The Shape of Our Faith

Path2

John 8:23-24, 31-32 – But [Jesus] continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. [24] I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. [32] Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

To the Point

Jesus rarely, if ever, beat around the bush. Time was precious to him, so he usually cut straight to the chase. He knew how to get the attention of his hearers. In our Scripture, Jesus shared with those to whom he was speaking several important facts about them and the world in which they lived.

  • They were worldlings (i.e., they operated under the dominion of Satan and the patterns of this sinful, fallen, enslaving world.
  • Jesus lived in the world but was not under its influence as they were. (in vs. of)
  • As such, they were going to die in their sins.
  • They must believe Jesus’ claims about himself if they were going to be rescued from dying in their sins.
  • To “believe” means more than (though not less than) simple intellectual recognition, or even acceptance of data.
  • To those who professed to believe in him (verse 31), Jesus said they must also “hold to his teaching.”
  • Therefore, only by genuine faith in Christ – which “holds to” (i.e., obeys) his teaching – can a person know the truth (Jesus is the truth, John 14:6, and so is God’s Word, John 17:17). It is also by this means of believing or faith that a person will, therefore, be set free from both the bondage and condemnation of sin.

We Have to Show Our Pearly Whites

True, biblical, and God-glorifying faith in Christ has teeth to it. It’s got a practicality that demands to be noticed. It’s unlikely the early church was so heavily persecuted and martyred simply because they intellectually accepted particular truth-claims about Jesus and then told others they needed to do the same.

Instead, because they believed Jesus was who he claimed to be and thus loved him, they therefore obeyed him. Put another way: They put their faith into practice.

As their faith in Christ permeated every sphere of their lives they began to be noticed by the worldlings around them. It was this authentic non-conformity to the world around them that led to their persecution. They refused to be “squeezed into the mold” of this world.

The Shape of Discipleship

If we would be people of the truth, we must be Christ’s disciples. If we would be his disciples, we must believe in him, trust him, and obey him. Nothing less is worthy of the One who is the true Lord and King of the universe, which includes this world.

The “Pretenders to the Throne” notwithstanding, (their reign, after all, is temporary), our allegiance must be to Christ alone. And that allegiance has a shape to it. It is not mere intellectual ascent of a few doctrinal propositions (though it includes that). It is not simply a warm-fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. It is far more. Allegiance to Christ is incarnational. It has skin on it. It has teeth to it. If we would be his, we must submit to his Lordship – his absolute authority – by obeying him in every sphere of our lives. Only then can we rightly claim to be his disciples.


Walking Points

· How is obeying Jesus after you have placed your trust in him different than seeking to earn your salvation?
· In what areas of your life is it hardest to live faithfully as a Christian? Why do you think that is?
· What are three ways you can equip yourself to more faithfully “hold to” Jesus’ teachings in the various spheres of your life? What would faithfulness in each area look like?
· Take a minute to pray right now and then share your ideas with a friend who will also pray for you and hold you accountable.


Prayer

Heavenly Father, I know I cannot earn my salvation. I cannot, by my own efforts, merit your favor. I do not deserve the wonderful relationship with you that you have graciously called me to. And yet, O Lord, protect me from believing the lie that I don’t have to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Please lead me away from thinking joyful obedience to your commands is not a sign of my love for you. To increasingly become more like your Son will mean conformity to his likeness in my thoughts, words, and deeds. Yet, in and of myself, I cannot move in that direction. I humbly ask you to fill me more and more with your Spirit so I can become the man you have created, redeemed, and called me to be. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.


This Week’s Prayer Guide

[You can use this prayer guide in your own personal prayer time. However, I encourage you to use it with a group of Christian men. Each week you should spend time praising God for who he is, confessing your sin to him (be specific) as well as expressing gratitude to him for his gracious forgiveness. Also, don’t forget to thank God for the many ways he has poured out his goodness in your life. Then, focus on the following areas of supplication, which will change from week to week.]

Petitions – prayers for yourself

· Help me to grow in wisdom and become who you created and redeemed me to be.
· Renew my mind and enable me to cultivate a godly perspective and attitude regarding the various spheres and circumstances of my life.
· Today’s events and interactions with others, planned and unplanned
· Other needs

Intercession – prayers for others

· My family, immediate and extended
· Those struggling with sin, illness, or relational difficulties
· Other needs

Take Jesus at His Word

trust

John 4:50 – Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.



If the Royal Official Could

The royal official didn’t first wait for a miracle before he believed. He didn’t wait for Jesus to first “prove himself” worthy of trust. He took Jesus at his word. He believed Jesus. Jesus told the man his dying son would live. That was all the official needed from the Lord. To be sure, Jesus didn’t owe the man such kindness, but he was pleased to bless him anyway. That’s the definition of grace.

