Running with the Marines
Long-distance running has been one of my favorite activities. I am not too old to try a marathon one day, but so far I must remain content with completing several half marathons. My favorite race is the Marine Corps Historic Half in Fredericksburg, Virginia. It truly is a community event. The race starts at the exposition center high up on the ridge west of Fredericksburg, and for about eight miles runs gently downhill through the historic city and past Mary Washington University until it reaches the Rappahannock River. All along the way there are bands playing, choirs singing, school and church groups handing out water, a children’s drum chorus from a local school, and of course Marines everywhere. They mark the course, direct the runners, provide first aid when necessary, and cheer on everyone just by their presence. There is something very special about a Marine, and even in a long race like a half marathon the sight of that uniform brings encouragement and confidence. And the runners do need it, particularly as the miles add up. Once the course reaches Sophia St. next to the river, it runs level for about two and a half miles, and the cheering crowds begin to thin out. About the time the runners pass the VFW post, the only people there to offer encouragement are a couple of representatives from the Rappahannock Nation, beating drums to remind everyone that long ago all the land was theirs.
It is at about that point that the runners realize they have just run about 9 miles downhill, that there are more than four miles left in the race, and that they have to get back to the top of the ridge before they are done. Let me say that one more time. The runners have descended about 300 feet from the start of the race, and they have done it over the space of about 9 miles. Somehow they have to regain that altitude in the remaining 4 miles, when they have already been in motion for about 90 minutes and are feeling tired. Now it gets really interesting. Marines always seek out a challenge, and in my experience they do not settle for the average definition of success. If something is too easy for them, they will find a way to make it harder. And so it is with the Marine Corps Historic Half. They could have spread that altitude gain over the whole four miles, BUT NO! They found a way to let everyone experience Marine culture by having them climb the hills over a distance of less than a mile.
It is called Hospital Hill, and it’s at mile 10½. Once you turn the corner onto Mary Washington Blvd you know what’s coming. There is one last water point, and you had best take advantage of it. You will regret it if you don’t. No sooner have you taken that last sip and thrown away the cup then you see it: a fancy modern hospital next to an asphalt ribbon that goes three quarters of a mile due up.
I don’t know why they decided to put the hardest part of that race next to a hospital. It must do something to the runners because some of them just stop right there and stare for a while. Others get winded just from thinking about it and decide to walk up the hill. A few can sprint up it. We have a name for such people. They are called Ethiopians. (There is something to be said for seeing an African runner in action. When you’re 10 miles into a race and one of them blows by you, it’s best just to admire them. They aren’t even breathing hard and have barely broken a sweat, and you’re doing all you can just to stay on your feet!) Most of the people who attempt Hospital Hill will run up it as best they can – some faster, some slower, and some only half way before they start walking. However they do it, they do it. And once they reach the top, they find another water point and a crusty old Gunnery Sergeant there to cheer them on to the last leg.
Somehow those last two miles are easier than the previous 10. The course is relatively level, and the crowds grow in size and enthusiasm the closer you get to the finish line. When you see the finish you know you can throw in your last store of energy and sprint across. But you don’t stop there. A man dressed as George Washington comes up to shake your hand and congratulate you on a job well done. Then a Marine hangs a medal around your neck as proof to the world that you have finished the race. Next are the tables filled with good things to eat and drink – fruit and muffins and water to revive the weary. They even have free beer for those so inclined. Just beyond that is a nice lady with a notepad who will tell you how fast you ran the race. And finally, there’s a free massage to take the cramps out of the legs and ease the pain from a worn body. And by the time that’s over, the heat and the distance and the dirt and the hurt and the shortness of breath are but a memory, because you have done something few people ever try to do.
