And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
(Romans 8:28 NLT)
Not everything that happens in life is enjoyable. Sometimes life sucks. But for those who love God and are followers of Christ, these events will be stepping stones to something better.
God does not cause bad things to happen. People cause bad things to happen. If people would just obey the design that God has laid out for us life would go much better. But we don’t so it doesn’t. But no matter what happens, children of God can count on Him bringing something great out of it.
Notice that God causes “everything” to work together for our good. So often we find ourself in a situation and can’t imagine how anything positive can come out of it. But nothing is beyond His control. He will take all the things that happen to us and weave them together into something good.
In the original Greek the verb translated “work together” is in the active tense which tells us that God is doing this constantly. He never stops doing it. While other people may intentionally cause us harm, God is stronger than anything the world can throw at us. We may get knocked down. But God is immediately on the scene using it to build us a better future.
even as the Son of Man came not be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many
(Matthew 20:28 ESV)
Many, if not most, people aspire to leadership positions because of what they can gain. They see the position as beneficial to what it can do for their professional and personal lives. But that is not true leadership.
True leaders are more concerned about the well-being of the people they lead than they are about their own welfare. Jesus was the perfect example of this. He did not give up all that He had in heaven to come to earth to boss everyone around. He came to serve. His entire life was about one thing: creating a way for sinful mankind to enter heaven.
This is anathema to the majority of people in this world. All man-made gods make demands of their followers which, if obeyed, will gain them some earthly or eternal reward. But this is not the message of the Bible at all. This is what makes the Bible not only unique, but true. No one would ever invent a God who became one of His own creations and who then demonstrated His love for them by serving them. True leadership improves the lives of others by helping them, not by controlling them.
God loved the world so much that He sent His Son, whom we call Jesus, into the world to pay for our sins with His very own life. That is leadership in action.
from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I
(Psalm 61:2 ESV)
Life is tough. Things don’t always go the way we’d like them to. No one is immune to pain, disappointment, and trouble.
Those who don’t know God have no choice in such situations but to put their head down and plow through life, hoping things get better. Or, they can take matters into their own hands and use their own human intelligence to improve things. This rarely works.
But those people who have been born-again and are children of God have a not-so-secret weapon. We can call upon God anytime we want. While the world looks at this alleged lack of self-sufficiency as weakness, Christians know better. When circumstances are too much for us – and they often are – God wants to help.
God wants to raise us above the troubles that surround us. No matter where we are, we have access to our Father. All we have to do is call upon Him. His solution to our myriad and inevitable problems is far superior to any solution we could come up with ourselves.
but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
(1 John 1:7 NAS)
When a person does not know Jesus, they are going through life by living in spiritual darkness; they live a life that is generally disobedient to God and is therefore void of His blessing. But even those who have been born-again (Christians) do not automatically live obedient lives. We have to work at doing so. But if we do, God promises certain benefits.
One of those benefits is our relationship with others will be healthier than they would otherwise be. We can see clear evidence of this axiom in our culture. So many different groups spar with each other and can’t seem to get along. Through the centuries, many efforts have been made to bring peace to the world and end all the verbal arguing and military fighting. But those efforts have not produced much in the way of results. As time has gone by, the divide between disagreeing groups, and the animosity that accompanies it, has only gotten worse.
The only solution is for both parties to make a determined decision to follow Christ and let Him guide their thoughts, actions, and words. There is no other way.
For it is the love of Christ which is moving us; because we are of the opinion that if one was put to death for all, then all have undergone death
(2 Corinthians 5:14 BBE)
Seeking the approval of others is an unhealthy way to live. When we are motivated by a desire to please a spouse, or coach, or parent we are not living in freedom. We are living in bondage to their opinions. Our value is therefore derived from how well we performed for them. If they are pleased with our performance we will have a stronger opinion of ourself. If they aren’t then we will have a lower opinion of ourself.
Nor should we live to please God because there is nothing we can do to earn His acceptance of us. No matter how well or poorly we do in life, He already loves and accepts us and nothing we do or don’t do will change that. This was proven by the fact that Jesus died on a cross for the sake of all people. It is this love that should be our motivation.
