Learning Perseverance

I have shared three lessons I learned going through dark times in my life (you can check them out here, here, and here), but we aren’t even close to exhausting all of the lessons that can be learned in the night. I want to teach you one principle that will allow for lifelong learning and application of these nighttime lessons. 

The apostle Paul shared how he had matured during his times of struggle. He told the Corinthians he realized that God had delivered him in the past, was delivering him now, and would continue to deliver him in the future (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-11). The key is to hang in long enough to actually see how God brings about the deliverance and teaches the lessons. 

Paul told the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can ENDURE it (1 Corinthians 10:13). And the writer of Hebrews said, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to PERSEVERE so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36). 

The Greek word translated “persevere” means keeping focused on the goal despite the struggles that it takes to get there. Jesus used this same Greek word at the conclusion of His parable of the sower: “The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the Word, retain it, and by PERSEVERING produce a crop”; a crop that Jesus said was a hundred times more than what was sown (see Luke 8:5-15). 

I love riding my bike on the White Pine Trail by my house. My long rides have a really fun stretch where I am flying downhill! But as fun as that part is, I’m not really building anything of lasting value. However, when I am coming back uphill and I want to quit because my legs are burning and I can hardly breathe, that becomes a valuable struggle. I cannot build endurance by any other way than to push myself just a little bit farther each time. When I want to quit, I pedal just a few more feet. Gradually, the uphill becomes less daunting. 

A friend gave me a t-shirt I like to wear on my rides. When I put it on the blue-lettered message on the shirt says, “Do It!” but as I struggle uphill and the sweat begins to pour off my body, a new message emerges: “Don’t Quit!” 

I have learned that easy roads teach very few valuable lessons. 

So here are three thoughts to help you persevere in your struggling times: 

  1. Keep your eyes on Jesus and on His eternal rewards (Hebrews 12:1-3; James 1:2-4, 12) 
  2. Keep persevering friends close by—notice the “let us” phrases the writer of Hebrews uses 
  3. On your worst day, don’t quit but commit to going one day longer (Romans 5:3-4) 

[check out all of the verses by clicking here]

Remember that as you struggle and persevere, you are not only building your own endurance, but you are strengthening yourself to be able to help others. So we can be thankful IN the night because God is building our endurance for the next night, and our endurance for our friend’s next night. 

If you have missed any of the other lessons in this series called Thankful In The Night, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Our Most Effective Shield And (S)word

…with You mouth You have promised and with Your hand You have fulfilled it… (2 Chronicles 6:15). 

I rest solely on what God says—He says it and He fulfills it. 

I can live on “every Word” He speaks (Deuteronomy 8:3).

“Every Word” of God is flawless and is a protection for me (Proverbs 30:5).

None of God’s Word ever fail (Isaiah 55:11).

God gives us His Word to speak (Jeremiah 26:12; John 12:49; Luke 21:15).

We defeat our enemies by God’s Word in our mouth (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; Revelation 12:11).

Every Word of God gives life because of the Holy Spirit’s anointing on it (John 6:63).

Every Word of God is a sword (Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15). Or as my friend Sasha reminds me God’s Word is our S(word)! 

There isn’t a more effective shield against enemies, there isn’t a more deadly weapon against temptation, there isn’t a more sure foundation in storms than the Word spoken and fulfilled by God! 

[check out all of the above passages for yourself by clicking here] 

Jesus Says

Jesus says, “I will… 

…make you fishers of men” (Matthew 7:23; Mark 1:17) 

…acknowledge in Heaven those who acknowledge Me on earth” (Matthew 10:32-33) 

…give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) 

…build My church” (Matthew 16:18) 

…give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 16:19) 

…show you whom you should fear” (Luke 12:5) 

…drive out demons and heal people” (Luke 13:32) 

…never drive away those who come to Me” (John 6:37) 

…give My life for your life” (John 6:51) 

…rise again from the dead” (Matthew 27:63; Mark 14:28; John 2:19) 

…raise up believers to eternal life” (John 6:40, 44, 54) 

…come back to take you to be with Me forever” (John 14:3) 

…do whatever you ask in My name” (John 14:13, 14; 16:28) 

…not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18) 

…ask the Father to give you an Advocate” (John 14:18) 

…give you words and wisdom that are irresistible” (Luke 21:15) 

…see you again and give you eternal joy” (John 16:22)

Oh, what a Savior!

