Consider Your Ways

Nothing can warp your priorities like an unhealthy dose of self-interest. When your view of the world can’t extend beyond the mirror, your spiritual vision becomes clouded. When you over value your self-image, you will discipline your kids for misbehavior because they have embarrassed you, not because they have disobeyed.

Being too interested in your own image in parenting means you care more about how others perceive you than you do about your own child’s heart. When you are driven by selfish ambition, your family, friends, church, and God will inevitably take a back seat. You can’t pursue God’s glory with your life if you are pursuing your own.

Haggai’s first sermon-like message to the people of Israel was a call for them to “consider their ways.” The Lord himself said the Jews had reasoned among themselves that it was not the right time to rebuild the house of the Lord. The time didn’t seem right because their priorities weren’t right. Rebuking them, the Lord calls the Jews “these people” rather than “my people” indicating that their pursuit of self-glory was reorienting the focus of their worship.

While the Jews were diligent to rebuild their own homes, they feared there weren’t enough finances or materials to take on a temple reconstruction project. But the fact remained: their homes were complete, while God’s house was in ruins. God didn’t need a home in order to have a place to dwell, but the temple was the central location of God’s dwelling place with his people. The problem is clear: God’s people prioritized their prosperity over God’s presence.

If we aren’t careful, we will fall into the same trap as the Israelites. If we don’t stop to consider our ways, we will find ourselves pursuing personal prosperity over the Lord’s presence. Through Christ, we have access to God’s presence that ancient Israel never even dreamed of having.

To neglect the presence of God by prioritizing anything in our lives over pursuing him in his Word, prayer, and the gathering of believers is to turn the gospel on its head. We have been brought near to God through the work of Christ, so it would be foolish to intentionally move away from him for the sake of personal prosperity that will soon pass away.

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The Blood-Bought Joy of Prayer

One spring morning, as I sat on the patio enjoying a cup of coffee and the warm light from the sun beaming from the east, with no clouds to hide it, I prepared to open God’s Word and soak in its satisfying content. I was listening to “Before the Throne of God Above”[1] in the background as I prayed for God to bless the reading of his Word and to give me the grace to understand and the desire to obey what I read. In the middle of my prayer, I burst out in song as this verse began:

Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Yes, right in the middle of my prayer, I lifted my voice in praise of my sinless Savior. Without Jesus satisfying the wrath of God, his righteous wrath would remain on me (John 3:36). The truth of the gospel and the work of Jesus in it caused me to ponder the joy of prayer. I realized that I can only make this plea to God because my sinless Savior took my punishment, took my shame, and took my guilt, so that I may be free to cry in the Spirit, “Abba Father” (Rom. 8:15)!

I stand before the throne of God guiltless, blameless, and free

Hebrews 4:14-16 shows us the importance of Christ’s sinlessness and his temptation, as well as giving us the basis for our confidence to approach the throne of God in prayer.

Fully Tempted

Jesus Christ was fully tempted. There are many reasons why this is important, but pertinent to our discussion here, his temptation is vital so he can sympathize with us. In other words, the intervention and pleading that Jesus does on our behalf is personal. It is not a general grace but a personal grace. Our pleas are not only heard but also felt. This goes to the heart of the nature of the God we serve, love, and have. He is set apart from all other gods as a transcendent and personal God! This means that prayer is not a super-spiritual rite or performance in order to obtain righteousness. Prayer is instead a means of grace through which we fellowship and commune with an eternal God who not only comforts us in our weaknesses but also can fully identify with them.

Wholly Sinless

Jesus was not only fully tempted, but he was also entirely sinless through all temptation. It is great that Christ can identify with us to a certain level, and I am eternally glad and grateful for this. But if he could fully identify with us even in sin, this would be detrimental and the end of the Christian faith. We identify with Adam in the sense that we are tempted as he was and in the sense that we sin as he did. (See Genesis 3.)

