Rejoice That Your Names Are Written In Heaven

Names

We don’t know much about the seventy-two people who Jesus sent out to preach. What we do know is that he sent them two-by-two, that they were to go ahead of Jesus into all the towns he would be visiting, and that he told them to heal the sick in those towns and proclaim that the kingdom is near. We really have no idea who these people were, what their backgrounds were, or what professions they had. Jesus did tell them not to take anything with them except what was already in their possession.

When the seventy-two returned, they were astounded at what all God was accomplishing through them. “Lord!,” they exclaimed. “Even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17 ESV). Jesus told them that he saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky, and that he gave the disciples authority over all the power of the enemy. It was an incredible responsibility that they were given. But Jesus didn’t want them to rejoice in this.

“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Jesus’ warning here was to not get intoxicated with the power they had. Sure, he gave them authority over the power of the enemy. But that didn’t make them invincible. Authority can be infatuating. It can lead to pride and arrogance. It can blind people to compassion. Jesus would rather them remain humble and rejoice that their names are written in heaven. This is a good reminder that our message needs to be seasoned with hope, grace, and must point people to salvation.

Photo by Ged Lawson on Unsplash

The God of All Comfort

Girl comforting boy

There is a difference between saying that someone will suffer and saying that someone should suffer. Jesus promises suffering for those who faithfully follow him, but that doesn’t mean that he thinks people should suffer. When Paul was on the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Ananias in a dream and said about Paul, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16 ESV). Jesus was not saying that he hopes Paul would suffer. He didn’t say Paul deserved to suffer. He did, however, said that it was necessary for Paul to suffer.

I’m not so sure that suffering is prescriptive as it is descriptive. In other words, God doesn’t prescribe suffering merely because we follow Christ. But suffering is descriptive of what happens to those of us who are faithful to him. It is necessary for us to suffer as Christians because people will always oppose goodness and righteousness. Evil will always exist. Oppression will always be present. Disease and sickness will always be on the earth.

But how does God respond, and how should we respond to one another? In 2 Corinthians 1, the word “comfort” is used more times than anywhere else in the Bible. Paul was suffering badly, but he was being comforted by God and God’s people. Paul said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4 ESV). Paul says that, just as we share in Christ’s sufferings, we also share in his comfort.

This is a powerful message of hope in the midst of suffering. We should take comfort in the fact that our comfort is contagious. When we are comforted, we are able to comfort others. Paul said, “When we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer” (2 Cor. 1:6).

We have an obligation to share in our sufferings because, when we do, we also share in our comfort! The world would be a more beautiful place if more people were actively comforting one another.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The Apostles’ Mission

Man seeking kindness

When Jesus sent out the Twelve, he “gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1, 2 ESV). This was no small feat for a group of fishermen, tax collectors, and otherwise ordinary people. Jesus could have sent them out to do just about anything, but he specifically sent them to heal diseases, cast out demons, and proclaim the kingdom of God.

Their mission to do this was Jesus’ mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19). Jesus’ charge to his disciples did not arrive out of a vacuum. Rather, it was rooted in his own mission.

Like Jesus himself, he called his disciples to leave everything and rely completely upon God. They were commanded to not take anything extra with them. They were to rely on the goodwill of people. In doing so, they completely put their faith in God. God provides. God is the great healer. God calls his people to help other people, to feed, heal, and free others. This is why the crowds were always pressing in against Jesus. They were desperate for someone to heal them.

Jesus is no different today. There will always be oppression, hunger, and disease. And it’s up to us to care for one another. This is exactly in step with who Jesus is. His mission is our mission.

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

What Is Your Name?

Jacob wrestling with God

The name Jacob means “follow” and is also the root word for “heel.” Jacob was a heel grabber in the Genesis account. Even from birth, he grabbed his twin brother Esau’s heel. Later on, Jacob tricked his brother into selling his birthright. When their father Isaac was dying, Jacob tricked his father into blessing him instead of Esau. Jacob rightfully earned his name of follower. Jacob also over took his father-in-law, who deceived Jacob, by taking off with all of his kids, his wives, and scores of flocks.

When he fled, Jacob found out that Esau wanted to meet him. Esau sent 400 men to meet Jacob, and Jacob was terrified. He began splitting his family up in case there was an attack so that at least some would be spared. At one point Jacob was alone. It was then that a man began to wrestle with him throughout the night. Jacob was holding his own then the man dislocated Jacob’s hip.

