We’re rounding third base in our Bible Reading Plan. Today we begin reading the last book in the Bible: Revelation. Not Revelations, but Revelation. John, the Beloved Disciple received one revelation of Jesus Christ and recorded it for us. John’s purpose was not to give a timetable for Jesus’ return. Neither was his purpose to hide the timing of Jesus’ return in a code for us to figure out.
Yes, some of the book is in a code of sorts. The nature of the book’s genre means that there will be a lot of picturesque language. There will be lots of symbolism. And when we read it, we need to be very careful to not force meanings onto what we read based on what we’ve previously heard they’re supposed to mean. Trust me, there’s plenty for us to see; we should just let the text speak for itself.
The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, whatever he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it, because the time is near.” Revelation 1:1–3 (CSB)
John says the reason for this book is to give us a heads-up of what will happen “soon”. Note: God’s “soon” isn’t necessarily what we consider to be “soon”. (2 Peter 3:9) John adds that those who read and keep what’s written in it will be blessed. One commentator said, that the content of The Revelation isn’t merely prediction; moral counsel and religious instruction are the primary burdens of its pages.”
As you read through this book, don’t focus on trying to “figure it out”. Instead, ask God to show you what the chapter says about God. And what does it say about God’s people?
Take comfort as you read. Nothing should cause fear. Instead, as you read, ask God to give you a fresh sense of awe for Him, His ways, and His works.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul says that those who are unwilling to work shouldn’t eat. In other words, Believers aren’t to be freeloaders. Now, is that a cut-and-dried statement? Or is it a principle?
I think Paul intended this to be a principle. It comes down to a person’s heart, his/her motivations. If a person is able to work, but chooses not to, that’s a problem. If a person goes around constantly mooching off others, that’s a problem.
But what about someone who is “called to do God’s work”? It’s no different! If someone is called to do God’s work he/she shouldn’t wait until a paycheck comes along before doing the work. If God has called someone to do ministry, they should do ministry! If someone is genuinely called to do God’s work of sharing the gospel, Paul says they should be paid for doing the work if they so choose. If they want to work voluntarily, that’s fine. But no one should be shamed for accepting money for doing ministry. In fact, elsewhere, Paul says that laborers are worthy of their hire. (1 Timothy 5:18)
Taking on a second job in order to put food on the table is commendable; it can open up ministry opportunities as well. And a missionary or pastor shouldn’t be shamed if he does take on a second job. Neither should he be shamed for asking for financial support as his income source. Depending on the ministry, sometimes taking on a second job is impractical or impossible. And oftentimes, the people receiving ministry are unable to cover the expenses of a pastor or missionary.
Airline tickets cost money. Visas cost money. Passport processing costs money. Insurance costs money. Gas costs money. Food costs money. Ministry costs money! Fortunately, many ministries are very lean and are very good stewards. Unfortunately, not all are. And not all of the “big name” ministries are the most efficient. Beware of wolves that fleece their flocks and siphon large salaries away from those in need.
In the past, I have mentioned uniting our church with a neighboring church. This is a good thing. This is a God thing. Combining our efforts under one roof and one fellowship body will bring down the operating costs of the two churches and will free up monies to do more of God’s work. This is good stewardship! And quite frankly, I wish more churches would prayerfully consider doing the same! With the changing face of society and the declining nickels and noses in local churches, it might be the best thing to close the doors on a few dead/plateaued churches and unite the members under a new body with a new vision and new energy.
Important note: I say this having closed the doors of the first church I pastored. God was in that and He brought new life to an old building. Now, a newer, younger church is absolutely flourishing where we once floundered. God is good!
Unfortunately, churches have turf wars and partnering with other churches is often difficult. It takes a lot of humility and repentance to set aside your own church and ministry preferences. We don’t like change. But oftentimes, God calls us to “suck it up” and follow Him, taking on His preferences in order to accomplish His work.
Doing God’s work requires God’s people to give. And those who work are worthy of the support of God’s people to accomplish the work.
In today’s Bible reading, John tells us about Jesus’ encounter with a man who was born blind. The Jewish leaders asked Jesus about the source of his blindness. Was it his sin or his parents’ sin?
Evidently, these First Century Jewish leaders believed there was a connection between sin and physical ailments. They were partially right. The fact than anyone has any type of physical or mental ailment is ultimately due to the Fall of mankind. One decision in Genesis 3 affected not only the spiritual condition, but also the physical and mental condition of every descendent of Adam and Eve. But the Jewish leaders went too far in believing there was a direct link between this man’s blindness and someone’s sin. Jesus said neither was the source. Instead, He says this man was blind to show the works of God. (John 9:3)
The First Century Jewish leaders aren’t the only ones who try to draw a direct link between sin and illness. Can there be a link between sin and illness? Absolutely! Is there always a direct link? No. And Scripture does not state or imply otherwise. But James tells us that if someone is not well, he/she should pray for healing and deal with whatever sin(s) that may be related to the illness. (James 5:16) And when Paul and Dr. Luke were shipwrecked on the island of Malta, people brought their sick to these two men. Dr. Luke points out (very clearly in Greek) that at least one of the people was healed and others were cured. (Acts 28:8-9)
So why are some people born with physical or mental disabilities? Again, ultimately, this goes back to the decision made by Adam and Eve in the Garden. How could God cause/allow sickness and disease? If God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-loving, why doesn’t He prevent sickness and disease?
