"As Christians we are not only to know the right worldview... but consciously to act upon that worldview so as to influence society in all its parts and facets across the whole spectrum of life, as much as we can to the extent of our individual and collective ability." Francis Schaeffer
Based on Proverbs 7:21-27It’s interesting how, in this Scripture, the unsuspecting man followed the prostitute to his demise. Oh how her beauty, flattery, and persistence wore him down. Yet he was an active participant in his own deception. Thus, he blindly, yet willingly, followed her to her home, supposing he was about to have the time of his life. Unbeknownst to him, he was marching toward his undoing. Observe the language…
Out of ignorance or naiveté, these three creatures fell prey to the traps set for them – a decision (so to speak) that would cost them their lives.
We are the same. We may see great big obvious temptations for what they are. But the serpent’s craftiness is found in his subtleties. It is the consistent smallness of our daily surrenders to those subtleties that lead us into the slaughterhouse, the noose, and the snare. A compromise here and there will have a powerful snowball effect in our lives. We often have no idea when we say “yes” to that first, small, seemingly insignificant trifle of a temptation, that it is the first step on a path that will lead to our destruction. We unwittingly pay a price that will cost us dearly – our very lives… our families… our ministries… and so on.
Questions for Reflection
May the Lord bless you as you think on these things.
Grace and Truth,
Question: How do you think a spiritually alive person learns what to desire and how to obtain it? (cf. Colossians 1:9-14 and Philippians 1:9-11)
Answer: Here are some bullet points of what the texts above reveal…
We must pray non-stop, asking God to fill us with the knowledge of God’s will – through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
We must pray that we may live a life worthy of the gospel – of our Lord – and that we may please him in every way.
We must pray that we will bear fruit in every good work and that we may grow in the knowledge of God – strengthened with all power…with God’s might.
We must pray that we will have great endurance and patience.
We must pray that our love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. This will enable us to discern what is best. It will enable us to be pure and blameless until Christ returns. It will fill us with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. This will glorify God and be a praise offering to him.
And yet, God will not give us such wisdom, knowledge, discernment, depth of insight, etc., just because we want it…just because we ask for it. To be sure, we can’t obtain such things without him, but we will not receive these gifts and graces without active participation on our part.
I believe this is what it means to “let the words of Christ dwell in us richly” (Col. 3:16). This is surely what Jesus meant when he said that we are to abide or remain in him and he and his words will abide or remain in us (John 15).
God fills us with his Spirit (Eph. 5:18) as we pursue him for all we’re worth in prayer and digging deeply into his Word (i.e., more than a two minute devotional). We must study God’s Word, meditate upon it, share it, teach it to others, and obey it. This is how God’s Word abides in us and dwells in us richly.
This is how the Holy Spirit conforms us into the likeness of Christ. It’s how he transforms us – through the
renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). It’s how we begin the process of offering our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord (Rom. 12:1)…of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).
To restate the prayers of Paul from Colossians and Philippians, it’s how we are enabled (including even given the desire to be enabled) to live lives worthy of the gospel, lives that will please God, lives that will bear fruit in every good work, lives that will be pure and blameless until Christ returns.
Sanctification – or growing in holiness or Christlikeness – will happen in no other way. Nothing truly worth having or achieving happens easily and without effort and intentionality…including this. But the reward will be far greater than we can even imagine.
Grace and Truth,
In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, John Stott reminds his readers that if Matthew 5:3-12 (the Beatitudes) is about a Christian’s character, then Matthew 5:13-16 is about a Christian’s
influence in this world. I have always loved the words of Matthew 5:13-16 which describe that Christian influence as salt and light. To me they represent the best of what the right balance of inward piety or holiness and outward action should be.
As Stott says, Jesus doesn’t tell us to go out and be salt and light. He tells us that that’s what we already are in Christ… as those who are new creatures in Christ and whose character is reflected in the Beatitudes. It’s similar to Peter’s words that we are holy so we should go and be holy. We are to “go be who we already are,” Jesus and Peter seem to teach us.
As I said, I love this text because it strikes an important connection and balance between inward piety and outward action. The inward and private pursuit of the devotional life… of introspection and reflection is vital… but if it never moves one forward to “live” the life of Christ, then it can become an empty and useless form of asceticism. A person can become quickly self-absorbed
in their own stuff if one’s piety never leaves the prayer closet or Bible study. To be sure, in my opinion, this is not the greatest threat to the church today. Would that more people spent more time in the prayer closet and Bible study. That leads me to the other side of the coin.
As important as outward action (good works, etc.) is, if godly character is not undergirding and directing it, then it can become nothing more than the cause de jour. It can also become a judgmental and self-centered way to build yourself up. Not only that, without the knowledge of Christ and the godly character that comes from that relationship, such action can quickly lead to burnout and disillusionment because, to paraphrase Jesus in John 15, the branch was attempting to do all the work without being connected to the vine. Thus, the branch lacked sustenance, power, and direction.
