People now, heaven later

Posted: August 31, 2016 in Thoughts on God

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:21-24 ESV)

More than anything else, the apostle Paul wanted to be in the presence of Jesus. He saw his eventual death as “gain” and would have gladly and willingly gone on to heaven to see Jesus face to face. Paul at the same time understood that God still had a purpose for him on this earth. It was “more necessary” for Paul to continue laboring and investing in a group of people (in this case the Philippians). Paul was living in this tension between heaven and earth.

Many times, Christians can embrace an escapist or even a fortress mentality on this earth while waiting to go to heaven. It may seem easier to withdraw from a sinful fallen world and the messiness of ministering to people. To do so, though, would defeat our purpose for continuing to live.

If your heart is still beating, then God still has a purpose for your life. It is still “more necessary” for someone else that you remain. There is someone or a group of someones with whom God wants you to share the gospel and even invest your life. Do you know who that might be?

Is your chief desire to be with Jesus? Who is it better for that you remain on earth? Pray today for God’s purpose for your life to be revealed.

The parable of the talents

Posted: August 30, 2016 in Thoughts on God

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:14-21, ESV)

In this parable Jesus describes how a wealthy master entrusted to three of His servants a significant amount of his property. A talent was worth approximately twenty years wages for a common laborer (so these were serious amounts of money). Although each servant was given a different amount, they were given the same task: invest the treasure they’d been entrusted.

We can often become overwhelmed with the idea of joining God in His kingdom activity. We see overwhelming issues around the world and in our own communities. We can also compare ourselves to others who appear to be accomplishing big tasks for God. Unfortunately, we can often miss the significant opportunities He already entrusts to us every day. Sometimes we need to take a step back and see what God has already entrusted to us…

  • specific relationships we need to invest in more.
  • obvious spiritual, physical, and social needs in our communities.
  • talents and abilities that we need to use to make a difference.

Jesus challenges us to courageously move forward with what God has already entrusted to us, then He will give us more. The first step of this is realizing that where we are and what we have has been entrusted to us by God and should be invested in for His glory. No matter how small you think a relationship is, God expects you to be a good steward of it. This can seem like a daunting task, but can also be the most rewarding as we hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”.

Take a few minutes to ask God to open your eyes to relationships, opportunities, and abilities which you may not recognize.

A lost generation

Posted: August 27, 2016 in Thoughts on God

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did no know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. (Judges 2:10-11)

How amazing! A whole generation that didn’t “know the Lord or the work that he had done”. How could this happen to God’s chosen people? These were the same people He performed miracle after miracle for. Again, a whole generation of Israelites don’t know who God was! This might seem like a familiar story to you if you live in the United States. A generation is currently on the rise that has never stepped foot into church, read their Bible, or even learned about Jesus. What do we make of this?

It can be easy to place blame on others but, really, the next generation comes down to you and me. We are responsible for the discipleship and upbringing of the next generation. Let’s stop passing the blame and start taking responsibility. If you have kids, don’t just expect the church or school to teach and disciple them; be involved. If you have friends or family who are struggling, take an active role in their lives, and in sharing the truth about God with them.

Take some time today in prayer asking God to show you where you need to step up. This might be in the life of a grandchild, friend, child, or even co-worker. If all of us can step up for even just one person or family, we can reverse the course for a whole generation.

Remember that we serve a powerful and loving God; call on His guidance and help today!

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38 ESV)

Earlier in this narrative a group of people asked Jesus to tell them straight out if he really is the Christ (John 10:24). Prior to this in the Gospel of John, Jesus had revealed that he is the Messiah to only one person, the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:26). Here though, it would seem as if Jesus had the perfect opportunity to reveal himself as the Messiah to a large number of people. He is the one who is going to save them by laying down his life for them. It seems the ideal moment, but he doesn’t.

If we read further we see his answer to those who want to know if he is claiming to be the Messiah and want to stone him for it. In essence, Jesus responds that even if they don’t believe him they should believe his works because only God could have produced them. In turn, their hearts could have grown soft toward Jesus and what would be the Gospel. What a great lesson for us as believers.

