Come Home

“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” Luke 15:20b

Do you ever have a disconnect from the way God is portrayed in the Bible and your perception of God based on your own experiences or feelings? We may think that God will resemble our parents or authority figures from our childhood (cf. Psalm 50:21). For example, if you had a rigid and perfectionistic father or father figure, you could never measure up to his demands no matter how hard you tried. Because of this, you view God as Someone who is impossible to please. He does not forgive nor forget sins. And when you mess up!?! Watch out! His cruel side is manifested. He seems to delight in sending financial disaster or physical disease to emphasize His intolerance of your spiritual failures. Understandably, it is difficult for you to approach God and experience His forgiveness and love when you have this kind of distorted view of Him.

The Bible gives us a beautiful picture of God the Father in Luke 15. When “all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to” Jesus to listen to His teaching, the religious leaders of Israel were critical of Christ for associating with spiritual outcasts (Luke 15:1-2). Christ responds by telling three parables (parable = an earthly story that teaches spiritual truth) to teach these religious leaders that when a sinner returns to God it is reason for celebrating instead of complaining (15:3-32).

After telling parables about a lost sheep and a lost coin, Jesus tells a parable about the love of a father toward his two sons (Luke 15:11-32). The youngest son asked for his “portion” of his father’s inheritance, and the father graciously gave both sons theirs (15:12). Normally in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day, the inheritance did not pass to the heirs until the death of the father. To request it prior to the father’s death, was like wishing for the father to die. The youngest son then “journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living” (15:13). When a “severe famine” came to that land, the son “began to be in want” because of his wasteful living (15:14). He got a job in the fields feeding “swine,” which is something any self-respecting Jew would only do out of desperation (15:14-15). The son had sunk so low that he longed to eat pig’s food because “no one gave him anything” to eat (15:16).

Have you ever wasted the resources God has given you? Just as the youngest son “wasted his possessions with prodigal living” (15:13), so also when we stray away from God, we waste the the resources God has placed in our possession. Time spent out of touch with God is an enormous waste of time, energy, strength, ability, and opportunity. When we are restored to the Lord, we may experience profound regret for what has been wasted during our time of separation from God. This is especially true when the separation has lasted for years, as it sometimes does.

I wonder how many of us have ever wandered so far away from God that we were willing to do anything just to survive? But no matter where we turned, we could not find one person on earth who showed us any compassion. We were all alone and destitute. Our stomach and our soul were empty. We may cry out, “Where are you God!?! Why have you abandoned me!?!” This is the place the youngest son had come to. Thankfully the story does not end there.

At this point of absolute brokenness, the son “came to himself” (15:17). He repented or changed his mind and decided to “go” back to his father (15:18a). He planned to confess his sin and his unworthiness to be his father’s son (15:18a-19a), and then ask to be one of his father’s “hired servants” because he knew his father paid his servants well (15:19b; cf. 15:17). This son thought he would have to work for His father’s love and acceptance.

How many of us perceive our Father in heaven to be this way? We think that when we fail God spiritually, the only way He could ever accept us and love us is to pay for our own sins with self-hatred and condemnation? We may rehearse in our minds what we will do for God before we approach Him. We assume that the only way God will ever accept us and forgive us is to work so hard or punish ourselves so much, God will eventually have compassion for us and forgive us.

This kind of thinking fails to understand the heart of our heavenly Father. Nor is this thinking from the Lord. It is from the father of lies (John 8:44) who delights in accusing God’s children (Revelation 12:10). When we fail, Satan whispers in our ear, “This is how God thinks of you. He thinks you are unloveable and unforgivable. He thinks you are worthless and pathetic. The only way He could possibly ever forgive you or love you is for you to do this and this and this and this…” These lies drive us deeper into a pit of shame, isolating us from God.

But let’s take a look at the father’s response when his son returns home. “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (15:20). When the father “saw” his prodigal son coming home from “a great way off,” it suggests he was continually watching and waiting for his son’s return. He longed for his son to come home. This is the way God is with us when we wander away from Him. He leaves the porch light on every night, looking for our return.

The father did not reject his son by running into the house and locking the doors. He did not scold or condemn his repentant wayward son. Instead, he “had compassion” on his son. This shows that the father had some knowledge of his son’s immorality and misfortunes – probably from reports about him (cf. 15:13, 30). He empathized with his son’s brokenness and need for acceptance and love after his wayward journey. God is also this way with us. He is not quick to criticize or condemn us because He knows our weaknesses and how much we need His mercy and grace when we have failed (cf. Psalm 103:11-14).