But let’s suppose I had a different concept of how to run the Marine Corps Historic Half. Imagine that I pick up my race packet, pin my number to my shiny new Under Armour running shirt, lace up my fancy new ultralight shoes, and edge my way up to the front of the pack just before the start of the race. Then, when the gun goes off, I step over the start line, set up my lawn chair, plop down on it, and start sipping a big cold glass of iced tea. What would happen then? At best people would give me strange looks. More likely, since it’s crowded at the start of a race, a lot of runners would fall all over me. Worse yet, some of them may look at me and think I know something they don’t. They may follow my example and pull out their own lawn chairs, thinking they’ve probably run enough. If many of them do that, then before long we would block the whole course and impede all the serious runners. And then what do you suppose would happen? Would George Washington come up and shake my hand? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be in congratulation; he would take my hand and pull me off the course. Then if I go on to the Marines handing out the medals, the only thing they would say to me is that I don’t deserve one because I never made any progress. And at the food tables they will turn me away because that stuff is only for the real racers. If I go to the nice lady to ask about my race time, she’ll tell me she has no record that I ever finished, and if I try to get a massage they’ll tell me there are no cramps to work out because the muscles haven’t been exercised.
Does that sound ridiculous? It should. But the tragic truth is that it’s far more common than we care to admit. I am talking about this Body of Christ, which is supposed to be working itself up into fighting trim to finish the race set before us. Have you heard anything like that before? Let me refresh your memory:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (I Corinthians 9:24-27, NKVJ)
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus [Yeshua], the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, NKJV)
The sad truth is that many Christians go through their lives thinking that just because they have salvation, they have reached the end of the race. On the contrary, salvation is the beginning of the race. We do not enter into our rest until the end of this age, and before that we have a lot to do. Yeshua’s Blood avails to save us, but His Blood does not relieve us of responsibility to live in the way He wants us to live. We are saved so we can do good works, not so we can sit around waiting for Yeshua to come back and take us to some ill-defined Neverland where we live in peace and comfort forever and ever. Do you realize that this life is a training ground for the next one? The whole reason God went to all this trouble to rescue, redeem, and restore us is so we could reign with Him! That means in the age to come, and for all eternity, we have cosmic responsibilities! If you are not sure I got that right, let me remind you what the Word of God says:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10, NKJV, emphasis added)
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13, NKJV, emphasis added)
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:18-24, NKJV, emphasis added)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18, NKJV)
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. (Colossians 1:9-12, NKJV, emphasis added)
You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (I Thessalonians 2:10-12, NKJV, emphasis added)
What these passages tell us is that there is much more to following Yeshua than simply proclaiming trust in Him for galactic fire insurance. Most certainly we gain eternal life, but we also gain responsibility for living the way according to the purposes for which our Creator designed us.
The Truth About Heavenly Rewards
Hopefully by now you understand that our eternal reward for trusting Yeshua is not sitting around in heavenly comfort, but doing something useful for His Kingdom. But there’s more. Do you realize there is a merit system in the Kingdom of Heaven? That might sound wrong to us Americans who think salvation by grace through faith is the whole story. You mean God saves us, but doesn’t guarantee where we stand in the Kingdom? That’s exactly what I mean. Yeshua speaks more than once about those who are greatest and least in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:17, 11:11, 18:1-4, 20:20-28, 23:1-12; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 16:9-12, 22:24-30). The work you do in this life doesn’t just put food on the table or good education in your head. It determines where you stand in eternity. And why is that? Because God tests every one of us to see whether we are worthy of His trust (Luke 9:46-48). That’s the whole point of Yeshua’s parable about the talents. I encourage you to read that over again. It’s in Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27. Let me summarize it.
Yeshua told this story of a man who went to a far country, but before he left he put his servants in charge of everything he had. One servant received the equivalent of five talents, which is an enormous sum of money. One servant received two talents, and another servant received one talent. When the man returned, he found that the first servant had worked hard and increased his five talents to ten, and that the second had increased his two talents to five. The man praised both of them and rewarded them with rulership in proportion to what they had earned. The third servant didn’t work very hard at all. In fact, all he did was hide his master’s money so no one could take it. Do you know what the master called that servant? Wicked and lazy! The master expected the servant to do his best, and I am confident he would have commended him even if he had not doubled the money. Yet instead of doing something constructive, the servant put aside his master’s possessions and went about doing whatever he wanted to do. He may have done plenty of good things for his family and his community, but he let his master’s business suffer. No wonder the master called him wicked and lazy. Not only that, the master took that talent from the lazy servant and gave it to the one who had earned ten talents.
