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**** This is an excerpt from Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him published in 2009.

The most interesting congregation I ever led lived in a nursing home. Every Tuesday night that I was not traveling on business, I ventured to their building to share Jesus. Part of my ministry involved retrieving them from their small rooms and wheeling them to the recreation room where our Bible study was held. Though I sincerely wanted to build them up with time in God’s Word, I often found myself having to focus more on crowd control than spiritual edification.

One evening, for instance, a near melee broke out as two octogenarians struggled over the same walker. Apparently the “thief” desired the Cadillac-of-walkers model possessed by another lady. For the thief, the 1960s bicycle bell it sported proved too much temptation; ringing it would warn other residents of the owner’s slow approach. As the tussle ensued the women struggled back and forth like two three-year-olds battling over a toy. Both possessed a death grip on their claim. And when Mary, the owner, released her hands from the walker; the perpetrator flew backwards and crashed into the wall without ever releasing her prize. Chaos broke out before order was restored.

On another occasion, Martha, who interrupted every meeting with the same question -“Will I go to hell because I can’t stop saying god d***?” – became particularly unruly. Her sacrilegious and inopportune profanity paralyzed me. She even asked the question in the midst of Scripture reading. I never found a good retort for her outbursts even though I knew the question was inevitable. I often found myself wondering, What in the world am I doing here?

Another challenge to my nursing home ministry was named Ricky. He was our most faithful attendee, providing Bibles for those who met in the tiny space where we convened. All Ricky’s Bibles were the same translation: The Old King James. (Ricky claimed it was the same version used by the Old Testament prophets. All others were “perversions.”) Many evenings, Ricky managed to derail the progress of our meetings with his incessant questions about eschatology. He delivered them in what I like to call machine-gun interrogation style. After several run-ins with his questioning, I found myself fighting the temptation to leave Ricky out of our meetings all together.

Deserting our group was the easy thing for me to do. Unfortunately, “deserted” defined the situation of many who lived in that home. They had nowhere to go: their families had abandoned them. I rarely saw a family visitor as I rambled down the halls and peered into the rooms of that facility. Instead, I found the sad faces of many whose families found them disposable. The busyness and self-centeredness of many of their families and friends had left many of the nursing home’s occupants almost completely without family ties, interest, or love. As much as they craved attention, they rarely saw genuine caring and compassion.

Today the room where I used to share Christ is locked. It now serves as the occupational therapy room; Bible study there has ceased. I have not, however, forgotten the importance of my elderly friends. There are more people like Mary, Martha, and Ricky in our institutions than we care to imagine. They may be rascals, but they have souls. Despite their contrary and difficult personalities, they need dignity, love, and—most importantly— Jesus.

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus explained that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” And in Luke 10:30-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ encouraged His followers to show mercy to the hurting and the downtrodden. Our nursing homes are full of people who desperately need to hear about the love and hope that can be found in Christ. Their spiritual condition matters.

I want to encourage us as Christ’s followers to stroll the halls of our nursing homes and see the despair and despondency of lonely people forsaken by those they called family. In the name of Jesus, it’s the least we could do for least of these. In stopping in to say hello or to pass out small gifts and smiles, we can know that our efforts are unto Him. So many sit in a closet-like room quietly pleading for someone to knock on the door and say a simple, “Hey, how are you?”  That someone could be you.

“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.”  So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.  He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”  When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”  So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry (Exodus 32:1-6). 

I know American Idolatry is not the name of the TV show but, symbolically, maybe it should be. For our American culture is filled with idols. They may not look like the golden calf that the Hebrews erected and worshipped in Exodus 32 but they are real, very real. Although worshipping other gods is prohibited in the 10 commandments (see Exodus 20:3-5 for the broader implications of desiring something above the sovereign creator of the universe, God) and is the first of God’s commands, mankind has consistently violated this decree ever since it was first proclaimed. Claiming that even an attitude of covetousness qualifies, the New Testament is not silent on the danger of idolatry: “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5). Therefore, we must beware – I believe idolatry is probably more subtly pervasive in America than any other culture that has ever risen. How so?  

