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,
Hebrews 9:26b-28 - But now [Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,  so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
A Once-for-All Sacrifice
At the end of the ages, our Lord Jesus Christ appeared once and for all to do away with sin by offering himself as a sacrifice – a lamb without blemish. In so doing he ushered in the beginning of the end – the eschaton – the last days. We foolishly think to ourselves that because it is now 2,000 years later, Christ’s day could not possibly have been part of the last days. But what’s a thousand years to an eternal God? Make no mistake about it, Christ ushered in the last days indeed!
And how did he do so? As a once-for-all sacrificial atonement for sin. No longer did a high priest have to offer animal sacrifices for the temporary appeasement of God. God’s own Son, our High Priest, settled the issue once and for all by offering himself in our stead.
Because of this, those who are in Christ no longer face condemnation. We all will die. We all will face God’s judgment. But for those who are in Christ, our sin has been covered and our punishment has been taken by Another. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Christ will come again. Even so, come Lord Jesus. This has been part of the liturgy of the Church for two millennia. At the end of all things, Christ will appear yet again, and with him will come a new heaven and earth for those who are new creatures in Christ. He will not return as a Lamb but a Lion. He will not come in humiliation but glory. He will come and claim the victory he won at the cross and gather those who have waited on him, are waiting on him, and will wait on him. And he knows each of them by name.
Past, Present, and Future Salvation
As followers of Christ and heirs of his covenant, there is a sense in which we have been saved and a sense in which we are daily being saved as we become increasingly conformed to his likeness. But when our Lord and King appears we will be saved in glory and will rule with him in his Kingdom that knows no end. Isn’t that incredible news more than enough to bring us to our knees in humble adoration, gratitude, and submission in the here and now? Where is our boasting? We boast only in our King.
Our Urgent Call
Finally, if Christ ushered in his Kingdom two thousand years ago, and the spoils of his victory belong to those who are in Christ, then doesn’t it make urgent sense that we who are his joint-heirs should labor, as long as we draw breath, to extend our Lord’s Kingdom into every sphere of life? We want those who do not presently know him, (and the goodness, truth, and beauty of his rule and reign), to have the opportunity to voluntarily bow before him and call him Lord.
Let us make great haste, for no man knows the time of our Lord’s appearing.
Who do you know who doesn’t know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? Write down their names and commit to praying for them daily. Pray also for God to provide opportunities for you to share with them the greatest news they will ever hear.
Grace and Truth,
Ecclesiastes 3:11 - [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Great saints of God have beautifully, if feebly, attempted to capture the height and depth and weight of such a majestic verse as this. In his Confessions, Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Pascal’s oft-quoted words that people have a God-shaped vacuum in their hearts only God can fill strike a similar note.
We do have a longing in our hearts for eternity, or better, the God of eternity. Perhaps C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory, best expressed this deep desire of our hearts. He wrote,
In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness… I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each of one of you – the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence… We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.
…The books or music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire, but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing in itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Eternity has been placed in our hearts by the King of eternity. Our longing is a homesickness of sorts. For though this is our Father’s world and was created good, it is now fallen. And when touched by the Holy Spirit we can no longer remain content with the things of this world alone, things that are temporal and destined to fade away.
Perhaps some do not experience such a longing for their true homeland because their hearts and minds are not yet set on things above where Christ our King is seated. Perhaps the ravages of sin have so infected their hearts and minds that a shadow has veiled their sight. We can only pray that the same gracious and sovereign Spirit who touched and re-created us will do the same for them.
In the end there is no end, for we were created for eternity. We are pilgrims and aliens traveling in a foreign land, longing for the City of God, not built with human hands, but eternal in the heavens.
May the longing of our hearts for things unseen serve as our true north, that we might one day arrive Home.
Have you ever sensed the longing described by C.S. Lewis? Describe that experience. Did you find that you tried to locate the feeling in something temporal or were you able to understand it was pointing beyond itself, to something eternal? What are some ways you could explain this experience to an unbelieving friend as a way of introducing them to God?
Grace and Truth,
Caveat: It's hasn't been (and will not become) my practice to include videos with these columns. However, the clip below is one of my favorite scenes out of 12 hours worth of The Lord of the Rings. It doesn't completely capture what I wrote, but it's in the ballpark.
Exodus 7:8-13 – The Lord said to Moses and Aaron,  “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.”  So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake.  Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts:  Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.  Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.
