Am I a Child of God?

Cross-and-BIble2“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

In a recent devotional on Matthew 25, I presented Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish virgins, where the Lord’s message is clear: there is an eternal difference between those who know about Me and those who know Me.    It is vitally important that we know that difference for our own lives.  Thankfully the Bible gives us a very clear-cut way to examine ourselves and know the truth.  I encourage you to grab your Bible and follow along as we read in 1 John (almost at the end of the Bible).

The book of 1 John was written by one of Jesus’ disciples, the same John who wrote the gospel of John and the book of Revelation.  1 John is part of three letters written to the church in Ephesus, which was under attack by false teachers.  A group of philosophers, known as Gnostics had infiltrated the church, claiming a “higher, secret truth” that set them apart from the common Christian.  They deemed themselves above the teachings of the Scriptures and the Church with a superior holiness that excused their sinful behaviors, yet they still called themselves “Christians”.  (Hmmm, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)  So the old apostle takes pen in hand and says, there is only one God, only one truth, and this is how you can know where you stand.  Ready? Let’s dig in!

John says that those who belong to God “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7) “as Jesus did” (2:6).  The child of God choses to live in the light, where their deeds are visible.  By contrast, those who do not belong to God “walk in the darkness” (1:6, 11) where their deeds are hidden, they think, from God and men.  The child of God “does not love the world” (2:15), meaning the twisted and evil value system of the world.  But those who do not belong to God “love the world” (2:15).  Their hearts are drawn to what the world values: sex, power, money, deception . . .

The heart of the child of God “is at peace with God” (3:21) because he “listens to God” (4:6). He “obeys [Jesus’] commands” (2:3), “does what is right” (2:29; 3:10), and “does not continue to live in sin” (3:16).  When he does falter, which is the exception rather than the rule (2:1), he is quick to “confess [his] sins” (1:9) and be forgiven and purified.  The heart of the one who does not belong to God “condemns him before God” (3:21) because he listens to the world.  He “does not do what is right” (3:10) and “does not obey [Jesus’] commands” (2:4).  He “continues to [live in] sin” (3:6, 10) and then “denies his sin” (1:8).  Those who do not belong to God have convinced themselves that their actions are not sinful because they “speak the world’s viewpoint” and “the world listens to them” (4:5-6).  Just let that statement sink in for a minute.

Those who belong to God enjoy “fellowship with one another” (1:7), and “love their brother/sister [in Christ]” (2:10 and multiple verses). They love the company of believers, love to gather with the church, and love one another sacrificially (3:16-19) “in action and truth” (3:18).  The one who does not belong to God hates those who are in Christ (2:9 and multiple verses); they “do not love” (3:14, 4:8), and certainly do not love sacrificially.  “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has not pity on him, how can the love of God be in him” (3:17)?

Those who belong to God “believe that Jesus is the Christ . . . the Son of God” (2:20-23; 5:5), because they “know the truth” (2:20).  They “love the Father” (5:1-2) and “do not fear punishment” (4:18) because they have “Christ’s Spirit within them” (3:24).  Those who do not belong to God are “liars” who “deny that Jesus is the Christ . . . the Son of God” (2:22-23; 5:10) because they “do not know the truth” (2:20).  They “do not love the Father” (5:1) and “fear God’s punishment” (4:18) because they do not have Christ’s Spirit (3:24).

One of the most telling and public ways of discerning the difference in God’s people and those with a pseudo-faith is how they respond to persecution.  In John’s day the claim of Christianity was often a death sentence.  Many who enjoyed the church’s benefits, when pressed with the decision to deny Christ or die, chose to “turn away” (2:19) rather than suffer for the name of Jesus.  Those who stood fast in their love and devotion to Christ did so at the risk of severe punishment and death.  In other parts of the world today, Christians are being murdered for their faith.  In the West, the risks are more subtle—for now—but it is clear that the tide is quickly turning and those who love Jesus will be faced with greater oppression.  John says that those who belong to God will remain faithful to their confession of Jesus as their Lord (2:21). The time is coming—soon—when our true relationship with God will be a public, and possibly deadly matter.  The evidence of the true child of God shows up in our conduct, our love, and our willingness to stand firm and persevere when being a Christian isn’t popular anymore.

