Psalm 42:1-2

Do you fellowship with God? “To fellowship” is one of those old religious terms we don’t typically use much outside of church anymore, but it simply means to spend meaningful time with. And while we certainly fellowship with other people who know and love God, the dearest and most intimate of spiritual relationships for a child of God is–or ought to be–with the Heavenly Father Himself, and with Jesus whom He sent.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm‬ ‭42:1-2‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

King David got it–he had a close and intimate spiritual relationship with our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer God, as evidenced by his longing to meet with Him in today’s verse. Yet many professing Christians don’t seem to, if the amount of time they spend in private prayer and Bible study is any indication. Our pastor once asked how we can want to go to heaven to spend eternity with God if we don’t want to spend any time with Him here, and it is true. How can we? It’s like agreeing to marry someone you avoid associating with–it makes absolutely no sense! Yet I suspect that those who avoid Him most are those who know Him least–and sadly, it is those who have not made the effort to spend time getting to know Him who know Him least!

It is true that there seems to be something within us that tries to push us away from seeking out and spending time with our God in prayer and His Word, but that is the vestige of our old self that seems to be “allergic” to God–that doesn’t like Him and wants to avoid Him. Yes, our “old self” has been crucified with Jesus on the cross, but we sometimes joke that it keeps wanting to get back down again! Yet we must resist its impulses; we must not let it: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians‬ ‭4:22-24‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

And if we overcome that initial hurdle of beginning our Bible study or our time of seeking God’s presence in prayer, He meets us and we actually get to be in His very presence! This is what the letter to the Hebrews means when it encourages us: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

That is what we are actually doing–we are approaching the throne of grace; we are approaching God! We, mere human beings, have the privilege–the highest honor and blessing–to bask in the presence of Holiness, of Grace, of Goodness! What an incomparable joy!!! But, we will never get to experience it if we don’t come! And that is the irony. Before we become accustomed to spending time in God’s presence we don’t particularly think we want it; yet once we’ve spent time there we recognize there is no better place to be!

But, like every relationship, it take planning and effort. We have to set aside a specific time to meet with our God daily, and keep the appointment, just as we do with other less important commitments!

So, do you fellowship with God? Have you ever–really worshipping Him “in spirit and in truth,” as Jesus said the Father seeks for us to worship Him? If you haven’t yet, will you? It will be SO worth it!

“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” (John‬ ‭4:23‬ ‭NASB‬‬)

Dear Lord God,

Help me long for you as the deer longs for water; help me worship You in spirit and in truth; help me come boldly to Your throne of grace! Amen.

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Matthew 13:44

What does being a Christian involve? Is it merely some kind of initial “spiritual experience” and then not much else, or is there something I have to actually do–is there real work involved? Put another way, is being a Christian a passive process in which something is done to us, or an active one in which we are to be busily engaged?

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew‬ ‭13:44‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

If you make the effort to personally sit down and study your Bible with integrity of purpose (rather than simply relying on what you hear) you may not be so inclined to assume it’s the former. We’ve heard “accept Christ in your heart” so often that we assume that’s all there is to it. Then we’re surprised and taken aback that so many who have “accepted Christ” fall back into their old lives and leave the church. Or they are functionally indistinguishable from non-Christians. Or our youth are leaving the church because they see no other call or purpose than sitting in a building week after week and socializing with a particular group of people. We have missed the full portent of what it means to accept Him as our Lord and Savior–the implications of what it means for Him to really rule over every aspect of our lives, and the full extent of what he’s saving us from. Granted, we do typically recognize that those who are born again have a sensitivity to the things of God, but in all fairness–so did the rich young ruler who went away sad after Jesus said he still needed to sell all and come follow Him. Yet most of us haven’t given up all we have for Christ–so how are we any different? If being a Christian doesn’t require any further action on our part, if it doesn’t change our life much, if we simply add Him onto our existing life–onto who we already are–have we really accepted Him as our Lord and Savior?

