Posts Tagged “2 Corinthians”

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
2 Corinthians 5:20a (NIV)

I was shopping at Walmart the other day and a sales associate smiled and greeted me as I walked by. His greeting took me by surprise and put a smile on my face.

And the Holy Spirit used the opportunity to remind me that I am Christ’s ambassador…and then to ask me how that was going. The answer – not nearly as well as the Lord and I would like it to be. You see, I keep forgetting to act like an ambassador. The Walmart associate was doing a better job that day of being an ambassador for Walmart than I was at being an ambassador for the Lord. Ouch!

I once took a missions trip, and throughout the trip, I was so aware that my behavior represented Christ to the people around me. I made a point of smiling and being pleasant and talking about the goodness of God. Throughout the trip, I was mindful that I wanted people to see Christ in me, their hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

Then I came home. And I returned to life as usual. I don’t want to live my life as usual in 2015. I want God to use me to impact the Kingdom of God. That requires living life as an ambassador for Christ. Let’s put the verse in context:

16So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

18And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NLT)

One of the purposes God has given us – and it’s one He will infuse with His power as we perform it (read this blog for more on that topic) – is telling others about Christ. That’s what this passage says, but it wraps in it in a bit of a different package.

God, through Christ, took the initiative to reconcile the world to Himself. That means He took the first step to restore the relationship between sinful man and holy God. That reconciliation is possible because God no longer counts our sin against us. That’s His gift to us. We are forgiven. And being forgiven, our relationship with Him is restored to the way God originally intended it to be – loving, intimate and ongoing.

He’s given us the message of reconciliation – in other words, He wants us to tell others that they can be reconciled with God, just as we are. God is making His appeal to the world through us – you and me. In other words, we are Christ’s ambassadors. We speak and act for Him.

An ambassador is “the highest-ranking person who represents his or her own government while living in another country” (Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary).

  • We’re not flunkies! As ambassadors for Christ, we are people of high stature and authority. We speak for the King. We’ll need to study what the King would say and how the King would respond to situations we encounter if we want to represent Him well.
  • We represent the government of our true home – God’s Kingdom. To do so, we must know as much as we can about our country – God’s Kingdom. Its values, customs and goals are significantly different from our earthly country.
  • We live in a country that is not our home. While we’re here on earth, we’re just passing through – earth is not our home. Lord, help me to live that way! Someone who is just passing through travels light. I confess that I’ve accumulated too much stuff to be considered one who is traveling light!

It’s important for us to get all three of those points firmly planted in our minds and spirits. Being confident of these things, we can fulfill our role as ambassador effectively. When we lose sight of any of those points, our ambassadorship is hindered. We don’t live or act in the authority of the King, we don’t represent Him well or we become too preoccupied with the way things are done in our temporary country.

While living in our temporary home, it’s important that we have a Kingdom perspective. Verse 16 reminds us that we should not evaluate others from a worldly or human perspective. In other words, everyone we meet is a child of God, create in His image, loved by Him. God wants to shower His love on each person we meet. He wants each person to join us with Him in eternity. Do you view people from this perspective when you meet them?

Lord, change my perspective. Help me to see others as you see them. Help me to love others from a Kingdom perspective and in a Kingdom way.

I want to be a better representative of Christ in 2015. How about you?

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Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful.
2 Corinthians 13:11a (NLT)

As I put the finishing touches on my last blog, I went to back to Scripture and looked up verses with the words “be joyful” in them. I found a lot of reasons for which we can be joyful. I didn’t think they belonged in the previous blog – that one seemed to be more restful than instructive. So let me follow it up with this list of reasons to be joyful.

Let me first say that there are many reasons people don’t allow themselves to experience joy. Guilt and fear are two of the most prominent.

  • Guilt that you are experiencing joy and others aren’t, guilt that you’re taking the time to experience joy when you should be doing any of a number of things, or guilt over anything the enemy can convince you to feel guilty about.
  • Fear that the joy will be taken away from you, fear that you have made a mistake (and therefore shouldn’t be relaxing in the joy), fear of living in general, or fear of anything the enemy can convince you to be afraid of.

My goal is to remind us that God wants us to be joyful and to identify some specific things that He’s told us to be joyful about. I want to open the door for the Holy Spirit to remove the guilt or fear that keeps you from experiencing joy, as well as open some new doors to rooms in which perhaps you’ve never experienced joy before.

Be Joyful for Holidays and Take Joy in Them

Be joyful at your Feast–you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.
Deuteronomy 16:14 (NIV)

It may seem that I’m stretching this a bit, and perhaps I am, but in the Old Testament God established and commanded a series of feasts throughout the year. They had different purposes, but many were simply celebrations of God’s goodness and provision. Most Christians do not celebrate the Old Testament feasts. (I do not but think it would be a fascinating year if I were to incorporate all the feasts – and I’m guessing I would greatly benefit from it. If this interests you, the best approach may be to find a Messianic congregation to become a part of. Don’t be shy – go for it!)