As you come to the end of this devotional, there are two ways to consider this message.  You are either assured of your standing as a child of God, or you are convicted by what is true of your life and beliefs.  I pray you do not walk away without settling the matter.  Beloved, how is it with you and God today?

Holy Father, we stand before You in the light of Your Word. The truth is clear and we cannot deny it.  Help us to be honest in our answers.  Help us to open our hearts to You.  Amen.

Why I am a Christian

broken chains“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” 1 Timothy 1:15

Several years ago a Sunday School teacher said: “The only reason I’m a Christian is because Jesus offered me a better deal.  If someone had offered something better I would’ve taken it.”  That statement bothered me greatly, to the point that I stopped attending that class.  But it also led me to examine my own heart and ask myself why I am a Christian.  In the process, I’ve learned some things about myself and about my relationship with God.

I grew up in a Christian home, my mom took us to Sunday School, church, Sunbeams, Vacation Bible School, and so on.  I don’t recall a time when I didn’t know about the God who created the whole world and the sun, moon and stars.  I always knew that Jesus loved me.  I knew about the cross and the empty tomb. I knew that I wanted to go to heaven, so I asked Jesus into my heart when I was nine years old and was baptized.  All through my growing up years, I was in church.  I attended the Teen Bible Study group and told my friends that they had to accept Jesus if they wanted to go to heaven.  Like the rich young man who asked the Lord, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17), my young faith was all about what was necessary on my part to end up in heaven.  Not exactly the type of fertile soil that allows deep roots to grow.

But church and faith took a backseat to work and fun and relationships.  I became less concerned with heaven and more focused on the things of earth.  I married, and then my world came crashing down when my marriage failed.  I went back home to my parents and returned to the church of my childhood.  Only this time, it was different.  Rather than learning Bible stories, I began to learn Bible truth, and I started to see things in Scripture I had never seen before.

As I read the Old Testament story of the Israelites, I saw my own life.  The Israelites were less concerned with knowing the Lord and just wanted to get to the Promised Land.  Like them, I didn’t seek God, I only sought heaven—the final destination of this long journey of life.  And just as they cycled through centuries of falling away from God into bondage and then crying out for rescue, I “did my own thing” until my thing proved unstable and I ran back to church.

What I had was a shaky connection to church, not a relationship with God.  What I had wasn’t faith that withstands the struggles of life and the temptations of the world.  It was “faith” built on sweet Bible stories, but it was not saving faith.

The Israelites wanted to be freed from the power of their enemies, the Philistines, Edomites, Midianites, Amorites, etc.  Even in the New Testament, the Jewish people only wanted to be free of Roman rule.  But they failed to recognize that their enemy wasn’t another nation.  Their enemy, my enemy and your enemy is our own sinful nature.

Like the Israelites, my greatest need was not for God to sweep in and fix the problem of the day.  My greatest need was to recognize that I was a wretch, bound as a slave to sin and helpless to free myself.  In truth, I didn’t even realize that I was in bondage.  I didn’t yearn to be free from slavery to sin because it was just a normal, natural part of my life and the life of most everyone around me.  But God saw me as the slave I was, bound and shackled by the sinful nature of all mankind, and He determined to set me free.

There was only one way—a perfect sacrifice had to take on all my sin and shame and die in my place.  That is when God sent His own Son in the person of Jesus, to die on the cross in my place.  My freedom was bought at the highest possible price – the life of the Son of God.

Still I would not have chosen to receive Jesus’ sacrifice had God not revealed the truth of my bondage—and the truth of His redeeming love.  He moved my heart to believe and receive His gift of salvation.  My faith is no longer in the church—my faith is in Jesus, who is my Lord and my Savior.  And now I am certain that heaven is my forever home.

Biblical scholar Dr. Irwin Lutzer says that true faith is three-fold. “First it involves knowledge, the fact of Jesus’ death for sinners.  Second it means we assent to the truths of salvation; finally, it involves trust, the transferring of all of our confidence to Christ alone.”[1]  We recognize our own need for a Savior, confess that Jesus’ death secured our salvation, and believe that through God’s grace we are forever redeemed and set free.

I am a Christian because God saved me through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.  I have eternal life in heaven because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  I am not bound as a slave to my sins any longer, I am now bound up in the freedom of Christ.  Every day I remember both who I was as a slave to sin, and who I am now, a freed daughter of God.

