Stand Firm

Luke 21

Luke 21 19 NIV

I have had several opportunities to visit Arlington National Cemetery to witness the changing of the guard at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. What never ceases to amaze me is the precision of their movements. Every step, every turn is synchronized to the second. Crowds gather well in advance in order to get a view. But once the ceremony concludes and the crowds disperse, the soldier is there to stand guard in silence and no interaction with another person for 30 minutes, which is when another guard comes to relieve him or her.

What is even more impressive than the precision of their movements is their dedication to the post. The Tomb has not been left unguarded since 1937. Through scorching heat and oppressive humidity, blizzards and hurricanes, these guards stand firm in their watch – 24/7/365. There isn’t anything that will take them away from this honor-filled assignment.
As I read through Luke 21, I was struck by the use of the word “stand” in verses 19, 28, and 36. Jesus is explaining to his disciples what to expect as they wait for his triumphant return. Persecution, betrayal, natural disasters, and wars will be the signs that will foretell of Christ’s return. And 3 different times, Jesus instructs his followers to stand firm through it all.
In verse 19, we’re promised that if we stand firm, we will gain life.
In verse 28, we’re promised that by standing up, we will receive redemption.
In verse 36, we’re promised that if we are attentive during the watch, we’ll be able to escape all the turmoil and stand before the Son of Man.
As followers of Jesus, we are not promised an easy life. We will experience figurative (and sometime literal – depending on where you live) heavy storms that wipe away all that you know. The question and challenge is – will you stand firm through it all knowing that the foundation on which you plant your feet is our Rock, Jesus Christ.
Bethany Ligon

Jesus’ Target Audience

Luke Chapter Five – Jesus’ First Disciples

Luke 5 10 11

Soon after Jesus began his earthly ministry, Jesus went out to find some people who would follow him.  One would think that Jesus would choose his followers from among the elite scholars.  After all, shouldn’t the king of kings have an elite group of close followers?  However, Jesus did not go that route.  Instead, we see in Luke chapter five, that Jesus chose the likes of fishermen and tax collectors to be his select, close followers.  Fishermen had very little to no education, and they would have been close to no one’s first choice when starting a revolution.  Tax collectors, on the other hand, had a poor reputation, as they often tried to cheat people out of their money.  Therefore, tax collectors would have been close to no one’s first choice either.  For whatever reason, Jesus chose this group to be his followers and to take over when he was to ascend to heaven.

 

A big part of Jesus’ ministry revolved around healing people of their ailments.  In chapter five, Jesus heals both a leper and a paralytic.  One would think that after Jesus got done healing people, he would want them to go tell everybody of the great miracle.  However, the opposite is true.  Often after Jesus would heal somebody, he would tell them to tell no one!  We see this in verse 14, as Jesus told the leper to tell no one.  Now, why would Jesus not want others to share of the great wonders Jesus had done?  The answer is because Jesus’ time to die had not yet come.  Jesus still had much to accomplish before his death.  If word had spread too much, they would have had him killed sooner.

 

After Jesus had called Levi, a tax collector, to be one of his disciples, Jesus went to eat with the tax collectors.  This caused the Pharisees to grumble and ask Jesus why in the world he would eat with the sinful tax collectors. Jesus replies, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” (Luke 5:31).  Here Jesus says that his target audience are the sinners rather than the righteous.

 

Too often in church, our focus is on the righteous rather than the sinners.  We design our services, classes, and events for those that are churched and not unchurched.  Perhaps we should consider the words of Jesus in Luke 5:31. Perhaps we should put our focus on the sinners, rather than the righteous.  It is those who are lost and sinners that really need the church!  Our churches should contain people who are not currently saved but are on the road to salvation.  Jesus says it is these kinds of people that he came to call to repentance.  Our target audience should reflect that of Jesus’ target audience.  At the same time, we do need strong Christians within the church to bring up the unchurched.  There is a healthy balance somewhere that we all must find.

 

Kyle McClain

Living Water

Revelation 22

Revelation 22 1 NIV

First off … Revelation 22 is so deep and glorious that I feel inadequate to even write a devotion about it.

The scene portrayed here as Pastor Jake talked about is the main point. This is what the  whole book of Revelation is pointing us to and even the entire  Bible.

