It’s more important to love God today than tomorrow.

“’Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ’You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” –Mark 12:32-33

Yesterday I identified, more clearly than before, my own personal tendency to love God more with my future plans than with my current life. I realized that I am more in love with God in my dreams than when I am awake.

I have often found myself occupied with determining the most powerful way I can serve God in the future—how I could plant churches or start programs or give my life for people—but alarmingly unconcerned about the implications of loving God today. It makes me think of the parable of the sower in Mark 4: “but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Who knew the “other things” could include plans for future service?

So right now, I’m trying to change my perspective. Instead of worrying about how my convictions right now should shape my future life, I’ll be thinking and praying about how my convictions right now should shape my life right now. I’ll still look to the future to prepare for things—I still love to dream—but I’m going to try to love God right now, first.

Two thoughts from White’s Acts of the Apostles.

“Before ascending to heaven, Christ gave His disciples their commission. He told them that they were to be the executors of the will in which He bequeathed to the world the treasures of eternal life.” -Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles p. 27

In chapter three of Acts of the Apostles, Ellen White has just given me a new way of understanding our commission: “to be the executors of the will in which He bequeathed to the world the treasures of eternal life.” Suddenly, the whole task seems quite a bit simpler. An executor doesn’t own the inheritance, or decide who gets it, or have any say in what the inheritance actually is. The primary thing an executor is responsible for is seeing that everyone identified in the will is notified and receives their portion of the deceased’s estate.

I’m excited about this because, first of all, it’s just good news. The core of the message Christ wanted us to give is that everyone has an inheritance in Christ. He came so that everybody could live eternally. That’s what he wanted to leave with the world. And that’s the main thing we’ve got to tell people. Jesus wants you to live forever. Probably, the times Christians are accused of hate come from the times we have not given that message a central place in our preaching.

Second, the role Jesus gave us has the potential to be a lot of fun. The executor of a will is responsible for contacting all of the heirs and letting them know what they have coming. I’ve never done this, and certainly the joy of it has to be dampened by the fact that the person being contacted was probably very close, in some way, to the deceased. So I have some other examples: in Cambodia, people don’t use the postal system much–it’s not very accessible. So when anyone has a wedding, they and their friends have to hand deliver every invitation. Or, as I discovered on my recent trip home, everyone has something to send to, or has something they want to get from , the US. So they send it by person. And sure, maybe tracking people down every time there’s a wedding or every time you go to the US doesn’t make your life easier, but it is awesome to be the person giving the gift or the invitation. You paid nothing for the gift yourself, but you get all the joy and good feelings of being the one that gives it and seeing the expression on the face of the recipient. And that’s what we get to do. We get to let people know that they can have eternal life if they want it.

Don’t let compassion fatigue happen to you.

“If you have… any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” -Philippians 2:1-2

Sometimes I might sound harsh. I have been. Sometimes it seems that harshness is pervasive. Sometimes it seems unremarkable–necessary. But Paul and Timothy woke me up this morning.

Who would think that in Philippians, that uncompromising epistle that includes statements like “to live is Christ and to die is gain” and “whatever was to my profit I now consider loss,” the hardest thing for me to do would be sharing something? And sharing serious things, like a mind, a love, a spirit, and a purpose? And because of tenderness and compassion?

Really, it’s completely in line with what the rest of the letter describes.

In Philippians, tenderness and compassion (and encouragement and comfort and fellowship) are influential. These are the things, as gifts of the Spirit, through which the authors give up anything.

Once, at the end of a year of conference planning, I heard someone mention compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is the indifference, the harshness, that can hit you when you see too many terrible things without any encouragement. It can relate to a single issue you’ve focused on, or to life as a whole. It can make the work you were once ready to die for mean nothing to you.

Since bad things make good news, and since news is so accessible, I think more people on this planet are closer to compassion fatigue than ever before–including Christians.

The only way we can be united is if we keep our compassion healthy. The only way to keep our compassion healthy is to spend more time focused on our source of encouragement than the source of our problems. As the church, both for our health, and our productivity, we have to focus more than ever before on Jesus, his grace, and what the Holy Spirit is doing.

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” -Philippians 1:2

Why church membership matters.

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” -Ephesians 4:25

Sometimes people don’t like the word “member”. It sounds like it comes from a club or something. It sounds exclusive and shallow.

But “member” actually means something pretty crazy. It means a part of the body. And this concept has been around since the very beginning of church history.

