Pay Attention!

Revelation 2

When John begins to explain the revelation that he has received, he writes 7 letters to churches in Asia minor (modern day Turkey). As we read 4 of the 7 letters, we can notice that each letter contains the same important exhortation: “Anyone who has an ear had better listen to what the Spirit says to the congregations!” (vv. 7, 11, 17, 29). This is John’s way of saying “Pay attention!” While each one of his letters is not lengthy or full of details, they are nonetheless very specific about what they address.

In 3 of the 4 letters, John brings a harsh criticism against the congregation to whom he is writing. These criticisms are prefaced with a phrase such as “But I have this against you” (vv. 4, 14, 20). Only Smyrna is spared this criticism. It seems that there is something about the church in Smyrna that didn’t deserve the type of correction that the other churches received.

The message that John gives to the church in Smyrna is one of encouragement to endure through the persecution and suffering they were experiencing. One of the reasons that they were suffering was because other people were speaking evil of them. And apparently, it was going to get worse, so much so that some of them were going to be thrown in prison. But they were promised that if they would endure and be “faithful to death,” that they would receive the “crown of life” (v. 10).

What we can apply to our own lives from John’s encouragement to the church in Smyrna is the importance of remaining faithful to the Lord. While we may never face persecution and death in the way that they did, we each have been or will be at some point in our lives the object of another person’s evil words concerning our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though the ways in which we will suffer for our faith will differ, the reward that we all will receive is the same—the crown of life!

No trial is too small and no task too trivial to consider it worthy to endure for the sake of our Lord. We must always desire to honor him through every day and season of life no matter what may come, knowing that it is before him that we will stand one day judged for everything we have said and done.

-Jerry Wierwille

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Amos 3-4 and Revelation 2

Blessed is the One who Reads…

Revelation 1

When it comes to the book of Revelation, the reader must recognize that the literary form of apocalypse is vastly different than the NT Letters, Gospels, or Acts. It is challenging to read but also rewarding. It sparks the readers imagination with vivid images and poetic expressions that are full of symbolism and meaning.

Just reading the opening part of the book brings an awareness of how powerful and deep this writing is. But the richness of the text can be difficult to understand. Revelation is a book that rewards those who faithfully and humbly seek to grasp its meaning. And as we learn and grow in the Scriptures, different aspects of the text will become more easily perceived and understood. But it requires patience and persistence. We mustn’t give up if we find the text to be complicated or even confusing. Apocalypse is not meant to be readily apprehended upon the first reading. But as the reader continues to meditate upon the words and expand their scope of biblical understanding, deeper levels of comprehension will gradually surface.

In the opening chapter, John describes the beginning of his vision that he received from the Lord. There are some things in life that upon experiencing them are so overwhelming that we are helpless to do anything. This is the way John depicts his response upon seeing the Lord in the vision. The Lord is painted in highly figurative language that is awe inspiring and truly incredible.

“And his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow, and his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15and his feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and his voice as the sound of many waters. 16And he had in his right hand seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp two-edged broadsword, and his face was like the sun shining in its full strength” (vv. 14-16).

John’s response was to fall down “as one dead” (v. 17). What a tremendous picture of the power and majesty of the Lord. When beholding the king of all kings, John is stunned by the visual appearance of Jesus. Can you imagine if you were standing before a figure that is described with the features that we read about? Who would not tremble at the feet of this Living One who was dead but is now alive forever?

I will leave you with the words that John expressed early on before delving into his vision, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of the prophecy, and those who hear and keep the things that are written in it, for the time is near” (v. 3). Amen.

-Jerry Wierwille

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Amos 1-2 and Revelation 1

Contend for the Faith

Jude 1

While some NT letters can be encouraging and uplifting, other letters contain harsh criticism or reproof by the writer. Even though it was Jude’s original intention to write about the joint salvation that he and all God’s people share, he felt he needed to turn his attention and exhort his readers “to contend for the faith that was delivered to the holy ones once for all” (v. 3).

