The Job of a Lifetime

2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

In the midst of life’s twists and turns, ups and downs, uncertainties and inevitabilities, I constantly need to be reminded of my true purpose. It isn’t to find the job I will never grow bored of or to pursue fun hobbies or to see as many countries of the world as I can. None of those are bad, but it is so easy to let them take over and guide our thoughts and actions even though they will never bring contentment. That’s just not what God made us for

My life has had a few twists lately and I have found myself starting to lose focus. Graciously, our faithful Father brought me to 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 to to inspire me to move forward with confidence in His purpose for me. Since the beginning of time, God has had a plan for us. He sent Jesus to accomplish something amazing-making the way for the traitorous sinners we are to become new creations. God reconciled us to himself. Stop there. Do you see that? God reconciled us. Not the other  way around. We didn’t pursue him or try to find ways to make peace with him. No. He pursued me and he pursued you. And by being found by him and allowing him to reign in us once again, he chose not to count our trespasses against us. But he doesn’t stop there, he also gave us a purpose for living, a special job, that only us, his redeemed can do. He entrusted to us his message of reconciliation and made us his ambassadors. Now that Christ is in heaven, we are it! We are God’s ordained method to show the world the reconciliation he sacrificed his Son to provide. We are to be the righteousness of God on this earth. God is making his appeal to the world through US!

What an awesome privilege but oh, what a great responsibility. How seriously are we taking this? I admit my first thought when meeting someone new is not often about how I am going to be God’s message to this person. And even if it was, how often do I actually follow through on speaking and demonstrating that message? I feel so inadequate and unable to hold such a responsibility. I fail so often to make efforts towards fulfilling this role and probably make more efforts against it with all the things I do and say that don’t represent Jesus very well. Thankfully you and I are not alone in this. Paul felt the same way and he says in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 that we aren’t sufficient in ourselves to do any of it, but “our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…” God has provided us through his Spirit all the power we need to be Christ’s ambassadors.

Unfortunately, I often don’t feel that power, or probably more accurately, I don’t utilize it. I look at my everyday life and don’t see it as very different from the non-Christians around me. This is shameful to me. It should not be this way. People I have a relationship with should know unmistakably that I am a follower of Christ through my actions and words. That is to say, it should be them choosing to reject or accept the Truth rather than my failure to tell and show them that Truth. As I go through yet another period of unknowns and discovery in my life, God has blessed me with yet another chance to take my eyes off myself and towards him and focus my life on fulfilling the purpose he has entrusted me with. To do so, I have to live differently. I have to say no to living like the world and pursuing the things that are important to it. I have to put aside all fears (because what’s there really to fear if God’s on our side?) and hesitations and boldly proclaim the saving power of Christ to the people God has put in my life. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Think Eternal!

I Timothy 1:12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service

Ephesians 3:16-17a …that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Mark 8:36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

I AM

Psalm 8:1  LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

I am always left amazed when I try to understand more about who our God is and what he’s like. He is infinite. No matter how much we strive we can never fully grasp his entirety, but the tiny glimpses he has given continue to show me how aptly he calls himself, I Am.

God is.

God is one. He doesn’t have parts. Nothing can be taken away and nothing can be added to who he is. He doesn’t have a collection of attributes. He is those attributes. They don’t require him to act a certain way (implying they are something outside of him). They are him. God is love. God is justice. God is goodness. His attributes don’t conflict and he cannot act outside of them.

Any not only that, whatever God is, he is to the maximum. If God loves something, he loves it infinitely, with all power…no hint of unlove at all. We humans have this fickle love all the time, but not God. He loves me, and YOU (yes, you!) that much. Actually I can’t even use “much” because that would give it limit. His love for us is unlimited! When God acts, everything He does is good with not even the tiniest hint of bad. When he justly acquits us of our sin through the atoning sacrifice of his only Son, we are fully “not guilty”. There is not even a hint of regret or conflict in his mind about forgiving us all our treachery and disobedience.

God is.

This God, the great I Am, is what I am searching for. This God is what you are searching for. He is what we are longing for, what we struggle each day to be content with. God IS the answer. God IS the treasure. When we go outside in the morning and see the sun rise over the mountains, hear the birds sing, breathe in the fresh air, this is able to fill us with life and inspiration because we’re looking at the amazing work of God’s hands. The reason we find such joy in sharing with and serving others is because that’s what God created us to do and we are fulfilling his purposes. The reason I love someone else is because they were created in the image of our God and they display some of God’s character for me. See? God is in everything that is good! So stop searching. If we find ourselves dissatisfied, run to God. Abide in Christ who made it possible for us to approach our Creator and we will have joy, bear fruit, and if we ask, he will give us more than we could ever imagine.

