Beautifying His Beautiful House

…and I will beautify my beautiful house. (Isaiah 60:7 ESV)

Heaven is an interesting topic to discuss. Some people picture heaven like a wispy cloud with eternal boredom accentuated by harp music. Others think heaven is just a big party with Jesus and wine and loved ones and what not. I haven’t been there so I don’t really know what heaven is like, but we do know for sure that heaven will be like living in our Father’s house.

Consider what Jesus told the disciples:

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:2-3 ESV)

Sounds pretty incredible, doesn’t it? With a renewed body, we will hang out with Jesus after He takes us to Himself so we can be with Him. He is preparing a place for us.

We are so small in the grand scheme of creation, yet highly valued. Do you notice the role we play in the above verses? We are recipients of God’s work. Nowhere does it say that we are beautifying God’s beautiful house or that we are responsible for getting our place ready in heaven. We are recipients – beneficiaries – of God’s grace.

Over the years I have heard many people get bogged down with the concept of Calvinism. Usually they focus on the concept of free will, which they feel is in conflict with God’s sovereignty. I can understand the resolute insistence that we have free will – it just seems natural here on the ground in real life. And we do have a measure of free will. But here is the trump card: God’s sovereignty. If God is all powerful (omnipotent), preeminent, and all-knowing (omniscient) – which He is – our free will plays out within the bounds of His sovereign rule.

Why does this matter? Who cares about Calvinism and what does this have to do with God’s beautiful house?

The reason God’s sovereignty and our position as beneficiaries matters is trust. God is roaring lion powerful and cross-enduring loving. He makes us and breathes each breath into our feeble lungs and Colossians 1:17 says that in Jesus all things hold together. We have much reason to trust. To trust that He is in control of our lives. To trust that He loves us and that our circumstances aren’t a surprise to Him. To trust that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4). No matter what life throws our way, we can trust that life did not in fact throw anything our way but that which God allowed.

Our future as Christians is inconceivably great and our present is better than we deserve. So when life gets hard or confusing, when death knocks on your door, you have but one response: to trust. It’s easy to say but it’s hard to do sometimes – and God will care for you either way – but a position of trust is a position of faith. And this faith is rightly placed in the God of the universe who is already preparing a place for you alongside Himself.

Whatever your life looks like right now, trust the God who cares for you.

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Constantly in Need, Constantly Asking

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12 ESV)

 

They say there are no atheists in a foxhole, but I’m pretty sure there are. War and trial don’t change your faith, but rather they intensify the faith you brought to them. The terrifyingly vivid moments of life bubble belief to the surface, revealing the true faith of the heart.

We are impossibly needy creatures. We need food, water, shelter, oxygen, and a decent range of temperatures just to survive. God holds this concoction of DNA together with His capable hand, but so often we forget our neediness.

We are ever in need of a savior. Our dark hearts deliver us to dark places by our own choice, and we need deliverance from ourselves. The broken world closes in on us and we need hope and peace and healing. When you measure our performance up against the righteousness of Christ, we fail – epically.

The posture of a Christian should be one of humility, but not just because humility is a high virtue. Those of us in Christ ought to start from a humble position because we…start from a humble position. The Christian faith is not a measure of spiritual performance but rather a story of spiritual deliverance. Of a humble God, clothed in flesh, coming to an ominous world to grab our weak little hands to pull us towards Himself.

And we get to talk to Him.

Prayer is not a confession booth, though we are to confess. Prayer is not a letter to Santa, but we certainly ask for things. Prayer is not a therapy session, though it’s therapeutic. Prayer is a lot of things but it is, at its core, us talking to a God that loves us and cares for us. God knows our hearts and He knows what we will say, but it still behooves us to pray to Him for our good and for the deepness of our relationship with Him.

So if you follow Jesus, you’ll certainly plead to Him in a foxhole. But what about in your cubicle? What about in your car? How about at your dinner table? It’s not that we ought to pray, but rather that we get to.

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Justification Leads to Justice

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (James 2:14 ESV)

 

Yesterday I sat in my truck in a parking lot before a meeting. I saw a young man walking around holding a tray of something food-related plus literature trying to find a fellow human to speak with.

He found me.

He came to my window and looked at me with a gentle look that said, hey man – please open your window. I drove off. No, I am kidding. I rolled down my window and heard a great testimony of a young man who was a drug addict on the verge of death who was saved by grace in Christ. He was in that parking lot hustling sales of banana nut bread for the halfway house that helped him get clean. We talked and I bought some bread and that was that.

