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Peter gives us some challenging instructions in this text: we are to love one another deeply, have compassion and sympathy, be like minded, be humble. We are not to return evil for evil, or respond to insults, but rather we are to bless. All this seems like a pretty tall order. But there are two keys to pursuing this: first, we focus on the wonderful, eternal promises of God. Second, we rely on Jesus to live his life through us.

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1 PETER #21. 1 PETER 3:8-14

Peter is going to encourage us to live out our relationships in a way that can be pretty difficult and challenging. It might even seem impossible. We’ll look first at what he asks us to do, but don’t be discouraged. We’ll finish with how we can actually do such things.

After dealing with various relationships that involve authority in one way or another, Peter turns his attention to relationships within the church in general. Earlier, he established that we are God’s specially chosen people, an ethnicity of holiness, citizens of God’s kingdom. Now, he is beginning to explain what all that means for how we should treat fellow Christians. He starts with “unity of mind,” as the ESV translates it. I prefer the translation “like minded,” which several translations use. The idea is not that there are never differing opinions in the church. It’s not that no one ever thinks different thoughts, but even when the thoughts are different, the thinking is similar. Because we have the mind of Christ, we think alike. One way to put it is that because the Holy Spirit lives in our spirits, we will look at the world in a similar way. We understand things through the same spiritual lens, because it is the same Holy Spirit that informs our understanding. Paul describes this to the Corinthians:

14 But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. 15 Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 16 For,
“Who can know the LORD’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to teach him?”
But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.

(1 Corinthians 2:14-16, NLT)

Because we have the mind of Christ, our intentions, our sentiments, our goals and purposes are the same. We might get there in different ways, but we should be able to recognize “the mind of Christ,” in other Christians, and that should motivate us to get along, even when we disagree with each other about particulars.

Peter adds that we should be full of sympathy. Sympathy means that we “feel with,” one another. As Paul also wrote to the Corinthians:

22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

(1 Corinthians 12:22-27, NLT)

This is exactly what Peter is getting at in our text for today. Your joy is my joy. Your sorrow is also mine. Not in a fake way, but in a real way that says: “Because of Jesus Christ, we belong together in the same family forever. So, I’m with you. I’ve got your back.”

Peter adds three more things that should characterize Christian community (that is to say, churches): brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. I think we understand brotherly love. I just want to make sure that we don’t start faking it. As Paul writes elsewhere: “Love must be genuine.” Brotherly love isn’t actually brotherly love unless it is real. This could be very challenging – how do you love some one genuinely if you actually sort of dislike them?

The next one is translated by the ESV as “a tender heart.” Several translations have “compassion,” here. This is actually a very rich word in Greek. A literal translation might be: “a good feeling in your very bowels.” In practice it means, a deeply felt emotion toward others that is positive. At your deepest being, you are committed to other followers of Jesus.

Finally, there is a humble mind, or humble thinking. Humility in your thinking doesn’t necessarily mean that you think you are wrong. You can be absolutely certain you are correct about something, and yet still approach others with humility. Our humility is to be directed at our own selves in a particular way. We are to be humble about getting our own way, humble about being heard; preferring to let others be honored. You can be absolutely sure you are correct, with no doubts, and yet still approach others with humility. You aren’t humble about what you believe, but rather, because of Jesus, you don’t need to insist on your own way. You don’t need to show off, or make people see that you are right, after all.

If Christians took these instructions of Peter to heart, churches – which, again, are supposed to be communities of Christians – would be wonderful places to be. We wouldn’t just be nice to each other in a surface way. In fact, sometimes, real love means confronting one another with a kind and humble attitude, but not compromising the truth. Such churches would be very attractive to non-Christians – beacons of grace and love in a world that cares about performances, wealth and status. But a lot of Christians don’t because we think it is up to us to make it all work.

Peter once again admonishes us to follow the example of Jesus in all of our relationships:

9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing

(1 Peter 3:9, ESV)

This, along with everything before, would be impossible, and even foolish, unless we could look to promises that were imperishable, undefiled and unfading. Which of course, is why Peter began his letter by reminding us that we do have such promises. If this life is all there is, how could it possibly be useful to bless those who revile us, or to not repay those who do wrong with a taste of their own medicine? We would live a life where people hurt us, we did nothing, and then we died. So what? What would be the point in being that sort of person? Peter says that by behaving this way, we “obtain a blessing.” He seems to think that Psalm 34 provides some help on this subject, so the next few lines he writes are a quotation from that Psalm. Here’s the section he quotes:

12 Who is someone who desires life,
loving a long life to enjoy what is good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from deceitful speech.
14 Turn away from evil and do what is good;
seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry for help.
16 The face of the LORD is set
against those who do what is evil,
to remove all memory of them from the earth.

(Psalms 34:12-16, CSB. [If you compare it to 1 Peter 3:10-12, you will see that they are the same, except that Peter’s translation is slightly abbreviated])

When we think about this, I believe it is very important to understand how the promises of God work. Everything we have in this life, except for our own selves, and our relationships with others, will eventually pass away. Our  strength will fail, and our bodies will die. Our wealth will either be used up, or passed to others when our bodies die. Our cars will eventually fall apart, probably sooner rather than later. Our houses might stand for a long time, but they will no longer be ours, and eventually, they, too, will be either bulldozed, or fall apart on their own.

Therefore, any promise of God that is for this life, is only temporary. As such, it isn’t really much of a promise, if it is only for the here and now. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:9, “If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone (CSB).” To make it practical, imagine I had the promise of physical healing from my pain in this life, but NO promise for eternal life. Even a couple decades free from pain would not be comparable to eternal life in a perfect body, living in fellowship with Jesus and all those who trust him in a beautiful, pain-free world.

So any promise that is for this life is only a partial promise. The promises of God that are most precious are those that last forever. We can ask for, and receive in thankfulness, God’s blessings in our lives today. But those are just extras, thrown in to remind us that the real thing is coming soon. Those blessings and miracles and answered prayers are just a foretaste, and aperitif, of the main course that is coming.

Now, it isn’t wrong to ask for blessings here and now. It isn’t wrong to crave more of the delicious foretaste. What is wrong, however, is to declare that God is somehow unjust, or evil, or cruel, for not doing what we think is best here and now. In many cases, I assume, God’s promises can’t be truly fulfilled until we are in the new creation. Take the promise of eternal life, for instance. Imagine God gave eternal life to your sinful flesh. You would be stuck in your present body forever. Every little thing you don’t like about your body would be with you forever. Because your body is corrupted by sin, you would be stuck in patterns of sin and disappointment and self-centeredness that last forever. No, I don’t want that particular promise (eternal life) fulfilled before it is time, before God’s perfect plan has come to fruition. In fact, if God fulfilled it now, it would become a truly horrible thing. I believe that if we could know what God already knows, we’d be able to see clearly that so many of his eternal promises are like that. So many things that we want cannot really be had as long as we live in this sin-corrupted world, and in these sin-corrupted bodies.

So, when Psalm 34 talks about long life and good days, or evil people being removed from the world, I believe that is referring mainly to eternal life. I think that is also true when Peter says that when we don’t return evil for evil, we “obtain a blessing.” Now, perhaps what God does in eternity has echoes here and now. So maybe we do have some sense of blessing, and “good days” now. The foretaste is real, but it’s not the main course. Your best day in this life will be unbelievably worse than your worst day in the New Creation. Therefore, because of what we have coming to us in eternity, we can live a different sort of life, here and now.

Maybe it’s a bit like a multiplayer video game. You’re playing a game with several other real people, and maybe some computer generated players. In the game, one of the real people pulls a kind of dirty trick. That would make most normal people a bit angry. The emotion of anger is, I think, normal in such a situation, and not wrong. And yet, if you take a moment to get perspective, you can let it go fairly easily, because it doesn’t actually impact your real life. Though it matters at this moment, once you are done with the game it won’t matter at all.

