Thursday, May 30, 2019

Submission made easy

When we speak of Jesus, one of the names we aren’t so quick to call Him by in today’s culture—although it was hugely attributed to Him throughout all Scripture—is King. We recognize Him as Savior. We see that He is the living Lamb. We sing about Him as Immanuel. We tend to portray or visualize Jesus primarily in redemptive roles. And while these roles are key, I am afraid that in focusing so heavily on them, we miss out on much of Jesus’ power in our daily lives. This power shows up in the names we get to know and align ourselves under, such as King, Lord and Great High Priest.
Sure, redemption appeals to us in our autonomous, me-centric culture. We tend to be highly independent and self-serving, and many would even argue that our culture has given rise to an epidemic of narcissistic thinking. To acknowledge Jesus as King conjures up responses of obedience, dependence, honor, respect and self‑sacrifice.
It goes against what our culture tells us is the way to live our lives.
Regardless, Jesus is King. And unless and until we understand and submit to Christ’s rightful rule, we will not fully experience His power.
Much of the chaos and challenges we cannot overcome in our lives stem from the fact that we do not rightly respond to His rule. If we make our own rules while living in the domain of a ruling King, then we should expect to face the consequences.
Jesus is King. Yet, like the Israelites of His day, we often praise Him one moment, only to seek to crucify Him the next. Why? Because we don’t mind Him being King by name as long as He is not King by authority. We don’t mind Jesus carrying around the title as long as He’s not telling us what to do.
Friend, let me explain something about Jesus' kingdom: it’s not a democracy. He’s not asking for your vote. He’s not seeking your permission. He declares what gets done, how things run and what the goals of His kingdom will be. We tap into His power, covering and strength when we learn how to honor Him as King.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Gaining by giving

We endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 
1 Corinthians 9:12b

t is incredibly easy to follow Jesus and pursue a life of devotion to him only to the extent that we get something out of it. Though we may not say it so explicitly, we in essence are saying, “Does this work for me?” “Am I satisfied or fulfilled as a result of this way of living?” And while Jesus did come to make you whole and fill you with abundant life (John 10:10), a sign of growth in your faith is that you increasingly gain capacity to not only seek your own good but to give your life away for the good of others.

We live in an indulgent society that encourages us at every turn to give in to every desire or want that we have. In fact, advertisers have mastered the ability to not only fulfill our desires but to create brand new desires. They give us what we want before we even know that we want it! As a result, our lives increasingly turn inwards, with personal happiness and fulfillment being the single most important filter by which we assess our quality of life.

In the early days of the church, people were suspicious that Paul’s ministry might have been motivated by similar concerns. “Is he doing this to make a buck or personally gain from the rapid growth of the church?” Mindful of this, Paul goes out of his way to show that his ministry is solely for their good and the advance of the good news of Jesus, so much so that he will happily deny and reject funds and material goods that may even be his right to receive. He would rather live in simplicity and even poverty if necessary in order to do nothing to hinder the message he so boldly proclaimed.

While you may never find yourself in full time vocational ministry, every one of us has much that we can learn from Paul’s example. To be a Christian is to give your life away for the good of the other. Your fulfillment is found, not in what you gain, but in what you give. As the Prayer of St. Francis reminds us, “It is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

May the love of God so deeply penetrate your heart that you freely let go of your claims to affluence, success, or cultural respect so that others may encounter the love of Jesus in and through you.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Finish the race

