Hail the conquering hero

Though in the picture since before the dawn of creation, our hero made a pretty unremarkable entrance into this world. Born under circumstances that would have brought him scorn, he grew up as any other Jewish child and didn’t start to push the boundaries (much) until he was fully grown.

Rejoice greatly. O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—even on a donkey’s colt.

Zechariah 9:9 (NLT)

Believing he would overthrow the stifling Roman rule, Jews welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with open arms and shouts of hosanna! Yet only days later, they called for his crucifixion. He died the death of a convict between two thieves. Many thought that was the last they’d see of him. But, in a remarkable turn of events, he showed up again several days later. He spoke with many people in the 40 days he remained and they watched him ascend into the clouds and then began the wait for his return.

In his first appearance on earth, Jesus made a quiet entry. But when he comes again, there will be nothing calm about it.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. And the one sitting on the horse was named Faithful and True. For he judges fairly and then goes to war.

Revelation 19:11 (NLT)

From a donkey’s colt to a white horse. From an infant to a warrior. Jesus’ next entrance is depicted as a hero returning from battle. His clothes are stained in blood—either from his enemies or his own sacrifice, or both (verse 13). From his mouth comes a sword with which he struck down the nations (verse 15).

On his robe and thigh was written this title: King of kings and Lord of lords.

Revelation 19:16 (NLT)

It is thought that this title was written in two places for a reason: on Jesus’ robes so that it can be read while he remains stationary, and on his thigh because once he begins to move, his robes will billow out behind him, revealing his thigh. No one will be able to question his title and the authority that goes with it.

In all the talk of beasts and monsters and blood and fire, we tend to skip over the final book in the Bible. And as a result, we never see this glorious depiction of our Savior. In artwork, we see him in a manger. We see him as a boy, challenging the priests in the temple. We see him as a carpenter. We see him as a teacher. We see him on the cross. And we see his ascension into heaven. But rarely to we see this great and mighty warrior, Faithful and True, The Word of God, King of kings and Lord of lords. No one and no thing can stand against the sword from his mouth and the iron rod in his hand.

Our Jesus isn’t merely the baby in a stable or the youth in the workshop. He is not just the teacher nor is he merely the man who gave his life for a fallen world. He is also the conquering hero. Our hero.

Daily Bible reading: Zechariah 7-9, Revelation 19

The same

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Hebrews 13:8 (NLT)

No matter what translation you read, this verse is pretty much exactly the same in every one. The Amplified adds Jesus Christ is [eternally changeless, always] the same. The word same means just that. The same. Never changing. Unaltered. Never different. That is our Savior.

Think about that for a moment. The message that Jesus taught while he walked the earth is still valid today. Just because the world has changed and humanity has changed, doesn’t mean the Gospel changes.

So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your spiritual strength comes from God’s special favor…

Hebrews 13:9b (NLT)

Too often, we try to complicate the message of Jesus. It can get watered down or it can be altered to seem more appealing. But the true message of Jesus can get lost in all the things we try to do to it. If Jesus never, ever changes,why do we try to change his word? If Jesus appealed to the masses two thousand years ago what makes us think that he won’t appeal the crowds now?

We have not been called to make the message of the Gospel appealing. We’ve been called simply to share it.

And now, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, all that is pleasing to him.

Hebrews 13:20 (NLT)

God is most please with us when we do His will His way, and He has already given us all we need to accomplish it. We don’t need to try to make up new stories or rules or ways of doing things. Jesus already set the standard and, since he never changes, why would we try to change his message?

Jesus ministered to anyone and everyone with grace and love. We should do the same.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 17-19, Hebrews 13

Real life

What is real?

REAL: Actually being or existing; not fictitious or imaginary. True; genuine, not artificial, counterfeit, or fictitious.

So what is real life?

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power. Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth. For you died when Christ died, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your real life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT)

Your real life, your true life is hidden with Christ in God. Real life isn’t the daily grind. It isn’t your occupation, it isn’t your station in life, it isn’t even your earthly relationships. Real life is Jesus. So how do we even begin to live this life?

