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Create More Than You Consume

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

In Ecclesiastes 12:11, the Teacher notes that all proverbs are given by one Shepherd.  I don’t think this means that every wise saying from every society is literally inspired.  Rather, the point is that the more wisdom a proverb contains, the closer it comes to the Source of all wisdom and to His revealed word.

This is certainly the case with an epigram I first saw attributed to Jeff Bezos a year or two ago, though I would guess that somebody else came up with it first and he merely popularized it.  Regardless, the world’s richest man wants us to know that the secret to success in business and indeed in life is this:  Create more than you consume.

It certainly has the counter-intuitive quality that we associate with Scripture, doesn’t it?  The world wants us to believe that the secret to life success is, simply:  Consume.  Put yourself first.  Take what you want.  If somebody else comes out on the short end of the deal, how tragic and sad.  They should have paid better attention.

By contrast, worldly wisdom declares the creator (as opposed to the self-indulgent taker) to be a chump.  He works hard churning out all this stuff for others, but he never gets back what he put into it.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t be creating more than he consumed.  He is the natural prey of the consumer.  What a tool!

And yet.  Jeff Bezos didn’t get eleventy hundred billion dollars by thinking about what he wanted.  He made all that money by figuring out what others wanted and creating a way to get it to them.  By contrast, the guy who is focused on what he wants is sitting at home on the couch watching The Price Is Right because he walked out on his job at the Kwik Mart (after having worked there for three whole weeks) when the manager got on his case.

“Create more than you consume” matters if you want unimportant stuff like money.  It matters a whole lot if you want eternal life.  We usually don’t describe God as the Consumer, but we call Him the Creator all the time.  That’s probably a hint about which direction both of those words are aimed.

So too, Paul says of Jesus in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.”  Is the Lord a creator or a consumer?

We must ask the same question about ourselves.  It’s easy for us to be consumers, even as Christians, to do nothing but take in our churches, families, and friendships.  However, if we are primarily parasites, the relationships that we feed off of will sicken and die.  Paradoxically, though, when we seek to give more than we take, we nourish them, and they in turn nourish us.  To say things another way, the one who seeks to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for the sake of the Lord and the gospel will find it.  

Create.  Give.  Lose.  The world will think you’re an idiot, but God won’t.

God Has an Answer

Monday, May 02, 2022

The contrast between Revelation 13 and Revelation 14 is one of the most striking between any two chapters in the Bible. In Revelation 13, all the news is bad. Even though the dragon has been defeated in heaven, a new ally for him, the beast, emerges from the sea. Another evil creature, a beast who is a false prophet, comes up out of the earth.

Together, these beings do incredible harm. The dragon leads all the earth to worship him and the beast. The false prophet mimics the work of Christ, deceiving all the people of the world. Now, anyone who does not worship the beast will be killed, and anyone who does not receive the mark of the beast cannot buy or sell. In short, by the end of Revelation 13, it seems that the bad guys have already won!

Revelation 14 tells a different story. There, we learned that 144,000 have not followed the dragon or the beast. Instead, they have remained faithful to God. Also, God uses His angels to begin his plan to overthrow the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. Babylon, the city of the beast, will be destroyed. Furthermore, all who have worshipped the beast will be punished. The righteous will be rewarded, and in the end, it is the will of God, not the will of the dragon, that will triumph.

In addition to making for exciting reading, this two-chapter sequence reveals a fundamental truth about the cosmic struggle between good and evil. It always looks like evil is about to win. This has been true at many, many times throughout the history of God's people, and it is certain to continue to be true.

Indeed, we ourselves may feel this way right now. It may be that as we consider the apparent moral decline of our country, the work of the devil is as apparent to us as it is in Revelation 13. The same may hold true in our personal lives as well. In my own life, developing a terminal illness does not look like a victory for God!

However, we must hold the truth of Revelation 14 firmly in mind. It was not obvious at the end of Revelation 13, and it may not be obvious in our lives now, but God is preparing an answer. If we see trouble looming on the horizon, how much more is He aware of it! He has had all the time in the world to address our situation. He knows what He is going to do, and His power is such that He will infallibly do it. Nobody reaches the end of Revelation and concludes that God has lost, and if we are faithful to Him, no one will think that He has lost the battle in our lives either.

