If Today Was Your Last Day

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

If Today Was Your Last Day

By Benjamin Vrbicek

We’ve all heard some version of the question, “If today was your last day on earth, what would you do?” The question is designed to get us thinking about what truly matters and what doesn’t.

There is a helpfulness to this question, I suppose. I certainly don’t want to spend my last day before seeing Jesus perfecting my yo-yo technique or binge-watching Dora the Explorer.

But to be frank, I find the “last day” question paralyzing. It’s overwhelming to consider all the things that could possibly be done. How does one decide what’s the most effective, impactful, God-honoring thing to do when your toes are on the precipice of eternity? How could I know if it’s better to sneak into North Korea—should it even be possible—and preach the gospel, or to track down all my unsaved friends and family so I can preach the gospel to them? Maybe I should also drain my life savings so I can give it away—but who should I give it to?

I have no idea how to answer these questions. Besides, thinking about the most effective thing to do on your last day seems to me like the silly meme that gets shared online: “Jesus is coming; look busy.”

Does being prepared for the second coming of Christ merely involve some extraordinary acts of obedience moments before he returns?

According to Jesus, it doesn’t.

What Does It Mean to Be Ready for Jesus’ Return?

In the Gospels, Jesus frequently charges his followers to stay ready for his return. One such place is Luke 12:35-48. Through a couple short parables about different kinds of servants, Jesus illustrates for his disciples what it means to be ready.

Stay Dressed for Action

In this passage—contra the logic of the “last day” question—being prepared for Jesus’ return means doing the kinds of things appropriate for your context, however ordinary and mundane they might seem. If you’re a teacher, be found grading midterms to the glory of God. If you’re a Christian who works in a factory, be found working until the whistle blows.

Jesus commands, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning” (v. 35). The literal rendering of the phrase “stay dressed for action” is, “let your loins stay girded.” Back in the day, to have your loins girded meant that a man was ready to work because he had pulled his long, flowing robe around to the front and tied it tight so that it wouldn’t interfere with action.

Read the rest here.

Counting on Mercy in Suffering

Sharing today from from UnlockingTheBible.org.

Counting on Mercy in Suffering

By Lianna Davis

From the pits of grief and suffering, the human heart and soul can yearn to know the cause of earthly pain. Did a particular sin bring this suffering upon me, or did I need discipline?

Tender answers might pour into the soul from Scripture—Job was a noble man who suffered and grieved (Job 1:8). And the man born blind in John’s gospel was not provided by Jesus with a personal sin corresponding to his pain (John 9:2-3). We cannot always draw straight lines between cause and effect for our individual suffering (Isaiah 55:9). In How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, D. A. Carson writes,

It is the uncertainty of reading what is going on that sometimes breeds pain. Is the particular blow I am facing God’s way of telling me to change something? Or is it a form of discipline designed to toughen me or soften me to make me more useful? Or is it part of the heritage of all sons and daughters of Adam who live this side of the parousia, unrelated to discipline but part of God’s mysterious providence in a fallen world? But must we always decide? If a little self-examination shows us how to improve, we ought to improve. But there are times when all that the Christian can responsibly do is to trust his heavenly Father in the midst of the darkness and pain. (Carson 66)

“Must we always decide?” We can heed Carson to welcome needed growth in obedience that “a little self-examination” uncovers. Yet, he also warns that our inability to understand the full purposes of God behind our suffering can cause us sorrow on top of sorrow.

Draw Near to the Merciful Savior

While we sit in the mysteries of God’s providence, there is a promise we can be certain of. It’s a theme Carson repeats throughout his book: “From the biblical perspective, it is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed” (Carson 44).

As I grow to have a higher and higher view of God being God—creating and owning me, being pure and dwelling in unapproachable light, and deserving of my unwavering devotion and holy fear, I am increasingly unable to view any of my sins as insignificant or any of my fleshly contributions as meaningful. This principle Carson writes of has been crucial for me, especially in the seat of suffering.

Read the rest here.

Let’s Talk About Your Worry

Shared from Unlocking the Bible.

Let’s Talk About Your Worry

by Eden Parker

Yep, we’re gonna talk about worry. You’ve heard the command:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life… (v. 25)

But a good friend of mine told me to always ask, “What’s the therefore there for?” What was said before this to birth Matthew’s imperative? Earlier in the chapter, we read, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (6:21) and, “No one can serve two masters” (6:24). God in his Word has reminded us that he is our Father and Master, and out of this reality we find the command to live free of anxiety.

