You Were Born for This

“I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5, CSB)

A few years ago, there was a television show titled “Dirty Jobs.” Each episode, the host of the program would come along beside people who worked difficult, dirty jobs. It seemed like every week he’d find himself in muck, mire, or manure of some kind. Any time I’d watch it, I’d be thankful I didn’t have to earn a living doing those tough jobs.

The prophet Jeremiah had a tough job of his own. He was going to take a message from  God to a people who didn’t want to hear it. He was going to be a prophet. And, as you might expect in the face of that enormous task, he had some reservations. But before he could even mutter them aloud, God filled his heart with a simple assurance. Long before you were born, I made you for this. Long before this moment, I set you apart for this. Long before you were born, I appointed you to do this.

What an encouragement to a young, hesitant prophet. God’s words reminded Jeremiah that he had a purpose. And, God had made him for just that purpose. The Lord had formed him with all that he would do in mind. He wasn’t mismatched or misplaced. As long as Jeremiah was where the Lord wanted him, he was in the perfect place to do what he had beem prepared to do.

That same encouragement is ours as well. We may not be prophets. We may be nurses or teachers or moms just trying to make it through the day with a houseful of toddlers. We may be factory workers or students or retirees. We may be in tough places carrying on difficult ministry. Whatever we’re doing, wherever we’re doing it, as long as we are surrendered to the Lord and doing what He’s called us to do for His glory, we are doing what he’s prepared us to do.

As you engage in your own tough job today, know that you are not ill-quipped. You are not out of place. God is working through you in His own way to accomplish His purpose and plan. Your life may not look like someone else’s. That’s okay. God prepared you for and placed you in your context. He placed them in theirs. Don’t get caught up looking around. Stay focused. Stay grounded. Keep doing what He’s appointed you to do. Your context may be tough, but you were born for it. You can do it because God formed you long ago with it in mind. He’s prepared you your entire life for this day. Live it confidently in Him.

No Need to Fear

Transitions are hard. I can imagine the fear and trepidation that filled the heart of Joshua as he prepared to take over for Moses as the leader of Israel. Moses was the only leader this people had known. He had led their ancestors out of Egypt. He had led their parents to the promised land. He had led them through the wilderness. And now he was passing that mantle of leadership to Joshua.

In addition to becoming a new leader, Joshua also had been given a new task. He was to lead this generation of people into the promised land. These things were certainly enough to make the most stout heart beat a little faster.

As Moses exits the stage, he gives Joshua some final instructions. In Deuteronomy 31, he tells him to be strong and courageous (Deuteronomy 31:6). We know Joshua will repeat this command several times as he leads the people (Joshua 1). What struck me anew today as I read these words was why Joshua need not fear. God would go with him. As a matter of fact, Moses states that fact twice to make sure Joshua grasps it in his head and his heart (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8).

Fast forward with me to a conversation Jesus has with his disciples after the resurrection. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives the disciples (and us) what we call the Great Commission. It’s the call to go and make disciples of all people. And, at the end of that call, there is a promise – “I am with you always until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

In that sentence is the same promise that was made to Joshua. It’s a promise of the presence and the power of God as we walk with Him. The promise made to Joshua…the promise made to the disciples…is the same promise made to us. We need not fear as we walk with the Lord. We need not fear the new directions and the new challenges and all the transitions that come with life. We have no need to be anxious as we walk into the unknown. Why? Because we are not alone. The Lord is with us. His rod and His staff comfort us (Psalm 23:4). He will not forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). 

So, fear not. Be strong and courageous. Do what God has called you to do. Seek first His kingdom (Matthew 6:33). Go and make disciples. Live in hope and walk in complete obedience to him. You have nothing to fear for you are not alone.

After God’s Own Heart

When studying the kings of Israel, we move from Saul to David. Saul was a man who looked every bit the king on the outside. He was tall and handsome. He was a leading man from central casting. David, on the other hand, probably looked more like an every-man character actor. The biggest difference in the two, however, was not their external appearance. It was their hearts. Saul struggled throughout his entire reign to honor God. He would often do what he thought was right at the expense of what was right. It finally reached a point where the Lord “regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel” (1 Samuel 15:35, ESV).  David was not Saul. He didn’t look the part. But, he was the man God chose to reign because he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).

