From Death to Life

Scripture: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24

Observations: This verse is simple, yet profound. Jesus simply states that whoever hears and believes receives eternal life. The moment a person believes in Jesus, he crosses over from death to life spiritually and begins living a life in Christ that will never end. Of all the various ways people try to obtain salvation or redeem themselves or get to heaven, Jesus makes it painfully simple—believe in Him as God’s son and the Savior of the world.

Application: Trust and obey. I need to remember that it is Jesus alone who saves me from sin and death. It is by grace through faith in Jesus that I have been redeemed and crossed over from death to life—that is, eternal life that I am in fact already living in Jesus. I need to remind myself daily of the simple truths of the Gospel, living in trust and obedience to my Heavenly Father. Continual reading and study of the Bible, fervent prayer, and relationships with other believers will help keep this Truth prominent in my mind.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your grace, mercy, and incredible love that has given me eternal life through Jesus. Help me to remember that I’ve been saved through faith in the finished work of Jesus, not by my own righteousness or good works. Your grace alone has saved me. Lead me daily in the way I should go, filling me with trust and hope in You and Your perfect will. Help me to share the truth of Your love with others and to be gracious as You have shown me grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Devotional: We are the Clay

“Yet, O Lord, you  are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

Observations: God is our father–not only is He the source of all life, but He has a special relationship with His people as our provider, protector, teacher, etc. Comparing God’s people to clay and God to a potter suggests that God molds and shapes us into the people we become. In one way, God created us with our unique personalities, natural talents and inner desires. But He also molds us by the work of His spirit through our restored relationship with Jesus Christ (sanctification). We are God’s handiwork, created by Him for a purpose and we are dependent upon Him to fulfill our purposes in this life. However, we are not devoid of all responsibility for our behaviors and the shape we take. It is our responsibility to respond to God’s call in our lives and to the work of His spirit, at least as much as we are able to in our broken condition.

Application: I will rest in the arms of my heavenly Father, secured by the blood of Christ, remembering that I am the work of His hand that was created for a specific purpose. I will remember that my responsibility is to respond to God’s leading and continually seek out His will daily, though it is Him who actually accomplished His perfect will.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for Your tremendous love and grace. Thank you also for creating me the way that You did. God, help me to not lose sight of who I  really am in this ever-changing, crazy world. Help me to look to You alone for my worth and value, seeking after Your will above all else. Guide me and mold me into the image of Christ. Amen. 

Devotional: Cast your cares on Him

Scripture: “Humble yourselves therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6&7

Observations: God cares for His people so fully and completely that we can confidently cast our anxiety on Him and trust Him to take care of all our needs. However, we must also humble ourselves before the Lord, making ourselves lower and being submissive to His authority and power.

Application: I need to continually remember my proper position before my holy God. I need to make myself lowly before Him, so that I can trust and obey His word and be lifted up in due time accoding to His purposes. Whenever I feel the crushing weight of my fears and anxiety, I will remember who God is and who I am to Him. I will remember that I am a deeply loved child of God. I will humble myself before the Lord and trust Him to take care of all my needs. If I fully trust Him and I am growing in that trust, believing that He is all-powerful and the ultimate sovereign authority, then there should be less and less room in my heart for unhealthy fear and anxiety.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being mighty and powerful and worthy of all my trust and hope. Especially in times of stress and anxiety, help me to remember who You are and that I can trust in You for ALL things. Take away my fears and anxious thoughts, and replace them hope, trust, and faith in You and in Your perfect love. Thank you Lord, for your gift of salvation in Jesus. Strengthen me and prepare me to share Your love and Truth with others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Be content

Scripture: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.'” (Hebrews 13:5)

Observation: We can trust God to meet all of our needs because He has promised to continually be with us and provide for us. Therefore, we should be content with what we have as we find rest in His promises. Money and possessions can never really fulfill our needs like God can.

Application: I should not love money or put my trust in it, but I should instead love and trust God, who is the source of all good things. I should have confidence in my Lord, remembering that He loves me dearly, knows all my needs and desires, and has promised to never leave or abandon me. Because of this covenant relationship, I am free to be content with my life–my income, my job, my family, my possessions–if everything is kept in the right perspective as gifts from God to be used to serve others and honor Him. I will continually strive to honor God with the money and possessions I’ve been given, handling them wisely and generously.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being my provider in whom I can always trust. Help me to remember who you are and what you have promised. Help me to keep money, possessions, and my entire life in proper perspective before You. Help me to be content with what I have and to honor You with all that I have and all that I am. Thank you Lord for your grace, your provision, and your incredible gift of eternal life through Jesus. Amen. 

God disciplines His children

Scripture: “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” Hebrews 12:10

Observations: Although our fathers discipline us for a short time as children, God disciplines us for life. Because we are disciplined by God, we can be assured that we are His sons and daughters whom He loves. Also, we must be disciplined if we want to share in God’s holiness.

Application: I need to view hardship and difficult life circumstances as discipline from God–looking for opportunities to learn from God even in the most difficult times. I should check my attitude when things don’t go my way and focus my mind on God, remembering that He disciplines those He loves. If I fix my eyes on Jesus (see 12:2) and remember His work on the Cross for me, it will help me to keep my life in proper perspective and see how God may be teaching me.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being good and holy. Thank you that you are a God of tremendous patience and grace. Lord, help me to remember who you are and that I am your child, whom you love. Help me to see you at work even in the worst of circumstances and let me see how you are disciplining me and helping me grow in holiness. Give me patience, Lord, and help me to discern your will in my daily life, honoring you in both good times and bad times. Help me to fix my eyes on my Savior each and every day. Amen. 

SOAP: for best results use daily

If you have been around “church people” most of your life like me, you have probably heard thousands of catch-phrases and sayings that are unique to the language of Christian-ese. Not least among them are various acronyms to help you be a better Christian. Some of them are complete nonsense and most are at least a little corny, but I came across one a while back that has actually been quite helpful. Its a simple acronym intended to help people with personal Bible study. The idea is to journal about a portion of your daily reading, connecting it to your life through reflecting on Scripture, Observations, Application, and Prayer (SOAP). I had been doing this consistently throughout much of 2014, but have gotten out of the habit (I know, I really should use SOAP daily!). I have decided to revisit some of my previous journal entries and share them with others. My hope is that you (my readers) will be encouraged in your faith by my personal thoughts and reflections.

Scripture: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:23&24

Observations:  As believers, we can confidently hold onto our faith and hope because we know the source of this hope is trustworthy. Believers also need to encourage each other into love and good deeds through thoughtful consideration. These verses stood out to me when I read them recently because they are an encouraging call to action as a response to God’s faithfulness.

Application:  Knowing that my faith and my hope are in a faithful God, I need to hold firmly to this hope–hope in the work of Jesus for my salvation, hope for the future of my own life and that of my family, and hope in God’s redemptive work in the world. As I hold onto this hope and trust in God, I ought to encourage other believers to do the same. The Lord did not call me to trust in Him all by myself; He called me into a community of people He has chosen to be His children–to love and trust Him and to share His tremendous gospel message with the world through their words, deeds, and entire lifestyles. Therefore, as a result of the grace, patience, and mercy shown to me by my Savior Jesus, I should in turn show grace, patience, and mercy to others as I consider how my influence may spur them on toward doing the good things God desires them to do. I should willingly enter into the process by which God is preparing them to accomplish His purposes, while recognizing that God is simultaneously using other people to prepare me to carry out His will in my own life.

Prayer: 

Lord, you are good and faithful and true. Your ways are higher than my ways and your thoughts are much greater than my thoughts. Though I see my life only as from below, you see everything from above, making perfect sense of all the pieces to your tremendous puzzle. I am thankful that I don’t have to know and understand everything about my life, but that I can confidently put my hope in you through the grace extended to me through Jesus. Lord, help me to see my life from your perspective and to consider how I can help others do the same, placing their trust in You. Amen. 

What will Jesus’ feet taste like?

Have you ever thought about what Jesus feet will taste like when you get to Heaven? I know, that’s a really weird thing to ask and I’m sure most people have not spent much time pondering this question. However, the other day while I was driving, this odd question popped into my mind. For some reason, thinking about this question brought up strong emotions in me and brought tears to my eyes. Here’s why.

I imagine passing from this life into the next and suddenly being in the presence of Jesus. Standing face-to-face with my Savior, I can feel my knees weaken as I am overwhelmed by His glory, bowing down to worship Him. I can see my hands grasping His ankles as my head lowers to kiss my Lord’s feet. I’m sure I will taste mostly my tears as they stream down my face. They will be tears of overwhelming joy.

You see, I can’t imagine myself coming into the presence of my God and Savior and simply giving Jesus a high-five, fist-bump, or even a “bro-hug” (whatever that means anyway). I consider Jesus my friend, but He is so much more. When I see him I cannot think of a more humble and appropriate response than bowing down before Him in worship and kissing His feet. I know this is all very spiritual talk, but I really do wonder what His feet will taste like. I believe I will actually taste, smell, see, and hear Jesus, along with so many other heavenly, yet tangible things.

When you think about Heaven, do you think mostly about highly spiritual, intangible ideas? Do you think of yourself as weightless in the clouds, playing a harp and singing praise songs constantly? Or maybe you use words and phrases like worship, praise, the presence of the Lord, the throne room of God, a place of no more tears or suffering, pearly gates, etc. to describe the heavenly realm. Personally, I have often imagined myself bowing before Jesus on His throne in a great white room, with a white floor, and walls and a ceiling that seem to have no end. The details are rather vague and I can only recall a few people in the periphery standing by to make sure my name is on the list. But in reality, I think that picture is much closer to a low-budget TV commercial set than it is to Heaven. How is this possible? I asked Jesus to be my Savior when I was a child, I grew up going to church and to Bible school and to Bible study and youth group and I even studied religion and the Bible at a college level. So how could I possibly have a narrow and inaccurate view of Heaven? The answer is painfully simple: I have allowed the popular culture around me to influence my ideas of Heaven more than the Bible itself. Maybe you have too. Here’s a quick test:

Think of 3 movies, tv shows, or songs that have something to say about Heaven or the afterlife…

Now think of 3 verses or passages from the Bible that have something to say about Heaven…

If you thought of something for each question, which one was easier?

Unfortunately, I am not alone in my vague, unclear vision of Heaven that makes it out to be a mysterious, dull, and even unattractive place we only talk about when someone we love is dying. Inaccurate and unsettling conclusions about Heaven plague modern Christians, including pastors and other church leaders. Throughout my life, I’ve spent so much time thinking, talking, and worrying about this temporary life that I’ve been missing out on something far greater. It’s so much easier to think about my job, my house, my family, my stuff, my money than it is to focus my mind on heavenly things. After all, I live in this world, not in Heaven. I’ve been in this world my whole life, but I’ve never been to Heaven. It’s also very easy to make excuses as to why I have not had a more complete and accurate understanding of Heaven. The Bible actually has a lot to say about Heaven; we just have to intentionally look for it. It tells us that Heaven is a real place with real tangible, physical attributes. There are multitudes of people there now who have a conscious awareness of what is going on in this world; there will be a great city with streets, buildings, people, and culture. We will eat and drink and work and love as we do now without being subject to the curse of sin and death. The barrier between sinful people and a Holy God will be forever shattered and we will live in the glory of His presence.

Over the next several weeks, I would like to share some thoughts and ideas on Heaven you may not have heard before. I will be drawing from credible sources and will make sure to share them with you. My goal is to get others thinking more deeply about Heaven as I have been lately, as this subtle shift in focus can actually change your life. When Heaven is on my mind, it keeps daily problems in the right perspective; I think more about people and relationships than getting ahead or keeping more for myself. You see, thinking about the afterlife informs our present lives in the here and now. Thinking about what happens when we die does not have to be a dreadful, uncomfortable topic that needs to be avoided. As a matter of fact, many people live their lives more fully after getting a terminal diagnosis because they actually believe they are going to die, so they better get ready. I hope that sharing my thoughts and the ideas of others smarter than me from a Biblically-sound framework will challenge, educate, and encourage you with the hope of Heaven.

QUESTION:

What ideas have you heard or believed about Heaven that came from pop culture (movies, tv shows, music, etc.)? 

Please share your response on Facebook or in the Comments.