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Friend, I understand that you are probably tired right now. In Scripture, this type of tired is known as being “weary” or “losing heart.” Life may not be working in your favor, as you see it. Sure, it could be your fault why it hasn’t. But it could also be someone else’s fault. Or it could be a combination of both. Regardless of the reason, the result is the same: You are tired. You are worn out. Your hope has waned, and your fervency has fizzled. But what the author of Hebrews is trying to tell you in this passage is that if you are tired, you still need to keep going.
Even though things are rough right now, don’t quit.
You have a race to finish—a figurative race of living the kingdom life for the glory of God and the good of yourself and others. And even though you may have gotten sidelined along the way or detoured by heeding human wisdom, Jesus can set you back on that racetrack and help you finish strong.
The author of Hebrews knew he wasn’t writing to perfect people. He was writing to people marred by sin and failure and filled with regret. Flawed people who were just plain tired and wanted to quit. He knew all that, which is why He prodded them and goaded them to keep on going. And how were they (and you) to do that? By fixing their eyes on the one who knows how to both start and finish things—the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
You have the power to keep going because Jesus has the power to both start and finish whatever it is you might face. He is the origin and completion of your faith walk. What you need to do is change your focus. You need to get back on track. Run the race set before you. And the way you do that is by focusing your eyes on Jesus. Become fixated on Him.
When you are fixated on something or someone, that means you stop being fixated on anything else. It’s not possible to be fixated on multiple things at the same time. To be fixated on Jesus means you are zeroing in on Him. You are canceling out all other views. You are no longer looking to other people and their opinions or even your own personal viewpoints. Rather, you are looking at Jesus and Him alone.
Where you look will determine where you go. If you are looking at the mess you are in right now and fixating on everything that is wrong, then you will only continue to walk into more mess. You have to see the way out. You have to look to the power that can overcome. Focus your eyes on Jesus—the Alpha and Omega. He will see you through.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

God's broker

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 2 Corinthians 9:12-13

A broker is someone who serves as a trusted agent in connecting two people who do business together. Our daughter recently hired a real estate broker who found her a house that fit her needs. Remarkably, this keen business woman prayed over the process of searching for just the right house, with particular criteria: geographically convenient, friendly for children to play, neighbors who desire community, a good church close by, excellent schools and affordability. This successful real estate agent sees herself as a broker for God, connecting clients to His best.

Paul develops this idea of serving others for Christ's sake by taking care of the needs of believers first, followed by everyone else in the wake of the church's selfless service. Being a broker for God was a stunning, yet suitable idea for some of the new Christians who made up Paul's audience. Self preservation, not selfless service marked many who read his words. Yes! God's people are His agents to connect others to Him: His love, His forgiveness, His provision. His purposes. Generous living is all about influencing the world around us for the world to come.

"For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people" (2 Corinthians 8:3-4).

What a privilege to broker for the Lord! Every day praying for and being keenly aware of people who need to be connected with people or helping facilitate resources to excel their obedience to Christ or to follow Christ for the first time. His commissions are growing in intimacy with the heart of love that exceeds all loves, overflowing in joy over seeing hope lighten the eyes of one on the verge of despair, and a growing faith for the God broker and all those involved in the spiritual, relational and perhaps economic transaction. Spiritual brokers are bold givers for God!

Do you have your brokers license? Trust in Jesus. If you believe in Jesus, you can broker for Jesus! No greater joy than to connect someone who falls in love with the lover of their soul. No greater fulfillment than to have a small part in facilitating someone's faith walk by helping them take a few steps along the way of their spiritual journey. Look for little ways to connect others to Christ: a prayer, a listening ear, an encouraging gift, a creative idea, an insightful truth, assurance they are not alone or an introduction to a friend. Broker for God, by loving for God

