perspective on permanence


perspective on permanence

Luke 12:27-34 (CSB)

Luke 12:27 “Consider how the wildflowers grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. Luke 12:28 If that’s how God clothes the grass, which is in the field today and is thrown into the furnace tomorrow, how much more will he do for you – you of little faith? Luke 12:29 Don’t strive for what you should eat and what you should drink, and don’t be anxious. Luke 12:30 For the Gentile world eagerly seeks all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Luke 12:31 “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Luke 12:32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. Luke 12:34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


I can’t read a passage like this without thinking of last year’s hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail. It was awesome, and one of the things that made it awesome is that we would encounter fields of wild grass that were just beautiful. I remember thinking that this is what God can do with just one crayon out of the box. But then, he could also fill those fields with colorful flowers and just overwhelm us with beauty. And, Jesus is pointing out that nobody plants or maintains them. God just puts them there.

Jesus also mentions Solomon here, and there’s lots more that story.

Solomon is interesting as a biblical author because we have three books attributed to him, and each of the three books appears to have been written at a different time in his life.

The Song of Songs tells the story of a young, passionate man, in love with life and in love with the love of his life, and his bride returning that passionate love.

The Proverbs reveal a different Solomon, a middle-aged man whose zeal is spent on enjoying and understanding the world around him, and bringing control to its chaos. For Solomon, everything he touched had to be the very best. That is why Jesus mentioned “Solomon in all his glory” in today’s text. Solomon spent a lifetime getting the best clothes, building the best buildings, and amassing the best fortune.

Ecclesiastes reflects a yet different perspective. As an elderly man, Solomon reflects back on the pursuits of his life and concludes that he has wasted much of it on pursuits that were merely temporary, ultimately not as fulfilling as he had thought they would be.

Solomon’s big lesson was not that everything is meaningless. I think that text is mistranslated. I think what Solomon concluded is that after all is said and done, none of it will last.

The things we enjoy are not going to last.

The wisdom we pursue is not going to last.

Youth is not going to last.

Wealth is not going to last.

Power and influence are not going to last.

Human life is not going to last.

We have to understand life from that perspective to see what Jesus is saying to us in today’s text.

He said “Think about how the flowers grow; they do not work or produce clothing. Yet not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, how much more will he clothe you, you people of little faith!”

For many in Jesus’ day, clothing was the symbol of success and status. So people went out of their way to dress well, because it affected how they were treated. Have you ever noticed that when you dress well, people tend to pay more attention to you? But pursuit of better, more expensive clothing can steal time and effort from pursuing true maturity, so Jesus warns us all not to let concern over the wardrobe consume us.

Instead, we need to choose to trust God to give us all we need, and not be so focused on the externals.

Jesus said, that we should not be overly concerned about what we will eat and what we will drink, and we should not worry about such things, because all the nations of the world spend their time pursuing these things, and our Father knows that we need them. Instead, we should pursue his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Much of the world is obsessed with consuming and acquiring. The Lord says we should not follow that path. Instead, our obsession should be the things that our Father has provided for us. His kingdom is his plan for our future, and we pursue it today by taking advantage of the grace he has given us now.

We need to choose to focus our pursuit on God’s coming kingdom of grace.

Jesus said that he is the shepherd, and we are his little flock. We should not be afraid because what pleases our Father most is giving us that coming kingdom. We can sell your possessions and give to the poor. That will provide wallets that do not wear out “a treasure in the sky that never decreases, where no thief attacks and no moth destroys. Because where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. If our treasure is these temporary things, our heart will be so focused on the temporary that we do not have time for the permanent.

The permanent thing that the Lord tells us to pursue just happens to be the very thing that he says God is delighted to give us out of the riches of his grace. So, that is why we can afford to be so generous with the other things we have. We see those things (present possessions) as temporary, and we have already been promised an eternal inheritance to replace them. If our hearts were tied to this present stuff, it would indicate that we are not seeking Jesus.

Let us pray: LORD, today we want to take a lesson from Solomon. He discovered that a life focused on getting temporary things is a wasted life. Instead we want to focus our pursuit on your coming kingdom and being grateful for your present grace. Give us your perspective on this present stuff, and make us generous with it, because we know it’s not going to last. But your kingdom will.

the goal of Christian faith

goal - 01

Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12 NASB).

Compete well for the faith and lay hold of that eternal life you were called for and made your good confession for in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12 NET).

We leave traces of our hopes and dreams to the generations that come after us. We place markers that let the future world know what our aspirations were. One marker is our literature.

Suppose you walk with me through the library of modern books about the goal of the Christian faith. What kind of markers are we placing, describing our hope? Let’s look at this shelf:

goal - 03

There are a lot more books on the shelf, but the titles of these give us the idea. Lots of people think the goal of the Christian life is to get to a place called heaven when you die.

In fact, chances are, some of you may be scratching your heads as you read this. After all, doesn’t the very verse I just quoted say that Timothy’s goal was to get to heaven when he died? I know, it says to take hold of eternal life, but isn’t that the same thing?

