The Mark of the Beast (short version)

I recently wrote an article on Revelation’s mark of the beast.  I received a lot of good feedback.  Part of the feedback reminded me of how difficult it is to digest this complicated and often mysterious subject.  So, I thought it would be helpful if there were a shorter version of the article—something like a summary or overview.

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“Amen” Has Nothing to Do with Your Gender. . . Or Does It?

The English word “amen” comes from the ancient Hebrew word ןמֵֽאָ. The word means truly or certainty. The word was used in the Old Testament to affirm God’s Word as true. In the New Testament, the Greek transliterates it as ἀμήν. Both the Hebrew and Greek words are transliterated into the English language as amen. Transliterated means English speakers tried to replicate the original sound of the Hebrew and Greek as closely as possible.

All this to say, the word “men” in the word amen has nothing to do with gender issues. Then again, perhaps it has everything to do with them because amen is an interjection declaring that whatever God has said is true and certain. One thing God has made clear in His Word is that He has created all human beings as male or female, man or woman, he or she, him or her.

Genesis 1:27–So created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Matthew 19:4–He [Jesus] answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female.”

I pray that those twisting God’s Word to conform to their sinful “opinions” about gender will repent and put their trust in Jesus Christ so that they might begin to say “AMEN” to what God has said in His Word.

Christ Is All,

The Mark of the Beast

What a joyful topic!  But it’s a biblical topic and therefore a necessary one to address.  I believe this is especially true right now.  As a pastor, I’ve already had people asking about the mark of the beast in relation to the strange times we are experiencing.  I’ve seen articles posted (some sub-biblical at best).   I’ve personally been asked if the COVID-19 vaccine is the taking of the mark of the beast.  My short answer is, “No.”  My medium answer is, “No, it’s much more ‘invasive’ than any such thing as a vaccine.  My long answer is more detailed. . . .

Occurrences of the “Mark” in Revelation
The phrase, “mark of the beast,” itself is only used two times in Scripture (Rev.16:2; 19:20).  But the word mark or marked occurs another 5 times (Rev.13:16, 17; 14:9, 11; 20:4).  The idea of the mark in these texts is related to barring people from buying or selling “unless he has the mark” (Rev.13:17a).  The mark itself is said to be “the name of the beast or the number of its name” (Rev.13:17b).  And then we read that the beast’s name “is the number of a man, and his number 666” (Rev.13:18b).

Marked as Satan Worshipers
Is the mark a literal or a spiritual mark or both?  I believe the Bible is clear that it’s not simply a literal mark in a person’s flesh or some other literal fulfillment such as an identification card, bar code, QR code, computer chip, the contents of a vaccine, or any such thing.  While I believe the mark will be applied in very literal ways related to identification methods, the main meaning of the mark is spiritual.  I conclude this from all the Revelation texts that connect the mark to WORSHIP.  Look at the basic train of thought in Revelation 12-13.

(1)  Great Dragon—The Dragon rules as the dark “lord” of this world who wants nothing less than to be worshiped (Rev.12:1-17; 13:4)

(2)  First Beast/Sea Beast—The ten-horned, seven-headed beast serves the Dragon by deceiving people into worshiping him, which is actually worship of the Dragon (Rev.13:1-10)

(3)  Second Beast/Earth Beast—The two-horned, lamb beast serves the Dragon by deceiving people into worshiping the Earth Beast, which is actually worship of the Dragon (Rev.13:11-18).

But how do we go about interpreting these terrifying creatures exactly?

The Anti-Trinity
Most of us are familiar with the name and concept of the Anti-Christ.  The word “antichrist” (ἀντίχριστος) is used four times in the New Testament, each time by the Apostle John (1 Jn.2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn. 7).  The Greek preposition “anti-“ (ἀντί) on the front end of “Christ” (χριστος) has the primary meaning, instead of or in place of.  The final last days Anti-Christ will set himself to be worshiped by all peoples (2 Thess.2:1-12).  In the meantime, John says in this “last hour” in which we are living “that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (1 Jn.2:18; emphasis added).  John goes on to say that the antichrists/Anti-Christ are the ones who deny “Jesus is the Christ?” (1 Jn.2:22) and  do “not confess Jesus” as come in the flesh (1 Jn.4:2-3; 2 Jn. 7).

Put all this together, and the idea of the Anti-Christ coming instead of or in place of Jesus Christ, defines the Anti-Christ as the wicked opposite of Christ who attempts to replace Christ as if he’s the “equivalent” of Christ.

