The Unveiling: Revelation 1-3

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Today’s reading: Revelation 1-3.

Revelation begins with the end in sight.

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:7-8

It’s not a gospel book of the good news about Jesus, or a historical account like Acts, or an instructional letter. It is an apocalypse. In modern usage that implies the end of the world, but in terms of Revelation it refers to a title, a theme, and a style. This book is, literally, the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, meaning the unveiling or uncovering. Something mysterious or hidden is being revealed. That is the title and theme. The style of the book is also apocalyptic, and that style gives meaning to the message of Revelation. Apocalyptic writing, like that in the book of Daniel, includes symbolism, dreams or visions, angelic interpreters, symbolic numbers, forecasts of the end times, and an expectation that this world will have to pass away to make room for a better future. Like Daniel’s vision which was sealed up until the end time, it may also mean that parts of Revelation will not make sense until the time of its fulfillment.

This is the Apocalypse of Jesus. He is its author and its subject. Revelation emphasizes that Jesus is eternal. He has existed since before the creation of the universe. He will still be ruling when this world melts away and is replaced. He is ever-present. He stood among the churches in the days of John the apostle and he still stands among his churches today. He is pre-eminent. To say he is first and last speaks of his superiority in time but also his exceeding greatness in character. He is expected. His coming again is near, so that we must remain watchful for his return.

Revelation speaks of things that have been, the time when Jesus walked the earth in human form. It speaks of things that are, the present age when Jesus walks among his churches in spirit. It speaks of things to come, when Jesus will return to reign on earth.

Above all else, Revelation is a message to the churches, and it conveys a pastor’s or shepherd’s concern, whether that be Jesus or the apostle John, for the congregations of the churches. I don’t believe the seven churches of Revelation symbolize seven periods of world history – these were real churches – but they do exemplify strengths and weaknesses of many churches and they illustrate how Jesus interacts with his body of believers.

Ephesus: the church that abandoned its early love for Jesus. To them he is the one who holds them in his hand and walks among them. He commands them to repent, but commends their perseverance. Those who overcome will eat from the tree of life. If we love Jesus greatly we will receive the gift of eternal life.

Smyrna: the church facing persecution. To them he is the first and last, the one who died and rose to life. If they remain faithful, even to death, they will receive the crown of life. Those who overcome will not be hurt by the second death. Persecution will not destroy our faith because believers do not face spiritual death.

Pergamum: the church with false teachers. To them he is the one with the two-edged sword. Jesus commands them to repent, or he will fight against them. Those who overcome will receive the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it. Believers have a unique relationship with Jesus by which he nourishes and strengthens them.

Thyatira: had a false prophetess. To them he is the one with eyes like fire and feet like burnished bronze. Unless they repent, those who commit adultery with the false prophetess with suffer. Those who overcome will receive authority over the nations and will be given the morning star. Believers will govern the nations when Jesus returns.

Sardis: had fallen asleep. To them he is the one who holds them. Jesus told them to wake up or he would come like a thief.  Those who overcome will receive white clothes and their names will never be removed from the book of life. The righteous actions of believers are a confirmation that they will receive eternal life.

Philadelphia: had patiently endured. To them he is the one who holds the keys, opening what no one can shut and shutting what no one can open. Because they have patiently endured, he will keep them from the trial coming upon the whole earth. Those who overcome will be a pillar in the temple of God, in the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. The body of Christ, the church, will be a living temple in the New Jerusalem.

Laodicea: had only a lukewarm faith. To them he is the faithful and true witness, the ruler of creation. He counsels them to buy true gold from him, and white clothes, and salve to cure their blindness. He stands at the door and knocks. Those who overcome will sit with him on his throne. Those who accept Jesus as Lord will rule and reign with him.

Jesus calls to the overcomers because there will be much to overcome in the days ahead. Those who endure the difficult times will enjoy eternal blessings in the new heaven and earth.

Image by auggie.wren on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Proofs of salvation: I John

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Today’s reading: I John 1-5.

“Is there such a thing as a test of my salvation?”

The tests of true faith are the meat of First John. John said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” He didn’t write them to identify the faithless but to encourage the faithful. He prescribed a self-test that Christians can take to prove to themselves that they are one with God, or as the song says, so they can “know that they know that they know that they know.”