I don’t think it is the same thing. I know, to many that might sound heretical, so let me explain:

goal - 04

Before Jesus died, he told the Jewish leaders that he was going somewhere, and where he was going they would not be able to come.1 They wondered what he meant by that. They thought he was going to go on a missionary tour and preach to the diaspora Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire.2 Jesus repeated the same statement later to the same audience.3 By then, they had guessed that he was planning to commit suicide.4 He told them that he was not from this world; he was from above.5 John, when he wrote his Gospel, explained what Jesus meant. He said that Jesus was going “to depart from this world to the Father.”6 He quotes Jesus as saying “I am going to the Father,”7 But he promised to come back and take the disciples to be with him, so that they could be together from then on.8 He was not promising the disciples that they would go see God when they die. He was talking about the second coming.

In fact, later, when Paul talked about God here in his letter to Timothy, he said that “no human has ever seen” him, or is even “able to see” him.9 This was after some of those disciples had already died. They didn’t go to heaven. You cannot get to heaven – with or without roller skates!10

Now, obviously there are a lot of Christians who disagree with my interpretation of these passages. Even if we were to suppose that the Bible did teach that Christians go to heaven when they die, that still does not mean that going to heaven is the same thing as having eternal life.

goal - 05

Everybody knows that the heaven where God lives is eternal, right? But what about those Bible passages that say the present heaven is going to pass away?11 That’s right, the present heaven is going to pass away. It’s not eternal. In fact, when the apostle Paul had a vision of the future life, he saw that future in another place besides the present heaven. He called it the “third heaven.”12

Where is this third heaven? Wrong question. The right question is “When is the third heaven?” Listen to Dr. Glenn Peoples’ comments on 2 Peter 3:

  • Look at what is said here about the heavens and the earth: The “heavens and the earth” once perished. There now exists the “heavens and earth” that will one day pass away as well, and there will be a new heavens and earth. For those who are counting, how many is that? Which one is the eternal state? By my count, it’s the third.”13

I am not saying, or course, that God is not forever. I’m simply saying that what we now refer to as heaven may not be as eternal as God is. There’s going to be a new heaven. So, if you put your hopes on going to heaven, it is not the same thing as having eternal life.

goal - 06

I hope you see my point. Our hope should be grounded on the scriptural promises and proclamations, not human traditions. When we look at the actual texts of scripture, we see them consistently declaring that the goal of the Christian faith is eternal life.

goal - 07

So when the apostle Paul encourages Timothy to fight the good fight of faith and take hold of the eternal life to which he was called, he is encouraging Timothy to keep seeking the goal of his faith. That goal is not a place in the sky. That goal is immortality.

goal - 08

But, you see – our human religious traditions have contradicted this plain teaching of scripture by insisting that everyone is born with a soul which is already immortal. So, the goal is not becoming immortal. It is being released from the mortal body so that the immortal soul can enjoy heaven.

I see at least four problems scripturally with this doctrine when it makes dying and going to heaven the goal of the Christian faith.

goal - 09


goal - 10


What practical difference does it make if your goal is eternal life, rather than heaven when you die? I think it makes a lot of difference, and that difference can affect us in a variety of ways. But I want to focus on one fact which is implied in today’s text.

Paul told Timothy to “fight the good fight” to take hold of that eternal life which is the believer’s goal. He implied that how Timothy lived his temporary life now determined whether or not he would reach his goal of a permanent life in the future.

  • When Timothy came to Christ, someone prophesied that he would fight the good fight, keeping his faith and his conscience clear.29
  • In his final letter to Timothy, Paul says:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”30

Paul says he is looking forward to “the crown of righteousness.” What is that crown? It is what Jesus called “the resurrection of the righteous!”31 James and John called it the “crown of life.”32 Paul says we get that crown not at death, but at Christ’s second coming – the day of his appearing.

Our fight is not to gain a nice place to live for eternity. Our fight is to preserve something we have been promised. There is a resurrection to permanent life awaiting all those who stay true to their faith in Christ. That is the goal of Christian faith, and obtaining that goal is worth all the struggles we undergo. It is worth all the discipline and perseverance that we can muster.

1John 7:34.

2John 7:35-36.

3John 8:21.

4John 8:22.

5John 8:23.

6John 13:1.

7John 14:12.

8John 14:3.

91 Timothy 6:16 NET.

10I am referring to the Betty Johnson song “You can’t get to heaven on roller skates.”

11Matthew 5:18; 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33; Revelation 21:1.

122 Corinthians 12:2.

13Glenn Peoples, Did Paul Have an Out of Body Experience? (Afterlife, November 20, 2013).

14Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25; 18:18.

15Matthew 19:16.

16Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30.

17John 3:15-16; 6:40; 1 John 5:13.

18Matthew 25:46.

19Acts 13:48.

20Romans 2:7; 6:23; 1 John 5:11.

21Galatians 6:8.

22Titus 1:2; 1 John 2:25.

23Titus 3:7.

24Jude 1:21.

251 Corinthians 15:26

26Revelation 1:18.

27Titus 2:13.

28John 6:39,40,44,54; 1 Corinthians 15:42; Philippians 3:10-11; Hebrews 11:35.

291 Timothy 1:17-18.

302 Timothy 4:7-8.

31Luke 14:4.

32James 1:12; Revelation 2:10.

Called to bless

Japan 2017 (55)

I would like to begin with some reflections on the story of God’s call of Abram in Genesis 12:1-3.

