The Goal

The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.  -Phil. 3:14

What is the goal of your life?  What are you pursuing?  What do you strive for?  What is your determination?

The pursuit of Christ is an ongoing pursuit from the day you become a Christian, until the day you die.  It is an action, something we do, by faith. 

When you wake up in the morning each day, what is the big idea?  What are you preoccupied with?

Did you know that being in love with and in the pursuit of Jesus, is a place that is available to you?  Did you know that it is available to you to have him walk with you and talk with you?  The way you get that is by pursuing him.

When we interact with each other as Christian brothers and sisters and when we interact with our own children as Christian parents, we want to always call them "upward".  We don't want to shame people or be dream killers, but call people upward in Christ. 

We then encourage one another up into Christ.  We are open to any and every dream that another person has because all things are really possible in Christ.  The upward call, the heavenward calling; the, "on earth as it is in heaven", modus operandi, is our way of life in Christ.

Hearing, But Not Understanding Jesus

Jesus’ disciples came and said to him, “Why do you use parables when you speak to the crowds?”

Jesus replied, “Because they haven’t received the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but you have.  For those who have will receive more and they will have more than enough. But as for those who don’t have, even the little they have will be taken away from them.  This is why I speak to the crowds in parables: although they see, they don’t really see; and although they hear, they don’t really hear or understand. What Isaiah prophesied has become completely true for them:
You will hear, to be sure, but never understand; and you will certainly see but never recognize what you are seeing. For this people’s senses have become calloused, and they’ve become hard of hearing, and they’ve shut their eyes so that they won’t see with their eyes or hear with their ears or understand with their minds, and change their hearts and lives that I may heal them.
  -Matthew 13:10-15

Have you ever wondered how people can hear the good news about Christ and say, "no thanks"?  They say,"no thanks", by ignoring the message, begging to differ with it, or rejecting it.  This not only happens in a crowd listening to to an evangelist and when non-church people attend a funeral or a wedding, but it also happens at every sort or church gathering.

In this account, there is Jesus, the crowds, and Jesus' disciples.  People in the crowd are interested in Jesus.  They might identify themselves as followers.  Wherever Jesus goes, they go.  In today's culture, they might wear a Jesus t-shirt or have a Bible verse tattooed on them. 

The disciples questioned Jesus as to why he spoke to the crowds in parables. Parables are stories Jesus used to illustrate something about the kingdom. Parables are also like riddles.  People would have understood how farming works, but maybe not been able to make the connection to how a story about farming illustrated a kingdom principle.

Every week, preachers teach from Jesus' parables and explain to their hearers as best they can, what they mean.  People can sit through a systematic unpacking of scripture by a gifted communicator and still not receive it.  Why is this or how can this be?  Perhaps because God offers us choice.  It's an invitation.  It's permission.  But we have to do something and for whatever reason, some people refuse.  Sometimes the Bible calls this a hard heart, or a stubborn heart as the CEB translates it.

The writer if Hebrews, writing to believers, has a very serious word about this, quoting Psalm 95:

So, as the Holy Spirit says,
Today, if you hear his voice, don’t have stubborn hearts as they did in the rebellion, on the day when they tested me in the desert.
That is where your ancestors challenged and tested me, though they had seen my work for forty years.
So I was angry with them.
I said, “Their hearts always go off course, and they don’t know my ways.”
Because of my anger I swore: “They will never enter my rest!”
Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that none of you have an evil, unfaithful heart that abandons the living God.  Instead, encourage each other every day, as long as it’s called “today,” so that none of you become insensitive to God because of sin’s deception.  We are partners with Christ, but only if we hold on to the confidence we had in the beginning until the end.

