In The Arena

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

Luke 24:13-21

These men walking to Emmaus had dared to hope. They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, the one who was going to redeem Israel. Yet, their hopes here dashed. Jesus had been crucified.

What they couldn’t have imagined is that Jesus not only redeemed Israel but the whole world, and He did so not despite His death but through His death. They couldn’t have imagined that Jesus was resurrected, He was the Messiah, and He was the one they were talking to in that very moment.

In other words, God didn’t fulfilled their hopes because their hopes were too small. God did much more, so much more, just not in the way they had expected. And they were right to hope. At least they were brave enough to hope. Too often people don’t want to get their hopes up. They don’t want to be disappointed as if disappointment is the worst suffering in the world. It’s not. Hopelessness is.

We should get our hopes up. We need to practice the spiritual discipline of hoping even in the midst of the impossible. We need to stop guarding our disappointment as if it will mortally wound us if we get disappointed from time to time. Even if we don’t see our hopes come to pass, God might be doing something better or bigger than we could even hope or imagine.

Now to him who 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

My friend just ran a long race to raise money for a good cause. He ran over 30 miles on Saturday to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (yes, 30 miles). Pretty amazing! But when he stopped running, he was a little disappointed because his goal was 41 miles that day. He did not reach his goal of that many miles, yet he did so much more.

Did I mention that he has MS himself? He inspired so many people with his run even though he felt that he fell short. He raised money and awareness but, more than that, he raised hopes!

Thirty miles with MS. Astounding! He reached for the stars and got the moon. He was willing to take the risk. He was willing to go after something big and even face disappointment. That kind of courage is inspiring. That kind of heart is contagious.

Don’t you want to be that kind of person, even if you fall short? Me too. It’s time to get our hopes up.

I left the following quote on my friend’s Facebook page. I couldn’t think of a better quote that captured the moment. It’s from a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt and has become known as “The Man in the Arena.” My friend was the man in the arena. He dared greatly and will never be among those timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship in a Republic

Wineskins and Wine

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Matthew 9:16-17

Sometimes, when we begin to pray for new wine, the Lord begins a process that will allow Him to answer that prayer. But He doesn’t start with the new wine.

First, the Lord will begin to remove old wineskins. Then, He will begin to create new wineskins in your life. This takes time. New wineskins take time to craft. Then, when they are ready, He will pour out the new wine.

Most of us struggle to stay in the process long enough to experience the new wine. But the Lord takes us through this process because He wants to preserve both the wine and the wineskin. Without this process, He could do damage to both.

We sometimes think that the answer to the prayer is the new wine. That is what we are asking for after all. But the answer to the prayer for new wine has been the whole process–the removal of the old wineskin, the creation of the new skins, and the pouring out of new wine. If we can see that all of it constitutes God’s answer to our prayer for new wine, we’ll be able to hang in there. We’ll be able to “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

Self-Protection

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:1-4

Paul called the Philippians to value others above themselves. He called them to a humility that looked to the interests of others rather than just their own interests. But he starts by reminding them of what they already have in Christ. They already have encouragement from being united with Christ. They already have comfort from His love. They already have a share in the Holy Spirit. In other words, Paul’s argument is essentially, “Because you already have all of this, you don’t have to act from a place of selfishness.”

I think that so often what looks like selfishness is actually rooted in self-protection. We do selfish things and say things in an effort to protect ourselves. We are afraid of being destroyed. We are afraid that people will use us or take advantage of us, and we are convinced that we are our only protection. We live as orphans thinking that we have to be the one to do it all ourselves. We think, “If we don’t look out for our own interests, no one will. If we don’t protect ourselves, no one will.” But this self-protection is so damaging.

In the Christian life, self-protection is self-sabotage. The very acts that we think will protect us end up burning down the bridges that we need for support. When we “look out for number one” we end up doing damage to ourselves. Self-protection is self-sabotage because we are called by God not to look just to our own interests but to the interests of others.

When, in humility, we value others above ourselves, we are operating as children of a God who will care for us. He will be our protector and provider. We can give our life away because He is the unending source of our life. Jesus said it like this, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven“(Matthew 5:45).

Laying down our rights to self-protection is like laying down a gun pointed at ourselves. At first it may feel like we are sacrificing something but the thing we are laying down is actually something that would do us harm. If we can lay down our tendencies toward self-protection, we get to pick up God’s protection and provision. We get to pick up a life of trusting our Good Father to look out for us. We get to pick up His love and compassion for us. We get to live a life that is dependent on Him rather than one that is dependent our own ability to scrap and scrape for ourselves. As Jesus said:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Matthew 16:25

Covenant Ceremony

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him…

…When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land…

Genesis 15:7-12, 17-18

God promised Abram descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:1-6), and then promised him land. Abram wanted some kind of sign, some kind of covenant contract to assuage his own insecurities about the promise of land. So God entered into a covenant ceremony, guaranteeing that God’s word will come to pass.

