Saved by faith…

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Revelation 3:1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. 

There’s a lot to comment upon in this passage but I’ll focus on the part that most got my attention, verses 2-5. What challenges me about these verses is the salvation theology included, which suggests one’s place in the “book of life” is dependent on one’s actions/performance/works: “If you do not wake up…” (v.3) and “If you conquer…” (v.5). This pushes against orthodox Protestant Christian theology which teaches that salvation is entirely a gift of God’s grace fulfilled by Jesus’ death and resurrection. If there is a performative dimension to my salvation from sin and death I am in big trouble. In that spirit then I leave you with two verses that bring me peace when I doubt myself and place before God. I pray they may do the same for you:

Ephesians 2:For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Lord let it be so. Amen.

Gratitude…

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Psalm 139: 1 Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! 2 Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the Lord. 3 May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion. 

This passage reminds me of times in the past when I’ve participated in 24-hour worship in which the worship team from the church I led partnered with worship teams of other churches to take turns literally worshipping the Lord and praying for an entire day and night. There is something unique about worship in the middle of the night when your body is telling you to sleep but your spirit is awake with praise.

This Thanksgiving morning I give praise to my Lord Jesus Christ for so many things. I know some of you are really struggling right now, whether other people are aware or not. Some of you are lonely, separated from loved ones. Some are grieving the loss of someone dear to you. Some are dealing with illness or poor health. Some are struggling financially, wondering if you will have what you need. I have struggles too my friends.

Yet this morning is for thanks. And praise. And gratitude. I am so very grateful for all of you who join me in this space reading the word of God and reflecting on that word. You are a gift to me and I pray I am a gift to you. I leave you today with the words of v.3 “May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion”. Amen.

Restoring passion for the Lord…

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Revelation 2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”

Here is a great example of both support and challenge from the Lord to the church in Ephesus. First he commends them in v.2-3, for the faithful ways. But then he challenges them in v.4, “you have abandoned the love you had at first”. This is not to say that the people have lost faith, but they have lost some of their passion for the Lord, their zeal for the gospel.

What was once an enthusiastic faith has diminished with time.

I have known several cycles in which I have gone from being on fire for the Lord to being a bit lukewarm. And back and forth. In some ways I think this back and forth with the Lord is fairly common if not commendable. Those of you reading this blog post can probably relate as well. This morning I’m considering where I am in terms of my level of passion for the Lord. I was at a pretty low point a year ago, in the depths of the early phases of the pandemic. Today I’m better I think. Am I on fire for the Lord? I don’t think so. I know what that feels like and this isn’t it.

However, I also know that passion for the Lord is not necessarily something we do for ourselves. It is a gift of God given by grace. What we CAN do is regularly and consistently put ourselves in a place to receive from the Lord when the gift of grace comes. Reading the word of God each day and reflecting on that word is one key way to do this – which you are doing right now. In doing so we give the word of God space to do its work in us. Lord let it be so. Amen.

A dwelling place for God…

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Psalm 132: 1 O Lord, remember in David’s favor all the hardships he endured; 2 how he swore to the Lord and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob, 3 “I will not enter my house or get into my bed; 4 I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, 5 until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.” 

There is an interesting urgency here. God was fine with a tent (called the “tabernacle”), but David felt a strong need to build God a house which was called the “temple”. Through the ages people have valued special buildings for the purpose of worship. Do you absolutely need a special place for worship? No. But it is a wonderful resource. Lord Jesus thank you for “temples” which we call “churches”. Meet us there when we worship in your name. Amen.

Spiritual powers in the United States…

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Daniel 3:12 (The angel said to me), “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me twenty-one days. So Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia, 14 and have come to help you understand what is to happen to your people at the end of days. For there is a further vision for those days.” 

What gets my attention here is the mention of the “prince of the kingdom of Persia”. Later in the chapter there is mention of “prince of Greece”. These refer to spiritual powers of these two nations, apparently powers of darkness given that God’s archangel Michael is battles both on behalf of Israel. Gabriel is the angel speaking to Daniel in this passage, which is the same angel that later announced John the Baptist (Luke 1:11) and Jesus himself (Luke 1:26).

The apostle Paul writes about principalities, powers, and forces of evil in the heavenly realm in Ephesians chapter 6. And since there’s no indication these spiritual battles have ceased it’s fair to expect these kinds of spiritual battles are happening today. I wonder what sort of spiritual principality or power is present in the United States? Is it a power of God or the evil one – or both? Interesting to think about.