When the father “ran” out toward his son, this was very unusual for any Jewish father to do. It was not acceptable for him to run out like that in the Jewish culture of that day. But in the father’s eagerness to restore his son to fellowship, the father ran to him while he was “still a great way off.” This was the father’s way of preserving his son’s dignity. By this time, all the neighbors knew how the son had wasted his inheritance on prostitutes (15:13, 30). So instead of letting his son walk by these gossiping neighbors by himself when he was most vulnerable to discouragement, the father runs out to his son to walk beside him as a show of his love and acceptance of him. Surely, no one would speak poorly of his son if he were to walk with him all the way home.

God is that way with us. He is not apathetic and cold toward us when we fail. He does not abandon us when we return home to Him. He is not bound by culturally acceptable expressions of love and forgiveness. He is eager to forgive us and restore us to fellowship or closeness with Him. He wants to restore our dignity which had been lost by our shameful choices and actions. While Christian peers or churches may shun us or speak down to us after we have failed the Lord, God is the first to run out to us and shoulder our brokenness and restore our closeness with Him. He will protect us from the accusations and condemnation of others.

When the father “fell on his neck” he embraces and hugs his repentant son. Then the father “kissed him” which was a friendly sign of greeting like a warm handshake in American culture. This is a very affectionate reception from the father. Imagine how this young man must have felt?! Before he could begin his rehearsed speech, he already had his father’s total unconditional love and acceptance. Likewise, God is not cold and calculating toward his repentant children. He embraces us and welcomes us home when we repent. But it does not stop there.

When the son began his rehearsed speech, he could not even get to the part about becoming a hired servant of his father (15:21). His father interrupted him and said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry” (15:22-23). What is the father doing here? I believe the father knew his son’s heart. He was not focused on all the immoral and shameful living of his son. He was not uptight about his son’s sin and shame. He saw the heart of his son which longed to be connected to his father’s heart. Instead of making his son a hired servant, the father bestowed the symbols of honor (“best robe”), authority (“ring”), and freedom (“sandals”) on him. Sandals were marks of a free man, but slaves went barefooted.

The forgiveness from the father is complete and his son does not need to feel as if he is a forever second-class Christian, as if he now served God as a mere hired servant. He is now able to enjoy all the privileges of sonship, symbolized by the robe, the ring, and the sandals.

Then his father prepared a banquet for his son because his “son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found” (15:24). The father felt the absence of his son as deeply as if he had died (“dead”), because he had totally lost contact with him. So, the death he is referring to is a separation from the father. Their reunion is like a glorious coming to life and a joyful rediscovery of the shared father-son experience. Any father who has long been separated from a son whom he loves dearly can fully relate to these words.

Years ago, a young man had a verbal argument with his father and left home. He continued to keep in touch with his mother, and wanted very badly to come home for Christmas, but he was afraid his father would not allow him. His mother wrote to him and urged him to come home, but he didn’t feel he could until he knew his father had forgiven him. Finally, there was no time for any more letters. His mother wrote and said she would talk with the father, and if he had forgiven him, she would tie a white rag on the tree which grew right alongside the railroad tracks near their home, which he could see before the train reached the station. If there was no rag, it would be better if he went on.

So, the young man started home. As the train drew near his home; he was so nervous he said to his friend who was traveling with him, “I can’t bear to look. Sit in my place and look out the window. I’ll tell you what the tree looks like, and you tell me whether there is a rag on it or not.” So, his friend changed places with him and looked out the window. After a bit the friend said, “Oh yes, I see the tree.” The son asked, “Is there a white rag tied to it?” For a moment, the friend did not say anything. Then he turned, and in a very gentle voice said, “There is a white rag tied to every limb of that tree!”

That, in a sense, is what God is saying to us in Luke 15. The truth is all of us are like the prodigal son. He can represent a non-Christian whose repentance or change of mind about his sinful lifestyle leads him to come home to His Creator God and believe in Jesus for complete forgiveness of sins, much like Cornelius in Acts 10. You may be seeking God by going to church and giving money to it, or by trying to clean up your life. But you are not saved from your sins by any of those things you do in your search for God (Isaiah 64:6). You are saved by believing or trusting in Jesus alone for His gift of salvation (John 3:16; Ephes. 2:8-9). God is inviting you to come home to Him just as you are. He is waiting to welcome you into His family and make you His beloved son or daughter forever the moment you believe in Jesus alone to save you (John 1:12; 10:28-29).

But the prodigal son can also represent a Christian who has drifted away from fellowship with God to explore the pleasures of the world. Being dissatisfied with the world’s empty pleasures, he decides to “come home” to God by confessing his sin to the Lord and claiming His cleansing forgiveness (I John 1:9). We do not have to work for this restoration. There are no hoops to jump through or obligations to fulfill. Simply come home to your Father in heaven and He will lovingly welcome you and restore your fellowship or closeness to Him.

