James and John

man trekking on gray rocks in body of water at daytime

Studying the Bible is like walking through a stoney field where underneath each stone is a treasure. It’s challenging to read straight through the Bible because it’s not linear; rather, it is a matrix (no, not that Matrix). Everything connects to everything. 

Connections

When we make a discovery, then the Holy Spirit who lives in us begins revealing our discovery’s connections to multiple places in the Bible. Yes, this just happened to me, so I had to stop and write it down while it is still fresh in my spirit.

I was reading Acts 11:1-2:

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword,

If you recall, James was in the inner circle of the apostles. There were twelve apostles, but within those, Jesus often called out Peter, James, and John, such as for Christ’s transfiguration (Matthew 17:1).

Christ’s Inner Circle

James was the first of Jesus’ apostles to be martyred. And it’s noteworthy that James was executed using the same devious process used against Jesus. 

Since a sword executed James, we know that this was a civil (Roman) execution; a Jewish execution would have been by stoning, as is seen in the execution of Stephen (Acts 7:58). The Jews were using the template established for Christ’s crucifixion, having their enemies killed by Rome’s hands.

So James was the first apostle martyred. Now consider the brother of James, John. Jesus had called the brothers James and John the sons of thunder, for they were far from timid. 

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 22). One of the meanings of Jesus being the “Alpha and Omega” is that He was at the beginning of all things and will be at the conclusion. 

James was the first of Christ’s apostles to die and Jame’s blood-brother, John, was the last based on Revelation 1:9 and Church history. This combination seems symbolic of the Alpha and Omega. The same “person,” James and John being of the same blood, symbolized the Alpha and Omega. 

What value do the saints of God gain from this physical prophecy of Jesus being the Alpha and Omega? I see at least two lessons. First, all Scripture is connected to all other Scripture. 

The Bible is not Merely a Timeline

The Word of God is not merely a timeline from Genesis to Revelation. Instead, the Bible is the living Word of God; each piece, no matter how small, connects to all of the Word of God. God’s Word is not about people but about Jesus and His redeeming and restoring; thankfully, people are part of Christ’s mission. Within this context, God’s Word is cohesive, coherent, compelling, and comprehensive. 

What is Death

Secondly, through James and John, we learn that the death of Christ’s followers is trivial. God’s Word is about Jesus. The martyrdom of Jame, one of Christ’s inner circle of apostles, receives just a verse or two. The deaths of the vast majority of His closest followers receive no commentary in God’s Word. Is this because Jesus doesn’t care? No! If we are close to Jesus, we know Him, and He knows us. So, then, what is death other than Jesus drawing us closer to Himself. I’d say that’s Good News.

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Being Honest With God

closed gray wooden gate during daytime

Many of us have read and heard sermons about Ananias and Sapphira. In Acts 5:1-11, we learn about this husband and wife, who sold a parcel of property. They lied to the church when they said that they gave all of the money to the church. It would have been fine if they had said, “We sold the property for $10,000, and we are giving $5,000 to the church.” No problem. They would have been honest.

What happened next scared the socks off of everyone. Both Ananias and Sapphira instantly died. “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. (Acts 5:11)” This brings us to the topic I would like us to consider today; being honest with God.

The Story of Achan

God’s judgment in Acts, chapter five, would have immediately brought to the Jewish minds the story of Achan, for Achan, too, lied to God. You can read the full account in Joshua, chapter seven. Here’s an important passage:

And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” – Joshua 7:20-21

Achan’s lie cost him his life. God’s command to the Israelites to not take anything from Jericho was a kind of “first fruits.” Jericho was the first city in the promised land, so Jericho’s valuables belonged to God. When Joshua lamented the Israelite’s defeat at Ai, the second city they attacked in the promised land, God said to Joshua, “...they have stolen and lied and put them [things belonging to God] among their own belongings. (Joshua 7:11)” Likewise, Ananias and Sapphira were members of the early Church. Their sin was not the amount of money they kept, but it was the lie they told.

Being Honest With God

Isn’t it foolish when we lie to ourselves about a sin? We do this to try to hide it from God. This attempt to hide sin is the same response that Adam had when the first sin was exposed. (Genesis 3:12) We should remind ourselves, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalms 145:8) We must tell God the truth even if the truth is that we’re angry at Him. He has broad shoulders; He can handle it. As your mother told you, “Honesty is the best policy.”

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Sloppy Prayers

two men staring at each other

Fickleness

Having raised five kids, I have first-hand experience with the fickleness of childish requests. It starts when they’re infants. They cry and cry for their bottle, but when you give it to them, they either won’t feed or will take a small amount and then use their tongue to push the nipple out of their mouths.

