By the Will of God

Click here to read Ephesians 1 on BibleGateway.com

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…” Ephesians 1:1

Think of an animal that starts with K.  Now think of a continent.

Did you think of Australia?  Why?  Is it because I have eerie powers and I can read your mind?  Possibly, if you’re a weak-minded fool and are susceptible to old Jedi mind tricks.  But for the rest of you, if you were just asked to think of a continent out of the blue, would you automatically think of Australia? Probably not.  But the previous question gets your mind thinking Down Under (since most people think of kangaroos or koalas), and your mind (at least most people’s minds) will keep going down the same path.  That’s how our minds work; we get an initial starting point, and everything that comes after reflects it.

WILL POWER

Have you ever thought about the way Paul opens his letters?  They almost all start with Paul identifying himself, as well as the church/person he is writing to.  But he doesn’t just say, “hey Goobadiah, it’s me Paul.”    In the case of the Ephesians in our chapter today, he opens by saying “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”  Notice how Paul sets the initial frame – what he is doing with his life at that moment is not just his decision; it is by the will of God.  Everything that he writes in the letter after that is framed by that knowledge and self-identity.  That is his basis for viewing the world.

If you wrote a letter, would you be comfortable say that what you are doing now is by the will of God?  Are you confident you are where God wants you to be?  Are you “Dave, a plumber by the will of God.” Or “Denise – a lawyer by the will of God.” Or “Francis – changing poopy diapers by the will of God.”   If you saw everything in your life as doing it for God and by His will, how would your attitude or actions change? Do you think that might affect the way you view your job, or education, or ministry?

When you think of yourself, or when people ask you one thing about yourself at those ice-breakers that we all love so much, does your identity in Christ come to your mind first?  If someone were to ask you to write a brief paragraph about you, what is the first thing you would say?  Would it be “parent,” or “doctor,” or “unicycler”?  Or do you know that you are Christ’s first and foremost?

FOR ALL IN TENTS AND PURPOSES

Of course, you may have to do things for a season in order to pay the bills; nobody wants their mac and cheese to get repossessed.  But just because you’re delivering pizzas, you could still say “Bill – teaching Sunday School by the will of God.”  Your vocation doesn’t necessarily sumup who you are;  Paul was a tentmaker in addition to being an apostle after all.  But his identity was in Christ; he didn’t start his letters by saying “Tentmaker Paul.”  His first identity, the initial impression by which he sees the world and others, is through the lens of Jesus

Our first identity, before the job title, before the spouse, before the family name – our very core identity needs to be rooted in Christ.  If (and probably when) most of those other things disappear or fade, we are still His; we still remain who we are, because He remains who He is.  Forever, unchanging, unwavering, unquestionably the same Jesus you met that first time.   No matter what you do, or where you go, or who you’re with, Jesus is still the one by whom and through whom we all have our being.

Even the wallabies.

Guilt Trip

Click here to read 2 Corinithians 8 on BibleGateway.com

“They exceeded our expectations…bring also to completion this act of grace on your part.” – 2 Cor. 8:5-6

Sometimes the ol’ English language is a little tricky for the Believer.  Words have more than one meaning, or we use more than one word to say the same thing  Which means we have words that can carry a negative connotation in one sense, and so we are hesitant to use it in its proper or positive way.  Confused?

Let’s take the word “guilt” for example.  Most of us would agree that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross atones for our guilt, in the sense that He took the punishment for our sin upon himself.  In that way, we no longer have to “feel guilty” in the sense that God has forgiven us.  On the other hand, guilt can also mean “the feeling that you aren’t doing enough,” and that can be either good or bad.  But because we know we shouldn’t feel “guilt version 1,” we automatically think that “guilt version 2” is also a bad thing.

We even have a term for this: a guilt trip.  This is when somebody makes you feel guilty, even though you haven’t done anything wrong, or because they’re trying to get you to do something for them.  Examples? Alright:

”That’s alright, you don’t have to finish supper.  It only took me six hours to make, and I only lost one finger cutting the pieces down the size you like.  I still have 9 other digits to use for supper tomorrow.”

“Of course I know you’re busy, you don’t have to help me with this project.  I’m sure if I get fired it’ll all work out somehow.”

“That’s ok, you don’t have to come visit me when I’m elderly.  I like being alone at the nursing home, with all the fish tanks to look at.”

THE GUILTER’S GUILD

And so guilt gets a bad name; it’s seen as manipulative, or self-serving, or even dishonest.  We have whole seminars built around getting rid of our guilt feelings.   We may even get mad at our pastors when they try to push us into giving extra to the building fund or missions budget.  How dare they guilt us into serving God?

