Conquer Anxiety by Faith in Future Grace


Some people have a life verse. I have a life paragraph. It’s Matthew 6.24-34. Here’s why.

My wife and I were married in July 1981, and knowing I would enter seminary in September, we stayed with friends while we looked for an affordable apartment for us and a job for Jill (We had decided I would be a full-time student for the first semester and look for a part-time job in the Spring.) After three full days with no success, we were tired and perplexed, discouraged and anxious. Apartments were 4 to 5 times more expensive than the ones Jill and I shared with roommates in Brooklyn. Jill left her resume with several dental offices in the area. None called back.

Tired from a long, long day, my wife went to bed early. I reassured her that the Lord would provide. “Everything will be okay,” I said and left the room so she could go to sleep. I went into the living room to pray. “Lord,” I prayed, “I’ve encouraged my wife, now You need to encourage me because I don’t know see how this is going to work out.” Then I did something I never did before, and haven’t done since (and something I don’t recommend, but I was a young believer and God was very gracious.) I took my Bible, set it on its spine and let it fall open. It opened to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6 verses 24-34.

I did not realize it then, but that night God began to teach me how to live by faith in future grace. The phrase, future grace, may not be familiar to you, so let me explain what it means and why I use it. Future Grace is the title of a book written by John Piper. He defines future grace as follows:

  • To live by faith in future grace means exercising a robust trust in God’s promises to reward those who trust in Jesus by practicing what preaches.
  • The future of future grace refers to God’s promises flowing into your life from the future with the result being that for as long as we live, our trust in God’s promise is revealed by treasuring up treasures in heaven.
  • The grace of future grace refers both to God’s unearned and undeserved favor, as well as His power at work in our lives to make good things happen in us and for us.

In a sermon about future grace, Piper describe what it looks like with the following illustration:

Imagine a river. The water in this river, which is flowing toward you with great power, is the grace of God. It’s coming from the future and as it flows into your life, it falls over the waterfall of the present – this is present grace – into a reservoir called past grace. This means past grace reservoir is growing bigger every day, bigger every minute. The more God’s future grace flows over the waterfall of the present into past grace reservoir the more there is to thank God for every minute of your life than you did before. The right response of the heart towards past grace is thankfulness. The right response towards future grace is faith.

 Says Piper,

“God’s grace is ever cascading over the waterfall of the present from the inexhaustible river of grace coming to us from the future into the ever-increasing reservoir of grace in the past. In the next five minutes, you will receive sustaining grace flowing to you from the future, and you will accumulate another five minutes’ worth of grace in the reservoir of the past. Therefore this grace which moves in power from God to you at a point in time is both past and future. It has already done something for you or in you and therefore is past. And it is about to do something in you and for you, and so it is future — both five seconds away and five million years away.”

So what does this have to do with Matthew 6.24-34? Everything. The more I study the Sermon on the Mount, the more I realize that everything Jesus says after the Disciples’ Prayer is an exposition of how we must live in light of that prayer. In fact, the point of the Sermon on the Mount is to stress the impossibility of practicing what Jesus preaches apart from faith in future grace. Therefore ….

  • Without faith in future grace we will not serve God exclusively.
  • Without faith in future grace we will not conquer anxiety when and how God will give us our daily bread.
  • Without faith in future grace we will not seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
  • Without faith in future grace we will not trust God when He says that if we seek His kingdom and His righteousness “all these things will be added to you.”

I don’t remember the prayer I prayed that night in our friend’s living room. I do remember getting a good night’s sleep. By the end of the next day, we still hadn’t found an apartment. Jill still hadn’t found a job. That evening, just after 6pm the phone rang. It was for Jill. It was a local dentist. The dental assistant he’d hired turned down the job because she did not want to commute so far to work. He asked Jill to come to his office at 6pm the next day for an interview. The next evening, I waited in the car and prayed for Jill to do well. Almost an hour and half later, Jill came out to the car. “Well? How did it go?” I asked.

Her face lit up with a big smile and there was sunshine in her voice. “I start a week from Monday!”

“Great!” I said, “Now all we need is a place to live.”

As it happens, the very next day, the Lord provided! We found an apartment about three miles from campus and a short drive to the dental office. It was tiny—two-and-a-half rooms, but the rent, which included utilities, was affordable

Everyone who follows Jesus has a similar story; a defining moment when at the point of great need, we discover we have a great and generous God—a Father in heaven who sees in secret, and who knows what we need before we ask. It is because we have a Father in heaven that Jesus commands us not to be anxious about our life, or about what we will eat, or drink, or wear. It is because our Father promises to provide that we can conquer anxiety by faith in future grace.

You think about that.