Can you say the same?  Do you know the freedom that only comes through Jesus Christ?  Do not remain in the chains of sin for one more minute—right now tell God you want to be set free.  The chains will fall and you can walk away as a freed child of God.

Holy Father, thank You for opening my eyes to the truth of my slavery to sin.  Thank You for revealing the redemptive power of Your love through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Thank You for setting me free.  I am forever Your child.

[1] Erwin Lutzer, The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1998), 99.

Don’t Be a Fool

oil_lamp“The foolish virgins said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’” Matthew 25:8

Please Read: Matthew 25:1-13

This passage always puzzled me. Jesus often spoke of the importance of generosity on the part of believers, so why would He offer a parable about selfish women who won’t share their oil? It seemed a contradiction to me. But as I’ve learned to study the Bible, and especially Jesus’ parables, I’m learning to look for the deeper meanings and truths behind His words.

This parable is about so much more than sharing. It speaks of the church and of the return of Christ. It is part of a bigger series, called the Olivet Discourse that begins in Matthew 24 and continues through the end of chapter 25 where Jesus is teaching about His return. The disciples had asked “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (24:3). Jesus had a great deal to say about “false prophets” and the falling away of people who claimed to be His followers. He also spoke about the coming time of tribulation, which will weed out the false and reveal the true followers. (I firmly believe we are seeing the early stages of this “weeding out” process even now.) But the heart of all He said in Matthew 24 and 25 is simple: “Jesus is coming, and we must be ready.”

The skeptic demands to know when, but Jesus said “The Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (24:44), and that is an important point in the passage we are discussing. But to understand this parable better, we need a little “back story.” A wedding story to be precise.

A Jewish wedding in the time of Jesus was different from weddings today. No plans were set on the calendar, no invitations sent out, little to no advanced notice was given, even for the bride, the wedding party and guests. For that matter, even the groom had to wait until his father told him to go fetch his bride.  (This is another wonderful study that we’ll look at soon.)  The groom got the nod from his father and messengers went mere hours before him to tell the bride and the expected guests that the wedding was on – now! Being prepared was essential for everyone involved.

In this parable, the word had been spread that the bridegroom was on his way to claim his bride, but for an unknown reason, he was delayed. As the ten virgins waited, they continued to burn their lamps, and in the process, burned their oil. Jesus said five of those virgins were wise enough to bring extra oil, but five did not. But Jesus is not speaking specifically about oil – He is speaking about faith – that is faith in Him as Savior. And He is confronting those who are part of the crowd, but have not received the grace that God offers. They are the foolish virgins who first try to “borrow” from the wise virgins and then run to the market to attempt to buy what only Jesus offers. They are the ones who are left standing outside the door, denied entry because Jesus does not recognize His Spirit in them. They are foolish – but they have only fooled themselves.

We are talking here about salvation through Jesus Christ, for only those who have received Christ have the Spirit of Christ, and only those with the Spirit of Christ are received into eternal life. Paul expressed it very plainly in Romans 8:9: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” John makes it even clearer: “This is how we know He (Christ) lives in us; we know it by the Spirit He gave us” (I John 3:24).

Our churches are filled with wise and foolish people, some who have taken hold of the life that Jesus Christ offers and some who have not. Those who have are ready for the return of the Bridegroom have “lamps” that are full of the never-ending life of Christ, and when He returns, Jesus will welcome them to the wedding banquet. According to Matthew 25:46 “The righteous [will go] to eternal life.” Those who have not, no matter how much they plead on that day, have a different and terrifying destination – “They will go away to eternal punishment.”

My pastor/mentor says “The message of the virgins is that there are people who know about his Lordship, yet do nothing to obey the words of their Lord. They know ABOUT him, but have not considered him worthy of their obedience. Their condition is the height of foolishness. Their intentional ignorance (or perhaps ignorance born of apathy) has condemned them. So the bridegroom rightly answers with that terrifying reply – “I don’t know you”. This answer is consistent with Jesus words in Matthew 7:21-22 “Not all who say to me Lord, Lord shall enter…but only they who do the will of my Father…”[1]

We must, in this life, prepare for the next life. We must receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior by faith; we must accept the grace that is offered through the cross. Only then will we be prepared for Jesus’ return. Those who refuse Christ, and even those who are part of the “church crowd” but have never received Christ, are not prepared. When Jesus returns there is no more opportunity to make that decision. It will be too late.

