How to Live for a Legacy

Topical Scripture: Genesis 12:1-9

The Winter Olympics end today. By its conclusion, there will have been 105 events in fifteen sports, the first Winter Olympics to surpass one hundred medal events. Nearly 3,000 athletes from 92 countries have been competing.

Through it all, the one common denominator for American television viewers has been Mike Tirico, NBC’s primetime host. He also became the main studio host for NBC’s coverage of the NFL last year. In both roles, he replaced veteran sportscaster Bob Costas, who hosted eleven Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

Here’s what makes their connection so unusual: Tirico was the first student to receive the Bob Costas Scholarship at Syracuse University, Costas’s alma mater, back in 1987. Costas could have had no idea 31 years ago that a student who went to school because of his scholarship would one day succeed him on arguably the largest sports television stage in the world.

You cannot know the future, but you can prepare for it. You cannot define your legacy, but you can live in such a way that those who do are marked by the Christ who lives in you.

You can be faithful to God today and trust him to use your faithfulness tomorrow. As we continue walking through the Book of Genesis, this week we come to one of the greatest role models of faith in all of human history. Let’s learn from Abram how to trust and serve the God of Abram.

As we do, we’ll learn this fact: you cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness.

Why Abram?

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (v. 1).

There is absolutely no indication that this future father to more than half of the world’s religious population did anything to earn this call on his life. He didn’t graduate from Harvard Law on his way to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or Yale Law, and years of political achievement on the way to becoming president. He didn’t win two Super Bowls on the way to being the Dallas Cowboys’ head coach, or rise to become the best assistant in the league before being named the Dallas Mavericks’ head coach.

He has no resume, no list of achievements, no merit with God. Neither do we. Our lofty achievements can no more impress the omnipotent God of the universe than my singing voice will make me the next American Idol.

This man was in no sense perfect. Sometimes he lived up to his calling, as when he interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah and offered Isaac to God. Sometimes he failed miserably, as when he tried to pass off his wife as his sister, or fathered children with her servant girl.

His is the pattern of Scripture. Noah saved the human race, then planted a vineyard and got drunk; Moses ran from Egyptian authorities for forty years before returning to free his people from them; Bathsheba overshadows Goliath on David’s resume; Peter denied Christ before he preached his gospel; Saul murdered Christians before he ministered to them.

I did absolutely nothing to warrant hearing the gospel when the bus ministry of College Park Baptist Church in Houston knocked at my door. I won no competitions for their attention, had no status in the community which would cause them to seek me out. I simply opened the door when they knocked on it.

What did you do to earn the right to be born in America and not Ethiopia? To have parents who loved you rather than abusing you? Were you any more moral than those who died on 9/11 or at Stoneman Douglas High School? I’ve flown on airplanes around the world and spoken at high schools around the country; the fact that I’ve never been harmed in one has absolutely nothing to do with me.

If God could call Abram, what’s to keep him from calling you?

How to be Abram

Why Abram? What did he bring to the table? Just this: when God said, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (v. 1), “Abram left, as the Lord had told him” (v. 4). As Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” As the King James puts it, “he went out, not knowing whither he went.”

Why is such blind obedience essential to the blessing of God? Is it that this kind of unconditional faith earns God’s favor? No: “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). We do nothing to earn God’s call.

Why then? Because God honors the freedom he gave us and will not lead us where we will not go.

He will not make any of us leave Haran for a Promised Land. He won’t make you trust him with your dating relationship, or marriage, or money, or time. His will for your life is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2); he has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

What he said to Abram he says to you today: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (v. 2); “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (v. 3b).

A single day lived completely in the will of God bears eternal harvest.

When we give his word to our world, that word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). When you teach his word in a Bible study class, or speak it to a friend, or obey it in your personal life, it cannot fail to change the world.

When we perform an act of kindness in his name, we will one day hear Jesus say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:34–36, 40).

These promises have no conditions. They do not depend on the money you make, or the home you own, or the status you’ve achieved.

The wealthiest man in your city is no more important to God than his gardener. Name the last five Nobel Peace Prize winners, or the Super Bowl champions of two years ago, or the World Series champions last year, or the monarch of Great Britain before Queen Elizabeth II.

If you think that your value on earth or in heaven is tied to the world’s assessment, you’re mistaken. No human can bless “all peoples on earth” or make a significant difference in time and eternity. Only God working through us can do that.

Every one of us can change the world. But only if we seek his will and surrender to his voice. Only if we go out not knowing.

But he cannot lead you if you won’t follow. If you’re building towers to glorify yourself instead of altars to glorify God, he’ll tear them down. He will not share his glory, because that would be idolatry, the worst cancer of our souls. He loves us too much to let us trust and serve anyone but the one true God and Lord.


Where do we begin? Where Abram began. When last did you tell God you would “go out not knowing”?

I will be on an airplane again this weekend and have been thinking about that familiar experience as a metaphor for today’s message. You and I are on an airplane that’s ready for takeoff today. Who’s behind the controls? You are unless you’ve consciously turned them over to the true Pilot of the universe. Unless you’ve decided to let him fly the airplane anywhere he wants.

How can you turn the plane over to him?

