Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World.

Jesus’ disciples were often in competition with each other, arguing about who among them would hold the highest position once Jesus came into his kingdom. As Luke described, “An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great’” (Luke 9:46-48).
Matthew portrayed the event this way, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2-4).
Jesus loves the sweet innocence of children so much that he taught his disciples that anyone who wishes to be great in his kingdom must learn to humble him or herself like a little child, approaching our heavenly Father with absolute trust and depending on him to meet our every need. Children are the least in the kingdoms of this world. They do not have the power to make their own decisions, they cannot earn their daily bread or the money to pay for clothes or toys, housing, or education. Children cannot decide where they live or where they go, and most of the time they cannot decide with whom they live and who cares for them. They do not have the power and the means to keep themselves fed, safe, and well. They are utterly dependent on the provision and good will of others. Jesus teaches us that to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must recognize that we are as dependent on our heavenly Father as little children are dependent on their parents – and that God loves us with the unconditional, self-sacrificing agape love that far exceeds the capacity of any earthly mother or father.

And yet, we know that in this broken world, our sweet, innocent children suffer. God is very aware of this. Jesus said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:5-6).
Isaiah gives us a beautiful illustration of our Father’s love for his children, recording God’s promise that in times of trouble “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:13). This promise was not given only to the ancient Israelites living in Jerusalem. On this side of the cross, when we receive Christ as our Savior, we become God’s people and his Holy Spirit comes to dwell within each believer. We become his holy Jerusalem, the place of God’s Indwelling Presence, and therefore all of God’s promises for Jerusalem and for his people belong to the whole Body of Christ. Paul echoed this promise when he quoted Isaiah 52, reminding the church at Corinth that God said, “…I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (1 Corinthians 6:17b-18).
Jesus manifested this promise in person when mothers and fathers brought their little ones to him for a blessing, even though his own disciples did not understand what he was doing: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’  And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” (Mark 10:13-16).

Because this world has been invaded by the invisible enemy, Jesus warned us that we would experience pain and suffering during our earthly lifetimes. A heartrending truth about earthly suffering is that it is not limited only to adults who are experienced enough to understand how to weather the storms of life. This world is full of evil and because of it we suffer, and our children suffer. But God is faithful. He is with us and with our children, most especially during the times of our greatest afflictions. He never leaves us alone, and he will never turn a child away or allow them to be hindered from coming to him. In fact, when the disciples tried to prevent the children from coming to Jesus, he became very angry and rebuked them. If Jesus rebuked his disciples for hindering the children, how much more will he deal with those who seek to harm them? Jesus promised, “…it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
Throughout history God’s people have suffered terrible persecutions, and many families are suffering now, all over the world. So that we should not lose heart, Jesus reminds us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’” (John 16:33).
Jesus, knowing the torment that he would ultimately suffer at the hands of his accusers, offered words of comfort to his followers: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do…Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:4,6-7). We and our precious children are of tremendous value to our Father in heaven. So much so that he sent his only begotten Son to redeem and rescue us. As it is with Jesus, so it is with all who belong to him. Our kingdom is not of this world of pain and sorrow. Ours is the kingdom of heaven, where thieves to not break in and steal, nor do vermin destroy the fruit of our labors (John 18:36; Matthew 6:20).
As Paul, who named himself a prisoner of Christ, recorded, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:1-3). No matter what tribulations we may be called to endure, we must have faith that the invisible hand of Almighty God is with us, and with our children. Like the persecuted saints extolled in Hebrews 11, we seek a better, heavenly country where God will wipe away every tear, and we will dwell with him in peace, forever.



All scriptures are from the English Standard Version translation.

Semper Fidelis. Always Faithful.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
 I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

