Matthew 13:44-46 - “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Why aren’t people lined up at the doors of the church each and every Sunday morning? Why is it that only a fraction of the membership of the average church is involved in the life of its ministries? People stand in line for hours to purchase concert or football tickets. They tell all of their friends about the experience afterward. Why is there not the same passion for God and his Kingdom?
Jesus knew the answer to that question. Perhaps that’s why he finished so many of the parables with words such as, “Let him who has ears to hear, hear.” Humanly speaking, not everyone who hears the gospel of the Kingdom of God “gets it.” Light bulbs go off for some while others remain in the dark.
The Kingdom of heaven is in direct antithesis with the values and morals and thought-patterns of our fallen world. It just doesn’t make sense to those “of the world” (also known as, “worldlings”). They don’t see what the big deal is.
But when the light of grace breaks through and shines in the heart of such a worldling, something truly miraculous happens. (I know, for I was one.) Life appears where before there had only been a frozen and lifeless corpse. Spiritual synapses start firing. Blood starts flowing. The bulb comes on.
Suddenly, the treasure that is the Kingdom of God is discovered and seen for what it is. Joy saturates the soul. Whatever cost there is for this treasure is gladly paid in order to have it. No price is too high.
But I guess that’s the rub. For the price is your own life, your pride, your dependence upon yourself, your love of self, your commitment to gratify sinful desires, your love for the world and it’s way of thinking and living and a thousand other things besides. But at the end of the day, the cost of the Kingdom is your life – your very self. That has to die with Christ. And it hurts. Eustace discovered that his many scaly skins had to be peeled away by Aslan’s powerful and sharp claws. There was no other way.
But just as we die with Christ, we are also raised anew with Christ. We share in new life through his resurrection. Behold, he makes everything new.
Everything new looks different. Colors are vibrant. Scents smell fresher than ever before and remind you of a home you have never visited – your real home. Sounds are clear and beautiful. The veil has been lifted and you see life as it was intended – life in the Kingdom – life of the Kingdom.
What a treasure! What a pearl of great price! And it only costs you your life. A small price to pay if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Grace and Truth,
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)
Much has been made over the last few years about the emergence of militant atheism’s evangelistic crusade to rid the world of ignorance. Specifically, these crusaders want to enlighten the minds of the masses who still believe that God exists. For these spokesmen for atheism, belief in God is intellectually unsustainable and should by all means be abandoned. Not only that, these atheistic evangelists believe that a person’s commitment to belief in God is actually harmful to children as well as to civilization as a whole.
Thankfully, their charges have been more than sufficiently answered at every turn by faithful Christian apologists. The atheists are getting all the press, but their arguments are unable to stand up to the Light of Truth.
Yet there is a more prevalent form of atheism that lurks in our land. Indeed, it can even be found in the church. It is what Cornelius Van Til called, “practical atheism.” A practical atheist is a person who professes to believe in God, and yet the God whose existence is professed does not seem to make any meaningful difference in that person’s daily life. His beliefs, values, morals, actions, etc., are not prioritized by his supposed belief in the existence of God. Put another way: If this person was to wake up one day and decide that he no longer believed in the existence of God, his life would change very little. This is practical atheism.
In Romans 1:21, Paul describes the person who has suppressed the truth he knows about God. Paul says that in truth, all people know God exists. In fact, they even know things about his power and majesty. Yet, in order to maintain a certain way of living, they alter their belief system to accommodate their lifestyle. Like the hard atheist who formally declares that there is no God, the practical atheist denies God by the way in which he leads his life. Paul teaches us that “although they know God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…”
We glorify God when we seek to live purposefully and intentionally for him each day. We glorify God when we live to please him, honor him, obey him, love him, seek to be like him, represent him, and tell others about him. That’s what a God-glorifying life looks like. It’s also a life that is grateful to God for his goodness. However, this is more than tossing out a “thank you” every now and then at the beginning of a meal. Instead, it’s more of an all-encompassing attitude of gratitude. It becomes pervasive in one’s personality. This attitude glorifies God because it exalts God as the One who is worthy of such affection and appreciation.
How are you doing with this? Are you seeking to glorify God and be thankful to him in all things? Of course, none of us is perfect at this. We can all get fairly self-absorbed and self-centered in the goings on of our lives. We all, from time to time, become too preoccupied with lesser interests.
