“...apart from Me you can do nothing” -John 15:5
A passage like this can sound cliché until you’re faced with a seemingly impossible task. Does Jesus really mean we can do nothing? Is this hyperbole? If we can do nothing apart from Christ, then how do so many unsaved people wake up, go to work, take care of their families, etc.?
For one, Jesus is the upholder of the entire universe (Heb. 1:3). If Jesus doesn’t keep gravity functioning as gravity, we will be in a huge mess. If Jesus doesn’t keep 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen molecule together, we don’t have water. There are billions of other processes and systems that Jesus upholds.
However, the thrust of John 15 seems to be pointing to spiritual fruitfulness. Every branch that doesn’t bear fruit is destroyed (John 15:2,6). Every branch that does bear fruit is pleasing to God. He is glorified when we cast off our self-reliance and bear spiritual fruit through abiding in Him (John 15:8). In this sense, apart from Him we can truly do nothing.
Yet we often try, don’t we? We get up, check our phones, glance at our bibles for a chapter, toss up some repetitions before meals, and then wonder why we aren’t more missional. We wonder why we aren’t bold enough to stand for our faith at the water cooler on Monday. It seems like we will never stop gossiping, overeating, vegging out on social media, or binging on Netflix. The days of patience with our children, love and respect for our spouse, and joy in the Lord seem too far gone.
For those of us in ministry, we wonder why we aren’t seeing change. We’ve tweaked the service, made the messages more engaging, chosen better illustrations, and found the perfect application... only for it to fall flat. That book on powerful preaching didn’t have the cutting edge after all. That new K-Love song just didn’t seem to resonate, and neither did the old-fashioned hymn we threw in. Maybe it’s time to throw in the towel.
If you’ve ever felt that way, you’re not alone. Some people feel this way daily. Some in ministry wrestle with this every Sunday (and wednesday and every other service there is during the week!).
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Jesus has called us to more than self-willed, pat-yourself-on-the-back, do-better-next-time Christianity. Apart from Me you can do nothing. Remember that? Apart from Him, you won’t do better. You can’t. We can’t. Branches that fall off trees lie on the ground until a mower runs over them or some kid picks one up and starts hitting stuff with it. Others go in bonfires. None of them become trees and start growing fruit.
We need Jesus. We need prayer. We need to open His Word, be fed, and pray for the Spirit to help us bear fruit. Our toes may have busted out of footie pajamas, and our waistlines may pop a few buttons on our pants, but we never outgrow the basic spiritual need of communion with God.
Dwell with Christ.
From Yeezus to faith in Jesus?
If you haven't heard yet, Kanye West has released a new album titled "Jesus Is King". Yes, you read that right. The self-proclaimed Yeezus who once uttered blasphemies such as "I am a god" and littered his albums and covers with sexually-explicit themes and excessive hubris is now a professing Christian with an album that fits in somewhere between gospel and hip-hop.
The outpouring of album reviews range from ruthlessly skeptical to pleasantly surprised as Kanye belts out Scripture-influenced lyrics about his newfound faith and the struggles he's wrestled with in life. He told the devil, "I'm going on strike", he calls his fans to follow Jesus, saying, "Raise our sons, train them in the faith", he calls listeners to "Use this gospel for protection", and rounds out the album with "Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, Jesus is Lord" (alluding to Philippians 2:10-11). These are the actual lyrics from his album.
His interviews have been much like his album. When asked by Jimmy Kimmel if he was a Christian artist, he paused and then responded, "I'm a Christian everything!" In other interviews, he speaks of being delivered into the Kingdom of God and finding Jesus. His pastor, Adam Tyson, has not only preached the gospel at Kanye's Sunday Services, but he also attested to Kanye's profession of faith and the meetings where they have been discussing Scripture and his faith. I'm incredibly encouraged by what I'm seeing!
What Are We Supposed To Do With This?
The responses to Kanye's album and profession of faith have ranged from overwhelming support and excitement to rigid skepticism. I was very skeptical of the Sunday Services and figured Kanye was just trying to start a movement using God's name. Seeing the cost of his Yeezy's and "Jesus Is King" clothing have some questioning if he is just trying to profit off of Jesus' name. The concerns are certainly reasonable considering there are $260 shirts and $20 pairs of socks (some of these prices include a digital download of the album, which is worth ~$10).
However, after watching interviews and listening to the album, my skepticism has turned into optimism. I'm hopeful that Kanye is a legitimate Christian, and I have prayed for him. No Christian is perfect, and new Christians have a lot of pruning that has yet to be done, but his zeal for God seems to be according to the knowledge the Lord has given through the preaching and counsel of Kanye's pastor as well as his personal Bible reading.
I'm not Jesus, I don't know Kanye's heart. Friends have asked me if this is simply another egocentric grab at money. I sure hope not, but I don't know for certain. As I've pondered the situation, I'm reminded of a passage of Scripture that gives me the freedom to rejoice in "Jesus Is King" and Kanye's new path:
"Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice."
