A Worker Approved

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

For a very long time, and sometimes still, I have felt that the work I’ve done for the Lord was insignificant.  I longed to be known for my good works. I longed to be recognized for my “accomplishments” for the Kingdom of God.  Embarrassing, right?

I’ve come so far over the years, though, and that is something only God could do.  Is my ministry more famous or more recognized now? Nope. Is my work for God more relevant now? Nope.  My work is generally the same. It’s only me that’s changed.

So, Paul’s advice to Timothy was to be unashamed, approved, and to rightly handle the word of truth.  Hmm. So working for God means being the perfect pastor, right? Or maybe the perfect evangelist? We know a lot of their names.  The ones on tv must be pretty good. They are surely unashamed and approved or God wouldn’t let them be on TV, right?

Wrong.

Obedient submission to God is what grants us the ability to be unashamed.  To have the faith to accept that God’s answer for my salvation is from Him and not from me. The righteousness of God, given as a free gift, unearned, undeserved, that’s what lets us approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Having Jesus as our high priest, Jesus as our righteousness, Jesus as our savior, Jesus as our King. That’s what gives us the right to be unashamed.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

So how do we know we are approved?  “We are afflicted and not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

And look at what Paul says in Romans:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:1-3

Approval doesn’t come from anything we’ve done or are doing!  It comes from faith. Abraham believed God. That’s approval. When I believe God and what He says, that’s approval.  That’s it. Nothing more. Faith brings God’s approval.

So, when I act according to God’s will for me.  When I trust that He is going to use me as He sees fit, that He will give me opportunities to trust Him and serve Him, and revere and worship Him, that’s when I’m working for God.  He’s given me gifts and tasks to use for His glory and not my own.

Did He ask you to hug that lady at the grocery store, and you obeyed?  That’s God’s work. Did He ask you to give up your career and serve refugees in the Middle East and you said, “ok”?  That’s God’s work. Buy someone’s groceries because you felt stirred? God’s work. Preach a sermon because the Lord has burned it in your heart to share what He has taught with His people? Yep, God’s work.

But here’s what’s not God’s work: quitting your job to become a missionary because that sounds like a great adventure.  Or, going on a mission trip to Nicaragua every year because the church body will know how holy you are. Or, teaching a Bible Study because you want people to think your smart.  Or being the front man of the church band so that you can maybe get a record deal or you love the attention. The list can go on forever.

So many things in this world sound good to us.  King David thought building a temple for God was a great idea, but did God ask him to build it?  Nope. Did God let David’s son Solomon build the temple? Yes.

God will partner with us even when we’re wrong.  He’ll partner with us in folly just to teach us how to hear His voice better.  Was building the temple folly? Of course not. But did it last? Nope. God will let us “work” for Him in a million different ways, just to teach us, just to show us that it all comes down to Him in the end.  Nothing else.

Have faith in Him, the One who made you, the One who calls you. To work for God is to submit to His rule.  You must stop obeying your own heart and the picture the world has offered you of what ministry is supposed to look like.  You’re never going to find it that way. And you’re not going to accomplish much for the Kingdom, either.

Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus.  Trust Him. That’s it. Only trust Him and do what He says.  That’s how I’ve changed the most over the years. I’m much quicker now to want to glorify Jesus, instead of myself.  If God asks nothing more of me than to point my silent smiling face to the King of Kings, then that’s what I’ll do. That is being a workman approved.  

Jesus, give me the faith to trust You.  Help me to stop looking at myself. Help me to hear Your voice and obey Your commands.  Thank you for how far You’ve brought me. Teach me and help me to go further for You and for You alone.  

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18

 

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Regarding Anointing

11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.
1 Samuel 16:11-13

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be “anointed” by the Lord.From David’s experience I’ve come to a few different conclusions, each connected to the next for the glory of God and for the service of His chosen workers.

First, God’s anointing of David acted as a public decree of the Lord’s call to David to serve in the position of King.  God had David in mind from the beginning. He didn’t settle for one of his brothers, but insisted on pulling the young man, David, from the fields, to be His King.  Amidst David’s brothers and gathered family, God singled out David and called him to service. God publicly proclaimed David, a simple shepherd boy with pretty eyes, to be His King of Israel.  Samuel ceremonially marks David with the pouring of oil over his head. God had set him apart publicly for a purpose. The anointing of oil established God’s call and promise over David, and showed the people that David would be empowered by God to serve Him.