The vision described  is magnificent and has a great implication on our lives in the here and now. Verses 1-2 point us to this river of life that is going through the middle of the thrones of God and Christ. Just imagine the throne of God on earth with his son seated next to him. Through the middle of these glorious, holy and spectacular thrones is a river flowing from it. The scripture says this river is bright like a crystal. Have you ever held a crystal in your hand? It’s a beautiful stone that has a certain awe-inspiring quality to it. Now, imagine a river with the same breath-taking quality flowing from the throne of God and Christ! When I imagine this scene, I see everything I hope for wrapped up before me. Imagining being in the presence of a holy God where I in my sinful flesh have no business being near and seeing this stream descending from them overwhelms my heart with gratefulness for the grace of God.

The river in this vision is feeding the Tree of Life. The same Tree of Life that we see in the beginning with Adam and Eve. The tree needs to be connected to this river simply to be alive. This tree is pretty crazy though because I don’t know about you but I have never seen a tree produce 12 different kinds of fruit. I have never even seen a tree produce two different kinds of fruit. There must be something special about this river that it has the capacity to produce twelve different kinds of fruit on one tree.

When we look at the tree and its fruit, we must conclude that without this river, this tree and its fruit would not exist.

When we examine our world today if a tree or plant doesn’t receive the water it needs it will die. There is even a great example of a plant dying from lack of water in my living room right now. It is a proven fact that trees need water.

In the same way so does the human soul. But not physical water, living water. The greatest mistake we can ever make in our lives is when we disconnect from this river that is flowing from God and Jesus. Sometimes we think that the busyness of our lives doesn’t allow us to spend time with God on a daily basis. We think that today I don’t have time to spend with or connect to the river or well that never runs dry. The tendency is to think that I can skip a day or a week and still be fine. We think “After all I’m still doing fine” and its only when we are hurting that we run to God.

We were made for so much more than just existing, though. We, like this tree, were made magnificently to produce multiple different kinds of fruit. I feel like personally I short change myself and my whole existence when I don’t go to the river and well to fill my soul. When we go to God or the river we can allow ourselves to be changed from the inside out by God. Then we start to produce in hearts and in souls this natural fruit  that can come from nowhere else but God. This fruit externally manifests itself in the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5.22-24).

In verses 3-5 it talks about how God will be the light of the world and there will no longer be need of lamps or a sun. God isn’t dwelling on the earth yet; instead, he is allowing us to be the lights in this world. The only way this happens in our lives is through this connection to living water. We simply cannot be the lights in this world without the connection to these waters of life.

So, I encourage you and I frankly am encouraging myself to stay connected to these waters and don’t let the days go by without connecting to God. When we do, we will become the people God created us to be with lives that shine lights reflecting the God we serve.

Daniel Wall

Avoid Sin, Rejoice in Justice

Revelation 18

Revelation 18 4 NIV
 
Yesterday our focus was on the identity of this Babylon the Great. Today our focus is on the destruction of Babylon. 
Babylon (Rome and other anti-God systems of the world) falls. The beast and the heads turn against her and devour her in the end of chapter 17. The nations, kings, and merchants of the world weep over the fallen city. They will no longer have the power, authority, or wealth she provided to them, and they are sorrowful for their loss, not really her destruction. All this happens in “one hour”, or an instantaneously short time. She will be brought low, but heaven is told to rejoice. 
What do we learn from this chapter? Those nations and systems that oppose God (like Babylon and Rome) will not last forever. Revelation shows us that God will bring them down. But what are we called to DO with that information? Two actions seem to be demanded of us in Revelation 18. In verse 4, the people of God are called to “come out of her”. Did this mean literally pack your bags and move? Maybe. But it most definitely meant to not participate in her sin. Don’t act like the ones who don’t know God in Babylon. Today, that is still the case. In the words of Jesus, we are in the world (that is, the world apart from God), and have not been taken out of it. We do business with those who don’t know God, we work with them, and go to school with them, and even try to love them. But we don’t act like them, we don’t participate in the sins the world, we are not “of” the world. So firstly, we must behave in such a way that we are more like Christ than our neighbors, more like Jesus than the Joneses. (Compare to John 15:19, 17:15)
Secondly, we are called to rejoice over the judgement of God. Many times the justice and severity of God makes me sad. I want all people to be saved and God wants that too! (1 Tim. 2:4) In the case of Babylon the Great, though, we are talking about a city that drank the blood of saints, and persecutes the people of God. Rejoice that God will not allow that to continue. God will not sit idly by forever, ignoring the cries of his people. There will come a day when justice will be poured out on to the heads of those who righteously deserve it. In the way that Babylon “paid” (by torturing, tormenting, murdering), that is the way she will be “paid”, the author says in 18:6. Wickedness will be eradicated, and only righteousness will remain. Praise God!
 