However, Christ is the second Adam, the new Man, who was tempted as we are, and as Adam was, but Christ did not sin. Jesus obeyed where Adam did not and where we do not. Adam’s only hope—and ours as well—is in the perfect righteousness of Christ, which he accomplished through much temptation to sin. As a result of this perfect righteousness, Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, a lamb without blemish, to be condemned in our place. Jesus’ sinlessness means that he is able to take our sin upon himself, and by offering himself as this perfect sacrifice, he becomes our great High Priest through whom we approach the throne of God.

Draw Near with Confidence

This passage does not mean that when you pray to God for something to happen that it automatically will. Paul prayed three times for the thorn in his side to be removed. (See 1 Cor. 12:7-9.) He prayed through the same Christ and approached the same throne of God with the same confidence that we do, yet the thorn in his flesh remained. His request was denied. Sometimes, God may want to demonstrate the power of his grace through your endurance through suffering. He may want to teach you that his grace is sufficient.

However, what is certain is the way for us to receive grace and mercy for our souls, and in our lives, is to approach God’s throne. Reformed theologian, John Frame writes, “So [Jesus] is the only person who can give us access to the Father. We come through him because he has made the final sacrifice. When he died, the veil of the temple was torn in two, so the Lord opened wide our access to him (Heb. 10:22).”

We can approach the throne of God in prayer confidently only on the basis of what Christ has done on our behalf. “[H]e entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats or calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). The atoning sacrifice of Christ is eternally successful “because of the superiority of the one who offers and is offered.”[3] On our own merit, we do not have the right to approach God, for if we did, we would surely die. But with Christ Jesus as our substitute and our great High Priest, we can with full confidence ask God to bless us and to give us grace and mercy in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).

How God responds to our prayers is not the basis of our confidence in asking. A child does not base his confidence in asking his dad or mom for a gift on the guarantee they will say yes. He is confident in asking his parents for a gift because of the relationship he has with them. So it is with prayer. We should be confident to ask of God anything on the basis of our relationship with him. In short, we can be confident because Christ has restored us to God! We can be confident in prayer because the gospel demands it.

The Nature of Prayer Because of Christ

The significance of Hebrews 4:14-16 is massive. I wish to leave you with three aspects of prayer that I hope will encourage you to pray more and to discover the blood-bought joy of prayer. Prayer is now personal, powerful, and pleasing because of the work of Christ.

  1. Prayer is personal because the Christ through whom we pray identifies with our temptation and sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). Through him, we personally commune with God, our Father.
  2. Prayer is powerful because our pleas are heard by an omnipotent God. The one we approach in prayer is the God who gives sight to the blind and life to the dead, the one who sits on the throne of glory. But prayer itself from our perspective takes power in the work of Christ in his intervention and pleading on our behalf. It is in Jesus’ name we pray.
  3. Prayer is pleasing to both God and us because God desires to give his children good gifts and we desire to be in fellowship with him. We have peace with God because of our justification before him in Christ (Rom. 5:1). And this peace is pregnant with pleasure (Rom. 5:2). So prayer goes from being a meaningless rite to a glorious joy-producing means of grace.

Pray in Christ. Pray for joy. God is glorified when you pray this way.


[1] Charitie Lees Smith (1863).

[2] John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. (Phillipsburg, PA: P&R Publishing Company, 2013), 1055.

[3] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011),, 497.


*This post first appeared as a chapter in my book, Come to the Well. You can purchase a copy from Amazon, CBD, and other book retailers.

How Have You Loved Us?

Have you ever found yourself questioning God’s love? Being the fickle people that we are, we give our circumstances far too much respect and power over our lives. We encounter a God in the Bible who has expressly said and shown that he has loved us. We love to sing, teach, preach, and share of God’s love. But the moment we don’t feel God’s love, we begin to question whether he ever loved us to begin with.

Loss often leads us to doubt God’s love. If we lose a job, lose a family member, lose our health, lose a relationship, or lose status, we wonder where God’s love has gone. We equate God’s love with blessing. We forget that the God who gives is also the God who takes away (Job 1:21). We view God’s love only in terms of the good things we receive from him. Oh, how fickle we are.