Will you stop for a moment and ask yourself “Does the Spirit of Christ live in me?” “Is my mind set on the things the Spirit desires?” (Romans 8:5). “Is my mind controlled by the life and peace of the Spirit?” (Romans 8:6). “Do I put to death the misdeeds of the body and live by the Spirit?” (Romans 8:13). “Does the Spirit testify to my spirit that I am a child of God?” (Romans 8:16). If you cannot answer “yes” to these questions – questions that come straight out of the Word of God – please don’t wait until it is too late to prepare for the Day that is coming. Please receive Jesus Christ today and be right with God while there is time. I speak to you in Paul’s words: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” 2 Corinthians 5:20.

If you want to pray to receive Jesus, use this prayer as your own or as an example for your own words: “Dear Jesus, I know that I am not prepared for Your return. But right now, by faith, I receive your gift of salvation and eternal life. I receive You, Jesus as my Savior. Fill me and teach me to live according to Your Spirit. Thank you for dying to save me and give me life.  Amen.

[1] Personal comments by Rev. M. D. Shockley, Pastor, St. Paul’s UMC, Jacksonville, Florida.

The Tree at the Water’s Edge

Tree_At_The_Water“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by streams of water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

I had a friend who owned several acres of land with a great catfish pond.  Many early Saturday mornings I sat on a stump beside his fishing pond, watching the bobber on my line for the slightest movement.  But even when I wasn’t fishing I loved to just sit by the water because it was bordered on three sides with lush, green trees.  I often took a book with me so that if the fish weren’t biting I could sit in the shade and get lost in a good story.  The drive down to the pond wasn’t as shady, the few trees along the path were not as verdant, and in one very dry summer, many of the trees died for lack of water, and the few that survived were scraggily and weak.  But when you rounded the bend to the pond, the trees were alive and full of leaves because they were nearest to the water.

In our key verse, Jeremiah compares the “the man who trusts in the Lord” with one of those trees by the edge of my friend’s pond, alive with green leaves and fruit.  The opposite would apply to those who do not trust in the Lord; they would be like the trees along the path in the dry heat of summer, dead, leafless and fruitless.  What is important to notice in the Psalm, just as at my friend’s property, is that both—trees and people—are subjected to the heat and the drought.  This is a truth we would do well to grasp – those who trust in the Lord and those who don’t will be confronted with many of the same life challenges.  Being a Christian does not exempt us from the difficulties of living in this fallen world.  Believers still get cancer, lose loved ones, have rebellious kids, car troubles, financial struggles, and many of the same trials that unbelievers experience.  It’s just the realities of life we all face.  Droughts and dry seasons will come.

Yet look at how the trees by the water endure these seasons of drought.  They push their roots down farther into the ground and find the water at the deeper levels.  They draw the nourishment they need from the deeper water.  Likewise the one who trusts in the Lord will press in closer to Him and push their roots down farther to tap into the deeper truths of God’s character and His Word.  It is a theme often repeated in Scripture, Psalm 1:1-3 says that the one who delights in God’s Word is like the tree planted by the water, never withered and always fruitful, and Psalm 92:12-15 promises that they will “still bear fruit in old age, staying fresh and green. ”

I find it especially encouraging that those trees—and believers—who drink deeply of the goodness of God “do not fear” and “have no worries” during these dry seasons.  They know that everything they need to stay vibrant, green and fruitful will be provided by their good and faithful Heavenly Father.  Jeremiah says we do not rely on our ability to stay strong, but our “confidence is in the Lord” our security in the drought, our hope in the trial is firmly rooted in God’s faithful, powerful, loving character.  And get this, when you and I set our confidence in the unchanging nature of God, we not only survive the drought, we thrive.  We “never fail to bear fruit.”  I’ve seen many saints of the Lord who endured hard, difficult times yet always bore the fruit of peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faith and love.  They faithfully served others despite their own pain.  They continued to love that rebellious child.  They were kind and gentle even when they were tired and weary. They patiently trusted God to provide when the rent was due and the money was gone.  Their peace shone through while they endured chemotherapy.  They were not afraid, they were not worried.  They dug their roots deeper and trusted that whatever they needed, emotionally, physically, or spiritually, God would provide.

