Have you ever been in the middle of dealing with a tough season of life and in a moment of complete frustration and fatigue breathed out the words, “What’s the point?” Sometimes as a whisper of defeat and others as a groan of anger? If we’re honest, most of us have been in this place for one reason or another. We get so overwhelmed with the zoomed in details of our lives that we simply can’t see past them. We feel like we are fighting a losing battle, like we are wounded beyond repair, like there isn’t an ounce of hope left in the world, and we just can’t see the point. We hear the menacing lies of the enemy in our ear telling us that it’s all in vain. We overlook the big picture of truth. The illustrious big picture of God’s great plan for creation, redemption, and restoration.
In this passage, Paul gives a reminder of one of the most fundamental pieces of our faith, Christ’s resurrection. Without this truth, there really is no point. If this key doctrine is not full truth, every aspect of our lives as Christ followers can be set aside as foolish. We may as well give into the lies of the enemy, go on living for ourselves, and seek out whatever the world offers to ease our pain. Because it really all would be pointless. But as Paul says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,” and so Paul calls the church to action. He’s not simply giving a kindly reminder to make good choices or rejoice in the miracle of the resurrection. But rather he is calling the church to get up, to turn from sin, to defend the faith.
So wherever you are in your walk, if you are steadily climbing the mountain of life in joy or you are feeling stuck as you are camped out in your zoomed in portion of the picture, you have reason to move forward. The resurrection of our Savior and his power over death is the key to God’s greater plan…His plan for your good and His glory. So take heart, embrace the peace and rest that He provides, and then set your sights on His glorious plan! What’s the point? He is risen!
If you are around me on a regular basis, one thing that you might notice about me is my unique gait as a I go about my day. Most people know when I’m approaching by the sound of my scurrying steps. Some people call it “running around,” but I prefer to call it “walking with purpose.” I walk with purpose around the office, at home when I’m doing chores, and even when I used to go grocery shopping. Moving at this pace not only ups my physical efficiency but it keeps my mind focused on the work at hand and allows me to block out distractions. Sometimes, my swift gait leads to timely accomplishments and crossed off to-do lists, but sometimes, when I’m focused on the wrong things, it accomplishes nothing.
This passage of Scripture speaks of the day we all look toward with a sense of exhilaration. We know that one day Jesus will return and dwell among us. We speak of this moment often as we long for the day He will come back. We don’t know when this will be or how long we will have to wait, but we know it will absolutely happen. However, as we wait, we have a choice to make. We have to choose what to put our focus on.
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.Matthew 24:44
So my questions for you (and for myself) are these . . . Will you walk with purpose as you wait for the coming of our Lord? Will you allow yourself to be fully invested in your calling to make disciples, love one another, and serve our God? Will you walk with purpose toward a closer relationship with your God, blocking out the distractions the enemy throws in your path? Will you be intentional in choosing your focus, choosing to focus on the coming of our Savior and the kingdom work to be done rather than tasks leading only to earthly satisfaction? How will you choose to wait, and will you be ready?
As Jesus is traveling with His disciples, He is using His time to instruct and teach those around Him. In this passage He is faced with two types of interactions…the proud pharisees who continually test Him with their questions and the humble children who were brought to be blessed. Jesus boldly addressed the Pharisees by reminding them of God’s power as their Creator King and His plan for marriage. He spoke of the reality of living in a broken and sinful world where hearts are hardened and pain is inflicted. Then directly following his exchange with the proud Pharisees, His own disciples begin to rebuke the people who were bringing their children to Jesus. His disciples didn’t want Him to be bothered by the children, however, Jesus used this opportunity to teach His disciples and the crowds that the humility of the children was of value.
but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 19:14
Jesus reminded the people of the importance of humility and dependence on God. Jesus was not issuing a blanket statement that the kingdom of heaven only belongs to children but rather that we should be seeking to live in an awareness of our need for God. Our lives should not be punctuated by our own pride and glory, but rather by humility. This can be a difficult task in the broken world we live in. The drive to succeed, impress, and achieve is high and there is nothing wrong with these things. However, as Christ followers, our successes, impressions, and achievements should be pointing to the One who is greater than ourselves and glorifying the One who we depend on for our very breath. I pray that as we interact, work, and serve in our community that we we would be more like these children and less like the Pharisees. That we would be humble in our words and actions. That we would recognize our need for God’s provision in our lives. That we would acknowledge that His plan is best. And that we would seek glory for Him rather than ourselves.
