Monthly Archives: September 2013

A Strong Angel – Revelation 5:2

As I work through Hebrews chapter 1 for our Sunday Bible study, I have been reading a lot more about angels then I have in the past. One word describing an angel in Revelation 5:2 really caught my eye:

And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it (Revelation 5:2-3).

The book of Hebrews goes to great length to show that Jesus is greater than all the angels, but I thought it was really interesting here in Revelation chapter 5 that even the strong angel could not open the scroll and break its seals. I immediately wonder, “What does a strong angel look like in relationship to a weak angel?” Bulging biceps? 50 feet tall? I have no idea, but clearly the apostle John could differentiate between strong and weaker angels when he saw them in his vision? Now, every word in Scripture is important. So why are we told that this was a strong angel?

The focus here in Revelation 5 is that no created being—not even the strong angel—could break the seal and open the scroll. This caused John “to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll” (Revelation 5:4). But, there was good news:

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5).

Jesus open the scroll that even the strong angel could not. Why? Because he was worthy:

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10).

crossHe had ransomed a people for God through his shed blood on the cross. No mere human could provide the ransom. No strong angel could provide the ransom. No created being in heaven or on earth could provide the ransom. Only the Son of God, Jesus Christ, could provide the much-needed ransom. And because of that Jesus is deserving of not only our worship, but the worship of every living creature:

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).



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Do Not Wish to Provide – Acts 17:26

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth (Acts 17:26).

Take a look at this picture (source: and try to identify the race of these two adorable young girls:


Think you have it figured out? How about if I told you they are twins? Yep, twins! How cool is that? And it is actually not that uncommon. As a parent of both “black” and “white” children, the idea of identifying different races based upon skin tone has become ridiculous to me. And, as a Christian who knows that we have all descended from the same sets of great-great-grandparents, I am rather embarrassed to admit how slow I was to realize my ignorance. Even from a purely secular scientific standpoint, there is only one “human” race. It is really quite unfortunate that we as a society continue to cling to divide based upon these arbitrarily derived definitions. Sadly, many of these views of races were derived from and abused by people who wanted to declare they were a result of evolution.

Now, I do not have the foggiest idea who my biological paternal grandfather was. For all I know, he could have been any or even all of the so-called “races” that were listed on a government form I had to fill out this week: American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian, Black, African American, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander, White Hispanic or Latino, or White non-Hispanic or Latino. When I look in the mirror, I am most definitely pretty pale, but many shades darker than my wife and many shades lighter than my youngest daughter. Unfortunately, simply “human” was not one of the race choices I was given.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that we, as a society, continue to claim we can identify the “race” of people by just looking at their skin tone, but supposedly can no longer judge gender by examining the plumbing. Huh?! Yet, God tells us quite clearly that “male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). So, I will continue to check the box marked “Do not wish to provide” while celebrating the many hues of both men and women God has so wonderfully created.



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Matthew 22:31-32

Here is any easy question. In the following verse from the book of Exodus, to whom was God speaking?

And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God (Exodus 3:6).

Moses right? As I said, easy! Now, about 1500 years later, Jesus quotes from this same verse in a dialogue with the Sadducees:

And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32)

matthewNow, according to Jesus, to whom was God speaking in Exodus 3:6? Jesus states that God was speaking to these very Sadducees. Jesus holds the Sadducees accountable for these ancient words of Scripture as if they had been standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Moses. For Jesus knew that the Scriptures were the very words of God himself and that God continued then (and continues now) to speak through his Scriptures. So let’s ask the question again, to whom does God speak in Exodus 3:6?

  1. Moses
  2. The Sadducees
  3. Everyone who reads it

God spoke to us when we read Exodus 3:6 above and he spoke to us when we read from Matthew 22. When asked if God speaks today, my answer is an unequivocal and resounding, “Yes!” He speaks through his holy, inerrant, infallible word the Bible. And God’s message is sufficient to equip the people of God for every good work.

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Prayer from the martyr Cyprian of Carthage

This week’s Monday morning prayer comes from Cyprian of Carthage (Northern Africa) who lived and was martyred in the 3rd century:

 Almighty God, who gave to your servant Cyprian boldness to Confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Jesus was not Christ-like! Huh?

Everyone likes to slap the Pharisee label on anyone who makes any sort of value judgment on anything these days. The Barna group recently conducted a survey trying to determine if Christians were more like Christ or more like the Pharisees. Respondents were asked to rate themselves according to how they agree with various statements. One of the supposed “Pharisee-like” statements was:

I like to point out those who do not have the right theology or doctrine.

Now, the “I like to” portion of this statement makes it a loaded question from the beginning. For example, I do not necessarily “like” to discipline my children, but it is both necessary and commanded by the Bible. But more importantly, Jesus could be considered a Pharisee (and therefore not Christ-like) by this metric. Since he “liked” to be obedient to the Father that means he, in one sense, “liked” to point out people’s theology and doctrine errors. Often he did this using very strong language. For example:

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? (Matthew 23:16-17).


That is a judgment of the Pharisees’ doctrine. Shame on Jesus! Or, how about this:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others (Matthew 23:23).

Would this judgmental Jesus be welcomed in our churches today? How about telling people to stop sinning? Yep, Jesus did that too:

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14).

Jesus even pointed out when people had the incorrect view of God (i.e. bad theology):

“You are doing the works your father did.” [The Pharisees] said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father–even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. (John 8:41-42).

