Jan 202018
 

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Jan 202018
 

Revelation 2:8-11

To the Church in Smyrna

  • The city of Smyrna had a well known stadium – that is never good news to the Christians.
  • The city also had a very large Jewish population.
  • Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna and was persecuted and killed for his faith in Christ. All that was asked of him was to take the oath that Caesar is lord, curse Christ and he would be released, His famous calm reply was, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” And he was put to death.
  • The point? – John is writing these letters and this book to them to tell them what they will be going through – what the church will be going through – then and today.
  • This is the shortest letter to the seven churches.

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

  • So we know the speaker is Jesus – as he is in all 7 of the letters. The description comes from 1:17 – Jesus is the first and the last – eternal and unchangeable. Hebrews 13:8
  • With each description we are hearing from Jesus. Luke 10:16 = “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
  • When Jesus speaks, it is important that we listen. How Jesus describes himself sets the tone of the letter.
  • If Jesus speaks of himself as dying and coming back to life, what does that convey – what does that make you think?
  • Is it a scary picture, is it a comforting one? Is it encouraging? What does it do?
  • For those in Smyrna facing death, this should be offering hope and comfort – Jesus died and Jesus came back.

“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

  • We heard from John in Rev 1:9 about his tribulation – a shared tribulation.
  • Now Jesus recognizes the tribulation of the church.
  • Poverty – now it is possible that the Christians were just poor, or perhaps their exclusive message about Jesus got them shut out of the local economy.
  • We could also be speaking of poverty in the spiritual sense which would match up with the (but you are rich) comment – rich in the eternal spiritual sense.
  • Jews who “are not”. – What did Paul say in Rom 9:6-8
  • Jesus, a Jew himself likens unbelieving Jews to the followers of Satan. Does this sound familiar? John 8 telling the Jews that their Father was really the devil. And who were these Jews? John 8:31”the Jews who had believed him”
  • But know this, all unbelievers are the enemy of God and all are of the synagogue of Satan.

10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

  • Note that Jesus tells them the future they face – note also that he does not say he will rescue them from this – in fact Jesus delivers the news that they will be executed (“be faithful unto death”). Jesus tells them how to stand.
  • Jesus comforts for coming suffering – there is a coming suffering.
  • What is the comfort? “Do not fear” – do not be afraid. We saw this with Jesus with his disciples in the storm tossed boat – Matt 14:27 and with the 3 disciples on the Mount of Transfigurations – Matt 17:7
  • The devil cannot touch Jesus, so he goes after those Jesus loves. Whether it is the Jews or the Romans, who toss you into prison, just recognize who it really is. Who is our fight against? Ephesians 6:12
  • Do we understand what is meant by “Do not fear”? Read Luke 12:4-7
  • 10 days is a symbolic number and it equals a short period of time – just as in Rev 20 1,000 years equals a long period of time. If it were a literal number then what is the big deal – anyone can handle 10 days in jail.
  • Whatever the actual length, it is a set time known to God.
  • “That you may be tested” – this is really a gospel statement because it is not just suffering for suffering sake.
  • “Be faithful …” What is the goal? What are the marching orders for this church? Be faithful until the end – persevere to the end – run the race until the end and receive your reward.
  • The crown of life = a crown of thorns? That was the crown Jesus wore.
  • This is not the plan for success, but the plan to be faithful – on the surface the cross was not a success.

11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

  • The pattern is repeated – he who has an ear. Note that the messages of Jesus are spoken to two different audiences (1) he who has an ear and (2) to those who do not have an ear.
  • Those willing to listen and those who will not. Those willing to listen are those who “have and ear” and obviously those who do not listen do not.
  • The 2nd death = the end of grace for the unbeliever.
  • These gifts are not specific to the individual churches. You do not try to pass the Ephesus challenge to receive the tree of life and then move on to the Smyrna challenge conquer the 2nd death and then move on to…
  • When you conquer, when you remain faithful, you get them all.

So what have we seen?

