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Joe McKeever Christian Blog and Commentary

The coach walks up and down the sideline in front of his players.

“Get your heads up! All of you!  Take those stupid towels off your head!  Let’s show some courage around here!  The game is not over yet.  You’re not defeated until you quit fighting.  Lift up your heads!  Look like champions!”

The disciples had returned from a trial run in which they had practiced preaching the gospel of Jesus.  Since the time would come when Jesus would be absent and they would be doing this “for real,” the Lord wanted them to get a taste of what to expect.

They returned sky high.  “Lord! It was wonderful!  We saw miracles.  Lives changed.  People healed. It was great!”

Jesus agreed.  “You’re right.  In fact, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

“However,” He said, “I do not want you rejoicing because of such.”

“Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you. Rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

It wasn’t that He didn’t want them joyful and excited. He loves overflowing praise and exuberance in His children.

He just wants it based on something more substantial than the latest results.

The Lord knew what the disciples were going to find out. The days would come when they would return empty-handed from their preaching missions, their evangelistic trips, their revivals and door-to-door visitations, and their overseas outreach.

To be sure, there would be times of great successes and glorious testimonies. But at other times, they would return empty-handed, with no glowing stories, no big numbers, no sparkling testimonies of victories. Sometimes they would do well to get out with their lives, and sometimes they didn’t even manage that.

If their joy resulted from impressive victories and big numbers, it would be constantly fluctuating. Sometimes they would be happy in the Lord and overflowing with praise, and at other times, their spirits would be dragging, their hope vanished.

The Lord Jesus wants none of that.

He wants His children joyful from beginning to end. “In Thy presence there is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy….” (Galatians 5:22). “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Joy. There it is. Joy is the constant refrain of Scripture.

C. S. Lewis famously said, “Joy is the business of heaven.”

God’s word is consistent on this subject.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Hours before He was arrested and went to the cross, Jesus told the disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

He’s about to go to the cross and experience the worst thing imaginable, something so horrible we can only imagine, a prospect that caused His body to sweat drops of blood. And yet, look at Him here, cheering up the disciples.

The plain fact of the matter is the Lord wants His children always believing and trusting and knowing the important things are settled and everything else is all right. We are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

No hanging heads. No towels draped over our sorry heads to disguise our disappointment and hide our tears.

“Lift up your heads! Your redemption draweth nigh!” is how the psalmist put it.

Rejoicing “because your names are written in heaven” means a thousand things, these among them….

  1. Your salvation is secure.
  2. Your hope is steadfast.
  3. Your future is settled.
  4. Your faith is well placed.
  5. Your focus is upward and eternal.
  6. Your troubles are temporary.
  7. Your joy is constant.
  8. God’s promises are sure and certain.
  9. Jesus’ word is dependable.
  10. God’s enemy (and yours) is out of luck.

You will live and die with a smile on your face. People will come away from you saying, “He’s either a nut or he knows something.”

Stay with me a moment longer, please.

Do not miss the implications of the Lord choosing as the basis of your joy that “your names are written in heaven.” 

Wishing to anchor our joy to something more dependable and more constant than the up-and-down vicissitudes of this life, wanting to secure our joy forever, and intending to settle the matter for all time, Jesus tied it to our salvation.

The strong implications are that you are saved forever.

Implications, nothing! It’s there, plain as the nose on your face (is “explication” a word? He wasn’t implying anything, but was as explicit as it’s possible to get!)

If we can be saved one day and lose it the next, then get it back the next day, then He chose the wrong figure of speech.  The way some of God’s children believe about the temporariness of salvation–that “one little sin can send your soul to hell,” as I’ve heard it put–makes you wonder what it will take for them to start believing in Jesus and quit taking counsel of their fears.

The Lord Jesus actually thought that the born-again would live forever. “They shall never perish.”  “Neither shall anyone pluck them out of my hand.” "I give unto them eternal life.” "So shall we ever be with the Lord.”

We pitiful humans. We resist believing that salvation is of grace and keep wanting our works to play the starring role in this divine production. Or, we play a little mind game with ourselves that says: I know we are saved by grace and Jesus paid it all, but if I sin after being saved, I’m lost again.

If that’s true, if one sin or a certain number of sins undoes what God did in Christ as a result of Calvary, then no one is secure in Christ, no salvation is settled, no forgiveness is permanent, and we are all in big trouble, and Jesus’ death settled nothing.

It’s time to start believing Jesus, people.

I love what some woman told Pastor Tim Keller upon realizing the gospel of grace for the first time….

“I know why I want my morality to save me. If I’m saved by my good works, then like a taxpayer, I have rights. I’ve paid into the system and God owed me a good and decent life, and there is a limit to what the Father can ask of me. But if I’m saved by sheer grace, then my life belongs to the Father, He owes me nothing, and there is no limit to what He can ask of me.”