Malachi’s prophecy opens with a flooring statement of his love. “I have loved you,” says the Lord. The first word from the Lord to his people who are unashamed of their sin and apathetic in their worship is an overwhelming word of grace. God simply, yet profoundly says, “I have loved you.”

But the people of Israel ask a question you and I ask in the depths of our hearts when we walk through difficult circumstances: “How have you loved us?” What would you expect God to say in response? How has he shown his love to his people? I automatically think of the exodus, the conquering of the Promised Land, choosing to dwell with Israel in the Tabernacle and Temple, preserving his people in exile, and bringing them back to their homeland. The examples of God’s love for Israel in the Old Testament are endless.

However, the example God gives for how he has loved his people extends back to the time of the patriarchs. God loves his people because he “loved Jacob and hated Esau.” In other words, God loves his people today because he freely chose to love them in the first place. Both Jacob and Esau proved their unworthiness of God’s love in their lives, but before either of the twins was born, God freely chose to set his electing love on Jacob and not Esau (Rom. 9:6-13).

How has God loved his people? He has loved them by freely choosing to love them when nothing compelled him to love them. Esau was Jacob’s twin brother. By cultural standards, Esau deserved his father’s blessing, but God chose to set his covenant love on the younger brother, Jacob. God’s love for his people, his love for you, is based on nothing but his free and sovereign grace in election. God loves you because he freely chose to love you. How freeing it is to know that you don’t have to earn God’s love through religious performance!

Nothing outside of God, certainly nothing in us, compelled God to love us. We should tremble at the awesome thought that God has chosen to set his sovereign, immovable, unchangeable love on us. Nothing can compel us to be confident in God’s love in the midst of difficult circumstances, and nothing can motivate us toward greater obedience like possessing the love of a sovereign God he didn’t have to give.

The Heart of Worship

pexels-photo-213207.jpegTaken together, Psalm 111 and Psalm 112 are alphabetical psalms. There are twenty-two lines of three words with each line beginning with the following letter in the Hebrew alphabet. They are both psalms of praise to the Lord. Psalm 111 focuses on the great and mighty works of the Lord. It is a beautiful song about God’s greatness in what he does and how we should respond to his greatness. Psalm 111 teaches us a lot about the object of true worship, the nature of true worship, and the reason for true worship.

True worship is all about its object. Psalm 111 is about the works of the Lord and how great they are. Verses 3-9 serves as a litany of reasons why God deserves to be praised. Worship is extolling the person and works of God. It is seeing God for who he is and what he has done and praising him for it

What is the nature of true worship? First, it involves the whole heart. Worship is not about physical expressions, but about spiritual dispositions. True worship is about the direction of the heart’s delights. Asking who you worship is the same as asking what you delight in most. “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” (Ps. 111:2). The nature of true worship is God-centered, heart-directed, and joy-motivated. It is the natural response of a person whose eyes have been opened to see the greatness of the Lord.

Finally, the result of true worship is a life that is changed to mirror God’s glory to the world. We don’t merely see God’s great works; we share them. Those of us who have received the redemption the Lord sent to his people (Ps. 111:9) have been recreated in the image of Christ. We have now been enabled to image God to our neighbors.

In other words, through or words and works, we are to show the world what God is like. When we are righteous, we reflect his righteousness. When we are merciful, we reflect his mercy. When we are faithful and just, we reflect his faithfulness and justice. So, true worship flows into every area of life, as we seek to perform the works of his hands with faithfulness and uprightness with the purpose of seeing more glad-hearted Jesus-worshipers recreated in his image for his glory.

When you hear the word worship what is the first thought that comes to your mind?

For many of us, we think of worship as the thing we do on Sunday mornings as a faith family. We gather for a worship service in the worship room to sing worship songs led by a worship leader. But did you know it is possible to attend worship services every single Sunday and never actually worship?

It makes me think of the time I went to watch Duke play Indiana in the NCAA tournament in 2002. The game was played at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. It was a great game! But I really didn’t care who won. Kentucky basketball fans hate few things more than Duke and Indiana basketball. My granddad and I joked that it would be awesome if they could both lose.