What does it mean to be a person after God’s heart? It can’t mean perfection, because we know that David was far from perfect. But, while David was flawed in a number of ways, his heart sought God’s heart. We see this heart in the psalms where he pours out his prayers of repentance (Psalm 32; 51). So again, the question remains. What does it mean to be a person after God’s own heart? At its most basic, to be a person after God’s heart is to want the things God wants. It is to have our desires match His desires, our actions fall in line with His commands, our hearts to reflect His heart.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He tells them to pray that God’s will “be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, CSB). If we understand prayer to be as much if not more as God shaping our will and desires to Him as anything else, we see then that Jesus is calling us to center our attention on God’s will unfolding here in this sin-broken world as it does in heaven. Jesus modeled this for us in the garden the night before His death when He prayed, “not my will, but yours” (Luke 22:42).

As believers, we should want what God wants. Our priorities should grow and evolve into His priorities. Our choices should reflect and honor His purposes. We want to be singularly focused on Him and His ways. We’re not pushed and pulled by the winds of doubt and the waves of immaturity (Ephesians 4:14; James 1:6-8).


How would our lives be different if we were truly people after God’s own heart? What would our homes look like? Our workplaces? Our neighborhoods? Our churches? How would realigned priorities impact our use of time and resources? Perhaps now, in the midst of this time when quiet and stillness has been forced upon us, we can take advantage of the opportunity to grow and ask the Lord to help our hearts seek His…to truly adjust and realign our lives. May now, in a season when everything is called into question, may we clearly see and live for that which really matters.

The Fortress

You may have heard the name Martin Luther. You probably haven’t heard the name Knight George. At the onset of the Reformation, Luther was given the opportunity to recant his teachings. He refused. Subsequently, Luther was excommunicated by the pope and had a price put on his head. For his protection, he was abducted by powerful friends and hidden away in a castle in Wartburg, Germany. He stayed there almost a year, and while he did he was known by the alias Knight George.


A few years later, Luther would write his famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” I can’t help but wonder how those months hidden in the safety of the Wartburg Castle helped influence that great hymn of the faith. Did images of its walls and gates go through his mind as he penned it? Did the security within those walls flood his heart as he wrote about the security one finds in God? I would think it must have.


We may never know the extent to which his stay there shaped his thought. But, we do know the real basis for that great hymn of the faith. It was a song written hundreds and hundreds of years before. The foundation for Luther’s great hymn of comfort was Psalm 46.


The opening words of that psalm proclaim:  

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its water roars and foams and the mountains quake with its turmoil.

Psalm 46:1-3, CSB

What a remarkable assurance we find in the pages of Scripture. The psalmist reminds us that God is our security. He is our hiding place. He is the One who brings us through difficult times. Subsequently, we do not need to be afraid. Regardless of all the turmoil and upheaval of life, God is steadfast and unchanging. The “Lord of Armies is with us. The God of Jacob is our stronghold” (Psalm 46:7, CSB).  

In these uncertain times, we all are dealing with anxiety and stress. We’re worried about sickness. We’re worried about finances. We’re worried about jobs and loved ones and life in general. What does the future hold? What will things look like tomorrow? Or even next week or next month? I don’t have answers to any of those questions. But, like Luther almost 500 years ago, and the psalmists a couple of thousand years before that, I do know where to find peace and comfort. It’s in God. Our strength…our security…our help is found in Jesus Christ. May we look to Him in these days. May we embrace Him by faith and live confidently in His sovereign hands. Because of Him, we need not be afraid. He is our stronghold. He is with us. And, He must win the battle.

The Real Jesus

Identity theft is a common occurrence in today’s world. Every day we read of someone who has had their identity stolen and it impacted their lives disastrous ways. They lost time and money and any number of other things trying to restore who they are in the eyes of everyone else. In the late first century, there were those who were trying to steal the identity of Jesus. These identity thieves weren’t trying to hijack his bank accounts or his personal records. Instead, they were denying who He was and robbing the joy from those that followed Him.

The apostle John writes a short letter to combat this identity theft. And, in the opening few verses of that letter he reminds us that Jesus was real. He writes:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1 John 1:1-4, CSB

In the opening verse of the gospel of John, the apostle also uses that word beginning to help affirm the deity of Jesus. This subtle connection reinforces that truth for us. Jesus is God. He is divine.

John not only suggests Jesus is divine. He also affirms His humanity. Many of the false teachers John is combating may have been denying the humanity of Jesus. The apostle is quick to point out that he had spent time with Jesus. He had talked with him and touched him and seen him at work. He indeed was real. He was flesh and blood. He was human.

