/sister?

Pastors can be guilty of this. We pour our hearts into the study of the Word. We passionately prepare to proclaim God’s Word to God’s people only to find that they have better things to do than show up on Sunday morning. We faithfully teach God’s Word only to see little commitment and little change in the lives of those we teach. In our frustration it is easy to stop loving those God has called us to serve. In fact, it is easy to become bitter toward them. But how can we love God if we fail to love his people?

Pastors are not the only ones that can get bitter. Church people get crossways with each other, or with their pastor. We can grumble, brood, and stew over offenses real and imagined. We can hold offense long after the offense if gone and forgotten by others, sometimes even long after the offender is gone. When we allow bitterness to eat at our soul we lose our ability to love God whether we believe it or not. Our worship becomes something other than worship. Like the Jews who failed to understand that God had left their temple because of their sin, so we have failed to comprehend that our worship is only singing to the air because God is not listening. We cannot love God while hating our brother.

Now some will argue, I don’t hate them, I just don’t love them. But God equates the two. In 1 John 4:20 John writes, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar.” But in 1 John 5:1 he writes, “Everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” Not only must we not hate our brother or sister, we must actively love him/her. We cannot love God if we do not love those who believe God. The only way I can do that is by the grace of God.

Today, as we worship, may our hearts be filled with love not only for God, but for those sitting around us in worship. May we love those worshiping in other churches in our community. May we even those who have failed to make it to church today, and yes, may we even love those who fail to love us. Because, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (1Jn 5:1). 

Friday, January 19, 2018

1 John 4:1 (ESV)

[1] Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Just because someone stands up and says, “God told me…” does not mean that God has spoken through them. We are to test the spirits. 1John 4 gives us three tests to apply, and then a challenge concerning how believers are to live. The first test is in 1 John 4:3,
“…and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” The message and the messenger must acknowledge that Jesus is from God.

Second, verse 6 says, “Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” In other words, the message and the messenger must acknowledge and embrace the truths that John and the other apostles have taught. In short, any supposed message from God that contradicts the clear teachings of Scripture is not from God.

Third, John writes in verse 8, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” The message and the messenger might acknowledge that Jesus was sent from God, and be in line with the teachings of Scripture, but if there is no love then the message is not from God. Love characterizes the people of God.

That brings us to the challenge concerning how believers are to live.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1Jn 4:15-16).

 Believing that Jesus is the Son of God leads one to live in God’s love. Saying the words
without expressing the love is just saying words. True faith results in love, not fear. 1John 4:18-19 are revealing, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” The Christian life is not based on fear, but on love. A life driven by fear that God will punish me if I step out of line is a life that has failed to grasp the gospel.

How did we come to the place where those who claim the name of Christ are known for their fear more than their love? How did we come to the place where our policies and practices are driven more by fear than by love? What a sad thing it is to find those who claim the name of Christ driven by fear, held in bondage by fear, motivated by fear, and failing to understand the depth and power of God’s love. It makes one wonder if we really understand God at all.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, let us resolve to stop allowing fear to drive us. Let us determine that today we will choose faith, and live in love. May the words of the old Hymn, May the Mind of Christ My Savior (written by Kate B. Wilkinson) characterize our lives today. The fourth verse reads,

May the love of Jesus fill me
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,

This is victory.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

1 John 3:1-3 (ESV)
[1] See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. [2] Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. [3] And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Three truths run through this chapter. 1. We are to love one another. 2. The world will hate us. 3. God’s love for us prompts us to love one another, and to purify ourselves. It all begins and ends with God’s love for us.

We are to love one another. In verse 10 John writes, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” He does not tell us that so that we can figure out who we have to love. If we only needed to love people who practice righteousness, then it would be pretty simple. We would love those who are lovable and forget everyone else. But that is not the point.

He goes on to point out that Cain failed to love his brother because he was “of the evil one” (vs 12). John does not tell us to judge one another’s faith in order to decide who to love. He is telling us to live out the faith we claim to have. Do not be like Cain. There is enough animosity coming from the world. Don’t allow it to come from you to your brother as well. We will be hated by the world. We have no excuse for hating one another.