First, meet the Pilot personally. He cannot fly the plane unless he’s on board. Ask him to forgive your sins and failures and invite him into your life as your Lord. You must know him before you can follow him.

Now, let go of the controls yourself. He won’t fight you for them. Admit the areas of your life which you’ve not surrendered to him—your time, ambitions, relationships, money, sins.

Give him the wheel at the start of every flight. Never take off at the beginning of a day without first giving that day’s flight to his control. Begin every morning by yielding that day to his Spirit. Ask him to “fill” and control you, to be in charge. When you push him out of the cockpit, admit your rebellion immediately and invite him back.

Living in the Lordship of Jesus is so simple that all of us can do it. And so important that all of us must.

Who is flying the airplane of your life and legacy today?

So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

Topical Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-2

Ty Williams was a linebacker for the Georgetown Hoyas. While making a routine tackle during his team’s 2015 season opener, he sustained a fractured vertebra and lost the ability to move his lower body.

He underwent numerous surgeries and spent the last two years in medical rehab working to walk again while completing his degree in government. Last weekend, he walked for the first time since his injury as he crossed the stage to receive his diploma. He got a standing ovation.

Michel de Montaigne, one of the most influential writers in Western history, noted: “Valor is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul.” Such valor requires a purpose worth its cost and more.

George Bernard Shaw wrote:

“This is the true joy in life . . . being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one . . . being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. . . I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

This weekend our nation remembers the 1.1 million men and women who have died in the service of America and freedom. How do we honor their sacrifice and further their cause? How do we hold up the torch they have handed to us?

Is your life dominated by a mighty purpose, by a cause worth its cost and more?

“A great cloud of witnesses”

Our text begins: “Therefore.” The writer has just described the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11. He began at the beginning, with Adam and his descendants. He moved to the persecutions they suffered for their faith. He concluded in verse 38, “The world was not worthy of them.”

Now he calls them a “great cloud of witnesses.”

“Great” is the Greek word “mega.” “Cloud” was a common figure of speech, signifying a vast multitude. “Witnesses” comes from the word “martyr,” people who bear witness to their faith no matter what.

The text pictures us in a Roman arena, preparing to run a long and difficult race. In the stands are all those who have run it already. Because they have done it, we can do it.

We look into the stands, and who do we see?

There’s Noah, a man who spent a century to build an ark to survive a flood when he was on dry ground. His neighbors mocked, his friends laughed, but he warned them and preached to them, and trusted God. He’s watching you tonight. You may be tired, or tempted to quit, but he’s saying, “You can do it.”

Over a little further is Moses, eighty years old, tending sheep on the back side of nowhere. Then comes a burning bush, a holy voice, holy ground, a rod into a snake, the Red Sea, the edge of the Promised Land. You need to trust God in spite of opposition, and Moses says, “You can do it.”

There’s Peter. Three times he denied his Lord, cursing his name. Then Jesus forgave him, redeemed him, used him to start the Christian movement. You’ve sinned and failed and fallen and wonder if you can get up and go on, and Peter says, “You can do it.”

They’re all around us. Godly parents and grandparents who have gone before you; those who have been where we are today. Those who taught us in Bible study and preached to us in church, those who prayed with us and walked with us and loved us. They’re part of the “great cloud of witnesses.” They say to us today, “You can do it. You can go on.”

“Let us run with perseverance”

What are they urging us to do?

“Throw off everything”—this is an athletic metaphor for a runner who strips off his coat and jacket and gets down to his running shorts, or a basketball player who strips off his warm-ups to enter the game.

“Hinders” is literally “swollen flesh” or “fat,” that which has built up around our spirit. The text calls us to go on a spiritual diet. “And the sin that so easily entangles” is literally “that which clings close to us.” A robe that tangles up your feet, clothes that hinder your competition. A golfer in winter must remove his parka to swing his club.

For what purpose?

“Let us run with perseverance”—the word means endurance, refusing to quit or give up or give in. “The race marked out for us”—the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2). Do what God has called us to do. Commit ourselves fully and only to his perfect will for our lives. Get rid of everything which hinders us from doing the purpose and plan of God for this day.

“Fix our eyes on Jesus”

How do we “run with perseverance,” no matter our obstacles?

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus”—the words mean to focus with intent and purpose. “The author”—the word for “architect,” the one who designed all that is. In the New Testament, this word is applied only to Jesus. He designed our lives and our faith.

“And perfecter”—the word means the finisher, the first one to finish the race. He’s been where we are going and knows the way. He’s done what we are to do now.

Jesus has obeyed the will of God. In Gethsemane he prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.” He knows what it is to obey the plan and purpose of God. He has done what this text is now calling us to do.

Why did he do it? “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus ran his race of sacrifice and suffering because he had a larger purpose. He did it to obey his Father and to purchase our salvation.

Now he calls us to do the same.

How to win this war

My father fought in the Second World War, and his father in the First World War. Both fought for freedom, for America, for our survival and way of life.

Today, nearly 1.3 million men and women are deployed in active military duty around the world. They are fighting to preserve and promote the freedoms we exercise by meeting for worship this morning. To protect us.

How can we live in a way which makes their sacrifice worthwhile?

