The Right Place to Look

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 Jn. 3:1-2)

Sometimes it just feels like you need a distraction. There are those weeks when everything seems to go wrong. You can’t focus at work. You make some mistakes and realize you aren’t the person you thought you were. You begin to feel stuck in this endless cycle of your job and life and wonder if there is more out there. TV, video games, and even sin begin to look enticing as a way of disconnecting.

It is in this moment where God met me through his Word. I turned in my Bible to 1 John 3 and read one of the most beautiful lines in all of scripture, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 Jn. 3:1) It is almost as if John inserts “and so we are” because the reality of it is too much to bear and too wonderful to believe. The creator and sustainer of everyone and everything, the all-powerful and omniscient God,  has called me his child. He has set his love upon me. In my mediocrity and in my mistakes, he has adopted me into his family. I am the child of the one true King.

Life with Jesus is not about looking away from your problems and minimizing them so that you feel better. Instead, a life of following Jesus causes us to fix our eyes on the things that are more real and more true than our job, our circumstances, or even our sin. It is about constantly reminding us that the God of creation has redeemed us and called us to be his own. That makes those other things a little less of a big deal.

More than this though, these things don’t just give us warm fuzzy feelings. The reality of what God has done for us in Christ actually transforms us. It shapes us. It renews us. John goes on saying, “what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 Jn. 3:2) Daily we behold Jesus to become more like him. But, a day is coming, a day we long for, ache for, and hunger for, that the we will see him in all his glory. In that day John says we will be caught up and transformed by gazing at the beauty of Jesus. This is what the old hymn was talking about:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”

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Final Words

A recent “Good Morning America” episode interviewed a young mother dying of cancer. Knowing her death was imminent, she took time to make a video for each of her two adorable daughters. She told them her last pieces of wisdom, her hopes and dreams for their futures, and of course how much she loved them.

It was beautiful and heart-wrenching.  However, I remember thinking, “God is so gracious in giving these girls the opportunity to have these special words from their mother.” Not every person is given that opportunity to share their final words, and few get to know what was heavy on our loved one’s mind before death took them away.

“The High Priestly Prayer” found in John 17 is that gracious gift for us followers of Jesus.  Jesus prays before he is about to be crucified. This text is some of our Savior’s last words. What’s more, His last words were saved as a prayer for all of us.

First, Jesus prays for His current followers (vs. 6: “… people whom you gave me…”, vs 9: “…those you have given me…”). Then, He broadens His prayers to include every believer that is to come.  John 17: 20 reads, “I do not ask for these (current disciples) only but also for those who will believe in me through their (current disciples) word”.  That’s you and me! We have believed in Jesus because the gospel made its way to us all the way from the very first disciples.

Therefore, there is a weightiness to this prayer you should feel as you read it. Jesus actually prayed for you. These words are of highest importance and should be cherished time and again throughout your entire life – just like you would do for the final message of a loved one you have lost.

So what does Jesus say?  What is his prayer for you?  If we look at the text, there are 3 things that Christ desires for us:

    1.  That we carry on Jesus’ mission: vs. 11 “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world…”; vs. 18 “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

The calling on every believer’s life is to reflect the life of Jesus. Jesus is no longer physically present in the world, but He has commissioned us as His church to continue the work that He began: to seek and save the lost.

     2.  That we be sanctified through God’s word: vs. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

 

 

To be “sanctified” is to be set apart from the culture of this world (vs.16) for holy service to God – to become more like Jesus who was also set apart (vs. 16&19).  You cannot carry on Jesus’ mission if you are not sanctified. Notice that Jesus offers the way you can grow in sanctification: through God’s word. You cannot know what Jesus is like outside of His word.  In knowing God’s word, you know who Jesus is; in knowing who Jesus is, your hearts are sanctified to become more like Him; when you become more like Jesus, you are able to carry on His mission in this world while remaining separate (“set apart”) from the world.