My friend, are you like the tree standing in the middle of the dry, barren field far from the water?  Are your struggles draining you?  Do you feel withered and weary?  I encourage you to move to the water’s edge where your roots can tap into the life-giving stream of God’s goodness.  There you will be fed from underground streams that never run dry.  Streams of comfort and provision, hope and peace, joy and strength.  Streams of life.

Come friend to the “river whose streams make glad the City of God” (Psalm 46:4).  Drink deeply from the “living water” of Jesus Christ and you will never be thirsty again (John 4:10-14).

Holy Father, I want to dig more deeply into this marvelous living water; I want to be like the flourishing tree that has found the underground stream, drawing strength and hope from your unfailing love.  Amen.

Life by Design

baby_in_wombFor in Him we live and move and have our being  (Acts 17:28).

 I recently completed a Biology course in my seminary studies.  I approached this course with trepidation and a bit of frustration.  What does biology have to do with my major, which is Theology and Biblical Studies?    I’m training to tell others about God, not about the Venus Fly-Trap.  But this course is necessary to complete my degree (I had no previous college credits), so I did it, but only because I had to.  (Doesn’t that sound like a kid being told to apologize to his sister?)  I still don’t love biology, but I have a new appreciation for it and how it really does fit into theology and tells us wonderful things about God.

The Bible tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and “God created man” (Genesis 1:27).  Those verses have become the most debated statements in human history, with fewer than half of Americans holding the Bible’s claims as true.  A 2012 Gallop poll found that only 46% of Americans believe that God created humans in their complete form.  32% believe God guided the evolutionary process to man’s finished state, and 15% dismiss any concept of God’s involvement in human existence at all.[1]  In recent years, that minority have become more vocal and forceful in refuting the Bible’s claim about creation or the existence of God.

The apostle Paul says “What may be know about God is plain, because God has made it plain; for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).  Psalm 19:1 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.  God has left a witness of Himself in the heavens and on earth – the stars, the moon, and the sun, trees and birds and the animals—all of creation, from the vast and mighty mountains—to delicate, tiny flowers speak to us of a Creator.  Yet the unbeliever has reduced the work of His hands to evolutionary processes over millions of years in an effort to deny what nature is singing and shouting: “Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:4).

The most miraculous of all God’s creation stares back at you from the mirror every morning.  YOU are a living, breathing testament of God’s existence and power.  You are the image bearer of God, created by Him to bring Him glory.  In his message to the Athenians, Paul said, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth . . . He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:24, 25).  Again, the unbelievers reject this word and instead reason that life happened by accident, as parasitic bacteria randomly divided and morphed into molecules and cells and genes and organs and brains and arms and legs.  This is where my biology course became a theology course.

Within every living being, whether plants or animals or humans, molecules and cells and genes, each with its own properties and purpose, are working diligently according to their individual design—one small part of the whole.  If one part fails to do its job, the entire cell function is thrown off.  The cells of a human being are a “factory,” producing everything the body needs to survive and function.  From the connectedness of our organs, skin, bones, muscles, and brain to the delicate intricacy of our DNA, the human body shouts of a Creator.  The beautiful dance of micro-organisms in your body, the transcribing of your DNA while you read this words, even your body’s response to drinking a glass of milk, are a wonder to behold.  And if you need any further proof of God as the Designer of life, study the stages of procreation – of how a baby comes into being.  This is no random colliding of cells, this is Design at its finest!

God fashioned all of nature, to the deepest micro-cellular level, with incredible intricacy and detail, with beauty and function that could never happen by “accident.”  If man tries to deny the Creator who is responsible for all he sees in the universe, he needs only look at creation from the cellular level to see an Intelligent Being at work.  The deeper we go in studying the biological make up of life, the more we see God.  This is not without a purpose; Paul said to the Athenians, God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us (Acts 17: 27).  The great theologian F. B. Meyer says, “God knows just where to find us, and in turn provides all we need to find and worship him.”[2]  God knows that man will deny Him and work to disprove Him, so the deeper man goes the more evidence he will find of a Designer.  Likewise, the farther out in space man goes, the more evidence he will find of the Creator.  It must be so frustrating to those who want to doubt God’s existence.