Some of us are called to military service. All through Scripture, God calls and uses his people to fight their enemies and win their peace. In the same way, some are called to arms today.

Some of us are called to political service. God used Jewish kings to lead his people and foreign kings to free and serve them. Some of us are called to similar service.

And all of us are called to spiritual service. Scripture teaches that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

How do we fight this war? Paul commands: “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (v. 18).

Pray with gratitude. Not just on an annual Memorial Day weekend, but each day. If America’s wars had ended differently, we would still be British subjects; or we would still live in a world of slavery; or German, Japanese, or Communist aggressors would rule our globe; or jihadists would determine the future of our nation and our faith. If the men and women we remember today had not defended our nation and our freedoms, those freedoms would not exist today.

Pray with urgency. As you thank God for their sacrifice, pray for the loved ones they left behind. Intercede for grieving mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Pray for those who are fighting for our freedoms today. Fight at their side in prayer.

And pray for spiritual victory in the spiritual war for souls to which we are called. This is a mighty purpose, a cause worth its cost.


On this Memorial Day weekend, remember George Bernard Shaw’s words: “This is the true joy in life . . . being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.” Are you dedicated to a mighty purpose? One which is worthy of the sacrifices made by millions on your behalf? One which is worth your life and your all? A cause worth its cost?

Martin Luther King, Jr. was fond of saying, “If a man hasn’t found a cause worth dying for, he isn’t fit to live.” Nineteenth-century British missionaries found such a cause. As they departed England for Africa, many packed their belongings in long, narrow wooden boxes—their own coffins. They knew that, more than likely, they would return home in those coffins. Felled by disease and violence, many did. But their cause was worth its cost and more.

In the movie Chariots of Fire, the English runner Harold Abrams races against the Scottish champion Eric Liddell and loses. It’s the first loss of his life. The pain of his failure is so great that he tells his girlfriend he will never race again. “If I can’t win, I won’t run,” he insists. She wisely replies, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.”

Today we remember 1.1 million men and women who ran the race for us and won the freedom we celebrate this day. Now we must answer their sacrifice with our own. We are called to a mighty purpose, to a cause worth its cost.

We can do no more to honor their sacrifice. We must do no less.

Solo Climbing on Mt. Everest

Topical Scripture: Genesis 1:26–31

If you’re planning a solo climb of Mt. Everest this year, I have bad news for you: the Nepalese government has amended its mountaineering regulations. They are now prohibiting foreign individual climbers from scaling all mountains in the country without an escort.

One reason for the new prohibition: Nearly three hundred people have died while trying to climb the world’s tallest mountain. More than 200 bodies are still on Mt. Everest, some because they cannot be retrieved and others because it was their wish to remain on the mountain if they died there.

Climbing Mt. Everest solo is not only an aspiration for many—it is a proverb for us all.

You and I were designed to depend on our Designer. We were created by God for relationship with God. We are cars that need a driver, tools that need a carpenter.

When we try to scale the mountains of life on our own, we are destined for failure. But when we climb with our Guide, we can go higher than we ever imagined.

Across the next several weeks, we will explore the book of Genesis together, learning how to walk through life in the power of God. As my wife taught our sons, the key to life is living a life God can bless. We will find principles each week for living our “blest life.”

What challenges and opportunities lie before you? How can you climb your mountain in the power of your Maker?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

How did we get here?

For thirty-five centuries, the Judeo-Christian tradition has taught us that we are created by God and that his creation is “good.” That our purpose and identity are found in the fact that we are God’s creation, that we are each given lives of purpose and eternal significance.

However, recent generations have done battle with this foundational belief and emerged victorious in our culture.

Isaac Newton determined that the universe operates as a machine, according to fixed laws.

The “deists,” Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin among them, believed that while God created this mechanical universe, he has nothing to do with it now.

Then Charles Darwin taught us that God did not create our lives at all, that we are here as the product of random, chance evolution.

Along the way, philosophers taught us that we cannot know this world, however it came to exist, but only our personal, subjective experience with it. Your ethics are just your truth, and you have no right to force them on me or anyone else. I may disagree with homosexuality or sex before marriage, but who am I to tell someone else how to live? Tolerance is the great value of our day.

Postmodernism is the result, the worldview that dominates our culture today. It claims that all truth is subjective and personal. There is no “reality,” only yours and mine. Our lives have no real destiny—this is all there is. You can believe what you want about the origins of life and its purpose and destiny, so long as you tolerate my beliefs.

Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard: “Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we would wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky.”

Are you here by chaos, chance, or coincidence? A cell floating in a pool of water that mutated to its present status? If your past has no purpose, your future has no plan. And Martin Heidegger is right: you’re an actor on a stage, with no script, audience, or director; courage is to face life as it is. Jean Paul Sartre was right to title his most famous play No Exit, and his autobiography, Nausea.

His story is ours. Or is it?

God’s answer to the question

Here’s how God’s word begins: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Everything starts with him. You say life began as a cell floating in a pool of water—Genesis asks where the water came from. You say life began as a cataclysmic, natural Big Bang—Genesis asks where the big bang came from. It all started somewhere. Genesis says it started with God.

