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J.S. Bach: Soli Deo Gloria

Text: Colossians 3:1-17

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” —Colossians 3:17

Johann Sebastian Bach is regarded as one of the most brilliant composers of all time. From the Baroque era to present, his works have been revered for their musical complexities and stylistic innovations. Not a bad legacy for the musician who was once critiqued by a town councilor in describing his job candidacy: “Since the best man cannot be obtained we will have to resort to a mediocre one.”

In 1685, Bach was born into a well-connected musical family from Eisenach, a town in central Germany that was strongly associated with Martin Luther and the German Reformation. As a child he learned violin, harpsichord, and organ. After becoming an orphan at age 10, the youngster lived with his eldest brother for several years while using music to express his innermost thoughts and feelings. His gift was not hidden for long as he landed his first job as a church organist when he was seventeen years old. When Bach played music he felt his soul praising God, once noting that the chief end of all music “should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”

At one church where he worked, the people began to complain about the music he had been composing, saying it was “too showy” and sinful. Their criticisms cut him deeply. Bach was stunned, attesting “my music comes from the heart as a humble offering to God… no matter what musical style I use.” From this season of pruning came a practice that would ultimately mark his legacy for generations to come. Whenever he began a new composition, he bowed his head and prayed:

“Jesus, help me show your glory through the music I write. May it bring you joy even as it brings joy to your people.”

Before writing even one note, Bach etched across the top of the page the letters JJ (Jesu juva; Latin for “Jesus, help”) or JH (for the German of the same phrase). Whether he was writing something for the court, for his friend Prince Leopold, or for the church, he would begin his work by petitioning Christ to help him. “I play the notes as they are written but it is God who makes the music,” he believed. And when he was done, he would add the initials SDG (Soli Deo Gloria)—praying that each piece of music would humbly proclaim “To God Alone be the Glory.”

As part of Paul’s “Put on the New Self” address to Christ-followers in Colossae (Colossians 3:1-17), believers are urged to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (v.2); to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (v.12); to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (v. 16). The variety here suggests that God delights in creative, spontaneous worship whether in the assembly or in the home. And most importantly—“whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (v.17).

Bach had his own unique way of reminding himself the importance of these words—setting the mind’s affection toward that which is pleasing and glorifying to God in everything, word or deed. How might you be able to mark your days with “all for the glory of God” as the signature of your effort and activity? What could become your initials for asking Jesus’ help as you engage in your daily work? What might your life look like if you covered each piece of your days with that same prayer? What kind of spontaneous worship might that elicit? Imagine the effect of your to-do list with “JJ” at the top and “SDG” at the bottom. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week!

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, I need your help. Apart from you I can do nothing of any significance or lasting effect. Help me to find my joy in doing everything for your glory alone. Teach me how to practice this in my daily approach to life. In your name and for your honor, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Where did Paul tell the Colossians to turn their attention? (Colossians 3:1)
  2. How were the Colossian believers called to clothe themselves? (vv.12-17)
  3. What is one principle that ought to guide everything we do? (V.17)
  4. If you consistently set your affection on Christ, how would your life be different?
  5. How can you be mindful to ask for Jesus’ help as you engage in your daily work this week?

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Guideposts for Wandering Souls

Text: Jeremiah 31:1-25

“Set up road markers for yourself; make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went.” —Jeremiah 31:21

In ancient times, long before maps and GPS devices, when travelers had to traverse unknown territories they would leave behind some form of markers that would help them find their way back again. These waymarks, often in the form of roughhewn wooden posts or piles of stones, not only helped travelers retrace their steps, but they would also serve as reliable guideposts for those who were to come along after them.

In Jeremiah 31, Israel had been unfaithful to God and was falling into the hand of their enemies. For this disobedience they would be exiled from the homeland and scattered to other nations. Yet in the midst of this sad saga of defeat, God promised to one day bring the people back to their land. As they were being exiled they were instructed to set up “guideposts” along the way to point the way back home (Jeremiah 31:21).

This passage reveals the goodness of our heavenly Father—for in the same breath that He speaks punishment for Israel’s transgressions He is also speaking restoration for their future. God’s discipline attests to His love: “For the Lord disciplines those He loves” (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:6). His discipline always includes a process of correction and restoration.

In this context God is telling Israel that their punishment for backsliding is not the end of the story. God always has a return plan—even when we’ve been sent to a bitter place of correction. This future return trip—the way back home—was something the tribes were told to “consider well.” Jeremiah pictured a clear road with signposts that would guide Israel back to their first love—a restored relationship with their Covenant God.

