Deep Roots

Matthew 13:18-23

 “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” Matthew 13:20-21

Jesus is the greatest teacher in the history of the world. It’s no wonder that crowds gathered to hear Him. He boldly spoke the truth with a perfect balance of compassion and tough love. He was a master at “weeding out” those who were not serious about following Him. One of the greatest ways He taught was through parables. These teaching tools help us to understand the deep mysteries of the Kingdom of God.

The Parable of the Sower is one of Jesus’ most well known illustrations. In it He focuses on three types of ground (representative of the heart) that seed (representative of God’s Word) falls on: rocky ground, thorns, and good soil. Today I want to focus on the rocky ground because I am convinced that is where many religious people are today. In verse 21, Christ describes such people as having no root. In other words, their faith is shallow and rooted in feelings and experiences rather than in Christ and His Word.

The person with a “rocky” heart will start out zealous. On the outside he appears changed…on fire for the Lord. But over time, when trouble comes, he falls away. There is a false gospel that says, “Come to Christ and be blessed. God wants you to be happy and successful.” Both of these statements are true, but only if we biblically define blessed, happy and successful. Many rocky-hearted people have mis-defined these words. You see, the world’s definition of these words and God’s are not only different, they are opposite. The Kingdom of God flips the world on its head.

In God’s kingdom, blessing includes suffering, persecution, and hardship. In God’s kingdom, happiness is not based on circumstances and can be found from inside a prison cell or in the midst of a battle with cancer. In God’s kingdom, success is being last, not first. It is giving away and not storing up wealth. Success requires selflessness and humility, not ambition and power.

Over and over Jesus encouraged the crowds following Him to count the cost of faith in Him. He knew there were many with shallow, rocky soil in their hearts. We must do the same today. Examine your heart. How deep is your faith? Is it shallow and rocky, joyously saying “Yes!” until trouble comes? Or is your faith deeply rooted in God and His truth?

Dear God, I admit that my sinfulness always longs for life to be easy and good. But Your Spirit helps me to see life from Your perspective. Please deepen my faith and help me to grow in Your truth. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Take Heart

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

Jesus’ words to His disciples in John’s Gospel are clear: “In this world, you will have trouble.” He didn’t say we might have trouble. He was unmistakably confident that the choice to follow Christ will not be easy or free from struggle. It is interesting, however, that He sandwiched this statement between two wonderful truths.

On one side of trouble, we find peace in Christ. On the other is the reminder that Christ has overcome the world. “Take heart!” Jesus tells them. In other words, He is saying, “Have courage!” or “Be encouraged!” Imagine yourself as one of the disciples hearing these words from the mouth of your Rabbi. Remember that when Jesus spoke these words He had not yet gone to the cross or been raised from the grave. Yet He says, “I have overcome the world.”

Do you think the disciples believed Him? Could they have even fathomed the trouble that Jesus was foretelling? Hate-filled persecution, temptations to deny Him, standing firm in the face of death, and even dying for their faith. “Trouble” doesn’t seem like a strong enough word, does it? And yet there is peace in Christ. Many times we think of peace as being free from trouble or conflict. Clearly this is not what Jesus meant. In fact, He says there is peace in the middle of even the greatest trials we will face. Why? Because He has overcome the world.

We have an advantage that the 12 disciples didn’t when these words were first spoken.  We read these words on the other side of the cross and resurrection. And yet I still wonder, do we believe Jesus? Do we live as conquerors, having faith that Jesus has indeed overcome the world? Is peace in Christ what characterizes our lives in the midst of life’s storms?  Or, are we chasing the false peace and satisfaction that the world offers?  There is no lasting peace apart from our Savior. He is the only One who overcame what man could not – sin and death. And just as the old hymn says:

“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.  Because He lives, all fear is gone.  Because I know He holds the future.  And life is worth the living just because He lives.”

The motivation to persevere, to take heart and be brave when everything in us wants to quit, is Christ and His victory over whatever we are facing. Knowing that Christ, the risen Savior, is for us is reason to press on. And we can have peace knowing that our troubles, no matter how difficult, are temporary.

Dear God, Following You is not always easy. But with all my heart I want to please You in all I do. Help me to remember that because You have overcome the world, I can persevere.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Shield of Faith

 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”  1 Peter 1:3-5

Most Christians know what God has done in the past to give us eternal life. The sacrifice of His Son Jesus on the cross satisfied the wrath of God against sinners. His resurrection from the dead made a way for us to be reborn, adopted into God’s family through faith.  God poured out His anger on Jesus so that we might be forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness.

Most Christians also know what God will do in the future to complete our salvation.  Christ will return for His bride, the Church. We will spend eternity in the presence of God, where an imperishable inheritance awaits all who persevere in the faith. There will be no more tears, sickness, injustice or death.

But what about now? What about the period of time between our conversion and final salvation? What about all of the temptations, struggles, anxiety, fear, suffering, and battles? How many Christians know what God is doing for us right now, in the midst of our journey on this earth? 1 Peter 1:5 says that God is shielding us by His power until the coming salvation that will be revealed in the last day. Furthermore, it says that we are shielded through faith.

