His Glory and Our Well-Being

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.  ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’    Acts 17:26-28

I find these two things undeniably related.  As a child of the King, they cannot exist exclusively independent from one another, yet, we prod through life as though His glory is somehow untouchable and our well-being is ours to obtain.  Could it be that these two things are so intertwined that they, in a very un-human way, stirs the soul to trust in the largely strange pursuit of God for me.

It’s that which forms the basis of asking whether He really cares for me.  Perhaps you even answered the question toward yourself without giving it a second thought, “Of course He does!”  I do the same — each time I ask!

I think of Job and Jeremiah as well as the Disciples.  Characters that faced a myriad of obstacles, trials, doubt, and mostly . . . God’s personal pursuit in the presence of His glory.  Job cried out in pain and grief to question God (Job 38:2-3) and Jeremiah explodes toward God with His use of Him (Jeremiah 20:7-9), while the Disciples questioned Jesus in others wounds and crippling being ascribed to our sin and foolishness (John 9:1-7).

Nothing spells care more clearly than the willingness and patience of our God and His children questioning His presence and purpose for our lives.  The pursuit of His people is far from passive and swells with His love and compassion.  His gentleness and patience mixed with the power of His might and glory, together display the majesty of the Almighty God, my everlasting Father . . . the Prince of Peace!

Lord Jesus, this one is more than I can chew in a single bite.  It is overwhelming at best.  May I never stop questioning you, but may I never doubt your purposes nor your pursuit of me!  I know, without question, you care for me — the depth is something my mind cannot measure.  If only I knew and understood your heart more clearly!

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!   Psalm 139:16-17

 

Right Place, Right Time

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.  Mark 15:21

Ever wonder whether or not you were where you should be or doing what you should be doing or going where you should be going?  I can imagine most everyone has asked these questions of themselves at one time or another.  And sometimes, after our experiences we second guess our purpose there.  Why is this?  Is it a lack of faith or a hole in our trust?

There was a man that the scripture tells us was just “passing through from the country.”  Not much else is said for his purpose in Jerusalem, but it’s likely he was there to bring a sacrifice not realizing that which was going on at the time.  And this man, observing the radical journey Christ was taking through the streets, being led to the Hill, by cracks of the Roman whips and shouts of hurt and pain from those whom He loved.  Simon found himself in the right place at the right time.

Unlike anyone else to have ever lived on this earth, Simon from Cyrene actually carried the cross of Christ!  It doesn’t make him any more holy by any means, but to have carried the cross for Christ must have been the most unbelievably symbolic moment of time.  As I mentioned before, it is most likely Simon was there for his own purposes, but God chose him to escort THE Lamb of God to be sacrificed for the sins of all.

I would dare suggest that Simon would have preferred not to be the one to carry this cross.  I might figure that he was wishing he was not standing where he was standing, or made eye contact with the Roman soldier that called him out.  He may have even felt as though he was the one “helping” Jesus to the cross.  The opportunity for doubt, shame, regret and wishing he had not been there at all was ever-so present.  He might even had thought he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But God used Simon for the Glory of God and the Salvation of the World!

Lord Jesus, today is the anniversary of the day Simon carried your cross!  We speak of how you carry our burdens and the weight of all sin hung with you on the cross that Simon carried for you!  I’m in awe.  It has shed a whole new light on the events of this day.  May I be reminded often of your journey to the cross — for me — and the many times you demonstrate your love for me!

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”   Genesis 50:20

 

His Glory Revealed

For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.  II Corinthians 4:11

It’s difficult to describe the depth of our pain to others.  There are times when pain can show it’s character on our face, in our actions — in our voice.  The screams of pain is universal.  It has a different sound, a signature that pierces us all.  From a thumb that finds its way beneath the blow of a hammer, or the pressure from an abscessed tooth — no one can deny how much those hurt.  But the pain that hurts far deeper than any flesh wound, is the pain from brokenness.