To live as the salt and light that Jesus declares we already are is to exercise the godly influence of the Kingdom of God in the midst of the decay and darkness of the Kingdom of this world. I won’t exegete the text here, but that’s the gist... at least part of it... of what I hope to accomplish in and through my ministry.
I see a key focus of my ministry as educating, equipping, and encouraging disciples of Jesus Christ to take up the call to extend the Lord’s Kingdom into every sphere of their lives as salt and light. Whether it’s building up one’s own faith and character to more faithfully live as salt and light or living out that faithfulness at home with one’s family, with friends, at school, at work, at church, in their neighborhood, community, city or town, in our culture or in our world… I want to help folks
live out their (our) calling to be salt and light in today’s world.
I believe that God calls each Christian, at least at some level, with the Call of Issachar. That is, we're called to know the world (culture) in which we live, work, etc., so that we might be this very salt and light influence. This website is one of the means toward that end.
In and through the posts that I provide each week, I hope to encourage disciples of Jesus Christ to grow in their understanding of their world so that they can more clearly see how our Lord claims every sphere of it as his own. I hope that this material will do more than inform those who read what I share, but will actually equip them to minister to those God has entrusted to their care in their various spheres of influence.
May God add his blessing toward that end.
Acts 14:22 – strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
I have been the Minister of Discipleship at Southside UMC since 1999. During that time I have discovered that as each year goes by, I learn new things about ministry and more and more of what’s really important versus what’s merely urgent. (They are not usually the same things.). But there are some constants that keep me grounded and focused. These “constants” are the heart and soul of what I pray my ministry is all about.
Today’s scripture emphasizes another area of my ministry that I also regard as its heart and soul. Acts 14:22 says that after Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel and won a large number to Christ, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch to “strengthen the disciples and to encourage them to remain true to the faith.” Why? Because “we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that the path of discipleship is narrow and hard. It is not for the weak-of-heart, nor for the half-hearted. There are obstacles around every turn, as Christian discovered in Pilgrim’s Progress. And we know this much is true: many who begin do not make it to the end.
That is why a ministry of “strengthening and encouraging” is so vital. We need to be constantly built up in our faith and reminded of the joy set before us that makes all of the trials and tribulations worth our effort.
I count it as a singular blessing and privilege to be able to minister to fellow travelers as we walk this pilgrim’s path together. To be allowed to help strengthen and encourage followers of Christ to persevere on their journey is a calling for which I thank God with all of my heart.
But you don’t have to be ordained clergy to serve others in this way. Every Christian is called to come along side his or her brother or sister in Christ and aid them in their pursuit of the Celestial City (which is reason #102 why you should read Pilgrim’s Progress). To act as an agent or ambassador of God’s grace in the life of another is a holy honor indeed.
So let me encourage you to open your eyes. Look for those people in your life whose gait has slowed of late and whose feet appear to be stumbling more than usual. Walk along side them and build them back up in the faith. Remind them of their gracious and sovereign Lord who daily calls them home and who promises that their arduous labor will not only be worth it for them, but will also bear glorious and everlasting fruit for others.
Grace and Truth,
Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.
Rise up, O men of God!
The kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong.
Rise up, O men of God!
The church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task;
Rise up and make her great!
Lift high the cross of Christ!
Tread where His feet have trod.
As brothers of the Son of Man,
Rise up, O men of God!
Some, if not many, continue to turn away today when Christianity proves too tough, too ordinary, too unexciting, too demanding, and so on. Some folk are honest and actually turn away and leave the faith, as well as the church. Others are less honest – with themselves and others – and remain in the church, but have long-since left the Jesus of Holy Scripture and his hard teachings.
The Apostle Paul understood this truth from his own personal experience. One of Paul’s co-laborers in the gospel ministry betrayed him. After a far-reaching missions tour and much fruit for the Kingdom (Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24), Demas abandoned Paul as Paul sat in prison – at the very end of Paul’s ministry and life. Perhaps the demands were too severe. Maybe the cost was too high. Possibly the thought of sitting in a prison cell didn’t seem like a proper reward for all his efforts. We’re not sure of the details, but Paul offered this insight regarding Demas’ desertion.
Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. (2 Timothy. 4:9-10)
What does this mean for us? Well, if this committed Christian missionary and personal companion of the great Apostle Paul can desert his beloved brother in Christ out of love for the world, just imagine what can happen to us if we do not stand firm in our faith and end up falling back in love with the world.
It is not too difficult, in light of that, to understand why John would later write in 1 John 2:15-16:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.
Obviously, when the biblical writers use the word “world” in this way they are not talking about the earth as a planet or even the world of people (after all, remember who it was that God so-loved in John 3:16). Instead, “world” in this context is that dark dominion of sin that John describes in 1 John 2:16 (cf. James 4:4). The world depicted in this way is that realm of the City of Man that is under the direct dominion of Satan and against whom is our real battle (Ephesians 6:10-13).
But for those who follow Christ, the Bread of Life, we have life indeed – and light. The darkness is falling (1 John 2:8) because of this Light and one day will be done away with completely (Revelation 22:5).
