Author Archives: christian517

Malachi 1-4, Revelation 22

He’s coming! He’s coming soon!

Is it any wonder that the end of the Old and New Testament are connected with an announcement of the coming of Christ?

Malachi 4:5-6 – “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

Revelation 22:12 – “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.”

It may seem odd that Malachi references the coming of Elijah, an esteemed prophet by the Hebrew people, for future days. A commentary in my bible clarifies this contradiction—Jesus refers to John as the second coming of Elijah in Matthew 17:10 in at the Transfiguration. The beginning, middle, and end of the Word of God point to the person of Jesus Christ.

Henri Nouwen was once asked by a dear friend to summarize all of his findings in the spiritual life for the secular world. A word for the skeptical, the religiously disenchanted. But for the searching. Nouwen, in a word:

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.” Being the beloved expresses the core truth of our existence…

I am putting this so directly and so simply because, though the experience of being the Beloved has never been completely absent from my life, I never claimed it as my core truth. I kept running from it in large or small circles, always looking for someone or something able to convince me of my Belovedness. It was as if I kept refusing to hear the voice that speaks from the very depth of my being and says: ‘You are my Beloved, on you my favor rest.’”

What did the coming of Christ foretell? That He loves us and came us to save us from our sin. What does the second coming of Christ imply? That He loves us and wants to be with us eternally. He loves us.

The Bible, from beginning to end, is a love story. What have I gained this year, looking back? Some new friendships. A new look at old passages, a deeper understanding of some Greek words perhaps. But the most profound truth, that has permeated every word of every verse of every chapter:

Jesus loves me.

This I know.

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Zephaniah 1-3, Revelation 15

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.

The chorus of a song we used to sing over our campers as we said our final goodbyes for the week, Zephaniah 3:17 holds a special place in my heart. This verse culminates the love and compassion that I learned at a camp for the broken.

While there is a swift justice, fire and brimstone side to God that is apparent it is only because He is being deprived of the other side of His nature. Throughout scripture, God yearns to draw close and gather His people in embrace. He wants to be intimately connected with us. Our waywardness and disobedience prevent our approach to His holy throne, but His desire for closeness persists.

Zephaniah reminds me that in the most real way this Christmas, God came to be with me. He came to quiet me with his love. His song of love over me is the gift of his presence in Christ. He didn’t send a long email. He didn’t send a fruit basket. He didn’t send an entourage of angels or a cosmic Broadway show. He sent a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes to take away the sting of death and punishment for my sins.

This season I want most to take a pause and breathe that fact in. God didn’t love me in some grandiose, extravagant way. He loved me in the most intimate, necessary way. He loved me by doing something for myself that I could not. He loved me with the gift of His presence and the offer still stands.

I need to take some time to receive it.

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Amos 7-9, Revelation 9

“Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom,
And I will destroy it from the face of the earth;
Nevertheless, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob,”
Declares the Lord.

Yes, the justice of God is swift and often severe compared to the presentation of Christ in the New Testament—so severe that some of the first canons of scripture completely left out sections that could not be reconciled. How can these two apparent “versions” of the deity understood?

R.C. Sproul on the subject looks back to the Garden. What was the one and only commandment given? Don’t eat of the fruit. The consequence? Death. Sproul, in one of his lectures on the topic, suggests that death is neither figurative nor spiritual in nature. When God said if you break my one rule, death is imminent. From the get go, man is shown mercy when justice is required.

It may be easy to zero in on all the occasions in scripture where God smites the wicked but one must also study every instance in which punishment is withheld.

 Thus the Lord [a]God showed me, and behold, He was forming a locust-swarm [b]when the spring crop began to sprout. And behold, the spring crop was after the king’s [c]mowing. And it came about, [d]when it had finished eating the vegetation of the land, that I said,

“Lord God, please pardon!
[e]How can Jacob stand,
For he is small?”
The Lord [f]changed His mind about this.
“It shall not be,” said the Lord.