These words are a call to Israel to prepare for their return. No matter how far we have wandered in our backslidings, the kindness of God calls us to prepare our hearts for a return. This is what the Bible refers to as repentance.

Today guideposts are also used to warn travelers of dangerous terrain, such as mountainous roads with steep drop-offs. They are put there to protect a person from going off the road and getting into danger. As Bible believing Christ-followers, we also have a responsibility to set up guideposts for those around us or those coming along behind us, to help keep them from wandering off the path to God.

I read a story of a man who came across a swollen, raging river that with great difficulty he was at last able to cross. When he reached the other side another fellow was surprised to see him begin to gather and chop sturdy wood and saw that he was constructing a bridge. The surprised fellow asked him, “Why build a bridge now? You are safely over.” The man replied, “My son will be following along behind me. The bridge is for him.”

It’s encouraging to remember that God “guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3), and that His discipline always leads to restoration. Additionally, it is no small responsibility on our part to set up guardrails for the next generation and guideposts for our children. Perhaps this weight of responsibility is what prompted the psalmist to declare: “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”

What guardrails can you set up to keep your heart from wandering away from God? What guideposts can you create to help others make the journey home to God? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, thank you for guiding me in the paths of your righteousness. Even when my heart has wandered, you have always disciplined me with a restoration in mind. Help me to faithfully set up guideposts in my life that show others the path to Jesus. May these waymarks be a witness to those around me and to the next generation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What is your favorite story about getting lost?
  2. Why do you think God disciplines those whom He loves?
  3. When has God’s discipline led to reproof and restoration in your life?
  4. What kinds of guideposts have brought you back to God when your heart has wandered?
  5. In what ways can you create guideposts that help others find the path to Jesus?

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When God Is Silent

Text: Psalm 13:1-6

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” —Psalm 13:5

After his football team lost its first seven games, Tulane coach Mack Brown bemoaned: “I called up Dial-A-Prayer and they hung up on me.”

Maybe there has been a time when you’ve experienced a losing streak and it felt as if God was distant. David appeared to feel this way when he wrote Psalm 13. In verses 1-2 his words echo a spirit of anguish, defeat, and rejection:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
   How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
   and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

It seemed as if God had forgotten David. Even worse, his enemies were winning. Rejection hurts bad enough when God is silent, but the injury is even more agonizing when our adversaries are triumphing over us. What can we do when we find ourselves in a season like that of David’s ancient bitter trial?

Firstly, we can examine ourselves. It’s important to remember that any unconfessed sin puts a barrier between God and us. Psalm 66:18 says “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Sometimes we need more than a surface scan to detect a hidden transgression, we need a deep examination of the heart. It requires looking deeper than those blatant sins of commission to what may be subtle sins of omission—not just what I have done, but what I haven’t done. James 4:17 speaks to this: “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin.”

Ask yourself: Have my motives been pure lately? Is there an idol in my life (anything or anyone taking the place of full affection and total allegiance to God)? As the Holy Spirit brings things to mind, quickly ask for His forgiveness. And remember, there’s no shame in repentance. This act of faith pleases God and restores our fellowship with Him.

However, sometimes God may be silent even in times of obedience. It’s in these times that we must accept His sovereignty. It might bruise our ego a bit to hear it, but the Almighty has no obligation to answer you or me. As A.W. Tozer says in The Knowledge of the Holy, “God is said to be absolutely free because no one and no thing can hinder Him or compel Him or stop Him. He is able to do as He pleases always, everywhere, forever.” Silence can be a humble reminder that God doesn’t hear us because we have a right to be heard; if He hears us it is because He has graced us with a condescendence of His own mercy—and always in merit with the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Accepting God’s sovereignty ushers in a peace that transcends all human understanding (Philippians 4:7). It comes not only from believing in God’s goodness, but trusting in His character and faithfulness. Never is that trust tested like in a season of silence. That’s why some of the most intimate times we will ever have with God are in moments of silence. This is when trust speaks the loudest. When Jesus failed to show up before Lazarus died, Mary and Martha could’ve interpreted Jesus’ silence as neglect. But in that time of grief, the sisters were drawn into a deeper intimacy with God, culminating with a revelation of His resurrection power.

“When you cannot hear God,” says Oswald Chambers, “you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible—with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation.” In love, silence can be a sign of intimacy. It is possible for my wife and me to sit together in a room and not utter a word. Because when you are sufficiently happy with a person—a token of true intimacy—you can abide even in the quiet.

