We Must Finish Strong and Not Coast Our Way into Heaven

How we start doesn’t matter, because what counts is how we finish

We Must Finish Strong and Not Coast Our Way into HeavenPaul writes to the Philippian church to encourage them. He shares his personal ambition in hopes they’ll do what he does. He says he pushes himself to reach a goal and to win a prize, an eternal reward.

In another place Paul talks about running a race. He runs with intention. He runs to win (1 Corinthians 9:22-26). So should we.

This idea of pressing onward to win a reward is a call to finish strong. We should strive to move forward, to pursue Jesus until the very end of our lives. Though we may retire from work, we should never retire from Jesus. The goal is not to slide into heaven by the smallest of margins but to be ushered in triumphantly because we won our race.

Some people decide to follow Jesus and think they’re all set, that they don’t need to do anything more to hold onto him. They assume they’re in and wrongly conclude they can do whatever they want the rest of their life, because as far as eternity is concerned, their actions don’t matter. They think they’re all set.

They’re also wrong. Jesus doesn’t want us to coast our way into heaven. He wants us to pursue our faith as though it is the only thing that matters, because it is.When we follow Jesus, we press on toward a goal to win a prize. Click To Tweet

When Jesus calls us to follow him, he calls us to a lifetime of following him. When we follow him, we press on toward a goal to win a prize. We can’t lose sight of that. We must finish strong. We must finish our lives strong, for us and for Jesus.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Philippians 3, and today’s post is on Philippians 3:14.]

Speak Truth in Love

Being both honest and kind is how we grow in our faith and mature through Jesus

Speak truth in love.When Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, he tells them to speak what is true with love. This should be our guide in all that we say. While this makes sense, it’s harder to put into practice.

Truth: This phrase, to speak truth in love, starts with a call for honesty. As the saying goes, “Honesty is the best policy.” Better still, the Bible commands us not to lie (Leviticus 19:11).

Yet how often do we tell a tiny fib to protect someone’s feelings? Is this okay? How often do we tell someone an untruth because it is expedient? Or maybe we lie to avoid a confrontation or having a difficult conversation.

While some of these issues may be shades of gray, others are black-and-white. The point is Paul tells us to speak truth.

Love: The guiding principle in how we express ourselves honestly is love. Love should temper what we say and how we say it. We want our words to help and not to hurt. Love is the framework for truth telling.

Yet sometimes out of a desire to love, we hide the truth. We obscure what is real because it is the easier path to take. This is a show of love, but it’s outcome isn’t truth.

We need to speak what is true and to do so with a loving attitude.We need to speak what is true and to do so with a loving attitude. Click To Tweet

Grow: Though speaking the truth in love feels like wise advice, it’s not always the easiest path to take. Being both honest and loving at the same time can be a challenging thing to do. But we must persist in this effort.

When we speak the truth in love, Paul tells us that we will grow in our faith and develop maturity as the group of people—the church—who follow Jesus.

That’s why speaking truth in love is so important. We do it for Jesus.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Ephesians 4, and today’s post is on Ephesians 4:15.]

The Bible Offers Us Hope for the Future

Because of God we can anticipate a better tomorrow

The Bible gives us hope.There are many reasons why I love the Bible, in fact I list thirteen. One of those reasons is hope (Psalm 119:74). The Bible is filled with hope. It’s mentioned 180 times in both the Old and New Testaments.

Hope in the Old Testament: The word hope appears ninety-seven times in the Old Testament, in sixteen of the thirty-nine books. Interestingly, the word hope isn’t found in the first seven books of the Bible. Psalms, however, is filled with hope, thirty-four times (such as Psalm 9:18). Job comes in second place with eighteen mentions (Job 13:15, for example). Much of the hope that appears in the Old Testament occurs in the writings of the prophets, who look forward in hopeful expectation to a better future (consider Isaiah 40:31).

Hope in the New Testament: Hope appears eighty-three times in the New Testament and pops up in twenty-four of the twenty-seven books (consider Romans 5:2). Interestingly, in the five books written by John—who writes extensively about love—hope only pops up once, in his gospel. The final book of the Bible, Revelation, doesn’t mention hope directly. However, the book winds down looking at a glorious future with a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). That’s something to hope for.The book of Revelation ends looking at a glorious future with a new heaven and a new earth. Click To Tweet

Hope in Our Present World: Some of the times hope is mentioned in the Bible, it anticipates a better tomorrow in our physical world: a hope for provision, a hope for deliverance, and a hope for protection, to name a few (check out Psalm 37:9). When we place our trust in God, we can be filled with hope that he will take care of us throughout our life.

