Who God Uses

“God has chosen and used nobodies, because their unusual dependence on Him made possible the unique display of His power and grace.  He chose and used somebody’s only when they renounced dependence on their natural abilities and resources.”    – Oswald Chambers –                                                                      

            When I read the quote above, I think about Timothy.  Timothy was a disciple of the apostle Paul, joining him during his second missionary journey and traveling with him for nearly twenty years.  Paul and Timothy ministered in many difficult situations where the gospel of Jesus Christ came under attack.  As a result of their faithfulness to it, they themselves were attacked.  Persecution was a constant companion.  Paul loved Timothy like a son and as he wrote 2 Timothy, his last letter before his death, he wanted to encourage Timothy and also provide instructions to him.  This was Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome, he knew death was imminent and he wanted to ensure that the gospel, what he referred to as the “good deposit” be preserved in its purest form, that it not be corrupted by false teachers.  Preparing to die, it was Timothy that Paul most trusted to faithfully carry on this ministry.  So what is it about the quote above that has to do with Timothy?  Well, by all accounts, aside from being younger than many in which he ministered, Timothy was somewhat timid and unsure of himself.  Certainly not the strong, charismatic personality we would envision leading a movement.  Not the next guy in line you would think of to take the reins from Paul. 

            But that’s just the point.  This was not just any other movement; this is the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It comes only by God’s power and always by His grace.  Paul knew that.  He knew that it wouldn’t be Timothy’s personality that made the difference.  Timothy’s name means “one who honors God” and he did that.  Though he had faced some difficult times in ministry and at points needed encouraging, Timothy had the characteristics for God’s power to be displayed fully, most notably; a submissive heart toward God’s leading.  Do you?  Our ministries are always by His power and grace and never about personality or charisma.  Will you in your ministry rely on the Giver of your spiritual gift?  Will you give up your best you that His power and grace might be fully displayed?  Will you be His nobody?

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” 1 Corinthians 1:27

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me…for when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

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Meant For Evil, Used For Good

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20) 

            Is anyone awaiting your forgiveness?  Humanly speaking, maybe they don’t deserve it, as the hurt caused is beyond forgiveness.  Consider the story of Joseph in the last chapters of Genesis (chapters 37-50).  Joseph’s brothers, jealous of how much their father Jacob loved him, sold him into slavery in Egypt, making it seem as if he had been killed.  This was just the beginning of Joseph’s trials.  God proved both faithful and present with Joseph in these times and he eventually rose to great power in Egypt.  But just think of all of the time Joseph missed with his family; the lost time with his father who loved him so much.  Could you forgive if you were treated that way or would revenge be in order?  What did Joseph do that may serve you and me when we are harmed by the evil of another? 

            “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” This verse sums up the story.  There was a famine in all the land and as a result of his brothers trip to Egypt to purchase grain, Joseph was reunited with his family and eventually brought them all to Egypt in order to provide for them.  In time, his father Jacob died.  Skeptical that the reason for Joseph’s kindness was only due to their father, Joseph’s brothers inquired of what he might do.  Upon this inquiry, he told them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?”  If that seems an uncommon response to being mistreated, it is, and it’s even more uncommon given Joseph’s power and ability to punish his brothers if he so chose.  But Joseph chose a different response, a response explained only by God’s grace.  What Joseph understood, at least in part, was that God was sovereignly at work in his life, and part of that work included using other’s evil intent for His ultimate glory.  The specific purpose for Joseph’s circumstance was the preservation of the Hebrew people.  True recipients of grace desire to give it away and Joseph chose to be gracious and forgive his brothers.  His forgiveness is a reflection of even greater forgiveness that we have in Jesus Christ. 

