Wednesday, December 21, 2011

All God's children

Romans 3:29  "Is God the God of Jews only?  Is He not the God of Gentiles, too?  Yes, of Gentiles, too."

We seem to be in a period of strong division in this country.  There have been a steady stream of articles in the newspaper about the growing divide between the wealthy and the poor.  There have been protests in major cities across the country by the "99%", those who claim to be left behind by the 1% who presumably gather all the wealth and benefits from the financial markets and government policies.  Then there is the ongoing debate about government spending on programs that help support the poor.  Many believe that they are being taxed unfairly to provide support to those who don't deserve it.  Combine all of this with ongoing racial divisions, and we have a situation where people are being defined by the groups they fall into or the labels placed on them by our society.

Paul reminds us in these verses of the only true label we all carry and the only real group we all belong to: God's children.  Make it a habit to remind yourself that every person you see, every person you read about, and all of the unnamed people who fall into whatever category or group you disagree with, they are all God's children.  He sees them the same way He sees you.

Are you treating those people as God's children, whether it be in thought or in action?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Strength in weakness

2 Corinthians 12:10  "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."

It is natural to look at hindrances and obstacles in our lives and ask God to relieve us of them or take them away.  It seems natural to us to say that if God would take away the roadblocks in front of us, we could be so much more effective for Christ.

When we say this, what we are really asking God to do is to allow us to work in the fullness of our own strength.  We believe we could become a superhero for Christ if only we were unshackled and allowed to put our strength on full display.  The truth of the matter is that we accomplish nothing of eternal greatness in our own strength.  Only Christ working in us and through us is able to achieve what will bring glory to His name. 

Obstacles and hardships may or may not be the work of Satan, but the fact that these obstacles are not taken from us is a sovereign decision of God.  He wants us to have constant reminders of our weakness and dependence on Him and His strength.  As Paul says above, it is only in our weakness that we can truly be strong in Him.  This should cause us to rejoice in hardship and to thank God for giving us circumstances that keep us close to Him.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Facing the truth

2 Corinthians 4:2  "Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.  On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."

Paul communicated truth unabashedly and without regard to how it would be received or what the immediate consequences might be.  And suffer he did.  But 2,000 years later, here we are still reading his writings and recognizing them as ultimate truth.

We seem to have a problem in our country right now hearing and accepting truth.  We face many difficult challenges, and the opinions on each side of the debate grow louder and more divisive by the moment.  Opinions are part of what makes the situation so confusing.  Everyone seems to have an opinion, and we are bombarded by so many of them we can't process them all. 

We need truth, not opinion.  Truth is out there, but how do we distinguish it from useless opinion?  This leads to a second problem- trust.  We seem to be growing in our general level of distrust.  We no longer trust our leaders or our established institutions.  We grow increasingly skeptical of our system and the rules we have collectively established.  I believe the truth has been heard in the deafening drone of countless opinions.  It has probably been swept under the rug or drowned out in the noise because ramifications of that truth are unpleasant. 

One united concept on which most everyone seems to be in agreement is that our country is not going down the right path.  The alternate path we should be on is the central debatable issue.  But one thing is for certain- the process of change is painful.  If change were not painful, wouldn't we have ended the arguments and have already done something by now?  And make no mistake about it- the pain is shared.  The pain is not to be borne solely by "other people".  It will require sacrifice by each and every one of us.  The pain involves giving up something- either something we currently have or something we have previously believed we would be getting in the future.  The details of the situation may be expressed currently in economic or monetary terms, but the concept and framework of accepting truth and making painful changes that require personal sacrifice are no different at the core than what Paul preached. 

May we, as a people, find the character and intestinal fortitude to accept truth, face up to the painful changes it requires of us, and to set about making those changes with a spirit of joy and thankfulness that will honor and glorify God who has provided all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Do I live as if this is all there is?

1 Corinthians 15:19  "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men."

Paul is speaking to the believers in Corinth, some of whom had begun to question or doubt the resurrection of the dead.  Paul argues that we can be assured of this eventuality for believers because of the fact that Christ rose from the dead.  He says that if the resurrection of Christ is false, then the promise of our own resurrection is false.  If there is no resurrection and eternal life, then this life on earth is all we have and all that there is. 

