In this worship gathering, we hear a message from Revelation 11 that helps us understand that God’s faithful people are kept safe by him, have power, and will win the final victory despite suffering. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that. We apologize that there are no song lyrics this week; our projection program was not working properly. Message slides were added in post-production.
Earlier this week, we received the horrific news of a school shooting in Texas. The school was for 7- to 10-year-olds. Nineteen children and two adults were killed, and many others were wounded. This was the 27th school shooting in the United States this year.
The shooter was just 18 years old.
He is also suspected of killing his grandmother before the rampage began.
To be sure, the young man must have been deeply, deeply troubled.
Many people think that guns are to blame for such events. And while American culture is fond of its second amendment right to bear arms, rarely are these tragedies caused by law-abiding, legal firearms owners.
The problem is that our society has been taught not to value human life.
Of course, the deeper problem is that of innate human sinfulness, something that society at large, and sometimes even the church, fails to acknowledge and deal with.
But the lack of respect for human life is the main symptom of sinfulness that rears its ugly head in situations like this, and countless others – and they don’t all involve weapons.
Parents, school curricula, even churches fail to stand up for the innate value that each human being, from conception, has in the eyes of God – and should, therefore, have in our own eyes.
But between an emphasis on rights over responsibilities, and profits over people, western society continues to collapse before us. (Honestly, the rest of the world is not much better off in that regard; the war in Ukraine is a good example.)
Please join me in praying for the grieving families of the deceased in the Texas shooting, and for parents, teachers, educational bureaucrats, and churches, that we will see how important it is choose life when there is so much violence going around. Maybe if we can get people to think more properly about life, we can get people to act respectfully toward life.
“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life” (Deuteronomy 30.19-20a, NLT).
One of the most often overlooked days in the entire Christian year is sneaking up on us. It happens next Thursday. But unless you live in a land that treats it as a public holiday – there are still a few that do – it might slip under your radar. Yet, without the event marked by this day, the church could not have come into being as it did.
I’m talking about Ascension Day.
It often sneaks under the radar of most followers of Jesus because it always falls on a Thursday. Some churches celebrate it the Sunday before or the Sunday after, but Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday. Why? Because it happened 40 days after the resurrection of Jesus, and when you add 40 days to a Sunday in the spring, you’re always going to land on a Thursday.
But what was “it”?
It’s the day Jesus ascended into heaven.
Why does it matter?
Well, among many other things, had Jesus not ascended into heaven, the promised Holy Spirit would not have come. And the church as we know it would not have been born.
Ascension Day is a good day to celebrate! It’s the day when Jesus gave his Great Commission. And as the disciples followed that Great Commission, ten days later, the Holy Spirit fell on the believers at Pentecost, and the church came into being, spreading across the world, over time, into the vessel of God that brings the gospel to the nations.
The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about what happened in those 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus. But it surely involved much preparation for the disciples to be ready to venture forth on their own, with the promised Holy Spirit’s guidance, to build the Kingdom of God.
When the ascension happened, it inaugurated a new era – an era in which we still participate today.
So next Thursday, give a wink and a nod – or more! – to the celebration of Jesus’ ascension, and give thanks for his providential care.
“So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
– Acts 1.6-11, NLT
Since it’s Friday the 13th, I thought I’d share a reprise of an Encouragement from a similar day several years ago. In light of the culture of fear in which we live today, perhaps this is more timely than ever! — JFL
Well, we’ve arrived at our first Friday The Thirteenth of 2015. (Since this is not a leap year, you can expect another in March. We won’t see another until November.) Some in western culture do see it as an “unlucky” day (as if there really were such a thing as luck, but that’s a topic for another day!). The fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia. I don’t know if anyone seriously fears these days anymore; most of the time, what I see on social media just laughs them off.
But one thing is for certain: human beings do have fears. It’s part of who we are as those who live in the time after the fall of humanity. And it’s amazing what we will do, sometimes, to compensate for our fears.
People who are afraid of heights, for example, will normally try to steer clear of places where they fear they may fall a great distance, such as roofs, balconies, or mountaintops. People who are afraid of dogs will try to stay away from homes where dogs may be kept as pets, or from pounds, kennels or veterinary clinics.
Some fears, though, can’t be compensated for. They must be faced.
One might be afraid of public speaking; I think I read that this is the commonest of all fears. And while some people may be able to escape it their whole lives, others must speak publicly, whether for their employment or to voice a conviction or to laud someone at a retirement banquet or a funeral. Sometimes, upon conquering the fear once, it is discovered that it can be conquered again. Soon enough, the individual realizes that the fear wasn’t all that rational after all.
Followers of Jesus, like everyone else, experience fear. But we have an additional source that can encourage us to face our fears. King David, who had his share of enemies during his life, proclaimed, “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27.1, NIV). It would have been easy for David to run into the Judean hills and hide from his enemies, but he stood fast because the Lord was with him.
Whatever fears you may face, the Lord will be with you, too. Why not make Friday the 13th an occasion to rejoice in the Lord, who has the power to take away our fears?
Twice a year, on my day off, I undertake a task I never look forward to, but I do it anyway.
I change the tires on my car and my wife’s car.
In November, I put on the winter tires, and in April (or, in this case, May 2), I take those off and put on the so-called “all season” tires.
You might be thinking, Jeff, if you don’t enjoy it, why don’t you just hire it out?
Well, I used to do that, back when I was only changing the tires on my wife’s car. But my insurer now requires that I do so with my vehicle as well. The hassle and cost of having this job done at a garage left me thinking, Why don’t I just do it myself?
My dad taught me the basics of tire changes when I was young, so I started doing it myself. The first time, it took me most of a day. Why? Because I lacked adequate equipment for the task.
I’d use the scissor jack to lift each wheel, take the lug nuts off with a ratchet, change the tire, and put the lug nuts back on with the ratchet, lower the jack, and tighten them more fully. I’d repeat this process seven more times (for two vehicles).
Needless to say, my out-of-shape body was feeling it by the time that task was done!
Each time I’d do it, however, the process got quicker; this past Monday, I accomplished the task in less than 2 hours. Why? Because I had better equipment and more experience.
This involved two investments: an investment in tools, and an investment of time.
While I’ll never be able to accomplish the task as fast as a garage mechanic could, I now have a good rolling floor jack, an air compressor, an air tool for the lug nuts, and a modest torque wrench. And each time I do the job, I find ways to be more efficient.
Growing as a disciple of Jesus is not much different, is it?
By investing in tools and time, our walk with God improves. It’s not that we want to make it more efficient – our spiritual formation is a life-long process, after all – but as we become more spiritually mature, our life as disciples of Jesus does take on a different character.
Tools such as a good study Bible and some solid theological literature can go a long way toward impelling forward our faith journey. And the investment of time, through worshipping in community, belonging to a small group, and engaging in personal devotion on our own will advance our maturity in Christ.
In other words, being a follower of Jesus is not just something that we do for an hour on Sunday. It’s a 24-7-365 venture. And the results are so worth it.
If you don’t have a good study Bible, a church family, or a small group to which to belong, let me know…I can make recommendations for you. It’s an investment with eternal dividends.
“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4.11-13, NLT).