Of course intimacy doesn’t imply that we should neglect communication. Just because God seems silent doesn’t mean you should doubt Him or stop praying. His silence isn’t a cause to turn our backs on Him. Instead, it’s an invitation to press forward and to seek Him even more diligently.

This is where we see David pressing on. Initially we heard him crying out in anguish. Then we hear a softer petition for mercy (vv3-4). Finally, we see him resting in the joy of God’s sovereignty (vv5-6):

But I trust in your unfailing love;
   my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
   for he has been good to me.

Franz Delitzsch observed: “This song as it were casts up constantly lessening waves, until it becomes still as the sea when smooth as a mirror, and the only motion discernible at last is that of the joyous ripple of calm repose.” In a sentence, the psalm is saying:

When God seems silent, we can abide more intimately by trusting in His unfailing love.

PRAYER

God, help me to remember that even the silence still speaks of your faithfulness. Help me to abide more intimately in those times when I can’t hear you—trusting in your unfailing love, rejoicing in your salvation, and singing of your praise. For you have been GOOD to me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. In what ways have your friends or family helped you through a time of discouragement or defeat?
  2. What questions went through David’s mind as he waited for the Lord’s answer to his prayer? (vv1-2)
  3. What is a difficult season of silence you have had to go through? What did that produce in you?
  4. What expression of confidence concludes this Psalm?
  5. What past acts of God’s goodness to you can you write down as reminders to trust Him in times of silence?

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Edification and The Power of Words

Text: Jeremiah 1:1-19

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” —Ephesians 4:29 NIV

Winston Churchill understood the power of words. In the film Darkest Hour, it was said “he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

Words have the power of death and life (Proverbs 18:21). When I was a child, my biological father used a multiplicity of denigrating words to bring death—sabotaging my sense of worth and vandalizing my self-esteem. Then when I was sixteen years old, God redemptively and providentially gave me a mentor who became a quintessential spiritual father. This man spoke words of life and healing into my soul, believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. It changed the trajectory of my life.

Child psychologists have asserted that for kids to become resilient, they need six to seven positive words for every negative one spoken over them. One of the tools we’ve used in serving at-risk young people in juvenile centers and our summer camps is what we call The Edification Chair. When a child sits in the edification chair, everyone else in the room takes turns saying something positive about that person. It’s amazing how quickly this exercise can change the demeanor of a child when he or she hears words of encouragement and affirmation. It also reminds me how much kids in this generation are starved for edification.

I don’t know what kind of upbringing the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah had (other than he apparently was raised in a priestly home), but he seemed to need a great measure of edification throughout his lifetime. In the first chapter of Jeremiah, God tells this young prophet that the divine purposes and plans for his life started well before birth: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). Isn’t it awesome to know that we existed in God’s mind long before we ever existed in our mother’s womb?!

This revelation wasn’t given merely to pump Jeremiah up in his own self-esteem, but to align him with God’s pre-ordained plan. Jeremiah’s response was rooted in inadequacy: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to him, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth—the instrument God would use more than any other tool in his lifetime. (Jeremiah 1:6-9)

We can infer that Jeremiah felt insecure. He had reasons to be afraid. He was young, people in his generation were calloused to the word of God, and his ministry assignments would often feel more like trench warfare than Sunday potlucks after church. As G. Campbell Morgan said, “He shrank from his work again and again; he suffered intensely, not merely from the persecution of his foes, but in his own soul, in it fellowship with God and with his nation; he needed very special Divine sustenance.”

Yet God spoke words of encouragement and affirmation saying, “I have made you this day a fortified city” and reminded him that he would never go alone (Jeremiah 1:17-19). God gave Jeremiah the strength he needed—but he had to walk in it. He had to “dress himself” for the work ahead. If he did not—if he allowed himself to “be dismayed before their faces”—then God would dismay Jeremiah before those whom he feared. He may not have felt like a “fortified city” or an “iron pillar,” but God’s words “I am with you” conquered his inner struggles.

I love how Derek Kidner summarizes Jeremiah’s life and ministry: “To this thin-skinned young man, his description of terms of battlements and heavy metal might have seemed a wild exaggeration, but in fact it proved an understatement. He would hold out against all comers for over forty years, outdoing any fortress under siege.”