Avoid Sin, Rejoice in Justice. This is the calling of Revelation 18 upon the believer.
Jake Ballard

The Home-stretch Begins

Revelation 15

Revelation 15 4 NIV

 
In our reading of Revelation we have come across so much : scrolls, and seals, and Lambs that are Lions, and Beasts and Dragons. I can understand if your head is spinning and you just want a moment to rest in a short, easy chapter. Though Revelation 15 is short, it is not easy. However, we are in the home stretch. We are closer to the end of this great revelation given by Jesus Christ to his servants.
 
In this chapter, the main action is that God is sending out seven angels with seven plagues. Those who have won victory over the beast recognize that God is holy, and in the end, all the nations will worship Him. (Rev. 15:4) Then the angels head out from the tabernacle, and smoke comes and fills the sanctuary. Smoke coming down represents God’s glory filling this “tabernacle of testimony.” (Compare Exodus 19:18, 20:18) This opens up an interesting insight for us as the people of God. When some see the plagues and the wrath of God, they see a violent deity of a violent people, demanding something to which He is not entitled. For Christians, we see the wrath of God as an act of the glory of God. The greatest joy a person can know is to experience connection to God. In Revelation 15 God, in His glory, is doing this final act of plagues and bowls of wrath to bring the whole world to worship him. While it is harsh, it is God’s love and not hatred that drives his wrath over a world that rejects him. He wants the world to turn to him, and even THIS will not work, as our study of the previous chapters have shown.
 
Praise God that you stand among the company of the saved. 
Pray for the mercy of God upon those who have not yet believed, that they might come to believe. 
Pray that it will not take the plagues of the seven angels and the bowls of God’s wrath. 
Jake Ballard

The Eternal Gospel

Revelation 14

Revelation 14 6 NIV

As we approach chapter fourteen together, John sees four, possibly five, more visions, all depicting the fates of those who are allegiant to the Lamb (Jesus) and those who aren’t. In our world today, people want you to just let people believe what they believe and not challenge their worldview. However, if we trust what Revelation is telling us, it would not be loving for us to allow people to continue living in sin and falsehood. We need to speak up into the lives of our loved ones, because according to chapter fourteen, their fates will not be good if they don’t join the Lamb’s army (the Church). Ultimately, the letter of Revelation is meant to call people to repent and follow the Lamb before time runs out, and we need to do the same.

 

John sees the same 144,000 from chapter 7 that have the “mark” of God on their foreheads, standing on top of Mount Zion, looking ready for a battle. These are those who have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb; in other words, these are Christians. We learn that their fate is sealed, and their future looks bright! However, John moves forward to describe what awaits everybody else…

 

An angel is seen, calling people to “fear God and give Him glory”, or repent of their ways (14:7). Another angel warns that “Babylon the great” has fallen, which will be described later on in chapters 17-19. This Babylon, in my interpretation, is a vivid description of Rome once again, as those are the only two nations to ever destroy the Jerusalem Temple. However, those that are within Babylon the great, or those that have worshiped the beast, they will drink the “wine of the wrath of God”, going through torment in fire and brimstone, just like Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 19). These people will eventually be burned up with this fire, but it will be an extremely painful experience.

 

John then uses the illustration of a grape harvest, in which grapes are thrown into a winepress and squeezed out, causing blood to flow everywhere. It is a graphic image, but a powerful one nonetheless. Those who refuse to worship God and the Lamb will face His wrath, being destroyed completely when Jesus returns. Why would anyone choose to go through this? Unfortunately, many choose to do so.

 

This message should motivate us to speak up to our friends and family about what Jesus has done. He has saved us from this coming wrath, and now offers that same salvation to anyone who would come follow after him. Of course we love our friends and family and don’t want them to go through the terrifying judgment to come. So speak up! Live out your faith today! Share the good news with whomever you come across! Jesus is coming, and we don’t have much time left.