But did you know Revelation alludes to a full-blown Anti-TrinityAnti-Father, Anti-Christ, and Anti-Spirit.  The Great Dragon, Sea Beast, and Earth Beast make up this wicked Anti-Trinity.  Look at the basic breakdown below:

Great Dragon  =  Satan  =  Anti-Father
We know the Great Dragon is symbolic of Satan because the text clearly tells us so (Rev.12:9; 20:2).  And we know the perennial desire of Satan is to be God (Isa.14:14; Eze.28:2; cf. Gen.3:4-5; 2 Thess.2:4)

Sea Beast  =  Godless Governments  =  Anti-Christ
Godless Governments is an umbrella phrase for the nations (both individual nations and alliances between nations), economic institutions, educational institutions, scientific institutions, etc.  I believe the Sea Beast is symbolic of Godless Governments and the Anti-Christ for several reasons:

(1)  The Sea Beast is seen “rising out of the sea” (Rev.13:1).  The “sea” is used frequently in the Bible to represent the nations of the world and/or the peoples that make up the nations (cf. Eze.26:3; Dan.7:2-3).  This imagery is reaffirmed by Daniel in particular (Dan.7:2-3).

(2)  The Sea Beast has a “mortal wound” that seems to be “healed” (Rev.13:3-4, 14).  This recalls Christ who received a mortal wound at the cross but was resurrected on the third day.

(3)  The Sea Beast is given the Dragon’s authority, especially the authority to wage war against God’s people (Rev.13:5-8).  This is the same power the pagan nations exercised against God’s people as recorded in Daniel’s prophecy (Dan.7-8). 

Earth Beast  =  Wicked Religious Leaders  =  Anti-Spirit

Wicked Religious Leaders is an umbrella phrase for the religions, religious institutions, and religious leaders of the world.  I believe the Second Beast is symbolic of wicked religious leaders and the Anti-Spirit for several reasons:

(1)  The Earth Beast is seen “rising out of the earth”, which is the domain of men and the material out of which men have been created.

(2)  The Earth Beast causes all unbelievers to be “marked on the right hand or the forehead” (Rev.13:16); and the mark “is the number of man” (Rev.13:18).

(3)  The Earth Beast is called the “false prophet” later in Revelation (Rev.16:13; 19:20; 20:10).

(4)  The Earth Beast leads/commands unbelievers to worship the Sea Beast and the Dragon (Rev.13:12-14), which is the wicked imitation of the Holy Spirit’s role in the life of Christ’s Church.

The Dragon, Sea Beast, and Earth Beast is Satan’s attempt at forming a tri-unity.  Each “person” in this unholy trinity forms an indivisible, intertwined relationship similar to the Holy Trinity.  Praise be to God, Satan’s efforts have failed, are failing, and will fail to accomplish this fully.

Multiple-Fulfillments of the Mark
It is reasonable to conclude that the Roman Empire of the first century (and then again throughout many centuries) fulfills the symbolism of the Sea and Earth Beasts.

It is also reasonable to conclude that the Sea and Earth Beasts continue to find fulfillment everywhere in the world where politics and religion mix.  When I say “religion”, don’t just think of Christianity or other world religions.  Think also of schools, universities, scientific and economic institutions, etc. (many of which have either informally or even formally declared, “God is dead,” meaning education/science is superior to genuine theology).  The influence of the Sea and Earth Beasts is undeniable in governments throughout the world, including the United States of America.

Again, it’s reasonable to conclude that a final, future fulfillment of the Sea and Earth Beasts is yet to come.  The only way we will ever know if current persons/nations are the final, future fulfillment prior to Christ’s Second Coming is when we see Jesus Christ actually return.  In other words, until Jesus comes back, we can’t say what’s going on is the VERY END of it all because “no man knows the day or the hour (Matt.24:36; 25:13; Mk.13:32; 1 Thess.5:1-2) of Christ’s Return.

False Beliefs that Lead to False Worship
The “mark of the beast” is summed up as an issue of false beliefs/thinking invented by the nations, preached by false prophets to the people, leading the world into false beliefs and false worship.  Unbelievers look to the godless nations and false religions/churches to “save” them, not realizing they’re actually worshiping Satan “instead of” (ἀντί) God.

Therefore, taking the mark of the beast is not something a person can do accidentally or out of ignorance.  Yet, even unbelievers will be ignorant of the fact they’re being deceived.  It will be such a strong delusion that “if possible, even the elect” would be led astray (Matt.24:24).  But taking the mark of the beast is an intentional decision.  The bottom line is denying Christ, which means denying God’s Word by listening to godless governments and wicked religious leaders.  In our world today, it seems it come to us mostly in the form of 24-hour news media.  It also comes through the internet, especially social media.  The point is that we must beware of loving this life—this world’s government, culture, religion, traditions, money, comfort, and pleasures—more than Jesus Christ.

Is the Covid vaccine the mark of the beast?  No, not in and of itself.  But because it is promoted by godless governments and wicked religious/ scientific leaders, we must question anything and everything they promote.  For example, they are preaching that it’s “SAFE”.  But safe for whom?  What they leave out of their preaching is that the initial version of the vaccine has been manufactured using tissue harvested from murdered human babies (as several other vaccinations have for years now).