If we can remember that we have a new creation and eternal life waiting for us, that allows us to treat others more kindly. If we remember that we have promises in the New Creation that will never spoil or fade, promises of a life full of joy and adventure and love and friendship, that makes it easier to put up with stupid stuff right now.

All of this is confirmed, I think, by Peter’s next words:

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.

(1 Peter 3:13-14, ESV)

Even if we suffer for doing good, even if we suffer unjustly, we will be blessed. How can he say that? Because of the eternal promises of God. How can we possibly live like this? Even though we have the promises of God, sometimes it is hard to love our fellow Christians as Peter exhorts us to. Sometimes it is hard to not return evil for evil. What can we do?

If you think about it, what Peter is really asking of us is that we should be like Jesus. But I think the concept of being like Jesus isn’t quite right, because frankly, I can’t be like Jesus – at least not for very long at a time (I speak only for myself, but I trust you to be honest about yourself). If that’s all that Peter is saying, we are back to living by the law.

I don’t think that’s what Peter is asking, however. Instead, I would put it like this: we are supposed to manifest the character of Jesus. Jesus lives in us, through the Holy Spirit. We need to “let him out.” Let Jesus, who is inside of you, live his life through you, as you. It isn’t about me making a huge effort to love my fellow Christians, and to not repay evil for evil. Instead, it is about me surrendering my life to Jesus, to let him do as he pleases with my life, and through my life.

The life of Jesus living through me will look slightly different from the life of Jesus living through you, but there will be a commonality, which is why Peter says we ought to be “like minded.” We recognize Jesus in each other, and that leads to the love and deep compassion, sympathy and humility that Peter talks about. Our main work is to trust that Jesus will do it, and then trust when the Holy Spirit gives us a nudge to do something, or not do something. When we rely on him, it is no longer about us.

This is one reason it is so important to know the Bible. The more time we spend with the Bible, the easier it is to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit, how he leads you. We also learn by engaging with our fellow-disciples, and through prayer and worship, and through self discipline.

Why not give it a try right now? Let Jesus live his life through you. Pay attention to the Bible as you read it. Pay attention to the little nudges you get from the Holy Spirit. Listen to how other Jesus-followers encourage you. Above all, ask, and then trust, the Holy Spirit to do this work in you and through you.

COLOSSIANS #7: If We Belong to the Head, We belong to the Body

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Christ is the head of the body, the church. You are part of the body, the church. That’s the deal. That’s part of what you sign up for when you surrender your life to Jesus. Part of trusting Jesus is trusting that he has made you part of his body.

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Colossians  #7.  Colossians 6:18

 18 And he is the head of the body, the church.

In this message, I am going to say some things that may be difficult for some people to hear. I want you to stay with me. It may seem like I am being unrealistic at one point, but hang in there, because I will cover our topic today as thoroughly as I can, including taking into account the reality of this sinful world.

In verse 18, Paul moves from a universal view of Jesus to a more personal one. He is the creator of all things, Lord of the universe. That is true, and wonderful. Even more wonderful is that this Creator God takes a personal interest in you and me. He is the head of the body, the church. He attained resurrection so that he could give it as a gift to us. He is God, and yet, he took upon himself the responsibility to repair what we had broken: ourselves, and this world.

And he is the head of the body, the church. There are two important things for us to understand in this statement. The first is that one metaphor for church is that of a body. This is extremely important, for a number of reasons. Let’s look at the idea in greater depth, as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 12:

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (ESV 1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

This has huge implications for how we live our everyday lives as followers of Jesus. We follow Jesus as a part of his body. It seems to me that millions of Christians don’t understand this. So many people think that religion is very personal and individualistic. There is a small element of truth in this. We do each need to have our own connection to Jesus, because ultimately, he is the only one we can always rely upon. We each have to receive the grace of God, and not reject it, as individuals. But once we are connected to Jesus, we are also connected to his body. And this connection to the body of Christ – that is, to others who follow Jesus – is supposed to last as long as the connection to Jesus himself: that is, eternally.

I have met many, many Christians who claim they are fine “going solo.” Unless everyone else you know who claims to be a Christian is actually a hypocrite – that is, they don’t really believe – there is no justification for that. “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” Could it be any more plain than that? You cannot say to other Christians, “I have no need of you.”

Have you ever met a toe? Just a single toe, wiggling around through the world? Obviously not. A single toe, unconnected to the body will die. That is a biological reality. That is also a spiritual reality. A Christian without regular Christian fellowship will eventually wither away. People have asked me, “Can’t you be a Christian, and not be part of a Church?”

My answer has always been, “Yes, but not for long.”

Some people say, “I am connected to the head, (that is, Jesus) just not the rest of the body.”

All right then, have you ever met a head with a toe sticking out of the side of it? Stay with me here, I know I am being ridiculous – but so are the Christians who claim they do not need to be connected to other believers. Now, if you are a toe, and you are connected to the head, let me ask you two questions: how do you think the head looks to other people? Pretty weird, right? You aren’t doing Jesus any favors, and you aren’t helping him look appealing to the world if you are not connected to the rest of the body.

Second, this: if you are a toe, and you are connected to the head, and nothing else, what is your function? Why is there a toe on the head? How does the toe help out, up there on the head? If a toe is connected only to the head, it contributes nothing to the rest of the body. There is no purpose for it.

Are you starting to get it? The whole idea of a Christian who is not connected to the church is utterly silly and ridiculous. It gives other people  a skewed view of Jesus Christ, and it takes away the purpose that Jesus has for you in blessing others.

By the way, sometimes, I think this is why people are turned off by Christians and churches. Metaphorically speaking, The face of Jesus is covered by toes and fingernails that should be rightly connected elsewhere, but they aren’t, and so the church does not seem to be an attractive place.  Or, even if the face of Jesus is fine, they see a body that is missing feet and fingernails and eyelashes, and think, “That’s a little strange and creepy. I’m not sure I like it.”

Christ is the head of the body, the church. You are part of the body, the church. That’s the deal. That’s part of what you sign up for when you surrender your life to Jesus. Part of trusting Jesus is trusting that he has made you part of his body.

I meet some Christians who say, “I love Jesus just fine, but I really don’t love other Christians.” Listen, brothers and sisters that is impossible. If you love Jesus, you will love your fellow Jesus followers. If you don’t love your fellow Christians, then either you haven’t met enough of them, or there is something wrong in your relationship with Jesus. There are some things in the Bible that are difficult to understand, or are unclear. This is not one of them:

9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (ESV, 1 John 2:9-11)

If you think you are a Christian, and you hate other Christians, then you are mistaken. Being connected with Jesus means you are connected with his body, because he is the head. One sign that you are a Christian is that you love other Christians.

11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. (ESV, 1 John 3:11-14)

Now, at this point, some of you may be getting a little nervous. The reality is, you just haven’t met many Christians that you can connect with. You feel like you really don’t love the rest of the body, but you really do love Jesus. What can you do? What does this mean?

If you are sure that you love Jesus, and you are sure that you don’t love other Christians, there are a few possibilities. The first is that you are mistaken about either one, or the other. Maybe you really don’t love Jesus. Maybe you still have not surrendered control of your life to Jesus, and you think you have the right to arrange your life however you want, even if sometimes that goes against what Jesus wants. All Christians fall back into this pattern  at times, but I am talking about something deeper than just falling back into sin from time to time. If you really don’t love your fellow believers, perhaps there is something wrong in your relationship with Jesus.

There is another possibility, and that is that you have not yet found your place in the body of Christ. There are many Christians that I can appreciate from afar, but with whom I will probably never be very close. I love them in the sense that I am committed to their best good because we are fellow believers. But I don’t necessarily enjoy hanging around with them. I believe the Lord has a place for each person who belongs to him, a place of deep, loving community with others. Not all churches are the same, and I think this is by God’s design. If we want to use our body analogy, the hand is made up of all sorts of bones, and tendons and tissues and blood vessels. The knuckle of the first finger on the hand works very closely with the other parts of the hand. It is also connected, ultimately, to the stomach, but the hand and the stomach don’t spend a lot of time together. They need each other, but they are not working together as closely as they are with the parts that are nearest to them.

