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. 

What would you do for Him?

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. Matthew 25:41-45 (NIV)

These words of Jesus appear at the end of Matthew 25 following several parables. At first glance, it may be easy to assume this is another parable about a king speaking to his servants. However, Jesus leads up to this passage by saying, “when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne” (v. 31), then he describes separating the “sheep from the goats,” placing the sheep on his right and the goats on his left (see vv. 31&32). The verses above (41-45) are directed toward those on his left, the “goats” who apparently missed the essence of who Jesus was and how He wanted them to live. Jesus is pretty clear about their eternal destination as well (see v.45).

Referring to this passage from Matthew, Francis Chan writes, “Jesus is saying that we show tangible love for God in how we care for the poor and those who are suffering. He expects us to treat the poor and desperate as if they were Christ himself. Ask yourself this: If you actually saw Jesus starving, what would you do for Him?” (Crazy Love, pg 119). When I first read that question, my immediate thought was, “if I actually saw Jesus starving, I would give him food!” But then as I thought about it further, I realized that I would do a lot more than that. I might treat him to lunch and ask him approximately a thousand questions. I may give him all the money I had in my wallet (or stop by the ATM). But I hope I would do more. If I actually saw Jesus on the street and in need, I hope I would invite him over to my house and ask my wife to cook some of her best recipes for us to enjoy together. I would beg him to stay as long as he would like, to eat my food, to talk with me and my wife, and to play with my kids. I would invite friends and family and neighbors over to meet Jesus in person, to listen to his stories and his teaching, and to be healed. I would want to take him to hospitals to heal the sick, to care homes to bring joy to the lonely, and to the prisons to give hope to prisoners. I would share him with as many people as possible. If Jesus lived down the street or in the next state, I would quit my job, move my family, sell my stuff just to be close to him. I would rearrange my schedule and my entire life just to spend the most amount of time possible in the presence of Jesus. If he had a house, I would work on his roof, mow his grass, fix his toilet; I would use the skills and abilities I have to serve him and I would constantly seek to find new ways I could serve him.

But Jesus doesn’t live down the street, or does he? He is not going to be laying in a hospital bed, begging in the street, or locked in a prison, or is he? From Jesus’ own words, it seems painfully clear that he equates serving people in need with serving him. Whatever we do for and to the people in our sphere of influence who are in need, we do for and to Jesus himself. Like me, I am sure most people reading this have heard of this idea of loving others as if they were Jesus, but do we really believe it? And if we do believe it, is it evident in our lives? Personally, I do believe we are to care for others as if they were Jesus himself, but when I look at my life honestly, I just don’t see it. Sure, I see a few glimpses of generosity, but they have more to do with just being a good person than with serving Jesus. How many hungry people have I walked by and not even noticed? How many people right in my own community are in desperate need of simple things that I could provide? How many people are seeking love in the wrong places and need someone to share the love of Jesus with them in words and in actions? What do I have to give that would be valuable to people in need?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.                  (1 John 3:16-18)

Francis Chan adds that, “another important element to giving is with our time…[but] instead of adding in another thing to our lives, perhaps God wants us to give Him all of our time and let Him direct it as He sees fit” (Crazy Love, pg.120). When it comes to giving and loving others, Chan points out that we often cling to more than our money and material possessions; “we hoard our resources, our gifts, our time, our families, our friends,” (pg 120) instead of sharing ourselves and our lives generously with others. As we constantly reflect on the incredible gift of salvation through the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our response should be to draw near to the heart of God and share this life-giving, sacrificial love with as many other people on this earth as possible.

Who in your life may be considered ‘the least of these’ and need you to serve them as you would serve Jesus?

What would you do if you actually saw Jesus in need? Have you been doing it?

I would love to hear your responses in the comments below or on Facebook.

For more from Francis Chan, see crazylovebook.com 

Are you rich?

2015/01/img_0947.jpg

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:20 (ESV)

On Sunday, the pastor at my church spoke about being “rich.” He asked several rhetorical questions to the congregation to prove that we were all rich compared to most of the world. Have you ever looked in your closet full of clothes and said, ‘I have nothing to wear’? Do you have a house just for your cars? Have you ever traded in a working car, plus a pile of money, to get a slightly newer working car? Of course, I answered yes to most of his questions (and so did he). He also pointed out that a small family could live in my walk-in closet. This was a passing comment, but it is still very true. Much of the world has living quarters only a fraction of the size and quality that most Americans enjoy. If we ever feel guilty about this, the solution is not to simply get poor and live in a storage shed. It is to become good at being rich (the pastor’s words, not mine). In his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul says:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Timothy 6:17-18 NIV)

It is an epidemic in our culture; most people place their hope in their bank account, the stock market, and their ability to provide stuff for themselves and their own family. People easily become arrogant when they make a lot of money (a lot is a very subjective amount, by the way) and seem to forget that it can all disappear in the blink of an eye. Paul reminds us of this truth and wants us instead to “put [our] hope in God, who richly provides us everything…” Did you catch that? God provides for us richly and He provides us everything. Every good thing that we have comes from Him. We are responsible to work and labor for our paychecks, but it is God who provides the job, brings the rain and sunshine, who created and sustains the entire universe in which we live and work and play. If we gather buckets full of water to drink it is only because God’s fountain has overflowed and He has allowed us to drink.

In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan gives a brief “profile of the lukewarm,” citing several characteristics of the half-hearted Christian. One of the questions they ask is “how much do I have to give?’ instead of ‘how much can I give?’ (pg 76). “Lukewarm people,” says Chan, “are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control. This focus on safe living keeps them from sacrificing and risking for God” (pg 77). When we think that we have everything under control, it is easy to trust in ourselves and the possessions and status that we have acquired. It is difficult, likely impossible, to trust in God when we do not recognize His sovereign control in our lives. We want to keep ourselves, our families, our money and our stuff safe, but we truly lack the positional authority to do so. (For more on this topic, see my previous post “Safety is our Top Priority” http://wp.me/p42Xa5-C). As Chan so clearly points out, this overemphasis we place on our safe living is often disastrous to our spiritual lives. We don’t sacrifice ourselves, our time, or our money. We don’t take risks for God’s sake. We may give some small percentage of our income to our local church, maybe even a few other non-profits, but do we really ever go above and beyond what we feel is “safe”? Recently, I’ve been giving consistently to my church even when money is tight. I have been developing a more generous heart and I’ve felt pretty good about it. However, when I realize that my “generous giving” only means that I cannot double up on my car payments every month, it seems pretty pathetic. I’m not missing any meals to make sure others don’t go hungry. I’m not giving until it hurts. Well, maybe it does hurt a little. But I think what God wants, and what the world needs, is for us to give generously with our money, well beyond what the average Christian gives (3-5% of income is what I’ve heard) and even more so to give of our time and talents. We can always get more money in this life, but we can never get more time. None of us even know how many days, hours, and minutes are in our “time account,” so we ought to spend today wisely. It’s good to give away money to keep in mind who is really in control, but I challenge you to also give your precious time to serving and loving others in your life. Serve your spouse, your kids, and your friends, but also go beyond the familiar and serve those who cannot likely serve you in return. Remember that God sees even what is done in secret and He truly knows the condition and motives of your heart.

How can you serve others and be generous in your daily life? What creative ways have you found to love others amid the busyness of life?

 

For more on the book “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan, see crazylovebook.com 

To hear what my pastor said straight from the source, see tricountychurch.net

10 Day Do Over Challenge

For the last 8 days, I have been working on a 10 Day Do Over Challenge by Jon Acuff. The idea is to identify one thing you would like to “do over” and work at it for at least 10 minutes per day for 10 consecutive days. With a time commitment as little as 100 minutes over the course of ten days, it is an exercise that is intended to be easily achievable and jump start the completion of much bigger goals. Nine days ago, I chose blogging as my do over challenge. I started this blog nearly two years ago and had barely updated it until January 1st of this year. I believed that no one would read it or not “enough” people would read it. I let my fear of failure and my insecurity hold me back from simply sharing my thoughts and ideas on a public platform. Thanks to this Do Over Challenge, I have posted to my blog 9 days in a row (this is #9) and have gathered a handful of new readers. It’s not been a huge success so far, but I have overcome some of my fears and have decided to write anyway. If no one reads, I will write anyway. If people read and don’t comment or give feedback, I will write anyway. If my readers hate what I’m writing and let me know in very colorful language, I will write anyway.

In order to keep growing as a blogger and as a writer, I have decided to further develop my skill of consistency. “Further develop” is a bit of an understatement, as I have been consistently inconsistent at many things in my life. But I am off to a good start with this blog and I intend to build on that momentum and keep doing short-term challenges to meet long-term goals and dreams. I want to post to this blog and write consistently, making a habit of sharing ideas and encouraging others as I develop my skills. I want to take good notes when I read awesome books, gather ideas in one place, and share my writing on a regular schedule. I want to keep writing in the mornings and get up early to give myself more time to write without taking time away from my wife and son (or breakfast). I want to develop more good habits and get rid of old ones. I want to chase my dream of being a published author and someone who changes people who change the world.

What skills are you working on? What practical steps are you taking this year to chase your dreams?

I would love to hear your answers in the comments section.

On “The Pursuit of God”

I’ve heard at least once that great writers first need to be great readers. The idea is that if you want to write well, you need to read books and other written works of people who are already where you want to be. The process of reading helps an individual develop his or her own voice and style, while learning from the foundations that others have laid. Reading great books also helps stimulate great thoughts and ideas, as well as motivation for personal or communal change.

For the first time in my life, I have created an actual written reading list–it identifies several books I intend to read throughout this calendar year. It is my desire to share notable quotes, thoughts, ideas and insights from many of these books periodically. I hope my readers find value in this process.

I have to admit that most books that made my list were fairly recent publications that were already on my bookshelf. However, there was one little book that has been around for quite a while that I have yet to read. Written on a long train ride in the late 1940s, “The Pursuit of God” by A.W. Tozer has been called one of the most spiritually influential books of the 20th century by many evangelical leaders and publications. I have just begun reading it and I would like to share a few excerpts that I found both challenging and encouraging.

To have found God and still pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too easily satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart. (Tozer, pgs. 14&15)

Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. (Tozer, pg. 15)

The stiff and wooden quality of our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain. (Tozer, pg. 17)

We must simplify our approach to Him. We must strip down to essentials (and they will be found to be blessedly few). We must put away all effort to impress, and come with the guileless candor of childhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond. (Tozer, pg. 18)

I believe Tozer’s words speak for themselves pretty clearly, but I would like to emphasize that belief in God and acceptance of Jesus is not a one-time event that never needs to be revisited. God is about relationship and we all know that good relationships take work and effort on both sides. God has already done the work of creation, providence, salvation, etc and has given us a desire to seek Him. Tozer references John 6:44 which says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day” (NIV). Please note the use of the word draw–it doesn’t say force or coerce–it simply says draw. I believe God gives us a desire in our hearts to know Him and He does a lot of work on us without us even realizing it. However, it is also clear to me that we have a responsibility to respond. He will not force us to surrender our wills to His; He will not force us to change. But He will challenge us and change us if we would only pursue Him with passion. Accepting Christ as Lord is not the end of the journey, it is merely the beginning of a new life. I would like to finish up with a prayer that Tozer writes at the end of Chapter 1 in “The Pursuit of God”:

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long. In Jesus’ name. Amen. (Tozer, pg 20)

Who I am and Why I’m here…

I’m Tyler Brooks. I’m a twenty-something who is a husband, father, born-again, sinner-saved-by-grace Christian. I’m an amateur writer, a thinker, a dreamer. I care deeply about relationships with family, friends, and Jesus. I’m an introvert with a few extrovert tendencies; basically, I love being around people, just not too many and not for too long. I have aspirations of being an author and speaker and maybe even a pastor.

My motivation for writing this blog is simply to use it as a platform to share my thoughts and ideas, as well as to engage in meaningful conversation with others. The title, “The Mind of Tyler,” is intended to communicate that the content you read streams rather freely from my mind. Therefore, the topics covered are likely to be widely varied and my thoughts may at times seem incomplete. I’m OK with that. Sometimes, self-expression is not pretty and it is NEVER perfect. As a recovering perfectionist, this blog is kind of like therapy for me. That being said, my readers will likely see a lot of content about Jesus, Christianity, Faith, Family & Marriage, relationships, some book reviews, personal finance, small business, entrepreneurship, leadership, and whatever else I feel the need to share.

In the next 6 months, I intend to update this blog at least 3 times/week, hopefully more often. By this time next year, I hope to have a consistent group of readers who engage me. I really enjoy positive feedback, but I appreciate ALL constructive feedback. If you read my post and have an opinion or some thoughts to add, please feel free to COMMENT.

The people I hope to connect with through this blog are students, teachers, pastors, Christians, non-Christians, academics, leaders, business owners, entrepreneurs, artists, and anyone who enjoys thinking and interesting conversation. If you would like to see a particular topic covered (or just more of it), please let me know. Thanks for reading!