I don't know Kanye's heart. For that matter, I don't know anyone's. But I know one thing, if the true gospel is being preached then I can rejoice. When unbelievers stream the album and hear the outro, they hear one of the greatest truths in all of the universe: "Jesus is Lord". They are hearing the truth that "who the Son sets free is free indeed" (John 8:36). They are hearing that we need Jesus to give us grace, to heal us, to strengthen us, and much more. They are hearing that the gospel is our protection. It doesn't sound like envy, rivalry, or selfish ambition to me, but it could be.
We Can Rejoice When Christ is Proclaimed
Ye may not be a deep theologian. He may not know all the depths of the Trinity, the dual natures of Christ, or perhaps even how the Holy Spirit powerfully works in the lives of believers to make us more Christlike. But one thing he proclaims loudly is, "Jesus is Lord". He says, "God is King", and that he was never new until he knew of the True and Living God, Yeshua (Jesus' name in Hebrew). Christ is being proclaimed in this album.
I'm thankful that Paul spoke of his opponents, saying, "Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will" (v. 15). Why? Because even if Kanye is just doing this for the money and this is his greatest troll yet, I can still rejoice. Why? Because, "whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice" (v. 18). Whether it's Kanye, Lecrae, Shai Linne, or any other rapper, if Christ is preached, I can rejoice in the message even if the messenger is rapping from selfish ambition, envy, or rivalry.
I'm not naive enough to think that everyone who picks up a microphone and speaks about Jesus is saved. We see rappers mention Jesus and the Bible from time to time without evidence of life change. If Kanye is just using this to build his brand and use Jesus to do it, God will shine light on Kanye in due time. However, professing Christian rappers have walked away from the faith. Pastors fall from grace. Bestselling authors are denounce their books and place their trust in something or someone else. Entire denominations are departing from the Word of God to accommodate to the culture.
God Doesn't Need Us
God doesn't need Kanye West. He doesn't need Shai Linne. He doesn't need Lecrae. And He certainly doesn't need me. He doesn't need anyone. Let me repeat that for those in the back row: God doesn't need any of us. He doesn't need John MacArthur, John Piper, Tony Evans, or your favorite podcast preacher. H.B. Charles wisely said, "Christian celebrity is an illusion". If we're looking at Kanye as some Messiah who will usher in the golden age of Christianity, we've missed the point. Jesus is King (Psalm 2). But that doesn't mean we can't celebrate an influential man's conversion.
It seems that God has saved Kanye, and it's incredible. The angels in heaven rejoice at the salvation of one sinner saved Luke 15:7). Millions of people will be hearing Christ proclaimed through the music of this broken vessel. Of those millions, we don't know who God could be drawing to faith in Himself through him. We can rejoice that the gospel is God's power for salvation (Romans 1:16) and that sometimes God even chooses to speak truth through wicked men and their donkeys (Numbers 22-24).
Time Will Tell
Jesus has a parable that sheds light on all humanity. In Matthew 13:1-23, he describes a man who sowed some seeds. Some of the seeds were eaten up by the birds. Others sprang up quickly in rocky soil but were scorched to death by the sun because they had no roots. Yet others grew up among thorns and were choked out. Finally, some seeds landed in good soil, grew up, and produced grain.
We are all pictured in this parable. Some of us will have the gospel quickly taken away by evil one. Others will spring up quickly but fall away due to persecution. Yet others will have the gospel choked out by cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. Finally, some of us are like the seeds sown in the good soil, hearing the gospel and bearing spiritual fruit. We are all one of these types of soil, but only time will tell.
In due time, we will see more evidence of what is happening in Kanye's heart. I'm hopeful that He has truly experienced the blow of the Holy Spirit bringing regenerating life to his soul. God already knows, and He isn't surprised either way. The same goes for each and every one of us. Let's extend the same grace to Kanye that we had extended to us in the early days of our walk with Christ.
Have you, in your analysis of Kanye West's heart and motives, examined yourself to see if you are in the faith?
"And when they could not get near [Jesus] because of the crowd, they removed the roof above them and when they made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven".
If Jesus was in someone's home and it was too crowded to get in the door, would you be willing to go through the roof? If you knew Jesus had the cure to cancer and your spouse, parent, or closest friend was near death, would you go through the roof?Mark 2:1-12 is a both beautiful picture of faith, salvation, and healing and a gruesome depiction of the folly of the human heart.
In the one sense, we see the hungry and humble desperation of true faith. I picture their thoughts, "We must get to Jesus! There's got to be a way! He's the only healer who can actually help our friend walk". Then, in a final moment of joyful surrender, "Let's take the roof off and get him in there!" This act of faith pleased Jesus. They saw the face of the Son of God and His words were incredible, "Son, your sins are forgiven.". Faith. Son. Sins forgiven. Entire life changed for eternity. That's far more than they could've asked or imagine (Eph. 3:20-21).
