Tears (Revelation 18-22)

My heart is heavy on this last day of 2020. Why not, right? This has been a very difficult year, unlike any I have seen in my lifetime. But I’m sitting here broken-hearted, not because of COVID, or isolation, or the loss of freedom. My tears are not for myself, but for a former student, the daughter of a co-worker and friend, who is facing life this morning without her nine-year-old daughter.

What started out as a fun road trip to California with extended family ended in a horrific accident which took the life of this precious child. Her mom and dad took the first flight out of Texas where they live, to rush to their daughter’s side in a California hospital, only to be met with the news their child had died. I can’t even think about what that was like for them.

Many of us have faced similar circumstances, and although we can’t know exactly how this young couple is feeling, we can remember how we felt when we received devastating news. Hearing what happened this morning brings back the feelings of the day we lost my nephew Geoff. It’s a pain I wish no one ever had to experience.

Yet Payton’s family is in that same heart stopping, suffocating, crushing pain this morning, and will continue to be for a very, very long time.

The last verse Mom underlined in her Bible is Revelation 21:4. Listen to what John had to say about what God has in store:

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Personally, I’m ready to see that day come.

But let me say something to you in love. That day is reserved only for God’s children. There is another existence for people who reject God, who don’t accept the grace God gives to those who surrender to Him. It is a place where there will only be weeping and gnashing of teeth, no reprieve, no comfort. Forever.

Oh dear one, none of us is guaranteed another second in this life. Not if you are 90 – or 9. Please don’t wait another moment to give your life to Jesus. If you never have asked Him to forgive your sins and be your Savior, do it now while you still have time. You might not see 2021. Payton didn’t.

Would you pray with me for the Osmond/Veigel families? They are hurting right now in an unspeakable grief. May God be their strength and comfort.

And may you know the assurance of an eternity where there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain. A place where God Himself will wipe away your tears.

He Will Not Win (The Revelation of John)

God allowed John to see the big picture. He showed him the Church, our role in the world, our blessings for obedience, and God’s judgment for disobedience. John saw God’s enemy at work, and the fact Satan only has power given him by God.

I think we miss the point of John’s revelation when we try to fit it into a material box, or try to place events on a timeline. John’s vision is both an encouragement for us, and a warning we need to heed.

The fact is, there is a war going on, and all of us must choose a side. The enemy is clever. He uses both force and subtleties, to bring people to his side. He is cunning, and a pretty good imitator of God.

But he is not God.

And while Satan tries to cloud the Truth that is Jesus, while he tries to put up a smoke screen against the Gospel, he cannot and will not change the Truth. God will be reckoned with. And only we who are on God’s side will escape God’s wrath.

Oh, Satan has and will continue to enjoy certain victories along the way. God’s Church will be beat up, persecuted, and ignored.

But take heart, dear one. Satan will not win this war!

God’s Last Enemy

The writer of this blog, Bill Sweeney, went home. His physical death is an eternal victory because he is in the presence of His Savior, Jesus. I imagine he is lifting his once paralyzed hands in praise, singing at the top of his lungs, and throwing his arms around Jesus about now. He has thrown off the perishable, and has put on immortality! I hope you’ll take time to read what was meant to be his last post. And I hope it speaks to you like it did to me. I’m going to miss this guy!

Unshakable Hope

As most of my regular readers know, I have been battling ALS for 24 years. I was diagnosed in 1996, just weeks after turning thirty-six. How’s that for a birthday gift? The neurologist over the ALS Clinic in Houston, Texas, told me that I had 3-5 years to live. This relentless disease progressed pretty much how the neurologist predicted it would—except for the part about my dying within five years.

Ten months after being diagnosed, because of some painful and embarrassing falls and my voice beginning to sound like I had a few too many, I was forced to resign from the job I loved as a Regional Sales Manager in the grocery industry. I finally figured out that it probably wasn’t a good reflection on the company to have a salesman walking funny and slurring his words. When I finally resigned, my boss was probably thinking, “It’s about time!”.