Yet the One who should be our greatest interest has told us that we are to have no other gods before him. We are called to seek him first and foremost. We are instructed and encouraged to be holy because God is holy. His existence, in other words, should play a profound role in the lives of those who profess to believe in and follow him. He should be our ultimate Influence and his influence should saturate every sphere of our lives…for his glory and for our good.
Grace and Truth,
1 Thessalonians 4:3a – It is God’s will that you should be sanctified…
Today’s devotion will no doubt disappoint you if you came to it with the hope and expectation of learning how to decide what job to take, whom to marry, or where to move. (**Read to the end for some hope on that score.**) Those often seem to be the leading candidates when people want God’s will unveiled in their own lives. I am no different.
But quite often those desires turn to despair when it is discovered that God doesn’t say in Paul’s letter to the Romans or the Gospel of Matthew that you should indeed take that job, marry that person, or move to that place. And because it doesn’t give such specifics, folks sometimes end up frustrated over the apparent “inaccessibility” of knowing God’s will for their lives.
My usual counsel to such troubled souls is to encourage them by letting them know that God’s will can be found on virtually every page of the Bible. Today’s text gives us an example of what I’m talking about. Paul tells us in our verse:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.
“Sanctified” is a fancy word which simply means “to be set apart.” But what does that mean? Set apart from what? Set apart for what? Well first, it means to be set apart from something – specifically, from the world, the flesh, and the devil. It means that the fallen, rebellious, autonomous, sinful patterns to which we once belonged, and which we once practiced, are to be put off, died to, and left behind.
“Sanctified” also means that we are set apart for God. In Christ God has made us his own. He is recreating us into the image of his Son. Thus, he now calls us to love him, trust him, obey him, walk with him daily, and be like him. Peter, in his first epistle – and quoting Leviticus – reminds us that God says to us, “Be holy, as I am holy.” Just a few verses from today’s text, in verse 7, Paul reminds us “…God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”
When we hear Christ’s redeeming call and are born anew by the power of the Holy Spirit, we immediately (though imperfectly) begin the process of becoming what God says we already are. God, in a manner of speaking, says to us:
You are holy. Now go and be holy. Go be who you are.
To die to self, pick up your cross, and follow Christ is what it means to live a sanctified life – one that jettisons the old, fallen self, and instead, puts on Christ as of first importance and immediately seeks his righteousness.
This is God’s will for you. And I believe that the more you know God, and know of God – his person, work, ways, and word – and the more you pursue them daily and whole-heartedly in your life, the better you will be able to discern his particular will for your life – that job to take, that person to marry, that place to move.
Seek first God and his righteousness, and all those other things will be revealed to you as well (Matt. 6:33). In the mean time,
Grace and Truth,
Joshua 1:8 - May I not let Your word depart from my mouth, but meditate on it day and night, so that I may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then I will make my way prosperous, and I will act wisely. (Ken Boa paraphrase)
This verse from the first chapter of Joshua has been paraphrased in the first person to remind us that God’s Word has application in our lives. It is, in a manner of speaking, addressed to us.
That’s quite relevant in light of the fact that this single verse is exhorting and instructing us to saturate ourselves in God’s Word. Why? Because that’s where we meet God…hear God…are confronted and instructed by God. In short, it is where we learn to act wisely.
I pray for wisdom on a daily basis, All of Scripture encourages me to do so. James puts it bluntly in the first chapter of the book that bears his name. Verse five reads,
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
It doesn’t get any plainer than that. Ask for wisdom and God will give it…generously. That seems simple enough. Yet what I have learned over the years of my spiritual pilgrimage is that this “formula” does not work like a magic genie in a lamp. You don’t rub the lamp and make a wish. It doesn’t operate like taking an aspirin for a headache. You don’t take two tablets and get wisdom in the morning.
Instead, our text from Joshua gives us a pretty good understanding about how to attain wisdom. If the wisdom we want is God’s wisdom, and God has revealed his wisdom to us in and through his Word, then it would behoove us to read, study, mediate upon, pray over, and apply – SATURATE ourselves – with that source of wisdom. If we want God’s wisdom to rub off on us and really get into our spiritual bloodstreams – into our hearts and minds – then we have to do the hard work of “not letting it depart from us.” We will want to “meditate on it day and night.” We will want to be “careful to do according to all that is written in it.” Only then will we become prosperous and begin to act wisely.