Then Yahveh said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kin and your father’s household to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you an influential nation, and I will bless you and make your name important, and be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3 my translation).

I want to reflect on this text about Abram. I ask what his experience has in common with ours. This passage could accurately be called the first great commission. It can help us find our place in God’s plan for world missions.

  1. God called God set him apart from the family he came from, and the culture he was used to.
  • The New Testament tells us that the God of glory appeared to Abram in Mesopotamia (Acts 7:2). God called him away from the pagan world that he grew up in, to a life focused on the one true God. God spoke to Abram, and changed the focus of his life forever.
  • Every believer in Christ has a conversion experience where he or she encounters God, and each one of those experiences is a call from God. Paul told Timothy that God “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace (2 Tim. 1:9 CSB17).”
  • That calling is first and foremost a calling to God himself, and away from the trappings that we are familiar with. Like Abram, our first mission is to separate ourselves unto God. If God wanted to simply “save” Abram, he would not have needed to affect his life in any way. If it was just about preserving Abram for eternity, God could have done that without Abram even knowing it. But God had a mission for Abram, and that mission required dedication and change.
  1. God changed Abram’s context. He sent him to different lands to be a blessing to different people.
  • I want to remind you of the words of today’s text: “Then Yahveh said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kin and your father’s household to the land that I will show you.” When the Lord Jesus commissioned his disciples to make disciples, they had to leave Galilee and go to Jerusalem to launch that discipling ministry. He had told those disciples “I appointed you to go and produce fruit (Jn. 15:16 CSB17).”  We had better not forget that there are two verbs in that statement.
  • Not every believer is going to have the privilege of serving as a missionary overseas, but every believer needs to consider where God wants him or her to be. Like Abram, God often uses us in a different context than the one we are born in. He takes us away from the familiar so that we can learn to trust him as we represent him.
  1. God committed himself to blessing Abram. He invested in the future of Abram and his family.
  • God did not call Abram to bless the nations without assuring him that he would be provided for and protected. Abram could bless because he had been blessed.  This is one of the secrets of successful mission work.  When we separate ourselves unto God, being willing to go where he wants us to go, he sets us apart from others by uniquely blessing us.  Abram learned that. Daniel learned that. John the Baptist learned that. Peter and Paul learned that.
  • Let’s not forget that our Lord has already pronounced a blessing upon us as his servants and representatives. Remember the beatitudes?

“”Blessed are the spiritually poor now, because theirs is the promised kingdom from the sky later. “Blessed are those who are mourning now, because they will be comforted later. “Blessed are those who are meek now, because they will inherit the land later.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness now, because they will be satisfied later. “Blessed are those being merciful now, because they will receive mercy later. “Blessed are the clean in heart now, because they will see God later. “Blessed are the peacemakers now, because they will be called sons of God later. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, because theirs is the promised kingdom from the sky. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, because your future reward is great stored up in the sky, because they persecuted the prophets who were before you in the same way. “You are the salt of the land, but if salt has lost its taste, with what will the land be salted? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in the sky” (Matthew 5:3-16 my translation)


  • We are already blessed. That makes it possible for us to bless others as we serve Christ among them. The beatitudes are followed by the “salt and light” passages because there is a direct connection between blessing from the Lord and missions, the same way it was for Abram.
  1. God challenged Abram to be a blessing wherever he went.
  • God commanded and commissioned Abram to “be a blessing.” Of all the people on earth, God set Abram and his family to represent him and share him with others.
  • Jesus commanded and commissioned his church to make disciples among all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20). When we go where we need to go, lead people to come to Christ and be baptized in God’s name, and teach all that Christ taught, we also become a blessing wherever we go.

God has called you and me to bless the world around us.  He may change our context to put us where we need to be, and we need to be willing to let him do that. He has committed to blessing us and providing what we need so that we can bear fruit where he places us.  He challenges us to be a blessing wherever we go.

God blesses some people by sending them as missionaries.  But each of us is challenged by this text to follow God’s call to be a blessing. Here are three things that all of us can do to bless the nations.

  • SHARE your life and testimony with people. Perhaps the LORD will bring a stranger into your life who needs to know about Jesus.
  • SUPPORT those who are working as missionaries in other nations.
  • SEND someone to reach another nation for Christ.

May God continue to bless you as you seek to respond to his call.

{I originally shared this message in Barbourville Kentucky.  I recently adapted it and shared it in the Ayameike Advent Christian Church, Japan.  The photo is of Penny and me on one of our sightseeing excursions while in Japan, November 2017}.


gifts for the missionary

“Gifts for the missionary” was the title of the message I shared at three churches in Illinois September 10th and 17th, 2017.  Here is the message:

Daniel 1 (CSB17)