The idea with this ceremony was that a cow, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, were cut in half with a little pathway down the middle between the pieces. Then a dove was placed on one side and a pigeon on the other side next to the halved animals. The expectation was that whoever walked between the pieces of animals was saying, “If I break our covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me.” And, of course, we expect Abram to be the one to walk between them.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, God put Abram in a trance-like state and delivered a prophetic word to him filled with declarations about the future. Then, when the sun had set, the Presence of the Lord–taking the form of fire–passed between the pieces. Instead of making Abram engage in the covenant ceremony, God Himself makes Himself vulnerable and puts His own life on the line for the sake of His covenant with Abram.

And we would see God do the same thing through Jesus as He established the New Covenant. One way to look at Jesus sacrificing Himself on the cross is that He was fulfilling this oath to Abram as He ended the Old Covenant. He was ending the Old Covenant to establish the New. But since He promised never to end the Old Covenant except on penalty of death, He fulfills His own promise, His own word, in Jesus on the cross.

Jesus on the cross not only fulfilled the Old Covenant in about 15 different ways, but it started the New Covenant. It was once again God making Himself vulnerable, putting His life on the line, in a covenant ceremony. Rather than making us engage in the new covenant ceremony, He did it for us. Jesus passed between life and death and came out on the other side into the newness of resurrection life. Our job now is simply to believe the Lord and have it be credited to us as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

One final thing to notice about this covenant ceremony with Abram is the birds of prey that Abram had to drive away. I wonder if this is what Jesus had in His mind when He told about the seed along the path in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:4). Jesus later interprets the parable to the disciples and tells them that the birds represent when “the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart” (Matthew 13:19).

I believe these birds of prey represent the same thing with Abram. I believe they foreshadow what the enemy is always trying to do when God is establishing His relationship with people. Right before the covenant is ratified, the enemy comes to try to disrupt the process. And he must be driven away.

Children of God

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his suffering sin order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:14-17

Every person in the world is loved by God. Every human being is created in God’s image. Because of this, some people think this means that every person is a child of God. We’ve heard people say, “We are all God’s children.” Yet, that isn’t what we read over and over again in scripture.

Every person is invited into the family of God, but not everyone has accepted that invitation. Scripture is clear. We aren’t children of God from birth. We become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. When we receive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Those who are led by the Spirit are children of God.

So while everyone is loved by God, not every person is a child of God. It takes faith in Jesus to be adopted into the family of God. Paul said it this way to the Galatians:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29

There are some key phrases in that passage. “In Christ Jesus” we are children of God “through faith.” And, “if you belong to Christ” then you are an heir in the family of God. These are important qualifiers. We must belong to Christ, through faith, in order to be considered a child of God. John says something similar in his Gospel:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

John 1:12-13

According to John’s Gospel, the right to become children of God is a special right. It is not automatic. It is something we become. And the ones who have been given the right to become children of God, born of God, are the ones “who did receive him” and “believed in his hame,” that is, Jesus. The message is clear. We must receive Jesus into our life and believe in Him in order to become children of God.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 

1 John 3:1-2

Notice that there is a separation between “the world” and the “children of God.” The world has a hard time with children of God because it had a hard time with Jesus. This distinction would make no sense if everyone in the world was automatically a child of God. Yes, everyone is loved by God. Yes, everyone has been created in God’s image. But no, not everyone is a child of God, not until they give their life to Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit.

The old platitude that “we are all God’s children” may sound nice, but it’s just not true. All are invited into the family of God, but not all have accepted the invitation. We are not automatically children of God. We become children, adopted into the family, through faith in Jesus. Through that faith in His name we receive the Holy Spirit, who is our sign and seal that we are in the family of God.

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance…

Ephesians 1:13-14

Jehovah-Jireh

“…Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Genesis 22:12-14

This is one of the most famous moments in the Bible. Isaac was the son Abraham and Sarah weren’t able to have for years. After decades of infertility, God blessed them with Isaac. All the promises of Abraham’s future, his legacy, his descendants and his inheritance from the Lord were contained in Isaac. And Abraham was willing to surrender it all to the Lord, leaving it all behind, for the sake of obedience.