I think we can extend the spirit of the feasts to recognize that God has given us times of rest and rejoicing and that we should be joyful in those. As I read about the Old Testament feasts, they seem like holy vacations that the Israelites were commanded to take each year! Vacations! Holidays! And they were commanded to take them! And they were to rejoice in them.

Incorporating the Lord in your next vacation is another blog waiting to be written, but suffice it to say in this blog that you can enjoy your vacations! Take them responsibly (that is, don’t spend the money for your next mortgage payment on them), then enjoy them.

Be Joyful in Your Success

Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.
Deuteronomy 16:115 (NIV)

You will enjoy the fruit of your labor. How joyful and prosperous you will be!
Psalm 128:2 (NLT)

We’re not to be prideful when we’ve completed a job well and when we are successful, but we are to take joy in it. “God will bless…all the work of your hands so that you will be altogether joyful.” God blesses us for many reasons, but this verse tells us that one of those reasons is to increase our enjoyment of life – to increase our joy. So don’t feel guilty about your success. Enjoy it!

Experience the Joy of God’s Protection and His Refuge

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy.
Psalm 5:11 (NLT)

We can have joy because we know – we know – that God is our defender. When it seems like the world is against us, we can be joyful in God – in the One who knows us best and defends. In the one who says “that one is mine.”

We can look for the adventure because God will work it out. He will come riding in on a white horse and save us. What joy that will be! That’s the shouting kind of joy.

In the meantime, He gives us a place of refuge and we can rejoice in that. That’s the quiet, inner peace kind of joy.

Be Joyful in God’s Salvation

And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD;
It shall rejoice in His salvation.
Psalm 35:9 (NKJV)

So the ransomed of the LORD will return And come with joyful shouting to Zion, And everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Isaiah 51:11 (NASB)

God has saved you. Rejoice in His love and in your salvation. Don’t just celebrate, meditate on it so that you experience the joy of freedom that is possible through the salvation He has given you. We have been ransomed! We were slaves to sin. Christ paid the ransom to set us free. That’s how much He loves us. Rejoice! Be joyful!

Be Joyful in Knowing that God will Rescue You

25:10  [The Lord says:] “I will take away your happy singing and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard. Your millstones will fall silent, and the lights in your homes will go out.”

33:10“This is what the LORD says: You have said, ‘This is a desolate land where people and animals have all disappeared.’ Yet in the empty streets of Jerusalem and Judah’s other towns, there will be heard once more 11the sounds of joy and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will be heard again, along with the joyous songs of people bringing thanksgiving offerings to the LORD. They will sing, ‘Give thanks to the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, for the LORD is good. His faithful love endures forever!’ For I will restore the prosperity of this land to what it was in the past, says the LORD.
Jeremiah 25:10 , 33:10-11 (NLT)

No matter what you’ve done or where you have been exiled – God will rescue you because you are His. No matter how dark your situation seems today, God will turn it around. Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning – and there’s always a morning after every night.

Be Joyful Knowing that You Are Loved

The LORD your God is with you; the mighty One will save you. He will rejoice over you. You will rest in his love; he will sing and be joyful about you.
Zephaniah 3:17 (NCV)

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

Not only can we take joy in God’s salvation – or rather, the salvation He has given us – we can be joyful knowing the joy He takes in us. We sing in worship to the Lord. We sing for joy when life is good. God sings for joy about us! Wow! The Creator of the Universe rejoices over me. I am blown away by that.

Be Joyful Because You Have Hope

Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times.
Romans 12:12 (NCV)

There is no such thing as hopeless for the one who Trusts in Christ. We always have hope. Always. And that’s reason enough to rejoice. As I said earlier, we can experience life as an adventure, watching with anticipation to see how God is going to come through in the current challenge…and the next one and the next one.

Friends joy need not be an elusive thing for the believer. When our hearts, minds and spirits are focused on these things, we can have joy – abundant joy. It’s part of the “abundant life” package God has given us.

Enjoy it!

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Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.
2 Corinthians 13:11 (NLT)

The closing of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was part of my reading this morning, and I was arrested by these words. They are words I needed to hear.