In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. 2 The Lord handed King Jehoiakim of Judah over to him, along with some of the vessels from the house of God. Nebuchadnezzar carried them to the land of Babylon, to the house of his god, and put the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 The king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the Israelites from the royal family and from the nobility– 4 young men without any physical defect, good-looking, suitable for instruction in all wisdom, knowledgeable, perceptive, and capable of serving in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the Chaldean language and literature. 5 The king assigned them daily provisions from the royal food and from the wine that he drank. They were to be trained for three years, and at the end of that time they were to attend the king. 6 Among them, from the Judahites, were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 7 The chief eunuch gave them names; he gave the name Belteshazzar to Daniel, Shadrach to Hananiah, Meshach to Mishael, and Abednego to Azariah. 8 Daniel determined that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine he drank. So he asked permission from the chief eunuch not to defile himself. 9 God had granted Daniel kindness and compassion from the chief eunuch, 10 yet he said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and drink. What if he sees your faces looking thinner than the other young men your age? You would endanger my life with the king.” 11 So Daniel said to the guard whom the chief eunuch had assigned to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then examine our appearance and the appearance of the young men who are eating the king’s food, and deal with your servants based on what you see.” 14 He agreed with them about this and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days they looked better and healthier than all the young men who were eating the king’s food. 16 So the guard continued to remove their food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables. 17 God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel also understood visions and dreams of every kind. 18 At the end of the time that the king had said to present them, the chief eunuch presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king interviewed them, and among all of them, no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they began to attend the king. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding that the king consulted them about, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and mediums in his entire kingdom. 21 Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.


Our text begins with a tragedy, but most of us skip right past it, only stopping to notice what we already know. So, allow me to share the background to the story.  The first person listed in the text is king Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim was the puppet of two Gentile superpowers. He first surrendered the sovereignty of his nation to Egypt. Then, after Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem he switched sides and supported that superpower.


The author of 2 Kings tells us that all this “happened to Judah at the Lord ‘s command to remove them from his presence” (2Ki 24:3 CSB). The kings of Judah had been so rebellious and violent that they had “filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive” (2Ki 24:4 CSB).


The prophets had warned Judah for years that it had no immunity from being judged by God. But they always felt that they could handle whatever happened. Maybe they thought that their former and present kings had made mistakes, but they probably thought that the next generation would be different. Surely the next crop of the best and the brightest in Judah would turn things around. But then, Nebuchadnezzar rounds up the lot of these best and brightest Judahites and takes them away to Babylon to make Babylonians out of them!

The real tragedy in all this is not just the fact that tough times have come to God’s people. The real tragedy is that it is God who is behind all this. This dark story serves as the background to the amazing book of Daniel.

The book of Daniel is best categorized as an apocalyptic prophecy. But this first chapter in the book makes no predictions and describes no events or nations in symbol. The chapter simply sets the historical backdrop for the parts of the book which do predict the future.

When I recently asked the Lord to give me a text which I could use to preach on world missions, he gave me this text. I didn’t exactly know why. I thought it probably had to do with the extensive cross-cultural training that Daniel and his three friends experienced. They were taken out of their home culture and context and forced to adjust to a new political structure, a new economic life, a new religious world, a new social environment, a new intellectual grid, and even a new artistic arena.

They were each given new Aramaic Babylonian names.

You might have noticed that two of their original Hebrew names ended in EL (DaniEL, MishaEL). EL is short for Elohim, the Hebrew word for God.

  • Daniel means “Elohim is my judge.”
  • Mishael means “Who is like Elohim?”

The other two names ended in YAH (HananiYAH, AzariYAH).  YAH is short for Yahveh, the covenant name for God.

  • Hananiah means “Yahveh is gracious.”
  • Azariah means “Yahveh is my helper.”

The chief eunuch gave these young men new, Aramaic Babylonian names that featured the names of the Babylonian gods Bel, Aku, Nebo or Nergal.

  • Belteshazzar probably meant “Bel will protect him.”
  • Shadrach probably meant “command of Aku.”
  • Meshach probably meant “who is like Aku?”
  • Abednego probably meant “servant of Nebo” or “servant of Nergal.”

This was only the first step in Nebuchadnezzar’s planned indoctrination of these young men. He would also make sure they became fluent in Aramaic, and skilled in the magic arts.

Part of the enticement for these young men to go along with the king’s plans was for them to be allowed a diet fit for the king himself – rich in meats, sweets and wine.  It was this enticement that Daniel objected to most of all.  He could treat all the other cultural immersion factors as academic. But if he got used to feasting like Nebuchadnezzar, he was sure that it would defile him.

Now, here is – I think – the theological focus of this chapter.  Daniel, as an Israelite, has a commandment that guided his life.  He had the Old Testament equivalent of the Great Commission.  His ancestor, Abraham, was commanded to bless the nations.

“And I will make of you an influential nation, and I will bless you and make your name important, and be a blessing (Gen 12:2 JDV).

Daniel felt personally responsible to be a positive influence upon the nation of Babylonia. But he knew that he could not make that influence if he entirely set aside his own identity as a Hebrew. They could take the Jew out of Jerusalem, but he would not allow them to take Jerusalem out of the Jew.

Herein is the missions challenge for all of us. We have each been called to serve God within a particular culture and ethno-linguistic people group.  How do we bless that culture without losing our Christian identity within it?  For Daniel, the question was how could he bless the Babylonians without totally becoming one. For Christians in 21st century anywhere, that is essentially the same challenge we face.

That was essentially the question I brought to this text as I stood with my Bible open a few days ago.  I was looking for a clue as to the structure of the chapter. I found that the same Hebrew word is repeated three times. The word drives the narrative. That word is the verb נתן (natan). It means “to give.”  It is translated with different words in English, but each time it appears, it categorizes the whole section it is in.

