Death and Kingdom: Euphemism

THEME WEEK: Death and Kingdom – 1 Thessalonians 4
Old Testament: 1 Kings 19 & 20
Poetry: Psalm 125

I find euphemisms to be imprecise. Usually, they are used to make taboo topics a bit easier to discuss in public, because saying words with plain meanings are just too forward. 

There’s the innocuous “over the hill.” (People just get old, and that’s OK. “Gray hair is a crown of glory” Prov. 16:31)

There are quite a number of euphemisms to describe the most intimate act of marriage, which are understandable, because sex is often uncomfortable to talk about. 

My least favorite are the ways we try to cover over the fact of death. “Passed on” and “crossed over” both imagine death as a journey. When I’m gone, please say “Jake has kicked the bucket”, because that phrase is stupid and I love it. 

But the Bible, strangely, does something similar. Death, the cessation of life, the moment when our bodies cease to self-renew, our brains cease to function, and we cease to exist … is called sleep

And this is not uncommon. At the death of David, he was said to sleep and join his fathers. (1 Kings 2:10, compare Acts 13:36) Daniel speaks of those “who sleep in the dust of the earth.” (Daniel 12:2) This is extremely common in the New Testament, starting in the life of Christ, where he speaks of those whom he is about to raise as sleeping and waking up, when they clearly died, like the young woman (Matthew 9:24, Mark 5:39, Luke 8:52) or Lazarus (John 11:11). Some saints, at the death of Christ, were raised to life again, after mentioning that they were sleeping. (Matthew 27:52) The language of sleep is continued by the early church. Stephen, dying a violent death of martyrdom, “falls asleep.” (Acts 7:60) Peter uses this euphemism in 2 Peter 3:4; Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:6, 51, and 1 Thessalonians 5:10.

But, the Bible as the word of God and Christ as the Word of God, teach us something even while using this euphemism. Instead of concealing death from what it is, the Bible and Christ use this as a metaphor that makes more clear what death entails, not less. 

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul is instructing his dear friends who were grieving the death of loved ones. He wants them to understand their situation, so when he uses the phrase “those who have fallen asleep,” it is used to bring MORE clarity to the subject of death. But, how does it bring this clarity? What does sleep teach us about death? In sleep, when we are at our most tired, we do not dream; we just go down and wake back up, with no memory of the time between. It seems that this is what the lessons we have been going through this week teach us. In Ecclesiastes 9, there is no memory, no work, no knowledge. Death is the cessation of a person but one that is sleep-like. The brain stops firing. Humans are not a kind of spirit-being inside their body but intimately connected to it. So when we die, we cease to be. That is why Lazarus could not tell us about his “afterlife” experience. There was none. And why is it such good news that Jesus was attested by God and raised to life (Acts 2) and how Paul can prove this by the word of over 500 people, and by his own experience, and the continued experience of the church (1 Corinthians 15). Death is not a passage on to a better place, but a time of cessation. When Christ is raised to life, he comes back. That’s good news. 

Death is like a sleep we don’t remember.

Sleep is resting and waiting. 

For some, it is waiting for reward; for others, punishment. 

Daniel 12:2 says in it’s fullness “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Yes, death is a sleep, but like sleep, human death is a sleep from which all will be awakened. But not to a human life again and again, as in Eastern reincarnation, nor a spiritual life in some other place, as with many Western Mythologies. Daniel promises that all people will be raised and judged. We know now that those who are in Christ are those who will receive the gift of eternal life (Acts 2). We are told that whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8), and the reason can be found back in 1 Thessalonians 5. Paul twists together the metaphor of being awake with both being alive and being holy, and the metaphor of sleep with both being dead and being unholy. But whether we live or die, whether we are awake or asleep, let us remain spiritually awake and holy (5:9-10), and when the trumpet call blasts out across the cosmos (4:16), we will be raised or we will be changed. That’s good news.

When I have lost family members or friends, people tried to encourage me with the idea of them partying among the angels, or, less vividly, at perfect peace. Very often, people were saying (without meaning to say it), “If you grieve, you wish your loved ones weren’t happy.” However, 1 Thessalonians 4 says that we will not grieve AS THOSE WHO HAVE NO HOPE. Because we know the reality and pain of death, that those who have died are gone from us in sleep, that death was never meant for any of us but a curse from a fall, that it is an enemy that will be defeated, we can live like Jesus. 

At the grave of our friends and loved ones, we can cry. 

Jesus gets that. 

And then, we can take encouragement in the truth that they will one day hear the call of the trumpet, the voice of the archangel, and their Lord, their Savior and their Friend will pull them out of the grave. 

Death could not hold him. 

Death can not hold our loved ones in Christ. 

And, in Christ, death cannot hold you. 