Yet, somehow, in the midst of our painful circumstances our brokenness is coupled with the death of Jesus.  Even in my most painful moments, I have cried outloud, “Why must I continue to be a witness of your death through this pain?”  And without pause, He responds . . . “Because, Mark, it is necessary — then I will be revealed!”

Oh man!  Could it be?  Is it possible?  That my brokenness will, or better — does, bring Him glory?  Lord, I don’t know how this is possible, but one thing I do know — that you don’t abandon your people!  As I’m reading your word you are blessing and speaking.  I want to personalize it for me.

But I have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from others.  I am hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  So, then, death is at work in me, but life is at work in me too.  Therefore, I do not lose heart.  Though outwardly I am wasting away, yet inwardly I am being renewed day by day.  For my light and momentary troubles are achieving for me an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So I fix my eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.   II Corinthians 4:7-9,12,16-18

Mind Of Its Own

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hpe fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.  I Peter 1:13

I ask because I want . . .

I want because I do not have . . .

I wonder on that I do not have . . . that’s doubt.

I reason when I wonder . . . that’s distrust.

I get so confused . . . that’s distraction.

I want to live from faith to faith . . .

But, I doubt when I lose faith . . .

And, I do not believe when I doubt.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything form the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.   James 1:5-7

Lord Jesus, this unsettles my soul.  I am fearful . . . I am that man.  I know the battlefield is not for my heart — it already belongs to you!  The battlefield is for my mind.  I thought about my children this morning in the early hours, about your words from Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”  I find great comfort in knowing this, as my children face so many obstacles — none too large for you.  As you know, I thought, too, how our minds are much like children — they need training.  While my soul belongs to you and my spirit lends its ear for hearing you, my mind . . . well, it has a mind of its own.  My mind has been trained to speak loud against my spirit and disbelieve many things.  When I disbelieve, I disobey.  But this is more than just a declaration, it’s a prayer of revelation — one of finally seeing the root of my angst, the nourishment of my doubt and the birth of stillborn hope.  Renew these thoughts into a river of peace, resting in the joy of faith, not by sight, but faith through belief in who you are and what you are doing in me.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2

I ask because you make it possible to come before you to seek you in fulfilling the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4)  . . .

I seek you with my desires because I want to experience you in all things (Matthew 6:33) . . .

I trust you in all things with all of my heart (Proverbs 3:5-6) . . .

I live from faith to faith, believing you when what I see does not make sense (Luke 1:45).

Carrying Glory

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written:  “Be holy, because I am holy.”  I Peter 1:13-16

My story includes countless moments when I’ve lost sight of God’s purpose in me.  I’ve set my mind to things and made choices that have altered the plan God set in motion.  Pride is not something that comes to mind when I reflect on those days.  But even so, it’s still God’s plan and He is still in control.

I’ve now heard, on two separate occasions — back to back, the story of Sampson.  I do not believe in coincidence — knowing full well, God has something for me to learn from this man.  It’s funny in that I recall a few months ago, while thinking through a number of old testament characters, that I didn’t know much about Sampson — except of his strength.  But now that has changed.

A man of great strength indeed, but more importantly, a man with God’s purpose imprinted on him from birth.  Informed by an angel from God, his mother was told of Sampson’s purpose:  to follow God in three ways, to one day freeing the people of Israel.  Sampson was to consume no alcohol — to stay pure on the inside.  Sampson was to never cut his hair — to be recognizably different, set apart.  Sampson was to never touch anything dead — to exercise obedience and self-control.

Sampson was given a great responsibility by God, like none other.  He was chosen to be the one that would free the Israelites from the Philistines.  He had a special purpose.  But he often mocked this and wasn’t willing to carry God’s glory.  All about himself, he lost sight of his purpose.  And with that, he lost his strength — he lost everything, including his own eyes.

But God, because of His unending abundance of grace and mercy, listened to Sampson’s voice in his final hours.  And God restored His strength, freeing the Israelites and fulfilling His purpose.