Nobody likes to be hated. We want people to like us. We don’t go out looking to be hated, but we follow the example of Jesus. He was hated by the religious leaders. He was not hated because he was a mean and abrasive person, but because he spoke truth to those who should have known better. He was hard on them. He called them whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones (see Mt 23:27). He unashamedly spoke the truth to those who should have known better. He was harsh with religious bigots who should have known the truth, and who claimed to be righteous. He was gentle with sinners who knew they were sinners. Nobody likes to be hated, but if we are to follow Jesus then it is likely that not everyone will like us. Some will even hate us.

How do we live with that? How do we live in a world that hates us, and how do we love brothers who may not be all that lovable? “We are God’s children now, and …when he appears we shall be like him…. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1Jn 3:2-3). The fact that we will one day be with Jesus and be like Jesus is what motivates us to the purity of love now, even in the face of a hate filled world. What we will be is rooted in who we are now. “We are God’s children now” (vs 2). We must never forget that. When we forget who we are, we stop living like Christ.

Monday, January 15, 2018

1 John 2:1-6; 29 (ESV)

[1] My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. [2] He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. [3] We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. [4] Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, [5] but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in him: [6] Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did

[29] If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him

If one were to read only verses 3-6 and 29, one might conclude that sinless perfection is necessary to know God. But those verses must be read in the context of the first two verses in the chapter, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins.”

God does not expect sinless perfection. Some people lives in the self-deceived condition of believing that as a believer I can do anything I want. It’s all forgiven and what I do does not matter. That could hardly be farther from the truth. To that John replies, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1Jn 2:6).

Others live under constant guilt. They believe that every sin, indeed, every temptation, is evidence that they are likely not saved. To this John responds, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ” (1Jn 2:1). Being a Christian is not about sinless perfection. It is not a heavy burden of guilt under which we must labor. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30). Why? Because he carried the burden of our sins to the cross. If we sin, “We have an advocate with the Father” (1Jn 2:1).

Paul would echo John’s teaching. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1-2). God’s grace abounds. God’s grace takes away our sin. God’s grace washes us clean. God’s grace empowers us for holiness. If you are living in guilt, please understand that. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Live in the peace of God’s forgiveness. If you are one who is excusing sin in your life because “God will forgive me anyway,” please take John’s words to heart. “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1Jn 2:6). There is no excuse for sin.

John speaks to both groups. There is forgiveness and peace in Christ. There is also holiness, righteousness, and light in him. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn 2:15). John writes to both groups, but he especially wants to remind them of who they are in Christ. Notice why John says he writes to them in the following verses:

1 John 2:12-14 (ESV)
[12] I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
[13] I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
[14] I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

We must never forget who we are in Christ. Rest in the peace of his forgiveness, and walk in holiness by his grace.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

1 John 1:1-4 (ESV)
[1]  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— [2]  the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— [3]  that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. [4] And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

John begins his letter with a focus on fellowship, fellowship with God and with each other (see vs 3). Notice that fellowship with each other is based on fellowship with God. The interesting thing is that fellowship with God is not based on being sinless. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:8-9).

The Body of Christ is too often divided over issues that we feel make others unacceptable. One individual can’t pray with another because they are from a different denomination. One church ostracizes a member because they saw him coming out of a bar, or watching television, or sending his children to the wrong school. We divide over issues that we have deduced as sin. Sin then precludes fellowship. John says that he is writing so that they can have fellowship. He is writing so that they walk in the light as God is in the light. But in the same paragraph he says that they need to acknowledge their sin. How do we navigate this?

Let me suggest that first, we have to stop defining sin by our own standards. We can logically reason to the point of making almost any activity sin if we so choose. Sometimes it feels like we are more interested in defining and categorizing sin than we are in fellowshipping with Jesus.

Second, we need to be honest about sin in our lives. We want to ignore issues, or try to quietly walk away from bad behavior, but God calls us to agree with him about sin in our lives. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). To confess means to say the same thing, or voice the same conclusion. In other words, if God calls something sin, we need to acknowledge it as sin. We have a tendency to talk about mistakes, stupid things we done, or problems we have. We seldom come right out and acknowledge to God that we have sinned. We might even ask God to forgive us, but do we agree with him that we have sinned. “God forgive me for that stupid mistake I made” is hardly the same as confession.

Third, we need to stop acting as though God has appointed us the morality and ethics police. John does not point out the sins of his readers. He simply tells them to be honest about their sin. Yes, there is a place for restoring a brother caught up in sin. “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1). But notice that our place is restoration, not conviction. We are never to play Holy Spirit in the lives of others. Later in this short letter of John he will write, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death” (1Jn 5:16). Here one is to pray for his brother committing “a sin not leading to death.” James 5:19 talks about a brother who has wandered from the truth. James calls us to restore our brother. Prayer and restoration are the roles God calls us to. Not conviction. We are not the morality police. We are the hands of God for restoration.

