Eternity With Him

just-think-about-this

I don’t have much more to say than that really.

In our darkest moments, may we think about this. There is no greater love than His for us. This life is a glimpse of what’s to come. We have all experienced moments of unbridled joy and freedom in the midst of His presence. Now, imagine that gloriously magnified in heaven, without any sin or shame or fear or tears or guilt or pain. The Bible doesn’t say much about heaven, other than that it exists. It is our mysterious, ultimate destination. It’s where we are going. It is our truest home and it will be an unfettered joy to discover all that it has to offer – colours, sights, sounds and smells we have yet to embrace. And we get to spend our eternity there!

There’s a great lyric in Hillsong United’s song Touch The Sky, which goes, “You traded heaven to have me again.” There is great strength and constant hope in the relentless fact that God did what was necessary to retrieve us from darkness and damnation. There was only one solution to the problem that kept sinners from intimacy with a perfect Father. God knew the cost it took, and in Christ, He willingly took it. His life for ours. Christ took the punishment we deserved for the treasure we didn’t.

That marvellous truth is worth reflecting upon, and rejoicing in. We don’t see heaven now, but by faith we know with certainty that one day, we shall.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

1 Peter 1:3-6

 

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The Mission

 

THE MISSION

Christ’s final words after his resurrection and before his ascension to heaven were to his disciples. Called the Great Commandment, it is shown in Matthew 28:16-20.

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” “

It is great in both scope, and importance. It is ambitious, as all great missions are, but to understand it, we must understand the One who gave it. He loves to love. We may not all be missionaries or preachers. We may not all be evangelists or teachers. We may not all write worship songs, and that’s great, because God has equipped us differently. God loves variety. It’s more effective in sharing the gospel. Ephesians 4 tells us that we have different  roles but, “from him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” We are different parts of the same body, all with different attributes, and we use the gifts He has given us for His glory, which frees us from the need to compare ourselves with others.

All Christians today are the eventual result of the obedience of those 11 disciples. Because they “made disciples of all nations,” we are now believers. We are the result of an ongoing spiritual set of dominoes. Others influenced and taught us the ways of Christ, and we have the opportunity to carry on that calling, and do the same.

The Great Commandment comes from the great Commander. In John 15:5 Jesus clearly states the important of communion with Him when he says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

You should have godly desires and goals for your ministry but what is God’s will for it? No matter how wise the advice you’ve been given is, or how much experience you have, always seek His direction and blessing. Remain in the vine. Don’t seek Him only when you start something new. Remain. Seek Him always. Don’t become complacent. We can not predict His next move. He may surprise you.

Attempting to build a church or  a ministry can become an idol. It can transform into an aim which has a foundation with impure motives, whether that be trying to be bigger or better than another church, or trying to use its growth as a measure of success.

Serving God is a tremendous joy and privilege. It should never be a task we dread, and if it starts to, we must be honest with Him. We all need the rest and refreshment He promises. We may start with noble intentions, but if we are not careful and not open to guidance and encouragement when necessary, ministry can easily become just another task to accomplish. If it doesn’t bear the fruit we expect it to, we may become frustrated and resentful towards others or even God, so we need to guard our heart and be honest. If you’re a leader, no-one expects you to be prefect. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s okay to be worn out at times, but don’t suffer in silence. Don’t give the enemy something to work with. Be accountable. Take a break if need be. Ask for help. (You may be surprised at the willingness of others to assist you.) Rest. Enjoy life, but most importantly – spend time with Him. Remember, the church you attend, even if you’re the pastor, it’s not yours. Just like our money, our time, our marriages and even our bodies aren’t ours. All we have comes from the One who gave it all for us. Return it to Him. Work with God, not just for God.

“You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”

John 15:14-17

“Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Isaiah 40:28-31

“Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” “

Acts 1:6-11

Pray With Purity

 

Pray with purity.

The heart is a mystery. Jeremiah 17:9 says it is deceptive above all things.  Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard it, for everything we do flows from it. We may not think so, but sometimes we may have a wrong agenda when we pray for others. We shouldn’t pray that others become the person we want them to be, so they’re easier to deal with, or fit our criteria of holiness, but who He wants them to be. He works differently in every heart and although we may not see immediate fruit or repentance in others, we can’t judge others growth by our timetable or results. We see only others’ actions or hear their words, but God knows the depth of their heart and true motivations. They are not to be remade in our image. They are already made in His. Our prayers and love will bring that truth to the fore.

Psalm 51:10 asks the Father, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 139:23-24 has a similar request. It says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” We don’t always know our sins, or true motivations.

