Discipleship, Grace

Conquered

As I read Scripture this morning I came across a passage in Revelation 12 that at once made me nostalgic. In the apocalyptic narrative of the dragon’s defeat and Satan being thrown down, the people belonging to Christ overcome by the blood and the word of their testimony.

The description, written to encourage believers facing first century persecution, is meant to stir rejoicing in the heavens, and among those in Christ. New Life Worship added the refrain to their mid-2000s song Overcome. That was my jam for a bit. That is the place of our victory, by the blood of Jesus we have forgiveness, a new covenant of grace. And the word of our testimony echos back the glory of our Savior as we stand firm in his righteousness and mission.

But as I read this text again this morning it was something else about these conquerors that stirred a different part of my soul.

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Revelation 12:11 (ESV)

Did you notice it? “For they loved not their lives even unto death.” You see if I worship only from the first half of the verse it can be my life that I cherish, a settled comfort in my faith when things are going right. After all we are overcomers. But I am struck that the conquering, the overcoming in Revelation 12 has an longer lens than my present experience. After all, there are plenty of moments that don’t feel like conquering. Especially when the standard by which I make such judgments is my life.

These conquerors though, who I think we are numbered among, don’t use their life as the gauge of overcoming. They gave their lives away. The did not love their lives, even dying for it. They answered the call of the Kingdom to come and die, not for self, but because the self had found something better.

In a year where many of us have made more than one statement prioritizing our “rights” and have aggressively tried to maintain our “lives” as they were before the pandemic, I wonder if this opportunity is exactly what we needed to steel the conquering spirit in us. All of this is for Jesus, his glory, his message, his Kingdom come. When we embrace sacrifice, surrender and giving away of our own lives, that is where this truth is owned. And where the Lord bolsters us for the battles ahead.

I know how hard this is and I am convinced that is why Scripture puts it before us so often. I also know there is never enough when the flesh lives for self. The only way I have experienced satisfaction is finding it in Jesus regardless of what life looks like. You still overcome by the blood and the word of your testimony – of God’s faithful, of his grace. And it is that blood and testimony that prime you to surrender your life for the only thing that is better.

As you ponder this today I pray that Jesus meets you and frees you of your life.

Culture, Discipleship

Walking in the Truth

The little letters of John the Apostle are so helpful in giving a glimpse into the pastoral heart. Care for those you lead and teach. He uses the first two to establish the church in love, the vital ingredient of a life in Christ. Then in the third letter he leans on truth.

Of course it is the truth of the gospel, of the kingdom of Christ and his reign. But I think it also pertains to all truth. Having character enough to wade through what is heard or seen and landing our perspective on the truth. Not our preference, not our opinion, but truth. John even calls out someone by name for putting the self before truth… dangerous territory.

But it is John’s expression of joy that got me today as I read it. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 4 (ESV)

His greatest joy is being told how his children (those that he has fathered in ministry) walk in the truth. They don’t frequent in conspiracy or opinion or as he calls it “wicked nonsense” (v. 10), they are firmly planted in truth. They cast off the cultural version of “your truth” and understand there can only be one truth.

I understand this joy first hand. In a year where everything seems to be turned upside down and the prevalence of false narratives abound, there is something encouraging and joy-inducing when those you shepherd cling to truth, champion it, and share it with others. And because I am learning to recognize this of the pastoral heart, I am committed all the more to pursuing truth as an example. After all, that is the biblical call.

So whoever your pastor or shepherd is, think of them as John the Apostle, walk in truth. With clear eyes, and an open heart, be confident in the good news of Jesus and search out of real truth wherever it may be found.

Discipleship

Satan is Pleased

Disunity is nothing new. It is an old trick, arguably around since the garden scheme to put husband and wife against each other in blame and the resulting separation from God.

But this year’s pandemic-drenched election is confounding with the layers of disunity.

The progressive left is agitated that the party they have tried to transform has as its candidate who some view as a centrist. Republicans are left wondering what it means to be conservative anymore as some shill for the cult of personality while others lament the loss of small government and kindness. Pro-life people are disunified on what the term means, do we only vote for a candidate perceived to be against abortion or do we actually work to value life of all people.

Sadly, the church, a people prone to be discipled more by confirmation bias than the Bible, has allowed the same level of disunity over politics or even response to a global pandemic. All of this leaves the accuser of the Saints, Satan, pleased.

Now I have no insight for the political left, or right, but I do have some encouragement for those claiming faith in Christ. Unity is what we are meant for. If it wasn’t important Jesus could have saved his breath in John 17. A oneness in Christ, with each other is the design for the church.

We are all culpable so where do we go from here? I suggest we become more rooted in the Word, more aggressive in repentance, and more familiar with love.

We must know what Jesus taught in order to be his disciples and we hear it in Scripture. Of course every believer is committed to Scripture, just ask them. But as individuals I wonder if we are ripe for evaluation of our lives and how much we take in that is in opposition to God’s best for his people and his invitation to live as Kingdom citizens.

Can we endeavor to consume more of Christ’s word? And do so not to confirm a bias we have but asking the Spirit to open our eyes and show us how to get to unity with others anchored in the good news of Jesus?

As we read then we should be quick to act upon what we hear. We tend to read Scripture looking for stories of great blessing that we can claim for ourselves but neglect the calls against rampant idolatry and half-hearted worship. Maybe in this season, to get to unity it will take aggressive repentance for the ways we have sinned against each other and the Lord by calling lesser things more important.

A whole-life repentance (given it’s Reformation Day we should reclaim this!) will move us beyond our prayer closet and into each others’ homes asking for forgiveness and seeking restoration with one another. It will also move us into the streets to care for the least among us, those without voice, without privilege.

And it might recenter us in love. Jesus does bold work by calling his followers to not only love our neighbor (hard enough for us) but to also love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us. Some of us find it hard in this season to love the people we sit six-feet away from at church. But following Jesus is death-to-self. A sacrificial life of care for others, even those we are sure are against us. Let’s recommit to that, to love.

Because Jesus first loved us we have nothing to lose in extending love to others. Maybe the Spirit will even give you a tangible way to do that before the election is even over.

In the Word, quick to repent, and active in unlimited love, we will find our unity. In Jesus, who forgives us and gives us new mercy to try again. We are free to throw off what weighs us and separates us and realize the answer to Christ’s prayer that we would be one and he and the Father are one.

Are we up for it?