We get to have a relationship with the I AM! What’s there to lose? Let’s pursue him with all we have and he will never let us go.

God is.

Exodus 3:13-15     Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

A Bold Request

 

Matthew 14: 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Isn’t it wonderful that no matter how many times we read a passage from the Bible, it will never get old or too familiar? The possibilities will never run dry for learning new things, seeing a story from a new angle, or grasping a familiar concept in a fresh way. Unlike any other written document, the Bible is alive! It is God’s literal words spoken to us which can penetrate to our innermost parts. Ah, the wonder of the mysterious ways of our awe-some God.

This renewed sense of the Bible’s alive-ness came as I read the story of Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14. The disciples see this “ghost” walking on the water and they are terrified (as any of us would be). To calm them, Jesus speaks peace upon them and says, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Now the disciples could have had many responses to this. They were probably still not convinced of their safety, but Peter breaks the mold with a response that is so unexpected and brazen. He basically says, “Prove it!” and commands Jesus to have him come and walk on the water too. I’m taken aback. Is that a proper response to the Son of God who is at that very moment demonstrating his deity and supernatural power by walking on water? I almost expect this God-man to strike Peter down right there or at least reprimand his shameless request. But again, Jesus’ reply is not what’s expected. He is not offended by Peter’s boldness and desire to be sure of his words. Jesus simply says, “Come.” And when, only seconds later, Peter’s confidence falters and he begins to sink, Jesus reaches out his hand and leads him to safety.

There is so much richness in this tiny little story that takes up only a few verses. There is a lot we can learn from Peter’s boldness and Jesus’ answer. Because of the response I had to this interaction I came to realize that I often limit what I think God can do. I thought Peter’s request to Jesus inappropriate, but Jesus didn’t. Jesus did what Peter asked and blessed Peter with a supernatural, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Peter, instead of fearing the unknown like the other disciples, decided to take a chance. He wasn’t going to believe what this “ghost” claimed until he went out there and made sure he was who he said he was. Who of us is bold enough to ask Jesus to do something so miraculous? To question Jesus from the desire to be sure of his identity? Jesus wants us to be sure of him and he wants us to experience his power to its fullest; but do we have that desire and are we asking him for it? James 4:2b says, “You do not have because you do not ask.”

This has challenged me to be bolder in prayer with my Father. He is not limited in power or ability.  There is no request too big that would offend him. He can do so much more than we ever imagine to ask for and more beyond that! Our God wants to be glorified in this world. He desires to “show off” his greatness and power so all the nations can see and he has chosen to do so through us, his children. Let’s not be timid in our requests. Let’s be bold like Peter and ask for big things from God. And we can’t stop there. We must also trust in the words of Jesus and take that first step into the waves. There is nothing to fear. He will lead the way and when we falter (because we will falter) he will hold our hands tight and encourage our faith. If we are thinking eternally, our uncertainties, our fears, and our human limitations will decrease, the desire to know Christ and his power will grow, and name of our Lord will be made great in this world!

Matthew 14:25-33  And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Zealous for Good Works

Titus 2:14 …who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

 

The theme of this blog is “think eternal” and the ways God is teaching us to live every moment of our lives with his glory and love as our sole motivation and purpose.  As we daily strive to be thinking eternally it can be very easy to get caught up in what we need to do or not do and lose sight of the grace of God which doesn’t require us to do anything. As followers of Christ who are supposed to be Christ-like, this is a difficult principle to balance in real life application. I am a “doer”, so I especially struggle with feeling like I’m never doing enough. Thankfully God knows our hearts better than we know them ourselves and he has been revealing the many places in his Word that speak to this issue and can help keep us sorted.

In Titus 2:14 it says “[Jesus] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Jesus sacrificed himself so he would have a people who were zealous, eager, even excited to do good works! This isn’t the picture the world seems to have (or we may even have ourselves) of Christians who have to give up all the exciting things of the world and become staunch, joyless beings who do “good works”. No! This is the redeemed, who have been renewed by the Holy Spirit and washed with regeneration and find eternal joy and fulfillment in doing what God created them to do!  The good works have become the exciting things of life: to love God, obey his commands and love others like he has loved us. This isn’t an obligation of drudgery, but what we long to do with our lives. With fresh hearts and minds, the things of this world are no longer so desirable.