So let’s trade our euphemisms for the euangelion; 

Trade our “nice words” for the Good News. 

-Jake Ballard

Reflection Questions

  1. Can you think of some euphemisms for death that are not supported by Scripture? Where do those ideas come from?
  2. Why does Paul want to correct ignorance regarding death, resurrection and the return of Jesus? Why does it matter what one believes about these topics?

Destruktion and Sine qua non

Theme Week: Death and the Kingdom – 1 Corinthians 15
Old Testament: 1 Kings 17 & 18
Poetry: Psalm 124

In this devotion I will use words like “philosophical” and “deconstruction” and will even translate a Latin phrase. However, these are not scary concepts, and they are infinitely practical. So please bear with me. This is centrally important.

In our world today, there are many people “deconstructing.” 

“Deconstruction” is a term from Jacques Derrida, a postmodern philosopher, which means, basically, picking apart every idea and belief we have to find the core, deep, central “dialectic”, words that are opposites (e.g., “being” and “nothing”) and hierarchy of ideas (e.g. that “being” is better than “nothing”). In a nutshell, Derrida believed we must pull apart an idea until we see what is at the “bottom”. Derrida believed that at base, every idea had opposing words or thoughts that in turn governed how we thought (like “being” and “nothing” governing our idea of “existence”). He believed these words, in opposition and conflict, were needed to make sense of the world, but we need to be aware of them. 

However, the “Destruktion” of Derrida has changed. 

Today, when people say they are deconstructing, it is almost exclusively of “traditional” Christian values and beliefs. The approach they take to marriage, LGBTQ+ issues, abortion, and other “hot-button” or political topics usually pushes people to reexamine their moral understanding of scripture AND their belief in the factual claims of the Bible. Many have “deconstructed” and no longer believe in large parts of scripture: from famous YouTubers, to our best friends, to some of us reading right now. 


Latin, though a “dead” language, is used a lot to convey ideas that might otherwise be clunky. (e.g., “E.G.” comes from “exempli gratia”, or “for example”, which doesn’t really prove my point , i.e., that Latin helps with clunky phrases (“I.E” stands for “id est” or that is.)) 

Sine qua non” is a phrase that means “without which, nothing”. The sine qua non is the most essential element of any political body, philosophical system, or religious doctrine; if you take away the sine qua non, that thing no longer functions, it ceases to be what it was. 

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul expresses to the Corinthians the sine qua non of Christianity. Paul says that it was of first importance that Christ died for our sins. That he was buried. That he rose. And that he appeared to many disciples. 

However, the rest of the chapter focuses primarily, not on his death, but on the resurrection. Paul indicates a couple things to his readers. 

  1. If there is no resurrection, Christ has not been raised. 
  2. If Christ has not been raised, we misrepresent God, because the Christian faith says God raised him.  
  3. If Christ has not been raised, then we should be pitied above all other people. 

If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and our faith is futile, and we remain in our sins. (v.12, 17) In short, the Resurrection is the sine qua non of the Christian faith. 

Paul is talking to people who were deconstructing. We can almost hear them speaking through the years. “Well, I held to the resurrection for a long time, but I think I have finally given it up. Why believe in something so backwards, so barbaric, so physical? I think it must have been a spiritual raising. Or, possibly, no real resurrection at all, but that the Christ-Spirit that pervades the universe now lives in our hearts.” Paul is saying “you are losing the essential quality of the faith!” This is THE central point!


Today, you or someone you know might be deconstructing for a number of reasons. 

You want “freedom” from the “ancient oppressive norms.”

You want “reality” instead of “naive wish fulfillment.”

You want “truth” rather than “the superstitious ideas of barbaric goat herders.”

But Paul is not claiming that you must believe in oppressive norms that crush the spirit of people, nor is he saying that he believes the reports of people he has never met, nor did he even want Jesus to be raised from the dead. 

Paul, in a book that every scholar agrees comes from his own pen, claimed that he saw the man named Jesus who then changed his life. Then Paul, who had nothing to gain and everything to lose, gave up EVERYTHING, nearly died multiple times, to preach about Jesus to people who would often try to kill him. Paul did this all with sophistication and love that preclude the possibility that he was insane.

The resurrection is a fact. 

Paul is saying that he would like his readers to trust Jesus; not Paul, not the church, Jesus. 

Jesus, the one who gives freedom, because he gives us a new life now and a new life in the world to come. As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 

Jesus, the one who is the bedrock for reality, and the cornerstone of the new kingdom of God. Christ at the end will “reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”

Jesus, the fountain of truth, the one who can say “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”


The Christian faith comes with a lot of question marks.

Those hot buttons issues are *hot* for a reason. 

The Bible *is* frustrating. So many people have claimed it says different things! And when we actually read it, often the Bible tells us that the best way to live is the opposite of the way we are living right now.

