John 8:23-24, 31-32 - But [Jesus] continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.  I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
To the Point
Jesus rarely, if ever, beat around the bush. Time was precious to him, so he usually cut straight to the chase. He knew how to get the attention of his hearers. In our Scripture, Jesus shares with those to whom he is speaking several important facts about them and the world in which they lived.
We Have to Show Our Pearly Whites
True, biblical, and God-glorifying faith in Christ has teeth to it. It’s got a practicality that demands to be noticed. It’s unlikely the early church was so heavily persecuted and martyred simply because they intellectually accepted particular truth-claims about Jesus and then told others they needed to do the same to go to heaven.
Instead, because they believed Jesus was who he claimed to be and thus loved and followed him, they therefore obeyed him. Put another way: They put their faith into practice.
As their faith in Christ permeated every sphere of their lives they began to be noticed by the worldlings around them. It was this authentic non-conformity to the world around them that led to their persecution. They refused to be “squeezed into the mold” of this world.
The Shape of Discipleship
If we would be people of the truth, we must be Christ’s disciples. If we would be his disciples, we must believe in him, trust him, and obey him. Nothing less is worthy of the One who is the true Lord and King of the universe, which includes this world.
The “Pretenders to the Throne” notwithstanding, (their reign, after all, is temporary), our allegiance must be to Christ alone. And that allegiance has a shape to it. It is not mere intellectual ascent of a few doctrinal propositions (though it includes that). It is not simply a warm-fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. It is far more. Allegiance to Christ is incarnational. It has skin on it. It has teeth to it. If we would be his, we must submit to his Lordship – his absolute authority – by obeying him in every sphere of our lives. Only then can we rightly claim to be his disciples.
In what areas of your life is it hardest to live faithfully as a Christian? Why do you think that is? What are three ways you can to equip yourself to more faithfully “hold to” Jesus’ teachings in every sphere of your life? What do you think such faithfulness looks like? Take a minute to pray right now and then share your ideas with a friend who will also pray for you and hold you accountable.
Grace and Truth,
Deuteronomy 14:2 - …for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.
God’s Usual Unusual Suspects
The people of Israel were not the largest, richest, or most powerful group on the planet when God chose them. Nor were they the most righteous and obedient. And yet God chose them. In 1 Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul tells us this is God’s usual mode of operation. He manifests his wisdom and power by choosing, and then raising up, the unwise and weak to serve him. It’s been a fairly effective plan thus far. There was a fairly well known empire that was turned upside-down by the “dregs of society” a couple thousand years ago. It seems to still be working.
What is also striking about this verse is that Israel is referred to as God’s “treasured possession.” What a wonderful way to see oneself – as a treasured possession – something incredibly valuable to God.
Not In Us
When we think of ourselves as such, our first impulse is to agree with the verdict. “Of course I’m treasured by God,” we think. “I have so much raw talent, drive, character, and more. Why wouldn’t I be invaluable to God?” And yet, this sort of thinking is antithetical to biblical truth. There is nothing in ourselves which compels God to choose us. Instead, his choice flows from his own good, perfect, and pleasing will that results in God loving us first.
But to think that those who are in Christ are God’s treasured possessions is an amazing notion. Yet that’s exactly what we are as heirs of the new covenant.
How ought we respond to such news? Humility comes first to mind. There is no room for pride in the biblical worldview. How about gratitude and joy? Yes, there should be plenty of both to be sure. There’s also obedience. We mustn’t forget that. Lives lived in humble, grateful, joyful, and obedient response to the God who first loved us is essential, and should be natural. It should register as an, “of course” response from us.
But does it? Does your life reflect that sense of chosen-ness in which God regards you as his treasured possession? If not, why not make today the day you begin living in humble, grateful, joyful, and obedient response to who God is and what he has done on your behalf.
Why do you think some people want to claim that God owes them love and grace? Do you struggle with that idea? What makes the responses of humility, gratitude, joy, and obedience so hard? Why should they be the natural response to God’s grace? Who do you know who needs to hear the good news that they cannot earn God’s favor, nor do they need to? After praying for them, why not share this good news with them today.
Grace and Truth,
Luke 10:41-42 – “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
One way to pray Scripture back to God is by turning a verse or two into a first person statement. I’ve done that with today’s Scripture.
May I not be worried and troubled about many things; only one thing is needed. Like Mary, may I choose the good part, which will not be taken away from me.
I have no difficulty seeing the relevance of this truth in my life. It’s living out this truth that’s the hard part.
Get Busy Doing
Martha was busy… busy cooking, cleaning, organizing, preparing, just plain busy. Her work was important. She was entertaining guests and someone, after all, had to act responsibly. She was busy “doing.”
Mary didn’t seem quite so busy. What was she doing? Chatting, listening, and seemingly lounging about. What distinguished Mary’s activity from Mary’s apparent laziness was who Mary was with – the Lord Jesus Christ. She wasn’t necessarily busy “doing.” Instead, she was being, being in relationship. She was basking in the presence of the Lord Jesus. He was an invited guest who would not always be with them. What else should she have done? Mary chose the one thing needed and was told it would not be taken from her.