As your bundle of joy grows, so does their fickleness. “Jimmy, do you want to go to the store with me?” Mom says. No sooner does Mom cross the threshold of the store before her little tike says, “How soon can we go home? I’m bored.” 

And, yes, this fickleness continues. Adults learn to suppress their childishness, but fickleness is like an inflated beachball. You can hold it underwater for a while, but eventually, it will pop to the surface; that’s fickleness. 

Sloppy Prayers

The Bible has a different word for fickleness; it’s called being double-minded. In James 1:8, we find, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” In all his ways includes prayer. Many Christians pray sloppy prayers. They will pray sincerely but have no recollection of their prayer by the next day. Others ask the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9) for one outcome today and a different one tomorrow. We cannot receive what we ask for unless we ask in faith and then set our face like flint (Isaiah 50:7).

Sincere Prayer

We find in Habakkuk 2:1,3 an excellent example of how we should anticipate God’s answered prayer:

I will take my stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint.


For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.

We cannot expect God to care about our needs if we don’t care. Prayers are sacred. Sincere prayer is instigated by the Holy Spirit, mediated by the Son of God, and actuated by Father God. Having a sloppy prayer life is setting ourselves up to be disciplined by God. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6)

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Carrying Someone’s Water

person carrying keg tanks

To carry someone’s water” means serving, assisting, or performing menial or difficult tasks for some person, group, or organization. This term typically connotes a negative social sentiment. Of course, as Christians, we never should allow a negative social sentiment to impede our obedience to Jesus, our Master (Luke 17:13). But, today, I would like to consider a different meaning for carrying someone’s water. Let me explain.

Jesus Represented a Servant

As we know, during the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:7-23), Jesus “…laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” Jesus changed His garments so that He would represent a servant. And the act that He did was a task usually assigned to servants. He pickup up a bucket of water and carried it. He was, in truth, Jesus carried the water for His disciples. When He completed this task, He said:

For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant[a] is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. – John 13:15-16

From the example that Jesus gave us, we should see that Jesus hasn’t asked us to do something that He hadn’t done. With that said, there’s something beautiful, factually or allegorically, in the work of carrying someone’s water. Let’s take a quick peek in the book of Ruth, chapter two:

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.”

Ruth 2:8-9 (ESV emphasis added)

Carrying Water

For anyone that likes romance stories, you should read the book of Ruth. For now, consider verses eight and nine. The marvelous documentary contained in Ruth has this tiny vignette:  And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.

We could preach a whole sermon on this single phrase, but let me say this: Without the young men carrying up water from the well, Boaz could not have given this exceptional privilege to Ruth. The Pulpit Commentary states:

But Boaz made Ruth free, and thus conferred on her a distinguishing privilege, that must have been at once most acceptable and most valuable.

When we look at Christ’s genealogy, we find Ruth (Matthew 1:5). Praise God for those men that carried water for Ruth! We never know how our task from Jesus, no matter how menial it may appear, might connect God’s miraculous to humanity’s needs.

[a] Or bondservant, or slave (for the contextual rendering of the Greek word doulos, see Preface)

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Help, I Need Somebody

person standing near lighted firetruck

“Help, I need somebody!” were the words cried out by hundreds of people in New York City on September 11, 2001.

It’s difficult for me to comprehend that next year will be the 20th anniversary of 911. I’m sure that we each have our unique memories of the attack that took the lives of so many people and changed our nation forever. I worked in a high-rise in a large city, so I was among the people that stood at an office window, looking for a plane that might be headed for us. On my way home, I stopped to top off my gas tank in case we needed to leave in a hurry. At that gas station, each of us looked at one another, not in fear, but dazed.

We also share memories, images, and emotions from that day and the days that followed. The video of the 2nd plane purposely flying into the World Trade Center and the video of the Pentagon with its damage and shredded lawn are images we all share. And who can forget the footage of people running from the World Trade Center and the people jumping from that wrecked building? But not all ran away; the heroes, police, fire, EMTs, and civilians ran to the danger. They ran to save lives, many at the cost of their own lives – we should never forget their sacrifices.

Calamities and Atrocities are not Uncommon

Great calamities and terrible atrocities are not uncommon throughout the history of Adam. Our biggest mistake is to think those things won’t happen to us. With the 20th anniversary of 911 just a year away, there are millions of young people that have no memory of life in America before 911, before the Department of Homeland Security.

As we’ve seen with COVID-19, bad things happen. A new generation is growing up that has no memory of this world before the pandemic. People need to learn how Christians should live in this unstable world, which is just one reason why Sunday School, yes, Sunday School is so important. Children and Adults need to learn Truth, systematically. They need Biblical education, not a paraphrase designed to confuse rather than elevate God’s Word.

