I will build my church. - Matthew 16:18
Here’s an interesting question: What are Jesus’s thoughts towards the Church? Perhaps in some ways this is an unanswerable question, but we can certainly infer a few things and stay within the bounds of reason. First, Jesus gave Himself up (ie. died) for the Church and second, He loves the Church. It is true that the “Bride of Christ” is not yet spotless and without wrinkle (Eph. 5:27), but there is still something glorious about her. There seems to be a great deal of bad-mouthing and belittling of the Church today in America. Fair criticism has its place, but as Christians we should be careful not to demean the very thing Jesus loves so much. I once had a professor of pastoral theology say to all of us present in the classroom, “To love Jesus is to love what Jesus loves. And He loves the church.” Jesus is committed to the Church and I think sometimes we take this for granted.
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus made a simple yet profound statement when He said, “I will build my church.” This statement, of course, came immediately after the revelation had been given to Peter concerning the Messiahship and Lordship of Jesus. Take a moment to consider three things:
I Will Build My Church. We should notice that no one owns the Church but the risen Lord Himself. Pastors don’t own it. Parishioners don’t own it. Jesus owns it. Instead of saying “My Church,” He could have said “The Church,” and in so doing he specified the nature of the Church as belonging exclusively to Him. Why does this matter? It matters for many reasons, not the least of which is that we can trust that Jesus knows what He’s doing and that He’s committed to His Bride.
I Will Build My Church. The word “build” here can mean “building” in terms of growth of numbers, but it primarily means to “build up” or “edify.” Let us not forget that Jesus not only paid the price for our salvation and redemption, but also for our sanctification and glorification. He is as committed to our spiritual maturation as He has ever been. We must come to see that every season of life is an opportunity to know God at a deeper level and is a means to be conformed more into the image of Jesus.
I Will Build My Church. In a mysterious way Jesus Himself, by the Holy Spirit, is presently at work in the body of Christ. He has not abandoned His Bride, but is persistently at work within her and through her in ways unrecognized. He Himself is providentially building us up. Amen!
Word for the Way:
As a member of the Church, you belong to Jesus and He will guild you up.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord. Colossians 3:23
Have you ever been working on something only to find yourself working just a little bit harder when your boss, a coach, or parent was near? I have. I remember in football practice that I usually performed at my peak when my coaches were around. I so wanted to impress them that I’d tackle a little harder, run a little faster, throw a little farther. Similarly, while doing chores as a child, I would put as little effort as possible until my parents came around. I’d stack wood quite lazily until my dad came around. And when he did, I’d break into a sweat, making sure that the stacks were perfect. Why? Because I wanted him to find pleasure in my work. Even more, I wanted him to take pleasure in me.
Colossians 3:23 gives us a true challenge of Christian labor. How do you work? More importantly, how do you work when no one is watching? Paul’s admonition carries with it two very important distinctions. He states, “Whatever you do…”
Work with all your heart. You and I know the difference between our 80% and our 100%. Which one brings us greater pleasure? I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel much better after giving my all. Working with all of our heart eliminates the dreaded question – “What if…?” When we work with all of our heart, we can live with no regrets. Regrets come either when we do the wrong thing, or when we do the right thing halfheartedly.
Work as unto the Lord. Who do you work for? You may work for your employer, do schoolwork for your Teacher, or do chores for your parents, or simply work for yourself, but in the end there is little profit. But when we work as unto the Lord, we can take comfort in knowing that working for the Lord is eternal. I wonder how different life would be if everything we did was as unto the Lord. I know that in those moments where I’m working as unto the Lord, everything seems fuller. One of the greatest tests of Christian maturity is reaching the point where you do everything as unto the Lord. One thing we have to learn is that weather you’re working for McDonalds or McDonald Douglas, you can glorify the Lord if you work there for Jesus. God determines where He wants us; it’s up to us to work there as unto Him.
Question of the Day:
Do I treat my work as unto the Lord?
From the fruit of their lips a person is filled with good things, as surely as the work of their hands rewards them. Proverb 12:14
You make your habits. We can make good habits, and break bad ones. This isn’t to say that we can do it all on our own without the Lord’s assistance, but it is to say that with His help, it can be done. One of the first things the Enemy tries to do is to convince us of the lie that our habits are fixed, that they’re set in stone. I think this might be part of what Paul addressed in his letter to the Philippians when he said, “Do what you learned and received from me, what I told you, and what you saw me do” (Philippians 4:9). It reminds me of the what the Lord spoke to the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah. Israel was being stubborn, mistreating the poor and disenfranchised, worshipping idols, and the Lord pretty much tells them they need to turn things around. He gives them this stipulation: If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly . . . then I will let you live in [Israel] (Jeremiah 7:5&7). I once heard that if you do the same thing for 21 days, then it becomes a habit. What if that’s true?
Your habits make you. I remember driving home one day and while flipping through a little talk-radio I heard this Family Values program. I remember the host said, “Mama used to say, ‘Son, you make your habits…then your habits ‘ill make you.’” At first, it reminded me of Forrest Gump (“Mama used to say…”), but the more I drove, the more it began to speak to me. Proverb 26:27 says, ”If a man digs a pit, he will fall into it.”
Bad habits are like pits. The deeper they are, the tougher they are to climb out of.
Your habits will make or break you. Paul said, “The one who sows to please the sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal. 6:8) The things we do – our habits – either sow life or death. They either bring us closer to Christ, or push us away. They either help us or hinder us from becoming the person God wants us to be. As Rick Warren states, “Your habits will define your character.” Your character will determine your destiny.
Question of the Day:
What are some good habits I can start, or bad habits I can change?