…for you have stripped off your old evil nature and all its wicked deeds. In its place you have clothed yourselves with a brand-new nature that is continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

Colossians 3:9-11 (NLT)

We make so much of what we do in our lives here on earth. We have to work. We have to get an education. We have to save for retirement. We have to get married. We have to have kids. We have to provide for our kids and make sure they have an education, a job, a retirement. It’s an endless cycle that plagues us and pulls our focus off of real life and toward a mere shadow of what is to come. Work, education, saving, relationships are all important things and we should have all of those things, but when they become our primary focus, it becomes a lot easier to pick up those things that we stripped off when we came to Christ. Christ is all that matters.

And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us together in perfect harmony.

Colossians 3:14 (NLT)

Real life and real love go hand in hand. When we put on love, we put on real life. True life.

Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.

Colossians 3:16 (NLT)

Real life is real love which is real worship. When we live the new life that we found in Christ, we live a life of love and a life of worship. When our focus is on heavenly things, we can’t help but have thankful hearts because our focus is on the truth.

But the time is coming and is already here when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way. For God is spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.

John 4:23-24 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 45-47, Colossians 3

New strength

As many of us age, we may find ourselves longing for the strength of our youth. Our bodies no longer recover like they used to. Definition and tone has been lost to obscurity and perhaps a spare tire around the midsection. Once, hefting an entire load of groceries from the trunk and into the house seemed to take minimal effort. Now three trips are needed to make the haul. We want our old strength back. But until someone finally finds the legendary Fountain of Youth, that’s just not going to happen.

But what if, instead of regaining our old strength, we could gain an entirely new strength?

But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31 (NLT)

I don’t think that Isaiah is talking about heading back to the gym with newfound energy, but when we wait on God, He will give us not only more strength, but new strength—one we never had before.

For I can do everything with the help of Christ, who gives me the strength I need.

Philippians 4:13 (NLT)

God doesn’t just give us the strength we want, He gives us the strength we need—the strength we need to accomplish His work and His will. He gives us the strength to put our focus on Him.

Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned from me and heard from me and saw me doing, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8b-9 (NLT)

This new strength that is found when we wait on the Lord gives us the ability to do the things that Paul talks about in these verses. Our new strength give us the ability to set our minds on the things of Christ and resist those things that are not of him.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 39-40, Philippians 4

Can’t beat the real thing.

In 1990, Coca-Cola launched a new ad campaign. All over North America we heard that you can’t beat the real thing. This, of course, was a bit (or a big) slap in the face to Pepsi who, through the 1980’s had resorted to celebrity endorsement claiming they were the choice of a new generation. But not even Michael Jackson could make Pepsi taste like Coke.

To loyal Coke drinkers, Pepsi is a cheap knockoff. A counterfeit of the Real Thing. Marketing campaigns and branding strategies won’t change the fact that Coca-Cola was and always will be first.

Yet long before there was Coca-Cola or Michael Jackson sang Pepsi Generation, there was another original. Jesus. For over two millennia, his name, his fame, his power has surged through generation after generation. No marketing ploy necessary. But like Coke, there are those who are out to make a copy of the original, make slight changes, and market it as a new and improved version.

If you order a Coke with your burger and fries and the waitress, thinking it’s the same thing, brings you a Pepsi, you know it as soon as you take the first sip. As easily as you can recognise your favourite cola, you should be able to recognise the real Jesus versus a counterfeit. Anything but the true power of the Holy Spirit should taste bitter and cheap. The more you partake of the real thing, the more obvious the fake becomes.

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is really genuine. Test yourselves. If you cannot tell that Jesus Christ is among you, it means you have failed the test.

2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)

If  you can’t tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi, you haven’t tasted enough of one or the other. You show your ignorance by saying they’re both just cola. The same goes for Jesus. If you can’t tell the difference between the power of the Holy Spirit and a cheap counterfeit, you haven’t spent enough time getting to know Jesus.

Our responsibility is never to oppose the truth, but to stand for the truth at all times.

2 Corinthians 13:8 (NLT)

Get to know the real thing. Get to know the Truth. Because when you know the Truth, he will set you free.