Thursday, May 16, 2019

God with us

Jesus is God with us in every way. If you want to get to know the names of Jesus, just get to know the names of God, because Jesus is the fulfillment of every name of God. And He has come as Immanuel, “God with us,” in order to reveal God to us. Should you ever become confused about who God is and what He is like, all you have to do is remember Immanuel.
Why did God send Immanuel to us, rather than just reveal Himself as He is? God is transcendent in nature. He sits outside our realm. He is infinitely distinct from His creation—in another zone. And yet, God wanted to be with us. He desired to dwell among us. And this could only occur through the hypostatic union, through the merging of two natures into one person (Jesus) that remain unmixed forever. Jesus is both divine and human, which is why Jesus can be called both the Son of God and the Son of Man.
Hebrews 10:5‑7 gives insight into the purpose and plan of Immanuel.
When Christ came into the world, He said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God’” (NIV).
First, Jesus said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire… with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased”—though they were offered in accordance with the Law. Second, He said, “Here I am… I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second.
The incarnation came to be in order that the Father’s will would be carried out. A perfect sacrifice was made for the sins of humanity. And in the midst of that incarnational gift, we discover that God placed Himself into a context where we could come to know Him in a more personal, intimate way.
He is “God with us.” He is God with you.
From the beginning of the world to its end, there is no place you can look and not see God revealed through Jesus. He is everywhere. Colossians 1:17 summarizes the breadth and magnitude of Him better than any other verse: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Love builds

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. 1 Corinthians 8:1b-3 (NRSV)

I’ve enjoyed school for as long as I can remember. At every age I found myself drawn to the exploration of new ideas and the expansion of my understanding of science, history, philosophy, or art. Knowledge is a great gift and carries with it the potential to transform our understanding of God, the world, and ourselves. And yet, it is remarkably easy to know a great deal of information without ever being transformed by that knowledge.

Knowledge is important, but love is essential. This is the point Paul emphasizes again and again to the Corinthian church. Frankly, he could care less about their enlightened and progressive opinions about food offered to idols and the freedom they had to eat it, especially when it resulted in painful confusion and relational breakdown within the community of faith. Just because you have the freedom to do something doesn’t mean it’s the loving thing to do! And for Christians, loving God and others is the highest call upon each and every one of our lives.

(Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves) Philippians 2:3.

True humility means caring more for the preservation of a relationship than it does winning an argument or proving yourself to be in the right. In fact, Paul challenges us to always approach the other with a posture of wonder and delight, seeing in them a woman or man created in the image of God and through whom we always have something to learn and discover. To consider others as better than yourself is to consistently believe that you have something to learn and receive from someone else, even in spite of differences of opinion or belief. And when those differences threaten to divide, we must always be willing to lay our knowledge down in the name of self-giving love.

The goal of life is to love as we have been loved. Nothing is more important than this, and all of our knowledge and expertise should be freely laid down in name of this pursuit of love. As Thomas à Kempis so beautifully put it, “At the Day of Judgment, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done; not how eloquently we have spoken, but how holily we have lived.”

Friday, May 10, 2019

My burden bearer

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

When I experience something unfortunate or difficult in life, I’m not always calm. Instead, I might cry, ruminate over the problem, get my feelings hurt, be disappointed, or go into a mini emotional tailspin. I might call a friend, dump my feelings on my husband, or even ask Google what to do.
I was recently reminded that when trouble comes knocking, a better solution is to go to Jesus first before I work myself into an emotional mess.
If you can relate, the story in Mark 9 about a man who brought his possessed son to Jesus will encourage you. In this story, a spirit had robbed the young boy of his speech. The man told Jesus he had already taken his son to the disciples, but they couldn’t drive out the spirit. In response, Jesus said, “bring the boy to me.” This simple instruction reminded me how my first reaction is often not to take my concerns to the Lord.
When life throws you and me a curveball, Jesus is saying, “Bring the boy to me.”
“Bring your concerns to me.”
“Bring your fears to me.”
“Bring your financial needs to me.”
“Bring your disappointment, anger, and frustration to me.”
“Before you panic, before you seek out your friends, or call your neighbor. . . before you vent to your mate or your date, before you search Google, bring your trouble to me.”
Oh! If only we could practice bringing our concerns to Christ first, how our thoughts would be established, our fears would subside, and our souls would be soothed! If we would intentionally quiet ourselves at the moment the trouble comes and sit at the feet of the Master, what peace we could experience!
The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe (Proverbs 18:10).