A divine Jesus becoming flesh is what we know as the incarnation. And, the fact that Jesus is human and divine has serious implications for our salvation. Only a sinless sacrifice could atone for our sins. The divinity of Jesus affirms His sinlessness. Only a real death could atone for our sins. The humanity of Jesus affirms that His death was real. Full payment was made for our sin…all of our sin…our sin past, present, and future.

And, it is this Jesus who came, lived, died, and rose again for us that offers us complete forgiveness and restoration. It is in Him we find fellowship with God and with other believers. It is in Him that we find joy. 

Don’t let a misunderstanding of Jesus rob your fellowship or your joy. Don’t let a thief steal the glory of salvation from your life. Trust fully in the real Jesus. Rest in Him. He and He alone is sufficient.

Revealed

In the movies, there is something dramatic about the moment when the character reveals himself. Whether it’s Michael Keaton’s “I’m Batman” or Robert Downey Jr.’s “I am Iron Man,” we love it when the central character announces who he is. In the opening verses of the book of Revelation, we see Jesus revealing Himself to us.

The text tells us that the final book of our Bible’s is “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1, ESV). These opening words suggest to us that God wants us to know who He is and what He is doing in our world. This idea of God revealing Himself is all over the New Testament. Paul echoes this sentiment in Romans chapter one where he writes, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:19, ESV). The author of Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV). And, the apostle John records for us Jesus’ revelation here in this text. We do not have to be in the dark regarding God and His plans and purposes. He has made them known to us. God wants us to know who He is.

God has given Jesus this revelation to give to the apostle John. John is in exile on the island of Patmos after a faithful life of ministry. And, as Jesus identifies Himself to John, He pronounces a benediction upon those who read aloud, hear, and obey the words of this prophecy. His benediction is a reminder to us of the importance of connecting with God’s Word both corporately and privately. We need to read and to hear what God has revealed of Himself to us in the Scripture.

It is not enough, however, to merely encounter these words. We must obey them. And, Jesus reminds us that there is an urgency to this because the time is near. With that said, perhaps it’s time for us to quit putting off until tomorrow what needs to be done today. So, let us begin to live out the truth Jesus has revealed to us in the Scripture. He has revealed Himself to us. He has shown us who He is and how we need to live. May we fully put our weight on who He is and what He has done, and live in a way that reflects Him.

Commitment

Trust is difficult. We ask for it from others even though we are hesitant to place invest it in someone else. In order for us to trust, we need confidence in the character and trustworthiness of the one in whom we place it. Through His last words from the cross (Luke 23:44-46), Jesus demonstrates His trust in the Father when He commits His spirit into His hands. By doing so, He reminds us that we too can trust the Heavenly Father with every aspect of our lives.

Jesus confidently expresses His trust. Just before He dies, Jesus quotes Psalm 31:5. Psalm 31 was a psalm of David asking for deliverance from his enemies. Verse five was a typical Jewish evening prayer. Children would have been taught it by their parents and their religious leaders. It was something very similar to our “Now I lay me down to sleep.” Jesus would have known this prayer since childhood. Here, he proclaims it loudly so all can here. Ambrose, who was the the bishop of Milan in the fourth century said, “I do not blush to confess what Christ did not blush to proclaim in a loud voice.”

Jesus’ quoting of this verse emphasizes the voluntary nature of His sacrifice. His death was voluntary. He willingly laid down His life (John 10:11, 15, 17-18). It’s also interesting to note that He adds something to this prayer of David. He addresses it to His Father. In doing so, He points to the trustworthiness of the Father.

The goodness of God the Father is the basis for Jesus’ trust. Jesus has a relationship with the Father. He and the Father are one (John 10:30; 17:11, 21). We know the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that there is one God in three persons – The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit. As the second person of the Trinity, Jesus had a oneness with the Father even thought He had a different role. His oneness and His intimacy are one full display here. As a result, He has full confidence in the father. There is no hesitation. Despite His cries of abandonment just a few minutes, Jesus knows full well He can trust the Heavenly Father.

Remember this. God is our father too. Yes, we are not part of the divine Trinity. But because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we have been adopted into the family of God. Jesus taught us to pray to our Heavenly Father (Matthew 6:9). Paul tells us that we have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” And that the Spirit testifies to us that we are the children of God…and not only children, but also heirs (Romans 8:15-17).