“Be joyful” he wrote. He didn’t write “try to be joyful.” He wrote “be joyful.” This has been a year of hard work for me. We have been so busy in our office that nearly our whole life has been about work. Every other area of my life has suffered except for my personal relationship with God and with Phil. OK, maybe they have suffered, too. They are still solid, but I recognize that I am missing those special times that keep them solid. Phil and I haven’t had a nice dinner together in quite a while.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re thankful for the work. Last year was an exceedingly slow year for us, so God is using this busy time to pay our bills and fill up our depleted reserves. He is providing and we are thankful. But am I joyful? Well, in all honesty, I am probably more tired.

I feel like my life has become too “business” and “busy-ness” and joyful has been put aside a bit. Lord, help me to be joyful.

As I write that, the question that immediately pops into my head is…how do I do that? Is it another thing I have to work at? And the answer comes…well – yes and no. Our joy comes from the Lord, but we must position ourselves to receive it. Metaphorically speaking, we must put our hands out to receive the gift of joy that He wants to give us. OK, how do I do that?

  1. Rest in Him – Enjoy the gift of the Sabbath He’s commanded. OK, I’ve been falling down on that a bit. On those Sundays when I minister at nursing homes, I’m not setting aside another day to practice a Sabbath. God uses the Sabbath to refresh us and open our spirits to Him.
  2. Ask for it – During a recent Bible study one of the topics of conversation was an encouragement for us to ask God for what we want. So often we just wish for something. We are to ask. We are to ask in faith and persistence. Lord, help me return to your joy!
  3. Look for it – We find what we look for – that was the subject of my last blog. Sometimes I forget to look for joy. If I want to find it, I need to look for God’s joy – the way my dog jumps and spins around in the air, the way plants grow from little seeds to sprouts to vegetables or flowers or trees, the intricate pattern of a spider’s web, the smile on my husband’s face, the feel of the warmth of the sun or cool of the morning. Those are all kisses of joy from the Father. Am I looking for those things and pausing to appreciate those things, to allow them to restore my joy?
  4. Rest in Him – Yes, I’m repeating this one. It’s hard to find joy when you’re overtired. I believe that the creativity God has given each of us is a little corner of His joy. Resting in Him restores our creativity.

There’s a whole lot more in Paul’s closing remarks, but it feels to me like pursuing the next thought would cause me to lose this one. And for me, this first thought is enough for today. Perhaps it is for you as well. Do you need to experience more joy? I do. Will you join me in pursuing it? Don’t let life keep you from finding it.

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I was watching a video clip of the Christian comedian Jeanne Robertson [http://www.jeannerobertson.com/] the other day and she said something that has stuck with me. What she said was “You find what you’re looking for.”

You find what you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for a fight…you’ll find one, right? You know why? Because your attitude will bring on confrontation.

If you’re looking for someone to make a mistake, they will. You know why? Because that person is human! And because you’re watching for the mistakes, you won’t see the hundred things they do right…but you will see the one thing they do wrong.

What a sad state! It’s made even sadder by the consequences it brings. In your life it leads to becoming disappointed in those around us and leads to a life of discouragement, bitterness and depression. All because you were looking for someone to make a mistake. In the lives of others, it also brings discouragement and frustration. Even if they are emotionally strong enough to realize they aren’t inferior because someone keeps finding fault with them, their life is less enjoyable because they still have to be around those who criticize. If they are not so emotionally strong, you may just convince them that they are a failure. I’ll repeat myself…what a sad state.

I don’t want to live that way, although I confess to sometimes being that person.

I agree with Jeanne Robertson – we find what we’re looking for. So why not look for the good? Why not look for the good in our circumstances and in people? Zig Ziglar called this being a “good finder” – find the good in people and circumstances and respond to that. Scripture puts it a different way –

Brothers and sisters, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected.
Philippians 4:8 (NCV)

If we think about these things, we won’t be looking for a fight. We won’t be looking for someone to make a mistake. We’ll be looking for things to praise. We’ll be looking for things that are good and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respectable. We’ll see the good in people and circumstances.

Scripture says that all of us are created in the image of God. So if I say “well, that person is no good” what am I saying? I’m calling God a liar. Because the truth is that God has put goodness in each of us.

Now He’s also given each of us a free will – that is, a choice – of whether to pursue that goodness or to pursue things of the world. But as believers – those who have chosen to pursue God with our whole hearts – our job is to encourage others to make the same choice – to choose to pursue God.

What commission has Jesus given us? To go and tell everyone about Him – to encourage others to follow Him. To help them find the goodness He has for them. (Scripture tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from Him.)

We can’t others find the goodness of God unless we’ve found it – the goodness He has given us and the goodness He has placed all around us. And we don’t find that when we’re looking for a fight or looking for mistakes.

In 2 Corinthians 5, we read that the devil has blinded the minds of those who do not believe. They cannot see the light of the Good News – the Good News about the glory of Christ.

