Citizen of Heaven

For our citizenship is in heaven; from which also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. ~Philippians 3:20

Imagine that your job was to be an ambassador to an impoverished foreign country. Your sole and express purpose for living among the people there was to share the truth of a better land and of a better life that is available to them, and to offer them a free ticket and free citizenship to your country. If you knew that the people of that country were forming their opinion of your homeland based solely on their experience and impression of you, how would you conduct yourself and what would be your daily focus and purpose?

Would you spend your time there focused on your own prosperity? Would you make certain that first and foremost you had all of the toys and comforts for yourself and for your family even if those around whom you were living had very little or none? If your mission is to offer them a free ticket to your country, would you instead involve yourself heavily in their political system and focus your effort on trying to change their government and their society to fall in line with your moral values and ideals? As a foreign emissary, your job would not be to focus on your own needs nor would it be to become involved in their political system. Your job would be to focus on the needs of the individual people around you and to care for their needs.

When Jesus came to this earth He gave up the majesty and the glory of His eternal throne in heaven in order to become nothing so as to save and to redeem us (Philippians 2:5-8). When asked about the local political system in which He found Himself, He simply said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and render unto God what is God's (Mark 12:17). He didn't allow Himself to become distracted by temporal human political concerns. Neither did He focus on providing for His own comforts but instead had no place to lay His head (Luke 9:58) and instructed His followers to lay up their treasures in heaven and not on earth (Matthew 6:19-21).

If you call yourself a Christian, or better yet, a disciple of Christ, then you are no longer a citizen of whatever earthly country you happen to reside in, but your citizenship is in heaven. You are an ambassador during your short time here on Earth. Most of us go through our lives forgetting this fact. We focus all of our energy trying to make our way here in our earthly lives living no differently than those who are spiritually impoverished all around us when we should be living with the express purpose of shining the light and love of Christ to those who so desperately need it.

What small thing can you do today to reach out as an ambassador to someone around you who needs to hear of your home country and of the loving King that is waiting there to welcome them home?

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ... striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.  ~Philippians 1:27-28

Could it be... SATAN?!

But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. ~Daniel 10:13

In this passage the angel Gabriel is speaking to Daniel and is explaining that he was delayed from coming to Daniel earlier due to a battle in which he ultimately required help from another angel, Michael. As we go about our daily lives and are absorbed in the cares of this world, we often forget that there is a greater battle going on all around us. This is a battle in which we too are involved, even if we don't always realize it. It can be much easier for us to recognize our own weaknesses or to look out at the world and see the temptations that it constantly places before us than to realize that there are spiritual forces at work in our lives as well.

To this day I can't hear the name of Satan without hearing Dana Carvey playing the church lady on Saturday Night Live (back in the 80's for those of you too young too remember). One of the points of this popular little skit was to make fun of those who see Satan's handiwork in everything. It also served to make fun of those who believed that some red-skinned, horned, and caped guy with a pitchfork was going around meddling in people's lives. Many of us shy away from the mention of Satan because we are afraid that people will think that we believe this popular caricature of the devil.

This, however, is not the biblical picture of the enemy that we struggle against. Our true enemy can best be seen examples such as in the Holocaust, in the rampant human trafficking trade that is alive and well today, and in the genocide in Sudan. Evil exists. Satan is real and he and his demons act in visible and tangible ways in our world. We should not, however, be the type of people that are so consumed with this fact that we see a demon behind every negative circumstance nor an angel behind every good deed.

