Walking Home to Him

There have been several periods in my life where I have felt profoundly hopeless, or at least short on my supply of hope. I’ve keenly wondered where God was and how He planned to restore my hope and the feeling that I was truly blessed. I wanted to believe, yet I also wanted to not have too much trouble seeing. To demand to see is to long to feel easily aware of what we would rather not hang our whole beings on in unflinching belief.

How little, as a people, we are open to hardships that test our beliefs, and draw out our neediness for God. We can easily proclaim that He is all that we need, when we want to feel very spiritual about our relationship with God, but when we see God test, that we treat it as the worst thing in the world.

And, perhaps it is. Perhaps God’s work to establish our souls in Him through situations and events that only faith will fit is the worst thing the god of this world and his followers will ever know. Yet, it is not something they can have any more effect on. What evidences we do see of their activity in and around us has been no less than schemes submitted to the authority of God and permitted that He might accomplish His purposes in us in such a way that He might exterminate evil and rebuff Satan at the same time, even at the point of his greatest contention: our hearts’ most deeply held allegiance.

Think about it: All the demons in this world — forces in number and power we could not fathom — seek day and night to destroy us, but remain entirely subject to our Father in heaven. They cannot make a move without His knowledge and permission.

Now, this fact may startle some of us, and make us question how the God we serve should be justified in allowing evil to have its way with us at any point. We might decide in a fit of confused rebellion, I will not accept this!

But, please, pause for a moment and consider our alternative: Evil with complete control of our lives. This is what Jesus died to save us from!

God is the One to save us from the evil we fear and the death we are powerless to ward off. Believing in Him and the power of His death to deliver us from evil does not mean that we will never again experience the effects of evil, however. While on this earth, we live in the presence of evil and the bitter consequences of its power; yet, one thing we may already know to be lifted from us, and that is sin’s legal power — it can no longer separate us from the forgiving mercy and loving security of God. We who are in Christ can know in full, throughout our time on earth, the freedom Christ has bought for us from death, damnation and a darkened heart.

That is all the blessing we really need in this life; as Romans 8:31 says, “So what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose?” Take this to heart, and you will take Him to heart as well. Amen.

Taking Over

This morning I’m thinking about heaven — what I wrote about a lot last night — and death — my uncle just died this morning — and about what we can get from this world while we live in it.

Think about it, the devil doesn’t care what we have in this world, so long as we don’t have it in God. We can be the richest people in the world, with no one even near our range of wealth, and this will hardly bother our adversary. He is concerned with our souls — just as God is, though with far different intent — not our pocketbooks.

Satan rejoices when we are succeeding and moving ahead in the status of this world, forgetting about the incomparable reality of heaven and living with Christ. We can boast in all that we have now, until it is no more, and we see how much we never really had. Or, we can choose to boast in Christ now, that later we might have the joy of discovering that all the time we possessed far more than we ever realized. This is grace — a gift from God we don’t deserve, and will never fully comprehend until this world has faded and we stand in the next.

If it is truly our future, let us put ourselves in a position for it to take over our present, and redefine our past. I want to have a heaven-hopeful existence so that the hopeless around me in this world will not miss the certainty we can expect with Christ in the next.

Looking Heavenward

I like to look ahead, and think ahead, especially when I’m feeling bored with the now. But, I’m not usually so fed up with this life that I feel compelled to absorb myself — even for a little while — with the next. As good as it is, I rarely remember it’s worthy of being considered, worthy of being considered the motivation and direction of all that I do in this life today.

So, does heaven really make that much of a difference? And if so, what does that look like? Heaven is the ultimate prize for mankind. For the believer it is guaranteed. For the one who has not yet chosen God’s team, with Christ as his captain — co-captain doesn’t count — in this life, he cannot expect to enjoy the rewards of His destination. Unless Christ is leading we cannot reach His destination — only He can make that way for us.

But maybe you haven’t really considered heaven, yet whether you are a believer or an investigator this is a point that cannot be dismissed; it truly is the greatest matter of life or death that you will ever encounter as a human being.

You were created in God’s image and made specifically to know, love and enjoy Him to the very core of your being; yet, that is never fully experienced apart from heaven. We long for heaven, who long for God. Because, once there we will finally know the God we have believed in as He truly is with no false perceptions and subjective opinion; we will know accurately what He has always wanted us to know: He is God and there is no other; we are made complete in Him and find our greatest joy in worshiping Him with all we are.

If I can know the joys of that life in heaven, but I can’t be there  yet, what do I do with the time I have left here on this earth? Once we have seriously considered heaven as our ultimate destination, living on until we get to that point of completed life in Christ, our lives can feel dismal and unexciting. It is natural to wonder, what does God have in mind for our lives here? Why would He let us know about all this good ahead of time, and then expect us to be content?

