Christian Living

Dreams vs. Reality

Each miracle that Jesus performs is simply amazing. From healing the blind man, to feeding 5,000 with just a few loaves and fishes, the miracles of Christ not only amaze us, but demonstrate His compassion upon those who are helpless and hopeless. Furthermore, each miracle has both the physical, and Spiritual application.

Such is the case with the miraculous catch in Luke 5:1-11. In it, Jesus demonstrates His power in a way that catches Simon Peter’s full attention. He makes Peter’s wildest dreams come true, but does so in a way that makes Peter leave them behind to follow the Lord.

Peter was a fisherman. He made his living dragging nets along the bottom of the Sea of Galilee, hoping to gather enough fish to be able to feed his family and make a living in the market place. History records that during the time of Christ, the fishing industry along Galilee was struggling.

If that were the case, the Peter, Zebedee, James and John were likely in need of a great catch. Such a catch had proven elusive, however, as when we find Jesus teaching along the shore of Galilee, the four fishermen were washing their nets after an unsuccessful night.

In reading this passage, we are reminded of the struggle of mankind. Man’s curse, brought on by Adam’s sin in the garden, is that work would be hard, and would pay off only after maximum efforts had been expended. As God told Adam in Genesis 3, “In the sweat of your face will you eat bread.”

The Lord sees this struggle. It’s real. And He’s sympathetic. It’s worth pointing out in Matthew 6:31-33 that Jesus promises to meet those needs for His followers.

After concluding His teaching, Jesus told Peter to take the boat out into the deep, and to cast the net one more time. When Peter did so, he pulled up a net so full of fish, that it filled both boats to the point that they began to sink.

If you read too quickly, you’ll miss what this really meant.

Everyone who goes into business does so with the dream that they will be wildly successful. What generally happens, however, is that the businessman struggles to make ends meet, and constantly has to worry about the consequences of a bad month.

Peter was in business as a fisherman. When Christ provided the miraculous catch, He made Peter’s wildest dream come true, and He placed that dream right in front of Peter.

At this point, Peter has a choice. Stay and count the fish and work out the logistics of getting them to market, or follow Christ. Peter chose the latter.

Peter was a skilled fisherman who built a business and supported a family. However, his purpose in life was not to be a great fisherman. It was to follow Jesus and become the lead apostle.

Dreams are good, and we never fault anyone for pursuing them. However, the lesson we learn from Peter is that our purpose is not always tied to our dreams. However, when we find the path of our purpose diverging from our dreams, what God has for us down the road of purpose will bring us greater fulfillment than our dreams ever could.

This passage gives us an opportunity to reflect on our priorities and make sure they are in line with God’s.

People, Get Ready (Luke 3)

The ministry of John the Baptist is a key component of the Gospel story, hence it is included in all four accounts of the Gospel. The ministry of John the Baptist is one more fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and John’s ministry demonstrates the divinity of Jesus Christ.

However, if we only make a theological point about John’s ministry, and miss his words, we’ve missed the point altogether. John’s preaching in Luke 3 teaches us three key things. (1) Judgment day is upon us, (2) The way of repentance, and (3) the power of Christ.

John the Baptist said, “The axe is laid to the root of the trees.” In that statement, he warned that Christ was coming, and so the people would need to make a decision regarding their faith. The proper choice, of course, is to repent and believe.

In discussing repentance, John gave clear teachings on what it meant to repent, and what true repentance looks like. The word repent means to turn and never return. It’s very similar to the word “forsake,” which means to turn away and never return.

While the repentant sinner may stumble and fall in the sin again, his life and desires are no longer consumed by the sin. Along those lines, John gave some guidelines by which to evaluate your life.

He said, “Let those who have two coats give to the one who has none. Let the tax collectors collect no more than is due. Let the soldiers no longer extort the civilians.” At the root of these statements are an evaluation. Are we covetous, are we content, are we prideful?

Had John been preaching today, he may have said, “Let the porn addict log off his computer, let the drug addict put down the pipe, and let the thief earn his way.”

The fact is that we often self-medicate with sin. If we are self-medicating, have we repented? And if we are self-medicating, are we really trusting God for healing and salvation?

John’s ministry also points out the power of Christ, who will baptize us with the Holy Ghost and with fire. The Holy Spirit indwells us at the point of salvation, giving us the power to overcome sin and heal. The fire is the adversity God uses to transform and purify us. Our job in life is to trust that process.