All this to say, I won’t be receiving the vaccine.  I don’t believe it’s advisable for other Christians to receive it either.  Develop a vaccine without tissue from murdered humans in it, and I will reconsider the situation.  But even then, I would be hesitant for two reasons: 1) The “rush” to develop the drug is problematic; and 2) The less than 1% morbidity rate seems to make a “rushed” drug at best an overreaction.

In any case, fellow Christ-followers, let’s be vigilant against all godless government and wicked religious leaders that would have us doubt, disbelieve, and deny Jesus Christ–even those (especially those) that have the audacity to say they are His followers too.

Christ is All,

Christmas Light in Our Darkness

Some of our scariest experiences often have something to do with darkness.  As a young boy, I was afraid of walking down the darkened hall to my darkened room at bedtime.  This fear wasn’t helped by stormy nights.  Across the road from our house was a field; and in that field was a dead tree with gnarly branches.  When the lightning flashed, I could see the silhouette of that creepy tree backlit with a blaze of blue.

Being alone or lost intensifies our fears of the darkness.  But did you know there’s something scarier— being in the dark and not knowing it?  This is the world’s spiritual condition.  They live lives as lost and lonely souls—ignorant of their own spiritual blindness.  Scariest of all are those that profess to be followers of God but aren’t.  Many of the people of Israel are prime examples of this, especially after their civil war and the resulting broken Kingdom into North and South. But God has a Word for His people in Isaiah 9.

“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish.  In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali” (Isa.9:1a).  Zebulun and Naphtali were two tribes on the northern border.  They will be the first to feel the fury of the invading Assyrian war machine.

As a result, Israel will experience gloom and anguish.  The word “gloom” can also be translated darkness.  Notice it’s God who will thrust them into this gloom (v.1a) and with good reason.  According to chapter 8, they had become willing participants in pagan worship, consulting mediums and necromancers—paying money to witch doctors to speak to the dead when they could’ve simply consulted the Word of the Living God and His prophets free of charge.

This is not unlike some professing Christians today who pay the salaries of modern-day mediums—charlatan preachers that preach a form of dead secular psychology and sociology.  All the while, simple gospel-preachers of God’s Living Word are available, many willing to work other jobs if necessary so that the sheep are fed.

The good news is that God is too good to let us continue in our sin.  So, He ordains gloom and anguish to humble us and then holds out a promise of deliverance for those who listen.  “But in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (Isa.9:1b).  The sea mentioned here has gone by many names, but you’ll remember it best as the Sea of Galilee that plays such a big part of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Isaiah is declaring that the Assyrian oppression will come to an end one day.  But verse 2 declares deliverance from a darker power.  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (v.2).  The darkness is figurative of Israel’s spiritual condition.  Sin has devastating effects, but God dispels the darkness by shining His light into the hearts of His people.

This promise of salvation isn’t limited to believing Jews. Here’s a great opportunity to learn how to interpret prophecy.  Most prophecies have both a near and a far fulfillment.  The near fulfillment for Zebulon and Naphtali is that the oppression from the Assyrians will come to an end. But the language of verse 1 should also spark memories of a far fulfillment, the ultimate fulfillment.  Do you remember the angel’s announcement to Mary?

Luke 1:26-27—In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.

Jesus Christ is the light of salvation. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Nazareth.  And after returning from exile in Egypt, Joseph settled his little family in Nazareth (Matt.2:19-23).  Nazareth was a little town within the borders of Zebulun.  And for much of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He lived in the town of Capernaum located in the borders of Naphtali. In fact, after telling us that Jesus moved to Capernaum (Matt.4:12-16), Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:1-2 and declares that the prophecy is fulfilled.  And the first thing we hear Jesus preach after this quotation is a command for people to turn from the darkness to God’s gospel light!

Matthew 4:17—From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Jesus did most of this preaching in “Galilee of the nations,” not mighty Jerusalem, because He came to save, unite, and rule over the entire Kingdom, the full number of Israel made up of all “who are called, both Jews and Gentiles” (1 Cor.1:24a).

Jesus Christ is God in human flesh.  There is no more basic doctrine than the deity of Christ, yet there’s no more offensive doctrine to many.  But there’s no other sensible way to interpret verses like Isaiah 9:6. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isa.9:6a).  This reaffirms that the far fulfillment of the prophecy is found in none other than Jesus.  Isaiah goes further and gives us detailed names of this coming Son that demonstrate He’s more than a man.  “And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa.9:6b).