God wants me to carry His glory every day.  By guarding my mind and keeping my heart pure on the inside.  By becoming noticeably different to others and living a life that is set-apart.  By choosing each day whom I will serve through obedience and self-control.

Lord Jesus, I’m gonna be honest and say that carrying your glory seems like a lot to carry.  In fact, the devil wants me to think I can’t carry it at all — that it’s too much to measure up to.  But I know that your word says your yoke is easy and your burden is light!  My purpose is to be holy!  It’s a good thing it’s not tied to feeling because I’m not feeling very holy.  But your Truth is clear, I am holy because of Christ in me!  Continue to guard my mind and heart, protect me from the lies of the things I see as I continue to be who I am!  May my actions, responses and behavior reflect that of a child of the King! And may your Helper, the Holy Spirit, nudge my spirit and extend the strength I need to be obedient to you in all things.

Finally, brothers [Glory Carriers], 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.  Philippians 4:8-9

Forever Following

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Psalm 23:6

Today I returned to an old favorite — Psalm 23.  If you haven’t read it in a while, it is chock full of encouragement and hope.  A great book – a short daily read – that I would recommend is Max Lucado’s Safe in the Shepherd’s Arms.  It’s amazing!

As I was rereading this passage this morning, it struck me how David stresses that goodness and mercy (love) follow me.  Follow me?  God’s goodness and mercy?  Well, depending on your personal theology of God’s whereabouts, this can crash someone’s party if all they think is that God’s dictating from some throne.

This suggests one, if not two things.  First, as implied, this means that God’s not just ruling like we see of the images of Pharaoh.  He is not the unapproachable conductor of all things.  On the contrary, He is personal, relational, compassionate, with an abundance of grace and love beyond our wildest dreams.   Which leads me to the second.  While God is clearly “seated” on the throne, He, through the Holy Spirit, pursues me!  Pursues!  David understands this in his remembrance of God’s presence through the guarantee of God’s goodness and mercy following me every day.  It reminds me somewhat of the old 90’s episodes of Dukes of Hazard when the “good ‘ole boys” were in “hot pursuit.”  They couldn’t seem to cut a break!  I, too, am in “hot pursuit” by my Savior — every day!  And trailing and flanking that pursuit is Goodness and Mercy!

But even in the midst of great news, where goodness seems so obvious, it’s possible for circumstances scratched by the sharp nails of darkness to overshadow our hearts and minds with pittance.  Its unfortunate that such be robbed from our lives, but God still moves!  He still pursues, not sitting and ruling from a throne, but running and guarding, protecting and whispering in our ears at every turn.  Whispering the Truth of His goodness and His mercy that stands firm against the lies of darkness, the thief in the night, and fills me with joy unspeakable, full of His glory!  All this in spite of my circumstances.  Amen!!

Lord Jesus, I’m reminded of my first day of school.  I was so scared, worried.  I didn’t like kindergarten and I wasn’t going to stay.  I remember planning my escape down to the very minute for when I’d make a dash.  Mrs. Mapstone was faster than she appeared as I remember she was a bit older than me — much older!  Remember how I made it out the door and just beyond the ditch before she caught me?  I was so not happy about that!  But as much as I was frightened to be at school, I think the bus was even worse.  I remember looking back over my shoulder more than once to see if mom was still there.  She was.  You’re pursuing me, right?  Life’s bus ride and classroom are filled with so many things.  Some I know, most I don’t.  I’m looking back, if that’s o.k., to see your Goodness and Mercy!  I see them . . .!

Knowing All My Ways

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.   Romans 8:28

Personally witnessing another and their journey through life is perhaps the most rewarding and fulfilling blessings we have with each other.  Sitting across the booth from a friend, I listen as she asks a question.  “If He knows what will happen to us, how can we have free will?”  I sat there for a minute.  Clearly a question I’ve also wondered for so many years, but never really tackled.  I knew this was one of those that the best of theologians have attempted to explain and failed at defining it clearly.  Since phoning a friend was not an option, I rested in the peace of knowing who God is and went from there.