You would never see Paul or John slipping up next to a brother to say, “Brother, I think you are watching too much television, or playing too much golf. I think it is becoming an idol in your life.” That is the job of the Holy Spirit. Our place is prayer and restoration. James 4:17 says, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” Notice that it does not say, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and his brother fails to do it, for his brother it is sin.”

Sin is a very real issue. Paul and John agree that they have not yet arrived at a point of sinlessness (see Ph’p 3:12). They never defended sin in their lives. They were honest with God about their own sin. But, they never slipped into the role of morality police. Fellowship is not based on perfection. It is based on our fellowship with God. Our salvation is based on the death and resurrection of Christ. Our fellowship is based on humility, honesty, and faith.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Daniel 12:1-4 (ESV)

[1] “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. [2] And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. [3] And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. [4] But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”

Some have said that the Jews did not have a concept of life after death. Their understanding of the Kingdom was earthly and national. An everlasting kingdom was to be understood as applying to the Jews as a people, not to individuals. That idea hardly fits with Daniel 12 however. The angel’s message to Daniel included the promise of deliverance for those “whose name shall be found written in the book” (Dan 12:1). That sounds an awful lot like Revelation 20:11-15. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). The message further promised, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). That sounds exactly like what Revelation 20 describes. It fits perfectly with the teachings of Paul and other writers of the New Testament. One cannot read Daniel 12 without realizing that life after death, and a kingdom not of this world was clearly in the minds of God’s people.

Daniel didn’t understand everything he heard, and God told him that “the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end” (Dan 12:9). Daniel’s visions in the last few chapters sounds so much like John’s vision recorded in Revelation that I sometimes wonder if Daniel and John didn’t see the same things, but Daniel didn’t record it all. In Daniel 12:4 he was told to “shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end.”

So how should we live in light of End Times prophecy? I know some who have become obsessed with knowing every little detail of these prophecies. Others have decided that they are just too vague, complicated, or scary. They tend to avoid scriptures like these in Daniel, or the book of Revelation. Yet God gave us these prophecies. How should they impact our lives? Daniel was told, “But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days” (Dan 12:13). These prophecies will be fulfilled. When they are, the world will know that God is God. Until then, we are to continue living. End Times prophecies should motivate us to trust God. They should motivate us to walk faithfully with our God. They should not frighten us, overwhelm us, or become our obsession. “Go your way till the end” God says. And in your going, Jesus said that we are to be making disciples (see Mt 28:19).

Know that as dysfunctional as our world has become, it is not out of control. God knows exactly what will happen, and he has a plan. We can trust him. In the meantime, get on with the life and calling of God on your life. In your going, make disciples, because, “Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand” (Dan 12:10). We may not know which people will purify themselves and, and which will continue to act wickedly, but we have been entrusted with the gospel, the Good News that makes all the difference.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Daniel 11:2-4 (ESV)
[2] “And now I will show you the truth. Behold, three more kings shall arise in Persia, and a fourth shall be far richer than all of them. And when he has become strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece. [3] Then a mighty king shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion and do as he wills. [4] And as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to the authority with which he ruled, for his kingdom shall be plucked up and go to others besides these.

Daniel 11 is an interesting chapter. The angel from chapter 10 is still speaking, revealing the future to Daniel. It is so specific that to read the chapter is to read the history of Greece and Rome, even to the part where “two kings, their hearts shall be bent on doing evil. They shall speak lies at the same table, but to no avail” (Dan 11:27). It is so specific, and so accurate, that those who do not believe in God, or who reject the supernatural, are inclined to say that Daniel couldn’t have written this. Someone must have written it centuries later and added it to Daniel’s writings.

The angel starts the chapter with these words, “In the first year of Darius the Mede, I arose to be an encouragement and a protection for him” (Dan 11:1). An angel rose up to encourage and protect the king of Medo-Persia. There is far more behind the scenes spiritual activity going on in our world that we realize or perceive. It makes one wonder who is pulling the strings behind the scenes. Is it demons or angels? God knows, but we need to be careful to make assumptions based on our own perceptions and preconceived ideas. Who would have thought that an angel would be encouraging and protecting the king of Persia?

