The Books of Life

Revelation chapter 20 paints a picture of the coming judgment of all of humanity. No matter what your perspective is on the book of Revelation, most people agree that this scene is the culmination of time before we enter eternity. Within this chapter comes a statement that is easy to read past without noticing but it could affect your thoughts on God’s judgment.

Revelation 20:12 “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” (NIV 2011)

There stands all of humanity before the throne of God and the passage says, “and books were opened.” Wait … books?

I thought on the final day that there was only one book that would be read. It is called the Lamb’s Book of Life and in it will appear the name of everyone who accepted Jesus as their Savior.

To be sure, your name must appear in the book of life. Rev. 20:15 says, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (NIV 2011) The first and most important book on that day will be this one text. If you have not trusted Jesus and have your name written there, then the story is over, and your judgment will be to condemnation.

The problem is that verse 12 says there are books – with an “S.” In fact, the rest of the passage states that we are judged according to what we had done as recorded in those books. This set of books is clearly different from the book of life which is called “another book.”

The general consensus on this passage is that in the final judgment there are two books that God will view. One is the book of life, and the other is the book of your life. Everything you do is written into a book that God will look over in the final day.

Why in the world would he do that? Well, in the Bible everything, especially legal decisions, must be established on at least two witnesses. One testimony is not enough to be legally binding. You need someone or something to corroborate your story.

Let me pull all of this together. At the final judgment, God will look to see if you once stood up and proclaimed Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Then he will flip open the story of your life to see if that was true in your actions. Did your life and your proclamation of faith line up in agreement?

I am afraid that somewhere along the way most people who claim faith have believed a lie. (This is not surprising since Satan is the father of lies.) We think that faith is about a one-time event that I did in my past. When the truth is that true trust in Jesus is lived out every single day.

Today I have a single question for everyone who claims to know Jesus including myself. When the story of your life is written will it reflect that you believed Jesus was my Lord and Savior? The answer is of eternal significance.

Inside the Mind of a Small Church Pastor

Not only have I been a pastor for 25 years, but I also know several other pastors. Recently my circle of connection as increased as I joined some groups on social media designed for pastors only. One is very focused on the people who work in churches that are less than 500 people in attendance. Another is for leaders on groups with less than 200 people in the congregation.

My exposure to these Christian leaders has led to seeing a few things that all of us hold in common.

1. We desperately want to please Jesus. Every person whom I have ever met that leads a Church was deeply committed to Jesus. They want their thoughts, actions, and words to please their Lord and Savior. Now, some will fall to temptation, some will burn out and others will lose their way, but initially, most of us have surrendered our lives to the leading of Jesus.

2. We don’t understand why other people don’t want to please Jesus. The work of the Lord runs through our lives so completely that it is hard to grasp why the Church is not full of people like us. Pastors often talk about people who get “it.” They are these wonderful and rare people who are fully devoted to Jesus. They immediately become kindred spirits. Unfortunately, most people have no idea what we are talking about when we speak of commitment.

3. We love people but are unequipped to handle their issues. In Bible college, I took classes on almost every book of the New Testament. I learned how to interpret accurately along with reading the original languages. On the flip side, I had one counseling class. ONE! No one prepared me to work with people and all their issues. This is true for most pastors in the world. The only way we learn is by trying and failing repeatedly.

4. We want to be a part of a community, not just lead it. Most of us believe we received a special call from God to be a Church leader. We carry that joy and burden with us as move into a community to lead them. Soon, many of us feel all alone. People look to us for answers, but not for friendship. Many often feel isolated, and loneliness fills our hearts.

5. When you skip worship on Sunday morning, we feel it in our souls. Every Pastor I know feels the weight of Church attendance. When people miss a Sunday morning, it raises so many questions. We think things like, “Is everything okay?” and “I wonder if they are quitting.” The burden does not come from the pressure of trying to build our own kingdom. Instead, it is the weight of trying to help people grow in their faith. When someone misses worship, we know they are unlikely to do anything that causes them to grow in their faith that week. Pastors believe that we will stand before God and give an account not only for our own actions but also for the people we were called to lead.

Sunday nights and Mondays are hard on most of us pastors. The burden of Church leadership washes over us as we replay every person who was there on Sunday, everything that was said and everyone who was not there. We try to gloss over our inadequacies and insecurities, but the truth is that we struggle in our walk of faith just like everyone else. Every week is a roller coaster of emotions born out of our desire to serve the Lord and the people who follow him.

Weekend Listening

A couple of times a month I like to share the best posts I have read lately. Unfortunately, while I have read several good posts in the past few weeks, very little would I consider great. Much of it has been a regurgitation of the same old material. Since I have no articles to post, I thought I would share a few of the songs I am enjoying lately. I hope you enjoy.