Whether we are coming home to God for the first time for salvation from hell through faith in Jesus or for the hundredth time as a believer to restore our fellowship with God, the Father is waiting with open arms and an open heart. Will you come home to Him now?

Prayer: Oh, gracious Father in heaven, how I have longed to hear these truths about You. Much of my understanding about You has been based on my own experiences and feelings as a child and as an adult with unavailable Christians. I have thought of You as a mean old man sitting up in heaven with a big hammer waiting to strike me the moment I say, think, or do something wrong. But Your Word tells me that You are not a mean-out-of-control man. You are a tender loving Father who eagerly waits and watches for His wayward child to come home so You can run out to him and wrap Your loving arms around him and tell him he is loved and safe in Your arms. Please, Father God, heal the holes in my heart so I may experience Your love more fully and begin to see myself as You see me. I am Your beloved child who has access to all that You possess because of my relationship with Your only perfect Son, Jesus Christ. I am so glad to know that You are much more concerned about my heart than my past. My past is gone now. I am totally forgiven and loved by You. I am not a second-class Christian. I am a beloved child of God who can now enjoy all the privileges of sonship. And I am with You forever, never to be alone again. Thank You for restoring the joy of my salvation. Thank You that I am no longer defined by the darkness, but by the light of Your love. Please help me to walk in Your light and love. Please transform individual Christians and churches to respond to broken and wayward people with Your compassion and love so more people will come to Jesus in faith for His gift of salvation. In Jesus’ mighty name we pray. Amen.

Revelation 16 – Part 3

“And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.” Revelation 16:9

After the inhabitants of heaven praise God for His righteous and just judgments toward rebellious humankind who shed the blood of His servants (16:5-7), the fourth angel arrives to pour out his bowl of wrath. Instead of the beast-worshippers on the earth receiving a much-needed drink of rainwater to quench their parched throats, they got the exact opposite. Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.” (Revelation 16:8-9). The definite article before “men” (tous anthrōpous) refers specifically to those whose allegiance was to the Beast (cf. 16:2). It is possible that those who refused to worship the Beast and receive his mark were not struck with this judgment. Likewise, the Israelites also escaped some of the plagues on Egypt’s land, water, animals, people, leaders, and even Pharaoh (Exodus 8:20-9:7; 9:13-35; 10:21-12:36). 1

This “fourth… bowl” judgment used “the sun” to “scorch men” who followed the Beast “with fire” and “great heat” that will leave their human flesh charred. This was “more than an oppressive heat wave that weakens and withers people, this judgment will involve the blistering and charring of human flesh by the sun.” 2

Swindoll writes, “Instead of catching soothing drops of rain, the people of earth were burned with searing rays from the sun! Scientists have long been concerned about the possibility of massive, unexpected solar flares, which could increase the number of harmful rays that penetrate our atmosphere. It seems that by the end of the Tribulation, the atmosphere will have been so damaged that the rays of the sun will no longer be filtered or deflected, causing all sorts of catastrophic climatic changes. This end-times global warming will make today’s hot-earth hysteria resemble nothing more than a warm spring day.” 3

One would think that after all these horrific judgments on the earth that left people painfully afflicted, starving, dying of thirst, and severely burned, that humankind would fall to their knees and beg God for His mercy, right!?! Wrong!!! “And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.” (Revelation 16:9). Instead of turning to the Lord in repentance and giving “Him glory,” they “blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues.” Instead of letting the scorching sun melt their hearts, they let it harden their hearts toward God, much like Pharaoh hardened his heart after each of the plagues on Egypt.

Surely a loving God would relent of His judgments if people sought to get right with Him. The prophet Joel addresses this part of God’s character when he writes, 4 “’12 Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. 13 So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. 14 Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him— a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?” (Joel 2:12-14).

Instead of humbly repenting before the Lord God Whom they know has the power over these plagues to lovingly bring them to a stop, the people of the earth increased the hardness of their hearts during the last part of the Tribulation. Why? Because they have taken on the character of the Beast who blasphemes God and indoctrinates the citizens of his worldwide kingdom to do the same (Revelation 13:1, 5-6; 17:3; cf. Daniel 11:36; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10). Instead of blaming their own sinfulness for these first four plagues, they blame God for them. 5

The first four bowl judgments targeted the natural realm (the earth, sea, fresh waters, and the sun), but the next two bowl judgments target the Beast and his worldwide kingdom. “Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.” (Revelation 16:10). The fifth bowlof God’s wrath was “poured out… on the throne of the beast and his kingdom.” Since the beast’s kingdom was worldwide,this was a global darkness that will cause such intense emotional anguish that beast-worshippers will engage in self-mutilation (“they gnawed their tongues because of the pain”). 6

This darkness is reminiscent of the plague God brought upon Egypt. 21 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.’ 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.” (Exodus 10:21-23). This darkness in Egypt was so deep, oppressive, and complete, that the Egyptians did nothing during those three days.The chaos caused by the darkness in Egypt may explain the intense pain this global darkness will cause to the citizens of the Beast’s kingdom during the Tribulation period.