The writer of Hebrews interprets the moment this way:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

Hebrews 11:17-19

It was this moment that gave us one of the names of God. Traditionally “Jehovah-Jireh” or “Yaweh-Yir’eh” has been translated, “The Lord will Provide.” In a moment of crisis, God provided Abraham with the ram. God provided the sacrifice that Abraham needed at just the right moment. This is a foreshadow of what God would do through Jesus, providing for us the perfect sacrifice.

In the Hebrew, the word “Jireh” or “Yir’eh” literally means “to see.” So the literal translation of Jehovah-Jirah is, “The Lord will see.” And instead of the phrase being translated, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided,” the literal translation is, “in the mountain of the Lord it will be seen.”

There is a connection in the Hebrew between God “seeing” and God “providing.” This same connection can be seen in English as well. When we say, “see to it” we aren’t talking about looking at something. We’re talking about action. And we have the word “provision” which literally contains the word “vision” in it. One definition of “pro-vision” means “to see beforehand.” It’s about preparing ahead of time with “provisions.”

So in this one Hebrew word, Jireh, we understand that God is our provider because He is the God who sees our need ahead of time. God’s name, Jehovah-Jireh, isn’t just about God giving us stuff. It’s about the nature of a good Father who knows His children, a Father who is not preoccupied but fully present, and loves to provide for His kids. He sees us. He sees our situation. He sees our need.

Sometimes we need to remember that God is enough because God is our provider. He sees us. And because God is enough, He makes us enough. If you want to hear an uplifting song that highlights God as Jehovah-Jireh, listen to this one. It is called “Jireh” by Maverick City Music and Elevation Worship.

Beginning Grateful

“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Luke 10:16-20

Jesus sent out the seventy-two to do the stuff of ministry. Their privilege, and ours, is that not only did they get to operate in the authority of Christ but they got to be His ambassadors. Anyone who listened to them teach about the Kingdom was listening to Jesus. Anyone who rejected them was rejecting Jesus. As Jesus was sent by the Father to represent the Father, Jesus was sending them to represent Jesus. He does the same with us.

And notice where gratitude is supposed to start. When we operate in the authority of Christ as the ambassadors of Christ our gratitude can’t be dependent on ministry results. No doubt, I have experienced the thrill of seeing the power of God move and people get set free from demonic darkness. I see this almost weekly. It is a wonder and a miracle, and it is an absolute privilege to be Jesus’s hands and feet in those moments. But Jesus teaches us here in this scripture passage that our gratitude can’t start there.

Jesus wants our gratitude to start much further back. The greatest miracle is our own salvation. The greatest miracle is that Jesus took our punishment upon himself and, in exchange, gave us His peace. Our gratitude begins with the ridiculous notion that I am forgiven for all of my sin, not because of something I have done, but because of what God has done for me. My name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. And not only am I washed clean of my sin because of the blood of Jesus, but I am given new life because of His resurrection from the grave. Gratitude begins here.

When life and ministry get hard, we have to return to this point of gratitude. We have to return to the basics of being grateful that we have been given eternal life, though we didn’t deserve it. Everything else is icing on the cake. This life is a blip on the radar screen of eternity. James says it this way, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

If we can go back and be grateful for our salvation, then we can begin to be grateful for the rest of life. Rather than complaining about the hardships of life, we can begin to be grateful that we even have a life. Rather than grumbling about work, we can be grateful that we have a job and an income. Rather than complaining about friends and family, we can be grateful for their love and presence in our life. Rather than wishing we were used by God in different ways or better ways, we can be grateful that we are being used by God at all. What an incredible privilege that God would use someone like me! This is how John said it:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 

1 John 3:1-2

And I love how Paul says something similar in his letter to his protege Timothy:

I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1:13-17

May we echo the words of John and Paul in our own hearts. May our gratitude start at the ground level of the cross. May it begin at the point of our salvation and grow from there.

Straining the Gnat

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

…If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

Matthew 12:1-2, 7-14

The Pharisees ignored all the good Jesus was doing. All they could see was minor infractions of Sabbath law. They couldn’t see that a man needed healing and Jesus provided that healing. They couldn’t see the life transformation. They couldn’t experience the joy of God’s Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven in that moment. All they could see was what they perceived to be Jesus doing something wrong. They were so angered by Jesus healing a man that they wanted to kill Him.

Our culture is sick with this same attitude. Social media has made it worse. The one time something goes wrong becomes headline news and we ignore the 99% of the time when things go well.

The recent reaction to the six women who got blood clots is a good illustration of this cultural dysfunction. All six women who got blood clots also got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. So they paused the vaccine to check out the situation and if there was any connection. What we overlook is that 7 million doses have been administered. 7 million. If you try to do the math of how infinitesimally small 6 out of 7 million is, many calculators can’t even show you.