The Whole Armor of God – Part One

Has anyone ever told you that as a Christian, you should “Put on the whole Armor of God”?
Maybe you’ve heard a pastor or Bible study teacher tell you what all the parts of the armor are, but no one has ever explained how exactly you’re supposed to “put it on,” and what you’re supposed to do with it after that.
What is the whole Armor of God, how do we put it on, and what is it for?
Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:10-11, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (ESV).
Ok, so far, so good. The Armor of God helps us be strong, so we can stand against the enemy. But how? And why?
It’s important to understand, as Paul continues in verse 12, that putting on the whole Armor of God is necessary not to protect us from enemies who are “flesh and blood,” but against the devil and his “rulers of darkness” in unseen places. In other words, the Armor of God is spiritual armor, intended to equip us for spiritual battle.
Let’s look a little more closely at the way Paul describes this spiritual armor.  It’s not “Suzanne’s armor,” or “Jeanette’s armor,” or even “Paul’s armor” - it’s God’s armor – the armor belongs to God, himself. God’s spiritual armor is not like anything we try and take up and put on for protection that comes from the world. God’s armor comes to us directly from his throne in heaven.
The Old Testament contains a foreshadowing of what Paul wrote about the difference between worldly armor and spiritual armor in the story of David and Goliath, in 1 Samuel 17.
David was the youngest son of Jesse, a well-to-do sheep farmer. While David’s older brothers went out to war against the Philistines, David’s job was to stay home and tend the sheep. One day his father sent David to carry  supplies to his brothers on the front lines, where a giant named Goliath was threatening the army of Israel.
Goliath was so terrifying that all Israel’s mighty men were afraid to engage him in battle. But of course when teen-aged David, fresh from the sheepfold where he’d defended his father’s sheep from lions and bears, heard the taunts of the giant and saw that even his big brothers were afraid to fight him (and hearing from the crowd that whoever killed Goliath would marry King Saul’s beautiful daughter), said to the king:
“…’Your servant will go and fight…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!’” (17:32b, 37 ESV).
Then King Saul, who stood head and shoulders above other men, realizing that he’d just sealed the fate of a boy who was braver than his whole army put together, offered his armor to David:
“Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them” (17:38-39a).
Can you imagine the shepherd boy clonking around in Saul’s armor, going against an angry giant? Me neither. And neither could David:
“’Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.’ So David put them off” (17:39b).
Picking up five smooth stones and with his sling in his hand, David faced Goliath:
“And the Philistine said to David, ’Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.’  Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hand’” (17:44-47 ESV).
See what David did there? He set aside Saul’s worldly armor and instead ran straight for the giant, armed with only a sling and a stone, in the name of Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts. He was certain that God would deliver victory into his hands because David understood that although he was up against a huge physical enemy, the battle was a spiritual one that only God could fight. David’s protection came from God alone.
Today we aren’t usually called to go up against a nine-foot Goliath waving a sword and a spear, but we do find ourselves facing giants that look like unconquerable physical enemies – health crises, financial difficulties, family issues, relationship problems, storms, terror, loss - that can only be conquered in faith.
Paul wrote, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13 ESV).
In this series, we will explore the elements of the Armor of God, how God provides them for a covering, and how they are designed by God to strengthen us so that we are able to stand firm in the spiritual battle that the Lord is fighting with us, through us and for us.
“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57 ESV).

God is with Us in Times of Testing.

As people everywhere struggle to make sense of the chaotic events rocking today’s world, we as believers know that in Christ we have a steadfast hope that cannot be shaken, no matter the circumstances. Psalm 46 reminds us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (v. 1).
The Hebrew translation of the phrase “a very present help” does not just point out that God is hanging around behind the scenes somewhere, waiting for a chance to be useful. In fact, the word for “very” in Hebrew is meod, which means “mightily, exceedingly, abundantly, and forcefully.” God is not only with us in times of trouble, he is a mighty force working plentifully, richly, and generously on our behalf!
Not only is God present and working in plain, old everyday trouble, although he certainly does that! He is also our unfailing protector when we encounter extreme and unexpected torment.  A translation of the Hebrew word sara, or trouble, includes “tribulation, distress, adversity, affliction, and misery caused by an adversary”. In every kind of trouble, God is our refuge, in the Hebrew, mahase, meaning “a shelter from a storm, danger, or falsehood”; and rather than require us to depend on our own meager power, he gives us his strength, in the Hebrew, oz. The strength God provides can be material, personal, social, or political, to meet every kind of need.
Let’s look at verse one again: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Then, beginning in verse 2, the psalmist paints a picture of the types of earth-shaking catastrophes we may suddenly find ourselves in, “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam. Though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (vv. 2-3). Even when catastrophe leaves us with no earthly place on which to stand, God remains our present, powerful refuge from every storm.

When trouble comes, we remember that God is the omnipresent, omnipotent King of the Universe, who is aware of everything taking place on the earth. He does not leave us alone, or without reassurance: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (vv. 4-7).
God’s power is with us when we experience natural disasters, and national conflicts: “Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire” (vv. 8-9).
He is El Shaddai, the mightiest of warriors, who cannot be defeated. And he is on our side. The Hebrew Shaddai is derived from the word shad, meaning “breast”. God is our nourisher and protector. Isaiah described God’s heart for his children, writing “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you…” (Isaiah 66:13a), comparing God to a nursing mother. He is our champion and our comforter.
Scholars also believe that Shaddai may come from the Akkadian Sadu, or “mountain.” God is our refuge and our strength. He is stronger than the mountains. Psalm 125:2 promises that “Just as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forever.”
As Moses commanded God’s people when they faced Pharoah’s army on the brink of the Red Sea, “…Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians [worldly danger and trouble] whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14), so the Psalmist instructs God’s people: “’Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:10-11).