History Matters

The minor prophets cover a span of about 300 years, from 760-450 BC, and Jonah appears right in the middle of that. Jonah overlaps Amos and Hosea in northern Israel, and he finishes his ministry just before Isaiah’s ministry begins in southern Judah. 

Jonah is the only narrative in the minor prophets. He was a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II when Israel was temporarily growing in strength. He is the first of Israel’s prophets to be sent to a non-Jewish population. 

Critics have raised questions about this book. Questions like: Did Jonah write this book himself or is it just a story about him? Is this book historical or allegorical? 

The five biggest objections that are raised to Jonah’s historicity are: 

  1. The hyper-nationalistic feel is more like when Ezra and Nehemiah led people back to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon, and not during the time of Jeroboam II. 
  2. Parts of Jonah appear copied from the prophet Joel. 
  3. There are no (or incorrect) details about the major city of Nineveh that Jonah visited. 
  4. There are no extra-biblical historical records of a revival in Nineveh. 
  5. Jonah was swallowed by a fish?! 

I think there are very good reasons to believe that Jonah was both autobiographical and historically accurate. 

First, there was a revival of sorts (although not religiously) in Israel during the time of Jeroboam II. This was a time that Israel felt like it could flex its muscles again, so Jonah would not be acting out of character to be so pro-Israel. 

Second, Jonah 3:9 and Joel 2:14 sound similar, but scholars cannot tell which was written first. Couldn’t God amplify a message? Consider how many parts of the Gospel of Mark are used in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And it’s a regular practice for authors even today to directly quote other sources. 

Third, regarding the lack of details about Nineveh, the biblical writers give very few details of any places outside of Israel or Judah. The only “incorrect” detail skeptics point to is Jonah 3:3 stating that the city was so big that it would take three days to walk around it. Nineveh was a city of about 120,000 inhabitants, so it could easily take three days of walking and preaching in order to get the message to everyone. 

Fourth, the revival in Nineveh was clearly short-lived. Jonah was probably in Nineveh around 760 BC. Assyria was rising politically and militarily during that time and defeated Israel just 40 years after Jonah’s preaching. Assyria itself was then defeated in 605 BC. 

Finally, Jonah was swallowed by a fish?! The root word for fish in Hebrew means something that has grown to such an enormous size that it overshadows everything else. But notice that what caused the sailors to be in awe of God was not the whale/fish swallowing Jonah, but the immediate calming of the ocean when Jonah was thrown overboard (Jonah 1:15-16). Miracles appear throughout this book. And throughout the entire Bible! 

Why should the appearance of miracles surprise us? Some people have a bias against the supernatural, where they wrongly believe that we can know everything through naturalistic means. C.S. Lewis pointed out, “I use the word Miracle to mean an interference with Nature by supernatural power. … Nature as a whole is herself one huge result of the Supernatural: God created her.” 

I don’t think this story is a parable or an allegory because nowhere else in the Bible are such details given in the form of a parable. 

I believe this story is historical because Jesus talked about the historicity of Jonah in the same breath as He talked about other historical people: the Queen of the South and Solomon (Matthew 12:38-42). Jesus clearly viewed Jonah as historically reliable and accurate. To call Jonah into question is to call into question the truthfulness of Jesus Himself! 

History matters because all of History is God’s story! 

Our belief in the message of the Bible is not based upon “once upon a time” or “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” It’s based upon real people in real places, especially the historicity of Jesus (notice all of the historical details Luke lists in the birth account of Jesus). 

Jonah was clearly one of those historical people, in an historic place, and at a precise moment in world history that tells the story of Jesus and our redemption which He purchased! 

If you want to check out all of the messages in our series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find that list by clicking here.

He Who Laughs Last

Traced back to a play in the early 1600s, it still rings true: “He who laughs last, laughs best. 