Judgment day is closer now than it has ever been, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that business as usual can no longer be trusted. Let us all repent and trust the Lord as we move into 2021.

Why the letters to the churches in Revelation are important (It’s about context)

As mentioned several times in this study, the common temptation in Revelation is to disregard the first three chapters. Either (a) the student will assign a deeper theological symbolism to the letters to the churches, or (b) skip them altogether. However, it is the letters to the churches that reveal to us the context of Revelation, and the Lord’s motivation for inspiring the book to be written.

To be honest, the word, “book,” is sort of a misnomer regarding Revelation. Like most of the New Testament, Revelation is a letter. It’s a letter dictated by Jesus, with observations by John, all under the inspiration of the Spirit, addressed to seven churches in Asia, (or, modern-day Turkey.)

With this being a letter from Jesus to seven specific churches, then we have a defined messenger, a defined message, and defined recipients. This means that Revelation is not a coded book of secrets about the future, but rather a direct message to churches about the coming of the Lord, and the preparations that need to be made in the interim.

With that in mind, we can interpret the book of Revelation by reading it as one of the members of those churches would have read it. They didn’t have hundreds of books on Bible symbolism and linguistic training. They took the words of Christ at face value, as we should also.

While there is some symbolic interpretation, the message Christ wants us to take is not one of prophetic knowledge, but one of repentance and faith. Therefore, the letters to the churches should be read, understood, and applied. They are one of the most easily understood and most important passages in Revelation.

With the message of Revelation being repentance and faith leading up to the return of Christ, the letters to the churches demonstrate sins that need to be set aside and repented from, and faith that needs to be applied. If we learn  or understand nothing else from Revelation, let it be the things the Lord wants us to do in light of these letters.

Jesus is coming quickly. Let’s be prepared.

Do something!

One of the most common criticisms of the Laodicean church, based on the words of our Lord in Revelation 3, is that they were rich, slothful, and to a certain degree, prideful. They loved their riches, and proclaimed, “I am rich!”

The problem was that their faith was weak, and that faith could only be strengthened by the Lord’s refining process, which involves trial by fire. The Apostle Peter wrote about such trials in 1 Peter 1:7, “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”

The Lord invited them to have their faith refined.

This weak faith that the Lord critiqued led to another situation He addressed, the fact that the Laodicean church was lukewarm. This means that the church didn’t really do anything, and didn’t really stand for anything. It just sort of existed. The picture almost becomes one of a social club. There’s no real celebration of redemption. There’s no concerted effort to advance the cause of the Gospel.

Because this church was lukewarm, the Lord threatened to spew them out of His mouth. He then invited the church to let Him in so that He could fellowship with them.

There are multiple lessons from Laodicea. (1) Trust the Lord and allow Him to refine your faith, even when that refining process brings pain. (2) Stand for something, and do something. Don’t merely exist, do something for the Lord. Take a stand for the Lord. (3) Open the door and allow the Lord in. Fellowship with Him. (4) Don’t be so consumed by worldly things that you neglect your Spiritual condition. That leads to true poverty.

Trust the Lord. Love the Lord. Live for the Lord. God bless you.

Don’t sweat the disappointments

Moment of transparency: The shelter-in-place orders of the COVID-19 pandemic have scared me. I do not fear death, disease, or loss of income. I do fear passing the disease to our church members, and I fear losing the church. My biggest fear is that I am not doing a good enough job keeping the church together while we remain in isolation. At the end of the day, God is the One Who does that anyway, and I should have no fear.

The first Sunday we went totally online, our data failed toward the end of the sermon, and I had to finish up early. Two weeks later, my mobile device I was using to stream failed during a Wednesday night message.

Meanwhile, other churches who had already maintained an online presence were putting together top-notch presentations. And while I am not jealous of those churches, and I am not offended when a church member seeks wisdom from the teaching of another pastor, I worried that I had not done enough to minister to my flock. Indeed, the Gospel is being preached more online than ever, and thousands are being reached. Am I doing my part?

Then, I read the letter to the church at Philadelphia, which encouraged a church that was remaining faithful despite mounting obstacles and opposition. The Lord told Philadelphia that they would be spared from the hour of temptation, and their enemies will worship at their feet.

The lesson here is that God honors faithfulness, and He delivers and gives the victory. So, if you are struggling with whether God is pleased with your in-home, quarantined worship, He is. If you are a pastor who cannot get your messages uploaded due to spotty internet service, God still honors your faithfulness.