God’s word can instill a superhero-like faith in the most inexperienced soldiers or even those battle-fatigued warriors. It’s what made the psalmist say: “For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29). God’s words are true. They bring life. Healing. Realignment. They instill a confidence of purpose, direction, and vision. Concerning the power of words, Paul told the believers in Ephesus: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)

It’s important that we are not only built up in the word of God, but that we are actively building others up as well—speaking edification into their lives. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week!

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you for the true reality of my existence. I am not here by accident. You were thinking about me before the foundations of this world ever existed. You had me in mind before I was in my mother’s womb. How awesome are your thoughts! Daily realign me with your will, and in times of insecurity may I lean into your grace for strength and affirmation. May you always use my mouth as an instrument to build others up according to their needs. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you been assigned to a task for which you felt totally unqualified?
  2. Where have you seen the power of words at work in both positive and negative ways?
  3. By what action did God transform Jeremiah into His mouthpiece? (v.9)
  4. When we share the gospel with others, whose words do we speak?
  5. Where can you speak words of life to those around you this week?

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When Saying Goodbye is Hard

Text: Acts 20:13-38

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” —Acts 20:24

Last week we had to say goodbye to our 13-year old Doberman. Samson lived a relatively long life for his breed, and even though we were prepared for the loss of a family pet that our children have known their entire lives, it still wasn’t easy.

The longer we live on this earth, the more seasons of goodbyes we will experience—it’s an unavoidable part of the journey. Some goodbyes might be temporary, others permanent. Whether it’s moving to another town, graduating and heading off to college, a job change, a church or ministry transition, a deployment for a military or missional assignment, or the grief of laying a dear loved one to rest, goodbyes are rarely easy.

Winnie The Pooh seems to be quite the optimist when he says:

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

In Acts 20, we find Paul saying goodbye to his friends and church leaders in Ephesus. Compelled by the Spirit, he was on his way to Jerusalem not knowing what would happen to him when he got there. Yet he was certain it would involve prison and hardships. He was also convinced that this would be the last time his friends would ever see him, making this farewell even more sentimental. But this didn’t deter him from following the Lord’s lead. His “only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24 NIV)

Though Paul’s noble goal in life was to spread the gospel as far and wide as the Lord commissioned him, getting on that boat and waving goodbye must’ve been painful. He did it because, in the words of Charles Spurgeon, he preached a gospel worth dying for, but not before warning them to be on guard for “savage wolves” and false prophets. He charged them to remain brave in their journey and faithful to the Lord.

Paul’s key to being able to move forward in such a hard transition and emotional moment is found in verse 32: Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace.”

This is our comfort in any season of farewell. It may not make the moment easier, but it does sanctify the moment. Entrusting our loved ones and the circumstances to God in the goodbye times is a way of bringing Jesus and his sustaining grace into the very center of our lives. This is the faith demonstration of trusting God as the Keeper and Guardian over everything, especially in those times of separation.

The next time you are faced with a difficult farewell, think about how Paul entrusted this deeply emotional moment to God’s safekeeping, and the grace that flows from that place of surrender.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, it is often hard to say goodbye. Transitions are not easy. Separation and loss are painful. But you are a loving Father who can be trusted in seasons of farewell. Help me to lean into your grace in those difficult seasons—trusting you as the Keeper of this life and entrusting to you every circumstance and every dear loved one. You are faithful. Help me to be faithful when it is time to say goodbye. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What has been one of your most difficult “goodbye” seasons?
  2. If you knew that this would be your last day with your loved ones, what would you want to say to them?
  3. How does Paul’s life and mission challenge you?
  4. What does it mean to commit someone else to God?
  5. Is the gospel you live and proclaim worth dying for? How does that directly affect the way you live?

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Don’t Forget Your True Identity

Text: James 1:1-27

“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” —James 1:23-24

My daughter recently wrote a paper for her college class on the dangers of “Method Acting.” Stephanie’s thesis is that Method Acting can be emotionally and psychologically harmful to actors and performers because they can get so into role-play that it affects one’s capacity to separate the act from real life. One of the well-known examples of this peril was Heath Ledger’s role in playing the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Many people believe that his obsession with that role affected his mental health and may have contributed to sleep disorders, which fatally led to his overdose.

“Any time a person plays with their true identity,” she said, “looking inward and changing and reconstructing their unique self, they risk sacrificing parts of their original DNA.”

Actors aren’t the only ones who struggle with this contradiction between the act and their real identity. Sometimes Christians find themselves in a similar tension—a place where spiritual identity gets left behind in the daily theater of our practical lives.