Many times our actions or works will be the first seeds planted in the heart of a future Christian. He or she might not believe in the Gospel message, but they believe that there is something different about the way we live our lives, treat others, serve the poor and display grace. God will use these works to bring about the realization of the Holy Spirit’s power at work and the truth of the Gospel.

Be encouraged today if your words about God are being rejected as a simple myth or fairy tale. Remember that your actions can be just as important to a person in their journey to belief in Jesus.

The morality trap

Posted: August 25, 2016 in Thoughts on God

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29 ESV)

Remember, if you will, the recounting of Jesus at the pool of Bethesda in John 5. He was among throngs of the sick, blind, and lame crowding around that pool during a Jewish holiday hoping for healing. When Jesus found a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years he told him, “Get up, take your bed, and walk. And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked” (John 5:8-9).

This miracle happened on the Sabbath, “so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed” (John 5:10). Rather than celebrate a miracle of God through Jesus, the Jews concerned themselves with a rigidly external morality with only the appearance of holiness.

We too can get caught in the “morality trap” today. We can too easily focus only upon the behavior of ourselves or other individuals. And when we shift into consistent thinking of this nature our spiritual walk can be relegated to simple behavior modification where we put forth our effort into fulfilling a list of “do’s and don’ts”.

Rather than getting stuck in this cycle of hollow religion we ought to remember that we have been “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son”. In other words, we are meant to imitate Jesus, becoming more like him with every passing moment. When we focus and pattern our lives after Christ, genuine morality and good fruit will follow.

Do you get caught in the “morality trap”, simply following a list of religious do’s and dont’s, rather than imitating Jesus?

Messy love

Posted: August 24, 2016 in Thoughts on God

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 ESV)

Most of us can remember a time as children when our parents told us to clean up before dinner. We may have been having company over or simply too dirty from playing to sit at a clean table! But this idea that we need to be presentable gets engrained in us as we grow up, and continues to sink its roots deeper within us. Some high schoolers spend hours in the morning picking out the perfect outfits, applying make-up and straightening hair, or making sure their hats are tilted just like Justin Bieber’s.

We work so hard to present ourselves with a certain image, and it often becomes an obsession. Unfortunately, this doesn’t end in high school or even college. In fact, as we age it frequently gets worse. We move into buying homes, cars and jet skis that we can’t afford simply to impress our neighbors and ourselves.

Even though we may appear put together on the outside, many of our hearts are a mess. But God doesn’t come into our lives and demand we clean ourselves up before we approach him. He loves us when we’re messy, then he makes us clean. God didn’t simply say the words, “I love you.” He proved his love through Jesus giving his life for us on the cross. God doesn’t love us because we fix ourselves, he loves us even in our sin, and invites us into Jesus’ righteousness.

Do you live with the idea that God requires us to “clean up” before he’ll accept us? Or do you understand that he calls us while we are “still sinners”, inviting us to come and be made new?

I will not accept a bull from your house
 or goats from your folds.
 For every beast of the forest is mine, 
the cattle on a thousand hills. (Psalm 50:9-10 ESV)

We have a problem here; God is telling the Israelites that He won’t accept their sacrifices.

First of all, He owns the things they are trying to sacrifice to Him, and this can be a problem. Usually when we sacrifice, we are giving up something of our own and going without. However, it isn’t much of a sacrifice when you never really owned what you’re giving up in the first place. The Israelites had continued to sacrifice to God even though they weren’t really following Him, and that sacrifice beagn to seem like a tool for them to make God do what they wanted Him to do. The problem, of course, is that God doesn’t work that way.

Are you “sacrificing” something to God because you think it is what you must to do to make Him happy?

Examples might be volunteering at the church, waking up early to read your Bible, or something else very religious. These are all good things for us to do, but not when the wrong attitude is behind them. We can become like the Israelites and think we are giving something to God that He doesn’t already have. In reality He is the one who has given us these gifts of time, and these blessings in our opportunities to love and serve. We delight God when we give back to Him with a heart of thanksgiving, knowing that He is the ultimate gift giver.

Have you been giving with a heart of thanksgiving? Pray today that your heart would be in the right place, and that you might give with a humble spirit.