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Whom God Saves, God Seals

sealIn the year 2000, Angie and I bought our first home. It was sweet! We took one day with the realtor. About the fifth or sixth and final house we looked at that day was the perfect fit. We headed to the realtor’s office and filled out an offer form and included with it our earnest money – a whopping $500 (big money for us at the time)!

Had we backed out of the deal, we would have lost that money. Further, it might have demonstrated some flaw in our character, hence the purpose of the earnest money to begin with. Now listen to this…

For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
~1 Corinthians 1:20-22 NKJV

God is ethical, righteous, and just. His character is flawless. My salvation for eternity depends not on any goodness in myself, but rather in the impeccable character of God. In other words, God keeps His guarantees. What are they?

Jesus Christ Fulfills God’s Promises

Jesus is said to be the “Yes!” and the “Amen! (Let it be so)!” to all of the prophecies and promises of God. He has a perfect track record of upholding His own truth. What He decrees always comes to pass. People waited thousands of years for the redemption of a sinful race, and on the cross and from the empty tomb, God fulfilled those hopes.

God Establishes and Anoints His People

Salvation is but the beginning of the Christian life. That life itself is to be characterized by two great actions on God’s behalf – He grows us, roots us, establishes us together in in a relationship with His Son, and He anoints us and ordains us to the special privilege of serving Him.

God Seals Us with His Holy Spirit

What does that mean? Several wonderful things. I am owned and the mark of the Owner is on me. I am authorized with the power and authority of the Owner any time that I am acting within His will. I am gauranteed the completion and total fulfillment of all that God has started to do in me, and the inheritance promised me on the basis of His grace alone.

God doesn’t cancel contracts, retract promises, or break guarantees. Whom God saves, God seals, and whom God seals, He saves completely and eternally.

Creative Commons License photo credit: zappowbang

Someday, When I’m a Grown Up…

Real ChristianityWhen I was a kid, I wanted to be a teenager. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be an adult. There’s nothing else to want but death, so I’ll stop there in terms of physical age. Now I find myself wanting to finally be fully grown up spiritually. Or as Paul once said, “We groan as we eagerly wait for our adoption, the freeing of our bodies from sin.” (Romans 8:23 GW)

Right now, believers in Jesus live in the nether regions. This world no longer feels like “home” but we haven’t yet arrived at our final destination. We’re in the process of being re-shaped into the image of Jesus, but we’re not there yet. So we fight temptation, suffer setbacks, and struggle for deeper understanding of our new identities in Christ.

My friend and fellow Pastor, Cary Schmidt, said it well: “So it is to be a real Christian – by grace I am rescued into a redemptive relationship with Jesus, promised an eternity of perfection, but constrained to wait with patience for God’s eternal purpose to unfold. In His Word He calls it “groaning” – it’s wonderful but difficult.”

I believe that there are two approaches to living well during this interim period between new birth and eternity. The first is to learn to live in total appreciation of the grace of God that has made and continues to make all the difference. And the second is to have our eyes and our affections set on the future fulfillment of all that God has promised His children. By looking back at what God has done, and by looking forward to what we know He will do, we can experience what He is presently doing in a special way.

Read more about or purchase Pastor Cary Schmidt’s book Real Christianity by clicking here.

Anyone Who Believes HAS Eternal Life

ForverLiving forever is only a good idea if the life lived is a quality one. Who would want to live forever in a state of pain or disease? Death, in a sense, is a gift of ultimate deliverance from a world of suffering. So when we talk about “eternal life,” we’re not merely referring to the quantity of time one lives but to the quality of that life.

In other words, when Jesus said, “anyone who believes has eternal life,” (John 6:47) He was making it clear that eternal life is a current possession and not merely a vague promise about a never-ending future. To anyone who believes in Him, Jesus grants a new kind of life – an eternal one – a life intertwined with the life of Jesus. We have heaven’s power at our disposal today and its presence to enjoy in the future.

You may not “have” much in this world, but if you know Jesus, you have eternal life in Him, and no one can take it away. So enjoy it to the fullest here and now and in the ageless eternity to come!

photo credit: Rares M. Dutu

Celebrating the Diversity of the Church

DiversityI grew up white, middle class, and in the mid-south. My high school was diverse, but not peacefully so. Tensions ran high between races, classes, and groups, which was to some degree a reflection of the entire community. I very well should have grown to adulthood with all kinds of prejudice. But God, in His grace, showed me a different way.

As a teenager, when I studied the Bible, I couldn’t help but notice that diversity is something God celebrates. Yes, He chose the Jewish people as His own special people, but His purpose in doing so was never to exalt one race or class above all others but rather to choose one nation as a channel through which to communicate His saving grace and glory to the rest of the families of the earth. In the Old Testament, God assigned Abraham’s descendants as His means of blessing all the families of the earth through the Messiah who would be born to the Jewish family. In the New Testament, God unveiled the mystery that in the church, He would bring together Jews and Gentiles, slaves and slaveowners, male and female, etc. And in the Revelation, God allows us a preview of heaven in the future when people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and family will be represented before His throne, bringing praise to the Lamb slain as a ransom for all.

The Great Commission is ultra-clear that the mission of the church is to make disciples of all ethnicities (“nations” in Matthew 28:19 is ethnae, literally ethnicities). We cannot fulfill the great commission effectively without celebrating the diversity of the church, just as God does. My friend, Derwin Gray, points this out well in a post about how we don’t care about the great commission.