All That is Not Eternal: A Summary of the Four Loves

[Ed. note: the following excerpt is adapted from The Four Loves: C.S. Lewis’s Theology of Love. The entire essay can be found in C.S. Lewis, Life, Works, and Legacy, Vol. 4 edited by Bruce L. Edwards, (Praeger Publishers, Wesport, CT, © 2007). The excerpt is the conclusion of my analysis of Lewis’ work, The Four Loves, (Orlando, FL, Harcourt Brace & Company © 1960)]

Anyone who reads C.S. Lewis should come prepared to think, to reason and to learn. This is especially true for those who know him primarily through reading his fiction. As an author of non-fiction Lewis is a demanding writer. Those who are muscular enough to stay with him will be rewarded. He may be demanding, but he is not disrespectful. If reading Lewis can be compared to the hikes which he loved famously, then the reader must be prepared for Lewis to outpace even the most erstwhile of hikers. The good news is a book allows you the leisure to catch your breath. In time, if you can catch up with and stay with him stride for stride, you will develop the necessary mental stamina to think, to reason and to learn.

I can attest to the benefits gained from this form of literary and mental aerobics. Quite honestly, The Four Loves is not easily “hiked” through in one reading. Neither is it easily hiked through after a second or third reading. The particular edition which I read to write this essay is now nearly illegible — so full are its pages with underlines, notes and various other diacritical marks; all the result of many hours spent reading the text. I was asked to read The Four Loves and to offer comment using pastoral insight. This being the case, let us move to the task at hand.

One wishes Lewis had written more clearly at times, but the harder the hike the greater the benefit gained from the exercise. In making his readers think more Lewis trains them in the art of following his argument – even when he digresses. Even so, Lewis’ worst digressions are still better than most authors clearly and cogently stated theme.

Those familiar with The Four Loves know it is more a philosophical than a theological treatise about love. This does not mean it does not have theological merit. It does. The natural loves permeate our culture just as they did in biblical times, just as they did in Lewis’s day. It is remarkable and a testament to Lewis’ skill as a writer that what he says—even though it was written in 1960— The Four Loves still speaks with a contemporary and trenchant relevance. Although it can be difficult to follow the line of Lewis’s argument, the careful reader, the one who takes his or her time to cogitate the text, will find great reward in great thought.

Trained as a preacher to find a unifying theme, or big idea, present in a biblical text, I attempted to do this with The Four Loves. The premise by which Lewis wrote The Four Loves is best summed up in the oft quoted statement, “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.”[i] This statement, often taken out of context, applies first to the natural loves before it applies to anything else.

The natural loves are Affection, Friendship, and Eros. Included among these are also the Likings and Loves for the Sub-Human. Since the natural loves are natural they are not eternal. Hence they are eternally out of date. They are destined for decay unless they are transformed into becoming modes of Charity.

Separated from Charity the natural loves promise what they cannot deliver. They create a desire which they cannot ultimately satisfy. When the natural loves are pursued apart from Charity, the Love which is Eternal, the pursuit is for that which is eternally out of date. Borrowing from his knowledge of mythology Lewis compares the natural loves to gods run amok. When the gods run amok they meddle in human affairs unconcerned about the consequences brought about by their intrusion into human affairs.

Thus, when Affection, Friendship, and Eros become gods they become demons. Although there is too much of the mortal in them, they contain just enough of the divine which allows them to masquerade as gods. Not to bless, but to tempt, deceive and mislead into ruin.

In contrast, Charity is unnatural and therefore is, in the best sense, inhuman. Charity is love that is not of this earth. Charity comes to us from God in Heaven. Charity is the Divine Agape which intrudes into our existence for the sole purpose of making us aware that the longings, the cravings created by the natural loves can be satisfied, but not by any love that is natural. To bolster his argument, Lewis quotes Augustine’s maxim, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our heart has no rest till it comes to Thee.”[ii]

The Four Loves is a philosophical proof of the inadequacy of the natural loves to bring us near to God. Only Charity can do that. It was not Affection, not Friendship, and not Eros that John says motivated God to send His Son to earth to die. It was Love. It was Charity (Agape). Here it is wise to let Lewis have the last word.

“I have included two Graces under the word Charity. But God can give a third. He can awake in a man, towards Himself, a supernatural Appreciative love. This is of all gifts most to be desired. Here, not in our natural loves, nor even in ethics, lies the true centre of all human and angelic life. With this all things are possible.”[iii]

You think about that.

[i] Ibid., 137.

[ii] Ibid., 138.

[iii] Ibid., 140.

The Beatitudes Drive Us to the Cross


One of the most influential books written about the preparation and delivery of sermons is Biblical Preaching by Haddon W. Robinson. In the chapter titled, Start with a Bang and Quit All Over, he describes the characteristics of an effective introduction. According to Robinson:

  1. An effective introduction commands the attention of the audience.
  2. An effective introduction uncovers needs.
  3. An effective introduction introduces the body of the sermon.


The application of Robinson’s criteria to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount would reveal that Jesus commanded the attention of His audience with an action: He sat down. This is the posture of rabbi about to teach in the synagogue. Having sat down to teach, Jesus deftly uncovers the true needs of His audience, as well as introducing the body of the Sermon on the Mount.

Prior to delivering the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had begun His preaching ministry with a terse yet arresting declaration: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom of heaven is here in the Person and work of Jesus.  Those who want to follow Him must learn the difference between what they think they need, and what Jesus knows they need. Since Jesus came to make disciples, not attract an entourage, the paint a picture of what life as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven looks like. The Beatitudes are the fundamental qualities belonging to anyone who practices what Jesus preaches.