How I wish this verse described me more. To take that step of faith, without prior confirmation of the desired result, can be frightening. Yet I sometimes find myself still wanting that confirmation in advance. Sometimes the Lord is pleased to throw me a bone, in spite of my small faith. But he would rather have me remember the hundreds upon hundreds of ways he has already proved himself capable and faithful to me and my loved ones throughout my life.

A Work in Progress

And yet I am encouraged. Despite my shortcomings the Lord is still drawing me closer to himself and conforming me more and more to the image of his Son. Slowly (so very slowly) I am maturing in my faith. The trust I long for comes more often than when I first began my pilgrimage. Is that your story too? Can you relate to that?

How precious it is to believe, and then have the eyes to see the blessing and the hands to receive it. The royal official believed first, then experienced the miracle. This isn’t a presumptuous faith, holding God to promises he never made. It is a dependent faith, one that cries out to God, “My hope is in you and you alone O Lord”.

Prayer and Scripture must undergird our growth in Christ. Reading God’s Word, reminding ourselves daily of his goodness and greatness, and then praying and meditating upon it builds us up with encouragement and confidence for both present and future faith. And this is needed. With such confidence in God, many throughout Scripture were able to face impossible odds and come out victorious on the other side. The nature of our victories may vary, but we too may be confident when we take the Lord at his Word.


Walking Points

• What’s the hardest part for you about trusting God?
• In what situations do you find yourself wanting that “prior confirmation” before stepping out in faith and trust? Why do you think that is?
• What are some things you can put in place today to help you grow in your ability to take the Lord at his Word in your daily life?
• Tell a fellow Christian your plan and begin praying together for your faithfulness to grow.


Prayer

Trustworthy God, to whom else shall I turn? You alone have the words of eternal life. You alone are worthy of my hope. Forgive me for those times when I have not trusted you, when I have first turned to other places and people to meet my needs. Out of pure grace you have been faithful to me and my loved ones time and time again. Your track record in my life is long and spotless. And yet, my faith in you can still be feeble and fleeting. Forgive me. Please give me greater confidence in you, a longer memory of your great work in my life, and help me to draw closer to you, that I might know you better and love you more. In Christ I pray. Amen.


This Week’s Prayer Guide

[You can use this prayer guide in your own personal prayer time. However, I encourage you to use it with a group of Christian men. Each week you should spend time praising God for who he is, confessing your sin to him (be specific) as well as expressing gratitude to him for his gracious forgiveness. Also, don’t forget to thank God for the many ways he has poured out his goodness in your life. Then, focus on the following areas of supplication, which will change from week to week.]

Petition – prayers for yourself

• Help me to mature in my faith and to increasingly please God by my thoughts, words, and deeds.
• Particular struggles in various relationships
• My activities for this day
• Other needs

Intercession – prayers for others

• My Family
• My local church
• My denomination
• Para-church ministries, particularly Christian education and discipleship
• Evangelistic ministries
• Other needs

 

The Loyalty of Ittai

Loyalty2 Samuel 15:21 – But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”

Meet Ittai

Who was Ittai? He was a foreigner. He was an exile. He had barely even been with David. And so David, right before the going got tough, told Ittai to leave while he could; this wasn’t his fight. David even sent Ittai and his countrymen off with a blessing.

But Ittai’s loyalty ran deep. We don’t know why, and I’m not sure it even matters. Ittai responded to David with these words,

As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”

David clearly recognized and appreciated this loyalty and so honored Ittai by permitting Ittai, including his men and their families, to stay on.

This kind of loyalty seems rare today. Whenever I see such displays in a movie or book, they virtually jump off the screen or page at me, demanding to be noticed and honored.

Loyalty to Christ

I wonder how many followers of Christ would follow their Lord wherever he may go and to whatever end. What makes this so difficult is our Lord goes everywhere. He goes into our families, homes, workplaces, thought-lives, churches, TV rooms, cars, grocery-store checkout lines, cultural battles, conversations, and on and on and on. Not only does he go to those places but he claims Lordship over them. And his claim is not an empty one. He has been given authority in those places. Ephesians 1:22 says,

And God placed all things under [Christ’s] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church…”

Christ is the King over all things, the Lord over every sphere of life. That’s simply a fact about reality. And yet there is a sense in which, in this present age, he is still seeking to extend his Kingdom into every sphere of life. It’s part of the “already and not yet” nature of his Kingdom. What is so astonishing is that he calls those of us who are his followers to be the very ones who extend his Kingdom. Through us! Truly amazing!

You Will Have to Die

The question is, will we be loyal and faithful to our Lord as Ittai was to King David? Will we follow our Lord to whatever end? We don’t have to guess as to whether or not there will be death. There will be. That’s an up-front promise by our Lord himself.