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. I John 2:3

One test of salvation is the test of obedience. True believers keep the commandments of God. Perhaps you thought all the commandments went away with the Law of Moses. If so, you were mistaken. The New Testament is full of commands for Christians. “Be holy, as I am holy.” “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thank in all circumstances.” “Show no favoritism.” The list goes on. John said, “the man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar,” and “whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did,” and “you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” He also states this test in the negative: “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. I John 3:14

The next test is the test of brotherly love. According to John, anyone who hates his brother is stumbling around in darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light of God’s guidance and will not stumble. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, killing in thought if not in deed, and those who continue to murder will not inherit eternal life. The one who loves will express his love in actions as well as words. He will lay down his life for his brother. He will share his possessions with his brother who is in need.

And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. 3:24

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 4:13

John also wrote about the test of the Holy Spirit. Those who are saved receive the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit within them testifies to the truth of their salvation. As Paul said, the Spirit, which is the down payment or earnest money of our heavenly inheritance, “testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). This is an assurance that comes directly from the Trinity.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well…And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  5:1, 11-12

Some tests are tests of action, but the test of belief in Jesus Christ is a test of faith. The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ is opposed to Christ; he is an antichrist. “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.” “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,” and if we can make that profession then we know that we have God’s Spirit in us. If we believe in Jesus, we have accepted God’s testimony about him, that he is truly his own son.

There are a few other tests in John’s letter. There is the test of confession; the one who is saved does not deny his sin but admits it to God. There is the test of worldliness; the true believer hates the ways of the world and is devoted to Jesus. There is the test of habitual sin; no one who belongs to God continually repeats the same sins without remorse or repentance.

Do you see other tests of salvation in John’s letter? Remember, he gave us these tests to strengthen our assurance and to increase the knowledge of our salvation. For those who have doubts, it is an opportunity to examine whether you have repented from sin and put your faith in Jesus Christ as God’s son. John reminds us that we can confidently approach God with all our concerns, including concerns about our faith. He hears us, and having heard us, we will receive what we asked of him, even faith.

Image by ClemsonUnivLibrary on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

Living with suffering: I Peter

 

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Today’s reading: I Peter 1-5.

“How should a believer react to persecution?”

Though American believers have not experienced severe persecution, the story is different for many Christians around the world. Suffering was common for the believers scattered through Asia Minor to whom Peter wrote. He taught them how to live victoriously despite their trials.

Rejoicing despite suffering

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. I Peter 1:6

Peter encouraged the persecuted believers to rejoice because they had a living hope due to Christ’s resurrection, an unfading inheritance in heaven, and God’s power to shield that inheritance until Jesus’ return.

Revealed through suffering

These (trials) have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. I Peter 1:7

Their suffering was not pointless. Their grief was refining their faith, which was more valuable than gold and longer lasting. Their suffering would prove the reality of their faith and bring glory to God.

Reflecting God through suffering 

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 2:12

Rather than being shamed by their persecution, the believers would be able to shine a bright light in the dark world – if they lived godly lives.

Rewarded for suffering

For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 2:19-20

Christians receive no reward if they are punished for wrongdoing. But they receive the highest honor, God’s approval, his “well done, faithful servant,” when they endure unjust suffering.

Resembling through suffering

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 2:21

We should follow Christ’s example in suffering. He did so in order to accomplish the will of his father. He suffered so that the kingdom would come on earth. He suffered humbly, but his suffering resulted in God exalting him.

Righteous in suffering

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. 4:19

In the press of tribulation, Christians need to remain faithful to God and continue to live in obedience to his commands.

Resisting together through suffering

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 5:8-9

Ultimately Satan controls the persecution that buffets believers. We resist him by remaining faithful, and by uniting our hearts and minds with brothers and sisters who are suffering around the world. Groups like “Voice of the Persecuted” can inform you so that you know how to pray.

Prayer is the number one thing those being persecuted ask for. Second, we need to share their stories and make others aware of their plight by conversing, sharing on social media sites, blogging or emailing others. Knowledge is key and a great way to get the ball rolling! You can also send letters to imprisoned Christians, make a donation, or become a volunteer. I pray this realization sets you into action. You can make a difference. You can be a voice crying out for the Persecuted Church. You can BE THEIR VOICE! In Solidarity, Lois Kanalos – Founder/Advocate, Voice of the Persecuted

Image by Dominico Morelli

Put to the test: a personal account

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Today I want to write about my own time of testing. It was a very literal trial, the kind you go through in court with lawyers, a judge, and a jury. I’m a doctor, and unfortunately even when they do their job correctly doctors are at significant risk of being sued for malpractice. The short explanation is that sick patients sometimes have bad outcomes, even death, and bad outcomes can result in lawsuits.