The point is that Christ came not to better our lives or enhance them, but to replace them! He doesn’t pour out His Spirit into our dead “I-want-nothing-to-do-with-Him hearts of stone–He only fills with Himself new, spiritually reborn-to-Him living breathing hearts of flesh (the “we don’t pour new wine into old wine skins” parable). Remember He said,“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John‬ ‭10:10‬ ‭NASB‬‬)

And while we do need to accept Him as Lord and Savior, I believe we in the post-modern church have committed a grave error in diluting the Biblical definition of what a life “…redeemed…from…[the] futile way of life inherited from your forefathers” (1 Peter‬ ‭1:18‬ ‭NASB)‬‬

looks like.

But to begin with, let’s clarify that salvation isn’t “Christ and;” it’s just “Christ.” Period. Jesus paid the penalty for every sin ever committed by mankind on the cross and there is absolutely nothing we can or need to do to add to it. His work salvation is complete; “it is finished,” paid in full–tetelestai–as He declared on the cross. But that isn’t the issue.

The issue is what we believe He has saved us from. I think we as a culture are so sin-driven–so completely immersed in it–that all our guilt-ridden consciences can focus on is the Divine retribution we so rightly deserve. So when we think of salvation from sin, what we are really thinking is that we will escape eternal damnation as punishment for our sins. And that is part of it, but it is only a part.

When we read that Christ came to “save His people from their sins” we need to understand the full context of our picture–of the sin-infected world we live in. The effects of sin on humankind are so pervasive that we typically cannot comprehend how far short of true rightness we have fallen. We are so thoroughly enmeshed in our own sin and the sin around us that we cannot even see straight–we cannot see ourselves as God sees us. We need God’s sight; we need a power above and beyond anything we can muster. We need Him.

And the problem with believing that all Jesus saves us from is the penalty of sin is that we miss the forest for the trees–we miss the fact that He also desires to work on us now, to save us from ourselves–from “the sin which so easily entangles us.” An essential aspect of His work of redemption is filling us with His Spirit to show us how to live now, to “conform us to the image of…[Himself].” He doesn’t add onto our lives–complement them or make them better–He gives us Himself–He makes us into different people completely transformed through association with Him!

And this is not a passive activity–it requires work on our part–obedience, commitment, perseverance, having what it takes to make it to the end. Prove it, you say. Okay. How about Jesus’ own words?

“Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’

Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?

Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple. Salt is excellent. But if the salt goes flat, it’s useless, good for nothing. Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

‭‭(Luke‬ ‭14:28-35‬ ‭MSG‬‬)

Most translations render verse 33 similarly to the NIV “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke‬ ‭14:33‬ ‭NIV‬‬) but the Orthodox Jewish Bible, which can sometimes provide valuable insight, says “So, then, none of you can become my talmid if you do not renounce all your [idolatrous] holdings.” (Lukas‬ ‭14:33‬ ‭OJB‬‬)

The issue is idolatry; nothing can come before Christ and following Him–no association, no property, no pursuit, no love. Do you see that 1) there is a cost involved? Jesus speaks of being able to finish the Christian life you commit to–having the wherewithal to go the distance, being willing to sacrifice everything to gain the priceless treasure, HIM–unlike the rich young ruler who would not.

2) There is also a mission. It is the great commission:

“So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you, and I will be with you always, even until the end of this age.””

‭‭(Matthew‬ ‭28:19-20‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

We are to spend our lives calling others to a life of self-denial and commitment to Christ and His kingdom.

3) And, there is labor–there is actual, real work involved. It may involve pastoring, missionary work, teaching, serving in your church. It maybe constructing churches or homes, providing medical services, or digging wells. But it will certainly involve personal and private labor–what used to be called the spiritual disciplines, which now seem to many like a relic of an archaic practice, but which are absolutely essential and without which there is no growth in Christ–no moving forward!