The Beatitudes describe what a Christian is before describing what a Christian does. They define Christian character before they define Christian conductfor all Christians. Thus, it would miss the mark to interpret the Beatitudes as Jesus saying, “There are some Christians are pure in heart while others mourn,” or “There are some Christians are meek while others hunger and thirst for righteousness,” or “There are some Christians are merciful while others are pure in heart,” or “There are some Christians are peacemakers while others are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” No. ALL Christians are to have and to practice ALL the qualities listed in the Beatitudes.

We would be equally off target to believe the Beatitudes are limited to an elite sub-group of the spiritually mature within the Church. Once again: ALL Christians are to have and to practice ALL the qualities listed in the Beatitudes. Every follower of Jesus must, at some point, demonstrate every one of the qualities mentioned by Jesus in the Beatitudes.

But right away we have a problem. None of us is born with any of the qualities listed in the Beatitudes. They are not included in our DNA. Every quality listed in the beatitudes is a gift of God’s grace through the help of His Holy Spirit. Additionally, the presence and the practice of the Beatitudes separates those who merely follow Jesus from those who follow Him sincerely. Those who follow Jesus sincerely have experienced a spiritual rebirth by declaring their trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. The moment you and I put your trust in Jesus, we become citizens of the kingdom of heaven. This means we live in this world as resident aliens. We may have born as a citizen of the United States, or some other country, but through faith in Christ we have been born again and now, as the apostle Paul says, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 3.20). Since our citizenship is in heaven, our lives should reflect the values of our true homeland. How? By practicing ALL the qualities listed in the Beatitudes as they are given to us by God’s grace. But wait! There’s more! In addition to blessing us by giving us the Beatitudes, God promises to bless us when we practice them.

Why else would Jesus say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” or “Blessed are those who mourn”? While some translations prefer Happy to Blessed, the better translation is Blessed. Generally speaking, people who are blessed also tend to be happy. Besides, happiness is a subjective state; how we feel. Happiness comes and goes. Jesus is not talking about how we should feel when we practice the Beatitudes. He is talking about what we are in God’s eyes when we practice the Beatitudes. We are blessed!

What does it mean to be blessed? Simply put, to be blessed means to be approved, or favored by God. When we bless God, we are approving and praising Him. When God, by His grace, blesses us, He is showing us favor by approving us. There is no greater source of happiness then to be blessed by God.


Each of the Beatitudes ends with a description of the blessing received. Just as the eight beatitudes describe every Christian, so the eight blessings are given to every Christian. Each of the eight qualities described in the Beatitudes represent the responsibilities, while each of the eight blessings represent the benefits, of being a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

Now someone may ask, “Are these blessings present or future?” The best answer is, “Both.” The kingdom of heaven is both a present reality and a future certainty.

Another may ask, “Do the beatitudes teach that we can be saved by our own merit and good works?” No, because this would contradict what the Bible teaches, namely, that we are justified or, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Besides, the Beatitudes do not teach us how to confess faith in Jesus. Moreover, no one can truly practice what Jesus preaches unless they have confessed faith in Him. The Beatitudes describe the blessings which God bestows as a gift of grace upon those to whom He has given these qualities. They are not rewards earned based on our merit and good works.

Some scholars describe the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus introducing a new law. They base this on the fact that, in the OT, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments along with a host of other rules Israel was given to follow. On one hand, the Law was good news in that it clearly spelled out what God expected of His people with respect to living a holy and godly lifestyle. On the other hand, the Law was bad news because, despite clearly spelling what God expected with respect to living a holy and godly lifestyle, the Law was powerless to help a person practice the lifestyle God required. All the Law can do is point out their powerlessness to keep it. The Law can do nothing to help anyone obey it.

This was by design. According to God the Father’s plan for our salvation, the purpose of the Law is to point us to Jesus Christ. Where we broke the Law, Jesus, who is God the Son, obeyed it perfectly. His perfect obedience enabled Him to be the atoning sacrifice for sin. Jesus’ death on the cross enables us to be forgiven and thus saved from the wrath of God against our sin. The perfect life of Jesus makes it possible for us to made righteous, at the same time, His death on the cross as the perfect sacrifice makes it possible for us to be forgiven. God the Holy Spirit uses the Law to drive us to the cross of Christ. The Spirit helps confess our sin and declare our trust in Jesus as Savior. Once we have declared our trust in Jesus, the Holy Spirit continues to help us practice what Jesus preaches.

The Sermon on the Mount is similar to the Law in this respect: it shows the non-Christian that they cannot obey its teaching apart from the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit. The Sermon is meant to drive the non-Christian to the cross of Christ so they will declare their trust in Him. Once we have confessed faith in Christ, the Sermon on the Mount takes on a different function. It shows Christians how to live in order to please God. So, if the Sermon on the Mount sends us to Christ to be justified, Christ sends us back to the Sermon on the Mount in order to be blessed of God.

You think about that.