Two thoughts stand out to me here. First, angels and demons are not just watching mankind. They are serving and influencing mankind. There is a spiritual battle raging behind the scenes that we only get glimpses of. Our responsibility is not to get distracted by what we cannot see in the spiritual realm, but to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. It is easy to become enamored with the idea of angels and demons. Back in the 1980s I read about a man whose ministry consisted of opening people’s eyes to the presence of angels. From my perspective, he was so obsessed with angels that God was almost forgotten. But when you read the scriptures, the role of angels is primarily behind the scenes. They are active, but we are to keep Jesus as our focus and let them do their jobs quietly back stage.

Second, God is never caught by surprise. When Trump was elected President of the United States many people were shocked and surprised. They never imagined that it could happen. When 9/11 happened, our nation was in shock. We never saw it coming. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor our nation was stunned and shaken. We never expected it. These are just three events from three generations in the history of the USA. Things happen every day, all around the world that surprise people. Sometimes the surprises are good, and sometimes they are devastating. The good news is that they never take God by surprise.

Why did the angel tell Daniel these things? Most of them would happen long after Daniel was gone. Today we look back on them as history. Why do we read this? Why did God give this revelation to us? I don’t know the full answer, but surely a part of the answer lies in the truth that God wants us to know that he is never taken by surprise.

That should change our perspective on life. No event in our lives, good or bad, catches God off guard. We tend to spend a lot of energy worrying about things that may or may not happen. God is already there. He already knows. We can trust him to walk us through the pain or the joy. A part of the Lord’s Prayer is, “And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil” (Mt 6:13). That is certainly a request we need to lay before God’s throne; but then, we need to worry less about the potential evils in life and focus more on the first part of that prayer. “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Mt 6:10).

Where is your focus in life? To what are your energies given? Worry about the future, or to the present practice of God’s will? Maybe if we were more concerned about God’s present will we would be less concerned about tomorrow’s fears. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Daniel 10:12-14 (ESV)
[12] Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. [13] The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, [14] and came to make locked in you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”

Daniel had been mourning and praying when he encountered a spirit being in the vision recorded in this chapter. The person he sees is not God. His identity is never clearly revealed except that he appears to be a significant angel. The chapter draws back the curtain and allows us to see behind the scenes. The scriptures say of angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Heb 1:14). Hebrews does not make clear how angels serve believers, only that they do. There is a spiritual battle going on behind the scenes that we are rarely aware of.

There are a number of things suggested in these verses that add to our understanding of angels and demons. It seems that there are angels and demons assigned to territories or people groups. Michael is called the “your prince” (Dan 10:21), indicating his connection to the Jewish people. The prince of Persia and the Prince of Greece are referenced in the previous verse. It seems that these angels or demons are connected with the political powers of those countries more than the actual territory in which they live. In Matthew, Jesus speaks of angels specifically associated with helpless children. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10).

There is a lot that we do not know about angels. Much of what we do know comes from scattered references like these in Daniel and Matthew. What we do know is that a battle is raging. The world is never out of control. The one who brought it all into existence by the power of his word can stop it all with a single word. Yet for some reason the battle rages. People and angels are engaged in significant combat.

We see it differently in different cultures. In some cultures, the battle is evident. Demonic manifestations are common. In other cultures, the battle is less visible, yet nonetheless real. When the curtain was drawn back, and Daniel was given a glimpse behind the scenes his strength was sapped. He was visibly shaken, and unable to respond until the angel strengthened him. The angel’s words were the same as God’s words spoken to Joshua and others throughout the scriptures. “Fear not” (Dan 10:12).

When we begin to talk about angels and demons our natural response is fear. We fear that which we do not know or understand. We fear that which is bigger and more powerful than ourselves. We fear that over which we have no strength or power. But our strength is not in ourselves. Our strength is in God. Our power is found in the truth that as believers our lives are secure in Christ.

Colossians 3:1-3
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

This is our strength. This is our power. This is our security. We do not ever want to take spiritual warfare lightly. It is a very real thing. Neither do we want to walk in fear. As believers, we “have died and (our) life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). Furthermore, angels are assigned to minister to us. Our strength and our security are not found within ourselves, but in God. “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand” (Edward Mote, 1797-1874). In this assurance we find peace even as the battle rages on. One day there will be a reckoning. One day that war will be over. One day the battle will cease. Until that day we keep our eyes fixed on “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...