Jesus Christ is the only rightful Savior and King.  “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forever-more.” (Isa.9:7a).  Like the tiny mustard seed, Christ’s Kingdom has been inaugurated, beginning small but progressing in growth for two thousand years now.  It’s not yet fully grown because His Kingdom is yet to be consummated at His Second Coming.

But Jesus is already governing the cosmos despite appearances to the contrary.  He’s ruling in the hearts of His people now.  His government and peace increase with every soul saved.  He is seated on David’s throne as King of His people, the Church.  He is establishing and upholding us with His justice and righteousness.  And it’s “the zeal of the Lord of hosts” that “will do this” (Isa.9:7b).

God is good to give us the same message He gave Israel and Judah—judgment is coming but salvation is available for those who repent and believe God’s Word.  Therefore, this world’s greatest threat is not politics and politicians, stock market crashes, shortages of goods, or viruses [and the list could go on and on].  The greatest threat is God’s judgment.  I beg you, turn to Christ your God and Creator.  He is the Light in our darkness.

Blessings in the Lord,
Jeremy Vanatta

Mortality Reality behind COVID-19

Afraid to die.  That about sums it up.  People are afraid to die.  And it appears we Americans are especially afraid.  This has been evidenced in many ways during this time of COVID-19, including the following:

1) Frantic hoarding of basic commodities
2) Persistent numbing of the self through various media technologies and vices
3) Flat-out denial of the reality of death
4) Overreactions in some of the precautionary efforts

Don’t misunderstand.  I agree that disease can be serious, and we should take appropriate precautions.  But we should also take care not to overreact and do more harm than good.  When it comes to the topic of death and dying, the flight or fight instinct kicks into hyperdrive, and it becomes more difficult to remain balanced.

May I share some good news with you?  You don’t have to be afraid to die.  But before you can arrive at this place of fearlessness, you must first face the fact of your mortality.  So, turn off Netflix, put away Facebook, and set aside that glass of wine long enough to let your mortality-reality set in:

I’m going to die, and you are going to die.  Everyone is going to die.  Coronavirus has not changed this reality in either direction.  It’s as true now as it was the day you were born.

Why are we going to die?  Well, it depends on who you ask?  If you ask the secular humanist, he would say it’s just part of the physical reality of our evolutionary life-cycle.  How sad!  Is that really the best explanation of reality?  People are just a pile of mobile flesh and bones?

This view falls short on many counts, not the least of which includes our complexity of emotions and deep sense of justice.  For example, we don’t arrest, prosecute, and imprison lions and wolves for killing their prey; but we do carry out justice for humans murdering other humans.  Why?  Because of a deep sense of human value and complex emotions founded upon justice (right vs. wrong).

Enter the biblical view of death.  Death is not simply the end to a biological life cycle.  Death is the consequence of our disobedience to the Ultimate Holy Lawgiver.  His name is Yahweh, the one and only God, the LORD of this universe that He created.  The reason we feel a deep sense of justice is because God has set His laws on our hearts.

The bad news is you and I have broken God’s laws again and again and again.  Our disobedience is called sin.  And God doesn’t hide our mortality-reality from us.  He tells us straight up, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom.6:23).  That’s eternal death, a forever conscious punishment that we deserve in Hell.  No earthly disease can hold a candle to the torments of this judgment.  What good would it be to survive COVID-19 only to die of some other cause and land yourself in eternal judgment?  This is the mortality-reality behind COVID-19.

The good news is you and I don’t have to go to Hell because God is not only a just God but a merciful and loving God too.  God loved the world by giving “his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn.3:16).  This good news is called the gospel—that Jesus died for our sins and was raised to life on the third day, victorious over sin and death!

But this good news is still bad news if you turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to it.  If you refuse to repent of your sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone, you will remain in your sins and death will swallow you up for all eternity.  But if you repent of your sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone, you will be swallowed up by new spiritual life in Christ that begins now and lasts for all eternity.  “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Christians still fear the dying process and may fear death itself from time to time, but consistently and persistently our fear of death has been turned to faith in the One who conquered the grave.

In Christ Alone,
Jeremy Vanatta

(*Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations come from the English Standard Version)


The fundamental issue the gospel addresses is man’s sinful autonomy.  Everywhere we look in this world we see humans declaring themselves “strong enough”, “tough enough”, “resilient enough”, and “self-reliant”.  And we Christians must admit that too often the person staring back at us from the mirror is guilty of the same.

Recently, devastating tornadoes tore through Tennessee only a few miles from my home.  In the aftermath of the storms, we witnessed both the best and the worst of humanity.  First-responders and neighbors sacrificed to help those who had been battered by the winds.  But scammers and cheats came out of the woodwork too.

Unfortunately, the more subtle travesty of “hometown hashtags” began popping up everywhere you looked.  By “hometown hashtags” I mean people posting a hashtag followed by their city name and the word strong, such as  #_________Strong  (you fill in the blank).

Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing much of the same.  We expect the world that lives independently of God to declare such things, but this should not be the Christian’s banner cry.  For followers of Christ, only one hashtag will do,  #TheLordIsOurStrength

Four weeks ago, at Grace Life Baptist Church, we began our study of spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:10-20 where Paul begins the section with these words.

Ephesians 6:10—Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

We learned from this verse that Paul’s “be strong” is a verb in the present tense, passive voice, and imperative mood.  For all you non-grammar nerds, that simply means that Christians are commanded (imperative mood) to continually (present tense) be strengthened by (passive voice) the Lord.

The Lord is our source of strength in the spiritual battles we face.  Why would we think strength to face physical challenges and suffering would require anything less?  As we noted in our study, spiritual battles are spiritual but the effects of the battle will be experienced physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In this way, no one is #Strong.  God alone is!  And when a person comes to rely solely on the Lord Jesus through faith alone in Him, only  #TheLordIsOurStrength  makes any sense.  And this brings a whole new attitude on our part toward the many threats of suffering and death in our world like that of COVID-19.  Our thinking and attitudes will begin to sound more like Romans 14:8-9.

Romans 14:8-9—For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

The question is not, “Are you going to die?”  And the question is not, “Are you going to die in such and such a manner?”  The question is, “Are you ready to meet God in judgment?”  For “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb.9:27).  Our sin deserves the punishment of eternal death, but Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of all who call on His name for forgiveness.

Therefore, the answer to the question, “Are you ready to meet God in judgment?”, doesn’t have to be “no”.  It can be “yes” if you believe on Christ.  “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb.9:28).  “Waiting for him” means the Christian waits on Christ in faith expressed in faithfulness in place of unbelief and disobedience.

Christ the Lord was and is strong on your behalf.  He alone is strong enough!  “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31) from God’s eternal judgment and granted eternal life.

In Christ Alone,
Jeremy Vanatta

(*Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations come from the English Standard Version)

God of the Macro and the Micro Worlds

“Who is God and what is He like?”  The answer to these questions will become the foundation on which you build your view of everything.  For example, it determines your views on family, religion, government, and money.  It determines your views on personal and community health too.

Health is always a hot topic, but it’s especially so in view of the COVID-19 pandemic our world is experiencing.  The question, “Who is God and what is He like?”  remains the fundamental question all humanity should be asking whether they realize it or not.

We can’t explore the fullness of God’s identity and character in a short article, but we can certainly summarize the basics in an effort to encourage people of the world to find their salvation in Him.

God Is the Creator of the Universe
Put away your “But what about” and “I don’t believe in God” arguments for 2 minutes and consider two thoughts:

1) The complexity and immensity of the universe requires a Sovereign Designer and the First Cause of all effects.

2) The desire for morality and justice among all human societies requires a Holy Lawgiver.

These two thoughts shouldn’t be dismissed too quickly.  If God is indeed the Creator of all and Holy Lawgiver, this means He’s the Creator of the macro and micro stuff to whom we will be held morally accountable.

Macro Is All the “Big” Stuff
God created the earth and its vast beauty, all the planets, the countless solar systems, and untold billions of stars filling untold billions of galaxies (Gen.1:1-31; Ps.33:6).  The universe is complex and huge!

Micro Is All the “Small” Stuff
God created all the “tiny” stuff too (Gen.1:1-31).  Think of all the tiny particles of sand and dust on the earth.  Think of all the particles of space dust throughout the universe.  Think of all the protons, electrons, neutrons, and even the smallest things we know of thus far, subatomic particles.  Ironically, all the “big” stuff is made up of the “small” stuff.

And then there’s the living creatures.  He created humans and animals, which are tiny compared to most things in the universe.  Even smaller, He created the insects; smaller yet, the earth worms and parasites; smallest of all (that we know about!) the bacteria and viruses.

COVID-19 is part of God’s Creation
No matter how you stack it, coronavirus is one of many microscopic lifeforms created by God.  The question we naturally ask usually goes something like this: “What is God up to in ordaining (or “allowing” if you prefer) this virus to spread, killing some and disrupting the lives of all?”  This is no easy question, but let’s try to answer it as simply as possible.

1)  All suffering and death is the result of man’s sin against God.
Adam and Eve sinned against God, and they immediately experienced spiritual death (Gen.3:1-19).  Spiritual death is the severing of man’s relationship with God and puts man under God’s righteous wrath.  All people since Adam have inherited Adam’s sin nature, meaning we are natural born sinners (Rom.5:12-14; 1 Cor.15:20-22).  Yes, all acts of sin are by our choice; but all our acts of sin are also the result of our inner sin-nature that wants what it wants when it wants it whether it’s right or wrong to want it (Matt.5:21-30; 15:10-20; Rom.1:24-32).