When it says,

Today, if you hear his voice, don’t have stubborn hearts as they did in the rebellion.
Who was it who rebelled when they heard his voice? Wasn’t it all of those who were brought out of Egypt by Moses?   And with whom was God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it with the ones who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert?  And against whom did he swear that they would never enter his rest, if not against the ones who were disobedient?  We see that they couldn’t enter because of their lack of faith.  -Hebrews 3:7-19

This section of Hebrews illustrates how serious God is about obedience.  When God has made something clear to us, he expects us to obey and follow.  God is not mean, but he is Holy and good.  God wants to protect us from injury and lead us to wholeness and holiness.  God spoke very clearly at times in the Old Testament and there were consequences for not obeying.

Does Hebrews 3 teach us that disobedient, unfaithful Christians do not go to heaven?  No.  Does Hebrews 3 teach us that salvation is through faith plus faithfulness?  No.  The rest that God wants the Christian to enter into is God's inheritance for the believer in this life.  It is the calling and the walk that Jesus paid for, that all Christians have the invitation to walk in on earth.

The reason for parables is God's mercy.  God is patient and long suffering with the not yet believer and the unbelieving believer.  He gives them something that is clear to the enlightened, it is clear to someone who's spirit has been born anew and who is in a process of growth, of getting it.  God puts something out there for the unbeliever that baffles them or might even offend them, especially if they are proudly invested in their own ideas of how things should work.

The answer to why Jesus spoke in parables is answered by Jesus, "because they haven’t received the secrets of the kingdom of heaven".  The secrets, the mysteries of the kingdom can only be received by revelation.  You either get it or you don't get it.  Nicodemus, in John 3, didn't get it; and Jesus was ministering to him in his, "I don't get it-ness".  Nick may very well have got it after that encounter.

The revelation of receiving the secrets and knowing them and getting them does not come by natural insight.  In fact, they are illogical.  Knowing the secrets comes from a divine exchange.  You must receive them from God.  Relationship with God is key.  Face-time.  It may be all new to you, but you have to open up in intimacy (into-me-see) with God to receive the secrets, the revelations, to have the eyes and the ears of your heart opened.  If you are not interested in that path, if you don't open up, if you don't get real with God, and if you don't bow; you won't get it and you stay in the crowd till you do.

Staying in the crowd, belonging but not believing, being a Christian in name only, not having a working intimate relationship with God where you are allowing yourself to be transformed into the likeness of His Son; will give you a life of religion where you will actually be worse off.  Jesus says of crowd Christians, "but as for those who don’t have, even the little they have will be taken away from them."  That's not a place you want to be.

The indictment from Isaiah that Jesus quotes also has hope in it.  If those with hard hearts who are not getting it would come to God, change their hearts, ask God to change their hearts, would repent, would make an exchange, would surrender their lives and say "everything is on the table, in your hands"; and would become disciples, then they would be healed.  "That I may heal them", says God.  Repentance is key.  Jesus message was, "repent"(Matt. 3:2, 4:17).  The church's message is also "repent" (Acts 2:28, 3:19, 8:22, 17:30, 26:20).  Jesus is calling churches to repent (Rev. 2:5, 2:16, 2:21-2, 3:3, and 3:19).  Repentance is a lifestyle for the believer.  It is our salvation (Isa. 30 15).

Living Before The Face of God

The heavens declare the glory 
(his royal majesty and power)
of God;
The sky displays his handiwork.
(Heb “and the work of his hands the sky declares.”)
Day after day it speaks out 
(Heb “it gushes forth a word.”);
Night after night it reveals his greatness 
(Heb “it [i.e., the sky] declares knowledge,”).
There is no actual speech or word, nor is its
(Heb “their”) voice literally heard.
Yet its voice 
(“their voice”)
(Heb “goes out,” or “proceeds forth”)
Throughout the earth; its 
(Heb “their”)
Words carry to the distant horizon 
(“goes out)”.
In the sky 
(Heb “in them” (i.e., the heavens))
He has pitched a tent for the sun.

Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber; 
Like a strong man it enjoys running its course.
It emerges from the distant horizon, and goes from one end of the sky to the other; nothing can escape
(Heb “is hidden from”) its heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect and preserves one’s life
(Heb “[it] restores life”).
The rules set down by the Lord are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced
(“the [morally] naive”).
The Lord’s precepts are fair and make one joyful
(Heb “[they] make happy [the] heart”).
The Lord’s commands are pure and give insight for life
(Heb [they] enlighten [the] eyes).

The commands to fear the Lord are right
(Heb “the fear of the Lord is clean”) and endure forever (Heb “[it] stands permanently”).
The judgments given by the Lord are trustworthy and absolutely just.

They are of greater value
(Heb “more desirable”)
Than gold, than even a great amount of pure gold;
They bring greater delight
(Heb “are sweeter”)
Than honey, than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb.

Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there
(Heb “moreover your servant is warned by them”);
Those who obey them receive a rich reward
(Heb “in the keeping of them [there is] a great reward”).

Who can know all his errors?  Please do not punish me for sins I am unaware of
(Heb “declare me innocent from hidden [things],” i.e., sins. In this context (see the preceding line) “hidden” sins are not sins committed in secret, but sins which are not recognized as such by the psalmist).

Moreover, keep me from committing flagrant
(Or “presumptuous”)
Sins; do not allow such sins to control me
(Heb “let them not rule over me”).
Then I will be blameless, and innocent of blatant
(Heb “great”)

May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight
(Heb “May [Then] the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart be acceptable before you”),
O Lord, my sheltering rock and my redeemer
(Heb “and the one who redeems me”). 
   -Psalm 19 (NET, with NET notes in parentheses) 

Are you aware that you are living before God, before his face?  Can you say, "may the words I speak and the thoughts I think be pleasing before your face"?  A person's face is the most intimate part of their body that they show day to day.  We call it "face time" when we get together with someone, so that we can talk or be together, "face to face", and have eye contact and see all the expressions on their faces.

You might be familiar with 2 Chronicles 7:14, "if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."  God says to humble ourselves, pray, seek his face, and turn from our wicked ways.

The phrase, "in your sight", in Psalm 19,  verse 14, is the same Hebrew word, panim, that is translated as, "face", in 2 Chron. 7:14.  Many translations go with "face" for panim in 2 Chron. 7:14, but none use, "face", in Psalm 19:14.  Instead, "in your sight", is the common translation.

Panim also carries with it the idea of presence and acceptance.  If you come into the presence of the Almighty and live, you must be accepted.  The Psalmist adds "acceptable" to "in your sight": May I be acceptable, to come into your acceptance (presence).  Or, he might say, "help me to be acceptable, by keeping me from sin, especially sins of speech and thought, so that I can have face-time with you, coming into your presence of intimacy (into-me-see)."

C.S. Lewis(1) loved Psalm 19: "I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world."  For Lewis, the key phrase in Psalm 19 is, "there is nothing hid from the heat thereof".  The Law is also like the sun: "luminous, severe, disinfectant, exultant", writes Lewis.  There is no room for self-righteousness, because the Law even uncovers hidden sin, inadvertent, sin of omission.  We should all be like David and pray that God keeps us from hidden and blatant sins. 

You might be thinking, "but this is all Old Testament, the time of The Law.  Now we are under grace." But David was inspired by someone who perfectly knew God's plan of salvation, that would later inspire the words, "you are saved by grace" (Ephesians 2:8).  David writes that as we are all under the sun, it shines on everyone on the earth; we are also all under God's perfect law that is glorious in that it leads us in how to live.  David also reflects that we are all under the gaze of a Holy God, who is our only hope for living a holy life.  He protects us and redeems us.

The law is glorious, it is sweeter than honey and greater than pure gold.  Life is very rewarding when we live by and under the law.  David is correct.  Ephesians 2:8 is also correct in that we are saved by grace and not by own own efforts in doing good.  Grace is God's power to live the life, supplied by God.

