This past weekend Winter Jam was held in Des Moines. Yes there were older people there, but it was predominantly a student focused worship and evangelism event. It was an amazing declaration of God’s love. Young people were singing their hearts out for Jesus. Many had brought friends. Many of those friends did not know Jesus.
It got me thinking… Do young people know that they are a powerful witness for Jesus? Do they know how they affect, encourage, and challenge everyone in the body of Christ? I know that much of the leadership in our church is over 25. Some of that is intentional. We intentionally raise up older leaders so that untested individuals aren’t given the burden of leadership before they are ready. Yet when our young people lead through volunteering to serve or volunteering to be a part of worship, they affect the lives of other Christians in profound ways.
Their service and leadership calls to us. It calls us to be witnesses. Their service calls us to remember our passion and love others for the Kingdom with our lives. When younger Christians don’t need to be “in charge,” or “in leadership,” or even “drafted by the pastor” in order to live out their faith in their community; it inspires all of us to ask, “What am I waiting for?!”
If you are a young person, don’t chafe because your community of faith wants to protect you from the heavy burdens that come with leading. Instead, keep showing them your passion, humility, and willingness to shine for Jesus. When you love and shine with joy, you keep proving to yourself and to your family of faith that your desire to follow Jesus is not a passing thing, but it is a permanent part of your life. You are doing the very thing that your church will need you to do so that we can reach the world for Christ.
If you are an older person, open up ways that your young people can serve and share the love of Jesus. You might encourage them to help in VBS. You might invite them to read scripture, give their testimony, and help lead the singing time of your worship service. You might ask them if they would like to work in a new ministry together with YOU! The point is, encourage them to exercise their faith and rejoice when they respond.
Don’t let anyone think less of you just because you are young. Don’t let anyone think less of the young just because they are young. We are on this journey for Jesus together. So, let’s walk together!
What makes your work meaningful for you? Is it the paycheck? Are you climbing the ladder? Is that enough for you or do you need more? What if you are retired? Does getting out of bed in the morning excite you? What about you stay at home moms? Is your work meaningful to you?
There are two ways that work becomes meaningful. I am not talking about work satisfying a need (like paying the bills or keeping us out of trouble). For most of us, our occupation is a necessity. However, God says that it can be more. It doesn’t have to be just a job or a task. It can be meaningful. It can have a deep purpose. It can make us want to jump out of bed in the morning.
How? How can being a button pusher be meaningful? How can changing diapers be meaningful? How can a dead end job be meaningful? What about retirement? How can it be meaningful?
Our Scripture shares two ways we find meaning:
Change who you are serving. We get very focused on who sets our agenda everyday. If that person is good or fun to work with, we can enjoy our work most days. However, small children, cranky bosses, unappreciative managers, and disrespectful coworkers can make it difficult to see the meaningful nature of our work. God encourages us to make a boss change. He encourages us to wake every morning to the reality that it is Jesus who we are serving. It isn’t a person who will let you down and ignore your contributions. It is the loving and giving Son of God who is your true boss. I can work every day for a boss like that. Can’t you?
Change why you are serving. Unless you can work at an occupation that has intrinsic value to you (you really believe in the product or service you are providing), it becomes easy for work to lack meaning. However, if every day we see our work as an investment in eternity that changes it. We aren’t just turning bolts or typing on keyboards. We are investing in the future. We are investing in people. We are seeking to plant seeds in the lives of people for Jesus. No, you don’t have to be a pastor to do this. We all do it all the time. Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes by accident. When we do it on purpose, it changes not only the people around us, but it also changes us. It gives new worth to each day.
So, what about you? Will you work for the same boss that you did yesterday, or will you now work for Jesus? Will you just do the job and pursue the paycheck, or will you also reinvest in the future of those around you for Jesus’ sake?
Everyone has an idea of what they are capable of. Sometimes it comes from training. Our athletes, soldiers, and doctors have this idea. They have been trained for a job. It becomes second nature to them and they know that they can do it. Their training has tested them. Their training has also showed them that they can do what they need to do in their field. Sometimes our idea of what we are capable of comes from the encouragement of others. A parent, a big brother or sister, or a respected family member or friend intentionally encourages us to see our potential they way they do. At other times our idea of what we can do comes from our experiences. We experience success or disappointment and we conclude that our abilities must reflect those experiences. We believe our failures or the offhand comments that people make about our stumbles and agree that they must be right.
Yet, what do you do when the people or person who knows you best disagrees with your experience? Do you believe them or your experience? What if the one who knows you and loves you believes that you can do more and be more than your experience has taught you thus far? Who will you believe?
