Eyes on the prize, baby

Sometimes God gives us extraordinary gifts. I mean, He’s already offered eternal salvation and reconciliation with Him, but even beyond that, he blesses us in unexpected and undeserved ways.

Much as I find it hard to grasp, I really do believe that God delights in our enjoyment of life. He rejoices when we receive a gift from him with eagerness and praise and thanks. He smiles on our joyfulness. Our temporary happiness, however, is not His end goal. It pleases Him, sure, but he never intended for His gifts to be either our source of joy, or our consuming focus.

As I was thanking God for one of His gifts in my life, I sensed both his smile over my happiness, but also His gentle adjure: Eyes on the prize, baby, eyes on the prize.

God wants us to enjoy the gifts we receive in this life, but never at the expense of our focus on the ultimate prize. Nothing He can give me now, can compare to the gift of Himself. One day I will step through the gates of death, and be united with Him, my ultimate prize. Any gift I receive here, is only as valuable as the extent to which it points my eyes towards the greater prize.

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Get your hopes up

I don’t think I’ve ever told someone to get their hopes up. On the other hand, I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve used the opposite as a warning to others or a mantra to myself.

We seem to have this cultural fear of hoping in something that may disappoint us. It is as though the thought of disappointment weighs on us far more than the idea of living in a state of cynicism or pessimism.

I am hugely guilty of this, which is why I was so surprised when a song entitled ‘Get your hopes up,’ by Josh Baldwin came up on my Spotify playlist.

The words were so counter-intuitive that I paused to listen, and was surprised at how compelling they were. One of the key refrains of the chorus says

“Get your hopes up, our God is for us, He’s brought us back to life.”

As someone who easily lapses in to cynicism and worry, this was a good reminder to look up. As a Christian, I have every reason under heaven to get my hopes up. Not only have I been given the assurance of an eternity in heaven, by no merit of my own, but I have also been promised that God will work all things here on earth for my good and his glory.

She is no fool who has her hopes always upward in the promises of Jesus.

 

The power only comes with the truth

Sometimes I think we promote the Gospel like advertising companies promote products. We select our target audience, do some research on what they want, and spin our narrative to match their perceived needs.

While this may be an effective marketing technique, it is entirely ineffective when it comes to the Gospel. Unlike the latest iPhone or breakfast cereal, the good news of Jesus Christ does not need to be adapted based on culture or context, for one key reason: it has the power of God within it.

I think often we forget this, as we look for fancy, eloquent words or clever coercive devices, twisting the message into the most relevantly palatable morsel we can. We forget that God, not us, defines His method of salvation. He has given and empowered ONE Gospel: That Jesus was crucified, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that He was raised to life again for the forgiveness of sins.

We must be careful never to water down the truth, for it is only the true Gospel that has within it the ‘power of God unto Salvation.’

It is not the words, or the persuasiveness with which they are proclaimed, that saves people; it’s the power of God. So if you want to see results that last, preach the truth that has the power, not what elicits a feel-good or emotive response in the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t forget what you’ve walked through

Last week our pastor was challenging us to learn from the Israelites’ spiritual amnesia. What a tragedy it was that the same generation that walked through the sea on dry land lost their faith and was prevented from entering the Promised Land.

It’s easy to judge their foolishness. They had seen extraordinary deliverance, and yet, as the years passed, they forgot.

I was challenged as I realised how true this is in my own life. In fact, the parting of the red sea was only a precursor to a far greater deliverance that was to come. Thousands of years later, God in the flesh hung on a cross, and as he uttered those final words ‘It is finished,’ the curtain in the temple was supernaturally torn in two. This curtain had long divided the people from the God who was their deliverance. Then, suddenly, without warning, the curtain was parted, so that anyone who desired to know God, could enter, covered by the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice.

I first walked through that proverbial curtain as a child, just as many of the Israelites walked through the red sea as children. And just like them, how many times have I forgotten since, what miracle God performed in my life? Too often I approach my creator with such flippancy that it is clear I have forgotten how divided I once was from Him, and how graciously he has made the way for me.

Don’t be someone whom Satan overlooks

I’ve been reading Job. Something different struck me this time, as I read that first distressing chapter. Job lost everything: his children, his livestock, his wealth, his health and ultimately his hope. One person, however, remained: his wife.

I wondered about this. Why did Satan not afflict Job’s wife? When the children were killed, why did she survive? When Job was covered with oozing sores, why was she not?

There could not possibly be any grace on Satan’s part. He would not have decided to spare the one person about whom Job cared the most. Nor did God explicitly instruct that she be kept alive. He said at first that Job must remain unharmed, and later that his life must be spared, but it seems that Job’s wife was fair game.

Why did Satan leave her?

I don’t know for sure, but when I got to chapter 2, verse 10 I had a hunch. Job’s wife was likely the most precious and influential person in his life. Maybe Satan knew, that when push came to shove, she would say to him, as she did, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”

Imagine being that kind of wife. The kind whom Satan would leave untouched, with the knowledge that she was better use to him alive than dead. What a position of influence she had, and how devastating, that when a crisis came, she abandoned her faith and exhorted her husband to do the same.

When fear sits beside me…

I’ve always struggled with fear. In fact, every big change in my life, even those that have been the greatest blessing, has been accompanied by fear. I was afraid to start University, and afraid to launch into my teaching career. I felt fear sitting beside me as I contemplated buying my first house and I still feel it niggling in the pit of my stomach every time I travel.

I know I’m not alone. Fear is part of the human condition, but let’s not believe that it’s unconquerable.

Carrie Fisher is quoted to have said “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action.”

Inspiring as I find this quote, the Bible does one better. It tells us that we do not need to be afraid.

The other night I was reading Psalm 27. This is the first section of Scripture that I ever memorised as a child, but this time it spoke to me in a new way.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

There are three clear reasons in this text that remind us why we don’t need to fear. First, the Lord is our light; he shows us the way. Second, the Lord is our stronghold; he anchors us with purpose and security. Finally, He is our salvation; the end-game is won and our eternity is sealed.

What can mortal man do to us?

The biggest ‘but’ in history

There must be numerous contenders for the most game-changing word in the history of the world, but today I’m going with this one: ‘but.’

Today I was reading through Mark chapter 14 and was meditating on the time Jesus spent in the garden of Gethsemane before he went to the cross.

The first half of verse 36 struck me like never before. Jesus was praying and said these words: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.”

In this are two profound things. First, Jesus knew that God could do anything. He knew that it was well within the power of his Father to pull the pin on redemption and instantly take His son back into the eternal glory from which He had come. Furthermore, Jesus asked for it. Such was his agony at the thought of what he was to endure, that he asked his Father to remove it from him.

The Father would not deny the Son. Except for one entirely game-changing word: ‘but.’

At the most intensely pivotal moment the world has seen, the Son surrendered his will to His Father’s saying ‘Yet not what I will, but what you will,’ and the Father, in that moment of Jesus’ submission, overruled the will of His Son. Together they endured the cross, despising the shame, for the redemption of mankind.

How grateful I am for Jesus’ submission to the will of His Father, and how challenged I am by my lack of it.

Why would God destroy a city?

Sodom and Gomorrah are two famous historical cities known for their destruction. The account of their demise begins in Genesis 18, when the Lord says to Abraham, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me.”

I was reading this passage as a part of our church’s Genesis study, and this question was posed: ‘Why would God be so concerned about the reports coming from Sodom and Gomorrah?’ I was stumped at first. Sure I know that God hates sin, but evil is just a part of our world, right? Why did He feel the need to destroy them so dramatically?

As I pondered this I was suddenly reminded of something Jesus said: “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.”

Sin is not static. It spreads like a cancer, sometimes slowly, but surely. It seeps into a culture until it moulds minds and consciences and lulls people into deception, saying, “You can live as you like” and “There is no consequence.”

God’s destruction is always characterised by two things: justice for evil, and protection of that which is good. Just like a cancer in the body must be killed, in order for the body to be saved, so has God worked throughout history to restrain the spread of evil, so as to protect his people and offer salvation to all.

What I would tell my student-teacher self

I’m working with a pre-service teacher at the moment, which has caused me to reflect on my own days as a prac student.

How far I have come!

My first teaching placement occurred in the fourth year of my degree, and I soon thought I’d made a terrible mistake. The enormity of the job overwhelmed me. I was staying at the school until after dark every night and then going home, anxious and feeling unprepared for the day to come.

I distinctly remember lying in bed one night, with thoughts and worries rushing chaotically through my head, praying for rest and sleep. I remember praying through Scripture, trying to get some rational perspective, reminding myself that the things of this world are temporary (lesson plans and unit plans would pass away!)

I didn’t sleep all night.

I feel for that young woman, all those years ago. I wish I could sit beside her on the side of the bed and tell her that I’m still in the job ten years later. That I can’t remember the last time I lost any sleep over work related issues, and that lessons flow out of me now with hardly a thought.

But I can’t tell her that. I can only remember, today, to trust Jesus better than I did back then. To take on the advice of Hudson Taylor, and, looking to the face of Jesus, determine that ‘whatever did not agitate the Saviour, or ruffle His spirit, was not to agitate mine.’

 

Do you want what’s good for you or not?

I took a sick day last week. It was a beautiful day outside, blue sky and sunny, with birds chortling, even though it was the first day of winter. I sat in bed with a stuffy nose and my cup of tea, and as I looked out the window I realised how full and whirring my mind had been over the last few days. What I really needed was to re-centre, to lay out several aspects of my life before God and work out what He wanted.

As I reflected on something in my life that I’d promised, only days earlier, to lay down before him, I found myself praying ‘Lord, you and I have been at cross-purposes on this one…’

Almost immediately, the thought hit me: If you and God are working at cross-purposes, then you’re working against yourself.

How is it that I consistently forget that God wants only good things for me; that His ways are perfect and that His burden is designed to be light, not heavy?

Only minutes before this thought, as I looked out into the bare branches of the tree outside my window, the song had come to mind, ‘be still my soul, the Lord is on your side.’

What a deep comfort this should be to me. How quickly I should hasten to line my will up with his knowing that he asks for no sacrifice or step of obedience that will not ultimately lead to my good.