            From a human perspective, maybe Joseph should have never forgiven his brothers, but God’s standard is never measured by human perspective.  The kind of forgiveness Joseph displayed comes only by divine power.  God is sovereign and His purposes are always good.  Do you sense those good purposes?  Do you believe that, “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28)?  God doesn’t promise there won’t be pain and challenges in achieving that purpose, but He does promise His presence.  Understanding that, as well as His sovereignty has many benefits.  In this story, among other things, it was the benefit of forgiveness in great measure.  Will you make that same choice?  There may be that someone who has brought terrible hurt and misfortune to you, but through it all, God has been at work to fulfill His good purpose for your life.  Realizing this was valuable in Joseph’s life and can be in yours as well.  So I ask again, is anyone awaiting your forgiveness?     

Prayer 

Father, you are sovereign and you are good.  I know that when people come against me, you are capable of turning evil intent into good.  Your presence with me in tough times is what brings me through. Help me to understand that during these times you’re still in control, working things out that will bring you glory.  Help me to give forgiveness in great measure, just as you have forgiven me in even greater measure and help me to lead a life worthy of that forgiveness.  Amen!  

From Reading To Praying

“Meditation is the missing link between Bible intake and prayer.”  – Donald S. Whitney – 

            Prayer should flow naturally from our encounter with God through His Word.  But it often does not.  Why might that be?  In many cases, it is the result of our approaching Scripture reading as part of a “to do” list instead of an opportunity to be in the presence of God.  It may not even be that this is our intention, only that our fast-paced lives have conditioned us in this way.  The quote above is derived from Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life in which he sets forth spiritual disciplines that are valuable as we live our Christian lives.  According to Whitney, the two most important of these disciplines are Bible intake and prayer.  Whitney says, “There should be a smooth, almost unnoticeable transition between Scripture input and prayer output so that we move closer to God in those moments”.  He believes that this happens when meditation is the link between the two disciplines,   giving two examples in which Scripture teaches this very point: 

“Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my groaning.”  Psalm 5:1 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.”  Psalm 19:14 

            To meditate is to consider thoughtfully, or to ponder.  There is not a more important time in our day than the time spent with the Father.  It’s a time when God speaks to us through His Word and we speak back to Him in prayer.  Make the most of this time by allowing meditation to bridge the two.  Worry less about the amount of Scripture you take in, but instead meditate on what you do so as to understand what God is saying to you and how you might be changed by having been in His presence.  When you do, you will find that your prayers will not only flow more naturally, but also with great power.  This will please the heart of God, serve your own good, but most of all, bring Him glory.

 

 

My God Is Colorblind

            My God is colorblind. It is not that He doesn’t know our race. He knows everything. It’s that He doesn’t care. Skin color is not His concern, hearts are. Whether black or white, what God sees are men and women created in His image. He doesn’t see a black or white man, He sees a man. He doesn’t see a black or white woman, He sees a woman. Why can’t we? Over the last several weeks, I’ve watched with interest the firestorm surrounding the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. It is no doubt a sad story of a senseless death of someone too soon.  In this case, it is of the death of a young black man.  

            On April 6th, I traveled back home to Birmingham, Alabama from a meeting in Tampa, Florida. On most occasions when I fly, I bring plenty to do and keep to myself. On the connection that day from Atlanta to Birmingham I was seated by a young military soldier named Reggie.  Reggie was from Birmingham, but currently stationed in Germany and soon to deploy to Afghanistan. He was home visiting his family for nine days. His wife’s name is Brittney and he has a son named Reggie III. Brittney is pregnant. Reggie has some big plans while home, a lot to do in a short period of time, particularly considering that when he leaves he may not see them again for over a year. I hope that turns out not to be the case. Reggie and I talked about a lot.  He was a high school athlete and competed against the school where my kids attend, so we talked about that. We talked about Alabama and Auburn, plans for his career and our families.  We had some things in common. But one of the things we didn’t have in common was skin color. Reggie is black, and yes, I noticed that just as  I’m sure he noticed that I’m white. But it didn’t matter. As we talked I thought about the Trayvon Martin situation and wondered if being stationed in Germany had shielded him from awareness of the case. I certainly thought the media exposure had to be less. Just that morning, I had seen an article in USA Today about how differently blacks and whites perceived the role race played in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. I wondered what Reggie thought, but I didn’t ask. The best part of our conversation on that trip was not about high school recollections, Alabama and Auburn or even about future plans, but about faith. Reggie asked me my favorite Bible verse. I told him 2 Corinthians 5:21.  His favorite verse is Philippians 4:13. 

            Unfortunately, there are many sad stories like Trayvon Martin’s throughout our country each year, but this one has taken on a life of its own because of the irresponsible actions of a relative few. I reject the notion that the majority of people in our country, regardless of race, see race as the cause for this tragedy. I’m not naïve; racism was certainly part of our past, a shameful and sinful part and it occurs today, and where it does, and in whatever form it takes, it is still shameful and sinful. Over these weeks I’ve watched as media, Hollywood celebrities, athletes, so-called Reverends, various organizations and even our local, state and national leaders have done nothing but inflame this situation. I’ve watched as a tragic event has been used for political purposes to stir and spread fear. We live in a country of laws, and justice should be sought in this case as it would in any other similar situation. In fact, Zimmerman has been charged and this case will move forward in a court of law where the facts will be litigated.  I’m not for those who seek justice for Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman in this case, but I am against people seeking to serve up punishment, whether by threatening bounties or hateful, divisive speech, all disguised as a call for justice. This wasn’t a call for justice; this was hate and nothing less. Even now, “haters” from all sides are gathering in Florida to fan the flames of this racial divide. Why is it that so often, attributes of God, His wrath and His justice are attributes we like to deny Him, but can’t wait to pour out on others? We should thank God that He is not that impatient with us.    

            I know that I will never be able to live Reggie’s experiences and he can never live mine, but for what made us different, race among them, cannot compare to what unites us, faith in Jesus Christ. It’s impossible for us not to see race when we look at others, particularly when we are bombarded daily by various groups and a media that seem to thrive on disunity. It’s also impossible because all too often we see only with our eyes and not our hearts. The problem in our country is our relationship with our Savior. As great as some want to make the racial divide, this one is greater. Healing the divide between God and man could go a long way in healing all other divides. I am convinced that if we would see more of Christ, we would see less of color.

             I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again, but I was a blessed to meet Reggie Marshall. It was a twofold blessing because in meeting him, I got to know a brother, not a black brother, but a Christian brother. It was also a blessing in the sense that it reinforced to me how great and loving our God is in knowing that when He looks at Reggie or at me, He doesn’t see His black or white child. He sees only His child. My God is colorblind and I am thankful that He is.

What If There Was No Resurrection?

“…that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4) 

         Our appreciation for something is often greatest when we consider the consequence of it never having been. There are people who don’t believe in the resurrection because there are people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ. There are also those who have a misperception of why Jesus came and who He claimed to be. This was also true in the Apostle Paul’s day. Paul was always concerned about the integrity of the gospel, emphasizing that the gospel he preached was that which he received from Christ. Of all the teaching in Scripture on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15 is the most comprehensive. In this passage, Paul mentions three elements of the gospel: Christ’s death for our sins, His burial, and His resurrection on the third day. All of these elements are critical to Christ’s redemptive work, but His resurrection is what we prepare to celebrate this day. Consider for a moment where we would be without it.     

         “…that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” In this chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul tells us the consequences of there being no resurrection. He says that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then preaching is in vain, faith is in vain, God is misrepresented, sin is not dealt with and all who have died “in Christ” have perished. He goes on to say that if it is only in this life that we hope in Christ then, “we are the most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Translation: If it is only in this life that we have hope in Christ, we can stay home on Sunday’s, throw away our Bible’s and live as we please because we’re hoping in something that isn’t real. Our hope for eternity is built on the resurrection and without it there is nothing or no one to hope in. But there is reason for our hope. The reason is because the Bible tells us that Jesus has been raised from the dead (1Corinthians 15:20).  

         In church today, the resurrection is the least alluded to aspect of Christ’s saving work. I’m not sure why that is so. Maybe we take it for granted? The resurrection is a necessary pillar of the Christian faith and its affirmation has everything to do with not only salvation and justification, but also biblical authority. It is often said that Jesus conquered sin on the cross, and I know what people mean when they say that, but His death alone is incomplete without His resurrection as this is how we are justified before God (Romans 4:25). The victory was completed when Jesus rolled away the stone and came out of the tomb. Though as a church we may only formally celebrate the resurrection once a year, as Christians we testify to it every Sunday and live it each day. As you consider and celebrate all that Christ has done, just as with His sinless life, His atoning death and His burial, thank Him for His defeat over the grave, His resurrection. Because of it we will never suffer the consequences of it never having been. But even more, thank Him for the resurrection because it speaks to the character of God. It not only confirms God accomplishing His plan, but also places the glory where it belongs, on Jesus Christ. Because of Him we have hope, not only for this life, but hope for all eternity. Worthy is the Lamb!    

Prayer 

God, I thank You for all of Jesus’ work in His life and death that saved me. My sin is that great. But God, today I especially thank You for His resurrection because without it, I am to be pitied and left without hope. But I have hope and that hope is in Christ alone. Help me to trust your Word as I live my life each day and as I testify about all of Jesus’ redeeming work. You are a great God and Savior.

Get Down From The Cross

“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us”  (Psalm 103:12)

            As Christians, one of the worst mistakes we can ever make is to discount the necessity of the cross in salvation.  Equally great, however, is to believe that what Jesus did on the cross was not sufficient for our sin.  Do we fully grasp the completeness of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ?  Atonement is defined as something that restores a broken relationship, making amends for offenses and thereby satisfies the wrong that has been done.  In the case of salvation, it is where Jesus took upon Himself the wrath of God and paid the penalty for our sin in order that we wouldn’t have to.  I believe sometimes in our minds we say, “I know Jesus paid it all” while our actions and our hearts testify to the contrary.  We are called to the share in Christ’ suffering, to take up our cross daily, but as far as Scripture is concerned, self atonement, self saving is not possible.  More than that, it is not necessary. 

            Known as a man after God’s own heart, sin touched David’s life greatly.  Consequences for those sins also ensued.  In Psalm 103, David meditated on the great truths of God, reminding himself not only of how worthy the LORD was of his praise, but also the many reasons he had for praising Him.  David praised God for his mercy and grace in withholding immediate justice because of sin, and for His steadfast love for those who feared Him (Psalm 103:10-11).  In verse twelve, David praised God for the extent of His love.  “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” Just as the distance between heaven and earth, the distance between east and west is immeasurable.  But that is how far God has removed our sins from us.  How is that possible?  It is possible because of the greatness of God’s love for you and me.  It is also possible because of the perfection of Christ’s atonement. 

            Simply put, the atonement of Jesus Christ fully satisfied God’s wrath, such that, as believers, we will never be condemned for our sin.  When we realize what God has done through Jesus Christ, it brings freedom, not freedom to sin, but freedom to glorify God with our lives.  So get down from the cross and accept the perfect atonement of Jesus because it is sufficient.  There is nothing left for you to pay.  You’re called to take up your cross, not to hang on it.  Jesus did that.  He did pay it all.  He paid it to the point of death.  But on the third day, He rose and now sits at the right hand of the Father, a substitute and advocate for you and me.  Is He not worthy of our honor?  Is He not worthy of our praise?  He certainly is!  “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” 

Prayer

Father God, thank you for being so gracious.  Thank you that when the guilt of my past haunts me, you say, “Don’t let it.  It’s paid for.”  Thank you that my present and future sins are also paid for.  By the blood of Christ, I have been redeemed.  Help me to live that redemption, recognizing its perfection and let it be cause for constant praise from my whole heart each and every day.