This is the great challenge of daily living by faith with Jesus. Our experiences so often teach us that sin always wins and that we cannot truly walk by faith. They tell us that our actions and reactions are simply natural. Yet, we hear Jesus call us to abide in Him. (John 15) We are told that we can live by the Spirit rather than the flesh. He tells us that we can have faith!
Now comes the hard part: who will we listen to? Will we listen to our experiences or Jesus. Which vision of our life will we embrace? Will we embrace a natural vision where sin is inevitable? Or will we embrace a supernatural vision where faith overcomes the flesh?
There is a choice here. It is a choice of who will we believe. God puts it this way through the apostle,:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please…If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16-17, 25)
Do you hear the choice? You can live by the Spirit. You can live by the flesh. If you Jesus is your Savior then the choice is truly before you. Will you believe it? Will you embrace Jesus’ vision for your life?
This is our challenge this week – Be transformed by Christ’s vision of man. Will you live by that different vision?
When was the last time you thought of how important gratitude is to following Jesus? Although I have many thoughts on the subject, I am not the first or the most eloquent thinker about gratitude. The following is a quote from Pastor John Piper. He has spoken and written extensively about gratitude and how it works in us for God’s purposes.
He writes, “Gratitude is a virtue most worthy of our cultivation. Indeed, in all the Christian life, gratitude is to be planted, watered, dressed, and harvested. Gratitude gets at the very essence of what it means to be created, finite, fallen, redeemed, and sustained by the God of all grace.
Ingratitude was at the heart of the fall, and at the heart of what’s fallen about us to this day. “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). Again and again throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, it is gratitude — giving God thanks — that is the fitting response to his gracious acts of deliverance for his people.
My thoughts on this subject can be said succinctly – When we lack gratitude we stumble back into our self-centered and self-focused heart. We make idols out of our own goodness and we become the center of our own lives. God becomes small when we act out of an ungrateful heart.
Pride is an American institution. We have self-made men. We have stars. We have prima donnas. We have divas. We are the wealthiest nation on earth. We put those who look good on camera into the spotlight and make them our role models. We lift up the athlete, the actor, and the musician up on pedestals for everyone to marvel at. We ignore the many faithful teachers, nurses, mothers, and sanitation workers. Yet, where would we be without these folks? Yes, pride is an American institution.
I wonder if we have given real thought into the many times that God has specifically singled out the proud person for criticism in His Word. Or have we given any real thought into the many times that God has intentionally lifted up or praised the person of humble circumstance? Even during the first Christmas God’s thoughts about the proud versus the humble is clear. God picked a poor Jewish woman to carry His Son. He picked a poor Jewish carpenter to be Jesus’ step-dad. He picked shepherds (not the upper class by any stretch of the imagination) to be the first strangers to visit the new King. In fact, the only people of any substance to be involved in the blessed event were foreigners who would not have been well respected in Israel.
Mary said something interesting in her song of praise when she and Elizabeth spent some time together before the birth of their babies. She said that God “has filled the hungry with good things.” and, “has sent away the rich empty-handed.” That makes me think about how often I come to God truly admitting my hunger. Do I really admit how much I need Him? Or do I come with my pride and say, “I’m okay. I just need a little of God today.” What a joke! I don’t need a little of God. I need as much of God as He is willing to give me. I am wretched, naked, and blind. I need His healing. I need His strength. I am in desperate need of nothing less than all of Him! Yet, do I keep propping myself up in my unwillingness to be honest about my need?
What about you? Does humility or pride mark how you approach God? Do you admit your neediness to Him? He fills the hungry with good things while He sends the rich away empty-handed. Does the thought of that fill you with gratitude or resentment? If you are rich are you asking, “Why doesn’t He receive me too?” Maybe that’s the point.
When we think of Christmas preparations we usually think of trees and lights and tinsel and stuff. However, someone else prepared for the coming of Jesus. No, I am not talking about Mary or Joseph. I am talking about God. And I am not talking about the immediate preparation of angels or stars or wisemen. I am talking about a preparation that goes back hundreds, even thousands of years.
We are familiar with God’s prophecies. Yet, the preparation for the coming of Jesus is more than just God’s promise of Christ’s coming. God also prepared us! Yes. He prepared humanity for the coming of Jesus. He prepared us not just for the baby. He prepared us for His message. He prepared us to receive His message.
How? How did God prepare us? He put His law in every heart. What do I mean? The Apostle Paul said in Romans 2, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” (14-15) What does Paul mean? He means that everytime we object to someone’s sin against us or everytime we regret things that we have done wrong we show that we know God’s truth. We know right from wrong. Why does that matter? It matters because right and wrong is that reality that everyone who comes to Jesus walks through. No matter the culture. No matter the philosophy. No matter the language, race, or creed the knowledge that we have a need that must be solved can be understood by all. It is obvious to every honest person that we are imperfect. We fail so miserably. We especially fail our own moral compass.