In another sense, the wickedness of unsaved, hideous hearts was on full display. Some scribes were questioning Jesus in their hearts, "Why does this man speak like that? He is a blasphemer! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:6-7). The Son of God perceived the scribes’ questioning without them saying a word. Let that sink in. These Jewish leaders were questioning in their hearts, and to their utter shock and embarrassment, he answers their private thoughts out loud asking whether it's easier to say "Your sins are forgiven." (He had the authority to do so) or make a paralytic walk. He decided to do both. The result was that they were silenced and all who were around "were amazed and glorified God, saying, 'we never saw anything like this!" (Mark 2:12).
Do you desire Jesus enough to go through the roof? What's holding you back? I'm searching myself now to see whether I have this much faith. Will I put my phone away? Will I pause using social media, making music, writing blogs, doing side hustles, or preparing sermons long enough to meet with Jesus? It may have to look radical, but so was coming in through the roof. Am I willing to do it?
Are you like the scribes who "mastered" the law and prophets, knew the intricacies of the text and yet missed Who they were pointing to? Would you be the one calling Jesus a blasphemer? Jesus knew their hearts and He knows ours (Jeremiah 17:10 and Romans 8:27). Search us, O God and correct our sinful attitudes!
You may not need to go through a roof to find Jesus, but you may need to open a closet door, turn off a TV, or set an alarm. Seek Him, find Him, and remember that He will be pleased when you come in to spend time with Him. And if you have a heart like the scribes, He can change that too!
Will you go through the roof?
Image Credit: Essow Kedelina
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might."
Overconfidence loses sight of weakness.
Over the years, there’s a biblical hero that I’ve often skimmed over because I’ve known his story since childhood. Samson, the long-haired, mighty warrior of God is someone many have heard about in children's books and Sunday school. What happens to the brave warrior? When he has long hair he is strong, but when he has his hair cut off, he’s weak.
However, there’s a lot more to the story than meets the eye. Who was the source of Samson’s great strength? God was. God set Samson apart as a Nazarite when he visited Samson’s parents before he was born. We see in Judges 14:6 that the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him and allowed him to tear a lion in pieces with his bare hands. The Spirit also helped Him strike down 30 men of Ashkelon to do the Lord’s work of helping Israel (Judges 14:4;19). A third time, the Spirit of the Lord enabled him to strike down 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges. 15:14-15).
His demise came when he got a little too confident and allowed Delilah to wear him down to the point that his soul was vexed to death. Before this, he had been a powerful judge in Israel. After he revealed that his hair was tied to the Spirit's empowering work, he met his demise. The man who could destroy lions and slay thousands couldn’t resist a single woman’s persistence! Sadly, "he did not know that the LORD had left him" when he was finally kidnapped by the wicked Philistines.
This is a good reminder for us to find our strength in the Lord. Matthew Henry, commenting on Samson’s fall, says:
"Satan ruins men by flattering them into a good opinion of their own safety, and so bringing them to mind nothing, and fear nothing; and then he robs them of their strength and honour, and leads them captive at his will. When we sleep our spiritual enemies do not."
We need to know we are weak.
As humans we are more physically needy and weak that we like to admit. We need sleep, food, water, shelter, medication, vaccinations, etc. We battle with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, ADHD, and other mental and psychological ailments. We struggle to control our anger, manage our sadness, and choose to mask our struggles with entertainment, alcohol, work, or drugs.
We are also full of spiritual weakness and sin. We sin against God, ourselves, and one another. Humans in general are unrighteous (Romans 3:9-20) and enslaved to various passions and pleasures (Titus 2). We frequently choose the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life over Christ. Ultimately, we are spiritually dead and must depend on God for salvation. This is depressing and humbling, but it should point us to Christ.
In Christ, though, we still need God for spiritual vitality and growth (Eph 2:1-5). God doesn't just make us alive and save our souls (Col. 2:13-14), but he also sanctifies us and makes us more Christlike (Gal. 3:3:). Paul’s biggest frustration with the Galatian church was self-reliance: “Did you rely on the Spirit to get saved and now you’re relying on yourself for sanctification?” (my paraphrase). That’s ridiculous! If you’re going to grow in Christlikeness, it will never be by your own good deeds or works of the law. You have to lean in and trust Christ!
Our weakness draws us to the strength of God.
In Ephesians 6:11-14, Christians are called put on the whole armor of God in order to stand against the schemes of the devil. We take up the whole armor of God, in order to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. We are called 4 times in this passage to stand in the strength of God. We must never lose sight of this!
Our strength to stand and remain in the faith amidst intense spiritual warfare, worldly hatred, demonic attacks, and internal battles is found in the Lord, not ourselves. To “be strong in the Lord” is a passive command in the Greek. In other words, we are not the ones strengthening ourselves. Rather, we are putting ourselves in the position for God to strengthen us. It’s like saying, "Get your hair cut". It’s not usually assumed that we will cut our own hair. We are putting ourselves in the barber’s chair so that he can do the cutting. Similarly, we are putting ourselves in a position to be strengthened by God. That requires humility!
Do you recognize your weakness?