Even though I didn’t like either team, I found myself clapping for the first player who was introduced…for Duke! My granddad quietly leaned over and asked politely, but firmly, “What on earth are you doing?” I didn’t know! I definitely wasn’t cheering for Duke to win. I wasn’t a Duke fan. Being in the place where Kentucky played their home games and seeing Duke sitting on Kentucky’s bench and hearing the same announcer from every Kentucky game caused me to clap from habit. I had no love for Duke in my heart even though my hands made it look like I did.

Many people do the same thing I did at Rupp Arena in church buildings on Sunday mornings. Their hands, words, and actions make it look like they are worshiping God, but their hearts are far from him. True worship is less about physical acts and more about the direction of the heart. Worship begins in the heart and directs love, joy, and obedience toward God in every area of life.

Psalm 111 begins with three simple words: “Praise the Lord!” This psalm is all about worship. What do you notice about the psalmist’s worship in verses 1-2?

First, his worship is God-centered. The eyes of his heart are gazing on God and his awesomeness.

Second, his worship flows from his heart. While you can hide your heart from others by singing the lyrics of worship songs, you can’t hide the desires and motives of your heart from God.

Third, his worship is both personal and corporate. That means he personally worships the Lord with his whole heart, but he also worships the Lord “in the company of the upright.” It is important to practice personal worship every day without forgetting how important it is to worship the Lord together with your faith family.

Finally, his worship is not mindless or joyless. In verse two he says that those who delight in the works of God will study them. We don’t worship God because someone forces us to do it. And we don’t worship God without thinking. We think deeply about who God is and all the things he has done. This deep meditation on God fuels worship in those whose joy is in him.

Why Does David Ask God to Slay the Wicked?

pexels-photo-89837There are many places in the Bible people are just not comfortable with. They either don’t like what it means or are not sure what it means, so they just avoid it. We don’t have the option to only believe or deal with parts of the Bible that we personally like. “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). Even the parts we don’t like.

Many Christians try to ignore Psalm 139:19-22 because they don’t understand it. David goes from praising God for his amazing thoughts and how vast and deep God’s knowledge is to asking God to punish the wicked. Check out the strong words David uses:

“Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies” (vv. 19, 21-22).

Wait a minute, did he just say what I think he said? Did David really just say he hates people with complete hatred? Help me double check…Yep, he said it! Why would David say this? Why would he want his enemies to be killed? Why does he hate these people? Is it a good thing? Is that something we should do?

When we approach difficult passage like this, we are tempted to spiritualize or theologize them away. We try to come to the Bible’s defense. We don’t expect to read what we just read, so we try to make it into something it doesn’t say. The problem is, we don’t have the authority to create our own meaning of difficult Bible passages just because we are uncomfortable with what they say. Instead of skating around difficult texts we must face them head on if we are to understand what they actually mean. The goal of Bible study is not to understand Scripture according to your own preferences or cultural hermeneutics.

The goal of Bible study is to discern the original meaning of the author by faithfully and diligently digging into the context of the passage. Though we can come up with many principles and theological truths from a tough passage like Psalm 139:19-22, we are misguided if those principles and truths don’t deal honestly with the passage itself. We can’t place meaning on a text. Rather, we must draw out the meaning that is already there.

So, for Psalm 139:19-22, we need to consider a few important contextual matters.

First, we need to remember is that the Psalms are songs, or prayers set to music. They also express so many different human emotions. In this one psalm, David expresses thanksgiving, praise, adoration, and anger. If nothing else, this psalm teaches us that it is okay to come to God with our emotions. It is good to express how you are feeling to God in prayer. God is not looking for you to be fake in your prayers. If you feel confused, tell God you feel confused! If you don’t understand how God could allow something to happen, tell him! Honesty with God in prayer is a sign of intimacy with God.

Second, we need to remember that God knows and sees everything. Why does David move from talking about God’s amazing knowledge to asking him to slay the wicked? Because David saw something in the knowledge of God that we need to see. God knows and sees everything. No one, not even the world’s most cunning criminal, can ultimately get away with evil. There are many injustices in the world. But with God there is no injustice, only justice. Because he knows all things and see all things, his power to judge is real and just as big as his knowledge. No one can get away with evil with God.