If you have never sold something door to door or cold called, you probably don’t understand how much fun this young man wasn’t having. Strangers really hate being approached by strangers wanting money or to sell something – even the most valuable treasure in the history of the world (that’s Jesus if you’re a little slow). But this young man pressed on, smiling and encouraging and filling his tray until it was empty and then replenished supplies to sell more.

My banana nut bread friend had experienced the grace of Jesus and he will never be the same. Once driven by desperation for the next chemical fix, he is now motivated by the Gospel’s warmth in his bones. His salvation got his feet moving because that’s what salvation does.

Justification in Christ leads to justice in life.

Now we can’t get this backwards. James 2 isn’t saying if we don’t have works we aren’t saved, it is saying that if we don’t have works we don’t have faith – and if we don’t have faith we aren’t saved. Faith leads to action. If there is no action – no acts of service, no sacrificial love, no compassion for the poor in spirit or in social standing, etc. – faith isn’t there. You see, salvation in Christ isn’t like taking a sugar pill. You might imagine a placebo effect but the efficacy is imagined. No, it’s like a full on soul transplant where He takes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of warm beating flesh. So if there is no change in the person post salvation we need to examine whether salvation happened to begin with.

Now don’t go freaking out that your works aren’t good enough. That’s the opposite error, trying to think you can work yourself into heaven (See what I did, God? See what I did?!?!). God no more needs our works than He needs our help to make the sun rise tomorrow morning. But God gives us the gift of allowing us to serve our neighbor and to pursue acts of justice.

Martin Luther said that God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does. I like that. I’d add that we ourselves need those good works. Those good works show us the Spirit of God mid stride as He works in messed up sinners like you and me to love sinners like you and me.

The call to action here is not to judge our acts of service, but rather to make a bee line to the cross of Christ. Washed in the blood of Jesus, new hearts, we will act.

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Your Official Title

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV)

 

When I was in college I somehow found myself president of a reprobate organization. This organization (and I won’t name names) was kicked off campus and then allowed back on campus and through a weird set of circumstances I was invited to be the front man soon thereafter. It sounded like a good resume builder so I said yes.

It wasn’t much fun. Members of bad organizations tend to be an interesting bunch and our particular group was inclined towards bad decisions. And I was their representative. So I got to know the campus officials through numerous meetings, me pleading our case in every one of them. Like I said, it was a blast.

I guess you could say I was like an ambassador. An ambassador represents their organization, usually a government, and acts as a representative. When you see the ambassador, you are in essence seeing the group they represent.

Merriam Webster defines ambassador this way:

the highest-ranking person who represents his or her own government while living in another country 

We are ambassadors for Christ in the world. We carry the family name of the creator of the universe. Your neighbor may not know Jesus but she knows you and if she knows you follow Jesus there’s a strong association there. She will connect the two and you will strongly impact her view of Jesus.

That can be a bad thing.

Ghandi once said:

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

And Ghandi was right for the most part. When measured against the standard of Jesus, we don’t look much like Him. We are backbiters, gossipers, and cowards while Jesus was perfect. Some of us make good ambassadors some of the time but all of us make bad ambassadors some of the time. That’s just how it is.

Let’s flip things around. If we measure ourselves by the perfect standard of Jesus, of course we’ll fail. The law was meant to crush us into Christ and so if we throw on the yoke of the law again we’ll get crushed again. So as ambassadors we don’t need to freak out about having a perfect righteousness score.

We are sons and daughters of God. Jesus calls us a friend. The Holy Spirit indwells us. So we aren’t just a representative, we are a beloved family member. And the good news is that we get to be ambassadors of Jesus. Isn’t that amazing? The savior of the world invites us to carry His light of love into the world, the Gospel. That’s a big responsibility.

So what do we do?

We bring it with us. We trust the Gospel, which is the good news of the saving work of Jesus Christ. We live the Gospel as free men and women. We love with the power of the Gospel, the power to forgive and serve at all costs to a world that doesn’t get it. We build families rooted in the Gospel and start businesses that advance the kingdom, God willing.

You see, being a regular ambassador isn’t much fun sometimes. You get called to meet with the campus big wigs and have to explain your organization’s bad choices last weekend or worse, you have to explain how you failed to represent your tribe well. But being and ambassador of Jesus is a dance with freedom from freedom. Jesus’ work on the cross bought us freedom and gives us the safety net of permanent forgiveness.

So should we try hard to reflect the nature of Jesus to the world? Of course we should. We should do everything we can to bring Him honor and glory and praise. Being an ambassador is a high office and one that requires 100% effort. But when – not if – we fail to represent Jesus well, we can throw ourselves on the mercy of the One who sent us. There we will find forgiveness.

The campus officials don’t have quite as much patience.

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