So instead of disparaging the word, I think it’s better if we start trying to live up to the word. Maybe, instead of changing the word we use, we should say it with more intention and integrity.

This means a few things:

1. Since body parts don’t just jump around from body to body, I can’t just jump around from fellowship to fellowship. This runs deeper than just the place I visit once a week. This affects where I let my job take me, how often I move, how much I travel, and the way I spend my free time day by day. A body exists 24/7, not one day a week.

2. Since I need to commit to my church like a body part, it matters that the local fellowship has the tools to hold me accountable—which means transferring my membership to them. Otherwise, church discipline loses its power, and no one holds me accountable. My membership has been at the Willits SDA Church (which I really, really love), in California, since I was baptized. But I haven’t lived there for 10 years. Who knows what I’ve been up to? I do keep in touch with folks from Willits, but how can they really hold me to any standard? This is my bad—I should have transferred my membership long ago. I’ll be working on that.

3. Since the body is all connected, we’ve got to be honest with each other. On a person-to-person basis, with the local fellowship to which we’re bound. My church doesn’t only hold me accountable—I take responsibility for them in return. And honesty definitely makes things more intimate—like a body.

Commit to your church for more than once a week. Tie yourselves in locally, officially. Be honest with each other. Be a member.

 

Christ will establish you.

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” -2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Living in Christ involves deliberate action. The comfort of knowing Jesus does not satisfy you with human goodness—it moves you. Like a rope and a harness give a new climber the comfort to scale 80 feet of sheer plywood, so life in Christ gives a new believer comfort to reach new places in character, generosity, and service. If Christian life inspires you to action that anyone could logically justify outside of Christ, is your belief really in your Creator?

If you believe in Christ, and find your comfort in Christ, he will establish you in good works and words. Establishment involves time and scale: it is the beginning of a long-term entity with a far reach. And establishment is the definition of our present lives for anyone who believes. We are being prepared—established—for a time and scale without end.

So what good work or word do you know God wants to establish you in? And what short-term fear is stopping you from it? What comfort do you have in Christ?

Don’t let your shortsighted fear blind you to Jesus’ comfort, and in the end keep you from being established for life—all of life.

Three ways salvation sets you free.

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” -1 John 4:4

The experience of salvation must be freeing. If your experience is not freeing, your experience is not salvation. In order to set you free, salvation does three things to you:

  1. salvation removes your burden of guilt,
  2. salvation changes–sanctifies–your desires, and
  3. salvation empowers you to achieve your new, sanctified desires.

Why do you need those three things to happen to you in order to be free?

Salvation removes your burden of guilt

This is the ultimate prerequisite for freedom. No one is free with a guilty conscience. And this was achieved when Jesus died for your sins and God resurrected him. Promise yourself that Jesus actually came like described in the scriptures, and you’re guilt has to go away.

Salvation sanctifies your desires

I think John Piper once said something along the lines of this: “freedom is when you can do what you want to do, and not be damned to hell for it.” He was making the point that true freedom comes when what you want to do (and what you can do) aligns with what you ought to do.

Salvation empowers you to achieve your sanctified desires

All through it, scripture promises you that you can live the way you ought to live: “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Even the Ten Commandments–what some think legalistic–promise it. Check out this explanation from Skip MacCarty’s In Granite or Ingrained:

A second, complimentary model of the law, “embedded in the very grammatical structure of the Decalogue,” also supports an experiential understanding of Galations 3:22-25. Davidson points out that the grammatical form of the original Hebrew construction of the Ten Commandments allows for them to be understood either in their traditional portrayal as commands (“emphatic imperative”) or as promises (“emphatic promise”). Thus, “while it is possible to interpret the commandments as prohibitions, we can also interpret them as divine promises. For those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, it is no longer the command ‘You may not have any other gods before Me,’ but instead, the promise ‘You will not have any other gods before Me.’ You will not make any graven images, you will not take My name in vain. I promise you! You will no longer want to do those things that interrupt our intimate personal relationship.”

You can’t have the One that is greater than the one in the world living in you, and still be burdened by guilt, enslaved to sinful desires, and incapable of doing what you ought to do. No, when the One is living in you, you overcome all of that. And you find freedom.

How to fall in love with God.

“When can I go and meet with God?” -Psalm 42:2b

 

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” -Psalm 63:6

 

“Who has the heart? With whom are our thoughts? Of whom do we love to converse? Who has our warmest affections and our best energies? If we are Christ’s, our thoughts are with Him, and our sweetest thoughts are of Him. All we have and are is consecrated to Him. We long to bear His image, breathe His spirit, do His will, and please Him in all things.” -Steps to Christ, Chapter 7

Do you love God? Do you live your Christian life because God attracts you?