If earthly life is all there is, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is reduced to a set of rules for living life on earth.  This is no different than the law that was in place before Jesus.  The whole Gospel message crumbles if this were to be true.  Our priorities and our perspective change very drastically if we have no hope of anything beyond life on earth. 

Later in this chapter, Paul quotes from Isaiah 22:13, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."  Many people live in strict accordance with this motto.  There are many wonderful things to experience in this life, and they are gifts from God.  But what if this was really all there was?  I think it is important to ask ourselves, "Do my life and my actions convey that I believe there is more than just what is to be grasped and experienced here on earth?"  Said another way, "Do I live as if the Gospel is true or false?"  I think this is a worthy litmus test to use on our daily decisions and how we live our lives in general.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rising to adulthood

1 Corinthians 13:11  "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."

Children and adults have a much different perspective on life.  We have different priorities, different desires, different concerns, different motivations.  The progression to adulthood is impacted by a variety of forces.  Direct observation of the adults you saw as a child has a major impact on how a child defines adulthood.  Experiences, both positive and negative, affect how you want to see yourself as an adult.  We want to emulate the good things we experienced and live opposite of the bad things we experienced.

Whether your focus lies on doing good things or on not doing bad things is a major difference.  I just heard a quote from two teenage brothers who wrote a book called Do Hard Things.  The idea was that you can be known for the bad things you do, for the bad things you don't do, or for the good things you do.  Children spend much of their existence trying to avoid wrath by not doing bad things.  Adults are called to a much higher standard- to do good things, to do hard things.  Although the intended audience for this book is teenagers, the message is really about adulthood and taking hold of the responsibilities of adulthood.

Although there are many child-like qualities we should retain, we are to rise to the level of adulthood.  Lord, I pray that you will show me where I am still hanging onto thoughts, ideas, actions or habits that are unfitting of the manhood You have called me into.  Help me to continue to learn what it means to be a man, to be Your child, and to live and act in a way that honors and glorifies You.  And most of all, help me to truly know what it means to have everything I think, say and do to be motivated by love.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Responding to the call

2 Thessalonians 2:14  "He called you to this through our Gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."

What does it mean to be "called" to something?  We can be asked to do something, in which case the power to decide rests with us.  We can examine the merits of the situation as well as our own abilities and desire, and ultimately decide whether to accept or reject the request.  We can also be told to do something by someone in authority over us.  This command bestows no privilege of choice on us.  It is about someone else's judgment and decision about what should happen and how it should happen.  We can only carry out the order.

A calling seems to have elements of both a request and a command.  We are not absolutely compelled and without choice with a calling, so it has elements of a request.  However, there is something in our core being that feels compelled to answer a calling.  A calling comes from One in authority over us.  Although it has the element of choice, the compelling resignation we feel gives it the attributes of a command.

A request is consciously decided by our brain, while a calling is unconsciously decided by our heart.  Being called to the Lord is not an intellectual exercise solely contained in our brain.  God gave us free will and does not obligate us to love Him.  A calling, though, touches something in our hearts, something that is part of our natural design.  Although we have free will and can exercise that free will to delay the specifics, a calling never leaves our hearts.  Answering a calling fulfills part of God's plan for us. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What does it mean to really live?

1 Thessalonians 3:8  "For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord."

Paul is expressing his great joy to the believers in Thessalonica upon receiving a report from Timothy about their continued faith and sanctification.  Paul was their spiritual mentor.  While in Athens, he could not stand the suspense of not knowing whether the seed he had planted there was growing or withering.  He sent Timothy to check in on them, since Paul was unable to go personally.

Upon receiving the good report, Paul says that now he and his team really live because the young believers' faith that he helped ignite still burns even in his absence.  I can understand him being pleased with the report and maybe sending back words of additional encouragement to them.  But to express his feelings as "now we really live" because of what is happening with them? 

I can think of a few things that might be so impactful to me that might cause me to express the same feelings Paul does, but unfortunately learning of the growing faith of a young believer is not one of them.  Don't get me wrong, I think it would be great.  But life-changing?  Maybe for them, but not for me.

All of this tells me that I don't place nearly enough importance on nurturing other believers and helping them grow in their faith.  I can't imagine there are many other things that could cause Paul to say "now we really live".  That gives me a clue as to just how high on my priority list this should rank.  It means placing this above many selfish things that currently occupy some of the top spots on my priority list.  If the feelings afterward reflect what Paul expressed, what more worthy cause could I apply my efforts toward?