Exodus 7:20-22 – Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood.  The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.  But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.
Acts 16:16-18 – Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.  This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”  She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
I have never quite understood how the magicians of Egypt could perform the same miracles as Moses and Aaron, at least a few of them. Well, we know that they weren’t exactly the same miracles, but they fooled enough of the people enough of the time to be considered the same.
Let me back up.
Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh and his court. Just after Aaron threw his staff to the ground, it became a snake. That would have impressed me. But it didn’t seem to impress Pharaoh. What did he do? He summoned his wise men, sorcerers, and magicians to do the same thing. And they did, sort of. Aaron’s snake ate all of their snakes. God’s little way of reminding folks who’s sovereign and who’s not.
Then there was the scene at the Nile River. It was there Moses and Aaron turned the Nile’s water into blood. That would get my attention. Not Pharaoh. He rounded up his FX artists again and, just like before, had them do the same thing as Moses and Aaron.
In the New Testament Too
This isn’t confined to just the Old Testament. In the New Testament we learn of a slave girl, “who had a spirit by which she predicted the future.” And like so many of the demons who recognized who Jesus really was, this slave girl’s “spirit” understood that Paul and company were “servants of the Most High God,” and were telling the people “the way to be saved.”
In one sense it was good that she (or rather, the spirit in her) recognized who Paul and his companions were. But at the end of the day, it was still a demonic spirit and, by definition, up to no good. That’s why Paul cast out the spirit from the girl in the name of Jesus Christ.
Our Need to Discern
Not all that glitters is gold. Not all miracles are of God. Not all spirituality is Christian spirituality. Not all visions are from God. We make a grave error indeed when we assume, undiscerningly, that any and every sign and wonder is automatically from God. Too much in God’s Word tells us otherwise.
That’s why humility is key here. We must have a teachable spirit. We need to obey God and his Word. Scripture alone must be our final, ultimate, and sufficient authority, not our experience and feelings. The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:1,
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
That is wise counsel. And it’s the only sure way we’ll stand firm to the end.
Have you ever experienced someone claiming to have a “word from God” that did not seem to be Scriptural? What are the dangers in accepting such a claim without discernment? How can you “test the spirits to see whether they are from God?” Do you have a strong enough foundation in your knowledge of Scripture to spot false spirits? If not, begin meeting with a couple of people regularly to study and pray over God’s Word together, seeking encouragement, correction, and training from the Lord.
Grace and Truth,
Click here to learn about my new book, Foundations for Godly Manhood.
Walking Points Podcast
If you didn't already know about it, Ian Stake and I have a weekly podcast (about 20 minutes long) in which we discuss key ideas from God's Word to help you follow Christ in every sphere of your life. Click here to listen to previous episodes.
Three Anchors of Hope
There are times in our lives when our most deeply held values and beliefs are tested with fire. This is God’s refining (or pruning) process. With it come genuine pain, heartache, and difficulty. Yet, ideally, the person who comes out the other side is closer to God and the likeness of Christ. It is during times like these we discover if we really believe what we say we believe.
Over the last twenty-something years, I’ve been greatly influenced by Scripture and godly authors who have deepened my understanding and conviction regarding three great anchors of hope for tough times. I have come to a place in my life in which I embrace these key truths as the only way in which I am able to trust God, regardless of the circumstances. They are,
I believe those three affirmations with all of my heart. My belief is no mere intellectual acknowledgement. These three truths are in my bloodstream. Thus, because I so deeply believe these things are true, I know I can always trust God. The God described in those three statements is the awesome God of Holy Scripture, the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Surely that is the God King Solomon had in mind when he wrote these words,
Proverbs 3:5 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
Solomon goes on to say we are not to be wise in our eyes. But that’s exactly what we do when we suppose, even for a second, that we know better than God. It’s laughable to think we know what our best interest is in any situation, no matter how trivial. Among our many deficiencies, we have not been given an omniscient mind that knows all possible scenarios and outcomes of those scenarios. Such knowledge is essential in knowing how to discern what the very best plan for our life would be.
It really is arrogant to lean on our own understanding. Think about the words “lean” or “depend.” They carry with them the notion of putting one’s weight on or against something that will help provide stability. Would you really prefer to put all of your weight against something weak, fragile, and incapable of bracing you? Instead, wouldn’t you rather put your weight against an immovable, utterly dependable, trustworthy Rock? That’s the God of Holy Scripture.
