The Apostle John records in his gospel, chapter 17, the closing hours of Jesus’ life on earth where we find Him praying to the Father in one last time of prayer with his disciples. When He is done with this prayer He walks to the garden where He is betrayed, then taken to a mock trial, beating, and crucifixion. In these final hours of His pre-resurrection life He prays the details of our relationship with Him and God the Father.
Though there is much to study in this prayer, in laying before us His relationship with the Father and the work He accomplished with and for us, He puts on the table a crystal clear statement about “eternal life.” This “eternal life” is the culmination of His work and obedience to His Father. For us it clarifies what our salvation is really all about.
Often people pray the salvation prayer because they are recognizing their guilt and they don’t want to spend an eternity in Hell. Heaven has a nice ring to it and the deal is quite awesome. We are guilty and deserving of Hell and praying a sincere prayer of trusting Jesus’ work on the cross gets us freed from that guilt and a promised entry into heaven for eternity. While all of that is true, when that is the extent of our understanding of salvation we will conclude that it is a static achievement that, once secured, we can move on and “do” life with little or no concern or motivation for spiritual life. We must dive deeper in our understanding of the eternal life that Christ brought us.
Note in Jesus’ prayer that revolves around eternal life, that there is no direct mention of heaven or hell. The focus of the prayer is laid bare in verse 3, “and this is eternal life, that they know you (emphasis mine) the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The remainder of the prayer is about what knowing God and Jesus looks like and the resulting fruit of glorifying God. While this entire prayer is a great study that could take hours and pages, summarized, we need to understand that our daily lives need to be lived to know God and reflect on His greatness and the greatness of Christ and His work on the cross (verses 3 and 4). As we live to know God, our actions will change.
Jesus reveals how this works out in our lives. He first mentions in verse 6 that He glorified the Father by giving us His Word. Later, in verse 17 Jesus prays that God the Father would set us apart (sanctify) us through the Word (truth). Jesus is asking the Father to do His sanctifying work in us through the power of the Word. Back in verse 6-8 Jesus states that He did what the Father wanted Him to do, He manifested the Father’s name in a way that we “came to know the truth” that Jesus came from God the Father. This knowledge of God came through the words that Jesus gave and had recorded for us in the Holy Scriptures. Sometimes this is the point that we veer away from what Jesus is teaching in this prayer. We can look at the Word and see the commands and the lists of do’s and don’ts and miss that it was written to reveal God to us! The point of Jesus’ revelation to us (both OT and NT) is that we might know God the Father and Jesus His Son. We need to have a clear, compelling vision of salvation as a dynamic, endless, fathomless pursuit of a relationship with God.
When we put our focus on our sanctification instead of the God of our salvation, we can find that the “cart is before the horse,” and not far down the road, we find ourselves trying to push the cart all on our own. As Jesus stated, our sanctification results from God showing us himself in the Word (verses 6 and 17). As we gain knowledge of the facts of God, we have the opportunity to experience Him. Several times (verses 6-8, 22-23, 25-26) Jesus speaks of this closeness and oneness with God that He came to give to us.
This “Eternal Life” that Jesus came to give us is a precious gift, paid for by His ultimate sacrifice. What a glorious intersession Jesus gave for us and recorded here in John 17. What does this mean for us? We should be compelled to study and know the Word, so we get beyond the words themselves and experience a relationship with God Himself. Think about it, what difference has your knowledge of and thus experience with God made in your daily purposes, habits, and pursuits of life? How has knowing God impacted the relationships around you? Have those around you been compelled to know your God the way you know your God (verses 20 and 21)? A secular proverb rings true, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” But far deeper than any secular proverb can take us, Jesus says in verse 26, “I made known to them your name and I will continue to make it known that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Our biggest promotion and training opportunity of the year was in Dallas this year. We (the Brewsters and the Masseys) had the opportunity to participate in the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors Annual Conference in Dallas this month.
We had many opportunities to network and connect with friends and professionals in the biblical counseling movement. Our display table drew in people for great conversations of hope amidst terribly difficult situations. Our time there was a great encouragement for us, that our ministry is an important resource for the pastors and counselors who are working with hurting families.
The theme for the conference was ministering to the abused. We had sessions designed to help us minister Truth and the hope of Christ to those who were abused and to the abusers. We heard many stories of the freedom through Christ of many hurting, abused people. Scripture was opened and the biblical accounts of abuse and being abused gave light to the dark situations of abuse that many deal with on a daily basis. We were also challenged with the overwhelming lack of response by the church.
Looking at the life of Joseph was a highlight as Heath Lambert walked us through the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that he endured and flourished in. Putting Second Samuel 11-13 in modern terms of abuse opened my thinking of other passages and the pressures and terrible injustices that people in the Scriptures went through. In many cases we can see God’s plan and sovereignty at work in using the hard, sinful actions of people to reveal His glory and grace. We see such things in the lives of David, Bathsheba, Hagar, and Jesus. Though we can’t comprehend all the reasons why all the bad things happen, we can confirm that, whatever the situation or issues at hand, God is doing His work of redemption in the midst of it all.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Romans 8:38-39–
Every year, we take our students down to Devil's Lake in southern Wisconsin. It is a time that we head out to the bluffs and expose our students to the sport of rock climbing. Although we only take a day and a half to climb, it is the highlight of our activity schedule for the week! Every year is different, as different groups of students show differing levels of interest in climbing. This current crop of students were not rock enthusiasts, but enjoyed the time they had on the rock and hanging out until it was their turn to climb.
On Monday, we arrived at our favorite campsite at Devil's Lake - G3. We quickly got to work setting up our campsite. Our new 10-man tent that we bought from Columbia sped things along, as it is considerably easier to put up then our old Cabella's one. In the evening, we dove right into our spiritual program with singing and chapel with Mr. Brewster!