The anointing also brought the filling of the Holy Spirit.  No, the oil wasn’t magical. The Lord used the oil to symbolize the covering and power God was giving David to serve Him as King.  The power of God in David would be the fuel that would seed David’s faith, his courage, his strength, and his leadership. It didn’t make David incapable of error or sin (remember Bathsheba?) but it did give him the power to act in accordance with the Lord’s will in an intimate way. So, an anointing from God brings power from the Spirit of God.

When I look at David’s struggles, the time and energy and fear and sorrow that plagued him after his anointing until the time he actually got to be king, I see a life plagued with trials. So, anointing isn’t without its warfare.  After David got anointed he got to see just how much the Enemy hated him. Saul kept trying to kill him. He had to hide in caves. At one point he even ran off to the Philistines in sorrow and defeat. He made his home with the enemy because of the profound obstacles and attacks that came at him after God’s declaration over him.  David didn’t get anointed and instantly made king. He had to go through trials to build and develop his faith and character. The job God had for David required a lot of training! And while the commissioning was instantaneous, the promise took time to be fulfilled.

David’s anointing remained on Him through the years of struggles he spent waiting for the Lord.  Unlike Saul, who had the favor of the Lord removed from him for his disobedience. David continually waited on the Lord to act.  He didn’t try to make things happen. He didn’t try to orchestrate a coup or murder Saul and take his place, even though he had multiple opportunity to do so.  David trusted God. And God fulfilled His promise.

When I think about how the Lord has called me, and I consider the anointing that the Lord has poured over me, I am reminded to be patient.  God keeps His promises. He strengthens and empowers me by His Spirit. He teaches me perseverance and patience and builds my character, because He has a plan for me to use me for the Glory of His Kingdom.  I don’t need to doubt my calling, or question God’s judgement to choose me for such a task. My job is to wait patiently on the Lord, to trust that He will keep His promises to me, and know that He will empower me to do what He is asking of me.  As the song so simply states: “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.”

Lord, help me to trust You.  Help me to accept Your partnership, Your authority over me, and Your assignments for me.  Let me serve with faithfulness and joy even when I’m hiding in the cave of Adullam so that I don’t get killed.  I want to have Your perseverance, Lord. I want to have Your obedience. Help me, Father to be more like Jesus so that I can do what You have anointed me to do.  Amen.

 

On Being Thankful

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:11-19

I complain a lot to God.  I know that sounds bad, but I don’t think it is.  I complain about my circumstances. I ask for provision.  I ask for healing. I ask for salvation for my loved ones.  I ask for hope. I ask for courage. I ask for help in a million different ways, and if I look at my requests with a critical eye, I can see the complaint in every single one.  On the surface, my prayers seem dependant on the Lord. They are filled with the helplessness that we should always assume about ourselves. It’s the notion that, “there but for the grace of God, go I.” And that’s very, very true.  But I know it’s more often my doubt and my fear that plunge me into these prayers. I doubt provision. I doubt healing. I doubt hope and courage and strength. If my life and my salvation truly are by the grace of God alone, shouldn’t I be more confident in the lesser things?  

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Matthew 16:26

My salvation should be enough for me.  The whole world and the things of the world are nothing in comparison to the profound gift of eternal life that Jesus has provided.  James put it forward in an interesting light:

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
James 4:3

I say all of this to examine honestly my motives.  Do I ask for my passion? Do I ask for my fear? Do I ask for my safety?  Or do I ask for the Lord? And am I thankful for it?

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

Is the overcoming of the world not enough for me?  Really? Do I praise God for my life and salvation or do I wallow in fear and anguish over the things of this world?  And that brings me back to the lepers. They want Jesus to have pity on them. They want healing. They want to be restored.  They want to return to their lives. But only one acknowledged the author of his salvation. Only one came back to say thank you and to praise God.  That one leper knew that the Lord had saved him from more than his disease. He had given him life, and being thankful for that became his primary goal.  He didn’t just take the blessing and run along with his life. He praised the author of his salvation. He praised the King of Kings for his sovereignty, his authority over life, and his mercy.  

Lord Jesus, I want to trust You in all things.  I want to have confidence in your sovereignty in all aspects of my life.  When I come to You, Lord, I want to come in confidence, not fear. I want to come in the knowledge of Your divine grace and mercy.  You saved me!

9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11

I want to trust You more, Jesus.  I want to trust in Your provision, Your life, Your deliverance, because you know what I need and are delighted to give the good gifts we ask for.  You love me. Help me trust in Your love so that I can truly worship and praise You with thanksgiving instead of fear.

 

A Call to Repentence

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.
1 Samuel 7:3-4

Beloved Savior, the people are dying.  They are defeated and broken and lost and they don’t even know it.  Your Presence is so far from them, mighty Yahweh! They don’t even believe You exist anymore.  Show them, my King, show them You are real and true. Show them that Your Power will save them if only they would turn away from the false gods they serve and look to You for their salvation.  

