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.