Why do we even care? We care because God has written the law on our hearts! He has prepared us for Jesus’s coming. The whole world can understand why we need a Savior. Which means that the whole world can understand why we need Jesus. The only question is, “Will we say yes to Him?”
When we feel disappointment sometimes we give ourselves permission to be angry for a while. That’s actually okay. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging how someone has hurt us. In fact, it is healthy to be honest about our feelings. However, there are enough scriptures that warn us about holding onto our hurt to make us think twice about what we are doing with it. We are told that we should, “be angry, and yet do not sin; and do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26) We are warned that no “root of bitterness” should be allowed to spring up in us because that bitterness will be an excuse for sin. (Hebrews 12:15)
In fact, Ephesians 4 :31 & 32 tells us that we should, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Holding onto anger, wrath, and bitterness are all the opposite of walking in faith. They deny the power of grace to change. They declare that fire should be fought with fire. Our hurt tells us that insult should be answered with insult and hurt with hurt. Bitterness tells us that disappointment can never heal and God cannot turn our mourning into dancing.(Jeremiah 31:13) We must see the person we become if we do not walk in faith in the area of disappointment. We become bitter, angry, on edge, and willing to lash out when faced with a similar situation again. Oh, we might still be kind to small children and puppies, but what about everyone else?
Earlier, we saw the second half of John 10:10. Do you remember the first half? It says, “The thief has come only to steal, kill, and destroy.” Isn’t that what holding onto disappointment does to us? It takes away our ability to live in faith through our disappointment. It kills our joy. It destroys today’s miracle happening in our relationships. Is that where we want to be? I don’t think so. We want life. We want joy. We want the abundant life that Jesus has promised us. We don’t want to miss the power of faith in our life. The problem is not what we want. The struggle is giving grace to those who have disappointed us. That is where we walk by faith and not by sight. However, isn’t it worth it? The alternative certainly is not!
Make the choice to start over… it is walking by faith
So, before we can see and rejoice in what God can do through our struggles, we must answer the question: will I live by faith in the midst of my disappointment? Or, to put it in everyday language: will I start over with those who have disappointed me? That is quite the faith walk, isn’t it? As a good friend used to tell me, now I’ve gone from preaching to meddling! Yet, right next to real forgiveness, starting over is both the most profound human expression of God’s grace and the riskiest stepping out in faith that most of us ever do. Starting over with that person who has hurt and disappointed us declares that we believe in the grace we have trusted. Starting over says that we believe that God is redeeming us, and He is redeeming us not just for Heaven but also for today. We believe that God truly can give back what the locusts have eaten. (Joel 2:25)
It’s not a feeling. It’s not a warm fuzzy. The other person may not be ready. However, God says that forgiveness and starting over will transform our life. He doesn’t say that it will make us feel better right away. If that always happened it wouldn’t be faith, now would it? No, God is not asking his followers to embrace a warm fuzzy. He is certainly not asking us to do the easy or comfortable. No, God is asking us to believe and act on the impossible.
We all have days where we are just fed up with the disappointments of life. However if we don’t start over, more and more of our days become like that. Disappointment becomes a wound that life is always bumping into. Starting over is one of God’s healing balms for those wounds. The first measure of that healing comes as we can see our struggles and disappointments in a completely new light. Peter says that we can, “greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) Imagine that. You and I can have such a perspective on our life that our disappointments don’t dim our rejoicing. Those disappointments are put in perspective. They aren’t the end of the world. They aren’t pointless. God is redeeming us. God is redeeming even those disappointments. How can you see such a thing? We can see it when we trust God’s promises and start over today.
Remember what we learned a couple of weeks ago: God knows disappointment. He asked Hosea the prophet to be a living example of His disappointment. We too, know disappointment. Now, what will we do about it? That’s the question, isn’t it? This is where faith intersects life in our disappointments. Faith does not always protect us from people disappointing us. Faith doesn’t shield us from circumstances that aren’t what we want them to be. No, in this area faith’s job is not so much to protect as it is to overcome and thrive.
Thrive? Has a disappointment got you asking how? Do you wonder how the pieces will ever go back together? Perhaps what you expect is that you will continue to go through the motions, but surviving and existing is really all you are expecting. This is the temptation. This is what disappointment does to us. It tells us that we can’t do any better, relationships will always fail, or circumstances will never improve. It tells us we have little or no hope. Yet, that is not the message of the gospel. God has quite a different message! He says that there is hope!
