Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Set Your Hope on Grace

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls...

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
I Peter 1:3-9 & 13-15

I went to a small college in a mid-western town whose only other attraction consisted of the Super Walmart. Needless to say there wasn't a lot to do outside of studying and partying. Many of the students seemed to think their education should contain equal parts of each. My college was ranked 9th in the nation for consumption of hard liquor, so it was no surprise when my friends and I found a group in the cafeteria advocating for responsible drinking. They had a set of "beer goggles" that allowed a sober person to experience just how impaired drinking can make a person. It looked pretty simple. After you put the beer goggles on they would spin you around two or three times and then they threw a tennis ball to you. You were supposed to catch it and throw it back. Then they asked you to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line without losing your balance. My friends and I were pretty athletic so we felt we could do this easily even with the added disability of the beer goggles.

As soon as I put the goggles on the world warped around me. My balance was off, the floors and walls seemed to move. My perspective was completely distorted. It is amazing how difficult simple, everyday tasks can become under these circumstances. Given normal vision I could have done these tasks without even paying attention. It was more than a little funny to watch. I was completely unable to catch the tennis ball they threw to me. I think it took me two or three stabs just to pick it up off the floor, then I threw it a clear three feet to the left of the person I was tossing it back to. I reeled and stumbled through the simple heel-to-toe exercise. Even after I took the goggles off it took several moments for me to regain a normal perspective on the world.

Beer isn't the only thing that has the power to warp our perspective. When your eyes are fixed solely on this world and on this life, then the smallest of obstacles can seem insurmountable. With this small perspective every problem is distorted as the cares of the world swirl around us making everything more difficult than it has to be. But when we fix our eyes on Jesus, on eternity and what has been laid up for us there...these same problems seem much easier to overcome.

But as the passage above makes clear, setting our hope on eternity affects much more than merely the size of our problems. I believe that it is impossible to live life the way God wants you to if you don't keep the return of Jesus always in your mind. Even in the Old Testament God continually reminded His people that this world is not as it should be. It has been marred by sin along with us. Sin has turned our world into a place of pain and struggle. But God has promised that there will come a day when He will set things right. We know that this day will be the day that Jesus returns. We know that Christ promised to take us to be with Him on that day so we must remember that this world is not our home. We must remember that our great hope is not in anything this world has to offer. It is not in achievement or wealth or even in family. No we must "set our hope on the grace to be brought to us when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming." Our great hope is the grace that will be shown to us on that last day. Grace that will forgive our sins. Grace that will once and for all remove the marring effects of sin from our bodies and cause us to shine like fine gold refined in the fire seven times over. Grace that will gain our entrance into heaven. Grace that will enable us to gaze unflinchingly on the face of God. Grace that will enable Him to say "Well done good and faithful servant." Grace that will supply us with an everlasting inheritance in the house of the King of kings. Grace to allow us an eternity with the Master. Grace to be holy, because He is holy.

This is our hope and unless we enter the New Year with our eyes fixed on this, we are doomed to continue wasting our days living for this world. All that we accomplish for this world could be taken from us at any moment by death. That is why Matthew 6:19-20 says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." But to do this we must first fix our eyes on heaven.

Father, fix my gaze upon Your face and upon the prize that You have set before all believers in this new year. Help me to judge my challenges in light of heaven. Help me to make choices based on their eternal impact. Help me to live on this earth as an alien and a stranger...someone who is just passing through on my way home. And may You make it so that I feel more and more at home in Your presence this year as I do my best to serve You more faithfully.

For further reading...
  • Read all of I Peter 1-4 in light of this opening passage and the idea that fixing our hope on Christ's return changes everything about our lives.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
John 7:37-39

This world is a spiritual desert. It has nothing to offer those who thirst for God but the mirages of false religion, personal enlightenment, and sin. They promise to quench our need for God, but they all fall far short. Thirsty souls continue to search. They run from false hope to false hope and from sin to sin hoping to satisfy their deepest need. What they find is little more than a distraction. Something to take their mind off of their thirst. Some, to avoid utter despair, embrace that distraction with all they have, for it is, at the very least, better than nothing. But this is not how it should be. God has placed wells of life giving water in the midst of this desert, and in His abundant kindness He did not make these wells stationary. The thirsty need not come upon one of them by chance. God placed these wells in the hearts of His people so they might go to where the hurting and thirsty are and give them life.

Now you may think I am being a little melodramatic here, but this is the picture that emerges from the passage. Jesus spoke the above words on the last day of the Jewish Feast of Booths which celebrated God's provision for the Israelites during their time in the desert. Now I have never lived in the desert but I imagine that a person's greatest need there is water. Jesus draws on this image to talk about what He has to offer. He says in effect, "Come to me all who are thirsty and drink..." (Isaiah 55). He continues explaining that those who come to Him to drink not only have their thirst quenched but a well of Living Water is placed within them. Presumably this well would serve two functions. First, it would serve to quench their thirst on a continual basis so that they would never again be lacking. Second, it would flow out from within them to provide for those around them. Jesus identifies clearly what this well of Living Water is. It is the Holy Spirit placed inside all believers. He is also clear about the source. It flows from within believers but it originates from belief in Christ.