The devil is against us. The world is against us. Our own sinful flesh is against us. Should it be any surprise that it is difficult to find a group of fellow-Christians with whom we can really connect? Of course it is going to be hard, at times, to find the part of the body where we truly belong. But it is absolutely essential that we do.

As a pastor, I need to be connected not only with the people in my churches, but also with the leaders of other churches. It took me the better part of twelve years to find good connections with other church leaders near where I live. I went to pastor’s gatherings, prayer meetings, and events for church leaders. I prayed, and I asked around. Finally, at a retreat for men, I met some other pastors and leaders that I can connect with at a deep level of fellowship. I never quit looking. If I was that intentional about finding secondary fellowship (with other pastors – I already had fellowship in my congregation) then it may require some diligence on your part to find your primary fellowship. Do not stop looking until you find it. It is an essential part of belonging to Jesus. If you belong to Him, you belong to the body. If you do not belong to the body, you will not belong very long to him.

In case I haven’t been clear: it is OK if you don’t connect with the very first church you visit. It may take you some time to find “your people” in the body of Christ. But it is not OK to stop looking until you do. This is of utmost importance. Pray for fellowship. Talk to people you know and ask for suggestions. Be willing to give people a few weeks of your time before you decide you can’t connect with them. Also, be regular. You will never develop fellowship with people if you visit once a month. Also, try and meet Christians outside of Sunday morning church. Fellowship will come extremely slowly if you only see your fellow members of the body once a week.

Now, I have been very strong about this as something that we must do. And we must. Some of you reading this may need to adjust your behavior to conform with Christ as the head of the body. But the reason for doing so is because being a part of the body of Christ is a tremendous blessing. Christ is the head of the body because the best thing for his followers is to be a part of that body. When we commit to Christian community as the Bible describes it, it is an inexpressibly wonderful blessing.

I am an introvert. I need to spend time alone in order to regain energy. Even so, I feel tremendously blessed to have genuine, honest relationships with many Christian brothers and sisters. There is no secret in my life known only to myself – I have the kind of Christian friends to whom I can tell everything. I know that I am loved and appreciated. I know many people who won’t let me get away with stupid stuff or pretensions. I have laughed harder and more often with my fellow Christians than anyone else. I have their backs. They have mine. During the best times, I realize that the love and fellowship I feel with my fellow Christians is a true foretaste of the joy of eternal life. In short, the body of Christ is one of the greatest blessings in my life, and has been for decades. It takes work to get here. You sometimes have to work hard to find the right people. You have to be willing to go through conflict with one another, and work through issues together, without running away, or giving up on each other. But when we live in accordance with the head, Christ, being part of his body is one of the greatest joys we can know on earth.


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The New Jerusalem is not a literal city. The description of it in Revelation 21 is a metaphor to help us envision God’s relationship with His people as a whole; his people’s relationships with each other; and also God’s relationship with each individual. Seen that way, we learn wonderful things about God, each other and us as individuals.

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Let me be honest about this passage. At first glance, it doesn’t excite me very much. About the only thing that seems interesting to me is the size of the New Jerusalem. Most translations say that it is built in a square, 12,000 stadia per side. That means that each side is roughly 1,380 miles long, for a total area within of about just under 2 Million square miles, about 2/3 the size of Australia, and well over half the size of the continental U.S. That’s impressive. Next, take into account that the walls are as high as they are long (the 144 cubits refers to the width of the walls, not their height), and suddenly, it becomes unimaginable, since the walls would reach above the atmosphere. A massive cube, with well over half of it reaching six hundred miles higher than the space shuttle ever flew. OK, now, that just doesn’t make any sense. And that, I believe, is the point. We are not talking about a literal city, but instead, this is a picture of an important aspect of the New Creation.

Remember, the city is “The Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.” So, the New Jerusalem is a picture of God’s people, and of the kind of relationship that we have with Him. Again, it is clearly not meant to be understood literally. In short, the New Jerusalem is a kind of metaphor of God’s union with his people once they are made completely holy in the New Creation. It is a combination picture of God’s people, and also God’s relationship with his people.

Not coincidentally, there are seven major aspects of the New Jerusalem. Let’s start with the first:

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12

This is an overall impression. God’s people, and God’s relationship with his people is filled with a glorious radiance, like a rare jewel, something very precious and beautiful. Today, God’s people get sucked into sin, bitterness, ugly moods and stupid distractions. But in the New Creation the people of God as a whole (and also individually) will be beautiful and precious. None of the things that make us less than beautiful will be a part of us at that time. We will not become God, but we will shine with the beauty, holiness and radiance of our perfect, glorious God. In the New Creation, people who follow Jesus will be gloriously beautiful.

It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.

14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Remember, this is not a literal city. So what do these things mean? There, among God’s people, we will understand the history and foundation of scripture. Jesus said “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (CSB, Matthew 24:35). Here, in the New Jerusalem, the people of God will shine with the fulness of God’s Word – both Old Testament (represented by the twelve tribes of Israel) and the New Testament (represented by the twelve apostles). If God’s people are a city, then the walls, gates and foundations of that city are God’s own words. God’s people are “built” out of, and on top of, God’s word. Our entire relationship with him, and our very beings, are shaped by, and based upon, God’s revealed word. The incredible thing is that we already have that word today, and we call it the Bible. I have said it before, and I will say it until I die: The Bible is God’s incalculably precious gift to humanity. It is vital to read it, to learn to understand it, to soak your soul in what it says. Who we are as eternal beings in the New Creation will be all wrapped up in God’s Word. There is almost nothing more important than learning the Bible, and letting it shape your life. Please, please, find some way to listen to audio versions, or find a good, readable translation, or have your spouse read it to you – something, anything,  that gets you into God’s Word.

15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement.

Now we come to that weird measurement. We know this is not supposed to be an actual measurement, so what do these things mean, metaphorically? Well, God’s people are impressively, magnificently, huge. Elsewhere in Revelation, John saw a great multitude, out of every tribe, tongue and nation. So, God’s people will be a great and diverse multitude. However, though incredibly large and impressive, God’s people are not infinite. Though the city is very large, it can be measured. There is a beginning and end to it. The largeness is positive. The fact that there are limits reminds us that not everyone who has ever lived will be there.

18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

By the way, obviously, this is where we get the idea of “the pearly gates” and “the streets of gold.” Again, however, I think this is all metaphorical, not literal. These precious stones and minerals communicate that God’s people, and their relationship with Him, will be beautiful, and unimaginably precious. Also, with all these different sorts of gems and metals, I get the sense that there will be great variety in God’s people – we won’t all be the same, or look the same. We will all be beautiful, but we also retain our precious individuality, as created by God. Our personalities will be a perfect blend between union with God and each other, and our individual selves. I think this also indicates a great variety in the ways that God interacts with us. He comes to us in many different ways, and life is full of beauty and variety with Him.

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Once again, this is not literal, and I am glad. I love the night, and the sun, and the moon. But the point is this: God is interacting directly with his people, and we need nothing more. Our sin, and the things that get in the way of our perfect union with God will be gone. He is all we need, and it will no longer be a strain to remember that, or live like that. It will be easy to know that he is all we need, and easy to draw all that we need directly from God, without seeking it elsewhere.

24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.

This again reminds us that it is metaphor. We will be inhabiting the New Heavens and New Earth. But we will walk by the light of our relationship with God, perfect, precious, glorious, huge, individually beautiful, with God as all we need. And all human glory will be in perfect union with Godly glory. The absence of night is not literal, but it means no more pain, suffering, sorrow or evil. The people of God will diverse -the glory of the nations.