1. Here Again – by Elevation worship

2. Awake My Soul (A Thousand Tongues)- by Matt Maher

3. Be Kind to Yourself – by Andrew Peterson

4. Stand in Your Love – by Bethel Music

5. Fill This Place – by Red Rocks Worship

What’s Your Name?

Walking through a store that is about thirty minutes from home I encountered a group of ladies blocking one of the aisles. I tried to slip out into the store around them when one of the women says, “Well, look who we have here!” Not thinking she was talking to me, I put my head down and kept moving. The lady then says in a louder voice, “Hey Ken.”

Noticing her eyes were looking at me, I did what every person would do; I looked behind me to see if someone was close by that she was addressing. I did not see anyone near me, so I turned back to her and said, “Are you talking to me?”

Finally, when she heard my voice, she told the rest of her group, “That’s not Ken.” They all seemed disappointed and went back to their conversation.

I continued walking through the store, and my mind began to think about our identity. From what I gather Ken is a stunningly handsome man who is fortunate enough to look like me. He also lives in the area and is usually seen visiting this establishment. The look was right, and the location was correct, but the substance was wrong. I am not Ken.

The people who claim to follow Jesus can be a deceiving group. Many of them go to the right locations like Church meetings and special holiday programs. Many of them have the right look as they carry their Bible (or have the Bible app) and post spiritual things on social media. Unfortunately, they lack the substance to be the real thing. They are not Christians.

A Christian is not someone who looks the part, their identity is wrapped up in Christ, and their actions reflect his will for their lives. Faith is about our substance and not our style.

Looks can certainly be deceiving, even in the Church, but hopefully not in the mirror.

Some Lies We Tell Ourselves

The devil is described in the Bible as the father of lies.

Sometimes his lies come to us from other people. They distort the true, and it hurts us. They might have meant it for good, but when the truth comes out, there is still hurt.

The deadliest lies are the ones we tell ourselves – those conversations that take place inside the walls of our mind that no one else hears. They twist the truth in ways that are convenient and yet they are misleading. Here are three of the biggest lies I fight against regularly, and perhaps you do too.

1. “My intentions are all that matter.” Inside my head, I am a great person. I would serve more sacrificially if I had more time. I would give away a lot of money once I have some. I want to make peace with my enemies. There is no limit to the good I would do, the next time I am given a chance. This lie separates my thoughts from my actions. If I thought about doing something in the name of Jesus, then score a point for me, when the harsh reality is that I haven’t done anything good for anyone outside of my brain.

2. “I am deeply committed to Jesus.” In my heart, I think about Jesus more than people know. I don’t mind Christian music, I have a few Christian friends, and I even do religious some stuff when it is convenient. Recently I was talking to a lady, and she spoke about our Church like she was a committed member, but the truth was that she had been here twice in the last two years. My immediate thought was a little judgmental of her as I said to myself, “she is only fooling herself.” Then I flipped my thinking over and wondered where I am doing the same. The problem with a faith that is connected to the heart is that we can lie to ourselves and separate it from our actions.

3. “It was just that one time (I am sure I will do better next time).” Sin frequently grabs us and pulls into a miry pit of shame. We feel remorse and regret and those feelings of guilt that accompany all failure. This is where I tend to tell myself, “It was just that one time.” Then I go on living exactly as I did before. This lie keeps me from making the changes necessary to move forward in a new way. What usually happens is that I repeat the cycle and end up doing the same stupid thing over and over. It is hard to admit that I might have a character flaw that needs to be changed.

Being honest with yourself is difficult. It requires not only self-reflection but also people who are willing to be brutally honest with you. Those are both hard to do and hard to find.

The devil does not need to bring someone in from the outside to lie to you and destroy your life. His greatest tool often resides between our own ears. Moving forward with Jesus will require us to stop lying to ourselves no matter how hard the truth is to hear.

One Simple Goal as a Christian

The Apostle Paul has a special meeting with the Church leaders from the city of Ephesus on the beach at Miletus. There he summarizes his ministry in a couple of short paragraphs. Every line is stuffed with meaning on what it means to be a Christians, especially a leader. When I learned this passage, a statement lodged itself in my soul that has guided my own journey as a believer.

Paul says in Acts 20:20 “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you …”

He describes his work in the Lord as trying to preach what is helpful to other people. This concept has become one of the goals of my life. I want to do anything that will help other people in their life of faith. So I do everything I can from writing to preaching, and even have private conversations in an effort to help people grow spiritually.

What if one of the simple goals of our life were to try to help people as they walk with Jesus? What if today you tried in every way possible to help people take another step on their journey of faith?

God is not usually inviting us to change people in dramatic ways; instead, he wants us to help the people we meet today to move one step closer to him.