Devotional Podcast #18: “Don’t Settle for Christian Mediocrity”

March 2, 2018

In this podcast, I talk about, among other things, Billy Graham. What we admired most about Graham was not his ability to fill stadiums, to convert thousands in one fell swoop, and to be a chaplain to presidents and royalty. No—what we admired most was his integrity… his character. In Graham, what you saw was what you got: a man who sincerely loved the Lord, who trusted in his Word, and who wanted everyone else in the world to do the same.

Does this describe us? If not, why not? Do we doubt that God has a plan for our lives? Do we doubt that we have the same Holy Spirit working through us that Graham had?

Devotional Text: Genesis 28:10-22

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Hi, This is Brent White! It’s Friday, March 2, and this is podcast number 18.

You’re listening to the band Blondie and their 1979 hit “Dreaming,” from their album Eat to the Beat.

I’m playing this song because today’s scripture, Genesis 28:10-22, is all about dreaming—specifically, a dream that Jacob had when he was on the run from his murderous brother, Esau. He was on the run from him he tricked Esau out of his inheritance and, a little later, his father’s blessing. So Esau is understandably angry. He vows to kill Jacob as soon as his father dies and the period of grieving is over. Rebecca learns of Esau’s intentions and sends Jacob, her favorite son, to live with her brother Laban, in whom—as you’ll see if you read the next several chapters—Jacob fully meets his match, at least in terms of cheating and deceiving.

What a family! You’ve got to admire the way the Bible tells the unvarnished truth about its heroes!

Regardless, while Jacob is on his way to his Uncle Laban’s place, Jacob camps for the night in a deserted place called Luz, later called Bethel. He uses a stone for a pillow—which for some reason always captured my imagination when I heard the story in Vacation Bible School growing up. “Imagine using a stone for a pillow!” And while he dreams, God gives him a vision: He sees a ladder to heaven—or more likely a stairway to heaven—with angels ascending and descending on it, moving from heaven to earth and back. And there is an interesting analogy to Christ, which Christ himself makes in John 1:51. But right now I’m interested in what God tells Jacob in this dream.

God says, beginning in verse 13,

I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.

I will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this place. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. 

What a promise! This is an iron-clad guarantee, isn’t it? “I’m going to do all these things for you,” God says, “even though—clearly—you’ve done nothing to deserve it. And it frankly doesn’t depend on what you do for me. This is an unconditional promise: I am absolutely committing myself to do good for you.”

In a recent podcast, pastor John Piper recounts the apostle Paul’s experience in Jerusalem in Acts 23: The day after Paul appeared before the Jewish ruling council in Jerusalem, we’re told in verses 12 and following that a group of more than 40 men conspire with the chief priests and elders to kill Paul. And they mean business, too: they have sworn an oath that they will neither eat nor drink until Paul is dead.

But that’s not going to happen… You see, the night before they hatched this plan, Jesus came to Paul in a vision and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

God’s plans for Paul did not include his being killed by this particular mob. Piper put it like this: “Until Paul fulfilled the mission that God had for him, he was immortal.” Think about that! Immortal. He was un-killable. He could not die. He would not die.

The same was true for Jacob: Esau couldn’t kill him; he would return to this place from which he was running away. All of God’s promises were going to come true. Between now and when Jacob returned to the Promised Land, however long it took for God’s plan to come to fruition, Jacob had no need to fear! He too was immortal!

What about us? Do we who are God’s children through faith in Christ dare imagine that something similar is true for us? Do we dare imagine that God has a plan for us—he has a mission for us—he has work for us to do on this earth—and between now and when that work is done, between now and when that mission is fulfilled, nothing can kill us? That’s kind of cool to think about, right? If I’m right, that means that God has a plan for our lives the same way he had a plan for Jacob’s life and Paul’s life.

Or do we not think that we count enough in God’s eyes for him to have a plan for our lives? That God only has a plan for the important people, not for us.

I brought this up in my sermon last Sunday, but it’s worth reiterating here: When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer for our deliverance from “the evil one,” the devil, we are praying, in part, that God will protect us from what Satan probably does best—which is, to accuse us. Remember, Satan’s name literally means “The Accuser.” He likes to make us feel worthless, to make us feel like failures, to make us feel discouraged, to make us feel sorry for ourselves… to make us feel defeated… until we resign ourselves to living a life of what I called in my sermon “Christian mediocrity.

When we live a life of Christian mediocrity, Satan has convinced us that God couldn’t possibly care about us enough to have a plan for our lives!

Contrast this life of Christian mediocrity with victorious Christian living—by which I mean a life characterized by an irrepressible joy, no matter the circumstances; a life characterized by continual prayer; by a love for and devotion to God’s Word; by an earnest desire to glorify God in all things, to do his will, and be holy; by a commitment to be a witness to others; by generosity toward God through our financial giving—by tithing

When we hear about someone who lives a victorious Christian life, do we think, “That kind of life is for other Christians—Christians who are obviously better than I am; who haven’t sinned as much as I have; who don’t have all the problems that I have in my life; who are younger, richer, prettier, healthier—you name it. I can give you a list of reasons why I am not that kind of Christian, unfortunately. But I’m not, and I won’t be.”