Churches need to be intentional about reaching across ethnic divisions. History proves that it doesn’t happen without giving it thought and prayer. When Angie and I moved to northwest Arkansas to plant Grace Hills, we prayed specifically that God would allow us to raise up a church family that was ethnically representative of northwest Arkansas. In our last few services, we’ve seen at least a half a dozen different ethnicities represented, which thrills us, but we want to go further. In our area, because of Walmart, there is a large population of immigrants from India, the Marshall Islands, and Latin America. We’re not yet reaching them, and though we are only a few weeks in, it is already concerning us. We’re praying for God to open doors in every people group in our region.

You might live in an area where few people groups exist, but as Mark DeYmaz often points out, you can still be intentional about reaching both the shop-sweepers and shop-keepers of your community.

Some churches are so intentional they hire staff based on race. I’m not sure if I agree that this is the wisest approach to hiring, but I will say that I love the motive behind it. For us, we keep reminding ourselves that there are some things we need to be doing intentionally as we grow if we really want to be a diverse congregation.

  • We need to ask God for the hearts of the nations (people groups) who exist among us.
  • We need to make our intentions very clear and articulate that diversity is part of our value set.
  • We need to make room for everyone to serve alongside one another.
  • We need to encourage people to step out of their comfort zones and befriend people from other backgrounds.
  • We need to design our public presentations and ministries to identify with people from a variety of cultures.
  • We need to celebrate the diversity we do see, letting it be known that this is something to rejoice over.
  • And we need to preach the Scriptures clearly, that God is gathering to Himself a people of all kinds of colors.

Sometimes I wonder how a little group of middle class, midwestern white people are going to reach a diversity of individuals with the gospel of Jesus Christ. But I’m more determined than ever to make it happen. For the last century and a half, we’ve rejoiced in our ability to disperse from America to the rest of the world, doing the work of missions. Today, God has brought the mission field to our doorstep, and it’s a beautiful opportunity. Embrace it.

Growing up in Sunday School, we used to sing a song that many people know well.

White and white and white and white,
they are precious in His sight…

No wait… it’s…

Red, and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

And the “little children of the world” are growing up in my neighborhood. Perhaps it’s time to tell them Jesus loves them!

Photo by Kieran Lynam.

2012: We’re Just Getting Started

Combine in Wheat FieldIt’s day one of a new year. It’s also day one of the rest of your life. 2011 is behind us and a clean slate is before us. January 1 is always a day of high hopes and sometimes unrealistic expectations.

If you have the idea that this year will be free from any problems, you’re already in for a rude surprise. There will be interruptions in our plans, new obstacles, and unexpected trials. Such is life. But life this year can also be pretty awesome in spite of the inevitable valleys we will encounter. It can be a year of victory because of Jesus Christ, who died to set us free and rose from the dead to set us loose upon the world to share His grace with others.

In the New Testament book of Galatians, the apostle Paul writes about the kind of year I want you and I to enjoy…

Don’t be misled – you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially those in the family of faith.

~ Galatians 6:7-10 NLT

Respect the Unbreakable Laws of God

There are certain laws God has put into place and we are powerless to break them. One is the law of time. We can’t speed time up or slow it down. We can only be better stewards of the time we’ve been given. Another is the law of sowing and reaping. We will always reap what we sow, somewhere, sometime. If we live for sinful, selfish pleasures, we will reap the results of selfishness – a short term gain and a long term loss. If we live for God, we will reap eternal benefits, beginning now in this life.

Live with Eternity In Mind

Keep going. When you’re weary and worn out, keep going. When the world around you has beaten you up, keep going. When temptation just won’t go away, keep going. Don’t stop. Keep advancing. If you are in Christ, you’ve already won. Your crown is waiting.

Keep Doing Good

In The Art of the Start, a book about entrepreneurship, Guy Kawasaki devotes his final chapter to developing a basic ethic for starting things. Rather than closing his book with a challenge to grab all you can, while you can, Guy issues three other basic challenges:

  • Help many people.
  • Do what’s right.
  • Pay back society.

I believe Guy’s inspiration was scripture. I like Dallas Willard’s timeless definition of the word discipline. He says it’s simply “doing the next right thing.”

Reap the Harvest

My favorite definition of evangelism is from Bill Bright: “Evangelism is sharing Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, leaving the results to God.” We can’t control outcomes – that’s in the hands of a sovereign, all-knowing God. But we can control inputs. That is, we can determine what we’re willing to invest. And the more we’re willing to invest, the more we harvest, in God’s time and God’s way.

I can invest my time. Over Christmas, I spent a little time with my grandmother who is in her 90’s. She told me this might be her last Christmas. She says that every year, but this year she said it with a smile and then proceeded to tell me that she had talked with God about it and she’s let Him know that she’s had enough time and she’s ready whenever He is. We don’t know how much time we have on earth, but we do know that if we survive this day, we will have spent 24 hours on something. We might as well spend it on eternal things.

I can invest my talent. God has shaped us to serve Him and others. We might try to hide behind a facade of meekness, but we need to acknowledge that God creates good things and gives people abilities that need to be re-invested into His purposes.

I can invest my treasure. I can either spend it on things that will burn up, rust out, and blow away or I can store it up for eternity by investing as much as possible into eternal things. There are only two things that last for eternity – God’s Word and people – and no other investment opportunity compares to investing in the spreading of God’s Word and the redemption and healing of people.

Keep going. We’re just getting started.