Apollyon

Today's devotion from Revelation 7-9.

I couldn't help but think of Hollywood as I read these chapters, especially concerning the seven angels with their trumpets. I'll be completely honest with you, we have no idea what is really happening here. We can read this literally, we could look at it figuratively, we could try to find some middle ground, but we lack answers.

Some have tried to claim that they could name the beasts mentioned, or the specific asteroids that would crash into the sea and rivers, but it's ludicrous. Remember, Revelation is not about giving you a checklist. It is about giving you a sense of God's plan and the faith that He will accomplish it.

Back to Hollywood...

I think we are drawn to those apocalyptic stories that are so popular because, deep down, we may not know definitively about the four angels bound in the Euphrates, but we do know that a day is coming that change all other days. I think it is built into our conscience by the general revelation of God. Most cultures have a sense of right and wrong. Most have a belief in a beginning, a creation and a Creator. Likewise, most have a fear of an unavoidable end and a judgement.

Hollywood taps into these fears and offers a false hope. Life will be saved by some hero or heroine or some scientific discovery. Life will go on with the crisis averted. The problem is, we know this is a fairytale. Life cannot exist in perpetuity the way it is. No. We didn't need a hero. We needed a Redeemer. We needed a Savior. And in order for His plan to come to fruition trumpets must be blown, people must be warned, but they will not repent.

Sin is a terrible foe.

Then I Saw

Today's devotion from Revelation 4-6.

For me, one of the most eye opening sections of Revelation is found in chapter 5. I was reading these verses, studying and wrestling with my own skepticism, when I was struck by a simple phrase that become profound very, very quickly.

In the prayer of praise offered by the 24 elders, which is sung in verses 9 and 10, we see the breadth of Christ's work. "You purchased people for God by your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation." At first, I was not overly impressed by this common enough phrase. Yet the more I considered it, the more powerful it became in my mind. Follow me for just a second.

It was a fairly common consideration in the Old Testament that the Messiah would include various peoples in His Kingdom. However, there was often an undercurrent of military power and strategy involved. Sometimes these words were offered in the same sections that discussed obliterating enemies.

This was a prevalent enough concept that, at the time of Jesus' life on earth, many expected a kingly Messiah. They looked for One who would restore a Davidic type of dynasty. They thought the Messiah would sweep over foreign nations and usher in Israelite wealth and prosperity. In fact, I've even heard some use this idea as the basis for Judas' betrayal of Jesus, a forcing of His hand in a way.

By this time, Jesus has long ascended and the church has settled into its long season of advent awaiting His return, a season in which we remain even today. Therefore, John knew that Jesus was the Messiah and that He had not conquered any lands by military might, but He was still building a kingdom out of every tribe and language and people and nation because of His blood shed on the cross, not blood lost on the battle field.

John did not manufacture another Jewish/Israelite nationalistic rally cry loosely based on Old Testament prophecy. He saw clearly the person and work of Jesus from the vantage of decades past, and perhaps never saw more clearly than when these elders sang this new song.

Everything Required

Today's devotion from 2 Peter 1.

Peter is concerned that some might forget an essential truth. Our faith is not inactive or ineffective. What I mean to say is that our faith cannot be relegated to some unimportant and intangible facet of our lives. The way Peter says it is found in verse 8. He fears that some would be "useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

From these words we can infer the opposite. For the person who posses the qualities of  an active faith described in verses 5-8, their faith will be useful and fruitful. Then, in verse 9, he pushes forward. The person lacking these "is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleaning from his past sins."

Putting all of this together, we see the connection Peter is trying to make. When we realize that Christ has done everything required to remove the stains of our sinful pasts, then we can see that He has also done everything required for us to progress in expressing our faith in outward and visible means. The way I try to communicate this is to remind people that we have not only been saved from our sins, but also to a new life.

You see, God has given and continues to give to His followers everything required for life and godliness. He eradicates the past and makes possible the future through Christ. He empowers and strengthens by the Spirit. He resolves and comforts through prayer. He reveals and instills through His word. He holds accountable and encourages through the church. In other words, as Peter writes, "His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness."

Today, as you seek to walk with Him, don't focus on everything you cannot do. Instead, remind yourself that He has given you everything required. Trust Him.

Maintain

Today's devotion from 1 Peter 3-5. Sometimes we get perspective backwards. As I sat in the office today while a technician was rushing around to help us address IT problems, I got a text from Stefanie. Isla, our youngest, had accidentally sat in ketchup at school and apparently had a small meltdown. I immediately excused myself and went home to get her another pair of pants.

As I drove, I began to be dismissive. Why couldn't she just wipe them off and wear smudged pants? After all, the new ones would be dirty a few minutes after putting them on. Then, another thought entered my mind. There are three other capable adults watching 1 man work in our office, why did I think they needed me? Then it hit me...in this moment, in what seemed to me a minor issue, my daughter was upset. She was distraught and embarrassed in front of her friends. For me, it was a minor issue. In her small world of elementary school, it was much bigger. In this instant, I get to be my daughter's hero. How many more times will I have that?

So, I continued on the way. I found another pair of pants. And I saved her day.

As Peter continues, he encourages the believers to maintain their focus. Many could have overlooked the day because they felt eternity was so close. They could have easily made excuses toward this end. Yet, Peter urges them toward the opposite reaction. Because eternity is so near, stay alert, maintain love, and follow Christ even when others don't understand what you are doing. Even the smallest task that glorifies God is monumental compared to the most grandiose undertakings of the world.

 

Living as Exiles

Today's devotion from 1 Peter 1 & 2. Several years ago I preached a sermon series through 1 Peter that has been on my mind recently, and may warrant revisiting in the near future. The thing that struck me about this letter was the tone and context of it. Peter was writing to those "living in exile" for their faith. The concept is still relevant as we see Christianity increasingly pushed to the fringes of culture through ridicule and derision. How does one survive this exile?

Peter knows it begins with knowing who you are. I read a story one time about a man who was diagnosed with cancer and given very few months to live. He and wife decided to make the most of it. They borrowed money, gave away possessions, and used credit cards to travel the world. Their plan was that he would live until he died, then the life insurance would pay for it. The strategy seemed sound, there was only one problem...he didn't die. There was an error in reading his results. Further tests would reveal that he had never had the terminal disease. Now they had a problem, he was alive. In living recklessly, they had not only squandered and lost everything, they were now trapped in oppressive debt. In thinking they had nothing to lose, they lost everything.

I bring this story up because it is important to remember who we are. We cannot live recklessly and selfish believing we will somehow be bailed out at the last minute. Many Christians place too high a value on this life and what it holds. They feel that they must make the most of “life” before eternity. So they spend their days selfishly. Why attend church? Why share the Gospel? Why help those in need? You have to get the most out of this life. Your view of this life and eternity will impact how you spend your days on this earth. This is why Peter writes this letter.

We survive the actual and cultural exile of this life by remembering that there is more than just this life. Christ has not done a mediocre work in your salvation. Neither has He offered you a temporary solution to an eternal problem. Christ offers the supreme, highest, and best for those whose lives He has salvaged from despair. Peter writes this so that believers know how to live today mindful of tomorrow.

Today or Tomorrow

Today's devotion from James 4 & 5. One day, I'll...

We've all thought it. We've all said it. We've all meant it. Yet, this is a somewhat pointless saying. I have wrestled with this since saying goodbye to my grandmother. She loved to travel, and shop, and eat, and live. But over the last couple of years her mobility declined to the point that she spent the last year or so essentially bed-bound.

She was only 79. I know active men and women who are much older than 79, but I can't assume I'll be like them. I have begun to look at my family pedigree...and it isn't good. Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, cancer, heart issues, and strokes they're all in my family tree. Thinking through this, I've become convinced that I need to start living. I don't know if I've got 60 years left or 60 minutes, but I can redeem this moment to the fullest extent.

I think this is the heart of the matter for James as he concludes chapter 4. We don't have a promise of tomorrow. If the sun rises on our next day, it is a beautiful and supreme gift of grace that allows it. As such, we should treat eace experienced day as the precious gift that it is, and denounce any entitlement we feel about any day to come.

Instead of entitlement, we need humility. We should humble ourselves to the point that we submit all our tomorrows to the One who graciously gives them. When the day comes that we find there is no tomorrow, we should not be angry, but grateful for each of the today's we have had. We can only do this when we willingly surrender ourselves, our pursuits, and our goals to our Sovereign God.

I'm sure you are like me. Your calendar is full, and your schedule is tight. That shouldn't stop us from adopting the perspective that God gives todays and tomorrows, and, so, this moment is His. How will I glorify Him in it?

Consider Ships

Today's devotion from James 2 & 3. Many people want to focus on James 2 and the curious wording concerning faith, salvation, and works. They want to bicker and argue about the theological implications as if James would contradict the teaching of Paul or Peter. They want to use these verses for their "gotcha" factor in winning an argument about justice. In reality, when we only look at these select verses or teachings, we miss the beauty of James' teaching.

Yes, in the most direct sense James is about faith and works. However, in my usual fashion, I like to think of things from a different perspective. I don't want to simply focus on the glaringly obvious teaching. Instead, I want to consider it from another angle, and that angle is this: isn't it wonderful that our God is so invested in our lives and godliness that He cares as much for the fruit of our tongues as He does the destination of our beings?

Have you considered that? While we could make arguments for and against faith and works, James is teaching that God cares about us in totality. While we might imagine the big picture of our lives, God wants even the smallest moments and off-hand comments to reveal His presence and work in us.

I think the reason for this is because the big things are often easy decisions. It's easy to choose not to murder someone. It's not too unbearably difficult to choose not to have an affair. After all, atheists aren't murders and agnostics can have happily monogamous marriages. The real evidence, or fruit, of Christ in us is often in those moments that aren't even really thought out. The reason is because these moments and conversations reveal who we really are. For this reason, I would argue it is more important to be gracious to the waitress having a bad day than to the famous preacher.

I don't think our walk with God will be tested and proven in the big things, but in the small things that we don't think about because they simply spring from who we are. So, what do your default reactions reveal about you?

Unstained

Today's devotion from James 1. When I was a seminary student in Memphis, Tennessee, I had the privilege of serving a local church as the pastor of students. If you know me, then you'll understand when I say that one of the first things I felt the need to do (after getting to know the kids and the congregation) was to summarize the identity of the church and communicate my vision for the ministry in an artistic way. In other words, we needed a student ministry name, logo(s), and a verse to rally around. I found that verse in James 1:27.

I served in an urban area (midtown), and learned every day some new struggle those students faced. In trying to help them understand their relationship with God, I wanted them to see that walking with Him meant that we cannot harden our hearts to those in need around us. After all, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

The second part of the statement refers to seeking holiness and purity. Beyond just helping others, we must steadfastly adhere to the expectation of growing in Christ-likeness. James presents a both/and relationship between the two. I'm afraid this fact is missed by many in our modern world.

There are those who are only concerned with social justice. They care not for actual discipleship. Their focus is entirely on helping those they believe are oppressed. On the other hand, there are those who fear social justice as a gospel-light replacement. Instead, they don't have time to really be bothered with helping others because they are so focused on identifying and labeling sins, encouraging others to mortify the flesh, and to pursue spiritual goals.

Both are equally wrong.

We must both care for the physically and materially oppressed and outcast as well as seeking to grow spiritually in a Christ-ward direction. This verse incapsulated these truths so many years ago, and that succinctness continues today. James is, after all, about both faith and works.

Let Us Run

Today's devotion from Hebrews 12 & 13. I love the word, therefore. It's a hinge in the text that overtly indicates that what is about to be said hinges on what has already been stated. In this way, it is both incredibly simple and profoundly powerful in communicating the fully intended message. With this in mind, we can see that the past of lives of this cloud of witnesses is vitally important to our current relationship with God.

A common saying that has existed for centuries is, "standing on the shoulders of giants." It is a way of crediting those who came before as being as important to your current successes, if not mores, then oneself. In the case of our verses today, this phrase is more than fitting since the "therefore" indicates the importance of those who came before us in our current race.

It's not just they these faithful men and women were instrumental in God's plan of redemption, which is true, but not the emphasis of the author's teaching. Instead, he emphasizes their roles as "witnesses." His wording is meant to cause us to look on their acts of faith as exemplary. "They trusted God," the author is saying, "so you can, too." Not only did they progress the plan of redemption, but they also lend us their strength. The ultimate such example, Jesus, ran for the joy that lay before him, enduring pain and shame.

These words are an encouragement to trust in spite of difficulty, to follow in spite of hardship, and to rejoice in spite of pain. In other words, faithful obedience is not easy, convenient, or leisurely, but it is always worthy of every ounce of effort.