Turn to the Lord, and He will turn to you. Trust the Lord, and He will deliver you. God bless you all.

The art of self-deception

The scariest verses of the Bible are not the ones where plagues are pronounced and massive destruction happens. The verses that should scare you are the ones where someone entered the presence of Christ thinking they were Spiritually sound, only to find out they were still lost the whole time.

Consider the words of Christ in Matthew 7:22-23:

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Here, you have a situation where people were in the Lord’s presence on judgment day, finding out that they were never saved, and thus stood condemned. They protested, saying they had done a lot of wonderful things for the Lord, yet He proclaimed, “I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

These people had probably spent a lifetime doing works that looked good on the surface, but beneath the surface were impure motives and sinful desires. Yet, they convinced themselves that, because what they were doing was good, the ends justified the means.

They justified themselves, and placed their faith in their works, rather than the Lord, who would have cleansed them from all unrighteousness, justified them, and received them into Heaven.

But because they justified themselves, they deceived themselves into thinking that they were doing God’s work. Consider the words of 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Without a real relationship with Jesus Christ, without repentance from sin, pride and dead works, while turning toward and placing your faith in Christ, you are still lost. Any “righteous” works that you do will still leave you short of Heaven.

If you assess your life and conclude that you are without sin, you are also performing the art of deceiving yourself.

The lesson learned from Sardis, posted in the video above, is that you can believe yourself to be in good shape, and have a reputation of being a solid, Spiritual person, and still be Spiritually dead.

Heed the words of Isaiah 1:18, bring your sins to the Lord, and allow Him to cleanse you.

God’s patience runs out

The church at Thyatira, like the other churches in Revelation, had a lot of things going for it… but one issue God took was the sin and immorality that was infiltrating the church. God allowed time for those involved to repent, but they didn’t, so the day of reckoning was coming. From this, we learn that now is always the time to repent.

Watch for pitfalls

Jesus had high praise for the church at Pergamos, but unlike their counterparts in Smyrna, there was an issue. Pergamos had those that held to the doctrine of Balaam. What does that mean?

To understand that, we need to go back and read the story of Balaam from Numbers. Balaam was willing to work with Balak to sabotage or pronounce a curse on Israel, that is, until God told him to only speak the words the Spirit gave Him. Upon heeding those instructions, Balaam proclaimed a blessing on Israel.

What happened next, however, is kind of subtle. With Balaam’s direction, the people of Israel began to worship idols and commit sexual immorality. The result was God’s punishment upon the people.

It is easy to get distracted from our relationship and faith in God by enticing sins and temptations which present themselves. Such was the case at Pergamos. They were faithful to the Lord and endured affliction, but at the same time, they had fallen into temptation.

You can be a faithful Christian, and have issues. You can believe in the Lord and be saved, and yet, struggle with sin. The Lord takes issue with that, therefore when we identify that sin, we should repent of that sin and get it out of our lives.

Or as Hebrews 12:1 says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

Jesus knows your pain

In his letter to the church at Smyrna, Jesus said, “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9)”

Smyrna was in a difficult situation. They were being persecuted, they were facing hardships, and they were poor. Jesus said He knew this. Jesus knowledge of the plight of the Smyrnan church went beyond an awareness of their suffering, He understood it, because He experienced it during His earthly ministry.

Jesus gave them hope. He told them that their suffering would not be long, and that it would be rewarded.

For us, the Lord not only knows what we are going through, but He experienced it Himself. Therefore, He is sympathetic (Hebrews 4:15). He will hear your prayer and respond.

In the meantime, the trials and tribulations through which you suffer are not pointless. God uses them to transform you, and He will reward you. Keep looking up, and have faith in the Lord.

When the church forgets its first love…

In Revelation 2-3, Jesus dictates letters to the seven churches of Asia. These are actual letters written to actual churches who were dealing with actual issues. Our Lord’s words are not to be taken as allegory, but rather teaching in response to certain situations that had arisen in His churches. We are to take the lessons He taught them, and apply them to our lives.

In the first letter, addressed to the church at Ephesus, Jesus praises their ministry and faithfulness, but He takes issue with one thing… they lost their first love. This problem is so serious, it threatened the very existence of that church. So, what was the first love they left? That question has fueled much debate. In this video lesson, we decode the letter to the Ephesians and learn what the spurned first love was.