Heroic Quest

We think of love as a feeling.

God says that love is more than a feeling. It’s a feeling followed up by action. When we love God, our actions will align with his will. It becomes not a burden, but a joy to follow God’s commands.

Being obedient to God is no longer a “have to.” It’s a “get to” for the one who loves God.

This is all because spiritually, we’ve been reborn. This rebirth gives us a changed heart, a new state of mind, and a will to no longer be a victim of the world.

We have victory over the world through faith in Christ. Instead of victims, we are overcomers.

As people of our culture, we relate well to putting an end to the victim mentality, taking responsibility and being on a heroic quest to overcome. This is a cultural narrative that we live with, and most of us simply assume it to be the truest and best way to live.

Be aware, however, there’s a huge twist. In our culture, victory over the world is achieved when we vigorously go after and subsequently accomplish our own individual hopes and desires. In this narrative, we are heroes on a quest to actualize our dreams. We are only overcomers if we make an outstanding effort, find our true selves, and in this way fulfill our heroic quest.

John the apostle teaches a completely different way to overcome. It begins with understanding that Jesus is the true hero. And the quest is actually his. He made the outstanding effort to overcome the world by first allowing the world to seemingly overcome him. His quest was to seek us, and save us: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV).

It’s really quite beautiful. We don’t have to be victims anymore. We can be overcomers from now on!

And it’s really quite simple. We overcome the world when we are attached, by faith, to the One Who Overcame the World.

“In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:3-5, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for overcoming the world on my behalf. Grant me your Spirit so that I can trust you, stop being a victim and overcome with you. I know you love me, and with your help, I want to obey your commands so that I can thank you for all you’ve done for me.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 5, is Daniel 11:36 – 12:13, 1 John 5:1-21 and Psalm 139:1-10.

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The Power of One

God works through his people. And sometimes it simply takes one willing person to turn the tide.

In the days leading up to the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, God was searching for that one person. God’s people had abandoned their faith. Abandoned their God.

Someone was needed to draw the people together and lead them back to God.

But no one could be found. Not one person could be identified who had the faith, the courage, the passion for God and the love for God’s people to stand in the gap of the wall. This “wall” was not a wall of stone, but a wall of people united as living stones to stand for God and resist Satan. No leader could be found to stand up to evil and stand strong for God.

The priests and spiritual leaders were to teach God’s people to rest in God’s promises and live according to his laws. The princes and officials were to protect the people and insure justice and peace in the land, pointing the people to God as their true King.

But not one could be found who was ready to do his work. Just the opposite, in fact. Instead of doing the Lord’s work, the princes devoured the citizens with conspiracies, blatantly looting the common people. And the priests violated the law and profaned the holy things entrusted to their care.

Sometimes it only takes one person to make a difference in God’s kingdom. One person to change the broken culture. One person to help a church to achieve its mission. One person to serve on a ministry team. One person to lead a growth group. One person to visit the sick, or the prisoner. One person to care for the widow, the orphan, the person stricken by need or poverty.

One person filled with the Spirit, standing in the gap, can make all the difference in the world.

“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30, NIV).

Lord, you have been so kind to me. You “stood in the gap” through the cross, to reconcile the world to yourself. Make me willing to stand in the gap for you, and for your people. Fill me with your Spirit, and with the courage and willingness to serve you wherever I am needed.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, November 11, is Ezekiel 22:23 – 23:49, Hebrews 11:1-16 and Proverbs 27:15-22.

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Refresh Your “Why”

“By perseverance the snail reached the ark,” said Charles Spurgeon, the great British preacher. But that simply raises a question: “Whose perseverance was it? The snail’s? Or God’s?”

There are really two things that keep a Christian going. These two things form our “why” for being a Christian.

The first is God’s love for us. There is no love as steady, as firm, as lasting, as God’s love. His love in unconditional and unrelenting. His love is forgiving and merciful. His love is caring and compassionate.

And the second is Christ’s perseverance. Once Jesus commits to something, he will always see it through to the end. It doesn’t matter how much it costs him, Jesus’ promise means it’s already as good as done. Because he will always persist until he has finished what he started.

And there’s no better reminder of both God’s love and Christ’s perseverance than the cross and the empty tomb.

