Discipleship, Word & Spirit

Immanuel in 2020

In the spring of this year I was preaching into a camera and I told our church that my prayer for coming through the pandemic was not just that we make it back to normal but that it would be evident that we had been with Jesus during the pandemic. That our hope sustained us. That we served others with joy. That we lived by Christ’s ethic. It was my supernaturalized vision of 2020. I still long for this and I think is is what the great commission lived out looks like.

From a hopeful place in Scripture we hear of what Advent delivers and what those in Christ are meant to reveal. Zechariah is among the minor prophets and in a collection of words from Yahweh through the prophet we hear of calls back to justice and trust in the Lord’s strength and plan. Then in chapter 8 there is a wonderful vision of a coming peace, an expansion of Jerusalem, the city of God.

In the description it is clear that this is the place humanity longs to be. And the far off are brought in. But it is one of the ways they come that stood out.

Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, β€˜Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” Zechariah 8:22–23(ESV)

Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you. This is a Christmas passage. Immanuel has come, God with us. But it is also a passage for the journey home to this place of peace. This is what draws the nations. People that have been with God. Not doctrinal statements. Not political preferences. But that God is with you.

As we wind down the year and look forward to another, might this be a bit higher on our list of prayers. That it would be noticeable that we have been with Jesus. That God is with us… that others might come along.

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.