When we are motivated by thankfulness for the love that Jesus displayed for us we will experience freedom. Gone will be the pressure of having to perform to gain acceptance. This freedom will take the focus off ourself allowing us to live for others in the same way that Jesus lived (and died) for us.
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me
(John 10:14 NIV)
Its one thing to know about a person. Its another thing to know a person. There are people we know about. We know what kind of car our neighbor drives or even what they do for a living. But that does not mean we know our neighbor.
Many people know about God. They’ve heard of Him and have a vague idea of what He is like. Many people even have the wrong idea of what God is like because they obtained bad information from someone else.
But just like we can only get to know another human being by spending time with them we need to spend time with God to know what He is really like. We do this by attending a service on Sunday and learning from a pastor who knows God well. We also do this by reading the Bible often – everyday if possible and meditating (thinking about) on what we’ve read throughout the day. We also get to know God by communicating with Him – praying – daily if not more often.
The more time we spend with people the more we know who they are. The same is true with God.
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old
(Isaiah 43:18 ESV)
Just a few days ago, in this year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, Texas A&M trailed upstart Duke 38-17 after two quarters. In the locker room at halftime the Aggies quarterback, Johnny Manziel, told his team to not look at the scoreboard. What happened in the first half was history and did not matter. All that mattered was they did with the time they had remaining. Texas A&M scored 35 points in the second half and won the game 52 – 48.
This is exactly how God wants us to approach life every day. He does not want us to think about our past mistakes and failures, as numerous and devastating as they might be. He wants us to focus on Him. He wants to do great things for us but that can only happen if we are looking forward to our futures instead of looking backwards to our past.
It may not always seems like we can succeed. Sometimes the odds are stacked against us. But that is precisely the kind of environment in which we can count on God. He can make a way through the wilderness. He can create springs of water in the desert. And He can lead us to victories we never thought possible.
Whoever pursues righteousness and love will find life, prosperity and honor
(Proverbs 21:21 NIV)
There are many things in this world which entice and tempt us. Money. Career. Fame. Physical appearance. But none of these things are what God wants us to pursue. These are all worldly things – things that are temporary when viewed in the context of eternity.
Instead, God wants us to deeply desire to be people who reflect truth and who love others. This is exactly the kind of life that Jesus lead while He was on this earth.
The Greek word translated “pursue” in this verse implies a relentless chase that does not end until the goal is obtained. Many of us will exert such an effort to obtain a promotion, raise, or spouse. But when it comes to becoming more like Jesus, we take a more casual if not passive approach.
But when we relentlessly chase after the goals God has for us the end result will be a life that is fulfilling not because it has material possessions or human accolades. It will be fulfilling because it will be life blessed by God with something much more valuable: permanent and eternal riches and honor.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me
(2 Corinthians 12:9)
So often when things go wrong in our lives we pray and ask God to change our circumstances. When we are sick we pray for healing. When our finances are in trouble we pray for money. When we are lonely we pray for friends. But this is the wrong approach. While sometimes God will change our circumstances, He actually offers something much better: His grace.
Certainly God wants us to have health, money, and friends. But more importantly He wants us to be better people. He want us to have stronger faith and character. Only by going through adversity can this happen.
So the next time you find yourself in a situation you’d rather not be in, embrace it and see it for what it is: the opportunity to grow by experiencing the power of Christ.
Today’s Bible Reading: Malachi 3-4:6; Revelation 22:1-21; Psalm 150:1-6; Proverbs 31:25-31
The book of Malachi (and the Old Testament) closes with prophecy about the coming Messiah. But before this person arrives God will send a messenger to announce His arrival (Malachi 3:1). This follows the ancient tradition of a king sending a messenger before him to announce his arrival to a certain location. Even today the President sends a delegation ahead of him when traveling to another country to prepare for his arrival. Here Malachi is predicting the ministry of John the Baptist.
Just like a refiner or a launderer, the Messiah was coming to make things (i.e. people) better (Malachi 3:2). A blazing fire removes impurities from metal. Soap removes dirt from clothes. Jesus came to remove sin from our lives. Fire and soap hurt and irritate yet make something better. This is also how God works in our lives.
