blind

The events of the past week have left our nation hurting, skeptical of one another and even more polarized on the topics of police brutality and social injustice.  As in the wake of all tragedies and disasters, the question is being asked “Where is God in all of this?” and “If there is a [good] God, why is there suffering in the world?”  The Old Testament Law painted a picture of cause and effect for sin.  We learn much about the character and purposes of God in the Old Covenant, but we gloriously have records of the person of Jesus and His explanation for many misunderstandings and misconceptions of God developed by looking at that Law (and from basic human logic).

One such misunderstanding that the Jews carried throughout the generations was that all suffering and misfortune was a direct consequence of sin.  This worldview and belief is still prevalent in many religious and basic worldviews today.  It is exemplified in concepts like karma and “balance” in the universe.  We also expect our social and political systems to respond to evil and sin with punishment to enforce the balance of good and evil where the supernatural fails.

We see brief examples of God’s sovereignty over suffering and troubles throughout the Old Testament with people like Job and the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt, but by in large people prefer to be autonomous and attribute their blessings and successes to their own efforts and character, and thus are left asking “why me” when inexplicable suffering occurs.  Thankfully, Jesus explains suffering clearly.

“As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.  And His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?’  Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'”

– John 9.1-3

Jesus had been teaching in the temple about His identity, the bread of life, and made the Jews angry by claiming to be God.  Thus, Jesus hid himself from them and slipped out of the crowd because they were trying to stone Him to death.  On His way out the door, He saw this man who had been born blind, begging.  His disciples noticed Jesus taking notice of the man, and they piped up to ask Jesus whose fault it was that this man had been born with such a terrible disability.

The prevailing worldview of the day was so dominant that the disciples were unashamed to boldly speak out in the presence of this poor man and ask Jesus if he had somehow sinned in the womb or if his parents had sinned so terribly that he was doomed to an entire lifetime of blindness.  Can you imagine?  There are occasions that we cry out to God or doubt Him because of our current situations, but would you ever dare to approach someone with a handicapped child and speak to him about his sin or the possible sin of his child in utero which led to this situation?  If you can, or ever have, you need to repent.

The disciples were clearly asking the cause.  Whose fault was the blindness?  And Jesus responded simply and profoundly: the cause was not sin.  The cause was God setting up this very situation in which His works could be mightily displayed.

One of the most beautiful promises that Christians (and non Christians alike) claim is that God knitted us together and formed us while we were still in our mothers’ wombs.

“For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.”

– Ps 139.13

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

– Jer 1.5

God pieced each one of us together in exactly the manner He wanted us.  This promise is true for all people.  God has created us each for a specific purpose, for a specific life, and with an abundance of unique traits and characteristics.  Even the handicapped.  Even the blind.  Even the broken.  And God utilizes the ways He forms us for His own glory and honor.

Sometimes that glory and honor is exceptional service:  vast wisdom, bold preaching, faithful obedience.  And sometimes that glory and honor is through God’s dynamic intervention:  healing of blindness, dramatic conversion testimonies, undeniable miracles.  And sometimes that glory and honor is through God’s sustaining power and faithfulness when we are not healed or changed.

This blind man whom Jesus encountered was created without the ability of sight, in his mother’s womb, so that Jesus could heal him and so that Jesus could teach both the disciples and us an invaluable lesson.  Not every bit of suffering is the direct consequence of our personal sin.  We do understand from Genesis 3 and Romans 1-3 that all of creation is indeed under the curse because of sin and all of suffering is the result of the reality of sin in our world.  But we must also understand that all who are in Christ have been forgiven for their sins and pardoned from the wrath of God as retribution for their sin – therefore while some suffering might be a consequence of their sin, no suffering of the believer is punishment for sin (Rom 8.1).

Some suffering is governed by God for the purification of our faith.  We read throughout the New Testament that God utilizes suffering and trials to teach us perseverance and to refine our faith as through fire (1 Peter 1.6ff).  We also see examples of suffering which God does not relieve for the sake of growing faith, like Paul:

“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

– 2 Cor 12.7-10

Paul had some sort of physical ailment which caused him great distress.  So much so that He begged God three times to heal him from it, and God refused.  God used Paul to preform many miracles as a missionary and apostle, including bringing back a person from the dead.  But yet, when Paul felt a need in his own body God refused to heal him for the sake of exemplifying His own strength through Paul’s weakness.  Thus we learn that there are times that God will knit together a person in his mother’s womb with blindness and never heal him so as to glorify Himself in this specific weakness.  God will allow us all to suffer a variety of weaknesses and trials without delivering us from them so that we will be forced to rely on Him and His strength and He receive the glory for His power through our weaknesses and trials.