Where’s Jesus?

12698720_10153368895794071_1247567863398506829_o-1In the days before cell phones, the story is told about a grandfather who drove from New York City to visit his son’s family in Upstate New York. As he weaved his way through crowded New York City streets, jockeying for the best lane amid the holiday traffic, the old fellow could not shake the feeling he’d forgotten something at home.

Once outside city limits he pulled into a rest area. He had his wallet. He had his reading glasses. He opened the trunk. The presents and his luggage were all there. “Good,” he thought. Still as he got back in the car he could not shake the feeling he’d forgotten something. It was right on the tip of his tongue, like when you see a familiar face but you just can’t remember the name to go with it. Try as he might, he just couldn’t remember. So, he drove on.

Two hours later he pulled into the driveway of his son’s home. The feeling he’d forgotten something still nagged him. What was it that he’d left at home? It was only when his grandson greeted him did the man suddenly remember: “Hi, Grandpa!” said the young lad, “Where’s Grandma?”[1]

Given all the hustle and hurry of Christmas we might ask ourselves a similar question, “Where’s Jesus?” Sometimes as we rush around to get ready for Christmas it’s easy to forget we’re supposed to be preparing to celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. With all the busy-ness that accompanies our Advent and Christmas celebration, it may be difficult to slow down long enough to remember what the Bible says about the birth of Jesus. If that is true of you this Advent, listen again to what the Apostle John says about Jesus in the prologue of his gospel (from the ESV).

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  

 14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only begotten Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made him known.

Using words very similar to those found in Genesis 1, John begins his gospel with the declaration: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  As the eternal Son of God, Jesus is the Creator of all things. “All things were made through Him,” says John at the beginning of verse 3.  Only God can create and John makes it abundantly clear that all the attributes and characteristics of eternity, divinity, and creative power belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.  In declaring that Jesus was in the beginning with God, John is declaring Jesus is God. He is the eternal Word through Whom all things were made.

As if that isn’t enough, verse 3 ends with this astounding assertion: “and without Him [Jesus] was not anything made that was made. The New Testament bears witness to the truth that apart from Jesus nothing can exist. Speaking of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power,” (1.3). The apostle Paul makes a similar declaration in Colossians 1.17, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

Where’s Jesus this Christmas? He is at the center of everything we do, everything we know, everything we experience. If “in Him all things hold together,” then even when it seems as if our world is falling apart, it isn’t. Jesus is there to hold it all together for us. He is here to hold us together and to keep us from falling apart.

C.S. Lewis captures the essence of the incarnation as follows:

In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him.[2]

Christmas is about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, through Him all things were made and in Whom all things hold together. It may not need to be said, but I will say it anyway, Christmas is not a man-made holiday. Christmas is the celebration of a Spirit-inspired, God-generated historical fact; the joyful declaration of a divine event—God the Son became the man we know as Jesus Christ.

Christmas announces the Incarnation as an historical fact: God became Man in Christ so that from His fullness we might all receive grace upon grace. The incarnation is God sending forth His Son as the Good Shepherd to seek and to save that which is lost. It is about God sending Jesus as the Light of the World who gives life to all who confess faith in Him. It is about God sending Jesus to be the Savior of a rebellious humanity who offers Himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sin. The incarnation is about God sending Jesus as the Suffering Servant who serves us bread and wine; washes our feet; and ultimately to lay down His life as a sacrifice.

And this Jesus Christ is the Savior in whom we confess our faith for salvation as well as the Lord whom we worship. He is the Word through Whom all things were made and He loved creation so much He became flesh and dwelt among us.

You think about that and have a blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas!

[1] Clergy Talk, Dec. 98, p. 26

[2] C.S. Lewis, “The Grand Miracle,” Miracles, 111

Resolve to Live Fearlessly

img_2726On January 15, 1933, Germany was adrift in an ocean of fear and anxiety. The devastating effects of defeat from World War I, 14 years earlier, haunted peoples’ hearts and minds. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 shredded what was left of the struggling German economy. As the number of the unemployed rose to more than six million, the fledgling Weimar Republic, lacking strong leadership, struggled to maintain political and social stability. Fears of communism and extremism intensified the national anxiety. As the turmoil increased, many Germans—including German Christians—feared that the ship of state would sink in a whirlpool of social, political, and economic turbulence.

That same day, January 15, 1933, a young pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, preached a sermon entitled Overcoming Fear. He began his message with this haunting allegory:

“Let’s say there is a ship on the high sea, having a fierce struggle with the waves. The storm wind is blowing harder by the minute. The boat is small, tossed about like a toy; the sky is dark; the sailors’ strength is failing. Then one of them is gripped by . . . whom? what? . . . he cannot tell himself. But someone is there in the boat who wasn’t there before. . . . Suddenly he can no longer see or hear anything, can no longer row, a wave overwhelms him, and in final desperation he shrieks: Stranger in this boat, who are you? And the other answers, ‘I am Fear. . . . All hope is lost, Fear is in the boat.”