Tom Steller aptly explains what idolatry is: “Idolatry is valuing any thing or any person more than the one true God. An idol is any thing or any person that takes center stage in our affections. God is a jealous God. He deserves center stage in our lives. Anything that usurps that place becomes an idol, whether it be a spouse, a child, a humanitarian project, or pornography, or drugs, or power over the poor, or religion. An idol is a god-substitute. Archeology limits idols to stone statues; biblical theology teaches that idols are any things that take the place of God in our lives. When understood this way, we can realize that idolatry is not ancient history but is alive and flourishing in America as we rush toward the twenty-first century”. Martin Luther captures the idea this way: “Whatever man loves, that is his god. For he carries it in his heart; he goes about with it night and day; he sleeps and wakes with it, be it what it may – wealth or self, pleasure or renown”.  And in America that could include TV, politics, careers, clothes, self-indulgent and consumptive pleasure, technology gadgets, entertainment, cars, hobbies, houses, sex, power, material possessions, popularity, and money, just to name a few. 

The Apostle John earlier shared his motivation for writing this letter: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” He wanted us to know!!! That’s why I believe John concludes his first letter in the most perplexing way (see 1 John 5:21). He knew the subtle and insidious nature of idol worship. He knew his reader’s eternal destinies were at stake. So let’s be discerning – our culture woos us with false gods and idol worship at every turn. The lure is so fast, furious, and stealth-like it’s easy to miss before it has overcome us. And let us gaze inwardly with objective honesty and question what thrills us the most and what we seek after to fill and satisfy us, what we love the most in this world. We dare not presume that we, too, aren’t involved in some form of idol worship. 

The penultimate verse (1 John 5:20) of this letter describes the understood purpose and priority of those who prize and worship Jesus above all other things. “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life”. Why then do we put nothing before God? Because He is God, the only true God as revealed in Christ Jesus, and true eternal life. Anything else we love, pursue, exalt, honor, or find more pleasure in than Him is just the opposite – a false god. And they keep us from Him and eternal life. That’s why John signs off with, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”.

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

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).

Ted is a drug addict. Due to multiple back surgeries and other debilitating illnesses he is hooked on numerous prescription drugs. I watched Ted groan and writhe in pain and nausea as he suffered from unintended morphine withdrawal. After a trip to the ER and the healing power of an IV bag dripping the necessary medications back into his desperate body, he was back to “normal” within 24 hours. The hospital visit precluded what I thought was the perfect day to share the Gospel with Ted. But God, in His divine orchestration, had determined that this Saturday was not His perfect time for an explanation of His unfathomable free offer of grace and forgiveness. That was ordained to take place 72 hours later.

Ted was forthright on that overcast Wednesday, “I’ve committed every kind of sin. I’ve even killed a man…not because I wanted to but because I had to. My life has been a mess since I turned my back on God.  I got saved and baptized as a teenager but chose other things over Him”. He described the day that defined his life: “I was 18 and standing outside of a pool hall. The preacher was on the other side of the street. He told me to leave the joint, cross the street, and do the right thing. You know, to come over to that side. I wanted to. I knew I should. But I turned around and went back into the bar and never looked back. My life has been a mess ever since”.

Now in his mid-60’s, Ted has been homeless, sick, hurt, medicated, fighting, alone, and just surviving for most of his life. He is also illiterate. There is no family and but one friend to care for him. Ted now sits in a government furnished apartment for the indigent having nothing more than the bare necessities. He worries constantly about his Medicaid coverage and Social Security check and whether his pain and panic medicines will be available and affordable. He has a dark past, a dreary present, and, seemingly, a hopeless future. Ted is the type that most folks, including our society, have given up on. But, in His infinite love, Jesus (and Ted’s one friend) hadn’t.

Ted started listening to some tapes he had been given that shared “The Gospel Made Simple”. As much as I was suspicious of that tagline, I found the tapes to be an accurate representation of the true message of salvation. Not forgetting the faith of his youth, theses tapes reminded Ted of the essentials of being born again; our sin, God’s holiness, the necessity of righteousness, the rightful judgment of God against our rebellion, and, most of all, how Jesus has made a way for sinners to be redeemed, forgiven, and receive eternal life (see John 3:14-18). Ted understood the Gospel and knew it was all wrapped up in Jesus and the cross of Calvary. He knew he had to see Christ as his only hope and believe and receive Him through the power of God (see John 1:12-13).

