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.”
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.
Romans 13:11B – 12 - The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
These are the “last days.” Every one of us lives in the “end times.” Whether or not Jesus returns while I’m writing this, or I fall over dead while writing this, or I live to be as old as Methuselah, I (we) are in the midst of the darkness of the last days that must and will give way to Light.
Therefore. Therefore, we must wake up. For we are all in the land of the walking dead (literally, before our regeneration) and all too often in the land of sleepwalkers after our regeneration.
Fallen, unregenerate man assumes that because God hasn’t brought down judgement upon him yet, God therefore won’t. What contempt. The confused worldling refuses to see this “inaction” of the King as supreme patience and thus rejects the call to repentance (Romans 2:4). Tragic.
Sadly, the heirs of the covenant don’t appear to do much better. We look as though we are in a slumber…or perhaps a stupor. And so Paul commands us to – Awaken! Arise! He declares, “salvation is nearer now than when we first believed,” and that “the night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” And everything is exposed in the light of day. That’s why Paul says in verse 13, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime…”
And so we must put aside the deeds of darkness. We must put off the old man. We must put to death the mind that is set on what the flesh desires (Romans 8:5ff). We must instead put on the armor of light for we are soldiers of the Light and we are at war (Ephesians 6:10ff). We must put on the armor of the King – his righteousness and salvation and mindset – for we now have the very mind of the King (1 Corinthians 2:16). We are called to be transformed by renewing our minds to the King’s standards (Romans 12:2), and by setting our minds on what his Spirit desires (Romans 8:5).
We are not guaranteed tomorrow. We must be on our guard out of loyalty to our King (Mathew 24:42-44; 25:12-13). If we would honor and glorify him then we must stand firm, remain vigilant and faithful to the end, whenever that end will be. This is how God has ordained that his Kingdom be advanced – by faithful, fruit-bearing subjects of the Crown. Of course, his subjects are impotent without the life-giving power of his Spirit coursing through their veins, but faithful they must be.
In Romans 9-11 Paul spoke at length on the sovereignty of this King we serve. Yet, Paul has no qualms about telling the believers at Rome to – WAKE UP! QUIT SINNING! OBEY CHRIST! LIVE! For the hour has come. It is almost day. May the church at Southside and beyond hear those same words today. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria,
A couple of years ago one of the men of our church shared with me a little about his Kairos Prison Ministry retreat that he had just been a part of. One of the things he told me was that since the prisoners don’t often get to eat any sweets in prison, many of them attend the Kairos weekend “for the cookies.” In other words, they want a less stressful weekend… some cookies and other good food… but not necessarily Jesus. Jesus just happens to be there with the cookies.
My friend then commented about how wonderful it is for the men who run the retreat to watch the transformation of these same prisoners over the course of the weekend. On the first day of the retreat the prisoners almost boastfully declare that they are there for the cookies. However, over the course of the weekend, as the Spirit moves in and through the men, the Word, prayer, fellowship, testimonies, etc., those same “cookie-seeking” men (at least many of them) really do encounter Christ and are truly changed by his Spirit.
For those who “come to Christ” and his church for dubious reasons, God often “stoops to conquer.” That is, God will often show up and lavish his grace upon a person, regardless of why that person “thinks” he or she is there. When a person, even unwittingly, puts himself or herself in the way of grace, Spirit-led change takes place.
Just think of these examples…
It’s easy to judge such people. We think we know what’s going on in their hearts. And it is true that some folks might do all of this and more, and then leave... only having eaten a few cookies. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we are too easily pleased. A holiday at the shore is offered us, but we’re content making mud pies in a mud puddle. Yet, instead of judging such folks, let our hope be that they brush up against God’s grace and that God’s grace will be filed away in that person’s heart for God to use at a later time. That should be our prayer.
So let folks come for the cookies. And let us pray that they genuinely meet our Lord and come to know, love, and follow him… and stay for the feast.