That’s a great question! And to answer it, we must define “all-good”, “all-powerful” and “all-loving” to include “not-always-understandable”. I don’t know why. And the Bible doesn’t tell me why. Nor does it need to. Some things about God are just beyond my comprehension. And God doesn’t owe me explanations for whatever He does. He’s God and I’m not! Sometimes, I just have to trust that He knows what He’s doing and that at some point — on this side, or on the other side of eternity — every Believer will be completely healed.
That trust is called “Faith”. And sometimes, I just have to say, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Acts 28:7)
Sometimes you come across something in the Bible that you don’t like. Something that doesn’t sound right. Something that doesn’t seem to go with how you always heard it in church. Such is the case with today’s Bible reading.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 (CSB)
He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted to him by the Father.” John 6:65 (CSB)
Many of us who grew up in church find it not just a little strange that Jesus would say — not once, but twice — that not just anyone can come to God. Does that mean that God will turn away people who sincerely want to come to Him? In other words, can someone come to Jesus on their own initiative?
I don’t have the space here to fully answering these questions. Some theologians have dedicated books to answering them. All I have is what Jesus says: only those who have been invited may come. Add to that what Paul says in Romans 3:10–12 and what Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 17:9 and I think it’s clear that no one is capable of sincerely coming to God on their own initiative. And even if they could, they wouldn’t.
Now, Jesus doesn’t say just that only those who are invited may come. But He adds that all those who are invited will come (John 6:37a) and all of those who respond to the invitation can never be turned away. (John 6:37b) And for Jesus to lose a any of those who were invited would be for Him to not do His Father’s will. (John 6:39)
Those are tremendous truths! Think about that!
If a child of God could lose his/her salvation,
it would mean that Jesus failed to do God’s will!
In other words, the security of your salvation isn’t your responsibility! It’s Jesus’ responsibility! Now, that isn’t to say that you can come to Jesus and kick back and never do anything else.
No, if you truly come to Him, you will continue to come to Him and grow closer to Him. But the responsibility for maintaining the relationship is His. And Jesus will always hold to His responsibilities!
So when you come across something in the Bible that you don’t like, something that doesn’t sound right, something that doesn’t go along with what you’ve always heard in church, it might just be that God wants to show you something about His character you’ve never seen before. And it might just be an opportunity for worship.
Peter continues addressing his persecuted, exiled readers (1 Peter 2:11) in today’s Bible reading. Last month, I commented on the historical context around the middle of the First Century. I mentioned Nero was the Roman Emporer at the time. Under Nero’s reign, Christians were persecuted far beyond what many of us can imagine today. “Pure evil” is the only way I can describe it without going into the ugly details.
And yet… Peter tells his readers to submit to every human authority. And lest there be any confusion, Peter says clearly that his command includes the “emperor [Nero] as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good.” (1 Peter 2:13–14 CSB)
So what does “submit” mean? Submit was a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.
Submission is not a bad word. In fact, no military unit can properly function without it. No marriage can properly function without it. No church can properly function without it. And no country can properly function without it. There has to be a chain of command. The pastor who married Amy and me said, “Anything with more than one head is a monster.”
Peter gives his rationale for his command in verses 12 and 15. “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.” 1 Peter 2:12, 15 (CSB)
Did you catch that? Peter says the reason Believers should submit even to the evil Emperor Nero was so that God would be glorified. He adds that silencing foolish ignorance by doing good is God’s will. Well, you can’t argue with that!
Most of my readers live in the United States and do not have first-hand knowledge of real religious persecution. However, readers in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes may know people who have experienced persecution. They may have even had to alter their way of doing life — especially church life — in order to coexist in a restrictive environment. I have friends who live in one of those restrictive countries and they have to be very careful in the way they communicate prayer needs back to churches in the US. In fact, they don’t even use the words “pray”, “church”, or “Jesus Christ” in their email correspondence.
But regardless of where you live, Peter’s instructions are clear: Submit to every human authority. Every human authority. You may or may not like your President. You may or may not like your Chancellor. You may or may not like your Prime Minister. But regardless of how you feel about your leaders, if you are a Believer, you are obligated to submit to those authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14) and to pray for them. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
 Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.