Where You go I will go

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” 

Ruth 1:16

These are the profound and powerful words from Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi. Naomi had lost everything. Her husband and two sons died. She was too old to remarry but she wanted to give her two daughters-in-law a chance for a new life. So Naomi released both of them to return to their homeland to find a new husband and a new life.

Ruth refused. She was going to faithfully stay by Naomi’s side to the very end.

God draws near to those who have this same attitude about Him. When we are willing to say to God, “Where You go, I’ll go” and “where You stay, I will stay,” God can use us powerfully.

For some, saying that we’ll go wherever God wants us to go is the more difficult challenge. It could mean uprooting one’s family, work, friends, home and life in general. For others, saying that we’ll stay wherever God wants us to stay is the more difficult challenge. Sometimes, being the one to stay and faithfully invest in one place while you watch others leave can be really painful.

Whether we are going or staying, in the end, it’s not really about us. It is about staying connected to the One who is asking us to go or asking us to stay. For Ruth, it wasn’t about where Naomi went, it was about staying connected to Naomi. We see Moses say the same thing to God.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’…But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” 

Exodus 33:1-2, 15

Moses didn’t want to go if God wasn’t with him. For Moses, it was more about connection and intimacy with God than it was about the fulfillment of the Promised Land.

Is that true of us and God? Are we willing to say, “God, where you go I’ll go, and where you stay I’ll stay.” And also, “If your Presence does not go with me, do not send me away from here.”

Here is a worship song that expresses this same theme:

As They Saw Fit

In those days Israel had no king;everyone did as they saw fit.

Judges 17:6

This verse in scripture is so powerful for being so short. And it resonates with the situation we find ourselves in today. When there is no recognized authority and truth, everyone just does as they see fit without regard to the word of the Lord. At this time in Israel’s history, people would just melt silver, cast an idol, hire a priest and set up a shrine to their own gods. This is exactly what a man named Micah did in Judges 17.

This is also something we see people do in our own culture when they claim to live according to what they call “my truth.” They might as well say, “my gods.”

In order to avoid this kind of post-modern polytheistic relativism, we must surrender our lives to Jesus. Surrender always requires obedience. But recognizing Jesus as King of Kings is only the beginning of obedience. There are at least three phases of obedience, each one progressively getting closer to what God intended for us.

1. Obedience out of sin avoidance: This kind of obedience is about trying to do what is right and avoid doing what is wrong. It is a sin-conscious approach to living for the Lord. The focus is on our actions and trying to do the right ones. This approach tends to focus on the cross but doesn’t go much beyond it. This is the lowest and weakest form of obedience to the Lord.

2. Obedience out of identity: This kind of obedience is a step up from the last kind. It is about knowing who we are in Christ. It is about recognizing that we are new creations in Christ. This approach to living for the Lord doesn’t just avoid sin because it is wrong. Instead, the person doesn’t choose sin because they know that is not who they are. It is not focused on action but on identity. It is an obedience that comes from the heart. This approach tends to embrace the cross but then also move into a focus on the resurrection. The fact that we have been made new by Jesus is the primary concern. Rather than trying to avoid sin, it is about being who you really are in Christ.

3. Obedience out of love: This is the most complete kind of obedience. This kind of obedience embraces the death and resurrection of Jesus and continues by focusing on our identification with Jesus in His ascension. We are now seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). It is an obedience born out of an intimate relationship with Jesus. It not only focuses on who we are as new creations in Christ but also on the interactive communication between us and Jesus.

Obedience is seen not just as sin avoidance or living out of your true identity but as actively joining God in what you see Him doing. It is actively listening to the Holy Spirit and doing what He says to do. It comes from a love for God and an experience of His love for us. Obedience then becomes a way to honor that relationship. It becomes a joy, not a burden. This is what Jesus was talking about in John 14:15 when He said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” Obedience that is born out of love is the highest form of obedience and what God always intended for us.

What kind of obedience are you living in?

More in Death than in Life

Samson said to the servant who held his hand, “Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.” Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. Then Samson prayed to the Lord,“Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.

Judges 16:26-30

Deliliah cut Samson’s hair thus nullifying his Nazarite vow. When this happened, the Spirit of the Lord left Samson and, with Him, all of Samson’s supernatural strength. The Philistines captured Samson, gouged out his eyes, and made a mockery of him among the Philistine elite.

Physical obedience impacts spiritual realities. So does disobedience. When Samson’s hair was cut (physical reality) it impacted what was happening in the spirit realm. The Spirit of the Lord no longer rested upon Samson in power.