  • The church of Smyrna seems to have been persecuted heavily but remained faithful. For this, they received only blessings from Jesus and no condemnation. They do not receive any negative words about any apparent weakness in their devotion, theology, worship, love, or service.
  • This letter is filled with paradoxes. The believers in Smyrna are said to be poor yet rich. The opposition claims to be faithful Jews but were not. The path to a victor’s crown lies in death and is guaranteed by the eternal one who died.
Jan 192018
 


They’re calling it the “Minnesota Miracle”

If you aren’t a football fan, what happened is this.

The Vikings were trailing the Saints in a playoff game with only ten seconds remaining.

The game was, for all intents and purposes, over.

It was going to be another crushing defeat for a team that has seemed to specialize in crushing defeats over it’s history.

Then what you see in the video happened.

Another defeat became one of the most unexpected victories in NFL history.

Adam Thielen of the Vikings said “that’s a God thing right there”…

Now, I don’t know if God is a Vikings fan (He hasn’t demonstrated such in the past) but Thielen has a point.

It’s a God thing to turn a history of defeat into blessing and victory.

Now, I am a lifelong fan of the Vikings.

Thus, I spent the week before this game accepting the fact that something bad would happen and losing was inevitable.

That’s just the way it goes for us.

Then I realized that that’s how I approach most of life.

The losses have piled up over the years and I have accepted that no matter how hard I try, defeat is inevitable.

The objective now is to deal with defeat with some modicum of dignity.

Then Diggs made this catch…

By the time the next game kicks off, I may believe it happened.

It happened.

It can happen again…not just in sports,but in life.

We serve a God of promises and even though it seems that the promises have failed before, you’re still in the game.

If you’re breathing, you’re still in the game.

It may seem like the clock is running out on a situation you are in, but the games not over.

Remember Abraham and Sarah…the clock had not only run out, it had rusted and stopped.

The promise of God still produced the miracle of Isaac.

There are promises to you, too.

Hang on to the promises and the Promise Maker in faith, not in preparation for defeat.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever…and he’s a lot better quarterback than Keenum.

Make your own application…

 

Jan 182018
 

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Help us start the New Year on a high note.

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We covet your continued prayers and participation in this work.

I can always be reached at phoenixpreacher@gmail.com with your questions or concerns.

 

Jan 182018
 

Psalm 2: Jesus Christ Reigns! – Part 2

“1 Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
3 ‘Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.’ ”

This is Part 2 of a four part series on Psalm 2. It is a prophecy of Christ, that He would suffer and become King of the whole world. Regarding the psalms of prophecy, Luther taught:

“They speak, for example, of Christ and the Church or what will happen to the saints. This class includes all the psalms that contain promises and warnings – promises for the godly and warnings for the ungodly.”1

In Part 1, we examined verses 1-3. Psalm 2 opens with the nations, peoples and kings of the earth raging, plotting and taking counsel together against God and Christ. Of course Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel were ignorant of the fact that by opposing Jesus, they were opposing God, because they believed neither that Jesus was God’s Son nor that He was sent by God. They thought by crucifying Jesus, they were honoring God and the cause of freedom, but in reality they were rejecting God and the real freedom which God in Christ offered to them.

The psalmist, who believes the promises of God and that His will cannot be thwarted, asks in astonishment: “why?” Crucifying Jesus would not burst the bonds of Christ’s reign as King. To the contrary, Jesus’ death on the cross for the sins of the world would burst the bonds of sin, death, Satan and hell for everyone who believes in Him. Therefore, “the peoples plot in vain.”

Thus we are given an example of how the works of God in the world and in our lives often are contrary to all human understanding and our senses. In the midst of suffering or when it looks as if sin and evil have the upper hand, Christ is reigning and will deliver His people according to His Word, despite all appearances to the contrary.

We pick up this week at verse 4:

“4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 ‘As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.’ ”

The mismatch between the power of God and that of the tyrants, whether men or devils, is so vast and the outcome in God’s favor so certain, that the psalmist portrays God laughing at his adversaries, holding them in derision (i.e., scoffing, ridiculing, mocking, making fun of them). For what God decrees will most surely comes to pass!