My friend, despite what the world says, you are no random accident of colliding parasites and micro-organisms.  God created you and signed His name deep within you, so that you will know without a doubt that you were fashioned by His hands.  He created you with intention and purpose—the greatest purpose of all—that you might know Him and love Him, because He knows and loves you.  God, the Creator of the Universe, has made Himself evident in the stars and in the cells of your body.  Get to know Him; He has more wonders to show you than you’ve ever dreamed.

Holy Father, You are the Designer and Creator of all that exists, including me.  You fashioned me with Your own hands and stamped Your name deep within me.  How can I ever deny You? No, I give you shouts of praise and bow in worship before You, Elohim—the God of Creation.  Amen.

[1] “In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins” http://www.gallup.com/poll/155003/Hold-Creationist-View-Human-Origins.aspx

 

[2] F. B. Meyer; Bruce H. Wikinson, Calvin W. Edwards, Paula Kirk, Eds., “January 2 Devotional” Closer Walk New Testament: New International Version, (Atlanta, Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, Inc., 1990) 8.

Thy Kingdom Come

300px-Denmark_crown“Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

One of the first prayers a Christian learns is “The Lord’s Prayer,” which should actually be called “The Disciples’ Prayer” as it was they who asked, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).  This prayer serves as a model for us, teaching us to approach God with reverence and worship in an attitude of surrender, humility and obedience.  I’ve been in many worship services, classes, and events where the prayer is prayed by the congregation in unison and I often wonder if we, as the pray-ers are really aware of what we are saying.  One part in particular always makes we want to shout, “Wait! Do you understand these words?  Is this really your heart’s desire?

How many times have you prayed the Lord’s Prayer and said “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? Have you ever stopped to think about what that really means and why Jesus included it in His model prayer?

Have you considered that we ask for His kingdom to come because God is King?  He is the King of the entire universe because He is the Creator of the entire universe and His rule is sovereign – that means He is the absolute authority over the universe, which includes all humankind. (We will look at the “human” side of creation in the next Deeper Roots post.)  A king’s word is always the law of the land.  The Word of the King of the universe is to be obeyed without question.  God created the universe with only His spoken word.  He said, “Let there be . . .” (Genesis 1:3, 6, 14), and out of the void, life sprang forth in obedience to his command.  The Psalmist wrote, “He spoke, and [the world] came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Psalm 33:9).  God is Creator and King and His will is His absolute priority.

The question of God’s will has been a constant theme for thousands of years.  We want to know God’s will for our lives, but this verse invites us to look for the bigger picture and how we fit into it.  While God does have a will – a plan and purpose – for our individual lives, that will is encompassed by the greater will of God, the will that was in place before He spoke the first command of creation.  The apostle Paul says that God’s will is to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under the sovereign authority of Christ (ref. Ephesians 1:10). This is the fulfillment of the times—the ultimate purpose of all existence is the Lordship of Christ Jesus. God’s plan was firmly fixed from before time began.  Understand that God isn’t making decisions and altering events as they unfold.  All of human history has been moving toward one result: the coronation of Jesus Christ as the King of kings with “authority, glory and sovereign power, everlasting dominion, and a kingdom that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

So when we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (emphasis added), we are surrendering our will to the will of God and committing to be part of ushering in the Kingdom of God and Christ.  Like the angels in heaven, we are swearing our total allegiance to the authority and rule of the only rightful Ruler of the universe.  This is God’s will for your life. He created you with so much more in mind than you can conceive.  He created you to be part of His eternal kingdom.  As you consider the words of this prayer, ask yourself, “What would the world look like if God’s will were done on earth through me?”

Holy Father, Sovereign King, I surrender my life and all that I am and have to Your will.  Use me to bring Your kingdom to this earth.  I long for the day when Jesus rules and reigns for eternity.  Amen.

The Alpha and the Omega

stroke-of-midnight“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13).

One year comes to a close and another year dawns.  What did the year hold for you?  The media love to give recaps of the previous year, who did this, who said that, who got married (and divorced).  Who gave birth and who died?  What was the top movie of the year?  Who was the best (and worst) dressed? What sports team won it all?  Likewise we often take personal stock of the year – how we faired financially and in our relationships, what big life events occurred in the past twelve months and how it went in our jobs.  When I did my own year-in-review I could sum it all up in one word: surprise!  This year was full of the unexpected as my family made a major move; after nearly 20 years in Florida, we end the year back in our home state of Alabama.  God led us to a great place to live and a wonderful church home.  The blessings of our new home also meant saying goodbye to dear and precious people and ministries that I loved.  Life often offers us a little bitter with the sweet.  We sit on the cusp of the New Year with a sense of excitement as we look ahead to what God will do.