Samson’s death was a foreshadow of the death of Christ. Samson destroyed many more of the enemy’s minions in his death than he did in his life. The same is true of Jesus. Jesus healed and cast demons out of thousands of people. He dominated the enemy in his life on earth. Yet, His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave gave us access to His power and authority. More minions of the enemy have been destroyed because of Jesus’s death than were destroyed in His life. It happens through you and me.

Once again we see physical obedience impacting spiritual realities. Jesus’s ultimate physical obedience of going to the cross forever changed the spirit realm. In rising from the grave, conquering sin and death, Jesus now has all authority. And He chose to delegate His authority to those of us who have the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

With every act of obedience on our part, the power and authority of the Kingdom of God is released in the spirit realm. With every act of disobedience, the lies and deception of the enemy gain ground. Living the Christian life has never been about vain attempts to “be a good Christian boy or girl.” Walking in step with the Holy Spirit out of obedience to the Lord has always been about the Kingdom of God coming to earth. It’s always been about the battle happening in the spirit realm. It’s about “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Your obedient actions matter more than you know!

Devotion

The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’”

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.

Judges 2:1-3, 10-15

These are very sobering words and sound all too familiar. While Christians around the world are giving up everything for the sake of the gospel, American Christians are raising a generation “who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done” for us. The consequences of this are severe.

In an article written in Christianity Today about a tiny village church way up in the mountains of a country where Christianity is not welcome, the author wrote this about the pastor of that church:

Before the meeting, the church’s pastor had shared with me that his non-Christian parents died when he was just 15. A few years later, someone shared the gospel with him for the first time. He trusted in Jesus and was baptized, but as soon as this happened, the rest of his family abandoned him. His brothers told him to never come back, and he lost the inheritance his parents had left him. But this pastor and his people believe that Jesus is worth it. “Jesus is worth losing your family,” the pastor told me.

Then he quoted Mark 10:29–30, saying,

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundred times more, now at this time—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and eternal life in the age to come.”

David Platt, Christianity Today, October 3, 2019

Jesus is worth it. Could most American Christians say that? Americans can sit through 3 hour football games with complete focus but struggle to sit through 1 hour worship services. American Christians complain about their ADHD during a 30 minute sermon but are able to watch a 2 and a half hour movie or binge-watch 3 hours of Netflix.

The issue is not our attention span. The issue is what we love most. And, unfortunately, it’s not Jesus. To the American Christian, Jesus is not worth it. We struggle to give Jesus a few minutes of our time let alone our family. We are masters at worshipping the gods of our culture and infants when it comes to worshiping our Lord and Savior. The global church has a lot to teach us about what real devotion looks like.

Lord, please forgive us! Forgive us for breaking covenant with you. Forgive us for worshiping the gods of this culture. Forgive us for prioritizing entertainment and comfort over our love for you. Forgive us for being a church that is sleep walking. Wake us up, Lord!

If it’s You…

When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Matthew 14:26-29

The disciples didn’t know it was Jesus at first. They saw something miraculous happening, a man walking on water, but they weren’t sure it was from the Lord. They weren’t sure it was Jesus. At first, they thought it might be a ghost.

Jesus reassures them that it is, in fact, Him. But they still aren’t convinced. They feel like they need some kind of proof that it’s Jesus. Peter starts with, “Lord, if it’s you…” Peter wants verification that the miraculous thing they are witnessing is Jesus and not something else.

Peter reasons that if it is really Jesus, he would be able to come to Jesus on the water. In other words, Jesus kept empowering His disciples to do what He was doing. So it makes sense that if Jesus is the one walking on water, He could also empower His disciples to do it. But if it’s just a ghost, then Peter would never be able to walk on the water.

Jesus agrees.

Jesus invites Peter to come to Him on the water. This is Jesus’s evidence that it is, in fact, Him. The disciples could have just taken Jesus at His word. But if they want evidence that Jesus is the one doing the miracle, they’ll have to take a risk and step out in faith.

All of this still applies today. So many people see a miraculous thing and wonder if it’s really Jesus. Even after Jesus shows up in miraculous ways, people still doubt it is Him. They don’t take Him at His word, so they ask for evidence. Yet, the only evidence that Jesus is willing to give comes after a step of faith. He essentially says, “Believe what I am saying is true, take a risk to try it yourself, and then you will know it is me.”

This isn’t exactly the scientific method we western Christians are used to. We wrongly assume proof will come before faith. Jesus says that it doesn’t work that way in the Kingdom. If you want proof, Jesus is glad to give it. But it will only come after a step of faith.

