Approaching With Freedom and Confidence

Image result for prayer memeThe concept of having communication with God on a regular basis is not something that every religion claims to have. In fact, in many religions, god(s) are so far above people that they are no more aware of humans than we are of the bacteria on our fingertips.

And yet, Paul goes to great lengths to tell followers of Christ that not only can we pray to God, but that we should, and with confidence! Check out Ephesians 3:12-13:

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.”

God understands the things that we desire, and knows our hearts when we ask him for help and direction. Our seeking of him actually brings us closer to God, which is his purpose for us in the first place! Remember what we read in James 1:6?

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

God does not let us journey through life and its hardships so that we can feel alone and weak. He knew before you were even born everything that would happen in your life, and he wants to use those tough moments to grow closer to you. So pray with confidence, knowing that he is already listening.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that we may come to you as we are, not as we think we must be. You bring us closer through prayer, and may we keep this confidence in our hearts as we offer ourselves to you through our best times and the most difficult. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Seeking God

Paul, the author of nearly half of the New Testament, has a wild story. He actually began his life by the name of Saul, and made a name for himself in the early years killing early Christians. And yet, on the road to Damascus, Jesus himself appears before Saul in a blinding light (per Acts 9:3-6):

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Saul changes his name to Paul, and proceeds to dedicate his life to the spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is persecuted, imprisoned, shipwrecked, but he never loses hope. What’s important to note is that God reached out to Paul. The idea that it is God who reaches out to us is a humbling one, but an important one. Check out Romans 3:10-12:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”

 

Image result for the bible project paulOn one hand, we could write this off as unfair. “Of course I seek God!” But do we really? Or is it God who finds us in our weakness? Would we really follow God’s word, laying down our lives as servants if it was only on our own merit? I think if we’re honest, we wouldn’t. But God loves us so much that he delights in sharing his love, even when we are far from him.

His love is stronger than our rebellion and weakness!

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Heavenly Father, without you loving us first, we would never experience life with you. Thank you for coming to us as we are, and guiding us toward you every day. May we seek relationship with you in everything that we do. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.

 

Citizens, Part II

We live in a divisive time. History has shown that tribalism, or the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group, has a massive impact on the decisions we make. It has the power to tear us away from people, simply because we disagree with them. How silly is that? But we find so many ways to justify it. We cast others as villains, as dangerous, as people that we need to distance from ourselves.

It sounds… lonely and angry. Is there an alternative, though? Check out what Paul says in Ephesians 2:19-20:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”

God is calling us to celebrate our unity as citizens of his kingdom. Background, hardships, upbringing, they are nothing compared to the connection that we have under God.

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This is a cool music video by Jack Johnson on separating ourselves from others. Click the image to link to it!

It takes bravery though, and takes trusting God to trust another. We are fed the paranoia that the world is out to get us. But deep down, the world is full of people just like us wanting to belong. As Christians, we are often called to take that first step.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that we do not see others as threats to keep away, but as opportunities to reflect you by treating them with grace and kindness. As citizens of your kingdom, may we reflect you in everything that we do. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen. 

 

Citizenship

Being a citizen is not something that we are forced to think about too often. It usually comes with a sense of pride for where you’re from, or perhaps a sense of duty. But we do not often equate citizenship with safety. Paul seems to think a lot of the premise, though, and mentions it in Ephesians 2:12:

“Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”

Image result for citizen memeIn those days, citizenship meant that you had rights in that kingdom. It meant that you were both under the law of that kingdom, and that law in turn protected you. Being a citizen of Greece meant protection from the harsh world outside. For the Jewish people, they had lost their home of Israel. They were exiles! There was no protection – meaning they could be mistreated and subjugated.

That’s why it’s so radical that Paul says that God’s people have citizenship with him. They do not need to fear the kingdom of God, they are protected by it! They belong to it, and can find solace in it during their hardship. When we think of this in regards to our own lives as well, doesn’t that change how we view our own hardships? When we are mistreated or left on the outside, God has already called us to share in his home.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that we reflect you as members of your kingdom. May we give to others as you have given to us. In Jesus’s name, Amen. 