There will be a day of judgment. So, we should do two things.

Pray for God to judge evil (slay the wicked) and for him to show mercy (save the wicked). Praise God that he does both in Christ. You don’t have to seek revenge, because God will judge all sin for every person (including you and me), either in hell or in Christ.

Breathed Out by God: The Supremacy of Scripture

pexels-photo-250609All Scripture is supreme in the life of the church and in the lives of every believer. This truth is summed up in one phrase: All Scripture is God-breathed.

Scripture has a Divine Origin

What does the phrase “breathed out by God,” or “God-breathed” mean? Concerning the authority of Scripture, Wayne Grudem writes in his Systematic Theology, “The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.” There is an intrinsic and special connection between God and Scripture because Paul says that all Scripture is the very words of God.

“Breathed out by God” in this context seems to be a metaphor for speaking the words of Scripture. Unlike all other books that have ever been written, the Bible has at its core divine DNA. It comes to us through human agents, but its content is very specifically, the words from God. Notice that Paul writes that it is Scripture that is inspired by God, not the authors. Timothy can be certain that every word that he preaches is from God and not from man (2 Tim. 4:2). Because Scripture is God-breathed, this indicates that it is also completely truthful and holy.

Any book written today must stand the test of peer review and evaluation in light of similar works in that particular field in order to substantiate the claims of that book. This is because authors are flawed, no matter how gifted. However, when it comes to the holy Scripture, its Author is the opposite of flawed. The reason you see “Holy Bible” written on the front or side of your Bible is because it is the direct product of an infinitely holy God. The character of this Word reflects the character of the one who spoke it. And the supremacy of the Bible is self-evident as it attests to the supreme Being who created heaven and earth.

This means that when it comes to Scripture, there is no higher authority for the church and there is no higher authority for our lives as believers. We must submit to every single text of Scripture as it is all from God. To disobey Scripture is to disobey God.

Amazing Grace

Will you just stop with me for a moment to consider and marvel at this thought? The book that you hold in your hand is not just any book. It is a book in which every single word is God-breathed or uniquely intended by God to be written in a specific time by a specific writer. We should hold this book in the highest esteem and approach it with fear and trembling. It is not a plaything to be tossed around or a worldly work to be treated lightly. These words that we are reading and studying are from the One who created the Milky Way galaxy and the amoeba. May we never be flippant or silly with this Word. And may we always fall before this Word in submission and worship because of its unbelievably God-like nature. What unfathomable love! What amazing grace!

Three Striking Implications

In light of the supremacy of Scripture, there are three striking implications for the church and Christians today.

1. No text of Scripture is insignificant

All Scripture is God-breathed, and therefore contains a divine element that demands attention and submission. It is all-important and all vital for our faith and for the satisfaction of our souls. Man cannot live on bread alone (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).

2. No text of Scripture is more authoritative than any other

For example, if Jesus did not say something, but Paul did, this does not mean that it lacks authority because Jesus didn’t say it. All Scripture is God-breathed.

3. No text of Scripture can be ignored

This impacts our preaching and Bible study. Do not only preach or study the four Gospels. Do not only preach or study the New Testament. Instead, recognizing that all Scripture is God-breathed, we must give ourselves to the preaching and reading and studying of both testaments and all 66 writings. If the pastor asks you to turn to Ezra or a Psalm or Leviticus, do not turn him off. If your daily reading is in Deuteronomy or 2 Chronicles or Romans, do not blow it off. Two lines out of Leviticus or two pages of genealogies out of Nehemiah contain more intrinsic worth and power than an entire book written by C.S. Lewis or J.K. Rowling because Leviticus and Nehemiah have the imprint of God himself.

