Our Most Important Message

In a relatively short time, two of my family’s friends have died suddenly. They both have died relatively young. They both had goals and dreams they wanted to accomplish in life. They both had children still at home. And yet, both are now gone. 

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  – Romans 10:8-13, ESV

Paul’s words here frame the most important message we can share: how one can be saved by Jesus. I know some folks dismiss these words as nothing more than a fairy tale. However, I share these words because I believe them and I know that both of my friends did, too. 

Note what the words don’t say. They make no mention of church roles, what you did in ministry, or even how often you attended church. They don’t balance your good deeds against your bad ones. They don’t start with the premise that folks are okay, basically good, and just need to avoid the big stuff. Rather, the words start with the basis that we need saving, that we will be put to shame otherwise, and that this is universal: everyone is in the same spot. 

The way to salvation is easy: confess and believe. Basically, have real faith. Okay, that’s not so easy. However, note that there isn’t a checklist to accomplish. There isn’t a scale to maintain. There are no “whammies” that suddenly take you out of the running, nor any “power ups” that put you back on track. These words speak to belief. That’s because Scripture is clear that once we’ve sinned, we can’t undo the mark that sin leaves upon us. Only God can. Without God, we can’t be saved.

My desire is that everyone I know or come into contact with would seriously consider what the Bible says about Jesus, about sin, about forgiveness, and about grace. That’s a lot and it might be difficult to find where to start. My typical recommendation is the Gospel of John followed by the other Gospel accounts. Read Jesus in action. Learn what kind of man He was and is. Understand why we call him God and why we say He is the only way. I understand some will read all of it and walk away unconvinced. However, because I truly believe this message, it is incumbent upon me to share it.

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Choosing against revenge

I love this analogy: holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. Typically we say this because a grudge continues to eat away at us and it doesn’t do anything to the other person. So we are the only ones who suffer, all because we cannot let go of the grudge. But what about if you had a chance to “repay” the person who has wronged you? What if you could exact your “justice” on him or her? Should you do it? Scripturally speaking, the answer is and always has been, “No.” 

As soon as David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day.  – 1 Samuel 25:16-19, ESV

If any man deserved the right to take out his revenge on another, it would have been David on Saul. Saul tried to kill David multiple times. Saul even went after his own son, Jonathan, because Saul felt Jonathan was choosing David over him. Saul made David’s life miserable, forcing him into a life on the run: a life of exile filled with hardship. David knew that if Saul ever found himself in a position to do so, Saul would kill David. Yet David not only didn’t seek revenge, but in the two occasions when David could have taken Saul’s life, David chose not to do so. 

This passage is from the first chance which David had. So good was the opportunity that David was able to cut off a piece of Saul’s robe. He certainly could have killed Saul. He didn’t, however. Appearing to Saul, David showed him the corner of the robe. Saul realized the implications of that piece of cloth, which led him to the confession above. 

Saul called David more righteous. Saul pointed out that David repaid Saul with good, even when Saul only dealt evil towards David. Saul also pointed to the fact that David let his enemy go and because of this Saul asked that The Lord repay David for the good act. One response to this passage is that  Saul’s words are that of a normal man’s. Furthermore, he didn’t have the direction of the Holy Spirit any longer when he spoke them. Therefore, they don’t tell us how we should act. However, when we compare Saul’s words with commands and examples throughout Scripture with regards to revenge, we see they match. Quite simply, God has asked us not to pursue revenge, even when the opportunity is at hand. 

Consider Gethsemane. Jesus’ dilemma was life or death. That mob was there to take Him away and ultimately kill Him. He knew that. Those same religious leaders who sent the mob had been hounding Jesus His whole ministry. They had plotted to kill Him almost from the very beginning. He had every right to call down the legions of angels and deal with the mob. Yet He didn’t. The price for revenge was too great. He knew that. So no call was made. Jesus went to the Cross so we might have our sins paid for by Him and thus forgiven.