27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

This is a reminder that none of this is possible unless all sin, evil, and all rebellion against God is completely removed. God will do the removing through Jesus if we let him, but if not, we will never participate in this kind of relationship with God, nor have this eternal future. He must be finally and completely King in  order for this to take place. Right now, it is not too late to put your trust in Jesus, to allow him to be the King of your life. We like having God’s help when we need it, but we generally want to run things on our own when we aren’t in trouble. That is not salvation. A saving faith puts all trust in Jesus, which means, among other things, that Jesus is now the final and true leader of your life. Unless we are willing to let him make us holy, we cannot be a part of this unimaginably beautiful relationship with God, and with other believers.

So, what does all this mean for us on Thursday afternoon? I can think of several applications. I don’t know how to urge you all strongly enough to find a way to connect with the Word of God (the Bible). This is our future: not Netflix, not our careers, not our next travel adventure, not our next relationship. Our future is in the Word of God. If at first, you can’t connect with it, please don’t give up. Pray for help. Ask for help. Find a good, readable translation like the Christian Standard Bible (CSB – it used to be the HCSB); or the ESV, or even the New Living Translation. Have someone else read it to you. Get it on audio. Talk about what you are reading (or listening to) with your spouse, your friends, your family. When you read, DO NOT just flip it open and start somewhere random. Start reading at the beginning of one of the books. If you are new, start reading in John, and keep going, however long it takes, until you finish the book of Jude. Maybe do a chapter a day, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. Then go back, and do it again. Then, maybe start mixing in some Old Testament books, like Genesis. For something different and refreshing, try reading a psalm each day. Please, just do it. Please contact me, if you want more help with this.

Another application, that strikes me, is that my fellow Christians will shine with this amazing beauty and glory – like precious gemstones. Right now, we are gemstones in the rough, covered in dirt, uncut, unpolished. But we are precious, and we ought to treat each other that way.

Perhaps some of you need to remember that Christianity is a global religion, and that there are far more Christians who do not look like you, or even speak your own earthly language, then there are people like yourself. God’s people will be glorious with all nations represented. Speaking specifically to Christians from European-based cultures, I want to say that most of us (“us” being those who follow Jesus) are not white, and don’t speak English. That should affect how we treat people who are different from us culturally and ethnically. Our glorious brothers and sisters in Christ will be from everywhere.

I also mentioned that we will need nothing more than the presence of God – we won’t need sun, moon, or anything but God himself. In a way, that is already true, but it is hard to grasp. If we have Jesus, everything else we have is from and through Him. It is good to trust him more and more, because this text tells us the reality that will be, and, in a way, already is: God is all we need.

With those thoughts, let the Holy Spirit continue to speak to you today.




A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert–himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt–the Divine Reason. – GK Chesterton


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Matthew #54 . Matthew 16:13-20 Part C

Jesus says something in these verses that a lot of people wish he had explained a bit more:

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Many hundreds of years later, after Christianity had become legal and the church had changed from local gatherings of Jesus-followers into a centralized, power-holding institution, these verses were used to justify the position of Pope in the Roman Catholic church. The theory goes that here, Jesus is establishing the office of “Pope,” his chief representative on earth, and installs Peter as the first one. The idea is that this passage teaches that Jesus invests Peter (and his successors) with the “keys of the kingdom.” By the way, this is where we get the popular image of Saint Peter greeting people in front of the “pearly gates;” it is because Peter supposedly has the keys.

Now, I want to point out that a lot of “interpretation” must go into it to make this passage establish the Roman Catholic Papacy. In other words, it doesn’t call Peter the “Pope” or explicitly establish the institution of the Papacy in plain, unequivocal language. I am not saying this to make Roman Catholics angry. The reason I point it out is to show, once again, that clearly, the New Testament we have today is the very same one that was written by the apostles who knew Jesus Christ personally. It was not tampered with by generations who came after the apostles. Certainly, the Roman Catholic church, if it had changed or edited the bible, would have made this passage much more clearly about the Papacy.

Though I do not agree with the Roman Catholic application of this passage, it is not my intention here to attack the Papacy. I think we have more useful things to do with this passage. So may I simply suggest some other ways to understand this passage, and apply them to our lives?

First, it is somewhat interesting to know that in Greek, Jesus is making a play on words. Let me give it to you somewhat literally with the Greek words, and then I’ll explain.

“And I say to you that you are Petros and upon this petra I will build of me the church.”

The Greek word that we translate “Peter” is “petros,” and it means rock. It is the special name that Jesus gave Jesus (prior to this point, we should remember). The second word Jesus uses is petra, which means, more or less, “rock formation.” It is not the same word as the name “Peter,” and it cannot be an affectionate nickname for him, because it is in the feminine gender.

So it seems very doubtful that it is Peter personally upon whom Jesus says he will build his church. I think it is far more likely that Jesus says “upon this rock I will build my church” because he is making a play on words. Bible commentator Matthew Henry reminds us that we don’t get to see expressions and body language in the bible. He writes:

Others, by this rock, understand Christ; “Thou art Peter, thou hast the name of a stone, but upon this rock, pointing to himself, I will build my church.” Perhaps he laid his hand on his breast, as when he said, Destroy this temple (John ii. 19), when he spoke of the temple of his body.

In other words, Jesus could have pointed to himself when he said “upon this rock.” Another possibility is that Jesus meant that he would build the church on the foundation of what Peter has just said, his confession that Jesus is Messiah and son of God, with all that means. I personally favor this interpretation, because, in fact, that is what has happened. The one thing that unifies true Christians all over the world is that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, true God, true man, who died to cleanse us from sin and rose to show his power and give us new life. That is, and always has been, the foundation of the Church (and by “the church” I do not mean any particular institution, but rather, the true spiritual fellowship of those who trust Jesus Christ, no matter where they “attend church”). I am not arguing against the Papacy (though given enough provocation, I would). I am insisting however, that the foundation of the true church is not the apostle Peter, nor the Papacy, but the true confession that Jesus is Messiah and Lord. That has always been true, and I think even most Roman Catholics would agree that without this foundational belief, the Papacy itself would be meaningless.

I want to highlight another thing here. Jesus says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Virtually every time the New Testament uses the word “church” it is a Greek word, simply meaning, “the gathering of people with a common purpose .” (Greek: ekklesia; you may recognize that the English word, ecclesiastic comes from this term). In context, of course, it means “the gathering of people who have faith in Jesus.” At its most essential level, that is what a church is – a group of people who are connected to one another and gather together intentionally, and who have faith in Jesus. So the church that Jesus will build refers to the true spiritual fellowship that includes all who trust and obey Him as Lord and Messiah. We aren’t talking about a particular institution, denomination or congregation.

I love that Jesus promises He will build it. It reminds me a little of Psalm 127:1

Unless the LORD builds a house, its builders labor over it in vain; unless the LORD watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain. (Ps 127:1, HCSB)

Sometimes we get caught up in the future of the church on earth. Sometimes we are concerned about local congregations; at other times we worry about the whole thing. Jesus is the builder of the church. We can trust him to do it. And the gates of hell can’t withstand the onslaught of grace and truth that comes from those who trust and obey Jesus. This picture not one of the church defending itself while hell attacks – it is the reverse. The idea is that church will attack hell itself, and overcome it through the power of Jesus.

Now, Jesus says some other things also. He adds: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” I need to teach with integrity here. In Greek, “you” is singular. In other words, Jesus directed these comments specifically to Peter, not to all the disciples. However, this is not a problem for me, nor should it be for you. God directed many promises specifically to Abraham. He made the first promise of the Messiah specifically to Eve. He made many promises directly and personally to David. This is how the Lord works throughout scriptures: He speaks to specific people at specific times and places, and yet his promises also encompass all come after, those who believe. The individuals who first received them stood as representatives of those who would come after, and believe what God had said.

