But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Daily Readings – Joshua 23-34, Mark 6, Psalm 66

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Joshua 24:15

But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

What a beautiful verse. There is power in a public declaration that your house will serve the Lord. This is a verse that has become one of the most popular verses in modern Christianity. If I had to guess, I bet this single verse can be found hung proudly in more Christian homes than any other verse in the Bible.

When reading the entirety of Joshua 24 today and the surrounding verses, something struck me today. As beautiful as this verse is, and as much we like to profess it as Christians in America on decorations we hang by our doorway, it is also a good example of what we tend to do with the Bible in general in America.

We tend to water it down. We have a tendency to pick isolated verses that give us the warm and fuzzy version of faith we desire and not dig into the rest.

Here are verses 16-22

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.

When Joshua was making this bold proclamation and the Israelites were recommitting themselves to follow the Lord, he did not pull any punches. When we declare that we are turning our life over to God, he expects us to honor that. There are consequences when we don’t.

We are human and will always fall short in moments of human weakness. God knew this and, in his divine wisdom, sent his son to pay the price for our sins so that we could still have a relationship with him and inherit eternal life. We serve an amazing father in Heaven that gives us more grace than we deserve!

Even if we truly turn our lives over to Christ, there will be moments of weakness.

However, what we see throughout the Bible is that there is a difference between momentary human weakness, and turning sin into an idol that we worship.

We see this again in Psalm 66:16-20 today.

Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!

Our natural tendency is to want to focus on verses like, “Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” 

It is less exciting to think about the verse immediately before, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”

Again, there is a big difference between, “If I had I sinned…” and “If I had cherished sin in my heart…”

One speaks to momentary weakness; the other speaks to idolatry.

The combination of these verses really stood out to me today, because I think we have a tendency in the American Church to preach a gospel of confession without repentance. We have a tendency to put out there a message of, “Believe in Jesus and your sins are forgiven and you have punched your ticket to heaven!”

In the Bible what we actually read is that even demons believe in God and shudder. What separates Christians is acting upon those beliefs. When we gloss over this portion of the gospel, we do a massive disservice to those we are doing life with. If someone has given over their life to Christ, there is fruit in that person’s life. You can see a change. That is spoken of over and over again throughout the Bible.

These changes are not the reason someone is saved. You cannot do enough good deeds to earn your way into heaven. That is why Jesus came. Life change is not the way into Heaven, but it is the evidence that someone has genuinely given their life over to Jesus and not just simply believed in him.

I love what Joshua did when the Israelites said, “We are in! Sign us up!” He didn’t leave it at that and celebrate. He didn’t treat it as if the sale had been made, his motivational talk had worked, etc. He challenged them. He told them what they were committing to truly meant.

If we profess to be Christians, have we done this for ourselves? Have we looked inwardly and asked God to reveal any strongholds in our hearts? Have we asked him to show us any metaphorical altars we have built in our lives that are taking the place where he is meant to dwell?

I want to have the type of faith that produces fruit. I want to constantly be asking God to refine me. I want my family to truly serve the Lord and not just have the pretty artwork hanging by the front door.

But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Is that something we are willing to declare today? When Joshua goes on to challenge us about what that is going to take, are we willing to reaffirm that statement?

Thought to ponder

What altars have I erected in my heart? What sin do I not only succumb to, but also actually cherish, that may be keeping me from experiencing full life in Christ?

Sharing with the Romans

Daily Readings – Exodus 35-36, Psalm 29, Romans 3

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:19-24

I love Romans. It is so incredibly rich all of the way through.

You can tell early in Romans that Paul is speaking to an audience of intellectual skeptics. He is speaking to the type of crowd that is always ready with the next, “Yeah, but what about…” trying to poke holes in every facet of the gospel.

As marketplace missionaries, I think we can all relate to that!

The letters from Paul to the various churches provides us with so much amazing ammo if we truly seek to win over the hearts and minds of people within out sphere of influence to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

You can almost hear the peppering of questions from the Romans that prompted this portion of the letter.

