Awareness…This Present Time

Luke 12:54-56 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (ESV)

Although this conversation between Jesus and the crowd occurred thousands of years ago, it is still so relevant to today. The talk of their predicting the weather back then reminds me of our society’s current concern for global climate change and whether our irresponsible use of the earth’s resources can sustain life for future generations. While these issues certainly shouldn’t be ignored, I can’t help but think Jesus would call our Western culture “hypocrites” today just as he did that crowd. People are so passionate about the physical threats to the environment, and yet ignore the secularism and depravity that are threatening the very souls of humanity. Our society is working hard to ensure the earth continues to provide for us, but has turned a blind eye to the Creator of this earth who may return at any time to judge us all. 

Where should our priorities lie? The Bible is clear and does not speak lightly of this matter. It’s not that we aren’t to be informed or stay involved in current issues, but as Christians, we come at them from a very different perspective. We must pay attention to the present times but with the constant awareness that the coming of the King of Kings is imminent. Luke 12 is one of many passages in the New Testament that uses alarming language to warn us of what will happen if we become lax and forget our time and place. 

Luke 12:35-37a, 45-46 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. But suppose that servant says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and he begins to beat the menservants and maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day he does not anticipate and at an hour he does not expect. Then He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” (ESV)

Be aware. Be alert. Be awake. Be sober. Be watchful. Be attentive. Be ready for action. This warning message is all found all through Scripture. When we are passive, asleep to the times and not thinking eternal or of Jesus’ return, we drift and become like the world around us (Hebrew 2:1). We forget our purpose, live to fulfill our own passions and await a fearful encounter with our God. Instead, we should take up our spiritual armor in order to stand against all that constantly tries to grab our attention and leads us away from God’s calling for our lives (I Thessalonians 5:6). This calling looks differently for everyone. You may be crunching numbers, educating children, nursing the wounded, advocating for sustainability, feeding the hungry, fighting slavery…all needed roles! But don’t forget we are all working towards a one ultimate purpose – to display the glory and love of God to the world and prepare them for His reign. May we never put this as second place in our priorities, lest in moments of trial and temptation we are found asleep on the job and miss out on the feast that awaits. 

 

 

Awareness…My Enemy

There is an amazing story in the middle of the book of Genesis that is often overlooked. Jacob and Esau are twins, but after some pretty rash, selfish, and deceitful actions that put Jacob on top and leave Esau with nothing, they become bitter enemies. Jacob flees for his life and they keep their distance for many years. Eventually though, Jacob wants to come home and knows he will have to meet his twin once again. Not knowing where they stand after so long, Jacob is very cautious and sends messages to prepare Esau of his coming as well as lavish gifts to encourage harmony. The amazing part comes when they finally come face to face and Jacob says to Esau, “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me.” (Genesis 33:10, ESV). Jacob sees “the face of God” in Esau, the feared brother who planned to kill him, who made him live far from home for many years, who has wealth and power and an army of men with him! This is quite the statement—far from what most of us would imagine anyone would say to their enemy in even the kindest of circumstances.

While I love the beauty of this redemption story, I also find it incredibly challenging. For how many of us have had to face an enemy as great as someone who tried to kill us? And yet how difficult it is for us to respond as Jacob did, to forgive and recognize the value in our “enemies” who have hurt us in much smaller ways. Jacob seems to have an awareness we are missing regarding how we see and respond to other people, enemies or not.

When we look at people, whether strangers or familiar faces, we can’t see their inner being and so our human instinct is to make imperfect assumptions about the correctness of their actions, our compatibility, what we like and don’t like in them, etc. This often leads to less than ideal interactions. Only God knows our hearts fully, deceitful and sick as they are (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV), and still he treats us with perfect goodness. While we are quick to condemn, judge, fear, or brush off mistake-ridden people, God chose to make amends with us while we were still living in rebellion to his will. 

”For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10, ESV)

In the glory and grace of God’s plan, he made a way for our eyes to be opened to the truth. When we finally see Jesus as Lord and accept his righteousness as our righteousness, our access and relationship with God can be restored. Then, God’s Spirit comes to dwell in us and we begin to be transformed into his likeness. Our desire to be like our Papa grows and only then will we start to see people as he sees them and love people as he loves them…all of them. You see, Jacob wasn’t able to say what he did to Esau by some personal epiphany or years of training in enemy love. No! The night before Jacob was reunited with Esau, he had a life-changing experience when he wrestled with God and saw his face (Genesis 32:31). Only when we come to know the face of God, in the person of Jesus, are we then aware of His face in people. 

“[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15, ESV)

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, ESV)

We are all God’s image-bearers: friends, enemies, close family, and those wildly different from us. When we look at another’s face, no matter their origins, beliefs, looks, or actions, our thoughts should say, “made in the image of God”. And when people look at us, who are redeemed members of God’s family, they should see reflections of Him. 

People aren’t the enemy. All people are God’s creation whom he specially made in his image. All people are God’s children whom he loves so much that he sent his only Son to die for. God desires all people to come to repentance and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ so that he can spend eternity with them . All people have value and are redeemable. All people are our neighbors whom we are called to love. (See Genesis 1:27, John 3:16, I Timothy 2:4, Ephesians 2:8-9, Matthew 5:44-45, ESV). People aren’t the enemy, so stop fighting those who bear the image of God and start loving them. Save your battle efforts for the real enemy.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)

 

Patience…In Suffering

Suffering is a universal experience and the natural human longing is to avoid it completely or that it may at least pass quickly without too much upset. Even as Christians, we look forward to the day when suffering will be no more, but until then we are able to have a different perspective than the rest of the world. We have all been reminded at some hard time in our life that God causes all things, suffering included, to work together for good (Romans 8:28). This Biblical principle is often not easy to see in the midst of suffering though and thus isn’t always immediate encouragement.