“Fear not, for I am with you.” -- Isaiah 41:10
Many of us succumb to fear more than we would like to admit. We’re afraid of a whole host of things. Some of our fears are completely rational; that is, there’s a certain logic about some of our fears. But sometimes the source of our fear is completely irrational and without warrant. I’ve never thought of myself as an overly fearful person, but I have come to find that I think, say, or do things not necessarily out of love or faith, but one or both of those coupled with a little bit of fear.
Fear holds us back. There are many things we simply do not do but for the sheer reason that were terrified of what might happen if we didn’t act upon it. Sometimes we get down on ourselves for even being afraid of something; so we end up getting the double whammy of being held back by fear and then beating ourselves up for being afraid. A terrible one-two combo, indeed.
Fear keeps us down. Not only does fear hold us back, it has a tendency to keep us in a place of impotency. It’s more like a prison than a wall. When we succumb to fear we are in a posture of defeat and inferiority. To borrow a somewhat cliché metaphor, we’re like a bird with very large, capable wings, yet fear makes the nest in which we dwell much more attractive than the open skies.
Fear beats us up. Often unbeknownst to us, fear is the bully who beats us up, steals our lunch money, and kicks us when we’re down; for some of us it’s a daily occurrence.
Then comes the Creator of the universe. This Creator goes to great lengths to communicate to us by way of special revelation a life-changing statement: “There’s no need to fear, for I am right there with you.” I could be wrong, but I think the source of a great deal of our fears stem from a forgetful mind that God is ever-present in our midst, and He has the back of every blood-bought son and daughter. We walk in fear because we don’t nurture a mindfulness of His Presence, nor do we believe that He is “for us and not against us” (Romans 8:31). My friends—make it your prayer of thanksgiving every day, throughout the day, that Yahweh God —Creator of the universe — is with you in the here and now, that He loves you with an everlasting love, and that He is for you, and thus you do not have to fear. Invite His Spirit more and more into your every moment, and watch the fears abate.
Word for the Way:
Because God is here, I don’t have to fear.
Now Samuel died, and all the Israelites met and had a time of sadness for him. - 1 Samuel 25:1 (NCV)
Life is seasonal. You know this full well. Sometimes we get good gifts that bring us joy, and sometimes we experience loss. We’ve all lost something or someone in life. Whether it was a friend, a family member, a dream, a favorite possession, a pet, or even a job, we all experience the pain of loss. How we treat that pain is very important. There are many different ways we react to pain – some of us try to run, some of us try to “stuff it,” some of us lash out in panic, anger, or tantrums, and some of us weep until it hurts. Regardless of what it is we lose, or how we initially react, the Bible teaches us the importance of mourning. Another rendering of this verse reads, “Now Samuel died, and all Israelites assembled and mourned for him.” Many of us fail to see the necessity of mourning.
Mourning is Biblical. Paul encouraged the Church in Rome to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). It’s hard for some of us to understand the value of mourning until we are in such a state. The comfort that comes when others mourn with us is inexplicable. The very act of joining in to mourn with another triggers a healing flow of God’s grace into our lives. Mourning isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of godliness.
Mourning brings closure. There is this thing we call the “grieving process.” It is a real and healthy process we must undertake whenever we experience loss. If we stop in the grieving process, or if we don’t even allow it to happen, it can be very damaging. Psychologically, you can get “stuck” in one of the stages of grief, and habitually feel or exhibit denial, anger, or depression. When its time to grieve, grieve.
Mourning is natural. Don’t ever buy the lie that mourning is “beneath you.” The fact is, not only is it biblical, it’s natural. Don’t fight the way we are “geared.” Allow the natural grieving process to take place. Men especially, don’t adhere to the false stigma that mourning is a sign of weakness. It’s not. For as Solomon said, “There is...a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecc. 3:4).
Question of the Day:
When the time comes, do I take time to grieve?
The Spirit will give him wisdom and understanding, guidance and power. - Isaiah 11:2
One of the more convincing proofs that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Messiah and Savior of the world lies in his fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Jesus literally fulfills hundreds of prophetic scriptures. Speaking of the probability of one person fulfilling these prophesies so accurately, one person put it like this. “The odds of Jesus fulfilling so many prophesies is roughly equivalent to a person dismantling a typewriter, putting the pieces into a dryer, letting it run for two hours, and opening it and finding it completely put back together.” If this is true, then surely Jesus’ fulfillment of OT prophecy serves as one of the greatest apologetical arguments for Christianity.
Isaiah contains more messianic prophesies than any other book in the Bible. Isaiah 11 marks the type of coming king Israel would have. This verse, Isaiah 11:2, shows us the type of example our King would set for us. This passage is quite revealing, for it shows us that Jesus would model for us how to rely on the Spirit. Instead of utilizing all of his own divine resources, he would yield himself to the Spirit’s empowerment (Phil. 2:6-8). We too need the Spirit’s gifts of wisdom, understanding, guidance, and power.
Wisdom. The Hebrew concept of wisdom wasn’t about IQ. It really had very little to do with one’s intellect. It had more to do with one’s ability to make godly decisions in life. This was the true measure of a “wise one.”
Understanding. We need more than just acquiring facts. Knowledge has to do with understanding truth. In every area of life, we need the Spirit of God to give us understanding.
Guidance. Isn’t it awesome that God doesn’t just want (and expect) us to figure everything out. What He wants is for us to seek His leading in our lives. He desires to give us guidance for daily living. Too often we have deaf ears to His guiding voice. Seek the Spirit’s guidance in your decision-making.
Power. God’s power in our lives makes all the difference. One of the greatest catalysts that sharpens our witness is Spirit-empowerment (Acts 1:8). We need the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us.
Question of the Day:
Am I daily leaning on the Spirit for wisdom, understanding, guidance and power?
"Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment." John 7:24 NIV (emphasis added)
Years ago I was told that the most familiar Bible verse to American culture was the following saying of Jesus: “Judge not lest you be judged” (Matt. 7:1). I recall feeling somewhat shocked when I heard it. I thought for sure that John 3:16 or “God is love” or one of the Ten Commandments would’ve been at the top of the list, but it wasn’t. On the one hand it was surprising, but on the other it sort of makes perfect sense.