We can all probably think of a time in our life when we needed to be told what to do or why we should be doing something. That is essentially what Jude is doing here. He offers examples from people in the past whose ungodliness or rebellion were deserving of punishment, and then he also warns of present people among his readers who “nurture only themselves without fear” that are also deserving of God’s judgment. He reassures them that there is nothing unusual happening among them, and that even the Lord Jesus Christ predicted through the apostles that “in the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires” (v. 18).

False teachers abound in the world, and just as there were people in the past who opposed God and followed their own ungodly desires, there will always continue to be such people who work against the purposes of God. Given this fact, Jude exhorts his readers to “build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the holy spirit,” and as they do this, they are to keep themselves in the love of God (vv. 20-21).

This is the way that Jude encourages us to “contend for the faith.” We must continue to build ourselves up and become strong in the faith and to pray in the holy spirit so that we are not shaken by people who create divisions or who utter arrogant words and flattering speech for their own advantage. By being confident in our faith we will be strong in the Lord without doubting, ready to “save others by snatching them from the fire” (v. 23).

The world is a dark place and evil seems to be rampant, and it will continue to be that way until the day that we stand in the presence of our God, blameless and with great joy. Until then, we must fight the good fight and be on guard for those who want to “turn the grace of our God” (v. 4) into unrighteousness and immoral behavior.

-Jerry Wierwille

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Joel 1-3 and Jude 1

In a Manner Worthy of God

3 John 1

In his final letter, John again expresses the joy he has knowing that young believers (“my children”) are “walking in the truth.” It is an important truth that godly parents want to see their children also pursuing the things of God. When we are young, we may think of all the accomplishments we could do in school, in sports, or in other extracurricular activities, but none of that can measure up to how proud a parent is when we do what pleases the Lord. We may not think that such things are all that meaningful when we are young compared to achieving awards, getting good grades, or winning a championship, but children who obey the Lord bring greater joy to their parents than all their other successes combined.

Another main point that John raises in his letter is the importance of hospitality, especially when it involves fellow believers. He instructs Gaius to continue to do what is “faithful” for the brothers and sisters, “even when they are strangers.” We don’t need to know who someone is in great detail before we offer them food, shelter, or aid. Christian believers should be apt to show hospitality to all people, but especially to those from the household of faith, even if they are strangers.

To be generous and hospitable toward someone whom you do not know and who is not able to repay you is a sincere demonstration of love. My father used to always say that I should leave someone better than when I found them, and I believe that is what John is expressing when he tells Gaius that he will “do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.” That means giving them the best treatment and going to the furthest extent possible to assist them and prepare them for whatever comes next for them.

Whether it is giving someone a ride somewhere, dropping off a home-cooked meal, or helping with homework or other assignments and projects, no matter what it is, if we do it wholeheartedly as if we were serving the Lord Christ, then we can be confident that we will be sending our fellow brother or sister on their way “in a manner worthy of God.”

-Jerry Wierwille

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Hosea 12-14 and 3 John 1

Walking in the Truth

2 John 1

John writes about those who have “come to know the truth” and that he is rejoicing to see some young family members “walking in the truth” (vv. 1, 4).  This “truth” is not some list of doctrines or deep theology but a simple commandment: “that we love one another” (v. 5). Sometimes we can overcomplicate the “truth.” Now don’t misunderstand John; the truth in Scripture is very deep and has many levels. It is not merely comprised of this one commandment. We might say that whatever Scripture reveals on any subject can be constituted as “truth.”

As John wrote about in his previous letter (cf. 1 John 5), biblically speaking love is not predominantly this passionate emotion of desire as some might think of it. Rather, the love that John is talking about is intricately bound together with obedience. And therefore, this is why he says, “And this is love: that we walk according to his commandments” (v. 6).

Why is this so important to John that he is reiterating it again here in his 2nd letter? The reason is likely part of his subsequent warning about the “many deceivers” who are in the world (v. 7). There are many forces at work in the world vying for our attention and our devotion. John raises the danger about these “deceivers” and how they can lead someone astray from the truth, for he declares that “everyone who goes too far and does not remain in the teaching about Christ does not have God (v. 9).