So Paul writes, for example:

Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, then understand that those who have faith are Abraham’s sons. Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and told the good news ahead of time to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed through you. So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith. (Gal 3:6-9, HCSB)

Matthew Henry writes of our verses in Matthew 16:

The Old Testament promises relating to the church were given immediately to particular persons, eminent for faith and holiness, as to Abraham and David; which yet gave no supremacy to them, much less to any of their successors; so the New-Testament charter is here delivered to Peter as an agent, but to the use and behoof of the church in all ages, according to the purposes therein specified and contained.

The gift and promise here is for every believer in Jesus Christ, Son of God. Paul says, if we have the faith of Abraham, we also have the promises that were given to him. I add, if we have the faith that Peter had, we also have the promises given to him. So, yes, these words (in Matthew 16) were spoken directly and specifically to Peter. However, Jesus says almost exactly the same thing a little while later, when he is teaching about how to deal with his followers who are struggling with sin:

I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. (Matt 18:18, HCSB)

The second time Jesus says it (in 18:18) the Greek “you” is plural – in other words, the next time Jesus says this, he makes it clear that he is talking to all of his disciples. John records Jesus saying something similar. John’s Greek is pretty rudimentary (though better than mine) but he makes it clear that Jesus is talking to all the disciples when he says:

Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” After saying this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23, HCSB)

So, what is this business of binding loosing that Jesus promises to Peter, the disciples and, through them, to us? To understand it, we need one more brief note about the Greek. The HCSB is the best English translation of these verses that I have found, and I have used it in this message. However, I’d like to give you the most literal rendering I can:

Whatever you might bind on earth, it shall have already been bound in heaven; whatever you might loosen on earth, it shall have already been loosened in heaven.

The point is this. It is not about us, or even Peter, telling heaven what to do. It is Peter (and us) expressing on earth what has already been decided in heaven. By the way, this is confirmed by Peter’s screw-up just a few verses later. Jesus says he has to go to Jerusalem and die. Peter, probably flush with these words of Jesus, tries to “bind” the upcoming death of Jesus.

Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, “Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to You! ”

But He turned and told Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.” (Matt 16:22-23, HCSB)

To put it mildly, Peter’s “binding” of something contrary to God’s will did not work out very well. We can see from this incident that Jesus did not give Peter a blank check. Just because Peter wanted it or said it did not mean it was God’s will. Jesus tells him “you are not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.” In that case, Peter has no authority to bind or loosen anything. Nor, thankfully, does anyone else. So this authority to bind or loose is simply the authority for a human being to express the will of Heaven on earth. To the extent that we express what has already been bound or loosed in heaven, we have authority. To the extent we do not, we have no authority. Whatever we “bind” isn’t actually bound unless it is also heaven’s will. But if it is, according to the scripture, according to God’s will, we puny humans have the authority to declare it done.

Jesus is saying that he will use human instruments to do his will and work in the world. When a Christian declares the good news, it is as if Jesus himself is speaking. When a Christian preaches the law, it is as if Jesus himself is speaking.

In a way this goes beyond our typical approach of “in my humble opinion.” No, if it has already been done in heaven, then it is not just my humble opinion. My words spoken in heaven’s authority do have heaven’s authority. GK Chesterton wrote:

What we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert–himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt–the Divine Reason.

Saying “that’s just my opinion” makes you the important part of the equation: It’s your opinion. It asserts you, not the truth you are declaring. Instead, we might say, “I know I personally am nothing, but this is what the Bible says…” My opinion is not worth sharing. But the Truth? I don’t need to be reticent about that, because it is not my personal property.

All of this leads to a natural question: How do we know that what we are doing has already been done in heaven?

Jesus has already given us some clues. Remember how he taught the disciples (and us) to pray? “Your will be done, your kingdom come, on earth as it is heaven.” When we pray this way, the Lord often answers by helping us to get in step with his will and his kingdom. So, to “bind” or “loosen” correctly, we should learn to pray for the kingdom and will of heaven in our lives, and on earth.

Second, Jesus says all this to Peter after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, with all that means. We must make sure that what we “bind” or “loosen” is consistent with this confession, with who Jesus truly is.

Let me give you an example of “binding” and one of “loosening.”

Many years ago, a married man who professed to be a Christian began having an affair. When he was found out, he did not respond with repentance or sorrow for his sin. Instead, he tried to justify the affair. He invited the other woman to live with he and his wife, and told me that he wasn’t having an affair at all, he had just married a second wife, like Jacob or David. His wife, who had major self-esteem struggles at that point, went along with it, but it was a terrible, awful experience for her.

Finally, I had a very difficult conversation with him. I know what the Bible says about marriage and sex. I know what it says about sin generally, and repentance, and persisting in sin. I said to him, “You are trying to justify this, but I am here, in front of you, meeting your eyes, speaking with my voice and I am telling you, with the authority of Jesus, that you are living in sin. No one is perfect, and the Lord forgives all who repent, but you have not repented; instead, you keep on in a lifestyle of sin, claiming there is nothing wrong with it. The longer you wait to repent, the worse it will be for you. If you continue to refuse to repent, eventually your choice to hold on to sin will take you so far from God that you will be destroyed. You can’t get there by accident. You know what you are doing. Just in case you wonder, I am telling you, I am warning you, this sin will destroy you if you don’t repent.”

I grieve to tell you that this man never did repent. He was a good friend, and I cared about him deeply. He held on to his sin. He was thirty-five at the time this began, and though he smoked, and drank too much, he was in pretty good health. Quickly after this, however, his health failed, and he died within ten years.

I was “binding” his sins. In other words, I was communicating the biblical truth that if we do not repent, if we persist in an ongoing lifestyle of sin when we know better, if we refuse to even admit we are sinning, we are actually refusing the forgiveness that Jesus offers us. This is neither more nor less than what the bible says about it. I wasn’t “acting on my own authority.” I was saying what the bible says. Sometimes, hopefully not very often, we need somebody to confront us with physical presence (I do not mean violence I just mean simply being there) and a physical voice and say “knock it off! You are doing wrong and it needs to stop.” Sometimes we need somebody in front of us who can point out our self-deception and tear apart our self-serving justifications. Actually, this need is well known in secular addiction treatment, and it is called an “intervention.”

This “binding,” though necessary, is often a very difficult thing. But when you think about it, it is actually just one more way in which God can show grace to sinners. This man knew what the Bible said about sex and marriage. He knew when he started the affair that he was wrong. But through a fellow believer (in this case it was me) God was giving him yet one more chance. The Lord had every right to hold him accountable for what he knew, and yet God sent me to plead with him one more time. Far from being judgmental, this was the Lord doing all that he could to try and bring this man to repentance.

Now let me give you a happier example. Around that same time, a different young man came to me. He confessed that he was addicted to pornography. He was attending a local seminary to become a pastor, and he was sure that his sin had disqualified him from ministry; he wasn’t even sure, deep in his heart, that he was forgiven. The main difference between this guy and the first man was that this second young man was deeply broken up about his sin. He did not try to justify it. He did not want to do it any longer. He knew the bible pretty well, and so I reminded him of these verses, and then said, “OK, now look me in the eye. You can see my face, you can hear my voice. Jesus is speaking to you right now just as surely as I am. And what he says, and what I say, is that you are entirely forgiven. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8;1). You have been made clean by the word that is spoken to you (John 15). If you are in Christ, you are a new creation; the old has passed away, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5;17). Your sin was absolutely destroyed on the cross. Your real life is in heaven with God (Colossians 3), your spirit is seated with Christ in heavenly places (Ephesians 1). You are dead to sin, yes really (Col 3, Romans 6). You – are – forgiven.”