Keep in mind that the effects of these first five bowl judgments are cumulative. “The sores brought on by the first bowl will continue to fester as the darkness closes in around them. The water that would have soothed their sun-scorched flesh will stand in stinking, stagnant pools; once-clean water will be polluted with decaying blood.” 7

Nevertheless, people will still refuse to humble themselves before the God Who could bring a stop to these severe bowl judgments. “They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.” (Revelation 16:11). Instead of blaming their rebellious ways for these plagues, the followers of the Beast choose to blaspheme God for “their pains and their sores.” But they don’t stop there. They choose to abide in their wicked ways that caused them to be oppressed by these horrific plagues – they do “not repent of their deeds.” 8

As in 16:9, this scene is reminiscent of a child cursing his parent while he is being spanked. Such a reaction to punishment inevitably triggers more punishment.” 9

We have learned in our study of the seven-year Tribulation on earth in the book of Revelation, that this will be a time that is filled with heightened deception (12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20). One of Satan’s oldest strategies which will be implemented in full during the Tribulation is to blame God for all the pain that exists in the world to deceive people into thinking that the true God is an out of control, vengeful deity who can be defeated if everyone comes together to fight against Him. The truth is pain and suffering did not exist in the world God created (Genesis 1-2). Pain and suffering were the result of Satan, who sinned first against God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-19), tempting Adam and Eve to sin (Genesis 3:1-6) which resulted in sin and death entering the entire world (Romans 5:12). The effects of sin will culminate in the Tribulation period when humanity’s rebellion against God will reach an all-time depth of depravity resulting in God’s in-kind judgment (Revelation 6-16).

When we look back at the chaos and pain the global pandemic has caused the past two years, do we blame God for this? Or when we observe the loss of innocent lives during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, do we shake our fists at God and hold Him responsible for this? How do we respond to God when we or those close to us experience suffering and pain? Do we harden or humble our hearts toward the Lord?

Satan wants to convince us that God is to blame for all our problems and pain so we will not come to the Lord in faith and be saved forever from Satan’s destiny in the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10). Please understand that God is the One Who loves us, not Satan. Satan doesn’t care about you or me. He knows his destiny is in the lake of fire and he selfishly wants to take as many people with him as possible. He will go to any length of deception to help populate hell. He has no guilt or shame for his actions because he is evil to the core.

But Jesus Christ is selfless to the core. Instead of holding on to His glory in heaven, He veiled His glory with human flesh when He left heaven and came to earth knowing He would be rejected by the world and His own Jewish people who would condemn Him to die on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8). The Bible tells us, 9 God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (I John 4:9-10 NLT). “Real love” gives instead of takes. God’s love gave His best (His Son) when we were at our worst (in bondage to our sins) so we “might have eternal life through” Jesus if we would do one thing: BELIEVE IN HIM.

Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). The word “believe” in the New Testament means to be persuaded that something is true and then trust or depend upon. Do you believe Jesus was speaking the truth when He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life”? If so, do you now trust Christ (not your good life, religion, or prayers) to give you His gift of eternal life? If you do, Jesus guarantees you now have everlasting life which can never be taken away from you (John 10:28-29). God is now your Father in heaven, and you are His child forever (John 1:12; 6:35). Everyone who believes in Jesus for eternal life is your brother or sister in Christ.

Christ wants you to grow in your relationship with Him. Jesus said to those who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31b-32). The opposite of truth is falsehood or lies. Jesus wants you to “abide” or continue in His Word, the Bible, so you can “know the truth” which “shall make you free” from Satan’s lies that keep you enslaved to sin and shame. God’s truth will identify the lies you have been believing that have held you in bondage to sin and will also provide the remedy to overcome those lies. It is the truth of God’s Word that will break the shackles of Satan’s lies that have kept you from leaning into the Lord when you face pain and suffering.

Below are some examples of Satan’s lies that can keep us from drawing near to the Lord. I have included God’s truth to replace those lies and the Scriptures to go with them.Take some time to read through these lies and then identify the ones that you have believed to be true. The lie will feel true to you if you believe it. Then read the corresponding truth statements repeatedly until they feel true to you. As you do that the corresponding lies will feel less and less true. Ask the Lord Jesus to deliver you from bondage to these lies (cf. Psalm 119:28-29). We do not have the power in ourselves to overcome them, but Jesus Christ does. Let Him renew your mind as you meditate on God’s truth.  

Lie: God is to blame for all your pain and suffering.