1. Do you think you have no need for God? Here's a word of exhortation from Scripture. Every drop of God’s furious anger resides on you if don’t repent. And you’re not some innocent person who doesn’t deserve it. You’ve broken His law. You’ve chosen your own path. You’ve said, “away with God and His rules. I’m doing things my way!” You must turn and repent! Though God is patient, His wrath is quickly kindled and once the forest is on fire, it’s too late to call for help! Come now!
2. Do you look back at your religious deeds and think you're good to go? You’ve never had a sense of need for God because you think you've had it all together. You may feel guilty on occasion, but you muster up enough "good deeds" tomorrow to soothe your guilty conscience. You may even create a worldly sort of guilt and shame in your mind that make you think, "surely these tears and this sorrow will warrant my forgiveness!" On the day of judgment when God asks where you belong, will you answer that Christ was enough or will you give a laundry list of excuses and try to justify yourself based on all that you’ve done? Enough of that! It’s time to cast that off and trust Jesus! Believe Jesus! Rest in Him!
3. Are you self-righteous? When you remember where you came from, you have to fight to see the grace of God and His goodness. When you look at your spiritual growth, you need to fight to see that it was the Holy Spirit who convicted you the last time you were in sin. It was He who showed you the way of escape in your last temptation. It was his power that helped you put that sin to death. And if you’re going to breathe another spiritual breath or take another step in your faith, it is He who will guide you into the truth.
4. Do you wallow in self-pity? Maybe you know where you came from and how much you struggle, but you can’t get your eyes off yourself and your sins. You can’t see past yesterday's failures to have hope for today. You, too, need to humble yourself and realize that it’s not in your strength that you’ll be able to pick up and move on. God will carry you. You’re not too messed up or too bad for Jesus. But, as a Robert Murray M'Cheyne once said, take ten looks at Jesus for every look at yourself. Cast your burdens on the Lord, for He will give you the strength to endure.
Learn from my mistakes
In college, I was an All-American triple and long jumper. During my freshman of college, I pulled my hamstring at indoor nationals. It was one of the most painful events in my life. I could barely put on my socks or even sit without pain. Even days later it was still painful to stretch or walk. A few weeks later, though, it felt great. I could stretch it, walk with no pain, and even do some light jogging.
I was amazed at how fast the hamstring healed. With the advice of the trainers, I went out and practiced. The warmups went great, the strides were painless, and I felt like I was finally getting up to speed! I was able to do some high knees, high skips, and even one-legged hops. By the time I got to the long jump pit, I was warmed up and ready to go.
Little did I know, my hamstring wasn’t ready. I stepped to the back of the runway and geared up to jump. I got a few steps into my run-through and felt like my old self. A few more steps and I felt the pop. Again. The dreaded hamstring tear became a full reality. I limped off the track in utter defeat and shock, barely able to stand again. This time it was torn and I was done for a year.
My torn hamstring wasn't the random result of a fateful day. Rather, I had not strengthened my hamstring to withstand collegiate sports. I had been strong enough to win state titles, break records, and find success. However, when the rigor of college track and field came, my muscles were too weak. I didn't recognize my weakness and it took a major injury to prove that I wasn't strong enough. I was relying on yesterday's success for confidence today. In hindsight, I should have been doing strength training all along.
Spiritually, I have often limped through life because I failed to recognize my weakness. In those moments, God graciously withdrew His strength and allowed me to fall. I say graciously because I learned that when I'm weak, He is strong. I am gradually learning the importance of small, daily habits to build my faith. God has called us today to stand firm in Him so that when the evil day comes we can withstand Satan. Abide in Him. Dwell with Christ. For apart from Him, you can do nothing.
How have you seen your own weakness? When you're weak, where do you run for strength?
Image credit: Pixabay
Last week we looked at Psalm 8 and saw that the glory of God should humble us. As we see our sin in comparison to God's holiness, we see our weakness, failures, and sin. In short, we were created for far more than the mud pies we settle for.
We were created to exercise dominion over creation and our desires. We were created to live for more than pornography, alcohol, drugs, entertainment, success, wealth, food, and the plethora of idols laid before us each day. And yet we often chase those things. Even in Christ, we aren’t exempt from falling into sin, even for seasons. We know it is hard to wage war against Satan, battle the flesh, and resist the world!
When we sin, what should we do? Should we lose all hope? Is there any real assurance that God still loves us? There is, and we find God's promise in 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness".
That leaves us with 3 options in handling our sin:
1. We can wallow in Eeyore-like self-pity and live with a “woe is me” mentality, thinking that we will never make progress and never be loved by God. I find myself here sometimes, do you?
2. We work from a foolish sense of self-righteousness and live with a “great is me" mentality, thinking that our progress was our own. I find myself here sometimes, too. How about you?
3. We can rest in Christ’s forgiveness and live with a “God have mercy on me, the sinner” mentality, knowing that God is "faithful and just" to forgive those who trust in Christ. Why? Because Jesus paid it all. Not some, not most, but all! This will also drive our pursuit of repentance because Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Only the gospel has the power to do that!