And, we know the Scriptures affirm the character of the Father. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us of the goodness of God (Matthew 7:7-11). And, we also know that God is trustworthy. He keeps what’s been entrusted to Him (John 10:27-29). Since Jesus entrusted His Spirit to the Father, we can as well. The question before each of us is in whom do you trust? You are either trusting Jesus and placing your lives in the hands of the Father or you are trusting yourself. As capable as you may be, as sincere as you may think you are, as passionate as you believe in yourself, you are not enough. You need Jesus. Trust in Him today and commit your life to the trustworthy hands of the Heavenly Father.

If the Father is trustworthy and capable of holding our lives for all eternity, what else can we entrust to the Father? Hurts, fears, sins, anxieties?

Through the ages, these last words of Jesus have been on the lips of countless other servants of God. John Huss proclaimed them as he burned at the stake. John Knox said them as he died in relative quiet. Men like Polycarp, Luther, and Melancthon all echoed them. As R. Earl Allen says, “There is no better place to put yourself than into the hands of God. It is the safe place, the place of omnipotent protection.” Commit yourself to the Father today.

Triumph

When Joe Namath famously guaranteed that the New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, no one could believe it. After all, the Jets were eighteen point underdogs. Yet, as he predicted, the Jets did win leading to one of the most iconic moments in football history. As Namath ran off the field, he raised his right arm and waved one finger celebrating the fact that he had won. That single picture proclaimed victory and triumph.

On the cross, Jesus had come to the end. His death was seconds away. But before He breathed His last, he managed to proclaim a word of triumph – tetelestai. This one word announced His victory. In English, we translate it as “It is finished” and it announced the work of redemption was done and Jesus had triumphed.

God’s plan of redemption didn’t begin at the cross. It didn’t begin in Pilate’s court or in Bethlehem. It didn’t begin in Babylon or Egypt or in the Garden of Eden. The Scriptures tell us that God’s plan of redemption began in eternity past (Ephesians 1).

Now, with that said, God’s plan did unfold throughout history. God moved through the events of history, calling Abraham, delivering the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt, providing a king, preserving a remnant, becoming flesh and dwelling among us, living, dying, and rising again. But, let’s focus on the provision of the sacrifice and the role it played throughout that history.

We see the first sacrifice in the Garden (Genesis 3:21). But, just a few verses before that, there is a promise of One who will come and put an end to Satan, sin, and death (Genesis 3:15). As we move forward, the children of Israel have been relocated to Egypt, eventually enslaved, and then delivered under the leadership of Moses. During the Exodus, God comes to them and gives them the instructions for how they are to live. And, in doing so, He gives them instructions on a variety of sacrifices (Leviticus). These sacrifices were largely to be offered as a way to deal with the sins of God’s people. These sins had to be covered. God’s perfect righteousness…His holiness abhors sin. He cannot tolerate it. So, it must be atoned for…paid for through sacrifice. For hundreds of years, the blood of bulls, sheep, and goats brought temporary covering.

But in the fullness of time…at just the right moment, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law (Galatians 4:4). And that brings us to the cross. Jesus is minutes from dying and He proclaims “It is finished.” Upon the cross, Jesus completes the work of redemption. The Scripture had been fulfilled (John 19:28). The sacrifices were now complete. Jesus had fulfilled the law and born the curse. The work of redemption was done. There is nothing left for us to give. No other sacrifice can be offered. As a result, the power of Satan, sin, and death are defeated. Thus, Jesus cries out “It is finished.”

It is said that Buddha’s dying words were “strive without ceasing.” What a striking contrast with “It is finished.” These phrases clearly define for us the difference between religion and its endeavors to make oneself right with God and with Christianity. Simply stated, the difference between the two is two simple letters. The difference between religion and Christianity is the difference between do and done.

He Hears

We all have had bad days. Some of us have had bad days that last for weeks and months at a time. We know the difficulties of discouragement and the darkness of despair. We’re not alone in our heartache. In Psalm 6, the psalmist says he is “languishing” (Psalm 6:2, ESV) and that his “bones are shaking” (Psalm 6:2, CSB). He recounts how he has cried himself to sleep every night (6:6) and how his eyes have swollen shut from his weeping (6:7). But, in his heartache, he finds hope. He finds it in God’s steadfast love (6:4). He knows that God has heard his weeping and pleas (6:9-10).