As we continue to process the difficulties in our nation today, let us remember that God is not shocked or surprised by our situations.  In fact, He is orchestrating our circumstances and situations for His glory.  It might be through a radical transformation of our society as a whole, through a mighty miraculous work of God, or it might be to test and grow our faith as individuals.  The greater problem might remain, but we as Christians in a weak and sinful society will need to rely on the strength and guidance of God to live loving, purely and rightly before God.  This will strengthen and refine our faith.

A few things to remember this election season.

candidates

This week, Indiana voted and it appears as though Donald Trump will be the next presidential candidate for the Republican Party.  Hillary and Bernie are still in the race, but the overwhelming sentiment I am hearing on the news, in my circles and on the streets is that all of the candidates are terrible.  People are arguing how to vote for the “lesser of two evils”, or hoping that the Independent party will miraculously gain a standing.  As with every election season, the devout Christians are bemoaning the changing of culture and wondering if the next president will be the one to lead us to our demise and begin the End Times…”America will fall”, “We must return to God”, “We are no longer a Christian nation” echo through churches and on the street corners.

It is indeed a monumental occasion that we will choose our political leader for the next four years during the upcoming months.  And we as Christians need to be intentional about our hearts, thoughts and actions as we each play our unique role in this event.  In order to do so, there are a few things that we must keep in mind moving forward:

 1.  God is still sovereign and in control.  God created the entire universe and wrote redemption’s story which began at creation and will be fulfilled at the end of time.  Nothing is outside of His command, nothing surprises Him and nothing will thwart His righteous plan.  This plan perfectly included all of the great empires and nations which have reigned and all of the small, seemingly insignificant ones as well.  The British, Roman, Ottoman Empires and Han Dynasty were all established and fell by God’s hand, as well as the nomadic peoples of North Africa and East Asia – of whom no one has ever heard.

“For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”

– Rom 13.1b

“It is [God] who changes the times and the epochs;
He removes kings and establishes kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men
And knowledge to men of understanding.”

– Dan 2.21

Of all the peoples and nations which have ever existed (and still do exist), the only one to whom God has promised land and national prosperity through obedience is Israel.  The United States is not God’s chosen people by nationality and He has not promised us this land.  We cannot guarantee our future as a nation by encouraging people to “return to God”.  That being said, we can rest confidently and assured that God is sovereign over the United States and the next leader, and He has promised that He will work all things together for the spiritual and eternal good of those who love Him (Rom 8.28).

2.  We must submit to and honor our leaders, even if we disagree with them.  This one is difficult to apply and stomach in a land where we have granted ourselves the freedom of speech and have checks and balances to keep our leaders accountable.  Scripture is crystal clear, however:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves…Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”

– Rom 13.1-2, 7

God places every authority in power.  He also removes every authority which falls or fulfills a term.  He is sovereign.  Therefore, we must respect and honor  (and pay taxes) to those who rule over us.  Keep in mind that this instruction was written by Paul to the church at Rome – those believers who were being taxed beyond what they could afford, discriminated against because of their nationality and  murdered for their faith.  They were in a much more hostile and difficult situation than we, and Paul instructs them to submit, honor and obey.

Scripture clearly teaches us that God is our king and ultimate authority, and whenever the governing power of the day commands us to sin – either by commission or omission – then we must choose to submit to God and not man (Acts 5.29).  Paul is not instructing Christians to sin by way of obedience to authorities, but he is teaching us that since God has established governments, we must respect the office.  We may not like the man, but we must respect and follow the morally neutral laws in practice.

Living in a democracy where we have the ability to vote and to change law, it is good and right for us to be active in the political world – to the best of our abilities – to see that no laws are written or enforced which would go against God’s commandments.  Having the freedom of speech and the ability to affect our political world, we as Christians should be vocal and we should be involved.  This is a gift from God that many nations never had.  However, we should always exemplify the fruit of the Spirit and kindness of God in our words and in our actions.  We may hate the laws, systems and morality for which Obama or Trump stand – but we can still disagree with them respectfully and honor the office of president or presidential candidate.

3.  We must be mindful of our witness in our political conversations.  It is considered taboo to discuss religion and politics in public.  These are things about which people are passionate and that most consider personal.  If you want to have a cordial dinner party, it is best to leave those topics at home.  We, as Christians, however have been commanded to make disciples of all nations.  And when we have met Jesus and He has transformed our lives from the inside out, we will not be able to keep from talking about Him.  It is impossible to not discuss those things you love.

We cannot, however, be a witness for Jesus Christ while at the same time cursing our leaders and our political system.