“Fear is in the boat, in Germany,” said Bonhoeffer, “[it’s] in our own lives and in the nave of this church—naked fear of an hour from now, of tomorrow and the day after.” He continued,

“[Fear,] hollows out [our] insides, until [our] resistance and strength are spent and [we] suddenly break down. Fear secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others, and when in a time of need that person reaches for those ties and clings to them, they break and the individual sinks back into himself or herself, helpless and despairing. Fear takes away a person’s humanity. This is not what the creature made by God looks like.”

Given the current social, political, and economic turbulence roiling through our nation, a similar fear haunts our national consciousness. Be it the fear of terrorism, the fear of losing our religious freedoms and values, or the fear of uncontrolled immigration, we are a nation adrift in an ocean of fear. Fear is in the boat. It’s in our own lives. That’s the bad news.

 Here’s the good news. We know Someone greater than Fear.

When we are confronted by fears greater than our strength, God gives us grace greater than our fears. He gives us grace in the form of an unwavering trust in His power to protect those who have put their trust in Jesus and the gospel.

When Fear invaded his life, the apostle Paul turned to Someone greater than Fear. This explains why he wrote with such resolve, lived with such abandon, and lived so fearlessly. We cannot prevent fear from invading our lives, but we can prevent it keeping us from trusting in Someone greater than Fear. When Fear invades our lives, we must resolve to trust God to give us grace greater than our fears.

Grace greater than my fears leads me to treasure Jesus Christ above life itself.

“… for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1.19-21

Should God answer the Philippians’ prayers for Paul’s deliverance, he fully expects to resume his ministry. Should God choose not to answer their prayers and Paul is executed, that too, he will find acceptable. Paul does not fear Death because he knows Jesus has defeated Death. From Paul’s perspective, at the same time Death causes a painful separation from loved ones, it is also the means by which God grants him the gain of his lifelong passion: to be with Christ.

Paul did not have a death wish, or that he was tired of life and simply wants to be done with earthly troubles and trials. On the contrary, it is the honest declaration of a man who is as certain of his future destiny as he is uncertain about the circumstances of his present situation.

 Paul treasures Christ above all things, therefore for him to fear Death would give it more power than it deserves. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Paul did not fear death because he learned to see everything, including Death, within the context of His relationship with Jesus Christ. The death of Christ caused the death of Death. By His resurrection, Jesus permanently removed the sting of Death. When He stood at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet he shall live,” (John 11.25). Paul believed Jesus is the resurrection and the life. So did the early church. This is what we believe. Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life. Therefore to live is Christ and to die is gain. Therefore I resolve to live fearlessly by treasuring Jesus above all things—even life itself.

When Fear is in the boat, it will tempt us to panic and despair. It will tempt us to believe survival is everything and death is the loss of all things. False. According to Paul, when Jesus rose from the dead, He not only defeated Death, He also gave us the means by which we can conquer Fear: He gave us Himself! Jesus is the guarantee of life beyond this life. He is the assurance of life after life after death. Jesus is our courage to live fearlessly in the here and now. Think of the line from Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” ~

Let goods and kindred go/This mortal life also

The body they may kill | God’s truth abideth still

Grace greater than my fears leads to an unwavering confidence in the life beyond this life.

“… our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Philippians 3.20-21

This life is not all there is. How we live now expresses the values, virtue, beauty and truth of our inherited homeland – as well as our King. The reality of life beyond this life gives me a firm foundation on which I can build my life as well as encourage others to do the same.

Fear challenges my hope in Jesus. The chief tactic of fear—what makes it so fearful – is its ability to distract my attention from the source of courage: the Lord Jesus Christ and the trust His Spirit inspires in the promises of God. Fear tempts us to abandon all hope/trust in the promises of God.

Fear turns my thoughts inward. Fear zeroes in on my weakness and vulnerability. Fear dredges up my past and mocks my trust in Jesus. Fear says, “You are powerless.” Fear ridicules my every vulnerability. It exploits my humanity; jeers at my frailty; and mocks my faults.

Faith, on the other hand, encourages me to fix my eyes unwaveringly upon Jesus. Faith encourages me to confess my sins. Faith finds no shame in vulnerability. In fact, faith encourages me to boast about my weakness, because, in Christ, when I am weak then I am strong. When I am vulnerable, the Lord is my Protector. When I am powerless, His strength is made perfect my powerlessness. Faith turns the tables on fear.

When Fear invades my life and tells me I am powerless to stop what’s coming; Faith reminds me I can do all things through Jesus Christ who gives me strength. The strength is His. The power is His. The courage is His.

When Fear stalks the soul with the predatory instinct of a skilled archer; Faith says, use me as a shield.

When Fear attacks my trust in future grace; Faith inspires me to trust in One greater than my fear.

Fear finds its strength in filling me with dread of what might happen.

Faith gives me strength by directing me to the One who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of a cross.

Fear sneers and says, “Think about all that could go wrong.”

Faith smiles back and calmly replies, “ … do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, … whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (cf., Philippians 4.8)

Today you and I will face fears greater than our strength. At the same time we will receive grace greater than all our fears. Let us resolve to live fearlessly by holding firmly to God’s promise of everlasting life through faith in Jesus Christ.