Truth: Pain and suffering were the result of Satan (who sinned first against God), tempting Adam and Eve to sin which resulted in sin and death entering the entire world.

Scripture: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Romans 5:12; cf. Genesis 3:1-6; Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-19.

Lie: God cannot be trusted.

Truth: God can be trusted because He is good and faithful to His promises.

Scripture: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Psalm 34:8

“In hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.” Titus 1:2

Lie: God is holding out on you.

Truth: God wants to give you, His best.

Scripture: “The thief [Satan] does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

Lie: You can be like God by disobeying Him.

Truth: Since there is only one true God, and I am not Him, I must live in total dependence on Him.

Scripture: God said, I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me.” Isaiah 45:5

“’But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord;’ I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand.’” Psalm 31:14-15

Lie: God is against me.

Truth: God is for me and not against me.

Scripture: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

Lie: God has or will accuse me.

Truth: God has declared me totally righteous in Christ.

Scripture: “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” Romans 8:33

Lie: God has or will condemn me.

Truth:  God will not condemn me because Christ took my condemnation on the cross and He now defends me and intercedes for me in heaven.

Scripture: “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”

Lie: I am going to be separated from the love of Christ because I’m so unworthy.

Truth: No one and nothing can separate me from Christ’s love.

Scripture: 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35, 37-39

Lie: God would never love me as I am.

Truth: In Christ, I am totally loved by God as I am.

Scripture: “Long ago, even before He made the world, God chose us to be His very own through what Christ would do for us; He decided then to make us holy in His eyes, without a single fault—we who stand before Him covered with His love.” Ephesians 1:4 TLB

Lie: I am alone and unloved.

Truth: I am not alone or unloved. I am loved and cherished by the Creator of the Universe.

Scripture: “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” Psalm 27:10

Lie: I could never be forgiven.

Truth: I am totally forgiven in Christ.

Scripture: 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

Lie: I am an unacceptable person.

Truth: I am totally accepted in Christ.

Scripture: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1a

“To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:6

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we come to You now realizing that we can be a lot like the people in the Tribulation period who will be deceived into blaming You for their suffering and pain instead of their own rebellion against You. When bad things happen to us, help us O Lord to humble our hearts before You instead of hardening them. Lord, we cannot overcome Satan’s lies on our own. The Devil wants to take as many people with him to hell as possible. He will go to any length of deception to populate the lake of fire. Lord, please make us the kind of people who will do whatever it takes within the boundaries You have given us to populate Your heaven through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We desperately need You and Your Word to help us identify the lies we believe and replace them with Your truth so we can live the abundant life You came to give us. We pray for those whose hearts and minds have been deceived by Satan into believing You are responsible for all their pain and suffering. Help them to see that You love them and gave Your best for them when they were still undeserving sinners. And You want to save them forever from the lake of fire and give them eternal life if they would simply believe in You, Lord Jesus. Please use our lives and lips to communicate Your love to a lost and broken world so they can hear and believe the good news of Jesus’ gift of eternal life. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 172.

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1559.

3. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 296-297.

4. Ibid., pg. 297.

5. Constable, pg. 172 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pg. 257.

6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2407.

7. Swindoll, pg. 298.

8. Vacendak, pg. 1559.

9. Evans, pg. 2409.

Revelation 10 – Part 2

“Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter.” Revelation 10:10

In Revelation 10, a second interlude interrupts the sequence between the sixth and seventh trumpets. The focus shifts, temporarily, from the outpouring of God’s wrath on unbelieving earth dwellers, to the consolation and encouragement of believers. This brief interlude reinforces the fact that things in this world are not what they seem. Believers in Jesus know there is a war going on and that at any moment the intermittent attacks and brief clashes in the battle between good and evil will erupt into the worst spiritual and physical conflict the world has ever seen. Yet God emphasizes that we, like the apostle John, have a crucial role to play. 1

Following the mighty angel’s oath stating that God will not delay His full and final judgment of rebellious humanity to avenge the wrongs done to His people (10:1-7; cf. 6:10),  the apostle John writes, “Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, ‘Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth.’” (Revelation 10:8). The voice “from heaven” (God the Father’s or God the Son’s) told John to “take the little book” or scroll which the mighty angel with authority over the whole planet (“who stands on the sea and on the earth”) was holding.

This “little book” represents God’s message. God’s Word is never forced on any person; he or she must take it. God’s messenger must be a willing messenger, not a draftee, but one who has put out his hand and heart to the task. 2

“So I went to the angel and said to him, ‘Give me the little book.’ And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.’” (Revelation 10:9). When John asked for the “little book” containing God’s revelation that the remainder of the Book of Revelation, or at least part of it, contains, 3 the angel told him to “Take and eat it.” The angel was telling John to receive God’s revelation, but he also warned him, “It will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.” God’s message would “make his stomach bitter” due to the terrible judgments to take place on the earth, but it will also “be as sweet as honey” knowing God’s plans will be brought to completion.

“Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter.” (Revelation 10:10). As John focused on this revelation from God (“took…and ate” the scroll) it was pleasant at first receiving God’s message (“it was as sweet as honey in my mouth”), but as he understood the terrible judgments to take place, he was distressed (“my stomach became bitter”).

To John the Word of God was indeed sweet with its revelation of the grace of God and its many precious promises that belong to believers. As such it sharply contrasted with his circumstances on Patmos Island. David stated, ‘The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.’ (Psalm 19:9-10). Though the Word is sweet to believers, it will be bitter to unbelievers when it brings divine judgment on them.” 4

Much of God’s Word is sweet to those who are His children. Those who believe in Christ for His gift of salvation have no need to fear His future judgment since Christ already bore the judgment we deserved (John 5:24). We can trust God’s never changing goodness and His faithfulness to His promises.

Some of God’s plans are bitter especially for those who have no hope in Christ. God’s judgments, trials, and tribulations are hard for some people to swallow. Many are unable to see or understand how God can bring good out of their difficulties (Romans 8:28). Instead, they are overwhelmed with hopelessness and fear.

We are also reminded that we can trust that all of God’s ways – the sweet and the sour – are right and reliable. Because God is good and nothing is ever out of His control, we can be confident that He will use all things – even the deeds of evil people – to accomplish His purposes. Job’s words resonate with this truth: “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). 5

Next John writes, “And he said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.’” (Revelation 10:11). Even when the Word of God is not what people want to hear, then, the man of God must continue to proclaim it. 6

Notice that John is instructed to “prophesy again,” a second time regarding the seven-year Tribulation “about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.” Concerning the word “again” (palin) Thayer says that “it denotes renewal or repetition of the action.” 7Pentecost writes, This would seem to be a divine notice that, since John has taken us through the entire period once, it is God’s intention to have him retrace his way through the period again.” 8

According to Revelation 10:11, chapters 11-19 survey the seventieth week of years (Tribulation) a second time with a view to revealing the specific characters on the stage of the drama. These characters will include the Two Witnesses (11:1-12); the Woman, representing Israel (12:1-2, 13, 17); the red Dragon, representing Satan (12:3-4, 9); the male Child, representing Jesus Christ (12:5-6); the archangel, Michael (12:7-12); the Beast out of the sea, representing the future World Ruler (13:2-10); the beast out of the earth, representing the False Prophet (13:11-18). This second survey terminates the Tribulation period by the return of Christ and the consequent judgment of His enemies (Revelation 19).

Finally, we learn from Revelation 10:8-11, that like the apostle John, we have roles to play in God’s prophetic plan. We are not asked to take and eat prophetic books and utter inspired words. However, Jesus has given each of us an important mission to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19a). We do this by going and sharing the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection with the whole world (Mark 16:15; I Corinthians 15:3-6), followed by baptizing those who believe, and then teaching them to obey all of Christ’s commands (Matthew 28:19b-20). And just like John, we must first appropriate this message, allowing it to become a part of our own lives before we pass it on to others.

Much emphasis is placed upon the love of God today, but His coming worldwide judgment of evil is often ignored or denied. John makes it clear that no one and nothing can hinder the eternal Creator God from bringing His horrific judgments to pass during the seven-year Tribulation period (10:1-11). This should cause all of us to pause and take God more seriously.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, like the apostle John, we sometimes find Your Word to be both sweet and bitter. Oh, how sweet is Your unchanging goodness and everlasting promises in Christ! Yet how bitter is Your judgment of sin and the adversity that You allow in our lives to make us more like Jesus. Like John, we also have a crucial role to play in Your prophetic plan. You have entrusted us to make disciples of all the nations by preaching Your gospel of grace to all who will listen and then training believers to grow in discipleship relationships. Please remove any resistance in our hearts to Your plan and purpose for our lives. We beg You to open doors for Your gospel to spread throughout this world and for believers in Jesus to multiply disciples until all hear His gospel message. In Jesus’ mighty name, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 207.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 121 cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible series (2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pp. 68-69.

3. Constable, pg. 121.

4. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

5. The last three paragraphs are adapted from Swindoll, pp. 207-208.

6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2392.

7. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Zondervan Academic, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 196 cites Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1981), pg. 475.

8. Pentecost, pg. 196. 9. Ibid.

How can I live above average? Part 1

“And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed.’ ” I Chronicles 4:10a

Do you ever feel invisible and unimportant, like no one notices you or cares about you? Everybody wants to be recognized. Not only do we want to be recognized, we need recognition for the sake of our own mental health. When my daughters were much younger, they would say to me, “Watch me, Daddy, watch me!” before they would shoot a basketball or do a tumbling maneuver. They wanted to be recognized. They wanted to stand out from the crowd.