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Without Ceasing (Jude)

Do you pray in the Spirit? What does that even mean? Jude encourages us to build ourselves up in our most holy faith and pray in the Spirit. (Vs 20).

As I was sitting here thinking about this and asking God for insight, I looked at the verse printed at the bottom of the page in my journal:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

I’m sitting here at the kitchen table with my sister. I’m very aware that she is here. If I have a thought, I can share it and hear her response. Her presence next to me is a comfort, and brings me joy.

I think praying in the Spirit is similar to that. It’s an awareness of the Presence. It’s the natural impulse to share a thought or ask a question, or just to stop and listen. It’s intentional communication with the Spirit who lives in me.

It’s the choice to love God with all my heart, down deep in my soul, not just an emotional feeling of love. It’s loving God with my thoughts, my intellect, my careful reading of His Word.

Paul puts it like this: “Pray continually.” Or in another translation: “Pray without ceasing.” (I Thessalonians 5:17) That is God’s will for you and me.

What a privilege to have the Spirit of God living in me. May I never take that for granted, but always be aware of the Presence. May my thoughts and words include Him, intentionally, lovingly…

Without ceasing.

Last Days (2 Timothy)

Paul’s words to Timothy are still words to live by in 2020. There is no doubt we are in the “last days.” Paul told Timothy he was living in the last days, and we are 2000 years closer to the end than Timothy was.

The following verses describe life in Paul’s day. I believe he is describing 2020, too:

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (3:2-5)

Sound familiar? I bet you saw most of those behaviors on the news last night. Maybe in your own family. Maybe when you look in the mirror.

Oh, there’s more:

(They are) always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. (Verse 7)

It reminds me of the present day “Woke” movement. It reminds me of modern academia, our “cancel culture,” Bethel worship.

Here’s the thing. We can shake our heads, point fingers, even pray for Jesus’ quick return because things are so bad. Or we can do what Paul told Timothy to do:

I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. (4:1b-2)

Paul goes on to tell Timothy and us that eventually people will not put up with sound doctrine. And the movement will be huge.

But, dear one, it’s not enough to recognize our circumstances in God’s Word, in verses such as these that Paul wrote Timothy. Recognizing that our world is in serious trouble is important in so far as it motivates us to share Jesus with lost souls. If it is true that Jesus’ return is around the corner, then the window of opportunity for people to be saved is closing. Does that bother you?

Paul encourages us to be in the Word, but then to use what we’ve learned to evangelize:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (3:16)

Do you believe we are in the last days? Then God is asking us to patiently correct, rebuke, encourage each other. We need to be training people in righteousness, not just right living. People need to know Jesus and accept His righteousness.

We are celebrating the birth of Jesus this week. What better time to start a conversation with our unsaved loved ones about what that birth means. Jesus was born to die for them!

These are no doubt the “last days.” What are you and I doing about that?

My Response (Hebrews 10)

Mom would have been 96 today. I would have enjoyed celebrating with her. But since she’s in heaven, she has no age, no birthday, no need for candles or cake. She’s in glory!

Reading her Bible today gave me a special connection with her. I love that woman! I was touched my some verses that touched her. Chapter 10 talks about the amazing work Jesus did on the cross, His sacrifice and what it means for my life and my eternity. Here is what she underlined:

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (22-25)

I want my response to Jesus to be exactly that! A sincere heart, full of the assurance of my faith in Him, a guiltless conscience because of the decisions I make as His representative. I want to hold unswervingly to the hope I have, even when my hope is not politically correct or “woke.” I want to encourage you even more as we see the very real possibility that the end of life as we know it may be coming to an end. Let’s stand together in the Truth that is Jesus!

I hope you’ll read Hebrews today. It always makes me love Jesus more every time I read it. He did it all. The old is gone, the new is come. I want my response to His sacrifice, to bring Him joy.

Carnal Christians (Titus)

Our belief in God, and the privilege of wearing His name HAS to be evident in our lives. Just saying we are Christians means nothing if our choices and life style isn’t markedly different from the world’s.

Paul said of people who aren’t changed by their encounter with Jesus, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him…” (1:16a)

You can’t be a carnal Christian. There’s no such thing. You either reveal Jesus by your life choices – or you deny Him. There is no third option, no middle of the road.

Paul goes on to say people whose lives deny God even though they claim the name Christian, “are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for doing anything good.” (1:16b)

Do you claim to be a Christian? What does that look like in real time?

James had a lot to say on the subject. In fact, in James 2:26 we read, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” If your walk doesn’t match your talk, your Christianity is dead. Not just on life support, D.E.A.D.

You can claim to believe that God sent Jesus to pay for your sins. But believing in God isn’t enough. James warns us:

You say you believe in God? “Good! Even the demons believe that…

and shudder! (2:19)

The demons understand what many of us don’t. They know the holiness, the authority, the righteousness of God first hand, and have experienced His wrath. Just the mention of His name causes demons to shake in their boots. Oh, you bet they believe in God. But they are not saved.

Your choices today won’t save you. Good deeds aren’t the same as salvation. But if you have placed your faith in Jesus, if you have accepted Him as your Savior, He promises to fill you with Himself. And being filled with the Spirit of God will spill out into the things you do and say. If Jesus dwells in you, people will see Him in you!

Do you call yourself a Christian? What will that look like today as you go to work, as you spend time with family, as you rub shoulders with people who are lost? What choices will you make today based on the fact that you have placed your faith in Jesus? How will you stand out today in the midst of an evil world?

Will you reveal God today? Or deny Him?

Our Conduct (Philippians)

I imagine we all can agree our world is changing. People live in constant fear. Tempers flair. Families are forced apart by government and even by political opinion. The US is imploding. It looks like we are on the brink of defeat, not from some outside military force, but from within ourselves.

Then I hear God say through Paul:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. (1:27)

What does that mean? How are we who know the Savior supposed to conduct ourselves during these uncertain times? I want to share with you some verses Mom underlined in her Bible here in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It pretty much answers those questions.

2:4 Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others.

So, does this mean we wear masks? Maybe. Do we speak truth instead of promoting hysteria? Probably. But I think more importantly this tells us that we should not merely be satisfied with our own ticket to heaven. I honestly think God is more interested in whether or not we share the Gospel, than whether or not we wear a mask. I think it’s more likely that God is telling us to reach out to lost people, even if it means we’ll be rejected, made fun of, mistreated, or worse. Telling people about Jesus isn’t always convenient. We should do it anyway.

2:5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

Read verses 6-11 if you want to know more about that. Having a humble, servant’s attitude is so contrary to today’s Me First society. Yet that is what God requires of His children.

2:14 Do everything without complaining or arguing.

Pretty much speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Just don’t miss the word, “everything.”

3:1 …rejoice in the Lord!

We can get so caught up in the climate of fear and anxiety we miss the real joy that comes from a relationship with God Himself. Our circumstances might not give us reason for joy. But the Lord does! Rejoice in the Lord!

3:13-14 …Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Forget the past. Don’t hold grudges or try to even the score. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Focus. Focus. Focus. Press on by being that humble, obedient servant God intends for you to be. Jesus is ahead! Keep moving toward Him.

4:5 Let your gentleness be evident to all.

Sadly, some people equate gentleness with weakness. There is a difference. Be strong in the Lord while you show love to one another. Forgive as you’ve been forgiven. Share Jesus with kindness and firmness. I’m pretty sure few people are saved by someone thumping them on the head with a Bible.

4:6 Do not be anxious about anything.

Yes, not even COVID. Not even socialism or communism or China or the stock market. Anything means anything. Do not allow anxiety to possess you.

Paul goes on to tell us:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (4:7)

Does the world witness the peace of God in you? Or are you wringing your hands like those who have no hope? God is telling us we can have His peace. Do you trust Him? Prove it.