Thursday, May 9, 2019

You aren't average

Some two thousand years ago, Jesus shared a startling revelation with His disciples...
          "Remember the word that I said to you,'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20, NKJV).
          If you've never suffered for your faith in Christ, if you've never been mocked or ridiculed in any way, I want to let you know it's coming. Brace yourself for the inevitable, and rejoice when it happens.  Because that means you're doing something right.
          It also means you're in good company--the company of our Lord and Savior, as well as His original disciples, and many others down through the ages.  
          So today I want to share some things I have discovered from the sixth chapter of Daniel that will prayerfully encourage us to become all we can be in Christ.  
          #1: Consider "average" your enemy.   
          Daniel was a lowly Israelite living in Babylonian exile, and he was only a teenager at the time.  But he was anything but mediocre.  The king saw an excellent spirit in Daniel, and he decided to put the young man in charge of the entire realm (Daniel 6:3). 
          Let this truth sink deep into your spirit today.  The Lord did not create you to be average.  You can't be great at everything--none of us can.  But God has blessed you with unique gifts, abilities, and callings, and you should give Him an excellent return on His investment.
          #2: When you achieve success, you'll acquire haters.   
          Now you might think you're the most lovable person on Earth.  Maybe your mother thinks you're the cutest person who ever walked the planet and that you hung the moon in exactly the right place. But I've come to tell you that when God elevates you, haters will line up to send you back to the ground floor. 
          That's what happened to Daniel almost from the moment the king showed favor to him (Dan 6:4).  If you're committed to following God at all costs, it will happen to you, too.  And when it does, consider it a sign that you're heading in the right direction.  
          #3: We're called to be trustworthy and live free from corruption and negligence.
          Here's where things can get a little tricky.  The haters that showed up in Daniel's life could find no corruption in him (Daniel 6:4). That might not always be true for some of us.  We've made mistakes.  We've fallen short.  Our haters may have plenty of ammunition to use against us.
          But be encouraged today!  God is not concerned with what happened then.  All He cares about is what happens next.  Honor God from this day forward.  The beginning of your story can't be changed, but it's never too late to re-write the ending.
          Finally, when you begin to do these three things, you can expect God to show up in a powerful way.  As He did for Daniel, He will silence the mouths of the liars and close the mouths of the lions.  
          When you honor God in the little things, He'll use you to do legendary things.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Gifted for this

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. Romans 12:6

Our generous Heavenly Father uniquely gifts His children for His glory. It may be the gift of service, encouragement, teaching, mercy or administration. Regardless of one’s role, all gifts are necessary in the Body of Christ. One may quietly serve as a prayer intercessor behind the scenes, while another may boldly proclaim truth in front of the faithful. Yes, the Lord specially equips individuals for His good works. God’s gifting is His distinctive stamp of value on each one of us.

What do you do well? How can you discover your sweet spot of service for your Savior Jesus? One way is to develop the abilities that come naturally for you and engage in activities that energize you. The Spirit wires you in a way that brings both of you pleasure when you exercise your gift. For example, a generous giver finds great joy in giving and an evangelist is ecstatic when they share the gospel. An administrator is not content until everyone and everything is in its place.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

You may be an analytical thinker who loves crunching numbers, managing data and interpreting trends from both. Your gift of linear deduction is critical for business, finance and engineering. Perhaps you are great with people. People love your company because they sense you know, understand and care for them. Thus, your ability to network, convene and lead others is valuable for accomplishing a big vision or executing a strategic initiative. Yes, steward well God’s gift.

Seek to marry your passion with your giftedness. For instance, if you love to see someone encouraged, use your gift of writing to convey God’s love to their hungry heart. If you love children, use your ability to nurture and train as a conduit for Christ’s truth. If you love sports, use your teaching gift to lead athletes in Bible study. If you love travel, use your aptitude for business to help entrepreneurs here and abroad. Be who God has uniquely gifted you to be!

Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. Oscar Wilde