God’s Answers to Big Questions

Our identity determines much about how we speak and act. Recognizing who we are is a critical piece of knowing how to respond to the various humbling challenges, mind-bending obstacles, heartaches and heart-breaks that arise in our lives.

This is true about other critical answers to big questions in life, not just the question, “Who am I?”

There’s destiny. Where am I going in life?

There’s purpose. Why am I here?

There’s possibility. What am I capable of?

And there’s community. Who will join me and support me on this journey?

All the answers to these questions can give us greater confidence and hope in our lives. Or the answers we have can demolish us and break our will.

If I’m “nobody” that will inform all my actions. If I believe my life is “going nowhere” that will affect my energy and my drive. If I’m sure that there is no end goal, no real purpose to my life, it can be pretty hard to even get going in the morning. Life becomes just one endless series of meaningless tasks.

If I think I have no gifts or talents, and no promise from a loving God to powerfully be with me, I will easily give up when obstacles arise. If I believe I’m alone is life, with no allies and no friends or family to support me, I will isolate myself and be subject to loneliness, frustration and spiritual attack.

That’s why I’m so grateful that God is clear about his answers to all these big questions. In the love that he has lavished on us, he has responded on our behalf to all five questions. He’s supplied those answers in Jesus Christ, and in the good news of his gospel promises.

Identity? By faith in Christ, we are called children of God, and that is what we are.

Destiny? Jesus is coming, and we know that when he appears, we shall be like him.

Purpose? The world does not know him, but God definitely wants us to let the world know about him! We have a Great Commission given us by Jesus!

Possibility? All who have this hope purify themselves, just as he is pure. Our sins have been forgiven and  it is now possible for us to live a Christ-centered life to the glory of God.

Community? We have a Father, we are his children, and that means we have — through faith in Jesus Christ — many brothers, sisters and friends!

Don’t let anyone commit “identity theft” on you! Or destiny theft. Or purpose, possibility or community theft either. Make no mistake, that’s what the devil and all his “criminal forces” want to accomplish.

Secure your ID by leaning on gospel promises like this. And hold on tightly to what Jesus has given you!

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3, NIV).

Lord, thank you for your Son, Jesus. Through your gospel promises, help me to hold on tightly to my God-given identity, destiny, purpose, possibility and community. Keep the devil far away, and prevent him from stealing any of these from me. Help me to glorify you in all I do by meeting challenges in my life on the basis of my gospel-given answers to the big questions in life.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 2, is Daniel 8:15 – 9:19, 1 John 2:28 – 3:10 and Proverbs 29:10-18.

Header image based on "Identity Theft" by GotCredit, CC By 2.0

The Power of One

God works through his people. And sometimes it simply takes one willing person to turn the tide.

In the days leading up to the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, God was searching for that one person. God’s people had abandoned their faith. Abandoned their God.

Someone was needed to draw the people together and lead them back to God.

But no one could be found. Not one person could be identified who had the faith, the courage, the passion for God and the love for God’s people to stand in the gap of the wall. This “wall” was not a wall of stone, but a wall of people united as living stones to stand for God and resist Satan. No leader could be found to stand up to evil and stand strong for God.

The priests and spiritual leaders were to teach God’s people to rest in God’s promises and live according to his laws. The princes and officials were to protect the people and insure justice and peace in the land, pointing the people to God as their true King.

But not one could be found who was ready to do his work. Just the opposite, in fact. Instead of doing the Lord’s work, the princes devoured the citizens with conspiracies, blatantly looting the common people. And the priests violated the law and profaned the holy things entrusted to their care.

Sometimes it only takes one person to make a difference in God’s kingdom. One person to change the broken culture. One person to help a church to achieve its mission. One person to serve on a ministry team. One person to lead a growth group. One person to visit the sick, or the prisoner. One person to care for the widow, the orphan, the person stricken by need or poverty.

One person filled with the Spirit, standing in the gap, can make all the difference in the world.

“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30, NIV).

Lord, you have been so kind to me. You “stood in the gap” through the cross, to reconcile the world to yourself. Make me willing to stand in the gap for you, and for your people. Fill me with your Spirit, and with the courage and willingness to serve you wherever I am needed.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, November 11, is Ezekiel 22:23 – 23:49, Hebrews 11:1-16 and Proverbs 27:15-22.

Header image based on "Gap" by Les Chatfield, CC By 2.0

Why We Pray for God’s Enemies

The apostle Paul understood the power of government. Intriguingly, the Roman government of his day was not supportive of Christianity. Not even close!