The cross and and the empty tomb are our guarantee. A God and Savior as loving and persevering as ours will help us in our weakness. He will strengthen us when we are down. He will protect us when we are undergoing the devil’s attacks. He will help us repent of our sins and do the things God has commanded in his law.

That’s why the apostle Paul prays that the hearts of the Thessalonians would be constantly directed toward God’s love and perseverance. Here the word “heart” indicates not simply their emotions, but also their intellect and the will.

He knew that as long as the Thessalonians’ hearts, minds and willpower moved in that direction — in that correct direction toward God’s love and Christ’s perseverance — then their faith in God would grow, and their connection to Jesus would remain steady, solid and unbreakable. Their energy for Christ and for the gospel would never wane, and their unified, hard work for the kingdom would continue.

The love of God and the perseverance of Christ is the very source — the “why” — of our own love and perseverance. But far more importantly, it is also the source of our forgiveness, our reconciliation to God, and eternal life.

Does your “why” for being a Christian need to be refreshed and renewed? Say a little prayer today. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct the eyes of your heart, mind and will into God’s love for you, and into Christ’s perseverance that took him all the way to the cross for you.

“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (2 Thessalonians 3:3-5, NIV).

Holy Spirit, direct my heart into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. Help me to remember God’s faithfulness and his protection. Give me a repentant heart for the times when I fail to keep God’s commands, and grant me forgiveness at the cross of Christ. Help me to continue to do the things God commands with the love and perseverance you first displayed for me, and now give to me.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, October 15, is Jeremiah 31:15 – 32:25, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18 and Proverbs 25:1-10.

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I Am Third

Jesus stepped into our world because he valued us more than his own life. He might have refused to get involved. He could have put his own interests ahead of ours.

But that’s just not Jesus. Jesus is the very embodiment of love. He is the incarnation of humility and service.

He laid out this servant’s mentality himself, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NIV).

What a different attitude from that which our culture teaches us. How often haven’t we heard, “If you’re going to do “x”, don’t do it for someone else. And certainly don’t do it for me. No, make sure you’re doing it for yourself.”

Paul gives the opposite advice. He tells us to imitate Jesus’ humility and love. Live your life not to be served, but to serve. Give your life away for others, as Jesus first gave his life away for you. Be ready to say, “God is first. Others are second. I am third.”

Many people live to get honor and respect from others, or to earn perks and privileges for themselves. Christians too — much as we know about Christ’s gracious and generous mindset — can struggle with selfishness, greed and pride. Ambition and conceit are much too frequent guests in our hearts.

But in the Spirit’s power, we have been given the gift of choice again. The apostle Paul points us in the right direction. Now we are ready to adopt the same mindset as Jesus. We begin to value others above ourselves. We choose humility over pride. We select service over selfishness.

And we do it because we remember that Jesus chose us over himself.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8, NIV).

Lord, I am sorry for all the times when I have put myself ahead of others, and even ahead of you. Please forgive me. Grant me your Holy Spirit and the wisdom that comes from above so that I can have the same mindset as you, Jesus. Help me to value and serve others above myself as you first valued and served me above yourself.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, September 30, is Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:30, Philippians 1:27 – 2:11 and Psalm 115:1-11.

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Servanthood for Dummies

In Washington D.C. there’s a bronze statue by sculptor Jimilu Mason. It’s a modern take on Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. In this portrayal, Jesus wears modern clothing — a sweatshirt and pants — but no shoes. Even more intriguingly, the sculpture is situated directly in front of Christ House, which is a medical facility for homeless men.

It’s an amazing portrayal of servanthood. And could there be a more fitting location for such a statue?

That being said, the statue begs a question. Or maybe a whole set of questions.

What does a servant of God really look like? Is there a clear job description for this position? Is there maybe a book I can read titled “Servanthood for Dummies?”

Paul says, “Yes, there is! I wrote that book. Just take a look at what our life has looked like since we began to follow Jesus. Observe how my missionary team and I served unchurched people and pursued sharing the gospel with them.”

Paul draws a portrait of great endurance, hard work, sacrifice and deprivation. He gives us a portrayal of pursuing a life of great character and sincere love. His description paints a picture of weathering dishonor and disgrace.