Yet, how often do we turn to our own wisdom and understanding?
Enter, King Asa
I’ve had something of a roller-coaster ride of emotions as I’ve read about good King Asa in 2 Chronicles. Because good kings are so few and far between in the Old Testament, I’ve been celebrating his faithfulness to God. Notice what we read about him in the following verses.
2 Chronicles 14:2 – Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.
2 Chronicles 14:5 – He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him.
2 Chronicles 15:1-2 – The Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded.  He went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.
2 Chronicles 15:8 – When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the Lord that was in front of the portico of the Lord’s temple.
2 Chronicles 15:16-17 – King Asa also deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive Asherah pole. Asa cut the pole down, broke it up and burned it in the Kidron Valley.  Although he did not remove the high places from Israel, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life.
Verse 17b sums it up all so nicely. I couldn’t help but cheer as I read those verses, asking God to make my heart just as fully committed to him as King Asa’s. But then…
If you don’t already know the story, then you experience the rug getting suddenly yanked out from underneath you. For in 2 Chronicles 16:1-6, we learn King Asa, who had placed his trust in the Lord, now put his trust in his own wisdom and ingenuity. To make matters worse, his plan seemed to work. He must have thought all was well. Yet we learn of the consequences of his plan in 2 Chronicles 16:7-9,
At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: “Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand.  Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand.  For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
What Could Have Been
These words of Hanani could have served as an impetus for repentance. The opportunity was there for Asa to see the foolishness of his ways and to get back on track with God. He could have admitted his rebellion and returned to God. Asa would have been no different than any of us who have wandered off the right path from time to time as we sought our own way, according to our own wisdom. Our loving and merciful God is always there at the ready to offer pardon and renewal. I’m astounded at how patient God is with me in my own life.
But Asa went a different way. He chose to respond in anger to the reprimand. He “shot the messenger” rather than taking heed to the message (v. 10). Thus, we read these sad words in verses 12-13,
In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the Lord, but only from the physicians.  Then in the forty-first year of his reign Asa died and rested with his fathers.
Sad indeed… even tragic.
I have a great desire to run the race of faith to its completion and finish well. Don’t you? But that journey is a lifetime pursuit. We must persevere. No matter how much God has blessed us we must never presume upon his grace. We must not assume God owes us any good thing. We must beware of taking our lives into our own hands and depending on our own wisdom to see our way through, even when (especially when) things seem to be going so well.
It’s during those exceedingly tough times in life you discover who or what you’ve really been placing your trust in all along.
Instead, a lifetime of humility before God is called for. Hosea reminds us in 14:9,
Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.
Zephaniah too, calls us to seek humility.
Zephaniah 2:3 – Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.
I want to finish well. Whether my last day on earth is today or 50 years from now, I want to finish well. I want to hear those words every follower of Jesus Christ desires to hear,
Matthew 25:21 – “…’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
Therefore, between today and “that day” I must trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways I must acknowledge him and he will make my paths straight.
What are obstacles in your life that make it difficult to trust God during the good times? During the tough times? What are some spiritual practices you can begin today to help you grow in your ability to trust God? Set a meeting with a godly friend and share your ideas and ask for prayer.
Grace and Truth,
Jeremiah 32:38-39 - They will be my people, and I will be their God.  I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them.
The Promise Keeper
Our covenant-making, covenant-keeping God is ever pursuing and sustaining us. This passage from Jeremiah reminds us of this. God’s people had done every abominable thing imaginable in rebellion against God. They disobeyed him, ignored him, and chased after idols. And there were consequences. There always are.
Yet God had made a promise to Israel’s ancestors. And God keeps his promises.
A Promise Renewed
God once again renewed his covenant and declared he would draw his people back to him. Furthermore, he said he would “give them singleness of heart and action, so that they [would] always fear [him]…” What a blessing it is to have a single-minded passion and mind for God and the things of God – to serve him only! Such single-mindedness gives birth to a proper fear, or reverence, of God. For it is when we cease to fear God that we wander off in our own direction, after idols.
Compared to God, we are mere babes who do not know what is good for us. God has our good in mind, but not at the expense of his glory and honor. He will never sacrifice or compromise his character just so we can feel good about ourselves.
Pray for Revival
We must pray, even now, that God will revive our weary hearts, minds, and souls with singleness of heart and action so it might go well with us. But not only for us, but also for our children, the text reminds us. For God seldom works only with an individual in mind. Instead, he makes and keeps covenant with families and communities in mind – for a thousand generations.