We are not at liberty to pick and choose to obey only those passages that agree with our finite philosophies or wishes. Scripture is not subject to our will, but rather to the will of the one from whom it is breathed out! All Scripture is from the Spirit of God and because of this it is all holy and good and true. This means that when we come to difficult passages, we do not have the option to disregard it or deny it, for when we do so, we are denying God himself. It is therefore important to learn how to study the Bible. Yes, you want to wield a sword when an enemy attacks you, but if you do not know how to wield it correctly, you are great risk of maiming yourself. In the same way, if we do not know how to properly wield the Sword of Truth, we will only be maiming our souls.

Nothing Can Cut You Off From God’s Love in Christ

nature-forest-waves-treesFor various reasons and purposes, dams are constructed almost anywhere there is a significant body of water. Sometimes dams are created to prevent flooding. Other times they are constructed to create lakes. But always, dams are constructed for the purpose of blocking water from reaching a certain area. Dams trap water in a certain area and prevent water from reaching another area.

Paul is finishing his answer to a question he has posed in verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul isn’t asking if God loves us. He’s asking if there is anything that can block God’s love from reaching us. He’s asking if there are any dams that can prevent the river of God’s love from flowing to us. He lists ten possible dams that might separate us from God’s love in Christ. Let’s look at each of them in three categories.

First, can life or death separate us from God’s love? No, because God’s love busts through each of these dams since “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:20). Even death is used by God’s love to only increase your experience of it.

Second, can angels or rulers or powers separate us from God’s love? No, because even Satan himself, the highest evil ruler and power, only serves the expansion of God’s love. Satan tempted Judas to betray Jesus to his own demise. God’s love crushes these supernatural and evil would-be dams. They cannot keep God’s love from you.

Third, can height or depth or anything else in all creation separate us from God’s love? No. Nothing. Nada. Goose egg. Not one conceivable person or thing can separate us from God’s love. There isn’t one single ruler, power, person, angelic or demonic being that can block God’s love from incessantly flowing to his people. Even death itself is a pawn in the hands of a loving God used for the ultimate good and joy of his people.

So, those of us who have unstoppable access to the river of God’s love must be rivers of living water (John 7:37-38). The love of God in Christ that has freely flowed to us must freely flow through us to others. Don’t construct any dams between you and others. Freely offer the love that has been given to you. Love relentlessly. Love incessantly. Love like your Father.

Morning Mashup 04/24

Morning Mashup

A daily mashup of book recommendations, articles, and videos for your information, edification, and enjoyment.


BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place | Andy Crouch

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Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture | David Murray

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ARTICLES

A Legacy of Forgiveness | The Washington Post

Jemar TisbyHe was walking home from an Easter meal on Sunday when a man walked up to Robert Godwin Sr., asked him to say a name and then shot him in the head. To add to the horror, the killer recorded the shooting and uploaded it to Facebook. Thousands of people saw the slaying before it was removed over an hour later.

The family’s grief, particularly that of Godwin’s children, was on display, too. But so was their love. In a baffling demonstration of grace, three of his children publicly forgave their father’s killer the next day.

Is the Enemy of My Enemy My Friend?| Ligonier

Albert Mohler: In a time of cultural conflict, the enemy of our enemy may well be our friend. But, with eternity in view and the gospel at stake, the enemy of our enemy must not be confused to be a friend to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Truthing in Love | GoThereFor

Lionel Windsor: Truthing in love means speaking the gospel, speaking the implications of the gospel, and speaking in a gospel-shaped way within the whole network of loving relationships characterized by God’s love for us in Jesus.

Three Lessons from an Intentional Life | ERLC

Lauren McAfee: I have the privilege of working in the company that grandpa started more than 40 years ago. There are many things I’ve learned from him over the years, but here are three specific lessons I’ve gleaned from his life:

10 Reasons to Be Humble Toward Opponents | TGC

Andrew DavisGod doesn’t will for us to give in for an instant on issues of biblical truth. It’s not humilty but self-serving cowardice that causes us to back down from doctrinal attacks. We must fight like lions for the truth of the gospel—the souls of our hearers are at stake. 

I think it’s unlikely for a work of church revitalization to go on without overcoming significant human opposition. But God commands us to be humble toward our opponents, entrusting ourselves to him. This is among the greatest displays of grace. And it’ll be instrumental in transforming your church.