The distraught father named Jairus hurriedly left his home. He was looking for this Man named Jesus. People said Jesus could perform miracles, and Jairus needed one. 

He found Jesus and quickly explained that his 12-year-old daughter was dying. They had tried everything they knew to do, but she kept inching closer and closer to death’s door. Jesus readily agreed to go with Jairus to his home. 

Along the way, Jesus was interrupted by another woman in desperate need, and He stopped to heal her. As Jairus was (im)patiently waiting for Jesus to continue on the journey, one of his servants ran up to Jairus with the sad news, “Your daughter is dead.” 

Jesus looked at this heartbroken father and simply said, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe, and your daughter will be well.” 

Jairus took Jesus at His word and continued walking with Jesus to his home. 

While Jairus was gone, family members and friends had shown up to mourn the death of this sweet girl. They were wailing loudly, but the clear voice of Jesus could be heard even over their woeful cries: “Stop crying. She is not dead, only asleep.” 

There was a pause, and then there was a totally unexpected and out-of-place response: laughter. 

Not joy-filled laughter, but mocking, derisive laughter at the utter foolishness of the words of Jesus. 

“What do you mean, ‘She isn’t dead’” they yelled. “We’ve been in her room. We’ve seen the cold, lifeless body! She is absolutely, undeniably dead!” And they continued to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of what Jesus had pronounced. Many of the laughs probably turned to jeers as they began to mock His foolish, insensitive statement. The historian Luke wrote, “They knew the girl was dead.” 

Jesus took the grieving yet believing parents into the girl’s room, He took her lifeless hand in His hand, and simply said, “Little girl, get up.” 

And she did. Fully alive! 

Let me ask you something: Who was laughing now?! 

I’m sure the uncontainable joy of these parents burst out into laughter. And I think Jesus shared in the joyful laughter as well. 

“He who laughs last, laughs best.” 

Friend, what do you “know” right now? What’s gone wrong that cannot be fixed? What terminal diagnosis have the doctors given? What is approaching death’s door? What has already died? 

Listen again to the words of Jesus: “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.” 

Jesus gets the final word. Jesus gets the final laugh. Jesus will make all things new! 

The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove His people’s disgrace from all the earth. (Isaiah 25:8) 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:4-5) 

Don’t be afraid. Just believe. 

Jesus has secured the last—and best—laugh for both you and Himself! A laughter that will reverberate through all of eternity! 

Seeking God

…David sought the face of the Lord… (2 Samuel 21:1). 

בָּקַשׁ פָּנִים יְהֹוָה

The Hebrew phrase is baqash paniym YHWH: 

  • baqash is to ask for, beg, desire “specifically in worship or prayer.” It’s a “searching as done by touching.” 
  • paniym literally means the face, but it carries the idea of being in someone’s presence.
  • YHWH (Yahweh) is Jehovah God. 

David repeatedly asked, sought, and begged through both prayer and worship that he might be in God’s presence. “Almighty God, I want to be with You. I want to know your heart intimately. I want to see Your face. I’m not seeking help from any other source, but I am resolutely seeking You alone.” 

Perhaps Jesus had this in mind when He told us, “Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. You will get an answer, you will find what you’re seeking, the door to God’s presence will be opened to you. Your Father—YHWH, God Almighty—longs to reveal Himself to you.” 

Q: How long did David seek the face of the Lord? 

A: Until God spoke, until God delivered, until God opened the door. 

Q: How long am I willing to keep on seeking the face of the Lord? 

A: I hope I can say until God speaks, until God delivers, until God opens the door.

Doing Justice The Right Way

Once I was asked to teach a class on business ethics but I said, “I can’t because there’s no such thing as ‘business ethics.’ There is only ethics: Either something is right or it’s not.” 

I think the same concept holds true for “social justice.” There is no such thing: Either something is just or it’s not. 

For those situations that are truly unjust, the Bible tells us how to handle them. But first, let’s get a sense of what the Bible actually means by the word “justice.” 

Psalm 50 is a courtroom scene, with God Himself presiding as the Judge, summoning all of creation into His presence (see Psalm 50:1-6). Just before The Judge begins to speak, the psalmist Asaph calls on us to Selah—or pause to consider—after saying, “The heavens proclaim God’s righteousness.” 