Let us remember our covenantal faithfulness affects more than just ourselves. It touches those in our lives whom we may never even know in this life, but who may yet do great things for God. Let’s also remember our unfaithfulness has consequences as well.
O Lord, give us a singleness of heart for you and your Kingdom all the days of our lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.
Our hearts, minds and souls must be awakened by God. Today, start praying for your own revival and that of your family, church, workplace, community, city, nation, and world. Develop a weekly prayer-schedule that will include all these spheres of influence. Ask the Lord to give you a singleness of heart and mind for him and his Kingdom.
Grace and Truth,
Colossians 2:6-7 - So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Off to a Great Start
We start off so well. With great gratitude and enthusiasm we bow before the throne of our King. Upon placing our trust in Christ alone – “receiving” him – we take on the world in his name.
But motivation and inspiration can wane. That which does not become habit and done out of joyful and obedient self-discipline will not last for the long haul. That is why church history is littered with travelers who fell by the wayside on the narrow road to the celestial city. Jesus taught that the seed of God’s Word sometimes falls on shallow soil and does not take the necessary root it needs to live and grow (Matthew 13:1-23).
Continue In Him
Thus, Paul exhorts us to “continue to live in him.” This is much more than simple encouragement to attend church and have your quiet time, both of which are good. He is indeed saying followers of Christ are to persevere in such means of grace. But even more than that, Paul is declaring that our very power source is the Lord himself. He is our power, foundation, anchor, and compass - our all in all. The Lord Jesus Christ must not be sprinkled on our lives to simply add a little flavor to an already okay meal. Instead, he is to be our life. To claim we are in Christ means we died with him in his crucifixion and are raised with him in his resurrection. The life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).
Root, Shoot, and Fruit
I love the language Paul uses to undergird his thesis. He adds that we are to be “rooted and built up in him.” In John 15:1-8, we discover Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him, he tells us, we can do nothing. If we would bear fruit, we must remain connected to Christ. He must be our root, for it is only then he will bear fruit in and through us. If we as branches ever become detached from our vine, we become useless.
Our Chief Cornerstone
Changing our imagery, Jesus is our chief cornerstone and we are to be built up in him. He is our only sure foundation. All else is shifting sand. If we are not built up in him, we will crumble during the storms of life (Matthew 7:24-27).
What does it mean to be “built up” in Christ? Paul helps us here. He says it means to be strengthened in the faith we were taught. When those in the early church first came to faith in Christ, they sat at the feet of the Apostles and learned from them (Acts 2:42). Today we have their authoritative teaching in Holy Scripture. We are built up and strengthened in Christ when we meet him in his Word and listen to his instruction. More than that, we must obey what we hear (Matthew 7:24-27).
And so be encouraged. You have the greatest resource at God’s disposal to enable you to bear much, good, and lasting fruit in your life, Christ Jesus our Lord and the power of his Spirit. Without him you cannot do anything. With him, all things are possible.
I have provided Scripture references throughout this devotion. Look up these texts and meditate upon them as you reflect on the following questions. What is the hardest part for you when it comes to persevering with Christ? Does it encourage you to know God has provided his greatest resource to help you live your life well? What are three ways you can deepen your roots in Christ? Share your answers with a friend and start “deepening your roots” today.
Grace and Truth,
Ephesians 5:15-17 - Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise,  making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Scripture says we are like vapors which are here today and then, POOF, gone in an instant. Some of us may live to the national average or even past it. Others will not live that long. Whatever the case may be, Scripture reminds us, “man knows not his time.” Therefore, since no one knows when they will be called home, doesn’t it make sense to make the most of every day as though it was our last?
Have you ever been asked what you would do if you only had one week or month left to live? Often, when we’re asked such a question, we offer a sweet, sentimental, or even profound answer that stresses urgency. Yet, few “live out” their answers because they suppress the truth of reality and mistakenly believe they have an infinite supply of time and opportunities before them.
In our Scripture, the Apostle Paul says this is unwise.
Making the Most of Time
Paul instructs us to be careful in how we live. He says we need to be wise, not unwise, and make the most of every opportunity. Many of the great saints of Christian history referred to this as, “redeeming the time.”