It will involve studying the Word of God–reading it, spending time in it–so you hear God talk to you. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans‬ ‭10:17‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

It will also involve spending extended time wrestling with God in prayer–worshipping Him, seeking His presence and will, interceding for others. An extended time. Not a quick “Good morning, Jesus” or even a rote Lord’s Prayer. A real fellowshipping with Him–if you ever want to progress beyond Christian “baby-dom.”

No, committing to Christ is not a passive activity, but we have made it appear to be so. It is not something extra you tack onto your life; if you follow Him, Christ becomes your life–you hand in your old one and He gives you a new one. It requires great personal sacrifice and much hard labor.

And that’s why we’re losing people–because by omission, we’re lying to them as to what following Jesus is. In our desire to “save souls”–to pack our churches–we’ve watered down Christianity so much so that first century believers would no longer recognize it. They lost their property; some had to flee for their lives, some gave not only their own lives but also the lives of their children. The church in China and the Muslim world is growing because they understand the cost–in so many cases it really does mean prison or death, and certainly a loss of comfort and standing in the community.

Remember Paul’s statement in Philippians 3:8?

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians‬ ‭3:8‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Following Christ cost Paul everything; should we expect Him to require nothing of us—no personal sacrifice, no working for His kingdom , no effort for growth? I don’t believe we can–not if we take “gaining Christ and being found in Him” seriously!

Dear Lord,

Give me Yourself, Life–and give me It abundantly! Amen.

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James 4:4-5

Are you an adulterer? I’m not asking if you’re unfaithful to your spouse; what I’m asking is if you’re unfaithful to your God. And as deleterious as adultery is to a marital relationship, adultery toward our relationship with God is so much more so because of its eternal portent.

“You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him.” (James‬ ‭4:4-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

I sometimes think about what the world must have been like in the days of Noah that only eight people were spared, or in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah that none but Lot’s family were saved. Then I think about our own times and wonder if we’re any better. The problem with objectivity is that you tend to lose it if you’re in the middle of whatever it is you’re trying to be objective about, and all of us are smack dab in the middle of this day and age.

Yet “the world”–the thought patterns and sinfulness commonly practiced by mankind since sin infected our existences–has always been there. The specialness of Christ is that He “…gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” (Galatians‬ ‭1:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬) Not to keep us in it–to rescue us from it.

Yes, we’re in it to begin with, but when we correctly understand His call on our lives, He pulls us out of it. Not physically, of course; we’re still alive. But emotionally, mentally, spiritually. And it doesn’t somehow happen “magically”–our sanctification is a very common sense process that happens as we obey how He instructs us to live and pull out of the “gook.”

But the problem is that most of the time we don’t really want to be pulled out of it. I just finished a wonderful time of fellowship and prayer earlier today, only to turn on Netflix’s The Crown–complete with its depictions of sins of various varieties. And I felt the call of Christ’s Spirit telling me not to, but did it anyway, rationalizing that it’s entertainment (or alternately at other times that we need to relax, or it’s history, or whatever other justifications we tell ourselves). And even though I didn’t approve of the sin–and tried to get past the “bad” parts–I grieved the Spirit; it injured my relationship with my God. And it was not good. And I sinned.

But am I alone? Am I the only one who has done this? I say this not to justify myself, but to show the strength of the pull of our “flesh”–and it can be strong, depending on how often we feed it. If we are accustomed to gratifying our every whim, it will be harder to say no. But if, through prayer and the ability God gives, we begin saying no to ourselves, we will get better at it.

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”

‭‭(Romans‬ ‭8:12-13‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Make no mistake, this is serious business because habitually giving in to that pull will result in our eternal death. Yet this is why Christ came–to save us from our sins, to give us the freedom to not give in. Granted, we will not be 100% sin-free this side of eternity, but even a superficial observation of the many giants of the faith reveal how much room there is for our own growth.