When we labor for the Lord, it’s not a part-time employment—he’s the Master. When we fight for the Lord, it’s not a temporary deployment (2 Timothy 2:4)—he’s the King. But one of the ways Christians side-step service to the King and dishonor his Lordship is by worrying.

We know this deadly enemy by our fret and sweat, the jitters, the “oh-no!”s about tomorrow, the thoughts surrounding events that make our palms sweat and elevate our heart rates. But really, worry is our heart’s response to a deeply rooted belief that we are our own master; a deeply felt responsibility that we are our own king; and a deep craving to meet our own needs.

I read Matthew 6, and I write now to admonish my own failure. There are four things, among many more, we can learn about the root of worry—what’s really going on in our heart—from this passage. As we consider God’s Word, I pray he works in us both to put to death this sin in our heart.

Four Things That Happen When You Worry

1. You have disordered priorities.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (v. 25, emphasis added)

Life is more than the sum of solutions to the things we worry about. What things does God warn us not to worry over? Food, drink, clothes, our body. These are real needs, but they’re not worth one minute of faithless fretting.

Read the rest here.

10 Bible Reading Habits I’ve Learned from My Pastor

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

10 Bible Reading Habits
I’ve Learned from My Pastor

By Rachel Lehner

…hold fast to the word I preached to you… (1 Corinthians 15:2b)

A good sermon exhorts us to grapple with God’s Word preached, hold fast to its truth, and do what it commands. A preacher who places himself under Holy Scripture will present his teaching in a way the congregation can follow, to understand the text they hold on their laps.

10 Bible Reading Habits I’ve Learned from My Pastor’s Sermons

I have found my senior pastor to be exceptionally faithful in this regard. In recently reflecting on 15 years of sitting under his teaching, I’ve seen how his Word-based preaching has significantly impacted my personal Bible reading.

Here are 10 habits I have picked up from my pastor’s weekly sermons:

1. Slow down!

I’ve read the Beatitudes many times and thought I had mined all their treasures—until our church did a 17-week series on only 10 verses. My pastor’s high view of Scripture has challenged me to expect more from each verse and to slow down when I read my Bible.

2. Use Scripture to explain Scripture.

When seeking to understand the meaning of a word or verse, I’ve seen how important it is to interpret Scripture in light of itself. For example, I understood the word “blasphemy” to mean insulting or showing contempt for God. But my pastor used Mark 2:7 to explain Matthew 26:65, which defines “blasphemy” as claiming to be God. This makes the charge against Jesus before the priests all the more meaningful since Jesus was put to death for claiming to be God, the one crime for which Jesus could be rightfully convicted.

3. Expect glimpses of Christ outside the Gospels.

I likely would never have seen all the ways Joseph pointed further to Jesus Christ if it hadn’t been shown to me, but as I repeatedly saw this on Sunday mornings I started finding Christ throughout Scripture on my own. I found Jesus in the promised son who would deliver God’s people (Judges 13:3) and in the psalmist longing for a pledge of good (Psalm 119:122), among many other examples. As Pastor Colin has said, “The whole Bible is one story. It begins in a garden, ends in a city, and all the way through points us to Jesus Christ.”

4. Details are often more significant than we realize.

I’ve learned to ask questions of details that may seem insignificant in a passage. For example, why are we told that Jesus heals an official’s son in John 4? My pastor brought to our attention the many parallels to Pharaoh’s son who died in Exodus 12. He explained how this small, but significant, detail pointed to why grace is better than law, and why Jesus is better than Moses. Any time a verse gives specific details like the number of baskets in Mark 6 or repeats a phrase like “here I am” in Genesis 22, I want to look closely because I know the Spirit has preserved the text this way for a reason.

5. We have more in common with the original recipients than we think.

Read the rest here.

God Is Working Through Your Waiting

Shared from from UnlockingTheBible.org.

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God is Working
Through Your Waiting

Waiting is a common pattern in my life. Waiting for graduation, for work, for a boyfriend, for a trip, for an idea, for the next big thing. And I find this terribly inconvenient. I am a full-throttle go-getter who wants to move from thing to thing with speed and efficiency, and waiting feels like a massive speed bump that kills my momentum and drive.

No, I am not a fan of waiting.