  Your questions, your doubts, are pulling at your heart because the world is messy. And dark. I’ve been there too. Where questions and doubt are big, and I feel like I am at the bottom. I look up at the questions wondering “why would I hope? could life get better? wouldn’t it just be better if I wasn’t here?” Too much loss, too much pain, too much death. 

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death”

Paul is not playing at wish fulfillment, norms or superstitions. The Jesus he met, the Jesus Christ-followers met, the Jesus the church has met, has led to the fitting conclusion that “death is swallowed up in victory.” Death is no longer victorious. Death can no longer sting. Because we have been given victory. 

I have been given victory. 

And you have been given victory, if you choose to accept it. 

God is not scared of your questions. He is not scared of your doubts. He is not scared of your failures. 

What God wants to do is to give:

To give you victory that conquers your failures. Yes, you’ll still make mistakes, but always moving closer to God rather than in circles of pain. 

To give you hope, purpose, and passion that will bolster your faith in doubts. You may still ask questions, and you will need other people to sharpen your beliefs, but always moving closer to the God of all comfort.

To give you the Spirit who teachings us all things and guides us into all truth in our questions. You will still have questions but it is no longer the project of deconstruction, of “Destrucktion” where every belief is torn down, but where in the end, they are built anew of Christ the Solid Rock. 

In short, “Thanks be to God, who *gives us the victory* through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

-Jake Ballard

(If you need someone to pray for you today, or to hear your questions and doubts, or to tell you it’s gonna be OK, please consider emailing Jake Ballard ( or text at (937-561-1000), or find him on Facebook ( or Instagram (@jakea.ballard). However, the best thing you can do, is find a local pastor you trust, and speak to them in person. God bless you all.)

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus? If so, why? How would you describe it to someone who has never heard of the resurrection? If not, why not?
  2. If you believe in the resurrection of Jesus, does that prompt you to live your life differently? If so, how?
  3. What is the timeline of events Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 15?
  4. What is the final verse of 1 Corinthians 15 and how can you put it into practice?

A Man Attested by God

THEME WEEK: Death and The Kingdom – Acts 2
Old Testament: 1 Kings 15 & 16
Poetry: Psalm 123

Yesterday, we read about the resurrection of Lazarus. John actually structures the first part of his book (chapters 1-12) around seven signs that Jesus is the Messiah, with the power of raising Lazarus as the seventh. Peter points out that Jesus was attested to the people of Israel by God through those mighty works and wonders and signs. (Acts 2:22) However, while most commentaries talk about the seven signs, I would contend that the resurrection of Jesus himself is the eighth sign of his Messiahship. Acts 2:24 “God raised [Jesus] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

What an amazing verse! Not that Christ could struggle against and eventually overcome death, but that it was not possible for death to hold him. 

What an amazing savior! Christ had every right as the Son of God to rule as king and call upon legions of angels to defend him, but instead he chose to willingly submit himself to the plan of God. 

What an amazing God! God gave us a salvation through the death of Christ that we could never earn, and gave us a hope through the resurrection of Christ that is greater than any we could ever imagine!

Luke wrote Acts based on the eyewitness testimony of those who not only followed Jesus when he was alive, but saw him when he had been raised. God raised up Christ, and all these fishermen and tax collectors and sinners in Acts 2 experience in and participate in the miracle of new life through the Holy Spirit now. Because Christ has been raised to life and is at the right hand of God, we are able to praise him with the Holy Spirit speaking through us, extolling the greatness of our God and his Christ.  

If you want this new life that begins now to continue forever, you need to follow the commands of Peter in Acts 2:38 : “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” “The Spirit marks us as God’s own. We can now be sure that someday we will receive all that God has promised. That will happen after God sets all his people completely free. All these things will bring praise to his glory.” (Ephesians 1:14, NIrV)

What an amazing gift! The Spirit given to us through baptism is the teacher, guide, helper, and empower-er of the people of God so that we can do God’s will in the world. 

What an amazing promise! The Spirit guarantees that we will one day be raised from the dead, like Christ!

What an amazing Spirit, the power of God!

What an amazing Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord!

What an amazing God, The Father of Jesus, YHWH alone!


-Jake Ballard

Reflection Questions

  1. Do we too often forget how amazing God’s plan and his words are? What do you find amazing in Acts 2?
  2. What does it mean to you that Jesus is the Messiah? What does it mean to you that death could not hold him?
  3. What is your hope?

The Dead Don’t Speak, and Their Silence is Deafening

THEME WEEK: Death & the KingdomJohn 11
Old Testament: 1 Kings 13 & 14
Poetry: Psalm 122

“Heaven tourism” is a great money maker. 

Perhaps you’ve never heard the term, but I know you’ve seen the book. Or books.