Jesus Calls us to run to the Danger

Jesus knew all of the bad things that were in store for humanity (Matthew 24:6-13), but He didn’t ask the Father to take us out of this world. He asked Father God, 

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” – John 17:24

This world is not our home. It’s little more than a tiny spot in the rearview mirror of the eternity that, as Christians, we safely abide in with God: 

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. – Colossians 1:27

Photo by Constante Ken Lim on Unsplash

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What am I to you?

person touching and pointing MacBook Pro

There are many people that have a personality disorder called narcissism. Here’s the definition of this condition:

Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.Mayo Clinic

If you’ve ever worked with or been in a relationship with a person that is afflicted with narcissism, then you know that it is beyond challenging. Yet, I wonder how many of us are spiritually narcissistic. Do we try to “use” Jesus? Do we charge into situations that require spiritual discernment but, instead, we start making commands “in the name of Jesus.” Most narcissists don’t know their condition until they are told they have that condition. Have we asked the Holy Spirit to show us if we are spiritually narcissistic? Has He been telling us, but we’ve thought, “That’s for someone else, not me.”

When I’m tinkering in my shop I sometimes listen to smooth jazz. One song they play is titled, “What am I to you? The last verse says:

When I look in your eyes
I can feel the butterflies
I’ll love you when you’re blue
But tell me darlin’ true
What am I to you?

Norah Jones

I can imagine that our Heavenly Father has this sentiment when He watches us (Psalm 121:5). He loves us (1 John 4:16), He gives joy to us (John 15:11), and He gave His only Son for us (John 3:16), but when we put our faith in things (Psalms 20:7) instead of Him, He may rightly ask, “What am I to you?”

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Guessing the Mind of God

Cheerful teenager playing with grandmother guess who game while making surprise in light living room

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He’s not breathing, and his eyes are glazed. The other guy quickly calls 911. “I think my friend is dead!” he yells. “What should I do?” The operator says, “Calm down. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There’s a silence, then a shot. Back on the phone, the guy says, “OK, now what?”

A car hit an elderly man. Once in the ambulance, the EMT asks, “Are you comfortable?” The man says, “I make a good living.”Readers Digest


Misunderstanding

Both jokes are based on misunderstanding. When it comes to God, we accept all of God knowing He has revealed only a small part of His infinite Self (Isaiah 55:8). God’s Word makes it clear to us that He has limited the revelation of Himself. And we know that across millennia God progressively revealed His names, and with each name, we have gained further insights into the “only God” (John 5:44). 

Because we can’t comprehend all of God, it is a fool’s errand for us to try to guess what God has not revealed. In math, if I show you 1,3,5,7 and ask you the next number, many of you will say 9, because nine would be the following “odd” number in that sequence. However, if I say dog, grass, cat, tree, baby, you may be unable to tell me the next item in this sequence because you don’t know the rules to extrapolate the next object. For this sequence, the following item is a playpen since this series represents animals and their hunting locations. 😉 I instituted the rules, but I didn’t share them with you.

What, Not How

When we try to tell God how He should do something, based on how He did something in the past, we are being foolish. Notice that I didn’t say “what” He should perform. God has given us promises and demonstrations for the building up of our faith. We, like David, can say:

The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!  1 Samuel 17:37 ESV

When a wall impedes the path that God has laid out for us, God may walk us through the wall, or He may remove the wall, or He may do something that we have never seen before. The “how” is unknown to us; guessing the “how” is crazy. Our faith in God incites confidence within us that He will make a way.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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We Are Known

grayscale photo of woman right hand on glass

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me – …”  – John 14:10

I watched a TV show where a guy said to a girl, “I’m not a good find; I’m just lonely.” I thought that was an insightful comment. I’m not implying that we must be lonely, but we must be willing to be lonely for Jesus. God is a jealous God, and He searches our hearts. When He does so, will He find intimate love for Him, or will He find our heart belongs to another?

We Are Known

Emotions aren’t trustworthy. It’s easy to feel lonely. It matters not if we are at home or in a cafe, by the sea or in a forest, with family or with colleagues. Loneliness is not a condition of geography or upholstery.

Loneliness is not separation from but a lack of connection to. We speak, but our words are not considered. We reveal, but we are not understood. We offer, but we are not accepted. We are asked, but no truth is desired or expected. How good it would be to be considered, to be understood, to be accepted, to be known. We find the refreshing we long for in the words of Jesus, “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me…(John 14:10)” I have good news for all who are lonely, we are considered, we are understood, we are accepted, we are known because we are connected to Jesus!