As we strive to grow in our relationship with God we must endure many struggles. These are struggles against our own sinful nature, struggles against the passions and lusts of the world, and struggles against the spiritual forces of our enemy who works constantly to hinder, to confuse, and to derail us at every opportunity. Always remember that Satan is powerful and wants nothing less than to lead you away from God. He is sometimes subtly seductive and sometimes terrifyingly brutal. It is for this reason that we must never rely on our own power but constantly seek the true face of God in all things.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. ~Ephesians 6:10-12

The Light Yoke of Our Lord

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ~Matthew 11:29

Jesus is our sovereign King and He deserves our full allegiance and devotion. He is not, however, a tyrant demanding that we follow the law under threat of prison or death though this can be the image of Him that is presented by some today. We must always remember that we are saved by God’s grace through faith and that we can do nothing of ourselves to work or to earn our way into God’s favor (Ephesians 2:8). God’s love for us is so great that He, our mighty king, sacrificed Himself and paid the ultimate price in order to restore us into relationship with Him.

As we come to know our God and to develop and grow our relationship with Him, He will call us to cast off the chains of bondage that tie us to this life and that keep us from resting in completely in Him. Like a drug addict who can’t imagine even wanting to live life without the substance they have come to depend on, so too are we resistant to following our King’s call to cut our own bonds. We find, however, that when we finally submit and obey, our load truly is lightened and we find ourselves ever closer to living in harmony with our loving and good King.

What aspect of your life is Christ asking you to examine and to potentially change? Are you resisting the call you hear because you can’t imagine living differently than you do? Remember that in all things His grace is sufficient and His ultimate goal is not to cause you pain but, through the trials of this life, it is to bring you ever closer to being the child He created you to be. While change can be confusing and even frightening, remember that the one who calls you also holds all things in His hand and has already paid the ultimate price for you. If God is for us, who can ever be against us? (Romans 8:31)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. This does not come from you; it is the gift of God” ~Ephesians 2:8

Brotherly Love

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. ~John 3:16

Most all people know John 3:16 which speaks of God's love for us but how many people know 1 John 3:16 which talks of how then we are to show our love? We are to express the love of Christ to one another not just through feeling, speech, or blind donations but by acting out our love in each other's lives in tangible, real, and personal ways.

We live in a society blessed with an abundance of wealth. You may not look at your bank statement and think that you are overly wealthy as you compare yourself to Bill Gates, Donald Trump, or George Soros, but to much of the world you are indistinguishable from them in terms of riches. There are many countries where multiple families share single room shanties. To them, you have a mansion with more rooms than people! There are many in the world that search for food and water for their children each day. You most likely have a refrigerator full of food, much of which will end up going to waste as it goes bad and you throw it away without a thought.

When we think about these things, and many of us do, our response is to usually to find a good charity to support and throw some money at the problem. Then, our conscience abated, we go back to our daily lives secure in the knowledge that we are doing our share. But are we really doing what God calls us to do? Supporting charities with monetary pledges is a good thing and we should absolutely lift up and support our brothers and sisters in Christ who are sacrificing their lives and their time to make a difference in people's lives. But is that where we can and should stop?

The truth is that when I search the Scripture, I don't find anything like western charity. I don't see Jesus calling us to first take care of ourselves then throw some money at others that are willing to help those in need. Rather, I see a call to be intimately involved in the lives of those that are hurting and are in need. Jesus didn't say "go buy a homeless guy a lunch then come follow Me." Jesus said to sell all that you have, give to the poor, deny yourself, pick up your cross daily, and follow Him (Matthew 19:21, Luke 9:23).

To be clear, I don't believe that Jesus is saying that everybody must sell all their possessions and live a life of forced poverty. But He does mean that we must hold our possessions so loosely that, should He call us to, we are willing to give them to whomever might need them. Jesus boiled all of the Old Testament Law and Prophets down to two simple principles: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all strength, and will all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

The picture of loving others that is painted for us in Scripture is not one of measured and thoughtful giving out of our excess and from afar, but one of radical, intimate, and interactive blessing out of the abundance of our love in real and tangible terms.  Continue to give to whatever charities that God has led you to support, but also find somebody today and show them the love of our Lord and savior by making a real and tangible difference in their life.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. ~1 John 3:16-18

Is Jesus My King?

