What’s The Take-Home


Writers of non-fiction generally are advised to answer the question, What’s the take-home value of your article or book? Behind this question is the belief that readers come to non-fiction to gain something—knowledge, insight, inspiration, instruction.

The fact is, the question fits Western culture. Generally speaking, we are a people asking, What’s in it for me? What can I get out of it?

Interestingly, John F. Kennedy moved a generation when he turned the question on its head: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” That may have been the last time any leader has challenged those of us in western society to altruistic behavior.

Most appeals come with a list of benefits: do this because you will gain x, y, and z.

No wonder, then, that this mindset has spilled into the Church. Come to Jesus, the appeal goes, and receive health and wealth. Or come to Jesus and your marital problems will be answered or your addictions will vanish or your fears will dissolve.

The truth is, God is a benefit-giving God. Throughout the Bible, He laid down choices—do this and you’ll be blessed, but do that and you’ll suffer the consequences of your sin.

The problem is, too many of us are missing the grand prize for coming to Jesus: Jesus. We’re like the man in the parable who found a treasure, then went and sold all he had so he could buy the field where it was hidden.

Except, once we have the field, instead of claiming the treasure, we’re busy collecting rocks. The rocks might be good and helpful, but they aren’t the treasure. They aren’t the reason we took up our cross.

Obeying Jesus and following Him does so often bring peace and joy; His ways are right and good. But those aren’t the Christian’s “take-home.” Jesus is. Peter, in a line that reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, said

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. (1 Peter 3:13-14a – emphasis mine)

Hundreds of years earlier, Daniel’s three friends were faced with death if they didn’t worship an idol. They responded by saying

“If it be so [that we are sentenced to die], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Dan. 3:17-18; emphasis mine)

He will, He is able, but even if He doesn’t, He’s still God. And in they went, only to find Jesus, the pre-incarnate Christ, there in the furnace with them. Their reward wasn’t status or protection or even deliverance from the furnace, though they eventually had those things too. But while they did not have them, they still had their relationship with God.

He is the treasure. Worshiping Him, enjoying fellowship with Him, walking with Him day by day—those are the delights that are ours no matter what our circumstances.

Paul said the same thing (in more words) in Colossians:

attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself (2:2b).

Christ Himself—the treasure, the reward, the take-home value of the Christian life.

This article is an edited version of one that first appeared here in September, 2012.

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Published in: on August 27, 2018 at 5:26 pm  Comments Off on What’s The Take-Home  
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The Power Of Perseverance


open-door-1152770-mPhiladelphia was the penultimate church Jesus addressed in His messages to the seven churches which John recorded in Revelation. This message was perhaps the most unusual of all.

Jesus begins as He most often did—letting them know that He was mindful of their deeds. But instead beginning a list, either pro or con, Jesus rather embarks on a litany of what He has done or will do for them.

First, He put an open door before them. Apparently Philadelphia was situated in a place that gave them the opportunity to “evangelize” for Greek culture. They were a showcase-city, serving as a “little Athens” that gave people a taste of what being Greek was all about.

Jesus’s open door would seem to mirror this kind of evangelizing, only for the kingdom of God. Christ had “put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”

In telling them He would give them an open door, Jesus gives them the reason why. Was their “little power” a reference to their faith? Some how I can’t imagine Jesus calling His Spirit a “little power.” What I do know is they kept Christ’s word and did not deny His name.

Thus, the open door.

I think today of the various groups who profess the name of Christ and yet deny His person, His word, even His work.

He isn’t God. Or, The Bible is myth. Or, People can find God without believing in Christ. Those who say these kinds of things are false teachers, and Jesus does not promise them an open door.

Next Christ told the church in Philadelphia, people who claim to be Jews but are lying, who are from the “synagogue of Satan,” would bow at their feet. And Christ would make them know that He loved the church in Philadelphia.

Again, I don’t really understand. In Scripture whenever people are going to bow down to one of God’s servants, he always stops them. No, I’m a man, or No, I’m a servant. Worship God. Here, however, it is Christ who will make them come and bow down at their feet. One commentary says that they are bowing in their presence, not actually to them. And that might be the best explanation. It would certainly be consistent with the rest of the Bible.

Clearly they will be set apart because Christ will make known His love for them. This reminds me of what Jesus said to Sardis about confessing their names before the Father and the angels. Jesus will publicly declare His relationship with these believers. It’s better than getting an autograph or having a five-minute photo shoot. This is God saying, These are my guys and gals, my special people who I love.