Now, obviously I was quoting various Scriptures: either verbatim or repeating the gist of it. This young man could have looked in his Bible and found the same verses and read them for himself. But there is something powerful and gracious about hearing somebody else directly tell you what the Lord says in the Bible. It is vital for us to interact with the Lord alone. But it is also vital for us to be connected to each other and to sometimes hear another person declare the truth of Scripture to you.

Some of us are very suspicious of our own motives, and so we don’t easily let our own selves off the hook. For people like that, it can be a wonderful, grace-filled experience to have someone else look you in the eye and say “You are forgiven. You truly are.” This is the gift that Jesus gives Peter, and to the whole church: that we can hear flesh and blood speak the truth to us. Jesus is saying, “I am giving you authority to speak my words to each other, so that you don’t have to wonder if it is real or not; you don’t have to question your own motives.”

So when Kathy says, “I am telling you what you are doing is a sin,” you know that you need to knock it off. And when Tom says to you, “you are forgiven,” you really are forgiven.

Let the Lord speak to you today.


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Jesus with the Disciples_discipleship

Jesus is calling you – not just to be a member of a church, not only to repent of your sins and receive his forgiveness. He is calling you to walk with him daily; To have a relationship with him that is more important to you than anyone or anything else in this life.

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Experiencing Life Together #5: Single Purpose

John 18:36; Ephesians 2:10

The very first Christians exhibited a very important characteristic. Their lives had a single focus:

The believers had a single purpose, and went to the temple courts every day. They were joyful and humble as they ate at each other’s homes and shared their food. (Acts 2:46)

The key phrase here is “single purpose.” Their lives were aimed at one target. Their focus both individually, and as a church, was on one thing. They were led by this purpose in everything they did, and every decision they made. Their purpose was discipleship. Jesus told them to be disciples, and to make disciples.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 28:18-20)

The word “disciple” in Greek is closely associated with learning from a teacher. As we look at Jesus’ disciples in the gospels, we see that they listened to his teaching and tried to put it into practice (Mark 3:31-34). They were “followers” of Jesus’ teachings. The disciples often asked Jesus questions, but didn’t understand when he explained the answers to them (Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 4:10-14). Even so, though they had their struggles, they made his teaching central to their lives.

They not only followed his teaching, but they followed Jesus physically, wherever he went. They shared his life and had experiences with him. They walked together with Jesus on the rough mountain roads of Galilee. They lodged together, ate together and talked together.

They went across the lake with him, and experienced the storm, and then were awed by his power over it. They went to a lonely place with him, and saw him feed 5,000 people. They watched him drive demons out of people, and heal others. They went to Jerusalem and saw him die and later they saw him alive again.

Jesus’ disciples also had relationships with each other. They weren’t isolated in their relationship with Jesus. They talked with each other, fought with each other and helped each other. Jesus called them (and us) to love each other (John 13:34-35).

Besides teaching and sharing his life, Jesus also trained his disciples. He recruited them for the same work that he was engaged in – spreading the good news (Luke 10:1-24). He involved them in exercises of faith and ministry (Matt 14:18). He gave them instructions, sent them out on tasks, and then debriefed them (Luke 10:1-24).

Jesus wanted his relationship with his disciples to be the closest, most important relationship they had. He was dramatic in stating this. He said that in comparison to their relationship with Him, it would seem like they hated their own families (Matt 10:37-39; Matt 12:48). All this is to say that He became absolutely the most important person in their lives. He took precedence in everything.

Even before he returned to heaven, Jesus gave his disciples authority to be a part of His mission, authority to accomplish His purposes in the world (Matt 10:1). He promised that he would be with them spiritually at all times (Matthew 28:18-20).They were witnesses to His life, death resurrection and power (Acts 1:8), and they had a responsibility to tell about their life with Jesus, and to recruit new disciples to Him.

In John chapter 15, Jesus called his disciples to “abide” in him. He said this just a few hours before he was captured and crucified. One of the things he meant by it, was that the disciples were to keep on being his disciples, even after his death and resurrection. Their relationship – the sharing of Jesus teaching and their lives together – would go on. Jesus would come and live with them again, this time in their spirits, through His Holy Spirit. Discipleship goes on.

So what does it all mean for us? Now that we see how the first disciples were, how can we be disciples? How can we live with a single purpose? First, I think we ought to recognize that Christians were called “disciples” before they were ever called “Christians” (Acts 11:25). In other words, the very first followers of Jesus understood that it was not about being a member of a church, or even of being converts, but rather of being learners who lived life in the midst of their on-going relationship with Jesus.

Jesus is calling you – not just to keep things as they are, not just to be a member of a church, not only to repent of your sins and receive his forgiveness. He is calling you to walk with him daily. To have a relationship with him that is more important to you than anyone or anything else in this life. To engage with him as you work, as you eat, as you rest. To be trained and equipped by him to take your part in recruiting and training more disciples. He is calling you to listen to, and follow his teachings. He is calling you to be a part of a group of disciples – folks who are a bit rough around the edges maybe, but who love one another and love Jesus like you do.

When you are a disciple, everything in your life is filtered through your relationship with Jesus. We still have to go to work, and pay the bills, and deal with crises. But we do all these things with an awareness that we are not living our own life anymore. We are here to let Jesus live his life through us. That is our single purpose in everything.

When you let Jesus live your life, that is, when you live as his disciple, you are immediately confronted by the temptations and challenges of what life offers us apart from Jesus. If we live for the single-purpose of discipleship, we might find that many things we are used to doing are actually at cross purposes with the life of Jesus. Sin, of course, diverts us from the purpose of Jesus in us. But sometimes, I think the biggest threat to Christians is not outright sin, but rather, good things; things, however, that Jesus does not want us to waste our time with. Jesus said something very challenging:

“My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.” (John 18:36, HCSB)

Are you struggling and fighting for something in this world? I know I can get sucked into this all too easily. I want to follow Jesus, yes, but I also want other things: comfort and security while I am on earth. The moment I pursue comfort and security in addition to being a disciple, is the moment I lose my single purpose. That takes me a step backward in following Jesus. Jesus’ kingdom, his life and purpose are far beyond the temporary, cheap things of this world.

This is one of the reasons the Christian faith has always appealed to the poor more than the rich. If your life right now is a struggle, and you have little hope of improving it, it is easier to place your hope more fully in eternity. Poor folks know that security in this life is not really attainable. People with more resources tend to keep believing that their salvation is in this life. They tend to keep striving for the temporary treasures and goals that this life offers.

Ephesians 2:10 says this:

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Have you ever wondered about your purpose in life? Well there it is – to do the “good works” which God created you to do. And those good works ultimately all lead to encouraging believers and reaching out to those who don’t believe. This was the single purpose of the church in Acts 2:42-47. This is what they lived for. This purpose influenced all of their decisions, particularly decisions about the use of time.

Especially in America, living with a single purpose has enormous implications for the way we use our time. I am convinced that most of us try to live with more than one purpose in life. When I try to do that, if I was honest, my purpose in life could be described as: “ To serve God, and to be comfortable.” The first part is OK, but that “to be comfortable” makes it a dual purpose. And that causes problems when the purposes conflict with each other. What if being comfortable isn’t conducive to serving God, or vice versa? Others might want to “serve God, and have a good career” or “Be a disciple, make disciples, and achieve certain financial goals.” There is nothing Biblical about this. Sometimes, God makes his servants comfortable. Sometimes he gives them fulfilling careers, or wealth. But we need to pursue God – not the other things. If wants to give the other things also, well and good. If not, can we still say, “well and good”?

Others of us really do live to “be a disciple and make disciples”. But we fall into the trap of doing many good things, instead of the two or three best things. We might run all over town participating in workshops, ministries and conferences – all good and wonderful things. But often these wonderful spiritual things, keep us from truly connecting with Jesus, and concentrating on the two or three things that will be most effective, and are most important. Many times, perhaps almost always, we need to turn down the good things for the best things; the non-essential for the essential.