David's poem has God's grace in it, because David admonishes his hearers to pray to God for help to not sin.  David's only hope, only power to obey the law, is God's help.  "Please do not punish me for my sins I am not even aware of", and "keep me for committing flagrant sins"; says David.  Only God can shut our sin factories down and keep then shut down.  That's grace.

David closes the psalm with the declaration that God is his redeemer and protector.  That's Old Testament grace.  David says that the Lord is his protector and the one who governs him, watches over him, who gives him covenant protection.

The overarching idea of the Old Covenant is that God keeps it.  He just asks us the have faith which is demonstrated in our faithfulness.

As we all live under the sun, we all also live under the law, and we are invited to live before God,; before God's face, in God's presence.  David was onto something that was fulfilled in Christ.  The blood of Jesus opens the way to the Father (Hebrews 10:19-20).

"Most of us can maintain righteous behavior most of the time.  Our deepest struggles are in our thought life and the words that proceed from it... the tongue is the barometer of the mind .  It measures what is going on inside our heads.  Sooner or later, it will tell the truth about us- that we have pride, prejudices, impurities, petty agendas, and a strong self-will.  If we keep ourselves pure within, we will be pure in our speech and our actions as well.
   ...Do your thoughts and words reflect the truth of who God is?"  -Chris Tiegreen, The One Year Walk With God Devotional

"Holy Spirit, think through me till my ideas are your ideas."  -Amy Charmichael

Meditation is something that we don't know much about as Christians today.  Many translations replace "thoughts", from the NET translation I used, with "meditation".  "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."

What are you musing about?  What are you chewing on in your mind?  What if you have a sanctified mind, where God is Lord of your thoughts, where truth reigns?  From that place, you speak and you pray.

Hypocrisy is the opposite of this.  The heart and the mind are not sanctified, or in a process of sanctification.  Instead of humility that sanctification brings, you are sanctimonious.

"You will remember that the location where Jesus was crucified was called "Golgotha", which meant "place of the skull".  If we will be effective in spiritual warfare, the first field of conflict where we must learn warfare is the battleground of the mind; i.e., "place of the skull".  For the territory of the uncrucified thought-life is the beachhead of satanic assault in our lives.  To defeat the devil, we must be renewed in our minds."  -Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds

We need to pray as David did that God would change us and govern us from the inside out.  The living before God life is a life of humility, dependence, dying to self, and living in God.

May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight, 
O Lord my sheltering rock and my redeemer.

Artwork credit:  Dr. Stephen L. Cook
1. Reflections On The Psalms, C.S. Lewis; p. 64 

Undesirable Christ

He grew up like a young plant before us, like a root from dry ground.  He possessed no splendid form for us to see, no desirable appearance.  -Isaiah 53:2

Have you ever wondered what Jesus was like before his three or three and a half year ministry time recorded in the gospels?  What was he like before all the miracles?

Isaiah gives a prophetic word that he, the Messiah, would be ordinary and undesirable.  If you have been waiting to be extraordinary and desirable, in order to serve God, you are mistaken.

God uses ordinary people who grow up in ordinary places.  God raises up people from unlikely places.  God gets a harvest where there is dry ground and no rain.  You were unexpected in the world's eyes, because your birth was from above.

You might think you are not good enough to be used by God.  That's the wrong focus.  No one is good enough.  When you compare yourself to others, who you think are better to serve God; you are way off.  Christ is all.  He does not need the help of our natural abilities and talents.

Your life in Christ springs up out of nothing.  Your life in Christ owes nothing to the ground it comes out of.  The same is true of your fruitfulness and your harvest.  They come from Christ.  He makes a way where there is no way.

Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph and Mary was not a splendid form for us to to see, he had no beauty or majesty about him that would attract our eyes.  When he walked by, he didn't turn heads.

You may see your self as not desirable enough to be used by God.  Jesus had no desirable appearance.  That means that his appearance was not desirable.  Have you ever desired something based on it's appearance?  The Bible says that we would not be attracted to Jesus that way.