They can’t find God because of the darkness that surrounds them. But God has made His light shine in the hearts of those who follow Him – that light is the knowledge of the glory of God. It is knowing Jesus and the joy and protection and love and help and comfort that He gives. Knowing Jesus changes us…but only if we allow it. He puts that light in our heart – but if we want, we can still choose to look for the darkness – look for a fight or for someone to make a mistake. But God says “Let the light shine out of the darkness.”

Jesus described us as “the light of the world.”

14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”   
Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

We’re not being that light when we’re telling others what they’ve done wrong. We’re being the light when we’re showing them the joy that is in us.

Now if you’re like me, there are days when you wake up and it’s hard to find that joy and it’s hard not to be critical of everyone around us. It’s at those times that we need to take a deep breath and ask God to work through us – because we just can’t do it ourselves. We can’t be the person who shows Jesus to the world because all we want to do is complain. I’ve been there. Sometimes it seems like I’m there every morning.

The Apostle Paul understood that. Continuing in 2 Corinthians 5, he wrote this:

“We have this treasure from God – that is, knowing Him, knowing His goodness, having seen His glory – we have this treasure, but we are like clay jars that hold the treasure.” In other words, we’re not up to the task of holding this valuable treasure.

It’s like putting a precious diamond on string around your neck. There’s something wrong with that picture! A precious diamond belongs in a beautiful gold setting. Or it’s like serving the most expensive and tasty meal on paper plates! No, they deserve to be served on fine china!

But God has entrusted the Good News – which really should be called the Best News – the news that Jesus is alive and that He loves us and offers His forgiveness in exchange for our love – He is serving that rich, delicious nugget on a paper plate – and we’re the plates!

He has chosen the simple to confound the wise. We’re the simple. He has chosen the poor to teach the rich. We’re the poor. He has chosen us – with all our faults and weaknesses. He has placed the treasure of knowing Him in clay jars.

Why would He do that? Paul gives us the reason – to show “that the great power is from God, not from us.”

On our own, we can’t be the person who always thinks on good things, things that are worthy of praise, things that are true and honorable and pure and beautiful. Because in our own strength, sometimes we’re the people who just want to complain.

But the beauty of knowing God is that we don’t live life on our own. At those times, we turn to God, who has put His Holy Spirit in us, and we say “Lord, live your life through me. Lord, help me show your light to others. Lord, Your word says that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Give me strength now, Lord.”

It’s only with the help of the Holy Spirit that Paul was able to write the verses that follow:

8We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We do not know what to do, but we do not give up the hope of living. 9We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed. 10We carry the death of Jesus in our own bodies so that the life of Jesus can also be seen in our bodies. 11We are alive, but for Jesus we are always in danger of death so that the life of Jesus can be seen in our bodies that die.
>2 Corinthians 5:8-11

In this life we will have troubles. With the Holy Spirit in us, we are not defeated. In this life there are times when we don’t know what to do – there are times when everything seems hopeless – but in God, we don’t give up because we have Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Paul continued in verse 16:

16So we do not give up. Our physical body is becoming older and weaker, but our spirit inside us is made new every day. 17We have small troubles for a while now, but they are helping us gain an eternal glory that is much greater than the troubles.
2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Our spirit inside us is made new every day. No matter what’s happening with our bodies on the outside, our spirits are renewed every day. God’s mercies are new every morning. So every morning, we return to Him and say “God, help me today. Help me to find Your goodness and help me shine the love of Jesus to those around me.”

I started this article with the quote from Jeanne Robertson – we find what we look for. Jeremiah 29, verses 13 and 14 say that “‘When you look for me, you will find me when you look for me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.”

God promises that you will find what you’re looking for when you’re looking for Him. What a great and compassionate and merciful God we serve. He promises that we will find Him when we look for Him with our whole heart.

The Apostle Paul ends our passage in 2 Corinthians 5 with this encouragement:

We set our eyes not on what we see but on what we cannot see. What we see will last only a short time, but what we cannot see will last forever.

What we see, friends, is all the hardship around us. What we see are troubles. What we see are people making mistakes that affect us. God tells us to lift our eyes – look for the good – look for Him – every moment of every day. When you do, your world will change. Yes, all the difficulties will still be there, but what fills your mind will be those things that are good and beautiful and worthy of praise. Your heart will be filled with joy because your mind is set on what we cannot see just yet – our eternity with a compassionate and merciful God. Friends, think on these things – that which is true and honorable and right and pure. Set your mind on Jesus.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

Being conformed to the image of Christ means thinking as He thinks and acting as He acts. In the previous blog, we learned that it God “has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32, NIV) In the New Living Translation, it’s worded just a little differently:

“…it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”
Luke 12:32 (NLT)

It brings God joy to give. And I’m thinking the more He gives, the more joy it brings. After all, He’s not just giving us an enjoyable evening or basic provisions. He gives abundantly. He gives us the kingdom. He gives us salvation. He gives us “everything we need for living a Godly life.” (2 Peter 1:3, NLT) That’s over-the-top giving.