Hope in Our Future Reality: In other places when the Bible mentions hope, it’s a perspective that transcends our physical realm (such as Acts 23:6). It’s hope in a spiritual eternity with God; it’s the hope of heaven. This anticipates an existence with no pain, sorrow, or disappointment. Some might call it paradise and others, Eden reborn. In this future reality, we will commune with God. We will worship him, serve him, and just hang out.

Some people follow God for the hope he gives them for a better tomorrow in this world. And that may be enough. Other people pursue God for the hope he gives them for a better tomorrow in the afterlife. And that is another reward.

The Bible is filled with hope, and it fills us with hope: hope in God for tomorrow and beyond.

What’s the Only Thing That Counts?

Paul tells us that faith and love is what matters most

What’s the Only Thing That Counts?In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he opens chapter five with a discussion about freedom and slavery, about following the law and not following the law. He says that in Jesus these things have no value.

His explanation of this is a bit confusing. It’s a passage we need to go back and reread to try to understand what this prolific biblical writer is trying to tell us. But if we don’t quite grasp it, that’s okay. He summarizes his point in one succinct line: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6, NIV).

The only thing that counts is love expressed through faith.

Think about it.

May we use our faith to express our love to others. It’s the only thing that counts. Click To Tweet

Faith is the starting point. We have faith in God the father through Jesus the son as revealed by God’s Holy Spirit. We have faith that God lives in us and is through us. We have faith that a better tomorrow awaits us, both in this world and in the next. We have faith that God is with us in all circumstances and at all times, that he answers our prayers aligned with his sovereign wisdom.

But faith alone fall short. James tells us that faith without action is dead (James 2:17). While action could mean many things, let’s go back to Paul. He says that through our faith we are to express love. That’s what matters.

If faith is the starting point of the one thing that counts, love expressed is the outcome. Love is a confusing word in today’s modern society, covering the full gamut of emotions from preference to passion. But to understand the kind of love that Paul is talking about, we should go back to the Bible, we should go back to the words of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. He starts out by saying, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4, NIV).

He ends his explanation of love with these words, “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Did you catch this? In Paul’s trio of traits, he starts with faith, and he ends with love. Hope is what connects the two.

May we use our faith to express our love to others. It’s the only thing that counts. Paul says so.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Galatians 5, and today’s post is on Galatians 5:6.]

 

Jesus Calls Us To Serve With Humility

Living a life for Jesus is living contrary to our culture

Jesus often warns his followers to not be hypocrites. As an example of who not to emulate, he usually singles out the religious leaders. This is a sobering thought for anyone on a church staff or who has a following of spiritual seekers. Don’t be a hypocrite!

Apparently Jesus realizes how easy it is for religious leaders to succumb to hypocrisy. In their zeal to pursue God and guide their people, they often give instructions that they themselves cannot or will not follow. Their words don’t align with their actions. They’re hypocritical. This was as real in Jesus’s time as it is for us today.

While it’s easy to see hypocrisy in others, it’s more difficult to see it in ourselves. Surely this warning against being hypocritical applies to others and not us. We would never act like that. Yet as soon as we think this, we should probably receive it as a sign to examine ourselves with great care.

Jesus ends one of his teachings against hypocrisy with two confounding statements:

To Be Great, We Must Serve: When we think of leadership in our world today, we seldom think about service. In fact, our common view of great people is that they expect others to serve them. This is backwards for Jesus. He says when we serve others, then we will become great. But this doesn’t necessarily mean we become great in our world, but we will become great in his. Which is more important?Jesus says when we serve others, then we will become great. Click To Tweet

To Be Exalted, We Must Be Humble: Next Jesus warns that people who try to promote themselves, that is to elevate themselves, will end up being embarrassed. They will be humiliated. Ultimately, the person who takes on true humility will in the end be exalted. Though this sometimes occurs in our world today, it will most certainly happen in our future spiritual reality with Jesus.

