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“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:1-3).

When questioning someone about what they are doing on Sunday how often have we heard the response, “I’m going to worship”? The use of the word going, as opposed to doing or living, concerns me. Worship does not necessarily happen in a place (i.e. an institutional or simple church) or an event but, according to Paul, is a lifestyle that transcends a location or a singular experience. It is an intentional, moment by moment  life experience of sacrifice, transformation, and service. Let’s look at the characteristics of true spiritual worship as an act (not an event) found in this passage.

 •True worship is derived from the ongoing perspective of God’s underserved mercy towards us. A sense of His greatness and goodness must be the prompter of a transformed existence of perpetual reverence. The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (12:28).

•True worship is saturated in sacrificial, holy living and the desire to please God. In short, worship is Godward and Jesus-centered. It is not about us and our wants and desires. Worship benefits us but those benefits are but the residual effects of enthroning Him in our hearts and living and not the purpose behind our pursuit of Him. We worship because He is worthy!

•True worship is primarily a spiritual act (Philippians 3:3). The raising of one’s hands and other physical manifestations may be part of worship but such things must be derived from a spiritual seed. I’ve seen thousands of hands raised at a football game but the fans weren’t worshipping God! In other words, real spiritual worship is not based merely upon fleeting feelings or a sense of excitement.

•True worship involves a lifestyle that is radically different than the lost world around us. It’s easy to be different from the world when we are “doing church” but a worship-centered life necessitates the daily living out of our faith that is juxtaposed against the world’s philosophies and behavior (see Colossians 2:23).

•True worship involves the continual renewal and cleansing of the mind so that we might think as Jesus thinks. Worship engages the mind and thus affects our attitudes and behaviors. It is not built and pure emotionalism. We are to worship Him “in spirit and truth” (see John 4:23-24). Therefore God’s word is always the foundational principle that guides us in all of our endeavors, including worship.

•True worship is the daily living out of God’s will in a manner which truly pleases Him. Pleasing God by acting out His will for us is not an event but a journey. We don’t just do worship on Sunday morning or listening to praise music in the car. Worshipping is doing His will in the real world, not insulated and isolated from the perils and pain of our confused culture.

•True worship is bathed in the sincere humility of a servant. It is not about show but about subservience to God and service to others. This type of paradigm is fueled by the gift of faith that He has given us to see Him in all of His glory and respond accordingly.

So we see that worship is not an event but a perpetual act. It is part and parcel of who we are in Him. It is the daily transformation of a life, moment by moment, spent honoring Him in our thoughts, attitudes and actions. Let’s not think that worship as just an experience or a church service (or even a Christian concert) but, instead, a lifestyle that projects the glory that He is so worthy of. It is a holy, servant-oriented, and love-saturated expression of Him. In a beautiful way this kind of true worship is but a precursor to an eternity of adoring Him. Listen to John describe the scene of never-ending worship:

“Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 4:9-11).

 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).                               

I was recently accused of a Facebook fast! Heaven forbid! My accuser must have thought me to be more spiritual than I actually am for, alas, such was not the case. I just had been too involved in some other activities to devote any serious time to that cultural idol called social networking. And it wasn’t that I was becoming a misanthrope – I actually like nearly all my 370 “friends”. But, in pondering this dilemma, I wondered when the last time I intentionally “threw off” anything that was hindering me in my race towards Jesus. The thought is worth some serious “naval gazing” attention because this race is of the utmost importance. 