    3.  That we would be united as one: vs. 22-23 “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, …that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

 

 

The church is a group of natural-born enemies who become a family. This is the power of the gospel – it unites us. This unity is not only for our benefit, but it’s ultimately for the purpose of showing the world what Jesus’ love is like.  The best way you can display Jesus to the world is by your love for one another.

Jesus’ will for your life is not a secret.  His prayer reorients your heart to see that your purpose is to join in His epic mission to redeem the lost. May God continue to sanctify your heart through His word and may your love for His church lead to many more members of His family.  

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Holy Spit

In John 9, Jesus decides to heal a man who has been blind his whole life. But the way in which he decides to do it is all together strange and amazing.

Jesus spits on the ground, makes mud out of it, covers his fingers in it and then rubs the mud all over the man’s eyes. I can’t find a way of looking at that without it sounding pretty messy and kind of gross.  But, I also think it’s incredible, and it says a lot about Jesus’ character, and how he loves us.

The first thing I love about this miracle is the word choice. It says;  “Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud.” I love the use of the word anointed, because it’s such a holy word used for something so seemingly messy.  When I think about the word anoint, I think of something pristine, holy, and exalting – and I certainly don’t think of spit in the mud.

And yet it is such a holy thing that completely deserves the use of the word. I was surprised to learn that the word does account for the act of pouring or rubbing a liquid on something or someone – but it always refers to some kind of oil. The idea of using saliva to anoint is pretty scandalous. That Jesus would take a holy thing – a holy word like anoint and flip it on its head, says so much to me about his character. Jesus doesn’t just say from a safe distance “open your eyes,” He stands right in front of him, and touches the man with his holy spit. It is tangible. messy.  His anointing is not a stout religious ceremony. It’s a real, one-on-one personal encounter.

Jesus isn’t afraid of our mess – our sin or our suffering – He meets us right in it.

The other thing that challenged me in this passage is verse 3.

“…It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

This passage says a lot to me about suffering and why we suffer. Jesus says that suffering could be used so that the works of God might be displayed in us.

Do I believe that about suffering? Do I believe that God may let me endure suffering so that his glory might be displayed?

That thought convicts me deeply. I feel so entitled to my comfort, my possessions, my status. So much so, that it brings anxiety when I think about how to maintain them. I think that may be a part of why we are such an anxious generation – we are so entitled and we are afraid to lose it. We are afraid to be in a place where we actually have to trust God, to truly trust him because our comforts are laid bare.

So, the very idea that God might not just strip away comforts, but will actually allow suffering to exist so that his glory might be displayed – that is challenging.

The truth I find in both these thoughts is that Jesus doesn’t just want to heal us of our suffering (or not heal but display his glory in and through it) so that God can be glorified, he wants to be close to us – in our messiness, in our pain, our shame, our suffering. He wants to tangibly interact with us, first and foremost, because he loves us. He loves us enough to come to earth and die on a cross for us, so that we might have a relationship with Him. And the fact that the God who created all things has made a way for relationship with Him to happen, that is reason enough to surrender my entitlement, to confess my pursuit of comfort, and truly trust Him.

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When Jesus asks you for a drink

The story of the woman at the well in John 4 is one of the most powerful in all of Scripture. Jesus meets this woman who, according to the culture of the day, he had no business speaking with. He was a pure rabbi. She was a sinner. He was Jewish. She was a Samaritan. Everyone would have presumed Jesus would just ignore her. But, instead he looks at her and asks her for a drink. As I meditated on this story, I couldn’t help but see myself in the woman’s shoes, facing Jesus there on that day.

After the woman’s initial shock is put to rest, Jesus begins to say to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (Jn. 4:10) Jesus tells her that she doesn’t realize the gravity of what is going on. He tells her that all her longings, the thing she truly “thirsts” for isn’t found at the bottom of the well. It is the one sitting beside the well. He is the soul’s true satisfaction. How quickly I forget what my soul truly longs for. He is the one my heart was made for.