In these verses we see a clear call from Jesus to serve with humility. We must grasp this concept. Then we must do it. A failure to do so may be a form of hypocrisy. But when we serve with humility, we point the world to him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 23, and today’s post is on Matthew 23:11-12.]

Do We Take Ourselves Too Seriously?

Jesus calls us to change and become like little children

Matthew tells the story about Jesus asking his disciples, “Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” The disciples don’t answer. Either they don’t know or they’re afraid to attempt an answer, for fear they might be wrong.

Jesus takes a child and places this youngster before his followers. Then he tells them, “You won’t get into the kingdom of heaven unless you change and become like a kid.”

Change: The first requirement to enter God’s kingdom is to change. Another word for this is repent. Think of this as making a U-turn. To turn our lives around and follow Jesus. This change may involve our attitude, our priorities, or our actions. Maybe all three. We need to change and follow Jesus.

Become Like Children: Once we change, Jesus tells us to become like children. What does this mean? I don’t think Jesus is giving us permission to act childish. That would be an excuse for irresponsibility. Instead it may be a call for a childlike faith. Little children are so trusting. They believe in their parents unconditionally, who they know will take care of them. These parents want the best for their kids and will do anything for them. These kids know that. Jesus wants us to look at him the same way, as children with unwavering trust.

The Outcome: When we change and become like children, following Jesus with a childlike faith, three things occur:

1) Enter the Kingdom of Heaven: Consider the kingdom of heaven as both a present reality and a future hope, an eternal destination. When we repent and follow Jesus like a child, the kingdom of heaven is the inevitable result.When we repent and follow Jesus like a child, the kingdom of heaven is the result. Click To Tweet

2) Become Great: When we assume this lowly position as a child, Jesus says we will become the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

3) Welcome Jesus: Furthermore, if we welcome a child in Jesus’s name, we welcome him. Think of the things we would do for Jesus if he were suddenly standing in front of us. Now we need to go do that for his kids.

As adults we sometimes take ourselves too seriously. Perhaps we do this most of the time. Jesus’s call to change and become like children may be a call for us to loosen up and love him with unabashed passion, just as small kids love their parents.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 18, and today’s post is on Matthew 18:1-5.]

We Should Live Our Lives to Influence Others

Like yeast in a lump of dough, a little bit makes a big difference

Influence others for Jesus.In the thirteenth chapter of the book of Matthew, we read many parables of Jesus. This includes the parable of the sower, the parable of the weeds, the parable of the hidden treasure, the parable of the pearl, the parable of the net, the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of yeast.

The parable of the yeast is the shortest of them all, only one verse long. In comparison it seems insignificant and the point, easy to miss.

Part of the problem is that few people today know much about making bread. To make bread we mix several ingredients together. A key component in the recipe is yeast, sometimes called leaven. Without yeast, the dough wouldn’t rise, the result would be more like a crunchy cracker then a fluffy piece of bread. A little bit of yeast makes all the difference.When we follow Jesus, he lives in us and Holy Spirit power is available to us. Click To Tweet

Jesus wants us to remember this. We may see ourselves as yeast, perhaps small and seemingly insignificant, yet powerful in how we influence the world around us.

When we have Jesus in us, a little bit goes a long way.

Yet does it?

When we follow Jesus, he lives in us and Holy Spirit power is available to us. But do we use that to help others and impact our world? That’s what happens when the yeast of our lives is worked through the dough that surrounds us.

May we remember that we are yeast and our purpose is to affect the world for Jesus.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 13, and today’s post is on Matthew 13:33.]

How Do We Respond to Jesus?

We should show our gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us

Live for JesusThe Bible records many things Jesus did when he was here on earth. A reoccurring action is Jesus healing people from their physical and spiritual maladies. Matthew 8 records several of these instances, and we will focus on one of them.

Jesus goes to Peter’s house; his mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. (Note the reference to Peter’s mother-in-law. This tells us Peter was married.) Though we may not think too much about a fever today, this illness was bad enough to keep this woman in bed. She wasn’t merely resting, waiting to get better. She was incapacitated and not able to do anything. The situation was serious.

Jesus walks up to the bed and touches her hand. When he does her fever leaves her body. The next phrase is curious. It says she gets up to wait on him.