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The details of the case are not important. What affected me most was waiting to go to court. Six and a half years passed between the time I was notified of the suit and the day when I finally appeared in court. The suit was actually dropped for a whole year during that time, only to be taken back up again.

As one who believes in God, I looked at this situation and trusted that God would take care of me in spite of it and that I would be OK. I didn’t have any assurance that the case would be settled in my favor, however. Most of all, I didn’t have any joy in my heart. But that is what God taught me during my time of waiting: that I could not only endure it but be joyful in the midst of it. The reason? God’s promise in James that he would use this time to make me complete and perfect.

The three weeks in court were much harder than I expected. I experienced a lot of anxiety despite my faith, but my faith grew as a result of the trial. I never knew, during my six years of waiting, how to pray confidently for a “not guilty” verdict. By the time the trial was drawing near its end I did pray with faith that God would deliver me, and he did.

I’m not saying that I’m now perfect because of my trial, but it did change me for the better and greatly grew my faith. I now understand fully that I can rejoice in my tests and trials because God will use them to make me a more complete person and one who can patiently endure. I hope you will learn, during your times of testing, to not only endure but also rejoice.

Faith that Works: James 2

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Today’s reading: James 1-5.

“Why do Paul and James differ in their beliefs?”

James and Paul may seem to face each other in an argument that can’t be resolved, but I prefer the conclusion that they are standing back-to-back fighting two different enemies. For Paul, the enemy was trusting in the works of the law. For James, it was trusting in a fruitless faith that was actually dead. Both men were interested in faith that works.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:14-17

More than good intentions. James condemns the person who wishes others well but does nothing concrete to help them. His conclusion? It’s no good. In the same way faith that produces no fruit is really no faith.

More than mental assent. Faith is more than acknowledging the existence of God. After all, even Satan does that. Faith is submitting to the rule and authority of God, believing that he holds your future in his hands. As Manley Beasley said in yesterday’s devotional, faith must have an emotional component (I want God to be Lord of my life) and a volitional component (I choose to be obedient to God’s will) as well as the intellectual component (I believe there is a God).

Faith and actions work together. James pointed out that works complement faith. Abraham was credited for his faith in God’s promise, but his faith resulted in obedience to God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Paul used this same passage to show that God declared Abraham righteous because of his faith before it ever resulted in works, but it was the kind of faith that led to action.

Works reveal faith. Works complement faith, but they also validate faith by revealing its reality. James mentions the example of Rahab, a pagan prostitute who became part of God’s family because of a faith in Jehovah that led to direct action on behalf of God’s people.

What kind of works? This is the strength of James’ letter. He spells out in practical terms how Christians should demonstrate their faith.

  • by persevering under trials
  • by resisting the temptation to sin
  • by obeying God’s word
  • by helping the disadvantaged
  • by showing no favoritism
  • by controlling their tongue
  • by praying for each other

A tree has been planted out into the ground. Now the source of life to that tree is at the root, whether it hath apples on it or not; the apples would not give it life, but the whole of the life of the tree will come from its root. But if that tree stands in the orchard, and when the springtime comes there is no bud, and when the summer comes there is no leafing, and no fruit-bearing, but the next year, and the next, it stands there without bud or blossom, or leaf or fruit, you would say it is dead, and you are correct; it is dead. It is not that the leaves could have made it live, but that the absence of the leaves is a proof that it is dead. So, too, is it with the professor. If he hath life, that life must give fruits; if not fruits, works; if his faith has a root, but if there be no works, then depend upon it the inference that he is spiritually dead is certainly a correct one. When the telegraph cable flashed no message across to America, when they tried to telegraph again and again, but the only result following was dead earth, they felt persuaded that there was a fracture, and well they might; and when there is nothing produced in the life by the supposed grace which we have, and nothing is telegraphed to the world but “dead earth,” we may rest assured that the link of connection between the soul and Christ does not exist. – Charles Spurgeon

Discipleship – what believers must do: 2 Timothy 2

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Today’s reading: 2 Timothy 1-4.