Don Piper claimed to spend 90 Minutes in Heaven (6 million copies), while Bill Wiese had the greater misfortune of spending 23 Minutes in Hell. (Unfortunately only 1 million copies sold)

Heaven is for Real sold more than 10 million copies by 2014, and it’s movie earned $101 at the box office that same year. 

However, not every book can be a winner. After his story being told by his father in The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, Alex Malarkey denied that he ever went to heaven, that he had any memory of it. He claimed he said those things because it gave him attention. 

For a while in Christian writing, everyone seemed to be claiming that they had had near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, and visited heaven and hell.

I’d like to tell about one of these stories from the Bible. 

I’d like to, but I can’t.

In John 11, Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus, a person who believes (like his sisters Mary and Martha) that Jesus is the Messiah, dies. Jesus goes to Bethany, having already told his disciples that Lazarus was dead and that he was going to bring him back to life. He speaks to the sisters of Lazarus. He weeps over the death of his friend. Then he goes to the tomb. Though Mary protested that they should not remove the stone (“Lord he stinketh” John 11:39 KJV), Jesus told her that if she would believe she would see the glory of God. After declaring the glory of God in prayer, Jesus said “Lazarus, come forth.” And out of the grave came the dead man. They unbind the man so that he can move freely. 

Then Lazarus writes long scrolls called “Four Days in Sheol”, signs a theater deal, and makes hundreds of talents on the royalties. Because if anyone walks through the pearly gates, it’s a personal friend and follower of the Messiah. 

… OR … 

The only other time Lazarus gets mentioned again is in chapter 12 when “the Jews” decide to try and kill Lazarus along with Jesus because Lazarus was a walking, talking, breathing, LIVING reminder of the power of God on display in Jesus Christ. 

Please don’t miss that this is the point of the story! Jesus is not simply a healer, not simply a bringer of resurrection. Jesus is the resurrection himself. 

Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Christ promises those who believe in him that they will live, even though they die. But this resurrection is not taking place now, as if there is some sort of eternally present resurrection. Jesus’ statement that he is the resurrection is made in response to Martha. She had just said to him, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 

What we need to see is that Martha is not wrong. She knew about the timing of the resurrection of every believer; she just didn’t realize the blessing that was about to happen to her. 

If it is true that the dead cannot praise God (Isaiah 38:18), if it is true that there is no work, planning, knowledge, or wisdom in the grave (Ecclesiastes 9:10), then maybe we should take to heart the deafening silence of Lazarus. He didn’t tell us anything because their isn’t anything that we need to know beyond what Jesus has said about himself in this chapter. We shouldn’t be waiting to fly away to glory when this life is over, but instead, we will be raised by the Resurrection and the Life Himself when this age comes to an end. Christ will open the book of life, and if we put our trust and hope in him, he will read our names. 

Now that’s a book worth reading. The Resurrection is For Real. 

-Jake Ballard

Reflection Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you that Jesus IS the resurrection and the life?
  2. Do you have a hope in the resurrection on the last day (of this age) like Martha did? If not, is there more study you can do about this hope – not in heaven tourism books but in God’s book.

Death and the Kingdom : Realism vs. Nihilism

*THEME WEEK: Death & the Kingdom Ecclesiastes 9
Old Testament: 1 Kings 11-12
Poetry: Psalm 121

One artist recently crooned the words “I’m not important and neither are you, so let’s do whatever we wanna do. Bask in our cosmic insignificance, soak up this blip we’re livin’ in, ‘cause nothing matters anyway. Isn’t that great?” He goes on to say “I don’t mean to be a downer. I don’t even think it’s sad.” The idea behind the song is that because nothing we do really matters, we can do whatever we want and know that in the end we haven’t really changed the course of the universe or the planet. It’s a prime example of Generation Z’s gleeful, enthusiastic nihilism. (“Nothing matters, let’s party!”)

Sometimes, we mistakenly read some of the words of the Teacher of Ecclesiastes in the same light. The Teacher’s point in Ecclesiastes is not that everything is meaningless. (Eccl. 1:2) Instead, we should translate the word meaningless differently. If you read Eccl. 1:2, you might read “meaningless”, “pointless”, “vanity”, or “futility”. The Hebrew word behind these translations is “havel/hevel”, which means smoke or vapor; something like the mist of the morning that disappears. It is not necessarily pointless, but transitoryfleetingimpermanent. The real point of Ecclesiastes is in chapter 1, verse 3 : “What does a person gain from all of his labors under the sun?” What lasts? What’s eternal? What is not “hevel”?