Although who would have thought, while Christ was suffering and His adversaries triumphing, that God was seated in the heavens laughing at them all the while? Similarly, when we are oppressed or afflicted, how will we believe that God is holding our adversaries in derision, when it seems to ourselves that we are the ones held in derision both by God and men?

Faith, therefore, must hold fast to the Word and promises of Christ, and join with the psalmist: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”

Pharaoh imagined that by drowning the Israelite males, he had found a way to diminish them. But at the same time, Pharaoh’s own daughter, in his own court, gave a prince’s education to Moses, their deliverer. Did not God laugh and hold Pharaoh in derision?

Similarly, the Jews and Gentiles imagined that by crucifying Jesus, they could eliminate Him and His kingdom. But did not God hold the whole world in derision by raising Jesus from the dead, taking what began as a kingdom among one people and making it into a worldwide eternal kingdom?

In the midst of oppression and affliction, unbelief sees God as nonexistent, absent, disinterested, or uncaring; whereas faith sees Christ caring for His people and reigning over His enemies. The psalmist encourages us to rise up by faith and hope above all our tribulations to Him who sits in the heavens. From this perspective, we will bear the evils of the world and hold them in derision. Of this the Apostle Paul also wrote: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-6); and “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:3)

“Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury”

God’s laughter is no joke, nor does he take the suffering of His people lightly. God will “speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury.” Caiaphas had prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation: “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” (John 11:50)

God held the vain meditations of Caiaphas in derision until: first, He raised Jesus from the dead; and second, not many years later, He destroyed both Jerusalem and the temple by the hand of the Romans. They killed Jesus, but God set Him up as King! They withdrew themselves from under Jesus, but God placed His holy hill of Zion and all the kingdoms of the earth in subjection to Him! Thus, they are laughed at and held in derision, and openly shown to have meditated vain things.

“I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

The Church of Christ is called “Mount Zion” because it began in Jerusalem by the sending of the Holy Spirit. Though it is not confined to any particular place, it began there. From there it has spread throughout all the earth, that the words of Jesus might be fulfilled: “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” (John 4:21)

It is a “Mount” because God has highly exalted her above all power, wisdom and righteousness of men, not in riches and influence, but in faith, hope and love, and all those virtues that despise the riches and power of the world.

It is His “holy hill” because the kingdom of Christ is the people who are made holy by faith in Christ, who alone by His cross sets us apart from sin, the world, Satan and our own flesh, and makes of us His holy hill. Amen.

Thank you for reading. Next week we will pick up Psalm 2 at verse 7, in which Christ proclaims the Father’s decree: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” Amen.

____________________

1 Concordia Publishing House. Reading the Psalms with Luther. 2007. Print. p. 14.

Jan 172018
 

For 38 minutes last week, the people of Hawaii thought the end had come.

A warning was issued that there was an incoming ballistic missile…and “this is not a drill”.

Thank God, it was a false alarm.

It did get me thinking however…

What would I do if I received such an alert?

The obvious answer was to pray, not to get right with God, but for peace and the ability to give it where needed.

I would gather my cats and try to gather the loved ones in one place …and prepare to meet the Lord together.

It was also a reminder that I might get called home without notice…and that what I was and how I am remembered could be finished already.

I pondered what my last words to the people I love and this community would be if I were suddenly gone without opportunity to speak again…

What would you do?

 

Jan 172018
 

There come times when one feels the need to stand up and be counted.  Counted for when there is considerable wrong which needs to be opposed.  I have not written here for a little while, but last week’s political happenings have led me to write once again to lend whatever little influence and impact I have to the determination that there is serious wrong in our land and to stand against it.  Also to implore others, most especially my fellow Christians, to reckon doing the same.