And you and I started with him as well. God made us as part of his universe, and in fact as its crowning work: “Let us make man,” God said. When he made the other days, he called them “good.” But when he made us, he called his work “very good” (v. 31).

We must agree with him, or nothing else I’ll say today will matter. If you think you’re nothing more than random, chaotic chance, with no intrinsic value or design, you’ll not be interested in a conversation about purpose and destiny. So let’s examine what Genesis says God made.

Think about the organ with which you think. Your brain contains about 100 billion nerve cells, called “neurons.” Each neuron is connected to surrounding cells by a network of fibers called axons and dendrites, and has as many as ten thousand fibers leading from it into other cells. As a result, the number of possible interconnections between the cells of your brain is theoretically many times larger than the number of atoms in the entire universe.

New research shows the human brain may be able to hold as much information in its memory as is contained on the entire internet.

Consider the ears with which you are hearing these words. The human ear works with the brain to turn vibrations into sound…20-20,000 a second. Your heart is no larger than your fist, but it will beat on average 100,000 times a day, pumping 2,000 gallons of blood.

The average adult has 100,000 miles of blood vessels carrying blood throughout the body. The average tongue has between 2,000-8,000 taste buds. 206 bones make up your frame; some 640 muscles cover those bones. You are special.

In fact, you are made in God’s “image” or “likeness” (v. 26). An “image” is a representation of something, as with a “mirror image.” God says this is true of us—not of anything else in creation, just you and me.

Four biblical imperatives

What does it mean that you and I are uniquely created in the image and likeness of our Creator? Consider four biblical imperatives.

One: Be a good steward of God’s creation.

Genesis says that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). “Work” translates the Hebrew abad, which means to nurture or sustain. “Take care of” translates shamar, which means to protect, preserve, or guard. When we misuse the skies and soil, rivers and oceans he made, we violate the stewardship he has entrusted to us.

Scripture is clear: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). Earth belongs to God, not to us. We are to manage it for the purposes and glory of its Maker.

At the same time, our planet was created to serve us. God made it to meet our physical needs (Gen. 1:29-30; 9:1-3). By his design, our lives are sustained by its resources. We have a spiritual obligation to develop and utilize these resources in ways that honor God and his creation.

Such stewardship includes our bodies, gifts of his creative grace. For Christians, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and reflect on our Owner and Resident (Gen. 1:27; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Romans 12:1-2). We are to extend this care to the physical lives of others.

Two: Care for human life, beginning at conception.

David said to the Lord, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). The Lord told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). We belong to our Creator and King from the moment we are conceived.

Three: Serve the neediest members of society.

This obligation begins with the preborn, who are the most innocent and helpless of us, and extends to the diseased, the elderly and the infirm. They are all creations of our King and residents of his realm.

Four: Seek shalom for all.

Biblical “peace” is more than the absence of conflict—it is the presence of righteousness in our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. Our Father wants our best, and calls us into a divine-human partnership by which we are to serve him and one another.


Name your mountain today. Ask God to help you manage his resources as his partner in his creation. Ask him to help you care for others and offer his shalom to all. And remember all week long who you are and Whose you are.

Theodore Roosevelt was one of our greatest presidents. He was also a man who knew his place in the universe.

His friend, the naturalist William Beebe, would often visit him at the White House. They would typically step outside before retiring to bed and look up into the night sky, searching for a tiny patch of light near the constellation Pegasus.

Then they would chant together, “That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our own sun.”

After a moment of silent awe, the president would turn to his friend and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

Are you small enough to go to God?

The Crown or the Cross

Topical Scripture: Luke 9:51-62

We’ll begin with some good news: we have a second moon.

It was first spotted on February 15. It’s about the size of a compact car, so it’s being called a “mini-moon.” Scientists say it is an asteroid that got trapped in our planet’s gravitational force in 2017 and began orbiting us, but nobody noticed.

Here’s the bad news: it’s leaving us as soon as next week or as late as April.

By my calculations, it would take 1.1 billion minimoons to match the diameter of our moon. And three moons to match the diameter of the Earth. And 109 Earths to match the diameter of the Sun. And that’s just our Solar System, which is one of as many as 100 billion solar systems in the universe.

And the God we worship this morning made all of that.

As we’re dealing with the spreading coronavirus epidemic, the stock market fluctuations, the tornado disaster in Tennessee, and everything else in the news, it’s good to remember who is charge of the world. And the fact that he has a plan and a purpose for every one of our lives today.

We’re watching Jesus change lives on the way to Easter. Today, we’ll watch our Lord deal with people who miss their purpose. As we do, let’s determine that we will not miss ours. It has been said that there is in every human heart a crown and a cross. If we are wearing the crown, Jesus must wear the cross. If we will wear the cross, he can wear the crown.

What does it mean to give Jesus your crown, to submit to his purpose for your life? How can you do that today?

Choose God’s purpose and no other

Our text begins, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (v. 51). “To be taken up” refers to his crucifixion. “Set his face” means to be firm in resolve, especially when facing difficulty or danger. “He chose and would not be deterred” would carry the sense of Luke’s phrase.

If you and I are to follow him fully, we must be as committed to God’s will for our lives as Jesus was to his own. How do you know God’s purpose for your life?