The effects of moral relativity are so replete within our culture today that people’s sense of autonomy (self-rule and governance), when it is threatened, will generate enormous pushback. No one wants anyone else telling them what they should, or should not, be doing. Granted, self-determination is a God-given prerogative, but this does not mean we do not answer to a higher moral authority that our own. What is more, folks who use this verse out of context in an effort to justify reprehensible behavior not in keeping with the righteous standards of God’s Word, do so only to peril. Many folks who can quote Matt. 7:1 fail to realize that Jesus provided more to the story than simply “don’t ever make an assessment regarding your neighbors . . . at all . . . whatsoever.” In fact, Jesus isn’t saying this at all.
Jesus does say that we are to make judgments. The act of making a judgment is not only justifiable, it is actually impossible to avoid doing within human society. The fact is, we are moral creatures making moral decisions within a moral world. The real issue is not relinquishing the right to make a judgment, but rather whether the judgment being made is righteous and in accord with God, His Word, and His Will for us.
The thrust of what Jesus actually said has to do with making rash judgments, or superficial judgments, not with the act of making judgments themselves. What this does for us is it helps us to see we need to have a broad enough framework within which to make sound judgments, and this can only be done by way of a comprehensive worldview that is consistent, coherent, and intelligible. To be true, the attitude of a person’s heart makes all the difference for there is a world of difference between “being judgmental” and “making a sound judgment.” making an assessment as to whether a person’s behavior is appropriate or not is different than looking down upon someone as being “lesser-than” in light of their immoral or highly questionable behavior.
Word for the Way:
Make accurate assessments, but don’t be judgmental in so doing.
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:39–40 NIV
Diligence and faithfulness are laudable virtues, as far as they go. But when our diligence and faithfulness are pointed in an unhealthy direction which does not produce life, not only will our efforts prove to be in vain, but we may deceive ourselves into thinking that our diligence and faithfulness, in and of themselves, are a validation of that which we are striving after. In other words, it’s easy for us to take our hard work, our efforts, our zeal, our stridency as a confirmation that we must be on the right track, even when we are not. Studying Scripture is a good thing. As Jesus points out in his discourse with the Pharisees, doing a good thing with improper motives doesn’t make the “good thing” the right thing.
Jesus alone brings everlasting life. Again, the study of Scripture is good, but Bible study in and of itself does not bring everlasting life. We should indeed study the Scriptures, but the study of Scripture should never be an end to itself, nor as a means to curry favor with God. The Bible is the Word of God, not a substitute for God. The Scriptures are a gift given to us by God for the purpose of aiding in a relationship with Him.
The Scriptures testify about Jesus. Now in this passage it should be clear that Jesus is clear is referencing the Old Testament. Jesus’ own self-understanding is an ambiguous. He unmistakably sees himself as the Royal, prophetic, messianic figure come to redeem the world. He was, without doubt, a man on a mission. His open chastisement of the Hebraic intelligentsia of his day reveals that if they would’ve studied the Scriptures with a truly open heart, they would’ve seen that Jesus himself is alluded to and referenced to all throughout the Old Testament.
Some people will simply refuse to come to Jesus to have life. It is a sad but true fact that no matter what we say or do in our witnessing effort, many will reject the free offer of salvation in Jesus Christ. The nature of love requires that a person’s love of God be neither coerced nor forced in any way. Since God is Love (1 John 4:8). He will never coerce or force anyone to receive all He has to offer.
Word for the Way:
Study the Scriptures, but do so in order to encounter Jesus.
“Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?” Isaiah 53:1b MSG
Life is unpredictable. We make our plans and chart our course, but we never really know how things are going to turn out. Even the most faithful, ardent followers of Jesus are still only able to “see as through a glass dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12). Now, the unpredictability of future events excites a good number of people, namely the adventurous and those open to the unknown. For those of us who are like me, unpredictability is a little bit more than unsettling, to say the least.
I like to have my “ducks in a row.” I even have contingency plans for some of my contingency plans. But when real life shows up, when things that are unforeseen and unpredictable happen, it’s in these moments where faith seems (for me, at least) to be challenged the most. In whom will you place your trust? Will I trust that the Lord is in control or will I give in to anxieties and fears? My desire for structure, order, control, and sovereignty (though limited, of course) can sometimes subtly convince me I’m more in control than I really am. The limited sovereignty with which I have been endowed by the Creator is not ultimate sovereignty. Only God himself has ultimate sovereignty and I will never be God. Only God is God; only He knows “the beginning from the end” and only He knows the infinitesimal details of His master plan.
For those of us who have a saving relationship with God the Father through His Son by the Spirit, we know full well that it can be easy to “get ahead of God” when it comes to our short-term and long-term plans. We pray, we fast, we attempt to discern the Lord’s will in the matter, but rashness and impatience is always there pushing us on to make assumptions about His will and His plan. But I’m reminded that we have to hold on to these plans, intentions, goals and aspirations loosely in order for God to direct our course for us. When we hold on to things too tightly we may run the risk of resisting God’s movement and direction in our lives.
In getting a mere glimpse into Yahweh’s redemptive plan of sending a Messiah who would be a Suffering Servant (prior to becoming a Conquering King) on route to redemption and glorification, Isaiah sits there and says, “Who would’ve thought that God would have planned things out this way?” Answer: No one. At the end of the day we need to come to grips with the fact that God is God, His plan is His plan, and we need to be flexible enough to let God be God in our lives and direct our steps accordingly.
Question of the day?
How tightly am I holding on to the future plans for my life?