But why should I resist my urge to “enjoy” sin–to partake of it in any of the many forms it presents itself in? Because I cannot continue fellowshipping with it and fellowship with God too! It is like trying to have two husbands, like the nation of Israel that worshipped the true God in the temple, only to then go worship the idols in the groves. It doesn’t work! You can’t become the person God wants to make you into that way!

Yet somehow, today, even those of us in the church make excuses for ourselves as we try to sit on two horses. But we can’t–really; we can’t. At any given moment, we can turn to Christ or we can turn to the world; we can immerse ourselves in the pursuit of God, or we can immerse ourselves in the pleasures and distractions of sin. Distractions from what, you ask? From God, and our impoverished condition before Him, of course!

So, are you an adulterer or adulteress? Or are you going to take steps to actively get yourself out of whatever it is you’re into that is keeping you from growing closer to God? “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

‭‭(James‬ ‭4:8, 10‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Dear Lord,

Help me draw near to You so that You will draw near to me! Help me be faithful to You!! Amen.

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Philippians 3:10

How much do you pray? Not how many words do you utter, but how much do you actually crave for and actively seek out fellowship with the Father and our Lord Jesus through His Spirit? More to the point, do you earnestly desire to know our heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ whom He sent (which, if you recall, is the literal definition of eternal life given in the Bible)? If you do not, why do you suppose that is?

“I want to know Christ…” (Philippians‬ ‭3:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

God desires our love and genuine devotion, not an act–whether to impress others or even Him. David said, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” (Psalms‬ ‭42:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬) Another translation says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm‬ ‭42:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬) Do I pant for God like a thirsty deer pants for water? Do I long to know Him, to spend time with Him? Or, as is more often the case, if I do seek Him out in His Word and prayer, do I avoid Him until the very last possible minute, as if being with Him were something unpleasant?

I was blessed earlier in life to be spiritually mentored by a devout spiritual leader devoted to prayer. He is no longer with us, but his influence remains–as does that of all godly individuals whose example God allows to touch our lives. I remember him speaking of a man of God who spent four hours in prayer each day, and couldn’t grasp how anyone could pray for that long. Yet as I am maturing in my faith, I am coming to understand that extended prayer with the One “from…[Whom] and through…[Whom] and for…[Whom] are all things” (Romans‬ ‭11:36‬ ‭NIV‬‬) is not only possible—-it is essential!

Listen to a wonderful description about why we should long for and spend time with our Lord:

“Much time spent with God is the secret of all successful praying. Prayer which is felt as a mighty force is the mediate or immediate product of much time spent with God. Our short prayers owe their point and efficiency to the long ones that have preceded them. The short prevailing prayer cannot be prayed by one who has not prevailed with God in a mightier struggle of long continuance. Jacob’s victory of faith could not have been gained without that all-night wrestling. God’s acquaintance is not made by pop calls. God does not bestow his gifts on the casual or hasty comers and goers. Much [time] with God alone is the secret of knowing him and of influence with him.” (https://www.biblebelievers.com/em_bounds/em-bounds_ch07.html)

This explanation is an excellent one, but even it focuses on the gifts–the benefits–of extended prayer. Yet I believe what God desires most from us is for us simply to love Him–to seek Him out because we long for Him, because we want Him, the greatest gift of Himself, not merely because of the other gifts He can give.

Listen to the remainder of today’s passage:

[Those who press forward in Christ:]

“I want to know Christ…Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

[Those whose destiny is destruction:]

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

[Back to those who press forward in Christ:]

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:10-21 NIV)

So, do you enjoy spending time with God? Do you like to pray, to talk to and fellowship with Him and worship Him in prayer and seek His heart? If not, why don’t you ask Him for a desire for this? Remember that whenever we ask for something God already wants for us–for something that is according to His will–He “…gives generously to all without finding fault…” (James‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Dear Lord,

Help me long for You as the deer pants for water; help me to know You! Amen.