What do you do with your sin? What are you carrying right now that you need to confess?
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”
We are not strong in ourselves. Even in our age of empowerment jargon and self-help, we are actually weak.
From childhood, we are promised that we can be anything and everything we desire to be. If we have enough intrinsic motivation and willpower, they say, we can achieve whatever we want. This all sounds so great. It appeals to our natural impulses to work hard and find success. Even Scripture shows us the folly of laziness and apathy. Yet the promises of strength and success that our culture offer us are not enough. They are hollow gourds.
We are not strong in ourselves. No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that we are, we simply aren’t.
We may be able to muster up enough willpower and strength to hit the gym, make the grades, or keep that stellar office job. Yet, we will find our Achilles’ Heel eventually. If we don’t have an emotional breakdown, it will show up through depression, anxiety, foolish eating, etc. Weakness will show up in pornography addiction, egocentrism, criticism, or outright rejection of God.
We are not strong in ourselves. That’s part of what it means to be human.
God knows this and commands us to find our strength in Him. We have heard that He is strong, and anyone with a slightly religious background will acknowledge that. In fact, through creation, we all have clear evidence of God’s eternal power and divine nature (Rom. 1:20). What we do with that knowledge doesn’t excuse us from the fact that God is powerful. If we walk in unbelief or apathy, we will fail to have spiritual vitality. Instead finding our strength in God will allow us to withstand the attacks of Satan.
Knowing we are not strong in ourselves (I told you that, right?), we must ask a question: How strong is God?
1. God showed His strength in creation.
God spoke the heavens and the earth into existence! Don’t ignore the first 2 chapters of Scripture. When we look out into the vast night sky and see the glorious heavens—God made them. When we look at the seemingly infinite microscopic world that escapes even those with flawless vision—God spoke that, too. When we consider that gravity, sunlight, oxygen, water, and everything necessary to keep us alive comes from God, we see His mighty power in creation! Contrary to the notion that God just set things and motion and let them go, He actively governs and upholds the universe. God’s power in creation should draw us to look to Him for strength!
2. God showed His strength in history.
God displayed His majestic power over the nations. The grand narrative of Scripture shows us nations like the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, the Romans, or the Philistines rising to prominence and falling at the power of God’s mighty hand. Psalm 136 zooms in specifically on God’s power over Egypt and shows us what God did with that wicked Pharaoh who wouldn’t let His people go:
He killed their firstborn.
He brought Israel out of Egypt with his strong and outstretched arm.
He divided the Red Sea into two parts and brought Israel through it.
He overthrew Pharaoh and his men.
He carried Israel through the wilderness.
Beyond Egypt, God struck down kings and nations as He brought His people into the promised land—their names are largely forgotten today! We should praise Him for His powerful work in the past, knowing that He can do the same in the present and future for His people!
3. God showed His strength in redemption.
God, our Father, showed His strength in sending His all-powerful and all-authoritative Son to the earth to destroy sin, death, and Satan. Remember, He didn’t lack the power to defeat Satan. Nor does He lack the power to bring life to dead souls. He doesn’t lack any authority, even over His most wicked and powerful enemies.
Jesus, God in the flesh, died to destroy the devil who has the power of death. Not only did He destroy Satan, but He also delivered us from lifelong slavery to that wicked taskmaster. In Jesus, death has been swallowed up and lost its sting forever. We have been redeemed through His blood and brought from death to life! Jesus is powerful, for there is no man who can ransom another and no man who can raise himself from the dead except Jesus Christ!
God, the Holy Spirit, gave life to our dead hearts! He breathed life into our souls and made us new creatures! As He raised Jesus’ body from the dead, so He raised our souls from the dead. As He made dry bones live, so He gives life to dead souls! If that’s not a picture of the strength and power of God, I don’t know what else you’re looking for!
There is none like our God who has power over death and Satan. Even though Satan has the “power of death” (Heb. 2:14), God has the power of life! Death has no victory, no power, and no sting! (1 Cor. 15:54-55).
4. God shows His strength in sanctification (Rom. 8:13)
Not only does God raise us up from the dead and give life to our mortal bodies, though. He also gives us the power to continue killing the sin. Through the Spirit, we “put to death” the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13). We kill sin and become more Christlike. By what strength or what power? Better yet, by Whom? The Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead with power! If the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, we can be confident that He will make us holy (Romans 8:11)!
Elder D.J. Ward reminded us to ask ourselves to look back at our old lives and ask “How did we get from that... to being upright, church folk?”. The answer, of course, is the powerful work of the Holy Spirit giving us life and causing us to walk in the ways of God! What power! The Spirit who gives us life is the same Spirit who will see to it that we finish the race looking more like Christ. The power to grow in holiness doesn’t come from within ourselves, for Jesus is clear: “apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
5. God will show His strength when He returns to overthrows Satan forever (Rev. 20:7-10)
Though the victory is already God’s, there is a sense in which we are still waiting for the fullness of victory to come. Satan is still prowling and still seeking to devour us and deceive the nations, but there will come a day when he will be thrown in the lake of fire and sulfur to suffer for eternity. There is a day when he will do nothing more than face torment day and night! God’s enemies have limited power now, and they will have absolutely no power in the future! God’s power is on display and will forever be displayed for eternity!