In chapter 9, the author makes the sobering and realistic comment that humans, the entire person is “hevel”. Both righteous and wicked, good and evil, all will experience the same life (9:2), a life of a bunch of crazy events, and then death (9:3). The author says it’s better to be alive than dead, and we should eat and drink (9:7), dress in white and take care of our bodies (9:8), and enjoy the people we love (9:9) in response to our view of death. Is the Teacher just as Nihilistic as our Gen. Z artist? Does nothing matter anyway, everything is meaningless, so let’s party as we wring some joy out of it?

NO! “The righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God.”(9:1) Go, eat, drink “for God has already approved what you do.” (9:7) The author of Ecclesiastes gives a spiritual but real view of this world. Spiritual, because God is at the center of the lives of the good, but real because death is the end of the ride here. The dead “know nothing”.(9:5) There is “no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol [that is, the realm of the dead] (9:10). The author is serious about life. It is important to live it well, but also to enjoy it, because whatever death is, it is NOT life. The author of Ecclesiastes doesn’t give us reincarnation, nor does he tell us that we will live in a new world, nor is there any mention of heaven or hell. Death is the end. 

Until it isn’t. Because if the point of Ecclesiastes is “what lasts?” The answer is found in chapter 12. Verses 13-14, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Fearing God, keeping God’s commandments, that is what lasts. And then humans are judged. That every deed is brought into judgement is one of the strongest implications of the future resurrection in the Old Testament. Our lives now, every choice we make, sets us on a path to joy or despair, life or death, seeing the face of God or God turning his face from us. For those who have placed God at the center of their lives, God will approve of what they do.

Humans are hevel, but humans are also the only things that will last. Humans are fleeting and temporary but some, those who follow Jesus the Messiah, the one sent from God, and keep his commandments, will one day be eternal, be those which last

“I’m not important and neither are you.” Yes, we are both hevel and made eternal by grace. 

“So let’s do whatever” God wants us to do. 

“Bask in” love of the Father and the Son. “Soak up” the grace and blessings of the world that we are living in. 

Because, we matter. Infinitely.

Isn’t that great?

-Jake Ballard

Reflection Questions:

  1. How does one’s view of death contribute to their philosophy of and actions in life?
  2. What is the Teacher of Ecclesiastes’ view of death? How is it similar and/or different from yours?

Who’s Your Daddy?

Luke 3

Saturday, December 10, 2022

In today’s reading, the last portion has a major theme : “the son of.” The author guides us from Jesus all the way back to the earliest days of history with “the son of Adam, the son of God.” The names and numbers of generations here differ from the names and numbers in Matthew 1. It seems Matthew was proving a point about the care and concern of God. Luke is being historically accurate. But this really isn’t the point. What’s interesting about Luke 3 is that this theme doesn’t begin in verse 23. Instead, it begins in verse 2, and grows throughout the passage. 

John is the son of Zechariah. (V.2) We all know this. Why does the author repeat it? Because we need to have sons in mind. We know who John’s parents are and where he comes from. In preaching a baptism of repentance, John is calling for a radical life change. A change in both action and status. More on that in a moment. 

In verse 7, John says to his listeners “you brood of vipers.” That is a claim of THEIR parentage, and not a nice one. They were “sons of snakes.” For those who desire to follow John, he calls us to account in how they live. Moreover, John basically explains that he isn’t talking about our physical, biological parents. Having Abraham as your biological ancestor, no matter how good Abraham was, does not mean that a person can escape condemnation. Instead, there needs to be a change in every person’s life. It seems our parentage is determined by how we share our abundance with the less fortunate. Who our “fathers” are is determined by whether we play fairly, by the rules of life and the laws of the land and by finding contentment in our lives. 

In verse 21, Jesus goes to “fulfill all righteousness” by being baptized. In that moment, the Holy Spirit descends and a cloud says “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

A couple thoughts to pull you through the day :