At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord ~Philippians 2:10-11

Most Christians will confess that Jesus is King but how many of us actually live as though that were true? Is there any part of a kingdom that does not fall under the sovereign ruler-ship of the king? The fact is that most of us compartmentalize our lives. We have a spot for religion, for morality, for work, for school, for friends, for entertainment, for relaxation, for family, for finances, etc. We generally release complete control of our religion to Jesus, most of our morality, and of course, ten percent of our finances, but all rest we keep for ourselves and don’t allow Jesus to intrude on that which we consider to be wholly ours.

God did not create us for, and does not call us to, this sort of piecemeal surrender but rather to full reliance upon Him in every aspect of our lives. John 3:16 says that “whosoever believes in Him...” This word ‘believes’ does not mean a simple understanding that Jesus exists. It means that whoever fully trusts in Him, whoever wholly relies on Him, whoever completely surrenders to Him will not perish but have eternal life. After all, even the demons believe and they shudder (James 2:19)

How would your life look different if you completely surrendered every aspect of your existence to Jesus and allowed Him to take ownership of every compartment of your life? What if you asked yourself if Jesus would approve of that TV show, or if the money spent on that family vacation might be better spent on the purposes of your King? What if we took a moment to truly reflect on the implications of turning over control of all things to Him including recognizing that every single thing we have possession of (our house, our cars, all our money, our food, our clothes, etc) belong not to us but only to God? Would that understanding change the way we approach our giving or alter the way we prioritize our time?

As much as some may like an easy set of rules to follow, the fact is that there are no simple and pat answers to these questions. We must learn to prayerfully seek His will and guidance in all circumstances. We must seek the advice and counsel of the godly men and women that He has placed in our lives. And most of all, we must act in all things according to His reveled will and not ours. If we can learn to do this then He promises that He will direct our paths and that the faithful will meet their master with approval.

His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness! ~Matthew 25:21

Worldly Hope

Let the message of Christ dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom ~Colossians 3:16

In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells a parable about a man who spreads good seed. He uses this story to illustrate how different people receive the news of the gospel. Some of the seed that was spread fell among the thorns. These thorns, Jesus explains, represent the worries of this world and the seduction of wealth which come up to choke the Word and make a person unfruitful. We in the western world are living deep among the thorns and those thorns spring up around us to constantly try to choke the Word out of our lives and separate us from God.

Our culture constantly bombards us with the message that we are only truly secure if we have a large savings account, a good paying job, and some investments stashed away for retirement. It tells us that we can only be truly happy if we have the latest stuff: a nice car, a nice house, a big television. These things, while not bad in and of themselves, are the very things that tend to distract us and lure us to take our eyes off of God and His promises and to focus instead on the promises of the world.   

Where have you placed your hope? Do you let the thorns of this world, the want for money, prosperity, and security, along with the hectic concerns for your secular pursuits distract you from strengthening and deepening your relationship with God? Cast your concerns at His throne and seek His face in all things and help to lift up your brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. ~Philippians 4:6

Trust in the LORD

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might ~Ecclesiastes 9:10

One of the traps that I find myself continually falling into is the trap of looking into the future to the detriment of the now. I am constantly planning the next great thing or focusing too intently on trying to understand God's purpose and future plans for my life that I miss what He would have me dedicating my time and attention to right now at this moment.

While it is true that God has a plan for our future, He has also placed each of us into exactly the place and the position where He would have us shine for Him now. My difficulty is to focus on the now and leave the rest up to Him. Take a moment to think about where God has placed you. Take a look around and ask yourself how you can be the light of Christ and display God's love and grace to those He has placed around you.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will direct your paths. ~Proverbs 3:5-6

Christian Moderation

For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. ~1 Corinthians 2:2

The Bible teaches that as we grow in our relationship with Christ, our attention should grow more and more focused on Him to the point that all other things fade and lose all significance in our lives. Today's culture and society goes mightily against this idea. We are told from a young age to be "cautious" and "balanced" in our thinking. We are to have "moderation" in all things.