You are asking so little of us, Lord.  You ask so very little.

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 10:9-13

Why are they so stubborn, Lord?  Please Father, break their hardened hearts to pieces.  Show them the power of Your love against their enemies and urge them into the shelter of your Presence.  It is Your Presence, Your Salvation, Your Power that brings salvation to the lost. Not images. Not ideals.  Not even crosses. It is Your Victory over the cross that brings salvation to any who would believe it!

Even the Philistines got it eventually.  Sort of.

Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed?
1 Samuel 6:6

They finally acknowledged what they were dealing with, and tried to make amends to You with a guilt offering.  (see 1 Samuel Chapter 6) Our world now doesn’t even believe the history that has been protected for thousands of years, a history that declares Your faithfulness and Your salvation offered for all of humanity.  It took the Egyptians ten plagues that eventually led to death, just to submit to Your will. Even then they didn’t repent. And the Philistines, who finally acknowledged Your existence with terror, only wanted You to go away.

I feel like that’s the world we live in now, God.  Only it’s even worse than that. People refuse to see You.  They refuse to acknowledge You. And their time is running out.  Their hearts are so hardened and so committed to the lusts of their own desires, that breaking through that seems an impossible task.  But You are faithful, Yahweh! You can breathe life into the things of this world that are dead, even if they don’t yet know they are dead.

So breathe Your life into the world one last time before the end.  Perhaps a few will recognize their folly before it’s too late. And let Your words permeate this planet as a final warning siren of Your eminent judgement.  Lord, I know that it is your will that none should perish. Please, convince them, Jesus. Convince them that Your love and forgiveness are worth turning away from the false idols that have given the world nothing but death, war, famine, and pain.  Fleeting pleasures are nothing compared to the glorious riches that await the ones who recieve Your Life and Your Salvation.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
2 Peter 3:8-10

 

Lost in the Land of Shadows and Dirt

The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.
Judges 6:1-2

It’s crazy what disobedience can do to people.  Disobedience fills us with fear, shame, and guilt, and drives us out of all the good things God wants to give us.  Disobedience causes us to stop trusting in God’s provision and start trusting in fear. We let fear become our leader instead of God.  And it takes us nowhere good. For the Israelites, disobedience to God led them to do evil in the sight of God, which ultimately led to their self inflicted exile out of the Promised Land and into the mountains to hide in caves.  They went from the Land of Milk and Honey to the Land of Shadows and Dirt.

“For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in.
Judges 6:3-5

God allowed the Israelite’s enemies to take over the land He had given to them so that they would repent and recognize that the Land and God’s protection were by His sovereign hand alone.  As the people of God walked away from the worship and trust of Yahweh, The One True God, they also walked away from His blessing and provision. The people began to worship the false idols and put their trust in those things to provide for them and it had them living in the dark in caves!  How often have I found myself living in a cave because of my own lack of trust in God. I fall into fear and doubt and worry, and then there I am: in the dark instead of the light, afraid and hungry.

And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.
Judges 6:6

So, what do we do when we have thrown ourselves into the dark? We cry out to God!  He is our rescuer and our salvation. If we know God, then we are all too familiar with His love and mercy and His longing to restore us into a right relationship with Him.  But God isn’t content to just save us, though that would surely be enough for us! Instead, He lovingly teaches us and guides us, so that we will understand how to avoid going into the dark again.  

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
   his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

For the Israelites, God’s compassion and deliverance came from a curious source.  And over and over again we see God do this. As it says in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “God chose the foolish things to confound the wise.”  That’s just how God rolls. And the Israelites needed to see that even though they were weak and afraid and living in caves, He could rescue them from their own failings and bring them back into the inheritance that He had planned for them from the beginning.

And so God chooses Gideon whom He calls “a mighty man of valor”. Gideon who hid from his enemies in a wine press to beat out his wheat. Gideon, who doubted and questioned even after the miraculous sign of the appearance of the “Angel of the Lord”.  Gideon, who even after he agreed to do as Yahweh commanded, took it upon himself to do it under cover of darkness so no one would see him do it! (reference Judges 6:11-40)

Yes, God chose Gideon, because Gideon bodily encompassed everything that the Israelites had become.  Gideon was afraid, in the dark, and doubted God. And don’t we all do the same thing? Don’t we all fall short a thousand times a day?  Don’t we all fall back on fear and hide in the dark? Thankfully, our God knows that about us, and just like Gideon, He will patiently teach us again and again that He is faithful and He will save us.  Our inheritance is ours for the taking if we will simply cry out to Him from the darkness and trust Him.