That’s the cost to this component of faithful discipleship. It’s not easy and it certainly does not come instantly. This is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. But it is a pearl of great price that is worth more than we can possibly imagine. It’s worth the cost and then some.
One last thought: I’m not sure when I will know that “I’ve arrived” and received the wisdom that I’ve been desperately praying and striving for. Do we “arrive” when it comes to wisdom? What does that even mean? Does a wise person think that he or she is wise? That doesn’t seem to fit with my understanding of wisdom. I think I’ll just pursue it, with God’s grace, all the days of my life and leave it to my heavenly Father, if he so chooses, to one day let me know how I did.
Grace and Truth,
You got it from your father
It was all he had to give
So it’s yours to use and cherish
For so long as you may live.
If you lose the watch he gave you
It can always be replaced
But a black mark on your name, son
Can never be erased.
It was clean the day you took it
And a worthy name to bear.
When he got it from his father
There was no dishonour there.
So make sure you guard it wisely,
After all is said and done
You’ll be glad the name is spotless
When you give it to your son.
I would agree that the poem above could provoke a great deal of stress and pressure in a young boy’s life (not to mention his father’s). No one’s “name” is that pure. And, to be sure, without God’s grace and the power and guidance of God’s Spirit, no one will go through life with an unblemished record. Still… I like the poem as something to bear in mind as I encourage and help my sons navigate their way through life. One day, as part of that instruction and encouragement, I will have to share a few times when their father got quite a few dark smudges on the family name. And then I shall remind them of the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
(By the way, if you want to see an incredibly powerful presentation on the significance of one’s name, watch this scene from The Crucible. In this scene, John Proctor accepts a death sentence for something for which he was innocent, rather than passing on a blemished name to his sons. After several years of searching for this scene, I finally found it. There is a short and helpful little commentary at the beginning… which is worth watching as well. But by all means, please watch the scene that follows it.)
And while I’m feeling like imparting some inspiration to my sons… here’s a great video-version of Rudyard Kipling’s “If.”
2 Chronicles 7:14 - …if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
The Lord was pleased with the Temple that Solomon had completed. God said he would take up residence there to receive sacrifices. However, God then mysteriously (seemingly) changed the tone of his words to Solomon by telling him that he may shut up the heavens to prevent rain from falling. Or, he may command locusts to devour the land. Or, he may even send a plague on “his own” people (v. 13).
It’s hard to understand where God was coming from here. All Israel had just celebrated the dedication of the Temple, the assembling of which, was a community project to say the least. And then we get those sobering words of verse 13.
Perhaps it was the nature of that (the Temple) which they were celebrating – the place from which God would receive sacrifices. The sin of a covenant people against the Holy One with whom such a covenant was made was no trifle to be winked at. It was a great offense. But God offered hope in verse 14. He declared that when these calamities befall his covenant people, there was (is) something they could do.
First, his people must humble themselves. There is no room for pride and self-dependence here. Instead, God’s people must, as it were, fall on their faces before God as an act of spiritual poverty and brokenness. They have neither strength nor wisdom in and of themselves. God is the Source for all of that and more.
They must also pray. Prayers of adoration, confession of sin, expressions of their helplessness, and complete dependence upon the sovereign God come to mind.
Next, they must seek the face of God. Imagine that great Day when we will behold the face of God. It is that face which we are to pursue in this life. This idea expresses our need to cultivate the character of God in our lives, trust him alone, follow his commands, seek his presence, and enter into intimate communion with him.
God also said that his people must turn from their wicked ways. The rest of the chapter gives us a glimpse of what those wicked ways look like: Turning away from and forsaking God and his decrees and commands, serving other gods, and worshipping them. This is wickedness in the sight of God and is why God might bring disaster on his own people (v. 22). God’s people must abandon such spiritual adultery at once.
But when they humble themselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from their wicked ways, God promises to hear them, forgive their sin, and heal their land.
Ours is a land in desperate need of healing. Whether it’s our culture, our denomination, our local church, or our family, there is much need for the healing power of God. But it will not come merely because we recognize the need. That’s a good first step, but much more is required – genuine change – change that results in humbling oneself before God and clinging to him alone. Saturating ourselves in prayer regarding our transgressions before God and the need for forgiveness and restoration is essential. Seeking the face of God – his will, his commands and decrees, his presence, his pleasure – should be our life’s pursuit. And biblical repentance is necessary – turning from our wicked ways and leaving them behind and turning in a Godward direction. Our prayer should certainly include pleading with God to enable us to do such.