He’s given us the Holy Spirit. He’s given us gifts to use in fulfilling the calling that He’s given us – the purpose He’s given us for our lives.

All this and heaven, too.

He’s given us a family (Psalm 68:6). He’s given us freedom from condemnation (Romans 8:1). He gives us the power to be transformed (Romans 12:1). He’s given us His love. Whew! That’s the most precious gift. That the God who created the universe has given me His love, His heart.

All this and heaven, too.

Why? Because “it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”

Does giving bring you joy? It will if you allow it, because you are made in the image of God. You carry His DNA, and His DNA derives joy from giving.

But sometimes it’s a joy that you have to learn because in our sinful nature, it is counter-intuitive to us. In our sinful nature, I think I will have more joy if I get more stuff. But God has never hoarded His stuff. He lavishes it upon us. In our sinful nature, I think I will have more joy if I am more powerful. But God has never hoarded His power – He gives us free will – the absolute antithesis of hoarding power. He also has given us power and authority beyond our ability to comprehend and often beyond our ability to use wisely. Still, He trusts us with it.

So we have to learn to give. We have to write that first check or give away that favorite possession. We learn to experience joy through the joy of the recipient. And when that isn’t expressed, we learn that God is smiling at our generosity. Scripture says that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) and “will bless you in everything you do” when you give generously to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:1).

God gives to us when we give to others. Let’s look at the 2 Corinthians passage:

7You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.
2 Corinthians 9:7-8 (NLT)

God will generously provide all our needs – so much that we will have plenty left over to share with others. Which sounds to me like viciously wonderful cycle – we give generously which pleases God and he then generously provides for our needs so that we have plenty left over so we can give generously so He can bless generously so we can…

But check out the verse in the NIV:

7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:7-8 (NIV)

I LOVE verse 8. It’s actually our company’s verse. “And God is ABLE to make ALL GRACE abound to you, so that in ALL things, at ALL times, having ALL that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (Emphasis mine, of course.)

God gives all we need – not just physically, but also emotionally, relationally, and spiritually – He is able to make ALL GRACE ABOUND to you so that you have ALL that you need. And when will he do it? ALL the time. Why? So that we can be successful – abounding in every good work.

God’s heart is to give.

When we live from God’s heart, we also give. We give our time, our talent, our money and possessions and our heart.

Who are you giving to today? My new sister-in-law told me that she doesn’t ever go to bed without doing something nice for someone. If she hasn’t done something nice by bedtime, she goes to the local store to find someone in need. Perhaps it’s just helping someone reach something. Perhaps it’s helping someone pay their bill. Perhaps it’s providing an encouragement to someone who just needs to know that someone cares. There are lots of ways to give.

Do you think she always feels like it? I doubt that she does. But she’s learned the joy of giving. She’s learned that it changes who we are from the inside out. And it brings God joy.

Who are you giving to today? Challenge yourself to give above and beyond joyfully.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.
2 Corinthians 8:2 (NLT)

God’s very nature is one of generosity, the most significant act being the giving of His son:

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 (NLT)

God gave. He didn’t stand back and offer advice. He didn’t point us to yet another verse of Scripture. He gave. By nature, He wants to share. He wants to share His Kingdom with us. He wants us to share in Christ’s glory. He wants us to live with Him in heaven.

When we reflect God’s heart, we become a person of generosity. Whether we have much or little.

I find that generosity springs out of a heart filled with joy. Yes, there are other characteristics that bring us to generosity. Compassion, for example, motivates us to action. Yet it is joy that motivates us to give generously and without anxiety or hesitancy. A heart overflowing with joy wants to share it.

Think back to a time when you were in the midst of great joy – perhaps when you were first in love or at the birth of your child. You wanted to share that joy with everyone. “Drinks are on me!” is the stereotypical worldly example. In response to some great thing in his life, the buyer wants to share his joy.

“Their abundant joy has overflowed in rich generosity” Paul wrote about the Macedonians. Their joyful heart – the joy they had found in knowing and serving God – was the impetus for great generosity…even in the midst of many troubles and poverty. It is not wealth that causes us to be generous. We can all probably think of someone who is wealthy but not at all generous. It is out of our joy that generosity springs forth without reservation.

Paul had more to say about the generosity of the Macedonians:

2They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. 3For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. 4They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. 5They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.
2 Corinthians 8:2-5 (NLT)

  • The Macedonians gave more than they could afford to give. Far more.
  • The Macedonians begged for the privilege of sharing.
  • The Macedonians gave themselves first to the Lord, then to others.