As practically everyone is already aware, it was reported last week that President Trump said, “Why are we having all these people from s—hole countries come here?” to a group of lawmakers during immigration policy negotiations.  Just as so many times before, something that Donald Trump said or did, or allegedly said, sets afire the people across our nation into another ugly political melee.  It has not been pretty.

Now, clearly I am far from the only one who is taking a stand against something President Trump has said or done.  I am not out on an island all by myself.  If it were an island, it would be more the size and population of a continent.  But taking a stand against this latest reported transgression by Trump is not really the main focus of what I’m doing.  Rather, I am choosing to count myself as against not just what the President allegedly said, but principally against the defense, rationalization, and support of President Trump in this incident by far too many Christians, most especially those who would be labeled the same as myself – Evangelical Christians who are conservative, both theologically and politically – even more so, many who are high-profile personalities in our culture.

The reported words by Trump are unrighteous, and those who defend them are joining in that unrighteousness.  These types of scenarios have occurred far too often since Trump has risen to political prominence and they are an unseemly stain on the name of Christianity.  Therefore, I am standing to be counted as a conservative Evangelical Christian against these current reported words of the President and the defense of them by many of my fellow brethren.  It is an affront to Christianity and a gross distortion of the One we represent, to espouse them.

I am no one special for taking such a stand.  I have my own struggles, downfalls, and sins.  I do not claim to have a special righteousness for doing so. However, when there is unrighteousness that needs to be countered, God has only imperfect people to work with if He chooses to use human means. I feel led to raise my voice against an epidemic that has significantly contaminated the family group with whom I most broadly identify with in the Christian faith.

With all that said, let me expound a bit on the happenings of these professed words from Donald Trump.  First of all, they are only reported words, we do not have means of hardened proven evidence of such.  The President has denied saying the exact reported words.  Now, outside of Trump’s denial, the evidence would strongly suggest that he did say these things or at least something very similar.  The White House communications staff, themselves, will not deny that he said them. 

Yet, there are some who have decided that this an at least likely fake story made up by the Democrats and the press and choose to place all their faith in Trump’s denial.  They have decided to forego the evidence that weighs greatly in the other direction and instead believe a narrative that suits their political agenda and desires.

Beyond that, however, the much bigger problem resides with those who choose to defend the President and his purported words.  Regardless of whether or not the President actually said them, they are defending the use and sentiment of the words.  Thence, this is what I am ardently opposing.

As a caveat, the biggest difficulty is not, in and of itself, that Trump said the word “s—hole”.  I personally choose not to use such language, but in this case, getting primarily worked up at the use of a term that is culturally considered to be a obscenity would be straining the gnat and swallowing the camel.

The biggest problem is that of the message, meaning, and attitude within the manifest context and understanding of the reported words.  The President was not just allegedly using a descriptive word to say that these countries are third world, troubled, and with many problems.  If indeed said, he was assigning the same “s—hole” worth to the people who are trying to escape these terrible conditions and come to our country.  The main thrust of the words were, “why are we having these people come here”.  It was an expressed message that we should not be letting the type of people that come from these lousy, trashy countries to come into ours.  The value being assigned to these people and the judgment being given as to whether or not they are worthy to come live with us was fundamentally being placed on the conditions of their countries of origin.  If their country is s—hole, then that is what they are like, too, and they are not welcome here.  Any rationalization to explain that this wasn’t the message of the words is a rejection of plain context and understanding.

These words and attitude are sordid, hateful, and anti-Christ.  They also can easily be seen as racist, especially given the reported preference of letting in people from Norway.  They fly in the face of everything we learn in Scripture that each one of us is made in the image of God, loved by Him, and that we are to be especially mindful to the plight of the alien, poor, and needy.  The excusing, defense, acceptance, and even promotion of the words and attitude by my fellow brethren is all the more saddening and disturbing.