We want to see our land and our lives forgiven and healed. But change (renovation) will have to first take place. Until then, we should expect the discipline of a loving and holy Father – one who loves us too much to let us continue on a destructive path, and who, therefore, will do much to bring us back to the right one. Because he is holy, he will never overlook our transgressions. He loves his own character and glory too much for that.
God calls us away from the gods of this age. He calls us back to obedience and submission to his Lordship and Word. And with that comes his promise to forgive us and heal our land. Thanks be to God – the great Promise-Maker and Promise-Keeper.
Grace and Truth,
Assorted Texts from Luke 12
Time spent in the gospels has been time well spent. As I have listened to my Lord’s words I have been able to discern themes that run near and dear to his heart. I guess these themes are fairly obvious and would be hard to miss even to the casual reader. What impresses me, I suppose, is the sheer frequency of certain teachings from our Lord. There’s a sense of urgency about them. Today’s reading in Luke 12 is an example.
Luke 12:1 – “Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees…”
Luke 12:15 – “Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed…”
Luke 12:40 – “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Whether we are talking about false teachings and practices of religious leaders, temptation and sin in our own lives, or the consummation of all things at the return of the King, we are commanded to be on guard, to watch out, to be ready.
This theme of preparation appears and reappears much in Jesus’ teaching. As repetition for rabbis in the first century was a didactic tool or technique – to ensure a vital point was made and received – we do well to pay careful attention here. It would be akin to a school teacher in our day writing a point on a chalkboard and saying, “If I’m taking the time to write this out, you can bet it will appear on your exam.” We ignore such warnings to our peril. (feel free to insert whatever present-day technological version of this illustration is apt.)
What strikes me about this is the call on our part for disciplined intentionality. For you cannot casually or lazily “be on guard,” or “watch out,” or “be ready.” We could endlessly cite analogies from the world of sports or the military to show just how essential such intense, intentional, and disciplined preparation is. Without it, the game is lost, the city taken, the soul forfeited.
If I let my guard down today, it is true that Jesus may not return… this day. But I don’t think that’s the main point of our Lord. Instead, we must consider what the accumulation of days with a lowered guard will do to a person. The spiritual atrophy that would set in would be catastrophic to an individual. The dominion of the world, the flesh, and the devil would enlarge in that person’s life with one of two results. The first is that the person would possibly wake up, only too late to put up any real fight, and thus lose the battle. The second possibility would be that the person would never awaken from their slumber and thus become an occupied territory unaware. In either case, without a work of divine grace, the battle is lost, and perhaps even the war.
We do well to heed our Master’s words today – to be on guard continually, to always be ready, and to constantly watch out. For our foes are nearer to us and subtler that we can imagine. Only an intentional and disciplined watchman on the high wall of the citadel of the soul can and will be properly prepared.
Let us, therefore, be ready. For I can think of nothing worse than to fall in battle, knowing that I could have easily seen the attack coming and prevented it…if only I had listened to and obeyed my King.
Grace and Truth,
2 Samuel 15:21 - But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”
Who was Ittai? He was a foreigner. He was an exile. He had barely even been with David. And so David, right before the going got tough, tells Ittai to leave while he can; this wasn’t his fight. David even sends him and his countrymen off with a blessing.
But Ittai’s loyalty runs deep. We don’t know why, and I’m not sure that even matters. Ittai responds to David with these words:
“As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”
David clearly recognized and appreciated this loyalty and so honored Ittai by permitting Ittai, his men and his families to stay on.
Such loyalty it rare today. Whenever I see such displays in a movie or a book, they virtually jump off the screen or page at me, demanding to be noticed and honored.
I wonder how many followers of Christ would follow their Lord wherever he may go and to whatever end. Our Lord goes everywhere. He goes into our families, our homes, our workplaces, our thought-lives, our churches, our TV rooms, our cars, our grocery-store checkout lines, our cultural battles, our conversations, and on and on and on. Not only does he go to those places but he claims Lordship over those places. And it is not an empty claim. He has been given authority in those places. Ephesians 1:22 says:
“And God placed all things under [Christ’s] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church…”
Christ is the King over all things... the Lord over every sphere of life. That’s simply a fact about reality. And yet there is a sense in which, in this present age, he is still seeking to extend his Kingdom into every sphere of life. It’s part of the “already and not yet” nature of his Kingdom. And what is so very odd is that he calls those of us who are his followers to be the very ones who extend his Kingdom. In other words, he extends his Kingdom through us. Truly amazing!
