a Christmas poem

christmas xmas christmas tree decoration
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A is for ANGELS, announcing his birth; God’s only Son has now visited earth.

B is for BABY, a person tiny and small, a precious gift God has given us all.

C is for CANDLE, burning bright in the night; our darkened world has now seen the light.

D is for DECORATIONS in our home and town, adding to the joy that we feel all around.

E is for EXCITEMENT that you can feel in the air, a special happiness that we all can share.

F is for FAITH in Jesus, our Lord; we celebrate his birth and trust in his word.

G is for GIFTS – we all love them; remember the gifts the wise men gave him?

H is for HOPE, fulfilled back then, and the blessed hope of his coming again.

I is for INCENSE to freshen the air; the wise men gave him some when they visited there.

J is for JESUS, God’s Savior and king; he is the reason we celebrate and sing.

K is for KINGS – they called the wise men; they were really just people who were looking for him.

L is for LIGHTS, adorning the tree; and a single star that guided the three.

M is for MARY, who was chosen by grace; she was the first to see her Savior’s face.

N is for NATIVITY, that awesome night; when our Saviour was born it was love at first sight.

O is for OPENING the gifts at the tree; He tore heaven open and gave us Jesus for free.

P is for PURITY, like fresh white snow; because he was sinless, he can make us so.

Q is for QUIET, that silent night, interrupted by angels shouting in glorious light.

R is for RITUAL, our family traditions; it’s OK to have them as long as we don’t miss Him.

S is for SINGING a carol or two; we have to rejoice because the message is true.

T is for TIME we share with family and friends, celebrating Christ and honoring Him.

U is for UNDERSTANDING the Bible gives us; because of it we keep Christ in Christmas.

V is for VIRGIN, the miracle mother; Christ came to us unlike any other.

W is for WREATH, hanging on my door; it reminds us of life, not death any more.

X is for XMAS, an abbreviation when writing; in the x the word Christ in the Greek is hiding.

Y is for YEAR that is coming to an end; one last chance to show love to a friend.

Z is for ZEAL, a passion to live; Jesus showed that his Father has a passion to forgive.

 

 

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.

my new book on Ecclesiastes!

I have just finished a new book. It is a new translation of the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes, and a reader’s guide to its content. I am offering the book as a .pdf download.  If you are interested, send me $5 through my PayPal account:

paypal.me/jeffersonvann

Then, send me an email at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com and I will send you the document.

Of course, it is also available as a Kindle e-book:

Thanks for supporting my writing habit!

2018 articles published in New Zealand

Afterlife

2018 articles published in New Zealand

Here is a list of articles I have written which were published online in New Zealand in 2018. You may click on the hyperlink for an individual article to find it on the Afterlife website.

 

the conversation continues

jp

I have been having an interesting discussion with Pastor Corey McLaughlin on the subject of whether angels and demons are immortal. My view is that God alone is immortal (based on 1 Timothy 6:16).

But Pastor Corey argues that Revelation 20:10 implies that at least some angelic/demonic beings are immortal.

Catch up with the discussion by going to my latest post on the Afterlife website:

https://www.afterlife.co.nz/2018/05/demon-mortality-and-revelation-2010/

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}.

 

A prayer for the persecuted church

 

Lord Jesus,

You warned us that your church would be a persecuted church.  You promised your ultimate blessing upon those of us who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and promised us a coming sky kingdom where justice remains.

You reminded us that the prophets who came before us were also persecuted because they took a stand for the God of the Bible in the face of political and cultural opposition.

Like the prophets of old, you are sending your church out today into nations and communities which arrest, deport, wrongfully punish, and even murder them. Indeed, you warned your disciples that they would be hated by all nations because they accept you, and seek to serve you.

But you told them not to return violence for violence, hatred for hatred. Instead, you told them to pray for their persecutors. We are to follow your example, because you prayed even on the cross “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”

If possible, Lord, we ask you to grant your church and your gospel favor among the nations in this generation. But if not, we ask for courage for our brothers and sisters who face persecution because of their loyalty to your name.

Amen.

Jefferson Vann

Tuesday, 26 September 2017