Yet I should be, because waiting is not a pattern unique to me. Every Christian’s life is woven with spiritual, mental, and physical waiting. Waiting for God to provide, guide, move, heal, direct, answer, reveal. To lead us to the mysterious “Next Thing”—the next step, person, place, or plan. But added to the difficulty of waiting is a deep desire for control and comfort, which makes us want to earnestly prepare for the “nexts.”

Faithful preparation is not bad, but how can we do that when we’re not even sure what we’re preparing for? How do we live in the tension between waiting and preparation for the season ahead?

Why God Makes Us Wait

First, we need to recognize why God calls us to wait. He does it for his glory and to make us more like Jesus, whose whole life could be called a waiting game. He waited for his disciples, he waited for the crowds, he waited for his parents, he waited for crucifixion, he waited for glorification, and he is waiting to return. His life, death, and resurrection are pictures of faithful waiting. He is our example when waiting seems so horribly hard and contentment feels just out of reach.

Yet he is much more than our example; he is our hope. When waiting saps you of joy and you feel empty, overwhelmed, and afraid, Jesus is the brother and friend who will give you the strength you need. God’s radical love for you, as shown through his Son’s sacrifice, means he’s not going to leave you on your own, and his wisdom means he knows waiting is best for you. His empowering grace will help you persevere through the waiting, and will abound when you don’t wait well.

And so we need to learn to wait—I need to learn to wait—and recognize how God is working through the waiting.

God Works Through Waiting

God doesn’t make us wait out of capricious malice but in loving wisdom, and he is working through our waiting. How?

To increase our trust. First and most foundationally, he uses waiting to increase our trust in him and loosen our perceived control. Waiting reminds us we’re at the mercy (literally) of God’s timing, and we have no power to change that. As humans, we crave control, yet waiting pulls that from our grasp. Waiting pries our fingers from the ledge and confronts us with an uncomfortable question: “Will we give up on ourselves and trust God wholly?”

To crucify our idols. Second, God uses waiting to crucify our idol of efficiency. We live in an accomplishment-driven culture where value is measured and marked by productivity. How much you get done defines your worth, and we can be guilty of making that an idol. But waiting destroys that. We can’t always maximize efficiency if we’re waiting on God—and that’s okay. Are we putting our worth in our plans and productivity, or in God (Galatians 6:9)?  

Read the rest here.

Seven Symptoms of a Prideful Heart

This is another excellent article from UnlockingTheBible.org.

Seven Symptoms of a Prideful Heart

Pride is universal—something we all deal with, as ancient as Adam and as relevant as the morning news. Yet we don’t always see our own pride, which weaves like weeds around our lives.

Oh, we see it in the obvious ways, but we can be blind to its deceptive, subversive way in our hearts. We know the disease, but we don’t recognize the symptoms. And that’s why we need the insight of our spiritual Great Physician to reveal symptoms of pride and rescue us from it.

Seven Symptoms of a Prideful Heart

Here are seven symptoms of pride I’ve been seeing in God’s Word as his Spirit works in my own life:

1. Fear

Pride is at the root of fear and anxiety, when we refuse to humbly rest in God’s sovereign care. Fear simultaneously reveals our lack of trust and our poisonous self-reliance. We fear because we don’t have faith in the Lord, we are enormously preoccupied with ourselves, and we don’t have control.

When Peter stepped out on the stormy sea to come to Jesus, he was walking in humble faith. But when his gaze shifted to his circumstances and self-preservation, he trusted in himself, became afraid, and began to sink. It was Jesus who saved him, while admonishing him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

2. Entitlement

Self-sacrifice stems from a humble heart. Entitlement is rooted in a prideful heart. The core of the gospel is that we are not entitled to anything, except just punishment for our sins (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Yet we deceive ourselves into thinking we’re better than we are, so we deserve better than we have. We think we deserve God’s mercy. We think we deserve people’s praise. We think we deserve love, success, comfort, accolades. We certainly don’t think we deserve suffering, heartbreak, or discipline.

But when we do experience these things, we grow bitter, frustrated, and disturbed because we believe we’re entitled to more. We forget that apart from Jesus Christ we are sinners who deserve condemnation.

The disciples wrestled with entitlement many times. On one occasion, they were arguing about who was the greatest. They selfishly thought they deserved honor and glory. But Jesus’ response to them was a rebuke: “Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:26).

Read the rest here.