The Faith Work Out: "The Trouble with Troubles" – James 1:1-12

As I write this study, the city of London is flooded with people as the teams assemble for the 2012 Olympic Games. Much talk has been about security, and in light of the terrible carnage of recent days, it is obvious to most of us that keeping both the competitors and the audiences safe is of primary importance. I doubt sincerely, however, that security is on the minds of those who are about to compete. To enter the games and to qualify requires a vast and relentless commitment. Hundreds of thousands of hours of preparation are the norm for this level of competition. The smell of sweat, the cries of agony and the smells of Ben Gay are the common cocktail of preparation.

Take, for instance, a gymnast. From the time a young girl is identified as particularly gifted by a trainer until the time of her grand competition is normally a minimum of five years. In those intervening years, the child is subjected to extreme diet conditions, extensive workouts and painful stretches. They are poked, prodded, tested and pushed by people who are tremendously driven to bring them to success. In the first part of the training, it is NORMAL for them to dislike deeply both the trainer, and the parents that put them in the training. As a result, the training includes – not just a strengthening of the body and stretching of the skills – but training of the mind. The competitor has to be made to understand that those who are causing her pain are doing it for her own coming victory. There truly can be no gain without pain.

Athletes get it. They know to build up the body, we tear into its abilities and create short term pain – but the result is the sculpting of the body’s muscles, the greater efficiency of the body’s systems, and the great ability of the body’s accomplishments. What is true in the physical realm, often highlights a spiritual truth. Trouble, like a weight-loaded exercise, can fall into our lives in a very painful and unwelcome way. When it does, it may cause us to pull back and doubt God’s goodness – just as the young athlete doubts the trainer’s intent. Deeply rooted inside us is the desire to gain pleasure and shun pain. Our society, even in the modern Christian world, has come to see pleasure and ease as blessing, and pain as the Devil’s hindrance… but that is not the Biblical view. The Bible doesn’t explain away all pain as an attack of the evil one.

Key Principle: God is often behind the weight of my troubles, teaching me endurance and offering me an opportunity to grow, excel and accomplish things I didn’t know I could.

He is training me for a better future by challenging me in the present – and it is not done in vengeance. It is His way of preparing us in love. Look at the way James instructs us about TROUBLE.

I want to look at the short reading twice in this study – first in Peterson’s paraphrase called The Message, then in the NASB I normally teach from. The first reading is for general flavor, the second is to try and taste each ingredient as we take the revealed truths apart.

The Message (James 1:1-12):

1:1 I, James, am a slave of God and the Master Jesus, writing to the twelve tribes scattered to Kingdom Come: Hello! 2-4 Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. 5-8 If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open. 9-11 When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing. 12 Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.

What a fascinating way to paraphrase this little portion! It is earthy, simple and straight. I love the challenge at the heart of the message of the text – “Don’t shrink from trouble!” While the flavor is still being spiritually savored, let’s take a closer look at each verse, in hopes to really take apart the ingredients. Why? Because troubles come. They are a constant companion. Some of us go through seasons of trouble in our lives, and others, like “Pig-Pen” (the old Peanuts character) seem to be surrounded by clouds of dusty struggles. Let’s turn back to verse 1, this time in the New American Standard Version which is noted for its accuracy in noun and verb translation, because that accuracy will be critical to our understanding.

A Word about the Writer and Original Readers

1:1 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ – To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.

To open the letter of James, we peer into someone else’s mail. Understanding a bit about the writer and the people whose letter we just cut open may help us grasp why the letter was so CRUCIAL to these early believers, and may even offer us a clue or two as to why the letter’s principles are critical to us as well. The letter opens with a short and pointed greeting that identifies both the author and the recipient.

First, who is this James?

The name James in Hebrew is Ya’acov or Jacob – and it was terribly common in the period of the New Testament. Jesus had two disciples that carried the name – the brother of John and one called “James the Less”. I always felt bad about the second one… I mean, do you really want to be known by having less than someone else? (For those boasting at Weight Watchers – perhaps the answer is YES!). In addition, Jesus had a half-brother named James – and I think this is the one who wrote the letter, though the Epistle doesn’t really say it is him. Why?

  • First, the brother of John died a martyr in Acts 12, and that was so soon after the beginnings of the church, that it seems unlikely there was already a circular letter to send out to the Jewish world in the diaspora – or dispersion. He was a disciple, and therefore important, but his life span puts him in the suspect category for me.
  • Some scholars muddy the waters even further by suggesting it wasn’t someone actually named James, but someone using the well-established practice of a pseudonym – a “pen name”. I find that argument really weak – since the writer left WHICH James ambiguous at best. The lack of any real follow up on the authority beyond the first line of the Epistle makes that really far-fetched in my view.

We have another alternative found in James, the half-brother of Jesus.

  • If you read about the early church, you will find that Jesus’ brother was the most prominent leader in Jerusalem by the time of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Clearly, as the Bishop of the church at Jerusalem (the speaking elder) his Jewish flavor would permeate the early writing from a time before the rise of the Gentile movement. The epistle of James is full of Jewish flavor written in “clear and elegant Koine Greek.”
  • He saw the resurrected Jesus in a special appearance, and became prominent among the disciples.
  • James other brother was also an Epistle writer – the one named Jude (likely a shortened form of Yehudah or Judah). Look at the beginning of the two letters and there is a distinct similarity. The Epistle of James identifies the writer as “a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,”. Jude, introduced the letter of Jude by calling himself “a slave of Jesus Christ, but a brother of James.” (Jas 1:1; Jude 1).
  • Furthermore, if you look closely at the letter that was circulated on Paul’s second missionary journey in Acts (following the council of Acts 15) the salutation of James’ letter (the author of the circulated letter) includes the term “Greetings!” in the same way as did the letter concerning circumcision that was sent to the congregations.

It looks to me like the evidence upholds an old tradition that James was the legal “half-brother” of Jesus, probably from the union of Joseph before his first wife died (if the fragmentary Protoevangelium is to be believed). He was a respected teaching elder at Jerusalem. And the default voice of the Apostle’s meeting in Jerusalem at the Council of Acts 15. His words were eloquent, and seriously understood. He needed to offer little more than his name to the document to make it authoritative in the minds of the first hearers.

Who were the recipients of the original letter?

They were first century dispersed Jews that were increasingly coming to Jesus as Messiah and Lord. They were not in the land of Israel when Jesus walked there, and heard about His coming from the testimony of others. They were under pressure that would only increase as the century waned, and James was trying to encourage them. It was early in the movement, and they were still meeting in “synagogues” (James 2:2 the word “assembly” is synagogue in the Greek text).

Why does that matter? Some in church history have had difficulty with the letter because the flavor of this text sounds very JEWISH. It presumes that what you BELIEVE is what you ACT UPON. It is written to people who cannot separate the THEORY from the PRACTICE. The honorable sixteenth century scholar Dr. Martin Luther didn’t like it – because his rich understanding of “salvation by grace through faith” sometimes approached a theoretical belief. You have all met them – people who SPEAK CHRISTIANEZE but live STREET LIFE. James didn’t accept the premise that your faith was real if you didn’t live it, any more than your spouse would accept that your live ws real if they caught you in bed with another. I am being graphic to help you understand the extremity of the problem. Many people think they can SAY they belong to Jesus – and that erases their daily life.

The gospel is about surrender, not simply about word games and theological posturing.

Deep in the heart of the Jewish tradition is the notion that you really believe what you DO, not what you SAY. That is very thoroughly reflected in this Epistle. The first issue James tackled, under the guiding hand of the Spirit was the constant companion of troubles that flooded the life of a Jewish follower of Jesus. His first subject was – “THE TROUBLE WITH TROUBLES”.

Trouble 1: When troubles come, my heart sours – because I don’t see the point (1:2-3).

James 1:2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

A painfully literal reading of this text from its original language may help push our understanding beyond what we read in the English. James says something like this:

Lead the way in moving your mind toward delight my dear family, particularly at the time when an array of proving tests are dropped into your life. When you rejoice in these things, you show that you have grown in certainty and prove you have gained a truly Biblical world view. It demonstrates that you have come to understand what God is doing to you is FOR YOU. The heavy weight of trouble is God’s way of building up your ability to remain under great stress.

James called on believers to SEE THE POINT of their troubles. People can endure incredible pain and suffering – if they see the point. Discomfort for a purpose is somehow less crushing. The believer must unmask underlying attitudes about life that are both unhealthy and ungodly:

  • Myth: If I am walking with God, my life will be easier. If that is true, then the Bible is filled with inaccurate accounts. From David to Moses, from John the Baptizer to Paul – the book is filled with accounts of people that had tough times WHEN THEY FOLLOWED GOD. I am not arguing that God will not be there for you – you know better than that. I am deliberately and forcefully opposing the highly circulated view that Jesus is about making my life easier. If you came to Him because you want LESS, you came for the wrong reason. Satan never knew your name until you became obedient to Christ. You were no threat until your heart possessed the Gospel and your lips were committed to share its truth. God does not want to hurt you, but the byproduct of walking with Him is the need for armor you didn’t even know existed before. Akin to this myth are a host of others like:

God is interested in making my life easier.

Easier is better.

If God is in the plan, it will work easier.

Let me stretch this a bit further. Many of us have the “mommy myth” about God. We think that it is only logical that since our mom loved us and her love was profoundly shown in her keeping us from pain and discomfort – that care is shown only in tenderness, providing comfort, and guarding against or clearing away pain. The Biblical truth is this: God is your Heavenly Father, not your Heavenly Mother.

Most dads have a different way about them. When a little guy falls down, most don’t take their boo-boo to be kissed to their dad. Why? He is a parent. Isn’t he? Yes, but he is not mom. He is not all about comfort. He has a different view of life than mom. He may feel that to prepare for big problems, a boy must overcome little problems. He may truly want to see the boy suck it up and take the pain. It isn’t that dad doesn’t care – it is that his care isn’t shown in automatically trying to remove pain and trouble.

Does God comfort? Sure He does. I am not a little boy, and my pain is not from some little scrape. At the same time, we must face a truth: God is highly interested in preparing you for greater use by Him in the future – and that may be best served by letting the pain and weight of trouble do a work inside us. Escape from all pain is not His chief goal – preparation and transformation are.

James wrote – first, deal with your attitude about trouble. If you don’t, nothing else will help.

Trouble 2: When trouble comes, I seek escape – not strengthening (1:4).

James 1:4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Once I believe that God is preparing me for something, I have the ability to look at strains and troubles like the training athlete. If I avoid the workout, I rob myself of the eventual gold medal. If I cheat on repetitions with the weights, it will show up later in the performance of my sport. I don’t want to press the image, because my life and your life is NO GAME – it is much more serious. At the same time, the idea of FLEEING the workout is natural.

I don’t like what hurts, no matter why it hurts. I know when I NEED a NEEDLE – but I don’t go looking for reasons to NEED one. I avoid people who give them! Escape from pain is a natural reflex. Only people numbed by serious delusion need pain to motivate them. At the same time, pain can be a GOAD to do something. The constant load can build me up!

Some years ago I found that I was getting sluggish (read: FAT). I wanted to trim a few pounds and get some endurance. The way I did that was strap on weights to my arms and legs and keep doing what I was already doing in my daily routine. The extra pressure built up muscles and increased endurance in my body. It works in the spirit as well. Running from the weight, fleeing the pressure will only rob your future usefulness to God.

James argues that I must deal with my patience about trouble if I want to be ready to be used by God for greater things.

Trouble 3: When trouble comes, I run from God – because I don’t understand why He let it happen (1:5).

James 1:5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

It is one thing to RUN from PAIN, it is another thing to RUN FROM GOD. I am not sure why this is the case, but I have observed that in our fallen state – when we are hurt deeply, we often turn away from God rather than seek His face. We may cry “WHY?” but often our tears seem to block our ears from listening – if God chooses to tell us.

James says something worth remembering: When you are getting pummeled by life and you don’t understand why – God is the right Person to ask about it.

We live in a time when people don’t understand the boundaries of privacy very well. I have noticed that among the younger set in particular, things that were once considered inappropriate to share in mixed company are no longer considered that way. We are a connected and sharing culture. I can look on twitter and see what breakfast cereal my friend in California ate this morning – though I can’t tell you WHY I would want to know, or WHY he would want to tell me. When troubles unjustly rain down on us, we must admit that more of us are likely to Facebook than PRAY. We are much more likely to pick up a cell phone rather than drop to our knees. There is something desperately wrong in the life of a believer that allows troubles to pummel them without seeking God about what He may be saying.

Not all trouble comes from God directly.

  • Sometimes bad things happen because I live in a fallen world, and it is groaning to be redeemed. Tornadoes and Hurricanes aren’t all directed specifically at YOU – they are part of a larger process.
  • Sometimes bad things happen because I live on a planet filled with rebellious men and women. They want to do what they want to do. If they want to drink too much and then drive – their choices may affect the course of my life. It is part of living in a fallen community.
  • Sometimes bad things happen because I have been careless in preparations. If you don’t fill your gas tank, don’t get mad at God when the car stops on the highway late at night.

The fact is there are MANY reasons why troubles are introduced into our lives besides that of training for the future. At the same time, I have a lifeline to God that allows me to ASK THE QUESTION to Him about why they are dropping on me. The one thing I must NOT do, is assume God is somehow uninterested in me, or even MAD at me. God’s normal way of calling me to repentance is not THUNDERBOLTS that scare me – it is in KINDNESS.

Paul wrote to the Roman believers about God’s work in the specific context of passing judgment on other people and said:

Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

In other words, watch what you say about others. The standard we judge other by, will be the standard we get judged by. Then he continued…

Romans 2:2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

He argues that God doesn’t change HIS standards, but those standards are always rooted in the absolute TRUTH. Since that is the case, if we judge someone else and our standard is right – the sword of truth will cut both ways. We cannot expect in others what we do not live ourselves. Now for the reason we are looking at this passage…

Romans 2:4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

Troubles apparently aren’t God’s preferred method of communicating to the believer.

The problem is that many of us don’t get it. God blesses, so we feel ok about doing wrong. God blesses more to get us to blush with embarrassment over how we are mistreating Him, and we feel more deeply justified. In the end, the judgment against us is compounded because our heart was hard and head was thick. Here’s the point: Don’t look at all trouble like a WOODSHED moment, where God is giving you a licking for being bad – that just isn’t the case. ASK GOD if you want to know, and then become very sensitive and quiet – and He will open the door of answers.

James argues that I must set aside my doubt about trouble and ask God if I want God’s work to be effective in me.

Trouble 4: When trouble comes, my prayer wobbles – because I am not certain I can trust God (1:6-7).

James 1:6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

James doesn’t only address the fact that we need to ASK GOD, but he adds a few words about HOW WE ASK. God isn’t in the business of dealing openly with people who “hedge their bets” on Him with other possible answers. When you think about it – that behavior is specifically demeaning to the Lord of the Universe. We aren’t to “TRY GOD” while we keep our other options open. Doubts about prayer are doubts about God. When we aren’t sure our “prayers are getting through” we are essentially addressing God’s ability to HEAR US – and that is a reflection of what we believe about HIM.

Have you ever tried to stand up in a small boat in rough seas? You stumble and cling to the sides just to move about! That is James’ point: When we don’t really count on God to come through, we dishonor God. We act like He isn’t where we should put our trust. We treat Him as untrustworthy. Can you imagine? The God that created everything from DNA strands to rainbow light refraction should wait for me to believe that HE is enough?

James argues that I must directly address my prayer life if I want troubles to sculpt my life into something pleasing to the Lord.

Trouble 5: When trouble comes, an unwanted reminder surfaces – my control is an illusion (1:9-11).

James 1:9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

The text does not argue for me to feel good about other’s misfortune, nor cheer another’s pain. It can sound like that – but on close examination that whole behavior is ungodly. What James is driving at here is the reality that we live a life of illusion. The young think they can stay up all night, mistreat their bodies and push their limitations – because they are in control. Soon gravity and wrinkles do their work. The first half of life we are willing to press out every ounce of energy to get ahead in a job that provides a good salary and retirement benefits. The second half of our lives we are ready to spend any amount of money to have back half the body we destroyed in the first half.

Here’s my point: I am not in control. My life is not in my hands. My wealth, and the wealth of my nation is not all up to our abilities and our cunning. We live in a world that is operated by greater power than ourselves. I didn’t choose the day of my birth, and if all goes well, I will not choose the day of my death. I have no control over what sex, color or nationality I was born. I do not know to what extent my genes play into illness or wellness. What I know is that I am not in control – and that control is an illusion in this life. With each passing year, that lesson comes home to me in a more powerful way.

James argues I must see clearly in the midst of my troubles if I want them to perform their work in me.

Trouble 6: When trouble comes, I feel it is a penalty or curse – I fail to see the opportunity to please God with my life (1:12).

James 1:12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

James says that some people can be trounced upon by troubles and still be blessed. The key is perseverance until proof emerges that God is pleased – even if that comes in the life after this life. We must remember that God never misses a tear cried in the pain of injustice. He never overlooks a heart robbed of innocence and cruelly abused. He is an all seeing and ever-present God – and He will one day make sense of it all.

Do not be deceived into thinking that life will make sense now, should make sense now, or NEEDS to make sense now.

We see the tapestry from the bottom side, where the threads are mangled and hang in a thoughtless pattern. God views from above, where the beauty of the threads have woven into a tapestry to tell His story. Stop looking for an explanation of everything this side of Heaven. Man doesn’t know. Experts don’t know. Doctors don’t know. Sometimes the answers will be delayed all the way until Heaven – but they ARE known there.

James argues I must look past this life to see the real benefit of troubles.

God is often behind the weight of my troubles, teaching me endurance and offering me an opportunity to grow, excel and accomplish things I didn’t know I could. Even when I don’t understand what He is doing, I can deliberately place my confidence and trust in Who He is!

Grasping God's Purpose: "Big Meaning in a Small Symbol" – Exodus 37:1-9

Symbols are all around us – and the most effective ones are those that connect a singular message to a whole society. We can’t walk down any city street without seeing a range of symbols, all that have meanings that have come to be clear in our society. Think about taking a walk. You know where you are supposed to cross the street by paint markings in straight lines for the crossing. You know where the cars on the road are supposed to stop by the octagonal sign that contains one four letter word: “STOP!” No sign? No matter, the red light will do that same thing. If you saw the sign or the light in another country, you would still know what to do –because the symbol’s shape or color that speak clearly – STOP MOVING. You glance up, and discover there is a man was jogging toward you. You may know something of his tastes by reading the symbol from his shirt. You may know if he is married by a ring on the proper finger. His sneakers may bear a symbol upon them that identify their maker and tell you how serious a runner he may be. Keep walking. As you near the next intersection, a small box mounted at the corner may has the symbol of the postal service, and as your mind recognizes it, you are able to identify the purpose of the metal box affixed beside the walk. You hear a rumble and look up. A bus rolls by, and by the color you will very likely be able to tell if it is a public city bus, a private bus, or a school bus. Just as you are thinking about the children going off to school, your phone rings, and the preset tone may becomes an audio symbol, identifying the caller by a chosen tone you programmed to their identity marker. It is your pushy aunt Edna, so you turn the phone to IGNORE. My point is that our lives are filled with symbols, and they are all to offer us a short hand” script to keep messages flowing without quickly and without strain or confusion. The beauty of a symbol is that it brings clarity in simplicity and brevitya large message in a small package – and that is exactly what we will be talking about today.

You see, God was the first marketer to brand things. He knew that man would need help identifying things, and wanted us to grasp big messages about Him by offering small symbols. One of them is the subject of this study – a wooden box covered with gold that symbolized truths about God.

Key Principle: God gave His people a small symbol that helped them understand great truths about HIM!

The symbol in our passage is a GOLD COVERED BOX. It wasn’t very large, but it was quite unusual in its build:

Exodus 37:1 Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. 2 He overlaid it with pure gold, both inside and out, and made a gold molding around it. 3 He cast four gold rings for it and fastened them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. 4 Then he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. 5 And he inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. 6 He made the atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. 7 Then he made two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 8 He made one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; at the two ends he made them of one piece with the cover. 9 The cherubim had their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim faced each other, looking toward the cover.

Working with symbols in Scripture is always tricky. We can be ever so tempted to “read into” a simple story, and turn an observation into an instruction – totally apart from God’s true purposes. With that in mind, one of the things we have to do to insure we aren’t making up insights and fabricating principles is to analyze the text carefully. God didn’t say to YOU something He didn’t say. Scripture was not given BY private interpretation nor FOR private interpretation – It says what It says. Application is personal –how I live out the truth. Interpretation MUST BE objective – what did God actually say.

Take a look at these simple nine verses:

  1. God recorded that Bezalel, according to God’s earlier instruction, built a box out of acacia wood in a specified size of roughly 27” high, 27” wide and 45” long (37:1). This protected tree of the desert is one of the few that can grow in the harsh desert climate. It has natural “barbed wire” in the long and piercing thorns that are used today by the Bedouin as sewing needles.
  2. Bezalel coated the wood box with gold, and then made a delicate molding around the box for decorative purposes (37:2). Using the donated gold brought out from Egypt, he made the box similar to the many pieces of gold overlay furnishings found in the Cairo Museum that once belonged to Pharaohs.
  3. He melted and cast rings to attach to the four corners on the bracing of the legs of the box where poles could be inserted to carry the box (37:3). The box was specifically designed for transport – and the carrying handles were removable, but integrated into the design.
  4. The poles were lathed and then coated with gold as well, in a size that could slip into the rings and bear the whole box (37:4).
  5. They slipped the poles into place for a test as a wise precaution, and they fit perfectly in the summary we have in the text (37:5).
  6. A large cover for the whole box was fashioned from gold, and made to fit snugly on top – for this box was not going to remain stationary (37:6).
  7. Made separate from the top, but then affixed to it, were two cherubim – angelic beings that guard God’s throne and holiness – based on the way they are perceived when seen by men (37:7).
  8. Bezalel fashioned the angels, then placed them facing each other on the two ends of the box – as if the attention of the angels was to whatever the center of the top had on it. The funny thing was that Bezalel left the area between the angels unadorned (37:8-9). Both angels looked at a spot that was essentially flat and thoroughly uninteresting in design, for one symbolic use of the box would later reveal the importance of that little spot.