The first appearance of נתן is in verse 2:

“The Lord handed King Jehoiakim of Judah over to him, along with some of the vessels from the house of God.”

When the biblical author writes the story of this great tragedy, he is careful to maintain the complete sovereignty of God.  Jehoiakim failed, Judah failed, but God did not fail. Jerusalem was overrun by Gentiles because God allowed it. The temple was robbed because God gave its treasures up. The Israelites were taken captive because God made it happen. Yahveh was not pacing up and down in heaven, wondering what he could do.  History was still marching at his pace. The planet was still in his control.  When Daniel and his friends left Jerusalem, it was because God had a mission for them in Babylon.

The second appearance of נתן is in verse 9:

“God had granted Daniel kindness and compassion from the chief eunuch.”

The same God who orchestrated the events that brought Daniel and his friends to Babylon also orchestrated the relationships he had with others.  The key players who made it possible for the Hebrew men to restrict their diets ware the chief eunuch and the guard. It was not enough for Daniel and his friends to be in Babylon.  They had to demonstrate the difference between the Babylonian gods and their God.  They had to show their commitment to Yahveh.  God allowed the chief eunuch and the guard to show them favor so that they could see the difference.  They oversaw their training and it would be them who would decide whether they were worthy to be tested by the king.

The final appearance of נתן is in verse 17:

“God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom.”

Here again, we see God at work. Many of the Bibles and commentaries on this chapter emphasize the faithfulness of Daniel and his friends. They were found faithful.  But the author of this book is not just emphasizing human faithfulness.  He is demonstrating God’s involvement in the lives of these men.  These young men were highly skilled and proved themselves better than all the other candidates – not just because they were faithful to God – but because God gave them the knowledge and wisdom and skills they needed. God had a vested interest in putting these young men in positions of leadership in Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon.

Daniel recognized that as a child of Abraham he had the responsibility – nay, the mission to be a blessing to the nation of Babylonia.  God sovereignly orchestrated the details of world history to put him in Babylon.   God arranged the necessary relationships that enabled Daniel to remain faithful and distinctive as an Israelite despite Nebuchadnezzar’s plan to turn him into a Babylonian.  God also gave him the understanding and skills and resources he needed to succeed in his mission.

Fast forward a few thousand years. Now it is our turn. We also have a mission from God – a Great Commission from Christ. Christ has called us to make disciples of all nations.  Some of those nations might be relatively easy to reach for Christ.  But some – like Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon – will require a tremendous cultural immersion.

The good news is that the same God who worked behind the scenes in Daniel’s life to make him successful in his mission is ready to help us too.

  • He is sovereign, and he can change the course of world history if necessary to place you where he wants you.
  • He knows just the right people who you need to befriend to open the doors for your discipling ministry.
  • He stands ready to give you the knowledge, skills, and resources you need to get the job done.

Maybe you have never considered serving the Lord as a missionary.  Lots of people don’t.  Lots of people think that God cannot use them to reach others for Christ.  The only thing you need to be successful as a missionary is the one thing Daniel had – the presence of God.  So, I want to remind you of what Jesus said to his disciples right after he gave them his Great Commission. He said, And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Mat 28:20 CSB17).


the big catch




(See Matthew 4:18-22) Imagine Jesus walking on the beach of the lake called the Sea of Galilee. He sees two brothers, Simon (whom he had called Peter) and Andrew his brother, throwing a net into the sea, since they were fishermen. And at that time he commanded them, “Follow me, and I promise to make you into fishers of people.” Realizing who Jesus was, they immediately left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, repairing their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him too.

Our story of the big catch begins here – not in the bustling, crowded city of Jerusalem, but in a remote beach setting in Galilee. There would never have been a big catch in Jerusalem if there had not been a command and promise by Jesus that day on the beach. These four fishermen would have caught only fish if they had not obeyed Christ’s command and trusted in his promise that day.


(See Luke 5:1-11) But something happened once while the crowd was mobbing him so they could hear the word of God, he was standing again on the beach of Lake Gennesaret (another name for the Sea of Galilee), and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had got out of them and were washing their nets. After getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And after he stopped speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Teacher, we worked hard all night and caught nothing! But at your word I will lower the nets.“ He didn’t realize that Jesus was using this experience to teach them what he had promised to teach – how to fish for people. When they had obeyed him and put the net on the other side, they caught so many fish that their nets started to rip. So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they were about to sink. But when Simon Peter saw the miracle, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, because I am a sinful man!” Because Peter and all who were with him were stunned at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s work partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” So when they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

This is the first of two lessons that Jesus taught Peter and the other disciples about fishing for people. That day, the disciples learned that God will provide the location and the power, but he expects his fishermen to provide the net, the patience, the effort to haul in the catch, and to follow his instructions.


(See John 21:4-11) On a day after Jesus’ resurrection, just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Throw the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they threw it, and then they were not able to haul it in, because of the weight of the fish. John said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.

This miracle is similar to the first one, but took place three years later. Jesus used this miracle to remind the disciples that they were going to be involved in the big catch soon – the people catch. The same principles of people catching are being taught by this miracle. But this incident seems to give a powerful hint as to when the big catch would take place. Why 153 fish? The Bible does not say, so we should be careful about speculating. There is an interesting coincidence. The year was 33AD. Not too many days from this incident, these disciples would be gathered together in Jerusalem as part of a larger group, waiting for Pentecost. That larger group numbered 120. 120 + 33 = 153.