We need to be aware and watch ourselves concerning those who do not “bring the teaching about Christ.” John is very stern about not entertaining deceivers in our homes. The adversary works in subtle ways and sometimes these deceptive influences can come from unlikely places and people who may not even be consciously or intentionally opposing God and the teaching about Christ, but nonetheless are stealthily subverting the message of the good news with criticism, skepticism, or mockery.

Let us be careful to recognize these evil works and not lose our focus on living according to God’s commandments.

-Jerry Wierwille

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Hosea 9-11 and 2 John

What is Love?

I John 5

Our parents are a very important part of our lives, and it is a blessing to have earthly parents who are godly and care for us. But not everyone has such parents. Nevertheless, John says that everyone who “believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (v. 1). The greatness of that reality cannot fully be expressed in word. Figuratively, God has “given birth” to us as a parent gives birth to children. God is now our parent! And he is unlike any earthly parent. And since we have been born into God’s family, we are to love all of God’s children, for they are our brothers and sisters.

But what does it mean to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord? As John states, it is “when we love God and obey his commandments” (v. 2). What this means is that our expression of love within God’s family stems first and foremost from our love for God and our willingness to submit to his authority and obey his commandments. That might not be the way that some of us look at what it means to “love” one another perhaps because we have contrived an idea of what love means from our culture rather than from Scripture.

There’s no question about it, John gives us a clear definition: the love of God is that “we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome” (v. 3). Certainly, to love God entails many of the things we conceive of when we think about what it means to “love.” In his letter to the Colossians, Paul gives us a list of the commandments of God that we are to obey as his children:

…but now you too must put away all these things: anger, rage, malice, defaming speech, obscene talk out of your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, since you have stripped off the old self with its practices….12Therefore, as God’s holy and beloved chosen ones, put on bowels of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience; 13bearing with one another and forgiving each other, if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord forgave you, so you also must forgive.” (Col 3:8-9, 12-13)

Many of these behaviors probably fit into our box of what “love” looks like, but our world is filled with contradictions and disagreements about how to practice it.

But John reassures us that we need not succumb to the pressures of the world when it comes to how to love, for as God’s children, we have overcome the world through our faith in Jesus, the Son of God (v. 5). Let us live with love that comes from a heart of obedience that is willing to surrender our desires to the Creator, knowing that if we love him properly, then we will love each other as well.

-Jerry Wierwille

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Hosea 7-8 and 1 John 5

Sinking in Our Circumstances

matt 14 27

Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

After sending his disciples into the boat to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and after dismissing the crowds, Jesus goes up onto the mountain alone to pray (vv. 22-23). The disciples were attempting to sail across the sea but were having trouble because they were facing a head wind and waves (v. 24). In the “fourth” watch, which corresponds to our 3-6am, Jesus came walking to the disciples on the water (v. 25). This is Roman reckoning of time as they divided the night (6pm-6am) into four watches while the Jews divided it into only three. As the scene is set, it is the middle of the night and the disciples are in the middle of the sea, and Jesus comes walking on water in the middle of the storm.

The terror of the disciples is immediately noted as they thought Jesus was a “ghost,” meaning an “apparition” (v. 26) The Master speaks calmly to them and reassures them that it is indeed he who they are seeing (v. 27). Peter, wanting to know if it truly was the Lord, requests that he be allowed to join Jesus upon the water (v. 28). Jesus’ simple response indicates the simplicity of the request: “Come” (v. 29). However, once outside the boat, Peter’s perception of the wind and the waves caused him to falter in his confidence and desperately cried out for the Lord to help him (v. 30). Jesus reached out his hand and picked Peter up, entered the boat, and calmed the storm (vv. 31-32).

What is surprising is that Jesus reached out his hand to help his sinking disciple rather than giving him verbal exhortation or encouragement. Jesus’ address to Peter comes in the form: “O you of little faith” (v. 31). What we see in this record is Peter allowing the surrounding circumstances to affect him and his focus upon the Lord. Peter exited the boat and began to walk toward Jesus. But when he looked around and saw the wind and the waves, his progress was impeded, for he began to sink.