What an amazing thought – that God Almighty has not only acted on our behalf in the past to save us, and will not only act on our behalf in the future when He gives us our inheritance, but is also actively protecting us now by His great power through faith. It is no coincidence that among the pieces of our armor, as listed in Ephesians 6:16, is the “shield of faith.” And we are instructed to: “Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all of the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

What is God protecting us from? It isn’t death, because for a believer that would just be an instant entry into heaven. It’s not suffering, because in the next few verses Peter explains how suffering builds our faith. He does protect us from Satan, but he does not threaten our inheritance. There is only one thing a believer needs protection from…only one thing that can keep someone from heaven – unbelief. God’s power protects us by sustaining our faith. We must stand firm in our faith until the end to be saved (Matthew 10:22), and it is God’s power alone that makes that possible.

Perhaps this is why Hebrews 12:2 exhorts us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, “the author and perfecter” of our faith. As long as our eyes are on Him and not our circumstances, our faith will continue to deepen. He is all the security we will ever need.

Dear God, I am awed by Your active work in my life. Not only have You given me life, You are sustaining me daily. You have not promised me an easy life, but You have promised to protect me by Your power. Help me to keep my eyes on You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Keep the Faith

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.”  2 Timothy 4:7-8

Most of us do not like to think about death. But Psalm 90:12 says,“Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” To number our days means to remember that life is short. If we fail to do so, we can become arrogant, living as if we are in control of our lives. Setting aside time periodically to contemplate the brevity of life helps us not to forget that every breath we take is granted to us by the sovereign will of God.

In 2 Timothy 4, Paul was contemplating his own impending death. He knew that the end of his earthly life was drawing near. As he reflected on the days God had given him he made a bold statement in verse 7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Because of this, he went on to say, a glorious reward awaited him on the other side of eternity.

Isn’t it interesting that Paul’s criteria for a successful life, one pleasing to God and worthy of a crown, was that he kept the faith? It all boiled down to steadfast faith. As he “numbered his days” he didn’t list personal achievements like how many people he led to Christ, how many churches he planted, the number of days he spent imprisoned for the gospel, or any other of his life’s greatest works. “I am getting a crown,” he said, “because I kept the faith.” What does it mean to “keep the faith”?

Paul used two illustrations in this letter to describe keeping the faith…a fight and a race.  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.” These two illustrations tell us two things about keeping the faith. First, it must be hard. If he fought to continue in the faith, he must have struggled. Jesus described it this way in Matthew 7:14, “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” If few find it, it cannot be easy. It is the sinful flesh that makes it hard, which continually battles against God’s Spirit inside of us. Second, the illustration of a race shows us that keeping the faith means enduring to the end. In any race, running doesn’t earn an award, finishing does.  Jesus said in Matthew 10:22 and 24:13 that whoever stands firm until the end will be saved.

Have you contemplated your life lately? Doing so humbles and moves us to yield more fully to God, for whose sake we have been saved.

Dear God, I want to live the rest of my days on this earth fully surrendered to You. I cannot do this if I don’t purposefully remember that life is short, and that You control the length of my life. Please help me to keep the faith, to remain steadfast, fighting hard against my flesh and this world and continuing to the end. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Living by Faith

“For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”  Romans 1:17

What is faith? Have you ever stopped to ponder that question? For many of us, it is a word we have grown up hearing in Sunday school classes, church services, or children’s songs. A biblical understanding of faith is essential for the Christian life. Without it, Hebrews 11:6 tells us, it is impossible to please God. As children, we are taught to “believe” in many things…Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy just to name a few. If we are also taught to believe in God, it may be difficult to separate an innocent childhood belief from a biblical faith rooted in truth. The latter is a belief so strong it changes the way you live. Faith carries a cost; and it requires action.

There is only one way to live a Christ-honoring life, and that is by faith. Romans 1:17 says, “The righteous will live by faith.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 also says we live by faith and not by sight. And Paul said in Galatians 2:20 that the life he lived in his mortal body was by faith in Jesus Christ. So what does it mean to live by faith? Is God talking about a one-time decision to place your faith in His Son Jesus for salvation, or is it more? Living by faith applies to the past, present and future of a Christian’s life. It means believing in what Christ did on the cross, what He is doing in you now, and what He will do in the future.

Christ’s death and resurrection is the foundation for a life of faith.  It is the beginning of a journey of trusting the Lord Jesus for everything we need. God’s grace, through faith in the finished work of Jesus, brings eternal life.  But faith does not end there.  While Christ’s death saves from the penalty of sin, we must continue to have faith that He is saving us from the power of sin.  This belief affects our everyday lives.  It stretches us and deepens our dependence on God as we learn that we cannot live the Christian life perfectly.  We still sin.  We stumble and fall and mess up.  But by faith we can repent and keep going, trusting that He is molding and changing us each day into the image of His Son.

And finally, living by faith means looking forward with hope and assurance that one day, we will be free from the presence of sin. Christ will return for His bride. This belief brings a joyful and abundant life despite suffering. It reminds us that this earth is not our home. It causes us to long for heaven, and to live on behalf of Christ and those who do not yet know Him. Faith in what is to come gives our lives a sense of peace and urgency. Because we know He will not tarry forever, we are compelled to persevere in the work He has given us to do.

Are you living by faith?  Is your life driven by full confidence in Christ’s past, present and future work? Faith permeates every part of our lives as it deepens and grows. This is what it means to live by faith.