Here comes the fun (hard) part. Faith may not protect us from hurts like this. Instead, faith leads us overcome and thrive. Thrive? Jesus said, “I am come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) Faith says that this promise must be for me too. This means me. No matter the struggle. No matter the disappointment. No matter the pain. Jesus came to give me an abundant life. That’s what faith says. Disappointment says something quite different. Disappointment says that it is hopeless. Disappointment says that a full life is for other people. So, what is the magic formula for getting the abundant life? (BTW – it isn’t a magic formula!)
Faith calls to make a choice – start over or embrace bitterness.
For those of you who are going through this kind of thing in your own life, thank you for sticking with me. It isn’t enough to hear that you reflect God, is it? I had thought about starting this section by talking about how God can use our pain to help others, but it’s not enough that we can be a minister in our pain, is it? Before we can rejoice in being Hosea to our friends and family or rejoice in helping others with their pain, we want the answer to the mystery of our own struggle. How can I live abundantly after such disappointment? The answer is found in what both Hosea and God offered the ones who had so disappointed them. The answer is to start over. This is the secret that alludes so many down trodden souls. This is what happens when forgiveness is real. This is what is missing when we pray for forgiveness from God and yet can’t forgive ourselves. It is what the father offered the prodigal son and what Jesus lived out with Simon Peter, the woman caught in adultery, and the woman who washed Jesus’ feet. All of them were invited to start over.
Starting over. The words seem so simple, yet it is in living out those words that the tremendous power of faith emerges in our everyday life. Think about what our faith in Jesus teaches us. It teaches us that grace can truly change a life. Our faith does not teach us that a reformed life deserves grace. That would be works – and quite frankly is nonsense. Reformation does not erase the hurt. No one can earn forgiveness. No amount of good works can lesson disappointment. No, our faith teaches us that the invitation to start over is completely a grace thing. It is a decision on the part of the one who was hurt (God) to start over with the one who did the hurting (us). We didn’t earn the invitation. God simply gave it. He decided to start over with us. God believes that faith will transform us. God believes that His invitation can and will make a real difference. That is the power of grace.
Our faith declares that such a truth doesn’t just flow from God to us. Like Hosea, we are God’s men and women who can live that way everyday. The call of our faith is to follow God’s example. The call of our faith is to start over by believing that living in grace makes a real difference. That is walking by faith, isn’t it? To start over with those who have disappointed us, especially when we are deeply hurt, is a flesh and blood declaration of our belief in the power of grace. It is this belief that Peter encourages women to live in when he says that they should win their husbands, “over without words… when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (2 Peter 3:1b-2) In other words, as they live in grace with their families, women who have unbelieving spouses will make a difference in the lives of those precious people. They don’t make the change by being brash or angry. They don’t influence them by nagging or pointing out how they are always right. The women transform their homes by living out grace. Living that out is faith!
In the same chapter, Peter tells all Christians to live out this grace – even when we are punished for doing good. He says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16, emphasis mine) Did you catch that last part? Basically, Peter declares this – I live in grace with others and God will work a miracle on their attitude and change it in my favor! That is the power that God declares that grace has when we live it out. God tells us that lived out grace changes people and life in profoundly wonderful ways. When we have been deeply disappointed, our faith is supposed make it possible for us to live out that truth. We can, by faith, start over.
I think that is enough to think on for today. Next time, we will think a bit about the alternative to starting over – bitterness. For now, hear the challenge of faith in your life. Consider the challenge of the prophet Hosea to start over. Pray about who you need to start over with to see God’s miracle of lived out grace.
This past week we celebrated Thanksgiving. Yet, I wonder how often we really have given thanks. I mean, it is one thing to utter the simple, “Thank you.” It is quite another to truly give thanks. Do we even understand how powerful thanksgiving is? God has said in His Word that refusing to give thanks is part of what leads us to be estranged from Him. (Romans 1:20-21) We are told by God to give thanks in everything. (1 Thessalonians 5:18) And the giving of thanks by one leper astounded Jesus. (Luke 17:12-19)
I think that thanksgiving, like forgiveness, has the power in our spiritual lives that water has in the physical world. Yes, water appears to be just a nice, helpful addition to our world. Yet, water can create and destroy with breath-taking power. We carve rock with water. Ice cracks even the strongest structures. Water fills our bodies and our cells and allows nutrients and energy to pass through us. Water keeps us alive! We take it for granted. Yet, water is one of the strongest forces in the universe.
This is thanksgiving. It sets right our relationship with God. It transforms our thinking and prepares us to see the work of God in the world. Thanksgiving protects us from becoming proud, forgetful, and taking things for granted. May thanksgiving be much more than a single day. May giving God thanks be our every day practice. May we we be truly thankful as we step into the next weeks.