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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Celebrating Weakness as a Key to my Identity

 

Wow, this is making me feel inadequate!
I’m still shocked that these words came out of my mouth, but they did, before I even had time to think.
I was talking to a friend about owning property. Like me, they’d been very circumstantially blessed in this area and, despite the humble way that they spoke about it, it was clear that they were sitting on some very valuable investments. My instant feeling, when faced with someone in a ‘better position’ to me was inadequacy.
This was further highlighted to me this week as I realized how often I do a self-appraisal of how ‘successful’ I am at life. Ironically much of this centers around how I think my life looks to other people.
Here’s some embarrassing examples of what goes through my head:

Ok, so I’m single. I’m basically failing at the most significant thing in life, so I need to make up for it somehow. I need to prove that my life is still awesome enough to justify being alone.

How am I going at life? Actually I’m doing okay. I have property. Lots of people my age don’t, and I’m going to nail this whole mortgage thing.
I have a career that I enjoy and I’m in leadership now and…
I’ve traveled…
I have lots of friends…
I give to missions and charity…
I have…
                        I can…
                                                I do…
                                                                        I am…

Successful.

I have a decent personal resume. Most of the time it’s enough to make me feel okay about being alone. Most of the time I feel that my strengths are outweighing my weaknesses.
But.
Sometimes they don’t help at all. They offer no answer when the ugly question rears it’s head ‘Why, despite all this, does nobody want me?’

Most of the time I also know that the successes I’m counting aren’t actually the things that matter; that they’re all superficial things that can be lost in an instant.

It really hit home the other day as I was crying out to God to speak into my life and He took me to James 1:10-11.
“[Let the rich boast] in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away… So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.”
What does it mean, I asked, to boast in my humiliation? I was reminded of the way in which the Apostle Paul boasted in his weaknesses and counted everything he had gained in this world as loss for the sake of knowing Christ, and I knew… it is in my weaknesses, not my successes, that my true greatness lies, because my true greatness does not come from me.

I thought of my ‘humiliations’ in life and discovered that in each of them lay a truth about my identity that was far more significant than any house, or job or travel. Here are some:

I am single – I am pursued and loved by God
I am dust – I am a new, eternal creation
I am weak – I have the strength of the Almighty
I am sometimes socially awkward – I am safe in God’s sovereign plan
I am alone – I am hid with Christ in God and am never alone.
I am sinful – I am forgiven and made righteous
I am overlooked – I am found and known and cherished.

So there are my greatest weaknesses; the yucky parts of who I am; the ones I try to cover up with the more glamorous looking list. But there also, in Christ, are my greatest strengths. As I reflect on who I am, and how I’m going in life, may I always remember that my boast is in these things, not the other list to which I cling so tightly. Because the other list? It is as fleeting as a spring flower.

The number ONE reason we should follow Jesus… isn’t to get eternal life

Why do we invite people to come to Jesus?

This questions was raised in my lunchtime Bible study group today, which amazingly, this year, includes two atheist students. I see reflected in it many mistakes of my own evangelical history.

Over the years I have invited people to come to Jesus for many a reason, some more flawed than others:

To some I promised a more purposeful life

To others, increased happiness.

At times it was because they were at risk of hell

And on the flip side, who isn’t enticed by the promise of heaven?

Shamefully, I admit, there were also times when I merely wanted to recruit allies; people who would see the world from my point of view and not oppose me.

Today, however, I was reminded, as I studied the Word with these students, that the number one reason that we should invite people to come to Jesus is because He is worthy.

If God is as powerful as he must be as creator, and Jesus is truly Lord of all, then people should come to him in humble worship, simply because He deserves it.

The beautiful paradox of Christianity is that God invites us to come, and then blesses us with every spiritual blessing and life eternal when we do.

It is His kindness that brings us to repentance, but we must never forget who He is or how worthy He is. We must call people to worship the giver, not come for the gifts.

 

 

 

When we’ll concede salvation, but not honour

healthy-self-esteem

As Christians, we know that God saves those who don’t deserve it. It is often with joy (and sometimes indignation) that we will admit that a person could live the most awful life, committing the most heinous of sins, and still be offered forgiveness and salvation on their death beds.

Many life-long Christians, some of whom the world would consider to be morally flawless, will even concede that they are no more deserving of salvation than the murderer or adulterer or even the paedophile.

Honour, though? That is something different.

I’ve been thinking about Paul. Here is a man, who was one of the chief persecutors of Christians, and yet became the best known, and most honoured of the apostles.

What of those precious saints that he once tortured or killed? Stephen’s name we know, but most others we don’t. Sure, they are honoured in heaven, but on earth it is not their names that have gone down in history, but the name of their tormentor.

Sometimes God saves those who are least deserving, and then brings them honour in this life above those who it seems have been faithful all along. The truly righteous person will not resent this. They will be so consumed by the glory and will of God that they care not who brings the Word, or who receives the honour, as long as Christ is preached.

May I learn to honour others above myself, and Jesus above all.

I don’t ever wanna be caught on the wrong side

When I read the Gospels, why do I automatically assume that I belong alongside Peter, or that I would have been Mary Magdalene? Why do I rarely see myself in the Pharisees or the Rich Young Ruler?

Yesterday in church I was convicted to examine my life. What do I value? What am I pursuing? I saw so clearly the allure of worldly things, which easily captivate my heart. I saw how self-righteous I am in my judgement of how the world should be – what is good or right. I saw how proudly I stood amongst a multitude of people who defined success, then boasted in their achievements.double-exposure-illustration-woman-with-city-in-her-hat_1020-442

I saw a great battle line drawn. On the right were those who were glamorous, popular, wealthy and so successful that they are proud to define themselves by material things. And I saw myself with them, desiring to be one of them, pursuing the things they loved. And then I looked to the other side, to those who were poor and lowly, and cared not for this world. And Jesus was on the other side.

How often do I claim to be a follower of Jesus, then busy myself with things that are not on His agenda? How often do I scorn things he loves, or delight in things he hates? When he comes back I sure don’t want to be caught swanning around in Prada shoes and sequins, or clamouring wildly up the corporate ladder, so I’d better stop pursuing them.