Grace and Truth,
Mark 12:24 - Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”
The Sadducees (the Jewish party that represented the rich and sophisticated folk – and who had much religious and political influence) came with a mind of tricking Jesus. They presented him with a conundrum. They wanted to know whom a woman, who had married seven times without ever having had any children, would be married to in heaven. Specifically, they asked:
“At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” (Mark 12:23)
This was a strange question for them to ask because they did not believe in a resurrection in the first place. Well, as usual, Jesus didn’t take the bait. Instead, he chided them over something more fundamental. He responded:
“Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” (Mark 12:24)
He then went on to remind them of what God’s Word said on the subject regarding their question and concluded with these harsh words, “You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:27).
What grabbed my attention in this text was what always grabs my attention when I read Mark 12. First, Jesus told the “religious experts” that they were in error because they did not know the Scriptures.
A New Testament professor of mine back in seminary once said that there would always be some in the church who would know Scripture better than their pastors. That has always been true in my experience. Degrees and full bookshelves do not necessarily make one an expert of God’s Word. Faithful, devoted, and regular attendance to Scripture is what molds and shapes us and helps us to think God’s thoughts after him.
The point here is that we are often “in error” (in our thinking, speaking, and doing), because we do not know the Scriptures. Of course, the opposite is also true. There are plenty of folks running around who know what Scripture says, but who do not obey it for a variety of reasons, but that's another devotion for another day.
To Jesus' point, we all too often, (and successfully), avoid studying God’s Word, and then wonder why…
If the Word were regularly renewing us, sanctifying us, transforming us, informing us, teaching us, correcting us, convicting us, training us, etc., we would find ourselves far closer to where we want and need to be.
The second point is that by not knowing the Scriptures, Jesus was also telling these "experts" that they didn’t know the power of God.
In the book of Acts, we often find the words “word,” “power,” and “Spirit” being interchanged as virtual synonyms. In one verse we may read about the Spirit of God. Then, in the next verse, we might find word or power of God. But in many cases the phrases are communicating the same idea. The Sadducees didn’t know the power of God in their lives because they didn’t know the Word of God.
God’s Spirit and power work in, with, and through God’s Word – not against it and not separate from it. I believe we do not experience as much of the power of God as we might because we do not know the Scriptures as well as we should. All too often we’re chasing after religious experiences, but missing out on the power of God that comes through his Word.
How encouraging it is to know that we have the resource of God’s power just waiting to be unleashed in our lives. As we begin to read and study God’s Word (regularly), we begin to tap into that power (not just learn a few facts about ancient Palestine). To be sure, God is not a cosmic genie who is required to respond when we rub the lamp, but he has revealed to us that he is pleased to change our lives through the power of his Spirit as we engage his Word. What a blessed promise to build our lives upon!
Grace and Truth,
There’s a strong connection in Scripture between picking up and carrying your cross and following Jesus. According to our Lord, there’s a direct link between that and being his disciple.
Luke 14:27 says, “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me
cannot be my disciple.”
That’s a fairly absolute and unambiguous statement.
According to Luke 14:33, picking up your cross and following Jesus is the same as dying to self, dying to your own agenda, dying to your own lordship. Jesus says,
“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
In John 12:25-26, Jesus says something similar.
“The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal
life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be.”
I could keep going because this is a very common theme in the teaching of Jesus. And yet, as clear as this
theme is in Scripture, it doesn’t seem to be one of our Lord’s most embraced or most beloved teachings. Instead, the Church today (and perhaps throughout all generations) appears to run after…
Not a whole lot of dying to self and picking up crosses. This is no doubt why Bonhoeffer wrote the following oft-quoted words…
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.”
Instead, both Jesus and Bonhoeffer call us to pursue “costly grace.”
“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price, to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.”
Following Jesus in this way is a call to…
And yet this isn’t the call of a cruel and legalistic taskmaster. It’s the call of One who loves us dearly and who is full of grace and truth. It’s the call of One whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. It’s the call of One who does not ask us to follow him in our own strength, but through his Spirit. In fact, he promises to live his life through us.
In our Scripture Jesus tells us that the wise person will count the cost before following him. Dallas Willard agrees that there is indeed a cost to discipleship. But he points out that there is also a cost to “non-discipleship.”
To be sure, it will cost us to follow Christ. But it will cost us infinitely more not to.
Grace and Truth,