In today’s devotional text, the Epistle of James describes this as looking intently at your face in a mirror, and then walking away forgetting what you looked like. In verse 21, the writer instructs the readers to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Then he gives an admonition about the danger of hearing God’s word without actually doing it, which leads to self-deception (vv.22-27).

God’s “perfect law, the law of liberty” reveals our true identity. But it’s all too easy to forget that identity in the stress of our days and the noise of this world. Life has a way of hitting us so hard that we sometimes forget what is in that mirror.

James identifies various things that can push back on our true identity—the trials of life (v.2), a deficiency of wisdom (v.5), double-mindedness, which leads to instability (vv.6-8), the lure of sinful temptations (vv.13-15), being quick to anger (vv.19-20). All of these can cause you to forget who you are when you walk away from that mirror.

If we could summarize James’ thesis, it might be something like this: God doesn’t want us fleshing out a role in life that is contrary to, or inconsistent with, our true identity in Christ.

Through repentance and faith in Christ, we have been given a new identity to live from. As we reflect on God’s law of liberty, we should be mindful of what we see in that mirror in front of us. We see a person chosen by God and adopted into His everlasting family (John 15:16, Romans 8:14-15). We see a person forgiven and redeemed of every sin and failure (Ephesians 1:7-8, Psalm 103:12). We see a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We see freedom from guilt and condemnation (John 8:36, Romans 8:1). We see a person clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Galatians 3:27). We see not just a survivor, but a victor (Romans 8:37, 1 John 5:4). We see a person who can be strong and courageous, unafraid, because God “will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

God doesn’t want us fleshing out a role in life that is contrary to, or inconsistent with, our true identity in Christ. Click To Tweet

You don’t have to get sucked into a role that isn’t you! You don’t have to forget who you are in the throes of this life. By abiding in God’s perfect law of liberty you can remember your true identity in a world full of confusion. Resolve to live from that identity no matter what the world might be throwing at you this week.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, thank you for dying a death you did not deserve so that I could live a life I did not deserve. Your sinless blood shed on Calvary’s cross was wholly sufficient to wash away all of my sins and give me new birth. Revelation 12 reveals that a day is promised in which you will cast down the “accuser of our brothers and sisters” and the enemy will be defeated once and for all. Until that glorious day and grand finale of redemption, teach me how to live each day from my true identity that you have given me through spiritual adoption into your royal family. Amen!

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. When people fail to find their identity in their Creator, what alternate things in the world do people draw from to form their identity?
  2. In what ways can worldly identities lead to superficiality, instability, or even divisiveness?
  3. What have been some of the personal challenges in your life that push back on your ability to live from your real identity in Christ?
  4. The word of God is also like a mirror that exposes the blemishes in our lives, revealing to us the very thoughts and intents of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). Is there something in your life right now that warrants repentance and confession?
  5. Is there something you can do this week that will help you stay more in character with the real you—being not just a ‘hearer’ of God’s word, but also a ‘doer’?

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A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

Text: Mark 3:1-35

“And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” —Mark 3:25

“A house divided against itself”—I often see this engraved on license plates, especially here in the south, along with two rival college football teams’ logos on each side of the plate. It’s how many married couples like to brandish their loyalties and show off their opposing allegiances to sports teams.

This famed proverb “a house divided against itself cannot stand” has been used in political arenas as well. Abraham Lincoln used it as the basis of a speech he gave after he had accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination as that state’s US senator in 1858. At the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

The “house divided” phrase originated with Jesus, as seen in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 12:22–32; Luke 11:14–23; Mark 3:22–29). All three instances of this statement were spoken in response to the Pharisee’s accusation that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Satan—a blasphemy that Jesus said would not be forgiven them.

In the third chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is having quite a battle with the powers that be. Things are getting a bit testy on the mission front. After Jesus healed a man of a withered hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees held a “counsel” with the Herodians to discuss how they might destroy him. Jesus continued to heal many who had diseases and unclean spirits, as demons even cried outright: “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:11). So the scribes accused Him of being possessed by Beelzebul, that is, Satan. They said, “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons” (Mark 3:22). To which Jesus replied:

“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Mark 3:23–25)

Jesus’ response to the incendiary accusations of these prominent and power-obsessed figures was completely logical: Any “household” cankered by infighting will rip itself apart. Kingdoms infiltrated with such opposing cross-purposes will ultimately fall. It’s impossible for Jesus to be in a league with Satan while He is casting out Satan’s own minions. Their attack wasn’t rational. But when you are blanketed with hatred, you are blind to logic.