Nero was in power at the time Paul wrote these words. He would become the instigator of some of the most violent persecution against Christians in all history. Yet, Paul still encouraged believers to pray for those in civil authority, even if they seemed to be God’s enemies.

Why? Because they are the ones who — from a human point of view — could create the conditions that would make the spread of the gospel much easier, or on the other hand, much more difficult.

God’s desire is that all people hear the gospel and be saved. There is only one who can mediate between God and mankind, Paul writes. That’s why spreading the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ — that sole mediator — is of paramount importance to God.

If our witness to Jesus Christ is critical, Paul reasons, then having the right conditions of peace, security, easy travel, fast communication and economic stability are extremely valuable.

We can still pray today for governments and civil authorities around the world. We pray not because we are of any party or political persuasion. We pray not because they are friendly toward God, or supportive of the spread of the gospel. Because they may not be friendly toward or supportive of either of these!

Instead, we pray that those in authority will create the right conditions for the gospel, so that it can be spread to more and more people, and they may know Jesus as “the Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

Sometimes we pray for God’s enemies simply so that God can make more friends.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:1-6, NIV).

Lord, I pray for those in civil authority. I ask that we who are Christians may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. I ask that you will allow me to be a witness to Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior. Through my witness may many people come to a knowledge of the gospel, to a knowledge of the truth about the ransom your Son paid for all mankind.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, October 17, is Jeremiah 35:1 – 37:21, 1 Timothy 2:1-15 and Psalm 119:49-56.

Header image based on "Roman Crown" by Shaun Dunphy, CC By-SA 2.0

3 Things God Plans for You

Have you ever felt “banished”? Or “in captivity”? Or perhaps, “exiled”? The Israelites were far more than feeling this. They were experiencing it.

God’s chosen had been banished to Babylon as discipline for their sins of idolatry, lovelessness and injustice. They were in captivity and the Babylonians told them what they could do and not do. They were exiled and could not go home to the place they loved.

It would have been a major temptation to think, “God no longer loves us. He plans to punish us here forever, and we have no hope of ever escaping this. All we can expect is more pain, more trouble, more defeat, more loneliness.”

In times of trouble and hardship, it becomes really easy to believe that God only wants to bring us hurt and harm. We lose our optimism about the future. We feel like we’re just going to be held down and beaten up. We throw planning out the window. “Why plan?” we think to ourselves. Some disaster is just going to happen and demolish our plans anyway.

That’s why Jeremiah 29 is so important. In this chapter, Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon from Jerusalem. And he reassures them that God’s plans for them are loving plans, plans to help them prosper, plans to give them a wonderful future.

Hope is so necessary, and so powerful. And we all need a message of hope from time to time.

That’s why Jeremiah 29:11 is a great passage to take with you wherever you go in life. It’s a great passage for the dark times. We can use it to remind ourselves that — no matter what current events seem to be telling us — we have a God who gives us hope.

So, never forget. God plans three things for you. You have a God who plans 1) to prosper you, and 2) to give you hope, and 3) to give you a future.

And never lose sight of this, either. God loves to have you seek him out through his word. He promises that when you do that, you will find him — and find your hope again!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:11-14, NIV).

Jesus, thank you for your sacrifice for sins, and for your resurrection. This tells me you always intend to reconcile with me, and that there is always hope and a future. Help me to trust that you always want me to prosper in the end. And especially help me to trust this when I am undergoing tough times in life.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, October 13, is Jeremiah 27:1 – 29:23, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 and Psalm 119:25-32.

Header image based on "hope" by pol sifter, CC By 2.0

God-Given Disabilities

Paul was one of the most well-educated and brilliant scholars of his day. He had a gift for leading and communicating. He was energetic and hard-working. He was a man with a huge heart and a passion for people.

And he loved God deeply.

So why would God allow him to be imprisoned in a Roman cell, locked up and left to rot? Why would the God he loved disable him that way? Why sideline him?

It’s a great question. And the answer is that our disabilities play an important role in God’s kingdom. Our weaknesses can allow others to step up and grow stronger. Sometimes our being on the sideline can allow someone else to step on to the playing field.

That’s what happened when the apostle Paul was put in prison. Others had to step forward. They had to be strong and confident. As Paul had been doing, they would now need to get past their fear and proclaim the gospel. They had to act daringly, by faith in Jesus.

So yes, God gives us both our abilities and our disabilities.

Because he doesn’t want any of us thinking we’re indispensable to the work of the kingdom, or that we can do it all on our own. Our disabilities persuade us to work together with those whose abilities match our disabilities.