Sheer grace. That’s it.

Sheer grace or we are in a mess of trouble, children.

But, rejoice. Your names are written in Heaven. In blood, actually. The blood of Christ.

“Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (I Corinthians 15:57).

Now, let us go forth in joy.

Publication date: May 27, 2015

10,000 Reasons to Believe

Looking for a reason to have faith in God, His creation, and His plan for redemption? Take your pick, there are only about ten-thousand or so...

“If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46-47).

I believe in God because I believe in butterflies.

I believe in God because I’ve seen a baby and held one and watched it grow into adulthood. And I have seen him hold babies of his own in his arms.

I believe in God because I watched the sunrise this morning.

I believe in God because of a lack of turbulence. As the earth spins around its axis, as the earth speeds around its orbit, as our solar system zooms through the galaxy, and as the galaxy tears across the heavens at enormous speeds, you and I don’t feel a thing. We can lay a ball on the ground today and it’s still there tomorrow morning, unmoved. I find that truly amazing.

I believe in God because of Jesus.

I believe in God because of the character of Jesus.

I believe in God because of the Bible. There is nothing like it. This book knows me, understands me, speaks to me, and speaks to every fresh situation in my life. It’s the most fascinating book in the world and has the testimony of history as to its truthfulness and the testimony of millions as to its Truth.

I believe in God because of the church. How it survived all these centuries with its human leadership flawed–oh man, is it ever flawed!–and still survives today and when it gets the gospel right is the best thing on the planet.

I believe in God because of my Grandma Bessie McKeever. Widowed when she had 11 children and one in the oven, she served God faithfully for another half century and was radiant in her testimony for the Savior.

I believe in God because everything in my heart and soul cries out that He is real, Jesus is alive, and I am His.

I believe because not to believe means voting for despair and meaningless, and I reject that.

I believe in God because of the humans who populate this planet.  So far the silence from the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence has come up empty because–I figure–earth is unique and the only planet gifted with such creations of a loving God.  The atheist figures that he is an accident. I reject that.

I believe God is a God of love because of the diversity in humanity, in flora and fauna.  No two humans are alike.  How in the world could He pull that off!!

I believe in God because of science.  More and more, we learn how complex this universe is and how unlikely life on earth is. And yet, here we are.

I believe in God because He allows dissent and rebellion and free thought.  You can join the Atheist Society and He doesn’t snuff you out in a fit of temper.  He smiles at your naivete, I expect, but He allows you to do it. “He has not dealt with us according to our sins nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103).

I believe because I see people suffer and come out stronger.

I believe because I see people suffer incredible misfortunes and emerge on the other side of it praising God for bringing them through and the things He taught them.

I believe in God and happily stake my life on it.

Each of us is indeed staking our lives on what we believe about God.

I flew in from California last night. The Airbus is a mighty impressive plane. As we boarded in Salt Lake City for the final leg of the flight, I did not stop to interview the captain and first officer. I did not ask to see the engineer’s report on the construction of that plane nor an update from the most recent mechanical examinations.  I merely (I say this with a smile) staked my life on some people I do not know looking out for their own interests–and indirectly, for mine–in building a great plane and getting it through a stormy night successfully.  They did it well, and I arrived in New Orleans around 1 a.m.

I believe because I’ve seen the kind of people that unbelief produces, and I want none of it.  (I am well aware of all the talk about the noble atheist, but I’ve never known one. They tend to be angry and mean-spirited.)

I believe because it is a choice, no one forces me to do so, but everything I read and see about the Lord Jesus draws me in. I do so want to know HIm and to be loved by Him, and to live forever with Him. There is much about the Old Testament history that troubles me and I do not always appreciate, but there is nothing–absolutely nothing–about Jesus that does anything other than attract and impress me.

Whatever we believe about God, we stake our lives on it.

 

THE Urgent Reason for Unity in Your Church

“Father, I pray that they all may be one…that the world may believe that You sent me….that they may be one just as we are one….that the world may know that You have sent me….” (John 17:20-23)

In the churches with which I have experience, unity seems to be a sometimes thing.

We Baptists have been known to pride ourselves on our divisions. “Where you have two of us, you have three opinions.”  A great many of our churches were started, not intentionally but accidentally, the result of division and splits.

To the average church member, it appears that unity is good but not important, welcome but not essential, comfortable but usually inconvenient.

We are dead wrong.

Unity is a huge deal to the Lord, in Scripture, and in our world today.

Our Creator God has built harmony into the universe, installed it in science and mathematics, and made it a major component in music and in our DNA.