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.“ - Romans 15:4 NIV
Many of us (myself included) fail to appreciate just how extraordinary it is that we have the Bible. The ancient world was not at world of literacy but was an oral world. In fact, in the ancient world the “spoken word” was much more highly preferred than a written document. It truly was a time when a person‘s word was “their bond.” In many ways written documents were simply seen as a surrogate for the “real thing.” Many wonder why we don’t have more ancient books, but it really is a wonder that we have as many ancient documents as we do. Written documents were usually reserved for sacred texts, legal documents, or the like. The ancient Hebraic outlook on life valued multivalent communication and the apostle Paul gives us a unique insight into one of the purposes that Jewish writings served (and continue to serve) for the broader community.
The Scriptures were written down in order to serve an immensely valuable role: to teach us. Since God loves us, he wants us to know how we should live, behave, conduct our affairs, and orient our lives so that we can have life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10). We need to be taught by the LORD through His Word because, frankly, we are ignorant about a lot of things and, due to our fallen human nature, we have a proclivity to want to justify the lusts of our flesh. If anything, we’re overly confident about our abilities to know the truth and our abilities to walk it out. One of the foundational aspects of growing in the Christian faith is simply reading the Word of God, reflecting upon it, and prayerfully considering how we can appropriate the principles found therein to our every day, ordinary lives. When we “give heed” to the Word, the Holy Spirit is given permission to do a work in our hearts and therefore enact life-change within us.
The apostle Paul instructs the Christ-followers in Rome — the great imperial city — that Hope can be the (super)natural byproduct of (1) endurance and (2) the encouragement which comes through the Scriptures. Yet again we see the vast importance of encountering God in the pages of Scripture. God is not the Bible, but we encounter Him in Scripture. If you want to encounter God, read the Bible! When it is read with an honest, transparent heart, one cannot be unaffected.
Word for the Way:
God encourages my spirit when I humbly reflect upon his word.
You will teach me how to live a holy life. -Acts 2:28 (NCV)
I used to hate school. I’m sure many of you felt the same way. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t enjoy learning, it was that I would have rather been playing at recess. Sports and friends meant so much more to me than ‘doing my time’ in the classroom. Then something happened – I graduated high school and went to college. Finally, I could take the classes that interested me! Soon learning became a passion, not a chore. The classroom didn’t seem so drab and boring, because I knew I would walk away with some answer I had always wondered about. I still enjoyed sports and friendships, but the thrill of growing in knowledge had finally become a priority.
We have so much to learn. There’s another school God loves to put us in. It’s called the school of holiness. He wants us to grow in knowledge, but also to grow in character and in depth of person. The great student of life and godliness must come to this place of admittance – “I have so much to learn.” Pride is enemy-number-one in the school of holiness.
Being teachable is a key to personal growth. You’ve probably heard the old saying – “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” God can only teach those who are teachable. Pride, arrogance, ignorance, laziness, stubbornness and self-doubt all wage war against our teachability. But when we come to the master, with humility and vulnerability, we posture ourselves to receive and grow.
The Holy Spirit is the best Teacher there is. There is no greater Teacher than the Lord. No one matches His Wisdom, His Faithfulness, and His Patience. Recall the words of John 14:26, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I [Jesus] have said to you.” Jesus exhorts us even now to embrace the leading and teaching of the Master Teacher. Will we learn? This is the question.
Embrace the process. Learning isn’t a static principle or a one-time event. It’s a lifestyle, a series of occasions that grows us. If we will listen, God will speak. He’s more committed to our growth process than we are. He will lead us in the way we should go. We just have to be willing to listen and learn.
Question of the Day:
Am I letting God teach me how to live a holy life?
Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel. -- Isaiah 45:15
I used to think it was sacrilegious to say that God hides. I mean, come on – why in the world would God hide? The very notion used to put me in a tailspin. Then it dawned on me – he only hides from those who have been made His own. He doesn’t hide from those who have yet to come to Him. To the unbeliever He patiently waits, arms outstretched, never wavering, constant. Once we first get saved that initial embrace seems overwhelmingly good. It is the taste of freedom for the first time – so sweet. The “spiritual high” of becoming a “baby believer” continues on for some time. Every day seems brighter than the one before. His voice seems so clear and constant. The excitement of an eternity-altering decision to follow Christ soon meets with the challenges that accompany the decision – spiritual warfare, the demanding quest of becoming like Christ, living a life of faith. This becomes the first of many tests after we come to Jesus. How will you respond when God seems distant? How will you react when the Loving Father who picked you up in His arms now seems to be hiding. You never saw this curveball coming. After ruminating upon why God hides, I’ve arrived at two very interesting discoveries:
First, God hides because He loves being sought. Isn’t that an amazing thought? He loves being sought. He loves being pursued. He loves being the driving part of our lives. He loves being our best friend. He eagerly awaits our every pursuing moment. Second, God hides so our faith can grow. The greatest growth a person will experience in life is when we are forced to utilize and engage our faith. "Faith" is not something we have, it's something we do. It gives us proper orientation. It grounds us and gives us continuity. It is an act of perpetually trusting. Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith deals with the unseen, not what is seen. The same applies with hope. The Apostle Paul understood this, and on one occasion said to the church in Rome, “hope that is seen is no hope at all” (Romans 8:24). God hides so that our faith can grow. God wants us to relish the thrill of the hunt. As in hide-and-go-seek, the seeking and finding both carry with them a level of excitement and joy. This is what He wants us to learn.
Question of the Day:
Do I seek God when He seems to be hiding from me?
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life... - John 6:68 ESV
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that confusion abounds when it comes to knowledge of where to go to find a trustworthy, right, accurate source of truth. Who can be trusted? Which news outlet can be trusted? Where do we go to find out the “facts” today? Where can we go to find out what’s really going on?