Jesus had commanded his disciples to gather in Jerusalem and to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to manifest. Then they would know that it was time to drop their net. He had described that event as a second baptism, and reminded them that John’s baptism was in water, but this second baptism was going to be in the Holy Spirit. The lessons that Jesus had taught his disciples to get them ready for the big catch had all taken place in water. But the real catch was not going to be in water. The whole group was going to be immersed in the Holy Spirit, and the miracle would manifest. Remember the principles of the big catch: that God will provide the location and the power, but he expects his fishermen to provide the net, the patience, the effort to haul in the catch, and to follow his instructions.

To put it another way, the big catch happens because God provides the hook, and his servants provide the bait. The hook is the miracle that draws the crowd. The bait is the gospel message about who Christ is and what he has done. The book of Acts demonstrates that the hook keeps changing, but the bait remains the same. The way God manifests his power to get people’s attention changes all the time, but the gospel of Jesus Christ stays the same. The pattern that we learn about in the book of Acts is not a constant repetition of Pentecost, but a people who patiently wait for the Lord to manifest his power, then seize the opportunity to let down their nets with gospel preaching.

The Jerusalem church was literally born in a day, but it happened that way because the disciples were willing to wait on the Lord to provide the location and the power, and they provided the witness.


Another thing that we learn in the book of Acts is that this great megachurch that went from 120 to 3000 in one day, and 5000 not long afterwards – faced disaster after disaster in the years that followed. In fact, in less than forty years, this megachurch was out of business. Famine, persecution, and church conflict kept taking their toll, and finally all the Christians fled Jerusalem for Petra just prior to the siege and war that destroyed the temple in 70AD.


But the megachurch was not God’s ultimate plan. God’s ultimate plan was for the gospel to go with these Christians as they scattered throughout the Roman empire.

God is doing the same kind of thing today. Sometimes he brings together large churches, at other times he sends people out to plant the gospel in places where there is no church. Sometimes we have great success, at other times we do not. What matters is that we stay faithful at the task.


The fish are still out there. We may have to wait a lot for the next big catch, but God is still able to make it happen. His power is still present. He has taught us what we need to know to be involved in the next big catch. God will provide the location and the power, but he expects his fishermen to provide the net, the patience, the effort to haul in the catch, and to follow his instructions. We don’t know what hook he is going to use next, but we do know what bait he has given us to use. That never changes. Paul said “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” It was God’s power to save the Jews in Jerusalem, and the Greeks in Greece, and the Romans in Rome. It is God’s power to save the Filipinos, the Kiwis, the Japanese, the Malaysians, the Burmese, the Thai, the Indians, and even the Americans.

So, if you want to be ready for the next big catch, pull out your net and make sure that your presentation of the gospel is ready. Then, when God tells you where to witness, you can pull in a pile.


Discipling with a mother’s touch

Discipling with a mother’s touch

1 Thessalonians 2:1-9

1 For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. 3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit;

4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. 5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness– 6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. 7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

One of the foundational objectives of all Christians is to make disciples. Jesus commanded that we all take on this responsibility, and so we must ask ourselves what we are doing to make disciples of all nations every day.  But the Bible also gives us examples and instructions on how to disciple. Today we look at one of the passages where the apostle Paul describes his discipling ministry. In this passage, Paul told the Thessalonians that his missionary team discipled them with a mother’s touch. Let’s examine what he said more closely.

A mother boldly loves her children despite the pain and hardship her investment costs her (1-2).


  • My mother often said, “When they are small, they step on your toes, when they grow bigger, they step on your heart.” She knew that raising kids is hard work, and it is often painful and costly.
  • Paul reminded the Thessalonians that his team’s mission work in Thessalonica “was not in vain” — it was an investment of hard and costly work that paid off. We learn from 1 Thess. 1 that…
    • They brought the gospel to Thessalonica with full conviction, and displayed God’s power among them.
    • The Thessalonians learned the character of the mission team.
    • The Thessalonians became imitators of Paul’s team, receiving the gospel with joy despite the suffering it caused them.
    • The Thessalonians became an example of faith for other believers to follow in the regions of Macedonia and Achaia.
    • The Thessalonians turned from idol worshippers to true servants of the living and true God, and put their hope in the resurrected and returning Christ.
  • Paul reminded the Thessalonians that his team “had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi” – In Acts 16:9-40 we discover that …
    • Paul was in Troas when he saw a vision of a man from Macedonia begging him to come over to Macedonia and help the people there.
    • When they arrived in Philippi, they waited several days for an opportunity to preach the gospel.
    • They finally found a group of women that had come together. They shared the word with those women, and one of them – Lydia – came to Christ, and led her household to Christ, and opened her home for the mission team to use as their base while in Philippi.
    • They encountered a slave girl who was possessed by a spirit of divination. They cast the spirit out. The owners of the slave girl had Paul and Silas arrested, the crowds rioted and beat them, and then they were thrown in jail.
    • Paul and Silas prayed and sang for joy while in jail. I think I know why they were joyful. I’ll tell you in a minute.
    • At midnight, while Paul and Silas were singing, an earthquake shook the foundations of the jail house, and everyone’s chains were broken.
    • When the guard of the jail woke, and saw what had happened, he was about to kill himself. But Paul stopped him, and led him to Christ instead. Now, it is just my opinion, but I think Paul knew that this man was going to became a Christian the moment he saw him. He had seen in the vision at Troas a vision of a man from Macedonia. I think he saw that man.
    • After being released (and apologized to) the team left Philippi and headed to Thessalonica.
  • Paul’s team “had the boldness … to tell the Thessalonians the gospel of God amid much opposition.”
    • The Greek word for boldness here is παρρησιάζομαι to ‘speak without a sense of constraint’. The mission team challenged the people of Thessalonica to change their minds about Jesus.
  • In Acts 17:1-10a, we discover that…
    • They went to the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews from the scriptures.
    • Some of the Jews were persuaded, and so were a great many devout Greeks.
    • But the Jews who were not persuaded caused a riot, and had several of the believing Jews arrested. They were eventually fined and released, but they feared for the safety of the mission team, so sent them away by night to Berea.