When we are young, we begin to learn about value. We learn the value of a dollar and the value of our choices. As children, we are often asked the question, “Is it worth it?” This question may be in a department store as our attention is drawn to the latest and greatest toy or outfit. It may be part of a discussion regarding the consequences for our actions. Either way, as we are growing, we are developing the habit of discerning the worth of material goods, opportunities, and actions. I find myself frequently asking if “just one more” peanut butter Oreo in the afternoon is worth giving up my evening ice cream. Or if “one more” episode of a mindless television show is worth the time that I could be spending on something more substantial. If that pair of shoes is worth the price. It’s a daily and often subconscious weighing of worth.
This passage of Scripture provides us with several parables that Jesus was using to teach His disciples and the crowds that followed Him. These focus on the worth of the kingdom of heaven. According to Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is worth every possible sacrifice. If we have made the decision to follow Jesus we are called to take up our cross and follow Him. Discipleship isn’t always fun or flashy. It isn’t always easy, and it certainly isn’t devoid of sacrifice. If we desire to be true disciples of Jesus and inherit the kingdom of heaven, we must begin to recognize the cost and the worth. We can’t be disciples if we are not willing to prioritize our relationship with our Savior. We cannot be disciples if we are only ever concerned about our own comfort and preferences. True discipleship is growing in our relationship with Jesus through worship, service, study, prayer, and biblical community. It’s understanding that seeking the kingdom of heaven requires effort and sweat. No, we can’t earn our way into heaven, and we can’t earn God’s love. However, He expects us to actively seek Him, serve Him, and make Him known. None of those things will always be easy or comfortable. So I ask you, is it worth it? Are you willing to seek the kingdom of heaven at even the highest cost? It it worth it to adjust your perspective and priorities as you walk in true discipleship?
At first glance, this passage of Scripture is a lovely collection of well known miracles Jesus performed during his ministry. It’s tempting to read through them quickly, make note of how great God is, and then move on. However, if an extra moment is taken, one’s heart easily will be shaken. Stay with me for a minute…every single one of these situations showcases a problem that would easily be seen as impossible to change. A dead child, a chronically ill woman, two blind men, and a demon-oppressed and mute man were all directly impacted by the power of Jesus. The road to Jesus wasn’t necessarily easy for these people. They sought Him out repeatedly, called above crowds, begged for mercy, and even grabbed at the hem of His robe as He walked past. They knew His power, and they possessed the endurance to seek Him in the midst of chaos and calamity.
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.Ephesians 3:20-21
I can’t help but think about our current circumstances. We are now almost an entire year into dealing with a pandemic none of us saw coming. Everything seemed to change in an instant and everyone has dealt with it differently. In some people, we see the physical impact and the rising levels of anxiety. Others are dealing with emotional pressures more quietly, and only the people closest to them realize they are even struggling. Everyone has been impacted by a seemingly impossible situation and faced with choices we never thought we’d have to make. It would be incredibly easy to throw up our hands in frustration, to quit loving our neighbors, to say it’s too hard. Everyone is divided so what’s the use anyway? But hold fast, brothers and sisters. The God we serve is greater! He works in the good times and the bad. Jesus is worth seeking even when the road is long, the path is hard, and the people are divided. Remember, those people who were suffering in impossible situations continued to seek Jesus with all they had. As a result, God was glorified.
As the body of Christ we are called to higher purpose. A purpose not of personal gratification or selfish ambition, but rather a purpose of seeking after our Savior with all we have. A purpose of seeking to glorify God in the midst of hardship. A purpose of loving our neighbors and making disciples. My prayer is that in the future we as a body of believers will be able to look back on the time of the pandemic seeing all that God accomplished and how we sought after Him in the midst of an impossible circumstance. I know we are all exhausted in every way possible, but let’s remember that our God is good and His plan is always good. So go, seek Jesus, and love your neighbors well.
I love a good set of concrete rules. I’d have really enjoyed seeing Moses come down the mountain with the stone tablets. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily love every rule. Sometimes a rule might seem inconsequential, and it might irk me to follow it. However, if I don’t follow the rule, I understand a consequence will follow…it’s warranted. It brings me a sense of a comfort having expectations set in stone so to speak. Maybe because it gives me a misplaced sense of control. But you’re not here to analyze my behaviors and thoughts! Though I know some of you completely get where I’m coming from! Back to the text at hand, God’s people had lived so long under the rules of the Law and their own additional rules, that the life Jesus was proposing quite possibly seemed preposterous. They had lived in such a way as to think of the Law as something very concrete. Their holiness and success could be measured simply by looking at their actions.
Jesus was teaching that there is more to following after God than simply acting in accordance with the Law. He wasn’t disregarding it or stripping it of importance. He was simply fulfilling it. The Law had new purpose. It still served the purpose of guiding God’s people in the ways that they should go. It provided insight into their relationship with God and others. But it was no longer just about their actions. If people truly chose to follow Christ, they were made into new creations. A heart change would follow. It wasn’t enough to refrain from physically murdering a man. Jesus was saying that angry words or thoughts were the equivalent to ending a life. This was radical thinking for people who for so long had been set in the ways of old. It drives home the importance of continually checking the condition of our hearts.
Jesus went so far as to tell the people that if they were in conflict with another, they needed to prioritize their reconciliation. If they were preparing to worship God with conflict on their hearts, they needed to pause and meet the person first. Settle the dispute as peacefully as possible. This type of behavior change would require the people to do more than go through the motions of worship. It would require them to look beyond their physical actions. It would ultimately require them to deepen their relationship with the one true God, spending time examining their hearts and motives. Instead of participating in rote worship and rule following, the people would begin to grow in the Spirit and live truly for God. So I pose the question, how often do we stop to commune with God and search our hearts? How can we seek to glorify God with not only our actions but also our words and thoughts?
Everyone loves a good announcement. Well maybe not everyone, depending on what’s being announced! I personally love it when Starbucks announces a brand new latte or when PBS announces a new Masterpiece show. I love it when my friends have joyous announcements of coming babies or big life events. These types of things, whether small or great, are times of celebration and excitement. We rally around the source of the announcement and become a part of whatever the good news is.
The scene that is described in this passage of Scripture is the scene of an announcement of greater importance than anything we can possibly imagine. I’d love to have been an eyewitness to this little piece of history. This moment is what marked the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Prophecies were fulfilled, an example was set, and the Messiah came into view. John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Jesus and to call the people to repentance. He was given the opportunity and blessing of baptizing Jesus, the Son of God. John struggled and even told Jesus that he should be the one being baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. Baptism is a representation of repentance and turning from sin and Jesus had no need to repent. Even so, Jesus chose to be baptized as a He was our atoning sacrifice. He was blameless and yet prepared to take our punishment.
People of all sorts were gathered at the Jordan River that day…followers of John, Pharisees, and Sadducees. John had been calling the religious leaders to repent for their lack of faith and dependance on their heritage as Jesus approached for the big announcement. I’m sure the responses were varied as they witnessed the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and God the Father blessing His Son. Though we weren’t eyewitnesses, we have been blessed with God’s Word. Though we weren’t present we must still respond. The announcement in this passage provides a great opportunity for us, as Christ-followers, to take stock of our own hearts. To recognize the sacrifice that was made. To remember the example that was set. What is our response to this great announcement? Will we respond in humility and repentance, or will we stubbornly cling to our own desires?
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)
Some days I simply long for my true home. I know that nothing on this earth can satisfy the desires of my heart, and I know that God has prepared a perfect place for me. I know that Jesus will return and establish a new kingdom in which He is fully glorified! And I long for that day. This well known quote by C.S. Lewis captures the essence of my longings so well (I even have it hanging in my kitchen!). Life in this broken world can feel overwhelming, and the division can run so deep. I believe that is part of what makes the promise of the second advent so exciting–the knowledge that God’s big plan is still unfolding and He’s not done yet. We know who will have victory, and we know who will rule in eternity. That in and of itself should put the proverbial spring in our step!
Despite this glorious promise and the excitement that accompanies it, we also are fully aware of the difficulties of living as a disciple of Christ. In this particular passage of Scripture, we see that the Church in Philadelphia was being encouraged. They lacked power, but they persevered in faith. In the midst of hardships and persecutions, they didn’t lose sight of the glory of their Savior. Here Jesus encourages them to hold fast in their faith as He will be returning soon. He promises to give them a place in the new kingdom and give them a new name. What a fantastic promise this is indeed. Let’s take a note from the page of the Church in Philadelphia…let’s stay faithful. Let’s hold fast. Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters enduring persecution daily. Let’s endure hardship knowing that Jesus always keeps His promises and God’s plan is always best. As we long for our true home in a way this world can’t satisfy, let’s steward our time as sojourners in this world and make disciples for the New Kingdom.
When I start something new, there is always a purpose behind it in my mind. Over the holiday, I created a little indoor treehouse in one of my closets. It was a full day project but so worth it. It’s a cozy place with one purpose. That purpose is to remove distractions and be a place where I can get lost in books. Whether that is digging into God’s Word or reading a good mystery, that’s where all the reading happens. It’s my new favorite place in the house and if you ever ask me about it, you might regret you mentioned it because I’m sure to start showing you before and after pictures and explaining all the elements of it’s formation. But let’s get back to the point of the story. . .purpose. I’m a purpose fanatic and believe that if we are doing something, we better be able to point to the “why” behind it. A clearly given purpose just brings me joy.
I love this passage of Scripture because it points forward to the new covenant God will make with His people. At this point in history, sin and exile had been a point of disgrace for the Israelites and God was speaking of His plan for restoration. He had a plan to give His people a new heart and a new spirit, to make a covenant with His people to bring His name glory, restore His name among the nations, and to bring His people to Himself. He made it clear to the people that the purpose of the new covenant was not for their sake but for His glory. They had done nothing to earn this new heart and new spirit. They had done nothing to deserve a new covenant with the one true God. Regardless of His people’s merit, God always works for His glory and our good. By providing a new heart, His people would be better able to live a teachable life seeking after God. By providing a new spirit, His people would have the guidance to live as He has called them. The new covenant isn’t about following a list of rules but rather living in communion with our God. He has provided a solution to the sin problem of the human heart and offered the assurance of restoration–all for His glory. As we start this fresh year with new projects and goals, let’s remember our purpose. We have been given this new heart and spirit. Thus, everything we do should be for the purpose of glorifying God, both the small things and the big things. Let’s be intentional and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we seek to grow and make disciples.
This week I decided to do a light purge of excess stuff that has piled up in my office. As I was going through things, I found an entire stack of empty binders. I normally make my plans and fill my binders with all of my ideas and schedules and details. This year was different. This year required me to set aside my plans, my binders, and my preferences as I had to go one day at a time. Much was accomplished, new strategies were formed, and connections were made. But for someone like me who thrives on plans in binders, it was a little tough to get used to at first, which is why this passage of Scripture resonates with me more after this year than it ever has before.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.James 4:13-17
Unfortunately, the trap of self-reliance is easy to fall into. It’s a trap that I’ve always had to intentionally watch for. Though this year has brought sorrow, hardship, sickness, and storms, it has also brought growth. It has been literally impossible to say what we will do tomorrow or where we will be next week. As I look back at the lessons of this year, it’s the seriousness of this passage that shines brightest. . .”If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” This should always be our posture in life, a true dependence on God and His will.
My prayer for us, church family, is that, as we enter into 2021, we will take the opportunity to give thanks for the good and the different that came out of this past year. That we would continue in our growth and understanding of fully leaning on God and His plans. We know the posture we should have, we know we should live humbly in the presence of our God, and we know that only He knows what tomorrow will bring. Let’s then live to glorify Him and set aside our own plans and preferences as we find new ways to seek Him and serve Him in the coming days, whatever they may bring.