We’ve all felt this kind of pain and shed these kinds of tears. And, by God’s grace, the same hope and help that comforted the psalmist can comfort us. In the darkness of our despair, we feel alone and isolated. We wonder if anyone cares or if anyone is listening. We wonder if there is any way out of the pit we’re in. The psalmist reminds us that there is. The One who created the universe created you in His image. He hears your cries. He knows your heartache. And, He can help. He can lift your gaze off your circumstances and onto Him. He can give you a new perspective that sees beyond your context to the God who holds all things in His hands. Cry out to Him. Trust in Him. Rest in His steadfast love.

Anguish

I like those old Clint Eastwood movies. The ones they call Spaghetti Westerns. You know the ones made in the 1960’s by Sergio Leone. Eastwood played the “Man with No Name” in a trilogy of movies directed by Leone – A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. In one of those movies (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly I think), maybe in all of them (I don’t know), Eastwood is forced to walk across the desert without any water. The dry, barren land and the harsh climate gets to him. His face burns and his lips blister. His throat is parched, and his eyes are barely opened. He collapses under the strain of it all. It is a portrayal of exposure and thirst brought to us in living color.

We’ve seen scenes like this dozens of time. It’s in almost every western we’ve ever seen…and any movie made in the desert for that matter. Heat, suffering, and a cry for water.

The Apostle John gives us another vivid picture of thirst and suffering. In John 19:28-29, we see the humanity of Jesus on full display. Matthew tells us that as Jesus nears the end of His life, He cries out in despair and asks why God had forsaken Him (Matthew 27:45-46). Here, John records that He cries out in thirst. As the first is a reminder of the spiritual agony of the cross, this one is a reminder of the physical suffering.

When we look into the New Testament, we see Jesus’ humanity. The opening chapter of John describes Him becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:1, 14). Paul tells of of Christ humbling Himself, forsaking the glory of heaven, and coming to earth as man (Philippians 2:1-10). Near the end of our bibles, John stresses how he watched and touched a human Jesus (1 John 1:1-4). In between, we see Jesus exhibit all kinds of human traits and emotions. He grew (Luke 2:52). He was tired (Mark 4:38; John 4:6). He hungered (Matthew 4:12). He felt joy (Luke 10:21), grief (John 11:35), love (John 13:1), compassion (Matthew 9:36), and anger (John 2:13-16). This very human Jesus lived his life in obedience to His Father and in accordance with the Scripture. As He nears the end of His life here, He cries out know the Scriptures had been fulfilled in His life, suffering, and death. In doing so, He displays the anguish of His humanity.

As His humanity was on full display throughout His life, it was also on display in His death. Jesus suffered immensely on the cross. He went through a series of empty trials, only to be handed a death sentence He did not deserve. He was beaten and mocked. He would have been flogged to within an inch of His life. He has been hanging on the cross, struggling to breath, enduring the agony of crucifixion. While on the cross, He again was mocked and ridiculed. He bore the weight of sin and the wrath of God. All of this suffering. All of this anguish.

What are the Implications of all this for you and me? The book of Hebrews gives us some insight to this (Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:15).

For one, we see that Jesus identifies with us. We are not foreign or unknown to Him. He has walked where we walk and endured what we endure. He identifies with our suffering (Hebrews 4:15). This is a big deal. We cannot look at Jesus and say, “You just don’t understand.” He knows the reality of temptation and the agony of suffering. And, He gives us grace and strength to deal with both.

We also see that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice. There is nothing else that can be offered for our sin. The last sacrifice has been made. There is nothing you can offer…nothing you can give to make yourself right with God. The blood of goats and bulls is no longer adequate. Your religious activity will not overcome your sin. Only Jesus can do that. He did it on the cross. He is God’s perfect Passover lamb who conquered sin and death on our behalf (Hebrews 2:14).

In His thirst, Jesus died so that we may never be thirsty. As you walk across the spiritually barren wastelands of this life, spiritually parched and crying out for water, look to Jesus – the living water who died in our place and rose from the grave.

Don’t dismiss Jesus. Don’t ignore His humanity and what He accomplished in it. He lived for you. He died for you. He rose again for you…so that you might be able to come into right relationship with God. He has taught us and demonstrated for us how we can live for God and He empowers us to do so. Through His anguish, we can rise above ours.