This begs the question then, how do I become “zealous” for good works? And again we fall into the trap of trying to do something to become more zealous! But we’ve then missed the point of the verse. It says Jesus purified a people who are zealous for good works. There is nothing in there about what we did or are supposed to do. Jesus did all the work for us. He wanted a people for his own possession, so he did what had to be done. He bore our sins on the cross, paid our unpayable debt, and gave us his righteousness. As I’ve been meditating on this verse, the same pattern has come up in so many other Bible passages. In John 13, Jesus is washing the disciples’ feet and says “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” If we are to be a part of Jesus, then we must allow him to wash us clean, purify us from lawlessness. In Psalm 23 it says, “He guides me in the path of righteousness, for His name’s sake.” And again, John 15:4 says we can’t bear fruit unless we are abiding in Jesus. He cleanses me, He guides me, and He abides in me so I am righteous, fruitful, and eager to do good works. Our role is simply to fall at the feet of Jesus in worship, confess our sin, and allow him to dwell in us. If we let him, he will give us hearts like his, excited to do the good works we have been created for.

John 13:8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

John 15: 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

Ephesians 2:9 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Mercy Mercy

Mercy Mercy

James 2:13        Mercy triumphs over judgment.

At the start of this year I challenged myself to read through the entire Bible as quickly as I could. I had to read big chunks of Scripture, not verses or chapters, but books at a time; the Pentateuch over a weekend and the Psalms in a day. Reading the Bible, not as a bunch of individual stories compiled together, but as one big continuous story, has been a life-changing experience. I have come to know the God I’ve believed in most of my life in a whole new way. Instead of seeing God in different facets, one of the Old Testament and one of the New Testament, one being God of war, requiring perfection and dealing harsh punishment, and the other an incarnate God of grace and sacrifice, I saw one God. His character is consistent all throughout. His hand is evident in every story, weaving his eternal plan for humanity. I was left with one overwhelming theme, constantly reinforced with each page I turned. Our God is a god of mercy; overwhelming, never-breaking, constant, abundant mercy. In every punishment he dealt, every nation he set for destruction, every prophecy, psalm, and story, Jesus’ death and resurrection, the persecution of His Church, even in the very existence of the Bible, his mercy shines through!

God is the one making every effort to relent the destruction his people deserve and we are the ones refusing his offer. When the first sin is committed, God doesn’t wipe out humanity, but mercifully spares them, clothes them, and more than that, he immediately promises one day to conquer the Tempter. He hears his people’s prayers and sends manna and quail to the Israelites, opens the barren woman’s womb, stops plagues, and sends rain on the dry land. He mercifully sends his prophets to warn the wicked nations, to call them to repent; but they refused to turn from evil. He gathers his people back to their homeland after exile and ensures generous protection and provision. He set aside his divine privileges and spent 33 years on this fallen earth. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and fed the hungry; all undeserving. Above all, He died and bore the sins and guilt of ALL of humanity! But this is just a tiny fraction of the merciful acts of God. The best part is God’s wealth of mercy didn’t run out at the end of the Bible. It’s available for all if we just raise our empty hands and accept it. He loves us. He wants us to pursue Him. He will do whatever it takes to draw us closer to Him. He wants us to be filled, satisfied, flowing over with joy! We! who are daily sinners, traitors, immoral, rebellious, hurtful and corrupt. Is this not the greatest demonstration of mercy? Let’s not keep this to ourselves. The world is out there hurting, longing for mercy and we only need to show them that it is here for the taking.

Luke 6:36
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Habakkuk 3:2
I have heard all about you, Lord.
I am filled with awe by your amazing works.
In this time of our deep need,
help us again as you did in years gone by.
And in your anger,
remember your mercy.

Matthew 12:7b
“I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”

Ephesians 2:4-5
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

Hebrews 4:16
Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Psalm 145:9
The Lord is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works.