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Don’t Give Up On Jesus

boy hit the ball running for the next base

Think back to when you first encountered Jesus. I don’t mean the first time you heard about Him or, if like so many, the first time you said you accepted Jesus, but you didn’t understand what you were doing. No, I mean the first time you fell to your knees or threw yourself on your bed, or bowed your head on the steering wheel of your car, and you responded to the presence of Jesus, the Messiah. Do you remember that? Have you had that experience?

An Encounter with Jesus

I remember the first time I honestly encountered Jesus, whether I was saved before then, I’m not sure and it doesn’t matter. For there was a day when Jesus called to me. The Holy Spirit showed me my condition and revealed hope to me. On that day, I was made alive in Jesus. I still had big problems, but Jesus led me through them. Let’s consider a person that had a desperate need for Jesus.

Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. – Mark 5:22-24

Hope is Built From Faith

Jairus was an important man. He had an image to maintain. Going to Jesus would send the wrong message, but Jairus had a need that was beyond something anyone could do. His daughter was dying and all hope was gone, except for the hope Jairus had in Jesus.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 KJV

The hope that Jairus had was constructed with faith. So, even while throngs of people were shouting and buffeting Jesus, Jesus put His attention on Jairus and accepted Jairus’ plea.

It would have been so easy for Jairus, when seeing the huge crowd, to turn back and give up hope, but he didn’t. We need to be like Jairus when we need help that only God can provide. 

Don’t Give Up

To make this personal, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) Don’t give up on Jesus. Run to Him. Ignore all the reasons racing through your mind as to why all hope should be lost. Focus on Jesus. 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
– Author: Helen Howarth Lemmel (1922)

Don’t give up. Have hope. Take your need to Jesus.

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Err on the Side of Mercy

couple talking while moving in new apartment

It took nearly 6,000 years for people to come up with the phrase, “passing the buck,” but it happened in the first marriage, ever! Sadly, (for me) it was the man who did it. Even worse, when it comes to wives, we men haven’t learned much in 6,000 years!

The First Marital Squabble

We find the first marital squabble in history in the 3rd chapter of Genesis. What? You don’t believe me!? Without reviewing all of the serpent, fruit, sin parts of the account, here’s the Scripture. We find it in Genesis 3:12, “The man replied [to God], “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” You don’t think Adam got an earful from Eve for the next 900 years!

Susan: Stan, why was our debit card declined at Kroger’s? Do you have any idea what I had to go through to pay for OUR groceries?

Stan: Well, Dear, you need to understand. Everyone at work uses Bluetooth headphones, so I had to buy a pair. And Apple has the best, so I had to get an iPhone to work with my AirPods, and then there were some options I needed since I had an iPhone 11 Pro. It wasn’t my fault!”

We will just let Stan and Susan work through their misunderstanding, while we go back to Adam.

Vandalizing God’s Image

Adam was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). However, when Adam sinned, the impact was far more significant than a married couple’s argument; the image of God was vandalized by sin. So, for the next 6,000 years, not a single descendent of Adam saw what the sinless image of God looked like, not one! That is, not until Jesus (1 Peter 2:22).

It’s not acceptable what people did from the time of Adam up to the time of Jesus – creating idols, sacrificing children, mutilating themselves, marinating in every imaginable sin. Humanity’s lust for sin knows no bounds; still, until Jesus, no one observed how a sinless person behaved (1 Corinthians 13:12).

On rare occasions, a person would turn to God, but the memory of the one true God coming drifted into the mist, no longer remembering Adam’s account of “Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. (Genesis 3:8)” Yes, Enoch pleased God (Hebrews 11:5). Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD (Genesis 6:9), and Abraham was called God’s friend (James 2:23). Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph acted in faith in God (Hebrews 11:20-22). I could name others, but it would be a short list compared to the full genealogy of Adam.

Jesus Steps Into the History of Humanity

When, after millennia, Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh (John 1:14), stepped into the history of humanity, people didn’t know what to think of Him. Even His cousin, John the Baptist struggled (Luke 7:19). Christ’s apostles, too, struggled with the sinless Son of Man: 

Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he [Jesus] cautioned them, saying,Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them,Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? – Mark 8:14-17

So, the next time you or I read, see, or hear of a person doing something profoundly awful, we should ask ourselves, “I wonder if anyone demonstrated Jesus to that person?” In the constant tug-of-war between nurture and nature, we need to remember that everyone is born with a sin-nature; none is righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10). 

If Jesus is your Lord and Savior, then don’t hold that in. Let it out! Allow the lost to see Jesus in you. Let the whole world know that Jesus Christ is Lord.

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