This is not always easy to hear. We may well feel like God should have turned the chapter to Revelation 14 a while ago! As always, though, God works on His timetable, not ours. If we trust in Him, His triumph in our lives is as certain as His triumph in Revelation.

God's Promises to the Faithful

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

No matter how many times I read the Bible, I always find something new in it.  Nor are these discoveries subtle or inconsequential.  Often, they are magnificent!

So it was with this week’s Bible reading.  I’m familiar with Revelation.  I’ve taught it several times and read it many more.  However, never before had I paid attention to Revelation 7:16-17.

Part of this is formatting.  The NASB95, which is the translation I keep in my head, sets those two verses in prose.  Yesterday, however, I read out of the CSB, and it divides the text into poetic parallels.  Wow!  What a difference!  (This, by the way, is a great reason to read from multiple translations.  Different renderings and even different formatting can help us see different things)

Anyway, here’s the way the CSB reads:

“They will no longer hunger;
they will no longer thirst;
the sun will no longer strike them,
nor will any scorching heat. 
For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them;
he will guide them to springs of the waters of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation has the reputation of being forceful rather than beautiful, but that’s purely gorgeous!  Contextually, this applies to the multitude that has come out of the great tribulation, but it is a promise for all Christians to cherish.

Indeed, it’s a promise that I cherish.  I suffer now, but I know that God never has promised any Christian that life on earth will be free from suffering.  In John 16:33, He promises the opposite.  Thus, my life now gives me no reason to doubt His faithfulness. 

Rather, I endure, and I anticipate His fulfillment of His promises in the life to come.  In that day, I will neither hunger nor thirst.  God will provide for my most basic needs, and He will fulfill all the others too.  Likewise, neither the sun nor scorching heat will strike me.  God will shelter me from all external oppression.

The next verse explains why I will receive all these blessings.  I love the image here!  In this life, human shepherds shepherd sheep.  In the life to come, the Lamb will shepherd us.

As with the divine shepherd of Psalm 23, He will lead us to water, but the spring to which He will bring us flows with the water of life.  I long for this so much that it hurts!  My illness is incurable and terminal.  I often have thought about what it would be like to go to Jesus in the days of His ministry and be healed even of this.  However, the day will come when He will heal me completely, body and soul.

That day will be as free from sorrow as it is from sickness.  God Himself will dry my tears, as He will dry all the tears of the righteous.  I struggle to comprehend this.  How can it be that we no longer will be grieved even by the memory of sorrow?  Perhaps the answer lies in 2 Corinthians 4:17.  As we dwell in the midst of God’s glory, every earthly affliction will fade into insignificance.

This hope is the only thing that sustains me, or could sustain me, on my journey.  Without the promises of God, I am a pitiable wretch.  With them, suffering only sharpens my focus on my reward.

He Stands at the Door and Knocks

Monday, April 11, 2022

If Kermit The Frog were a Bible student, he might wonder why there are so many songs about Revelation 3:20.  Hymnists from every era have written about the stranger at the door, etc.  As with rainbows, the answer is self-evident.  The Scriptures are full of magnificent word portraits of God, but this is perhaps the most appealing of them all.

The God of the Bible is utterly beyond our understanding.  His power is so vast that He created the reality we inhabit.  His awareness is such that not a sparrow, not a grain of pollen, not a molecule, falls to the ground apart from Him.  In His wisdom, He knows all that was, all that is, all that will be, and all that might be.  He is not like us, and because He is so alien, we no more can sit in judgment on Him than a worm can sit in judgment on us. 

This God sounds like a perfect candidate for the divine Watchmaker of the deists.  Surely such a One would preside unmoved over His dominions, as unconcerned about us as we are about the insects in our front lawn, following His incomprehensible purposes to their incomprehensible conclusion!

The God of the Bible is not like that.  The God of the Bible stands at the door and knocks.