The New Living Translation has this verse saying, “The heavens proclaim His justice…” and the Amplified Bible uses both words: “The heavens declare His righteousness (rightness and justice)….” So which word is it: righteousness or justice? 

The Hebrew word (tsedeq) means something that is ethically right. In other words, something for which God sets the objective standard for rightness and wrongness. There is another Hebrew word that is often very closely associated with tsedeq, and that is justice (mishpat): that is the penalty for violating tsedeq. 

But here’s where things get really interesting. We usually associate the idea of justice with retribution (or payback), but God’s justice is usually portrayed as restoration. 

In other words, God’s mercy is so strong and His desire for us to be restored into right standing with Him is so passionate, that His default is restorative mercy. 

God’s response to our acts of unrighteousness wasn’t to rain down retributive justice on us, but to send His Son to earth to make restorative mercy available! 

In his first public sermon, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah. The last words Jesus read about His mission on earth were “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He left off the last phrase in Isaiah which said, “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Favor (restoration) now; judgment (retribution) later for those who would not accept the restoration Jesus made available. 

Back in the Psalm 50 courtroom, God tells us the wrong way to address injustice: with angry, demeaning words (Psalm 50:19-20).  

We CANNOT do justice God’s way without two things: 

  1. Personal righteousness which comes from Jesus in us (Romans 5:1); otherwise, we’re just hypocrites pointing out the exact same injustice that’s in ourselves. 
  2. Kindness. “But let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24)

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

The darkness of injustice is the absence of light. Jesus says to us, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). 

The hate of injustice is the absence of love. Jesus says to us, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). 

Here are my takeaways—

  1. Let God be The Judge. 
  2. Make sure I am in right standing with God through my relationship with Jesus Christ. 
  3. If I see injustice, address it with kindness, light, and love.

If you have missed any messages in this current series in the Selahs in the Psalms, you can get caught up by clicking here.

Impossible To Empowered

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlined a “game plan” for His followers. He showed us how to correctly apply the Scripture to our daily lives with this repeated pattern: “You have heard it said [God’s Word], but I tell you [real-life application].”  Smack-dab in the middle of this sermon Jesus drops this on us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). 

You might say, “But ‘perfect’ doesn’t really mean perfect, does it?” 

Actually, it does. The Greek word telios means the end goal of being complete in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character. In other words: complete in body, soul, mind, spirit—just like Jesus. 

Think about it: Jesus never misspoke, He never waited too long to act, He never acted too quickly, He never overstepped God’s boundaries, He never needed to apologize. 

Again, you might push back with, “Yes, but He is Jesus. He is God!” 

You are absolutely correct, but—miracle of miracles!—Jesus chose not to use His deity while He was on earth (Hebrews 2:17; Philippians 2:6-7). He lived a perfect life as a human, not playing His “God card,” to show us that it was possible. Jesus demonstrated that He needed to rely on the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21-22, 4:1, 14; John 5:19-20, 12:49-50). 

This is what Jesus wants for us as well, which is why He told His disciples to wait for the empowerment that came with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. On our own, perfection is impossible. But when we baptized in the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to live perfectly. 

Remember the definition I gave for perfect (telios): complete in body, soul, mind, spirit. That’s exactly how Dr. Luke described Jesus, and it’s also how Jesus described our perfect love of God (Luke 2:52, 10:27). 

On our own: this is impossible. But with the baptism in the Holy Spirit: we are empowered for perfection. 

Don’t stop at salvation—press on to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. If Jesus was so reliant on the Holy Spirit, what would make us think we could live with anything less?! 

If you missed any of the other posts in this series, you can find them all listed here. 