On the immigration issue as a whole, there are legitimate concerns as to who we let into our country.  We cannot maintain order and justice if we just let in everyone where ever, whenever, and however they want to come.  And we have to be careful to not let in those who we believe are out to cause harm.  But as Christians, our disposition must be diametrically opposed to the message and attitude expressed in Trump’s alleged words, just as we often oppose other immoral and anti-Christian issues, elements, and circumstances in our culture.  We cannot desire and expect our governmental leaders to uphold traditional Christian values and ethics when it comes to issues like abortion and gay marriage and then turn a blind eye to an issue like this.  Worse so, to actually support these hateful and unChristian words and sentiments.

Obviously, this is far from the first time that a scenario like this has occurred with Donald Trump.  We could all make a long list if we wanted to.  I have spoken out about other occurrences, but for whatever reason, this one has pushed me a bit harder.  Maybe it is the straw that has broken the camel’s back.

I do not like writing about or talking about politics.  It is so often a dirty world that I would much rather avoid.  I would much more so like to write about other things here and I know Michael also often feels the same way.  (And these are my words and thoughts.  I am to be held responsible for them, not Michael.)  I do not want to start a food fight.

Yet, I feel obligated to raise my voice to advocate for those who are being treated unfairly and unrighteously.  There is a sickness that has affected significant segments and leaders and individuals within the church where political ends has gained precedence over Christian ethics and righteousness.  It affects those on both the Right and Left.  However, since the pro-Trump-related issues has impinged the family I most closely identify with, this is where my biggest personal concern lays.

We are always going to have political disagreements, and that is okay.  But when political aspirations become of greater import than the ethics and morals of our faith, we are in a state of sickness.  I want us to get healthy.  Lord, help us to become so. 

Jan 162018
 

What “prophet” Cindy Jacobs says about 2018…

What persecution is, isn’t, and how to respond to the real thing…

Pastor accused of sexual assault gets standing ovation…

What Christian politics should look like…

Saving evangelicalism from moral compromise…

Judah’s pride…

Why we need to talk about Trump’s comments on Haiti…

Reflections on the 25th anniversary of the Branch Davidian tragedy…

Defending the penal substitutionary atonement…

The Pietist Option…

The top 50 countries that persecute Christians…

King’s methods…

When the fire is hot…

God only welcomes people from s…hole countries…

Love is wise, life is short, pain is a gift…

The tragedy of dumbing down Christianity…

C.S. Lewis on tech addiction…

The church is more than people…

How to get along with Christians from other denominations…

That is good…

Improving your observation skills…

Preparing for winter…

Are some sins worse than others?

Recovering godly speech in a culture of profanity…

Five things to keep in mind as sinner and saint…

Thanks again to EricL…support him at top right…

Jan 152018
 

1. We’ll hear a lot today about the personal and theological flaws of Dr.Martin Luther King. Ignore them…like Lincoln before him, what King represents as the symbol of the modern civil rights movement and non violent social change is what we are celebrating today…

 

2. I’m convinced that when it comes to issues both social and theological, complete ignorance is safer than being partially informed. In reality, the are close to the same thing, but only one recognizes it’s lack…

3. Because people will no longer support unbiased media financially, the media survives by reinforcing bias. We will end up paying anyway…

4. Evidently, this is one of those verse for “that culture”… Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19–20 ESV)

5. I long for the day when “research” involved reading multiple 400 page books instead of 4 paragraph websites…

6. Many of our debates these days are little more than attempt to deny the reality of the image of God in someone else…which is the work of the devil…

7. There’s a weariness in the souls of those who try to be decent and reasonable in how they communicate on social media. I hope that a tool with this much power isn’t abandoned to those who use it as a weapon…

8. Politics and sports are the last two arenas where we experience ecstatic communal joy and deep communal despair…

9. “Righteous” Lot is one of the few biblical characters who actually makes me feel good about my spiritual life…

10. I’m way too emotionally invested in sports, especially my Minnesota Vikings. I spent the whole week preparing for them to lose, so the defeat would be easy to handle. This morning, I realized I spend most of my life preparing to lose…which is a denial of the hope we have in a God who controls providence and happens to be my Dad. I’ll bet I’m not alone…

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