My dad died from cancer when I was nineteen, and I initially found comfort knowing that this was not outside of God’s plan and that he was going to use this for much good.  I sincerely believed God allowed his death to draw people to the Jesus he lived for and so often spoke about. But weeks, months, and years passed and what I’ve seen most is loneliness, pain, rebellion, anger, financial trouble, and broken family relationships—not at all the comforting good I was expecting. Over the years, I haven’t so much shed tears that my dad is gone, but that his leaving seems wasted. 

We don’t get to know everything God does. God’s word is trustworthy and thus all bad things, including death, are within the sovereignty of God; and yes, he truly is working through them for good. But couldn’t he be a little more transparent about it? Couldn’t God give me just a crumb to satisfy that longing to be sure that this death and hurt we are still healing from was for a good purpose? It’s been ten years since that day, but God continues to be faithful in leading me to peace and to see things more like he does. In the midst of suffering, we can so quickly become narrow-minded, misunderstand the words of God, and fail to trust him to be faithful to his promises. This can only lead to impatience and frustration.

Carefully read God’s words again in Romans 8:28. Are we really seeing them for what they are, or are we subtly adding our own expectations? The verse says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Did you notice God does not give a timeline? This is not a guarantee that the good that is to come from bad things will be instant, or soon, or even in our lifetime! The work God is causing is a process, happening now, currently, continually; it does not imply a one and done event in which the good has been accomplished. God is bigger than that! Hebrews 11:13, referring to Old Testament heroes, says “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar…” Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sarah… they all died before seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises! I haven’t wanted to accept this. I want to see the good now. I don’t want to wait or think that I may never see the purpose I was hoping would come out of suffering. But God calls us to be patient. His timing is always better, even though it may sometimes seem dreadfully slow to us. 

Paul says in Romans 12:12 to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” We don’t have to give up hope that good will never come from our suffering. We should constantly cry out to God that His good kingdom would come quickly. All the while, we can find joy in knowing that our hope for good is well-founded and one day will come to fruition. That joy in itself is obvious good coming from suffering, and as we learn to transition from impatient longing to patient trust in the purposes of God, our eyes will start to see the less obvious. God is so good and he is actively working for far more good in the here and now than we could ever begin to imagine!

 

Patience…Bearing Fruit

I’ve been a Christian for many years, but many days it doesn’t feel like it. While I am supposed to be abundantly bearing the fruit of the Spirit, I find I still struggle with the same selfish pride, feel inadequate for the roles God has given me, and fall short of a heart of love and grace towards all people. I truly want transformation and I know that not getting angry in that moment or saying those hurtful words is better for everyone, but time after time the dark depths of my heart are again revealed. It is frustrating to continually fight against the same shortcomings without clear progress then come to realize even my pursuit of love, joy, peace, patience… is rooted in anger, sorrow, anxiety and impatience! This is obviously not the proper approach to fruitfulness.

Luke 8 tells the parable of the soils and of the many seeds scattered in places where they will never bear fruit. Then comes the seeds that land in good soil and these “bear fruit with patience.” In sum, you either hear the Word, ultimately reject it, and bear no fruit; or you believe, hold fast to the Word, and patiently grow and await the time when you will produce the fruit of righteousness. Notice, there is no “extra good” soil that results in instant fruit. 

Fruitfulness takes time. Just as the seed sprouts, grows, flowers, then bears fruit; so we must go through a process. Thankfully, Jesus’ righteousness covers us fully from the day we choose to accept it. We don’t have to be a certain level of fruitfulness to be fully accepted by God and welcomed into his Kingdom. Nevertheless his desire for us is not to wilt and die in our sinfulness. He wants to see us grow into beautiful and fruitful “oaks of righteousness” as Isaiah 61:3 says, though time alone doesn’t get us there.

Fruitfulness takes abiding and asking. John 15 reminds us that we will never get anywhere on our own. We must rely on the strength and sustenance of the vine, namely Jesus, to bear any fruit. We also can’t receive if we don’t first ask! Even the Apostles, who were with Jesus wherever he went and relied on his strength to survive, pleaded to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). God loves to hear from us, even the obvious. Tell him about the fruit that you seek! He will not deny you anything that is good.

Fruitfulness takes knowledge. We can’t expect to be fruitful if we don’t personally know the Spirit of God who is the source of all fruit, or Jesus, who is the perfect example of fruitfulness. The relationships we choose to build and the content we fill our minds with greatly affect our choice to pursue the things of God versus the things of the world.

Fruitfulness takes effort. Look back at the seeds in Luke 8 which bear no fruit. Many of them start to grow, but distractions and trials take place and they give up before any fruit comes. Only those that “hold fast” and persevere come to fruitfulness. This isn’t a passive process. We must intentionally choose to “put off our old self” (Ephesians 4:22) and “go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).

Finally, fruitfulness takes practice. We won’t learn to be fruitful living in a bubble. God has chosen to use real life experiences, little and big, to prune us into fruitful beings. Our times of suffering, moments of temptation, and everyday interactions with people and circumstances are all god-given opportunities for maturity as we “have [our] powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). 

Next time anger, or impatience, or bitterness creeps up, don’t think of it as just another moment for failure. Rather ask God to use it as yet another opportunity to prune away the old self, hold fast to the Word, and make room for his abundant fruit to grow! “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5:7b-8)