Speaking of price, we don’t know what the true price of a given act of revenge will be. We don’t have the omniscience of God. We don’t have His wisdom. We can’t exact perfect justice. Therefore, the idea that we can do revenge “right” is absurd. Mercy, now that’s something we can get right. Forgiveness, yes, we can do that. After all, we have received both from our Savior, Jesus. Those acts don’t require complete knowledge or wisdom. Those acts are what we are called to do. 

If we respond accordingly, we will find favor with God. Saul’s words will ring true in our own lives. God will bless us for the good we have demonstrated. We should always choose to do good, even if a person has done evil to us. If there is a punishment to be delivered, leave it in God’s hands. Even if the opportunity presents itself, walk away from revenge and instead walk in righteousness.

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Focus on your calling

It is easy to get caught up in what others are doing. We see their successes and failures and we compare them with our own. We don’t just do this at the individual level, but at the church, denomination, and even country level. To fall into this trap, for it is a trap, is ungodly. Let me explain with an example.

In John 3, we find that John’s disciples were discussing with another Jew about purification (starting in verse 25). However, when the disciples of John come to see him, they begin the discussion about Jesus’ ministry, almost if asking two things: (1) why are you still doing this and (2) aren’t you concerned that His ministry is going to overshadow yours? John’s response is beautiful. He basically says this:

  • I’m doing what I’m called to do. I’m not going to worry about anything else.
  • My ministry is to point people to Him. That’s what I’m going to do. Understanding that, my ministry will continue to diminish as His continues to grow.
  • To see His ministry grow completes my joy. 

This is especially evident in the following two verses:

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”  – John 3:29-30, ESV

John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He knew his role: he was to point to the coming Christ, who was now on the scene. In this sense John is very much the friend of the bridegroom. People who responded in repentance and chose to follow after Jesus were the bride. Jesus, of course, was and is the bridegroom. John had heard from the bridegroom what his role was supposed to be: he was to call people to repentance, to make straight the way to Christ. In short, he was to prepare people to receive the message from Jesus. 

Now that Jesus was on the scene, John could hear His voice, His ministry, finally in motion. Hearing the voice of Jesus, John was fulfilled. John’s joy was complete. John’s joy wasn’t based in the numbers for his ministry. John’s joy wasn’t rooted in how he compared to others, especially not Jesus Himself. John still had a job to do, to point people to Jesus, and He was going to do that job. As Jesus grew in preminence among those who believed, John’s disciples would grow fewer and fewer. John’s influence and prestige would grow less as Jesus’s own grew. That didn’t have a negative impact on John’s joy. That’s because John’s joy was rooted in Christ glorified, not in anything John. 

If we take a similar approach, it really doesn’t matter what others are doing or what they accomplish compared to ourselves. We might have a small ministry. We might even be part of a ministry that is closing up. Others around us might be seeing growing numbers, more “fame,” and to the world’s eyes: more success. That’s not the point. That was never the point. The point of our ministry, of our service, is to glorify Jesus. It doesn’t matter how big or how small a calling He directs us to participate in. What matters is He directs us, we respond, and He is glorified. So don’t worry about what others are doing. Just follow your calling, seek Christ glorified, and watch as your own joy increases.

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Relationship Over Wonders

When I hear some preachers, I only hear about what God is going to do for me. The interesting thing I find in Scriptures is that while there are a lot of promises where God is going to bless me, but I also find a lot of Scriptures about the fact that I am made for God’s glory. That second part, where we are created for God’s glory, seems to be forgotten by these preachers. I don’t know why they skip over this second truth. I won’t speculate. I just know it’s important. It is the chief end of man, after all.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. – John 2:23-25, ESV

During that first Passover after Jesus had begun His ministry, He performed many miracles. The Bible says that many believed because of those miracles. However, it then says that Jesus did not entrust Himself to these people. Why not?