When we face fears greater than our strength, let us resolve to live fearlessly by trusting God to give us grace greater than my fears.

 You think about that.


Resolve to Live Faithfully

Generally speaking, faithfulness is a commitment to something greater than ourselves. When the Bible speaks about faithfulness it’s talking about a commitment to Someone greater than ourselves. Faithfulness is a lifelong commitment to following the Lord Jesus Christ. Whereas the source of our faithfulness to Jesus is the faithfulness of God, the faithfulness of God is motivated by His delight in His own glory. One way in which God delights in His glory is by having His Spirit make us more like Jesus. To paraphrase John Piper, the more satisfied we are by the faithfulness of God, the more He is glorified in us.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Paul’s instruction in Philippians 1.27-30, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” is a call to live faithfully by trusting in the faithfulness of God. It is a call to trust Jesus by trusting in the trustworthiness of God. Once again; the more satisfied we are by the faithfulness of God, the more He is glorified in us.

The more satisfied I am by the faithfulness of God the more faithfully I will follow Jesus—not partially, but as totally as I can—this side of eternity. I will never be perfect at living faithfully, but with the Spirit’s help, I can resolve to live faithfully by trusting in the faithfulness of God.

 To live faithfully we must be directed by the same kind of thinking as directed Jesus.

Referring to Jesus in Philippians 2.5, Paul writes, “…who though He was in the form of God, did not count (or, think) equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Since Jesus did not think equality with God something to be grasped, the fruit of His way of thinking was the ultimate act of selflessness and sacrifice. Paul’s command sounds impossible. How can our lives be directed by the same kind of thinking as directed Jesus? And yet, since neither Paul nor God is in the habit of giving impossible commands; the way forward is to focus on the kind of thinking which directed Jesus before focusing on the action He took as the result of such thinking.

This is exactly what Jesus meant when, referring to Himself, He said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10.10) The faithfulness of Jesus is revealed by His obedience to His Father’s plan.

So then, the thing to focus on is this: the obedience of Jesus is the fruit of a way of thinking which Paul commands us to adopt and apply. Jesus emptied Himself by becoming human and by becoming obedient. He humbled Himself by pouring out His life in an act of obedience motivated by an unwavering trust in the trustworthiness of God. In the same manner, we must resolve to live faithfully by trusting in the trustworthiness of God.

In order for my life to be directed by the same kind of thinking as directed Jesus, I must follow faithfully His example of selflessness and humility. It is no less than a lifelong commitment to Jesus’ call to discipleship in Mark 8.34-35 ~

“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s, will save it.”

Jesus lived faithfully by adopting a way of thinking which led Him to trust His heavenly Father with His very life. He trusted God to honor His obedience. Even more, He left to God the timing of that honor. Speaking of Jesus, Hebrews 5.8 says, “Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.”

It is worth remembering that the command, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” is given to the entire church, not isolated individuals. To follow Jesus faithfully requires following Him as part of a community of like-minded believers all committed to trusting in the trustworthiness of God.

When we live faithfully we contribute to the overall health of the church.

Paul wrote Philippians from prison. Since he did not when, or if, he would ever see them, he promised to send Timothy. In the meantime, he sent them another of his trusted confidantes, Epaphroditus. Notice how Paul describes the character of these men.

  • Timothy – 2.20-22

“For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.”

  • Epaphroditus – 2.25-28

“I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.”

We need people like Timothy and Epaphroditus in the church. Their value is their faithfulness to Jesus. Their lives were directed by the same kind of thinking as directed Jesus. Paul recognizes this and he commends them to the Philippians as servant-leaders.

The importance of Timothy and Epaphroditus to the church at Philippi becomes clear near the end of Paul’s letter. If you read Philippians carefully, one senses something is not quite right. There is a tension in the church. There is a public disagreement between Euodia and Syntche, two women who are prominent in the church. In all likelihood, Paul is sending Epaphroditus, and later Timothy, to help resolve the conflict. Some scholars think Luke, who authored the gospel bearing his name as well as the Book of Acts, is already present in Philippi and needs help leading the church toward reconciliation.

The Spirit-inspired cleverness of what Paul does here is this: by extolling the character of Timothy and Epaphroditus, he is putting Euodia and Syntyche as well as their compatriots on notice. These men are to be taken seriously and their leadership is to be respected. What they say, Paul says. Remember, Paul is an apostle. What he says, Jesus says.

Paul is sending Timothy and Epaphroditus because they can help the Philippians to stand firm in one Spirit, and with one mind so they can contend side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not be frightened in anything by their opponents. This requires unity. This requires everyone in the church making the same resolution: to live faithfully by trusting in the covenant-keeping character God.

Jesus is the supreme example of trusting in the covenant-keeping character of God. In the same way He trusted in the trustworthiness of God, so must we follow His example.

 To live faithfully means trusting God to supply our needs.