Just because we’re praying, we may think that we are more holy than those who rarely pray, but the Word teaches us to always examine our heart. What are our true motivations when we pray what we pray for? Yes, it’s good to pray for our ministries, but are we praying to be successful in the world’s eyes, or praying to be more recognised, or praying to have a “better” ministry than others in our church? If we are not closely communing with our God, our prayers will reflect our limited view. In John 15:7, Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” When Jesus says, “if,” we need to pay attention, because He is paying attention to the state of our heart when we approach Him. We can not hide our motivations from His sight. When Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6, the first few words are all about His name, His kingdom, and His will. We must first humble ourselves in His presence and be sensitive to the Spirit. Be flexible, and pray for God’s agenda, not ours.

We must recognise too, that our prayers will not always be the same. They shouldn’t. Sometimes we may cry and intercede, at other times we may be silent and listen, or dance with joy at His glory, or repent and seek to know Him more intimately. Just like every conversation and interaction within our friends is not always the same, neither should our prayers be. Intimate friendships aren’t built on repetition. They are thriving, living conversations. They are valuable and varied. They key is to come before Him in humility.

We must first listen and then pray according to His will. Your friend may desperately need a better job, because their current one is filled with strength and challenging colleagues, so do you ask God for a new, stress-free job for them, or do you ask Him to strengthen them to be a good witness in their workplace? Firstly, we must seek His will, and then we pray in accordance with that. We can’t give God advice when we pray. God sees what we don’t. Trust that His will be done, regardless of the situation.

Yes, God wants what’s best for us, but what we consider to be the best is often based on temporary conditions. Max Lucado once said, “If God has to choose between your eternal safety, or earthly comfort, which do you hope He chooses?” Remember, God is far more interested in your growth than your comfort. Look at every great person we know of in the Bible; Paul, Daniel, Job, Esther, Jesus, and so many others. They were rarely comfortable, but they were powerful, because they clung to God during their pain and suffering. He led them through it, and made them better for it. They learned to rely on the eternal God regardless of temporary circumstances. God will do what is necessary to achieve our ultimate salvation, simply due to the fact that He loves us that much. He wants to spend eternity with us. Yes, we will suffer but that’s not all we will do. If we humble ourselves and allow His plan to come to fruition, we will be refined, transformed and become even better vessels for His glory.  Pray in line with God’s perspective, and ask Him to forgive and change us if we pray, even subtly, that our will instead of His be done, for salvation is much more valuable than satisfaction.

“But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Psalm 19:12-14

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”

1 John 3:2

Praise Be

Praise Be

Psalm 56:8 says this – “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll — are they not in your record?”

Other translations call it a book, or a bottle. It’s a startingly powerful reminder of God’s love for us. He sees the tears that flow from our suffering, our sorrow, our shame. He sees what we hide from others. And you know what? He records it, but for what purpose? Because He sees, and He cares. We are not forgotten.

John 3:16 is the most famous verse in the Bible. Even people who don’t believe it, know it – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” How many of us know the verse after that though?

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:17 is integral in the way that it connects to John 3:16. Verse 16 tells us that Christ died so that we shall “have eternal life.” Verse 17 tells us why, because it begins with “For.” There’s always a reason why God does what He does. Christ died to give us eternity, because He came to save, not condemn.

Verse 16 and 17 tell us what Christ came to do, and what He came not to do. He came to save you. He did not come to condemn you. Have you ever been in heated argument with someone and they bring up all your past mistakes? They do that to remind you of the fact that they think your previous actions are much worse than theirs. They may not be relevant to the discussion at hand, but they use it as ammunition from a place of insecurity to condemn you and make you feel worse than they feel. They seem to remember all your sins and errors with alarming clarity, but struggle to recall the positive aspects of your character and the times of sacrifice and selfless love. Thankfully God does not treat us like that. He looks at us through the blood and righteousness of Christ’s sacrifice. He views us with the hopeful gaze of a Father. He sees who we are becoming and doesn’t condemn us for who we used to be.

Psalm 103:11-12 declares, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

I once heard a preacher say that the reason God chose to use the phrase, “as far as the east is from the west,” to describe the distance between our sins and how far God has removed them from us is because east and west can not be measured. There is a North Pole, and a South Pole, but there is no distinct location for east and west.

Don’t grab a compass and go looking for your past transgressions. They are forgiven. They are forgotten. They are erased, and they’re not coming back. You won’t find God’s voice if you go looking for your sins. You’ll find it when you let go of all the condemnation and fear and injustice and you accept the fact that God accepts you. You are His son. His daughter. His vessel. His beloved. 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares that you are a new creation. “The old has gone, the new has come!” I love the fact that Paul uses an exclamation mark, to emphasise the point with joyful victory. Your old self is gone! You’re made new! Don’t reflect on your old self. God doesn’t. Don’t remind yourself of how bad you used to be, twenty years ago, or twenty seconds ago, unless it’s to praise God for how much His loving forgiveness has transformed you. Don’t do the devil’s work for him. Forget the past. That’s not you anymore.

1 John 3:8 says that the reason Christ came was “to destroy the devil’s work.” Satan’s work is condemnation. Christ destroys the voice that reminds you of your wickedness and sins. Christ’s voice speaks forgiveness, and He left us a perfect example to follow. We must not condemn ourselves, but forgive ourselves as well as others. We must speak to ourselves, and others, the complete freedom and acceptance that God speaks over us.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:9

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

Psalm 103:8-12

Think About What Is True

Think About Such Things

Philippians 4:8-9 says this:”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. 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.” It’s interesting that Paul tells his brothers and sisters in Philippi (and of course, all believers) that God’s peace will be with us, after we’ve meditated upon things that are true, noble, right, etc. There may be nothing about the circumstances we’re facing that appears to be overflowing with excellence or praise, but once we choose to think about things that are, then His peace comes upon us. In the preceding verses, Paul tells us that the same result happens when we give God our cares. He states, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7). In effect, he is stating that God’s peace (that is far above human understanding) is not dependent on circumstances, but is dependent on our choice to seek Him, regardless of our circumstances. His peace won’t just magically fall upon us like confetti at a wedding. It appears after we choose to give Him our fears, and accept His truth and victory. It’s that peace that Daniel discovered when he faced potential death in the fiery furnace, and again when he faced potential death when facing lions. The first recorded martyr Stephen also had such peace when he stood firm in his trial with a face “like that of an angel” (Acts 6:15) and his death by stoning when he was filled with the Holy Spirit and prayed (Acts 7:55-59). Both men experienced circumstances that didn’t seem excellent or praiseworthy, but they looked beyond the harsh truth of their current reality to see God’s greater heavenly reality, and see it they did. Of course, that same reality allowed Christ to be crucified for the forgiveness of our sins.

In the list of things that Paul urges us to think about, the first one is truth, and that’s because truth is the foundation upon which all other virtues stem. If we don’t first know God’s truth, then whatever is noble, right and pure will not be centred in truth. They will be a distortion. If our version of truth is different from what God declares as truth, then what we see as noble, right and pure will also be different from what God declares to be noble, right and pure. We must know His truth first, and what is His truth? Essentially, truth is found in God alone.

In John 7:18 Jesus says,”Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him,” and in verse 28, Christ states, “he who sent me is true.” It’s simple. What is truth? God is truth – His compassion, mercy, justice, power, love, forgiveness, etc. All of God is truth. Discover who He is and we discover what truth is. John 4:23 reminds us that God seeks those who worship Him “in Spirit and in truth,” and in John 14 Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of truth.” The centrality of truth is also emphasised in the armour of God in Ephesians 6. The belt of truth is mentioned as the first piece to put on, and then righteousness, peace, and faith, come later. God is not a god of disorder. Truth comes first for a reason.

In Paul’s encouragement about what we think about, we come to learn that our life begins with our actions, and our actions begin with our thoughts. James 1:15 warns that evil desires give birth to sin. It is a process that begins with what we think about; a lustful glance that lingers too long, continual pondering about some injustice against you, etc. Troublesome, distracting and evil thoughts will come into our mind, but we are not helpless against them. When they occur, give them to God immediately. 2 Corinthians 10:5 urges us to, “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” When we think about what is true, and noble, and right, as God (not ourselves or the world) define them, our life will change. We will make choices in line with those virtues. It’ll be easy for us to forgive, to “abstain from sinful desires,” and to find our joy and fulfillment in Him alone. Think about who God is, and we will begin to be a mighty vessel for His glorious purposes.

“I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”

Psalm 119:15-16

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

Colossians 3:1-3

 

He’s Returning

He's real.

I’ve started BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) this year, after taking the last term off. It’s a great way to study the Word with others, and there’s weekly classes all over the world.This term, the focus is on Revelation. It’s probably the most mysterious and epic book in the Bible, but at the same time, like every book, it relates to who God is, how Christ is revealed, and who we are in Him.

There’s a glorious certainty, regardless of what you believe about the tribulation, rapture, etc, that Christ will return. With that awareness, how does that change the way we live today? Eternity is real, God is real, and the reality is that we’ll be with God for eternity. This life may seem like all there is during struggles and hurt. At its toughest times, life can seem so blatant and obvious and…now, but it’s also temporary. The heavenly reality is just as true as the reality that we find ourselves in every day, when we get frustrated at work, or disagree with our friends, or suffer heartache. The joy we can experience when we know that we are strangers in this world, passing through until we visit our true home, can unleash upon us a profound sense of freedom that permeates all of our daily thoughts and choices.

There is more than this. Much more, and it’s where we truly belong, but until then, let us allow eternal thinking to shape our earthly living.

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

1 Corinthians 15:19-20

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Romans 8:17-18