In an ever-increasingly fractious cultural climate such as ours, it’s versus such as John 6:68 that should serve to remind us that ultimately there’s only one person to whom we can turn to find the truth. It is unreasonable and, frankly, unwise to think that folks are not biased in their interpretation of facts, positions, and circumstances. It is impossible to be a human and to be completely unbiased. The real question is whether or not our biases are justifiable and whether or not they comport with the way reality really is. The truth is, we all need to look to (and be measured by) a standard outside of ourselves. Opinions change over time. Cultural convictions change over time. So-called “conventional wisdom” changes over time. It is the Word of God alone that does not change over time. It is not subject to the relativizing of truth and reality. In a time when people are groping for the truth, grasping for “the real,” and searching for stability, we must all realize that Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and there really is no hope whatsoever apart from Him, His Word, and His direction.
There’s a big difference between inspiration and revelation. Both are important, but only one can lead us to Everlasting Life. From time to time, the words of poets and philosophers, comedians and song-writers, screen-writers and satirists can momentarily lift our spirits by way of inspiration. But only the eternal, life-giving revelation of God can lift our spirits from despair, hopelessness, and aimlessness and not just for a moment, but unendingly. Simply put, only the words of Jesus can bring true hope, life, and peace and I am thoroughly persuaded that’s what we all need. Do you need hope? Do you need life? Do you need peace. Why not turn to Jesus and let Him give you all of those things today?
Question for the Day:
How much do I really value the words of Jesus?
So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. - Ephesians 5:15-16 (NLT)
One thing I loved about my mother growing up was how she demonstrated living a life of positivity. Even when curveballs came her way, she did a smashing job of “finding a silver lining,” even when my brother and I were adamant there weren’t any! My mother modeled some key character traits for her boys – love, joy, sensitivity, and optimism. Rarely did she lose sight of the potential for God’s redeeming and restoring hand to do its work.
The apostle Paul made a particularly pointed exhortation to some of his closest friends in Ephesus. These were men and women he called himself a “co-laborer” with, having lived 2 years with them. Paul encourages these friends toward wise-living. Allow me to point out four clear distinctions in the passage:
1. Be careful how you live. People watch our lives more than they listen to our words. Aim to live a life that preaches. Recall the words of Francis of Assissi – “Preach the gospel always. Use words when necessary.” We should always be mindful of our environment and make the appropriate adjustments
2. Live as one who is wise. Foolishness destroys credibility. Be ever-seeking of God’s wisdom for daily living. Invite the Holy Spirit every day to guide you in the ways of truth and life everlasting. Encourage Him to convict you when you’re about to make a poor decision.
3. Make the most of ever opportunity. Notice in the Bible that God rarely kept hardships from coming to his people. But notice also how He loves to take situations that seem impossible and turn them around for good. Make the most with every situation, every encounter, every opportunity. And keep an eye out for God’s redeeming work.
4. Do good in these evil days. The brightness of God’s light only gets brighter the darker the days become. Don’t quit the good work God has given you especially when it feels like it’s to no avail. It avails.
Question of the Day:
In times of hardship, how can I learn to make the most of the opportunity?
You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. - John 8:32
You know, it’s been said that “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.” But what I’ve found is quite the opposite. Usually the things that seem to “jump up and bite me” are those proverbial unseen-things. Every person’s life at some point is marked both by rebellion and deception. Both have a relation with truth. When we rebel, we know what is right and true – we simply choose to do the opposite. Deception on the other hand, is when we think what we’re doing is right and true, when indeed it is not. It’s the place where you think you know the truth.
When I look at John 8:32, I notice three liberating realities:
(1) Truth is knowable.
There are people in the world today who challenge our ability to “adequately know truth.” They claim that truth is relative, or at least that most truths are relative. The Bible seems to indicate otherwise. Not only does truth exist, but it is knowable. Francis Schaeffer wisely points out that even communication itself implies a set of standard rules, or absolutes. When I speak (or write!) to you, I assume that you will understand what I’m saying. Why? Because there is a set of rules (that are absolute) that govern communication.
(2)Truth sets you free.
There’s something liberating about truth. One of my good friends used to say, “The truth will set you free…after it beats you up!” Although it’s definitely true that sometimes truth hurts, in the end it sets you free. Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus himself declares that He is the source of Truth (14:6). If His statement is true (no pun intended!), then if someone is honestly seeking Truth, they will eventually meet Jesus.
(3) Only the Truth you know can set you.
Every once in a while I listen to Christian radio. While driving through my home town one day I remember hearing the following statement: “Only the truth you know will set you free. It can’t set you free until you know it.” It’s true, though. That’s why it’s so important to know the truth. The truth I don’t know hurts me. Do you want to know Truth? Then meet with Jesus.
Question of the Day:
How important is truth to me?
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." - JOHN 14:6
I love the exclusive claims of Christ and, I must admit, I’m frequently taken aback when people caricature Jesus as something other than what he himself claimed to be. There’s a somewhat surprising mischaracterization today of Jesus by many folks, a sort of pop-culture assumption of Jesus as some “nice guy,” some well-meaning first century sage who only affirmed everyone and talked about peace, love, and social advocacy. Although these things are well and good, and to a certain degree Jesus did hit on such topics, what is striking is simply how ignorant the common masses really are regarding the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus. He certainly was the embodiment of kindness, but he was not “nice” in our conventional way of thinking about it. Jesus indeed “spoke truth to power,” but he also called everyone unto repentance and ultimately unto Himself. There were times when Jesus said things that left his audience with an unavoidable fork in the road: either what he said would be taken as truth or it would be contorted in some way and simply explained away. John 14:6 is one of these claims.
Jesus is The Way. The word “way” in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek could mean a trail, a path, or some sort of route someone could take to get from one place to another. It would be easy for some to try to reduce Jesus down to “a way” (among others), but the definite article (“the”) in the statement makes it impossible to render this claim in some pluralistic fashion. There’s simply no way around The Way, for Jesus is The Way.