Paul wrote Philippians from prison. From prison! And yet he is convinced God will supply their every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

The only way a man in prison can have such trust in God’s faithfulness is because he has learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. The source of Paul’s faithfulness is the faithfulness of God in the person of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” Just as God enabled and empowered Jesus to endure the cross, scorning its shame, so too, God can enable and empower us to live faithfully by trusting in His faithfulness.

God supplied Paul with everything he needed. Paul assures the Philippians God will prove just as faithful to supply every need of theirs. God will finish what He started because He will supply everything we need to get us to the finish line.

And this is the key. None of us is born faithful. We must learn to trust God to supply every need of ours – starting with our greatest need: salvation. We must learn to live faithfully. Once we trust God for our salvation, we can begin to learn how to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. It comes down to making a resolution to live faithfully by trusting in the faithfulness of God.

The challenge is to trust God to define the need. Living faithfully means trusting God to supply our every need not our every want. We want many things, but we need very few. In 1 Timothy 6.8, Paul boiled it down to two things: if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

Faithful followers believe that should our need surpass the need for food and clothing, God will be faithful to supply every need of ours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To live faithfully is to trust in the faithfulness of God.

Over the years, I have kept a journal. From time to time I re-read previous entries to remind myself of God’s faithfulness, especially during seasons when He met my needs in ways I did not expect. Here is my Journal entry dated Thursday, 9 January 2014;

“My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

—Philippians 4.19a

I begin this day remembering that God is Yahweh Yireh. He is the God who provides. He is the Great I AM who will supply my every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Today I remember, “I can trust God in the present because of what He has already done for us in the past, which leads me to depend on Him for my future,” (Scott J. Hafemann).

As I look back over 2013, I remember with thanksgiving how God supplied my every need. We had food, clothing, shelter and income – all these were the fruit of His provision.

When I was vulnerable to doubt and questioned God’s willingness and ability to supply my every need, the Spirit reminded me of Paul’s words in Philippians 4.19 together with Hafemann’s maxim to inspire me to put my hope and trust in God’s promise of future grace. God will not leave us nor forsake us. God continues to provide/supply every need of mine notwithstanding my fear He will let me experience lack. So I must yield my anxious heart to His providing grace. I must speak to my soul and encourage trust/obedience in God and His provision. God is faithful. He will supply every need of mine. His promise is as sufficient as it is praiseworthy. Surplus is grace upon grace.

There are many reasons why God is faithful to supply every need of mine, but the two most fundamental reasons why are—

  1. to glorify His name
  2. to encourage me to a greater faithfulness to Him – the more satisfied I am in God the more glorified He is in me.

I resolve to live faithfully by trusting in the faithfulness of God.

 When we trust God to supply our need the Holy Spirit teaches us to live with the broader perspective of God’s point of view. And as the Spirit widens our gaze He helps us to look beyond the margins of our own heart, mind and soul. He focuses our attention on where God is at work. Although His hand is unseen, He is writing the script, constructing the background, and blocking each scene. God is in charge from top to bottom, start to finish, opening night to final performance. And He will supply our every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

You think about that.



Resolve to Live Repentantly

If you have ever been lost while driving and stopped to ask for directions you are familiar with repentance. When a man is driving and is lost, it takes humility for him to admit he’s lost. It takes even more humility for him to ask for directions. Humility is an essential ingredient of repentance. There is no shame in humbling yourself to ask for directions when you’re lost. There is no shame in repenting especially when repentance will start you heading in the right direction.

When the Bible talks about repentance it refers to a change of heart leading to a change of lifestyle. Repentance changes the direction of one’s life. Repentance requires humility. Until we follow Jesus we are going in the wrong direction—away from God. We are lost, but we do not know it. Our internal GPS is defective. We are lost, yet we put more trust in our sense of direction than in Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We are listening to our heart when we should be listening to God.

In order to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit must change our heart and renew our mind. The Spirit must help us turn away from our old way of life and turn toward God to begin a new way of life.

  • Repentance involves a radical transformation of thought, attitude, and lifestyle.
  • Repentance is the decisive act of turning away from sin and toward God. However, repentance is more than a one-time act.
  • Repentance is a lifestyle characterized by a lifelong obedience to Jesus Christ under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

The first step to living repentantly is to admit you are going in the wrong direction. The next step is to ask for directions so you can turn around and head down the right road. And the next step after that is to follow the new directions. We prove the sincerity of our repentance by how well we continue following these new directions so we can continue heading down the right road.

Repentance is possible because of what Jesus did for us by His life, death and resurrection. Because of Jesus we can become a new creation and live a new life. This new life is characterized by a new lifestyle: a lifelong obedience to Jesus Christ under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. To live repentantly means practicing what Jesus preaches everyday. I believe it was Tim Keller who made the observation that, based on his experience in pastoral ministry, there are two kinds of repentance: religious repentance and gospel repentance.

People who practice religious repentance believe they are saved by grace but kept by works. The goal is to keep God happy so He will continue being good to us and answer our prayers. Religious repentance draws attention to what we do for God. It is essentially self-focused, self-protective self-improvement layered with just enough spiritual vocabulary to make us look good. People who practice religious repentance believe God owes them for their good behavior. They present God with a spreadsheet of their religious activity expecting Him to reward them for their hard work and good behavior.