In our world, many people look down on Mary’s kind. “Why, nothing would ever get done if Mary and her ilk had their way,” we might hear. But that’s not exactly true. It’s not like Mary was a habitually lazy person who lay around the house in her pajamas until noon on a regular basis. This was different. Much different. She was in relationship with her invited Guest.
Our Invited Guest
We need to take a closer look at the text. Jesus does not admonish Mary for spending time with him; he admonished Martha. Like the poor, so too our jobs, chores, errands, and all the rest, will always be with us. But what of Christ? Well, he promised to always be with us, but in a practical sense he must be our invited Guest each day. He must be the One with whom we can just “be” each day. Jesus said that is the one thing needed and it will not be taken from us when we pursue it.
Not only that, but “being” must precede “doing” or else “doing” will turn into drudgery, bitterness, and even pointlessness. This is the point of Jesus’ words in John 15 about the branches needing to be connected to the vine. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing. Without time to “just be” with our Lord, we will run out of gas. We’ll burn out. It will hinder us in persevering until the end. Our “doing” may shine brightly for a season, but it won’t last for the long haul because it will not have the fuel of Christ’s Spirit to sustain it. And that fuel comes only through the one thing necessary – pursuing and enjoying our ongoing relationship with the living God through his Son. And, we must not forget, knowing him in this way is eternal life (John 17:3).
Are you pursuing the one thing in life truly needful? There are many competitors vying for your time, energy, and attention. Some of those things are even good. But don’t let the good become the enemy of the best. Choose the best. Choose consecrated (set apart) time each day to spend with your Lord. He promises you it is the one thing needed and it will not be taken away from you.
Read the following quote by James Houston.
“This past century is possibly the first one in which action has been emphasized and valued more than contemplation. Today we think contemplation wastes time, produces nothing, and bumps awkwardly into our schedules. A devotional life is a questionable priority for most successful people today. But are we “successful” Christians if we are so busy organizing and propagating the Christian faith that we really do not know God personally and intimately?”
Have you ever felt lazy for spending time just “being” with the Lord instead of being busy “doing” something instead? Why do you think you felt that way? Why do you think our society more often errs on the side of activity than contemplation? What are some ways we can follow Mary’s model of being with the Lord in our daily lives? If you do not have this “set apart” time each day with the Lord, what are some ways you can build it into your schedule?
Grace and Truth,
Psalm 19:7 – The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
God’s Treasure Trove
Psalm 19 is a treasure trove of wisdom for the person who is pursuing godliness. Similar to Psalm 119, words used throughout this psalm, such as law, statutes, precepts, commands, ordinances, fear, etc., describe the same thing, the revealed Word of God. This is not just any word, but a word revealed for the purpose of reviving our souls, making us wise, giving our hearts joy and our eyes light.
Furthermore, God reminds us in Psalm 19 that his Word endures forever, is perfect, trustworthy, radiant, pure, sure, and righteous.
(As a side note, it’s interesting that the first six verses of Psalm 19 reveal another book of God that declares his glory… the book of his creation.)
God also teaches us in Psalm 19 that it is through his word that the godly person can discern his or her errors (cf. 119:9-11). James tells us his in epistle that God’s Word is like a mirror that reveals to us our true reflection.
How loving and merciful our God is to give us such light in a dark world. How gracious and compassionate he is to reveal himself to us with such clarity that we may reach out to him and know him, which is eternal life (John 17:3).
God’s Good Provision
For the purpose of this devotion, I want to focus in on verse 7 of Psalm 19. In this verse we are humbled by our Lord’s goodness. His law (his Word) is perfect, just as he is in his very essence. Such knowledge of God and his perfect Word is overwhelming to us. And yet, it revives our soul. It gives life where there is none. It strengthens the soul that is weak. It rejuvenates the soul that is weary. O Lord, who are we that you are mindful of us? To God alone be the glory!
By the Word of God incarnate and the Word of God inscripturated, (which bears witness to him), we may come to know God and learn how to love and follow him more faithfully in every sphere of our lives. The godly person must realize that without God’s Word, we are left wandering aimlessly and perilously in the world. We can expect no growth as men and women of God without the rich nutrients given in and through his Word (John 15). That is why it must dwell richly in us (Col. 3:16). There’s no meaningful growth without such scripture-saturation. That’s the revival of the soul I desire. How about you?
Take God’s Word For It
We can trust God’s Word. We need not doubt it as Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3. We are constantly being tempted to doubt what God has revealed to us. Such is the temptation from our adversary and we are foolish to give in to it. Yet God has told us he has revealed himself to us in and through his Word – his character, works, love, commands, and promises. He encourages us to understand that the purpose of his self-disclosure is to make us wise. Wisdom, the Bible tells us, means “skill for living.” God wants us to skillfully grow in the likeness of Christ and faithfully live as godly people in this world.
In his book, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Donald Whitney asks his reader if they are “being governed increasingly by the Word of God.” Well, how about it? Does that describe you? I want to encourage you pursue this “governance” more and more in your lives. Scripture is God’s gift to you. Let me know how I can help you in this pursuit.