The thought always strikes me at the end of each year: I had no clue on January 1 what the year would hold, but God knew everything thing that would occur in the next 365 days.  And as the next year begins, He is equally aware of how it will unfold.  He knows every joy and sorrow, every good thing and every not-so-good thing.  He knows the people that I will meet, and the places this year will take me.   He knows the words I will write on this blog and every person who will read them.  And He knows the mistakes I will make and how He will work them together in my life to accomplish His good plan and purpose for me.  How can I be so confident?  Because Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega.

If you are not familiar with those words, Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last, and they are used to express completeness from beginning to end—much as we say “from A to Z.”  Three times in Revelation Jesus declares, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” and each time He adds a little more to His self-proclamation.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8).

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (21:6).

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (22:13).

Because He is the Alpha and the Omega, Jesus knows what the year will hold; He sees the beginning of the year and the end and everything in between.   He is the Beginning of time (Genesis 1:14) and the End of time; because He is eternal, He is timeless (1 Peter 1:11).

Jesus is the Beginning and the End of the universe.  He is the origin of the heavens and the earth and all life—including human beings (Genesis 1-2).    He called the light to dawn (Genesis 1:3) and He will extinguish it and replace it with Himself (Revelation 21:23). He created the universe and will bring it to a close (Revelation 21:1).  He is the Beginning of all righteousness and the end of all evil (Matthew 25:46).

Jesus is the First and the Last in power and authority over all existence.  He is the Son of God (Matthew 3:17). He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). He is exalted to the highest place, His name is above every name; the day is soon coming when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-10)!

These are high and exalted expressions of Jesus, yet He is also the Alpha and the Omega of your life and mine.  He is Beginning and the End of your day—He is there with you when you sip your coffee in the morning and when you lay your head down at night and at every hour in between; He continues to watch over you through the night.  He is the First and the Last over your life—He was there when you drew your first breath, and He will walk with you into heaven when you draw your last, and He will never leave your side all the days of your life.

We do not know what the coming year will bring, what adventures and challenges, hellos and goodbyes, joys and sorrows.  But we can greet the coming year confident that the Alpha and Omega is already there.  I invite you to begin the New Year with words of this beautiful old hymn:

I don’t worry o’er the future

For I know what Jesus said

And today I’ll walk beside Him

For He knows what is ahead

Many things about tomorrow

I don’t seem to understand;

But I know who holds tomorrow

and I know who holds my hand.[1]

Precious Lord Jesus, another year ends and a new one begins, I can’t imagine what the next year holds, but I will walk into it holding Your hand and trusting you every day.  Amen.

[1] I Know Who Holds Tomorrow – words and music by Ira F. Stanphill, February 14, 1914—December 30, 1993

Advent 2015 – Day 26 – Wondrous Love

Advent candles 4

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

There is a hymn that I think beautifully captures the purest essence of Christmas:

 

 

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.[1]

This hymn is the gospel message; the Christmas and Easter stories rolled into one glorious proclamation of wonderful love.  God saw mankind, enslaved to the curse of sin, and chose to bear the cost to set His creation free.  What kind of love would die that you and I might live? Jesus told us in John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.”  The amazing truth of His love is that we “were alienated from God and were [His] enemies” (Colossians 1:21).  And yet, Jesus lay down His life for us anyway.  This is greater love.

We were hopelessly lost in our sin, and we desperately needed a Savior.  But no savior could be found on earth, because only divine blood could cover the sins of all humanity.  But God is eternal, and He cannot die.  So the Son of God became a man in order to shed His divine blood from human veins.  Jesus the man was born to die.  This is divine love.

God loved you before you were ever born.  In fact, God loved you from the creation of the world.  How do I know this? Revelation 13:8 says “the Lamb (Jesus) was slain from the creation of the world.” Why was He slain?  To redeem His beloved creation.  To redeem you, because He loves you.  This is eternal love.

God loves you perfectly—but not because you are perfect.  You and I are far from perfect, but God’s love for us is never-failing, never-ending, flawless and more certain than the earth itself.  He says, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfairly love for you will not be shaken” (Isaiah 54:10). This is perfect love.