Here is some of what the writer of Hebrews says about this most critical of all races – one that all who pursue Christ are in (whether we are intentional about it or not): 

  • We are being watched (v.1). Not only the saints that have gone before (see Hebrews 11) but others – fellow Christians, family, co-workers, neighbors, lost acquaintances, and, most importantly, God Himself – are included in our audience. This calls us to greater rigor, determination, and discipline in this test of faith and endurance. 
  • Sin is our primary foe (v. 1). Sin trips, delays, re-routes, fatigues, and injures us in the pursuit of finishing our race well. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Paul’s advice to you Timothy was,  “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). 
  • We need to eliminate anything that will slow us down or make us less efficient in our pursuit of Him and His kingdom (v. 1). What is it that, in and of itself, is not bad but serves as a distraction or an obstacle in running for Jesus in the least encumbered way? What should we drop that drags us down and slows our spiritual progress? We should seek first those things that will propel us to race after God’s purpose for us (Matthew 6:33). 
  • We should run with a dogged determination and focused persistence (see 1 Corinthians 9:24). We, despite the twists and turns, hills and valleys of this difficult course, are called to “not lose heart”. The track is not easy one to navigate but the destination, Jesus, is worth the effort (Hebrews 10:36). 
  • Our race is marked out for us (v 1). God Himself has uniquely designed our course for the unique way He created us (see Psalm 139: 13-16). We are not called run someone else’s race nor are we to run like anyone else. He has designed us like we are for the specific purpose of running for Him the track He has configured with us in mind.  
  • This race of faith is filled with pain that is accompanied by joy (v. 2). Jesus is the prime example of this – He endured suffering “for the joy that was set before Him. James tells the scattered Jewish church that, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (James 1:2). 
  • Fixing our heart’s gaze on Jesus as our reward keeps us moving forward toward our goal – which is imitating Him (v. 3). When we consider the cross we are invigorated to keep the faith and summon from His Spirit the energy and endurance necessary to complete our calling. The Psalmist says that, “My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare” (Psalm 25:15).  

What this passage infers, as do many others, is that in a profound sense Jesus is both the purpose and the reward of this endeavor. When “competing” (Paul calls it “fighting the good fight”) to be more like Him, running to find satisfaction in Him as our prize, and by faith, knowing that He await us with the eternal reward of His presence we get an insight into what should motivate us! When we relentlessly pursue Him we most fully experience His presence in the here and now and are comforted by the hope of a victor’s reward for a life of endurance and a race that is run for His glory. So let’s keep our heart’s eyes locked on Him as we see Him as both the reason for the journey and the prize. And let us run well, keeping that reward in mind: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:25).

****The following is an excerpt from a sermon by Jonathan Edwards.  These words are from a message on “trials” from I Peter 1:8…”these trials are of further benefit of true religion, they not only manifest the truth of it, but make its beauty to appear…”.  To help the contemporary reader, replace the word “affections” with the term “emotions” or “desires” and the word “religion” with “faith”. Below the devotional is a piece of the Wiki article on Edwards so that we might become better acquainted with this influential figure from church history.

“Who will deny that true religion consists in a great measure in vigorous and lively actings of the inclination and will of the soul, or the fervent exercises of the heart?

That religion which God requires, and will accept, DOES NOT consist in a weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little ABOVE A STATE OF INDIFFERENCE. God, in His word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, “fervent in spirit.”

He spoke of old to Israel,”What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in ALL His ways, and to love Him with ALL THY HEART, AND WITH ALL THY SOUL?” This is the fruit of true regeneration.

If we be not in good earnest in religion, and our wills and inclinations be not strongly exercised, we are nothing. The things of religion are so great, that there can be no suitableness in the exercises of our hearts to their nature and importance, unless they be lively and powerful. In nothing is vigour in the actings of our inclinations so required as in religion; and in nothing is lukewarmness so odious (hateful). True religion is evermore a powerful thing; and the power of it appears, in the first place in the inward exercises of it in the heart, where is the principal and original seat of it. Hence true religion is called the power of godliness, in distinction from the external appearances of it, that are only the form of it. II Tim. 3:5

The world continues from age to age in a pursuit of THINGS; but take away affections, and the spring of all this motion would be gone, and the motion itself would cease. And as in worldly things, worldly affections are very much the spring of men’s action; so in religious matters the spring of their actions is very much religious affections: he that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of true religion.