“But Paul, I am a pretty good guy! I love my wife and kids. I generally try to do the right thing. Shouldn’t that be enough? Why is it necessary to have faith in Jesus? Why would a loving God put in this extra step? Why would a loving God not allow good people into Heaven based on not believing in Jesus? Isn’t that a bit narrow? If all that is required to have salvation is faith in Jesus, why did God ever lay out all of his laws in the first place?”

Paul responds simply and powerfully. The law gives us the ability to look in the mirror and become conscious of our sin. It gives us the chance to say, “Darn, I guess I do have some shortcomings. I guess Paul was right when he said that we have all fallen short of the glory of God.”

Without God laying out how he wants us to live in painstaking detail, we would all be left with that vague notion that “I am a pretty good guy. Isn’t that enough?”

The law is there is for us. But thankfully, so is Jesus.

The law convicts us in the fact that we could never earn salvation because there will always be an area in our lives where we fall short. The law points us to the fact that faith in Jesus is our only true hope. And that hope is given freely so that none of us could say that we earned it. It is given freely to all to show God’s love and righteousness. That is incredibly good news!

I love this portion of Romans because it not only speaks powerfully the fundamental truth of the gospel, but it also gives us a blueprint for how we should approach evangelism with skeptics.

I love being able to share Christ with folks that are struggling in their life and already know they are missing something. So many of them are ready and willing to hear the truth. I love planting seeds in this fertile soil that Jesus talked about in Matthew. I struggle, however, having the desire to go after the intellectual skeptic. I am nervous chasing after the person I know is going to try to pick my argument apart. I have complete confidence in my own faith, but will I be able to articulate it well to them? Will I be able to answer their questions effectively enough to win them over? What if they ask tough questions I am not equipped to answer?

It is so easy to head down that path of “What if…?” and never reach out to the Romans in our own lives.

God wants us to be brave. God wants us to exam our own faith, spend time in his word, and dive deeper into his truth each and every day to not only continue our own transformation, but also to equip us with knowledge for the Romans.

That being said, it is hard to ever feel fully equipped. It is easy to rationalize not talking to the skeptic “until I am more ready”.

We worship a God who is big enough to prepare the heart of a skeptic if it is his will that they be reached at this moment in time. We worship a God that wants to help us with our words if we would just have faith the size of a mustard seed that he will be there to help us if we want to share the story of his amazing love.

Paul states the gospel in a beautifully simple way today. It is something we should all commit to memory when dealing with the skeptics in our lives.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

We have all fallen short and will continue to do so. God loves us so much and wanted every single one of us in Heaven with him so badly that he sent his only son and gave the gift of redemption freely away. We don’t have to earn it through striving, but rather through submitting and accepting of the free gift.

That is incredibly good news and news worth sharing!

Thought to ponder

What has held me back from speaking with boldness to the “Romans” in my own life? Who is one person God is calling me to share his love with?

Thank you to everyone who has continued to comment on these posts. It is a great source of encouragement! And if you have ever wondered what happens when you share a post, the site averages over 20 additional views for each share on Facebook. So if a post speaks to you and you think it is worth sharing, some of your friends actually do take the time to come and read it! Thank you again for your support. It means a lot.

Observing our fruit

Daily Readings: Genesis 21-22, Psalm 9, Matthew 7

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” -Matthew 7:21-23

Jesus gave this extremely stern warning wrapping up the Sermon on the Mount. There is a version of Christianity today that tends to preach the Hollywood version of someone being saved. We want it to be a dramatic scene from a movie where someone prays a single prayer in a moment of divine revelation that they are not living according to God’s will in their life and, “boom”, salvation has been obtained and eternity in heaven is guaranteed!

I do believe that there is a large amount of scripture that we will come to later on in our journey through the Bible in 365 days pointing to the fact that someone cannot lose their salvation once they have truly given their life over to Christ. However, how do we know if someone actually has genuinely given their life over to Christ or if they have simply prayed a prayer without actually accepting Jesus as Lord over their life?

I think we have all, at some point in our lives, in an emotional state, tired of how we were living, made some type of bold New Year’s resolution that we were done being unhealthy, sick of being bad with our money, tired of our _______ habit, etc. and declared before friends and family, “No more!”