But what does social media and our culture obsess over? It obsesses over the 6 women who may or may not have gotten blood clots from the vaccine, not the 99.99999% of the people who did not. The colloquial phrase is, “We are missing the forest for the trees.”

This is the same on so many issues. Based on TV and the news one would think that transgender individuals are 50% of our population. The truth is that the LGBTQ community is about 5% of the total population. That’s it. 5%. They are massively over-represented on TV shows and in media. And people that identify as transgender are a small fraction of that 5%. Yet, the hispanic community makes up nearly 17% of the American population. When’s the last time you saw the hispanic community talked about that wasn’t about border walls and immigration. If you wanted proportional representation in TV shows, for every one LGBTQ person in a show, you should have 4 hispanics in that same show. It doesn’t happen.

When you start to realize how skewed our perception of reality has become because of media and social media, when you start to actually crunch the numbers, you realize that it’s not about equal representation but about who has the stronger and more forceful political machine.

Does the news cover the 99% of the time that things go well? No. It only covers the 0.01% of the time things go poorly. Our view of the world is becoming skewed. We are spending so much of our attention on the horrible stories that happen a small percentage of the time rather than putting those stories in the larger context. Every local problem gets nationalized by social media as if any problem in one place is a problem everywhere.

Jesus said of the Pharisees, “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel“(Matthew 23:24). This is what is happening to our perception of reality. We tend to spend all our energy on the relatively rare traumatic story and have become blind to the bigger picture. We need to return to putting things in their proper context. We need to focus on all that is going right and not just the times things go poorly. We need more time celebrating the good and less time anxiously trying to problem-solve the bad.

Disembodied

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5, 9-14

Too often conservative evangelicals want the wisdom and the insight of the Kingdom of God without the intimacy of the Kingdom. They want the depth of the word of God without the depth of the Word of God, the practical life application of principles without an encounter with a Person.

Too often progressive Christians want the justice and righteousness of God displayed in culture but not in their own lives. They want to see the righteousness of God manifest “out there” in society, but don’t see purity in their own lives as something to be bothered with.

Too often charismatics want the power of God but not the humility of Christ. They want to destroy the works of the devil, like sickness and demonic oppression, but forget to lock the back door where pride and arrogance slip in.

Too often contemplative Christians want the mystery of God but close their eyes to the revelation of God. They want to experience the transcendent reality of the Divine but forget that God put on flesh and bone to reveal Himself to us plainly and practically.

Each of these exaggerations of the faith embrace one aspect of the Kingdom of God without embracing Jesus Himself. And in this way they are disembodied expressions of Christianity. They hint of gnosticism.

The fullness of the gospel is embodied. It’s incarnational. It’s the fullness of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Steadfast Love

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 

Revelation 1:9

John was on the island of Patmos, exiled for his faith in Jesus. He was an old man. He witnessed most of the other early disciples be executed for their faith. Surely he saw many abandon their faith under the pressure of persecution. But not John. As he wrote to other believers about the vision that he saw, he called himself a “companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.

What does it take to have that kind of patient endurance? What does it take to stick to your commitments? Surely there is a bit of struggle along the way whether one is committing to their spouse, their church, or to Jesus. Surely John had opportunities to give up, yet he remained true to the end.

As I get older, I am less and less impressed with the flash of starting something new. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve started new things a few different times and starting new things is hard work. But I am just more and more impressed with perseverance these days. Eugene Peterson called it “a long obedience in the same direction.” This is what it takes to finish a marathon and finish well in life. It’s the ability to stay with something through thick and thin. There is a richness there that can’t be acquired in any other way.

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary. My wife and I are going to celebrate as 15 years married is no small thing! My parents and my in-laws have been married for nearly 50 years. As I get older I am more and more impressed with that kind of commitment. The commitment it takes to stick through hard things and not quit, not bail out. It seems more and more rare in our culture these days.

John’s reward for his patient endurance, his faithfulness to the end, was that the glorified presence of Jesus stood in his midst and spoke to him directly. John said:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feetand with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

Revelation 1:12-16

This was such a gift. The glorified presence of Jesus standing right next to John. This was just the beginning of his reward for his steadfast faithfulness and patient endurance. Jesus himself was the one who said:

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:9-14

The one who stands firm to the end is the one who didn’t let their love grow cold. This applies to marriage. This applies to being an active part of the church. This applies most of all to our relationship with Jesus. Keeping the fire of our love burning bright, tending the fire, keeping fuel on the fire, these are key to longstanding commitments. It is love that is our most powerful weapon, and it will be love that keeps us faithful to the end.