There it is – a simple wood box adorned with expensive plating and some decorative winged angels.

Why would God take the time to describe the making of it to us? What possible difference could it make in our lives? I would like to suggest that God was telling His story in the symbols, the way we tell of the love of our lives by a simple band of God. God had a story to tell to Israel and the nations around them, and He chose to use a box the way Nike chose to use a “swoosh” symbol. It is a small and simply marker of a more elegant communication.

The Ark of God had two essential uses in the Bible – to transport and store the Word of God with some other important memorabilia, as well as localize in a symbolic way the covering of the nation’s sins through blood atonement.

The box was about the things most important to God – His Word and His promise to His people to judicially care for their sins. God revealed six truths through the decorated golden box:

Truth #1: God chose to use normal things to bring about His plan.

Essentially the box was nothing more than decorated and overlaid WOOD. The value was not in the intrinsic nature of the wood, but in the use God intended for it.

Maybe you have been led to believe that God performs only through the extraordinary. Read the Christian magazines and it may seem that way. Watch the Christian film and you will see stars with better skin than you have and less fat than I carry. God doesn’t only use the extraordinary… it just isn’t true!

Go back to the early days of the church, and you will see God working uphill in the lives of painfully ordinary and easily misrepresented people.

  • Start in Acts 1, and peer into the window as the disciples tried to pick a successor to the suicidal former treasurer named Judas. They cast lots and picked Matthais – a guy who was never heard from again in the Holy Book! No doubt the best way to get people of good character to lead is shooting craps!
  • Then there was the great move of the Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2 – reputed in the crowd to be a move of “spirits” as the men were accused of drunkenness.
  • By Acts 3 and 4, there as a bright spot as God used Peter and John to bring healing to a lame man, but within hours the movement was being led by jailbirds – as the leaders were scooped up and detained.
  • In other words, by four chapters into the Book of Acts the movement of the church appeared to be formed by the likes of gamblers, drunks and ex-cons, and we haven’t even gotten to chapter five… oh this is rich! Bring in the BODY BAGS! People were literally DYING to get out of their early meetings.
  • In Acts 6 the early beleivers were already squabbling over racism and uneven benefits – the smell of nepotism was strong in the air.
  • By Acts 7, the response to a rousing historical sermon by Stephen brought a pummeling of stones until he was dead – surely not the response any preacher would be hoping for.
  • By Acts 8, persecution began falling like rain in the houses of early believers, and the movement was being spread by civil servant eunuchs from far away. It didn’t look promising at all.
  • In Acts 9 another reputed ex-killer joined the group, but most were afraid to even acknowledge him. Add to that the people who exemplified Jesus, like Tabitha, were not exempt from falling dead of disease. Resurrecting people was not going to keep the place going very long.
  • In Acts 10, a Roman centurion joined the band – but he could have just as easily been an infiltrator. Then came the pig eating pagans, and all Heaven broke loose.

My point it: even when told in a sarcastic voice, that God’s story wasn’t passed “in the early days” by people that floated above the earth. God’s early church was filled with all kinds of ordinary and flawed people – just like it is today. God used a WOOD BOX, and God can use your life. Don’t get distracted by the gold covering, underneath every one of us is stuff made on earth… clay pots that belong to the King!

Truth #2: God shared Himself with the world through the cooperation of a servant dedicated to the work.

The labor for the box was that of a man. The man was made by God. The tree was made by God. The story God wanted to tell was God’s story… but at the end of the day the whole of ministry to the people was offered in collaboration with a man. God works through people – that is His instrument of choice.

When God wanted to bring a message to Canaanites about the One True God, he called Abram. When He wanted to rescue His people from Pharaoh, he called Moses. When He wanted to route Jabin, King of Hazor, he called Deborah to get Barak. When He wanted to kill Goliath, He summoned David. When He wanted to bring a Savior, he called on Mary…. God is in the business of bringing Himself and His power to the world through collaboration with men and women. He loves to share life in relationship with us! While He enables us to do the extraordinary, we must remember that it is only our surrender to Him that is required – He does all the rest.

In making the box – Bezalel shared God’s huge vision with his little splintered hands. He cut, glued, planed and affixed with skills given by God through mentors and through Spirit empowering. The preparation of Bezalel’s life was no doubt used for this – but the secret was in his obedience to God as the Lord enabled him to do more than he could have ever thought of before. God delights in using people, walking with people, sharing vision with people, and celebrating victory with people.

Truth #3: God showed what He prized in the making of the box.

The overlay of gold without was impressive to others who beheld it, but the overlay of the interior was only to express the value God placed on His Word – the tablets and scrolls it was designed to house. The added weight would slow down the movement of the box without extreme effort – but the prized contents were shrouded in rich gold because God wanted people to understand how important His Word is to Him and to them.

A student of the Word of God need not dive deeply to find God’s affection for the Scriptures. If we love Him, we will learn to love what He loves – and God delights in His Word. GOD IS A POET AT HEART and a bit of a romantic one at that. Beyond the pure benefits of deeply drawing from it (cited in Psalm 1), there is celebration in their power and effect in Psalm 19, and sobering reminders of their deep need in Psalm 119.

Wise is the man or woman that seeks God’s will through God’s Word. Dreams will leave you with doubt. Advice may be filtered from lips that reflect a selfish heart and be uncertain in their directives. The mind, even the one occupied with God’s Spirit can be easily swayed. It is God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures, to whom men have turned to know the heart of God for generations.

  • George Washington said: “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible”.
  • John Quincy Adams said: “So great is my veneration for the Bible that the earlier my children begin to read it the more confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens of their country and respectable members of society…” —
  • Andrew Jackson argued: “That book, sir, is the rock on which our republic rests”
  • Abraham Lincoln acknowledged:  “I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong” — “It is the duty of nations as well as men to recognize the truth announced in Holy Scripture and proven by all of history that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.”
  • President Ulysses S. Grant warned: “Hold fast to the Bible as the sheet anchor of your liberties. Write its precepts in your hearts, and practice them in your lives. To the influence of this book are we indebted for all the progress made in true civilization, and to this we must look as our guide in the future. Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a  reproach to any people”

Regardless of how embarrassed our modern university professors may be, our Founding Fathers knew the Bible was more than great literature. They knew it transformed lives, and guaranteed their freedom.

It was the underpinning of their Constitution. It is therefore no surprise that as we move the Bible’s presence and influence from the center stage of our republic, we find ourselves bound in ever increasing legal cement and moral gridlock. None of our fathers practiced the truths of the Bible wholly – there were still the scars of slavery and injustice that festered like sores. Yet even in this hypocrisy, it was the voices like that of William Wilberforce in England that forcefully stood opposed to the ungodly discrimination of color based on the Bible itself. The Bible led men to both correction and redemption. The Bible didn’t allow men to be summarily bought and sold – despite what you have heard from the ill-informed script writers of modern television. The Bible was – and I would argue still IS – the answer – not the problem.

Try to silence the sheer power of its pages. It has all been done before. While you do, you must remember soberly, Mister and Madame Justices of our courts, “It is appointed unto man once to die, then the judgment.” The FINAL gavel sits on the desk of the ULTIMATE JUDGE. God treasures His Word, and it is incredibly dangerous for any people to stick their finger in the eye of the Holy One AND BELIEVE THAT HE WILL NOT NOTICE.

Truth #4: God desired to express both purpose and elegance in the box.

He didn’t want a clunky slapped together contraption roped to a cart by Jed Clampett (an old television character of the “Beverly Hillbillys”). He wanted something carefully, delicately, intricately formed and fashioned – worthy of the majesty of a King. The wood box held the FUNCTION, but the gold overlay offered a REGAL quality that befits a great Master of the people. Note the work had a CROWN placed on its edges.

We must be creative and elegant when expressing to our world Who our Father is. We must press harder and harder to do what we do in worship well. We do not offer a concert, but nor should it be a slapped together barn dance. We must seek to have the delicacy and elegance shine through as we exalt Him and proclaim His work. He is a God of rich texture and beauty. He is a God filled with regal majesty! Our celebration of Him must be more than a dry rehearsal of overused words. There must be a ring of His PERSON in His praise!

Listen to some simple words by Matt Redman on his intimate walk with God:

I’m standing on this mountaintop looking just how far we’ve come – knowing that for every step You were with us. I’m kneeling on this battle ground seeing just how much You’ve done – knowing every victory is Your power in us. Scars and struggles on the way but with joy our hears can say…Yes, our hearts can say: Never once did we ever walk alone! Never once did you leave us on our own! You are faithful, God, You are faithful! Never once did we ever walk alone! Never once did you leave us on our own! You are faithful, God, You are faithful! Carried by Your constant grace! Held within Your perfect peace! Never once, no, we never walk alone! You are faithful, God, You are faithful!

Can you hear it? Simple but elegant words celebrate the faithfulness of God. I sang them this week standing beside a career missionary, and we both knew how very true they were! Such truths can come from the deep words of Isaac Watts, or the simple frames of Matt Redman. It is not in the lighting and the sound that they connect with our hearts – it is in their TRUTH. Thank God that He adorned truth with beauty, and that it connects with us in elegant ways.

Truth #5: God reminded the spiritual leaders that He desired to go WITH them on the journey.

He was not simply the “God of the Mountain” – but also the “God of the Journey” as well. He did not want to speak to them profoundly and then be left parked in the occasional camp meetings of their lives. God intended to make the whole journey with them, and marked His presence – once only detected in pillars of fire and clouds – by the box. Israel so identified the box with God’s presence, that much later they took it to war, thinking of it as a “good luck charm” or talisman instead of truly grasping its meaning. At least they remembered the connection the box had to a God who is present with us!

Truth #6: God preaches through the angels a prime purpose for the box – to get Heaven to observe His atonement and mercy.

Men don’t often look beyond themselves in the purposes of God. We don’t often ask, “How will this affect the angelic world?” We see what God does for MEN and what God speaks to MEN. Here is that rare place in Scripture, where God shows through a simple symbol something MORE. God is using symbols for a larger theatre than men can see. He ordered two angels to be positioned to stare down at a place on the top of the Ark that was essentially barren. Later God explained the use of that flat and barren place – it was the place where the blood of atonement would be poured our as the judicial payment for the sins of God’s people. That blood would atone, or cause God to look away from their sin for a time. It was temporary, but it was effective in its use.

Believers today enjoy a BETTER covenant of God. We don’t keep killing animals to turn away God’s wrath. We have a sacrifice – but it was made ONCE FOR ALL. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tried to explain this very truth to those who were used to offering at the Temple long ago:

Hebrews 10:1 For the Law (referring in context to Atonement Laws), since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…

The writer argued that the atonement law foreshadowed a permanent cleansing from sin brought by Jesus (as the passage goes on to explain). He said the offerings of atonement law could not take away sin, but were constantly needed – without repetition the new sins would not be covered by the old offerings. Then he said something you may have missed. One of the purposes of the atonement law’s continual sacrifice was to remind you of your sin. You were to FEEL GUILT. That guilt was to motivate you to a better future walk, as well as remind you of your need of another sin offering. If you keep reading in the passage, you will see a startling truth about God’s desire for you:

Hebrews 10:11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, 13 waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified…

You read that God accepted the sacrifice of Jesus as a “one size fits all” offering to remove sin’s stain. Most of you who have studied even a small amount of Scripture know that. Don’t stop reading… there is something ahead:

Hebrews 10:18 Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. 19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

Do you see it? God doesn’t want you to walk in GUILT, but in CONFIDENCE. Your salvation is not based on your consistent walk – but upon the POWER and PERMANENCE of the sacrifice of Jesus.

I am not suggesting that God would desire you to live less than a surrendered life. I am not licensing your spiritual laziness not authorizing your deliberate willfulness against God – you know me better than that. What I am saying is this: Stop clinging to GUILT. Let it GO. If you are wrong, ask God to fill you with power as you draw near to Him and stand beside Him. We are foolish to run from God in guilt. He offers cleansing – not to those who are clean – but to those who are filthy. Hiding from God because of guilt will keep you from the very thing you most want – intimacy with Him.

God back to that cool of the day in the Garden with Adam and Eve. God was calling out: “Adam, where are you?” Do you think that God was calling him because God didn’t KNOW where Adam was? Can you actually conceive of the Creator of the Universe lost without a GPS? He knew where Adam was, and He knew what Adam had done. Adam knew too. In fact, the only One that could cure Adam’s problem was the One calling out to him – but Adam hid. Adam was embarrassed. Adam was hurt. Adam was GUILTY.

Genesis 3:9 Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

You know this story. Man blamed his wife. His wife blamed the serpent. As God unfolded judgment He told the serpent – your body will be cursed and you will be dreaded. He told him something, that on the surface looks like man’s problem with snakes – we step on them, and they bite our heels… but that isn’t the whole story. Women got pain in their reproductive systems that was not part of their design. They got frustration in their spiritual position in the family and community, and man got cursed ground and harder toil. He got weeds, thorns and opposition from the soil beneath his feet. He also got the promise of DEATH and the GRAVE.

God clothed the man and woman, but to do it He took the life of another. An animal died so a skin could be their covering. Earth’s dissension into death and decay began. The angels of Heaven not only observed, but they were MOVED by the experience. Satan had seen the Garden before Adam did. He knew its beauty, and he knew its freedoms:

In a poetic story of Ezekiel 28, God revealed the story of Lucifer’s sinful beauty– and His subsequent casting from the service of God

Ezekiel 28:12 “…’‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: The ruby, the topaz and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx and the jasper; The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, Was in you. On the day that you were created they were prepared. 14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire. 15 “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you. 16 “By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane From the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. 17 “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you…19 “All who know you among the peoples Are appalled at you; you have become terrified And you will cease to be forever.”’”

Now remember that God dwells beyond time. When He speaks, time has no meaning. He is not bound to it. Yesterday, today, tomorrow are inconsequential to One who made time the way He made trees. It is part of our nature – but not part of His. He can speak in any tense, or all of them in one sentence. He is GOD, and there is none like Him.

He said Lucifer, about whom the poem appears to be written, was perfect, beautiful and precious in God’s original design. Prior to his fall from God’s grace, he had been in the garden. Many scholars, I among them, believe God was speaking of a Garden in Heaven from which the Garden of Eden on earth was mimicked. The same holds true for the “Mountain of God” which may have an original in Heaven, with its copy on earth. Why is this significant? Clearly the Tabernacle that we are studying was a copy of the one in Heaven. It was apparently in that earlier garden that Lucifer beheld the beauty of God and His creation before His fall.

The point is this: Angels are observers, and were created to be servants of God. When they make up their own script for their own selfish reasons, they fail their purpose – just as a man or woman does. The end of selfishness is death and ruin. The end of rebellion is destruction and eternal desperation. Satan will one day be beheld by people of all nations and exposed for the fraud he is. Men will shake their heads when they see how fruitless a life lived to serve self and sin truly is. But wait, there is also a message for the angelic world. God has something to say to them – both fallen and faithful.

The message of God through the building of the Ark was this: “My Word, held inside this box, is the guarantee of My relentless grace and My obsessive mercy for mankind. I am not who you think I am. I am rich in forgiveness and soaked in love.

To men and women, duped by Satan’s false projections of God in His holiness, the Lord God says: “I will not cease loving you. I will not turn My face away from you – even when you will neglect Me and forget Me. I will chase after you even when you hate yourself for what you have become. I atoned before at the Temple and I cleanse now at the Cross – with a blood covering upon sin. The washing that overpowers sin’s stain is the very mystery I want all Heaven to gaze upon at the mercy seat – just as the eyes of the two cherubim see who endlessly stare upon that place. Look hard at its barrenness – a flat and useless place I have used to redeem man. It is empty of itself, but when the cleansing blood is poured upon it I will make it a place of rich mercy. I am the Savior. I am not the angry and vengeful God the deceiver says I am. I am the Lord, Great and Mighty, lover of lost ones and searcher of souls. All Heaven gaze – for this will proclaim My story!”

The box was a symbol to men of God’s Word carried with them, and God’s mercy offered to them. It was a symbol to the angels of God’s nature and Person as One who is drenched in love and offers forgiveness for heinous sin. God gave His people a small symbol that helped them understand large truths about HIM!

Grasping God’s Purpose: “Seven Principles for Getting Things Done” – Exodus 36

The term “masterpiece” refers to a creation that has been given much critical praise, perhaps the greatest work of a person’s career. Originally, the term was derived from the singular piece of work produced by an apprentice or journeyman aspiring to become a master craftsman in the old European guild system. Suitability for entry into a guild was judged, in part, by examination of the qualities of the masterpiece. Regardless of the craft – from jewel setting to confectionery production – the masterpiece played a key role in your life’s placement.

Have you ever worked really hard on a project, only to see it finished and relish that moment when others are enjoying the work you completed? Whether it is a sumptuous dinner, or a beautifully written poem – there are moments in life when we can enjoy sweet completion. The longer I live, the more I begin to realize that some have, sadly, never enjoyed that feeling….they never seem to complete things. Even churches and ministries need opportunities to stop and recognize they have completed some tasks and are now about to stretch into new ones. Never ending work makes us perpetually tired and dull of mind. We need a pattern to organize work, and a standard to judge its adherence to the pattern. How do we organize the God given tasks to complete work for God? He gave us a pattern.

Key Principle: God’s work must be done God’s way.

We may agree with the idea in principle, but certainly need more information on how God says work should be done. The narrative of the building of the Tabernacle was an opportunity for God to record exactly HOW He wanted the work completed.

The notion of a plan in God’s work is offensive to some – but it is clear in the Scriptures that God’s work had never been haphazard. God’s people must be careful to observe God’s method of doing things. In the context of the first century public services of the church – with its requisite prophesying and “speaking in tongues”, Paul reminds: “But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.” (1 Cor. 14:40). The order is determined by God and revealed in Scripture. Fortunately, God left us a full communication of His will in His Word. Over these past studies, as we have been in the process of peering into the past – observing God’s work among the ancient Israelites in the Sinai desert – we have seen a pattern emerge. In Exodus 36 that pattern sharpens into focus with seven principles that can be observed if we carefully look at the text’s detail. Each principle unfolds more of God’s method of getting things done “decently and in order”.

The Seven Principles

Principle 1: Leaders must be appointed and recognized as such.

In the text, the directors of the work were both publicly named and openly recognized.

Exodus 36:1 “Now Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skillful person in whom the LORD has put skill and understanding to know how to perform all the work in the construction of the sanctuary, shall perform in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded.

We live in a time when people seem publicly schizophrenic – they offer some leaders a cultic worship at a “rock star” level of support, and at the same time seem to despise the notion of proactive leadership. We don’t send clear signals about what we want in leaders at all. We want higher benefits, but lower taxes. We want a stronger defense, but more take home pay. We want better education, but cheaper schools. We want better highways but lesser tolls. This is the “have your cake and eat it too” generation! That makes leading harder – because the goals often don’t match reality!

More than at any time in our history, the complexity of modern life requires that we raise, train and deploy better leaders. The old truth still applies: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Great leaders are essential for great tasks. At the same time, we have to admit, that many today measure leaders wholly on a pragmatic assessment. “Did it work?” they say. Yet, productivity is not the only measure of leadership – because good choices aren’t always as immediately effective as bad ones. Some things need to measured by a different yardstick. Let me illustrate:

In an old Peanuts cartoon, Lucy demanded that her brother Linus change TV channels and then threatened him with her fist if he didn’t. “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asked Linus. “These five fingers,” said Lucy. “Individually they are nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” “What channel do you want?” sighed Linus. Turning away, he looked at his fingers and said, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?Because it works doesn’t mean it is good, or that it will leave the troops inspired.

The Lord sets the limits and the pattern of the work, but leaders are essential to getting people on board to fulfill each step of the process. Note four truths about the leaders that verse 1 exposed:

  • First, they were called by NAME.
  • Second, they were said to have been CALLED and STIRRED by the Lord.
  • Third, they were ENABLED by the Lord as He gave them the practical wisdom to perform the duties.
  • Fourth, God placed firm FENCES – parameters around their responsibilities..

We need to take these apart a bit. How do these comments help us? The implication is that God’s pattern begins with enabled leaders that showed their qualifications by the work they produced, but they were limited to the work that God called them to accomplish. This needs more emphasis in a time when people believe in “the cult of personality” style ministry. Not everyone will do the same task the same way.  When leadership changes in an organization, we need to be open to a new way of doing things – as long as the things being done are Biblically correct. One primary reason a leader changes things from what was done before may be because we are gifted differently. Change is not always a vote on the past methodology. The important measure is this: “Is the work being done within the parameters God specified in His Word? If so, the differences in the WAY of doing things are not significant. What is NOT acceptable is not meeting God’s full parameters because of personality issues. We are free to serve God as ourselves, but we are not free to allow our personality to stand in the way of serving God.

We need to be constantly on the lookout for the ones that have the potential to lead. They are often the feisty and difficult Sunday School kids – but they have something of a call on their life. If we will offer them loving support, and carefully nurture the stubbornness into character building and positive modeling – we may reap the later benefits of growing a leader. Even so, they cannot and should not be leading until they have been readied, appointed and recognized – because that is where it all begins.