It is giving themselves to the Lord first that gave them the joy from which to give generously.

A joyful heart will lead to a generous heart and spirit. If you are giving sparingly or begrudgingly, give yourself first to the Lord. When you are experiencing the joy of the Lord – joy, despite your circumstances – act upon that joy and share it with others.

God’s heart is a joyful and giving one. He longs to share His joy with you and give you the joy of sharing it with others. Don’t resist him! To whom will you give joyfully today?

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Paul’s prayers are wonderful. They go so far beyond what we typically pray. His prayer for the Ephesians is just one example. As Matthew Henry puts it, Paul doesn’t pray “that they might be freed from persecution; nor that they might possess the riches, honours, or pleasures of the world; but the great thing he prays for is the illumination of their understandings, and that their knowledge might increase and abound.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary of the Whole Bible, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 689)

Like I said, not your typical prayer. Let’s look at it.

17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
Ephesians 1:17-21 (NIV)

Paul begins by saying that he “keeps asking” – Paul doesn’t say a quick prayer and consider the topic addressed. He continually prays that the Lord would give the Ephesians the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they may know the Lord better. What a great prayer. Oh how I want people praying that for me! (Feel free to pause in your reading and do so right now.)

I find it interesting that earlier in the chapter Paul praised God for two things related to this prayer:

He gave God praise because He has blessed us “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding” (v7b-8).

He praised God because “He has made known to us the mystery of His will” (v9a).

Having already written that God has blessed us with these things, Paul then went on to pray for them – that God  would give the Ephesians the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that they might know Him better. I’m reminded that it’s important to pray for the things that God has already blessed us with. God has blessed us but many of those blessings are apprehended through prayer. So go ahead! Ask Him to bless you with all spiritual blessings. Ask Him for greater revelation. Even when you are experiencing those blessings – go ahead and ask for a greater measure of them. For yourself and for those around you.

Notice the purpose of the wisdom and revelation – so that we might know Him better. It’s not wisdom for the sake of wisdom or revelation so that we might impress other people. It’s wisdom and revelation so that we can know God better. In my experience, knowing God better always leads to loving Him more. God blesses us with the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we might love Him more.

Wisdom and revelation are “head knowledge” (albeit head knowledge that leads to heart knowledge). Paul then goes on to pray for “heart knowledge.” He prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.” Two great points in that prayer: (1) that we would know that we are people of hope and (2) that we are people of calling. Earlier in the chapter Paul wrote this:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
Ephesians 1:4 (NIV)

If you know Christ, you are called by Him to be a witness for Him. You have been chosen to be holy and blameless in God’s sight. It’s not holiness of our own making, although we’re to live a life that is pleasing to God. Yet no matter how hard we try, we will do things that are not pleasing to Him. Still, through the blood of Christ, we are holy and blameless in His sight. Without the blood of Christ, He sees our sin. Through the blood of Christ we are holy and blameless.

If you know Christ, you have a hope that goes beyond anything this world can give. The word translated as hope in the Bible means “confident expectation.” You have a confident expectation of the end game – and it’s not riches and a leisurely life. It is eternity with a loving, all-powerful God. It is the confidence that you have been blessed with every spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3). It is the confident expectation that He is always with you – never leaving or forsaking you (Joshua 1:5).  It is the confident expectation that when you have breathed your last breath on earth, you will be in His presence (2 Corinthians 5:8). That’s the hope to which we’ve been called. The world doesn’t have those hopes. The world is negative because they see only the negative the world offers. Chistians – people called by God – are positive because they have hope. We are a people of hope. Hallelujah. Lord, when I forget that, please remind me.

Paul then prays that we would know the tremendous power God has for those who believe. I wrote about that as part of our “Living God’s Heart Series.” Check out the blog titled “A Beating Heart.”

Friends…

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
9And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.    
Ephesians 1:3-10 (NIV)

…As Believers, we are blessed, chosen, called, redeemed, forgiven, lavished with wisdom and understanding, and called. No wonder Paul calls us people of hope. Let’s live it!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NIV)

Being in Christ – saying “yes” to God’s Lordship – gives us new roles and responsibilities. One of those roles is that of reconciler. God reconciled us to Himself and has now given us the ministry reconciliation. Our message is to be the same as Paul’s – a heartfelt “Be reconciled to God.”

The word “reconcile” means “to restore to friendship or harmony; to settle or resolve” (www.merriam-webster.com). That is our job – to be one who brings reconciliation.