The principle Jesus is illustrating is the fact that sustainability relies on congruency. Disunity is a cancer to living cells. Division obstructs growth and progress. It’s something we see in every sphere of life and civilization. Whether it is a business, a sports team, a government, or a marriage, there must be harmony for success and survival. Without a unified soul, organizations and entities are weakened and vulnerable to attack. They inevitably collapse, wither, and die. It’s only a matter of time.

The principle Jesus is illustrating is the fact that sustainability relies on congruency. Disunity is a cancer to living cells. Click To Tweet

The Word of God clearly warns about the instability of division—even in the hidden chambers of one’s own soul. “An inconsistent life, I say, is a sure token of a divided heart,” Charles Spurgeon noted. We see that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). Perhaps that’s why the psalmist prayed, “Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name” (Psalm 86:11).

Paul appealed to the churches that there be no divisions among them, and to avoid people who cause such disunions (1 Corinthians 1:10, Romans 16:17). The world may get accustomed to the hostility that comes from divisiveness—even feeding off of it—but God has a different mind for His family: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).

At the end of Mark chapter 3, Jesus redefined his “family” as those who “do the will of God.” It is good to be reminded that Jesus Christ is building His church and it will not be overcome (Matthew 16:18). His “house” will stand forever—“his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end” (Daniel 6:26). Being fully convinced of this, we should strive to live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16) and, as far as it depends on us, “make every effort to live in peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14).

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we live in a divisive culture. And sometimes a divisive culture lives in us. Help us to learn how to be counter-cultural in the manner of your kingdom. We pray like the psalmist, dear Lord, unite our hearts to walk in your truth. Give us a sound mind to be stable in all of our ways. Help us foster unity and reconciliation where it is needed. And for the glory and fame of Jesus in our generation, help us to overcome this world’s toxic divisiveness and demonstrate a better hope. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. How do you feel when good is attributed to evil, or righteousness gets demonized?
  2. In your experience, when has faithfulness to a cause or person led to conflict with others?
  3. The Bible says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). How do you think this verse applies to the times we are living in now? How should this be practically fleshed out?
  4. What can you do this week to restore a relationship that strains your unity with other believers, neighbors, or coworkers?
  5. What is something you can do to help strengthen the unity of the Church?

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Have You Passed By the Other Side of the Gospel?

Text: Luke 10:25-37

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 1 John 3:17

Everything in our society is screaming at us to pick a side. Choose one over the other. Go right, go left. Love one side, hate the other. Acrimony is the norm. Sadly, this form of divisiveness has also crept into the church. The latest reprising of an age-old debate seems to be drawing lines of partition among Christians. The debate is fueled by this questiohttps://www.jimmylarche.com/wp-admin/edit.php?post_type=pagen: Is the gospel mere proclamation or is it acts of compassion and charity?

Oddly enough, proponents on one side or the other dichotomize what was meant to be biblically harmonious—making a division between two things Jesus has united in Himself. In Christ’s teachings and in his holistic example of fleshing out kingdom compassion, the voice of truth was never divorced from the hands and feet of mercy.

Oddly enough, we make a division between two things Jesus unites in Himself. Click To Tweet

In today’s text we read a very familiar story that Jesus told. It was in response to a question that a scribe asked in a self-serving effort to justify his own theological views. Jesus spoke of a man who traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho, and while on his journey was robbed, beaten down, and left in dire straits. Two devotedly religious characters passed him by, as they turned a deaf ear to his plight. Interestingly enough, the passage says that these men passed by on “the other side.” They chose their “side,” and it was the other side of the street, a safe distance away from the bleeding man. To this day many religious people are still choosing to walk on the “other side”—very far from those societal margins where hurting people are in distress.

The next character, a Samaritan, was the least likely to have shown compassion, due to the prejudices that Jews and Samaritans had for each other. But he spent his own money in taking care of the man, nursing him back to dignity. The scribe (also known as an expert lawyer or theologian) was told to “go and do likewise,” implying that he shouldn’t divorce his orthodox beliefs, or his verbal creed, from his practical responsibilities of fleshing out compassion in society.

Jesus’ point was loud and clear. Don’t separate what should be integrated.

In the very same context, the same gospel that has graced us with unmerited salvation tells us that we are God’s workmanship for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10)—works that Jesus tells us should be demonstrated as light shining in a dark world (Matthew 5:16). The same Bible that compels us to proclaim God’s truth with boldness (2 Timothy 4:2, Ephesians 6:19-20) also commands us to “open” our mouths for the “rights of all who are destitute,” to “judge righteously” in defending “the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9). God has promised: “And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10).