Principle 2: Good leaders choose people with demonstrable skills in the area of the task.

As we saw in the first verse, the second verse continues and emphasizes again the reality that the team was made of those who demonstrated skill and understanding in that area of the work.

Exodus 36:2 Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person in whom the LORD had put skill…

One of the biggest mistakes in ministry is putting the wrong people in leadership. Work for God is not haphazard, so workers need to be carefully chosen. We dare not put leadership in the hands of the untested. Paul warned Timothy not to feel pressured to put people in leadership positions hastily:

1 Timothy 5:21 “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. 22Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.”

Leadership roles must be placed in the hands of those who evidence skill and understanding of both the areas they are working, and the people they are called to work alongside. More damage has been done by the wrong leaders than by the organizational paralysis of no leaders. I am amazed at how people will try to solve a problem by putting someone in place – even if they have little or no confidence in the ability of that leader. That is madness. Without leaders you may not move forward very much. With poor leaders, whatever direction you are heading swiftly – it is probably the wrong one. Paul cautioned Timothy to:

2 Timothy 2:2 “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Note the kind of people the leader was to replicate himself within. He was to find faithful people, and he was to find enabled people. The people Tim needed to pull in and train included those who were able to pass on truth, and showed the faithfulness to do it. This may sound incredibly dumb, but there are many who want to title of leadership, but will not inconvenience themselves to get the work that goes with the title completed. Leaders should be faithful and skilled – or not appointed.

Principle 3: The best workers are the called ones.

The work was planned and communicated by God – and God stirred them and enlisted them. He called people to the tasks – and that made their work of eternal value and cosmic importance:

Exodus 36:2 Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person in whom the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him, to come to the work to perform it.

We need to recognize the call of God in people. Forgive the biographical story, but I have lived this problem. Years ago I wanted to go to Israel and build a work there. I believed with all my heart that I was called to do it. I saw God provide – again and again –  for my training, my education and my bank account. I couldn’t believe how well God brought it all together – it seemed to me a miracle! I went to our fellowship of churches and asked to be commissioned. I didn’t want money, but I did want prayer support, and to continue to be included among the family embrace of the fellowship. They declined. They told me, after hundreds of hours of paperwork and interviews, etc. that they had no mechanism for such a ministry. If they didn’t pay us, how could they make us accountable? If they didn’t make us accountable to them, how could they protect their name in ministry? I was stunned. I had been ordained in that fellowship. They suggested that maybe I should reconsider. I went to the Near East because God provided and God called my wife and I – and we knew it. The failure of other godly men to recognize God’s call on my life has marked me. I try now to be much more careful when dealing with others concerning their call. I bear no ill will toward those men, but I have seen it far too many times – a failure to see hear when God is knocking. Men and women, we lack visionary leadership on all levels. We have more technocrats and managers than leaders – and we need to be developing a future set of leaders – it is at the center of my heart.

In addition to developing leaders – we need to be reminded that God is also calling workers to serve on every level of ministry. God knows WHO He wants involved in every aspect of the work – and we should be seeking God as to our role, and awaiting His nudging onto the field!

The primary requirement to serve God is an open heart to do what is needed. Too many volunteer if the work can be tailored to their desires and needs, and they don’t do what they don’t want to do. Let me illustrate what we need more of in the kingdom:

In an earlier century, there lay a large boulder in the middle of the a mountain roadway. Traveler after traveler passed the boulder, veering off to the side of the road to get around it. “What an inconvenience!” drivers would say as their horse carts squeezed past. Riders felt the carts come so close to the mountain, sometimes they scraping as they passed.. All the while, travelers were shaking their heads and muttering, “Can you believe that? Someone should get that big thing out of the way!”  After many months, a man happened along and spied the obstacle. He dismounted his horse and tied a rope at a nearby tree, pulling a large branch down. He took the branch and pried the boulder enough to get it rolling and rolled it off to the side of the road, and eventually over the edge of the nearby ledge. When he turned to see the rut left in the road from the boulder’s placement, he noticed there had been placed underneath the rock a small bag with a note. He picked up the note and read it. It said: “Thank you for being a true servant of the kingdom. Many have passed this way and complained because of the state of the road. Some have even stated what ought to be done. However, you have taken the responsibility upon yourself to serve the kingdom instead. You are the type of citizen we need more of in this kingdom. Please accept this bag of gold that traveler after traveler has passed by simply because they wanted some  to serve them as you have. Many thanks, Your King”

Is it strange to suggest that we need to revisit what a servant truly is as we look to serve our King? I have noticed that when people are CALLED by God and STIRRED by God – they will go longer, work harder, serve better and complain less – because the best workers are the CALLED ones.

Principle 4: The workers were supported by all of the people.

This is a very important principle of getting the work completed – we need to learn to AFFIRM people in their business. In our text, the workers were affirmed by the people, and even supplied by them to do the work!

Exodus 36:3 They received from Moses all the contributions which the sons of Israel had brought to perform the work in the construction of the sanctuary. And they still continued bringing to him freewill offerings every morning.

Everyone is called to cheer and supply – even if they don’t have the skills to DO the work! Have you been cheering? Has the usher been told how you appreciate his or her smiling face? Are the people who work sound, care for coffee, deal with the power point, lead us in praise, watch our children, teach our teens, visit our sick… and the list goes on and on…. Are they getting CHEERED by YOU? Are you pulling your weight in prayer and support both behind the scenes and in affirmation? It is more important than you know. The Proverb writer reminds: Proverbs 25:11 “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.”

I believe that we have the power to encourage – and we have the power to discourage those who work for the Lord around us. Sometimes they don’t do it the way we would – but they are doing it. I cannot help but mention a little story:

Author Mark Mittelberg tells about a man he simply called “Jim” –  who wanted to do things God’s way. Jim had a passion for God, a love for people, and a burden to share the message of God’s forgiveness with people who had not heard. The big question for Jim was, “How can I get un-churched people where I live – those who are so different from me  – to see how much God loves them?” Well, he decided to take some risks and really try. So, he went all out! First, he shaved his head right down to the skin- all except for one little patch of hair which he grew out long. He started wearing it in a pigtail and even dyed it a different color, trying to fit in with the customs of the crowd he was trying to reach. Jim changed the way he dressed, what he ate, and even the way he talked so he could communicate God’s love to this group of people. He read the books and literature they read and did everything he could do to establish common ground with them. In fact, he even moved into the same neighborhood and tried making friends with them. Unfortunately, Jim faced outright rejection from the very people he cared so much about; not only from them, but also from his own church family. Instead of getting behind him and encouraging him, they actually started saying bad things about him. Only a few close friends stuck with him and supported his efforts. -Jim wanted to do things God’s way. Just as Jesus came into this world and became one of us in order to show us God’s love, so Jim tried to do. He faced loneliness, weariness, and discouragement, but he remained faithful to do what God had called him to do. If you’ve ever read about James Hudson Taylor, who ministered in China over a century ago, then you know what kind of criticism and opposition Jim faced. Yet, as a result of Hudson Taylor’s ministry (China Inland Mission), thousands of beautiful Chinese people came to know Jesus. (sermon central illustrations). Wouldn’t you feel a bit silly in Heaven if you got there after being his life-long critic?

Principle 5: Even in the midst of God’s stirring, people needed to be channeled and directed in their desire to help.

Even when people are right with God and obedient, they will still need direction – because they cannot see the whole of the work!

Exodus 36:4 And all the skillful men who were performing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work which he was performing, 5 and they said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the LORD commanded us to perform.”

How exciting to see God’s people bringing supplies! Yet, there was a point at which what they wanted to give was MORE than what God called for them to give. I am willing to wager you have never had a sermon on that – the STOP GIVING message! Here is the truth: People can join in obedience, but they can also join in a “bandwagon frenzy” – and that isn’t what God wanted. Not everyone was called to give everything they had – because other needs would arise later. They were to give until the need was met – then they were to stop, hold and wait.

I have seen it happen more than once. A church board got so enthusiastic about a new building project – they over committed funding and killed the work. Leaders need to channel the well intended energy of a work, and keep a watch on the horizon of God’s direction. People will give to projects, but fail to give to the electric bill. It isn’t because they don’t want to help – it is because they don’t see the whole field in front of them.

Principle 6: When needs were met, they stayed inside the vision and cut off the flow of needs.

It is a well known fact of bureaucracy that it grows to eat whatever budget is available. When God put parameters on the work, they stayed within that frame – even when they could have enlarged it based on supply.

Exodus 36:6 So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, “Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.” Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more. 7 For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it.

Here is an essential word to ministry people as we work – stay inside the plan. More supply doesn’t automatically mean expanding the project. The parameters are established in the plan God gave to them. When ministries keep growing and growing, they fail to build in the “staying power” for the lean days. … and there will be lean days!

Churches can attempt to meet every need of every one – and many will applaud them for doing so. Yet, the church has a primary call. Very few will caution the church NOT to take on some societal problems – even when it pulls vital energy from making disciples. There are countless programs run in the ministry that will not truly help us complete God’s call in our lives to make disciples and teach them all things Jesus commanded us.

Here is another startling thing to say – coming from a Pastor. Ministries need to limit their expenditures, even when money is flowing in. It is NOT because they are to become a BANK – they are NOT! It is because supply doesn’t drive the visionGod’s Word does. How many times I have sat and watched God supply great amounts of money to local churches – and they have BLOWN the money on things that are secondary to their call – continuing to neglect the essentials of their call. We must be very careful!

Principle 7: The work was attributed to the leadership –even though it was a shared project.

Look at the way HE was credited, then read the modifier in verse 35 and 37 – these were team projects!

Exodus 36:8 All the skillful men among those who were performing the work made the tabernacle with ten curtains; of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material, with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman, Bezalel made them. 9 The length of each curtain was twenty-eight cubits and the width of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains had the same measurements.

Exodus 36:10 He joined five curtains to one another and the other five curtains he joined to one another. 11 He made loops of blue on the edge of the outermost curtain in the first set; he did likewise on the edge of the curtain that was outermost in the second set. 12 He made fifty loops in the one curtain and he made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that was in the second set; the loops were opposite each other. 13 He made fifty clasps of gold and joined the curtains to one another with the clasps, so the tabernacle was a unit. 14 Then he made curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle; he made eleven curtains in all. 15 The length of each curtain was thirty cubits and four cubits the width of each curtain; the eleven curtains had the same measurements. 16 He joined five curtains by themselves and the other six curtains by themselves. 17 Moreover, he made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that was outermost in the first set, and he made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that was outermost in the second set. 18 He made fifty clasps of bronze to join the tent together so that it would be a unit. 19 He made a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering of porpoise skins above. 20 Then he made the boards for the tabernacle of acacia wood, standing upright. 21 Ten cubits was the length of each board and one and a half cubits the width of each board. 22 There were two tenons for each board, fitted to one another; thus he did for all the boards of the tabernacle. 23 He made the boards for the tabernacle: twenty boards for the south side; 24 and he made forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards; two sockets under one board for its two tenons and two sockets under another board for its two tenons. 25 Then for the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side, he made twenty boards, 26 and their forty sockets of silver; two sockets under one board and two sockets under another board. 27 For the rear of the tabernacle, to the west, he made six boards. 28 He made two boards for the corners of the tabernacle at the rear. 29 They were double beneath, and together they were complete to its top to the first ring; thus he did with both of them for the two corners. 30 There were eight boards with their sockets of silver, sixteen sockets, two under every board. 31 Then he made bars of acacia wood, five for the boards of one side of the tabernacle, 32 and five bars for the boards of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the boards of the tabernacle for the rear side to the west. 33 He made the middle bar to pass through in the center of the boards from end to end. 34 He overlaid the boards with gold and made their rings of gold as holders for the bars, and overlaid the bars with gold. 35 Moreover, he made the veil of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen; he made it with cherubim, (the work of a skillful workman). 36 He made four pillars of acacia for it, and overlaid them with gold, with their hooks of gold; and he cast four sockets of silver for them. 37 He made a screen for the doorway of the tent, of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen, (the work of a weaver); 38 and he made its five pillars with their hooks, and he overlaid their tops and their bands with gold; but their five sockets were of bronze.

Team leaders get credited and faulted for the work of the whole team. They have the responsibility for the overall product. If the team fails, the leader fails. In the physical work sphere, this simply means that our sloppy work reflects on our boss.

In the spiritual world of the ministry of God’s Word in the church:

  • Failure of a children’s church worker to show children that God’s Word really is the decision source of life can produce children that don’t believe that God is truly interested in relating to them – and the lost education system is happy to fill in the gap left concerning the meaning of life.
  • Failure of a church usher to take the time to carefully make a visitor welcome can make a fractured and unhappy lost person pull away from the only place they can truly find inner healing.
  • Failure of a worship leader to try to disappear before the people that they might see Jesus and worship on Him – will leave people unsatisfied in worship and merely caught up in cults of personality.
  • Failure of a Bible teacher to carefully study and parse the Word of God – rather than focus simply on relevance and the latest topical fad subject – will keep people leaving with the sense that God hasn’t really communicated to their need.

In every case the end is the same – Jesus doesn’t get His work properly represented. The believer needs to see His ministry not as bringing people to his church, or to his cause – but reflecting  his of her Savior! We don’t want our leader to look bad – so we work on every level of ministry to the fullest. That keeps me studying. That keeps me sharpening methods of communicating the Word. Jesus is the leader, and I want Him to be shown in the world as He deserves to be shown. I do not always do it well, but it is the cry of my heart – to reflect His care and His truth properly. This is the deep meaning of Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The idea of PROVING the will of God may be better understood “purposing to move through life in a way that will bring a smile to the face of the Savior”!

We need to clearly understand that God’s work must be completed God’s way. We cannot do what we do by our own rules.

  • The work is deeply hindered when people work to promote themselves – and not the work God called them into.
  • The work is deeply hindered when people work out of compulsion – because “no one else will do it”.
  • The work is deeply hindered when leaders won’t stick to the plan God revealed – and want to build well beyond that to satisfy themselves.
  • The work is deeply hindered when people do not want to take direction from their leaders – because they feel they know better what should be done.
  • The work is deeply hindered when leaders are not well respected by their team – because suspicion will kill forward progress.

God’s work must be done God’s way.

The End of the World: “The Five Great Errors – Revelation 22

Looking back over the history of humanity, there have been, both in business and in other pursuits, a history of well documented blunders. Stepping past the suspect stories of Julius Caesar’s wife telling him not to go to the center on the Ides of March, there are some documented mistakes that the UK newspaper called “The Telegraph” picked up some time ago. They reminded:

  • The Coca Cola Company made a series of errors in the early 20th century, when its biggest rival, Pepsi, struggled to avoid bankruptcy. On at least three occasions Coca Cola was offered the chance to buy the company – but never did. The companies have vied for supremacy in the cola market ever since.
  • It took 177 years to build, but the Pisa’s famous tower began to lean less than a decade after construction began. The enormous project was planned on unstable soil, and had a shallow three meter foundation which couldn’t support the structure’s weight. After extensive renovations, the tower has now stopped moving for the first time in its history.
  • This image depicts a triumphant Christopher Columbus landing in America in 1492. However, the fortuitous discovery which allowed Spain to colonize America was little more than a mistake. Columbus had been hoping to reach China and India, and believed that they could be reached by sailing west across the Atlantic. This is why, of course, he called the indigenous population Indians.
  • Captain George Custer had always wanted fame, but the disastrous Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876 ensured him a reputation only for arrogance and miscalculation. He had estimated only a small number of Native Americans would fight his troops, but his entire company was killed by an army of thousands.
  • Remember the moment in ET when Elliot lures the little extra-terrestrial into his house with a sweet called Reese’s Pieces? Well, you may only know of that particular treat because of of it. Spielberg had tried to get Mars to let M&Ms be featured in the film, but was turned down. After the film was released, sales of Reese’s Pieces rocketed by more than 65 per cent.
  • RMS Titanic, the largest passenger steamship in the world, was popularly believed to be unsinkable. The huge loss of life that occurred when it crashed into an iceberg in 1912 was due partly to an inadequate supply of lifeboats, and partly to design flaws – including an unreliable system of watertight compartments, and poor quality rivets in the ship’s hull. After the ship sank, a number of safety improvements were introduced to boat design.
  • In 1961, Decca Records auditioned a small Liverpool band in their London studios. Eventually, however, they decided that the group wasn’t sellable. Not long after, they signed with EMI. The group’s name? The Beatles.
  • His name is now synonymous with genius, but Albert Einstein was so unsuccessful at school that his teachers believed he had had learning difficulties.
  • “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” So said Western Union, the company with a monopoly on the telegraph system, when offered the patent for Alexander Graham Bell’s new invention in 1876. Two years later, they offered $25 million for it, but were turned down.
  • If only all our mistakes resulted in medical breakthroughs. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin when he mistakenly left a Petri dish open. The blue-green mould which grew in the dish had released a substance which killed the bacteria around it. It was the beginning of modern antibiotics.

-For the whole article:

The history of the world is riddled with such blunders. When we open the last page of the Bible, we see that some errors have much more catastrophic consequences than the slanting of a “campanile” or bell tower, and certainly carry greater import than the loss of soda pop revenues. In fact, the Bible closes with a response to the very errors that began with the introduction of sin to the human race back in Genesis 3.

Key Principle: Truth can be eroded, obscured, theorized, postponed or even ignored.

The lies of sin have led men to errors by lack of trust in God’s Word, lack of clarity about God’s Word, lack of practical living in light of God’s Word, lack of urgent change because of God’s Word, and finally lack of heeding God’s Word out of a sense of personal entitlement. Before we read the final response, let’s remind ourselves of the initial problem from Genesis:

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

If you look back at Genesis 2:25. Man was OK with himself. Woman was OK with herself. No advertisements made them feel inadequate. No self image marred – no need for better makeup or another exercise machine. The issue wasn’t whether they were beautiful enough or felt important enough – they were happy with who God made them.

Enter the tempter (3:1). A series of events led to a “domino falling failures”:

1)     The man was to guard the garden and failed – exposing his wife to the tempter and not governing the parameters of God (3:1b).
2)     The woman entertained the question of God’s authority over her and focused on the one thing God told them to leave alone (3:2-3).
3)     The serpent accused God of holding back on them and they succumbed to the idea that God wasn’t who He claimed to be (3:4-6).
4)     What came from the fall was a LOSS of INNOCENCE – “eyes were opened” (3:7a), DEATH of intrinsic positive SELF IMAGE – “knew they were naked” (3:7b), SHAME – “covered themselves” (3:7b); DISTANCE from God (3:8) and GUILT – the FEAR to be seen of God (3:10).

The bottom line is that man’s pain came from his rebellion – and so does YOURS. When we decide we know better than God, we forgo the benefits of trusting Him to meet our every need. We lose out on blessing. We gain shame, discontent, guilt and a host of problems. If you kept reading the familiar passage, you would see clearly the results from “The Fall” experience:

1)       BLAME: Man tried to blame the woman for his lack of guardianship and leadership (3:12) – the leader blames the followers! Woman blamed the tempter (3:13) – the shopper blames the advertiser for MAKING HER BUY the product!
2)       WAR: God promised to put a battle between the deceiver and man through the Messianic seed (3:15). Every believer that faces pains of the enemy and his warfare can trace the struggle of Ephesians 6 back to this moment – not to mention the PRICE of the Cross!
3)       PHYSICAL PAIN replaced the joy of the reproductive system. A collective groan may now raise from the females of the assembly! The pain of childbirth is not ALL there is to this!
4)       A REBELLION HELPER: Woman was made to AID man in his walk with God – and now she would COMPETE with him and help him by supplying her own rebellion (3:16b). She will want HIS JOB – and struggle with submission.
5)       STRUGGLE: Because of the lack of guardianship and leadership, God ends His dealings with their rebellion in words to Adam – the work I gave you will now be a struggle. The ground won’t cooperate (3:17b-19).

Why do I mention these in a study on Revelation? Because the last part of the story of God’s written and revealed Word is this: there have been some underlying errors that have plagued mankind since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Five great errors have dogged man – and God calls on man to SEE them and RESPOND appropriately! What are the FIVE ERRORS? First, the text, then the implications:

They are found in Revelation 22:6 And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place. 7 “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” 8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. 9 But he said to me, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God.” 10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.” 12 “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. 13 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying. 16 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. 18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. 20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

Remember the principle we noted earlier? Truth can be eroded, obscured, theorized, postponed or even ignored. In the final words of the Bible we can see the five lies men have believed – and the five delusions many have lived under:

Lack of trust in God’s Word (22:6,8,9):

In all three verses – 6,8 and 9 the issue is the faithfulness of God’s record. John says that the words were carefully and properly related to him in TRUTH. He claims his record is what he HEARD and SAW  – the things he described in the circular letter we now call the “book”. His personal witness to the events did not imply that he thought HE was infallible – since he bowed to the wrong guy and got corrected two times in glory (Revelation 19:10 and 22:9). The basis of John’s belief in the testimony was the REVELATION by God – not his abilities as an author. John didn’t think, based on his record, that HE was the reason we should believe the message at all.

Peter argued this very point in 2 Peter 1:16 “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

Peter and John both KNEW they SAW first hand a move of God. Yet, they also knew it wasn’t their VIEW of things that mattered, but the revealed truths accurately recorded because of God’s work in and through them. They saw themselves as flawed, but the Word as revealed.

Here is the truth of it. Satan questioned Eve and implied that God didn’t really mean the things that He said. “Has God really said?” he asked. Anyone that walks closely with God and daily in His Word knows the hearkening to selfish rationalization when they hear it. “Can you really trust that this is the truth?” our world cries out – echoing the voice of their dark master. What they are really saying is this: “Can you really try to tell me that I cannot do what I want?” Lack of trust in God’s Word leads to a lack of belief that any moral system can truly be placed over me. I end up being God in my life – making decisions that suit my own purposes and satiate my own desires. He who trusts in the Lord trusts in His Word- by which He has been made known.