Most of us Christians would say that our desire is to be the people God wants us to be. Most of us want to by used by God to win people to His saving grace. Most of us, I would think, want to live lives worthy of the precious Gospel we received through faith in Jesus.

Living that life isn’t easy nor convenient. Sometimes we get it right, other times we fail miserably. But Paul reminds us:

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (4:13)

You can live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ. You can do it all through your relationship with Him!

Then…

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Conduct worthy of the Gospel might not be easy or politically correct. But it comes with benefits, my friend. It comes with all the glorious riches in Jesus!

Doesn’t get better than that.

Wisdom and Understanding (Colossians)

In these days when lies are declared truth, and madness applauded as sanity, we need to be reminded of a few things.

Paul said:

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (2:2-4)

I, too, want to encourage you in heart and unite with you in love so that we can have complete understanding. I pray that we will know the mystery of God – Jesus! Because only in Jesus will we discover real wisdom and understanding.

And I, with Paul, want us to be grounded in the truth which is Jesus, so that we’ll recognize – and reject – the deceptive arguments being touted by the world’s authorities today. They not only speak lies, but they would make us feel guilty, intolerant, bigoted, selfish, and deplorable if we dare not go along with them in their lies. Can you see it?

Paul tells us who have received Christ as Savior to:

,,,continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (2:6-7)

We have to grow our roots deep in Him! We need to read His Word, spend time in prayer, intentionally walk with Him every moment of the day. We need to believe and hold on to what He has revealed to us in Scripture.

Then listen to this word of warning:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (2:8)

Who are you listening to?

Paul goes on. We need to clothe ourselves “with compassion, kindness humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (3:12-14)

We Christians should not be fighting amongst ourselves over petty grievances. The world needs to see what a difference Jesus makes in our lives. They don’t need to see us acting like them, or in some cases, worse than them!

Now why is this so important? Is it so you and I can get our ticket to heaven? Paul says this:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (4:2)

What should we watch for? What do we have to be thankful for?

that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ... loudly and clearly! (from 4:2-4)

Paul encourages us to make the most out of every opportunity that comes our way to share Jesus with someone who is lost. Jesus is a mystery to those who don’t know Him. It’s up to us to help them solve the mystery by introducing them to the Savior.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (4:6)

People are believing the lies. Even some who call themselves Christians are falling for it. “A man is not a male unless he feels like a male.” “You can’t help who you love.” “Life begins with birth so that which is in the womb is not life.” “A woman should have say over what she does with her body.” “Truth is subjective.” “Faith is a crutch.” “All roads lead to heaven.” “God is love so He accepts everyone.”

LIES! But they are lies that have become a false truth to many. And woe to you who don’t agree with them.

I hope you’ll read Paul’s letter to the Colossians today. There is so much in here for us Christians in 2020. Let’s know what God has revealed in His Word, and let’s stand firm on that foundation. Let’s proclaim the Truth of Jesus loudly and clearly, and let’s never miss an opportunity to introduce a lost soul to their Savior.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (3:17)

What Are We Waiting For? (Acts 24-28)

You don’t have to wait until your life is in order before God can use you. Paul was imprisoned for years, not guilty of any crime. He was in chains because he preached the truth and people didn’t want to hear it. He went through storms, adrift at sea, and shipwrecked. His life was anything but orderly.

Yet Paul never missed a chance to share Jesus, no matter who his audience. Kings? Sailors? Jailors? Sick people? Heathen? Church leaders? Yes! No matter who they were, Paul was preaching the Gospel to them.

Paul was an overflowing vessel at God’s disposal, even though his life was a mess.

What are we waiting for? Until our kids are grown? Until we feel worthy? Until we are older and wiser? Until we get that promotion at work, or that college degree, or our health is better?

We can learn from Paul who, no matter his own circumstances, shared Jesus. He didn’t wait until he was free, or healthy, or safe. He had a mission every day: tell people the Good News of the Gospel.

Tell me again – what are we waiting for?