A mother honestly loves her children without pretending to be someone she is not (3-6).

  • We raised our children in an environment very different from our own, by Penny did quite well because she never tried to be another friend for our daughters. They didn’t need another friend. They needed a mother who cared enough about them to challenge them to live right.
  • Paul said that his team’s exhortation did not come from error (3).
    • The Greek word is πλάνη ‘a wandering/roaming from the standard route’. The team preached the truth about Jesus. They didn’t falter from that standard.
  • Paul said that his team’s exhortation did not come from impurity (3).
    • The Greek word is ἀκαθαρσία filth, dirt, impurity. The team preached from pure motives.
  • Paul said that his team’s exhortation did not come from deceit (3).
    • The Greek word is δόλος ‘cunning that relies on deception for effectiveness.’ The team did not have to trick anyone, because the truth was enough to change people’s minds.
  • Paul said that his team’s exhortation did not come with flattering speech (5).
    • The Greek word is κολακεία ‘flatter’. The team did not have to appeal to anyone’s ego. The only thing they needed to know about their audience was that it was composed of 100% sinners in need of Christ.
  • Paul’s team’s exhortation did not come with a pretext for greed (5).
    • The Greek word is πλεονεξία ‘motivating force for gaining something beyond an acceptable standard’, greed, avarice. The team had nothing to gain from their audience except building the kingdom of Christ.
  • Paul’s team’s exhortation did not come with seeking glory from men (6).
    • The Greek word is δόξα the primary idea is one of ‘appearance’, then of ‘opinion’ based on what seems good or impressive, with ‘esteem’ as product] glory, honor. The team’s investment of their time and effort was temporary. They were interested in changing people’s minds about Christ, not gaining glory for themselves.

A mother tenderly loves her children, knowing that they need a gentle touch (7).



  • Paul said that his team “proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.”

A mother sacrificially loves her children, pouring out her life so that they can have what they need (8-9).


  • Mothers are among the hardest workers on the planet, yet ironically, they usually get no salary from the hardest work that they do.
  • Paul said, “we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives” (8).
  • He said, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (9).
    • in hendiadys κόπος καὶ μόχθος trouble and toil = exhausting toil.
    • What kind of troubles did Paul face? (2Co 11:23-28 NLT) I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have travelled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. 28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.
    • Paul told the Corinthians, “All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory” (2Co 4:15 NLT).
    • But what if you face the ultimate trouble? What if you die on your mission? (2Co 4:14) “We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you.”

The New Testament mentions a few mothers who were also exceptional disciplers:


  • John Mark’s mother (Acts 12).
  • Rufus’ mother (Romans 16).
  • Timothy’s mother (Eunice) (2 Timothy 1).


These ladies had what it takes to influence their children to commit their lives to Christ. We need disciplers like that.


We, the church of Jesus Christ, are called to make disciples, wherever we go, whatever we do. We can learn much about discipling by looking at a mother’s love, and caring for others with a mother’s touch.

Tough times prove our destiny

I read a lot of stories. One of the things I like about stories is how the characters come to life in my own mind because of the things they experience, and the thoughts they have. When I reflect on the stories, I compare the experiences and thoughts with my own experiences and thoughts.

The stories I like best are those where the heroes encounter a lot of troubles and challenges, but overcome them to accomplish their mission at the end.  The difficulties, plot twists, and even the failures and missteps are all part of the story, and they keep things from getting boring.

I have been reading through and studying some passages in God’s story – the Bible.  I have been trying to understand why God allows suffering, trials, temptations, difficulties, challenges – tough times – to pepper our lives and our stories.

When I looked at Jesus’ parable of the planter and soils in Matthew 13, I asked whether going through tough times implies that I am not a Christian. I discovered that my identity depends on who planted me, not on how difficult the soil is. In fact, Jesus tells us in that parable that God intentionally puts some of his seed in rough soil.  So, I should not be surprised to undergo challenges. The existence of those challenges serves to prove my identity as a Christian, not to disprove it.

When I looked at 1 Peter 1, I asked why God puts me through tough times – what is his ultimate plan for me, and why do I have to go through tough times to experience his ultimate plan.  Peter changes the metaphor, and says that God is a refiner. He puts his gold through the fire so that it comes out refined – purer.  Peter taught that Christians have a future we will inherit which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.