Fundamentally, people have three choices in dealing with the Bible:

  • First, we can believe that although God’s Word is revealed truth through imperfect men – its reliability is based on God’s power and ability to communicate – unhindered by the flaws of the men themselves.
  • Second, we can see God as lacking the power (or will) to communicate effectively through flawed men. Some of its stories are made up by men, others show some truth of the Holy One. This is the curious modern “Christian” thinker who believes God can raise a lifeless body from a grave, but cannot both record the event flawlessly and preserve the event wholly in history. Power over life doesn’t seem to include power over the facts.
  • Third, we can toss the Bible onto the stack of other ingenious, influential and curious fictions of the old world.

I believe the third has been widely adopted in the modern academic world – it is a piece of pure religious sage fiction, and the second in many Christian circles –it is a flawed record of well meaning followers of God. The idea that it is the unhindered revelation of truth is now held among only a handful of believers. I want to be counted among them. God is able to speak through a donkey if He chooses. He can sign His name and reveal His character in the lights of the heavens above. Fallen creation poses no particular obstacle to His ability to clearly show Himself. His Word is truth. Biblically speaking, His detractors are fools – plain and simple. Sometimes people fall for the oldest deception on the planet – contradiction to God’s Word. A knowledge of revealed truth can be steadily eroded by unending attacks – ask any modern university student that is trying to live for Christ on campus.

Lack of clarity about God’s Word (22:10,16-19):

Not all rejection of the Word in our day is because of simple hardheartedness, though indirectly that is at the core of our problem. Some of the rejection is due to the obscuring of the Bible’s true message. When someone turns the Bible into a prosperity manual – using the Holy Writ to encourage the hungers for a better life this side of Heaven – they obscure its real message. Many times when I have talked with someone who “left the faith” the issue wasn’t that God’s Word was insufficient – it is that promises made on God’s behalf by those who purported to teach His Word  – but were NOT Biblical  – were found to be untrue by the defector.

Look at God’s truth. In verse 10, John was told NOT TO SEAL UP the prophecy – not to block the flow of information – in contradistinction to a command issued long before to the prophet Daniel (Daniel 8:26 “The vision of the evenings and mornings Which has been told is true; But keep the vision secret, For it pertains to many days in the future.”). The words given to John were to be shared, unfiltered and unhindered. Such a good word should be given to preachers of our day.

We are not to create a church that is a stirring concert followed by a public therapy session. We are to make disciples by the careful and consistent sharing of the Word of God. Every other pursuit of the church must serve that purpose.

The verses that unfold this truth and drive it home to John appear to be 22:16-19:

16 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. 18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.

The unmistakable message of the Bible is this: Come to Jesus. He is the Savior, and there is no other! Buddha’s enlightenment cannot ensure your eternal destiny. Mohammed’s rules cannot make you acceptable to God. Animism’s beckoning to the “circle of life” will leave you searching for truth on a fallen planet set for destruction. The message of the Bible is NOT that we have failed – but that He has prevailed! Jesus has CONQUERED death’s hold on us, and broken through the back of the tomb into the place of eternal blessing. We cannot by our sincere works chip through the tomb’s solid walls – only the Savior was able to break it open. The call of the Word is not to attempt a new strategy to attain blessing in the hereafter – but to open our heart to the victor over death and the grave.

Note that in Revelation’s great close the word is repeated… Come. Come. Come. It is the message of the Spirit of God. It is the message of the Bride of the Lamb. It is the message of anyone who CLEARLY hears what the revelation’s true testimony is.

  • Prosperity theologians say “get”.
  • Psychologists say “become”.
  • Sociologists say “empower”.
  • Educators say “enlighten”.
  • Scientists say “investigate”.
  • Religious teachers say “work”.

Jesus simply says – COME! If our message can be reduced to anything, it must be reduced to this… Man is lost without the Savior, and saved only by submitting to His Word and His Work. When the church fouls the message, we hinder the lost from hearing the truth. Sometimes people fall for Satan’s age old tactic of obscuring the truth… “Has God really said?” A clear and crisp presentation of Jesus can easily be obscured by worldly agendas that permeate even the church’s message. Ask anyone who invested in a teacher who put up billboards on the actual date of Christ’s return – and then it passed. Honest followers got sucker punched by well meaning but misguided teachers. 

Lack of practical living in light of God’s Word (22:11-15):

Look again at the words in verses 11-15:

11 “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.” 12 “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. 13 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.

This part of the Bible doesn’t sound BIBLICAL! Let bad guys be bad guys? Really? What is Jesus saying – Don’t try to change people with the Gospel? No! He is relating an essential truth – Time is running out people who follow Him will show their allegiance in their lives. They will take their dirty robes and wash them in the stain-cleansing flow from the blood at Calvary. They will trust His work as sufficient for their salvation, and call on God to wash them because of Jesus’ payment at the Cross. At the same time, and this is critical to understand – the changes in a true believer will be evident in the change of their moral choices, ethical selections and practical lifestyle. Jesus didn’t come to make people theologically superior. He isn’t a theory creator.

Many of us have to admit that we don’t change our stubborn and ungodly practices – we simply add the message of sin’s payment to our own stubborn self will. We too often live for self but add “God words” and “Bible verses”. We can talk theology while still comfortably living sinfully. We can expound on Biblical truths from our head, while caging and locking up our heart. That wasn’t God’s intent.

Let me say it clearly: We must stop acting like we know God’s Word if we choose to continue to live immorally. We must stop pretending to be knowledgeable about a God to Whom we simply refuse to submit. We must learn to drop the theology of the arrogant and begin to humble ourselves before the forgiving hand of God! These are hard words – but the time to play is running out! Jesus said that truth unpracticed is dead truth. James records that faith that doesn’t work itself out is dead theory. There are far too many who have fallen to this old error – that God wants a sharpened head and theologically educated tongue. What He wants is a surrendered heart that reshapes the mind, reforms the tongue and redresses the hands. Anything else is short of the goal. If we KNOW the truth – it must drive us to LIVE the truth – or we don’t truly BELIEVE the truth. Salvation is about surrender, not hedging bets on eternity. God wants practical believers – that live out truth. One of the five great errors is simply this: We can believe in our head but not surrender with our heart. It is time to choose, on every level, truth.

Lack of urgent change because of God’s Word (22:7,12,20):

With little fanfare, John closes the book with repeated warning. In 22:7 “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” In 22:12 he wrote: .” 12 “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”  In 22:20 he wrote it one last time: “20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

One of the oldest errors that has afflicted mankind and duped many an intelligent man or woman is this – “I have more time”. I don’t need to accept Jesus today. I don’t need to surrender sin today. I can do it tomorrow, or perhaps next month. Maybe when I am older I will get more serious. Urgency isn’t there. We have been deceived into thinking we have more time. Read the word again.. quickly, quickly, quickly….

Look at your life. Seriously, I ask you this question: “Has time seemed to be moving faster and faster for you?” Are some of you thinking, “Wow, I am getting older a lot faster than I thought I would!” That should be a temporal warning for an eternal problem. We have only this life to make a decision – and the timing on this life is always short and never certain. Truth can be postponed when urgency is suppressed. It is an error many are making… is that YOU?

Lack of heeding God’s Word out of a sense of personal entitlement (22:21):

The final error that has plagued humanity is laying on the face of the passage, but may not be so obvious. It is found in the unpacking of the simple declaration in the final sentence of the written Scripture: Revelation 22:21 “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”

The heart of rebellion manifests a sense of self destiny. When we think in rebellion, we do it OUR way. We believe we “master our own fate”. Grace is not like that. Grace is a gift – and it requires both a GIVER and one who opens their hand, and heart, to receive it. The Bible ends with a grace statement – because at the end of everything, there is a great future to those who open themselves to God’s grace.

  • People who believe they deserve Heaven don’t want or need grace.
  • People who feel entitled to Heaven in spite of their unrighteousness aren’t seeing things the God does.

They are evaluating themselves against other people, not against the HOLINESS of God. There is nothing fallen man can DO to overcome the gap placed in our path between us and God – and ultimately us and Heaven. The bridge that was built was one of GRACE built with the blood-stained wood of the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Despite what anyone may tell you, the main problem on the planet IS rebellion against God – something the Bible calls simply “sin”. It isn’t primarily a political problem as Madison purported in his time – so it lacks a singular coherent political solution. It isn’t an economic issue at it core as Lenin espoused, and cannot be solved by any form of wealth redistribution he and his later comrades attempted. It isn’t an primarily social injustice issue as Roosevelt preached – so no dose of “New Deal” can solve the pains of it. It cannot be solved in Hoover’s austerity, or Nixon’s attempt at control. Politicians fall flat in the face of the problem, for they lack the power to deal with it. It is a SIN problem, a spiritual stain that marks the human heart, darkens the human mind, fouls the human spirit and weighs down human hope. The problem has a solution, but it will be found only in the power of One greater than the problem – a Savior. We do not vote for Him, we simply bow before Him.

Our world is in a SIN crisis, but it is a masked problem. We see the symptoms on every hand – but the underlying errors have become part of the thinking of our day – and profoundly affect every part of our lives. The lies of sin have led men to errors by:

  • lack of trust in God’s Word,
  • lack of clarity about God’s Word,
  • lack of practical living in light of God’s Word,
  • lack of urgent change because of God’s Word,
  • lack of heeding God’s Word out of a sense of personal entitlement.

We must see these errors in our own thinking and untie their hold on our hearts. It will take deliberate trust in God’s Word and His Promises – and it will take conscious ungripping of strongly held deceptions…

A man went fishing along a rushing river in the floods of spring time. The water raged, so rather than rowing, he tied his small wooden rowboat to a tree and slowly slacked the rope so the boat could move away from shore. When the line unexpectedly untied from the tree, the little vessel was swiftly swept away, and in a flash was dashed to pieces on a rock. Clinging to the wreckage the fisherman cried for help as he was being swept along with the current. A farmer near the shore downstream saw his plight and raced ahead to a small bridge. Lying down, the rescuer hung his arm over the side of the bridge and yelled, “grab my hand.” The fisherman, with both arms wrapped around the wreckage, did not know if he trusted the unseen rescuer enough to let go. He was faced with a potentially perilous choice. Either he could let go of the wreckage and grab the hand above –or he could cling to what he knew and surely perish.

The fact is, we have the very same choice he had.

Grasping God’s Purpose: “The Pattern of Surrender” – Exodus 35:20-35

World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. Over 60 million people were killed, which was over 2.5% of the world population. Among those were 418,000 Americans who died to overcome the rise of tyranny. In Europe, the Act of Military Surrender that brought World War Two in Europe to an end was signed on May 7th 1945. The Act of Military Surrender was signed by Alfred Jodl, on behalf of Nazi Germany.

 1. We the undersigned, acting by authority of the German High Command, hereby surrender unconditionally to the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command all forces on land, sea, and in the air who are at this date under German control.

2. The German High Command will at once issue orders to all German military, naval and air authorities and to all forces under German control to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European time on 8 May and to remain in the positions occupied at that time. No ship, vessel, or aircraft is to be scuttled, or any damage done to their hull, machinery or equipment.

3. The German High Command will at once issue to the appropriate commanders, and ensure the carrying out of any further orders issued by the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and by the Soviet High Command.

4. This act of military surrender is without prejudice to, and will be superseded by any general instrument of surrender imposed by, or on behalf of the United Nations and applicable to Germany and the German armed forces as a whole.

5. In the event of the German High Command or any of the forces under their control failing to act in accordance with this Act of Surrender, the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and the Soviet High Command will take such punitive or other action as they deem appropriate.

 Signed at Rheims at 0241 France on the 7th day of May, 1945. On behalf of the German High Command. Alfred Jodl in the presence of On behalf of the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force. Walter Bedell Smith On behalf of the Soviet High Command. Ivan Sousloparov Major General, French Army (Witness) François Sevez

 What is critical to notice about that document was that there was a specific way to face the surrender process. As we open a much older document, this one recorded by Moses and revealed by the God that created all things, we see the same truth…

Key Principle: There is a very specific pattern to surrender, and God helps us move from our old life to our new with some necessary instruction.

Not everything is resisted because we are stubborn. I am repeatedly amazed at how many times I run into believers who have followed God for many years, but really DON’T KNOW what God expects from them on a daily basis. It is true that some are resistant (we all are inside) but many just don’t really know.

I want to explore HOW God wanted these three measures of our surrender – TIME, TALENT and TREASURE dealt with in our daily lives. There is a pattern for surrender, and it can be found in the second part of Exodus 35:

First, real surrender is YOUR PERSONAL GIFT to God.

No one can compel you to truly obey God in your heart. It is an internal matter. The decision to obey was each man and woman’s decision. The people did it when they got HOME – just like you will (or won’t). Exodus 35:20 Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel departed from Moses’ presence.

There is behind this rule a principle about surrender that is vital to recall: No one is responsible for your walk with God but you. We at your church can help you, but you must choose to walk with God. Even HE doesn’t just grab your life and thrust Himself into it. He invites, encourages, calls and comforts. Remember, your life is like a coin – you can spend it any way you choose – but we can only spend it once.

What is the first part of the pattern of surrender? It is the recognition that I will not be measured by my mom’s faith or my dad’s faith – but only by my personal choice. The striking reality of our eternal destiny is this – we chose it. Millions will take the wide road that leads to destruction. They will choose the path of comfort and conformity. They will walk, lock step, with leaders of an ever-darkening moral decay. They will lie and they will believe lies. Then, for some inexplicable reason, they will stand before God as though they wanted God, and followed God during this life.

I don’t want to be too wordy on this matter, so let me be clear: You can choose to follow God and He will walk with you through life. You can choose to follow your own will and refuse God’s place in your life. If you take the second choice, you will end up without God – because you told Him you had everything covered and did not want Him to guide you to His home. Surrender is a personal act, and no one can do it for you.

  • If you choose to surrender to God’s leading, you will hunger for God’s Word.
  • If you choose to surrender to God’s power, you will walk in His strength and not your own.
  • If you choose to surrender to God’s purposes, you will conform your choices to His will as He expressed them in His Word.
  • If you choose to surrender to God’s plan, you will pray fervently and seek His leading day by day.

Don’t surrender only when you think you can see the benefits. God is ALWAYS at work, even when you don’t see it. I told you this true and short story before, but it is one that always helps me to put God’s hand behind the scenes in perspective.

Ruby Hamilton, a businesswoman in her fifties, was stunned at the loss of her husband of 32 years in a car accident. Her anger and disappointment went deeper than a more typical expression of grief though. She had become a follower of Christ in her late twenties, but her husband didn’t share her newfound interest in spiritual things. Nonetheless, she had set about praying for him feverishly and unceasingly that he would come to know the Lord. And one day when she was praying, she felt a wave of peace wash over her, and that still small voice assuring her that her husband would be okay. She eagerly awaited the day when her husband surrender his life to Jesus. And now this. What do you do when faith doesn’t make sense? When God doesn’t seem to be answering or opening doors or being found? Ruby Hamilton stopped living for God. Roger Simmons was hitchhiking his way home. He would never forget the date – May 7th. His heavy suitcase was making him tired and he was anxious to take off that army uniform once and for all. Flashing the thumb to the oncoming car, he lost hope when he saw it was a black, sleek new Cadillac. To his surprise the car stopped. The passenger door swung open. He ran toward the car, tossed his suitcase in the back and thanked the handsome, well-dressed man as he slid into the front seat. “Going home for keeps?” “Sure am.” “Well, you’re in luck if you’re going to Chicago.” “Not quite that far – do you live in Chicago?” “I have a business there, the driver said. My name is Hamilton.” They chatted for a while, and then Roger, a Christian, felt a compulsion to share his faith with this fiftyish, apparently successful business man. But he kept putting it off, till he realized that he was now just 30 minutes from his home. It was now or never. “Mr. Hamilton, I would like to talk to you about something very important.” Then he simply told Mr. Hamilton about the plan of salvation and ultimately asked him if he would like to receive Jesus as his savior and Lord. The Cadillac pulled over to the side of the road. Roger expected that he was about to get thrown out of the car. Instead, the businessman bowed his head and received Christ, then thanked Roger “This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.” Five years went by. Roger married, had a couple of kids and a business of his own. Packing his suitcase for a trip to Chicago he found a small white business card that had been given to him by Hamilton five years previous. In Chicago, he looked up Hamilton enterprises. The receptionist told him that it was impossible to see Mr. Hamilton, but he could see Mrs. Hamilton. A little confused, he was ushered into a beautiful office where he found himself facing a keen-eyed woman in her fifties. She extended her hand “You knew my husband?” Roger told her about how Hamilton had picked him up while he was hitchhiking home after the war. “Can you tell me what day that was?” “Sure it was May 7th, five years ago, the day I was discharged from the army.” “Anything special about that day,” she asked. He hesitated, not knowing if he should mention how he shared the message of Jesus with her husband. “Mrs. Hamilton, I explained the gospel to your husband that day. He pulled over to the side of the road and wept against the steering wheel. He gave his life to Christ that day.” Explosive sobs shook her body. Finally getting a grip on herself, she sobbed, “I had prayed for my husband’s salvation for years. I believed God would save him.” “Where is your husband, Ruby?” “He’s dead. He was in a car crash after he let you out of the car. He never got home. You see, I thought God had not kept his promise. I stopped living for God five years ago because I thought God had not kept his word!” (Bret Toman, Sermon: Power to Live the Golden Rule, 1/3/2011)

Surrender is personal, but you should be able to see it in your life, and measure if you have, in fact, personally surrendered to Him. There is a “big surrender” in your life, when your conscious will openly declares God as Master. Following that, there is “daily surrender”, where we daily recall His Mastery and apply it to specific areas of daily life.

Second, real surrender begins in you when God stirs and moves within.

Yet, that only happens in those who let Him – and don’t ignore His voice or drown out the sound it makes. He will not push us until we ask, but will aid us when we do! God moved in each who opened to Him – and people made the choice to respond. Exodus 35:21 Everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the LORD’S contribution for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments.

Here is a profound principle behind this rule: Real obedience can only be measured from the inside. God moves inside our hearts. You and I cannot see people’s motives or intent – nor should we speak like we can. We must be careful not to judge things we cannot know. God may be moving in someone right next to you right now, but they look bored. They have built up defenses over the years to listen, but not look as though they are listening – so as to not make people watch whether they do what they commit to do. The opposite is also true. Some people may look riveted to the message right now, and be thinking about the roast in the oven, or why that lady in front of them doesn’t change salons.

I cannot always see surrender on the outside, but it isn’t so difficult to see un-surrendered lives on the outside. Obedience is the mark of the surrendered man or woman. Hunger for God’s Word and obedience to God’s Word. Surrender sounds like submission. Surrender sounds like thankfulness. Surrender sounds like praise.

Surrender is responsive to God’s stirring, because God works in each of us in very unique ways. We should expect the pattern to follow the Word of God – but the specifics to follow the stirring of God. He has a way of getting to you – and getting His point across.

Third, real surrender begins with a deliberate identity loss. 

“I gotta be ME!” and “I did it MY way!” are anthems of the un-surrendered. Ego and self centeredness are the opposite of surrender in life – and they are at the heart of identity. God wants us to see our real IDENTITY to be found in how HE sees us – not how we perceive others see us. The toughest part of surrender is facing a new identity that emerges from the relationship with God. Our old self gives way to a new one – and that is easy for others to see! When People surrender the markers of their old identity, they show their serious change has taken place. Exodus 35:22 Then all whose hearts moved them, both men and women, came and brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and bracelets, all articles of gold; so did every man who presented an offering of gold to the LORD. 23 Every man, who had in his possession blue and purple and scarlet material and fine linen and goats’ hair and rams’ skins dyed red and porpoise skins, brought them.

The principle behind this rule of the pattern – the identity loss rule – is this: My true identity is not how others see me – but how God sees me. I will never properly relate to things while I am not properly related to their Creator. Further, I will never properly relate to things while I believe they define who I am. My stuff doesn’t make me who I am. My abilities don’t make me who I am. My God makes me who I am…

Technically speaking, David Ring was born dead. Quick acting medical personnel were able to get him breathing, but oxygen deprivation left him with cerebral palsy. He suffered from a speech impediment, hands that don’t cooperate, and a limp. As if that wasn’t enough adversity for one person, both his parents died by the time he was fourteen years old, and his hemophiliac brothers subsequently dies of AIDS. David’s remaining family members feared that David would never have a normal life, because they assumed he would never marry, have children, drive a car, earn a living or take care of himself. As a young teenager, David came surrender his life to God and came to see his disability as a gift. Once he began to see his circumstances as being chosen for him by God, he began moving forward. Today he is married, had four beautiful children, drives a car, and speaks to more than 250 audiences a year. At his speaking engagements he sells T-shirts bearing the slogan “Don’t Whine…SHINE!” David ring has taken responsibility for his life—the bad, the difficult and the wonderful. And he continues to celebrate the difference he is able to make in the lives of others. When people wrestle with difficult life experiences, the why question often gets in the way. One of David Rings Axioms is “Don’t ask God why. Ask What. What do you want me to do with this?” SOURCE: Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop, Seven Keys to Spiritual Renewal (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989), pp. 85-86.

Can you hear it in David’s voice? That is the sound of a surrendered life. He isn’t asking what everyone else sees – He is asking what God wants and what God sees.

Fourth, real surrender comes when we GIVE, not plan to give.

People discovered the privilege of giving – that God had enabled them for a purpose! Exodus 35:24 Everyone who could make a contribution of silver and bronze brought the LORD’S contribution; and every man who had in his possession acacia wood for any work of the service brought it….29 The Israelites, all the men and women, whose heart moved them to bring material for all the work, which the LORD had commanded through Moses to be done, brought a freewill offering to the LORD.

Smart believers get it: God gave us what He did so that He can use us as He chooses. Tell me, why do you think that when believers got more riches, they became more stingy? When the nation was poor, and Christians were really struggling –they were marked by a profound generosity for each other and for God’s work. No one can deny it – there has never been a time when more wealth was in the hands of those who name Jesus as their Savior – and yet works are struggling all over. What has happened? Many have forgotten the SHEER JOY of giving sacrificially. We give out of the spare – and want to be blessed in abundance. God isn’t cheap, and we must measure whether we are truly extravagant in our generosity as He is – or not.

Here is the principle behind that rule of surrender: Stubborn resistance comes from belief in the lie that I own what I possess. Once I understand that I don’t have ANYTHING but what God provides me daily – health, breath, emotional stability, material wealth, spiritual strength – my life becomes properly focused on serving God’s ends.

Beloved, a great many of us suffer from the addiction to the things of this world. We don’t want Heaven as much as we once did, because we are so busy developing every comfort in this life. We have been exhausted into swallowing the lie that our “stuff” truly matters. In fact, we are a people, standing on the edge of a brand new day of renewal:

Imagine a city under siege. The enemy that surrounds the city will not let anyone or anything leave. Supplies are running low, and the citizens are fearful. But in the dark of the night, a spy sneaks through the enemy lines. He has rushed to the city to tell the people that in another place the main enemy force has been defeated; the leaders have already surrendered. The people do not need to be afraid. It is only a matter of time until the besieging troops receive the news and lay down their weapons. Richard J. Mouw, Uncommon Decency, pp. 149-150.

That was Calvary! Jesus has come. The power of death is broken – and the power of the material world has been forever subjected to the immaterial one. My place in Heaven is under the careful construction of the skilled hands of my Savior. Each piece is being lovingly assembled with His gentle precision. He left to prepare a place for me, and nothing I can build can compare to it! I don’t own anything… I use it. It is all His. When I really live that truth – I will be free to discover the JOY of giving as He intended.

Fifth, real surrender brings a new fulfillment.

People are energized by obedience and engage life with a new joy when we work in the area of our gifts and talents – and dedicate that work to God’s higher purpose. Exodus 35:25 All the skilled women spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun, in blue and purple and scarlet material and in fine linen. 26 All the women whose heart stirred with a skill spun the goats’ hair.

The best worship isn’t singing or praying – it is working. True worship is when I exhaust myself before the Lord using His loaned abilities to the fullest extent that I am capable of using them…

William Temple made this clear long ago: For worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose — and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self centered nature which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin. (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Integrity Crisis, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, p. 119.)

The underlying principle for this rule is this truth: God delights to use those who prepare their skills and discipline their life to consciously serve Him. When you ask young people today: “What is your plan for your work life?” The natural answer is one about education and preparation to make a good salary, or gain a good position. Even Christians rather unabashedly share that better salary or personal happiness are their chief reasons for their life choices. Is is wrong for me to desire to hear the answer that God stoops downward to hear? Oh that once, someone would truly say  “I am getting this education because I have been called by God to follow Him. This will put me in a position to be used of God in this field – and there is much ministry to be done there.”

Divorcing work and worship is a mistake. Every aspect of life that can be deliberately planned and prepared can be an act of worship – because worship is not just about what I am doing, but HOW I do it and WHY I do it.

When a mother prayerfully and carefully prepares meals for her children that are nutritious, balanced, and made in a cost effective way – she performs an act of conscious worship – if it is done deliberately to fulfill her God-given role with a careful knowledge of God’s inspection. When she cleans a house, conscious of Jesus’ presence in that home, and with the desire to delight Him with her diligence – that act becomes an act of worship. It isn’t simply the JOB – but the attentiveness to God’s presence and delight in how we do it. Any planned task can be done for God – or forgetting Him. Compartmentalization KILLS our faith. It distances God from our daily life. Try this week to recognize God is near – and He cares about the little things. Sense His presence in your choices and plans. Walk each step as though they matter to Him. Such care will keep your feet on the right path, and your perspective spiritually tuned.

Sixth, real surrender is different for different people.

God made it clear that He entrusted some with more than others – but they were to surrender what they had to the work. Exodus 35:27 The rulers brought the onyx stones and the stones for setting for the ephod and for the breast piece; 28 and the spice and the oil for the light and for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense.

Not everyone had the more expensive stones in their possession. We are all created equal in value, but very unequal in ability and opportunity. God called on leaders – on rulers – to get the more precious gems needed for the ephod. That breast plate was to be used to discern God’s intent and direction. God used them to carry His oil, and His spices. They were the privileged – not because they HAD MORE for themselves – but because they HAD MORE to be “at the ready” of God’s call.

The underlying principle for this rule is simply this: God plants things in my life to allow me the opportunity to CHOOSE to USE them for His glory. That is why the Christian life must be increasingly a prayer oriented life. Maybe I can connect these two ideas in this statement:

Prayer is surrender-surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boat hook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.” E. Stanley Jones, in Liberating Ministry From The Success Syndrome, K Hughes, Tyndale, 1988, p. 73

When God gives me things, He hides them away in my house to be used when He calls for them. As I walk prayerfully, I will be sensitive to His call for His things, entrusted to me. Even more, I will be ready to easily give them over to Him when He asks – because I kept myself aware they were never really MINE.

Finally, real surrender has to be administrated.

God’s work had leaders and organization – it wasn’t a free for all and it wasn’t a guessing game. The supervising leaders were announced, recognized and followed. Exodus 35:30 Then Moses said to the sons of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 31 “And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship; 32 to make designs for working in gold and in silver and in bronze, 33 and in the cutting of stones for settings and in the carving of wood, so as to perform in every inventive work. 34 “He also has put in his heart to teach, both he and Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. 35 “He has filled them with skill to perform every work of an engraver and of a designer and of an embroiderer, in blue and in purple and in scarlet material, and in fine linen, and of a weaver, as performers of every work and makers of designs.

This rule has an underlying principle: God is a God of order. He coordinates and plans. He is not haphazard. He is a designer and a planner. Too many believers have come to equate “Spirit led” with NO PLAN. That isn’t God’s way. He is able to lead in the plan – and sometimes He moves away from the plan, just to keep us trusting HIM and NOT THE PLAN.

There is a very specific pattern to surrender, and God helps us move from our old life to our new with some necessary instruction.

Glenn Newton pointed out an important truth in a message he wrote. In it he asked: “Does anyone know what that piece in the middle of the washer is called?” The part in the middle that moves back and forth and shakes the clothes back and forth? What is that called? I’m going to call it an Agitator…. What is the purpose of the AGITATOR? As far as I can tell, it sole purpose is to cause havoc for the dirty clothes… it’s there to shake and separate the clothes from all the dirt and grime that may be in or on the clothes, right? As soon as we are saved, the Holy Spirit moves into our hearts, but He doesn’t have our heart to himself… there’s still a lot of things in there… the main one being our own selfish desires…even though we have been saved from our past sins, there still remains some things of the world that we are still fond of… these things of the world have a way of attaching themselves to us like dirt on clothes… they can stain us, they seemingly won’t come out…” How does He get them to “shake off”? He agitates. Some may be feeling it RIGHT NOW.

The End of the World: “A Whole New Day” – Revelation 21:1-22:5

She got out of bed and pulled on the bathroom door – but the handle came off in her hand. Without her glasses (which were inside the bathroom on the back of the sink), she tried hard to get the long spine of the door handle back into the little hole so that she could turn the handle carefully, and get the door open. An impending sense of urgency welled up inside her, the kind that can only truly be understood by someone who has been urged to drink large amounts of water, and then found the nearby bathroom “out of order”. Without panic, she kept at her task until the door was opened, and she was safely inside. Looking down at her glasses, now no longer so desperately needed, she thought, “One of these days things are going to start out right for me, I just know it.” The funny thing is, she is right. As a believer, we are facing a WHOLE NEW DAY sometime soon! Human history began in a garden paradise – the Garden of Eden. Someday, time will stand still in a new paradise – a garden park of the New Jerusalem.

Key Principle: God didn’t just promise a new day – He explained what kind of future He has planned for us.

We have all seen way too much demise of morality. We have been fed fear on the news and despair in the movies. This generation seems transfixed with a “Zombie Apocalypse”, or some other form of destruction coming soon to a town near you. Facebook rages, day after day, with Obamacare and impending tax cliffs and the demise of the middle class. Politicians look for someone else to blame and another pot of gold to tap to keep themselves in office – so they have more time to blame and search for yet more cash. The country is run by millionaires that want to tell us why rich people are bad. None of it makes sense…. Aren’t you ready for something NEW? Don’t you really want to get this cleaned up and hit the RESET button? I know there are times I really do – and I LOVE life and have great and positive people that fill my days with laughter and joy!

The end of the Bible is about the NEW DAY that God has prepared for us. I love this story, and maybe it can help set the mood of this passage for us:

A Sunday School teacher asked her class of children, “Tell me what you think heaven will be like.” She got all kinds of answers, but I especially like this one from a third grade boy who said, “Heaven is going to be the happiest part of my dead life.”

Yes, it is true. The best of my life, and your life as a believer hasn’t even been seen yet. We need to spend time here, because our world is NEGATIVE but our future is VERY POSITIVE. The story that God began in a beautiful garden – the story that God pronounced “Redeemed” in another garden  – will, one day soon, be completed in yet a third garden. Revelation 21 sums it all up in words like: 21:5 “And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” …and 21:6 “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end…”

I don’t usually like “The End” screens. They bring a story to conclusion, and then I feel let down. This one is different… really different! The Bible unfolds the tale: All judgment was past. All sin, with its deep and wretched stains, fades into mere memory. The Great White Throne was swept into the shadow of past things. Hades was swallowed in the Molten Lake of forever. Satan and His evil hoards were consumed and perpetually blocked out of God’s land of incessant celebration. God saw that it was time to tear it all away and rebuild the new land of Promise.  When the END comes, the beginning of the NEW DAY of ETERNITY will not bring sadness – but JOY. God describes exactly what the NEW DAY looks like, with no less than ten descriptions…

Our eternity is in a NEW place.

Revelation 21:1 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.”

On author wrote: “Most of my life I’ve lived in older houses where somebody else has lived before. They’ve been nice enough, I suppose, but I’ve always thought that it would be a lot nicer to live in a brand new house, my house, a special place that belongs to me. … this passage says is that a we’re going to have a new home in a new city, with a new heaven & a new earth. It’s all going to be brand new. Unfortunately, heaven has met with bad press by those who do not understand what God has prepared for those who love him. People see heaven as sitting on a cloud wearing a halo, while little angels play harps as they float through the heavens. Others see it as an unending church service, or singing hymns for all eternity. Some think of it as a sort of a celestial retirement city. It all seems like an apparition — so unreal. No wonder so many people see heaven as a place of numbing boredom, or secretly say to themselves, “Is that all there is?

The fact found in the scriptural glimpse is this: Eternity is something NEW. There is nothing you have ever lived that compares to it. There are words that will completely lose their meaning – like  watches, like historians. There is no time and there is no story to tell – it has been told. God has spoken and we will all know Who He is – and that was the point of human history. We are living in a movie that illustrates to all the cosmos Who God is in all His glory and what God is like in all His nature.

Think about that place with me. Every stain of sin, every evidence of evil will be vanquished! The old order and the old earth will be completely obliterated! The physical quality of our planet will be profoundly changed; the bodies we experience it in will be unfailing! The unimpaired souls – no longer inflicted with sin nature – will shine. Our spiritual investments, stored up for us in this life will be opened for us to enjoy. God revealed it all, and you can’t make up stuff this good! John saw a new heaven and earth – the old atmospheric heaven was replaced. Terra firma was recreated and the physical properties of the new were very different than the old. In our time, we live on a planet dominated by the sea – but the new one is not like the old one. That one feature is a HINT of how different things are going to be in the future.

Even lost men have dreamed of an afterlife. The archaeology of ancient Egypt can demonstrate the reality that Egyptians spent years building the pyramids – a  monument to the afterlife. They used hundreds of thousands of slave laborers, and great families buried their loved ones beneath these ancient monuments with supplies of food, clothing, & other treasured articles  – all in the hope of life after this one. In every culture on the planet, men have shown they love life and thirst for more beyond the short 100 year stint on planet earth. Only recently has a shift been detected…

The unparalleled prosperity and relative security of our time has yielded in modernity a new phenomenon – those who want to make this life into a Heaven existence. The focus on the afterlife has waned in the prosperity of the modern western culture. Some have tried to focus life on the material – an “I want it all. I want it now. Grab for all the gusto you can get. He who has the most toys when he dies, wins” mentality. This gave rise to the need to fix all of life’s disappointments this side of heaven ideology. It has affected even the western church. People are increasingly walking in the door wanting answers to THIS LIFE – with less focus on the next life. They want more counsel on easing today’s pain than encouragement to look to tomorrow’s reward. We are thinking too short and too small – we are not thinking as those historic Christians who paved the road before our time thought.

When Jesus said that He came that we “might have life, and have it more abundantly”, He surely had the joy that I have experienced in my life in mind. He wanted us to see life as more than the medieval “veil of tears” through which one longed for Heaven to put a salve on the open wound of daily horrible life. A healthy view of Heaven isn’t about ignoring earth – it is about perspective. It nags us with the happy question: “What will all this mean in 100 billion years?” We cannot make all decisions based solely on that criteria, or we would not care for many mundane aspects of life in a godly way. Yet it is worth recalling to help put ourselves in perspective. Not everything we stress about is worth the anxiety we are putting into it. Old things will pass away… new things are coming. The same Jesus also reminded: “What profit is there to a man who gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” Christianity is about BOTH this world and the next – for they are tied together in the God that made both –and gave both as a gift to us!

Here’s the great news – eternity will be a NEW PLACE. No sense in asking too many questions about: “Will it be like this?” or “Will it be like that?” – since the newness implies we don’t have anything that can really compare to it. The food doesn’t taste like “chicken”. 🙂

Our eternity is in a PREPARED place.

Revelation 21:2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband…9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,

When Jesus said in John 14: “I go to prepare a place for you.” He didn’t simply say He would prepare an IDEA – He said it was a PLACE that was being prepared. Look at the text for a description of the completion of the work, and you will find four incredible features:

First, it was HOLY. The term HOLY is the term DISTINCT. It is the word for “something that exists specifically for a purpose, and used properly only for that purpose. It is used in the Scripture for God – Who is absolutely unique and cannot be shaped to be anything other than what He is. It is used for the Sabbath of the Jewish people. It is used of sacrifices. It is used for the believer’s body and the believer’s use of sexuality. This is a city that was made for exactly one purpose – and its unveiling in the future has been foretold in elegant anticipation!

It was a CITY. It was built for cohabitation, relationship, sharing and activity. Eternity is not somber, still, passive and always serenely pastoral. There is a bustling city planned in the midst of the countryside. There will be beauty, but there will be activity. The story doesn’t end on the farm – but in the engaging place of a city.

It was carefully ADORNED. The description of the city was as an “adorned” bride. The gasp of the crowd that is familiar with the first appearance of the bride should be anticipated when God lowers the city into view. The sheer creative genius of the Almighty will again astound us. I remember seeing my bride in her beautiful dress at the back of the church – what a magnificent sight! She was adorned for the day – and so will that city be.

It was made IN ANTICIPATION. The bride dresses for a planned event – and the city is prepared in that same way. It came from the preparation bays of Heaven and was “launched” with every anticipation that those who gaze on it will be overwhelmed. Every part was hand chosen – in the mind of the preparing Savior.

Don’t feel badly about anticipating a new body and a new city. The Bible reminds us: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21). All creation is waiting for this – and we should be too! Remember to thank Jesus today for the preparations He is making for the world to come!

Our eternity is in a SHARED place.

Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,

I have some good news and bad news for you. Which do you want first? OK, the bad news – your place in eternity is a shared one. You won’t live alone! The good news – Jesus is your roommate!

The feature of eternity that will occupy us most fully is the company we will keep. It will be great to see, sit and chat with, discuss and inquire from great believers of the ages. Family, friends, and fellow worshipers will amaze us. We will laugh and we will love the ages together. We have never felt so accepted and so complete at any time on this earth. At the same time – we will be transfixed with the sight of the Creator, and the sight of the Redeemer.

At last we say, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for [us], who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

  • There is no need to scrape to gain what is needed – God has made, offered and protected it all.
  • There is no need to protect what we have left over – to tuck it in “Heavenly Tupperware” and refrigerate – for there is no spoiling and no fermenting.
  • There is no need to repaint – for the colors never fade.

At the end of the day, we will find a NEW DAY in which our Savior will dwell in our ranks, eat together with us, and share life. We were created for a day like this – and in such a day we will joy and revel without end. He will be there – that is all we need remember!

Our eternity is in a COMFORTING place.

Revelation 21:4 “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

Think of that place!

  • We will live with no more crying, no more sighing, no more dying!
  • Funding health care will be a moot point – there will be no hospitals and no grave yards!
  • Death will not only lose its sting, but the word will lose its meaning!
  • Satan will not be able to get a passport. He will be forever destroyed in the bottomless pit.
  • The fallen and rebellious angels will be shattered.
  • There will be no need for cosmetics beyond a single balm – words for aging, sagging, wrinkles and blemishes will slip from our vocabulary!
  • The water of life will quench our thirst!
  • Nothing will ruin, rot, or rust.
  • There will be no itching, no blindness, no deafness, no diabetes, no cancer, no heart attacks, no pain.
  • We will be together. There will be no divorce, no child abductions, no trgic accidents
  • There will be no more bills!

One Pastor told me: There was a five year old girl who was on her first night away from home – she had never stayed the night at a friend’s house before. She found herself a bit nervous, but wanted to give the experience a try. In the daytime, she was fine. As night fell, she began to show her nervousness. Her friend’s mother saw what was happening and asked: “Honey, are you getting homesick?” With beautiful childlike innocence she replied, “No ma’am, I’m getting here sick!

Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever get “earth sick”? It is a sign of the times if you know Jesus but really don’t think that way… and some of us need to grow to “long for His appearing” more than we long for another car or TV set.

I love the reminder of Paul in Romans 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.“

If you follow Jesus, there is coming a NEW DAY for you. Every wrong done to you in this life will be made right. Each injustice will meet face to face with absolute justice. Every sorrow will be reversed, and joy will wash over you like a thundering waterfall pressing against your deepest parts. Today seems so powerful, but it will fade away….Isaiah long ago foretold: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17). He goes on to say, “They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.” (Isaiah 65:23-25). Our eternity is a COMFORTING place.

Our eternity is in a FREE place.

Revelation 21:5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.

God built our future home for us, and invited us into it at His cost. His only requirement is that we trust that He is able to do exactly what He said. Failure to trust His Word about this leads to failure to live inside His Word in every other area. If I trust God about what I cannot see, I will learn to trust God about what I can see.

The old preacher, R.G. Lee, used to say: “Heaven is the most marvelous place the wisdom of God could conceive and that the power of God could prepare.”

Notice that verse 6 uses FREE WATER as the illustration of God meeting the need.. Have you ever been in a desert during the heat of the day. In the Near Eastern deserts, where I have spent considerable time – the mid day heat is so intense that an egg would quickly fry on a rock in the open sun. The sound of “sizzle” is all about. God will open up the water hydrant of refreshment – and it will all be FREE to us. It was expensive for Him – but offered freely to us. Our eternity is a FREE place.

Our eternity is in a FAMILY place.

Revelation 21:7 “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

Look at the terms in the passage for the plans of our future experience. Terms like “inheritance” and “son” unmask the relationship of the future – we will be in a FAMILY place. It is worth noting that even today, being is a family is a daily choice. People choose to come together to build a family, and others make the choice to walk out on one another almost every day in our world – but God illustrated His relationship as one of family. We are related by a CHOICE we made.

Relationship is what makes Heaven… well, Heaven! If the streets were gravel and not gold, if the walls were particle board and not jasper, if mud was knee deep and weeds over our heads, it will still be heaven because we are SONS of the Creator and family with the Savior!

In 1991. British singer Eric Clapton lost his five-year-old son named Conner, after the boy fell from the window of their forty-ninth floor Manhattan apartment. Clapton sequestered himself in agony and finally poured out his grief in song and wrote “Tears in Heaven.” In the song he asks the question: “Would you know my name – If I saw you in heaven? Would it be the same – If I saw you in heaven?

That’s a good question! Will we KNOW one another? In the text there is every reason to believe that we will know ourselves and each other. Our relationships will not be lost, but rather renewed. As John wrote long ago: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Imagine that! Like Jesus! The stench of our fallen nature will be cleansed so thoroughly that we will be capable of intimacy in relationships without stain of selfishness. Even our love and commitment to God will cease to be compromised by ego and evil desire. Our relationships will be unspoiled – because our eternity is in a FAMILY place.

Our eternity is in a BRIGHT and BEAUTIFUL place.

Revelation 21:11 having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. 12 It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 15 The one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall…. 18 The material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; 20 the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

Heaven is filled with beauty beyond our richest earthly experience! That reminds me of a story told by a Christian author:

A wealthy Christian became obsessed with the notion of taking some accumulated earthly wealth to Heaven. He knew the Bible notes we “can’t take it with us”. He was so transfixed that he continually prayed that God would give him special permission to take some wealth to heaven. After a period of particularly persistent prayer, God said, “Fine, enough all ready! You can take one suitcase with you into heaven.” From that time on the man began to make plans. He began packing his most valuable things. It came about after some years that the man died. Now you know how these stories go… he went to Heaven and met the saint at the gate …. None other than St. Peter, who noted that he was dragging his suitcase behind him. Peter stopped him and said, “Wait a minute. What do you think you’re doing? You’re not allowed to take anything into heaven.” The man replied: “You don’t understand. I have special permission from God Himself to take this suitcase into heaven.” Peter rubbed his beard & said, “Well, that’s very unusual. I can’t imagine God letting you do that. Let me look inside your suitcase & see what’s there.” So the man dragged the suitcase over, and as Peter opened it he was quite puzzled to see that it was filled with gold bars, gold bricks and gold ingots. Peter said, “Well, all right. If God said so, I suppose you can take that in if you want. But why in the world did you go to all this trouble just to bring more pavement into heaven?” (sermon central illustrations, adapted).

Heaven’s wealth scale dwarfs whatever you are thinking! John does the best he can at describing heaven, but he is limited by language and experience. The richness of heaven is so great that they walk on gold, use precious jewels for foundations, and dwell in lavish buildings all made by the Creator of the universe! What a BRIGHT and BEAUTIFUL place this will be!

Our eternity is in a HUGE place.

Revelation 21:16 The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. 17 And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements.

Will there be room for everyone? The city alone (which nowhere says it will contain all the inhabitants of the future) was measured as 1,500 miles cubed… room for every human who has ever lived if they had all been saved. Our eternity is in a HUGE place.

Our eternity is in a COMPLETED place.

The record first unfolds what is MISSING in this place, then what the FEATURES of the place are. It is like the vacation brochure that first promises a “break from traffic” and a “place to relax”.

First, what ISN’T THERE? Revelation 21:22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; 27 and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Nothing needs to be renovated or restored. In fact, many of the things that took up our energy to provide in our old life will slip away – and we won’t need to work to keep it all together.

  • We won’t need a temple – because God will live with us.
  • We won’t need a celestial light – because God’s glory will shine for us.
  • We won’t need a nightlight – for God’s glory never sets.
  • We won’t need a key – for closed gates and locks will be meaningless.
  • We won’t need a confessor – for sin will have no more place there.
  • We won’t need defensiveness – for everyone we meet will be what God intended them to be.

We won’t need these things because God will complete everything He started at the beginning of the first book of the Bible….

  • In Genesis 1:1 God created the heavens and the earth; in Revelation 21:1 God will create a new heaven and earth.
  • In Genesis 1:16 God created the sun; in Revelation 21:23 there will be no more need for the sun.
  • In Genesis 1:5 God established the night; In Revelation 22:5  God abolished night.
  • In Genesis 1:10 God created the seas; In Revelation 21:1 God dispensed with the seas (which may have been a comfort to John who was exiled and separated by seas from his family and friends!)
  • In Genesis 3:14-17 God announced the curse; In Revelation 22:3 God rescinded it forever. Satan would no longer touch the earth, let alone crawl its surface. The new earth would yield without question the fruits assigned to it.
  • In Genesis 3:19 Death entered the world; in Revelation 21:4 death is dismissed forever.
  • In Genesis 3:24 man was driven from paradise; In revelation 22:14 he stands in Paradise regained.
  • IN Genesis 3:17 Sorrow and pain grew from the rebellion; in Revelation 21:4 Sorrow is cut off forever. Tears and pain are satisfied forever.

Next, what WILL BE THERE? Revelation 22:1 “Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; 4 they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.

  • God’s life will flow as a river from His throne to His people – it will be clear, crisp and refreshing. All of life’s thirsts will be quenched!
  • Spanning the river will be a tree of life – with its ever changing, always delicious fruit. All of life’s hungers will be satisfied!
  • Covering its branches will be bountiful and beautiful leaves – whose oils will produce a healthy and comforting balm for all to partake. All of life’s discomforts will be settled!
  • The ground will yield no weed – for the curse is forever broken. All of life’s disappointments will be contented!
  • Distance from God will evaporate – for we will see Him face to face. All of life’s strain will be eased!
  • There will be no need to read the story of redemption – for our very salvation will be revealed on the markers upon our heads. All of life’s insecurities will be erased!
  • There will be no night for pain to increase and darkness to overcome – for God’s light will shine in unending power. All of life’s anxiousness will be calmed!
  • There will be no need for rulers – for each will have his place to reign. All of life’s tension will be relieved!

Our eternity is in a PROMISED place.

Revelation 21:6 And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place. 7 “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.

Our faith is not made up – it was revealed by the God that made us. Our destiny is not the stuff of dreams, but the uncovering of truths revealed by a Sovereign who is timeless and already exists in that place. His Word is His bond, and His Word has been made known. The one who believes His promises awaits His appearing. The one who truly trusts in God’s words concerning the hereafter carefully measures his life in the hear and now. Sloppy living comes from slipping belief. He has promised me a future home, and demanded only that I trust Him to provide it as He said! God didn’t just promise a new day – He explained what kind of future He has planned for us. Want to join in? He has paid your way!

God's Big Movie – Ephesians 1:3-13

The American movie continues… Well, the time is quickly coming upon us to choose a President for the nation. In the next 130 or so days, our internet, radios, TVs, and even billboards will fire volley and volley, quietly assuring us that only one man can set us on the right path in the future of the nation. Most of us have been around long enough to know that is actually TRUE – but Jesus isn’t going to be on the ballot, so we will have to settle with someone less Savior like. Instead, we will hear about two men’s ideas of how we should move forward. We will debate, and some of us will even argue. Still others will hold up their hands and say “God’s will”, as if voting and engagement were no longer required – but you know that isn’t true. Why mention this season today? Because I want us to look at the ROAD AHEAD. I want to remind you that the story began long before you and I, and will continue until a “The End” slide shines across the Heavens with the Divine remaking of all things promised in the last two chapters of Revelation. In our next study, we will be back to look at those promises. For now, let’s follow the theme of this year’s VBS and take a look at the encouragements that come from understanding “God’s Big Movie”.

Key Principle: God has a plan for our life and our future. It isn’t only something we will experience after death – but something we should experience RIGHT NOW!

This past week at our Vacation Bible School, our children have been learning truths that relate to God’s purposes from Ephesians 1, particularly in verses 11-13. By looking at this together, my hope is that some of you will find a way to have a more meaningful discussion with your children because of the few observations we make on our way to our subject of the day.

Look at Ephesians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Paul opens singing a praise to God! His heart was full because of the many incredible things God did on his and the Ephesian’s behalf. Look more closely at Paul’s encouragement:

First, Paul addressed a believer’s ATTITUDE ABOUT LIFE by his example.

He opened his remarks with praise: 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ…” He welled up inside with praise for all that God did for believers in opening the gates of Heaven to sinful men and women. He knew the God was the source of the blessings of Heaven – not any good deed done by men. We don’t EARN a place at God’s table – the ticket for entry was paid by God’s gift of His Son. The proper attitude anyone who knows what God did for us is one of deep and enduring thanks! That is why Paul wanted to bless God (1:3).

Let me ask a penetrating question: “Are you praising God more, or worrying and complaining more? Are you worried that somehow God has lost track of our country and its bend to push all things Biblical out of the public square? Let me remind you of what Paul was reading in the Roman Times when  he was praising God for the blessings to come:

  • Paul sat for three years in jail in Caesarea, awaiting trial and paying for his own lodging. In the days leading to his arrest, and as he sat there, things weren’t going well in the Roman Empire. Expecting a speedy trial was a pipe dream.
  • The Emperor decided that he didn’t really like governing, and decided rather to break with all convention of propriety and perform on stage for the first time. Nero let his governing drift – while devoting himself to playing the more important pursuits of lyre playing, singing, acting, and composing poetry. In the past, stage performers usually came from the lower orders. The Roman aristocracy found them repulsive and even his mother (who had him installed in the first place) was embarrassed by his negligence and impropriety. Expecting a level-headed judge in Rome was probably more than Paul could hope for.
  • Not content to perform his life away, Nero fell in love with Poppaea Sabina (of Pompeii): a beautiful woman that was in her second marriage when Nero and her rendezvoused in love. It didn’t last, as he later got upset with her and kicked her pregnant body to death. Expecting a good outcome in a Roman court headed by Caesar couldn’t have been Paul’s expectation.
  • Not long after, he ordered the death of his own mother. An ex-slave called Anicetus built a collapsible boat to make the murder look like a maritime accident. When she survived, Nero dispatched with a column of troops, who surrounded the villa, and Agrippina was then hacked to death by her son’s soldiers. Looking for compassion in Nero’s government was a lost cause.
  • Paul likely met Nero for his first hearing in the end of the year 61 or 62 CE. He had been staying at his own expense under guard in a small area close to the Tiber where tanners and dyers had their operations. He lived in modest chambers and wrote the letters of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Particularly in Philippians, one can see the hope of the future, as Paul felt optimistic that he could explain his faith in non-threatening terms to the state. He wrote to the Philippians toward the end of his house arrest, anticipating the trial with confidence: Phil 1:12 “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.”
  •  To add to the mayhem, either on the journey to get there, or while in Rome in the year 62 CE, an earthquake (subduction in the Bay of Naples) caused a tsunami with a tidal wave that swamped the ships at Ostia harbor near to Rome, ruining as much as one third of the Alexandrian grain. Coins were minted to show the people that all was well in spite of the disaster, but Nero must have found himself scrambling to meet the needs of the people for bread in that year. To expect Nero to be focused on Paul’s plight was impossible.

Yet, Paul walked out of Rome. The Gospel kept spreading. God wasn’t done with him, so Paul wasn’t done. It defied explanation in the human sphere.

What’s my point? Things weren’t going well. The economy was under a huge world-wide strain. The government was increasingly unstable and hostile to truth and decency. YET PAUL WAS CONFIDENT AND PRAISING. What a lesson for people who can’t seem to find the good in days like ours!

Let me be clear: The attitude of the believer is POSITIVE because this life is not where we place our hope. This country is not where we place our value system. We can love our land, fight for our land, pray for our land, stand for our liberties and argue with anyone who desires to tear them from us – but all the while we must remember not to trust in horse, chariots, TVs, cellphones, comfort and fast food. This is where we WORK – Heaven is where we LIVE. Believers who forget that quickly get disillusioned.

Second, Paul addressed a believer’s UNDERSTANDING ABOUT GOD by revelation.

He continued his remarks in the letter by offering a complex thought in the next verses: Ephesians 1:4 “…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Paul simple said that God chose believers – but not randomly and not after observation of their qualification. He only knew that because God revealed this truth. God made the determination long before our time that He would open the door of salvation to us, and make it possible for us to be wholly accepted and blameless before Him. We were declared right by His holy intention, long before we even knew right and wrong. In fact, the Bible says we were adopted before an inspection – chosen to produce things that would honor and bring glory to the Father. We have a deliberate understanding that God made a conscious choice to invite us onto a relationship with Him, long before we had a clue He wanted to do so. It wasn’t that He was somehow “bamboozled” by our religiosity or a few good deeds we may have done too look good to Him. In fact, He knew exactly what we were like – and chose us anyway! (1:4).

There are two common maladies that Christians face when they stray from God’s Word:

First, some think themselves better than others, and begin to believe they are higher in God’s sight because of some innate goodness that attracted God to them in the first place. This is called the “Pharisee Disease”. It shows itself on Facebook all the time. It is the reason some people think witness is effective in condemnation. If we insult, brow beat and look down on people, they will realize that we are both superior and right, and they will abandon their unfortunate paganism for the moral high ground, where they can join us!

The second malady that inflicts straying believers is the exact opposite. They begin to compound despair on the guilt of their lives and see themselves as entirely unworthy of God’s grace. They focus on their past, their weakness, their fickle unfaithfulness – or even some event long past. They are discouraged, drained and doubting. This is Christian Anemia.

Standing strong requires two things: recognizing that you don’t know how or why God does what God does, and believing fully in the character of a good God who does things the right way. Those who feel forced to be able to explain every facet of God’s work will labor tirelessly to put every statement of God into a box – and they will end with something well short of Who the Almighty truly is. Let God be God – and let Him know things you don’t. That isn’t just smart, it is required to maintain a Biblical view of God and a balanced view of truth. At the same time, spend less time trying to explain Him and more time trying to bless and honor Him. Trust in the character that knows everything about you and still loves you anyway. You will find He is able to deliver on your trust. It is this very kind of character trust that Paul expressed in Romans 8:38 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Let me ask you openly: “Do you truly KNOW that God loves you? Do you trust that He is able to see all that you have done, and yet still adopt you as His own and open Heaven to you?” Sometimes the last person to forgive us IS US.

Third, Paul made plain the price of salvation. 

He argued that a believer should recognize the means by which He provided to adopt us into a relationship was through the payment made specifically by Jesus Christ (1:7-8). The price was high and the choice was profound. Look at what he said:

Ephesians 1:7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us In all wisdom and insight …”

Paul recognized the tremendous blood-price of salvation. We aren’t saved by doing good things. We aren’t wooed into Heaven because of our morality. We are honestly judged by God to be fully guilty – and deserving of punishment. One who did nothing wrong was killed as a sacrificial lamb on our behalf. The richness of becoming a son of the Most High was made possible because the Perfect One paid the full purchase price to open the adoption door. We sinned, He substituted Himself as payment. That is the GOOD NEWS. That is the Gospel.

Paul wrote that we are LAVISHED upon by God’s grace. The word “perisseúō” is translated “He lavished on us” forgiveness. The term could be simply translated “over the top”. God went beyond anyone’s expectation and anyone’s reasonable idea to dribble, then pour, than drench us with blessing, love, hope, and freedom from sinful bondage. We swim in His goodness, we wallow in His love. We are saturated by His forgiveness. Who cannot stand and marvel at such a wonder? Who does not feel small and unworthy in ourselves but grateful and satisfied in His choice? Believers need to shut off the TV and stand at the edge of the night’s sky, and look into the unmeasured Heavens with awe that God ever noticed them. When we lose our awe, we lose our thankfulness. When we lose our thankfulness – we lose our power. We need to get out WONDER back!

Fourth, Paul explained that God communicated truth to us.

As Paul continued, he made clear that what he was sharing was not simply a great idea of a really smart guy. He said: Ephesians 1:9 “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.

There are only two explanations to this world: there is a Creator or there is not. There is intelligence and purpose, or the whole universe is a fluke – an accident, a random series of meaningless events. Our nation’s universities have chosen the latter idea – believing that the signature of God on snowflakes, DNA, stars and galaxies, and even the still inexplicable assembly of the human body in the womb are insufficient to draw the conclusion of a conscious creation. I have chosen to read the heavens and believe that no such order can be random. They can call my belief unscientific. The Bible calls theirs simple foolishness.

Psalm 14 said it this way: 1 “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. 2 The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God…

The way of the fool is gripping a nation and leading us to despair. Young people who are not being educated to see life as a sacred gift are taking over our hospitals, nursing homes and orphanages. Those who have NO VIEW of a Creator or a bigger view of life than food and drink, and now determining treatment options for those who don’t “offer much” to society. Men and women with fine scholastic pedigrees are walking the halls of our hallowed institutions of government with no appreciation that we can to this land and formed this nation to flee those “enlightened” views that led Europe into post- Christian malaise. Our forefathers fled them, and now we graduate them.

What can we do? We can grasp God’s Word tightly and make no apology for believing that trees didn’t create themselves. We can stand for the revelation of God’s Word in the face of those who believe they are akin to the animal kingdom. Let them – for the time being –  have their hopeless life – and we will look up and face the Son. We will expect their hostility, and return love in its place. The harder they become, the more hopeless they will feel – it is inevitable. Sodom offered no safety and security long before judgment fell.

When the nation loses all sense of family – when sexuality is nothing more than a choice like one’s breakfast cereal – they will live with the cold world they have sculpted. The love believers have for one another will again shine in darkness, the praise we offer ceaselessly to our Heavenly Father will again release a timbre into the silence, and the unbending way we hold His Word as truth will look as inviting as a warm fire on a cold winter’s night. Let the night come, and stop cursing the darkness. It is almost time for us to shake off the embarrassing way we have embraced the material prosperity at the expense of spiritual tenacity. The night is coming when no man can work – but we need not despair. God told us all about it.

Fifth, Paul explained the PURPOSE of the whole movie.

Paul wrote: “…In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.

God gave new life so that believers can experience the results of the relationship God offers. Such by-products include eventual redemption (to be bought out of slavery to serving sin), current forgiveness (a satisfaction of payment to Him for the breach of rebellion, 1:7), daily understanding of His will for our lives (1:8-9), and a great an optimistic view of the future life with Him and each other (1:10-13).

Listen to the last part of the same words in another more contemporary paraphrase called “The Message”:

1:11-14 It is in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, He had his eye on us, He had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone.  It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

What an amazing set of truths! God wants a relationship with us! God wants to spend time with us in our daily lives, in our hopes and dreams, in our thrills and sorrows. He doesn’t want to be the obligation – the little sister you had to take on dates. He doesn’t want to be on our “to do list” like the call you feel obliged to make to old Aunt Edna who complains about her bowels and denture pains. He wants to be a vibrant part of our lives! That is what we have been teaching children – Know Jesus and Know Peace…. No Jesus and No Peace.

  • Remember that God chose thoughtfully, and specifically chose His army to gain victory in the battle: You are not a “mistake” -He is qualified to choose the right ones!
  • Recognize that God gave lavishly. You have an incredible future planned for you -He has guaranteed it and He has paid for it!
  • Rejoice that God delivers faithfully. No promise of God ever gets left undone. He moved into hearts to offer incredible power and to reassure the down trodden. You can be lifted countless times – He has power to keep restoring and rebuilding you!

God has a plan for our life and our future. It isn’t only something we will experience after death – but something we should experience RIGHT NOW!

Grasping God’s Purpose: “Underlying Purpose” – Exodus 35

When my daughter Rachel was a young woman, she and I went on a “daddy trip” to Paris. She had been brought up in a multicultural world in the Middle East, and I wanted to show her the birthplace of some of the most profound, and in some cases devastating, ideas men ever expressed. Paris is the city of Voltaire, the city of culture without God – a kind of humanism very different than what preceded it. I wanted Rachel to know what happened to the men who decided to write beneath the story of mankind a very different purpose – a purpose without God or ultimate meaning. I wanted her to see what their ideas produced, and how they worked out over time.

Out of that trip came many wonderful moments – but one has stuck out to me for years. We took the opportunity to “make a memory” out of watching – as father and daughter – a ballet in the Garnier Opera, built in 1861 (the setting for the “Phantom of the Opera”). This particular piece that night was modern, with ballet on an elevate stage, and other dancers below the stage that were also on projection screens behind the main stage that represented the emotions and underlying hidden thoughts of the people in the scene of life above. It had a profound effect on all who watched. I needed to be reminded that even simplest exchanges often have profound underlying emotions and thoughts. The message was made clear in the method – and I will never forget it. Sometimes what we see is not what is truly going on – there is much more beneath the surface.

For those who may not be aware of this truth, the Bible expresses a clear underlying purpose for men and women and their creation. The Bible is neither silent on why we are here, nor where we are going. It stubbornly demands that there is a God that created us, and that He did so with a purpose. The pages of God’s Word insist on single command– and all of us will either comply, or refuse this single entreaty.

Key Principle: God created us with a singular purpose. He created us in order that we would learn to serve Him and find personal fulfillment only in that act of complete surrender.

With that in mind, the Holy Book divides the world into only two groups – those who know God, and those who need to. Those who know Him, have surrendered to His will. Those who have not surrendered to Him, do not really understand Who they are opposing, and believe the consequence of that rejection. Every adult you have ever met, or ever will meet – is a part of one group or the other.

Many of us are used to the idea that God wants to meet with us. In fact, in a generation where our lives are so full of self – I wonder if some don’t just think that God will get them when He is lucky enough to wait until they’re done doing for themselves. I fear that many – among them some long time believers – will come to churches today, but not to face God, and certainly not to surrender to Him

Long before the church ever existed, Moses faced the same problem three thousand five hundred years ago… In fact, little has changed with people in terms of value systems in that time. Technology changes – sin doesn’t. Stubborn is still stubborn. With that in mind, we have been traipsing through the desert with the Israelites in the book of Exodus, following the story of how God took a rabble, added heat, thirst and troublesome threats, shook them up sufficiently, and baked a nation. We saw in Exodus 34 the story of God’s meeting with Moses, and noted that God had preconditions to meeting with Him. If you trace the first half of the chapter (Exodus 34) you see five of them that are identical to the problems we face in meeting God today in church.

  • Some will come believing that sin is not their chief problem – environment is. If they could just change their job, spouse, family or location – all would be perfect. Sadly, without a real belief that our biggest problem is sin sickness, real answers will be hard to grasp (34:1).
  • Some will come on their own terms – trying to convince God that He ought to let them do what they want and bless them anyway (34:2).
  • Some will come to gain business, attract a man or woman, or just placate a parent – and they will find the hour spent will seem largely a waste – because they came for show (34:3).
  • Some will come to get some felt need massaged – like a sore muscle. They won’t come to worship, but to be healed of their felt need. The utilitarian view of God that He is like a psychiatrist of the soul will leave them needy again – rather than drinking from the well that truly satisfies (34:4-5).
  • Some will come to have their own views affirmed – rather than hear God as God, and submit every opinion and every idea for His Holy approval (34:6).

God’s meeting with Moses after he sinned reminds us that God desires to meet us even in our fallen and rebellious state – but His purpose is CHANGE. He is not afraid of you. He doesn’t get the “willys’ around sinners, since the planet is covered with them. Just knowing that about God is a comfort on the face of it, but the text also makes us face warnings. He will not set aside His insistence on revealed conditions, and we cannot negotiate a compromise on truth. It is because of that, so many will stand outside the door of truth and hear the words of the oracles of men – blowing in the foul winds of human philosophy and understanding. These ideas will neither powerfully change them nor permanently lift them to new heights that are more than momentary emotional manipulation.

Transformation comes with meeting the Maker, face to face.

That was what Paul referred to in Ephesians 1. Real and lasting change comes by going into the fire of His power and having Him turn us and shape us. We undergo His mallet on His anvil, and He re-shapes our broken spirit – our fallen minds, and our warped perspectives. He has a way of straightening every bend in “the old and damaged us”.

The end of Exodus 34 offered us a second important set of reminders – we studied last time eight important concerns that God shared about what He wanted to share with people.

  • God didn’t want people to make up what He was like – so He forbade them from SHAPING HIM (34:17).
  • God didn’t want people to forget how they were changed – so He made them recall their rescue of salvation regularly (34:18).
  • God didn’t want people to believe the things He loaned them were THEIRS – so He gave them a regular offering to remind them that every increase was HIS (34:19-20).
  • God didn’t want people to believe they were the secret to their own provision – so He commanded a time when they stopped working (34:21).
  • God didn’t want people to think their ingenuity gave them their crops – so He commanded an offering of the first of the yield (34:22).
  • God didn’t want the people to believe they could trust in horses and chariots for protection – so He told them to obey and worship as their major form of protection (34:23-24).
  • God didn’t want people to slop their way through their worship and give Him second best – so He commanded precision (34:25).
  • God didn’t want to be tacked on to the END of the week but to be first in priority – so He gave them specific commands relating to PRIORITY (34:26).

Each of these ideas is Gods idea, and as such each is terribly important. At the same time, we can get lost in the details of the passage and miss the simplicity of the one big idea…

We must remember this one truth: God knows what He wants. He knows what He thinks. He is embracing in love but unbending in truth. He is merciful in expression but un-yielding toward error. We cannot bargain falsehood into some kind of compromise with the Holy One. We can submit and listen, or we can believe a lie – and that will lead us to a dead end.

Exodus 34 left us with this: God accepts us when we come on His terms and listen to what He says. As Creator of All – He has no need to bargain and no desire to water down the truth. So why isn’t it perfectly clear what God wants today?

Some people haven’t been taught to submit to God – because giving God’s truth is the teacher’s choice. The sad truth is that Exodus 35 opens with a choice. As we make our way to the next words as God has preserved them, we move from the conversation between God and Moses, to the announcements of God’s Word to the children of Israel. Note that Moses job wasn’t to help them feel good – so much as it was to carefully and clearly relate what God instructed to them. Listen in to the beginning of the announcement:  Exodus 35:1 Then Moses assembled all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and said to them, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do…”

Note when you read verse 1, that Moses had only three choices:

  • First, he could obey and deliver the message that God intended just as it was revealed in God’s Word.
  • Second, he could ignore God’s instruction and say nothing.
  • Third, he could make up or mix up God’s Word with the thoughts of other bright men of his day, or philosophies he learned growing up in a pagan world’s education system.

Here is the truth: every preacher of every church and every teacher of every Bible study around the world has the same three choices.

The message is not to become so sophisticated in human understanding that we meet the true needs of men and women. We are to be ambassadors and faithful reflectors of God’s truth as He carefully preserved it in His written Word. To the extent that we fail to do this – the world is held away from the truth of God’s Holy Word. When we try to be funny at the expense of the text – we rob people of the manna that will sustain and strengthen them. When we teach the Bible from the latest fad book instead of simply and carefully exposing and connecting the Scriptures to life – we offer “pablum” to a crowd starving for meat. Moses wisely chose to offer God’s instruction and then some explanation.

Look at the next few verses, and it will become painfully obvious that there are three arenas God challenges in people – and they were then the same three arenas we must make a choice about today:

Arena 1: God started with TIME.

Exodus 35:2 “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a Sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. 3 “You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”

Sabbath was a command to the Jewish people for all their generations. It was, and is, a marker of obedience and uniqueness. I am not suggesting that you and I are commanded to keep it – but I am suggesting that the arena of time is still the one God longs for in our lives. For many of us, we treat our Heavenly Father the way a child of divorce is treated – we pass Him into the weekends of our lives. We don’t talk to Him, seek Him, worship Him or listen to Him – except on the designated weekend slots we have scheduled.

Arena 2: God next addressed TREASURE.

Exodus 35:4 Moses spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded, saying, 5 ‘Take from among you a contribution to the LORD; whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it as the LORD’S contribution: gold, silver, and bronze, 6 and blue, purple and scarlet material, fine linen, goats’ hair, 7 and rams’ skins dyed red, and porpoise skins, and acacia wood, 8 and oil for lighting, and spices for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense, 9 and onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breast piece.

The obvious context of this chapter is the need for items to build the worship center called the Tabernacle, or the “Mishkan”.  In order to have the needed building materials, everyone was called upon to sacrifice. As a generation of slaves, all of them were recently endowed with wealth as the Egyptians showered them with goods on their way out the door to the wilderness. I personally believe it was buyer’s remorse that sent Pharaoh into the desert to get at least their “stuff” back when the water swallowed up those in hot pursuit. Isn’t it ironic that they were showered with GOOD THINGS by God, and then found those very GOOD THINGS hard to part with? God beckons His people to give their STUFF to Him when He tells them to do so. We shouldn’t have to BEG to care for real needs. God’s work done God’s way will not lack God’s supply – if God’s people are obedient to Him.

Arena 3: God finished with TALENT.

Exodus 35:10 ‘Let every skillful man among you come, and make all that the LORD has commanded: 11 the tabernacle, its tent and its covering, its hooks and its boards, its bars, its pillars, and its sockets; 12 the ark and its poles, the mercy seat, and the curtain of the screen; 13 the table and its poles, and all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 14 the lampstand also for the light and its utensils and its lamps and the oil for the light; 15 and the altar of incense and its poles, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the screen for the doorway at the entrance of the tabernacle; 16 the altar of burnt offering with its bronze grating, its poles, and all its utensils, the basin and its stand; 17 the hangings of the court, its pillars and its sockets, and the screen for the gate of the court; 18 the pegs of the tabernacle and the pegs of the court and their cords; 19 the woven garments for ministering in the holy place, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests.’”

If you listen carefully, you can hear the skills and talents God enlisted. He needed builders, wood workers, curtain makers, metal workers, movers, oil makers, clothing fitters and sewing specialists, bakers and oven makers, peg cutters… and on and on. There were, and there ARE many ways to serve God. He didn’t call metal workers to make bread – and He didn’t call baker’s to design fabrics. He brought all the workers needed…but He did not force them to comply with His command – that was their choice.

Surrender is always about the big three arenas – time, talent and treasure.

Because of time, I want to explore HOW God wanted these three dealt with in an upcoming lesson – but I don’t want to leave us at a cliff. There is a pattern for surrender, and it can be found in the remaining part of the chapter. Just glance quickly at the elegance of it as we pass by (we’ll be back to small the roses later):

Real surrender is YOUR PERSONAL GIFT. No one can compel you to truly obey God in your heart. It is an internal matter. The decision to obey was each man and woman’s decision. The people did it when they got HOME – just like you will (or won’t). Exodus 35:20 Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel departed from Moses’ presence.

Real surrender begins in you when God stirs and moves within. Yet, that only happens in those who let Him – and don’t ignore His voice or drown out the sound it makes. He will not push us until we ask, but will aid us when we do! God moved in each who opened to Him – and people made the choice to respond. Exodus 35:21 Everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the LORD’S contribution for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments.

Real surrender begins with an identity loss.  The toughest part of surrender is facing a new identity that emerges from the relationship with God. Our old self gives way to a new one – and that is easy for others to see! When People surrender the markers of their old identity, they show their serious change has taken place. Exodus 35:22 Then all whose hearts moved them, both men and women, came and brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and bracelets, all articles of gold; so did every man who presented an offering of gold to the LORD. 23 Every man, who had in his possession blue and purple and scarlet material and fine linen and goats’ hair and rams’ skins dyed red and porpoise skins, brought them.

Real surrender comes when we GIVE, not plan to give. People discovered the privilege of giving – that God had enabled them for a purpose! Exodus 35:24 Everyone who could make a contribution of silver and bronze brought the LORD’S contribution; and every man who had in his possession acacia wood for any work of the service brought it….29 The Israelites, all the men and women, whose heart moved them to bring material for all the work, which the LORD had commanded through Moses to be done, brought a freewill offering to the LORD.

Real surrender brings a new fulfillment. People are energized by obedience and engage life with a new joy when we work in the area of our gifts and talents – and dedicate that work to God’s higher purpose. Exodus 35:25 All the skilled women spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun, in blue and purple and scarlet material and in fine linen. 26 All the women whose heart stirred with a skill spun the goats’ hair.

Real surrender is different for different people. God made it clear that He entrusted some with more than others – but they were to surrender what they had to the work. Exodus 35:27 The rulers brought the onyx stones and the stones for setting for the ephod and for the breast piece; 28 and the spice and the oil for the light and for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense.

Finally, real surrender has to be administrated. God’s work had leaders and organization – it wasn’t a free for all and it wasn’t a guessing game. The supervising leaders were announced, recognized and followed. Exodus 35:30 Then Moses said to the sons of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 31 “And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship; 32 to make designs for working in gold and in silver and in bronze, 33 and in the cutting of stones for settings and in the carving of wood, so as to perform in every inventive work. 34 “He also has put in his heart to teach, both he and Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. 35 “He has filled them with skill to perform every work of an engraver and of a designer and of an embroiderer, in blue and in purple and in scarlet material, and in fine linen, and of a weaver, as performers of every work and makers of designs.

Jesus told us that the Kingdom was like a pearl – it was of incredible value. One who truly understood would GIVE ANYTHING to possess it, serve in it, and cherish it. One historian reminds us that when a Roman emperor wanted to show how rich he was, he would dissolve pearls in vinegar and then drink them in his wine, in much the same way that a flamboyant man may might light his cigar using a hundred-dollar bill. I suspect that is what some may be doing with their real fulfillment – their real calling… letting it dissolve in the vinegar of the world rather than setting it as a sparkling gem for God’s enjoyment. God created us with a singular purpose. He created us in order that we would learn to serve Him and find personal fulfillment only in that act of complete surrender.

Grasping God’s Purpose: “The Heart of the Matter” – Exodus 34:17-27

Did you ever try to communicate with someone and find it really wasn’t working? Did you ever feel like you just “weren’t on the same page” as another in your family, or on your team?

A new resident was walking down a street and noticed a man struggling with a washing machine at the doorway of his house. When the newcomer volunteered to help, the homeowner was overjoyed, and the two men together began to work and struggle with the bulky appliance. After several minutes of fruitless effort the two stopped and just stared at each other in frustration. They looked as if they were on the verge of total exhaustion. Finally, when they had caught their breath, the first man said to the homeowner: “We’ll never get this washing machine in there!” To which the homeowner replied: “In? I’m trying to move it out of here!” Good communication is terribly important. Thankfully, we serve a God that INVENTED every form of communication.

In our last study in Exodus, we peeked in on the meeting between Moses and God and asked the questions: “How should I come to God for a REAL MEETING? What is REQUIRED by God for such a meeting?” Looking closely at the text, we saw five truths we needed to embrace:

  • First, we come with a knowledge of our sin. Exodus 34:1 “Now the LORD said to Moses, “Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered…”
  • Second, we come on God’s terms. Exodus 34”2 “So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain…
  • Third, we come privately. Exodus 34:3 “No man is to come up with you, nor let any man be seen anywhere on the mountain; even the flocks and the herds may not graze in front of that mountain…”
  • Fourth, we come with the intent to embrace Him. Moses didn’t come to bargain with God or re-shape His thinking – just to worship and celebrate Him. Exodus 34:4 “So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. 5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD.”
  • Fifth, we come to hear Him speak the truth. For the moment, listen to the words God proclaimed about Himself as He met with Moses. Exodus 34:6 “Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth…”

The timing of this meeting with God was AFTER THE PEOPLE’S SIN and AFTER MOSES’ SINFUL RESPONSE to that sin. God is ready and willing to rejoin you when you have sinned. He isn’t resistant to love and grace – He is the author of them both. He went looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after their sin, in order to draw them back. At the same time, the relationship changed from innocence to awkwardness – because of guilt. The same must have been true by the time God set up the meeting in Exodus 34.

Moses was no sooner on the mountain, and the people were quick to leave God – after only a forty day absence of Moses’ leadership! Yet, Moses sin was different than the people’s sin. His wasn’t one of defection – but one of reaction. He wasn’t tempted to wander off and serve anotherbecause He was spending time with God. He was “sitting at God’s feet” and hearing God share mysteries and insights.

Removed from the voice of God and the voice of those who followed God closely, the others among the children of Israel became like the recent graduates of high school when they move to a public university dormitory. Suddenly they are not hearing the daily voice of mom or dad who stay in the Word and walk with God daily. It is only then we can see if they have grasped the faith as their very own. The first wave hits with the first party invitations at college. Why? Because temptation increases with each step away from God. If they are not careful to walk in His presence daily – they will be drawn into compromise, and then question the truth of their faith – as if the truth of God is found in their own choices to faithfulness or unfaithfulness. In the end, straying is much less a temptation, when the voice of God is near – even if that voice is indirect through the words of a godly parent or leader. Here is the point: Moses was on the mountain, and the active work of the Word was gone in their lives. That became the point at which the slippery embankment gave way in their lives.

God’s response to man’s sinfulness is always the same: provisions of grace and commands of obedience. We sing it as “trust and obey” – and it is really that simple. God offers sin payment and says “trust”. God offers command to demonstrate submission and says “obey”. Obedience doesn’t take the place of trust, because sin and salvation are issues of the heart (surrender) and not the hands (works). At the same time, a trust without obedience is a theology without submission – and leaves God with nothing. We get salvation, and He gets a stubborn and selfish so-called “Christian”, who plays no deliberate role in working out that salvation and winning a lost world. The most miserable people in the world are not the lost (this side of death) – but those who have chosen to know God, and then not follow Him. In that state, God beckons His people back to trust and obedience.

The five requirements we looked at last time were singularly about what WE were to care about in our meeting with God. We need to take responsibility for sin, carefully check that we are coming on His terms, come without a show to embrace Him and listen to Him. These are OUR view of OUR preparations… but that is only ONE SIDE of the issue.

This time I would like to address the end of the passage and ask a different question: “What did God want to communicate?” What was on His heart that He wanted to share with Moses and then the people?

If we look closely at the last verses of the text, they deal with the CONTENT of what God wanted to say to Moses. Look at the THINGS GOD WAS CONCERNED ABOUT in the narrative. God leveled eight direct commands to Moses – each reflecting a concern.

Key Principle: God is concerned that men know Him as He truly is. A marred view of God will lead to a life of confusion and grief.

Eight Concerns of God

  1. SHAPING: Go without representation of Me. Exodus 34:17 “You shall make for yourself no molten gods. God doesn’t want His people to define Him pictorially or theologically – attempting to limit what God can and will do.

This may seem slight to some – that God would care if we made a statue, picture or diagram of Him. At the same time, I cannot begin to describe how many people I know that walked away from God because of a theological explanation of Him from a local church. This week I spoke to a woman who told me of the heartbreak of raising a child in the church, only to have that child stripped away from the faith by a professor at school. He focused the child on the teaching of election in order to impugn the God of the Bible as unfair.

The child was drawn into a theologically difficult deduction, and then pulled away from any belief in God. I want to suggest the problem wasn’t the child finding God’s loving character at fault – but believing a picture of God painted by a debate within Christianity about the meaning of some passages of the New Testament. It is terribly important that we remember that the Bible was nowhere meant to truly explain God and His inner workings. This autobiographical library was intended to be instructive to the follower – not restrictive to the author. God cannot explain to me how and why He does what He does – for my mind cannot really grasp that.

When we shape God, whether in picture, diagram or theological statement – we limit God to our own understanding and devices. We draw conclusions beyond the text of Scripture base on finite and flawed logical reasoning apparatus. Here is the point: I am not God. I can experience Him, but not truly define Him. I can picture Him (for Jesus is the expressed image of His person), but I cannot really grasp the depths of how He runs the universe. In my life, it has mostly been Christians that are guilty of overstating what we truly know of God. Be careful not to draw tight lines around your theology such that you give the impression that the Bible reveals all the mysteries of God – it simply does not.

When I leave this life and see the great and exalted God in the high throne of the universe – I will stand in awe. I will not evaluate how close I came in my mental pictures from this life – I will just cry. I will just drop to my metaphorical knees and bow before His greatness. No other image will flood my mind. No distraction will overcome me. No other person or picture will compare. No grand vista from a mountain peak, or calm horizon on the sea will compare with a view of the One who hurled the stars into place. There is no experience in this life that can truly prepare me for that view…but I can long for it. I can seek to know what I cannot truly grasp – because the excitement is in the trying!

We are foolish when we think we can truly understand God’s mysteries this side of Heaven. We must speak of God with humility and anticipation of understanding. God was concerned about that from the beginning…

  1. MEMORY: Recall my work of redemption for you annually. Exodus 34:18 “You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in the month of Abib you came out of Egypt. God doesn’t want His people to forget how He saved them – and drew them into the relationship.

When we forget how we got into a relationship with God, we become haughty. We look at others who are dashed about in a lost world of darkness and lose our mercy. We get revenge oriented and angry. We lose the “mind of Christ” that we were told to emulate in His coming to earth to save, and take on the mind of Christ the coming Judge. We were not told to level judgment, but to offer mercy. We were commanded by God to work in the ministry of reconciliation of men to God. Our job isn’t to join the enraged masses who condemn, but to see with pained eyes and reach out with open hands. When powerful and heinous sins are committed, we want to criticize. It is not always wrong – especially in a generation that seems to have so little connection to right and wrong. Look at the news and it is easy to see:

VICTORIA, B.C., June 15, 2012 ( – The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled that Canada’s ban on assisted suicide is unconstitutional. Justice Lynn Smith issued a 395-page ruling in the Carter v. Canada case Friday morning, determining that the ban discriminates against the disabled. … Given that suicide is legal in Canada, Justice Smith argues that the ban violates the equality provision in section 15 of Canada’s Charter because it prevents the disabled from getting the help they may need to kill themselves. Interesting thought – a “right to life” issue is the right to find someone that can help me end life. Hippocrates would be stunned at the logic.

Peter Singer, notorious infanticide and bestiality-promoting ‘ethicist’ was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) this week, …given for “merit of the highest degree in service to Australia or humanity at large,” on Monday at the 2012 Queen’s Birthday honors. It was granted for his “eminent service to philosophy and bioethics as a leader of public debate and communicator of ideas in the areas of global poverty, animal welfare and the human condition.” (Posted by Adina Hoshour from lifesitenews). Really? Sleeping with animals and killing children is now a help to modern ethical development?

Are believers to IGNORE this slide of our culture? No. But we must not become belligerent and angry in public discourse either. I suggest you put down the signs if they are not lifted AFTER we drop to our knees and seek God. Anger is not the right motivation – love is. We should write the necessary letters to legislators when we have opportunity for public voice, but be careful about how we sound. Be reasoned and always loving. Pretend you actually have the chance to reach the other party for Jesus Christ – because you do. Even pagans feel empty when truth hits their heart. We weren’t better than them before we had a relationship with God. We may have been “off” in a different area – but we weren’t deserving of our relationship with God either. God wants us to keep the CROSS  CLOSE because beneath it – things are pretty level. Before Jesus, nobody looks good on their own.

  1. OWNERSHIP: Make sure you remember that you belong to Me. Exodus 34:19 “The first offspring from every womb belongs to Me, and all your male livestock, the first offspring from cattle and sheep. 20 “You shall redeem with a lamb the first offspring from a donkey; and if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. You shall redeem all the firstborn of your sons. None shall appear before Me empty-handed. God doesn’t want His people to think they OWN what He has loaned to them.

Maybe this will help: “…on the sixth day God made man after His own image, and we have been returning the favor ever since. Listening to a sampling of the sermons of most modern TV and radio preachers makes it clear that many these days believe God exists only to meet our needs. Broke? Come to Jesus and He will make you rich. Bad marriage? Disappointing job? Difficult childhood? Come to Jesus, the great therapist, and He will fix you. Jesus came to affirm us in our upper middle-class values, didn’t you hear? Besides from this pulpit, when was the last time in church you heard about the blood of Christ, the reality and pains of Hell, the justice of God, the necessity of repentance, the demand of sacrifice, and the call for believers to live as strangers and pilgrims in this lost world. Most modern, so-called “seeker sensitive” preaching appeals to people’s felt needs. But you have a need, ladies and gentlemen, that you may not feel: A need to be reconciled to God and rescued from His sure and certain wrath. God does not exist for us. We exist for Him.” (Quentin Morrow, sermon central illustrations).

It doesn’t take long for us to feel pretty good about ourselves. We followed God’s Word and things started to fall into place. A few spiritual victories and we start to believe that we don’t need Him quite as much as we did when life was falling apart. We start appearing before God empty-handed. Our thankfulness gives way. Our humility drains our. Self takes hold. We start to sound more like the know it all Pharisee than the “bankrupt of Spirit” Jesus said God would bless (Mt. 5). Slowly, we forget that we are not our own – but bought with a price. The house God provided becomes OUR HOUSE. The body we have over eaten in and under-exercised becomes OUR BODY. The children of our households become OUR CHILDREN.

One of the chief concerns of God about His people is this: Know that I own you – and you are not a FREE AGENT to live the life of self and stubbornness. You were created BY and FOR me – and you will never be happy until you truly grasp that fact.