Beloved, your life is a gift from God. You are called to be a steward of it. In a real sense your life is not your own. In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul said followers of Christ must offer themselves as living sacrifices to God. He lived during Israel’s sacrificial system in which the animal “gave up its life” on the altar. If we are called to be living sacrifices, we must daily put ourselves back on the altar before God in dedication to him, because living sacrifices tend to crawl off of it by the end of each day.
There is cost involved here to be sure. To give ourselves to the Lord in this way will require sacrifice, commitment, and self-discipline. To redeem the time we have been given, to make the most of every opportunity, we must change the way see and think about our daily lives. A change of perspective is required
An Eternal Perspective Needed
God can be glorified in our most mundane tasks. Whether we are driving to work, mowing the yard, or wrestling with our children, we can do so to God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). What matters is the motivation of our heart. Martin Luther is often quoted as saying a cobbler who makes excellent shoes on Monday glorifies God as much as the pastor who preaches the Gospel on Sunday. Both require an eternal perspective and motivation that transcends themselves.
Isn’t it a relief to know you can glorify God without necessarily moving to the other side of the world as a missionary or becoming an ordained pastor? You don’t have to be doing something “religious” to redeem your time. The Apostle Paul said whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it for God’s glory. What’s more ordinary than eating and drinking? What you are doing is not as important as why and how you are doing it. So, brothers and sisters, redeem your time.
How can you change the focus and motivation of your daily life from the temporal minutiae to an eternal perspective that seeks God’s glory? What are three ordinary things you do on a daily basis that can be transformed by wisely making the most of them? Share your ideas with someone you can trust to hold you accountable and who will pray for you.
Grace and Truth,
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. (Matthew 11:12)
Extending the Kingdom
One of the emphases of my teaching ministry is to call followers of Christ to “extend the Kingdom of God into every sphere of life.” The word “extend” means to stretch, lengthen, prolong, continue, expand, enlarge, offer, put forth, give, impart, and present, just to name a few. While each of those words is similar, each represents a slightly different emphasis which is key in understanding our Christian mission.
However, in our text today, Jesus focuses on his Kingdom “advancing.” This has a military ring to it. Jesus adds that forceful men lay hold of this forcefully advancing Kingdom. My NIV footnote says,
“They enter the kingdom and become Christ’s disciples. To do this takes spiritual courage, vigor, power, and determination because of ever-increasing persecution.”
John Piper says advancing the Kingdom of God in such a way requires a “wartime mentality.” The kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing yet the kingdom of darkness actively resists it. As men seeking godliness, we are daily fighting for our lives and for the lives of those we love and who’ve been entrusted to our care. The world, the flesh, and the devil are formidable adversaries. If we do not maintain a wartime mentality, being ever vigilant and standing firm in our faith, then we, and those we love, will suffer the ravages of war, the consequences of our poor preparation.
Therefore, we must fight the good fight of faith. We must enter the battle through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14). This narrow gate is Jesus himself. Living life as his disciple means entering into new life through him and traveling the “Kingdom road” he has set before us, regardless of how narrow and hard it is. Peter says many will leave this Kingdom road and wander off because they love the wages of wickedness (2 Peter 2:15), which results in death (Romans 6:23). The battle rages all around us, but we must stand firm in our faith, or we will not stand at all (Isaiah 7:9).
Standing firm takes a wartime mentality. We cannot assume we are ever safe from attack. We must be ever watchful and on our guard. We are called, commanded, and expected to fight, persevere, press on, and stand firm. But we are never asked to do this in our strength, but the Lord’s.
The wonderful paradox of Scripture is that while we persevere, our hope is not in ourselves. Our hope is in the Lord. The battle is ultimately his.
Forceful men lay hold of the Kingdom of God, which our Lord causes to advance in and through his power. Therefore, we work through his power (Colossians 1:29). God’s Kingdom advances as faithful men represent their King in every sphere of their lives, even in enemy-occupied territory.
Such faithful witness will not be easy. After all, it is a war. There will be a cost which we’re commanded to consider before we enter the fray. The enemy shoots his fiery darts at us daily (Ephesians 6:16). He hides and waits to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). The world sends out its false teachers to lead us astray (2 Peter 2:1ff).
And yet the Kingdom advances still.
What are three things you can begin doing today that will help you foster a “wartime mentality?” What are three practical ways you can “stand firm in the faith” in the various spheres of your life – home, work, community, etc.? How can citizens of “enemy-occupied” territory resist the Kingdom of God? How can you graciously and lovingly represent your King in such situations?
Grace and Truth,
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