When I looked at James 1, I asked how should I respond when tough times come. He says that I should respond with joy, because God is maturing me with the process. I should ask God for wisdom in how to respond, and trust him to give me that wisdom.

Today, I want to look at one of the passages where the apostle Paul talks about tough times.

Romans 5:1-5 JDV

1 Consequently, now that we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have also obtained admission by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we delight in the expectation of God’s glory. 3 Not only this, but we also delight in the things that we suffer, knowing that the suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance, character, and character, more expectation. 5 And what we expect does not disappoint us, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.


Paul was one of those heroes that we read about. And, like the heroes in the stories, he encountered a lot of suffering, trials, temptations, difficulties, challenges – tough times – throughout his life.  He had tremendous success as an evangelist and church planter, but he also paid the price for that success. This is how he described his life:

“with much greater labours, with far more imprisonments, with more severe beatings, facing death many times. Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with a rod. Once I received a stoning. Three times I suffered shipwreck. A night and a day I spent adrift in the open sea. I have been on journeys many times, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own countrymen, in dangers from Gentiles, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers from false brothers, in hard work and toil, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, many times without food, in cold and without enough clothing. Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxious concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:25-28 NET).

His life was chock full of tough times and ended in imprisonment and death by the sword. He described that life as a gruelling race that he fought to the finish, and his death as being poured out as an offering to God (2 Timothy 4:6-7).

So, I would say that Paul knew something about the topic of tough times that believers face.  Here is what he says about tough times in Romans 5:


Paul was not a Pollyanna.  He did not paint the Christian life as a fairyland where Christians are guaranteed lives of health, prosperity and constant success.  Like Jesus, and James and Peter, Paul made it quite clear that Christians would face lives filled with challenges, and difficult choices. But Paul did say that in the midst of those hard races, there would always be some gifts that every Christian has that the tough times cannot take away.

  • Righteousness (1) – not the righteousness we give to God, but the righteousness he gave to us, not by our works, but by virtue of the shed blood of Christ. Our right standing with God is something that no struggle can take away from us.
  • Peace (1) – not the peace that comes from never experiencing trouble, but the peace with God that helps us to stay true to him in the midst of the struggle. A right relationship with God that trusts him to take care of all the sins in our past, and all the temptations we face now, and knows that he will, so we will have a spotless future.
  • Grace (2) — the armour in which we stand that makes it possible for us to “delight in the things we suffer.”  God’s grace toward us helps us to understand that the tough times are not judgments from an angry God. His judgment upon our sins is atoned for by the blood of his Son.
  • The Holy Spirit (5) — God’s Spirit alongside us and inside us who answers our prayers for wisdom, and helps us to see the finish line, no matter how tough the race gets. He also helps us to respond to suffering with the love of God, a love that is willing to pour our lives out for those who despise and reject us.


There was a philosophical battle going on in the time of Paul. The philosophers argued over what made a person manly.  They would look at paintings and carvings that depicted strong men in battle (like Hercules, fighting the Hydra). Some would say that the paintings described the struggle to conquer your surroundings, and that success made you manly.  Others would say that the struggles were part of the inner struggle to control and tame yourself morally.

Paul appears to have borrowed language used by some of these philosophers to describe how Christians should understand the tough times that they face.  He scribes a cycle of experiences which begins with an expectation of God’s glory (2). This may mean that we expect God to be glorified in what happens to us now, or it may mean that we expect to be ultimately glorified by God in the future.

The challenge comes when we suffer tough times.  This suffering directly contradicts our expectation. We have a choice. Either we despair and renounce our expectation, or we trust God and endure the suffering, refusing to unload our expectation.  Living out that choice to patiently endure tough times produces godly character.  The result is that we end up back where we started, with more expectation.  The expectation is preserved and enhanced by the experience.

So, how do tough times change us. They can change people by making them cynical and pessimistic, or they can strengthen their resolve and make them even more optimistic.  For Paul, tough times are a means of making our faith stronger.


Christians can be identified because we are the ones who “delight in the expectation of God’s glory” (2).  That means that what we want in life is for our heavenly Father’s reputation to be enhanced, and for his will to happen.

So, when something happens to us or to our loved ones which we cannot see as fitting into that frame – we choose to trust that God knows what is happening, and has allowed it for his greater glory. “What we expect does not disappoint us” (5), because we expect God to make sense of it all later. Until then, we trust our heavenly Father, and that brings him glory.

In Philippians, Paul described our faith reaction this way:

“Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NET).

Our expectation is challenged by tough times. Instead of becoming anxious and worrying about it, we choose to pray and God gives us peace in the midst of the struggle.  Our minds and hearts get peace, and God gets the glory for the strength we display.

Tough times prove our destiny. They give us an opportunity to display something within us which is stronger that the challenges we face.  Without the competition, the athlete would have no way of showing her strength. Without the conflict, the soldier would have no way of showing that he has been well trained. Without tough times, Christians would have no way of proving that God has given us something stronger than those tough times.

Tough times are not eternal. We are not going to be struggling with sin and sorrow and tragedy forever. But we will be able to look back on these tough times in the future and see that “our momentary, light suffering (was) producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).