  • Jesus is a real man, with a real family, a real history, who lived in a real time and place. A bunch of names (like at the beginning of the chapter) and a genealogy (like at the end) shouldn’t make us glaze over, but perk up. Luke isn’t trying to confuse his audience. He is situating this story in time and place. This is decidedly not the fairy tale “once upon a time” but something much more like “December 8th, 7pm, in Granger, IN, at Jake’s home, while he types in his pajamas.” These names should ground the story in the real world more. 
  • John calls out his hearers and says “Don’t trust in your parentage.” For me, that hits home. I had believing grandparents on both sides, and a mom and dad who raised me in the church and encouraged me to love God. I can’t ride their coattails. It’s not about what they did, but what I do. But maybe, John’s warning for you could be a word of comfort: nothing that came before holds you back. Did your family not pass on morals, or pass on morals that were detrimental? Did you not know the state of your parents’ souls because you didn’t really know your parents? Do you love your parents but couldn’t imagine living the way they do? Then you are not bound to be like them. We are all called to cast aside our parentage as a source of confidence or weakness, and come before God as ourselves. 
  • John talks about repentance and changing our actions. When we do so, we no longer have snakes for parents. But who is our parent then? I think the hope is what we are introduced to in John 1:12-13 “12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Those who believe in the name of Jesus are able to call God their father. John’s talk of righteousness must be understood in light of Jesus. You are a sinner saved only by grace, and you cannot save yourself. But if you trust in the name of Jesus, you can be saved. This Christmas season, we are reminded of the great and awesome gift of Jesus the Messiah. Do you trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior? If you have, then in response to HIM making you a child of God, you can and must live a righteous life. 
  • In some sense, every human is a children of God. If Adam is “the father of us all”, and he is “the son of God” we are in a sense, children of God. This however, does not mean that every person is saved. If we live like children of the devil, we truly are children of the devil. These are not my words, but the words of Jesus in John 8. This does truly mean that when we hear the statements this time of year about the “brotherhood of man” and “we are all one”, those statements are true. Instead of filling us with warm fuzzies, let it move us to speak to our brothers and sisters about salvation from dead actions, harm and pain to love, grace and hope that can only be found in Christ Jesus. 

May you today, see the reality of Jesus in this Christmas time. 

May you let go of familial pride or shame and come to God only and forever through Jesus. 

May you become what you were meant to be, a son or daughter of God through righteous action and salvation in Jesus, and may you share your salvation with the world. 

So for one final time this season from me :

Merry Christmas!

– Jake Ballard

Jake Ballard is pastor at Timberland Bible Church. If you’d like to hear more from him, you can find Timberland on Facebook ( ) and on Instagram ( The church streams the Worship Gathering every Sunday at 10:30. Besides studying and teaching God’s word, he is raising three beautiful children with the love of his life, loves Christmas, Harry Potter, Christmas, Board Games, and Christmas. He is also going to be teaching New Testament Survey II, which is available from Atlanta Bible College with their ABC4U program ( If you’d like to reach out to talk Bible, talk faith, or talk about your favorite Christmas Song (and why Mariah Carey sings it), look Jacob Ballard up on Facebook ( ) or email him at
God bless you all!

Reflection Questions

  1. What do you think John may have learned from his father Zechariah, whom we met back in Luke 1?
  2. Look again at John’s message in Luke 3, what do you think he might tell you if you asked him the same question the crowd, tax collectors and soldiers asked, “What shall we do?”
  3. Do you see yourself as a child of God? Why or why not? What does it mean to be a child of God? What privileges and responsibilities come with the position?

Unexpected Moments

Luke 2

Friday, December 9, 2022

Sheep are stinky. 

Consequently, shepherds stink. 

Tending sheep, especially overnight, was a pretty thankless job, and took a toll on a lot of those who did it. Shepherds were not very well thought of by those who had more respectable agrarian jobs, or those who worked in the city. 

But God chose them to be the first ones to know the messiah is born. They saw him in the manger after the angels made their Christmas announcement!

Old people who spend their days alone can sometimes be weird. 

In fact, some of the best people are the old weird people who spend most of their time in prayer to God. The family of Jesus are accosted when they take him to be consecrated on the eighth day. Simeon and Anna may have been well respected, but they were still both older, and both a little weird. 

But God chose them to be among the first to share the message of the Messiah. They spoke the message, Simeon ready for death, knowing the Messiah had come!

The story of Jesus is full of unexpected moments like this. You didn’t see shepherds shouting out with joy, speaking to all who would listen. You didn’t see Simeon and Anna stopping families to talk on the way to the temple. You didn’t see a twelve year old boy going toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow with the religious scholars of the day. 

But God chose these moments, these people, these places, to give us a clue that in the rest of Luke we’re going to see unexpected moments. 

With the familiarity of the passage at Christmas, it may seem common place. But as you read Luke 2 today, remind yourself again just how radical *and strange* the birth of Christ was. May you find comfort in the fact that no matter if you are





Or even stinky

God is choosing you to believe in Christ this Christmas. It is up to you to choose to believe. 

-Jake Ballard

Reflection Questions

  1. What do you find most surprising in Luke 2?
  2. Do you believe in Christ? How will that change your day, season and life?


Luke 1

Thursday, December 8, 2022

I love Christmas. 

Does that really need an explanation? What’s not to love about a time of year where we get to celebrate Jesus? Celebrate the Messiah who is and brings us hope, peace, joy, and love? Celebrate with cookies and pies and presents and parties? It is a joyous time of year, both for the cultural wrappings and baggage, (which is fine*!) but also for the Church traditions, teachings, giving, serving, and singing! 

The story of the birth of Christ, however, doesn’t begin in the Hill Country of Judea, as much as Linus from  A Charlie Brown Christmas would have you believe. Instead, Luke, author of the most chronologically accurate account of the life of Christ**, brings us farther back than Matthew, and tells us about the announcements of coming births of John and Jesus to their respective mothers. 