“But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.  Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?  Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.  Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

– James 3.8-13

We certainly can disagree and seek for change and hope for better for our nation without slandering, name calling, disrespecting and hating people or circumstances.  And if we give in to our political passions and ruin our Christian witness, then we will lose our platform and ability to speak the truth of the Gospel into people’s lives.

4.  Even if the next president brings about the End Times, it is going to be all right.  One of the best tactics in fighting the sin of fear is to ask the question, “What is the worst that could happen?”  If the plane crashes, if the dog bites, if cancer attacks – what is the worst that could happen?  Death.  Ultimately we are afraid of death.  And while it is true that the event of death could be terrible and tragic, when we are freed from our bodies then we will be present with the Lord.  Death is our entryway to eternity with God.  We ultimately have nothing to fear.

Sure, we might fear loosing our jobs, being severely mangled or paralyzed or any other host of afflictions – but in these situations we have watched others faithfully walk and flourish through those circumstances and we can trust that God is working our circumstances out for our eternal good.  But He is also working our death for our eternal good.  Every person will die, and it will be through that experience that we finally get to meet Jesus face to face.

So what, then, if the next president takes us to new depths of depravity, the world is united under the leadership of the antichrist and the tribulation begins?  What do we have to fear?  Yes – there will be unthinkable atrocities that happen during that time, but ultimately we know how it will end:  we will be with Jesus.  And we can confidently and boldly proclaim that death has lost its sting:

“Oh death, where is your victory?  Oh death, where is your sting?”

– 1 Cor 15.55

In summary:  God is in control of our circumstances and our nation.  He will place into power the person He has already chosen as the next president of the United States and we can trust God to be working all things together for the spiritual well being of those who love Him.  Therefore, we should be respectable and honorable citizens, while taking full advantage of the political system under which we submit to fight for change in a God-honoring way.  We must, through all of this, remember that our greatest goal is to make disciples and not affect policy.  If we see Biblical laws enforced but no one has had a life-changing encounter with God, then we have done no eternal good.  Therefore we should be mindful of our witness in how we speak, in how we act and the battles we choose:  Let us seek to honor God first, make disciples second, and affect policy third.

If you can be talked into it, you can be talked out of it.

convince

Salvation is a mystery.  Pretty much everyone would admit that the story of Jesus, being fully God and fully man, living a perfect life and dying to save the world, then raising from the dead and returning to Heaven sounds pretty fantastical.  Like a fairy tale.  Absurd perhaps?  C.S. Lewis called it the “true myth”, because of its moral affect on our lives like myths – however having the glorious aspect of being true.  Almost too good to be true.  Most people at some point in their Spiritual journey will doubt the faith – either in light of life circumstances or because the story just sounds too story-like.

In spite of the mystical nature of the Gospel story, the historical reliability of the Bible has been proven throughout the ages.  Nothing in Scripture has ever been disproven, and continued research such as archaeological digs and finds have regularly confirmed facts about the Bible that were doubted as truth beforehand.  Thus we have disciplines like apologetics – studying logic and fact to systematically answer questions of those who would doubt the reliability of Scripture and the truth of the Gospel.

Apologetics are extremely helpful.  They can offer logical explanations to normal doubts, they can silence critics, and then can explain truths that are interwoven.  Logic, fact and reasoning, however, are not enough to lead someone to salvation.  The simple fact is,

Anything you can be talked into, you can be talked out of.

We might bow up at the idea, thinking our scientific fact and experience will never change our perception of reality.  But philosophy, our interest in the unexplained supernatural world and experience have taught us that even those things we believed unalterable at times are disproven, i.e. the world is not flat, the smallest particle is not the atom, and the sun does not rotate around the world.

So what is it, then, that sets Christianity and salvation apart?  Is the evangelist not trying to convince people that we are all sinful, we all are condemned to Hell, but we can be saved by the grace of Jesus?

Yes.  And no.  The evangelist (all Christians) do in fact believe all of those things and [should] set out to proclaim the Gospel to all people and make disciples.  Jesus has commanded us to make disciples of all nations (Matt 128.18-20), Paul shows us by example the proclamation of the Gospel and tells us to share at all times (2 Tim 4.2), and Peter tells us to be ready in every  circumstance to talk about and explain our faith (1 Peter 3.15).  However, while we are proclaiming the Gospel to every person we meet, we recognize the fact that God alone causes growth.  He softens hearts, he awakens the dead, He gives “New Birth”.