As adults, we do the same thing, except we are not as blatant about it. We do it by the kind of clothes we wear, by the kinds of cars we drive, by the way we fix up our houses, decorate our lawns, or by the way that we talk or style our hair. “Watch me!” we cry out. We have a deep need to be different, to be excellent, to stand out from everybody else.

God never meant for us to live a mediocre, average life. He designed us for excellence. He created us to live above average. To learn how to do this, I want to introduce you to four principles found in the life of a man named Jabez. There are only two verses in the Bible about this man, but they are two verses that can transform our mediocre lives into lives that bring honor to God. These two verses are found in I Chronicles 4. The first nine chapters of I Chronicles consist of genealogies listing over six hundred names. Forty-four names into chapter 4, God singles out one man for special recognition and his name is “Jabez.” Even though there are just two verses about this man, he is given honorable mention above six hundred other people.

“Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers…” (I Chronicles 4:9a). In other words, Jabez was special. But what did Jabez do that caused his name to be given more honor than his brothers? Why did God say this man lived above average?

Before we answer that question, it is important to look at the kind of start Jabez got in life. He had a very painful beginning. And his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ ” (I Chronicles 4:9b). In Hebrew, the name “Jabez” (יַעְבֵּ֔ץ) means “Pain.” 1 A literal rendering could read, “He causes (or will cause) pain.” 2

How would you like to go through childhood as “Pain”? “Here comes Pain.” “This is my friend, Pain.” No doubt Jabez received a lot of bullying and harassment because of his name. Why did his mother name him Jabez? Perhaps it was a difficult pregnancy or delivery. It could have been because of emotional pain in the mother’s life – the father left during the pregnancy or died. Maybe the family was going through a financial crunch during this time, and one more mouth to feed seemed unbearable to her. Whatever her reason – this was not a good start for this boy.

One of the things we learn from Jabez is we don’t have to let our past determine our present or even our future. Maybe your parents told you, “You would never amount to anything. You can’t do anything right. You are nothing but a pain.” Don’t listen to those lies. Jabez did not. He chose to live above average. He turned his pain into gain. How?

Jabez was not singled out because of some great feat he did for God or because he had overcome great obstacles. Rather, he was honored above his brothers because of his simple, powerful prayer of faith that moved God to respond. 3 He handled his problems by handing them over to God. He chose to live a life that was honorable to God despite his painful beginning. He prayed to the God of the universe. It is as if he was saying, “God, You know me. You know my mom called me a pain, and at times I have been. But now I want to break out of that rut, and I know the only way I can do that is if You will bless me. I want to live a life, God, that is more honorable to You.”

Do you want to live above average for the glory of God? Then you need to pray like Jabez. The first thing Jabez prayed was, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed.” (I Chronicles 4:10a).  What does the word “bless” mean? It does not mean “have a nice day.” Nor is it connected to sneezing. The Hebrew word for “bless” (בָרַךְ) means “to impart supernatural favor.” 4 To ask for God’s blessing means to ask for His supernatural favor and kindness to be poured out into our lives. “Oh, God pour out Your goodness into my life.” 

When Jabez asked God to bless him “indeed” (תְּבָרֲכֵ֜נִי),this was like adding five exclamation points! 5 “Bless me not just a little, but a whole lot! Pour it on, God!” While all his friends were content with being average and mediocre, Jabez said, “God, I want you to bless the sandals off me! I want you to do something big with my life!” Jabez did not want to be average or ordinary. He deeply wanted God’s blessing on his life. So, our first principle is to SEEK GOD’S BLESSING IN OUR LIVES (I Chronicle 4:9-10a).

Notice that Jabez did not specify how God should bless him. He did not pray, “Oh God, please bless me with a new BMW or a million-dollar salary.” No,Jabez trusted in the goodness and mercy of God to determine how he would be blessed. This is such a powerful reminder for us to want what God wants for us.

The beautiful thing about just throwing yourself on the mercy of God is that he decides what’s in your best interest. Jabez brought God an empty cup and asked him to fill it as he saw fit. That’s a prayer of faith. Let God decide what to fill your cup with and how high to fill it.” 6

Jesus taught, 7 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8). God has decided that He will not do certain things for His children until they “ask.” So, we are to “ask… seek… and… knock” for what we need. How long are we to ask God? Until He answers. If He has not said, “Yes” or “No,” then we are to keep asking Him. Why?