Jesus is The Truth. In a world such as ours, one that increasingly embraces “truth as relative,” Jesus’ claim to be “The Truth” makes our fellow neighbors not only nervous, but repulsed. His exclusive claim to be the ground of all that is True—the basis for all ultimate reality—is an affront to our culture’s sensibilities. But for us who believe, it is the bedrock foundation upon which our faith and existence is sustained. In an ever-changing world, our Lord is unchanging and unwavering.
Jesus is The Life. Think of this: All life hangs on the LIFE of God. Jesus’ claim to be Life Itself is nothing short of a claim to be God. Those who think Jesus never claimed the status of divinity simply have not read the New Testament in its entirety. If someone craves Eternal Life, one must go through the Person who is the foundation of life. If one truly wants to spend everlasting life in heaven, it can only be done through Jesus Christ.
Word for the Way:
The exclusive claims of Christ provide the foundation for unshakeable Hope.
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. - Acts 2:32
Christianity would not be Christianity without the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, the Christian faith was vindicated and validated via the central and foundational event we call the Resurrection. Luke the Physician records for us the grand speech of the apostle Peter in Acts chapter two. Leading up to this verse Peter compares and contrasts the life of King David with that of Jesus, noting that a man as great as King David lived his life, died, and he stayed dead. Jesus, however, is an entirely different story and, you might say, He is an entirely different King. Again, King David stayed dead; King Jesus did not.
It is hard to underscore enough just how important this Easter event truly was, and sadly for many believers, we simply do not appreciate its significance. The apostle Paul even had to remind believers in Corinth of its centrality to our faith: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile; you are still in your sins . . . [and] we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17-18 NIV; emphasis added). Paul realized two very important things: (1) If Jesus’ resurrection were not based in historical fact, their whole mission would be pointless and in vain. Even worse, they would have been played the fool. (2) Something vitally significant hangs upon the resurrection spiritually, for it is God’s chosen means by which all believers are guaranteed newness of life in the Age to Come. Resurrection completes the sequence necessary for a full-orbed, complete salvation. Jesus’ act of Atonement on the cross covers over all our sins; the act of the Resurrection of Jesus’ body becomes for us, to use Paul’s own words, the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20) and the guarantee for all believers’ future, imperishable, glorified resurrection bodies (vv. 42-43).
Peter’s pronouncement of the historicity of the resurrection can be seen as act of courage, but as he states, “we are all witnesses of it.” What else could he do? He saw it with his own eyes. It would certainly take a real-life witnessing of this event to convince ordinary men and women that Jesus, the Messiah, was indeed God in flesh. It would take something as monumental as seeing a person alive after being brutally massacred and murdered, to inspire followers to offer up their lives in order to proclaim this message: “God has raised this Jesus to life.”
Word for the Way:
The Church’s universal cry “He Is Risen!” is the bedrock claim of our Faith.
Jesus said to them, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30
Contrary to the familiar and unfortunate caricature of seminary, my seminary experience was anything but a “cemetery experience.” I was surrounded by great friends whose desire to follow after God with great fervor rivaled my own and I’m grateful to have embarked upon that journey.
One day my professor asked the question, “If you could summarize the Gospel Message in one word, what would it be?” The class took five minutes to jot down our answers. As we reconvened, each of us tossed out our thoughts to the professor and he offered to us all his own selection. He said, “To me, the Gospel Message can be summarized in this word: COME. Do you want healing? Come. Do you seek forgiveness? Come. Do you need comfort? Come. Are you longing for purpose and hope? Come.”
Jesus offers to us everything we need in his very open arms. Do we fully realize that His arms are extended to each one of us? Do you, my friend, realize that His arms are open wide for you? You must know He is the answer to your questions, the fulfillment to your longings, the solution to your problems.
Notice that verses twenty-eight and twenty-nine contain commands followed by a future assurance. The first command is, Come. It’s not a dictatorial command, but a heart-felt, emphatic invitation followed by the promise that when someone comes, he/she will indeed find the rest. This rest is not simply the result of an action, but rather, it is that which is received directly from Jesus Himself. When we come, He Himself will give us the rest we need. Ultimately, we cannot find rest in any other source. The second imperative is the command to Take (His yoke upon us) and the third command is to Learn (from Him). The actions of taking Jesus’ yoke upon us and learning from Him do not happen by accident, but only as the result of deliberate intention. We note here the clear parallelism: what is reaped from pursuing Jesus is “rest for our souls.”
Are you weary? Are you ‘heavy laden’? Do you need rest for your soul? If you do, it’s clear what needs to happen. His arms are open wide.
Question of the Day:
Will I run or will I come?
The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. - Exodus 14:14
Have you ever found yourself in a place where it seems the more you fight, the worse things get? I find that I have a tendency to control what I can. And to make matters worse, I often try to control what I cannot. One paradox I’ve found since I met Jesus is the reality that freedom comes through submission. The more I try to work things out, the more entangled I become in my own web. Time and again while I was growing up, I heard what I thought was a rather odd illustration. Now, keep in mind that I never grew up around a ranch, near the woods, or lived on a farm. The youth minister shared of how our lives are much like riding a horse. The question always came back to this – who has your reigns? The basic idea, I gathered, was that God desires to be the captain of our ship – the “One with the reigns.” He alone wants to plot our course, to guide our journey, to lead us in the way we should go.
I find it difficult to comprehend that anyone would really fight for me. Maybe it’s because I spend so much time trying to fight my own fights. I find it fascinating that what would be one of the greatest exploits of God’s miracle power in the Exodus account (loving-kindness!) was also filled with faithless, whining, ungrateful people who’d been oppressed for over 400 years. If you consider the context of Exodus 14:14, you see that they had already departed Egypt (!) and when they saw that Pharoah was following they are ready to toss in the towel. Did they truly think that the same God who had brought them all that way would just leave them hanging?! The fact is, like many of us, they didn’t understand that when God fights for you, no one can withstand Him. Paul hits on this in his letter to the church in Rome when he said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). It’s that simple – if God is in this thing, no one can thwart His plan.
