Category  |  Living for Christ

Taking Shortcuts

Sipping her tea, Nancy gazed out her friend’s window and sighed. Spring rains and sunshine had coaxed a riotous expanse of color from a well-groomed flowerbed of lilies, phlox, irises, and evening primrose.   

            “I want that look,” she said wistfully, “without all the work.”

            Some shortcuts are fine—even practical. Others short-circuit our spirit and deaden our lives. We want romance without the difficulties and messiness of committing to someone so different from ourselves. We want “greatness” without the risks and failures necessary in the adventure of real life. We desire to please God, but not when it inconveniences us.

            Jesus made clear to His followers that there is no short-cut that avoids the hard choice of surrendering our lives to Him. He warned a prospective disciple, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). To follow Christ requires a radical altering of our loyalties.

            When we turn in faith to Jesus, the work just begins. But it is oh-so-worth it, for He also told us that no one who sacrifices “for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age . . . and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30). The work of following Christ is difficult, but He’s given us His Spirit and the reward is a full, joyful life now and forever.

Cleaning House

Recently, I switched rooms in the home I rent. This took longer than expected, because I didn’t want to simply transfer my (extensive) mess to a new room; I wanted a completely fresh and uncluttered start. After hours and hours of cleaning and sorting, bags of stuff sat by the front door to be thrown away, donated, or recycled. But at the end of this exhausting process was a beautiful room I was excited to spend time in.

My housecleaning project gave me a fresh perspective when reading 1 Peter 2:1, as paraphrased in The Message: “So, clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy, and hurtful talk.” Interestingly, it’s after a joyful confession of their new life in Christ (1:1–12) that Peter urges them to throw away destructive habits (1:13–2:3). When our walk with the Lord feels cluttered and our love for others feels strained, this shouldn’t cause to question our salvation. We don’t change our lives to be saved, but because we are (1:23).

As real as our new life in Christ is, habits learned do not disappear overnight. So, on a daily basis, we need to “clean house,” throwing away all that prevents us from fully loving others (1:22) and growing (2:2).  Then, in that new, clean space, we can experience the wonder of being freshly built (v. 4) by Christ’s power and life.

Driven by God

A few months ago I received an email inviting me to join a community of “driven people.’ I decided to look up the word driven, and I learned that a driven person is someone highly motivated to succeed and who will work hard to achieve his goals.

Is it good to be a driven person? There is a test that never fails: “Do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Many times we do things for self-glory. After the flood in Noah’s day, a group of people decided to build a tower in order to “make a name” for themselves (Gen. 11:4). They wanted to be famous and avoid being scattered all over the world. Because they were not doing it for God's glory, though, they were erroneously driven.

In contrast, when King Solomon dedicated the ark of the covenant and the newly constructed temple, he said, “I have built the temple for the Name of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:20). Then he prayed, “May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands” (v. 58).

When our greatest desire is to bring glory to God and walk in obedience, we become driven people who seek to love and serve Jesus in the power of the Spirit. Let our prayer echo Solomon’s. May our “hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands” (v. 61).

Let Honor Meet Honor

I’ve always been impressed by the solemn, magnificent simplicity of the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. The carefully choreographed event is a moving tribute to soldiers whose names—and sacrifice—are “known but to God.” Equally moving are the private moments of steady pacing when the crowds are gone: back and forth, hour after hour, day by day, in even the worst weather.

In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel was bearing down on Washington, DC, and the guards were told they could seek shelter during the worst of the storm. Surprising almost no one, the guards refused! They unselfishly stood their post to honor their fallen comrades even in the face of a hurricane.

Underlying Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1-6, I believe, is His desire for us to live with an unrelenting, selfless devotion to Him. The Bible calls us to good deeds and holy living, but these are to be acts of worship and obedience (vv.4-6), not orchestrated acts for self-glorification (v.2). The apostle Paul endorses this whole-life faithfulness when he pleads with us to make our bodies “a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1).

May our private and public moments speak of our devotion and wholehearted commitment to You, Lord.

Living With Lions

When I visited a museum in Chicago, I saw one of the original Striding Lions of Babylon. It was a large mural-type image of a winged lion with a ferocious expression. Symbolizing Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love and war, the lion I saw was an example of 120 similar lions that would have lined a Babylonian pathway during the years of 604-562 bc.