Jesus then begins to tell the woman about the water she is drinking,  “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” This made me wonder, what am I seeking to quench my thirst other than Jesus? Is it my work? Is it my relationships? Is it entertainment? Every one of those things leaves me feeling empty.

Finally, after talking with the woman for a while, Jesus gets to the heart of what she puts her trust in. He says to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” (Jn. 4:16) The woman responds rightly that she doesn’t have a husband. Jesus though knows that. He knows her better than she knows herself. He tells her that she is right and that she has actually had five husbands and is now living with a man she isn’t even married to. You can almost hear the pen drop as Jesus cuts through to the core of her deepest place of guilt and shame. For the woman, and for you and I, no place is hidden from Jesus. He knows all of our struggles. He knows all our secret sins. He knows every single thing we try to replace him with.

But, and this is key, his offer remains on the table. The woman’s past and present are no secret to Jesus and neither is ours. He knows us to the core of who we are and yet he loves us deeper still. He sees us in our ugliness and offers us living water all the same. The woman’s testimony is simple. She says, “He told me all that I ever did.” (Jn. 4:49) As Tim Keller often says, to be loved but not known is superficial. To be known but not loved is our greatest fear. But, to be known to the core  and loved still is our soul’s deepest longing.

This is what the woman experienced when she met Jesus at the well and it is what you and I experience every time we approach Jesus. The walls we build to cover our sin are powerless to hide us from the one who knows us to our core. But, even our worst sin did not stop Jesus from giving his life on the cross. He died knowing fully well who we are. In fact, it’s exactly why he came. He knows each and every one of our sins and loves us all the same.

Our sin is not something that we need to “overcome” or get right  before we come to Jesus. Instead, Jesus offers us the “living water” that satisfies the deepest longings of our heart and cleanses us from every sin. Our place of  deepest shame and guilt is not the end. It is the first of many chapters in the story of God’s grace.

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Location Means Everything

Sometimes the prophets just confuse me. We just started reading through Ezekiel and already I feel lost. Ezekiel gets this amazing vision of the glory of the Lord. He describes it in detail and says there are living creatures, some sort of wheels, and above it all, God’s throne. What does all this mean? Frankly, I have no idea.

However, I think if we focus too much on what all the symbols and images mean or represent we miss the point of the passage. Just as in real estate, location means everything. Ezekiel doesn’t get this vision in the temple. He doesn’t get it in Jerusalem. He doesn’t even get it in Israel. The text says he sees it, “as I was among the exiles by the Chebar Canal…in the land of the Chaldeans…” (Ez. 1:1-3). Ezekiel is sitting in a godless nation with the remnant of God’s people who are being punished for their sin…not exactly a holy place.

However, I think that’s the point. Ezekiel sees the glory of the Lord in the last place he would have expected. God is not constrained by location or even by the presence of sin in the lives of his people. His glory and his grace cannot be held down. Where He wants to work, he will work. He can reach his people at the farthest reaches of the globe in the depth of their sin.

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” (Ps. 139:7-12)

It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’ve done. God’s Spirit is there. It can be terrifying to think that we cannot outrun God. But, his omnipresence should also bring us incredible comfort. It means we can also never outrun His grace. His presence will never leave us no matter where we are or how far we’ve fallen. His grace has no bounds. He will bring his children home.

 

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Dead Men to Living Souls

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3)

At the end of the day, what does it mean to be a Christian? Is it how you act? Is it what church you go to? Is it a way you talk or a way you dress? What does it mean to be a true follower of Jesus. The message of Colossians is something truly radical. To be a Christian is to be a dead man raised to life.

This sounds very strange to us because all we know how to think of the Christian life is in moral terms. When someone asks us whether we are a Christian or not, our response is “Well…I’m trying.” This misses the entire message of the gospel. God did not come to earth to make people better. He came to make dead men alive. We are dead men and women who have been raised to life once more.