I think that this illustration is quite comparable to what we encounter in our lives. We have our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and are serving him in the kingdom, but at times we look around and become more focused on what is happening around us and allow that to affect our perception of ourselves so that we begin to sink. We lack that confidence and assurance that we once had as we were walking toward the Lord. But the good news is that the Lord has not left us helpless and is not far from us. He will reach down and help us if we will but call out to him. Jesus isn’t looking for perfect disciples, but faithful followers. And faithfulness means a continued reliance and trust in the one who we call our Master.

-Jerry Weirwille

The Kingdom Treasure

Matt 13_44

Matthew 13:44-46

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

In this section of the Gospel (13:44-49), Jesus presents three parables that deal with the kingdom. All of them begin with “the kingdom of heaven is like….” But the first two deal with the value of the kingdom (vv. 44-46), while the last one deals with the judgment that will happen at the end of the age (vv. 47-49). Let’s focus on the first two that describe the value of the kingdom.

First, the kingdom of heaven is like “treasure hidden in a field” (v. 44). In the biblical times, there were no such things as safety deposit boxes. People would hide their wealth in the ground by digging a hole and burying it. In the parable of the talents, this is what the individual who received one talent did (cf. 25:25).

Jesus describes the kingdom as “treasure” that has been buried in a field, but which was discovered by someone and then “covered [back] up.” The person who discovered the treasure, reburied the treasure. That seems odd. Why didn’t he or she just keep the treasure they discovered? To make a long explanation shorter, the owner of a property owned everything both on top of and within the ground of the property. So in order to legally claim the treasure, the person had to buy the land. But Jesus’ point is not this technicality. His emphasis is upon the value the person estimated the “treasure” to be worth. The person sold “all that he has” in order to buy the field (v. 44). The man was filled with “joy” and because of the recognition of the treasure’s value, the person deemed it worth more than all their other wealth combined.

In the next parable, Jesus uses the imagery of commerce with a merchant who found a “fine pearl” (v. 45). In the biblical culture, “pearls” were among the most prized jewelry since they were very rare (no scuba equipment yet to dive deep enough to easily capture oysters…lol). And like the person in the previous parable who found buried treasure, the merchant also esteemed the pearl to be more valuable than all his or her other possessions. Therefore, the merchant sold everything he owned in order to buy the one pearl (v. 46).

Ok. So we get that Jesus is driving home the point about how valuable the kingdom is. But I think what is most important about these parables is the attitude depicted by the two individuals who were willing to get rid of everything else they had in order to obtain this one precious item. I sometimes wonder if I have that attitude. Intellectually, I can rationalize why it is completely true. But practically speaking, I think about whether my life truly reflects that disposition in my heart. Do I see the kingdom as the “hidden treasure” or the “fine pearl”? Am I willing to forsake all else in order to seek the kingdom?

Obviously, the parables are a hyperbole for emphasis as Jesus is not literally instructing his disciples to dispose of all their physical wealth and belongings. Rather, Jesus is touching on the attitude of one’s heart. Where do we prize the value of the kingdom in our life? Have we put anything else in front of it and added the kingdom on to the side of our pursuits in life.

Let’s not forget Jesus words: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (6:33).

-Jerry Wierwille

How to Find Life

Matt 10 38

Matthew 10:37-39

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

After commissioning the twelve apostles, Jesus proceeds to teach them about what this commissioning entails. First, they will be persecuted (vv. 16-25), but they don’t need to be afraid because God will be with them and cares for them (vv. 26-31). Then comes a section that deals with the seriousness of the need to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, which can be a controversial subject (vv. 32-39). Jesus says that he did not come to bring peace but a sword (v. 34). This proclamation is not Jesus’ war cry as though his intention is to bring violence, but rather, it reveals that Jesus recognizes and discloses that he will be a point of contention and disagreement for many people. In other words, the truth that Jesus came to bring (and which he represents) will inevitably cause disunity and conflict.

