The love you had at first

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:1–5, ESV)

What is the love that the Ephesian church had at first that they have abandoned? Is it their Love for Jesus, or is it love for others, or could it be the love that we are to reflect from Christ to the world around us?

Jesus when asked the question, what is the greatest commandment, responded with Love God and love your neighbor. How does that look? What can we learn from the New Covenant writers, and the stern warning that is given to the churches at Ephesus?

In the book of John Jesus is teaching his apostles when Philip asks this question – “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”” (John 14:8, ESV)

It is from this point forward that Jesus unpacks some deep teaching on the coming of the Spirit and abiding in Him. Much of the language through this section is soaked in various forms of Love. Some of those ideas are – “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:21–23, ESV)

Continuing in chapter 15, John continues to unpack this genuine Love in the form of abiding in the vine. The Greek root used for abide is “meno” and has the sense of to await or to stay in, also having a sense of an eschatological promise already in possession.[1] It is also of interest that a form of the Greek word for abide hypoménein is used in the Septuagint also with a sense of Waiting on or cleaving to God. The Theological dictionary of the New Testament abridged has this entry on the word…

… so that the idea is not that of standing against but waiting on. In this sense it is used for Hebrew terms expressing tense, steadfast, or patient expectation (cf. Job 3:9; Ps. 37:7; Job 32:4). The noun hypomonḗ similarly denotes either confidence or tense expectation. It is a mark of the righteous in the OT that they wait on God. In distress and opposition, they look to God for deliverance (cf. Ps. 37:9; Mic. 7:7). God is the almighty covenant God on whom they can rely (Is. 51:5; Zeph. 3:8). As the God of Israel (Jer. 14:8), he is also the God of Israelites (Ps. 39:7). Only the wicked abandon hope in him (Sir. 2:4). The final deliverance is eschatological (Hab 2:3). Those who endure to the end will be saved (Dan. 12:12). The focus here is neither on the hostile forces nor on inward strength but on the power and faithfulness of God. Yet this divinely oriented hypomonḗ confers courage (Ps. 27:14). This is the strength of cleaving to God or waiting for him (Is. 40:31). There need be no fear of weakening it by a link with hope. It focuses on hope and issues in it. What sustains the righteous is that God will establish justice (Ps. 140:12).[2]

It is a wonderous journey where we are fully dependent on the power and faithfulness of God, clinging with expectations to the time when the bridegroom returns for His bride. But, in that tense, steadfast, patient expectation there is a movement forward with the works that Jesus has prepared beforehand that we are to walk in them (Eph 2:8).

Did you catch that? The works that Jesus has prepared that we are to walk in. But how are we to do that? Paul gives us some clues…

We must first start with prayer– “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14–21, ESV)

In prayer and through faith we seek to be strengthened through His Spirit in our inner being, grounded in the Love that Christ has shown us, together with the body of Christ the assembly of believers all filled with the fullness of God who then works through us more abundantly than anything we can ask or think according to His power within us.

Soak ourselves in The word of God – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, ESV)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1–2, ESV)

Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm in the scriptures and a serious read through shows the many benefits of the Word in the people of God when they soak themselves in its richness.

The Lord asks the Ephesian church to repent and do the works they did at first. They had lost their first love. Were they no longer seeking His strength, seeking the things that are above or walking in the works that He had prepared for them?

Today, do we do similar things, racing ahead of the Spirit of God with our plans, then claiming they are from God? Prayer lives that barely give him a few minutes of their time in a single day then crash forward with their plans, maybe even feeling good about themselves for what they accomplished in their own strength.

Jesus took the time to seek the Father in prayer continuously. There are so many times we are given glimpses of this simple communion with God and yet it seems today seeking after God is lost in the busyness of life.

Jesus told the Ephesian church, most likely in a better place than many churches today, to repent and return to that first love – a passion for God that takes us deep into prayer, deep into His words, and moves us forward in His power to do the works that He has prepared that we should walk in them.

Why? Jesus gives us that simple answer…

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’” (Revelation 2:7, ESV)


[1] [2] Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 582). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

Spirit of God – Part 3

In part 2 of this series, we finished by looking at passages from the Old Covenant and will now turn our attention to the New Covenant and the work of God’s spirit through the Messiah of Israel…Yeshua, Translated in English as Jesus.

It is in the New Covenant that we are given further insight into the actions of God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit is shown to descend upon Jesus giving him power and enablement for the ministry before him.

I again want to stop here for just one moment and remind ourselves that the actions of God’s spirit here in the New Testament are still given in descriptive ways for us to have a better understanding of the actions and work of the invisible God, whose very essence is spirit. So when we see terms of being led by the spirit or speaking against the Holy Spirit, the writers are communicating to us, the actions of our God in ways that we can understand yet ever so poorly our God. It is Jesus who through the apostle John, will provide us with the fullness of this understanding when he makes this statement about God – “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”” (John 4:23–24, ESV)  Did you catch that – God is spirit!!

I spent a couple weeks in Israel and had the opportunity to talk with some Jewish Brothers who are now following Jesus, and they expressed this in a way that made more sense to them. They said that the Spirit is the manifestation of the power of God and that Jesus is the manifestation of God in the flesh. To these men, the Trinity doctrine that is very prevalent throughout all of Christianity is to them taking those anthropomorphic expressions of the one God who is Spirit and breaking Him into individual persons. This in essence is bringing God down to our human level and borders on the same views that the pagans had of their Gods and the limitations they would have as more human-like in form.  Are these valid arguments or not is one of those areas that can lead to division in the body. Since the early church fathers there have been discussions, councils, and development of doctrine regarding the nature of God both for our own understanding and also to combat false prophets and ideas. The best we should do is to remain open about the study of God’s character while still being on guard to doctrines and ideas that the scripture simply does not support.

As people who are followers of Jesus, what do we take away from all of this? Well, we have a foundation in the Scriptures of God’s spirit already at work in the lives of His people, and with the resurrection of our Lord, the actions of the Spirit of God have been renewed or refreshed in the people that God is calling back to himself. What are those things that we see of the Spirit in the New Testament?

First, as in Genesis, He gives life. Jesus expressed this in the passage that we quote so often – “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:3–8, ESV) Being born of the Spirit is considered the new life of every believer called by God.

Then what happens after that? The spirit (whom we are told is sent forth from the father and son – another expression for our benefit) will teach us (Jn 14:26), bear witness to the life of Jesus (Jn 15:26), guide us in all truth (Jn 16:13), represent the power of God in the lives of his people (Acts 1:8, Rom 8:26, 15:13), bears witness to our spirit that we are His children (Rom 8:16, Gal 4:6), instills in us the qualities of God’s character (Gal 5:22), and as it is in Genesis, the Spirit Speaks. (Rev 2:29, 3:6, 3:22) Finally, just as with the people of God in the Old Testament, the Spirit can be grieved or quenched by the sinful actions of His own people. (1 Thess 5:19, Eph 4:30)

So, as followers of this amazing God and the example he has given us in His Son Jesus, what should we do with this amazing gift of His presence living within us. A fresh expression of Life given from the creator of all things. I think Paul wrote it best when he penned 2 Tim 1:6 – “For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:6–7, ESV) The power of God, that resurrected Jesus from the grave is the same power that lives in each one who truly follows Jesus, and that power enables us to live a life that is an expression of Love and Self-Control. We just have to choose to allow him to be in control rather than I, for I is the center of sIn. God in His grace and mercy has refreshed his presence in the lives of those who choose to accept this wonderful gift, so then how shall we live?

Spirit of God – Part 2

Continued from Spirit of God Part 1

Throughout the Torah, the early writings that were given to the people of God through Moses contained many examples of God’s spirit and His action in the lives of His people. Not only would the spirit be attributed to creation and life, but it would be seen as the power of God working in and through His chosen people. Examples of this can be seen in passages like Ex 28:3, 35:31, Nu 11:17, 11:25, Dt 34:9. Later writings would also have similar descriptions of God’s spirit at work in his servants. Sometimes anthropomorphic terms would be used to describe the work of the spirit in such a way to emphasize importance or urgency in the Spirits action like we see in 1 Sam 11:6 – “And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled.” (ESV)  The Spirit which is present everywhere and at all times is shown here to rush upon Saul, giving urgency to what the Spirit was doing through Saul.

Later on in the scriptures, David would pen various psalms (Ps 139:7-10) that would also give us more insight into the very essence of God. In many Eastern cultures, their gods were more like humans and were not present everywhere at all times, but in the Psalms, David shows us that God’s spirit is present everywhere and at all times. Throughout the scriptures, God’s spirit would be attributed to His presence, so we could understand that the very essence of God is present everywhere and at all times.

In the prophets we would see even more of the Spirits actions in the lives of his people when they would show that from the Spirit would flow wisdom and understanding, yet, the prophets would also repeat the original theme of life and creative power like in Isaiah – “Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:” (Isaiah 42:5, ESV) It is also shown that it is God’s spirit that enables men to continue to carry His image to a world that has lived in darkness and chaos. (Is 61:1)

The prophets also show us another aspect of the very presence of God, that in our rebellion and sinfulness we can grieve the Spirit, which is just a way of showing that we are grieving God. “But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore, he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit,” (Isaiah 63:10–11, ESV)  In this very passage the He is God and it shows that He is the one who is in the midst of His people, and it is His spirit, the very essence of who He is that is grieved.

A beautiful passage where we see future actions of the ruah is the wonderful promise to all the people of God is Ezekiel 36:25-27. It is here that God tells His people that he will gather them from the places they have been scattered and cleanse them. Then he tells them that he will give them a new heart, a new or fresh spirit, He will put His Spirit (ruah – breath) within them so that they will walk in His ways. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25–27 ESV)  This should drive the reader straight back to Genesis and the ideas regarding God as the Life-giver.

A similar passage is also given in Jer 31:31, where it is tied to a new or refreshed Covenant that will be given to the people of God. ““Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”” (Jeremiah 31:31–34, ESV)  If you ponder these passages you will see an interesting parallel to God’s spirit and God’s Torah. In Ezekiel God says he will put his spirit in them and cause them to walk in His Torah, whereas in Jeremiah he says that he will put his Torah in them and that they will Know the Lord.

This opens the door to the world of the coming of God in the flesh as the Messiah of Israel. We will continue to explore these ideas found in the New Testament in Part 3.

Whatever you ask

“Praying in the name of Jesus”. This simple phrase has been so abused in our modern era. It is based on a section of teaching from Jesus to His disciples where he was responding to a request from Philip for Him to show them the Father.

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:8–14, ESV)

This small phrase has been turned into a quick memory verse that is often quoted to support praying whatever we want in Jesus name and expect that God will honor that request as if it some magic incantation.

The context though really does not support this. Jesus tells them that whoever believes in Him will do works greater than the ones that he has done. Those works are the many acts that He has done throughout the gospels. Jesus tells them that it is the Father working through Him that they have seen.

He then goes on to tell them that whoever believes in Him will also do the works He did. Not only those works, but even greater works. Essentially you could say that Jesus will be accomplishing His works through us, and it will be connected to prayer.

This can be seen in what Paul teaches us in Eph 2:8-10…

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8–10, ESV)

We are His workmanship and the works we are to do are the works He has prepared for us. How do we know what those are? The Holy Spirit works in us in combination with the Word of God and Prayer.

I like how the IVP Bible background Commentary puts it…

In this context “name” means something like: those who seek his glory and speak accurately for him, who are genuinely his authorized representatives. Nothing could be further from the pagan magical use of names that sought to manipulate spiritual forces for one’s own ends.[1]

There is a similar verse in John 15 where Jesus is teaching about His disciples abiding in the vine and bearing much fruit.  He then tells them this…

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:7–8, ESV)

So, if His words abide in us, the works we do will be in line with His will and teaching. This is tied together with asking whatever we desire because our desires will be in line with His will.

We see a perfect example of this in the book of Acts…

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”” (Acts 3:1–6, ESV)

Peter was acting in the power of the Holy Spirit, accomplishing the works that God had prepared for him to walk in.

What can we learn from this? We must be careful that we do not do what the pagans did and use the name as a magical incantation to manipulate God for our own desires. Instead, we need to abide in His words and seek His will through prayer, so that we can do His works for the Glory of God.


[1] Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Jn 14:12–14). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Listen to the voice…

And he said, “If you carefully listen to the voice of Yahweh your God and you do what is right in his eyes and give heed to his commands and you keep all his rules, then I will not bring about on you any of the diseases that I brought about on Egypt, because I am Yahweh your healer.” (Exodus 15:26, LEB)

God’s people had just crossed the red sea by God’s mighty hand, and were crossing the desert and came to a place with water. The water was bitter, and they could not drink from it.

Instead of seeking God in prayer, the people grumbled against Moses. But this was not just grumbling to Moses, the people needed to learn to trust God for all their provision. Moses cries out to God as their mediator, so the Lord had him throw a piece of wood into the water and it turned sweet.

In Ex 15:26, it says that God made this regulation for them, and that he was testing them.

The plan is simple, trust the voice of your God and do what is right in HIS eyes. But the opposite of this is to not trust or do right in His eyes which has a consequence.

This pattern is repeated, instead of grateful hearts seeking the Lord in prayer they grumble and complained, so the Lord says again that He will test them to see if they will walk in His ways.

Today, in all that is going on in the world, death, disease, wars, and violence, it would be easy to fall into the same pattern that Israel did in the desert. But this is not what our Lord desires. In the book of James, the spirit led him to write these things…

Consider it all joy, my brothers, whenever you encounter various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. Now if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask for it from God, who gives to all without reservation and not reproaching, and it will be given to him. But let him ask for it in faith, without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed about. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:2–8, LEB)

Testing of our faith will come, but God is using it to grow us and bring us to maturity. It is very important in all of this that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past but seek God out for His wisdom. Pray earnestly and without doubt, for the Lord is good and desires for us to be more like His Son.

Paul in his letter to the Philippians encourages them with these words…

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be made known to all people. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are right, whatever things are pure, whatever things are pleasing, whatever things are commendable, if there is any excellence of character and if anything praiseworthy, think about these things. And the things which you have learned and received and heard about and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:4–9, LEB)

So, let us not be anxious or grumble. Let us rejoice daily in the Lord and allow His peace to fill our hearts. Thinking every day about the good things that are true, honorable, pure, and commendable. Set our minds on things that are praiseworthy and learn from what we have been given. Practice what Paul said in Colossians.

Therefore, if you have been raised together with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1–4, LEB)

So, what does that look like…Pray, and pray often. Immerse yourself in the word of God and listen to his voice and not the voice of the world around you.

Not everyone who says…Part 2

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many miracles in your name?’ And then I will say to them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21–23, LEB)

As I mentioned in part 1, this verse comes near the end of the sermon on the mount and is really tied together nicely with Matthew 7:24-27. These words Jesus is teaching are important to understand if we want to get at the heart of this verse.

Jesus opens the teaching on the mount with 9 statements that begin with the Greek word Makarios. This word has the idea of being happy and blessed. I really like how Stanley Hauerwas understood this section…

Too often those characteristics [of the Beatitudes] … are turned into ideals we must strive to attain. As ideals, they can become formulas for power rather than descriptions of the kind of people characteristic of the new age brought by Christ…. Thus Jesus does not tell us that we should try to become poor in spirit, or meek, or peacemakers. He simply says that many who are called into the kingdom will find themselves so constituted. 1

Skye Jethani comments on these words with his own synopsis…

Jesus is not prescribing how to be blessed, but rather describing who is blessed. While the world says the strong, powerful, and happy are “well off,” Jesus turns our expectations upside down by saying it’s the weak, sad, and overlooked who are well off in God’s kingdom. 2

As he continues to teach His disciples, Jesus tells them that they are to be salt and light to the world around them, for the simple reason that as the world sees your good works it will give glory to the Father in heaven.

Jesus then tells them that he has come not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to bring them to fullness and completion.

So, with that foundation, he turns their eyes towards the Law and prophets and begins to unpack the true heart of God in this. He tackles anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, love of your enemies, giving, praying, fasting, where your treasures are, what concerns you each day, and judgment of others.

As he unpacks these things, he is not driving home that you must walk in perfect obedience to these things, but rather it is more about the condition of their hearts. Why is this so important to Jesus, and to the Father?

Back in Deuteronomy 30:15-18 Moses was telling the people about repentance and forgiveness and of the Lord’s circumcision of the heart. In the midst of this speech to the people, Moses says these words…

“See, I am setting before you today life and prosperity and death and disaster; what I am commanding you today is to love Yahweh your God by going in his ways and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his regulations, and then you will live, and you will become numerous, and Yahweh your God will bless you in the land where you are going. However, if your heart turns aside and you do not listen and you are lured away and you bow down to other gods and you serve them, I declare to you today that you will certainly perish; you will not extend your time on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to go there to take possession of it.” (Deuteronomy 30:15–18, LEB)

What is God’s concern? If their hearts turn aside and they refuse to listen. Moses even before he dies warns them again…

then he said to them, “Take to heart all the words that I am admonishing against you today concerning which you should instruct them with respect to your children so that they will observe diligently all the words of this law, for it is not a trifling matter among you, but it is your life, and through this word you will live long in the land that you are about to cross the Jordan to get there to take possession of it.”” (Deuteronomy 32:46–47, LEB)

Did you get that! The words of God are not a trifling matter, but life! But, God’s chosen people who literally had God’s presence in their midst have a repeating problem, a problem that God through the prophets warns the people of their condition…

Put to your lips the trumpet like a vulture over the house of Yahweh, because they have broken my covenant and rebelled against my law. They cry out to me, “My God! We, Israel, know you!” Israel has spurned the good; the enemy will pursue him. They appointed kings, but not through me; they made officials, but without my knowledge. With their silver and gold they made idols for themselves for their own destruction(Hosea 8:1–6, LEB)

They were doing lots of things, but they were not doing it through God. Later in Matthew Jesus would quote Isaiah while talking to the Pharisees…

and you make void the word of God for the sake of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah correctly prophesied about you saying, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far, far away from me, and they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”” (Matthew 15:6–9, LEB)

 Looking at all these things, Jesus is driving home how important God’s words are, but not as rules and regulations, not as religious things to do, but where our hearts are. In it is a stern warning for us not to repeat again what God’s people have done in the past.

  1. (Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 38–39. Found in: Jethani, Skye. What If Jesus Was Serious? (p. 183). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.)
  2. .(Jethani, Skye. What If Jesus Was Serious? (p. 17). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

Not Everyone who says – Part 1

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21–23, ESV)

This verse should bring the fear of God into all our hearts. For Yeshua himself has declared that there are many who will be doing mighty works, prophesying, and casting out demons…All in HIS name! But he declares “I never knew you” and calls them workers of lawlessness.

This teaching comes near the end of Yeshua’s teaching called the sermon on the mount. Right after this declaration Yeshua declares that:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”” (Matthew 7:24–27, ESV)

There are two questions we need to ask, what words is He talking about, and what is the will of the Father in heaven? To begin to unpack this, let us consider another passage that came earlier in the Sermon…

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17–20, ESV)

From this place in the sermon, Yeshua begins to unpack details of the true requirements of the Torah. He tackles anger, lust, divorce, oaths, love for your enemies, giving, praying, fasting, the treasures of your heart, anxiety, judgment, God’s good gifts, and the fruit of good and bad trees.

It would be easy at this point to slip into an attitude of needing to obey every detail of the Torah to live a righteous life and to declare that to know the Lord means following these things as closely as possible. Is this really what is going on?

At this point in time, the details of all the Yeshua will do are still hidden from the people. Also remember, that the crowd is hearing this, but the teaching is being directed at the disciples, who will bring all these things to remembrance after the resurrection of the Lord.

After the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua, Luke records a very revealing event that I believe ties very closely to these teachings and more that He has revealed to His disciples.

The event is the encounter on the road to Emmaus. Two men were discussing all the events that had recently transpired in Jerusalem when Yeshua begins to walk with them but prevents them from recognizing him. Yeshua asks them what they are discussing, and acts puzzled when they mention the events in Jerusalem.

After he lets them explain the story, He says these things…

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25–27, ESV)

After Yeshua opens their eyes to see, he vanishes and they go back to Jerusalem and find the apostles. Yeshua stands among them and they are startled and frightened. He puts them at ease and then tells them these words…

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”” (Luke 24:44–49, ESV)

What a moment that must have been for these men, having it revealed that all the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and Psalms pointing to the Christ is now fulfilled in Him. The Greek word used for fulfilled is “plerothenai” which at its root can mean to fill completely, fulfil, to fill up, to complete, and bring to completion. The emphasis of the inflection “ai” as part of the root word “pleroo” is found only here in the New Covenant. Digging into the Septuagint, the only place I found this word used is in Jeremiah 25:12. The context of this passage is God’s judgment of Israel in which they will serve the king of Babylon for 70 years. It then says this…

Then after seventy years are completed (plerothenai), I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.” (Jeremiah 25:12, ESV)

I am not an expert in Greek, but in the only use of this spelling it leads me to think that the idea is to bring to completion. I will continue to unpack this idea regarding Matt 7 in part 2 of this article.

Let not your hearts be troubled

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”” (John 14:1–7, ESV)

If we stop and consider the year 2020 what things come to mind, maybe it is the fires in Australia that killed three billion animals, or perhaps the flash floods that followed when the rains came. Out in the oceans there have been 26 tropical storms, 25 named storms, 9 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes. In the pacific there have been 13 named storms, 4 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes. There have been 45,939 wildfires in the US with 8.3 million acres burned. 2020 is the 10th consecutive year that has seen 10 Billion dollar weather or climate disasters. In Africa and the middle east there where record setting locust invasions that in places devoured 90% of the crops. The great lakes, once at all time lows have overflowed and are taking out many homes along their coasts. There is political unrest in many countries and finally the great plague of covid-19.

There is so much we could worry or be fearful about, but Jesus told his disciples to not let their hearts be troubled but to believe in God and in him. Jesus told them that he is going away to prepare a place and that he will come again. Thomas does not understand, asks to know the way. Jesus responded with these words:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.

This statement is one of the many “I Am” statements that Jesus says. The Faithlife study bible puts it this way:

Jesus uses seven metaphorical “I am” statements to define His role as Savior and Messiah . These sayings also carry strong overtones of being claims to divinity. He identifies Himself as the bread of life (vv. 35, 48, 51), the light of the world (8:12; 9:5), the gate for the sheep (10:7, 9), the good shepherd (10:11, 14), the resurrection and the life (11:25), the way and the truth and the life (14:6), and the true vine (15:1).[1]

All these terms are very personal, revealing characteristics of our Lord that should drive us to a more intimate relationship with our savior. His desire for us it to be ready, to be focused on him and not all the things going on around us. My favorite “I am” saying is that Jesus IS THE TRUTH, he is the embodiment of all that God has revealed to us in the scriptures. Therefore, we should be spending time in the scriptures and in prayer, finding quality time with our savior, not just facts and doctrine, but to know the one who holds all things in His hands yet desires to be in our midst.

Martin Lloyd Jones once made this comment regarding the study of scripture:

“What foolish creatures we are! Many of us are not interested in doctrine at all; we are lazy Christians who do not read, do not think, and do not try to delve into the mysteries. We have had a certain experience and we desire no more. Others of us, deploring such an attitude, say that, because the Bible is full of doctrine, we must study it and grapple with it and possess it. So we become absorbed in our interest in doctrine and stop at that. The result is that, as regards this question of the love of Christ, we are no further on than the others because we have made doctrine an end and a terminus. In this way the devil trips and traps us and robs us of our heritage. If your knowledge of the Scriptures and of the doctrines of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ has not brought you to this knowledge of the love of Christ, you should be profoundly dissatisfied and disturbed. All biblical doctrine is about this blessed Person; and there is no greater snare in the Christian life than to forget the Person Himself and to live simply on truths concerning Him….We should never study the Bible or anything concerning biblical truth without realizing that we are in His presence, and that it is truth about Him. And it should always be done in an atmosphere of worship.2 

Today, so many of the people who call themselves Christian are just going through the rituals, yet God is far from their hearts. Jesus gave us a wonderful parable regarding how we should be waiting for His return:

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1–13, ESV)

Where are you today with your relationship to Jesus. Are your lamps ready to receive the bridegroom when he comes, or has the bridegrooms delay lulled you to sleep? Have you let the oil burn away so when he does come you will not be ready to enter the marriage feast? Oil in Scripture often represents the Holy Spirit and we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit in abundance in our lives so that we will remain in tune with God so we are prepared when He returns. Yet we can grieve and quench the Holy Spirit in our lives. Both of these are similar in their effects. They hinder a godly lifestyle. This happens when a believer sins against God and follows his or her own worldly desires. The only correct road to follow is the road that leads the believer closer to God and purity, one of repentance and humility, one that takes us farther away from the world and sin. 

We must prepare and be ready, but not out of ritual but through relationship. The passage I started this blog with (John 14) was a very intimate time that Jesus was having with the disciples in the last two weeks of His life. Let these words ring deep in your heart. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also..

Jesus in the book or revelation warns the churches of the sins that have creeped into the body, the apostles warned of difficult times and great apostasy, but in the end the simple message to all of them was to repent. Let’s get on our knees and repent, not only as individuals but as the body of Christ.

[1] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Jn 6:35). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

2David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ—Studies in Ephesians, Chapter 3


Gaze Upon the Beauty

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4, ESV)

Recently I was at a park getting ready to photograph a young couple wanting to announce the coming of their first child. It is always such a blessing to be able to capture the joy that people have in celebrating life.

While I was waiting in the park, I took out my camera and looked around at the amazing colors that the trees expressed and again reflected back on how amazing our God is and how not only the heavens, but also the earth declare His glory!

As I sit here and ponder all the beauty in the world around me that reflect God’s glory, I am saddened by the darkness and sin that corrupts it. There are so many things going on today that can distract us from a rich deep relationship with our God. We have disease, anger, frustration, and so many people are looking for salvation in the wrong places.

So many things pull on our time, then when we are given the blessing of a few moments, what is it we fill it with. The unfortunate answer is usually not time with God, but social media, video games, television, Hulu, Netflix, Disney, News shows, and the list goes on.

I am not saying these are all bad, a little bit of these things need not consume our lives and our thoughts. (Though much of the programming these days on a majority of the streaming sites is very questionable and does not do our minds any good) I have to ask myself, where is the majority of my free time spent?