2)  Suffering and death are God’s gracious warnings to prepare us to meet Him in eternity.
In the case of a dangerous viral infection like COVID-19, God is “speaking” loud and clear: “If a virus can do this to ‘self-reliant’ humanity, how much more helpless is humanity before Me, your all-powerful Creator.”  Human suffering and death are God’s gracious opportunity for us to repent of our sin and come back to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ because suffering and death on this earth are nothing compared to the eternal Hell we will face for living in personal rebellion against our Holy Creator.

3)  The only proper response to the reality of suffering and death is repentance from sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Whether Christians or not, people tend to respond to suffering and death with one of two errors.  One, “Those suffering and dying deserved what they got, but not me or the people I love.”  Two, “No one deserves to suffer and die.”

But Jesus gives us the only accurate understanding of the truth about suffering and death in Luke 13.

Luke 13:1-5—There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (ESV)

As in the case of Pilate, some suffering and death is the result of wicked men (Lk.13:1-2).  As in the case of the Siloam Tower, some suffering and death is the result of “natural” disasters (Lk.13:4).  In both cases, there’s only one right interpretation of and response to such events by ALL people—Repentance.  Jesus is clear, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk.13:3, 5).

Don’t hear this language of repent as all negative.  It’s actually positive because God loves you and me enough to warn us about the consequences of our sin and is giving us an opportunity to believe on Jesus.  And you’ll know you’ve become a believer when you have a love for Jesus that includes a love for obeying His Word (the Bible) with an obedience that’s by God’s grace through faith (Eph.2:8-10).

So, whether you’re a Christian or not, let’s all examine our lives and repent of sin and trust Jesus Christ fully.  Only then can we face this life’s suffering and death with hope and peace.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

When the Floor Falls In

We were living in my uncle’s rental house that he was so graciously allowing us to use rent free for a time.  Things at the church I had been pastoring hadn’t ended well, and my wife and I found ourselves in the most difficult spiritual and financial season of our marriage.  In hope of sparing both the church and my family as much pain as possible, I chose to resign my position in June 2010 after the Deacon Board gave me the ultimatum, resign or be voted out by the church.

Two years later in September 2012 right before we moved out of the rental house, something seemingly symbolic happened.  We were packing up boxes one evening when three-quarters of our bedroom floor fell in!  It was an old farmhouse, and the termites finally got the best of the floor joists.  I couldn’t help but think of how the “floors” of my ministry had “fallen in” just two years prior.

Resigning from a church you shepherd because of schism is one of the most painful experiences of ministry.  I have known several pastor friends and read about many more who have gone through it, and now I had experienced myself.  But I can say, God uses such pain for glorious things.  Most of these come from my personal experience, but the principles apply to many circumstances.

     1.  Personal Sanctification: At that time, I feared man more than God to the point that I sometimes worried about getting “fired” or having to resign if I were to speak out on all my convictions.  Now, I’m a bolder and better pastor, a better husband, and a better father because of God’s sanctifying grace.  Now my theology of the Church (ecclesiology) is more sound and clear.

     2.  Repentance:  A part of my personal sanctification is repentance.  I don’t write this article out of bitterness but out of the realization that I could have been a more personable and loving pastor to that local church of God.

     3.  Wisdom for Others:  I have a story to share that can be of encouragement and help to other pastors who are in calloused or otherwise difficult churches.  For example, I learned that just because a small group of influential people says the majority of the church wants you gone, it’s not necessarily true.  Since 2010, I have heard from other pastors that experienced this same thing.

Add to this, I have a story to share with churches as to how to go about addressing major differences they have with a pastor.  I actually agree with the deacons of the church I was pastoring that it was probably best that I leave.  That’s a big part of why I resigned.  The issue was the way they went about the process.  (To be clear, the schism was over particular theological points and not any unrepentant or disqualifying sin on my part).

Here are a few words of wisdom for a church having issues with her pastor:

     1.  Be sure to address disagreements, sins, or perceived sins privately.  Jesus commands us in Matthew 18 to address one another privately before getting multiple people involved.  Give the pastor the respect of a proper hearing in private.  This will help clear up any misunderstandings that might be leading you toward the wrong conclusion.  When you give that hearing, be clear about the perceived problem.

2.  Be sure to involve all witnesses that are accusing a pastor of sin.  Beware of entertaining “hearsay” or “secondhand” accusations.  Don’t pass along accusations from others by saying things like, “There’s a family in the Church that said that you said. . . ”  Instead, simply say something like, “There’s a family in the Church that believes you have said . . .  I suggested that they talk to you about it.  Perhaps you should go ahead and reach out to them.”  This is approach is a much better way to guard against gossip, slander, and miscommunication.