Thus the Lord God showed me, and behold, the Lord God was calling to contend with them by fire, and it consumed the great deep and began to consume the [g]farm land. Then I said,

“Lord God, please stop!
How can Jacob stand, for he is small?”
The Lord [h]changed His mind about this.
“This too shall not be,” said the Lord God. (ch. 7)

Amos changes God’s mind about the severity of his punishment twice. For every time God wipes out his people, he restores them. And this is the end that He is always working towards.

“Also I will restore the [f]captivity of My people Israel,
And they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them;
They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine,
And make gardens and eat their fruit.
15 “I will also plant them on their land,
And they will not again be rooted out from their land
Which I have given them,”
Says the Lord your God. (ch. 9)

Despite the repeated offenses of his people, God has resolved to reach out and extend grace and mercy when swift justice is demanded. The full expression of justice is exhibited when He chose to crush His Son to show us mercy and grace. God is always true to who He is, even at the greatest cost.

How can I give up on my students at school when I serve a God who will not give up on me? God, in His goodness, wants to fill me with more of His nature through the challenge of loving the rebel. I am inspired to continue to love in justice and grace.

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Hosea 5-8, Revelation 1

8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

John’s vision in Revelation opens up slew of questions about the nature of God. What is His infinitude? How do we comprehend an entity that goes both directions forever in time—both past and present? In our day to day language, we use “limitless” or “boundless” to exaggerate insurmountable categories but there is no true earthly source that is without bound or limit.

Tozer on the topic points out that “infinite” is only truly a term that applies precisely to God:

“How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none. Eternal years lie in His heart. For Him time does not pass, it remains; and those who are in Christ share with Him all the riches of limitless time and endless years.”

He elaborates on the benefit of knowing an infinite God.

“God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which He must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves. For those out of Christ, time is a devouring beast; before the sons of the new creation time crouches and purrs and licks their hands.”

If God is truly infinite, and all life that is sourced in Him must find their rest in Him, then there is nothing to fear in time. The time we spend here is to make and glorify Him as best we can knowing that we will perfect these skills in eternity.

“But there is more. God’s gifts in nature have their limitations. They are finite because they have been created, but the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus is as limitless as God. The Christian man possesses God’s own life and shares His infinitude with Him. In God there is life enough for all and time enough to enjoy it. Whatever is possessed of natural life runs through its cycle from birth to death and ceases to be, but the life of God returns upon itself and ceases never. And this is life eternal: to know the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.”

Jesus,

Thank you for the Gift of eternal life in you. Help me make the best use of my time in the present. I look forward sharing all eternity with you.

– Christian

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Daniel 1, 2; 1 John 2

A friend of mine prayed a prayer a long time ago. He prayed and addressed the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit separately. He prayed to each of them like he knew and could identify them individually. Like his relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit was unique from his friendship with the Father and so on. It stuck with me.

It challenged my view of the trinity. I had to rethink of how I understood their separate and distinct roles. What did the Holy Spirit do? Who was Jesus to me? Did my tone in prayer changed when I addressed the Father?

The truth is, I had never thought about the Three as apart from one another before I heard his prayer. I knew that I needed to pray in Jesus’ name, that God was His father, and somehow the Spirit spoke to me. I had never considered praying to each one like I addressed different people.

But while God is, theologically, one Being with three Persons, He is—three persons. The Father. The Son. And the Holy Spirit.

The only way I have known to truly know someone is through time, trust, and intimacy. I must devote a significant amount of time to their presence. Trust myself with them fully and divulge every secret of my heart. This is truly the road to a deep relationship.

So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.

I am writing these things to warn you about those who want to lead you astray. But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.”

I haven’t devoted much of my time to praying to the three persons of God recently. Thinking through this passage has reminded me of the intimacy speaking to Him directly and separately nurtured in my life. Stopping to pray to the Father for all He has provided. Reflecting on the sacrifice of the Son and thanking Him for His divine companionship and love. Asking the Holy Spirit to convict and guide me in my life—moment by moment. Each member has their own equal but valuable role and can be known individually.

When I pray and speak to God as He is—one in three—I am truly in awe of the mystery of the godhead and my love grows deeper and stronger every day.