 

  

Yeshua is Salvation

I recently learned that the first use of the word “salvation”, that is “Yeshua” aka Jesus, happens in the Torah when Yahweh rescues His people from the Egyptian army at the crossing of the Red Sea. While on a general level I could see the similarities to Jesus, this morning I had an even deeper understanding of the parallels of this story with the story of Salvation through Yeshua for all who would believe.

The Israelites had been enslaved by Egypt.  They were oppressed and despised. Humanity is enslaved by sin.  The world is ruled by, oppressed by, and destroyed by sin. It takes over our decision making, it rules our thoughts, it inspires anger and vengeance, and dependance on self instead of God.  

God brought a deliverer to Israel with Moses.  And God brought a deliverer to humanity with Jesus.  Through Moses, God parted the Red Sea to make a way for the Israelites to journey toward the Promised Land and have victory over the Egyptian slavers. God used Jesus to bring salvation to the world, by taking on the sin of the world on His own body and having victory over it, to clear the way for people to enter the journey toward the Promised Land of the New Jerusalem.  

Moses interceded for the people with God.  He communed with God on the mountain, brought the law of the Ten Commandments to the people, and told the people what God wanted from them.  Jesus intercedes for all people with God. He came to earth as a man to intercede for people to God. He fulfilled the Law once and for all by conquering sin and death on the cross for all people who would accept it.  He came back to life to lead all people who would believe Him to the Promised land of eternity with God.

The Israelites wandered through the desert learning the lessons of God, and growing in their faith and trust in God’s protection, provision, and salvation.  Humanity wanders a world still ruled by sin, learning the protection, provision and salvation of Jesus. Just as God led the Israelites along the way through the desert, so too, God leads the way for all who trust in Him, through the Holy Spirit, to navigate through the desert of a sinful planet until we can finally arrive at the Promised Land of eternity with Christ.

Finally, the Israelites are led into the Promised land by the conquering of idol worshipers, and false gods and practices, while allowing any who chose to side with God to have the salvation He offered to His chosen people as equal inheritors.  God partnered with the Israelite army, but in the end it was always God who provided the victory, not any special work or tactics of Joshua and his military prowess. We are allowed to partner with Jesus in the conquering of sin and death, by being made co-heirs with Christ, and this is given not by our own power, but simply as a gift of God by his grace.  As followers of Christ, we can have victory over the sin and death in our lives but trusting in God to win the battle for us.

And finally, the Israelites receive their promised inheritance, just as we too shall recieve our promised inheritance with Christ.  Pretty cool.

Note: I didn’t include scriptural documentation because I have assumed a Biblically savvy audience.  For Biblical context references, feel free to contact me privately, and I will provide them.

 

The Lord is Faithful

Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.
Joshua 21:45

Lord, You are faithful with Your promises.  The written accounts of Your faithfulness are vast.  You describe Yourself as faithful and true. You have been faithful to me and to the promises You have made me.  So, why do I always doubt? Why do I fall so short of trusting You? I look around and it seems that everyone who knows You counts on Your faithfulness.  Do they question it in their hearts the way I do? 

Why do we doubt You?

I know it is the enemy sowing his seeds of doubt.  I know he is trying to knock me out of Your lap. But You have a firm hold, Lord.  You won’t let me fall. You are faithful. I recall Your faithfulness and my heart is made light.  I get reminded of Your goodness. I remember Your work in my life: how You saved me from sin and death, how You walked with me and gave me strength, how You put courage and faith in me and held me up.  

Why do I doubt You?

You have brought me back from death so many times.  When I repent, You hear me. You have turned my failings into blessings.  You forgive me and love me and walk with me. You know everything about me.  You made me. And still You love me. Still You see me. Still You forgive me.  

Why do I doubt You?

Hold me up with Your righteous right hand.  Create in me a clean heart. Prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  Make my paths straight. Guide me in the paths of righteousness for Your namesake. Be my strength and my shield.  Be my fortress, my shelter, my comfort, my defender. Be my everything.

Don’t let me doubt you.

Lord, You are faithful.  You are good. And Your love and forgiveness never need to be doubted.  Yet over and over again You prove Yourself to me. When I doubt, You don’t condemn, You encourage.  When I feel dead, you show me life afresh. When I doubt, You provide faith. Build my faith fresh today.  Fill me with Your power, Precious Lord. Let me feel Your Presence and be reminded of Your faithfulness.

Lord, You are faithful.