What happened next? The true test of whether actual life change took place is simple.

Jesus says, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”

He goes on further to say, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

We are all going to have moments of weakness. The Bible is clear on that as well. Jesus tells us that by ourselves, none of this is possible, but only through God. We are all still going to continue to have a battle raging between our new identity in Christ with the Holy Spirit living within us on one side and our flesh desiring all of our old sinful habits on the other. Your heart changes when you truly invite Christ in, but that doesn’t mean you won’t occasionally backslide into old habits.

However, if someone has truly accepted Christ into their life and given their life over entirely, people should see a change. Those who know us best should be able to observe the fruit of our vine and say, “Something is different.” We might fall off the horse, but if you have the spirit living within you, you get right back on. If the “prayer you prayed” was simply another type of New Year’s resolution you were hoping might stick, when you get knocked off you probably just say, “Well, I gave it a good shot,” and go right back to living the life you were before without attempting to get back to building your house on the rock like Jesus commanded.

We are not saved through our works. None of us is capable of “earning salvation” because we will always fall short. We are only saved through our faith in Christ. However, our actions do indicate whether we are the foolish man Jesus talked about who hears the words and does not put them into practice and is like a man who built his house on sand. If we simply hear but do not take action, like the idea of the gospel but don’t fully give our lives over to Christ, pray a prayer without actually accepting the authority of Jesus into our life over the way we live, then we are just building a house on sand.

We are not perfect. There will always be setbacks. We will face adversity in our walk and the enemy will work like crazy to tempt us back into our old way of living. How we respond after falling short is one of the biggest pieces of “fruit on the vine” that we can observe in our own life. A changed heart will desire to repent, turn, and get back on the path even though it is difficult. If we have not truly given our life over to Christ it is far simpler to rationalize, justify, and continue down our old path.

This isn’t as warm and fuzzy as some versions of the gospel that are preached in America today, but Jesus wasn’t going for warm and fuzzy when you listen to his teaching. He was going for radical heart change.

It starts with honestly observing our fruit.

The question, “Have I truly given my life over to Christ?” is the most critical question we can ask ourselves. It has eternal consequences. It is way easier to just coast along and say, “Yeah, of course. I prayed that prayer a while ago!”

I personally “prayed that prayer” several times in my life before I believe that I was actually saved. I don’t know how many times it took, but it was more than one or two. Previously I said all the right words, “Jesus, come into my life.” but didn’t actually accept him in. It doesn’t do any good inviting a friend over if you refuse to open the door and allow them into your house when they arrive.

When I finally decided it was time to really allow God to take control of my life, the aftermath of that prayer looked a whole lot different. I began rebuilding the broken down foundation, previously built on sand, but this time built it on the rock. My fruit starting looking different than it had previously. Life didn’t get easier over night, but the gospel doesn’t promise “easy”. However, there was so much more peace, contentment, and a genuine desire to share what Christ did in my life.

I think this desire to share about Jesus tells us a whole lot about where our hearts are. In Psalm 9 today we read, “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.”

When Jesus is allowed to enter your life and true transformation occurs, it is so exciting! I couldn’t wait to tell someone, and then someone else, and then someone else…about God’s wonderful deeds. The fruit I began to see on my vine was full of thankfulness and amazement that I could be so loved when still so lost.

Jesus wants to be truly invited in. He is standing there are the door waiting. He wants to help each and every one of us to build our houses on the rock and be a vine that produces fruit.

Over the past several days we worked through so many aspects of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus doesn’t dance around the truth or soften his message. It was a challenging message he delivered. At times I read Matthew 5-7 and it can feel hopeless. How can we live up to this?

Jesus wants to be invited in so that he can do the heavy lifting. We cannot possibly hope to do it ourselves.

I hope as we wrap up these several days working through the Sermon on the Mount, that we all have the same response that the crowd had at the end of Matthew 7 when Jesus finished: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching.”

Thought to ponder

Have I truly given my life over to Jesus or have I had a “New Year’s resolution” type of faith so far in life and build my house on sand?

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