It’s been said that if you cut out every Bible verse that is related to poverty and social justice, you will have removed over 2,000 texts from God’s sacred book. While it is vital that the blood-stained cross, the empty tomb, and the “go and preach” directives never get jettisoned on the waves of a Christ-less social gospel, it would be equally reckless to throw out compassion and acts of mercy in favor of mere Christian rhetoric—as seen stigmatized in the characters of the priest and Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

We shouldn’t have to choose between proclaiming the good news of salvation and practicing our charity in serving society’s distressed and downtrodden. Truth-bearing and mercy-giving should not be pitted against each other. In Jesus they are always both-and, never either-or. If we try to choose one or the other, we leave a giant, gaping hole in the beautifully redemptive gospel we have been entrusted with—a gospel we need to be taking to the very ends of the earth. It’s what we are still here for.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, help us to never divide what you have united in Christ. Help us to identify prejudices that have been rooted in fear, which may unknowingly be affecting how we flesh out the gospel. Help us to never add or take away from your Word, but take the whole counsel of God into consideration. Keep us from unnecessary and divisive arguments with other believers, and help us to live out our faith in a divided and hurting world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What legitimate concerns are there in addressing social justice issues while abandoning the proclamation of biblical truth?
  2. What legitimate concerns are there in adopting a “proclamation only” approach to the gospel, which often neglects practicing compassion and fleshing out acts of mercy in society?
  3. How did the scribe redefine the word “neighbor” after he heard the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:37)?
  4. How do you define the word “neighbor” and why is that definition important to the redemptive work of the gospel in our world today?
  5. What did Jesus command the scribe to do in response to the parable, and how should this parable affect the faith of those who desire to follow Jesus in this generation?

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Don’t Let Your Heart Get Weighed Down

Text: Luke 21:20-36, Matthew 25:1-13

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” —Luke 21:34

I recently returned from a seven-week mission trip to Europe, where our mission teams facilitated five baseball camps in three countries (Italy, Ireland, Germany), for the purpose of sharing the gospel with youth and children. We are seeing countless lives transformed through these ministries.

One of the things we talk about a lot on a baseball field is the emphasis of being “baseball ready”. If you are not in a ready or attentive position when a line drive comes at you, a really bad play can unfold, or worse, a physical injury might be sustained.

The gospels are replete with the idea of readiness.

Near the end of his life, Jesus had been teaching about the “distress of nations” that would one day come upon the earth. This would be a time when people’s hearts are “fainting with fear.” He told them the parable of the fig tree, illustrating a lesson of what is to come—the ultimate end of the age and Christ’s glorious return—redemption drawing near.

The disciples must recognize the signs of the times and watch closely, or guard their hearts vigilantly, that they be not “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness of the cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” They must stay awake and not be lulled to sleep by the trappings of the world.

The picture that Jesus gives us is one of readiness. “Dissipation” here, an antithesis of readiness, may refer to any form of overconsumption—drunkenness, excessive eating, debauchery (indulgence in sensual pleasures), or even being satiated with an impaired state of complacency. I find it interesting that dissipation and the worries of life are bundled together here. Their relationship is built on codependency. Anxiety causes people to self-medicate with intemperance, which only breeds more worry. While overindulgence may be billed as pleasure for many, after the hangover, they might agree with Nietzsche that, “the mother of dissipation is not joy but joylessness.”

When we lack the joy of the Lord in our heart, we pursue the dissipation of earthly pleasures and worldly affinities. We may then binge on carnal pleasures, selfish ambition, lust, recognition, the social spotlight, or greed. It becomes a form of escapism, a refusal to face reality—most notably the reality that Christ is not at the center of our lives, and that his kingdom is not our primary appeal. It also conveys a spiritual blindness of what is to come. We should take heed.

When we lack the joy of the Lord in our heart, we pursue the dissipation of earthly pleasures and worldly affinities. Click To Tweet

Jesus warned his followers to stay awake at all times (v.36). Paul alerted the believers in Rome to “wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). God doesn’t want the cares of this life weighing us down with distracting heaviness—He wants us alive! He wants us filled with the joy of the Lord. He wants us to be like the five wise virgins who had oil in their lamps—burning with expectancy in their hearts at the coming of the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13).