The cynic might say that Jesus healed her with selfish intentions, that he made her well only so she could take care of him, likely preparing some food for him to eat. Though this is a humorous thought and one many women likely nod their head in agreement with and might make men snicker, this misses the point.

Instead, I see Peter’s mother-in-law taking care of Jesus as a response to show her gratitude to him for what he did to make her better. Her example is one for us to follow.What do we do to show our gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us? Click To Tweet

Jesus has done so much for us. What do we do to show our gratitude to him?

It’s too easy for us to move from day-to-day and take Jesus’s work in our lives for granted, to not bother to show him our appreciation.

Jesus saved us, forgave us, and restored us to right relationship with his father. Plus, Jesus loves us, teaches us about God, and shows us how to live.

For all Jesus has done, what should our response be? What can we do to show Jesus how much we appreciate him?

Perhaps we should live for him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 8, and today’s post is on Matthew 8:14-15.]

Two Kinds of Baptism

John baptizes with water and Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit

Jesus’s baptism is with the Holy Spirit and fire.The third chapter in the book of Matthew focuses on John the Baptist and makes the transition to Jesus, the star of the rest of the book. This chapter also contains some teaching from John. He quotes Isaiah and calls for the Jewish people to repent.

Then he tells us some information about himself in contrast to Jesus. He says Jesus is more powerful than he, and that he’s not even worthy to carry Jesus’s shoes (Matthew 3:11). Later on Matthew quotes Jesus as he talks about John. Jesus says no man has ever lived who is greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11). When we combine these two verses, we see John the Baptist as the most important man ever, yet he is nothing compared to Jesus.

Reading that John isn’t worthy to carry Jesus’s shoes has always grabbed my attention. However, this causes me to miss something more significant in this verse.

John says he is baptizing people with water to signify the repentance, that is, their sorrow for the wrongs they have done and their commitment to turn things around and make a fresh start. Many churches treat baptism this way. This isn’t bad, but they could do better.John the Baptist says Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Click To Tweet

This is because John talks about a second type of baptism, the baptism from Jesus. John says Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. We later see the Holy Spirit connected with fire, tongues of fire, in Acts 2:3–4, the baptism from Jesus.

Jesus’s baptism is a Holy Spirit baptism. Too many churches miss this in their sacrament of baptism. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s easier and less confronting to focus on the baptism of John the Baptist instead of the more confusing, risky, and powerful Holy Spirit baptism from Jesus.

It’s time we give more attention to Jesus’s Holy Spirit baptism and consider what it means to the way we understand our faith and apply it to our lives.

When we baptize people, we must baptize them with Holy Spirit fire.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 3, and today’s post is on Matthew 3:11.]

Don’t Speak About Things You Don’t Understand

False teachers slander what they don’t understand, and they will be destroyed

Don’t Speak About Things You Don’t UnderstandOver the years I’ve heard many ministers talk about things they didn’t understand. Not biblical or spiritual things, but worldly things. Out of ignorance they condemn certain people for their actions, slandering them in the process.

This is why the world doesn’t understand Jesus and his church. This is why the world thinks Jesus hates them. Though he doesn’t, the words people say when they talk about things they don’t understand sends the wrong message that Jesus has something against humanity.

In Peter’s second letter he talks about these ministers and those who parrot their uninformed views. Peter explains that these teachers who slander what they don’t understand are false teachers. They’re irrational like wild animals. They’re creatures operating under instinct, void of intelligent thought. What is the outcome of these false preachers who speak of what they don’t understand? Peter makes it clear. They’ll be destroyed (2 Peter 2:12).

Jesus is all about love. Jesus loves everyone, especially those on the outside, the people on the fringes of society who religious folks reject.Many people, who claim to represent Jesus, speak out of ignorance about those outside the church. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately too many people who claim to represent Jesus, often the ministers of his churches, speak out of ignorance about those outside the church. These false teachers cause the church to reject those in the world and condemn them, even though this isn’t what Jesus wants.

We should reject these false teachers. We should ignore what they say and disassociate ourselves from them. These false teachers will be destroyed. Peter says so.

Instead we need to align ourselves with Jesus and the love he offers to everyone. When we do this, our love will point them to him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 2 Peter 2, and today’s post is on 2 Peter 2:12.]