First, believe that your Father does in fact have a plan for your life today. Some evolutionists say that life began as a chance coincidence, with no particular plan or purpose at all. Existentialists say that this life is all there is, and life is chaos. Martin Heidegger, for instance, wrote that we are actors on a stage, with no script, director, or audience, and courage is to face life as it is. Postmodernists say that truth is relative, that there is no overriding purpose to life.

So, does God have a plan for us, or is life a random coincidence? In the words of Shakespeare, are we “sound and fury, signifying nothing”?

Here is God’s answer: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). His will for you is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Second, ask him to guide you into his perfect will. He will lead you rationally through Scripture, practically through circumstances, and intuitively as his Spirit speaks to your spirit. He wants you to know his will even more than you want to know it. Ask him to lead you and trust that he will. His will is not a floodlight that reveals the entire path but a flashlight that reveals the next step.

The ultimate question is not if we can know his will but whether we will follow it.

Love those God loves (vv. 52–56)

So, Jesus determined that he would embark on the journey which would end in his execution. It was customary in his day for a rabbi to send messengers ahead to make things ready for his arrival in a town (v. 52). He and his band of disciples would need food and lodging, as their trip to Jerusalem would take three days by foot. Travelers’ inns were few and far between, while bandits preyed on unprotected groups such as theirs. At the least, he did not wish to be a burden on those who might offer hospitality to his group.

As they were traveling from Galilee to Judea, their journey took them through Samaria. Most rabbis went to the east and around this despised area and people. They considered Samaritans to be half-breeds and infidels. But Jesus’ ministry to the woman at the Samaritan well two years earlier showed his compassion for these rejected people (John 4).

Tragically, this Samaritan village refused the same grace: “The people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem” (v. 53). The Samaritans usually presented no obstacles to those traveling from the south to the north. But those journeying south to Jerusalem clearly rejected the Samaritan claim that Mt. Gerazim was the proper place of worship and sacrifice.

And so, Samaritans along the way took great pains to make such journeys more difficult. Josephus even claims that they murdered Jewish pilgrims on occasion (Antiquities 20.118). If Jesus and his followers would not worship at Mt. Gerazim, they would not find easy passage to the Temple at Jerusalem.

We can understand something of their antipathy. It is human nature to slander those who slander us, to feel justified in our anger against those who hurt us first. While Jesus understood the Samaritans’ reaction, his disciples did not: “And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?'” (v. 54).

In response, Jesus “turned and rebuked them” (v. 55). There is a week’s worth of theology in this short verse.

Luke records Jesus’ “rebuke” of the storm (Luke 8:24), a fever (Luke 4:39), and demons (Luke 4:41). But only one other time in Scripture do we find Jesus rebuking a person: when Peter tried to prevent his decision to face crucifixion, Jesus “rebuked” him. In fact, he said to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:33).

For Jesus to treat James and John as he treated Satan working through Peter was a stern response, indeed. It showed his displeasure with their racism and superior pride. It demonstrated his compassion for all people, whatever their status in society. And it stands as God’s requirement for those who follow him today: we must love those God loves.

Are there any Samaritans in your circle of relationships? Someone dealing with the pain and suffering of divorce? Someone facing their first Easter without a loved one? Someone far from home?

It’s been said that the best test of character is how we treat people we don’t have to treat well. If you’ll ask God to show you a Samaritan this week, you can be sure that he will. If you will show that person his love in yours, you’ll prove that you follow Jesus (cf. John 13:35).

Pay any price to be faithful (vs. 57-62)

In contrast to the Samaritan refusal of his band, Jesus next met three who wanted to join his disciples. Luke reports their stories because they are ours as well.

Go where he leads

One said he would follow Jesus “wherever you go” (v. 57). So Jesus told the man just where he would go: while even foxes and birds have places to reside, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (v. 58). Since beginning his public ministry, he had lived in Peter’s home in Capernaum, and with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus while in Bethany (cf. John 11). Now the Samaritans had offered him no lodging. His reception in Jerusalem would be far worse. To follow Jesus is to accept a future filled with potential danger and distress.

It is true that the will of God never leads where the grace of God cannot sustain. But it is also true that there are times in the will of God when the grace of God is all that sustains us.

Have you placed restrictions on God’s will for your life? Are there places you will not go, people you will not serve, resources you will not give? Sins you will not confess? We are not truly his disciples unless we go where our Master goes—and his way led to the cross.

Go when he calls

Jesus called another man, “Follow me” (v. 59a). “Follow” means “be my disciple.” But the man desisted: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (v. 59b), incurring Jesus’ stern response: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (v. 60).

At first glance this seems a callous and cruel request by our Savior. A man has just lost his father, the funeral is pending, and Jesus wants the grieving son to desert his family to follow him. But this was not the situation at all. This text is an example of the importance of historical exegesis, knowing the culture and customs behind the biblical narrative.

If the man’s father had actually died, the son would be at his home arranging the funeral already. Jews buried on the same day the person died whenever possible, as was done with Jesus’ corpse. If his father had died, the son would be exempt from social requirements for up to a year as he mourned his death.