Tim Warren, our resident assistant, did a great job with the music and enlisted the help of Micah. It's an awesome experience to sing songs of worship in the woods, using stringed instruments! Aaron Brewster led the chapels every evening, focusing on the concept of integrity. Most of the students responded positively, but one specifically informed us that the messages has urged him to take definitive steps toward living a life that is characterized by integrity!
On Tuesday, we climbed on some familiar routes and tried some new ones. Here, Josh W. is climbing Brinton's Crack (5.6 - level of difficulty).
Wednesday and Thursday tested our flexibility with rainy weather. Wet rocks rule out climbing and wet trails rule out mountain biking. Instead, we enjoyed fishing, hiking, and relaxing around the state park! Probably the favorite moment of flexibility was when Rory Massey set up an obstacle course in an empty campsite and taught the guys some mountain biking skills in maneuvering around / over obstacles in your path.
On Friday morning, we wrapped up this great trip with donuts from Kwik Trip!
There are times in life when being out of place is just fine. Take three winter-weary fellows from the northern reaches of the mid-west and fly them to the balmy pacific coast of Southern California for three days of spiritual encouragement and equipping. Sounds like a good combination, huh? The founder of Victory Academy, Pastor Steve Schroeder from near Chicago, met up with our present director, Mark Massey and Dan Raught at O’Hare airport to travel to the Shepherd’s Conference at the site of Grace Community Church and Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, California.
Three days were packed with hearing messages and workshops focused on the truth of the gospel and how that gospel is the key to the ministry we do. It is the gospel truth that we speak into the lives of Victory students every day. It is this life-changing message that changes lives and produces real change in young men’s lives. We were challenged regarding our role of being sanctifying agents in the lives of the sheep we lead. What a great privilege to be in the business of seeing God change people even as He is changing us.
It was a special joy for Mark and Dan to enjoy this quality time with Steve Schroeder, who God used over thirty years ago to put action to the vision to establish a home setting in which to help young men to function in their own home setting in a way that reflects the reality and effects of the Gospel. At that time, it was known as Victory Homes. While many things have changed through the years, our commitment to the sufficiency of the truth of God’s Word and our commitment to helping families has never wavered. We came home from the balmy western shore thankful for the opportunity and energized to work for the Lord with His truth and in His power.
The more I study the Scriptures, the more passionate I am about our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Though life gets busy with all sorts of details, projects, and relationships, the energy and focus to press on comes from the quiet times and moments of reflection on Jesus and His amazing grace.
The busyness of life has brought opportunities to travel around meeting people and talking about our Great God and His work here at Victory Academy. In these first two months of the year, my travels have been:
Though busy, it is a joy to me to be able to travel and meet up with friends and meet new friends that have a passion for the Gospel and bringing that Gospel to hurting, struggling people. It seems to me that the world is full of struggling people and the hope of Christ is the answer to that struggle. So, whether I’m traveling somewhere to meet, teach, or counsel a family; or whether the other staff are on a retreat with students or ministering to the students in the “regular” program at Victory or WildHeart, know that we appreciate those who sacrifice financially and pray faithfully for us. We rejoice in Truth and in bringing that hope to teens and families amidst their struggles.
We brave the frigid temperatures and the rustic accommodations of the Harlow Lake Cabins every year, and every year we come back with unforgettable memories and stories. Even for some of our students that have done some camping before, this particular trip is packed with new experiences. We reside in a rustic cabin with no running water or electricity and get to visit breathtaking sights by way of snowshoe, x-country ski, and fat bikes. It truly puts new meaning to "Winter Wonderland."
We started off our trip by visiting the Eben Ice Caves. Over the course of the winter, a continual, slow flow of melt water freezes over the edge of a small cliff.
The guys enjoy exploring the different cavities of the caves and sliding around on the ice. However, their favorite part about the caves is the steep snow-covered hills around the cliff that they can body-sled down!
We stayed in the rustic cabins of Little Presque Isle situated on Harlow Lake. They are small, quaint cabins that serve our purpose of being off-grid very well. Although only 20 minutes away from Marquette, MI, they give us the feeling of being alone in the wilderness. There is one other cabin on the peninsula, but we were blessed to be the only occupants of the cabins that week. The guys had to sled in wood provided by the park service for our fires and we lived by the light of the lanterns.
Presque Isle is a 323-acre forested peninsula that extends into Lake Superior. It is one of Marquette's city parks and offers a variety of things to do. In the summer, one could jump off the cliff that you see us standing on the picture and enjoy the clear waters of Lake Superior. There are also plenty of interior trails that we took with our snowshoes. The views of Lake Superior from this Isle are gorgeous.
Little Presque Isle is a much smaller peninsula that actually can become an island if the current and waves sweep away the sand bar. In the winter, ice forms on the sand bar and gives hikers access to the Isle. Last year, the ice slopes were too treacherous to get across. This year, however, the ice bar formed a nice, easy bridge that we used to cross and visit this exotic gem.
The Snowshoe Retreat is a fantastic venue to discuss purity. All the white snow draws our minds to God’s substitutional righteousness and our need for it. For those same reasons, this retreat is well-suited to spend a great deal of time discussing sexual purity. When we approach this topic we do so from the standpoint of satisfaction. The grime and filth of this world is trying to lure us all into the false belief that it can truly satisfy. This includes not only sexual sins, but also our attempts to find satisfaction in money, friends, food, and the panoply of ideas and items with which Satan tempts us. However, in the end, only a heart submitted to God will ever experience true, glorious, and ultimate satisfaction both here and in eternity!