Indeed, though we can’t understand it, we have a name for His purpose.  It is love.  The sparrow does not fall to the ground apart from His awareness, but it also does not fall apart from His love.  How much more, then, does He love us, fashioned in His image and likeness, the crowning glory of His creation!  Truly, we are more valuable than many sparrows.

The story of the universe is the story of the patient working-out of the love of God.  Satan, sin, and death oppress and destroy us, but He is greater than they are.  His love shines most clearly in His Son.  John 1:18 says that Jesus has explained Him; literally, exegeted Him as we would exegete a passage of Scripture.

The explanation is astounding.  He sent His eternal Son to earth, not to reign over an earthly kingdom, but to serve, suffer, and die at the hands of His handiwork.  It was the greatest evil possible, but in the unfathomable wisdom of God, it became the greatest good.  In Christ, rebellious, doomed sinners can find life.

Such is the love of God for us.  Such is His deep yearning.  Well does Jesus say of Himself that He stands and knocks at the door of every human heart.  With all the power at His command, He does not coerce or force.  He seeks admittance.  It is the King who implores the unworthy servant.

He is so very near to us, and He refuses none who invite Him in.  If we do, the Bridegroom will bring the wedding feast to us, and we will continue to dine at His table forever.  God has explained all this to us, and we still can’t grasp it.  All we can do is rejoice that it is true.

Learning from the Church in Sardis

Monday, April 04, 2022

Of the letters to the seven churches in the early part of Revelation, by far the most negative is the missive to Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6.  Thankfully, the Jackson Heights church as a whole is not like the church in Sardis, but in any larger congregation of the Lord’s people, it’s likely that the lives of some individual Christians match the description.  Though it’s unpleasant, each of us ought to soberly consider whether these words apply to us.

They had the name of being alive.  The Christians in Sardis continued to meet.  Others regarded them as faithful, but the reality was tragically different.  Sadly, our reputation among brethren may not reflect our true spiritual state either.

They were doing some things right.  Even though Jesus’ tone is harshly condemnatory, some parts of their former spiritual health remained.  They still were doing a few good works that could be strengthened and completed.  However, such remnants of righteousness can foster a dangerous attitude of complacency.  When others question our spiritual health, it’s easy to defensively point to the things we’re still doing rather than being honest about the decline in our discipleship.

They were dead.  It is possible to have the name and some of the works of being a Christian yet be headed for spiritual disaster.  One of the characteristics of a living organism is its ability to grow and change, and the same is true of a living, healthy disciple.  We must learn to assess the way we have changed spiritually over time so we can know whether we are growing or dying.

The beginning of COVID in March 2020 makes a handy benchmark.  Since that time, a living disciple will have grown.  They will have learned to bear more fruit for the Master.  They will have won victories in the war against sin.  They will have become more committed to assembling, Bible study, and prayer.  By contrast, the dead disciple will have become stagnant or lost ground in these areas.

Which one describes us?

They needed to wake up.  The devil rejoices in every Christian who needs to change but doesn’t see the need.  He loves to lull us into a false sense of security so that we don’t confront our spiritual problems until it’s too late.

It’s pleasant to hear the soothing lies of the devil, but it’s very unpleasant to hear warnings from the word and our brethren.  Nobody loves the sound of an alarm clock!  However, if we reject those warnings, if we roll over and continue to sleep on our dangerous condition, eternal disaster is the certain result.  The obnoxious Christians who keep harping on our shortcomings really are the best friends we have.

They needed to repent.  The hard part of discipleship isn’t the knowing.  It’s the doing.  It’s the determining to change and then changing.  Satan is amazing at providing us with excuses not to change.  If we are in decline, we will have no trouble coming up with reasons why our decline is inconsequential or even necessary:  “I just can’t make Sunday evening services anymore because. . .”

That voice is not the voice of our Master.  Instead, He summons us to repent, to make the hard choices, to pluck out the offending eye, to sacrifice earthly comfort for the sake of an eternal reward.  If we find discipleship comfortable, we aren’t doing it right.  Repentance is never enjoyable, but it’s the only path that leads to life.

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