Nothing is more manifest in fact, than that the things of religion take hold of men’s souls no further than they affect them. There are multitudes that often hear the word of God, and therein hear of those things that are infinitely great and important, and that most concern them, and all that is heard seems to be wholly ineffectual upon them, and to make no alteration in their disposition or behaviour, and the reason is, they are NOT AFFECTED WITH WHAT THEY HEAR. I am bold to assert that there never was any considerable change wrought in the mind or conduct of any person, by anything of a religious nature that ever he read, heard, or saw, that HAD NOT HIS AFFECTIONS MOVED. Never was a natural man engaged earnestly to seek his salvation; never were any such brought to cry after wisdom, and lift up his voice for understanding, and to wrestle with God in prayer for mercy; nor was one ever induced to fly for refuge to Christ, while his heart REMAINED UNAFFECTED. Nor was there ever a saint awakened out of a cold, lifeless frame, or recovered from a declining state of religion, and brought back from a lamentable departure from God, WITHOUT HAVING HIS HEART AFFECTED.

And the impressing divine things on the hearts and the affections of men is evidently one great and main end for which God has ordained that His Word delivered in the holy Scriptures should be opened, applied, and set home upon men, in preaching. And there-fore it does not answer the aim which God had in this institution, merely for men to have good commentaries and books of divinity; because these may tend as well as preaching to give men a good doctrinal or speculative understanding of the things of the Word of God; yet they have not and equal tendency to impress them on men’s hearts and affections. GOD HATH APPOINTED A PARTICULAR AND LIVELY APPLICATION OF HIS WORD TO MEN IN THE PREACHING OF IT, as a fit means to affect sinners with their own misery and the necessity of a remedy, and the glory and sufficiency of a remedy provided; and to stir up the pure minds of the saints, and quicken their affections, by often bringing the great things of religion to their remembrance.

Remember, God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel about “taking out of the stony heart, and putting in a heart of flesh.” Now by a hard heart is plainly meant an UNAFFECTED heart, or a heart not easy to be moved with virtuous affections, like a stone, insensible, stupid, unmoved, and hard to be impressed. Hence the hard heart is called a STONY HEART, as opposed to a HEART OF FLESH,

that has feeling, and is sensibly touched and moved. We read in Scripture of a HARD HEART and a TENDER HEART; and these doubtless are contrary to one another. But what is a TENDER HEART BUT A HEART WHICH IS EASILY IMPRESSED WITH WHAT OUGHT TO AFFECT IT.?

He who has no religious affection is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful, quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart. There can be a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a COLD AND UNAFFECTED HEART, there can be nothing divine in that light; that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of Divine things. If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will AFFECT THE HEART. The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of in the Word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.

The prevailing prejudice against religious affections has the effect of hardening the hearts of sinners, and dampen the graces of the saints, and to stun the life and power of religion, and to hold us down in a state of dulness and apathy. There are false affections, and there are true. A man’s having much affection, does not prove that he has any true religion: but if he has no affection, it proves that he has no true religion. If true religion lies much in the affections, hence we may learn what great cause we have to be ashamed and confounded before God, that we are no more affected with the great things of religion. It appears from what has been said that this arises from our having so little true religion”.

Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) was a preacher, theologian, and missionary to Native Americans. Edwards “is widely acknowledged to be America’s most important and original philosophical theologian,” and one of America’s greatest intellectuals. Edwards’s theological work is very broad in scope, but he is often associated with his defense of Reformed theology, the metaphysics of theological determinism, and the Puritan heritage. Edwards played a critical role in shaping the First Great Awakening, and oversaw some of the first fires of revival in 1733-1735 at his church in Northampton, Massachusetts. Edwards’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” is considered a classic of early American literature, which he delivered during another wave of revival in 1741, following George Whitefield’s tour of the Thirteen Colonies. Edwards is widely known for his many books: The End For Which God Created the World; The Life of David Brainerd, which served to inspire thousands of missionaries throughout the nineteenth century; and Religious Affections, which many Reformed Evangelicals read even today. Edwards died from a smallpox inoculation shortly after beginning the presidency at the College of New Jersey (later to be named Princeton University), and was the grandfather of Aaron Burr.