As personal conduct goes, I believe there are at least 10 reasons we should be humble toward our opponents.

VIDEOS

Expositional Devotions: Mark 16:1-4

aaron-burden-113284Do you want to know what I hated most about school? I hated the end of PE and recess. You know what it’s like. You are running and playing and laughing. Maybe you just started a new game with your friends. But whatever the case, you hear that loud whistle! Or, that loud shout, “Line Up!” You have to stop what you are doing and go back to class. Nothing would upset me more than leaving a game unfinished. When recess or PE was over, it dampened my day.

Well, on a much, much greater level, all of Jesus’ disciples were deeply saddened when Jesus died. They didn’t know all we know about Jesus’ death and what it meant for them. They thought Jesus was going to save the world and rule as a King, but they never thought he would take his kingdom by dying.

When Jesus died on the cross it was like a loud whistle blowing to stop all of the disciples’ hopes and dreams. Their leader, friend, savior, and God was dead. They saw him arrested. They saw him mocked. They saw him beaten. They saw him crucified. They saw his body taken off a cross. They saw him placed in a tomb. As far as they knew, it was all over.

Can you imagine what must have been going through their minds? Jesus had made claims to being God and the Messiah who would save his people from their sins. They must have at least thought, “Maybe he was not who he said he was.” Now, they trembled alone and afraid. They were scared because they knew what was probably coming. Their leader had been arrested. The religious leaders hated him. Their next move would have been to silence Jesus’ followers. I’m sure the disciples could not understand why the one they had fully trusted and followed for three years was lying dead in a tomb.

But that is exactly the point of our passage today. Jesus was dead and buried. Dead. Buried. Three women tried to honor the body of Jesus by bringing spices to anoint him. They waited because they were not able to buy the spices and oils necessary to anoint the body on the Sabbath. When they arrived at the tomb, they were wondering how they would be able to move the stone to gain access to Jesus’ body. What is the main point? Jesus is clearly dead.

The difference between the first disciples and us is massive—about 2,000 years! We have the privilege to know just what the death of Jesus means. While the first disciples were afraid when they learned of Jesus’ death, we can be confident and courageous! Satan’s day ended the day Jesus died.

As Jesus’ lay dead and motionless in the tomb on Saturday, he was in the process of unleashing all the power that sin and death hold over us. As you read about the death and burial of Jesus, do so with total joy, knowing what those first disciples did not know—that the one who lies dead in the tomb has given new life to all who come to him in repentance and faith.

Main Idea

As Jesus’ lay dead and motionless in the tomb on Saturday, he was in the process of unleashing all the power that sin and death hold over us.

Discussion Starter

Why is it important that we have this evidence that Jesus was actually dead?

Prayer Points

Thank the Lord that Jesus was truly dead, so that we can truly live.

Eternal Roots

pexels-photo-2A truly blessed man is a man who has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. In fact, the ultimate example of the blessed man of Psalm 1 is Jesus himself. This psalm is a great description of Jesus, the one in whom his Father was well pleased (Matt. 3:17). By God’s grace and the sinner’s God-initiated faith in Jesus, a man is saved. Through union to the Blessed God-man is a man truly blessed.

Psalm 1 is very figurative and eloquent in its description of a truly happy person in God. This glorious Psalm is a continuous contrasting distinction between the righteous and the wicked. One way leads to life, and the other leads to death. The difference is where the righteous and wicked have been rooted. The righteous are rooted in God, while the wicked are rooted in the world or themselves.

Rooted in God

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers (Ps. 1:3).

The Psalmist compares a blessed and righteous person to a tree. All trees have roots. The stronger and healthier the roots, the stronger and healthier the tree will be. The same goes for fruit on a vine. The fruits of a vine are utterly dependent on the strength and health of the vine. The reason a man is blessed is because he has been rooted in the Word of God by meditating on it and delighting in it (Ps. 1:2). He has therefore rooted himself in God, sinking into the rich soils of his delightful Word.