Tell people to stop sinning? Check! Tell people they have incorrect doctrine? Check! Tell people they worship a false god! Check! What a judgmental Pharisee that Jesus of the Bible was! I do not want to sit at his table at the next church potluck.

Now, of course, we can push the pendulum too far in both directions. We do need to address sin. We do need to correct false doctrine and bad theology. But, we also need to do that out of a desire that our hearers repent and come to saving faith in the real Jesus. It needs to ultimately come from a love for others. It is often a difficult, but necessary, balance to strike.

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Preaching the word from heaven

This past weekend I went with my family to a funeral for one of my wife’s aunts. We knew that Bonnie had died as a believer in Christ, so this was not a funeral of great sadness. Rather we could rejoice that she been delivered from the ravages of this world marred by sin.

My wife and I had been praying all week that the true gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ would be faithfully preached to the many unbelievers who would attend. I prayed that whoever would be leading the service would be faithful to the calling laid out in Scripture:

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2).

I never once imagined that the person preaching the gospel to all of those gathered would be Aunt Bonnie herself. You see, Bonnie had prepared her funeral. She had selected a couple of songs and written down the message she wanted conveyed to her loved ones. That message was the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. She had taken advantage of her last opportunity to bring glory to God and tell others of her great Savior. This is all the more remarkable in that, in recent years, Bonnie’s mind had been severely affected by dementia. But she must have had the foresight and the desire to prepare that message some time ago. Bonnie can definitely declare with the apostle Paul:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

Through it all I was reminded that God does indeed answer prayer and that His ways are better than my ways. Hearing a stranger deliver the gospel at that funeral would have been great. But how much better for those in attendance to hear it delivered by Bonnie – a person they knew, trusted, and loved.

I hope and pray that I too can finish the race as well as Aunt Bonnie. I hope and pray that my life and my death can declare the gospel as clearly and as faithfully as she did this last weekend. And praise God for the answer to prayers.

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A Puritan prayer for purification

Lord Jesus, I sin. Grant that I may never cease grieving because of it, never be content with myself, never think I can reach a point of perfection. Kill my envy, command my tongue, trample down self. Give me grace to be holy, kind, gentle, pure, peaceable, to live for You and not for self, to copy Your words, acts, spirit, to be transformed into Your likeness, to be consecrated wholly to You, to live entirely to Your glory.

Deliver me from attachment to things unclean, from wrong associations, from the predominance of evil passions, from the sugar of sin as well as its gap; that with self-loathing, deep contrition, earnest heart searching I may come to You, cast myself on You, trust in You, cry to You, be delivered by You.

O God, the Eternal All, help me to know that all things are shadows, but You are substance, all things are quicksands, but You are mountain, all things are shifting, but You are anchor, all things are ignorance, but You are wisdom.anchor

If my life is to be a crucible amid burning heat, so be it, but You sit at the furnace mouth to watch the ore that nothing be lost. If I sin willfully, grievously, tormentedly, in grace take away my mourning and give me music; remove my sackcloth and clothe me with beauty; still my sighs and fill my mouth with song, then give me summer weather as a Christian. Amen.

Taken from A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions.

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Follow the leader – Hebrews 13:7

marching_bandEarlier this week I was at our local high school while the marching band was practicing. At one point, the director said “Trumpet number one you took one too many steps there. When you do it wrong everyone following you also does it wrong.” This got me thinking about the leaders that we follow in our spiritual walks. The Bible tells us:

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

If we are imitating the faith of leaders who themselves are not faithful to both God and the Scriptures, then we too can be led astray. Our leaders should be exemplary in both their doctrine and their lives. If they are chasing their own visions, rejecting the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Scripture, and embracing lives of sin then we too will likely be led astray.

And for those who are called to be leaders within God’s church, the book of Hebrews warns that you will have to give account for those placed under your care:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account (Hebrews 13:17).

So choose your leaders wisely and continuously examine their teachings and lives against the Scripture. But once you have chosen, obey them and imitate their faith. We are not called to blaze our own paths, but follow the well-trodden path of faith that was handed down once for all to the saints.

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Stirring you up – 2 Peter 3:1-2

This past Sunday my pastor preached a sermon out of 2 Peter chapter 3 which begins:

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,  that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles (2 Peter 3:1-2).

graduationOne of his areas of emphasis was our need for constant reminder. It is certainly true in my life. It is so easy to drift away from the truth unless we are regularly reeled back in by studying the Bible and by hearing it faithfully preached from the pulpit. So many people seem to believe that once they “graduate” from Sunday School or a catechism class, they no longer need to study the Bible. Put Peter’s warning to these Christians shows that we need to be reminded. We need to be stirred up by hearing the Word. The Lord established the church so that we would be in constant fellowship with other believers and under the care of the pastor and elders. These are God-ordained means to protect us from going astray.

Are you being stirred up regularly? Are you being faithful to the commandments of our Lord and Savior that were passed down to us by the apostles? Or have you “graduated” and moved on to “better things”?

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The book of Hebrews

There is, indeed, no book in the Holy Scriptures which speaks so clearly of the priesthood of Christ, so highly exalts the virtue and dignity of that only true sacrifice which he offered by his death, so abundantly treats of the use of ceremonies as well as of their abrogation, and, in a word, so fully explains that Christ is the end of the Law (John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews).

Summer vacation is over which means Sunday School begins again at our church this coming weekend. I am looking forward to beginning a new study of the amazing book of Hebrews. Should be interesting, challenging, and fun (at least for me).

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