To be fair, today’s reading is 80 verses long! That’s long! I want to give you rapid fire thoughts and questions as the devotion for today:

Theophilus means in Greek “Friend of God.” While there may have been a person who commissioned the work from Luke, it could also be a title. Are you the friend of God to whom Luke is writing? Do you need to hear an accurate, orderly account of the life of Jesus to know with certainty the things you have been taught?

Both Zechariah and Mary respond to Gabriel, the messenger angel, with a similar question: How can this be? However, there are a few differences. Zechariah is a older man, a husband, a priest, that is a leader of the people, working in the temple. Mary is a young woman, unmarried,  virginal, still probably in the house of her mother and father until her time to be wed to Joseph had come. Gabriel (but really, God) expected Zechariah to comply, to say “Lord I believe” and to follow through on the promise of God. Mary growing up in an agrarian society, would know that in her current state, babies would be impossible to come by. 

When God announces his plan to you, do you trust that he will follow through? How much of him have you seen? Are you overlooking miracles? However, know that he isn’t mad when you ask him how to accomplish the (what appears to be) impossible. You too may just need the Holy Spirit to do the impossible. Are you willing to say “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled”?

A quick note, without a question, is that John, in the womb of Elizabeth, responded to the Messiah. Elizabeth thinks her baby is a person before he is born. 

Final thought – Both Mary and Zechariah sing their joy to God. Take some time today and ponder what song you would sing if you could sing it. The lyrics don’t have to be perfect or rhyme. Their doesn’t need to be a meter, or pitch. But what would you sing to God to give him glory? Or, find a song that shares your heart, and sing that to God, thinking of all the blessings he has given you. 

No matter the song in your heart, starting today, have yourself a merry little Christmas now. 

-Jake Ballard

* The wise men weren’t at the manger, but that’s OK! Use that to teach people about Jesus!

**In the author’s correct and very humble opinion.


See Above!

My Favorite Verses

Revelation 21

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

I am very much into reading the Bible literately; that is, as the literature of the book dictates. The Gospels demand to be read literally: Jesus did not convince people to share their food, but multiplied the fish and the loaves on two separate occasions. However, poems and parables are full of symbolic imagery; no one should say that Jesus meant the rocks would ACTUALLY sing (though he could make them) or that the trees have hands or that the mountains have throats. (Isaiah 55:12) 

Revelation is Apocalyptic literature, meaning it is full of metaphor and symbolism. A dragon chases a woman into the wilderness when the women instantly grows wings and flies off to safety… we aren’t seeing something that will play out *literally*. Be assured, poetic imagery is just as true as “literal history”. God wins… that’s not a metaphor nor a feeling, but a fact. But there won’t be a woman on a beast, but a city full of imperial power eaten by her own pride,  gluttony, lust, and sin.

We can see the metaphor and symbolism in the last 2/3 of the chapter this morning. The city has twelve gates, twelves angels, twelve tribes, twelve foundation stones, each a different costly stone, twelve apostles. The city is a cube, 1200 stadia (in the Greek) long, wide, and tall. The walls are 144 cubits thick. Notice how often twelve is used! Even the length is 12*1000 and the thickness is 12*12! How should we read and interpret the clear metaphor and symbolism we see in the last part of Revelation 21 could be an interesting puzzle. 

However, that’s not the most important thing. Moreover, it’s not my favorite verse in the Bible. 

Revelation 21:1-8 does not produce in me a desire to pick apart metaphor and symbolism. I readily admit that I am constantly trying to understand the Bible based on genre, but I can’t help but read 21:1-8, as not only a literal description of the beginning of forever, but I lose any “objectivity” and place myself in the text. I see the brilliant shining holy city of God, the promised home for all believers, big enough to fit us all, dead and living, coming down from heaven. A loud voice calls out that we are promised that God will be with us, be our God, we his people, and he will dwell among us. I watch as God himself, with something like the hands of a father who has worked in a field, radiating strength, calloused from work, yet gentle to touch his child, reaches out, and he cups my head in his hands. He uses his thumb to wipe the tears (of joy? Sorrow? Relief?) from my eyes. He pulls me into a hug.

I am home at long last. 

While I encourage you to study and understand the Bible always, to question it and pull at it, because it is strong enough for our hardest probing because the truth has nothing to fear… I want you to believe it’s true. It is true that God will take the time to wipe our tears away. Mine, yours, and all those who believed, from the distant past to the far future. The resurrection will lead to life eternal, and we will drink from the spring of the water of life. I will be with my Father, because God will be my God and I will be his son. But I will also be with my father, my mother, my grandparents, those who have been with me along this journey of life but have died. And the entire family of God will be raised to life, all those who have been faithful. One day, death, mourning, crying, and pain will be no more. There is a new order of things; all is life, joy, shouting, and pleasure!