The psalmist continues the metaphor by saying that the tree (the blessed man) is planted by streams of water. This water, this stream, flows directly from the heart and mind of God. We can be certain of this since the tree yields proper fruit for the season, and the leaves do not wither. The resourceful supply of the life-giving stream produces fruit in this tree.

If fruit did not yield from this tree, then there is an issue with the roots. There is no negative issue with God, and therefore fruit is yielded; “its leaf does not wither.” Commenting on Psalm 1, John Calvin writes, “[T]he children of God constantly flourish, and are always watered with the secret influences of divine grace, so whatever may befall them is conducive to their salvation.”[1]

Those who are in Christ Jesus will produce fruit because of the Soil they are rooted in. It is good soil, and it is planted beside the stream of life flowing from the fountain of God. These fruits greatly benefit others and glorify God. God is glorified greatly when it is clear that without him there would be no fruit. Without the stream flowing in an otherwise dry land, the tree would indeed wither and not bear fruit. The tree is utterly dependent on the life-giving streams of water.

Likewise, those who are in Christ are utterly dependent on God for life and for fruit bearing. We only prosper by his grace for the sake of his glory and the sake of others. Blessed is the man who is rooted in God, for he indeed will know God and know eternal life (Ps. 1:6; John 17:3).

Rooted in the World

The only alternative to being rooted in God in this life is being rooted in either the world or being rooted in self. These two are basically the same, as ultimately what the man is rooted in rather than God is sin or wickedness. Verse one describes men who are not rooted in God as “wicked,” “sinners,” and “scoffers,” which directly contrasts the way of the righteous and blessed man who is rooted in God. It can easily be deduced from the psalmist’s images of a blessed man that a wicked or sinful man is a tree in a dry land, not by streams of water.

Therefore, this tree will not produce good fruit, and it will ultimately die. Living a life filled with wickedness, sin, and scoffing is a life rooted in the world, and it is a life that is slowly decaying under the hot sun of fleeting pleasures. The wicked are also described as chaff, which is the husks and straw removed by threshing.

There is another place in Scripture where the wicked and sinners are compared to chaff. In comparing those who repent with those who do not, John the Baptist describes how Jesus is both a Savior King and a Sovereign Judge: His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat [blessed men; righteous men] into the barn, but the chaff [wicked men] he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12, emphasis added).

Now that is a picture to behold! Jesus gathers his people to himself, and the rest he burns with an unquenchable fire. This is evidence that Jesus clearly believed hell is most definitely real. The illustration of the chaff is indicative of the truth that the wicked will not see the kingdom of God. All who are not tied tightly to Jesus Christ, and all who are not rooted in the Word of God will perish eternally. Period. There are no questions asked.

If you are rooting your life in sin, in this world and in yourself, take a long look at this text and see that you are a tree without fruit; a tree in a dry land without a supply of water; and a chaff that is blowing about in the wind only to be tossed out and burned with a fire that is unquenchable, for you have forsaken the living water of King Jesus.

Drink and Be Satisfied

While both trees in this metaphor are in a dry land, one will live and one will die. The tree by the streams of water will live, and the other will die in the desert. This world we live in is a massive desert, and we are all trees in it. The deciding factor for our eternity will be whether or not we are rooted in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, delighting in him beside the streams that flow from the overflowing spring of God’s grace which leads to eternal life.

The only alternative is that we are rooted in the desert of this world and the sin that corrupts it which leads to eternal death.In the words of the psalmist, “the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Ps. 1:6).

Delight in the Word of God today, and drink living water at the spring of God. It may take deep reading and meditating, for the fight against temptation and sin is real and tiring, but the joy at the end of the journey is more than sufficient and is truly satisfying, as God will be greatly glorified. The spring flowing with living water is high at the top of a mountain, and the trek is difficult and wearisome. But when the climb is over, those huge gulps of water will be so satisfying, and the Spring will be glorified.

Read. Meditate. Delight. Live.

*This post originally appeared as a chapter in my book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God.


[1] John Calvin, Commentary on the Psalms, Abr. ed. David C. Seale (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), p. 2.