Isaiah was looking forward to Christ and we look backward and today, we reflect Christ and Christians, to a world in need of Christ.  Maybe is was on his stature, his bone structure, the a asymmetry  of Jesus' face that Isaiah was referring to, but everything about him as a man and his actions; most importantly his act of dying on the cross.

Crucifixion is very ugly.  Crucifixion was an execution that entailed excruciating pain, incomprehensible to us today.  Jesus not only was crucified, so he is the crucified one, the crucified God; but he called his followers to take up their crosses as well.  Since we don't really have common public executions today, it is hard to get our minds around how offensive and ugly that this was.  Jesus was a very undesirable person in his message sometimes.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  If you see with heaven's eyes, you see very differently than the way that carnal eyes of the flesh see.  Looking back on Jesus, we see all the beauty in the humility and sacrifice.  It does not matter what Jesus looked like on the outside, but we now see everything he said and did as beautiful.  The eyes of the world are very different as they look for status, regalia, charisma, and entertainment.

Ninety-nine percent or more of God's servants are obscure.  Most of the one percent or less that are famous or almost famous or a little bit famous, like mega church senior pastors; are not comfortable being famous.  They would prefer obscurity and prefer for only Christ to be famous.

So, don't think that fame, beauty, and success in the worldly sense is what you need.  We need more Christ.  We need to abide in him, so that his fruit will be made manifest in our lives.  We need to fast from the world and wholly give ourselves to Christ.  Watch your appetites change and with it, your values, and then your vision, including how you see your self, when you have been gazing upon him.

He does the extraordinary out of the ordinary.  Stay where you are and let him bear his fruit. 

Jesus is Tender

He won’t break a bruised reed or bent stalk; he won’t extinguish, snuff out, a faint, smoldering wick, but he will surely bring justice (until he makes justice win).  -Isaiah 42:3, Matt. 12:20 (CEB)

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

Heart aches, broken people, ruined lives are why you died on Calvary.

Jesus is tender and kind.  He is gentle with us when we are hurting.  he is compassionate and merciful.

You have been going through something.  You've been waiting.  You have been standing most of the time.  When you have stumbled, you got up.  Some things seem unfair.  Lots of things do not make sense.

Maybe you beat yourself up.  You are heart sick.  Perhaps you are disappointed, with God, with others, or with your self.  Maybe your life feels wrecked.  Maybe you feel worthless.

Jesus is not rough or rude or harsh towards those who are weak, out of breath, and who feel like giving up.

We may be ungracious towards ourselves and then we assume that God is also ungracious or harsh towards us.  God is mean towards sin, but not the sinner.  God is unmerciful towards sin, but full of mercy towards the sinner.

Jesus is with you while you are bruised and faint.  Jesus is patient with you.  Jesus waits with you.

Jesus sees you and is with you.  The answer to what you have been going through is that Jesus is with you in it.  Will you acknowledge him, turn to him, and invite him to stay?

Jesus is compassionate with you, in what you have been going through.  He is merciful, kind, and gracious with you.  You are on his heart.

You have been tempted to just focus on the badness, the meanness of what you have gone through and what you are still going through.  The wrong conclusion is that you are bad and God is mad at you.  The truth is that you are loved and God is tender towards you.

In the time of injustice, in the waiting room of the not yet; am I learning that He loves me?  That's the lesson.  God who is all powerful, Jesus who will one day judge, comes to us now and is gentle towards us.  He is tender and compassionate with me.

We have been wanting to get away, to go someplace else, to get out of our current or long-term situation.  All the while, Jesus has been there, been here with us.  He wants us to know that he is with us and does not condemn us, but wants to comfort us; be with us tenderly in kindness.  He is kind towards us in our bruised and faint time.  That's what he wants us to know and experience.

Artwork credit: Bruised Reed Will Not Break by Lily Lihting Li Kostrzewa