That’s a sobering account up to this point, but even more sobering is the way Yeshua ends the story. He says:
For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:29-30, NKJV)
Yeshua is not talking about a loss of salvation here. He does not tell that servant, “Depart from Me, I never knew you”, as He does with the lawless ones in Matthew 7:21-23. Rather, He sends that servant to the outer darkness. You’ll find other references to the outer darkness in Matthew 8:5-13 and Matthew 22:1-14. I encourage you to read those passages again and learn what Yeshua is saying. In each passage He refers to friends and servants and sons of the Kingdom, not to the unsaved. He says those in the outer darkness will experience “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. That’s not the fire of hell reserved for the devil and his angels and others whose names are not written in the Book of Life (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:15). No, these people in the outer darkness are still part of the Kingdom of Heaven, but they are nowhere near the center of the Kingdom, where the Lord is.
Watching the Game from the Outer Darkness
Recently I heard an illustration which I believe is a good interpretation of this outer darkness question. I’ll paraphrase that illustration. Let’s say you were going to see the Tennessee Titans play football on a Monday night. You drive to Nashville and down to LP Field, pay the fee to park your car, and then find an open space in the parking lot. It’s night and dim outside, but there is a bright light pouring out from the stadium. As you walk toward the stadium that light gets brighter and brighter until finally you come out in the stands and can see the field. The light is so bright that you would think it is daytime. But when you walk back to your car after the game the light fades behind you and you go to a progressively darker place.
In Kingdom of Heaven terms, the outer darkness is the parking lot at LP Field. You’re still on the property because your faith transaction got you inside the gate, but you are not where the lights are. Even though there are monitors to show you what is happening down on the field, and even though you can see the glow of the lights and hear the cheers of the crowd, you are not there to see it with your own eyes. And that is why there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It’s not the torment of hell, but the realization that you could have had a seat on the 50 yard line if you had just listened to your Master and done as He had commanded.
“But wait!”, you may say. “What about that part of God wiping away every tear from our eyes?” Good question. That appears twice in scripture. The first time is Revelation 7:14-17, and it refers to those who are martyred in the Great Tribulation. The second time is Revelation 21:1-5, referring to the threshold of eternity when the heavens and the earth pass away and God establishes the New Heaven and Earth. We can debate this point, but it seems to me that between the Great Tribulation and the New Heaven and Earth there is a space of a thousand years when those in the Kingdom who have not lived up to their potential have plenty of opportunity to remember with regret their poor choices.
The Right Kind of Works
But honestly, are our works really going to be judged at the end of this age? And if so, what do we do? What are these good works the Lord expects us to accomplish? The answer, as always, is in the Word of God:
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. (I Corinthians 3:5-17, NKJV, emphasis added)
It seems straightforward what the Apostle Paul is saying here. Basically it’s this: your works determine your reward. But there’s more to it than that. Understand first that salvation comes by grace through faith in Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus), and in no other way. Paul is not talking to the unsaved, but to believers. That is why he says there is no other foundation we can build on but Yeshua. The Son of God has laid the foundation for us, and it’s up to us to build on it. We work as hard as we can according to the abilities God has put into each of us, and He rewards us for our labors. It is not profitable for us to compare our works to one another and try to determine who has done the most or the best. God alone is our judge; our place is to follow His lead in faithfulness. We labor together, even if we are laboring in different parts of His vineyard doing different tasks. As long as we are following His instructions and helping one another, we will succeed.
But can we do whatever seems good in our own eyes? No, by no means! God has set standards, and it’s up to us as His people to learn those standards and follow them. That’s what Paul is talking about when he says we build with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw. You see, it’s possible to work very hard and do some good things, but if the things we produce are not what the Lord wants, then it’s just as if we had produced junk.
Let me put it another way. If my father wants me to build an extension onto his house, but I decided to build a tool shed in his backyard, would he be happy? Would it matter that I used the finest materials, brought in the best qualified craftsmen, and finished the job on time and under budget? No, none of that would matter. My Dad is expecting to have a new bedroom for his grandchildren when they come to visit, not more storage space for his tools. Since I’m his son, he’s not going to disown me, but he’s certainly not going to praise me for disregarding his instructions. And next time he has a job to do, he will think twice before trusting me with it. Not only that, he will probably remember that as he is making out his will.