And it’s pretty hard to do that job wholeheartedly when I am harboring an offense against someone. No matter how hard I try to suppress or hide it, I’m not successful. I’m just not that good an actor. And hopefully you aren’t either! Because being a good actor in this case, simply means being good at deception. We don’t want to be deceivers, we want to be people of love. People who have worked through anything we might be tempted to have against a person.

One of the marks of Christian maturity is not being easily offended. Francis Frangipane refers to this as having an unoffendable heart. Of all the heart conditions we’ve studied so far this year, I think this one takes the most work. This one requires that I choose to turn my back on intentional and unintentional attempts to offend me. It means that I choose not to take offense. It means that I choose to forgive even before there is a need to forgive. It’s so much easier (in the natural) to take offense and hold onto a grudge!

I can’t choose to have an unoffendable heart without the love of Christ in me and without making a decision to let His love rule my heart. His love overlooks offenses. It is patient, kind, not prideful or rude or self-seeking. It keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5) The person who is easily offended isn’t characterized by those things. They are not patient with others. They do not respond kindly when they are offended, and their pride makes them easily offended. In not letting go of an offense, they are keeping a record of wrongs against them. Which, of course, makes them more easily offended with each interaction.

The disciples asked Jesus “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3, NIV) His answer included the following:

10And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another… 12And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
Matthew 24:10, 12 (KJV)

As the world turns away from Christ, people take offense more easily. That leads to betrayal and hatred. Satan is on the prowl, seeking whom he may devour – one of his tools is to bring you to the point of taking offense. Yes, you!

It can happen so easily – unmet expectations, frustrated progress, or a bad night’s sleep can all lead to slipping in our practice of love.

We can’t develop an unoffendable heart on our own, but Christ has made us a new creature. God has kept His promise from Ezekiel:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

Need help with this one? (I do.) Ask for it.

Lord, help me to develop an unoffendable heart. Remove from me my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. Put the love of Christ within me – filling my heart so there is no room to hold an offense.

 

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartI find that there are certain conditions in my life that lead to holy boldness:

Confidence – When I am feeling confident, I am bold, not timid.

Freedom – When I am experiencing freedom, I am bold because there’s nothing that is hindering me from being so.

Security – When I am feeling secure, I can make bold moves instead of playing it safe.

Being loved – When I know I am loved and will be loved even if I fail, I can step out in boldness, not being limited by any fear of what others will think.

Having hope – When I have hope, I can climb mountains that are otherwise too overwhelming.

All of these things are found in faith. All of these things are results of a faith-filled heart. Boldness – holy boldness – comes from a faith-filled heart, and it is the difference between timidly attempting the assignments God has given me and boldly attacking the assignments He has designed for my life.

All these conditions come from our faith in Christ. Let’s look at Scriptures that relate to each.

Confidence – Our confidence comes from Him – knowing what He has done for us and what awaits us:

Since this new way [that is, faith in Christ] gives us such confidence, we can be very bold.
2 Corinthians 3:12 (NLT)

Freedom – Oh, the freedom that comes from knowing God:

He gave himself for us to set us free from every sin and to cleanse us so that we can be his special people who are enthusiastic about doing good things.
Titus 2:14 (GW)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

Security – Having security means I am not worried about what will happen to me; I’m not to take action.

But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
Psalm 3:3 (NLT)

2He sang: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; 3my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence.
2 Samuel 22:2-3 (NLT)

Being loved – Knowing that we are loved brings the greatest freedom and in turn, the greatest boldness. It is what causes us to run freely in the wind and fiercely into battle.

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

But God showed [demonstrated] his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Romans 5:8 (NLT)

Having hope – Hope gives us reason to look forward – reason to live boldly today because of what awaits us tomorrow.

18So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.19This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.
Hebrews 6:18-19 (NLT)

Faith in Christ is the key to conditions of the heart that lead to a holy boldness.

Similarly, there are conditions of the heart that lead to reckless boldness. This may not be an exhaustive list, but I find these conditions to be the most common reason we take recklessly bold actions:

Fatalism – When I believe that “whatever is supposed to happen will happen,” I am less careful about where I step and the path I take. Fatalism is a lie from the enemy. Scripture is clear that we have personal responsibility to pursue God, to choose to obey Him by taking the actions He assigns to us, not waiting to see what will happen and trusting it has been His will.

Utter sense of futility – When “who cares” and “what difference does it make” are phrases that have captured my mind and heart, I either fall into the depression of nothingness or take rash action. Of course these phrases are also whispers from the enemy. They are signs that he has been on the prowl, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He’s trying to devour you. God cares and He has purposes for your life that reach into eternity.