It is on the heels of this declaration by Jesus that we read of the even more severe nature of this conflict—it may happen even within one’s own family. Jesus assumes the natural love of one’s family as a premise and then moves to identify that as a lesser priority in life than love for him. When he says that a person who loves him less than their family is “not worthy” of me (v. 37), he is making a value claim upon himself as more important than them. To be “worthy of me” means to “be fit to be a disciple.” It is important to clarify that Jesus is not advocating that his disciples not love their families. Instead, he is simply stipulating that the value attachment of a person to their family must not exceed their value attachment to him. To be Jesus’ disciple is to prize him above even one’s own flesh and blood.

The implications of this statement are far reaching. Who would say that loving a brother, sister, child, or parent should be subservient to the love of another? But this is precisely the demand that Jesus is making of his disciples. It is a declaration of discipleship that calls for absolute devotion. This extreme requirement is extended as Jesus also says that those who would follow him must “take [up] their cross” (v. 38). This is an expression referring to being willing to self-identify and endure the shame and suffering of one who is crucified.

Jesus elaborates by uttering one of the most interesting paradoxes: Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (v. 39). In essence, Jesus is saying that the life that matters is the life that is lived for the sake of Christ. To take the road of self-denial and live for something other than one’s self is to “find life.”

From these three criteria of discipleship, where do we find ourselves? Are we willing to follow Jesus no matter what? Does our love for him exceed our love for anything else? Are we willing to take up our cross? Are we will to die to self in order to find that which may truly be called “life”? Such a price is the price of being a disciple. Are we willing to pay that price? What might be stopping us from wholehearted devotion and service to the Master?

-Jerry Wierwille

 

Love Reaches Out

Matt 9 36

Matthew 9:10-13

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The scene that is set in this passage is one that is conspicuous in light of Jewish practices and expectations. The customary expression “behold” is used to invite the reader to give careful attention to what follows. Jesus is described as “reclining” with “many tax collectors and sinners” (v. 10). This is quite unusual from a Jewish perspective for a respectable rabbi like Jesus. A meal where an honored Jewish guest like Jesus was attending would not be typically filled with company of such disreputable people. Eating with “tax collectors and sinners” (who were considered unclean) was an outrageous occasion from a Pharisee’s perspective. But that is exactly the point that is being made—Jesus is unlike the Pharisees. A Pharisee wouldn’t be caught dead eating with these people, but Jesus is making a statement about the difference in character between him and the Pharisees.

Jesus uses the metaphor of being “sick” as a way to address the tax collectors and sinners (v. 12). The Pharisees were concerned with staying away from those they deemed “sick,” while Jesus demonstrates a deep concern for them. However, his desire to help those who are “sick” is taken as his approval of their lifestyle and condoning of their “sickness.” But this is exactly the opposite of Jesus’ intention. In a sharp rebuke, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Go and learn” what it means when God said through the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (v. 13; cf. Hos 6:6).

The prophet Hosea was seeking to exhort God’s people to show love and kindness. He described the superficial and hypocritical love of God’s people as being like “a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hos 6:4). Jesus was telling the Pharisees that they were being like the people of Israel that Hosea was criticizing. Jesus was modeling how to show mercy and compassion for the outcasts of society rather than how the Pharisees who were demonstrating outright rejection and criticism of them.

What does Jesus’ actions indicate and how can we too model this love and compassion for sinners? What this passage indicates is that the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and their blatant disregard for those in need of help is completely contrary to the love of God that Jesus is demonstrating by coming into the “sick” and tending to them and helping them. Those who are lost do not receive help by having a finger pointed at them. Rather, they are cared for when the value of their life is acknowledged. Love doesn’t default to protecting one’s self-image or with being concerned with what other people think. Love reaches out and shows how God desires to draw a person close to him and to restore them and heal.

If we truly grasp why Jesus would be helping the “sick” and risking the judgment and harassment from the Pharisees, maybe we can understand a little better how to form a Christ-like mindset for reaching the world the way that Jesus did…starting with showing “mercy.”

-Jerry Wierwille

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