Do you understand what the Lord is telling us through the Apostle Paul? Yes, do good works, but do the works God wants us to do. Be Abel, not Cain. Remember that story? According to Genesis 4, Cain and Abel both brought offerings to the Lord, but God did not accept Cain’s offering. It’s not that Cain had been lazy or offered bad stuff, but rather that Cain offered something other than what the Lord had specified. He offered the grains and vegetables he had grown from the ground, but Abel offered the firstborn of his flock. How did Abel know what to give God? He watched and listened. He realized that God had had to sacrifice lambs to cloth his parents after their sin (Genesis 3:21), and he understood that anyone who approached God after that needed to bring blood to cover his own sin. The lamb he sacrificed answered that requirement, but Cain, by bringing the best of his wheat and barley and corn, in effect said he could come before God in his own righteousness. And you know what happened next: God accepted Abel, but rejected Cain, and in anger Cain murdered his brother.
Building to the Specifications
So how do we avoid the sin of Cain? We do that by learning what God wants. And where do we learn that? Where else but His Word. That’s why Paul offers this advice:
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (II Timothy 2:15, KJV)
But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance,persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:10-17, NKJV)
If there is a single point you can take away today, it is this: study the Word of God. I am persuaded the Lord of Heaven and Earth does not care that you are willing to die for the Bible half so much as He wants you to live by it. That is what Paul is trying to tell us. That is what Yeshua means when He says things like, “If you love me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15, NKJV) That is the whole point of I Corinthians 13, when Paul says that we can do all kinds of amazing things, but if we have no love, we are nothing. Love begins when we love God, and we love God when we obey what He says. But we can’t obey what He says if we don’t know what He says, and we won’t know what He says if we don’t read His love letter to us.
Paul says we have a choice to build with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw. What are those things? How do we know which one we are building with? The answer is in the Book. I did a little search in the Bible to find out what those building materials are. The results were not a surprise. The wood, hay, and straw were easy enough to figure out. All the references throughout to Bible to those materials are to things that burn up! In the case of wood, many of the references were to idols. The hay is stuff animals eat, and the straw is what animals sleep on. But all of those things have this in common: they cannot stand up to much adversity. Remember that story of the Three Little Pigs? The two foolish pigs built houses of straw and of sticks, and that big, bad wolf just blew them down. Why? Because they were not built of durable materials. And so it is with us. We build with wood, hay, and straw when we do works that have no eternal value. That does not necessarily mean that we are worshipping a Hindu god, or building an illegal drug empire. No, it means we do things like place our careers ahead of our children’s spiritual development. It means we try to work our way into the best social circles instead of listening to and helping those in need all around us. It means we place a higher emphasis on seeing the Tennessee Volunteers winning the football championship for the Southeastern Conference than on getting a hopeless and homeless man off the street. It means we spend more of our time studying the best investment plans than in hiding God’s word in our hearts so we don’t sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).
The Best Things
Brethren, these are all good things, but they are not the best things. Our Father wants to give us the best, and He wants us to labor for the best, not settle for good enough. That is why He shows us the difference between the things that burn up and the things that endure. And what is it that endures?