Are we of and in the light or are still enslaved in darkness? It is possible to know the answer to that question. John tells us how we can know in 1 John 1:7 and 1 John 2:3-6.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
When we turn our backs to the fallen, darkened and decaying world in which we were born, actively resided, and participated – when we shun its allurements and temptations – when we reject the dominion of its dark king and his fleeting rule – then and only then can we call ourselves subjects of the Kingdom of Light that knows no end. It is in doing the will of the one, true King that we will live forever in his presence (1 John 2:17). For it is this King who has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and ushered us into his own glorious Kingdom (Colossians 1:13).
And so when the temporary and illegitimate “king” of this world and his enslaved servants seek to lead us astray, remember two things. First of all, that as they are now, you once were. It is by sovereign grace alone that you were rescued and released from such bondage to the dark lord of this world. It is by the pleasure of God’s will that you saw your depraved nature for what it was and was made sick by its very sight. Second, stray but a little to the left or to the right and you may very well find yourself on another path altogether, for the path of our new King is straight and narrow. We needn’t be tempted to wander off. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul regarding those who did in his day:
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. (1 Timothy 6:20-21)
In light of all of this, let us uniformly and with great courage declare with Peter and the other faithful disciples of our Lord when asked by him if they too wanted to leave him (John 6:67):
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
Any profession other than that about our Lord is a lie and the Father is not a part of it (1 John 2:22-23).
True Christianity is not easy. Often a person's response to tough times and hard teachings reveals that person’s real motives in following Christ. Biblical and Christian history is littered with those who could or would not stay true to the end. But before we cast judgment on them we better take a long, hard look in the mirror and recognize the grace of God that stares back at us. It is only in his strength that we can stand firm. But stand firm we must – for God’s glory and the good of our neighbors... indeed, our world.
Let us stand firm in our faith. For if we don’t, we will not stand at all (Isaiah 7:9).
Besides the fact that it’s God’s character to first love us… and to initiate a relationship with us… we still should ask: Did Abraham have a particular responsibility or obligation from being in this relationship with God? Our text says that God chose him for this relationship…
…so that he [Abraham] will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just…
God was calling Abraham to begin a genealogy of faith where following God would be passed down from one generation to the next. As Pastor Bruce preached on several weeks ago, though we’re in the world we’re not to be like the world around us. We’re called to be different. The ways of God are different than the ways of the world.
Abraham was being called by God to teach, to shepherd, to direct, to nurture his children and his children’s children in the ways of God – ways that are just and right – ways that are different from the world. In the same way, God wants Christian parents to direct their children in the knowledge and ways of God.
Last year I preached on our call to pass our faith on from generation to generation. Well, this covenant with Abraham is where that idea really gets started. Abraham would pass his faith on to Isaac. Isaac would pass it on to Jacob. Jacob would pass it on to Joseph and all of Joseph’s brothers. And on and on and on.
In fact, the class that I’m teaching on Sunday nights is about this very thing. It’s called “Passing the Baton.” And one of the points of the study is that, like a relay race in the Olympics, the race is successful only if the baton is passed from one runner to the next. If it’s dropped, the race is over for that relay team. That’s true for our faith as well. If we don’t pass on our faith to the coming generations, they won’t be able to take it and run with it. They won’t be able to live it out. They won’t be able to share it with others. And they won’t be salt and light to a world in desperate need of God’s grace.
Last week at the 11:00 worship service we celebrated the baptism of a precious baby. I want to remind you all of what the parents, as well as the whole congregation commits to every time we baptize a child…
We are asked:
Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include this child now before you in your
With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround this child with a community of love and forgiveness, that he/she may grow in his/her service to others. We will pray for him/her, that he/she may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.
This is a commitment to pass the baton of faith to the next generation. And if we would successfully pass the baton of faith to the next generation, as Abraham did, then we must be faithful to God’s call in our lives.
Well, our verse this morning ends with a promise. God says that Abraham is to direct his children in the way of the Lord…
…so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.
I believe this describes for us that God works through means. And usually, we are the means by and through which God works. For example, God knows all things, and yet still invites us to pray… and he tells us that our prayers are effective. Or think about this: God could write the four spiritual laws in the clouds to bring people to faith in Christ, and yet he calls on us to share our faith with others.
I think our text is another example of this kind of thing. God called Abraham to direct his children in the ways of God – ways that are just and right. And if Abraham followed through and was obedient to God’s call, then God would work through Abraham’s children to achieve what God had promised Abraham – to make him a father of many nations.
Humanly speaking, the Church of Jesus Christ is always (theoretically) one generation from extinction. Now let me say that I don’t for a second think that God would ever let that happen. In fact, Jesus has already promised us that he is building his Church.
And yet, we have the same call as Abraham. Here’s the incredible thing: God’s promise to Abraham is actually fulfilled through our faithfulness in passing the baton of faith from generation to generation. God actually dares to make us the means by which he keeps his promise to Abraham. Amazing!
Therefore, on this Father’s Day, let us all commit to pursuing the faith and faithfulness of Father Abraham by passing the baton of faith to our children and our children’s children.
Grace and Truth,