 This type of thinking certainly has some applicability to those things that we engage in for our own pleasure but, as disciples of Christ, we are not called to half-hearted service to God when it suits us but to full, intimate, personal, and passionate relationship with our Creator. We don't simply add a little Jesus to our already busy lives and go about our merry way. Instead we are to focus all of our attention on Him and in return He directs our paths.

Most people fear this type of talk because it sounds as if its a call to lose their own identity. The reverse is actually true. Focusing our attention completely on God actually allows us to discover and to become the person that we were originally designed and created to be. In all things ask yourself this question: What is the gospel purpose of what I am doing? If you find that you are engaged in any activity that does not serve to reflect the light of Christ's love then consider taking it to the Lord in prayer and asking for His direction.

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 3:13-14

Seventy Times Seven

Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. ~Luke 6:28

Have you ever been wronged by someone? I mean really hurt in such a way that, even years later, it still comes to mind and still eats at you? If you have then you know that this type of injury cannot be inflicted by any but those that we truly care for. If you can relate to this at all then you are probably at this moment thinking of someone that is or was very close to you. Perhaps you are thinking of a brother or a sister, your mother or father, maybe a best friend, or perhaps your spouse. It’s possible that this injury is something that the person has apologized for but their apology just didn’t quite ring true. Or maybe they don’t even know that they hurt you. Or perhaps it is something that has been ongoing for years; perhaps an abusive relationship of some kind or maybe the person in question is just plain mean, self-centered, and rude.  

How are we to handle these types of situations? Should we just shut down and ignore the situation? Should we end the relationship and try to save ourselves further torment? We all know that there are two sides to every story and none of us, as much as we would like to think we are, are blameless in these things. So then, are we to focus on ourselves, on our own shortcomings, and ignore the wrongs and the bad behavior inflicted on us?

We’ve all heard the Christian commandments that we are to honor our mother and father and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are also all pretty well aware of the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. I think that these concepts provide a foundation for how we should approach this issue.  

Peter once asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother that sinned against him. Peter wondered if forgiving his brother seven times was enough. Jesus answered him “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22) Jesus then gave the following illustration:  
The kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him one million dollars was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt, and let him go.

But when the servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him “Be patient with me and I will pay you back.” But he refused and instead had the man thrown into prison until he could repay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened they were greatly distressed and went and told their master all that had happened.

Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all the debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay back all he owed. Jesus said “This is how my heavenly father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” ~Matthew 18:23-35
We are, all of us, imperfect creatures. We make mistakes and sometimes we hurt others. Sometimes on purpose and sometimes without ever knowing it. We all require forgiveness. God, in his grace, has granted us the forgiveness that we so require. In return he demands that we forgive others as he has forgiven us. No matter how numerous or hurtful their actions may have been. We are to forgive them from our heart.

Jesus also taught us how to pray.  In that prayer, commonly referred to as the Lord’s Prayer there is a line: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Think about that line for just a moment. Lord, I want you to forgive me for my sins in exactly the same way that I forgive those that have sinned against me.

Ask yourself these two questions: 1) Am I really ready to be judged based on that standard? 2) How would my relationship with the person in question be different if I were to, without even saying anything to them, truly forgive them in my heart for everything they have ever done to hurt me?

When Jesus told Peter not to forgive his brother seven times but seventy times seven times he meant that we are never to give up on those that may hurt us. We are to forgive them over and over and over again just as we are forgiven through the grace of God. Does this mean that all of our relationships will turn around and be miraculously healed simply because we have forgiven the other person, or that once they see how we have changed they will never wrong us again? No. But it does mean that, whatever happens in our relationships, we can go to our maker with a clear answer to that first question. Yes Lord, I am ready to be forgiven for my sins against you in the same way I forgave those that sinned against me.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. ~Luke 6:37

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