The third thing Jesus said He would do for them also had a specific reason:

Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.

As a reward for their perseverance, Jesus promised them a “keeping.” They would not have to face what the whole rest of the world would face.

Soooooo, those people died and there still hasn’t come upon the earth “a great hour of testing,” if that refers to the Tribulation. Then what was their reward?

Well, this is Revelation, with all the picture-language details about the end of this age. So of course commentators link Christ’s promise to the Tribulation. But I’m not so sure. I’m also not a Bible scholar.

Still, it seems to me, this message first had to mean something to that church in Philadelphia. Then it means something to us based on what it meant to them. So what would they hear?

First that their perseverance was something God was honoring. Second that His way of honoring them was to keep them from testing which the rest of the world would have to face. I know God is faithful. He wouldn’t promise something and not deliver, so I have to think the “testing” in this passage is something other than the Great Tribulation. And that He did, in fact, keep them from it. Was this something people face at death, perhaps? Was it the persecution that would come on the church from Rome? Don’t know.

I do know Christians have been and are persecuted, so clearly this passage is not a blanket promise—persevere and you won’t have to endure persecution. This testing has to be something else. Could it be doubts in later life? The fear of facing our Maker? Whatever it was, I’m sure the church in Philadelphia benefited greatly.

Next Jesus tells them He is coming quickly. OK, His return doesn’t feel quick to me. But again, that’s my errant perspective. In 2 Peter 3 God makes it clear that His “delays” are an evidence of His kindness to give people a chance to repent and that He isn’t tied to our view of time (with him a thousand years is like a day).

In addition, His coming “quickly” carries with it the idea of suddenness rather than in a short period of time. The point here is that those who have ears to hear need to be ready.

Then an interesting admonition to the believers Jesus commended for their perseverance: “Hold fast to what you have.” It’s like saying, you who are holding on, hold on!

Please understand, this was not a command to be greedy. Rather, like the parable of the ten virgins, the five who had the oil because they were ready were not stingy for not sharing.

What we’re holding fast is Christ. We know this because the result of holding fast is to keep our crown. James tells us the Lord promises the crown of life to those who love Him.

Jesus isn’t done showering them with good things. He says the one who overcomes will be a pillar in His temple. This reminds me of Peter calling us living stones being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices well-pleasing to God through Christ, who just happens to be the cornerstone of this temple.

In addition, Jesus will also write on him who overcomes, God’s name (which stands in stark contrast to the stamp of the antichrist which later chapters of Revelation detail), and He’ll write on Him the name of the New Jerusalem, AND Christ’s new name.

No doubt about who the overcomers will be identified with.

Published in: on August 6, 2014 at 6:43 pm  Comments Off on The Power Of Perseverance  
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The Church That Tolerates False Teaching


Pergamon-the white stone-0026The third message Christ delivered in the book of Revelation was to the angel of the church in Pergamum. Almost as if reciting a list of pros and cons, He begins with a declaration of what He knows about this church.

First they held fast to Christ’s name. Then, they did not deny the faith even when they experienced persecution, even when one in their midst was martyred.

Jesus then moved on to the “But I have this against you” column. The number one issue was that someone in their church was doing what the Old Testament prophet Balaam did.

Balaam is actually not as well known as his donkey. He was the prophet hired by Israel’s enemy to curse God’s chosen people. When messengers from the enemy king first approached Balaam, he refused to go. After negotiations and direction from God to go but to only say what God told him to say, Balaam went.

Balaam’s intention was not pure, however. God sent an angel against him and had it not been for his donkey, Balaam would have died. In a miraculous intervention, God allowed the donkey to speak to Balaam, then opened his eyes and set him right.

And yet, though Balaam did deliver God’s message of blessing over the people of Israel instead of the curse he’d been brought to deliver, he found a way to get paid. He told the enemies of Israel how they could entice God’s people to sin. For a time the plan worked. Their sin brought God’s wrath upon Israel, and many people died.

So in the church of Pergamum, there was a “Balaam” teaching ways that would lead God’s people into sin. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were others holding to the teaching of the infamous though anonymous Nicolaitans—those who did deeds God hates.

You’d almost think God was holding this church accountable for being tolerant. And you’d be right. They weren’t removing the Balaam-like false teacher. They weren’t telling the people holding to the teaching of the Nocolaitans to knock it off.

