Living From Abundance

1 Thessalonians 2

Most of us go through life working hard, trying to get ahead.  We all define “getting ahead” differently.  Some strive for money, others look for more time, we even throw family into the mix.  We think that having more of this one thing will give us the life we dream of.  We think it will bring us abundance.  Sadly, it never comes.  In fact, the harder we chase it, the more elusive it becomes.  For example, our toil for more money never reaches abundance.  John D. Rockefeller confirmed it.  When asked, “how much is enough?”  He replied, “just one dollar more.”   The Apostle Paul, however, knew better.   Simply said, Paul worked out of his abundance, not for abundance.

In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul tells us how he works from abundance.  To start, he reminds us of his terrible sufferings and mistreatment.  How can that be abundance?  Obviously, Paul’s definition of abundance did not look like ours.  His definition sounds more like righteousness.  Now before you check out because you are not righteous, consider this.  Paul references the righteousness of Abraham in Romans 4:21.  He says that Abraham was granted it by having “no unbelief to make him waiver concerning the promise of God” and that he was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”  The result was righteousness.  Paul shared in God’s righteousness as well.  This righteousness is exactly what allows him to live abundantly in any situation.

When we are fully convinced, like Abraham and Paul that God is able to do everything he promises, we too will be able to live from abundance.  In fact, Jesus promises it specifically in John 10:10.  Like Paul, when we live in abundance, no adversity, no pain, no suffering or mistreatment will ever discourage or destroys us.

 

Faith, Righteousness and Glory

Are you a rule follower?  Have you ever thought about why?  Most of us were taught that we either follow the rules, or get punished.  If that is you, I have another question for you.  Who do you believe God to be?  The judge?  The wrathful prosecutor?  An angry father?   Do you fear his punishment and condemnation?  Believe it or not, our answers to those questions can help us understand our faith.  Or, maybe they highlight our lack of faith.  According to Paul in Romans 4, if we believe those things about God, we are living according to the law.  How can we tell?  Let’s first consider righteousness.

How could I ever consider myself righteous?  I am painfully aware of how short I fall from God’s expectations, which is to say that I am disobedient to him and his commands.  I am sinful. But, to say so, invites the condemnation and wrath that I fear.   Even worse, to believe it, is to ignore Jesus.  Truly, because of Jesus death and resurrection, I do NOT fall short of God’s expectations.  In fact, I fully satisfy them.  That is the message that Paul is preaching today in Romans 4.  In verse 25, Paul explains that Jesus was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  So, does Jesus make us righteous?

Yes, Jesus can make us righteous.  In fact, the Bible elevates believers in Jesus to Priests and Saints, but there is a catch to reaching this mark.  We must believe. We must have faith.  Paul uses Abraham as an example.  Faith for Abraham was being “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:13).  Remember, Abraham was 100 years old, yet his faith in God’s promises enabled him to push through physical weakness (Romans 4:19).  Furthermore, “no unbelief made him waiver.”  Abraham’s unwavering posture points to mental toughness.  Faith in God, therefore, provided everything he needed to persevere and succeed.  That’s powerful!  So, the real question of righteousness looks less like living according to a strict set of rules and more like knowing, trusting and believing that God, through Jesus, has a plan for my life.

Finally, what is the evidence that our faith is full and real?  Glory.  Not to us, but glory to God.  Looking at verse 20, we see that Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”  We can conclude that faith is fully manifested in us when we give God glory for everything in every way.  Ironically, living for God’s glory means that we cannot possibly entertain thoughts, or engage behaviors that are contrary to his nature.  To do so would negate our belief and therefore, his very existence.

It’s that simple.    Faith, righteousness and glory do not come from finding all the right things to do in the Bible.  Instead, our perfection now and eternally, comes through “the one whom the Bible reveals,” Jesus Christ.  Believe it!

Chambers, Oswald (2011-05-01). My Utmost for His Highest, Classic Edition (Kindle Locations 2064-2066). Discovery House. Kindle Edition.

Malformed

sweet vanilla heaven

Judges 11:12–40; Acts 15; Jeremiah 24; Mark 10

I was reminded this week of a statement made by A.W. Tozer. He says “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” The truth is that I rarely take the time to consider what I believe about God. It’s likely that many my beliefs were formed in childhood. The startling reality is these, often wrong, views of Him affect the way that I read and interpret Scripture, which affects all of my life! Most days, I breeze through our daily reading assignments quickly, so that I can gain the information it contains and get on with my day. As I do, the information that I glean and the nuggets of wisdom that stand out to me are subject to my biases and opinions of who God is, how he acts and what he thinks about me. Thankfully, not every day ends this way. Today is one of those days.