Jesus explains, 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11). Children will often ask their parents persistently for things until they receive a reply. And like a loving father who would not give anything harmful to his kids when they ask, so God will not give harmful things to His children when they pray to Him.  Jesus’ point is if sinful dads know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our perfect Father in heaven give what is “good” to us when we ask? 7 The more we believein the goodness and generosity of our heavenly Father, the more we will persist in asking Him to bless us.

On the other hand, if we don’t ask the Father for His blessing, we will miss out on His gifts that only come to those who ask Him. In the same way that a father is honored to have a child beg for his blessing, your Father is delighted to respond generously when His blessing is what you covet most.” 8

Christians can just drift through life today. They have no goals and no ambition. As a result, they never accomplish much for the Lord. They are merely existing. Everyone of us needs a dream from God. If we are not dreaming, we are drifting. When we stop dreaming, we start dying. When we stop setting goals, we stop growing. God made us for growth. He wants us to stretch and develop. God never created us to go through life with a half-hearted attitude, wondering what we are doing and where we are going. God wants us to have great ambition.

He invites us to ask for big requests. “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3). The apostle Paul says that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV). This means you cannot “out-ask” God. You cannot “out-dream” God. If you could stretch your imagination to the greatest limits of what you think could possibly happen, God can go far beyond even that. He can go beyond your imagination. God says, “Trust Me. Ask for things. Get a big dream.”

There are three misconceptions that keep us from seeking God’s blessing on our lives and dreaming big for Him:

1. We confuse humility with fear. We say, “Oh, I could never do that,” and we think we are being humble. But that is not true humility. That is fear; that is a lack of faith. A humble person would say, “With God’s help I can do that. With God’s blessing I will do it. I cannot do it on my own, but with God’s help I will do it.” That is true humility.

2. We confuse contentment with laziness. It is true that the apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” (Philippians 4:11). But this does not mean he did not set any goals. Paul isn’t saying, “I have learned not to set any goals or have any ambition in life.” He was saying, “Even though my goals may not be reached yet, I have learned to enjoy today to the fullest because I am confident God will take care of me.” If contentment was used as an excuse for laziness, who would ever feed the poor or take the gospel to other nations? How would anyone ever get an education? A third grader would say, “I have learned to be content with the third grade,” and he would never go beyond that. We don’t want to confuse contentment with laziness.

3. We confuse small thinking with spirituality. Do you ever hear people say, “I serve God in my own little way”? My reply would be, “Why don’t you start serving God in a bigger way? Why not let God use you more?” Others may say, “Well that’s just the way I am. That’s the way God made me.” But it is wrong to blame God for your lack of growth. Don’t confuse small thinking with spirituality.

When Jesus said, “your Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:11), we are reminded of a very important truth. Before we can pray the way Jabez did, we must know God as our heavenly Father. It is not knowing about God. It is knowing Him personally. How? The Bible says, 21 If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. 22 But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin…” (Galatians 3:21-22a NLT]. We cannot become God’s child by obeying God’s laws. God’s laws reveal our sinfulness and that we are slaves of sin. No matter how much good we have done, we are still sinners. We all fall short of God’s standard of perfection and deserve to be punished (Romans 3:23; 6:23a). When we realize we cannot save ourselves from sin, then we will be more open to receiving the promise of eternal life through faith in Christ alone Who died for all our sins.

22b So we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ… 26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:22b, 26 NLT). To know God as our Father requires faith in Jesus Christ. Just as we trust a chair to hold us up through no effort of our own, so we must trust Christ through no effort of our own to give us everlasting life. Once we do, it does not matter when Jesus returns, we will have a home in heaven with Him. We won’t have to panic when some preacher or prophet starts predicting the end of the world, because we have the assurance we will live with Jesus forever because of our faith in His promise to give eternal life to whoever who believes in Him (John 3:16).

Child of God, if you are not asking God to give you good things, you are living below average! But when you ask God for more and more blessings, you are asking Him to engage in one of His favorite activities. After all, God loves to give and He has a store- house full of blessings to give you, but You must ask Him for them. When we ask God to bless us, we step forward into another life. And as God blesses us, He wants us to share those blessings with others, which leads to what Jabez prayed next.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for reminding us through Jabez, that pain does not have to be the last word in our lives. You created us to live above average. We can begin to do that by seeking Your blessing in our daily lives. Please help us believein Your goodness and generosity, Father. In the same way that a loving father is honored to have a child beg for his blessings, You are also eager to respond generously when Your blessing is what we seek the most. Please remove the misconceptions that keep us from seeking Your blessing on our lives and dreaming big for You, so we can honor You more by living above average. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen. 

ENDNOTES:

1.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 710.

2. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 20.

3. Evans, pg. 710.

4. Wilkinson, pg. 23.

5. Ibid., pg. 22.

6. Evans, pg. 710.

7. Ibid., pg. 1503.

8. Wilkinson, pg. 27.