This leaves us with a few questions. Are you a believer? And, the question that has been haunting me of late, is the life-giving Spirit flowing freely from within you and impacting the lives of all who come into contact with you? I fear that I have allowed my well to fall into disrepair. I write a devotional blog trying to help others spend more time in the Word not because I have mastered it but because I very much still struggle to do so myself. I have grown lax in my connections to Christ and now I run dry. What is truly sad is that this not only hurts me but it also leaves those who are perishing around me with no witness that there is something better for them. Oh, I can tell them about how great Jesus is but a thirsty soul has a knack for noticing the parched lips of one who claims to have water. They have been misled too many times. They are hesitant to believe. The best witness of all is that living well. As the presence of the Holy Spirit spills out of your life in power onto the hurting they have every reason to believe what you say. 

Lord forgive me for taking You for granted. Restore my first love. Renew my well of living water. May those who are hurting and lost in this world enter into Your presence when they enter into mine. Quench my thirst anew and send me out for your glory!

For further reading...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What is your life about?

An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” 

To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”
John 3:25-30

When I read this passage of Scripture, I can almost hear the panic in the voices of John's disciples. You can sense their concern that John (the prophet and teacher to whom they have dedicated their lives) is losing his influence. By reading between the lines a little, one even senses that there may be a certain amount of disdain for Jesus' presumption. "The one you testified about," they say. You were so gracious to Him. You honored and exalted Him and now He is encroaching on your turf! He is baptizing and people go to Him instead of you. This of course presents a real problem for John the Baptist who is kind of pigeon-holed into a certain ministry now. He is called John the Baptist after all.

John's response to his disciple's concern is truly remarkable. Like Job he acknowledges that all he has in life comes from God and ultimately all he has in life will return to God. John points out that the same is true for Jesus. "So if Jesus is receiving influence as mine is waning, then it is because God has chosen to take it away from me and give it to Him," John says. He continues with a wedding metaphor. "Jesus is the groom," he says. "I'm the best man." Does it make sense for the best man to be angry that the groom is getting married when he is not? No, it makes no sense. The best man should rejoice and be happy for his friend. So too, John says, "That joy is mine, and it is now complete." John knows that this isn't his story. He isn't the main character, but he can find joy in playing his part well. He dare not step out of line and try to steal the lead role from Jesus. In other words John says, "It's not about me!" How hard those four words are for us to accept and live by.

But it's the last line of this passage that draws attention to our error. John says, "He must become greater; I must become less." What John wanted more than anything in the world was for God's kingdom to advance in this world. Everything else in life was secondary to that goal, even John's own personal fulfillment and social standing. His disciples had momentarily lost sight of that. We sometimes do as well. We work so hard to get ahead at work, to build a life for our family, to build a program or Bible study at church that before we know it we get caught in the trap of thinking that these things are the end goal themselves. They are not. They are merely a means to the end of bringing glory to God and advancing the gospel. Sometimes the gospel advances when you are transferred to a lower paying position or when your hopes for your family are thwarted or even when your church doesn't keep pace with the growth of the church down the street. That is when you have to ask yourself, "Why do I serve God?"

So let me ask you, why do you serve God? Do you serve God to advance the cause of Christ simply because God deserves your faithful service? Or do you serve God to make a name for yourself? Do you serve Him to get ahead in life? Let me put it slightly differently, what is the most important thing in your life?

For further reading...
  • Job 1:1-2:10- Job understood his place in relation to God.
  • Mark 12:28-30- The greatest commandment requires that God hold first importance in our lives.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Weed of Hypocrisy

While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Luke 20:45-47

I came across this warning from Jesus today during my quiet time and immediately I had to ask myself, "Am I like these teachers of the law?" Am I just going through the motions? Is my heart right with God?

It's clear from Jesus' statements that even though these men seemed holy, they were not. They were very religious and were very well-respected in the Jewish community. This didn't impress God. Scripture says, "Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God." (1 Corinthians 4:5). God sees your heart. Your intentions and your motivations matter to Him. It's clear from Jesus' reprimand that these men were motivated by evil things. The things they did which made them appear righteous were actually the very things which condemned them before God because they did those things from a wrong heart. Their long prayers, like their long robes, were just for show. They studied God's Word not out of a love for it but out a of love for places of honor at banquets and special greetings. They sought the approval of man, not of God. 

When someone makes a god out of other people's opinions, eventually their righteousness reflects the smallness of their god. In other words their righteousness stops at what other people can see. These men served a god that was not all-knowing like the true God. Their god couldn't see into their hearts or behind closed doors. All they had to worry about was appearances. For these men religion was just a means to further the ends of their own personal agendas. That's why they were able to steal from widows.

Unfortunately this profile of hypocrisy has played itself out over and over again in a million different ways in many different lives. In some circles Christians are known for their hypocrisy precisely because of men like this. Notice Jesus' warning though: "These men will be punished most severely." The same is true of all of us who fall into their trap. So let me ask you, are you doing the right things for the wrong reasons? Are you putting on a religious front and using God for personal gain? Does your life match your confession? God sees you. "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13). Heed Jesus' warning today and guard your heart against the weed of hypocrisy. Search your heart, your motivations and intentions and ask God to weed out those places where you have slipped into man-pleasing and self-service. Do it for your own good. Do it because God deserves your best.

For further reading...