“But how can this be?”, Ted said on that providential weekday. “I’ve been too bad for that. It’s too late for me”. Quoting Romans 10:9-10, I told him there were only 3 things necessary to experience God’s mercy and unmerited favor, receive forgiveness for all his sins, and inherit eternal life in the presence of Jesus – sincerely believe (“if you believe in your heart”), have a life so transformed that it confesses Jesus as Savior (“and confess with your mouth”), and surrender your life to the dominion and lordship of Christ (“that Jesus is Lord”).  To alleviate Ted’s concern his sin was too great, I shared that Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). “What you have to do”, I explained to Ted as clearly as I could, “is to cry out with genuine desire the prayer of the wretched tax collector, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ (see Luke 18:9-14). ”  Then I waited in deafening silence.

With his eyes fixed on mine, Ted paused. Finally, his emphysema filled lungs gasped and he carefully, tearfully, and emphatically said, “That is what I need”. An interminable, stunning silence ensued. “And that is what I want…I want to live the rest of my life for Jesus. Will you pray with me?” And we did.

Do I know with certainty the state of Ted’s soul? I do not. That is in our Lord’s hands. I do know, however, this opportunity came about because one devoted, sacrificial woman, a true follower of Jesus, took Christ’s words to heart, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40). She came often to visit Ted and brought food, love, and prayer. She took her Saturdays to make sure his meds and refrigerator were stocked. She came with warm, caring words and a comforting presence. Also, she introduced me to Ted. And, just maybe, by God’s grace and through her demonstration of Christ-like love, reintroduced Ted to Jesus.

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:5-8).

This year I turn 50 (God willing) and will be eligible to become a member of AARP. Please don’t start some morbid celebration because I’m quite sure I won’t join – it seems hypocritical to be a member and not retired and I am not emotionally ready to cope with such a label as “retired” (or even being called a 50 year old – my gracious, that’s half a century!). Nevertheless that number – “the big 5 0” – is enough to cause me to pause and ponder the brevity of life and the probability that I’m on the downward side of my stay on this planet. I have no delusional fantasies about riding off into the sunset. That may be because I really can’t ride a horse without expecting  serious injury and major surgery. It may also be that I still believe I have a legacy to improve on. Paul finished strong and I want to as well.

Paul’s encouragement, in his last days, to young Timothy tells me several things that we need to do to be confident that our departure is one of peaceful resignation of a job well done. This reminds me of Jesus’ words, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21, 23). Oh, how I long to hear those words and enter into His happiness. Can we think of anything greater than that?  But that requires faithfulness. Paul says to Timothy, But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (verse 5). This means clear, biblical thinking, enduring the trials and challenges of serving Christ, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus, and being fully committed and devoted to what God has called you to do. Paul rejoices (v. 7) that he has “kept the faith”.

Finishing strong for Jesus also means self-denying sacrifice. Paul’s life was ‘poured out” (v. 6), spent completely for the cause of Christ. In other words, he was all used up for the glory of God. There was nothing left in the tank that had not already been consumed in Paul’s obsession with serving his Savior. Paul chose to burn out rather than rust out because his Lord was worth the expenditure of Paul’s’ life itself. Leaving a legacy for our Lord includes fighting the good fight until the end (v. 7). Paul was in a war for his King. It was a war that required endurance until the end no matter the pain or consequences. Soldiers do not quit but press on, despite the danger and the obstacles, knowing that their great leader will captain them to ultimate and eternal victory (1 John 5:4, I Corinthians 15:57). As Paul nears his departure from this earth he knows that he will be rewarded “on that day”.

Paul’s motive is unquestionable. It was his love for His Lord and desire to be in His presence. He “longed” for Jesus’ appearing. He was compelled to leave a legacy that demonstrated and magnified the One he both lived for and died to gain (“for me to live is Christ and to die is gain” – Philippians 1:21). Paul yearned for the presence of his Savior. And a crown awaits all those with the same passion.

But for me to have this type of confidence as I near my departure and enter into my Jesus’ presence I must be obsessed with “seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). That Paul’s  passion and that was his legacy – faithful to His Jesus, sacrificial in his living, used up for the cause of Christ, and enduring as a warrior until he drew his last breath. Is that my legacy? Is it yours? Will we be able to greet our Savior with such a disposition and resume? In order for me to do so I must finish strong. As I said, I have a legacy to improve on. I beg that God’s Holy Spirit moves in me in such a profound way that I can complete my race with the same confident attitude as Paul. I pray for the surrender that will allow His power to enable me to finish strong! No matter your age, will you come along with me? For the sake of our Lord and our legacy, will you?