“East Wall, Middle Gate.” 

I have a good friend whose family and friends know that this is the meeting place in the New Jerusalem. What a powerful way to believe in the truth of Revelation. That’s the kind of faith my favorite verses in the Bible should engender in us. We are so confident in the love, power, and promises of God we have a plan to meet as a family (all of us brothers and sisters) in the new Jerusalem. 

May your faith never waver, may your hope never falter, and may you stand among those who have overcome in the new heavens and new earth. 

See you at the East Wall, Middle Gate.

-Jake Ballard

Reflection Questions

  1. Revelation is a hard book. Sometimes, when trying to figure a book out, we can forget to read the message. How can you live into the truth of Revelation today? Instead of trying to figure it out, how can you rest secure in the knowledge that one day God will fulfill all his promises and all things will be made new?
  2. Do you have a favorite verse of the Bible? How does it help you grow in faith? Ask God to put someone in your path who needs the message in your favorite Bible verse and then share it with them when God puts them in your path. 

God wins.

Revelation 20

Monday, December 5, 2022

The title of this post is unassuming. Two words: a noun, the subject, and a verb in the future tense. 

I am in the business of speaking, teaching, training, sermonizing. And sometimes (less often than I’d like to admit) I may have a sermon that God uses in spite of all my failures and faults. But if I were to have all the power of the greatest speakers, the powerful conviction of Billy Graham, the clarity and precision of Andy Stanley, the dedication of pastors from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr. and beyond, more than a thousand eloquent sermons could not compare to the truth of the future of the world summed up in these two words. 

God wins. 

I don’t want to take away from that truth, but I do want to flesh it out a bit. 

In the earlier parts of Revelation, the beheaded souls have been calling out from beyond the grave to the God who will give them justice (Rev. 6:9-11). God promised the victors that they would have reward upon reward (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21). When God wins, those who placed faith in God above even their own lives have the incredible promises. For time out of mind (1000 years) they will reign with Christ, they will not be hurt by the second death. While the language of two resurrections is not common in the rest of the NT*, the truth is that they are SO ASSURED of their salvation its as if they cannot possibly be brought to judgment. The joy of this resurrection is that we who are powerless, weak, poor, and oppressed will one day win, be victorious and live forever with God and his Christ, because God wins. 

And Satan can’t win. The dragon’s wings are clipped, and the serpentine body is prepared for the flames. In this world, God has power to throw the serpent of old, the devil and Satan, and bind him for 1000 years. During that time, his temptation and power are cast down. In the end, the devil who deceived the world was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone. This is a threat and a promise. Moreover, Satan KNOWS this is his end. The battle between God and Satan is not a cinematic, climactic masterpiece. There is no worry about who will win. Satan is not trying to win, because he can’t. He IS trying to make YOU LOSE, because that is a possibility. But God will help you overcome sin, fight temptation, and come through faithful. God can protect you from the defanged, declawed, clipped-wing dragon, because God wins. 

In some sense, part of the glory of God, part of his winning, is allowing humans to choose their outcomes. God allows people to determine their final state. While we are only and forever able to be saved by the glory and grace of God, God both does not force his salvific will upon us and does not preclude us from choosing him. God gives people what they desire. The books are opened; the dead are judged. Christ is our hope (Col. 1:27), our peace (Eph. 2:14), our resurrection and life (John 11:25). If any person has rejected Christ, what have they done but rejected peace with God and people? Rejected hope of eternal life? Rejected the resurrection and the life? God gives them exactly what they demanded. God doesn’t put up with those who were rebellious against him in this life. Because…

God wins.

No ifs, ands, buts. 

No amount of persuasive words will make it less true. 

No force of hell can stop Him, not a dragon or an atheist. 

The promise is true:

God wins. 

– Jake Ballard.

* There are hints of two resurrections in the rest of the NT, but nowhere is it explicitly stated like here in the apocalyptic work of Revelation. 

Reflection Questions

  1. How significant is the phrase “God wins” to you? To elaborate, in what areas of your life are you losing? Temptation and sin? Suffering and pain? Anxiety, depression, stress? What would it mean for you to stop trying to fix it all yourself, and let God win, allowing him to be victorious where you haven’t been yourself?
  2. In the ultimate sense, Satan is powerless. While we might be attacked, tormented, and tempted by evil today, that is not the way the world will be forever. How does it make you feel to know that all evil and wickedness are going to be overcome by the power of God? Will you allow God to protect you, so the battle is one-sided in your favor today?
  3. There is no peace, hope, resurrection or life without Christ. Have you given him control of your life, allowing him to be your savior and lord?
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