     3.  Be sure there are no “secret” meetings of select leaders.  Whether an Elder Board or a Deacon Board, there should never be secret meetings held for the purpose of amassing “evidence” against any leader in the Church.

     4.  Be sure to follow the guidelines outlined in your church’s by-laws.  Some churches fail to realize that the by-laws are a legally binding document.

     5.  Don’t use threats to intimidate a pastor.   Avoid threats like “resign or we’ll vote you out” or declarations like “everybody wants you to leave”.

     6.  Realize it usually takes many months for a pastor to move into a new pastorate.  It took 18 months in my case.  In the meantime, your pastor will likely loose his family’s health insurance, and because church’s don’t pay into the unemployment system, there are no unemployment benefits to lean on.

In the end, resigning or being fired from a church as a pastor because of schism is bitter-sweet.  It’s bitter knowing I could have been a better pastor to that flock.  It’s bitter knowing that the church could have done a better job of handling the situation.  It’s bitter being separated from people with whom you had grown close.

But, it’s sweet to know God gave me an opportunity to repent and grow in spiritual maturity.  It’s sweet knowing my intentions to preach the gospel, see people saved, and disciple men were true, though I fell way short of what I could have been.  My intention in pastoring that flock was true.  It’s also sweet to know that the church I pastored has the opportunity for repentance and growing in spiritual maturity too.  And this is a cause of praising God for His patience and grace demonstrated in His glorious providence!

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

Fasting according to Jesus

Sad to say, most Christians have neglected the discipline of fasting. There are probably a thousand little reasons this is the case, but there appears to be three big reasons:

  1. Ignorance: Few sermons are preached on it.  Few Bible studies address it.  Therefore, few Christians know what it is and why it is important.
  2. Fear: Perhaps some Christians fear being called a “weirdo” or being associated with a religious group outside their own.  Many, however, seem to fear failure
  3. Hedonism: Hedonism is basically a love for pleasure that is rooted in sinful desires.  Hedonism is the opposite of fasting.  It is self-gratifying rather than self-denying.

One Bible teacher, Donald Whitney, has said, “Christians in a gluttonous, denial-less, self-indulgent society may struggle to accept and to begin the practice of fasting. Few Disciplines go so radically against the flesh and the mainstream of culture as this one.”

The most basic truth of all about fasting is that Jesus expects us to fast.

Matthew 6:16-18—“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

     Jesus clearly taught use about the legitimacy of godly fasting.  Not only did Jesus Himself fast (Matt.4:2), but in verses 16 and 17, He says, “When you fast,” two times.  Therefore, the expectation is that Christians are to fast.  Jesus goes on to affirm this even more plainly later in Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew 9:14-15— Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

     What is biblical fasting?  Fasting is a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from a basic need or some other desirable pleasure.  The point of fasting is to withhold something from the body and the mind that will be sorely missed, especially things that are fundamental to life.  Food and certain drinks are the most commonly withheld items because they are extremely needful, extremely craved after on a daily basis, and extremely missed when withheld.  There are few greater tests of mankind’s character than taking away food and fluids

     What kind of fasts are there?  The Bible teaches at least eight different kinds of fasts:

  1. Normal fast: Abstaining from all food but not water (Mt.4:2)
  2. Partial fast: Limitation of the diet but not abstention of all food (Dan.1:12)
  3. Absolute fast: Abstaining from all food and fluids (Ezra 10:6; Esth.4:16; Acts 9:9)
  4. Supernatural fast: Moses on Mt. Sinai (Deut.9:9) and Elijah’s journey to Horeb (1Kgs.19:8)
  5. Private fast: Not publicized (Mt.6:16-18)
  6. Congregational fast: A group of God’s people fast together (Joel 2:15-16; Acts13:2)
  7. Regular fast: Scheduled on specific days (Lev.16:29-31; Lk.18:12)
  8. Occasional fast: Observed on special occasions that arise (Mt.9:15)

What’s the point of fasting?  When we fast, we are saying that we need and desire God more than whatever we are fasting from.  If it is food, we are saying we hunger more for God than bread.  If it is coffee, we are saying we thirst more for God than any pleasure caffeine can bring.  Fasting helps us to remember our relationship with Jesus more throughout the day.  Every hunger pang and every frustrated desire reminds us that Jesus is better.  The result of genuine fasting is greater victories over the flesh.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Fasting helps to discipline the self-indulgent and slothful will which is so reluctant to serve the Lord, and it helps to humiliate and chasten the flesh.”  Do ever feel like you will never win the battle of overeating, losing your temper, or giving in to internet pornography?  Fast and pray, and see what the Holy Spirit will do in your life.