We are made better by the trials and difficulties we go through – if we embrace them as such. When we seek only pleasure from this life while seeking to eliminate any instance of mental, emotional, or physical discomfort (which is pretty much how our culture behaves today) we don’t become better. We actually become weaker. I used to work with someone who, whenever something went wrong in the office, used to say “That which does not kill me makes me stronger”. That is certainly true, but only if your attitude is accepting of such trials.
God could easily have turned His back on all people due to our sin (Malachi 3:6-7). But He didn’t. Just like a teacher may take an interest in a certain student who is having trouble learning rather than give up on him, so too God continues to show an interest in us because we need Him to. This should be enough of a reason for us to turn to Him. His caring never ceases.
People object to believing in God because they mistakenly think He is too demanding. But that is not true. There was only one tree in the entire Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from. And God only demands that we give 10% (a tithe) of our income back to Him to support our local church. We can keep the remaining 90%. Ten percent isn’t much. Its much less than the government takes in income taxes. And its only just a little bit more than I pay in sales tax.
If we obey God in this financial matter He promises to bless us beyond belief (Malachi 3:10). He even challenges us to test Him on this. This is the only place in the entire Bible where God tells us to put Him to the test.
The people of Malachi’s day were a bit discouraged because they saw non believers prospering. They wondered why they should bother serving and obeying God (Malachi 3:14-15). But they were not looking at life as God does – from an eternal perspective. God is not as interested in our earthly, material comfort as He is in our eternal comfort. The life God calls us to live does not always provide immediate gratification. But the rewards last an eternal lifetime.
These last two chapters of Malachi will be the last recordings of God for over 400 years – until the Gospels are written after Jesus’ death. This time period is known at the “intertestamental” period – the time between the Old and New Testaments.
Our final chapter in Revelation describes heaven. Obviously we won’t know exactly what heaven is like until we get there. But this chapter gives us a motivational glimpse.
All the curses that God placed upon the earth due to our sin will no longer exist (Revelation 22:3). Most notably there will be no death. Notice that we will work for eternity. God is a worker and He designed us to be also. I doubt that God is finished creating. Perhaps we will serve Him in whatever He decides to create next, much like the angels do today.
In the 1990s “eye puzzles” were all the rage. They weren’t like normal pictures whose subject matter was obvious. These were images at which you had to stare for a very long time in order to see their actual contents. The Bible is similar. We can’t just gloss over the words and assume we understand their meaning.
Revelation 22:14 is a great example. Here God tells us that heaven will be a place for those who do His commandments. At first glance this verse might be implying that we get to heaven by being “good”. We do not. Doing God’s commandments is evidence that someone has been born-again and has become one of God’s children. It is not the “doing” of the commandments that allows someone to enter heaven. It is the change in their attitude towards God – they have acknowledged their sin, repented of it (agreed with God that it is wrong), and have been born-again. And that change leads them to want to obey God. Anyone else has chosen to live a lie (Revelation 22:15) and will not enter heaven.
A couple of times Jesus speaks in this chapter stating “I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:12, 20). When a parent tells their child “We’ll be eating dinner soon” she is speaking in terms of her own understanding of time. How a parent understands time is not how a child understands time. The child understands “soon” to be sooner than the parent understands it. Similarly, as creations of God our understanding of “soon” is not the same as His. Apparently 2,000 years is not “soon” according to God’s timetable. Jesus will return when He is ready.
But He will also return very suddenly (the Greek word translated “soon” also means “without notice”). These words from Jesus prophetically refer to His certain return. But they are also a warning to those who have not yet repented.
This concludes our reading of the Bible for 2013. I want to thank all of you who joined me and also want to thank you for your support throughout the year. I hope you enjoyed reading the Bible as much as I have. I think you’d agree that it has been an amazing experience. I’ve learned a lot and hope you have too. But there is still far more to learn. Understanding God is an eternal process so I will continue writing about the Bible in 2014. Please continue to visit my blog in the new year.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.