Gold, the incorruptible material. The reason God told Moses to overlay all the furniture in the Tabernacle with gold is because gold will never rust, tarnish, or wear out. Indeed it is shiny and pretty, but gold endures forever. Silver, also, is durable and highly useful, and so also are precious stones. But what are these things in spiritual terms? Here is just a sample of what the Word says:
“Now acquaint yourself with Him, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you. Receive, please, instruction from His mouth, and lay up His words in your heart. If you return to the Almighty, you will be built up; you will remove iniquity far from your tents. Then you will lay your gold in the dust, and the gold of Ophir among the stones of the brooks. Yes, the Almighty will be your gold and your precious silver; for then you will have your delight in the Almighty, and lift up your face to God. You will make your prayer to Him, He will hear you, and you will pay your vows. You will also declare a thing, and it will be established for you; so light will shine on your ways.” (Job 22:21-28, NKJV)
But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. (Job 23:10-12, NKJV)
“But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its value, nor is it found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It is not in me’; and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’ It cannot be purchased for gold, nor can silver be weighed for its price. It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Neither gold nor crystal can equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewelry of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral or quartz, for the price of wisdom is above rubies. The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold. (Job 28:12-19, NKJV)
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11, NKJV)
The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of coins of gold and silver. (Psalm 119:72, NKJV)
I have done justice and righteousness; do not leave me to my oppressors. Be surety for Your servant for good; do not let the proud oppress me. My eyes fail from seeking Your salvation and Your righteous word. Deal with Your servant according to Your mercy, and teach me Your statutes. I am Your servant; give me understanding, that I may know Your testimonies. It is time for You to act, O Lord, for they have regarded Your law as void. Therefore I love Your commandments more than gold, yes, than fine gold! Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way. (Psalm 119:121-128, NKJV)
Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding; for her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. (Proverbs 3:13-15, NKJV)
[Wisdom cries out,] “Receive my instruction, and not silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold”; for wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her. (Proverbs 8:10-11, NKVJ)
Do you get the picture? The gold, silver, and precious stones are things built with the wisdom and commandments of the Living God. That is why Yeshua says to the church at Laodicea, “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich“. (Revelation 3:18, NKJV) You do not need any money to buy this kind of gold, because it is already paid for in blood. All you need is what’s most precious to you: your time and energy.
Counting the Cost
You may ask whether this is really worth it. I say to you, it most definitely is. I speak from experience. I have been a child of God since I believed on Yeshua for salvation at the age of 9, but it was not until I was 40 that I began to build more from gold, silver, and precious stones than from the things that burn. The Holy Spirit impressed on me the reality that I could continue as I was, a competent government employee, a deacon in my church, and a nice neighbor, and I would still die in my respectable mediocrity. The Lord explained to that He had a commission for me that was far beyond what I could imagine, and He challenged me to accept His offer. I did, and I committed right then to make His priorities my priorities. I gave up some things, and I took up some other things. What I learned right away was that once computer games are out of your life, you have hours and hours and hours each day to do things like talk with your wife, play with your children, and study the Word of God. And study I did. At that time I plunged into a very intense period of prayer and deep Bible study. That was over 12 years ago, and I am still in that intense period of prayer and Bible study.
What have I gained? More than I can explain quickly. There are tangible benefits which I attribute to the Lord’s blessing on us in recognition of our obedience. By that I mean that we are out of debt, and I received back again a military career that I thought was irretrievably lost. Then there are the personal blessings. My wife and I weathered storms that would have wrecked our marriage, and now we enjoy a far more intimate and trusting partnership than we would have thought possible. Our children weathered the storms of public school in Northern Virginia, among other significant events in their lives, and have come out as well-grounded women of God. We have seen fruit in their lives that comes directly from our decision as parents to dig out the principles of our Creator and start living by them. And we have seen fruit in the lives of our daughters’ friends, and in the lives of others who have seen our example and sought our help for their own problems.
And that is my exhortation to you all: decide today not that you are going to die for Yeshua, but that you are going to live for Him. Understand that He means it when He says that His Word is a two-edged sword capable of discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Understand that human beings live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). That means start at, “Let there be light!” (Genesis 1:3) and work forward, paying attention to everything He says, even that supposed “ceremonial” law in the supposedly “boring” book of Leviticus. (By the way, Leviticus is considered the heart of the Torah by the rabbis. If you bother to study it for yourself, you will learn why and you will be amazed at the wisdom of God tucked away in those 27 short chapters.)
I close with this. We are made for good works, but not just any good works. If they are to count, they must be good according to God’s definition of good. And that means we have to learn God’s definition before we do anything else. Yeshua has made us holy and righteous by His supreme sacrifice. It is up to us to learn what those things mean. If we do not, then we walk into all kinds of uncleanness and defilement that grieves our Father’s heart. And if we remain ignorant of the Word of God, then instead of hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant”, we will hear, “Your place is in the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
If you want to fix our country, this is how. God’s people perish for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). We suffer the consequences for throwing out His standard of truth. We, the church, have undermined the foundation God has established because we have sat content in our ignorance and let compromise eat us and our children. We cannot fix it in a day, but we can start today. The decision is yours.
This presentation was originally given on May 26, 2013, during the Memorial Day worship service at New River Fellowship in Franklin, TN.