  1. TRUST: Trust me to care for your needs. Exodus 34: 21 “You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest. God doesn’t want His people to believe they are the secret to their own provision.

When I recognize God’s ownership, I begin to understand that His purchase of me has placed the weight of provision on HIM. He will provide for me, and not me – apart from Him. I must work hard – but not for bread. I must be diligent – but not for self. My life’s work must not be for simple recognition of men. My heart must not take more joy in treasures on earth –where I will fight moth and rust and thieves. God’s order of the Sabbath was a specific issue to Israel for their marking without – but it was also a lesson for their heart within. They were to STOP plowing. They were to put down the harvesters. They were to wait – it was an issue of TRUST. It is worth asking ourselves: “Are we truly trusting God to provide?” Governments cannot do what God can. He is our provision, our refuge and our resource.

  1. RECOGNITION: Celebrate my provision for you. Exodus 34:22 “You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. God doesn’t want His people to be duped into believing they pulled off their own success.

Pastor Quintin Morrow wrote: I recall a cartoon in Christianity Today magazine which tellingly described our loss of a sense of the holiness of God. It depicted three scenes in three boxes. The first showed German Reformer Martin Luther, quaking with fear and sweating. He says, “In the pages of Holy Scripture I encountered an utterly holy God. And there I learned that I was completely unable, through my own good works, to acquit myself and quiet my conscience before Him.” Scene two shows John Wesley, the great revival preacher and father of Methodism, with arms outstretched to heaven, crying, “God’s holiness, revealed in His holy Word, convicted my sinful heart and there I discovered that I was undone. And after reading Luther’s commentary on the Book of Romans my heart was strangely warmed.” The final box shows a modern, 21st woman with frizzy hair, big spectacles and big earrings. Her smiling face is saying, “In Skip and Jodi’s Bible study I discovered that I needed a check-up from the neck up! I don’t need another diet. What God wants me to do is learn to love me.” We have lost our sense of the holiness of God.

Well said. I would add: Man is not starved for a greater view of himself. We have been awash in positive thinking, empowerment and ego boosting – and the result is a generation that is wholly unsatisfied with self and hungry for something more. When we exalt our Savior, we offer them a choice of One greater – One higher. He alone can fill the emptiness they have – for He was the Father’s agent of creation that formed their very being. No one knows me better than my Creator. God’s early concern was that His people would falter in their celebrations because they began to focus on their own success – and forget that without HIM they could do NOTHING.

  1. PROTECTION: Recognize that obedience brings peace. Exodus 34: 23 “Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel. 24 “For I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your borders, and no man shall covet your land when you go up three times a year to appear before the LORD your God. God doesn’t want His people to believe their might is the secret to their own protection.

When we embrace the reality that provision and success are not from our hands, we still must grasp the truth that protection comes from the Lord. The Psalmist knew the God who was his “rock” and his “fortress” and his “deliverer”. We are quick to appear before men. We are quick to ask for and receive counsel. We are slow to appear before the Lord. We are slow to trust Him to care for abuses and attacks against us. Our might will fail. Our body will give way. We must learn a new level of trust in the Lord for protection against the assault of the world’s pagan values, the enemy’s snares and the flesh’s longings. We must HIDE in Him much, much more.

  1. PRECISION: Do what I say, when I say it, the way I say it. Exodus 34:25 “You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread, nor is the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover to be left over until morning. God doesn’t want His people to get sloppy about obeying the specifics of His commands.

We must become more fussy about observing God’s Word in our lives, and less fussy about pleasing our fleshly hungers. Many of us suffer from prosperity. We choose what we want to eat every night. We can eat Mexican for lunch and Thai for dinner. We have leisure time and relaxation choices. We KNOW when we don’t get exactly what we order in the restaurant, but are pretty casual about our obedience to the Lord.

Bad word? Oops, slipped. Eyeballing that woman? Well, it’s only natural! Silent about the extra change the cashier gave you? Well, after all if they cannot add… We just aren’t prepared to take God’s Word seriously on many levels of life. God knows those who want to be careful in word and deed. The question is not just if you ARE but if you even DESIRE to be.

  1. PRIORITY: Each increase should be celebrated before Me first. Exodus 34:26 “You shall bring the very first of the first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God. “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” God doesn’t want His people to think He is less important than what they share together.

Too many people are FAKING IT when it comes to their Christian life. Some will enter church today because they need the social experience more than the encounter with God! I am not arguing that we should be COLD one to another – that isn’t what the Word teaches. Rather, I am say that we must understand the real priority and not FAKE IT.

The Catholic priest and author Arthur Tonne told of an overnight visitor to the White House during the Coolidge administration. Calvin Coolidge was not one of the warmest people to be around – he was well known for his brevity and reserved nature. Seated at breakfast with President, the visitor determined to attempt to be as “invisible” as possible by imitating everything the President did and thus avoiding any possible digressions of etiquette. All went well, until Coolidge began to catch on. Reaching for his coffee, the President poured some of it into his saucer… the visitor followed suit. Then Coolidge reached for the cream and poured a generous amount into the saucer… the visitor did the same. Then Coolidge bent down and placed the saucer on the floor for his cat. There is a difference between those who merely get by – who copy, imitate, and fake it – AND those who are “real” or authentic about what they believe and do. (Pastor Jeff Strite, sermon central illustrations). We don’t want to be caught “faking it” like the pompous church member who visited a young Sunday School Class and at one point asked: “Why do you think people call me a Christian?” After a pause, one little boy raised his hand timidly and asked “Because they don’t know you?”

God is concerned that men know Him as He truly is. A marred view of God will lead to a life of confusion and grief.

The End of the World: “The Father’s Work” – Revelation 20:11-15

Probably one of the earliest memories I have of my father was fear. When I say that, you may be tempted to think of a terrible man who beat his children – but that is not my story. My father has been a great influence in my life, and he has not beaten me nor my mother. Why fear then? Because I knew what it meant to respect him, and to properly fear his response to my bad behavior. Dad knew how to communicate fear. What is funny, is that I have no distinct memory of him ever spanking me at all. I just knew he could, and he WOULD if he had to. I knew where the “Board of Education” hung beside the refrigerator…It was an unspoken fear – unless my mom invoked that terrible phrase: “You wait until your father gets home!” Then it was SPOKEN FEAR.

I want to be clear, because the days we live in are not the days I grew up in. I never advocate harming a child, but rather a controlled form of discipline that a child will deeply desire to avoid in the future. Men need to be very careful when physically dealing with their children. It is possible to exasperate a child – and Scripture warns fathers about that. It is possible to break the fragile spirit of a child by either physical or emotional taxing that is beyond their ability. Yet, equally, we need to say this in our day: It is possible to neglect discipline in a child and think we are being loving, when actually we are acquiescing on a basic parental responsibility. Discipline comes with the package. If you don’t want to do it – please just don’t have children.

Don’t placate them when they want to take control at age two. Don’t look past their cruelty to siblings, house pets and even digital beings. Don’t laugh when they are mean, and shrug your shoulders thinking “Boys will be boys”. If you do, these may become the very children that will beat a young man to death and burn his body – as we have just witnessed locally this past week. If not, they may become the children that will stay out all night drinking and partying, and watch a young man die on the sidewalk – thinking only about using their phone to digitally capture his death – and not call 911. I plead with you – if you don’t want the responsibility of discipline – don’t have children.

Here is a truth worth remembering: Parents who (out of a poorly formed notion of love) refuse to discipline their children, will find their children disciplined by a world that cannot allow them to do everything their own way. It smacks against our common sensibilities today – but part of the job of the father is to create a dread in the child of the penalties of disobedience. It is to act a s a deterrence –  and also to create in the mind of the child a solid line between right and wrong. We have so thoroughly immersed our society in the problems of abuse, we have forgotten Biblical discipline is part of the work of the father. God says so: “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” (Prov. 13:24). Other verses support the same principle … “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15) and …”Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22: 15). In the Hebrew Scriptures, the term ROD was used two different ways – as a calamity to the disobedient and as a comfort to those who walked with their shepherd (Psalm 23).

Let me be clear on a further point: When there is no penalty – the line between right and wrong blurs. God’s patience is one of the central causes of men’s disbelief in Him. Because He patiently allows them to continue in sin – they don’t think He is engaged, or they don’t believe He is truly powerful. Both conclusions are false. God is engaged. God is powerful… but God is patient. Don’t let His patience fool you into a false conclusion. This was the point of Peter’s warning:

2 Peter 3:3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” … 7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Make no mistake, the idea that God will judge has been deliberately and systematically eliminated from our culture. The modern church, with all its psychotherapeutic sensibilities, believes that God not only WON’T JUDGE but SHOULDN’T JUDGE men. Further, many would argue that even raising the threat is damaging. Yet, the Bible and its truth is stubborn.

Here is the point: God is not in a hurry, but He is not overlooking sin. Judgment day is truly coming, and that is the subject of our passage in Revelation. This isn’t rehabilitation – it is judgment. It will sound harsh to some who have been schooled in God’s love more than His righteousness – but it is nevertheless a proper witness of the truth of God’s Word. The reality is that we are waiting until the Father gets home. Those who are choosing to walk in disobedience are dreading His coming – but those who are walking with Him anxiously await His appearing.

We have been studying Revelation, and in the middle of our study, Father’s Day pops up. What do they have in common? At the risk of stretching the text of Scripture, we must remember that the pattern for parenting is God. He is a Dad – and He knows what being a dad is all about. In one sense, He does what all dads do to get us on track – He threatens response if we keep up our nonsense. In another way, He is not only dad – He is the ultimate judge… it is part of His job.

Key Principle: God loves man, but His justice does not allow Him to look past unpaid sin. His role of judge is just as real as His role as Savior.

Look at the record of the judgment called “The Great White Throne” Judgment – a catchy title based on a detail in the description of our passage in Revelation 20:11: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Here is the scene:

Verse eleven reveals a vast throne, a stern-faced Judge, and people trying to escape His presence. I wonder if God will hold back tears and looked at the rebellious squarely in the face. I wonder if He will sit as a parent of a rebellious and angry teen sits, while their wayward child writhes to get away from the parent’s grasp – and wonder what He could ever have done to create such disdain in their eyes. He loved them, He provided for them – and a jury of their ignorant and rebellious peers had judged Him inadequate.

Verse twelve drew John’s eyes from the throne room to a vista of the earth. Joining those in the courtroom of the damned were those from Hades – the abode of the unrighteous dead. It is a terrible holding place for those not in the Book of Life, but not yet permanently sentenced to the Lake of Fire. Just as believers in the presence of the Savior await their final destination after judgment, so those in Hades hopelessly know what is bad is about to get worse…. They are pushed into the presence of the Judge – those who in life were great, and those who were small. All of them were pulled in together, and shoved in front of the Judge’s bench. The Book of Life was brought out, but their names were not found within. The other books of the deeds of men – the thoughts, the works, the attitudes – every one – were revealed as the Judge made His decision to place them in their final disposition. There was no question of destiny – that was already understood. There was no question of length of term – that was to be eternal. The only question was the specific nature of the torment and terror. Nothing pretty came from that horrible day – except the complete understanding of God as God. Knees bowed in sincerity, but far too late for any kind of reparation.

Verse thirteen says that John’s attention was again pulled away, this time to see those who were drawn from the seas of the earth, and they joined the flow of those who were from the graves of the land and the holding place of the dead who left this life with no effective payment for their sins. The place they were held in was destroyed in the molten lake, according to verse fourteen, and all of them – their names not inscribed in the book that holds record of all those who have had their break and rebellion with God bridged and satisfied in this life – were hurled into their final molten judgment place.

In a world where spanking has become an issue, this message is certain to fall on deaf ears. Love has now been completely redefined by our society as eternal forgiveness – regardless of the egregious nature of the rebellion. So here is the question: Is God bound to OUR sense of fairness and love – a sense that is redefined with each new generation? Here is an even more important question: Are we not bound to God’s terms – since He is the Creator and we are the creature?

I am not selling anything to you. I am simply making this argument: If God is in Heaven, as I wholeheartedly believe He is; If He is the God of the Bible, as I affirm week after week  -then the terms of judgment are HIS TO MAKE. Further, if He opened up His intent for His creation, and explained both the story of the rebellious defection and how to come back into His arms – is He to blame when people choose another path? At what point are we going to admit that the problem isn’t JUST society – it is MY WILL. My stubbornness, my rebellion, my intransigence, my rut is the problem. I don’t WANT a God – because I want to be on His rightful throne in my heart. Even my grammar betrays me. I say “my life” and “my heart” – when the Word reveals that none of those things were made by me or for me. My creation, and your creation was by God’s elaborate design for God’s wonderful purposes. I am His and the plan for my life can be HIS – if I surrender it.

The Bible is not silent on judgment of men and of angels.

In fact, there are no less than SEVEN judgments recorded in the Word. Remember our principle? God loves man, but His justice does not allow Him to look past unpaid sin. His role of judge is just as real as His role as Savior. It is important to note from a thorough study of the Bible, that all men and women who have ever lived must be judged on two bases – one judgment for sin (which determines your destiny) and one judgment for works (which determines our incremental reward or judgment). Both Heaven bound and Hell bound await their appropriate reward or penalty based on their works.

Let’s say it clearly: Judgment after death doesn’t determine destiny – relationship with God before death does. Destiny is determined by prior to death satisfaction of their sin account before God. There are two venues for judgment – one for those who are Heaven bound, and another for those who are Molten Lake bound. People who have a personal and surrendered relationship with God are in the Book of Life and are Heaven bound. They know when they stand before the Judge that He is not going to send them to hell, but rather examine their works and service of Him from this life – in order that He may commend them and reward them. They will come with clear expectations if they have been taught God’s Word.

Those who do not have such a relationship are not in the Book of Life, but they may come with some wrong expectations – but they will not be at a judgment seat for people with relationship.  They made their choice in this life – even if they weren’t making it with a full picture of the eternal consequences. We will see this again in a few minutes…

There are three times God will judge people – and within the three there are no less than seven different groups will be judged.

I. The first is at the beginning of the Tribulation (in Heaven) after the rapture of the church:

The Judgment seat (Bema) of Christ (1 Cor. 3; 2 Cor. 5). The work of Jesus as He deems His Bride fully prepared for the wedding feast in Heaven. This happens after the Rapture, and during the time on earth of Tribulation.

  • 1 Cor. 3:13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
  • 2 Cor. 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Every believer of this age must understand this truth: Your life is not your own. Jesus bought your salvation. When you surrendered to Him as your rescuer (you cried out to Him to be your Savior), you agreed to let the Rescuer take control to guide you to safe shores. From that moment, every action of your life was either a struggle against the Rescuer’s tug of you to shore – or it was an act of cooperation and submission.

A day is coming when every believer will answer for every act of service, attitude of stubbornness, and point of surrender. We will have the work of our lives measured. Our SIN was cared for in this life by accepting the work of Jesus at Calvary in accordance with God’s Holy Word. We trust Christ alone for salvation. Yet, we will still face a works inspection. How are YOU doing as you face that? Are you ready? The trumpet can sound at any moment.

II. After the seven years of Tribulation, when the Messiah comes to rescue Israel (Armageddon) and rule:

We have seen the rapture and the Bema Seat of Christ, but while that is happening, there is a Great Tribulation on earth. God is carefully exposing to Israel that her “would be suitors” don’t really love her at all – and that He is her true Husband. At the end of three pummeling rounds of judgment over seven years, five groups will stand before the judge.

The Judgment of the Beast, False Prophet and Detention of Satan (Rev. 19:20 – 20:3): The  Antichrist and his Propaganda agent will be permanently disposed of, while Satan will be detained for a thousand years.

  • Rev. 19:20 And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet … were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. … 20:1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven… 2 And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3 and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.

The Judgment of Martyred Believers of the Tribulation (Rev. 20:4): Believers from the Tribulation that were martyred for their faith will be raised and stand judgment and be given reward:

  • Revelation 20:4 “Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years….”

The Judgment of Jewish Believers Alive at the Second Coming (Daniel 12:1; Ezekiel 20:34-38; Zech. 12:10; Rom. 11:25-27): Jews who survived the wrath of the Tribulation and fell to their knees on the arrival of their rescuer as they received their Messiah will be judged and prepared for the coming Kingdom. Everyone that endured to the end of the Tribulation saw the arrival of the Savior and accepted Him as their Messiah:

  • Daniel 12:1 “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.“
  • Ezekiel 20:34 “I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out; 35 and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. 36 “As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you,” declares the Lord GOD. 37 “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; 38 and I will purge from you the rebels and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they will not enter the land of Israel. Thus you will know that I am the LORD.
  • Zechariah 12: 9 “And in that day I will set about to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. 10 “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, … 11 “In … Jerusalem, like the mourning …in the plain of Megiddo.
  • Romans 11:25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.” 27 “THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.

The Judgment of Believers of Israel (Daniel 12:1-4): Raised from their placed of death, believers from before the time of Jesus are raised and judged. People with a relationship with God from the time before the Gospel of Jesus was proclaimed had their sin dealt with by abatement of wrath, finally paid for in Messiah. They are resurrected before the 1000 year rule of Messiah in Judah, so that God can fulfill all His literal promises to the Jewish people.

  • Daniel 12:1 “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. 2 “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. ….”

The Gentiles Alive at the Second Coming (Matthew 25:31-46): Those who survive the powerful conquest of Jesus from the Heavens – for many of them perished at His appearance and word (Rev. 19)  – the remaining will be subject to judgment for both sin and works. Those who knew Messiah as Savior treated His people with love and respect, because they knew His Word and wanted His will. They will enter the Millennial Kingdom. Those who harshly treated God’s people in the Tribulation showed they were at enmity with God and they will be tossed from the presence of the Messiah into hell.

  • Matthew 25:31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; …39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ 41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; … 45 “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Remember, their armies have already been smashed by the Word of God when Jesus came back. This is the record of the people of those nations. This is not the record of how their government treated God’s people – but rather how individuals treated individuals. We hear a lot about God judging our nation for our sin path. We hear far too little about God’s personal standard of righteousness for which each of us will individually be judged. That is a mistake. Our behavior counts, not just our Supreme Court’s behavior! That will be true in the Tribulation as well.

III. After 1000 years, when the final rebellion is quelled by God (Rev. 20:10):

We have seen God’s judgment of believers of the church, believers of the time before the church, and both believers and unbelievers of the Tribulation. The thousand year reign occurs… and at the end a short rebellion is again attempted. God again picks up the gavel of judgment…

Satan and His Rebellious Hoards (Rev. 20:10): The final hell – that Lake of Fire – was not created for men, but for Satan and the angelic followers of the adversary.

  • Rev. 20:10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

That brings us back to where we started… the terror of the Great White Throne. Look at it one last time:

The Judgment of those in Hades (Rev. 20:5a,11-15) : Those who died without a relationship with God (unbelievers throughout the ages) were raised from the place of their temporary torment to be sentenced to eternal damnation – a punishment meted out according to their deeds.

  • Rev. 20:5a The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed….11 “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

There are four words in the Bible that describe the place of the afterlife before resurrection and judgment– In Hebrew, the term “Sheol” simply means the “abode of the dead” and may refer to the place of the body (the grave) or the “State of the dead”. In the Greek Scriptures, “Hades” is the rough equivalent to the Hebrew Sheol, and is translated both “grave” and Death” in the New Testament. The Greek term used only once in 2 Peter 2:4 “Tartarus” is specifically the abode of the angels that were stripped of their place in Genesis 6, referred to in Jude 1:6. The fourth term, used in the Greek Scriptures is “Gehenna”, is used in the Gospels and by Jesus – a term used twelve times as the “eternal place of the damned”.

It doesn’t take long before we can separate the modern church into two distinct groups- solely on the basis of a single idea. There are those who call themselves Christians, but are actually “universalists” – they believe everyone somehow goes to Heaven. You can agree with them if you choose, but you cannot make the argument that their position is based on any serious literal understanding of the Bible and the God of the Bible. God is the judge- and the Word is clear.

At the Great White Throne you can see it clearly. Stop and think about what we see in these few verses about men who died without the proper and acceptable payment for their sin:

  1. They were afraid to stand before God – even after they had been in torment since their death (Rev. 20:12).
  1. They couldn’t get away from it – even though they wanted to run (Rev. 20:11).
  1. They faced two standards – the Book of Life for their ultimate destination and the “Other Books” for a record of their deeds. If they weren’t in the Book of Life – they were excluded from Heaven. Yet, their deeds would determine the level of judgment they ultimately would face.
  1. It didn’t matter how or where they died – they faced judgment (Rev. 20:13).
  1. It didn’t matter how important or unimportant they seemed in this life – everyone faced God (Rev. 20:12).

Let me say it plainly. It doesn’t matter WHO you are in this life – or who you think you are. It doesn’t matter where you live or what you do for a living. What matters for your eternal destiny is entry into ONE BOOK – the Book of Life.

Those who do not have such a relationship are not in the Book of Life, but it is clear from the record that some of them will appear before God with wrong expectations – but they will not be at a judgment seat for people with relationship because they chose not to have one in this life.  They made their choice in this life – even if they weren’t making it with a full picture of the eternal consequences. They will come in believing they were GOOD PEOPLE and be tossed from God’s courtroom. Why? Because although God loves man, His justice does not allow Him to look past unpaid sin. His role of judge is just as real as His role as Savior.

Is it fair? Yes, because He revealed it all well in advance of any judgment.

Is it just? Yes, because He has paid the full price for anyone who will surrender being their own God and let Him come in and take over your life.

Is it clear? Yes, His Word has volumes on it… but some won’t open it. They don’t think a real dad disciplines… and they are very wrong. They don’t think sin has consequences, and rebellion a terrible end… they are very, very wrong. Don’t be among them.