People who practice gospel repentance believe they are saved by grace and kept by grace. The goal is to seek the help of the Holy Spirit in order to keep practicing what Jesus preaches. Gospel repentance is motivated by daily trust in what Jesus has done for us, not what we can do for Him. It is the daily practice of presenting ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him.To live repentantly we must have a lifestyle rooted and grounded in a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ. Gospel repentance is the overflow of a changed heart which produces a changed lifestyle: a lifestyle rooted and grounded in a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ. Gospel repentance is at the heart of Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 1.27-30 –

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

To live repentantly means trusting God to finish what He started.

God and God alone is responsible for transforming our lives. This transformation involves the Spirit’s work of regeneration: the Holy Spirit transforms us from people who are spiritually dead into people who are spiritually alive. We are the walking dead until the Spirit gives us life. The moment the Spirit regenerates us, He opens our ears so we can hear and understand the gospel. He opens our heart so we can repent and confess faith in Jesus Christ. He continues His work in us by helping us to live repentantly by helping us practice what Jesus preaches every day. More importantly, the Spirit helps us want to practice what Jesus preaches.

Knowing this, gives Paul the confidence to say God will continue His good work of saving us until Jesus comes back for His church and our salvation is finally completed and everything we have done is examined and rewarded. God finishes what He starts. Nothing in this life, not even death will prevent God from finishing His work in all those who live repentantly by continuing to trust in His Son. God finishes what He starts. He will continue making us more and more like Jesus until the day Jesus comes back. Until then, we must put our trust in Him by living repentantly.

Living repentantly means leaning on the everlasting arms of the God who revealed Himself as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. It means trusting God to finish what He started. It means trusting Jesus to be the Author and Finisher of our faith. People who live repentantly follow Jesus until God has finished what He started.

To live repentantly leaves room for God to do the unexpected.

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from inside a Roman prison. However, by God’s grace, his imprisonment resulted in an unexpected double-benefit. In the first place, God used Paul’s imprisonment to make the gospel “known throughout the whole imperial guard” (1.13) In the first century, prisoners sent to Rome in cases of appeal were placed in the custody of the praefectus praetorio. God made it possible for Paul to share the gospel with as many guards as were assigned to look after him.

How divinely ironic that Paul, the captive, was given a captive audience. Only God can do that. Paul’s imprisonment became an open door to share the gospel with as many guards as were assigned to watch him. Paul was in chains. Not the gospel. God did the unexpected. Paul captivated his captors with the gospel. His prison cell became a classroom. His guards became his disciples. By living repentantly Paul avoided the trap of self-pity. He left room for God to do the unexpected.

Secondly, God used Paul’s adversity to inspire the Christians in Rome “to speak the word without fear” (1.14). Once again, God did the unexpected. Rather than dampen their zeal to share the gospel, Paul’s imprisonment encouraged the believers to share the gospel with an even more courageous boldness. And this was not a temporary zeal. The Christians in Rome were still preaching the gospel without fear even as Paul wrote his letter. God the Holy Spirit used Paul’s imprisonment to inspire the Christians in Rome to preach the gospel with greater courage.

To live repentantly means letting our lifestyle be shaped by the gospel.

Everyone who follows Jesus lives with a dual citizenship. My physical citizenship is in Massachusetts which is in the United States of America. However, the moment I was born again through faith in Jesus Christ, I became a citizen of the church that bears His name. My real citizenship is in heaven. The same was true of the Philippians. They were citizens of Philippi which was a colony of the Roman Empire. They were also citizens belonging to the church which is a colony of the kingdom of God.

As dual citizens, our lifestyle, our values and our ideals should reflect those of the gospel of Jesus Christ more than those of the Constitution of the United States. Until recently, this was not that much of a dilemma – certainly not one as dramatic as the one confronting the Philippians. As Roman citizens they faced charges of treason for refusing to say, “Caesar is Lord.” Then again, it could be that any overlap between American values and Christian values was more illusion than reality – specifically, the kind of illusion produced by Christianity as a civil religion practicing a religious repentance rather what it truly is: a lifestyle rooted and grounded in a Spirit-led faith-relationship with Jesus Christ as He is known through His word.

This is not an insignificant thing. I read an article recently in which the premise of the author was that wealthy, white American males have to work harder at the reading the Bible correctly primarily because the Bible is written from the perspective of the disadvantaged. Now whether you agree or disagree with his premise, this much is certain: the challenge of learning to live repentantly is letting the Spirit use the gospel to transform our values as well as the way we look at the world; including the way we read the Bible.

To live repentantly, means learning to read the Bible as a Christian living in America rather than as an American trying to live as a Christian. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to change my lifestyle by letting Him change the way I think. It means committing to living as part of a community of people in which each person makes it their aim to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

If my lifestyle is to “be worthy of the gospel of Christ” I must practice what Jesus preaches everyday. I must pursue gospel repentance by a lifestyle rooted and grounded in a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ. The aim is that over time my life will reflect more and more the character of Jesus Christ.

You think about that.