Controlled By The Holy Spirit

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21) 

Jesus wanted His followers to be His missionaries throughout the world, but not until they were empowered with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The new Testament writers elaborate on concepts that boil down to a Christian being controlled by the Spirit. What does that entail? I think these words from J. Oswald Sanders are well worth consideration—

“What does this apostolic injunction in Ephesians 5:18 mean? It is not an invitation to realize a privilege but a command to fulfill an obligation. … The clear teaching of Scripture is that we are filled with the Spirit when our human spirit is mastered and controlled by the Holy Spirit. The idea behind the command ‘be filled with the Spirit’ is not so much that of an empty vessel passively waiting for something to be poured into it, as water into a glass [here is a 3-minute video where I illustrate this idea]. It is rather the concept of a human personality voluntarily surrendered to the domination the Holy Spirit. … The Spirit’s control is not automatic but voluntarily and constantly conceded. 

“The fullness of the Spirit does not obliterate personality, as does hypnotism. In fact, the person who is filled with the Spirit only then realizes and discovers his true personality. It is not obliterated but released. We will never know the possibility of our redeemed personality until we definitely yield ourselves in full and undeserved surrender to His control. … 

“Paul’s personality was not obliterated by [Christ’s] indwelling. ‘I live,’ he said, ‘yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ He did not become any the less Paul because he was indwelt by Christ. Indeed, he became more and more the Paul God intended him to be; the ideal Paul who was a chosen vessel to the Lord. We need not fear the fullest surrender to Christ, for He enhances and ennobles personality. He imports qualities which are absent and brings into activity powers and possibility which were latent. He became a different Paul, but a greater and better Paul. Apart from the indwelling and mastery of Christ, the world would probably have heard little of him. Instead his influence has been one of the dominating features of the last two millennia.” —J. Oswald Sanders, in Cultivation of Christian Character (emphasis mine) 

If you would like to review some of the thoughts I have already shared in this current series, please click here and scroll down to the list of posts listed on that page.

In > On

When it comes to the Holy Spirit’s involvement in a Christian’s life: In > On.

Sometimes, instead of referring to the two major divisions of the Bible as Old Testament and New Testament, I prefer to use First Testament and Second Testament. This helps me remember that “Old” doesn’t mean outdated, and “New” doesn’t mean forgetting what came before it.

B.B. Warfield had a great analogy. He imagined the First Testament to be a perfectly-constructed mansion. Only the finest materials had been used, and the mansion had been constructed by the best craftsmen being overseen by the world’s premier Architect. The only problem was this mansion had no lights. With the appearing of Jesus in the Second Testament, finally the lights are turned on. Jesus reveals the beauty that was already there! 

In the First Testament, we frequently read that the Holy Spirit comes ON people, usually for leadership functions. We see this phrase with Moses and his co-leaders, several of the judges, Israel’s first two kings, and many of the prophets (see Numbers 11:25; Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 15:14; 1 Samuel 11:6, 16:13; 2 Kings 2:15). 

However, there is one leader in the First Testament about which we notice the Spirit came IN him. Twice Ezekiel says this (2:2, 3:24). This was hinting at a to-be-fulfilled promise in the Second Testament (36:25-27). 

The Holy Spirit being IN God’s people—which makes them God’s leaders—is described by Jesus in Acts 1:5. Many translations render this verse, “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” But the NIV footnote and The Message both say “in the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, the Greek word means “by, with, or in.” But in context to being baptized (which means immersed, submerged, cleansed, overwhelmed), I think the best word is: baptized IN the Holy Spirit.  

Let me say it again: When it comes to the Holy Spirit’s involvement in a Christian’s life: In > On. 

“You hardly need to pray to have the Spirit poured out, for that has been done. What you need is a baptism of the Holy Spirit; to go down personally into that glorious flood that has been poured forth. Oh, to be immersed in the Holy Spirit and into fire—covered with His holy influence—plunged into the Godhead’s deepest sea and lost in His immensity! Here is our life and power.” —Charles Spurgeon 

Jesus wants all of His followers to be baptized IN the Holy Spirit. So He told us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking, keep on waiting for God’s promised infilling (Luke 11:9-13; Acts 1:4-8). 

Don’t stop at salvation—with just the Holy Spirit deposited in you—press on to be submerged deep into the Holy Spirit. 

If you missed the first couple of posts in this series, check out Where’s God Today? and The Holy Spirit Keeps Christians “Oscar Mike.” 

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