Reflecting back on the heavens and the earth declaring God’s glory, what can we learn from godly leaders in our past? I think about people who’s lives I have studied and read about like Martin Lloyd Jones, Spurgeon, Matthew Henry, Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, Dwight Moody, Andrew Murry, Oswald Chambers, John Bunyan, Ignatius, Polycarp, the Apostles John, Peter, King David, and the other Psalm writers.

All these men where consumed with seeking after the Lord with all their hearts. Lives marked with times of prayer and devotion to Gods word that today we could not even imagine that type of time spent with our Lord. Men and women who’s greatest pursuits where not in the frivolous things of the world but in spending countless hours in God’s word and prayer.

Paul said it well in Philippians 2:12-17:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” (Philippians 2:12–16, ESV)

Then in Colossians Paul writes these words of exhoration:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1–4, ESV)

The writer of Psalm 27 (most likely David) also lived in a world were so much weighed on his life. Darkness and a sin-full world pressed in on him. But where was his focus, what gave him great delight?

In this day and age, when so much can take our gaze away from what is truly beautiful, we must look beyond this world and immerse ourselves in prayer and the study of God’s word and gaze upon Yeshua the one who is the radiance of God’s glory and the representation of his essence. Then may we speak in our hearts that which David desired….

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4, ESV)

The Torah of Yahweh (Part 2)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This one was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and apart from him not one thing came into being that has come into being. In him was life, and the life was the light of humanity. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1–5, LEB)

In the book of John we start with a beautiful expression of “the Word”. The faithlife study bible comments on it this way…

The “word of Yahweh” evokes associations with creation, divine revelation, personified wisdom, and the law of Moses. The “word of Yahweh” and the law had already been closely related in prophetic poetry (see Isa 2:3). The “word” is the agent of creation in Psa 33:6, but divine wisdom is personified and depicted in that role in Prov 8:22–31. In the deuterocanonical book Sirach 24:23, this personified divine wisdom is connected to the law of Moses, similarly given preexistent eternal status in Jewish tradition (see the rabbinic text Genesis Rabbah 1.1). Jesus is connected with divine wisdom also in 1 Cor 1:30. By choosing this language, John makes Jesus the very power and essence of God.[1]

John ends his opening thoughts with this statement…

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17, ESV)

Many Bibles insert the word “but” between Moses and grace. It is not there in the original text. Careful study of this verse reveals that instruction was given to Moses, how to live it correctly comes through Jesus. Put another way – the instruction is the Grace of God, revealing to us how we are to live, and Jesus is the one who demonstrates it to us and enables us to carry it out by His Spirit.

Recently I have been listening to some old sermons from the late Rev Billy Graham. The more I listened that more I realized that he provided solutions to many of our greatest problems through the word of God and the saving grace of Jesus the Christ. He literally lived out and preached 2 Tim 3:16 –

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV)

Do we believe what Paul wrote in this verse; I mean do we really believe it? The unfortunate thing today is that we have turned so many verses into short pithy quotes and out of context promises that we throw at people without first demonstrating the compassion and mercy that Jesus showed.

Scripture should be used, yes, but done so through prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit who is the one who brings those words to life in us. It needs to be kept in the full context of what is written and not just popped out and used like a pill.

I think back on Psalm 1 and ask myself, do I delight in the Torah of Yahweh, if so, how do I show it? Do I spend quality time meditating on His words or do I fill my mind and life with unfruitful junk food.

Listen carefully to your prayer life, what is you main focus. A life filled with God’s word should be more upward focused, seeking His will and not our own. God already knows our needs and desires before we even ask. Is your prayer life guided and driven by His Word and the Spirit or do you find yourself continually praying a laundry list of what you want God to do? Try this exercise – allow scripture to guide your prayer life. Develop a discipline of spending a rich amount of time in God’s word and not filling your mind with junk. (Facebook, Netflix, games, social media, Instagram etc.) These are ok when we limit our time with them, but the greater amount of our time should be reading and praying in God’s Word.

[1]Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Jn 1:1). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.