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Matthew 6:1

Why is it that you do good things? When you do something noble, or kind, or dutiful, or selfless–why is it that you’re really doing it? Is it to please a particular person you’re with, or because you’re being made to do it? Are you trying to look good in front of others–to better your image? Maybe you feel you owe someone, or perhaps you’re just doing it to feel good about yourself? Most of have have had selfish motivations for doing good deeds, but ultimately, the reason we should do good is because we love God!

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew‬ ‭6:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

We don’t always do what’s right, but even when we do, we may not do it for the right reasons. A man might try to impress his date by being more polite than he typically is, an employee might curry favor by donating to his boss’s favorite charity, a child might put their dollar in the collection plate because his parents told him to. Even helping out at a soup kitchen or shelter might be selfishly motivated–it might be an effort to see myself as good or generous.

The real test in determining if you’re doing something for God, or for some other reason, is to imagine that absolutely no one else will ever find out or see–would you still do it?

The Message is a loose paraphrase, but I like how it presents the passage containing today’s verse:

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well.” (Matthew‬ ‭6:1-6, 16-18‬ ‭MSG‬‬)

God cares not only that we do good things, but also why we do them–what our motivation is. Paul explains why:

“Using the gift God gave me, I laid the foundation of that house like an expert builder. Others are building on that foundation, but all people should be careful how they build on it. The foundation that has already been laid is Jesus Christ, and no one can lay down any other foundation. But if people build on that foundation, using gold, silver, jewels, wood, grass, or straw, their work will be clearly seen, because the Day of Judgment will make it visible. That Day will appear with fire, and the fire will test everyone’s work to show what sort of work it was. If the building that has been put on the foundation still stands, the builder will get a reward. But if the building is burned up, the builder will suffer loss. The builder will be saved, but it will be as one who escaped from a fire.” (1 Corinthians‬ ‭3:10-15‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

The motivation behind every good deed I ever did will someday be revealed. It will become obvious why I was nice to my mother-in-law, why I gave a generous Christmas present, why I stayed late at work. Why I was polite to my teacher, why I visited a shut-in, why I served at church. Why I went on a mission trip, why I helped at the homeless shelter–even why I let my little sister have the last piece of cake. “…their work will be clearly seem, because the Day of Judgment will make it visible…to show what sort of work it was…”

So, why is it that you do good things? Is it for some other selfishly motivated reason, or because you genuinely love Jesus–because you have chosen to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him?

Dear Lord,

Help my life be clearly seen, that it was genuinely done in You! Amen.

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Philippians 3:8-9

It’s almost Christmas, the time of year we celebrate the birth of Christ. Yet the significance of God Incarnate is that we would ultimately be reunited with the Father through Him. To that end in this busy season, let’s stop and take a moment to examine our lives. What is it that is most important to you? If you had to disclose the pursuit that most accurately identifies you–that which your heart craves, around which your life really pivots–what would it be? Is it Jesus–or any one of a number of other things?

“…that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…” (Philippians‬ ‭3:8-9‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Truth be told, how many of us can, with the Apostle Paul, honestly say it is that we may “gain Christ and be found in Him?” Yet that is what our life goal ought to be, because if we gain Christ and nothing else, we really do have everything; if we fail in this, nothing else will matter.

This lesson is what Jesus was trying to convey when he told the parable of the treasure:

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. One day a man found the treasure, and then he hid it in the field again. He was so happy that he went and sold everything he owned to buy that field. Also, the kingdom of heaven is like a man looking for fine pearls. When he found a very valuable pearl, he went and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew‬ ‭13:44-46‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

Possessing the kingdom of heaven is possessing Christ. This is what Jesus meant when He said:

“…this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John‬ ‭17:3‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

Eternal life and God’s kingdom are synonymous with knowing and having Christ Jesus. If we know and love Him, we have eternal life and God’s kingdom is at work in us.