Rebellion – When I’ve become tired of following my King and decide to go my own way and make my own decisions, all of my actions can be labeled reckless boldness. We can’t blame the enemy on this. This is sin. It is our own selfish pride. It is thinking we have a better plan than God. It requires repentance – a genuine sorrow for our attitudes and actions, a turning to God for forgiveness and a change in our behavior and thoughts.

Disappointment with God – When God doesn’t live up to our expectations (oh, Lord, it is difficult for me to even write this, but I know there are time when we feel like this – forgive us when You are so worthy of our worship even when we feel disappointed) – when God doesn’t live up to our expectations, our hearts can grow cold. Our minds build a case against Him and our attitudes turn to rebellion. Being disappointed with God doesn’t have an easy solution – it’s usually a combination of repentance for our own wrong attitudes with a heavy dose of experiencing God’s great love. It requires an understanding that God’s plan is greater than our earthly desires.

The antidote to all of these conditions that lead to reckless boldness is faith. A faith-filled heart is the greatest weapon against these conditions. A faith-filled heart is the greatest weapon against reckless boldness. That faith comes from being with Jesus. We see it again and again in the New Testament.

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.
Acts 4:13 (NLT)

Because the men had been with Jesus, they had a holy boldness that confounded the leaders. We can have that same holy boldness.

It is also because of our faith in Christ that we can come into God’s presence freely – and it is in God’s presence where we find the source of all the conditions that lead to holy boldness:

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.
Ephesians 3:12 (NLT)

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.
Hebrews 10:19 (NLT)

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)

Our faith-filled heart enables us to fulfill God’s purposes in our lives – it gives us the holy boldness we would otherwise lack and it keeps us from acting recklessly, without caution or care.

We have been studying Ephesians with our nursing home Bible study group and I have been so strongly impacted by Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians. I have been praying this prayer at every gathering since we studied the passage and regularly for myself and Phil. It seems so appropriate to every venue. And it is totally appropriate here. I pray for you as Paul prayed for the Ephesians:

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

I can’t pray it any better. Knowing the vastness of God’s love for you, may you be filled to the “measure of all the fullness of God.” Whew! That’s gonna lead to some holy boldness!

If this blog has blessed you or helped you live in holy boldness, please share it with others. You can use one of the buttons below to share. Let’s help one another become a people worthy of God’s calling (Ephesians 4:1).

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When people commend themselves, it doesn’t count for much. The important thing is for the Lord to commend them.
2 Corinthians 10:18 (NLT)

“The important thing is for the Lord to commend them.” How often do we look for commendations from the world? We want the world to think well of us. We want our friends and family to think well of us – and to tell us how great we are and how great we’re doing. This scripture reminds us that whether we are commending ourselves or others are telling us how great we are, it doesn’t really count for much. The important thing is for the Lord to commend us.

I was recently asked to speak at an event I had not planned to attend. I struggled with the decision of whether or not to accept the invitation. Having not planned to attend the event, it felt like agreeing to speak was motivated by wanting to look good to others. I talked with my husband about it and he gave me some wise advice – in this case, I needed to ignore the mixed messages my brain and emotions were giving me and just do the right thing. The right thing was to accept the invitation. When I took all the motivations I would have for speaking at the event out of the equation, I knew that accepting the invitation was the right thing to do. It was an honor to be asked and it was an opportunity to serve God and others. I had previously not planned on attending the event simply because it inconvenienced my schedule and strained my finances.

When I called to accept the invitation, I immediately knew that saying “yes” brought relief to the person asking and it brought peace to my heart, mind and spirit. I also knew that if I had declined, I would have been feeling regret at the lost opportunity to bless the organizer and others. I would have known that I had really said “no” to God.

Our emotions can mess us up sometimes. Our sinful craving for attention and public adoration is just that – sinful! That adoration doesn’t count for much. Pleasing God is what matters. In my example, pleasing God would bring me the accolades of others, so I struggled to make a decision. Phil wisely reminded me to please God.

When faced with a decision from which the right answer will bring bad consequences, I often say “do the right thing and leave the results to God.” I’ve learned that when making these choices He often shields me from those anticipated bad consequences. Not always, of course, because bad consequences are part of the process of conforming us to the image of Christ and/or displaying Christ to the world. Sometimes, however, doing the right thing brings accolades our way. In all cases, it’s important to remember that the accolades of others don’t count for much. The important thing is to please the Lord.

Of course, the point isn’t that we should stop giving those accolades! Even though the accolades of others don’t count for much, don’t let that keep you from encouraging others. Scripture is clear that we are to encourage others, especially those in the body of Christ. Encouraging others gives them courage to do the right thing…there will be a blog about that soon. Do both – make encouraging others a priority…but in your own life, always remember – the important thing is to please the Lord.

When have you struggled to make the right choice? Share your experiences below so that we can learn from one another.

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