Behold God’s Strength
How should we respond to such displays of God’s power? One sure thing we can do is behold the power of God. When we look upon Christ, we are transformed into His image from glory to glory. As we stand in reverence of God, we will be delighted to submit to His supreme authority and find our strength in Him.
As you read your Bible and pray, behold the strength of God. Take seasons to meditate on the glory of God’s work in creation, history, redemption, sanctification, and the last days. Beholding this strength will not only humble us but also draw us to the worship of God that is truly good for our hearts! Behold Him today!
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”
Do You Look Up?
Do you ever step out and just stare into the heavenly vastness of the night sky? Some nights, like last night, the moon appears more massive and much brighter than others. The Hunter’s Moon and other phenomena in space captivate the attention of people all over the world. But why?
God flexed His creativity in order to display His glory and bring us to awestruck wonder at His majesty. While many people still deny and reject God in their hearts, the heavens are tangible evidence that He is here. And He is glorious! His inexhaustible glory beckons us to respond. Some, being enemies of God, respond with foolish animosity and vain plotting (Psalm 2:1). As we see in Psalm 8, those who love God respond in humility and praise.
In Humility and Praise
Seeing how tiny we are humbles us. When we consider how infinitely miniscule we are in comparison to such a massive universe, our ego becomes too small to see with a microscope. Knowing that God is infinitely bigger than our universe should make us cry out with David, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Contrary to a popular preacher’s opinion, God doesn’t need us. Rather, we should be asking, “Why does He even care for a mere man or woman like me?” This is humility.
In praise, we ascribe to God words of truth and thanksgiving for His works and will for His people. We praise Him for His Son who was made “for a little while lower than the angels… crowned with glory and honor because of suffering death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). This is the ultimate picture of God’s love and care. Jesus didn’t stay in the grave, either. He resurrected with power! This should evoke praise in our redeemed hearts!
Let us sing with all creation: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psa. 8:1,9)
#MinuteMondays are intentionally short reads meant to be worshipful, thought-provoking meditations delivered to you each Monday morning! Enjoy and feel free to share using the #MinuteMondays!
"Dwell is great for the spiritual disciplines of memorization, meditation, or study of Scripture. The reflection times range from 3 seconds to 3 minutes, giving you plenty of flexibility."
DIsclaimer: I received a free subscription to Dwell. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Dwell (Dwellapp.io) is a superb choice for listening to God’s word. To call it an audio Bible would be an injustice. As an avid audiobook listener and lover of audio Bibles, Dwell has much more offer!
Over the years, I’ve trained myself to listen to audiobooks and bibles because it adds to the quality of commutes, cooking, yard work, etc. There are many wonderful audio bibles out there, but Dwell has immediately become my favorite source for hearing God’s Word. Here are several reasons:
It excels in quality. The 4 voices are unique and well-articulated—and I think more are coming! I especially enjoy Felix’s African accent, but the other voices are excellent as well. The background music is custom made for the app and there are several choices, including no music for those who just want Bible audio. Unlike audio Bibles, the music volume can also be controlled within the app. The interface is well-designed and beautiful to look at—especially the custom playlist and Bible passage covers. Dwell does the small things well, and they’re constantly looking to fix bugs and make the app more enjoyable.
It is highly customizable. In addition to the 4 voices and 4 types of music, the speed of the reader’s voice can also be increased up to 2x speed, giving it the flexibility of podcasts and other audiobook readers. Once you’ve found the right voice and music, you can set a default for each time you open the app.
It has Bible Passages and playlists. It’s like the Spotify of the Bible with its many curated options. There are playlists and Bible passages galore. For example, you can listen to the story of Daniel and the Lions’ Den, sections of Paul’s letters, themes of wisdom from throughout Scripture, or keystone passages like “David’s Last Words”. You can listen to soothing passages of God’s peace and love or key insights from certain biblical authors. There are long listens which would be great for planned times of silence and solitude or grasping the big picture of longer books and sections of Scripture.
There are Bible listening plans. For those wanting to listen to the Bible systematically, there are listening plans that take you through the Bible or chunks of Scripture in set amounts of time. For example, there are Bible-In-A-Year plans, 40-Day plans with a focus on a given topic or book, and shorter topical plans to help you hear what Scripture teaches on that subject. There is also Siri integration for those who are working at being more hands-free with their phones. You can even set up a notification to remind you to listen to your plan at a set time each day!
Dwell Mode. Dwell Mode is incredible. It is definitely my favorite feature of the app! In Dwell Mode, you are able to select a passage, chapter, or book of the Bible to dwell on. After choosing a passage, you listen to it on repeat with reflection time between each repetition. Dwell is great for the spiritual disciplines of memorization, meditation, or study of Scripture. The reflection times range from 3 seconds to 3 minutes, giving you plenty of flexibility.