Because they did not take steps against the false teaching in their midst, Jesus told them they needed to repent. And if they didn’t repent, Jesus said he’d come “with the sword of My mouth” and make war on those they should have dealt with.

I suspect this sword is the word of God, which Paul identified in Ephesians as part of the armor of God. Clearly, the best weapon against false teaching is the truth.

Jesus closes his message to Pergamum by once again giving promises to those who “overcome.” You’d think “overcoming” is a theme in these messages.

And still I have to ask the question: overcome what? Interesting that John, who wrote Revelation, had this to say about overcoming in 1 John 5:4:

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

Those who have ears to hear receive the promise that if they overcome, Jesus will give them “hidden manna.”

Manna harkens back to the days of the Exodus when God literally fed His people with the bread of angels. For forty years, He provided for their physical needs. Manna also alludes to Jesus Himself, the Bread of Life.

The second half of the promise is a little more cryptic. Jesus promised to give them a white stone and on the stone would be a “new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it” (Rev. 2:17b).

One possible idea is that the white stone referred to something from the Greek culture:

there is an allusion here to conquerors in the public games, who were not only conducted with great pomp into the city to which they belonged, but had a white stone given to them, with their name inscribed on it; which badge entitled them, during their whole life, to be maintained at the public expense … These were called tesserae among the Romans, and of these there were several kinds.” Clarke then gives examples of the different kinds: “Tesserae conviviales, which answered exactly to our cards of invitation, or tickets of admission to a public feast or banquet; when the person invited produced his tessera he was admitted … But the most remarkable of these instruments were the Tesserae hospitales, which were given as badges of friendship and alliance, and on which some device was engraved, as a testimony that a contract of friendship had been made between the parties.”

The inscription of the new name which no one else knows implies an intimacy between the one who overcomes and God. I think the white stone and new name might be my favorite part of this message though I don’t really understand it.

Just to make things interesting, Jesus also will have a new name no one will know.

He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. (Rev. 19:11)

So in this aspect, those who overcome will be like He who has overcome sin and death and Satan and the world. Amazing that we are even remotely identified with Christ, and yet time and again, that’s His promise.

What’s The Take-Home


Writers of non-fiction generally are advised to answer the question, What’s the take-home value of your article or book? Behind this question is the belief that readers come to non-fiction to gain something–knowledge, insight, inspiration, instruction.

The fact is, the question fits Western culture. Generally speaking, we are a people asking, What’s in it for me? What can I get out of it?

Interestingly, John F. Kennedy moved a generation when he turned the question on its head: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” That may have been the last time any leader has challenged those of us in western society to altruistic behavior.

Most appeals come with a list of benefits: do this because you will gain x, y, and z.

No wonder, then, that this mindset has spilled into the church. Come to Jesus, the appeal goes, and receive health and wealth. Or come to Jesus and your marital problems will be answered or your addictions will vanish or your fears will dissolve.

The truth is, God is a benefit-giving God. Throughout the Bible, He laid down choices–do this and you’ll be blessed, but do that and you’ll suffer the consequences of your sin.

The problem is, too many of us are missing the grand prize for coming to Jesus: Jesus. We’re like the man in the parable who found a treasure, then went and sold all he had so he could buy the field where it was hidden.

Except, once we have the field, instead of claiming the treasure, we’re busy collecting rocks. The rocks might be good and helpful, but they aren’t the treasure. They aren’t the reason we took up our cross.

Obeying Jesus and following Him does so often bring peace and joy; His ways are right and good. But those aren’t the Christian’s “take-home.” Jesus is. Peter, in a line that reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, said

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. (1 Peter 3:13-14a – emphasis mine)

Hundreds of years earlier, Daniel’s three friends were faced with death if they didn’t worship an idol. They responded by saying

“If it be so [that we are sentenced to die], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Dan. 3:17-18 – emphasis mine)

He will, He is able, but even if He doesn’t, He’s still God. And in they went, only to find Jesus, the pre-incarnate Christ, there in the furnace with them. Their reward wasn’t status or protection or even deliverance from the furnace, though they eventually had those things too. But while they did not have them, they still had their relationship with God.

He is the treasure. Worshiping Him, enjoying fellowship with Him, walking with Him day by day–those are the delights that are ours no matter what our circumstances.

Paul said the same thing (in more words) in Colossians:

attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself (2:2b).

Christ Himself–the treasure, the reward, the take-home value of the Christian life.

Published in: on September 17, 2012 at 5:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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