**** This is an excerpt from Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him published in 2008.

Jesus’ ultimate purpose during His time on earth was to glorify His Father, and that mission was integrated into every facet of His life. The Lord desires that the same be true of our lives. He wants our daily tasks and thoughts to revolve around Him. Many would consider this a directive to go to church and listen to sermons every time the doors are open. I want to suggest that the Lord has a much wider, deeper idea in mind. He wants to be just as much a part of our lives on Tuesday as He is on Sunday.

Consider the scene in Luke 5:1-9. Peter, Andrew, James, and John are cleaning their nets; they made their living catching and selling fish. As they work Jesus is preaching to a gathering crowd. As people come, the Messiah notices two boats tied nearby. In order for the crowd to better hear Him, Christ climbs into one of the empty boats and asks to be put out a little from shore. He teaches the crowd while using the boat for a pulpit (Luke 5:23). Before He completes the day’s lesson, He works a miracle (v. 4-6) and commissions the fishermen to begin seeking a new type of catch (v. 10).

In commandeering their place of business and in using it as the setting for one of His better known miracles, Jesus showed followers—particularly the laboring disciples―that even a place of business can become a platform for sharing the glory of the Father and for bringing Him honor. In other words, a workspace can become a forum for divine worship and even discipleship. Our cubicles, workshops, fields, and vehicles can serve similar purposes. When they do, we find that Jesus Christ is Lord of the weekday as well as the Sabbath. 

Perfect sense comes from the fact that our places of business can and should become areas devoted to our relationship with God. After all, it’s at work that we can show His excellence through the quality of our output. There we can demonstrate His holiness through the purity and earnestness of our example. We can image forth His worth through our worthy contribution to our employers, and we can glorify Him through humble thanksgiving for His provision and prosperity. In short, we can effectively worship God at our places of business by using the gifts and abilities He has given us for His glory.  I am reminded that the faithful servants in the Parable of the Talents were honored and allowed to share in their Master’s happiness (see Matthew 25:14-30). 

I find it interesting that the Hebrew word avodah is the root for the word from which we get the words “work” and “worship.” This indicates these two concepts are inseparable in the eyes of God.  Working and worshipping go hand in hand.  It’s also notable that in the New Testament, the vast majority of Jesus’ 132 public appearances were in the marketplace or workplace. The Lord knows much of our lives are spent in toil at our desks or behind machines. He wants to be a part of every part of our lives; that’s something that will never be accomplished should we choose to hold Him in esteem only on Sundays. 

Work is a form of worship. It must be. Do not think that worship takes place only at church and spiritual labor is performed only by the clergy. Our work is one of our great spiritual exercises. Just as we remember the command, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23), so too must we remember to glorify God in all we do (I Peter 2:12), using our daily tasks and chores to bring us ever closer in relationship with Him and exalting His name in the workplace.

*****This is from the January 1 reading from the new book Voices From the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings from Banner of Truth. I would encourage all pursuers of Christ to read the Puritans and better understand their thinking on the glory of God, divine providence, fellowship with God, holiness of life, mortification of sin, prayer, zeal, and trust in the Lord during times of affliction – things we all need to embrace in this present day.  

Do not be discouraged at the difficulties and oppositions that will rise up before you when you begin resolvedly to walk with God. Discouragements turn multitudes from religion, and provide a great temptation for many young beginners to turn back. Israel in thewilderness was ready to retreat to Egypt. God himself will have his servants and his graces tried and exercised by difficulties, and Satan, will quickly raise up storms before us, as soon as we are set out to sea. But God is on your side and has all your enemies in his hand, and can rebuke them, or destroy them in a moment. O what is the breath or fury of dust or devils, against the Lord Almighty! In the day you entered into a covenant with God, and he with you, you entered into the most impregnable rock and fortress, and covered yourself in a castle of defence, where you may (modestly) defy all adverse powers of earth or hell. If God cannot save you, he is not God. And if he will not save you, he must break his covenant. Indeed, he may resolve to save you, not from affliction and persecution, but in it, and by it! But in all these things you will—‘Overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us’ (Rom. 8:37). It is far more desirable and excellent to conquer by patience, in suffering for Christ, than to conquer our persecutors in the field, by force of arms. O think on the saints’ triumphant boastings in their God: ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble’ (Psa. 46:1). If all of the world were on your side, you might yet have cause to fear. But to have God on your side is infinitely more! Christ the Captain of your salvation has gone this way before you, and now he is engaged to make you a conqueror! Do not be afraid where Christ is leading the way. Do not draw back when you see his steps and his blood! ” 

Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, i:43

Richard Baxter (12 November 1615 – 8 December 1691) was an English Puritan church leader, poet, hymn-writer, theologian, and controversialist. Dean Stanley call him “the chief of English Protestant Schoolmen”. After some false starts, he made his reputation by his ministry at Kidderminster, and at around the same time began a long and prolific career as theological writer. After the Restoration he refused preferment, while retaining a non-separatist presbyterian approach, and became one of the most influential leaders of the nonconformists, spending time in prison.

“Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.  They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated– the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.  These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:35-40).

“Everything has been sold”, he said, “and all of the arrangements made”. There couldn’t have been much to sell since his clothes were hand-me-downs and smelled of moth balls. He was nearly 80 but he and his wife of over 50 years were returning to the place of their calling – the deepest jungles of Africa. He was a Bible translator, a missionary and, in a very real sense, a martyr. I met him on a brief visit to the Wycliffe Bible Translators Ministry in Texas. Our 30 minute lunch encounter shook my world. To this day, though forever changed by this providential appointment, I do not remember his name.

He and his devoted wife had spent over 10 years with a remote and primitive people-group in Africa. It took them that long to translate small portions of the Bible into their native tongue. There was virtually no written word and but a couple of tribesmen that knew about language in the written form. These missionaries had previously endeared themselves to the people by giving insight on how to keep tribe’s newborns free from pestilence and therefore alive. Things that we take for granted in America were door openers for them in their Bible translation ministry. Based upon this couple’s medical knowledge and caring, the clan eventually befriended them and they collaboratively began to put the pieces of their language together. The missionaries lived in tents and their target audience in huts. But they eventually got the critical New Testament texts translated and in the hands of those who could communicate to the tribe the truths of the message. Then they returned to America to retire. Or so they thought.

All of this had happened several years before I met this devout man. Now he shared his new vision for his last days on earth. He and his wife had just been granted a visa by the African country to return and minister again – “This time we will tell stories of Jesus. That will be quicker and more effective. They will pass these stories along to later generations who will never be able to read”. He said this with an unmistakable gleam of joy in his eye. Then he bounced up from the lunch table and stated, “There is much to do for our journey”.  He walked away with a lively step. But before he could escape, I asked the question, “when are you coming back home”? “Actually”, he quickly replied, “we are going home. We will never return to The States. We plan on dying there with our tribe. We have the Good News to share and little time remaining to do so”. Then He glanced back and said a sincere, “God bless you…I will remember you in my prayers”.

“What a servant”, I thought! He was going to pray for me as he prepared to go with his wife to the place of their death. Today he, and maybe his wife as well, is probably is buried in some unmarked grave that is surrounded by jungle, bugs, predatory animals, and an illiterate tribe that desperately needed to hear the gospel of Jesus. This disciple of Christ was going to tell the stories of Jesus with no sense of personal acclaim or sacrifice. It was his calling – so it was something he must do and he was doing it with a very distinctive attitude of joy and excitement. Suddenly I was humbled, virtually broken, at the pathetic nature of my own commitment to God’s calling to global missions. Frankly, I needed his prayers while he and his wife deserved mine. This man and his bride were living examples of Revelation 12:11: “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”.

As I remember his thrill in returning to the darkest parts of Africa to spread the gospel and die for His Savior, I must admit again that I don’t recall his name. I’m not even sure I got it. But that isn’t really important. God knows his name and that is all that really matters. For God had truly planned something unfathomably better for this man of faith and his wife – “However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9).

“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:6-10). 

Paul explains to the Corinthian church that our faith in the gospel is not based upon human wisdom but God’s power manifested by the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2:4-5). He claims that this revelation is so profound that it is inconceivable to the human mind apart from the Spirit’s impartation. In other words, it can’t be understood unless it has been revealed by God Himself. When grasped, however, we understand God’s wisdom to be infinitely glorious and understandably beyond the imagination of those apart from Christ. But those in Christ have been given this secret wisdom and we have it now. Verse 9 is a quote from Isaiah 64:4 and when taken in context is not about the unfathomable nature of what awaits us in heaven (even though that is true) but the amazing nature of God’s wisdom presently in us! Concerning this, let us note that: 