Well, He doesn’t; not really. How, might I ask, do you measure contentment? For, I believe that living for a world so much more full of life than this one very supernaturally produces within us a holy discontentment with what limited degrees of love and peace and pleasure we know on this sin-darkened planet. This is a condition of the spirit that we would not know apart from the work of God’s Spirit. There is no earthly reason why we should know of any reason to look beyond ourselves to the things of God and His pleasures. According to the leading of our flesh — if we were not deluged by the Holy Spirit — we would have no desire for heaven, and without the death of Christ we would, in fact, have nothing to stop us from completing our self-willed journey to hell. So, let us be glad for any measure of longing in our hearts for God and His home.

Yet, let us not be afraid that this desire will lead us to despair, as it grows in intensity with the increase of our knowledge of sin and its torments. A desire that begins with God and affirms our new life in Him cannot but lead us back to the cross — our greatest hope.

So let’s not squander this brand-new life-desire by looking to become content according to a worldly version of the high life. The world and its ways do not rectify our need to be satisfied. Rather, let God accomplish His perfect work in us by letting the gaps in this world allow the glory of the next to break through, shattering our little hopes for this life. For, contentment never begins with finding satisfaction in this life on earth, but with banking all we are on the life He has prepared in heaven for us.

Go Home

I like to think that my life will turn out perfectly, or at least a lot better than I expected, if I walk with God and make His ways my own. But, that really isn’t the promise. When we choose to walk with Him, He doesn’t say that this world will become the heaven we were made for beyond this world.

Why do I, why do we, think that this world and its treasures have to satisfy us? Why aren’t we inclined to look higher; to base the success and sustainability of our lives on treasures that are bigger than we can see now? Is it because we are impatient? Or is it because we don’t have enough faith to live for more than what is entirely tangible?

I know that I often fall into that category. But, God is teaching me to live differently these days. He is showing me that I don’t have enough, living by what I see more than by what I have in Him. There is so much that He has in store for me — both for the present and for eternity — that I cannot see, but must believe in to experience the joy it offers. I want to live in the reality of who God is, and what a benefit beyond measure it is to simply know Him.

Wandering After Him

Note to the bored and empty-headed: If your hands are empty or your heart’s complaining for the lack of things to peak your interest at the moment, I have an offer; that is, God has an offer for you. Take some time to heed the words He gives to direct our lives each and every day:

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:”You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

“Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures— either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working. “Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. “This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.

“Or say you’re out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don’t lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you’re likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. If that happens, you won’t get out without a stiff fine.

“You know the next commandment pretty well, too: ‘Don’t go to bed with another’s spouse.’ But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices—they also corrupt. “Let’s not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here’s what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump. “Remember the Scripture that says, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him do it legally, giving her divorce papers and her legal rights’? Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are ‘legal.’ Please, no more pretending. If you divorce your wife, you’re responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity). And if you marry such a divorced adulteress, you’re automatically an adulterer yourself. You can’t use legal cover to mask a moral failure.

“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Matthew 5 (emphasis mine)

In Spite of This

I’m learning to like God and what He does, even when it violently conflicts with what I generally approve of; to take what appears a loss, and look for the gain God has carefully lodged inside; to listen when I would rather instruct, and hope when I would rather hate.

I see with so many gaps and holes when I look at God. I think He should be like me, then get frustrated when what He does makes the demand that I change to be more like Him.

I feel like I’m rambling here, but I can’t quite work out what to say. Oh, God, give me words, and a clear mind. Make me willing and able to present what You are teaching me without shame or fear of what others might think of me, for with You as my rock, “what can man do to me.”

This past weekend God was showing me that because of Christ, God can redeem the works of men in such a way as to be able to touch each of our hearts profoundly through the words and insights of others. Even when we feel as if we are hearing nothing new, and our friend may not know exactly where we’re coming from when they challenge and exhort us, God is using it to further incline our hearts to His.

It is so mind-boggling that in spite of who we are, and how little we have to offer, or know how to receive the gifts offered to us by others, God will not let us leave empty when we connect with various members of His body.

I went to church yesterday feeling very needy, and disliking how dependent I was on God just to make it through. I had to trust Him that He would provide the physical strength to endure (how it feels when I’m so tired and weak, and I’m not sure how long my present energy will hold out), enabling me to enjoy myself even with a physical handicap of some degree.

I wanted to go under my own power, and trust that I would have something to offer whoever I met when I got there. But, again, God had me relying on Him so I could forget about what a “blessing” I might be on my own.

This is the second Sunday in a row — the first that I have been to in months — that God has been revealing to me that He works in my life in spite of me, not because of me.