Pricing is reasonable. There is a free, limited trial of the app, but to access all of its great features, there are yearly and lifetime options. The yearly subscription is $24.99* per year (a little over $2 a month) and the lifetime subscription is $124.99*. That’s a little steep compared to an audio Bible, but the features, updates, and contribution to the future of Dwell are well worth the investment!
Hearing the Word is a great way to increase your Bible intake and get familiar with God's glorious Word—especially the big picture of His redemptive plan. If the price point seems too high, remember that many of us spend approximately $120/year for Spotify or Netflix. What if you took a break from those services for a year to invest in treasuring Christ more and enjoying His Word. Remember that it is sweeter than honey and worth more than gold!
*Pricing as of 9/19/2019
"Something Needs To Change is powerful. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s easy to read but hard to stomach. It’s worth your time, your attention, your thoughts, and your prayers. But remember one thing: when you finish reading it, something needs to change."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Have you ever been to the Himilayas? Have you ever trekked to the peak of the pinnacle of the world’s mountains? I have imagined looking out at the vastness of the jagged, snow-covered peaks with their icy blue, cloud wrapped splendor, but I doubt I’ll ever brave the days of hiking, sweating, shivering, and struggling it takes to ascend such heights.
David Platt has been up the mountain. Though he didn’t trek to the peak of Mount Everest—a feat that has only been accomplished by fewer than 1000 of the billions of human beings to ever live—he travailed through many of the steep, narrow paths on the Himilayas to see God’s glory magnified in creation (Ps. 19:1). It was every bit as glorious and more, leaving him lacking in sufficient words to describe what he saw.
However, he encountered far more than just the life-altering, awe-inspiring beauty of God’s created world. He looked in the face of deep darkness that has overtaken humanity since that devastating day that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. In Something Needs To Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need, Platt takes us on a visceral and introspective journey with him as he saw and felt some of the most shocking displays of spiritual and physical suffering on the planet.
Something Needs To Change is not your typical David Platt book. He admits that he has “taken a different approach in writing this book” because he doesn’t think we need “more exposition and explanation” (p. 4). He’s not saying we don’t need Scripture. He’s saying we need to do more than simply hear Biblical teaching and think, “wow that was powerful!” or “what great exposition!” only to walk away forgetting our reflection (James 1:24). He wants readers to apply the rich exposition and explanation of Scripture in real ways that impact the world with the gospel. He’s sharing how he learned this reality firsthand.
What did David Platt encounter in the Himalayas? A region of the world in which, out of 9 million people, there are likely fewer than 100 Christians. That’s 1/1000 of a percent of people in that region who profess to be Christian as compared to 75% of Americans. That level of spiritual darkness should make us weep. Most of the people there are either Buddhist, Hindu, or follow superstitions that have been ingrained in them since childhood. This led Platt to consider the reality of hell and the shocking apathy that he—and millions of professing Christians, including myself—is tempted to carelessly live with.
He also encountered a region of the world where approximately half of the children die. Many of them die of preventable and curable diseases that we blink our eyes at. A bout of diarrhea can turn into death in a matter of hours. Not to mention, the nearest hospital could be days’ journey down the steep and dangerous mountains of the Himalayas. Imagine carting your sick child for days to get to the nearest doctor’s office only to have them die on the way.
He met a man, Kamal, whose eye fell out due to an infection. He encountered a father who lost most of his children to cholera and his wife to suicide. He met a man who spent some of his childhood chained to a barn because of a hateful father’s abuse. He walked through villages absent of young women because they were forced to offer their bodies as sex slaves after being deceived into thinking they were going to help earn a living for their families.
A glimpse of this darkness led David to question his life and the work of ministry he had been doing. Why does God allow this to happen to others while he and his family have it so easy? How could he preach and teach about these realities while living in such ease and not urgently doing something about it? How could he, a pastor and author with seminary degrees and a prestigious position on the International Mission Board, see so much and not prayerfully do more? How could he see the physical needs and argue that only the spiritual needs mattered? As he read and journaled through Luke’s gospel, the Lord used His Word and the suffering of others to give him a new urgency.
Toward the end of his journey, he met people who saw the need for change and trusted God with their lives to do something about it. Of the numerous examples in the book, here is just one that he encountered at a small church in the mountains:
“Before the meeting, the church’s pastor had shared with me that his non-Christian parents died when he was just fifteen. A few years later, someone shared the gospel with him for the first time. He trusted in Jesus and was baptized, but as soon as this happened, the rest of his family abandoned him. His brothers told him to never come back, and he lost the inheritances his parents had left him. But this pastor and his people believe that Jesus is worth it. “Jesus is worth losing your family”. Then he quoted Mark 10:29-30…” (p. 102)
There is hope for the Himalayas. There is hope for our communities. Platt is not calling for us to move to the Himilayas or imitate his lifestyle and convictions. Some of us may need to move. Some will need to stay. All of us need to pray about what God is calling and strengthing us to do because He has created our lives to “count in a world of urgent need” (p. 195).