In most house-churches, things are deliberately structured so that members focus on just two or three important things in the process of becoming and making disciples. They generally don’t have “programs”. They focus on ministry in the group, outreach, and equipping (worship & prayer are underlying elements of all of these). None of these things should be “programmatic” – instead they are structured so that they take place in the context of lives that are lived with a single purpose. Thus, our “community life” can be oriented to that single purpose; and we are not so distracted with the “busyness” of many other things going on all the time.

Our personal lives ought to be structured this way as well. America is the land of opportunity, but enough already! We put our three-year-olds in T-ball in spite of the fact that they will almost certainly never become professional athletes. We put in extra hours in case we miss the opportunity to make more money. We run from activity to activity and it absolutely drains us spiritually and emotionally. The crucial and difficult task in learning to orient our lives around a single purpose, is saying “no” to things that are good, but which are not best, or essential.

We strongly encourage you to pray about this during the next week, and then ask your house church for help and prayer in determining what is essential and best for you to be doing at this point in your life. Make sure to address that question with an open Bible and an open heart.

The Grace-Full Woman



Abigail is a true hero of faith, a woman, full of womanly grace and wisdom, who saved the day as only a woman could.


1 SAMUEL #24

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This is another one of those delightful incidents recorded in 1 Samuel. One of the reasons I love it is because once more, this is not a story that anyone near that time in history would make up. It shows up the champion David as an impulsive hothead, and the real hero of this incident is a woman.

As we know, David and his six hundred men were hiding out in wilderness areas. Saul had been shamed into leaving him alone, since David refused to kill him when he had the chance. Even so, David did not settle in a town or with others. Obviously, things with Saul were not completely resolved, and he did not want to endanger any town or family by living with them. Though David was living in wild areas, he and his men did have some contact with others. Shepherds took flocks into the wilderness to graze, sometimes for months at a time. When David and his men encountered them, they protected them and their flocks from wild animals and robbers.

It takes a lot of food to keep six hundred men on their feet, and it doesn’t seem likely that they could have hunted and gathered enough. It is almost certain that David’s men had to rely upon the generosity and kindness of others to keep them supplied. Even so, they never took what wasn’t theirs, but protected the property of those they encountered.

I like knowing this about David. Here was the man who would become the greatest king known to Israel, and not only is he in hiding, but he is barely holding on, dependent upon donations from kind friends and strangers. David wasn’t just a lucky guy who had everything fall into place for him. He spent a significant portion of time in real need, and he never would have made it without help. This is humbling, but the fact that David lived this way encourages me when I feel humbled by my own needs.

After they had been protecting the shepherds and flocks of a wealthy man named Nabal for some time, David sent messengers, asking if Nabal could help him. The messengers pointed out that not only had David never taken anything from him, but had protected his property from bandits and other dangers. At the time, Nabal was cashing in by selling fleeces from sheep that David had protected, and also slaughtering many sheep and feasting. It was a time of great plenty for Nabal, who had a small empire of flocks, herds and servants.

Now it says that Nabal was a harsh man, evil in his dealings. His response shows that this bad reputation was justified. Not only did he refuse to give anything to David, he deliberately and provocatively insulted him and his men. In short, he was a jerk.

David’s response was understandable. Even so, it was not righteous. He left 200 men to guard their hideout, and took 400 men to destroy all that Nabal owned, and to kill him. Nabal’s behavior was despicable. It’s easy to see why David flew into a rage. But that does not justify David’s intent to destroy the man.

At that point, we meet the heroine, Abigail. She is Nabal’s wife. Some of Nabal’s men come to her, and explain what has happened. She makes some immediate emergency decisions, and goes out to meet David with plenty of food and supplies for his men.

Now, some of you have heard me preach through New Testament passages that teach us about biblical roles for women and for men. I think of Abigail as an amazing example of a woman who was used by God as a woman – not as a man. This is how it might look sometimes as we engage in the gender dance the Lord has designed for us. Abigail is smarter than everyone around her at this point in time. She is wiser. For a while, she is the only one who is truly committed to doing what is righteous, and she had to deal with two men in leadership who both wanted to do wrong. But she approaches the situation with an amazing womanly grace and uniquely feminine strength.

She offers David gifts for himself and his men, which was the right thing to do. She also apologized for her husband. There is a play on words here. His name, Nabal, would have been pronounced “nu-bawl.” A Hebrew word for foolish or worthless is pronounced “nu-bawl-uh.” It’s a little like saying “Stu is just like his name: stupid.” (Deepest apologies to anyone named Stu who might be reading this).

Throughout the narrative it is clear that Abigail places herself in David’s hands, and under his authority. However, while she is clearly submissive, she is not subservient. She does not hold back from exhorting David to do what is right. She reminds him of God’s promises to him. She reminds him that he himself knew it was wrong to take things into his own hands by killing Saul. This is a similar situation. She encourages him to trust the Lord, not his own strength, and to trust the Lord’s promises to him. She points out gently that destroying Nabal is something he will probably regret later, and would be a shameful blemish on his record of trusting the Lord. She does it all with womanly grace and attractiveness.

There is no doubt that Abigail was in the right, while both David and her husband were wrong. Even so, there is no sense in this narrative that Abigail has somehow taken on the role of a man, or acted out of a sense of authority or leadership over either one of them. This is one example of what biblical submission can look like. You can see it is not subservience, or rolling over and accepting whatever men want to say or do. In her submission, her grace and wisdom were powerful and attractive. Abigail is a beautiful example of a woman who plays a significant role in God’s kingdom without violating what the Holy Spirit says elsewhere in scripture about gender roles.

And here is something significant: she really got David’s attention. I suspect that David, being in the foul mood he was in, would have reacted angrily to a man who came and told him he was being stupid and making a mistake. But Abigail, with her womanly grace, completely disarmed him. He repented, and freely confessed that she was right and he was wrong.

32 Then David said to Abigail, “Praise to the LORD God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! 33 Your discernment is blessed, and you are blessed. Today you kept me from participating in bloodshed and avenging myself by my own hand. (1Sam 25:32-33, HCSB)

They parted, but obviously, David never forgot the exchange. Abigail went home. She was in a tough place, because now that she had dealt with one angry man, she had to deal with another. We have to read between the lines, but everything I see here suggests that Abigail was trusting the Lord to work out that conversation also. The next morning she told her husband straight out, what she had done. He had a seizure from which he never recovered. The Lord took care of it for her.

When David heard Nabal was dead, presumably after the period of mourning, he asked Abigail to be his wife, and she consented. I think it is obvious that David was deeply impressed by her grace and wisdom.

Now, since it comes up at the end of this passage, I’ll comment briefly on polygamy (having multiple wives). David was married to Michal, Saul’s daughter, but after David fled, Saul married her off to someone else. So when David married Abigail, he was technically unmarried. However, he also married another woman during this same general period of time, Ahinoam.

The Bible does record many men, some of them heroes of the faith like David, having more than one wife. Sometimes, no comment is made upon whether this is a good thing or bad thing. However, the majority of the time, the Bible records that polygamy generally leads to bad results. Jacob had two wives, and the bible records that as a result, there was a huge amount of family strife. Samuel’s father had two wives, and the bible records that it led to family strife. Solomon had nine-hundred wives, and it destroyed his faith, and led the whole country astray. The result of David’s several wives was also ultimately strife between the half-brothers that were his sons. So it is true that the bible doesn’t specifically condemn polygamy – but it certainly doesn’t endorse it either. It happened, and the bible records things that really happened.

One final thought: Jesus clearly taught that marriage was originally intended by God to be between a single man and a single woman. The rest of the New Testament also affirms that in marriage, two are to become one. That idea doesn’t fit at all with polygamy.

So what do we do with all this? If you are a man considering having more than one wife, forget it. But seriously, what does the Lord say to us here?

I do think Abigail can be a great example for girls and women to aspire to. She had beauty, wisdom and courage and she used them all graciously as only a woman could.