We say we’ll come to Him on the water if He proves to us that it is Him. He says you’ll only know it’s me after you come to me on the water. We ask Jesus to bow down to our doubts to help us believe. He refuses. He tells us to have our doubts bow down to Him in order for our faith to arise.

We actually shouldn’t be surprised by this. This is exactly what God did with Moses. God showed up to Moses in a burning bush in order to send him to rescue the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. But Moses doubted that he was the man for the job. Moses said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?“(Exodus 3:11).

Notice how God responds.

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Exodus 3:12

Did you get that? The sign that it is God who sent Moses is that, once all the people of Israel are out of Egypt, they will worship God on that mountain. In other words, the evidence that it is, in fact, God sending Moses will only come after Moses listens to God and takes the risk to obey. We want the sign to be before we obey. God says that He’ll confirm His word with evidence but only after we obey, only after we take that step of faith.

Have you ever prayed that prayer that starts with, “God, if it’s really you….” I know I have! But we have to understand what comes next. God is okay with us asking this question, but don’t be surprised when God’s evidence that it is really Him comes after a step of faith, after an obedient action, after a risk. We so often want to obey out of certainty rather than from a place of faith.

I have found in my own life that God has given me proof after proof, evidence after evidence that it is Him! But this evidence came after I was willing to get out of the boat and take a risk to believe.

Where is God calling you to take that risk, that step of faith?

This Is Love For God

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 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 5:1-5

There is a way to carry out the commands of God that is legalistic, self-righteous, and that comes from a place of performance. This is what we see in the Pharisees. Yet, there is a way to carry out the commands of God that comes from a place of love for God. The opposite of legalism for the Christian is not a life filled with sin and rebellion. The cure for legalism is not licentiousness. We don’t avoid becoming the older son by becoming the prodigal son. The goal is to become like the father (Luke 15:11-32).

John teaches us here in 1 John 5 that love for God looks like following His commands. But unlike the Pharisees, when we live from a place of love the commands of God do not become burdensome. Love for God causes us to want to surrender our whole life to Him and obey everything He tells us to do. Jesus confirms this when he says:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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

When we are living from a place of fear, however, obedience feels like performing in order to avoid punishment. It feels like flexing a muscle and seeing how long we can hold it. But John reminds us:

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:17-19

Living and obeying from a place of loving God starts with receiving His love for us. When we bask in His love for us, we then return love to Him by joyfully obeying Him. We end up wanting to live how He has commanded us to live in the scriptures. We want to do what He has commanded us to do personally. We don’t obey out of fear. We are compelled to obey out of love.

Obedience from a place of fear and performance is worried about what God will do to us if we don’t obey. Obedience from a place of love understands that He is a gracious God, and that it is not Him but instead our disobedience that harms our love relationship with Him. Obedience from a place of love understands that whatever He’s asked of us is the best for His Kingdom. And His Kingdom is what we are seeking first above our own comfort and life-plans (Matthew 6:33). It’s not about us in the end, but about Him.

This mindset is where we find the victory. This is where we overcome the world. The world cannot kill something that’s already been put to death. The world cannot steal something that has already been surrendered into the hands of the Lord. We can trust Him to be faithful as He guides and directs our life.

Paradox of Faith

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:11-12

Paul encourages Timothy not to spend all of his time pursuing material wealth. Instead, Paul wants Timothy (and the rest of us) to pursue the riches of the Spirit. Righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness are things we must go after. They are things we must pursue and fight for. This is what it looks like to “take hold” of the eternal life that we have in Christ.

Yet, righteousness is also something we’ve been given. Godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness are also fruits of the Spirit. They are not only things we pursue but things that are birthed within us by the Spirit. And this is the mystery and the tension of the Christian life. This is the paradox of faith–the place where God’s work in us and our participation with God meet together.

It’s like when Paul said of his own ministry, “To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”(Colossians 1:29). It is the Holy Spirit working within us, yet we must cooperate with Him. God already made us righteous in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), and yet we must pursue righteousness and godliness. We are already new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-18), and yet we must “put on” the new self and “put off” the old self (Ephesians 4:22-24). The Father pours His love into our heart through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), and yet we must pursue love. We were saved by grace through faith in Jesus which is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8), and yet we must pursue greater measures of faith in our own life (2 Timothy 2:22).

This dynamic is not an either/or but a both/and. It is God’s activity, and it is our response to God’s activity. It is His work in us, and it is our cooperation with His work in us. It is His grace, and it is our obedience. The paradox of faith is all of this working together. This is what it looks like to fight the good fight of faith and take hold of the eternal life that we’ve been given in Christ.