This is the message of Christmas: that God’s heart would be so tender toward mankind that He would give His own Son to save us, even though we turn away from Him.  Only love could make such a sacrifice.

What wondrous love is this? It is a greater love. A divine love. An eternal love.  A perfect love.  This love is Jesus.

To all my dear Deeper Roots friends:  I wish you the merriest of Christmases and all God’s favor and blessing in the coming year.

[1] Words: American Folk Hymn; Music: William Walker’s Southern Harmony, 1835; arr. William J. Reynolds, 1920-2009.

Advent 2015 – Day 25 – The Debt of Love

Advent candles 4Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8).

It is such a joy as a parent to watch our children on Christmas morning opening their gifts with great excitement.  They squeal with delight and shout, “It’s just what I wanted!”  When we see their happiness, we decide it was worth whatever it took to get them these special gifts.  Until January, when the credit card bill comes in, then our joy is replaced with groans of “Why did I spend so much money?”  Financial experts estimate Americans will spend on average $600 to $900 this Christmas season, and the majority of shoppers will use credit for their purchases and “pay the piper” for months afterward.

The apostle Paul says that we should only have one debt on our balance sheet: “the continuing debt to love one another.”  Financial planners can help you devise a plan to pay off your credit debt, but Paul says that love for one another is a “continuing debt,” that can never be finished.  It is a life-long obligation.  Yes, you read that right—love, as Paul sees it in the context—is an obligation.  How is that so?  Look at verse 12 – “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”  He is drawing from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:37-40 where the Lord says that “All the law and the prophets hang on [the command to love]. Loving God and loving others encompasses every law and commandment in the Old and New Testaments.

Love is more than a “warm fuzzy feeling,” love is a choice we make every day. 1 Corinthians 13 offers us a practical example of choosing to love. You may be very familiar with it, but I want to challenge you to read this passage a little differently. Instead of the word “love,” put your own name in the verse and read it aloud:

_______________ is patient, _____________ is kind. ____________ does not envy, ______________does not boast, _______________ is not proud. ______________ is not rude, ______________ is not self-seeking, _______________ is not easily angered. ______________ keeps no record of wrongs. ______________ does not delight in evil, but ______________ rejoices with the truth. _____________ always protects, _______________ always trusts, _____________ always hopes, _______________ always perseveres (v. 4-7).

So how did you do? I don’t know about you but I started to squirm at “does not envy.”

Love doesn’t require any money, but it is costly. It will cost you time and attention and patience and ego, but it brings amazing dividends! Every day you and I have the opportunity to share the love of God in this world. When we are patient, kind, humble, considerate, forgiving, honest and compassionate we are making installments on our never-ending obligation to love. What would your home, your workplace, your church and community look like if you followed Paul’s payment plan?

Advent 2015 – Day 24 – Love Makes Room

Advent candles 4“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).

I had lunch last week with a new friend from our new church in our new hometown.  She is a busy lady, involved in many different ministries in the church in addition to responsibilities in her husband’s company and raising her children.  But she graciously made room in her life for me.  She carved out a couple of hours to spend with the newbie and make me feel welcomed. It was a delightful visit over a couple of hamburgers.

She and I share many things in common, a love for women’s ministry and the Bible, and one in particular: a love for mentoring young men and women.  She told me about a young woman whom they came to love and even open their home and family to while she was in the area.  I shared with her about my family’s season of serving in college ministry.  We came to love so many of those precious students, their feet were often under my kitchen table.  They were—and are—dear to us and many still call us “Mom and Dad.”  Through that time, I came to understand Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (2:8). Like Paul, we made room for others out of love.

Love opens doors to the lonely.  Love puts one more plate on the table.  Love slides over to share the seat with a weary soul.  Love sleeps on the couch so the visitor can have the bed.  Love opens the circle of friendship to add one more person.  Love doesn’t shut others out; love welcomes people in.

In the town of Bethlehem some two-thousand years ago, a baby was born in a dark, damp, smelly stable—little more than a cave hewn out of a hillside—because there was no room for his little family in the inn.  They were turned away because there was no love there.  Now—think about what Jesus told His disciples just before His death: “In my Father’s house are many rooms . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Why?

Because love makes room.