Joe was a college friend of mine. Actually, we were also teammates on the college track team. He was a disciplined long distance runner. Though congenial, he was, seemingly by nature, serious and focused.  He was from a small town near my home so we had a few things in common. Joe was, however, closed off and difficult to really get to know. He shared little about his life and kept things on the surface. Little did I know, below the stern demeanor was a past and present of doubts, questions, and disappointments. That was until he finally opened up to me.                                     

I don’t recall what triggered Joe’s catharsis but the story spilled out of him one winter day. His father had been a Methodist minister for many years – faithful to his family and church. One evening his father didn’t come home. After hours of worry the family finally fell asleep. The next morning they found him passed out on the couch downstairs with a half empty pack of cigarettes and a fully empty bottle of whiskey lying on his stomach. He never explained what had happened and Joe was never told later of the mysterious developments. The next Sunday the father resigned from his church. Soon thereafter he disappeared and my friend, to that day, didn’t know of his dad’s whereabouts.  Joe was 14 years old. He had been deserted and, we would surmise, his father has abandoned his faith. 

It has been over 20 years ago so I don’t know how the sad drama ended. I hope the outcome was the restoration of Joe and his father. The entire incident reminded me of one very minor New Testament character – Demas. We know almost nothing about him other than he deserted his friends and his faith. He is mentioned by Paul in relation to Luke (Colossians 4:14) and Mark (Philemon 3:24) but he is most infamous for his desertion. Paul, in 2Timothy 4:10, explains, “for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia”. 

The phrase that struck home to me was, “because he loved this world”. We all know the allure and magnetism of our secular culture – the pleasure found in the present that gives no credence to the reality of judgment and eternity. It appeals to our carnal, self-centered, and fleshly nature. Our society screams to us that the temporal nature of this world’s charms will satisfy us. But they don’t – we know because we have tried them and they left us empty and guilty. Tragically Demas chose the world over Jesus. But beware – we are all just as susceptible. 

The other text that came to mind was written by the apostle John: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19).  It is a sobering warning about apostasy – the forsaking of our faith. This passage clearly states that those who desert and never return were never among God’s chosen, His redeemed. Their permanent desertion was proof that their faith was false. Clearly some who wander never return. This is a thought worthy of serious consideration as it has eternal consequences. 

The good news is that Jesus welcomes those who have strayed, temporarily captivated by the world’s enticements and temptations, and choose to stagger home to Him. There are many scriptural stories that give us hope as we return. The story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus and subsequent restoration (Luke 22:31-34; John 21:15-19) are two poignant examples. In His grace, He lovingly embraces those who have wandered but eventually return. He even prepares a rich feast to celebrate our homecoming. 

As I mentioned, I don’t know the final chapter in the saga of Joe and his father.  God does. However, I can speak from personal experience that, having briefly lost touch with my Savior, there is hope for Joe’s father. Despite my own angry and rebellious desertion fueled by an attraction to this world, God was looking off in the distance for me as I stumbled home in despair and brokenness. Once I realized that He was the only thing of true and lasting worth, the journey back, though painful, was well worth His infinitely valuable presence in my life.

“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-12).

As a follower of Christ I am so often weak and faithless. Do you know the feeling? Despite the indwelling power of God’s Spirit I am constantly reminded of my flesh, the tug of this world, and the temptation of the Adversary. I sometimes sense a cycle of rebellion (which apathy, complacency, and self-centeredness are), repentance, and then gracious restoration. Despite the war that is waged in my soul and the defeats that are all too common, He always calls me back home to Himself and His ways. And in doing so God reveals my unworthiness afresh and simultaneously deepens my understanding of how desperately I need Him as my Savior and Lord.

Yet Paul’s warnings to Timothy are worth heeding. Endurance and the continued embrace of the Gospel to the end are marks of those that “have died with Christ”. There is no such thing as being “in Christ” and yet utterly falling away and rejecting the hope found in Christ alone. John speaks to this when he says, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19).