So, are there areas in your life where you are trying to do God’s job? Are there things you need to lay at His feet once again? Are you in a place where you’re crying out in the desert to the Lord, “Have you brought me out here to the desert to die?” If so, find out what it means to “be still.” Maybe the question for you isn’t “what more do I need to do?” Maybe it’s “what do I need to let go of?”
Question of the Day:
Am I trying to fight God’s fight?
Jesus knew that the people planned to come and take him by force and make him their king, so he left and went into the hills alone. - John 6:15
Have you ever jumped all over an opportunity that seemed like a good thing? You were so excited that you didn’t really think it through or pray about it? You thought to yourself, “It seems so good it has to be right.” Then, after the dust settled, you came to see that the “good thing” really wasn’t the “right thing.” Its times like these that seem to confirm the saying, “Not all good things are God things.” Then frustration or regret creeps in because you feel shamed, duped, and even finagled. What felt like a promotion turned out to be God’s second best.
Proverb 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end, it leads to death.” The wise men of the Bible demonstrate time and again what it means to make wise decisions. One of my leaders in college sat a few of us down and gave us great advice. He told us never to rush into any decision, to always take at least some time to pray over it, considered its ramifications, and if possible to seek counsel. “Rarely,” he said, “will you ever have to make a life-changing decision in a split second. Treat every decision you make as important to God, your family, and yourself.”
It’s amazing when we look at the context of the life and times of Jesus. Having been under Roman oppression for decades, first century Jews expected a Messiah to come and deliver them from them once and for all from their “new Egypt.” However, they failed to see the root of the problem – sin. The real issue was at the core of humanity, not a malevolent regime. It is in this context we see the reason for their desire to make Jesus king. They wanted an earthly deliverer, not an eternal savior.
This passage serves for me an example of wise decision-making. What might have seemed like a promotion of earthly kingship actually would subvert God’s perfect plan of redemption. Jesus knew his mission. He knew the ultimate goal. And what did he do when faced with this pseudo-promotion? He left. And as the passage indicates, he even had to take some alone-time. Why? Maybe he wanted to be with the only One who understood what he was going through.
Word for the Way:
Take time to pray, reflect and seek counsel when it comes to important decision-making matters.
Let the Wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance. Proverb 1:5
Civility, kindness, respect, deference and common courtesy are sorely lacking in our nation today. Another thing that is lacking is wisdom. How ironic that in a time so-named the “information age” we’re increasingly forgetting how to live, behave and interact. The failure of secular humanism is evident: simply educating people with “facts and figures” will not cure the ills of society, for people are not basically good. We are fundamentally sinners in need of renewal and redemption. Our willingness to humble ourselves in the sight of the LORD has been replaced with an unwillingness to face ourselves as we are—finite and flawed creatures in need of a new heart. Pride and arrogance have won the day and relativism has led the masses to do “what is right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6).
The Western culture has been so influenced by Greco-Roman thought that we tend more often than not today to view the virtue of wisdom as synonymous with intellectual superiority. Christians need to understand that wisdom, in terms of how the Bible defines it, deals less with intellectual acumen and more to do with moral and spiritual affairs. As is pointed out by Gordon Fee, wisdom has to do with the ability to make godly decisions. Without a doubt, it also has to do with the application of knowledge and not merely the apprehension of it. It’s no wonder, then, that our culture is lacking this all-important virtue, for it is increasingly rejecting the very God who is the source of knowledge and morality. There is no sustainable future for any society on such a trajectory.
The Wise listen. The more close-minded and insular we are, the less wise we become. This is especially so when it comes to a refusal to listen to God and godly counsel.
The Wise add to their knowledge. The moment we stop learning is the beginning of stagnation and maturational atrophy. God made us with minds; just like stomachs, they’re meant to be fed. To quote the apostle Peter: Add to your faith goodness, and add to goodness, knowledge (2 Pet. 1:5).
The Wise get guidance. We weren’t meant to live alone; nor were we meant to presume our own intellectual preeminence. Humble yourself. Seek counsel. Come to grips with your own finitude.
Word for the Way:
True wisdom makes room for God to have His rightful place in our lives.
All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. - 2 Timothy 3:12
Sometimes we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place, forced to ask a crucial question: Will I do what I know to be right or will I do what is comfortable and expedient? In this type of situation something’s got to give. On the one hand, if we choose to do what is right it may require us to sacrifice being comfortable and it may entail our being thoroughly inconvenienced. On the other hand, if we choose to only do what seems to make us comfortable and costs us nothing, we may find ourselves giving in to moral compromise, yielding to guilt and eschewing personal integrity. Daily, weekly, and monthly we find ourselves in similar predicaments and it is no different whenever we decide that we’re going to follow Jesus.
Following Jesus is perhaps one of the most costly and inconvenient decisions one can make. It is, however, the only decision which can culminate in abundant and everlasting life. The apostle Paul was someone who decided to follow Jesus and experienced much persecution as a result. The early church understood that deciding to follow Jesus would probably mean giving up their lives here on planet earth to do so. It seems today that the Gospel presented to many folks is somewhat truncated, often only emphasizing the benefits that come with a decision to receive Christ as Savior of their souls. Jesus is the Savior, indeed, but he is also the risen Lord of Glory.
Every privilege has a price. The privilege of becoming a son and daughter of the Most High carries with it the price tag of being associated with and living for/with a new family, a spiritual family. Joining this new family carries with it new rights, responsibilities, and priorities. It entails taking on new habits, rhythms, practices and character. Putting on the character of Christ will inevitably be countercultural, opening the door for external resistance and persecution. This is simply part of the price that comes with the privilege of being a child of God. We have to understand that the principles and values of this world are not the principles and values of God or of His Kingdom. Answering the “call” to follow after Jesus means surrendering all to that call.