Let’s look at the entire passage today’s verse is found in:

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians‬ ‭3:7-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Are you supremely focused on gaining Jesus and being found in Him? Because if you’re not, are you sure you have the eternal life you think you do? Jesus warned us to “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew‬ ‭7:13-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬) Jesus is the gate; gaining Him and being found in Him is the only way to gain eternal life!

But it’s difficult–not to understand, but to live out. It requires our giving Him our all, and it may require giving up all–if it becomes necessary. Remember what He Himself said?

“…Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matthew‬ ‭16:24-27 NIV‬‬)

Yet it’s worth it! Giving up what we cling to that is of no real consequence in exchange for Jesus Christ and eternal life? How can it even compare! John explains:

“Whoever has the Son has life, but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write this letter to you who believe in the Son of God so you will know you have eternal life.” (1 John‬ ‭5:12-13‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

It is possible to have assurance of salvation–but that assurance is through Christ and Christ alone. If we have the Son we have life; if we do not have the Son, we do not have eternal life. I just wonder how many of us deceive ourselves into believing we have Him, when in reality we don’t even really want to! Do you want Him?

Dear Holy God,

Help me gain Christ and be found in Him! In His name I ask, Amen.

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Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Who are your friends? What are the people you spend time with like? Are they trusted fellow Christians you can reach out to in times of need–a firm network of emotional and spiritual support? Or are your friends and acquaintances the kind of people, who, for whatever reason, are incapable of providing genuinely helpful advice in times of crisis?

“Two are better than one…If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Ecclesiastes‬ ‭4:9-10‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

It’s interesting how people choose their friends–those whom they confide in and associate with. Sometimes there is a specific plan–we may seek someone out for whatever reason–but more often than not it seems we just fall together by association or circumstance, such as working in the same office, living next door or being related.

And while it isn’t necessarily wrong to have friends from various walks of life–our Lord causes all kinds of people to cross our path–as those concerned with making prudent, God-honoring decisions, if we do not already have people like this in our lives, we may need to be intentional in seeking out a support network of at least one or two truly trusted friends who are qualified to offer Biblical counsel.

It isn’t that I don’t have friends. Granted, I’m married and a mother, so my closest “friends” are the people in my immediate family. Of course, I also have various friends and acquaintances outside of my family: from work, previous churches, school–yet in some cases, it seems life has taken us in different directions. My most frequent confidant is probably my cousin’s wife; we have children about the same age and are both concerned about their academic development, so we always have a lot to discuss. There are also the wives of my husband’s friends, neighbors, and extended family members.

But critically examining my friendships, I recently realized that none of the people I regularly interact with (whom I felt close enough to ask) could help me; none could offer Biblically grounded advice for a decision I needed to make. Many of them would certainly have taken the time to speak with me and offered their personal opinion as to what I should do, had I approached them. What I needed, however, was trustworthy Biblical counsel, something a person who isn’t reading the Bible, praying, and loving our Lord with all their heart–no matter how otherwise well-intentioned–is capable of providing!

Of course, my situation is perhaps different than that of some; because my husband–most women’s obvious choice for advice–is not a believer, even though he can help in other areas, his advice on matters with potential spiritual impact will not reflect a desire to first and foremost pursue God’s purposes.

In the end I remembered a sister-in-Christ who who gave me Biblical counsel–for which I am very grateful–but the entire experience reminded me the importance of having a solid support network to whom you can turn for Biblical advice when the need arises.

So, who are your friends? Whom do you spend time with? Are they nice people whose company you enjoy? Are they relatives, business associates, neighbors? These are not necessarily relationships that need to be abandoned, but if you love Jesus–if you really care about making the right decisions and pleasing Him when there is significant spiritual impact to be had–you need to have friends who love and know Him too!

(The answer to the obvious follow-up question of how to find wise Christian friends is to become more involved–not just at worship, but also Bible studies and other fellowship opportunities–in a local Bible-preaching church.)

Dear Lord,

Help me have friends who can counsel me according to Your will; help me be such a friend to others, too! Amen.

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