So, this passage tells us that those who are in Him – we who have died to ourselves and surrendered to Him – have the assurance of eternal life (how can we call it eternal life if we can lose it?). Paul tells us that our salvation necessitates that we will endure to the end and will not disown Him. For those who have truly tasted the sweetness of Jesus never desire to return to the sinful ugliness that has been left behind. Nor do they finally disown Him because they understanding the consequences of their final rejection (they are disowned by God – v.12). But what reasons does this passage give us for this promise?

First, we are His. He has called and claimed us. Hence the promise that we will live with Him in verse 11. Paul’s letter to the church at Rome puts it this way, “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). And, secondly, because we, by grace through faith, are a part of Him (as in the body of Christ analogy) and he can not disown Himself. That’s why verse 12 says that even in our unfaithfulness He is faithful for us. He must be because He can’t reject a part of Himself. How comforting and glorious is that? He is always faithful to Himself and therefore to us. Amazing! Notice the similar context in Philippians 1:6: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.  In other words, Jesus initiates our redemption and guarantees the eternality of it. So we will live with Him, endure, reign and never disown Him in, by, and through His power to uphold us.

But our war for righteousness wages on. In the power of His Spirit we can have victory in our daily living for Him but, as fallen and not fully sanctified children, we will, against our strongest desires, stumble and fall. Paul understood this struggle and the experience of both defeat and victory that we encounter in our human bodies – we yearn Christ’s righteousness and for His glory while still dealing with our maddening humanity. He also understood that our ultimate victory is to be found the never-ending faithfulness of God to Himself: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:19-25).

I am so thankful – actually overwhelmed – that in my weakest of moments He is faithful for me. He faithfully went to Calvary to purchase my forgiveness for all of eternity. He also faithfully intercedes for me in my failings so that I will not ultimately and utterly fall away. How then could I ever contemplate totally rejecting this Savior and not enduring to the end? How could I dare to turn His grace into license? How could I not love Him so much that I, like Paul, agonize over my inability to perfectly model my ever-faithful Lord?

 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:10-17). 

If we profess Christ and don’t realize that we are in a battle then there is something frighteningly wrong with our relationship with Jesus. The scripture is abundantly clear that, in this world, we are in a war and this world as we know it will end in war (there are multiple Biblical references including those found Revelation 12, 13, 17, and 19). The difference is that the battle that rages now is a spiritual one. Yet it is a war that demands the same intensity, courage, wisdom, and trust in God as a physical conflict. Do we sense the struggle? Are we aware of our foes? Or are we so spiritually lethargic, self-absorbed, lukewarm (see Revelation 3:14-22), or lost that the enemy need not worry about us? 

Paul uses numerous military terms and metaphors in writing to the church at Ephesus: armor, stand (as in Custer’s last), struggle, rulers, powers, forces, belt, breastplate, shield, arrows helmet, and sword. I definitely think he wants us to get the picture that we are in a contest that is a face to face conflict to the finish (which is what the Greek term “struggle” here means). But our adversaries are not what we might think. They are powerful, dark spiritual forces of evil that are charging to crush our faith and conquer our souls. Have you ever experienced the attacks of these enemies in your journey in following Jesus? You can’t see them but their soul-endangering attacks are real! 

But God has given us His strength and mighty power for this battle! And we wield spiritual weapons of righteousness: “…in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left…” (2 Corinthians 6:7). Our arms don’t look like human, conventional weapons of war and are far more powerful: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). God’s armor fortifies us with His strategic armaments against evil: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and His Word. When utilized no forces of evil can stand against these superior offensive and defensive weapons! 

Beyond this we have a Commander who stands at the vanguard of this hellish fray. Although we still exert godly effort in this battle, the war has already been won. Through Calvary, Jesus has already provided the victory and will, in the end, visibly demonstrate His supremacy for all of His creatures to see. And they will fall down before Him and give Him the honor He so rightly deserves. His enemies will be vanquished and He will be exalted. It is no wonder that John cried out, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). We who are in His battalion desperately concur. 