With this foundation built, Jesus warns us not to fast in a way that glorifies man (vv.16-17).  Apparently, people in Jesus’ day used fasting as an opportunity to really put on a show.  They would put on a gloomy face.  The word translated “gloomy” can also be rendered as “sad” or “dark.”  Many interpreters believe  Jesus may be alluding to how some people were even using makeup to change their appearance.  At the least, they were making themselves look miserable.  In verse 16, Jesus confirms this when He says, “for they disfigure their faces so that they may be seen by others.”   The word translated “disfigure” in this context is related to cleanliness, which makes sense because Jesus tells us in verse 17 to wash up when we fast.  In that culture, the daily routine of anointing your head with oil and washing your face constituted the bulk of personal hygiene.

What does this mean?  It means whatever personal hygiene you practice when not fasting is the same personal hygiene you should practice when fasting.  It means, while fasting, we should get up, wash our bodies, wash our hair, shave, put on deodorant, put on clean clothes, and do whatever else that we normally do.

If we fast for the wrong reasons, the consequences are serious.  One consequence is that Jesus calls such people “hypocrites.”  As we have already learned, a “hypocrite” refers to a person that pretends to be one thing but in reality is someone completely different.  Of course, we all must admit we all have some hypocrite in ourselves.  But we must understand that Jesus is using the word here of people who know they are hypocrites and they don’t care.

A second consequence is that such hypocrites “have received their reward” (v.16b).  Now don’t pass over that too quickly.  For a Christian, this means that fasting to be seen of men causes a loss of reward but not of eternal life itself.  For a non-Christian, however, fasting to be seen of men means the only reward they will ever receive is man’s applause and a one-way ticket to hell.

On the other hand, fasting that glorifies God is righteousness (vv.17-18).  Christians are to fast in a way that it brings God all the glory, all the credit.  When we fast, we are to go about our daily routine as if we are not fasting at all, especially regarding our personal hygiene.  Jesus says that secret fasting is the best kind of fasting because it’s strictly between you and God (v.18a).  Obviously, there will be a few people in our lives who might have to know about our fasting—wives, children, close fellow employees.  But for the most part, fasting is something we can do without many people knowing at all.

And what is the result of this kind of fasting?  Jesus says, “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v.18b).  Man’s applause and approving words will no longer be of any concern of yours so long as God gets the glory!

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

Wisdom of a Church Covenant

In a world  often confused about personal accountability, some churches have seen fit to abolish what has been a historic mainstay, namely the Church Covenant.  At Grace Life Baptist Church, we recently renewed our covenant commitment as a church family, and we discussed why having and holding onto such a covenant is wise.  We defined a biblical covenant this way: A covenant is a God-initiated agreement between He and His people, established with mutual obligations for His glory and their joy

Before I offer you 4  reasons for having a church covenant, let me make one clarifying note. I must admit there’s no biblical command prescribing that a local church have a church covenant.  Therefore, a church should never present a covenant as anything more than a descriptive document of what the Bible teaches about living the Christian life in relation to Christ and a local body of His disciples.

With that said, there are biblical principles in Scripture that make a church covenant wise.

1)  A covenant summarizes what it means to be in fellowship with Christ and His Church.  The Bible is our only authority in matters of doctrine and practice; but the Bible is a big book and a summary statement is helpful, especially for new believers.  Our church covenant is a reasonable way to define God’s expectations of us in the New Covenant.

2)  A covenant clarifies accountability.  Without mutual accountability, you don’t have a church because you won’t have unity of faith and practice—everyone would just do whatever’s right in their own eyes.  Without accountability, sheep and elders won’t get along—both will vie for control.  Using our covenant, we can hold each other accountable while still allowing for lots of grace, patience, and understanding toward each other.

3)  A covenant protects the Church from wolves.  Our covenant is threatening to potential new members that are just church-hopping, trouble-makers because they’re less likely to join a church that tells them up front what is expected.  It warns them of the consequences of not walking in humility before Christ and His people.  Our covenant threatens to expose wolves for who they really are.

4)  A covenant limits personal preference.  You may prefer 1,001 things, but most of your preferences are irrelevant to the gospel.  Perhaps you prefer dressing up for church or dressing down.  Or you prefer 20-minute sermons instead of 40-minute ones.  The list could go on.  Your preferences are important, but important doesn’t equal biblical or helpful.

For example, the trending craze todayis having churches for specialty groups like hipsters, homeschoolers, cowboys, or bikers, etc.  Are these preferences important?  Yes, it’s a part of who these people are.  But none of these is the defining mark of what it means to be a Christian committed to a local church.

The defining mark of the Church is the gospel.  At Grace Life, we advertise our purpose as Proclaiming God’s Glory in Christ because that’s at the heart of the gospel.  God’s glory is best magnified when the Church is like a prism refracting and reflecting all the colors of the spectrum—the hipsters, homeschoolers, cowboys, bikers, and on it could go.  May the Lord continue to build His Church with a beautiful array of people.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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