Platt doesn’t know the answer for how to change what needs to change, but He knows the God who does and he is relying on God’s Word to show him what to do. He doesn’t know where that will lead him or any of us, but he knows that God is calling us to play a part right now where we live.
Something Needs To Change is powerful. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s easy to read but hard to stomach. It’s worth your time, your attention, your thoughts, and your prayers. But remember one thing: when you finish reading it, something needs to change.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”
Would you consider yourself a strong person? I don’t mean strong like the guys who can curl 135 pounds. I don’t mean strong like the insane (in a good way!) people who can do Iron Man or Tough Mudder competitions. Are you spiritually strong? When temptations arise, do you find yourself able to withstand? When trials come your way, do you meet them with confidence that you’re able to overcome them? Many times, I feel weak. This can be a good thing, if it leads me to humility. However, we’re called to be strong—though probably not in the way we would expect.
A Gospel Foundation
After laying out the rich doctrinal truths found in Ephesians 1-3 about God’s gracious and saving work in the gospel, Paul called the Ephesian church to respond in faithful obedience. He lists 41 imperatives for them to heed and obey by faith. These imperatives range from “speak truth to your neighbor” (4:25) to “be imitators of God” and “walk in love” (5:2) to “children obey your parents” (6:1) and parents“bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (6:4).
Finally, Paul says to the whole church “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (6:10). With all of the gospel he had already preached and the vast array of imperatives on how to be the church, Paul’s final section of gospel application begins with be strong in the Lord. I
If you’ve heard the gospel message: “for by grace you have been saved through faith” (2:8-9), then you know you’ll need the Lord’s help to obey His commands. If God had demanded that we obey His words in our strength, Paul would have never prayed that you and I “be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being” (3:16). We wouldn’t have a shot. Thankfully, God is strengthening us for the fight of the faith. Paul’s reminder to be strong in the Lord makes perfect sense.
What does it mean to be strong in the Lord?
First, it means that we are reliant on the Lord. This is God’s work upon us, not a command to strengthen ourselves. Paul is not saying, “look deep inside and find strength for this fight”. He’s about to shed light on our fiercest enemy—the devil (6:11). If you and I are going to have a fighting chance to remain in the faith and engage in spiritual warfare, we better look away from ourselves! The “ancient serpent” (Rev. 2:20) who deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden is more crafty, more ferocious, and far more powerful than any human being could ever be (except Jesus, of course). Left to ourselves, we would be better off defending ourselves against a mother bear robbed of her cubs. We know that usually doesn’t end well.
God didn’t leave us to fend for ourselves. Paul is pointing us to a power greater than our enemy to strengthen us. He is pointing us to the Lord. He uses a passive form of the verb “be strong” because the strengthening is not from ourselves. We aren’t going to the spiritual gym benching 300 pounds, chugging protein shakes, and strengthening ourselves. If we are going to be strong at all, we will have to be strong in the Lord. That’s encouraging for the children of Adam because we know how often we follow in his footsteps and eat of the forbidden fruit. We know how easily we buy into the allure of satan’s temptations. We know how weak we are. Without the Lord, we’re hopeless.
Second, it means that we have to actually be in the Lord. Being strengthened by the Lord comes from being “in the Lord”. 22 times in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the saints being “in Christ” or “in him” because he deeply valued the reality of union with Christ. In Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray states that union with Christ is “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation”. He’s not overstating the case. This union with Christ connects believers with the Triune God in such a way that we have access to the “Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead” because He dwells in us (Romans 8:11). It is through this union that we have continual communion with God. We draw our strength from that communion.
The key here is that we are only “in the Lord” if we have turned from our sin and believed the gospel message Paul spent the early chapters of Ephesians proclaiming. This union with God is unquestionably rooted in God’s election, but the Ephesian saints (and believers since the beginning of time) believed when they “heard the word of truth, the gospel” of their salvation (Eph. 1:3-14, Hebrews 11). By grace, through faith, we are saved. These are gifts from God, and through those gracious gifts, we are able to respond to the message of the gospel by professing that Jesus is the risen Lord and Savior. By grace, we can live a life of repentance in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, we can turn to God for the strength and trust that He will provide.
Cultivate a Dependent Heart
Being “strong in the Lord” reveals our neediness. Unlike God is who is completely self-sufficient, we have to rely on Someone outside of us to sustain and uphold us. Is there anything we have that has not been given to us? Put simply: we are called to be dependent, prayerful people. This is a continual battle to see ourselves as we really are—as God see us.
How do we cultivate dependent hearts? Here are a few suggestions:
Are you strong in the Lord?
"Being strong in the Lord reveals our neediness. Unlike God is who is completely self-sufficient, we have to rely on Someone outside of us to sustain and uphold us. Is there anything we have that has not been given to us?"