And He is coming. His victorious return gets closer every day. In the meantime, let us ask these questions: Are we ready for His triumphant arrival where He will “overthrow [His enemies] with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8)? Are we “fighting the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12)? Are we deploying His entire arsenal for the advance of His kingdom? 

Friends, this is serious business. There is a Heaven and there is a Hell. There is a Savior and there is a Satan. And there is a God who will judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42) and rule over His entire universe. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that this Lord Jesus is the only true God (Romans 14:11). Let’s make sure that we are among the conquering regiment, and that we are following our almighty King in daily warfare against all the powers that oppose Him, His Kingdom, and us. And may we give Him all the glory as we do: “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!”  (Revelation 12:10-12).

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12). 

These are tough times. Natural disasters, violence, economic challenges, and general dissonance seem ubiquitous. On an personal level, just recently I was informed of 4 co-workers and colleagues who had lost their jobs after many years with the company, the death of a friend’s dear aunt, the health concerns of a sister in Christ who resides overseas, and the sudden, unexpected death of a life-long friend. I am constantly confronted by the pain, trials, and tribulations of those I know and love in the Lord. The present is rude in reminding us of life’s difficulties. It is no wonder Paul talks about the frustration, bondage, and childbearing- like pain of a creation yearning to be redeemed (Romans 8:19-22). 

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, saw God’s ray of hope in his travails: 

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him” (Lamentations 3:19-24). 

In other words, when attuned to our Lord, He gives us daily mercy in this life. Paul goes on in 2 Corinthians 4 to explain some of these nuggets of mercy and hope and an application for dealing with the harsh realities of this fallen and sin-stained world: 

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:15-18). 

Paul calls us to tenacious faith – a faith that looks beyond the immediate and the tangible to have a view of the bigger picture of God’s dealings with us and this world. In this kind of tribulation-enduring faith we see: 

  • The steadfast belief that, in the end, our trials are for our benefit. This only happens when we have a paradigm of God being glorified in our troubles (v. 15). We have no greater testimony to a lost world that when we endure our difficulties with hope and a kingdom perspective (see James 1:2-7).  
  • That we do not lose heart. Despite the circumstances of our world (including the deterioration of our bodies) and in this world we are renewed daily (v. 16). Not losing heart is the same idea as Jeremiah’s proclamation as finding the Lord, and not our situation, as our portion, our all-sufficient treasure (see Hebrews 12:3). 
  • An eternal perspective that understands, with heaven in mind, our troubles are in comparison both light and momentary (v. 17). No matter what we may encounter on this earth and in this body, we have an everlasting glory that awaits us in the presence of our Savior (see Romans 8:17-18). 
  • An intentional focus on that which is spiritual and unseen (v. 18). Our fleshly and carnal nature wants to concentrate on earthly things instead of the greater movement of God in our spirit and mind. We must make an effort, empowered by His Spirit, to focus our heart’s gaze upon Him (see Hebrews 12:2). 

Don’t get me wrong, Paul doesn’t suggest this is easy. It is a fight, a war to cling to our trust in God, focus our heart and mind on what He has promised, and to forsake the doubt that allows this world to choke out our intimacy with Jesus. And faith is our shield in this conflict (Ephesians 6:16). This is why we must be on constant guard, be disciplined, and ask God, the giver of faith, to give us His grace, strength, and power for the battle. Heaven, and God’s loving embrace, awaits those who endure (keep their faith) until the end (Matthew 24:13).

****The following is the January 29th entry from Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest. Below the devotional is a piece of the Wiki article on Chambers so that we might become better acquainted with this influential figure from church history.

“Who art Thou, Lord?” (Acts 26:15)   

“The Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand.” There is no escape when Our Lord speaks, He always comes with an arrestment of the understanding. Has the voice of God come to you directly? If it has, you cannot mistake the intimate insistence with which it has spoken to you in the language you know best, not through your ears, but through your circumstances.