 

Talon Paul

The Witnesses

Revelation 11

Revelation 11 3 NIV

Following our strange detail about John eating the Scroll that God gave to him, we are finally going to learn about what the Scroll says through what John tells us! Unfortunately, it is very detailed, also strange in some ways, and has been the cause of many interpretations over the past 2,000 years. However, we are going to do our best to humbly try and understand what John says in this passage, while focusing on his main point. I don’t assume that my interpretation is 100% correct, so I invite all of you to critique it by looking at the text itself and speaking with other Christian teachers that you trust.

 

We are introduced to two Witnesses, or two Martyrs, who are proclaiming to people “their testimony”. Now, throughout Revelation, we see that John testified to “the testimony of Jesus Christ” (1:2, 9) and that the Christian martyrs from chapter six also had a “testimony” that they proclaimed (6:9). We will learn later that Christians are able to overcome Satan using “their testimony” as well (12:11). Narratively speaking, it is likely that these two Witnesses have the same testimony as John and the Christians. That testimony is the gospel message about Jesus’ death, resurrection and eventual return to establish God’s kingdom, as can be seen throughout the whole letter. In other words, the two Witnesses are two individuals that are faithfully preaching the gospel to those around them.

 

There has been speculation as to whether these are literally two individual people that are to come in the future, or whether they represent what the churches are supposed to be doing, since they are described as lampstands like the churches (compare 1:20 and 11:4). I assume that these are representatives for what the churches, and us, are supposed to be doing, but also don’t believe that John’s main point is in their identity; John’s main point to this vision is what is produced by their faithful preaching of the gospel.

 

After the two Witnesses are killed, resurrected, and exalted to God’s space, the people actually repent of their evils! In 11:13, it states that people “gave glory to the God of heaven”, which is repentance language. As we saw in the previous seven seals and seven trumpets, and will see in the later seven bowls, God’s judgment actions are not enough to bring about repentance; but the faithful preaching of the gospel message is enough, even if Christians die for it!

 

My encouragement to you today is to behave like these two Witnesses; faithfully preach the gospel, even at the expense of your own life. Whatever the cost may be for you, the reward is going to be more than you ever imagined! And just like the story of Revelation states, that reward is coming soon, after the Church does her job of faithfully preaching to the nations. Are you ready for that day to come?

 

Talon Paul

Refuse to Repent

Revelation 9

Revelation 9 20a NIV

If you haven’t found out by now, Revelation is a strange letter; there are all sorts of images and visions that don’t quite make sense to us most of the time. In chapter nine, things get much stranger, as we see some terrifying images of God’s judgment being sent upon unrepentant people that have killed God’s people (i.e. Christians). However, strange as it may be, this chapter is absolutely crucial to understanding what John is trying to communicate throughout the whole letter. There is a key theme that needs to be drawn out if we are to understand what John is talking about.

 

In chapter eight, we saw angels getting ready to blow seven trumpets that would bring about God’s judgment, in response to the prayers that God had heard from His people back in chapter six. When we come to chapter nine, the fifth trumpet is blown, bringing about this terrifying, demonic locust army that goes around tormenting people for five months. They look strange, sound strange, and behave in a strange manner. There have been many theories about what these locusts are, but I don’t believe John’s focus is on who or what these locusts are; they are more of a background image than anything.

 

John’s main point is found at the end of the chapter, after the sixth trumpet is blown. In 9:20-21, we learn that, even though all these terrible and strange things are happening to these people, they still refuse to repent and change their lives. That is the point of John’s message of the trumpets; even God bringing His fiercest and most terrifying judgment on people is not enough to get them to repent. We saw a similar situation in Exodus, when Pharaoh refused to repent, even though God brought 10 plagues on the land. This is also John’s point with the later seven bowls (16:10-11), and likely the point of the previous seals as well.

 

The question that we, as the readers, are left with is, “What will make people repent?” That question will be answered in chapter 11, when we are introduced to the Two Witnesses.

 

For you today, I encourage you to think about the way that you spread the gospel to others. What will work better? Preaching about God’s judgment and condemnation, or offering hope and encouragement? If God’s righteous judgment isn’t enough to bring about repentance in people’s hearts in Revelation, don’t assume that it will work for you either. Let’s offer a hope that is focused on the love of the cross and a merciful God that has offered His own Son for us all! Let’s preach the good news!