  • God’s wisdom is contrary to the so-called wisdom of this age (v. 6). Those mature in Christ realize that if the world says it then God essentially says the opposite. And this has implications for every aspect of our being and living. There is no room in God’s message for syncretism with the world’s ideologies and theories. The world’s philosophers don’t understand God’s wisdom and we reject theirs outright (v. 7-8). 
  • God has given His children this wisdom “from the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) and did so through His Son (v. 7). Jesus verified that He was the source of this eternal wisdom when he stated, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, “So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world” (Matthew 13:35). This is why He is called the Word (John 1:1). 
  • This divine revelation is so infinitely profound yet it is given away by God. Who receives it? Those that love Him (v. 9). And why do we love Him? Because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).  But that doesn’t mean I can always describe what I have in Christ – no words can fully capture its essence or nature– but I know in my spirit, through the Holy Spirit, the magnitude of the gospel and many of its ramifications. Such is the nature of love – difficult to describe but extraordinarily real. 
  • God’s wisdom is not shallow or superficial (v. 10). It penetrates us by His Spirit and compels us to hunger and thirst for more of His truth and revelation. God’s saving gospel light is but the beginning point as we search after the riches of who Christ is and what He means. As Paul humbly stated, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.  Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things” (Ephesians 3:7-9). 

It is no wonder that we wonder over the marvel of His grace. He has given us unimaginable things now through His Son, by His Word, and from His Spirit. But is this our experience? It should be – “we have been given the secret wisdom of God”. Compelled by His love we are to have an insight into God and a passion for His purposes. Are we searching for the deep things of God? Are we marinating in His revelation and presence in us? In other words, do we have God’s wisdom now? We should – it is His gift to His chosen children! If not, cry out to Him from the deepest recesses of your soul and ask for Him to show Himself to you in all of His wisdom and power: 

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength,  which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,  far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:18-21).

**** This is an excerpt from Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him published in 2008.

Some in the Christian community wallow in an on-going pity party that makes them look and sound as if they actually enjoy the paralysis of self-absorption. The sad truth is that many of us, perhaps in a subconscious desire for others to feel sorry for us or possibly out of laziness, actually revel in our “inability” to rise beyond our circumstances. In so doing, we relegate ourselves to lives of permanent discouragement and defeat. (I’ve found this problem to be particularly apparent among Christian singles—myself included.) 

Haven’t we all heard the depressing chorus of excuses people use to explain why they can’t live the kind of life Christ desires that we live: “I can’t help it. I have ADD.”;“I can’t find a suitable partner; good folks just aren’t out there.” ; or, “I didn’t have a good childhood; therefore, I can’t possibly be expected to …” ? If a life of “I can’t” and “here’s my problem” defines the transforming power of the gospel then who would want it? But the truth is that Christ’s gospel of grace is victorious and life changing. Those who accept God’s offer of salvation can expect to apply its transforming power in each aspect of life. Why then do believers often wallow in the pig pen and self–induced prison of helplessness? I’m convinced it’s because we find it easier to bemoan our circumstances than to be accountable and responsible for our actions (or lack thereof). 

Here’s the deal: we must get over ourselves! Jesus came that we might have abundant life (John 10:10). Living as victims is not God’s intention for us. His Word says that “we are new creatures in Christ and the old is passed away.” If this is the case then we should make progress in Him while putting our past behind us.  Since we have become a new creation in Christ our “issues” need not lead to paralysis and defeat. Abundant living is about claiming what Christ has already given us.  This transforming power needs to be evident in all of our attitudes. 

I think we would do well to revisit some of the old hymns. The message of “Victory in Jesus” is right on target: 

I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing pow’r revealing.
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,”
And somehow Jesus came and bro’t
To me the victory.

O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.[1] 

In other words, we were bought with a precious price.  Jesus’ blood brings healing and power.   Our broken spirits are energized through Christ.  Ultimately He overcame even death to assure our victory.  I’m certain that He expects us to live victoriously based upon His great sacrifice.  We do not serve a defeated Savior so we must not lead defeated lives. 

Second Corinthians 2:14 says, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” It’s so important that we not only believe this message but that we be willing to live it.  Jesus said to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Mark 5:16). This is because they are without hope apart from Him (Ephesians 2:12) and our empowered living points them to our hope. 

We as believers must seek victory in Christ instead of allowing circumstances to victimize us. This is a true character test and our answer will very much determine our future. We must stop sending the world the message that we serve a powerless Savior! We need to let our victorious spirit shine. When we do, we’ll show others the supreme value in living under God’s grace and according to His plan.

[1] Lyrics and Composer: Eugene M. Bartlett, Sr.

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