And so the church functions together as one for the glory of God.

“And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear” (Philippians 1:14, NIV).

Lord, help me to be content with both my abilities and my disabilities. Lead me to see that my disabilities can be part of your plan to include others in the vital work of your kingdom. Lord, thank you that you have built the church in such a way that we all need each other to function.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, September 29, is Zephaniah 1:1 – 3:20, Philippians 1:1-26 and Proverbs 23:29 – 24:4.

Header image based on "There's an Injured Player Down on the Field" by Ron Cogswell, CC By 2.0

Solving World Poverty

What’s the work of the church?

It is firstly to solve the problem of spiritual poverty. This is why Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, NIV).

We have the gospel. As we share the gospel, we share the kingdom of heaven with those around us. And that’s exactly what the apostle Paul and his team loved to do as they reached out to the Gentile people of their day. They were solving world spiritual poverty by giving people Jesus.

When Paul spoke with the pillars of the early church, though, they emphasized that one could not divorce solving spiritual poverty from working to solve physical poverty as well. So these godly men made only one request of Paul as he asked them for their blessing to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

“As you teach people about Jesus, and share the beautiful gospel message with them,” they said, “continue to remember the poor. Extend a helping hand not just to the spiritually poor, but to the physically poor as well.”

And Paul’s response was, “That’s the very thing I’m eager to do!”

There’s no question that the first work of the church is to help people know Jesus. We want to be Christ’s ambassadors to share Jesus as the world’s Lord and Savior.

But it’s also clear that God wants us to help people know the love of Jesus. This love of Jesus is the very thing that caused him not only to forgive sins and offer reconciliation and peace with God, but also to assist those who needed his help and healing.

For Jesus, the work of the kingdom was not an either/or choice between the spiritual and the physical. It was a both/and proposition. Clearly, this subsequently became the commitment of the early church as well.

And still today, the work of the church is a both/and proposition. It is solving world poverty — spiritual poverty first, while always remembering to work on the problem of physical poverty as well.

What an amazing privilege! What an awesome responsibility! What an outstanding opportunity!

“On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. “For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along”(Galatians 2:7-10, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for saving me from my spiritual poverty. Thank you for richly and daily providing for me. Give me the same heart for those who struggle with poverty — spiritual or physical — as you have for an entire world struggling with poverty.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, September 15, is Isaiah 36:1 – 37:38, Galatians 2:1-10 and Psalm 107:23-32.

Header image based on "Poverty: Damaged Child," Oklahoma City, OK, USA, 1936" by Kelly Short, CC By-SA 2.0

Get Ready for What’s Coming

Life is nothing more than a blip, really. So, it’s actually amazing that we have some time to think about what’s coming next after this blip is over. But we do, by the grace of God.

What’s next is eternity. Heaven. Our salvation is near and our destiny is drawing closer. And that means that this blip of a life is going to end sooner than we realize. Before we know it, we’ll have blown right through the blip.

So one thing Paul wants us to remember is this. We have only so much time here on planet earth to fully live in our new identity as children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The time is short for us to put aside the deeds of darkness, with its key goals being to “party hardy,” stay high, get wasted, sleep around, divide people, devastate relationships, and self-centeredly wish I had more of this or that than anyone around me.

Paul says that the way we get ready for what’s coming is to get rid of all of that and put on the Lord Jesus Christ. And what he means by that is that we need to have a faith-relationship with Jesus. We need to trust that he is our Savior, and our Lord.

God will provide this for us. Through baptism. Through his word. And through the sacrament of holy communion.

Time is short. If we refuse to put ourselves in position for God to reach us through the word and sacraments, God will not come to us in any other way. We need to quickly put down the deeds of darkness and the desires of our selfish, sinful self. We need to give Jesus space to work on our hearts.

We can’t, in other words, put on one set of clothing until we’ve taken off the old set. In this case, “layering” just isn’t going to cut the mustard. There’s no “both-and” to be had here. This is a definite “either-or”.

So which set of “clothing” do you want to put on? Remember, “what’s next” is coming very, very soon. And it’s very clear that we need to have the right set of “clothing” on right now!

So get ready for what’s coming!

“And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:11-14, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, July 30, is 1 Chronicles 7:1 – 9:1a, Romans 13:1-14 and Psalm 89:38-45.

Jesus, thank you for giving me your perfection as my new clothing. Help me to treasure it and to be ready for what is coming.

Header image based on "Stopwatch" by William Warby, CC By 2.0