And so, will we be loyal and faithful to our Lord as Ittai was to King David? Will we follow our Lord to whatever end? We don’t have to guess as to whether or not there will be death. For there will be. That’s an up-front promise by our Lord himself.
First and foremost there will be a death to self. For there to be fruit a seed must die. For Christ’s followers to bear fruit for our King we must die to ourselves – to our sin, our flesh, our agendas, our self-centeredness, our egos, our idols, and so forth. Make no mistake about it, this is death and it can be quite painful.
And yet there is also the promise of life: real life, everlasting life, fullness of life. And this promised life is just as guaranteed as our death. For just as we die with Christ so too are we raised with him – to be and become as he is.
For the beauty of all that has been said is found in the truth that our King has already been where he calls us to go. Furthermore, he has promised to travel with us and to encourage, strengthen, and guide us along the way…the narrow way.
That’s a comforting thought indeed.
Grace and Truth,
Selected verses from Deuteronomy 11
“Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.”
With these words of the first verse of Deuteronomy 11, God, through Moses, gave Israel a purpose. Her purpose was to “keep his requirements.” Keep “his decrees, his laws and his commands…always.” That’s a pretty clear purpose.
But there’s more to it. It also included a “what that looks like” portion. If the Israelites would be obedient to God, they would take the land – the Promised Land – which God had set before them. Obedience would be tough, but God also let them know that it would be well worth their efforts. In verses 11-12 we read:
But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven.  It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.
The blessing of obedience to the covenant is that Israel would get all this and more. The curse of disobedience of the covenant was that she wouldn’t…and more.
Obedience is an essential part of purpose. What would be the point of knowing your purpose – what you were created for – if you didn’t pursue it? It’s only as we obey God, follow Christ, die to self, count others better than ourselves by serving them, extend God’s Kingdom into every sphere of life, etc., that we discover God’s blessing for our lives – which may take on different manifestations in our lives as we travel down the path... the right path.
But can any of us hope for more than the knowledge that the eyes of the Lord our God are continually on it [our purpose] from the beginning to the end?
Grace and Truth,
1 Corinthians 2:14, 16b
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. …But we have the mind of Christ.
The mannishness of man. That was a phrase that Francis Schaeffer used to describe man in his fallen state. I like to use the word, “worldling” to describe the same idea. Paul uses the phrase “natural man” or “the man without the Spirit.” All of these describe a basic antithesis between those who have eyes to see and those who don’t – those who love the foolishness of God and know that it’s actually unparalleled wisdom and those who see God’s foolishness and believe that it really is folly – an utter waste of time. Like the wicked described in Job 21, they say to God…‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’ (vv. 14-15)
God’s wisdom is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.
Paul writes that natural man…
doesn’t accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (v. 14).
It’s not simply that he chooses not to know God’s ways and prefers not to understand them. He cannot. He is unable. Such things are spiritually discerned and he does not have the Spirit. His heart is unregenerate. He is blind. It is impossible for him…for him.
But nothing is impossible for God. Those of us who are now in Christ were once as blind as the worldlings that surround us today. There was a time when we did not understand the deep truths of God. But God is in the business of waking the dead, giving them (us) hearts that beat according to his Word, and providing eyes that see that which is invisible and eternal. This was not of ourselves, lest we should boast. It wasn’t because we were so smart, righteous, or born into the right family. It was the free and undeserved favor of a gracious God.
We now have the mind of Christ. We are able to discern the things of God. Flesh and blood do not reveal such things to us, but our heavenly Father does as he discloses himself – his good, pleasing, and perfect will. We receive it as we are transformed by the renewing of our minds through his Word.
So it is with humility that we plead with people who do not know Christ and who are under the influence of the spirit of the age. For where they are, we once were. We know they are in darkness, that they hurt, that they are broken, that they are looking for meaning and purpose, that they are confused, that they don’t know the Way, that they are on the road to the City of Destruction. We were once like them. It took the sovereign touch from the Lord of hosts to deliver us from our plight. And so we beg those without the Spirit to run to the narrow Gate. We intercede on their behalf and ask our Father to give them eyes to see, that they might enter in and walk the Way that leads to Life.