Salvation happens fundamentally when we are born Spiritually.  Before we meet Jesus, before we recognize our sin and confess it and repent from it, we are Spiritually dead (Eph 2.1).  We, as Christians, cannot look at a dead person and tell them to come to life – try though we might.  We, as Christians, cannot breathe life into a skeleton.  We, as Christians, cannot change the nature of a being.  Spiritually dead people are physically alive, but have no Spiritual life.  Thus, Jesus teaches us that in order to be saved we must be born again (John 3):  the first birth is physical and the second birth is Spiritual.

We have no say in our birth.  It just happens.

Before we meet Jesus, and before we are born again, we are enemies of God and we hate the things of God (Rom 8.7, James 4.4).  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to love Him.  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to submit to Him.  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to turn to Him.  There are none righteous, there are none who seek after God, and there are none who will turn to Him unless God breathes Spiritual life into them and transforms the desires of their hearts (Rom 3.10-12).

In order to be born Spiritually, however, we must hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God has decided to utilize Christians in His plan to bring salvation and new life to the world.  He does not need us, but has decided to allow us the blessing and honor of serving Him.  Thus He commands us to share, and through that obedience He gives the gift of faith:

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

 – Rom 10.17

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [faith] is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

 – Eph 2.8-9

God gods us the gift of faith after we hear the Gospel.  We get to play a beautiful part in the salvation experience, but we neither affect someone else nor ourselves.  Thus Paul clearly says,

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

 – 1 Cor 3.6-7

It has been said that our role as Christians and evangelists and even apologists is to get out there and find the Corneliuses.  Cornelius was the first non-Jew that God started drawing and had Peter lead to faith.  Cornelius was a Roman who had taken on many of the Jewish teachings, and God was stirring in his heart such that he was giving alms (money) to the Jews and prayed to the Jewish God.  He was not yet saved, however, because he had not heard the Gospel – so God revealed his intention to save Cornelius and his family to both Cornelius and Peter.  Thus Peter went with Cornelius’ servants to meet him, he preached the Gospel to the entire household, and they all believed (Acts 10).

God does not always tell us who He is planning on saving, or in whom He is already working, so we must obey His command to preach the Gospel boldly and at all times, and trust Him for the Spiritual birth, transformation and growth.  We go out and look for those people in whom God is working, and we do that by sharing with everyone.

This should give us the highest of hopes.  No matter how good of an apologist we are, not matter how good a preacher, friend, evangelist, or debater, the results are ultimately no in our hands.  If the results were in our hands, a better friend, debater, or speaker would be able to talk that person right out of the faith.  Because there will always be someone smarter, someone more clever, or facts (or theories) twisted in such a way as to change someone’s mind.  But God transforms us from the very nature of our being, and once we have been born Spiritually, we cannot be UNborn.  The growth, the fruit, the results are all in God’s sovereign hand, and of those He has chosen and given birth, He will loose none.

“This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

 – John 6.39

Therefore, we have no reason to fear.  God will keep secure those to whom He has given life.  If you are alive Spiritually, you cannot die Spiritually.  And when we share the Gospel with our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers or whomever, it is not our responsibility to save them and cause growth – it is only our responsibility to share and follow up with discipleship after God brings new life!

Do you primarily love God or trust Him?

trust

We, as a people, have generally been infatuated with ourselves.  Because we are born naturally loving ourselves and seeking our own best interest (human, sinful nature), often times our perception of love is based on what we can get out of someone else.  Has someone ever asked you to do something or proposed an idea, and you ask “What’s in it for me?”  Do you ever get tired of giving in to other people’s desires and whine, “When is it my turn?”  We even unknowingly seek out a spouse by what he can do or provide for us.  Do you (did you) have a check list of non negotiables?  Must be funny (to make me laugh), must be educated (to stimulate my mind), must have a good job (to be able to take care of me), must be attractive (so I can impress my friends and enjoy looking at him), and the list goes on.

Now, I am not saying that we should choose lazy bums to marry just for the sake of being selfless, but we should intentionally examine our understanding of love.  Are we in it to give or are we in it to get?

As Christians, we can easily fall into the temptation of “loving” God because of His benefits.  Scripture even teaches us that love, fundamentally, is Jesus dying for us.  Right?

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

– 1 John 4.10

The first Bible verse most of us learn is John 3.16:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

And the first church song most of us learn is “Jesus Loves Me”,

“Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.”

And since we have been indoctrinated that God is love, and He loves us, we continue to write similar songs!  “I am a friend of God”, “We are no longer slaves”, etc.  Yes, these things are true – but it is not a worship song to sing about who we are.  It is a worship song to praise God for who He is.  Think about it.

Campus Crusade for Christ has written an evangelistic tool called the “Four Spiritual Laws”, and the first one is, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”.