The Importance of Memorizing the Word

from Proverbs 2
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding…discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil

Sin is so powerful and incredibly devious. As children of God, with the Spirit of God dwelling in us, I wonder at the ease to which we so quickly fall into sin and not just once, but often the same sin repeatedly. Without putting the blame on the Spirit (because it is obviously a lax in our own flesh and not the Spirit failing to do its job), I wonder: where was the Spirit in that moment or moments when I was committing the sin? Where was the conviction, the feeling of guilt that should have stopped me at least after the first time? In Acts 7:51, it says the Jewish leaders who killed Jesus were resisting the Holy Spirit and that is what we are doing when we habitually sin. We have pushed the Spirit aside, closed our ears to his guidance and left our hearts open to the deceitfulness of the world, our flesh, and the devil. The world, the flesh, the devil; it’s overwhelming how much is just waiting to bombard us if we let our guard down for even a moment. So what can we do? How can we choose not to resist the Holy Spirit, but rather guard our hearts at all times? In Proverbs 2 the answer is clear: if we “treasure up [God’s] commandments” we will be delivered from the way of evil! Again in Psalm 119:11 it says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Knowing the words of God and memorizing them so we can always be reminded of their truths is so important! Scripture memory shouldn’t just be an old Sunday School practice we did as kids, it should be central to our everyday walk! We fill our minds with so much meaningless information every day, imagine if we overloaded it with the very words of God instead? How much harder would it be for us to be okay with committing that “little” sin, if we had just been meditating on the pure word of God? Followers of Jesus, let’s be like Jesus and be ready to fight the temptations with Scripture. Use those extra five minutes to memorize a verse, fill your mind with truth before going to bed at night, and let the words of God be overflowing into the lives of those around you. How better to ensure we are thinking eternal, than to have the everlasting Word engraved on in our minds.

Psalm 119:9 “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”

Daily Denial

Luke 9:23

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

I memorized this verse in Sunday School years ago, so I know it well. Unfortunately its ultra familiarity causes me to quickly gloss over it and not allow it much thought. It is a bit perplexing what it means exactly, taking up my cross and such. But for whatever reason (God knows), it has recently come to mind, I have meditated on it, and been challenged with a fresh meaning.

I recently decided to read through the whole Bible as fast as I can. I don’t recommend this regularly. Consistent, slow meditation is likely much more beneficial, but it really has provided some awesome insight into God’s plan and story of the Bible that I just didn’t get reading a chapter at a time. To my surprise, what I’ve really become aware of is the challenge of giving my time towards Bible reading and not towards other things I usually fill my days with. I have routines, routines I like; such as listening to podcasts while driving to school, watching a cooking show while making dinner, and reading a novel before I go to sleep. All these I have chosen to set aside so I can devote that time to reading and listening to God’s Word. In doing so, I have become much more aware of how strong the desires of the flesh are in my life. I know reading the Bible is what I should be doing and what will truly be more productive, but my flesh battles that and tells me I will be happier or more relaxed doing other things. Of course, none of these “other” things are inherently bad and I haven’t completely stopped them forever, but I yearn for my heart to be one that loves the things of God more than anything in this world. I want to live for eternity and not for the moment. This doesn’t come naturally for me (or for anyone for that matter – Jeremiah 17:9). When I come home from a full day of work, I hardly feel like plopping on the couch and reading Leviticus. But this is where God led me to Luke 9:23. Each time I choose God’s Word over worldly pleasures, I have to “deny” my flesh, but in so doing I am choosing to come after my Lord and Savior.

Jesus says we are to “follow him”, and where did Jesus end up? Giving up his life at the cross. Jesus really didn’t want to go to the cross, but he denied his personal comfort and accepted his suffering because God called him to and in so doing he accomplished the greatest work ever, atoning for the innumerable sins of the world. So we also are called to deny ourselves, our fleshly desires, our schedules, our ideas, our life plans, and be willing to do the hard thing, to bear our cross. Of course, my experience with Bible reading is small and insignificant, but the verse says “daily”! We aren’t going to be giving up our very lives every single day, but I know there are things in all of our daily lives that we can give up and replace with something more pleasing to our Father. Certainly our humble Savior in making himself “nothing” (Philippians 2:7), was daily denying himself the smaller pleasures in life he being God had every right to enjoy, even just the simple comfort of a warm place to lay his head at night. Can’t we also, who have been so abundantly blessed with more than we could ever need, deny ourselves, daily take up our cross, and follow the leading of our King? Instead of seeking to satisfy our desires in the moment, Jesus calls his followers to think eternally. We must deny ourselves every single day and instead choose to do something that maybe we don’t want to do, or isn’t the easiest option, but we know will bring glory to God and display his worth to those around us.  While I know I have barely unpacked the full richness and meaning of this verse, God has given me this piece for such a time as this and I hope you too can see the value in our call for daily denial.