 

Talon Paul

Transforming your Mind

FREE THEME – Romans 12:9-21

romans 12 2 (1)

Every morning when I wake up I try to have my first thoughts be, “Thank you, God, for another day of life and the blessings you will give me today.” Unfortunately, often, my first thought is, “I have cancer” and I have a sinking feeling in my heart. I have to intentionally then redirect my thoughts to the first statement, put a smile on my face, remembering God’s goodness and mercy. I may have cancer, but God sent Jesus so I can be made right with him and live forever with him in his kingdom. That is worth far more than anything this life has to offer. 

But I have to keep reminding myself of this because the things of this life bring so much pleasure and that is what I know and want to keep knowing. I love my family, friends, church, God’s beautiful creation, vacations, sewing, art, … And it can go on. And now I am a grandmother as well! 

But even with these things that I love and know first hand, I don’t always appreciate or treat them in a way that would honor or please them or God. I have to be reminded again and again about having the right attitude, treating people right, and living intentionally. That is what Romans 12 helps us do.

 

Romans 12 is a chapter in the Bible that we as Christians would be wise to read every day. It reminds us of the practical, and yet profound, attitudes and actions we are to have in our relationship with God, fellow believers, and everyone we come in contact with. The following passage is verses 1-2 and then 9 and following. Read them carefully. 

 

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

 

  • “Let love be genuine. 
  • Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 
  • Love one another with brotherly affection. 
  • Outdo one another in showing honor. 
  • Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 
  • Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 
  • Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 
  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 
  • Live in harmony with one another. 
  • Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. 
  • Never be wise in your own sight. 
  • Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
  • If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 
  • Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:1-2, 9-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

You may not have to deal with all of these on any given day, but every day you will be faced with some of them. In keeping these instructions in our minds we will be ready when a situation faces us and we can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, respond in a way that will please and honor our God and Maker. The bonus is that not only will the situation turn out better, but you will be happier, with an inner peace and joy, as you grow and mature into the person God has called you to be. 

Beth Mattison

Not Worthy of Them

Hebrews 11

Hebrews 11 1

There is that word again.  I liked it before but not so much now.  The word is “confidence”.  We read it before in Hebrews 10:22 where we discovered that we could confidently enter into the very presence of God because of Jesus, where we could get close to God and be His child.  I like the idea of being a child, having child-like faith.  That sounds safe and secure.  That feels comfortable and peaceful.  But now Paul is using that word “confidence” again, but this time it does not sound at all safe or smart.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11: 1

Faith is confidence in what we hope will happen, and assurance about what we can’t even see?  Hoping something will happen and believing it will happen even if we can’t see anything? Really??  Quite frankly, this sounds a little crazy and unnerving.  It sounds a lot like stumbling around in the dark, not seeing where we are going, not knowing where the light switch is, not knowing when the big, bad boogie man is going to jump out at us.

  “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” Hebrews 11:3

As I keep reading this chapter, things seem to get worse. We are told that the whole universe which we can see with our eyes, was not made out of stuff that we can see.  Quite frankly, that does not make any sense.  How can you make something out of nothing? Who would believe such a thing?

The answer to my question is that Abel did.  Enoch did.  Noah did.  Abraham and Sara did.  Isaac did.  Jacob did.  Joseph did.  Moses did.  The walls of Jericho did.  Rahab did.  Women did, and a whole lot of other people did.

None of these people saw the end result of their faith. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises…” Hebrews 11:13. They simply lived their faith.  They were confident that if they lived their faith, that God would be faithful. “and were persuaded of them (the promises) and embraced them” Hebrews. 11:13. They believed that they were making something out of something even though they could not see it.

This chapter of Hebrews is full of action words.  Abel offered, Enoch pleased, Noah moved, Abraham obeyed, Sara received strength, Jacob worshipped, Joseph gave instructions about his bones, Moses endured, the walls of Jericho fell, Rahab perished not, women received their dead back to life, and others were tortured. They were all confident that they were making something out of something that the world thought was nothing.  That something that the world thought was nothing was God’s promises.

All these people mentioned were giants in the faith.  They all judged God faithful simply because He promised. They endured hardships, were stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, slain with the sword, tormented, afflicted, and wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.  The world was not worthy of them. (Hebrews 11:37-38).

Now that I have read to the end of this chapter, all of this still does not make any sense to me, but for a different reason.  Even though you and I will probably not experience the hardships that these giants endured, yet we will be right there with them when God fulfills His promise of the Kingdom. That does not make sense.   We are so not worthy of them.

“God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

Hebrews 11:40

 

-Luke Elwell