Yes, it is the most glorious truth in the universe that God loves us and that He gave His son to die in our place so that we can be forgiven of our sins.  But often, instead of recognizing the nature of God’s love: giving of Himself to meet our needs and take care of believers, we just soak it all in.  We think we are the center of the universe and can just absorb all of the good things that He has for us.  Then we are upset, hurt, confused and cranky when things don’t work out the way we hoped, dreamed or planned.  If God loves me, then why?

We need, however, to learn what love is and practice it ourselves.  Jesus was not just a gift, He was an example.  He loved us and because of that love, He sacrificed everything He had in Heaven to live a life of poverty on Earth and died for us.  Therefore, if we love Him in response, we should sacrifice everything that we have and give up our lives for Him!  Now, Jesus may not ask us all to die the death of a martyr, but we all must be willing!  This is why Jesus said,

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

– Matt 16.25

If we are “loving” God because of His benefits and not because of who He is, then we are truly loving our lives and not Him.  We will thus lose our lives, eternally.  Does God make you feel warm and fuzzy?  Are you “claiming His promises” and enjoying His benefits without enjoying Him?  Or are you so overwhelmed by the sacrifice that He made, that you accept the gift and in return surrender your life?

Thus our love must be rooted in trust.  It is not my intention to square love and trust against one another.  When understood correctly, they coincide and compliment one another perfectly.  When we have a skewed perception of love, however, we can learn love more fully if we understand trust.

God is sovereign, and He does have a plan for all of our lives.  He does work everything together for good for those who love Him.  He does love us, and work our sanctification in our lives.  He is intentionally utilizing every life situation in which we find ourselves to mold us into the image of Christ, and that all to His glory and honor.  Because of this fact, our circumstances may often become what we did not want or expect.  God sanctifies us by burning out the impurities:  He is the consuming and purifying fire.  If we expect God to make us happy, then our understanding of love with leave us disappointed and hurt.  But if we expect God to make us holy, then we can have peace in the difficult times.

“You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.
Trust in the Lord forever,
For in God, the Lord, is everlasting strength.”

– Is 26.3-4

Trust and love both fundamentally look outward.  God’s love looked at us and broke His heart because of our sin and condemnation.  Our love must look at God in awe and wonder, praising Him for the gift of salvation and surrendering of our lives.  We can learn love more fully by learning to trust.  Trusting always looks outward, it cannot be misconstrued to be about me.  Trusting necessarily means not having control and expecting someone else to have control, and to bring about the best conclusion to a situation.  And it also recognizes that the “best” may not be our desired outcome, but the most God-glorifying outcome which will lead to our maturation and sanctification.

Why do you love God?  How do you love God?  Do you expect God to serve your wants and needs?  Or do you love God by surrendering your life to Him and trusting Him?  Let us learn to love God more by trusting Him today.

Keep on keeping on.

keep on

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:  ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.  Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.  Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.  I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.  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, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.”

– Rev 3.7-13

In His address to the seven churches in His revelation to John, there is only one church which Jesus does not chastise and warn of coming judgment – and that is the Church at Philadelphia.  Jesus does not have something “against” them.  He still identifies Himself, and it is still relevant to the exhortation He makes, as in His message to the first five churches.  Jesus is self-declared as “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.”  We know that Jesus is Holy: He is God, He never sinned, and He is set aside with a special role and purpose as Savior.  He is also true:  He created everything, He wrote the moral law, He defines truth and gave us truth by which we can be saved.  He also has the key of David:  this is a bit more obscure, a reference from Isaiah:

“Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder,
When he opens no one will shut,
When he shuts no one will open.”

– Is 22.22

A key, throughout Scripture, represents authority.  We see it in reference to Hades, Hell, and death and also the house of David.  David was the second and arguably the greatest king of Israel, and thus for one to have the key to David’s house would be the key to David’s domain:  Jerusalem and Israel.  He is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the ruler over the New Jerusalem and the Earth.  He is sovereign, and thus what He opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open.  This is important because we must understand Jesus as the one who controls and guards entrance into eternity – either into eternal rest in the presence of Jesus on the New Earth, or in Hell.

But the Church at Philadelphia has an open door in front of them leading to eternal rest, and Jesus has opened it.  No one can close it.  Why?  Why is Philadelphia set to meet Jesus and the others are not?  Because they have kept Jesus’ word and they have not denied His name.  There are many who claim to follow Jesus, but truly do not.  They have either deceived themselves or they are deceiving others intentionally, and Jesus calls them of the “synagogue of Satan”.  Jesus will humble them before true believers.  He also promises the church to keep them from the hour of testing.  This is a tricky promise, as some have interpreted it to mean that the Church will be kept from the final tribulation.  In light of the full teaching of the New Testament, however, I believe it to mean the hour of judgment.  We will go through two judgments as believers, and the first is the separation of the sheep and goats – the believers and non believers.  At that moment, those who did not repent of their sins and turn to Jesus for salvation will be cast into Hell.