While I will not do it justice, this made perfect sense to me!  And since me thinking about it with my friend outloud, it has captured my thoughts all day.  Definitely not a bad thing to think about for sure!  🙂

One of the most commonly used adjectives to describe God is omniscient — meaning, all-knowing.  We often think of this as the way God knows everything about us and so true this is!  But, I believe his knowing of me stretches to the far edges of the universe.  How so you may ask?

Well, we say all the time that God has a plan for me (and you) and wants the best for us, to see us prosper in it and be blessed by it.  But we also know that not so very good things happen to good people all the time.  How so?  Why so?  These are questions we tend to ask when bad things happen.

I believe God has a plan that is VERY GOOD!  But that is not the only path we could take.  I believe God knows every possible combination of options, paths, choices, decisions we have to make AND the outcome of every combination for every option, path, choice and decision.  That’s alot of stuff to know about me!  That’s right, it is — He’s ALL-KNOWING!!

So, how do I know if I’ve made the RIGHT choice, taken the best path, decided to act according to His will?  David speaks about this in Psalm 91.

If you make the Most High your dwelling–even the Lord, who is my refuge–then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.  For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.   Psalm 91:9-12

Do I dwell in the presence of the Most High?  Am I seeking Him as my refuge?  It is in this place where I find the RIGHT choice, the best path, the decision in His will.   And if that path is rocky, rough and potentially fatal?  No sweat, a host of angels have been appointed to watch guard over me — specifically for me!  And even so death may come, Paul reminds us to consider it pure joy!

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”    Matthew 10:39

Letter From Christ

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim any thing for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.   II Corinthians 3:5

Throughout the last ten months the only handwritten letters I’ve received in the mail have been penned from the hand of my own mother.  Her encouragement, her every day happenings in her garden and around the house, her concerned tone and undeniable firmness, all of which is sealed by her hand.  What a treasure to have!  There’s truly nothing greater than getting a hand-written letter from someone.  It spells love, it communicates the rawness of care and the loyalty of belonging.  It’s value is unmeasurable!

We see this level of value and importance in the working world as well.  Whether it’s in finding a job or applying for school, letters play a vital role.  They endorse!  With a letter people become validated, affirmed and creditable.  And having it written, perhaps even formally prepared, it’s sealed by the author and too, is valuable.

But what if?  What if Christ wrote a letter for me?  What if He sat down and penned a letter about me — what He thought, what He sees in me, what His day was like, what dangers may lie ahead for me, what concerns He has for me, what He really thinks about me?  Oh, Lord Jesus, to have and to hold such a letter would send me to my knees, shaking like a leaf.  It would bring such confidence and assurance knowing those things.  I would read it over and over again.

Word has it He actually has such a letter!  He has made this letter — and it’s ME!  I am a letter from Christ Himself!  And with this letter comes full assurance of who I am, full confidence in who I am, full wisdom in knowing who I am, able to rest in the truth that the Spirit of the One who lives in me gives me all strength and power to face the raging storms and pelting hail that can so easily destroy.   That in my weakness He is the strength that sustains me when I wait in the ravines of life.

Thank you Lord Jesus for writing my life!  Thank you for your daily Word that tells me what you think of me, what your days are like, what concerns you have and how much you love me!  The fact that you have taken the time to sit down, give immense thought in scripting my story and in crimson red, pen a letter — me — is beyond the greatest of any love man can describe!

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?  Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?  You yourselves are our letter, written on everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.  II Corinthians 3:1-3

Imperfect Is Perfect

. . . to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.   Galatians 4:5

Another notch on the door frame. Below it is where I was, this notch is where I am today.  But above me is a notch to which I desperately stretch to reach.  I just want to be like _______ (fill in the blank).  Good as them, tall as them, better than them.  How will I possibly measure up?  Will I ever meet expectations, standards, worth . . .  will I ever be good enough?