But in Jesus’ day it was common for the son of elderly parents to use their advancing age and declining health as a means of avoiding life’s responsibilities. They would sometimes cite this concern as an excuse for not working, paying their bills, or serving in the military. The father was not yet dead; his son was looking for ways to avoid Jesus’ call.

And our Lord knew it. That’s why his response seemed so stern. The man’s avoidance of God’s call would cost him the chance to know and follow the Messiah of God. Tragically, it did.

Is there a call to service which you are ignoring today? A hurting person you know you should help? A witness you know you should give? A financial contribution you know you should make?

Do not mortgage today for tomorrow. “Today” is the only day which exists. God measures obedience in present action, not future intentions. What does he think of yours?

Don’t look back

A third man offered to follow Jesus if he could first go back and say good-by to his family (v. 61). Again, this seems a reasonable request met with a stern reply: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62). But the setting explains the sense of the text.

Imagine a man plowing a field who looks backward more than he looks ahead. Envision the wreckage such neglect would cause the field. Now envision an athlete who constantly leaves the game to talk with his family in the stands, or a soldier who abandons the field of battle regularly to visit his home.

It’s impossible to see where we’re going if we’re constantly looking at where we’ve been. Jesus wants full-time disciples, those who will be unwavering in their loyalty to his cause. Is there a distraction in your discipleship today? A temptation you will not reject forever? A personal agenda you wish to serve while serving your Lord?

You cannot plow in two directions at the same time. Every hour spent in the wrong field is an hour subtracted from the field assigned to you. It is an hour subtracted from the dream and passion of God for your life. It is an hour you can never regain.


This week we have learned how to follow Jesus fully: we are to be focused on his call, gracious to all he loves, and unconditional in our obedience. Now we are responsible for the truth we have learned.

That minimoon we discussed today is miniscule compared to our planet and our sun, but it’s bigger than we are. Here’s the amazing truth: if we give ourselves to the purpose of God, we will accomplish things of significance millennia after this planet is gone.

Winston Churchill noted: “It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something.”

What is your “something” today?

The Key to Being Pure in Heart

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:8

There are three tame ducks in our back yard,
Dabbling in mud and trying hard
To get their share, and maybe more,
Of the overflowing barnyard store.
Satisfied with the task they’re at,
Eating and sleeping and getting fat.
But whenever the free wild ducks go by
In a long line streaming down the sky,
They cock a quizzical, puzzled eye,
And flap their wings and try to fly.

I think my soul is a tame old duck,
Dabbling around in barnyard muck,
Fat and lazy with useless wings.
But sometimes when the North wind sings
And the wild ones hurdle overhead,
It remembers something lost and dead,
And cocks a wary, bewildered eye,
And makes a feeble attempt to fly.

It’s fairly content with the state it’s in,
But it isn’t the duck it might have been.

I don’t want to be a tame duck. You don’t, either. You want your life to have purpose and passion, a reason for being which transcends the hum-drum routine, the workaday world. You want to believe that your life counts for something bigger than yourself, that you are more than a dot on the screen of the universe.

How do we escape the barnyard?

Choose to have a life purpose

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” our Teacher says.

Greek scholar Fritz Rienecker defines “heart” as “the center of the inner life of the person where all the spiritual forces and functions have their origin.” “Pure” here means to have integrity, to be consistent, to be of one mind.

So to be “pure in heart” is to have a single purpose to your life. Kierkegaard was right: “purity of heart is to will one thing.” To choose to have a single life purpose.

Not everyone believes you can. Many think that life has no real purpose or meaning.

Philosopher Martin Heidegger says you’re an actor on a stage with no script, director, audience, past or future. Courage is to face life as it is.

French philosopher and playwright Jean Paul Sartre titled his most famous play, No Exit, and his autobiography, Nausea. In Existentialism and Human Emotions, he ended the chapter titled “The Hole” with these words: “Man is a useless passion” (p. 107).

“Postmodernism” says there’s no absolute truth, which is itself an absolute truth claim. It claims life has no real purpose, just what you make of it. Life is chaotic, random dots produced by the coincidence of evolution and the chance occurrences of life.

Why not share this chaotic world view? Why seek to be “pure of heart,” to have a single purpose?

One answer is practical: greatness is only possible through commitment to a single purpose. Winston Churchill in June of 1941: “I have but one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby.” Brilliant scholar and author William Barclay: “A man will never become outstandingly good at anything unless that thing is his ruling passion. There must be something of which he can say, ‘For me to live is this.'”

A second answer is logical: if the universe were chaotic, without purpose or meaning, you and I would never be able to know it or say it. Think with me for a moment. If reality were truly chaotic, there would be nothing we could “know.” Red today would be green tomorrow. Stand before a Jackson Pollock painting, splotches on the canvas, and tell me what it “means.” Or before a Mark Rothco, a canvas painted all a single solid color. Again, no meaning. Both artists committed suicide, by the way.

If the world were chaos like their paintings, there could be no objective truth, not even the objective statement that there is no objective truth. And we couldn’t speak of truth, for language could have no common meaning between us.

A third answer is biblical. Jesus made this statement about human experience: “No man can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).

James added this command: “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). To purify our heart, we must not be “double-minded.” We must have a single life purpose.