Regardless of your interpretation of that Scripture, the point is simple and true that Jesus will save us.  We know that our deeds will be judged and we will be rewarded according to what we have done while on the Earth, and ultimately Jesus has opened a door into eternity for those who trust Him and obey Him, and He will protect us until we enter through that door.

Jesus them promises to come quickly and exhorts the Church to hold fast to their beliefs and their disciplines.  He paints a beautiful picture of the reward awaiting them, provided they continue in the faith:  they will be forever in the presence of God, they will be branded as His, and rewarded with life in the New Jerusalem.  Why does Jesus put in that small caveat?  Reward and consequence greatly affects everyone’s behavior.  If we had no judicial system and no police, people would be much more quick to do those things that we have forbidden by the law.  Our motivation should not only be the consequence, but we must also be aware of the consequence as we go about our decision making.

This is the Church we should seek to emulate.  It is balanced, they know and love Jesus and they apply that knowledge and love of Him into their daily lives by obedience to Him.  They are functioning well as a Church and they are standing up against the false prophets who would infiltrate them and lead others astray.  And they are fighting the good fight of faith which Jesus promises to reward.  Jesus Himself has no critique.  Let us seek to obey to the point that Jesus has no critique other than, “keep on what you are doing!”

God wills that sin occur without sinning.

sovereignty

One of the most debated theological topics within our congregations these days is the sovereignty of God.  It is a topic about which people get upset, feelings get hurt, and honest conversations are rarely had for the sake of “not wanting to offend one another”.  There are obnoxious people on both sides of the argument which make it even more difficult to honestly address.  But today I want to look at one event honestly, and observe God’s sovereign hand in and through the sin which was essential in it.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ. 

I am confident that we can agree in the foundational teachings of the Old Testament that murder is a sin.

“You shall not murder.”

 – Ex 20.13, Deut 5.17

And while one might argue that the Mosaic Law called for the death of anyone who would blaspheme, and the Pharisees believed that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy and therefore acting out of right conviction, we know that Jesus was indeed God and therefore did not blaspheme in proclaiming that He was God.  We also know that the Pharisees were seeking to kill Jesus for sinful motives, not out of a love for the holiness of God.

“Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.”

 – Lev 24.16

“But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.”

 – Matt 12.14

In short, it was a sin for the Pharisees, for the crowd, and for the Romans to kill Jesus.

But Scripture is painfully clear from the very beginning that Jesus’ murder and resurrection were God’s plan.  When God created the world, He placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and gave them only one rule which they broke.  When God came and pronounced the curse over humanity because of this one sin, He also foretold a savior who would suffer:

The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

 – Gen 3.14-15

The son of man will bruise Satan on the head, while Satan will only bruise Him on the heel.  This is the first promise of a Savior.  And throughout the history of Israel – as documented in the Old Testament – there are promises and prophecies of the coming Messiah who would redeem the Hebrew people.  The prophecies are so specific and clear that it has been counted to 353 prophecies that Jesus fulfilled by His birth, His life, His death and His resurrection.  The entirety of the prophecy is that Jesus would suffer an unjust death so that we could experience an unjust forgiveness.  This is so clear, in fact, that Revelation teaches us that Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world.  Before God created man, He had redemption’s story written, and it included the murder of His Son:

“And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

 – Rev 13.8

So the simple fact of God’s plan to redeem a sinful people through the crucifixion of His son exemplifies His sovereignty and will through the sin of the Sanhedrin, the crowd and the Romans.

But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.”

 – Is 53.10

We also see specific elements prophesied and willed by God within the crucifixion event, for instance the betrayal of Christ by Judas.  We see a foreshadowing of the betrayal by David:

Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
Who ate my bread,
Has lifted up his heel against me.

 – Ps 41.9

And we see the detailed prophecy of the events in Zechariah (written some 600 years before it occurred):

“I said to them, ‘If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!’  So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages.  Then the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.’  So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord.”

 – Zech 11.12-13

This is why the Gospel writers bemoaned Judas and the event of his betrayal thus:

“The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

 – Matt 26.24

“For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”

 – Luke 22.22

“For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

 – Mark 14.21

In short, it was God’s plan and will that Jesus would be betrayed by one of His closest friends and a disciple, at the cost of thirty shekels of silver (the price of a common slave), and the friend would then feel guilt and throw the money back at the Sanhedrin.  It was God’s plan, but yet three of the four Gospel writers pronounce woe for Judas; saying it would have been better for him if he had never been born.

God’s ultimate plan of redemption and salvation included this act of sin, and God is not guilty of sin for willing it, and Judas is guilty of sin for preforming it.

We know that God is perfect and that in Him there is no sin, He cannot sin by His very nature (1 John 3.9, James 1.13).  But yet He wills for sin to take place in order for His perfect plan of redemption and sanctification of believers to occur.  If we reject this truth, then we reject the very Gospel in which we find our hope.

Is this a unique situation because it is the story of Jesus?  Or is this true in our lives as well?  To answer that question, let’s look at 1 Peter 1.

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

 – 1 Peter 1.6-9

Peter, the apostle who was prophesied to deny Jesus, and who did deny Jesus, but yet was restored, wrote to the scattered church that their faith would be purified as gold through various trials.  He gave them hope that their trials were going to work out to their good – and that is the salvation of their souls by perseverance.  But not only that, he says that it is necessary.  God found it necessary to put these believers through various trials in order that their faith might be placed in a fire, so that the impurities of the faith could rise to the top and be scraped off, leaving it more valuable and more strong.  We understand from Rom 5 and James 1 that God intentionally uses trials to produce in us perseverance which produces character which ultimately results in hope.  Our faith grows and is proven by trials.  But what is the nature of these trials about which Peter spoke?

For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.  For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience?  But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”

 – 1 Peter 2.19-24

Peter says that it finds favor with God when we are suffering unjustly.  That means when people sin against us.  God intentionally wills trials for us that are people sinning against us when we do not deserve it.  And it finds favor with God when we suffer with the character of Christ, who also suffered by people sinning against Him unjustly.  Jesus was our example, and we will be put through trials of the same nature – though for most of us, not to the same extent.  Some of our trials will be because of our own personal sin, and it is of no credit to us if we suffer those consequences.  It proves our faith when we persevere while being sinned against.  And God finds is necessary (1 Peter 1.6) to put us through such trials.

How can this be?  How can God be sovereign over my actions and other people’s actions, and yet I still be held accountable for them?  This is a great mystery, and a tension that Scripture does not seek resolve for us.  It simply states the truth that God is sovereign and we are responsible.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 – Rom 6.23

The just punishment for sin is death and eternal separation from God in Hell.  Judas is paying for in eternity what God planned before the foundation of the world.  Judas did choose to deny Jesus, and to go through those steps of betrayal, but it was also God’s plan.  And Judas is suffering the consequences while it was necessary for God to bring about the Gospel and plan of salvation.

Thus we see that God uses the sin to bring good.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

 – Rom 8.28

God causes all things to work together for good, and to His glory.  Without sin, there is no distinction of holiness.  Without evil we cannot grasp the weight and fullness of good.  God wills sin in order to exemplify His perfection and glory.

But how can this be fair?  Paul asked and answered that very question in the book of Romans:

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!  For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.”  So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”

 – Rom 9.14-16

Ok, then if God gets to choose, and if He is sovereign over sin, how can He hold us accountable for that sin?  How can Judas be guilty if it was God’s plan all along?  Paul also asks and answers that question:

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”  On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?  The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?  Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?  What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?  And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

 – Rom 9.19-24

Paul essentially says that our perspective is off.  We are looking at it from our perspective, from man’s worldview.  We consider man to be the highest value and the author of our destinies.  But Paul says that God is actually the one with highest value and the author of our destinies.  If He is the potter, He gets to make beautiful vases for honor and He also gets to make chamber pots.  And seeing the full picture, He can create sinful people who will be utilized for the purpose of testing and purifying the children of God – bringing about those “necessary trials”.

Judas played an essential role in the Gospel story.  He was a vessel of wrath, prepared beforehand for destruction.  And because of the spirit and nature that He was given, He willfully chose to follow Jesus for the wrong motives and then turn Him over for money.  He had a wicked spirit and He acted out that wicked spirit of His own volition.  And He will eternally pay the punishment for it.  But it is not sin for God because He was created as a vessel of wrath and the sin was essential to bring about the good and to glorify the greatness of God.

So how does this apply to us?  I understand that this is a theological and difficult reality to grasp and make peace with in our Spirits – because it goes against the worldview we have been taught since childhood.  There are a variety of ways in which it applies, however.  Firstly, it helps us to understand the nature and person of God.  The more we know Him, the more we can love him.  It is like any relationship – you have to know someone to care about them, and the more intimately you know someone, the more deeply you can love them.  God has revealed these truths about Himself so that we can know Him, enjoy Him, and worship Him.  If you are in relationship with God, you are a vessel of mercy which He is refining and purifying for an eternity with Him.  If that doesn’t make you feel loved, nothing will!

Secondly, it helps us gain perspective over our situations.  Has someone sinned against you?  Are you in the midst of a tragedy or trial?  We have two very distinct encouragements in these times.  Firstly, Jesus suffered at the hands of sinners unjustly, and He is our example.  Secondly, God sees this situation as necessary to bring about the purification and maturation of our faith.  He is allowing this for our good.  He has given us an example to follow and He wants us to rely on Him, and trust Him and glorify Him through the process of obedience, growth and purification.  God is not up in Heaven calling an emergency meeting because our situations have caught Him off guard and He now has to scramble to figure out how to bring good out of it.  He orchestrated it.  Purposefully.  For our good.

Thirdly, it helps keep us humble.  Here in the good ol’ USofA, we like to think of God as our father, our buddy, our “homeboy” as the T-shirt said a few years ago, and while it is true that God is indeed our father and we can approach Him boldly and tell Him our fears, thoughts, concerns and passions – He is also God.  He is King.  He is sovereign, and He is the juge over sin and righteousness.  We are not the most important beings in existence.  God is.  God does not exist for us, we exist for Him.  So when we enter into these difficult situations, we should remember that the king deserves honor, reverence and respect.  We can verbalize our confusion, but we should not presume upon God that we know better about our situations.

Lastly, it helps us in evangelism.  Jesus left us with a single command:  to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matt 28.28-20).  There will be many people who reject the Gospel.  There will be many people who push back against Jesus.  There might even be times that we suffer at the hands of those who oppose the Gospel and Jesus.  And we can take great comfort and peace in the fact that this is all part of God’s plan.  He has people from every tribe, tongue and nation who will believe (Rev 7.9), and it is not our job to convince them or sweet talk them into salvation – it is only our job to proclaim the Gospel and let God bring about the growth.  We as believers should be telling everyone, and God will bring in the harvest.

“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

 – 1 Cor 3.7

So let us consider God in our situations today.  Whatever situation you have encountered today, God considers it necessary for your maturity and growth.  Let us look to Him, ask Him what it is that we need to learn in it and through it.  Let us consider Jesus as our example of suffering unjustly, and ask for strength to persevere and for your faith to be refined as gold.  Let us share the Gospel boldly and trust God to bring about the growth that He has promised for people around the world.

When there’s nothing to say.

gloves

Sometimes you have said all that you can say and done all that you can do, and the outcome seems murky at best.  Few times in life is the battle anything short of a thousand-year war, rarely is the race documented by splits.  Yes, splits are important, and yes battles ultimately win the war, but the reality is that more often than not, even the minor victories can be be overshadowed by the ongoing struggle.  You might kill one mile, but the task of many more ahead can damper your spirit.

“…and he said, ‘Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, “Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s”.'”

– 2 Chro 20.15

We certainly play a role in the big picture.  But our role is obedience.  We hear the Word of God and we submit to it.  We fight sin.  We are active in the Church.  We share the Gospel with non believers and we train up new believers, holding them accountable and helping them to obey God.  But the battle is already won.  The end has already been written.  And God causes the growth.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to keep silent.”

– Ex 14.14

Sometimes we need to get out of the way for the Lord.  We can beat a dead horse but it will not run.  But God is sovereign over salvation, maturity and everything that happens on this Earth.

“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.7

And quite frankly, the reality is that before growth can occur, the seed must die.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

– John 12.24

God causes growth through dead seeds.  This is a mystery, both in agriculture and in Spiritual matters.  Scripture teaches us that we are all dead, spiritually, until God gives us a new birth:  a Spiritual birth.  And the outplaying of that Spiritual birth is our surrender, when we die to ourselves and let God take over to bring about new life.  Spiritual life.  Life that honors Him and is life in the fullest.

We will never persuade someone to follow Christ.  And if we do persuade someone, then they have been won on a superficial level only.  Only God gives true life, and true growth.  So let us not be surprised that the World acts like the World; that Spiritually dead people disobey the mandates of God.  Let us say all that God has to us to say, let us fight the good fight, but let us rest well in the fact that God has every step of this planned.  Jesus promises us that the world will devolve into chaos ad tribulation before the end will come.

“You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.  But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.  Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.  At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.  Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”

– Matt 24.6-13

But the one who perseveres until the end will be saved.  Push on.  It will all be worth it in the end.  Be on guard lest your love grow cold and lest you be led astray.  It will all be worth it in the end.  And the battle belongs to the Lord.