Imagine if you lived in a context where you felt like no matter what you did, you were never going to be accepted or welcomed? For many people, that's the way they would characterize the bulk of their daily experiences. They feel unloved and can give you many examples of how they've been treated like unwanted and unappreciated outcasts. That was certainly the case during the days of Christ's earthly ministry as well. But Jesus didn't avoid the outcasts. He offered Himself to them and gave them the opportunity to become part of His family.
Commitment and faithfulness are traits the Lord makes visible in the lives of those who trust in Him. When we come to a place of genuine faith in Jesus Christ, a transformation takes place in our lives. Instead of running away from God, we embrace Him. Instead of ignoring Him, we strive to hear Him. Instead of disobeying Him, we find delight in obeying Him. That obedience becomes the most obvious mark of our genuine faith in Him.
God is giving us the opportunity to do a "rewrite" with our lives. Prior to coming to know Him, we were spiraling downward, bent on defiance toward Him, and idolizing our own ideas as if they were superior to His omniscience. We were lost, and we didn't really want to be found. But through Jesus Christ, we're now given the opportunity to experience a full rewrite of our life story, and the story that He's crafting is a masterpiece.
Grace is an undeserved gift. When we're shown grace, we're given a blessing that we didn't do anything to earn. Displaying grace is a wonderful trait to practice in life, but there is no greater example of it than the grace we have been shown by God through Jesus Christ. In fact, He wants our lives to abound with His grace. But to fully appreciate the depth of His grace, it's helpful to understand just how bad things would be for us without it.
I'm a big fan of multiple genres of music, and there's a song that was released some years ago that speaks about being "stuck in a moment." That's probably a concept most of us can identify with to some degree. Sometimes our circumstances can feel so "all-consuming" to the point that it's hard to see beyond them. We get stuck in a moment. Instead of seeing what's further up ahead, we struggle to see much further beyond the four walls that surround us. But hope is a very real thing and something we shouldn’t let go of. So what truths should we hold onto if we’re tempted to lose hope?
There's a curious trait that we all possess, and it has a habit of showing up in interesting ways. In general, we prefer to place our trust in what we can observe. We want our eyes to be convinced of something before our hearts are willing to trust in its reliability.
But in regard to our faith, God is honored when we trust Him for what we cannot yet see. Anyone can walk by sight, but not everyone is willing to walk by faith, and God has promised us many things that can't be facilitated through natural means. Naturally speaking, His promises seem impossible, but God wants us to trust Him to do the impossible. So, what does that look like?
Have you ever wondered if you’ve offended God? Maybe you've spent your life avoiding God, but now you're becoming conscious of His presence and you're curious about what He thinks of you. Maybe you've been walking with God, but lately you've been experiencing trials and difficulties that feel out of the norm. Is He angry with you? Does He want to have anything to do with you? Does He have something against you that needs to be dealt with and brought out into the open?
There are many things that we all do that force us to compromise with that we know to be right. But because we sometimes want to do what we want to do, regardless of the consequences, we can invent creative excuses to justify all kinds of behaviors.
This, by the way, isn't new to us. Mankind has excelled at this practice from our earliest days and it always gets us in trouble while also impacting the nature of our fellowship with God. What are you currently excusing in your life that really needs to be rooted out? What are your favorite excuses for doing whatever you want?
Many people mistakenly believe that eternal life or salvation can be earned. If you asked most people why they believed the Lord was going to grant them eternal life in His presence, they would say, "Because I have done more good in my life than bad." But is that true? Does Scripture actually teach this or is salvation obtained in a different way than many people expect?
If we took an honest self-assessment of our lives, I think each of us could probably identify a few areas where we've been blessed with gifts or privileges that others may not have necessarily received. In your life, those privileges might relate to where you were born, when you were born, what kind of health you've experienced, the strength of your family of origin, your educational opportunities, or the financial blessings you've been given. It might also be possible to identify ways in which you've been privileged spiritually.
What are you doing with the gifts and privileges you've been given? Are you grateful for them? Are you using them to bless others? Are you allowing those gifts to impact your life the way God intended?
One of the most awkward subjects for many of us to discuss is our personal finances. Even though our personal financial health directly impacts our family, our local church, funding for international missions, and our opportunities to be able to dedicate time to volunteer with ministries that matter to us, we hesitate to understand how to be stewards of the money the Lord entrusts to us. How are you handling the money the Lord has blessed you with?
Self-righteousness is disgusting, but it’s what many people in this world expect to experience when they encounter devoted Christians. Quite possibly, someone they have encountered in the past has left them with that impression, or maybe they've bought into the ways Christians are stereotyped in the media. Maybe they've even been on the receiving end of hurtful condemnation from a person who professes to believe in Jesus. Have you ever struggled with self-righteousness?
Years ago, I was in a hardware store and from a distance I saw someone I knew. Typically, when that takes place, I'll take the time to say "hello", but on this particular occasion, I didn't want to. The man I saw had just created a lot of conflict for some mutual friends, and I didn't want to engage him in conversation because I didn't want to get drawn into the drama. So I pretended like I hadn't seen him. I kept shopping and tried not to be seen. To my knowledge, he never knew I was there, but it felt very strange to try to walk through the aisles of the store while actively hiding from him and pretending I didn't know he was there.
In many ways, that's the way a large percentage of humanity lives their lives in regard to God. Instinctively, they know He's there, but they're doing their best to pretend He isn't while doing everything they can to avoid running into Him. There are consequences for doing this, and a dark side to living with this kind of disbelief that Romans 1:18-32 illustrates.
When you read through the chapters of Romans, it quickly becomes clear that Paul was trying to help the believers in the church at Rome come to a thorough understanding of sound doctrine. He wanted them to be able to understand deeper details about our faith so that their love for one another would grow and their appreciation for the work Christ has accomplished on our behalf would be strengthened. We don't need to be ashamed of Jesus. Rather, we can be joyful and grateful for who He is and what He does on our behalf.
Prayer is a beautiful and powerful thing. When Scripture speaks of prayer, it's describing the privilege we have as those who trust in Christ, to come to God personally, collectively, and directly, and communicate with Him. In prayer, we can praise Him for who He is, confess our sins and struggles, thank Him for the work He's accomplishing in our lives, and make requests for His divine help and intervention.
Various aspects of God's nature are so different from our daily human experience that it can be challenging for us to comprehend them. In time, as our trust in the Lord matures, we may come to accept the fact that these things are true of God, but we'll also probably spend a considerable amount of time wondering how these things work.
So why should it matter to us that God is self-existent? And what difference does it make to trust the fact that God is sovereign over His creation?
God wants us to live righteously, but how can we practice righteousness when, by nature, we're sinful people? And how can anything we do be considered righteous since all aspects of our lives have been tainted by sin? Our God is pure and far above everything He has created, but still His righteousness is made available to us, and in blessing us with it, He remedies this dilemma.
Are we as thankful for God's justice as we are for His love and mercy? Truthfully, as we'll demonstrate in a few moments, God's justice, love and mercy go hand in hand. They compliment and work perfectly together. Still, most often, we tend to be more thankful for God's justice when it's applied to someone else than we are when it's applied to us.
Scripture teaches us that we have been created in the image of God. There are many ways in which we resemble Him or reflect His attributes. Scripture also encourages us to seek to be like Him in how we see things, treat things, and value things. God is empowering us to navigate life like He wants us to, but we also need to acknowledge that while we're learning to be more like Him, He is far above us and is the perfection of all the attributes we're seeking to emulate.
And while some of His attributes can be incorporated into what we value and what we do, other attributes cannot even be replicated because they are unique to God alone.