A fourth answer is spiritual: we must be “pure in heart” to see God. Jesus’ beatitude makes this fact clear. Let’s explore here for a moment. We cannot see God with our physical eyes: “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). But we can “see” God spiritually. Hebrews 11:27 says of Moses, “he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” Exodus 33:11 states, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”

We can know God this intimately. But only if we are pure in heart. Hebrews 12:14 warns us, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” But Jesus promises: if we are “pure in heart,” we will.

Political campaign contributors will pay $10,000 and more for a table at a dinner, hoping just to meet the president or their candidate. Imagine knowing intimately the God who created the universe. You can. But you must be pure in heart. You must choose a single life purpose.

Choose the right life purpose

So how do we become “pure in heart.” Assuming that these practical, logical, biblical, and spiritual arguments are compelling, what do you do next? What single life purpose will lead us to “see God”?

We’re not the first to ask Jesus. Remember the lawyer’s trick question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36). Which of our 613 commandments will you neglect, so we can convict you of breaking the law?

And remember his answer, summarizing all the law and the prophets, all the word and will of God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself” (vv. 37, 39).

The two are one, Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s request for the greatest single commandment in God’s word. They are two wings of the same spiritual airplane, both essential for the soul that flies into the presence of God. Examine them for a moment.

Love the Lord “with all your heart,” by walking in the will of God. Remember that your heart is the center of your life, the origin of your will and actions. The Bible instructs us, “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Flee evil, pursue righteousness. Walk in the will of God and you’ll be “pure in heart.”

Love the Lord “with all your soul,” by practicing the worship of God. With your spiritual life, your daily worship: “Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). To “fear” God is to reverence him, to honor him, to worship him. The “undivided heart” is the pure heart. Love God with your daily worship, as you commune with him, walk with him, praise him. And you’ll be “pure in heart.”

Love the Lord “with all your mind,” by knowing the word of God. Know and obey his revealed truth: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth . . . love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). Know and obey the truth of God’s word and you’ll be “pure in heart.”

And love your neighbor as yourself: “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart” (1 Timothy 1:5).

Share God’s love by living your faith. As Francis of Assisi suggests, preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words. Share God’s love by caring for hurting souls. Show them God’s love in yours. Share God’s love by explaining your faith. Share with them God’s salvation and urge them to experience his grace.

And you’ll be “pure in heart.”


When a crash closed a road leading to the Denver International Airport, Google Maps offered drivers a quick way out of the traffic jam. However, the route it suggested took them down a dirt road that rain had turned into a muddy mess.

Some vehicles couldn’t drive through the mud and became stuck. About a hundred others became trapped behind them. They were sincere in trusting the app, but they were sincerely wrong.

Today’s beatitude offers us the only path to a life God can bless. So, choose to have a single life purpose, for practical, logical, biblical and spiritual reasons. Choose Jesus’ purpose: love the Lord your God with your heart through his worship, with your soul through his will, with your mind through his word. Love others as yourself. And you will be “pure in heart.” And you will see God.

Your soul can be a tame duck. Or it can be a wild eagle.

The choice is yours.

The Man Who Prepared for War

Topical Scripture: Judges 3:12-30

October 10, 2011 was Les and Karen Ferguson’s twenty-fourth wedding anniversary. Les was at a preacher’s meeting when his wife and their twenty-one-year-old son, Cole, were shot to death in their home.

The apparent killer had attended their church until being charged with sexually assaulting Cole, who had cerebral palsy. The day Karen and Cole were killed, the man was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

We cannot imagine the grief that Les and the rest of his family endured. The minister’s grief overwhelmed him as he withdrew from everyone except his remaining family and a few friends. He later launched an online journal called “Desperately Wanting to Believe Again.” And he has.

Les has returned to pastoral ministry and written a transparent book on his faith journey. If he can serve a God whose ways he will never fully understand, can’t we?

This week we will meet a man who became an unlikely judge and rescued his people from horrific oppression. And we will learn that the God who used Ehud will use anyone who is willing to be used. There are no exceptions.

Refuse sin before judgment comes (vv. 12–14)

Thirteen centuries before Christ, the twelve Jewish tribes were living in their Promised Land. However, they were still surrounded by external enemies that imperiled their future. And their internal sin was a greater threat than any external nation.

Last week we discussed the pattern of Judges:

  • The people reject God
  • God responds with divine retribution
  • The people repent
  • God raises up a judge as their deliverer.

This pattern begins in our text: “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 3:12a). “Evil” translates the Hebrew word ra, meaning that which is wicked, contemptible, noxious, hurtful.

The text is not more specific. We’re not told if their evil had to do with idolatry, sexual immorality, theft, or any other sins. I believe there are two reasons for the ambiguity of the text.

One reason is that any sin is sin before the Lord. Our righteous, holy Father must view all sins as evil. We rank sins as less or greater in significance, but any sin breaks our fellowship with our perfect Lord.

A second reason is that our text can now apply to any reader. The Bible states, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Any sin you have committed today makes this text relevant to you.

God must punish sin. But he often chooses unusual ways to express his judgment. In this case, he “strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel” (v. 12b). The Moabites lived on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea (in modern-day Saudi Arabia, just south of Jordan), directly east of the tribe of Judah. They were Israel’s relatives, descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19:36–37).