Servanthood is a willingness to endure pain and shame, and yet not lose your joy or your energy for sharing Jesus with others. It is simultaneously displaying a willingness to generously give away everything you have for the sake of the gospel, while acknowledging and rejoicing in the immense riches you already possess.

“Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Isaiah 3:1 – 5:7, 2 Corinthians 6:3 – 7:1 and Psalm 105:12-22.

Lord Jesus, thank you for making me immensely and eternally wealthy. I possess everything because of you. Help me to keep your servanthood (and Paul’s) in mind as I aspire to my own servanthood. Make me willing to live a sacrificial life here as my way of thanking you for all you have done for me, and as a way of sharing the gospel with those around me.

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Confident and Competent

Have you ever been in a conflict so deep with someone that you started to wonder if you were ever going to be “enough” for them?

Maybe it was your boss. Perhaps it was a parent. More often than we’d like to admit, it’s a spouse or one of our children.

For Paul the apostle, his conflict with the Corinthians — his “spiritual children” — could have produced such thinking. He had received a report that they were unhappy with him because of his change of travel plans.

Some of that unhappiness may well have been the result of some the things Paul had said to them in his first letter. Perhaps they were still stinging a bit, because he had been pretty firm and direct with them. There were sin issues that needed to get cleaned up in the Corinthian congregation.

As we read the first three chapters of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we can tell Paul is responding to these reports of the Corinthians’ unhappiness with him. It appears they were questioning both Paul’s sincerity and his competence.

For many of us, to have a whole congregation of people question our intentions and abilities would rock us — perhaps even rock us to the core. But not so with Paul. He remains steady and resolute. He is firm and solid in his identity and purpose.

From his words, we can see Paul knows what he is doing. More importantly, he is confident in why he is doing it. And most vital of all, he is certain of Who he is doing it for.

That gives him the ability to know where to locate all he needs to complete his mission. The same Jesus who has called him to the work of ministering to the Corinthians will also supply him with the confidence and competence he needs to carry out his work with joy and excellence. This keeps the apostle resilient in the face of the doubts of others.

When you feel insufficient for the task, when you sense your confidence being shaken by the opinions of those around you, you can do the same. Focus on an “audience of One”. Concentrate on Jesus and his faithful love for you. All proper confidence, and all necessary competence, come from him!

With Jesus not just pouring himself out for you, but also pouring himself into you, you are always enough! Like Paul, you can stand confident and competent.

“Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6, NIV).

Lord, there are so many times when I do not feel as if I am enough. Help me to know that because you are sufficient as my Savior and Redeemer, I am now sufficient to live out your purpose for my life. Whatever roles I may occupy to serve your kingdom to your glory, help me to be certain that my confidence and my competence come from you alone.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, August 29, is 2 Chronicles 33:21 – 35:19, 2 Corinthians 2:12 – 3:6 and Psalm 104:1-18.

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All In!

Admittedly, when we look at how sinful we are, things don’t look so good for us. “The wages of sin is death,” Paul writes to the Romans (6:23a).

The law of God seems to relentlessly push and press. We can never live up to it. Sin and fallenness is the wall we all face. And with our life spinning relentlessly toward that wall, our inevitable destiny seems to be death.

Until Jesus.

Through Jesus’ perfect obedience of the law, the power of sin to enslave us is taken away. And because the power of sin to oppress us is broken, death’s wages have been replaced by God’s gift — “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b).

Paul tells the Corinthians, “So, with victory over sin and death already yours, be strong. Stand your ground. Don’t hold anything in reserve. Leave it all on the field. Because what you do for the Lord, and for the Lord’s kingdom, is never going to be squandered effort or wasted time.”

Now is the time! Here is the place!

We’re “all in” for the work of the kingdom.

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, 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 Corinthians 15:56-58, NIV).

Lord Jesus, through your perfect life, sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection, you have given me victory. May that victory over sin, death and Satan take hold of my heart. I want to be all in for you, and for your kingdom.

Our Bible reading for Monday, August 24, is 2 Chronicles 21:4 – 23:21, 1 Corinthians 15:50 – 16:4 and Proverbs 20:25 – 21:4.

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