When morning came, they were still wrestling and the man asked Jacob to let him go. Jacob answered, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26 ESV). Then the man asked what Jacob’s name is. “Follower.” Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be follower (Jacob) but Israel, for you have striven with God and with man, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28). Israel means “he strives with God.” To strive means to go to great efforts to achieve something. It was at this point Jacob realized he was wrestling with God himself.

God allowed Jacob to overtake him in that fight. From the time Jacob was born, he was determined to receive blessings. Throughout his life he would deceive, labor, even beg in order to receive a blessing. It’s fitting that God changed his name to Israel. When Esau met Jacob, he blessed him. He was not coming to kill him; he was coming to bless him! This story is clear evidence that God is a God of revival!

Enter His Gates With Thanksgiving

thankfulness

We are coming up on the American Thanksgiving season. It’s a reminder of our nation’s history and how the pilgrims broke bread with the natives after enduring the long, dangerous trek across the open ocean. As we enter this season, we’re reminded of all that God does for us. He sustains, protects, loves, saves, and executes justice.

The current general mental and spiritual outlook in the US is grim. Suicide among our youth is the highest it has ever been and is the second leading cause of death among young people. Drugs and negativity have overtaken our cities and have permeated even the deepest of our rural communities.

An article from two years ago called The shocking impact negative people have on your brain, according to science, is making its rounds again. The article explains how neurons in the brain that “fire” are neurons that “wire.” In other words, if we hear negativity all the time, our brain chemically becomes hardwired to perceive the world through negativity, regardless of reality. The opposite is also equally true–the more thanksgiving we hear, the quicker our brains become hardwired to perceive things with optimism and hope.

It’s no surprise that the Bible instructs us to be thankful. Over and over again. Psalm 100 says, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Psalm 100:1-4 ESV).

Photo by Kiy Turk on Unsplash

Our Heavenly Dwelling

Heaven

Last week we talked about our heavenly inheritance and how we need to be working. We get back what we put in. We cannot expect a free ride through life. But what will that heavenly inheritance look like? People who are not believers may poke fun and tell us that we believe in a mythical place that doesn’t exist. Or we believe in a mythical God who we can’t see. So how do we respond to that?

The reality is that none of us know what Heaven looks like. We don’t have a clue. And we should be OK with that answer. Paul says that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Does this mean that we blindly believe that something better is waiting for us when we die? Not at all! Faith is not blind. We know that Heaven is real. God tells us that. We know that there are breathtaking places here on the earth–exotic landscapes that exude pristine beauty. Others who have been there can describe it, show pictures, etc., but it will not fully engage all of our senses until we have physically gone there. Those places here on earth are no less real just because we have not physically been there. They indeed exist. And they are incredible parts of God’s creation.

If we know this to be true on the earth, it is equally true for Heaven. Paul says, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. . . . He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 5:1, 5 ESV). God has been preparing our heavenly home since the beginning. We can only imagine what heaven will be like. But we have the Spirit as a guarantee. We know Heaven to be real and incredible and peaceful. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”

Photo by Christian Nielsen on Unsplash

The Testing of Your Faith

wisdom

As we focus on the theme of wisdom this year, it’s appropriate to talk about struggles in the context of wisdom. Oftentimes, in the middle of our deepest struggles, wisdom is what carries us through. Wisdom allows us to see beyond the tragedy so that hope can emerge and come into deeper focus. Wisdom helps us make guided decisions so that we don’t remain in a permanent rut.

Without wisdom, we would never understand that trials can actually deepen our faith. They have the ability to refine us and make us stronger. James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:2-4).

Most of us don’t have the first instinct to be joyful when trials hit. It is not our fist response. Our sight gets clouded by the agony of the pain. We often are dazed, shocked, and have to focus on just breathing. But it’s wisdom that helps us see the big picture. Wisdom tells us that there is a loving God who validates our suffering. Wisdom tells us that we can put one foot in front of the other and that each step is another movement forward.

But we also need to ask in faith. James says, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” In all of our trials, we need to ask for more wisdom. Our faith will be tested. Our faith is tested. Let’s ask for wisdom as it is tested.

Photo by Preslie Hirsch on Unsplash