Jesus wants our hearts seduced with only one passion—the ravishing charm and gratifying allurement of his coming kingdom. This is what it means to be ready for His imminent return—on our toes for what He is up to in this season of our lives.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, help us to have your lamp burning in our souls. In the field of everyday life, may we be found in a position of readiness and alertness for how your kingdom is breaking through in our world. May our joy be fulfilled in being fully alive in our fellowship with you, and our hearts filled with expectancy at your coming. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

    1. When have you ever been caught off guard by something?
    2. What signs will usher in the end of the age (Luke 21:23-26)?
    3. Why do you think Christ’s return has been likened to a “thief in the night” (Matthew 24:43, 1 Thessalonians 5:2)?
    4. Why do you think Jesus revealed to us these prophecies about the last days?
    5. In what way can you align your heart with the kingdom of God this week—so that your heart will not be weighed down by the cares of this life?

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Has The Prime of Life Passed You By?

Text: Job 29:1-25, Psalm 56:8-13

“I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent.” —Job 29:4

The word “prime” has many connotations. It can speak of that which is the principal thing or foremost importance, as in prime concern. It can refer to that which is of the highest quality, as in prime beef or prime real estate. It is also used to describe a state or time of greatest strength, vigor, or success in a person’s life, such as the range of seasons that an athlete may perform at his or her highest level of potential.

Every time I play basketball with the younger guys, my body has a painfully nagging way of reminding me that my prime on the court has long passed!

In today’s text, Job laments that the prime of life seems to have passed him by—a time when the friendship of God—His intimacy and blessing—had been strong upon his life (v.4). It was a season when “the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were all around me” (v.5). It was a season when Job elicited favor in his relationships with people (vv.6-11), a time of godly influence with the poor and needy (vv.12-17), and years spent in fruitfulness of service to others (vv.19-20)—a time before his “prosperity passed away like a cloud” (Job 30:15).

“I was in my prime,” Job reminisced, but now those days looked like frayed pages in an old and worn out history book.

Job’s deepest regret is in the feeling that, in some way, and for some unknown reason, God no longer “watched over” him. He recalls a time when it seemed that God was for him rather than against him—longing not only for the days before he lost his children and health and wealth, but especially the days before he lost his sense of God’s closeness. The once familiar “lamp” of God had given way to spiritual darkness—a crisis of the soul.

If only Job knew in chapters 29-30 how God will show up in chapters 38-42, his song might sound a bit different. He will eventually see that His Redeemer lives—that though it has been many dark nights of the soul, the God of his prime hasn’t abandoned him, but has faithfully “bottled up” every one of Job’s tears and is indeed still very much for him (Psalm 56:8-9).

Too often people give up because they think their greatest days are behind them. The God of their prime seems to have moved on to more successful people or to the next generation. Yet one of the beauties of the Bible is that it is a book that reminds us that every chapter matters to God—not just those chapters about victories, successes, and redemption, but also those seasons of loss, pain, and brokenness. The Bible doesn’t hold back, it never covers up the seasons of darkness. Rather, it speaks of God’s faithfulness in every season of our lives—from the vigor of youthfulness to the maturity of agedness.

God isn’t interested in merely creating a highlight reel of your life, edited only to show those glamorous shots (the kind of stuff we like to fill our social media profiles with!). He’s up to something much bigger. He’s writing a redemption story that includes all of your deepest struggles and darkest moments. He’s even bottling up every tear for something only He knows—because He understands in His infinite wisdom that your highlight reel doesn’t do anything for this broken world, but your full and unfiltered redemption story does.

God is still writing your story, Beloved. And whatever season you find yourself in at this moment, it has great importance to the final and unabridged version. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, help us to remember that with you there is no prime season in life—every season is equally important. The ups and downs, the highs and lows, the blessing and the bleeding—‘tis all part of a larger and unfiltered redemption story. Help us to sing and worship as a people who understand you are so much bigger than a mere highlight reel. You are worthy—in every chapter, in every valley, and on every mountaintop—of our highest praise. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. If you had to choose a season as “the prime of your life,” what would it be and how would you describe that season?
  2. If you knew how Job’s story came to fruition at the end of the book, and you found yourself as one of his friends in chapters 29 and 30 with this knowledge, what would you say to him?
  3. When have you felt the closest to God? What does friendship with God mean to you?
  4. Have you ever had a crisis of the soul like that of Job’s profound sense of darkness in these chapters? Explain.
  5. Knowing that God isn’t only interested in the highlight reel of your life, what does that evoke in you? What do you think God is looking for the most right now in your life?

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