First and foremost there will be death to self. For there to be fruit a seed must die. For Christ’s followers to bear fruit for our King, we must die – to ourselves, our sin, agendas, self-centeredness, egos, idols, and so forth. Make no mistake about it, this is death and it can be quite painful.

And yet there is also the promise of life – real life, everlasting life, fullness of life. And this promised life is just as guaranteed as our death. For just as we die with Christ so too are we raised with him, to be and become as he now is.

The beauty of all this is found in the truth that our King has already been where he calls us to go. Furthermore, he has promised to travel with us to encourage, strengthen, and guide us along the way, the narrow way. That’s a comforting thought indeed.

Will you be loyal to your Lord and King? Will you follow him to whatever end?


Walking Points

• What’s your favorite example of loyalty from the movies or literature?
• Why is that your favorite example?
• What makes loyalty to Christ so hard in our world?
• What are three ways you can grow in your loyalty to Christ?
• What would such loyalty look like in your everyday life?
• Share your answers to these questions with a friend, and ask him what his answers are. Pray for one another.


Prayer

Ever faithful and loyal God, I praise you that you are steadfast in your commitment to me. You have promised you would never leave me nor forsake me. I ask you to please forgive me that I am not as committed to you. I have forsaken, disobeyed, and even been ashamed of you too many times to count. This realization and admission grieves me, though not nearly as much as it should. But I am grateful for your grace and your forgiveness and for another day to loyally serve you and your Kingdom. I’m clearly not up to it in my own strength, so please fill, direct, and empower me through your Spirit to be your man, your faithful ambassador in every sphere of my life, and to follow you wherever you may lead. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.


This Week’s Prayer Guide

[You can use this prayer guide in your own personal prayer time. However, I encourage you to use it with a group of Christian men. Each week you should spend time praising God for who he is, confessing your sin to him (be specific) as well as expressing gratitude to him for his gracious forgiveness. Also, don’t forget to thank God for the many ways he has poured out his goodness in your life. Then, focus on the following areas of supplication, which will change from week to week.]

Petitions – prayers for yourself

• Spiritual Warfare
• Growth in Christlikeness
• Increasing faithfulness in the spiritual disciplines
• My health
• For my ordinary appointments and activities to become divine appointments and activities.
• Other needs

Intercession – prayers for others

• My Family
• Mercy for those who are poor and hungry
• Justice for those who are oppressed and persecuted
• Love for those who oppress and persecute others
• Peace for those in the midst of war, crime, and violence
• Other needs

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

thanksgiving2

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us, and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

by Edward Reynolds (1662)

God First Loved Us, Part 1

devotional lifeGod First Loved Us, Part 1
1 John 4:7-21

In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem writes, “God’s love means that God eternally gives of himself to others. This definition understands love as self-giving for the benefit of others. This attribute of God shows that it is part of his nature to give of himself in order to bring about blessing or good for others.” As we begin a study on salvation, it’s vital to understand the source of our salvation at the very beginning. While we are the recipients of God’s love, his love has everything to do with who God is in his essence, and not who we are or anything we have done.

1. When you read or hear about God’s love, what images or ideas usually come to your mind? What are some different ideas that unbelievers and nominal believers have about the love of God? Give some examples.

 

2. Read 1 John 4:7-21 and write down everything John says about God’s love. What do you think John’s key idea is in this text?

 

3. According to verses 7, 8, and 16, what is the ultimate source of love?

 

4. A loving God is unique to Christianity because love by its nature is focused on and given to another. Only a God who has existed eternally and relationally in three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is able to express love since love focuses on another. Read the following verses and write down what each teaches about love expressed in the holy Trinity*.

• Mark 1:10-11 –

• John 17:24 –

• John 3:35 –

• John 14:31 –

• John 5:20 –

• John 10:17 –

• Colossians 1:13 –

 

*  “The love between the Father and Son also presumably characterizes their relationship with the Holy Spirit, even though it is not explicitly mentioned.” (Grudem) Some theologians have taught that the love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit.

Dying So They May Live

John 12:24-26 – I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. [25] The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. [26] Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

Hold On Loosely

In our scripture Jesus teaches his disciples he is going to die, but that he must if they would live. A kernel of wheat must die if it would produce many seeds.

Have you ever wondered why reformation and revival has not broken out across the church at large or yours in particular? There are perhaps many reasons, but one reason is we are holding on too preciously and tightly to our own lives, unwilling to die. Jesus said in order to reproduce many seeds we must die. Do we love our lives too much in this world?

The Rule

My life for yours. Genuine, substitutionary, and sacrificial living. Following and serving our King wherever he may lead, to whatever end. This brings honor from the Father. This glorifies the Father. This universal principle is the rule, not the exception, because it reflects the very character of the Lord we worship.