For both men and women, perhaps you find yourself between a rock and a hard place like Abigail was. She didn’t waste time trying to figure it all out. She trusted the Lord, and did the first thing that needed to be done. In the end, the Lord took care of it all.

Maybe like me, you are encouraged by David’s humble life at this point. If God’s chosen instrument had to ask for help, it must be OK for us to also ask for help at times. True, it is humbling, but that isn’t usually a bad thing.

Perhaps like David, you might be tricked into responding to someone or some event with rage and anger and hasty action. Maybe the Lord is telling you to slow down and take a step back and ask him what true wisdom is in this situation.

As him now, what he wants to say to you



Sometimes the big crowd is all excited about Jesus, but for the wrong reasons. We aren’t aware of, or we don’t accept Jesus’ real agenda.

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Download Palm Sunday 2012

Palm Sunday, 2012 (Luke 19:28-44)

Most of us are familiar with the story of Palm Sunday: Jesus sends his disciples to get a mysteriously available young donkey. He gets on the donkey and rides to Jerusalem. As he does so, people start throwing down cloaks and branches to create a kind of “red carpet” as he goes along, and they all start cheering and praising him.

But have you ever wondered, why? What was the point of it all? Why is this story preserved for us in the Bible? First of all, we haven’t named it well. It isn’t “palm” Sunday at all – palm trees don’t even grow near Jerusalem, so the branches they cut were from other kinds of plants. But most importantly – why did Jesus do it? What was it all about?

One startling thought was that maybe Jesus wanted to ride the donkey because he was tired. Jesus and the disciples walked everywhere they went (except when they were in Galilee, where they occasionally rode in boats). Maybe he wanted to sit down and experience the entry into Jerusalem without thinking how much his feet hurt. This isn’t as flippant as it sounds. Jesus was God in human flesh, true. But he did have a human body too – just like yours and mine until his resurrection. Sometimes we forget that, but I guarantee you, he didn’t.

I think it goes beyond that, however. Jesus must have been familiar with the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 which says:

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you,

righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

I don’t know if he was going out of his way to fulfill this prophecy or not. He certainly had no control over whether the crowd shouted, or what they said. But in any case, this procession into Jerusalem fulfilled a prediction about the messiah.

The symbolism of the donkey is somewhat important too. In that culture, when a leader entered a city as a conqueror or military hero, he rode a horse or in a chariot. When a leader came on a donkey it was an indication of peace and mercy for the people. Riding a donkey conveyed a promise of graciousness and mercy from a ruler. It was not a challenge or a military assertion.

So, he was tired. He was fulfilling prophecy. He was also conveying his intention to offer people grace and mercy. But I think there is also one more thing going on here. If you are familiar with other parts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you may remember that often times, when Jesus did miracles, he told people to keep it quiet (for example, the leper in Mark 1:44). He was reluctant to turn water into wine (John 3). When Peter said that Jesus was the messiah, the Son of God, Jesus told them all not to tell anyone else (Matt 16:20). When he fed the 5,000, the people wanted to make him king, but he slipped away. He always seems so modest and humble, like he wants to keep his power and his identity a secret. But now suddenly, he is perfectly willing to be the cause of a big uproar at the beginning of the most crowed week of the year in Jerusalem, the capital of the region. It seems almost out of character. He spends three years, mostly away from Jerusalem, almost like he is hiding, and now in one day he blows his cover.

I believe Jesus allowed the crowd to go wild, in order to create the pressure on the Jewish leaders that would ultimately lead to his crucifixion. What I mean is this: Before, the time was not right. He was still training his disciples, and it wasn’t yet time for him to die. But now, this week, this “palm” Sunday, he is coming to Jerusalem in order to die. In fact, his mission on earth would fail if he does not die. So he allows the Jewish and Roman leaders to be confronted with who he really is – knowing full well that they will do what they can to eliminate him as a threat to their power. In other words, by riding in a royal procession, surrounded by a cheering crowd, he is deliberately provoking the leadership of Jerusalem into having him executed.

Luke gives us a few verses that shed a little bit of light on Jesus’ attitude toward this triumphant procession.

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:39-44)

I think we can learn two things about Jesus’ attitude from this. First, he fully accepts that it is good and right for the people to praise him the way they were doing. You see if Jesus really was God (as Christians believe he was and is) then it was not wrong or blasphemous for people to praise him and worship him. He didn’t stop them. He never stopped anyone from worshiping him before either, but on previous occasions he tried to keep his identity quiet. So at this time, he feels that the cheering crowd is entirely appropriate. In fact, he implies that as Lord of creation, even the rocks owe him their worship.

Second, even while the crowd is doing the right thing (praising Jesus), Jesus can see that they are doing it for the wrong reasons. What he says indicates that they do not understand what is going on, or what he is all about. He says Jerusalem will be destroyed “because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” So even though they are praising him and that is good and proper, they do not understand his mission, or why he is there, or what it means. And they don’t accept it.

So at the one level, his triumphant entry is good and right – he is the messiah, after all, God in human flesh – and he deserves the adulation of the crowd. But at another level, the cheering crowd really doesn’t connect with why Jesus is there. They don’t accept that he has come to defeat sin and the devil – they are more concerned about food in their bellies and freedom from Rome. They want victory and excitement, but they know nothing about the coming crucifixion, and would be repulsed by it if they had known it. They certainly didn’t hang around the cross when Friday came.

What does all this mean for us, two-thousand years later? Well, maybe we just need to be reminded that Jesus experienced the same things we experience as human beings. It might be a comfort to know that he got tired and had sore feet sometimes. Or perhaps you needed to hear how Jesus fulfilled a four-hundred year old prophecy when he rode down the path on that donkey with people shouting and singing all around him.

For me, one of the big applications is how the crowd was doing the right thing, praising God for Jesus, and yet they totally missed the priorities and goals that Jesus had. By coming on a donkey, he was implying that he came in peace – but they ignored that, and still wanted him to militarily overthrow the Romans. Even more telling, they were caught up in excitement and busyness and noise, and because of that, they missed out on how God was really working. The whole, time, what Jesus was really doing was coming to die. They missed that in all the activity.

I think we can miss the point of Jesus sometimes also. Jesus does want to fulfill us, because he made us to be vessels of his grace and glory, and when are fulfilled in him, it brings glory to him. And maybe we get excited and praise God for the things he can do for us, to make our lives more comfortable right now. But he also wants to crucify our flesh. We often forget that. The real reason to praise God is because he has delivered us from ourselves, from sin, our fallen flesh and the devil. And sometimes, he is riding in to town so that the parts of us that are still in rebellion to God can be crucified. Let’s not miss that point, like most of the crowd did that day. We need to be in tune with His mission, not our own goals or comforts.

There’s another temptation for churches and Christians in America today. If we can create lots of busyness and excitement and action, it appears that we are really participating in the kingdom of God. But I think when we gravitate to action and excitement, for the sake of those things in themselves, we often miss out on what God is really doing. I think sometimes he works more through the quiet, unrecognized ways than through the really splashy programs. He’s often at work when a few friends get together for breakfast or coffee to pray and read the Bible. He’s at work when we talk to our kids, and the friends of our kids, about Jesus. He’s at work when take time to make a phone call and see how we can encourage someone else in faith, or when we spend a minute or two praying for someone else. He works in our small groups.

So, it’s good and right to praise Jesus. It’s even better to praise him for the right reasons, and accept that his mission is far greater than our temporary comfort on earth. I’m not saying he won’t do anything for you in the here and now. But when Good Friday and the cross came, this crowd didn’t understand, and for the most part, gave up their hope in Jesus. But for Jesus, the cross was the whole point of the thing in the first place. So let’s remember that, and praise God while accepting His mission in our life is to crucify our flesh, use us to glorify Himself and bring us to eternal, joyful life in the coming new creation.