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Ezekiel 36-37; 1 Peter 3

19 So he went and preached to the spirits in prison— 20 those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood.21 And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The most faith-challenging conversation I had in college wasn’t with an atheist out on the quad trying to share Jesus. It wasn’t in a science class with a skeptic over evolution. It was a fellow believer from a different on-campus “discipleship” group over the purpose of baptism.

A lot of groups like to go around and be forward with their faith. The particular group I was a part of had their own methods of approaching people about faith matters or promoting our evangelistic events. There were at least two or three others that were equally as progressive. It was on one afternoon that a member of one of these groups approached me about my faith. Not wanting to be off-putting, I agreed to answer a few questions over coffee.

We sat down in front of a bible and my new rather eager friend began asking me questions and showing me texts from scripture. To his surprise, I started showing him other texts and asking him questions in return. I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to show off my biblical savvy. We were having quite an interesting competition until he came across this text.

A picture of baptism. Which now saves you. “You have to be baptized to be saved, of course.” He said. My theological brakes slammed on. What? No! Grace is sufficient!

We went to Ephesians 2. I directed us to the myriad of other salvation texts where Paul, and Jesus himself, would have found it very convenient to include the one crucial act to ensure one’s eternal salvation. I thumbed through my index like crazy and wracked my memory for every sermon illustration to back up my point.

One of us inevitably had to go to class and we abruptly ended the conversation. Me a bit frustrated and he disappointed that he had failed to convert…a Christian. We agreed to disagree and circle back at another time.

Looking through my old keyword study bible at this passage, I couldn’t help but notice the two pages of commentary my version has to offer on the subject. It’s glazed with highlighter from that night. In short, it basically chalks up the verbage to a translation error. It’s better read, “Baptism and the act of belief  will save you at some point in the future.” In other words, baptism isn’t the final word on your salvation. It’s greatly encouraged to publicly display your faith, but it’s not the act that saves you. It’s the belief. Do both. You will be saved.

Moral of the story, it wasn’t up until I had that rather unexpected conflict that my faith started to sprout roots of their own. Ironically, I was trying to convince someone who believed most of the core things I believed, but just had his categories mixed up. But either way, the situation forced me to assess and apply what I had been taught.

At the core, what I believed about salvation wasn’t just a creed or a personal preference or a pledge of allegiance to some denomination, it was a test of my knowledge of the Holy.

Did I really believe that some single act of obedience outside of simple faith could buy me salvation or was it something more pure, something completely without obligation that saved me?

Or more simply, was the effect of Christ’s sacrifice sufficient for my sins or not?

I believe grace is or isn’t enough.

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Ezekiel 20, 21; James 1

The first chapter of James is like trying to drink out of a fire hydrant with a straw. It’s like James was afraid he’d run out of time so he decided to pack all of his thoughts into the first section. Faith, perseverance. Wisdom, doubt. Social status, longevity. Temptation, sin, death. God’s generosity. Anger management. Taking action in God’s word. Taming the tongue. True religion. What am I to take away from all this? Perhaps he was so scattered because he was writing to such a scattered audience—twelve tribes of Jewish believers with their own unique and individual problems.

Every time I’ve read through this chapter, I’ve gleaned something fresh from it. A different aspect connects with a different part of my life at that time. I’m sure every time I’ve read it, I’ve been living out of one those twelve tribes different tribulations.

This time, my mind snagged on this theme of God’s lavish generosity. Coming up on a season of giving, I am suddenly aware of how my small my most prized gift this year will pale in comparison to God’s unshackled blessing.

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.” (v. 17-18, NLT)

I can’t get over the multitude of God’s gift. In wisdom, He created us. In love, He allowed us fall. In mercy, He sent His beloved son to atone for our mistakes. In grace, He daily offers His presence by His spirit to renew and free us from sin. He gave His true word. And ultimately, gifted Him to make us His prized possession. Wow.

Jesus, I am amazed by your goodness. I am overwhelmed by your generosity. Help to me to more fully comprehend the depth of your grace and presence in my life in a fresh way.

– Christian

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