God has to destroy our determined confidence in our own convictions. “I know this is what I should do” – and suddenly the voice of God
speaks in a way that overwhelms us by revealing the depths of our ignorance. We have shown our ignorance of Him in the very way we
determined to serve Him. We serve Jesus in a spirit that is not His, we hurt Him by our advocacy for Him, we push His claims in the spirit
of the devil. Our words sound all right, but our spirit is that of an enemy. “He rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit
ye are of.” The spirit of our Lord in an advocate of His is described in 1 Corinthians 13.

Have I been persecuting Jesus by a zealous determination to serve Him in my own way? If I feel I have done my duty and yet have hurt Him in
doing it, I may be sure it was not my duty, because it has not fostered the meek and quiet spirit, but the spirit of self-satisfaction. We imagine that whatever is unpleasant is our duty! Is that anything like the spirit of our Lord – “I delight to do Thy will, O My God.”

Oswald J. Chambers (born July 24, 1874 in Aberdeen, Scotland; died November 15, 1917 in Egypt) was a prominent early twentieth century Scottish Protestant Christian minister and teacher, best known as the author of the widely-read devotional My Utmost for His Highest.

Born to devout Baptist parents, Chambers did not plan to go into the ministry. He studied at Kensington Art School and attended the University of Edinburgh, where he studied fine art and archaeology. But while at Edinburgh, he felt called to ministry, and transferred to Dunoon College. An unusually gifted student, Chambers soon began teaching classes and started a local society dedicated to Robert Browning, his favorite poet.

Chambers travelled the world, stopping in Egypt, Japan, and America. It was on one of his trips to America that he met Gertrude Hobbs. In 1910 he was married to Hobbs, whom he affectionately called “Biddy”. On 24 May 1913, Biddy gave birth to their first and only child, Kathleen.

In 1911 he founded and became principal of the Bible Training College in Clapham in London. In 1915, feeling called to the war effort (World War I), Chambers applied and was accepted as a YMCA chaplain. He announced that the Bible Training College would be suspending operations for the duration of the war. Chambers was assigned to Zeitoun in Egypt, where he ministered to Australian and New Zealand troops who were later part of the disastrous Battle of Gallipoli.

Chambers died November 15, 1917 in Egypt as the result of a ruptured appendix. He suffered the extreme pain of appendicitis for three days before seeking medical attention, refusing to take a hospital bed needed by wounded soldiers.

While there are more than 30 books that bear his name, he only penned one book, Baffled to Fight Better. His wife, Biddy, was a stenographer and could take dictation at a rate of 150 words per minute. During his time teaching at the Bible College and at various sites in Egypt, Biddy kept verbatim records of his lessons. She spent the remaining 30 years of her life compiling her records into the bulk of his published works.

Before you think I’ve made this title up, let me point you to Paul’s proclamation of “The Unknown God” where this bold statement is made: 

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.  From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.  ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring” (Acts 17:24-28). 

Paul is debating a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers at the meeting of the Areopagus in Athens. His argument is simple: you have your gods but they are infinitely inferior to the one true God! We see that this God is the creator of the universe, is not bound by space and time, gives all men life, determines the nations, their times, and their locations, is worthy of being sought after, and controls all lives, activities and even our very being. And this God is closer than we think and avails Himself and His power to us. 

To those who truly follow after Christ this is our God. We are subservient to Him and acknowledge His transcendent greatness and splendor. We recognize all of these supreme attributes therefore we reckon that He is worthy to have us surrender all of who and what we are to Him. This is what motivates us to serve Him. Yet, this scripture (in an apparent contradiction to other passages) indicates that we as humans are incapable of such servitude. Paul, I think, was laughing when he said, “as if He needed anything”. In other words, this God needs us? Yeah, right! What can finite and frail humans do for Him? The answer is nothing! Because He is both self-sufficient and all-sufficient. 