By Grace

A few weeks ago in the book of James, we touched on the idea of grace vs. works, recognizing that it’s through grace that we achieve works, and not vice-versa. Here, Paul is taking things one step further. Check out Ephesians 2:4-5:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

The key word that really makes this verse pop is Paul’s use of the word even. That word alone really puts this verse in perspective. God has seen us at our lowest points. Even more than that, before you were even born he knew who you were and how you’re going to fall short in life. But even then, despite every reason to know that you’re going to mess up, he still sent his son to die on the cross for us!

Image result for peter the disciplePut in in the context of the Bible. Even though God knew that the Jews were going to rebel after taking them out of slavery, he still rescued them and brought them into Israel. Even though He knew that Peter would disown Jesus three times, he still used Peter to build his church. And even though we mess up time and again, God wants to make it clear that nothing will ever separate us from his love.

He loves us that much, and he wants you to cherish that relationship with Him just like he does.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Heavenly Father, even though we were dead in our sin, you were there for us, and you refused to let go. I pray that we learn to experience your love more every day, so that we may share it with those that you love even more so. In Jesus’s precious name, Amen. 

 

What’s The Holy Spirit Do Again?

I’m going to kick off this week’s post with a Bible verse. It’s such a powerful one, and connects what is oftentimes a confusing aspect of our relationship with God. Check out Ephesians 1:13-14:

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

maxresdefaultSo wait, the Holy Spirit is… a seal? A deposit? A guarantee? God is the big guy. Jesus we can get a grasp on, but the Holy Spirit, this third entity of the trinity can feel like the odd one out. And yet, the Holy Spirit is the one that is living the closest to us! Check out what Paul also says in Romans 8:26:

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

The Holy Spirit is many things. He is our connection with God, the way that we communicate and worship him. It is the very gift of God himself so that we not only have relationship with him in heaven, but relationship with him on Earth as well. Have you ever felt like you did not have the right words to say, or that you felt a nudge in one direction or the other? The Holy Spirit is always at work, and can be trusted to always lead us toward God, even when we stumble on our own.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the relationship that we have with you through the Holy Spirit. I pray that we keep in perspective that this connection goes beyond the highs and lows, and that we can count on you in the best and hardest times of life. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.

He Chose Us

Spoiler: God loves you.

Mind blown? Maybe not at this point. Even if you still wrestle with the concept, the idea that God loves and desires a relationship with us is something that the Bible has established. But Paul takes this concept a step further in Ephesians 1:4:

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

Wait, how can God love someone before they even exist? Sure, you can make the argument that God loves someone outside of time, because he is outside of time. But that then asks why would God love someone who’s done nothing yet for him?

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Let’s be real – if our parents only loved us for what we could do, they would’ve never gotten past us as babies. 

Bingo. God loves you not for what you’ve done for him, but because he wants that incredible relationship with you – a relationship that not only includes heaven with him, but grace and peace in this life as well. Check out what Paul goes on to say in verses 1:11-12:

 “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

God loves you because he knows you. He knows you for your flaws, your imperfections, but most importantly, he knows for your capacity to praise and relationship with him. Praise is not just worships songs and praying before meals – it’s a lifestyle that honors God and shares the love that he’s blessed to you with others.

It’s also loving others for their capacity, too, not just in what they can do for you. That’s the fun part. 🙂

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that we may love others as you love us: not as people who can serve us, but as people that are your creation with amazing capacity for grace.  

Friendship Ain’t Easy

Alright! We’ve officially finished the book of James! This last section of James’s letter echoes a really cool and challenging idea that Jesus presents in his teachings as well. The verse itself seems pretty simple on the outset. Check out James 5:19-20:

“My brothers and sisters, if one of you shoulder wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

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Sometimes, its obvious that others are blind. Other times, we’re the ones with the blindfolds on. 

On first reading, this seems easy. Of course we should help our friends get back on the right path when they’re wavering a bit. But how often do we do that? Isn’t the more common philosophy to live and let live? This is a good sounding premise with an easy-way-out result. It’s easier to leave someone be than to have those difficult conversations when we see them headed for trouble. We can write off red flags as other people’s business, but what good does that do for them in the long run? It seems more likely that we’re settling into comfortable unhelpfullness than providing anything that Jesus calls us to. Check out what Jesus himself says in Matthew 18:12-13:

 

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.

Sometimes it takes getting out of our comfort zone to make a difference in the life of someone we love. God will always give you the courage, and the result of love is always worth pursuing.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that we do not lose sight of others. May we find the courage and wisdom to help those in need, and see that you will give us the words we need when necessary to help those who need it. When the time comes, may those who love us find the words to speak into our lives as well. In Jesus’s precious name we pray, Amen. 

The Steadfastness of Job

The book of James is chugging along rather nicely, and then it comes to this rather odd passage about the steadfastness of a man named Job. Check it out in James 5:11:

“As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

maxresdefaultIf you haven’t heard of Job, that’s alright. Job is a man in the Old Testament who actually got his own book named after him. His story revolves around Satan claiming that Job, a prosperous man, only loves God because of the wealth God has blessed him with. God allows the many blessings that Job has had, his family, fortune, land, and even health, to be taken away from him to show that Job loves God for who he is, not what God can do for him.

That’s pretty powerful stuff! Do we always have that relationship with God? Well, something that’s important to note is that Job doesn’t just take it like a champ and brush it off. He goes to God, and he’s angry. He asks God how he could let this happen, and even tries to call on God to give account. God gives him a pretty wild answer, asking Job where he was during the creation of the universe, and asks him how he can know right from wrong compared to a blameless God.

But the point that is not to be missed is that Job never disowns God. He never turns his back on God. Every relationship will have confrontation. God will confront you in your life, but that’s proof of the relationship. Hardship will come your way, and you will go to God and say “this hurts” or “this is too much for me.” That’s okay. Being steadfast doesn’t mean putting on a brave face and acting like it does not matter. Steadfastness is being like Job – being loyal, and accepting that you have flaws, but sticking with God through the highs and the lows.

Be like Job.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that we remember that steadfastness and trusting you does not always look like our strongest and most graceful moments. Being humbled is not always easy, but you bear with us through our highs and lows. May we always do the same, trusting that you will carry us through them as well.

 

Son of Man

I want to do something a little different this week, since it is the holiday season! Celebrating the birth of Jesus, we use so many different names to describe him. Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, Christ, son of God… son of man…

Wait.

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Fun fact, they did a reconstruction based on genetics of Jewish people from the era to estimate what Jesus may have really looked like. Pretty cool!

Yeah, at first glance, son of man seems like an odd one. He’s the son of God, right? Perfect and blameless. So where does this title come from? Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man many times throughout the gospels. Here’s just one where he asserts his authority in Mark 2:10:

“But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

The term Son of Man actually comes from a prophecy in the book of Daniel. These scriptures were taught to all Jewish people, and held with sacred regard. Check out what is says in Daniel 7:13-14:

“And behold, one like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near before him. Then to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.”

For Jesus to state that he is the Son of Man talked about in this passage was radical to say the least! He is stating that he has dominion, and that all people are to serve him in his authority. He proved this through his teachings and miracles, but there is an important point to the name as well: God keeps his word. He promised that one would come to bring an unbreakable kingdom under him, and Jesus did come! We have relationship with him, and that can never be taken away. The title of the Son of Man, therefore, is a rejoicing of that fulfilled promise, and one that we should take to heart.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus, and thank you for keeping your word to bring all things under your kingdom. This Christmas, I pray that we may rejoice in your good name, and that this may be a celebration of all that you have done for us through Jesus. Amen.