Lord I pray this morning that your warring angels continue to battle on behalf of your people – in the United States and around the world. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wait and hope…

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Psalm 130: 3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. 5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

According to New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary the Hebrew word for “wait” is synonymous with “hope”. The psalmist here admits his sinfulness, yet also affirms the mercies of God to forgive and to cleanse. If this were not so the psalmist would not be waiting or anticipating the Lord. But God’s love and mercy inspire hope rather than dread. Thank you Lord for your mercies which are new every day. Amen.

Living a hybrid faith…

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Judas 3:Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

So Judas is believed to have been one of Jesus’ brothers who was also a key leader in the early church. He’s writing this letter because “certain intruders” were leading the believers astray by encouraging immoral behavior among the faithful. It’s important to remember that Christianity was young and the boundaries of Christianity were still being set. So it was common for people to accept some of the teaching of Christianity – but not all of it. I’m guessing the persons Judas is describing partly embraced the teaching of the church, but kept hold of some of their prior practices as well. We might call it a “hybrid” religion as one that attempted to have one foot in pre-Jesus life and one in the new life with Jesus. Judas is clearly rejecting this approach.

We are over 2,000 years later but I still see people attempting this hybrid approach – embracing some of Christianity, but not all of it. For instance, we are told to love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us (Mark 5:44), but we’re far more likely to attack our enemy and protect ourselves. More frequently I see Christians embracing the paradigms of secular culture by demonizing those with whom we disagree – whether from the right or the left. As Christians we have the opportunity to differentiate ourselves in an increasingly divided culture. I’m praying about this today, asking the Lord to show me places where I’m still trying to live a hybrid faith and set me on the right path. Lord let it be so. Amen.

In a better place than last year…

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Psalm 127: 1 Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. 2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.

These verses always speak to me. I was reading a note I wrote a year ago when I read Psalm 127. I remember feeling the weight of Covid time. Being overwhelmed. Thinking how our regular Thanksgiving and Christmas activities were mostly off the table. Mostly convinced I had to figure it all out. My job. My responsibility. Gorging on the bread of anxious toil.

This year I’m in a better place, mostly because I have let go of the illusion I can handle everything myself. I cannot. And so I’ve gotten better at letting the Lord build the house. I still catch myself carrying burdens that are not mine, but I’m improving. Thank you Jesus. Amen.

…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God…

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1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

Years ago I was part of a ministry to homeless persons in the downtown area of San Antonio. One of the activities was to hold a bible study there on Saturday nights. A bit of a risky proposition for sure. We would make a big pot of soup and invite people to have a bowl and then stick around for some bible study if they liked. Many did and it was a blessing. But once in a while someone would join in – but then be terribly disruptive. Over and over. They would not stop interjecting or shouting or disturbing the group, nor would they leave when asked.

And so one time a fellow pastor suggested we stop the discussion and say aloud together, “Jesus is the Son of God, my Lord and Savior!”. Over and over. LOUDLY! Sometimes a disruptive person would join in, and usually calm down in the process. But other times they wouldn’t say it and would eventually leave.

“…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God”

Lord Jesus thank you that your name has power in the heavenly realm. Amen.

Honoring the Lord…

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Daniel 1: The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court… But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master. 10 The palace master said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12 “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.” 14 So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. 16 So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams. 

The prophet Daniel was among those taken to Babylon when Israel was conquered by the Babylonians. The king of Babylon commands that Daniel and other young men of Jewish nobility eat the rations of the king’s court – which likely included foods that were not kosher. Rather than become ritually unclean Daniel asked that he and his buddies be given vegetables and water only. It was an act of faith to honor God in this way. God responded by honoring Daniel in return, giving him strength, wisdom, and insight despite his status as a glorified slave.

When we honor God, God will honor us in return.

The fact that you’re reading this blog post indicates your willingness to give to the Lord some of your time by dwelling in the scriptures for a bit. If you’re like me there are voices in your head telling you that you don’t have time for this. There is so much you need to get done today. Your to-do list awaits! I seriously hear that voice every day when I start to write. Or each week when the Sabbath approaches. Or when my wife Jana and I give financially what it appears we don’t have to give. Given how long I’ve been following the Lord now you would think those voices wouldn’t bother me anymore – but they do. So this morning I’m asking the Lord to reveal where I’m listening to the wrong voices and where I need to act in faith like Daniel did.

Lord give me strength to be faithful when my trust in you wavers. Amen.