And so, we must intentionally live not as people who are alive. I know in my head when I am tempted to sin, I can easily dismiss the sin in question to be compatible with the Christian life. However, that simply is not the case. The sins I am tempted to accommodate into my life are the deeds of a dead man.

As living souls, we now do not have to look to sex, money, or relationships to fulfill our lives. We look to the author of life, the one who has raised us up. He is our satisfaction. He is our goal. He is our eternal reward. He is the one we treasure above all else because only Jesus can truly satisfy.

As you look at and reflect upon the sin in your life and in your heart, you have to ask yourself, Am I really living as a man or woman brought from death to life? Never let your sin blind you. It wants your soul for ruin and destruction. Jesus  though wants your soul to be a new creation after the image of God.

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The Transforming Presence of God

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me— put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:4-13)

When reading a book (or in this case, a letter), it is always good to reflect on the context of the author. Paul is writing a letter to the church of Phillipi from prison. It’s essentially a support-raising letter of gratitude to a church that Paul had ministered to and had in turn sent him a gift while in prison. It is personal and joyful in tone. But I think the key part to remember for us is  that Paul is writing from prison with a joyful tone. This is a posture that I don’t think I would be holding if I were writing a letter from prison.

If Paul, the gospel loving Christ follower from the New Testament, were to write a letter to Imago Dei Church after we sent him a gift, what would that letter look like? Although we may never know, I am grateful to read Philippians 4 and resonate with the early church. How do we rejoice in our suffering? Are we really trusting in God’s presence to remain steadfast as life swirls on around us? How does anxiety take hold of our heart in this tech-driven culture? How do we shape our thoughts around what is true and noble, believing God’s promised peace will be upon us? Are we truly content with our circumstances when our finances are at their highest and lowest? Although culturally different, these passages are bursting with Christ-centered truth and wisdom that we at Imago Dei church can learn from 2,000+ years later.

As someone who grew up in a Christian household but struggled with anxiety, Philippians 4:6 is a familiar golden ticket for “instant peace” to a young believer. I got the impression it was like a nice dose of Vitamin C to take on a cloudy day. It’s often served as a simple reminder to pray often, and do it with thanksgiving, and miraculously God’s peace would be with me.  We can often skip right to verse 6 though without proclaiming the resounding truth of verse 5: The Lord is near! This verse follows with a commandment, not a suggestion, to not be anxious but to present your requests before God. There are both individual and corporate lessons that we can soak in. We can rejoice in the Lord in the quiet places. We can rejoice in the Lord as a church body. Our gentleness comes from individually clinging to Christ, but it should be evident to others. We can present our prayer and petitions to God alone, and we can also do that with others.

Paul is reminding us that the Christian life is not exempt from suffering. But unlike those apart from Him, we have the promise of God’s presence providing peace. Do I live and act as though God is near at all times? If I did, I have to believe that my anxiety would look different. Am I truly clinging to good, noble thoughts always? What am I spending time watching, listening to, reading, scrolling past, and how is that shaping my relationship with the God of peace?

I read this passage today and am reminded of God’s refining presence. My journey of anxiety is not completely over, but God has transformed my heart and where I put my trust. God’s presence transforms. It can reshape the heart of a prisoner sitting next to Paul, and it can reshape us today as we face a culture filled with anxiety, depression, uncertainty, and loneliness.

If we truly trust God and his ways, our lives will reflect that. It will be evident in gentleness. We will be filled with peace. It will be evident in our thoughts. We will rejoice. We won’t fret in earthly circumstances. And lastly, we will rightly acknowledge where our strength comes from. When we are at peace, do we look to ourselves, sleep, our bank accounts, friendship, new clothes, technology, down time, a warm bath, a glass of wine, or beautiful scenery as our reasoning? I pray that God’s peace would guard our hearts and minds today, reminding us that his presence is where the ultimate source of peace comes from. May we remember that He is near, and may the manifestations of that truth continue to shape how we live, think, talk, act, and love.

 

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