Daily Bible reading: Song of Solomon 4-5, 2 Corinthians 13

The resistance

Have you ever had a non-believer tell you that you weren’t acting like a Christian? Somehow, the world has this idea that all Christians should be prim and proper pacifists, gracefully accepting of anything and everything the world would throw at us. And for some reason, the Church has often helped to perpetuate this falsehood. Paul closes off his first letter to the church at Corinth with some language that is anything but passive.

Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything you do must be done with love.

1 Corinthians  16:13-14 (NLT)

These verses, as is, are inspiring. We could all throw up a fist and shout a hearty amen, but let’s go deeper.

What does it mean to be on guard? Do we need armour? Weapons? Should we be behind a wall or shield?

GUARD: to watch by way of caution or defense; to secure against objection or the attacks of malevolence.

To be on guard is more than just standing around waiting. It is to be ready and prepared at all times.

What about standing? If guarding is more than standing, surely standing must mean more than just being on our feet. It would seem silly if Paul were instructing an entire church to never sit or lay down.

STAND: to be on its foundation; not to be overthrown or demolished; to be fixed or steady; to be in or maintain a posture of resistance or defense.

For a long time, much of the Church has been passive. We’ve somehow got it in our minds that resistance isn’t the “Christian” thing to do. Read your Bible. There is a whole lot of resistance going on. We are to resist the devil. We are to resist temptation. We are to resist against anything that would come against the knowledge of Christ. Why would God give us weapons if He didn’t want us to use them?

So, if we are to stand up to and resist, how do we know what to stand for?

TRUE: conformable to fact; being in accordance with the actual state of things; genuine; pure; real; not counterfeit, adulterated or false; faithful; loyal; honest; exact; straight; right.

We have a whole book full of truth in front of us. If we believe it, we are to guard it with our lives and stand up to anything that doesn’t line up with it.

And how should we go about doing all this?

COURAGEOUS: brave; bold; daring; intrepid; hardy to encounter difficulties and dangers; adventurous; enterprising.

STRONG: well fortified; able to sustain attacks; not easily subdued or taken.

Does any of this sound passive to you? Nothing here would indicate that the Church is supposed to be a bunch of pacifist pansies waiting to take anything and everything the world throws at us. I’m not saying that we literally take up weapons and go to war against the world, but we must know that we are in a spiritual battle. As soon as we forget that we’re in a fight, we’ve already lost.

We are human, but we don’t wage war with human plans and methods. We use God’s mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil’s strongholds. With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God. With these weapons we conquer their rebellious ideas, and we teach them to obey Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NLT)

It’s time to join the resistance.

Daily Bible reading: Proverbs 13-14, 1 Corinthians 16

Love that builds

We don’t need to grow. We’re fine exactly as we are. Said no church leader ever. No good leader (of anything) is content with status quo. Growth and improvement are the goals we continually strive toward. To be satisfied with the same thing week after week, month after month, year after year is to completely disregard the entire purpose for our gathering together as Christians in the first place.

And then [Jesus] told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere.”

Mark 16:15 (NLT)

Everyone. Everywhere. Those add up to big numbers. How are we supposed to reach everyone everywhere? It’s a massive undertaking. Knowing the mission is the first step. Knowing the Good News is the next. Knowledge is great. Leaders are learners—and by leaders, I mean anyone and everyone who calls his- or herself a follower of Christ. Our knowledge of God, His Word, His Church, and His will should be ever-increasing. But it can’t stop there. Knowledge alone isn’t good enough.

Knowledge is good and it is necessary, but it is not everything. If we are going to reach everyone everywhere, we need something that is not readily available to the rest of the world.

While knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.

1 Corinthians 8:1b-2 (NLT)

Lennon and McCartney were on the right track when they sang that all you need is love.

We need the love that is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. We need the kind of love that is so thoroughly described in 1 Corinthians 13. Without it, what we build with our own knowledge is no different than the things the world builds. It is love—true love—that sets us apart.

And it is love that really builds up the church.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 132-135, 1 Corinthians 8