I had a conversation once with a parishioner who was angry toward her brothers and sisters in Christ—and refused to forgive them for some hurt that they caused her. I was sympathetic—she had been hurt. But this anger was eating her up inside. I pointed her to Matthew 18, and Jesus’ words about forgiveness and reconciliation. I pointed her to some of the apostle Paul’s words. She said, “I’m sorry I’m not Jesus or Paul!”

Of course, being Jesus or being Paul wasn’t my point… I wanted her to imagine that through Christ there’s a better way to live than to be a bitter, put-upon, angry, resentful victim. (And believe me, I know from whence I speak!) But this person felt stuck; she felt helpless: “This is who I am—because of what others had done to me—I’m 50 years old, and I can’t change!”

It’s sad, isn’t it—to believe that even God can’t change things for the better? And yet I don’t doubt for a moment the sincerity of this person’s Christian faith. But for some reason she had resigned herself to a life of Christian mediocrity. How does that happen?

It happens, in part, by listening to, and believing, the devil’s lies!

As you all know, Billy Graham died last week. Even though he had lived the last 15 years or so out of the public spotlight—and had been dealing with debilitating illness—he remained one of the top ten most admired Americans in public surveys. But here’s what I want us to consider: as much as we admire Billy Graham for his success in bringing millions to saving faith in Christ in the second half of the 20th century—as much as we admire his ability to fill stadiums and be unofficial chaplain to presidents and royalty—we admire him at least as much or more for his integrity… his character… the person he was offstage, away from the limelight. Here’s someone, after all, who enjoyed worldwide fame, admiration, and power, yet he was untainted by even a hint of sexual or financial scandal. With Billy Graham, what you saw was what you got.

How did he do that? How did he remain so humble?

Graham often explained his success with the following illustration: “If you are walking down a road, he said, and you happen to see a turtle sitting on top of a tall fence post, what would you assume? You would, of course, assume that the turtle did not climb up there on his own. You would assume that someone far larger than the turtle picked him up and then placed him atop the tall post for some mysterious reason.”[1]

Living a victorious Christian life like Graham, rather than a life of Christian mediocrity like so many other Christians, means recognizing that—yes, by all means, we can’t change—but God can change us!

Why don’t we believe that he will?

Because guess what? The same power that made Billy Graham, well… Billy Graham is the same power that’s living within us! We have the same Holy Spirit living within us! We have the same Bible, the same capacity to listen to God speak to us through it every day as Graham did, the same capacity to go to the throne room of heaven every day and talk to our heavenly Father as Graham did. We have the same Spirit praying through us to our Father as Graham did. We have access to the same all-sufficient grace to face any challenge that life throws our way that Graham did.

Each one of of us, potentially, is a turtle waiting for God to lift him up and put him on that fence post! Sure, it won’t be as high as the post that God put Billy Graham on—but it will be off the ground, and it will be a place we can’t climb to on our own. If only we’ll trust the One who can put us there! How desperately we need to dream a new dream!

In today’s scripture, God promised Jacob a great inheritance in the future. But God promises us an even greater one.

Listen to 1 Peter 1:3-5:

According to his great mercy, he—[that is, our Father]—has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

So: Between now and when we receive that “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” inheritance in heaven, at our death—between now and then—we are immortal. Because God has a plan for us that he wants us to carry out. Will we be faithful to it? Or will we settle for a life of “Christian mediocrity”?

Dear God, please enable us to be faithful to the plan you have for each of our lives! Amen.

1. Terry Mattingly, “Turtle on a fence post? Concerning Billy Graham, St. Pope John Paul II, Bob Dylan and journalism,” Accessed 2 March 2018.

5 Responses to “Devotional Podcast #18: “Don’t Settle for Christian Mediocrity””

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    When Piper talks about “Christian Hedonism” (his term) he says, “God Is Most Glorified in Us When We Are Most Satisfied in Him.”

    He says “Christian Hedonism defines love as the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others.”

    Piper’s Christian is joyful and fully engaged in a love relationship with Jesus. He overflows with that message.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I know! I’ve heard. I buy in. I wouldn’t use the term “hedonism” in any context, but I get that he’s being intentionally provocative.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” 2 Timothy 2:20-21 (NIV). (See also 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.): Which I quote to say that, while it is certainly true that God has purposes for his children and that God cannot be thwarted in his purposes, those purposes themselves do vary according to the state of our hearts as God has foreseen them to be, and on our obedience to his commands.

    Of course God gives all of his children greater blessings than they deserve (as with Jacob in your example), but they are nonetheless somewhat tied to our obedience or our “hearts.” “For out of the heart come the issues of life.”

    Even in your example of Jacob, though he notes to Joseph, “”God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you,'” Genesis 48:3-4 (NIV), he also at the same time says to Pharaoh, “My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers,” Genesis 47:9 (NIV). So, while I agree with you that we should take comfort from Jacob’s example, we should also take warning as well.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I get what you’re saying and agree to some extent. (We disagree, I’m sure, over the role of grace.) But in this post I’m trying to inspire people to a life of something more than Christian mediocrity. Obviously, as part of living a mediocre Christian life, Christians are not being as obedient as they ought to be. They don’t imagine that they can be more than what they are now. If they repent, I’m sure you agree that God would have a wonderful plan for their life.

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