Historians say that after the Babylonians defeated Jerusalem, the Hebrew captives would have seen these lions during their time in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. Historians also say it’s likely that some of the Israelites would have believed Ishtar had defeated the God of Israel.           

Daniel, one of the Hebrew captives, did not share the doubts that might have troubled some of his fellow Israelites. His view of God and his commitment to God stayed steady. He prayed three times a day—with his windows open—even when he knew it would mean entering a den of lions. After God rescued Daniel from the hungry animals, King Darius said, “[Daniel’s God] is the living God and He endures forever . . . He rescues and He saves…” (Dan. 6:26–27). Daniel’s faithfulness allowed him to influence Babylonian leaders.

Staying faithful to God despite pressure and discouragement can inspire other people to give Him glory.

Wholehearted!

Caleb was a “wholehearted” person. He and Joshua were part of a twelve-man reconnaissance team that explored the Promised Land and gave a report to Moses and the people. Caleb said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (Num. 13:30). But ten members of the team said they couldn’t possibly succeed. In spite of God’s promises, they saw only obstacles (Num. 13:31–33).

Ten men caused the people to lose heart and grumble against God, which led to forty years of wandering in the desert. But Caleb never quit. The Lord said, “Because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it” (14:24). Forty-five years later God honored His promise when Caleb, at the age of 85, received the city of Hebron “because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly” (Josh. 14:14).

Centuries later an expert in the law asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:35–38).

Today Caleb is still inspiring us with his confidence in a God who deserves our wholehearted love, reliance, and commitment.

What’s the Occasion?

Four-year-old Asher’s gleeful face peeked out from beneath his favorite hooded sweatshirt. His alligator-head hooded sweatshirt, complete with plush jaws that seemed to swallow his head! His mom’s heart sank. She wanted the family to make a good impression as they visited a family they hadn’t seen in a long time.

“Oh, hon,” she said, “that may not be appropriate for the occasion.”

“Of course it is!” Asher protested brightly.

“Hmm, and what occasion might that be?” she asked. Asher replied, “You know. Life!” He got to wear the shirt.

That joyful boy already grasps the truth of Ecclesiastes 3:12—“There is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.” Ecclesiastes can seem depressing and is often misunderstood because it’s written from a human perspective, not God’s. The writer, King Solomon, asked, “What do workers gain from their toil?” (v. 9). Yet throughout the book we catch glimpses of hope. Solomon also wrote: “That each of [us] may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all [our] toil—this is the gift of God” (v. 13).

We serve a God who gives us good things to enjoy. Everything He does “will endure forever” (v. 14). As we acknowledge Him and follow His loving commands, He infuses our lives with purpose, meaning, and joy.  

Not In Vain

A financial advisor I know describes the reality of investing money by saying, “Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.” With almost every decision we make in life there is uncertainty about the outcome. Yet there is one course we can follow where no matter what happens, we know that in the end it will not be a wasted effort.

The apostle Paul spent a year with the followers of Jesus in Corinth, a city known for its moral corruption. After he left, he urged them in a follow-up letter not to be discouraged or feel that their witness for Christ was of no value. He assured them that a day is coming when the Lord will return and even death will be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:52–55).

Remaining true to Jesus may be difficult, discouraging, and even dangerous, but it is never pointless or wasted. As we walk with the Lord and witness to His presence and power, our lives are not in vain! We can be sure of that.

The Perfect Gift

Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

The weeks after Christmas are the busiest time of year in the US for merchandise returns as people trade unwanted gifts for what they really want. Yet you probably know a few people who always seem to give the perfect gift. How do they know just what another person values and what is right for the occasion? The key to successful gift-giving is not money; it’s listening to others and taking a personal interest in what they enjoy and appreciate.

This is true for family and friends. But what about God? Is there anything meaningful or valuable that we can give to God? Is there anything He doesn’t already have?

Romans 11:33–36, a song of praise to God for His great wisdom, knowledge, and glory, is followed by a call to give ourselves to Him. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (12:1). Instead of being shaped by the world around us, we are to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (v. 2).

What’s the best gift we can give to God today? In gratitude, humility, and love we can give ourselves completely to Him—heart, mind, and will. It’s just what the Lord is longing to receive from each of us.