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 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.

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.

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.

The Western dream… no servitude

I was in year 12 when I first heard about ‘The American Dream.’ We were studying Of Mice and Men and my teacher was explaining George and Lennie’s pursuit of land to call their own as the ultimate American dream.

This goal has become the veritable ‘pot at the end of the rainbow’ for much of western society; to own a piece of land has become both the American and Australian dream. We may have masters at work, but at home we are slaves to no one. Even our political systems are built on the premise that the common man does not serve the leader, but the leader serves the common man.

As a result, one of the greatest challenges I face is that of servitude to God. No longer does my generation feel any real duty to ‘King and Country.’ In fact, if I’m honest, the concept of truly living my life in servitude to anyone seems foreign to me.

There are many who have laid down their lives for our liberty, and for that I am grateful, but I am afraid that it has created a dangerous illusion. I struggle to lay down my life in full servitude to God, because I have been falsely led to believe that my life is my own. Not only to I fail to see that I am a slave to sin or self, but I have lost all comprehension of the honour it is to serve a great master.

But I’ve been patient for a long time!

573785_35739861950403bcce628b84f7b54513_largeDoes anyone else have things that they’ve been praying about for a long time?

For ten years I prayed that God would heal me from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. For even longer I’ve had a desire to get married. For a lifetime I’ve been praying for unsaved family members.

Sometimes God answers prayer quickly, but sometimes, as I found yet again the other day, the Still Small Voice says to me ‘Sarah, be patient and trust me.’

I must confess, I responded with an indignant lament: ‘But God, I’ve BEEN patient… for a really long time!’

It felt like a valid point. How could God still ask for patience when I had already waited so long. And therein I discovered my error. Patience and waiting are not the same thing. It was quite possible that I could have waited for something for ten years and yet never actually been patient.

I looked the word up:

Patient: bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, delay, hardship, pain etc., with fortitude and calm and without complaint, anger or the like.

It turns out that patience is an attribute that still needs great cultivation in my life.

It’s funny how God reminded me to be patient and trust. For the Christian, the two must go together. How can I bear hardship and delay with great fortitude and calm? Because I know that my God, who holds and ordains all things, can be trusted to bring me that which is good, in His perfect time.

The reason for the wind

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One of my Facebook friends recently posted, “I really hate the wind. And what obvious purpose does it even serve?!”

I don’t hate the wind, but for those who do, I can see it is a legitimate question. The fact is though, that wind serves a very important purpose for trees. While it may appear that the wind mostly batters trees, they actually need it. Experiments have been done that show that trees grown in controlled, wind-free environments are weak and underdeveloped. The wind forces trees to spread their roots deep into the ground, strengthening them and enabling them to draw out water and nutrients.

It’s such a great metaphor for human life. How often have I lamented the things that I hate in my life; the things that hurt or make me feel weak or battered? How often do I miss the fact that it is these very things, subject in themselves to the hand of the Almighty, that are causing me to grow deep and strengthen and mature?

It is not wrong to grieve over pain, but we must not feel overcome by it. It can be viewed as a beautiful, strengthening device.

I love these lyrics from David Crowder: “He is jealous for me. Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.”

There is beauty and mercy and love, even in pain. You are stronger than you think, and it’s probably the wind that got you there.

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Before the Throne… so many have been struck down.

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I sometimes have difficulty reconciling the God of the Old Testament, with the God I know. I’ve just read about this horrible string of events in Samuel:

  • Israel was defeated in battle
  • The Ark of the Lord was captured by the Philistines
  • Eli the priest and his two sons died.
  • The Philistine god Dagon was found bowing and broken before the Ark
  • They were tormented with tumours and ‘the Lord’s hand was heavy upon them.’
  • Cities were thrown into panic and they decided to send the Ark back.
  • On its return to Israel, seventy men were killed when they looked into the Ark.

Imagine the people’s fear as they said ‘Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up to from here?’

I was meditating on this question as I turned my music on and was captivated by these words:

“Before the Throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect plea, a great High Priest whose name is love, who ever lives and pleads for me… I know that while in Heaven He stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.”

The fearsome God of Israel is no less the God of today, but while nations trembled and many died in his presence, we are invited into his very Throne room finding no condemnation, only grace.

The contrast is dramatic. How radically has Jesus Christ transformed the way we may relate to God!