Yet, maybe we’re looking at this problem in the wrong way.  After all, Paul doesn’t seem to have any trouble guilting people into giving.  Notice how he sticks it to the Corinthians here, by talking about how much the other churches are doing. Let’s run down the list:

– They gave more, even though they’re broke
– They gave more than they could afford
– They actually prayed that God would let them give
– They “gave to the Lord” and also to other believers.

Then Paul basically starts schmoozing – “you’re so good at everything, why not be good at giving too?” It’s like when the coach points out Rodney making all his shots, and tells you that could do that too, if you worked a little harder.

THE MIRROR GATE

The hard part to accept is that we often like to blame leadership for “guilting” us, when in reality they are simply challenging us to do what we should be doing with a cheerful heart.  We blame them for “manipulating,” instead of looking in the mirror and see if perhaps they’re not the ones gaming the system.  We want to be able to do what we want, and not be forced to feel bad about it.

Maybe if we feel guilty, or we get upset at people “guilting” us into giving, maybe instead of blaming them, we need to look at own hearts.  If somebody tells you “you’re not eating enough pizza,” you probably don’t get mad or think they’re guilting you.  You’re excited, because you’re looking to get going on correcting that.  Shouldn’t our attitude be the same when it comes to giving?  If a pastor/missionary challenges us to give, shouldn’t we be as excited to join that ministry as we are to ingest melted cheese? Guilt in that sense can be a good thing, because it can motivate us to pursue a more holy life, in our giving, or thoughts, or actions, even if we don’t liek someone pointing it out.

Maybe others guilting us isn’t the real problem.  Maybe the real problem is we have something to feel guilty about.

8 Seconds With God

goldfishWithout a show of hands, who here has managed to pray for more than ten minutes in row? Can anyone honestly say they’ve never fallen asleep in church before? Are you willing to admit that every once in a while, when you’re in a class or meeting, you are actually “re-watching” a movie on your internal movie screen rather than listening? Why is it so hard for us to focus?

Truth be told, it’s not completely your fault; we’re  created to move quickly from one task to another. Did you know the average attention span is eight seconds? Eight….whole….seconds.  Which is  one second less than a goldfish (seriously true; that’s kind of embarrassing for our species). Which means you’ll probably forget about this paragraph by the time you get to the end of the page. It’s no wonder that we have a hard time paying attention in class or church. It’s just natural. Of course, we are not completely subject to our natural inclinations – we can choose to “pay attention” for longer by “refocusing” on a single task over a period of time (though even then, some research suggests twenty minutes is the maximum effective time for even this “extended” attention span.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED?

So maybe we should forgive the poor disciples for their amazingly short memory in today’s passage. In Mark 6, we have the famous story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Right after that, Jesus sends the disciples across the lake, where he joins them without bothering with the hassle of actually walking on solid ground. And to finish off the day, He calms a storm that’s been upsetting the disciples.

But notice what the Bible says about the disciples: “they were amazed, because they didn’t understand about the loaves.” What does bread have to do with personalized weather patterns? Seems pretty random. Here’s the connection: Jesus had just shown that God was not limited by the natural laws we all live by – feeding five thousand people with just a few buns is pretty impressive, even if it was the big Italian ones. So it should be no surprise to the disciples that Jesus was not subject to the laws of surface tension or the jet stream. Yet they were surprised?

We may think the disciples are pretty dumb (and honestly, sometimes they are), but do we really act any differently? If we need a financial miracle, and God comes through, do we automatically trust that He will heal our broken arm? Or do we worry and doubt Him all over again? Even after God does a miracle, we believe “yes, He did that; but can He really do this?” Our trust has a shockingly short shelf-life.

AUTO-FOCUS

The good news is that we don’t have to be superhuman to overcome this tendency. All we have to do is develop the habit of coming back to God, over and over again as other distractions appear. This is why the Bible says we must be “continuously” praying – that doesn’t mean praying non-stop. It means repeatedly coming back and refocusing on Christ. The evangelist Smith Wigglesworth described this when people asked how much he prayed. He replied , “I don’t often spend more than half an hour in prayer at one time, but I never go more than half an hour without praying.”

Even if God has spoken to you in the past, you may find that you need to go back to his Word and hear from Him again. He has something new for each moment that comes along.  It’s so easy for us to rely on what Jesus has done for us before, we forget that He’s ready to do over and above it today. No matter how great the miracle was in the past, we still need to learn to trust that God is the God of right now, right here, right in the middle of what we’re going through, eight seconds at a time.

He is I AM, after all. He can do the miracle you need today.