Monday, April 30, 2018

In Hot Pursuit.

When was the last time you had a goal? Something legitimately tangible, something you could take steps toward with confidence, knowing you could reach the end result you desired?

I often have a hard time pulling these sorts of memories out of my brain but I do remember when I first started making wire-wrapped studs for my jewelry business. I had a craft fair coming up and I had a certain number of earrings I wanted to make sure were available and ready for purchase. I looked at how many days of work I had until then, how many earrings I wanted to have finished, and basically did the math. It was simple and easily attainable, so I went for it. I even exceeded my goal and felt awesome going into my sale weekend.

Pursuing finishing the race of life well feels a little bit different than pursuing these types of goals. Okay, probably a lot different. We don't have that end date positively defined (though I think most of us would have a hard time living if we really knew exactly when we would die). We don't know the details of what precisely we need to have finished by that questionable ending. And at best, we have foggy ideas about what it will be like to live forever. While none of these things are crystal clear to me after pondering, studying, and talking about it all month, I do feel better prepared to keep running this race the way God desires.

The last of my four points from the beginning of April has really stuck with me this last week or so. How am I preparing to meet Jesus in my death or His resurrection? Am I simply waiting for the moment to arrive or am I actually pursuing the life I will have in eternity?

If this life really is all about glorifying God and becoming a part of His kingdom, why are we so caught up in pursuing things in this world and only waiting idly by for Jesus' return? I said in my last post that most of us think Christ will come during our lifetime but that it is statistically unlikely. Maybe, but God isn't ruled by statistics. I think we should expect Christ's return. We should want it, we should work as if it will happen any day, and freely give like our lives truly depend on His 2nd coming.

But what does it really mean to pursue these things? How do you actually live like this? Sorry, I don't have a lot of answers. I've only been thinking about it for a week, and my mind is easily distracted. One thing I do know is that we need to begin to see where our daily lives do not line up with the desire for eternity we are called to have. Hebrews says Abraham was looking forward to the city God was building, not toward the things he could gain on earth. And this phrase in the Greek is not a passive waiting or a hopeful feeling; it is an eager expectation, an active looking. Abraham was in hot pursuit of the eternal life God had for him.

I can feel the vast difference between this kind of eager expectation and the way my life is now. I don't know how to get it there, but I want to. Most of my day revolves around my family's needs, my own desires, and the expectations others have for me. But I am at least beginning to recognize when my motivations are not eternally minded, which leads me to asking God for help. Funny how all things seem to come back to this.

We need God to give us vision, hope, and desire for the eternal life we have in Him. We cannot muster up the right kind of longing or a strong enough willpower to hang our hopes in eternity, especially against all the temporary pleasure the world says is okay or even wise to pursue. The better vision we have for eternity, the easier time we will have pursuing it.

Overall though, it has been a good month for me. Thinking about the new earth, about eternity, and about where I place my hope day-to-day is humbling and can be intense, but it also lifts a tremendous burden off my heart. I feel like I can put down the hopes I have for things on the earth and trust God completely for my hopes to be met in Him, both now and even more so in eternity. This enables me to let go of the things God does not have for me right now, willingly, and sometimes even eagerly. It is totally contrary to what most people in the world will encourage you to do and I often have to shut my eyes and ears off to what others say is valuable, or worthy, or good.

In all of this, once again I have circled back to the importance of Knowing God. When we know Him, pursue understanding Him, and place our hopes in what He wants, eagerly expecting the return of Christ becomes easier, more fulfilling, and enables us to better live life. I still wrestle every day; it was incredibly hard just to sit down and write all of this out! But my discernment for what is valuable in eternity is getting better and I know it will reach into the lives of those around me too.

How will you focus on eternity? What change do you think it will have for you this week, this month, or this year?

I would encourage you to find a question you can ask yourself when you feel the pull of the world driving you nuts. With my kids, I often ask myself "What will this do to enable them to Know God better?" and if the answer is "not much" or "nothing" I try to chill out and pray for a better reaction. I am seeing that affecting their eternity is far more important than my daily, weekly, or even lifetime agenda for them. It's hard, but worth it. It makes today better and will make a difference in eternity too.

I pray God will be ever present with you, that He would open your eyes to what is valuable to Him both now and in eternity. Come back in a couple days as we press on into May, seeking to know what it means to be Called to Receive His Power. As always, feel free to comment, ask questions, or join our FB group to enter into the conversation.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Called to Prepare.

When I hear the word prepare, the first thing I think of is preparing for the worst. I do it all the time. Whether it's taking everything I might possibly need in case of a disaster with me to Target or mentally striving to be ready for whatever may come my way in a social setting, I like to be prepared. Usually, I am extremely over prepared, which I'm not sure always gives off the best impression, but what can you do? I love to be prepared. And that's one reason why I am excited for this month's calling!

This month's theme was already decided back in December, and I found it particularly interesting that on Easter, April 1st, I would be intentionally thinking about and decidedly preparing for Jesus' return. Did I actually do this all day? Eh, not so much. I did a lot of thinking and wrestling with my own heart, which often has good results and is needed, but I went to bed frustrated. Actually, I feel like I go to bed most nights frustrated with my accomplishments and not especially looking forward to the next day. And I have several theories about why this is, but a large part of my discontent seems to rise from the frustrating dichotomy I sense in my heart. 

I want a good life now. I want all the rewards I can gain in eternity. But can I truly live out both of these desires? Can I pursue my dreams and pursue the selfless life Jesus calls me to? And here's the big one: am I willing to lay down anything God asks me to and happily go after His plans? 

These types of questions often feel really vague. What is God really calling me to? What does that mean for what I do today? That is why I am working through this series. I want all of us to grasp the idea that God doesn't usually just up and give you a precise mission, clear as day. He walks us through situations where our obedience will lead us to the next step along His path for us. That's why Knowing Him, Obeying Him, and Receiving His Mind are such important first steps. And it nicely leads us to this month's Call: to prepare for Christ's return. 

As of now, most of my daily life does not revolve around Jesus' return. I don't browse Facebook as a result of seeking to be ready for Jesus to come from the clouds. I don't obsess over my hair or clothing or makeup because of any eternal value they have. I don't arrange my errands or my to-dos based on the chance that Jesus might call an end to this earth. And it all makes me think I should be considering that end result more often, more seriously.

In this call to prepare for Jesus to come again, there are a few specific tasks in the bible that keep popping up. One of them links really well with something my oldest son said today that really touched my heart. I asked him if he knew this was his last day on earth, what would he do. He immediately responded with "I would say something nice to everyone I see." I thought it was so sweet, his care and concern for other people, his last chance to leave a mark on this world. And this is also what the bible tells us to do. 

Task #1 - encourage one another

Because we do not know the hour of His return, we ought to encourage one another. Not just in whatever random pursuits they are chasing, but in being sober-minded and keeping our faith, love and hope secure in eternity, not in the enjoyment of sin, of this decaying earth, or of the pleasures of the world and culture. 

Another part of this preparation is being blameless. Not never sinning, but always striving to keep from sin and to repent as soon as we see our waywardness.

Task #2 - pursue being blameless, seek sanctification

In 1 Thessalonians Paul talks much about the end goal, about what he is hoping for at the return of Jesus. He even says that his glory will be in boasting of the Thessalonians at Jesus' coming. Paul says he hopes and prays for them to grow in love for one another so that their hearts would be established, blameless in holiness on that last day (1 These 3:11-13). In chapter 4 he says the will of God is their sanctification. In much of 1 Peter we also catch phrases about "being holy" and being sober-minded since the end is at hand. It glorifies God when we are active participants in the sanctifying work He is doing in our lives. We ought to strive toward it, as Paul says in Philippians 3, trusting that it is God's work making us holy and continue looking forward to the day when we will finally be perfect with Him. 

Another idea that stands out to me about trying to prepare for Christ's return is the work of actively doing what will lead to a reward in heaven. 

Task #3 - store up heavenly rewards

In Matthew 6 Jesus tells us to lay up treasure in Heaven, for where our treasure is, so our heart will be. So our works, our efforts of gaining for ourselves, ought to be directed toward what we will gain in eternity. If we know what will lead to eternal rewards, and can do that (even if we prefer something with a more immediate reward) I believe it will lead our hearts into desiring eternity with God the way we should, the way God wants us to. And the more we love and long for Heaven, the easier it will be to live a holy life, a life that blesses others, and a life that builds eternal riches. 

Lastly, I can't help but think about death in all of this. In all likelihood, I will face death before Jesus comes. We probably all like to think that He will come during our lifetime (myself included) but recently I feel like I cannot escape the reality of the fragility of life. I keep finding myself thinking "Am I ready to die?" Not in a morbid way (at least I don't think so) but in a way that looks at how I would be leaving my family and friends behind, wondering if I really gave them all I could have. I wonder if I honestly gave my all to Jesus' work or if I just dabbled in obeying when it seemed interesting or beneficial for me. This leads me to the last task.

Task #4 - be ready to leave the world behind

Francis Chan talks a little bit about this in his book about marriage: You and Me Forever. If we fear leaving the world behind, do we really trust God about how much more incredible and awesome it will be to be in His presence? I want to be excited to leave this world, not scared or dreading it. We need to believe that the best is yet to come. Being done with our flesh is the ultimate gift, the end that is guaranteed to happen. It should not cause us to want to end this life, but to work hard for the sake of Jesus. I do not do enough to prepare for my end on earth, but I want to embrace it with joy. I want to mean it like Paul does when he says "to die is gain." 

What does this all mean for my month? Well, I am aiming to ask myself about these four tasks when I am struggling with my heart, with my time management, or with my responses to life's demands. 

Does this bless and encourage the people around me?

Does this lead to my sanctification?

Does this have eternal value?

Will I be glad to leave it all behind?

Obviously, we can't always know the eternal value of our actions. But we can definitely see when there is none. Like my endless scrolling on Facebook instead of cleaning my home or investing in my children... it's pretty obvious which options have greater value. 

In my mind, preparing for Christ's return is all about remembering what is important. When we know and value the things that are eternal, it will lead us down a path that is just plain better. Better for others, better for our hearts, better for our eternity. In all our preparation, we will be getting our eyes off ourselves and onto Christ. I'm amazed at how easy it is to start thinking about myself and completely forget to consider what God is doing, or how He would have me respond. But intentionally turning my mind and heart to His eternal plan does wonders for my mind, body, and soul.

Are you ready? Are you willing? Are you scared? Don't be :) God only has the good end in mind. Any hardship or tragedy that comes along your path is not in vain. It is used by Him and will be redeemed. Like Paul says in Philippians 3:8-9

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith."

We should not strive to be justified by our works, but our faith in Jesus' work of justification should lead us to serving Him wholeheartedly, being prepared and eager for His return.

My prayer for you this month is that you are strengthened in your heart and in your convictions. That you have confidence in what you do, knowing that you are truly pursuing an eternal reward instead of a pleasure-filled life on earth. I know this will bring us greater peace and make a greater impact on His kingdom. Double-win!

Don't forget to add yourself to our Facebook group for some freebies, discussion, and sometimes some live videos too. I'm so thankful to be on this journey with you!