My life for yours. God calls us as Christian parents to train and nurture our children in the Lord – when they rise, when they go to bed, as they live throughout the day, when it’s convenient, when it’s inconvenient. We must make sure our children are not merely “taught at” but saturated in the things of God each day, all day, because they are eternal beings and heirs of the King. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Your Legacy

Are you leaving a godly legacy to and for your children and your children’s children for a thousand generations? Are you dying so they can live – really live? Can you think outside your individual life to see how your own death will extend the Kingdom of God by producing many seeds? Will you believe the promises God has made regarding faithful, covenantal parenting? Your life for theirs and for a thousand generations after them. Talk about a payoff!

But this is hard. That’s why it’s called death. Death to self. It is intentional, committed, disciplined. It’s every day, all day. It’s the discipling of your children because it is your joy, blessing, and responsibility before God to do so. Your life for theirs. The Kingdom of God grows in such ways. Darkness is engulfed by light through such ways. Reformation and revival are ushered in through such faith and obedience. God promises blessings to such as these.

But First You Must Die

Do with less stuff if it means more time with your family. Play with your children at the end of the day, even when you are tired. Discipline your children, even when you would rather not. Cast a God-glorifying vision before your children of who they could be for Jesus. Read great stories to your children so their imaginations are ignited as they put themselves in the places of the characters in the stories. Tell them about the heroes of the faith who have gone before them, so they might see how others have given themselves for Christ and his Kingdom.

Teach your children who God is – his person, plan, power, and purpose. Drive home again and again what the gospel is and is not (after all, we’re not trying to merely make better citizens or “behaviorally correct” robots). Teach and show them God’s grace. They must learn what it means to know, love, and follow Christ. They have to understand that the Christian faith is a total world and life view that addresses every sphere of life.

Create A Christian Culture

We are called to create Christian cultures in our homes through the power of God’s Word and Spirit, so our children will bring that salt and light influence into every other sphere of their lives for Christ. This is first and foremost the responsibility of Christian parents, not others, not even the church. Our lives for theirs. We must die so they can live.

Can we let go? Of our wants, things, desires, passions – our very lives? We must if we would find real life – abundant life – eternal life. Life in service to the King is not our own. It’s better. Only in dying are we raised. Only in dying are more seeds produced, and therefore, more fruit. Our lives for theirs.

Faithfulness Now

From our commitment and hard daily labor now, what might God do later in response? Might he use one of our children, (or one of our children’s children), to bring many to Christ, transform the culture, usher in reformation and revival in the church, extend the Kingdom of God as never before? We have every reason to believe he will! But we must die. We must fall to the ground and die. We must give our lives for our children’s lives, and for their children after them, so God may be pleased and choose to honor us by blessing those for whom we gave our lives.

My life for yours. Our lives for theirs. This is biblical faith.


Walking Points

• What makes dying to self so difficult, even for your children?
• What are some practical ways you can give your life for theirs?
• Write down some ideas of new things you can do to produce fruit in the life of your children.
• Discuss these ideas with two or three other men who will hold you accountable for putting your ideas into practice and who will pray for you and your children. Don’t wait to do this… start today.


Prayer

Heavenly Father, it’s hard for me to die to myself. And when I see all that my Lord Jesus sacrificially did on my behalf, it makes me feel even more ashamed that I’m not willing to do a fraction of that for those I love most in this world. Please forgive me. Create within me, by your grace-giving Spirit, a deep desire to pursue this sacrificial life and give me the strength and direction to live it out the rest of my life. I want to love and glorify you as well as lovingly bless my children. Give me a sanctified self-forgetfulness so I may truly put others, my children included, before myself. Remind me often that, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” In the name of the One who gave his all that I might live. Amen.


This Week’s Prayer Guide

[You can use this prayer guide in your own personal prayer time. However, I encourage you to use it with a group of Christian men. Each week you should spend time praising God for who he is, confessing your sin to him (be specific) as well as expressing gratitude to him for his gracious forgiveness. Also, don’t forget to thank God for the many ways he has poured out his goodness in your life. Then, focus on the following areas of supplication, which will change from week to week.]

Petitions – prayers for yourself

• My personal mission field
 Help me to identify those people who make up my personal mission field.
 Enable me to begin sharing the gospel with those who do not yet know you.
 Empower me to disciple those who are young in their faith.
 Allow me to encourage those who are struggling in their faith.
 Please give me perseverance in all areas of ministry.
• Today’s events and interactions with others, planned and unplanned
• Other needs

Intercession – prayers for others

• My family
• For missionaries throughout the world
• For those seeking to faithfully minister to loved ones at home
• For those who share the gospel in the inner city
• For those who bear witness to Christ in places of power
• Other needs