These questions and more have followed me all of my life.  Not bad questions at all, but ones, nonetheless, that cause my image to take on a disfigured shape depending on the point of personal reference in the who or what that matters most.  Against whom do I measure my worth?  Against what do I place my value and significance?  To whom do I think that I use as a filter in making decisions?  I can think of any number of people or things I’ve measured myself against.

Why is this?  Well, my futile attempts to be perfect, not fail, get props and the pat on the back have carved within my flesh a dependence on earthly acceptance and approval.  Beneath the scars from wounded attempts of measuring up lies the pain and guarded heart that harbors the memory of hurt.  And so long as I look around me for the answers to my questions that pertain to my life, my value and my worth, I will forever be searching a lost cause.

And this, praise the Lord, is not the way He taught!   Instead, my imperfections are perfect to Him so long as I keep my eyes on the One who came “under the law . . . to redeem those under the law” so that I may receive ALL, the FULL rights of, sonship!  In other words, I belong to the King . . . the Creator of all things, including me!!  Measuring up is no longer necessary, because in my imperfection I am adopted — given the fullness of belonging — and with that status, I am fully accepted!

And due to this relationship, I can call on my Dad (Abba, Father), and rest in His peace!

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.   Proverbs 14:30

Gospel Reminder

I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”    Romans 1:15-17

The gospel is a message often reserved to be told to the one who does not know about such great news.  It’s been reduced to small pamphlets and branded into the shape of a cross.  And once we get it and capture the essence of our salvation through the life and death and resurrection and ascension of Christ, we unzip one of a dozen pockets in our backpack for safe keeping and set out on our journey of life with the gospel in tow — just in case.

I don’t know about you, but I need the Gospel full-strength, every day!  Forget that secret pocket!  I need to wear it like under armor!  The grace and faith of the gospel is at the core of who I am!  May I never tuck it away, set it down or adorn it for only a moment of apparent need.

I read this prayer recently that has stirred me, challenged me and awakened God within me!  This prayer is one I completely resonate with in my heart.  I continue to read it often and this is why I’m placing it in this post.  Remember, this is me speaking the gospel back to me!

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Dear Lord Jesus, even as Paul was eager to preach the gospel to believers in Rome, so I’m eager to preach it to my own heart today. There was a time when I thought the gospel was only for nonbelievers—simply the doorway and launching pad for beginning a relationship with you. I now realize the gospel is just as much for believers as it is for nonbelievers.

Indeed, there’s nothing more than the gospel, there’s just more of the gospel—inexhaustible riches to be mined and treasured; a bottomless ocean of sovereign grace and daily mercies; irrepressible power for transformation and liberation.

So what does my heart need to hear and believe, this and every day? The “it is finished” of your life and death, resurrection and ascension! Lord Jesus, that you’ve already accomplished everything necessary to completely redeem us—nothing is left to chance or left to be done. You came into the world as God’s promised Messiah. You lived a life of perfect obedience on our behalf—as our substitute, fulfilling all the demands of God’s law for us. You died upon the cross for us—taking the judgment we deserve, completely exhausting God’s righteous anger against our sin. Hallelujah, many times over!

Through faith in you and this good news, all of my sins have been forgiven and I’ve been given the gift of your perfect righteousness. God has already declared me righteous in his sight. He cannot love me more than he does today, and he’ll never love me less. In fact, because of your work for me, Lord Jesus, God now loves me just as much as he loves you, for he’s hidden my life in yours.

Oh, the peace this brings. He’s adopted me as his child, placed his Spirit in my heart and will send you to complete this grace work one Day—a redemption so glorious, so spectacular that it includes the gathering of your pan-national Bride and the renewing of the entire cosmos. Astonishing!

And now, the Holy Spirit constantly reminds me I’m God’s beloved child, because I’m so prone to forget. He’s also present in my life to make me like you, Lord Jesus, for I can no more change my heart than I can materialize a herd of camels by snapping my fingers. Salvation is of the Lord, from beginning to the glorious end. Keep pressing this gospel into my heart—and protect me from all false gospels. So very Amen I pray, in your priceless and peerless name.

by Scotty Smith, Founding Pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN