Seeing the Bigger Picture

Seeing the Bigger Picture

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21

Everyone owes a mighty debt of gratitude to the men and women of our armed forces who risk their lives for freedom. Many people not long ago were touched by the story of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who walked away from $3.9 million to play in the NFL because he felt he had an obligation to serve his country wearing a different uniform during a time of crisis. It was a bold choice and not one that everybody agreed with.

It was also a choice that cost him his life.

Serving his country in 2003, Tillman was killed in combat. He believed that serving his country in a time of crisis was of greater importance than a nearly $4 million football contract, even if it meant losing his life for it. His selflessness and bravery serve as an example of what it looks like when someone makes a difficult decision after seeing the bigger picture.

As Christians, we have the same challenge. We make daily decisions that affect our own lives and the lives of those around us. It’s not always easy to know what decision to make; choosing the right job, marrying the right person, or serving in the right ministry at church all have lasting consequences.

That’s where having the right perspective can make all the difference. When you focus on the here and now or focus on “What’s in it for me?” you do so at the expense of eternity. An eternal perspective is like looking at the bigger picture; you sacrifice something today for the greater reward you will reap tomorrow.

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Serving in Two Kingdoms

Serving in Two Kingdoms

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. – Matthew 6:24a

If you are an American and a believer in Jesus Christ, then you have pledged yourself in allegiance to two kingdoms: one earthly and one heavenly. We are born and live our lives inside earthly nations, we learn to speak earthly languages, and we engage earthly culture. We all have citizenship to an earthly nation, and we submit to the governing authorities of that nation. The standard for living as an American is sometimes called the “American way.” It is characterized by things like pride for the flag and the nation, freedom for people of all creeds and colors, and rugged individualism.

But our true citizenship lies upward. As Christians, our first allegiance is to the kingdom of heaven and its Sovereign, the triune God. Heaven also follows a standard. It’s called holiness. One day, we will spend eternity living out that standard in perfect fellowship with God and with each other.

So in a sense, today we are aliens. We are not of the world, just as Christ was not of the world (John 17:16). From an eternal perspective, we must remember that even though we serve a kingdom agenda, we are not absolved from actively engaging the earthly culture into which we’ve been sent. God doesn’t just rule in heaven; He rules both heaven AND earth. And the agenda of His kingdom is the visible demonstration of that comprehensive rule over every area of life. So our allegiance to God means that how we live on earth matters. We are not mere observers of a worldly culture; we are transformational agents within that culture.

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How to Prepare for Eternity

How to Prepare for Eternity

And he answered, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” – Luke 10:27

 If we were to empty the Pacific Ocean, we’d be left with a hole that’s beyond imagination. If we filled that hole with sand and make a pile as high as Mount Everest, we’d have a fairly sizable sand pile! Now, if we had a bird that took one grain of sand from that pile every 100 billion years, how long would it take the bird to finish? Such a number seems beyond our grasp. Whatever that number is, when the bird finishes the last grain of sand, you will have been in eternity your first second.

How do Christians prepare for eternity? One of the problems that each believer faces is how difficult it is to conceptualize eternity—to see it for what it truly is. They attempt to measure it in light of the passage of time on earth which, if you think about it, is a poor measuring stick. We can’t even fully grasp it, so knowing how to prepare for it seems impossible.

But the good news is that you don’t need to fully understand forever in order to prepare for a life in it. All Christ commanded each of us to do is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and love others as ourselves. Granted, there are some details for how that is achieved, but the point is that all the instructions we need for eternal preparation have already been given. All we need to do is devote our lives to following the instruction manual.

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Let the Waters Flow

Let the Waters Flow

Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. – John 7:37-39

We know God wants Christians to grow. Spiritual growth takes place deep down inside us. It comes from the Holy Spirit, whose job is to make the waters flow. However, most Christians have a home-improvement mentality, depending on themselves to produce the desired development. But if we could do it ourselves, we wouldn’t need the Holy Spirit. The assumption of the work of the Holy Spirit is that we can’t do it ourselves. Just as air enables a horn to make a sound or wind enables a sailboat to move, the Holy Spirit enables the spiritual life to work.

Many Christians never realize what they have within them. If Clark Kent were riding on a bus with us and it broke down, we would all look pretty foolish if we got out to push the bus while Superman was sitting inside. Christians tend to want to push themselves toward spiritual progress. We push and push until we are so tired that we want to give up. But God wants us to use the Holy Spirit’s power that He provides for us.

Stop pushing so hard.

Relax and let God provide the power.

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At the Savior’s Feet

At the Savior’s Feet

Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. – Luke 7:44

In the ancient Middle East, the master of the house customarily provided water at the door so that those who entered could wash their dusty feet. Simon, a Pharisee, had obviously overlooked this important detail. The Savior used this oversight as a point to teach His host an important lesson about God’s forgiveness, grace, and personal worship.

A woman who was a prostitute had been waiting for the right moment to express her devotion to God. We’re not told how she got into Simon’s house, only that she suddenly began to worship at the feet of the Savior, and every man in the room noticed.

Without hesitation, she bowed before the Lord and broke the seal on a priceless bottle of perfumed oil. Obviously, she had heard Him teach and had repented of her sin. Nothing is so sweet to the Savior as the fragrance of our repentance.

This was her opportunity to say “thank you” to God for what He had done in her life. The perfumed oil she poured over His feet was very costly. Yet Jesus didn’t stop her from worshipping Him or question where she had gotten the money to buy such an expensive gift. He knew her actions were motivated by pure devotion to God. He also realized that her sacrifice was costly and that she would remember it for the rest of her life.

Though she didn’t know it, she was anointing the Savior for his burial. Simon the Pharisee, however, didn’t even offer a simple pan of water so Jesus could wash His feet. Instead, he acted in a typically legalistic fashion. He questioned why Jesus would allow such a display of affection, especially knowing that this woman was a sinner.

God loves each one of us. This woman fell at Christ’s feet, knowing that He had forgiven her many sins. She was there to worship Him. And today is the day that you can do the same.

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The Bread of Life

The Bread of Life

I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. – John 6:35

When Jesus told His followers that He was the bread of life, He was giving them a solution—not just for their physical hunger but also for their emotional, mental, and especially their spiritual hunger. We all experience cravings—things we long to have. Many of these cravings are God-given. Acceptance is certainly something God wants each of us to experience. The need to feel secure is a primary teaching for the Savior. He came to earth to demonstrate God’s personal care for you and me.

When we try to live apart from God, our needs can quickly take control of our lives and become obsessions—mental targets that we cannot release.

Any habit that spirals out of control usually is a sign of a deeper problem—feelings of loneliness or rejection, depression, anxiety, fear of loss of control, or just plain boredom. When Jesus told the people that He was the bread of life, He wasn’t saying that he would fill their stomachs. He was teaching a greater truth: Whatever emotional, spiritual, or physical need we may have, He is the only One who can satisfy it.

The greatest need of your heart is the greatest concern for God. It may be that you truly do need a loaf of bread. Maybe you have recently lost your job due to a company layoff. Jesus is the bread of life, so when you turn to Him and declare your need of Him as your Savior, He will not only satisfy your spiritual needs but also provide all that you need to live each day. Have you taken time today to tell Him what your deepest need is?

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I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. If you’ve been a Christian for longer than a minute or two, you have likely heard these words. They are meant to articulate how we get to spend eternity with God. We don’t earn our way into heaven, but rather Christ paid the price of our admission.

But we often read more into this phrase than makes sense. It is one thing to simply believe that Jesus bought my ticket into eternity future and another thing to follow Him in the present. Many of us live as part-time Christians. We show up on Sunday and act like we’re loyal to Christ, but on Monday morning, we pull a Benedict Arnold on Him. In other words, we believe but we don’t follow.

We need to remember that Jesus was given all authority in heaven and on earth and that He is looking to transfer that authority to Christians for the making of disciples—followers—who can act as His emissaries until His return at the end of the age. In other words, it’s going to take more than mere believers to usher in God’s kingdom. It’s going to take sold-out ambassadors of Christ.

The best way I know to demonstrate this idea is in the words of that old hymn,

I Have decided to Follow Jesus,
No turning back, no turning back.

That’s the difference between salvation and commitment.

That’s the difference between believing and following.

That’s the difference between declaring and doing.

That’s the difference between showing up and submitting.

Christ wants more than just your faith. He wants every part of you, body, mind and soul. That starts with nothing short of surrender. Only then will you experience the real authority of Christ on earth.

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A Love That Will Not Let You Go

A Love That Will Not Let You Go

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. – Job 13:15

When author and theologian George Matheson was 18 years old, he went blind. Yet he continued his studies and entered college, where he became an outstanding student. Later, he was ordained as a preacher in the Church of Scotland. Throughout his early years, his sister remained at his side, helping him to study and learn Greek and Hebrew, which added spiritual depth to his writings.

But he was destined to suffer an even greater loss. When his sister married, he was forced to confront his impending loneliness. A broken marriage engagement in his own life left him questioning God’s personal love and divine care.

During this period of his life, he wrote a well-known hymn proclaiming the one thing that he believed was still true: God’s love for us will never let us go.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

Some believe that Matheson wrote these words on the day his sister was married. He confessed, “Something happened to me on that day, which was known only to myself and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. This hymn was the fruit of that suffering.”

Perhaps you have suffered a great loss, and you don’t know how you will ever worship God again. Your dreams are shattered and your heart is broken. Worship doesn’t always come as a result of overflowing joy. It can also pour out of a hurting heart. After all, it was Job who wrote today’s verse.

God understands, and you can still worship Him because He will never let you go.

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The Light of Worship

The Light of Worship

If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another. – 1 John 1:7

In Old Testament times, there was a spiritual distance between the people and God. Before entering His presence, the priests were required to wash ceremonially and offer a sacrifice for their sins. Only after doing this could they enter the temple. Women could worship only in a certain area of the temple. Their husbands could travel a little farther toward the altar of God, but the priests were the ones who offered sacrifices for the people. This is not so today. The coming of Jesus Christ ended this rigid form of worship and tore away the veil that separated God from His people.

Today, we are never outside of His presence. Therefore, it’s even more important to be sensitive to His holiness and our need for purity.

The Israelites ritually washed in order to be clean before God. However, after Christ’s resurrection, they didn’t understand that the gift of God’s grace could live with them and cleanse them completely.

Today, we can bow our heads in prayer, ask God to forgive our sins, and be completely assured that He does. We are cleansed—not because we’re special but because His Spirit lives within us.

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A Pattern for Worship

A Pattern for Worship

The first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. – Hebrews 9:1

Many of us can remember watching our mothers make clothes when we were children. Patiently, Mom would cut out a pattern, pin it to the fabric, and then carefully cut out the pieces so they could be sewn together. The pattern was a guideline for something greater—a dress, skirt, pair of slacks, or blouse.

Similarly, before we construct a building, we draw a blueprint. It becomes the pattern we follow in building the structure. Anyone who has ever undertaken a building project knows the importance of architectural drawings. The goal in using these is to achieve a greater result.

If we’re going to do anything well in this life, we must begin with a design. The same is true of worship. God outlined a precise pattern for Israel to follow in their worship of Him. The nation had seen God miraculously deliver them from Egyptian bondage. However, they eventually forgot His goodness and waned in their devotion to Him. The pattern He had given them was meant to lead them to a greater, closer relationship with the God of the universe. But they didn’t understand this principle, and they strayed.

The same is true for us today. God loves us with an everlasting love and has provided a pattern for our worship. If we use it, it will guide us into a close, personal relationship with the Savior. We find His pattern for worship in His Word and through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.

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