Perhaps it’s because they only believed because of the miracles and they only followed out of of a desire for more miracles. The “believed” here is shallow belief, something superficial; we would describe this as head knowledge. In other words, there was no relationship. Jesus did not bring these folk into his trust. He could see why they followed. They didn’t follow Him for Him, but for what He could do for them.

God has always been clear that He desires a relationship with us, His creation. We see it from the opening stages of Genesis, when He walked in the Garden of Eden with the first man and woman. We see this in Revelation when we are restored to the New Jerusalem. These folks weren’t interested in a real relationship.

What about us? Are we looking to God for what He could do for us? Or are we looking to God for the relationship He desires to have with us? Are we waiting for wonders and miracles? Or are we waiting for Him? There is a distinct difference between the two. Which of these is most important to you

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No Reward, No Big Deal

Did you ever do something you felt you should be recognized for and nothing came your way? How did you react? Were you angry? Did you do something about your lack of recognition? If you’re human, you probably were angry. And maybe you didn’t lash out this last time, but at some point in the past you most likely have. That’s why Mordecai’s lack of reaction was surprising:

In those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king. – Esther 2:21-23, ESV

Mordecai did something big. He did something really big. He uncovered a plot to harm the king. Reporting this through Esther, Mordecai passed the relevant information to the appropriate people. As a result, Bigthan and Teresh were investigated, the facts showed the plot, and the two were executed as a result. However, we see no indication that Mordecai received any recogntion. The next verses start the discussion of Haman’s conspiracy, leaving the question open at this point in Scripture (though we will get an answer later on in Esther).

So what happened with Mordecai? As far as the Scriptures reveal, he steadfastly maintained his post. We don’t see any grumbles or complaints. We don’t see anything that indicates Mordecai did anything about being passed over. In fact, we see the opposite (Esther 5:9). When we see Mordecai react, it was to Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews.

As it turns out, Mordecai was eventually recognized (Esther 6). However, this wasn’t through any action of his own. The king couldn’t sleep and went through old records. He noted the actions of Mordecai and inquired as to whether or not Mordecai had been recognized. Mordecai had not. So here we learn what we assumed, that Mordecai’s actions had been forgotten. The king then determined that Mordecai should be recognized for his service to the kingdom.

As it turns out, the timing couldn’t have been any better. Mordecai’s recognition flew in the face of Haman’s plot and put fuel on the fire of Haman’s demise. One doesn’t have to think very long to come to the conclusion that Mordecai’s delayed recognition was influenced in some way by God. However, don’t jump to the conclusion that because you haven’t gotten recognition, that means God is going to deliver it in a spectacular way later, like He did with Mordecai.

The truth of the matter is that a lot of times, when we aren’t recognized it’s a failure by the appropriate people and there isn’t some major event pending our later recognition. We may never get the recognition that we should. At least, we won’t get the recognition here in this life. But we deserve recognition! This is when it’s good to face a hard truth: if we always wanted what we deserved, we would want Jesus not to forgive us, because we don’t deserve His forgiveness or His grace. We can get so worked up about being ignored, passed over, or overlooked that we forget what we do have. Let’s not dwell on what we don’t have. Instead, let’s focus on what we do.

After all, Mordecai didn’t dwell on being overlooked. He continued to faithfully do his job. And as Haman’s plan was revealed and it looked like it might work, we can conclude from Mordecai’s words to Esther that he had faith in God. Which is more important, the recognition of an earthly king or the reward of the King of kings? Mordecai seemed to understand the right answer to that question. Let’s do what we do because those actions are the right actions and not worry about recognition and reward. Let reward and recognition be no big deal. After all, compared to what we’ve been given by grace, they are no big deal.

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When God Says, “No”

When we want something, the last thing we want to hear is, “No.” However, sometimes we must hear it, because what we’re asking for is not good for us. Other times it’s because the person in question can’t deliver it. God is all-powerful and there are times even He doesn’t deliver what we ask for despite all that power. That seems like a contradiction, but it isn’t.