It’s no stretch to believe God wants unity in human relationships.

God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33). Where there is disorder and chaos in our lives, we are not to blame Him.

Unity honors Christ and reflects well on the Trinity (see our text, John 17:20 -23).

Unity makes the journey more pleasant.  Amos said, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3)

Unity makes the church’s work more efficient. Ever try to lead a congregation that cannot agree on anything? An organization that is divided? A team where everyone wants to be the captain? Ever try to run a business when your co-workers are forever bickering and undercutting one another?

Imagine an army where every soldier is given a vote on tactics and procedures.

Imagine a church which believes pastors are there to please them.

Everything you do feels uphill and burdensome.

A great team functions like a well-oiled machine, each element doing its part, working in sync with the others.

Now, imagine such a church.

A harmonious church is a lovely thing.  Sad to say, it’s often an anomaly.  An oddity. A rarity.

When a church does its work in a harmonious, unified way, and does so year after year while making huge decisions and accomplishing important ministries, the world notices. The outside world watches and sees, and people are drawn to Jesus.

People are drawn to Jesus when His people love each other and work together in a sweet, harmonious way.

That’s the biggie.  Unity is essential to evangelism.

Unity in the Body of Christ encourages people to believe in Jesus.

“Father, I pray that they all may be one…that the world may believe.”

Unity is essential if we are to reach people for Jesus.

When the Jerusalem church began bickering over the distribution of food to the widows, the outside community sat up and took notice. Some pulled up a chair to watch the fireworks, satisfied that this fledgling movement of Jesus-followers would soon self-destruct. After all, they were a vast assortment of races and languages and nationalities (ever since Pentecost; Acts 2). Division had to come sooner or later, critics surely thought. Maintaining unity in such a diverse body for any period of time was an impossibility.

When the Jerusalem church faced the problem head-on and got this right–I mean, knocked it out of the park!–the world was most impressed. That accounts for the fascinating statement in Acts 6:7. “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly. And a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

When Jewish priests were drawn to Jesus, you knew something amazing was going on.

It was the unity that did it.

Disunity–continued conflict without a good resolution–would have confirmed to the watchers that these Christians were no different from anyone else, and they would have ignored the believers and turned aside to other matters.(Too many of our churches are being ignored by the community these days.  We may as well erect “Keep Off” signs on the front lawn.)

The unity and harmony in the Jerusalem church won over even their sternest critics, the Jewish priests.

It will do the same thing today.

In a seminary class, I asked, “How are the people in your church different from one another?”  The responses seemed endless: They are different in generations, gender, income levels, education, and experience. Different in values, theology, viewpoints, age, ambitions, maturity levels, and politics. They are different in races and culture, in backgrounds and needs and physiology.

Unity in such a diverse group is every bit as much a miracle as any healing or resurrection from the dead.

The outside world is watching to see if God is in your midst, church.  They will know you are His and He is there by your unity.

Acts 16:25 says when Paul and Silas began praying and singing hymns to the Lord “about midnight,” even though they were suffering in a Philippian jail with their beaten backs left as open wounds, “the other prisoners were listening to them.”

They’re always listening, friend.

The outside world is always watching.

But they quit listening and stop watching the moment they decide we are just like everyone else, living in the flesh, running our lives in carnal ways.

That’s why the Lord will allow His people to go through suffering and torment, persecution and division; it’s all intended to bear a witness to the watching world.

“You will be persecuted, arrested and hauled into court,” Jesus told His people. “You will be brought before judges and magistrates and put on trial because of your preaching.”

“When that happens,” Jesus said, “remember this is not about you.  It’s all about Me.  For My Name’s sake.  So, do not prepare a speech. The Holy Spirit will tell you what to say. Trust Him.”  (My version of Matthew 10:16ff.)

The idea was to get the message to the judges and magistrates, the officials and rulers.  After all, Caesar is not coming to your revival.  So, to get the Gospel to him, the Lord would be needing some disciples to be arrested and brought into court to testify on what they were preaching. That’s how the early church was going to reach the high and the mighty.

The world is watching, certain that you are not the real deal, that your church is filled with hypocrites, that Jesus is a myth and the Holy Spirit just an idea.

So, something has to happen.

Someone or something has to challenge the peace and harmony in your fellowship. The Lord allows this in order to create a canvas on which to display His special creation–men and women redeemed by the blood and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Pastor, the time to teach principles of unity to your people is when everything is going well.  Teach them to expect challenges to the unity, and prepare them to respond in faith since the Lord has clearly decided to do something special in them at this time.

The disciples “returned rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name” (Acts 5:41).

They knew God was up to something, and wanted to be a part of it.

Publication date: April 22, 2015

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