The Lord had earlier forbidden the Jews from taking the Moabites’ land. As the Jews were on their way to the Promised Land, Moses testified: “We turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession'” (Deuteronomy 2:8–9).

Now the Lord raised up the Moabites to punish Israel. Eglon, their king, made an alliance with the Ammonites (to the north of Moab) and the Amelekites (to the south of Israel). With their help, Eglon was able to defeat Israel and take possession of “the city of palms,” Jericho (v. 13). As a result, “the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years” (v. 14).

One of Satan’s most effective strategies is to tempt us to believe that we can sin without consequences. He said to Eve in the Garden, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). He says to us that we can get away with this. No one will be hurt; no one will know. We can always repent later.

The reality is that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Thomas Watson warned us: “Sin has the devil for its father, shame for its companion, and death for its wages.” Every time.

What “evil” are you being tempted to commit today?

Prepare to be used by God (vv. 15–23)

True to form, “the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, and the Lord raised up for them a deliverer” (v. 15a). It is never too late to repent. The nation would not get back the eighteen years it spent enslaved to Moab, but its past did not need to become its future.

In this case, their deliverer was “Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man” (v. 15b). Every word of the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and included in Scripture for a reason. In this case, we learn two important facts about the judge named Ehud.

One: he was a “Benjamite.” This was the smallest of the twelve tribes but one of the most capable. Among them were “700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss” (Judges 20:16). Ehud grew up among warriors and was clearly prepared to be one himself.

Two: he was “a left-handed man” himself. Since only about ten percent of the population is left-handed, soldiers typically learned to fight right-handed. Ehud was therefore likely ambidextrous, an even more capable fighter. This fact would serve him well.

When the people sent tribute to Eglon by Ehud, he “made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length” (v. 16a), eighteen inches long. It was so short that he could hide it “on his right thigh under his clothes” (v. 16b). This is not where the king’s guards would think to look for it, since a right-handed man would hide his weapon on the left side of his body.

When he was alone with the king, Ehud “reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly” (v. 21), killing the Moabite king. Ehud was then able to escape with his life.

However, there is no way he could have known that he would be alone with Eglon. I think he was willing to pay for his faithfulness with his life. As it was, he lived on to complete the overthrow of the Moabites, as we will see shortly.

Of all we could say about Ehud, I would emphasize the fact that he prepared to be used by God.

We live and work in a divine-human partnership. Noah built the ark, and God closed its door. Moses held out his staff, and God parted the Red Sea. David was willing to fight Goliath, and God helped him succeed. Peter preached at Pentecost, and the Spirit led three thousand souls to Jesus.

Here we see Ehud preparing along with his fellow Benjamites for battle. Depending on his age, he might have never known a time when the Moabites were not oppressing his people. He worked and waited until his moment came. When it did, he was ready.

It’s been said that God seeks not ability but availability. It’s actually both. He gives us abilities and spiritual gifts he expects us to nurture and develop. Then he uses us in ways we might never imagine.

Many years ago, a wise mentor said to me, “The Holy Spirit has a strange affinity for the trained mind.” Are you preparing to be used by your Lord?

Seek to change the world (vv. 24–30)

After Ehud executed Eglon and escaped, “he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim” and became the leader of the nation (v. 27). Under his leadership, the people “killed at that time about 10,000 of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; not a man escaped” (v. 29). Our enemies may be strong, but our God is always stronger.

As a result, “Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years” (v. 30), twice as long as under any other judge.

God wants to use us to change the world. Anything less is less than his purpose for our lives. If Ehud could show us how to join God in his transforming mission, he would call us to three imperatives.

Choose holiness now. Sin is spiritual cancer. It always grows. It always affects more people than the sinner. It drives a wedge between us and our Father. It leads to his justice and judgment. Ask the Lord if there is “evil” in your life, and repent if there is.

Prepare to be used by God. In what ways are you “left-handed”? What are your abilities? Your spiritual gifts? Your resources and opportunities? With whom do you have influence? All of this is God’s gift to you, to be developed with excellence for his glory and our good.

We tend to focus on our weaknesses, trying to make them better. But experts say that the wisest strategy is to focus on our strengths, trying to make them excellent. How are you doing this?

Oswald Chambers’ motto should be ours: “My utmost for his highest.”

Pay the price of courage. As I noted, there was no guarantee Ehud would survive his attack on Israel’s oppressor. Nor was there any guarantee that those he led would defeat the “strong, able-bodied men” of Moab with whom they fought.

When we see evil, we must respond. When we see a need, we must meet it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer testified: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” He paid for these words with his life, but his life will continue to change the world until Jesus returns.


Does the world need another Ehud?

Jesus called capable men who had built a very successful fishing enterprise, but then he said, “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). If they would do what they could do, he would do what they could not.

He called a brilliant scholar of the Pharisees to become his “apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). If Paul would dedicate his mind and skills to Jesus, the Lord would use him to write half of the New Testament.

What is he calling you to do?

I cannot leave Ehud without calling to mind some of the most famous words on our subject ever spoken. They come from a speech made by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Will you go into “the arena” today?