Are you “being governed increasingly by the Word of God?” Why or why not? With a friend or two, discuss what your daily and weekly Bible reading/study plan looks like. What are obstacles in your schedule that tempt you from spending regular time in Scripture? How can you resist giving in to those temptations and make time spent with God a priority?
Grace and Truth
Among the characteristics we could cite, our forbearers in the faith had at least two qualities about them that enabled them to stand against great odds. These loved ones of the covenant had faith and courage.
There’s a lack in our day of both. More often than I care to think about, doubt and fear have won the day and left God’s saints in a puddle of impotence and despair. I know this has been true of my own life. But this should never be the case for God’s people. Scripture offers us some encouraging examples of those who trusted God and were able to face seemingly insurmountable odds.
Example 1: Caleb
When Moses sent an expedition to Canaan to explore what awaited God’s children in the land of promise, the report confirmed all God had promised – it was lush and flowed with milk and honey, as advertised. But there was a catch. There was also a huge obstacle before them. In the land there were “giants” who made the Israelites seem like hobbits in a land of orcs. The report from the expedition team was, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:33).
But this wasn’t a unanimous report. For in Numbers 13:30 we read,
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
Caleb had faith in God and his covenant promises, and therefore, could be as courageous as Frodo and Sam in Mordor.
Example 2: David
David faced similar circumstances later on in redemptive history, with a similar response. As the Israelites shook in their sandals before the great Goliath and the Philistine horde, the young shepherd boy looked on in bewilderment. In what seemed like arrogance at worst and naiveté at best, this “king-to-be” couldn’t understand why his people had not already taken the uncircumcised behemoth apart – especially in light of Goliath’s jeering and insolence before the living God. David queried,
“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26)
And so, like Caleb before him, David volunteered to take Goliath on. So what if he seemed like a grasshopper before this giant of a man, all nine feet of him. David drew courage from his faith in the One who had never failed him before.
Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:36-37)
The Foundation for Faith and Courage
With faith and courage David faced the giant, and the rest, as we say, is history. What was the foundation for such faith and courage in the lives of Caleb and David? We are told in Jeremiah 1:8 and 19.
Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
Caleb and David knew in their day what God told Jeremiah in his. That is, God’s people will be opposed. That’s a given. We will seem like grasshoppers in comparison. The “apparent” odds will be overwhelmingly against us. But God calls the weak, poor, small, seemingly insignificant hobbits of this world to serve as his subjects, his knights, to advance his Kingdom, even in the face of the enemy (perhaps especially so).
Where Are Your Giants?
What are the obstacles you are facing? Is anything greater than the covenant-making, covenant-keeping Lord of Glory? It is this very God who promised never to forsake us. That alone is grounds for faith and courage in the midst of insurmountable odds.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58)
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. (1 Cor. 16:13)
Who (or what) are the giants in your life? What is it about them that causes you to fear and turn the other way? What is a strategy you could start using today to help you face your giants with faith and courage? Of course, you should never travel alone. Who are two or three people you could ask to pray for you, offer you wisdom, and hold you accountable? Ask them to join you today.
Grace and Truth,
Jeremiah 9:23-26 – This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches,  but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.  “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh–  Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.”
It’s great fun and a tremendous blessing to see the harmony of God’s Word in both the Old and New Testaments. Today’s text is a perfect example.
We often think discussion of God’s desire for a circumcised heart is the exclusive domain of the New Testament (and St. Paul in particular). However, this truth can be found in the Old Testament as well. Jeremiah 9 reveals God’s desire for this was not exclusively a New Testament phenomenon.
Israel regularly confused its position before God as a token of only the external. “It’s because our flesh has been circumcised that we are in good stead with God,” they seem to say. But it was never that. Instead, their physical circumcision was to be an outward expression of the inward disposition of their heart toward God. Our sacraments of baptism and communion function in a similar way. The external acts are not magical. They are outward and visible signs of God’s inward and spiritual grace in our lives. Going through the motions is not what counts. Our response of faith to God’s grace is.
Jeremiah prophesied God would one day punish those who relied solely on outward (even ethnic) expressions of religiosity. Jesus never had much good to say about mere external expressions of one’s faith. He likened such conduct to whitewashed tombs that were full of dead men’s bones. They looked pretty on the outside, but inside they were grotesque.
God’s Desire for You
This has been God’s desire for us from the very beginning. Abel gave to God from the best of his first fruits. He inwardly wanted to please God we are led to believe. There was no “going through the motions” for Abel.
How is with it with you?
Has your heart been consecrated to the Lord God Almighty? Is he your exclusive Master? Do you give him the first fruits of your time, talent, and treasure? Or, is God sharing the throne with you, receiving only what is left over in your life? The truth is, God will have none of that. He wants all of you, in every sphere of your life.
Why not lay all of your life on the altar before God as a living sacrifice of praise. I don’t know about you, but I know God can do a lot more with my life than I can. Why not let him have it – all of it – for his glory and your good.
Do you find yourself simply “going through the motions” in your spiritual life? Prayer? Bible Study? Worship? Why do you think that is? What are some ways you can renew your commitment to the Lord and focus on the inward motivation of your heart?
Grace and Truth,
Click the image above to learn more about my book for men.