I cannot tell you how many times I have read the parable of the rich young man, found in Mark 10:21-27. If you are like me, your thoughts were shaped the first time you read it and remain unchanged to this day. Gratefully, God revealed something new to me today. It is discovered by changing the emphasis. My focus has always been on what Jesus said and not what Jesus did. Let me show you the difference. Verse 21 tells us what Jesus said. It’s highlighted in red, so it is hard to miss. “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Without closer examination, I can easily mistake God as a taker, preventing me from enjoying all the fun things this world has to offer so that he can have all the glory.   NONE of those are true! In fact, the opposite is true, in every case. God is a God of giving, abundance and the creator of all good things. Not only that, he created us, individual and special. When we enjoy the work of his hands and remember that he is responsible for it all, he receives glory. He would never force it!

Today, in my umpteenth time of reading this scripture, I saw the more important part. It’s what Jesus did. Read the first part of verse 21, hidden in front of all the red letters.  It says, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Understand that when I focus on what Jesus said, I am left with what God wants to take away from me.  I, consequently, develop the wrong thoughts about who he is and how he works. However, if I first look at what Jesus did  and think about how Jesus loves me, my interpretation changes drastically. Look at these word descriptions for “love.”

  • wish well
  • to take pleasure in
  • long for
  • denotes the love of reason, esteem.

Now, use love to interpret what Jesus was doing.  Jesus first looked at the man and with all of his heart took pleasure in him, longed to be in a close relationship with him, held him in high esteem and wished him well.  I now have a whole new picture of who God is, how God works and what God thinks of me.   Clearly, Jesus words were not born of condemnation; they were born of his deep desire to see the young man become exactly who he was created to be. Whole and vibrant, living an abundant life. Do you see it? This is what he wants for us too!

My conclusion is that if I think of God as a bully or a taker, I can never experience what he so desperately wants to give me. And that is just it, Jesus does not take, he gives. He gives love, to be exact.  Unfortunately, the young man was not willing to recognize the love in Jesus’ comments. How about you? When you think about God, do you see love?  Do you gain hope and abundance or do you, like the young man, see absence and scantiness that leads to despair? Whichever the case, I pray that God will graciously bring us to a right understanding of who he is, how he works and what he thinks about us so that we can live the full lives he created us to live and receive all glory and honor that are due him.

Don’t Forget

A string tied around an index finger

Numbers 28; Psalm 72; Isaiah 19–20; 2 Peter 1

Have you ever paid attention to the collection of things in our lives designed to be reminders? As I look around my room, I see all sorts of things. I have a clock that keeps me mindful of what time it is. I have a bulletin board that holds invitations, famous quotations, and certificates, reminding me of good things. I have pictures of my family and friends. They remind me of who they are, how much I love them and really great experiences that we have enjoyed. Unfortunately, these things have failed to become reminders. Instead, I pass by them every day, mesmerized and tranquilized by my busy life. As I flop on the couch at the end of a long day, they cannot compete with my television, as it blurts and blasts [seemingly] innocuous messages.

This random busyness separates us from our hearts causing them to stagnate and lie dormant. This is not at all what God planned for us. Sure, we have faith that we are saved and will live with God eternally, yet we fail to break through and experience him today. Why not? Peter explains that we have failed to grow in our knowledge.  When we do, he says, we will gain self-control, with continuous dedication, resulting in brotherly affection and, finally, above all, love (2 Peter 1:5-7). Did you hear it? Love. It is the thing that we are chasing so endlessly, it is reconnection with our hearts.  Sadly, like the song says, we are Looking For Love in All the Wrong Places. Or, perhaps you are not looking for it at all, being content to live the busy and distracted life I described earlier.

Is there any hope? According to 2 Peter, the answer is yes.  It says, “those who fail to develop, shortsighted or blind.  They forget that they have been cleansed from their old sins” (2 Peter 1:9 NLTse). You see, when we don’t engage God and grow with him, we quickly revert back to our old lives. Wasn’t it these old behaviors that led us to the Cross in the first place? We are, in fact, living our old lives. If you are like me, that is a disappointing and shocking realization. This does not, however, lead me to despair.  Instead, it is a reminder.

Today, I am reminded of my failure to achieve the life he calls me to and also, of his abundant mercy. Thankfully, His mercy is new every morning and will never end (Lamentations 3:22-23). I am reminded that no matter how hard I try, I cannot change myself. Instead, I must put on the clothing of Christ, which is love (Colossians 3:14-17). All of this brings me to one last reminder, that the fullness I seek is made possible by a single, great sacrifice. Today, I am drawn, again, to the cross. This time, I come not so much for what it will do for me, but for what it can do through me.