Moses ordered his most trusted general, just before his death: “’Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.’
 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed’” (Deuteronomy 31:6-8).
For forty years in the wilderness, God allowed his people to be tested, as he prepared a generation to enter the promised land. For two thousand years, God has been preparing his Church to be led by our heavenly Joshua into the land of eternal promise. This is not the time to fear or be dismayed, even though the sea is roaring, and the nations are raging all around us. In fact, all that is happening on the earth right now is signaling us that it is time to look up, and not be disheartened. As Jesus said to his disciples, “’Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
And he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near’” (Luke 21:28-31).

Beloved Friends, the heat of the summer has come, and the kingdom of God is fast approaching. Do not be afraid; let not your hearts be troubled. Although Jesus did not promise that our lives on earth would be problem free, our Lord and Savior is Almighty, and he has already given us the victory. Jesus proclaimed, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Therefore, stand firm in the truth and make good use of the time. Take refuge in God’s promises and his strength, and pray for your families, for the Body of Christ, and for all those who are lost. Above all, love each other, and believe God, as you continue to diligently seek his face, his will, and his wisdom. Our God says to us today, as he said to Israel before us, and to all those who believe in his name: “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).


All scriptures are from the English Standard Version translation.

The Transfiguration of Christ.

Six days before Jesus revealed himself as the Son of God on the Mount of Transfiguration, he asked his disciples, “’Who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:15-16).
Jesus responded, “…Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (vv. 17-18).
During his earthly ministry Jesus’ disciples were not exactly models of humility. In fact, they argued among themselves about who would be the greatest when Christ came into his kingdom (See Luke 9:46 and Mark 9:34). Knowing this, Jesus instructed them not to go around bragging that their Master was indeed the long-awaited Messiah (v. 20). He began to explain to them that rather than having come at that time to conquer their Roman oppressors, he would suffer and die in Jerusalem, to be raised again on the third day (v. 21).
I always feel sorry for Peter at times like this. Moments before he had received a revelation from the Father, illuminating his mind to comprehend that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God – and then all at once he stumbled and fell into Satan’s trap, taking it upon himself to try and divert Jesus from his salvific mission.
Knowing how fickle humans can be, Jesus turned to his disciples and taught them, saying, “…If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (vv. 24-26).
Peter had difficulty absorbing this information, and taking Jesus aside he rebuked him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (v. 22). Knowing that his every step must bring him closer to the cross, Jesus turned to Peter and said, “…’Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’ Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (vv. 23-24).

Now listen to what Jesus said next, “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (vv. 24-28).
There has been much speculation as to what Jesus could have meant by this, but when we remember to read the scriptures in context, and that originally, they did not include the divisions of chapter and verse, we can see that after making this extraordinary proclamation Matthew’s gospel informs us that six days later Jesus led his three closest disciples to the top of Mount Hermon…
“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him” (17:1-2).
These three men, James, John, and yes, even Peter, were given a glimpse of the Transfigured Christ. But Peter being Peter, with his tendency to overcompensate whenever circumstances went beyond his control, said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (v. 4). Bless Peter’s heart! He just did not know when to keep quiet! By this time, God the Father thought it best to give him a new perspective, and before Peter had finished describing his building plan, “…behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’
When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only” (vv. 5-8).

Other than a brief description of this event in Mark chapter 9, we do not hear of the transfiguration again. This is probably because on the way down the mountain Jesus instructed Peter, James, and John to “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead” (v. 9). While there is no mention of the disciples ever speaking of their experience with one another, one of the men who witnessed the transfiguration also wrote of a similar encounter.
John tells the story of a meeting between Jesus and his disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The men had been fishing all night with no success when the Risen Savior appeared, giving them instructions to cast their nets one more time, resulting in a net-breaking catch. Over a breakfast of grilled bread and freshly caught fish, Jesus asked Peter, who had denied him three times before the crucifixion, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15). For every time Peter had renounced his Master, Jesus offered him the opportunity to re-affirm his love for him. “…Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’… And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (vv. 17, 19b).
As Jesus and Peter were walking together, Peter turned and saw John following them. He turned and asked Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” And Jesus said to him, “…If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (vv. 21b-22b).
“So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’” (v. 23).

Here we can see the similarity between the statement Jesus made before he led Peter, James, and John to the Mount of Transfiguration, “Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28), and his statement that it was not Peter’s concern that John would remain until Jesus revealed himself to him.
Therefore, as Jesus prophesied, near the end of his life as an exile on the island of Patmos John described his encounter with the ascended Son of Man, this time on the heights of heaven:
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:10-18).
While on earth Jesus promised Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. From the court of heaven, Jesus informed John that as the Living One, he commands the keys of Death and of Hades.

As Saint Paul wrote in his first letter to the church at Corinth, here is the description of the Risen Savior, who revealed himself to his disciples and will reveal himself to us:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-27a).
Beloved Friends, keep looking up, for soon we will see him as he is, and when he comes, we shall be like him!