Question of the Day
Do I want to follow Jesus more than I want to be comfortable?
"My people will be captured and taken away, because they don’t really know me." Isa. 5:13 (NCV)
There are few moments in Israel’s history that are more heartbreaking than falling into exile. Remember that the northern kingdom of Israel was exiled by the Assyrians (721 BC) and the southern kingdom of Judah was exiled at the hands of Babylon (586 BC). The Babylonian exile came with a great price. By the time Ezra returns with the Israelites back to Israel (around 450 BC), they had lost their heritage, their language, and their relationship with Yahweh. All of this could have been avoided if they had just been faithful in their walk with God. If you think about it, they didn’t fall into exile, they walked into it.
Knowing about God and knowing God are two separate things. Many of us in our faith think that the more knowledge we gain about the Bible or about God is actually knowing God. It’s not. God is a person, not just a long list of facts. Knowing God is having a relationship with Him. This relationship entails trusting Him, loving Him, talking with Him, obeying Him, adoring Him, and letting Him be your provision. He wants us to know about Him, but not at the expense of truly walking with Him.
We fall into exile when we really don’t know God. It’s pretty hard to imagine what going into exile would be like. Being carted off to a foreign land, being forced to work, being forced to learn a new language, wear different clothes, eat different food and learn to customs. It really must have seemed so foreign to them. But there is an important lesson here. Whenever we drift in our walk with God, we sell ourselves into exile. When we don’t know God (relationally) we begin to talk differently, dress differently, think differently, love differently, and surround ourselves with different company. We begin a downward spiral into Lifelessness.
God’s heart for us is Eden, not Exile. We must remember – exile was never God’s heart for Israel. His heart for us has always been Eden. He wants the best for us. So much so, that He made a way back to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. Whenever we find ourselves in exile, we put us there. God will never willfully and desirously put us into exile, for His heart for us is greater than our heart for ourselves.
Question of the Day:
Am I in “exile” because I don’t really know God?
God is love. - 1 John 4:8
Folks often overlook one simple fact: the Christian faith was the first religion to define God as the essential embodiment of love. The one, true God exists eternally as a community of being. This claim--God is love--is not simply a statement that God is lovely or that God is loving. Both are true, of course, but the claim that God is love is quite extraordinary and should be given an appropriate degree reflection.
We're all guilty of taking love for granted; we simply do not pay it enough mind. Without love, though, life is simply unbearable. Who could fathom wanting to live in a love-less universe? Apart from love we will inevitably fail to properly ground meaning. Love is what we all crave, need, and were meant to experience. Believe me, it is much more than mere emotion or sentimentality or even affection.
Love, from a Christian standpoint, is and has been taken to be a two-fold reality:
That is, we cannot make sense of love as something other than interpersonal. Love is by its very nature something that requires two or more persons. Likewise, the manner and motive in which two (or more) persons treat each other will only be 'true love' when each person 'gives one's self' to the other for the right reasons and in the right way. Love is not love without moral boundaries. We all implicitly know this, whether we fess up to it or not. Furthermore, love is not mere affirmation. Not everything is worth affirming. In point of fact, to affirm everything is to value nothing.
Consider this: Only the Christian worldview can make sense of the 'eternality of love.' Only Christianity satisfies the preconditions for the intelligibility of love, since on the doctrine of the Trinity, Three Persons share the same essence from all eternity (giving and receiving love) and treating the other persons in the Godhead in a morally appropriate act of self-giving. No other faith can ultimately make sense of "eternal love" without being reduced to some form of absurdity. We’ve all heard that “love is what makes the world go ‘round.” That statement is truer than we realize. God makes the world go ‘round, and God is Love.
Word for the Way:
Only the Triune God of Scripture satisfies the preconditions for Love.
...Contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. - Jude 3
Is there anything in your life worth contending for? I hope so. I hope there are many things in your life worth a fighting chance to keep. Indeed, I hope your faith in Jesus is worth so much to you that you are willing to fight for it, be earnest about it, and that you're willing to even be stretched because of it. Jude is in my view somewhat of an unsung pillar in the New Testament. He is purportedly the half-brother of Jesus and, like James, was a skeptic as to Jesus' ministry and messiahship prior to the resurrection. But consider this: the post-resurrection Jude jumped fully in to the mission of the early Church and to the full-work of his brother's Kingly rule. Jude's direct admonition in this verse is poignant and one that all faithful followers of Jesus should take to heart.
1. We must 'contend for the faith' individually. No one will force us to dive into all that God has for us. It's a choice we must make and take action upon. We cannot outsource our personal pursuit of Christ. A vibrant and living relationship with Christ is something we must fight for.
2. We must be willing to 'contend for the faith' in public as well. If Jesus really is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then He will give us open doors and opportunities to share Him with those around us. Too often we neglect to engage in faith-conversation because of fear, intimidation, indifference, uncertainty and laziness. We know that none of these are godly attributes. All it takes is open eyes to see open doors, an open mouth that God can fill, and an open heart to see people as 'worth Jesus to the Father.'
3. There are not several “Christianities.” When watching the History Channel or Public Broadcasting, you will no doubt see Religion "scholars" speaking of many "competing" factions of Christianity in the first century. But bear in mind, there is only (and has only ever been) One, True, Historic, Orthodox Christian Faith. If indeed the book of Jude was penned in the early to mid 60s of the first century, Jude exhorted believers to embrace and contend for the one, true faith. This is biblical Christianity. Don't settle for some watered down pseudo-Christianity, embrace the Real Deal. Let "God be true and every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4). There's only one Faith worth contending for: the One, True, Historic, Orthodox Christian Faith. Anything else is putty.
Question of the Day:
Am I serious enough about my faith to be inconvenienced by it?