But we see numerous scriptural admonitions to serve God (Psalm 100:2, Romans 12:11; 16:18). So what does this mean? I believe that it means that He must be served in the right way. This means that any human effort in the natural and of the flesh is of no value to God. Yet we often want to substitute our religious, man-induced works for Holy Spirit wrought power. Paul says to the Galatian church, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (3:3). With this in mind, absorb these verses: 

  • “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10).   
  • “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).   
  • I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done…” (Romans 15:18). 

So we see that God-honoring service is where God serves Himself through us. We are but the instruments of His self-sufficient power. So how can this be? This is where God the Holy Spirit is the power behind all service. I believe this is what Paul was getting at when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). And this is why Peter says, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11). 

So we see that faith, surrender, and yielding to the Holy Spirit  is the way we are to serve God. By getting our “human effort” out of His way, dying to self and the flesh, and asking Him to serve Himself we see that he is honored and glorified by His own all-sufficient power. Let us not try to serve God with our human strength and wisdom. Let us die to self-effort, live to Him, and beg God to release His Holy Spirit power in and through us. Thus we can serve God in the right way – not with “human hands” but through His own omnipotence.

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20). 

The title of this blog is a quote from Jess Moody describing the contemporary church. He says that our membership roles are filled with these types of folks. The obvious contradiction of the phase is certainly catches our attention and should cause us alarm. Given that the term “disciple” is used over 250 times in the New Testament and the term Christian only 3 should make the disposition of early followers of Christ quite clear. But what is a disciple? Here is a definition: 

The word “disciple” literally means a learner.  According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, it denotes “one who follows another’s teaching”. But a disciple was not only a learner, he was also an adherent to and promoter of a system of thought or belief. For this reason disciples were spoken of as imitators of and advocates for their teachers. 

But is this what we see in the visible institutional church today? Do contemporary American churches require following Christ in His example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership? Do we see an emphasis on progress in discipleship? Not according to Dallas Willard who describes the current methodology as “Make converts (to a particular faith and practice) and baptize them into church membership”. By doing so he sees two great omissions from the Great Commission: the enrolling of people as Christ’s students and training them to ever increasingly do what Jesus taught. Frankly, I think Dr. Willard nailed it! Why? Because that is exactly what Jesus called us to do. 

I believe we must return to the model of Christ’s discipling of His followers. This includes: 

  • Focusing on the necessity of discipleship in the true Christian. In Jesus’ day and with the birth of Christianity there was no such thing as an “undiscpled disciple”. All true followers spent time with the Master himself or with those that He had called as apostles and teachers. Being part of the body of Christ was not defined as “being on a church role” but being born again into Christ and imitating Him. Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62). 
  • Explaining the cost of discipleship. Jesus made this clear to all who claimed they wanted to follow Him. He said to count the cost: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:26-28). Being a true follower of Jesus requires radical surrender that reveals radical transformation. 
  • Teaching converts to imitate Christ and live out His teachings. In the Great commission Jesus said to teach people to obey all the things He had commanded (v. 19). Jesus said that his disciples should seek to be like Him (Luke 6:40). Paul said to the church at Ephesus, “Be imitators of God …just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2) and the church at Rome that we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). 
  • Emphasizing the provisions in being a disciple of Christ in this life. With His commission Jesus explains his power (authority, v. 16) and presence (v. 20) in the endeavor. His power assures that we are capable, in Him, of accomplishing His mission. His presence through His Spirit guarantees us all the treasures He has to offer – joy, peace, and life more abundant and full. 

All of this begs the question: are we disciples of Christ and all that entails? Or are we falsely secure in our state as “baptized and on the church role”? Jesus calls us not to be just “church members” but disciples and the makers of disciples. And with that calling He gives us the unmistakable and infinitely valuable gifts of Himself and His power. He also tells us that being His disciples is an act of worship in its highest form (see v. 16 and Romans 12:1-2). And isn’t He ultimately worthy of our following and worship, of our being His disciple?

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