“The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.” ― Kevin DeYoung

There is a growing movement in churches today, an imperative which has been ignored too long. While focusing on numbers and decisions we neglected the thrust of Jesus’ ministry – discipleship. We have built churches which are often devoid of discipleship. If instead we had been disciplers, there would have been no lack of growing churches. Paul summed up the essence of discipleship when he described how it stretched across four generations of believers:

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 2 Timothy 2:2

You (generation two) heard me (generation one) and told reliable men (generation three) who will teach others (generation four). The process involved isn’t limited to witnessing or helping the lost make decisions. Discipling takes a believer, at any stage in his growth, and shepherds him or her through a continuing process of learning and doing until they are qualified to do the same for another believer. Jesus was the master discipler, and his success was shown by the rapid growth of the church. After Jesus’ death there were only 120 believers, but within weeks the number had grown to thousands and it has never looked back. Jesus spent a small amount of time teaching large crowds, but the vast majority of his time was engaged in discipling a small number of people, and three men received even greater attention. This is the pattern that God wants us to follow so that we can maximize our impact on the world.

My pastor, Brandon Ware of Green Street Baptist Church, recently shared Jim Putnam’s definition of a disciple.

  • A disciple is one who knows and follows Christ.
  • A disciple is one who is being changed by Christ.
  • A disciple is one who is on mission with Christ.

Jesus gave the command for discipling in his Great Commission.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Teaching the doctrines of Christianity is a key part of discipleship, but it can’t stop there. That Greek model of teaching creates students full of head knowledge who won’t necessarily live out what they learn. Instead we need the Jewish model which Jesus used. Those who are truly discipled learn by living with their teacher, observing him in action, doing what he does with his assistance, then doing it independently. It is very much like the method we used in medical school to learn procedures. Each student would “see one, do one, then teach one.”

What would it look like in the local church if spiritually mature men and women began doing what Jesus did by finding two or three others and intentionally investing in their life by providing support and accountability?  Spiritually mature men ought to be investing into other men, and spiritually mature women ought to be investing in other women. Through such a relationship, disciples can be taught how to pray, how to study God’s Word, how to share the gospel, how to give, and what it means to follow Jesus.  This is a simple process of how we can make disciples who repeat the process in the lives of others. It was this process that turned the world upside down. – Brandon Ware

In order to fully carry out the command of the Great Commission, we must understand a crucial term in this verse. The King James Version of the Bible renders the Greek word for make disciples as teach. Matthew 28:19 in the King James Version reads, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…” Many diligent believers simply read this word and merely teach people about salvation—share the gospel and lead them to a decision for Christ.  This is good and admirable, but it is not enough: more is required to make a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is only one aspect of Jesus’ command. Making disciples requires equipping, training, and investing in believers. So what is discipleship? We could say that it is “intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ.” In other words, a disciple learns what Jesus said and lives out what Jesus did (Matthew 28:19). – Robby Gallaty

Image, “Christ with two disciples,” by Rembrandt

Sins in the church: 2 Corinthians 12

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Today’s reading: 2 Corinthians 10-13.

Men are willing to admit that they are sinners, but not that they are sinning. – Ivan Panin, Thoughts

One of the most damaging charges brought against the church is the bad behavior of its members. A minority may put the whole body in a bad light, but the problem is real and it hurts the growth of the kingdom. It was a problem in the early church as well.

For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged. 2 Corinthians 12:20-21

Quarreling: Strong disagreement leading to strife and wrangling. “They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions.” “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.”

Jealousy: Zeal brought about by envy or rivalry. “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

Anger: Fury, wrath, indignation. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”

Factions: Selfish ambition, or promoting your own party by any possible means. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”

Slander: Backbiting or speaking evil of another person. “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.”

Gossip: Malicious whispering. This is the only time the word is used in the New Testament. The word was also used to describe the sounds of a snake charmer.

Arrogance: Swollen with pride, a puffing up of the spirit.

Disorder: Disturbances, dissensions, warring. “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.”

Impurity: Uncleanness, lustful living. “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.”

Sexual sin: Sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage. “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” “You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”

Debauchery: Unbridled lust, lewdness, filthiness, shamelessness. “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” “Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.”

Having identified these common sins, we should remain vigilant to purge them from our own lives and to confront them when they appear in the church. Our goal isn’t condemnation but redemption and restoration. To remain pure ourselves, we need to avoid places of temptation, read and meditate on the Bible daily, and participate in small accountability groups. When we confront others, it should be with our arms around them in love, first individually or with one or two others, and then with the church as a whole if they do not repent.

Image by rottnapples on Flickr, CC by 2.0