God will not deliver on something that is contrary to His character. If a request would require such, forget it. It’s not going to happen. And then there are some things that we think we want God to give us, but if we knew what He knew, we would quickly change our minds. Such was the case with the request of James and John:

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” – Mark 10:35-40, ESV

At first glance, we are struck by the arrogance of James and John, because they are requesting to be first and second in the Kingdom when Jesus takes over. In fact, that’s what is often preached on. However, Dr. Tim Keller pointed out something we often overlook. They were asking to be on Jesus’ right and left when He came into His glory. Jesus responded back that He could not give them such places because those places had already been set aside. Indeed they were. More on that in a bit.

The rest of Jesus’ response indicates that James and John were going to suffer with the pain and suffering Jesus Himself had experienced and was about to experience with the Cross. We know James was the first martyred and that John died in exile, knowing that his compatriots had been martyred for their faith. They would both undergo ridicule, derision, anger, violence, and hatred. The brothers would indeed drink from the same cup as Jesus. However, they were not given Jesus’ right or left. So who was?

Those places were given to a couple of thieves as Jesus hung between them on the Cross. James and John had more to do. It wasn’t their time or place to die beside Jesus. In hindsight, if they knew that’s what they were asking for, I think they would have forgone the request. Also, there was a critical testimony to still be delivered as one of the two career criminals would repent of his life of sin, receive Jesus’ words of forgiveness, and enter into paradise through the grace of God.

When God says, “No,” He has very good reason to do so. He isn’t doing it to be capricious or because He takes delight in our suffering. Sometimes it is because our request is for something against the character and nature of God. Sometimes it’s because we don’t know what we’re asking for, as was the case with James and John. And sometimes it’s because He has something bigger planned, like a thief finding grace. And sometimes it’s all three things. We should not get discouraged when He tells us, “No.” Instead, we should rejoice that He cares so much about us that He takes all of these things into account. Praise God even when He says, “No.”

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Acting with Trust

“I will believe it when I see it,” is a phrase that echoes through our heads a lot, even if we don’t speak the words. We are used to people and organizations overcommitting and over-promising things that many of us have developed a skeptical, cynical side towards these sorts of claims.

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” – John 2:3-5, ESV

The passage John 2:1-11 contains the first miracle of Jesus, when He turned water into wine at the wedding feast. Like is the case with most miracles, it started with a problem: the wedding had run out of wine. Given that weddings in that time and age were community affairs and that running out of wine would have been an embarrassment for the bridegroom, Mary decided to act. What did she do? She found Jesus and she informed Him of the problem.

What I find interesting is the fact that she came to Jesus with this particular problem. Jesus didn’t have a vineyard, much less a stash of wine on tap. It isn’t like the family had a lot of money for Jesus to procure the wine necessary. Yet Mary approached Jesus and left the problem with Him.

What is even more interesting is Mary’s response after Jesus gave what would appear to be a negative answer. It isn’t, for He’s pointing out that there is a timetable for His ministry on Earth and that He is ultimately in control of that timetable, not anyone else. She might be His earthly mother, but He’s still the One who makes the call. Hence the reference of “woman” (a very polite form) and not “Mom” or “Momma” or any variant of mother. Despite that seeming rebuff, Mary ordered the servant to obey Jesus. She acted with complete trust that He would solve the problem. Her faith in Jesus was rewarded.

When it comes to our petitions before God, we cannot take an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude. We might not say that’s what we’re doing, but many times it is. This isn’t to say that we should automatically assume God is going to deliver whatever we ask. More on that tomorrow. However, if we’re following His lead and we know what we’re asking for is what He would ask for then we need to act in accordance with the belief that God is going to deliver. When we don’t, we are very much the double-minded man James described in his epistle.

God is trustworthy. God hears the prayers of His people. Put these two things together and we should come to the conclusion that if we are asking according to what God would ask, we can trust Him to bring it to pass. How much more fulfilling our prayer lives would be if we would act accordingly on this simple truth!

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