This can happen. It does happen, often. I’ve met many people who are attracted to God.

Do you want to love God?

Take time as you read your Bible, going over the same passage again and again. Try to grasp every detail of the stories about Jesus. Imagine what it would be like if you were actually there.

Pray for a long time, by yourself, with a notebook. Whatever is weighing on you, try explaining it to God. Tell him every possible worst scenario, and tell him the best possible scenario. Get down to the bottom of it. What are you really afraid of? And then give it to God. Find something in the Bible that gives you confidence that God can take care of this. And I mean real confidence–not something that you think you should be confident about.

The only way to love God is to give him the chance to woo you. People don’t fall in love before the first date. So spend a lot of time with him. Read and re-read his letters, explain your problems to him, and celebrate with him every chance you get.

You can love God. He loves you, and that’s a great starting point.

Who are the witnesses that surround us?

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” –Hebrews 11:39-40,12:1

I don’t know if this will surprise you as much as it surprised me, but I recently realized something key about Hebrews 12:1.

Before, I used to think that the “great cloud of witnesses” here were the people who did not yet know Jesus. They were people witnessing our lives. I used to think the point of this verse was that since there were so many people depending on us for an accurate presentation of the gospel, we needed to run with perseverance.

But that is not what the “great cloud” refers to.

Hebrews 12:1 directly follows one of the most extensive lists of people throughout history who lived by faith. People like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Samuel. Then this verse starts with “therefore.”

I think the cloud refers to all of those people. The faithful.

So the meaning of this verse drastically changes for me. The motive here moves from running for others to see, to running because others have seen. From running in order to prove a point, to running because of the confidence you find in knowing the stories of so many other people of faith.

And I think that is a purer motive. Of course, one aspect of faithfulness is teaching others and modeling Christ. But when that aspect of faith is what motivates a person to throw off sin and everything that hinders, it takes us awfully close to Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 6:1: “Do not do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them.”

Instead of thinking about what others will think, try thinking about what others have already done, in the past, because of their faith. And then fix your eyes on Jesus and run with perseverance. I’m sure this will be a more effective way to finish the race, and some people will probably see and believe because of that.

I turned 26 last month, and my word for the new year is: Suffer

I got stuck on this post a couple months ago, and haven’t been able to write since. Thanks for your patience as I processed these thoughts. The original topic was the Great Controversy.

“For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.” -1 Corinthians 4:9

This verse is about glorifying God through suffering.

Everyone reading this probably comes from a country with religious freedom–at least for Christians. You won’t be fined, jailed, or harassed for praying in public, attending church events, or reading this article. Many of you are probably even in the majority (which could mean you need to watch out for those you might be unintentionally oppressing). Even though we might like to look for persecution in this ultra-free society, we’re really grasping at straws. I believe that will change in the future; but I know that hasn’t changed yet.

So then, is it impossible to glorify God in our suffering, right now? Or does religious freedom actually limit our opportunities to glorify God?

On the contrary, religious freedom exponentially increases our opportunities to glorify God, because it gives us chances to display our devotion out of our freedom, instead of under compulsion. Whether we take advantage of these opportunities or not, religious freedom puts the onus on believers to model Christ. It removes external motivators like persecution, and makes room for intrinsic motivators, like love, to manifest themselves. As awesome as faithfulness under persecution can be, faithfulness–devout faithfulness–in freedom inspires the world more.

How can this be?

Peter writes:

“But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable before God.” (1 Peter 2:20)

John writes:

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17)

Jeremiah writes:

“But a beautiful palace does not make a great king! Why did your father, Josiah, reign so long? Because he was just and right in his dealings. That is why God blessed Him. He made sure that justice and help were given to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him. ‘Isn’t that what it means to know me?’ asks the Lord.” (Jeremiah 22:15,16)

John writes again:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16)

Without persecution, the only other thing you need to protect yourself from is the Bible, because in light of all the poverty and injustice in the world right now, a person cannot be true to these verses without giving to the point of suffering.

If you choose, in your freedom, to give of your possessions and your rights until you suffer, you can glorify God even more than you would if you were taken to court for praying in public. If you recognize that you are never the victim when you are in Christ, then you are free to look out for the rights of your neighbor instead of yourself, and glorify God in the process. If you refuse to accept the normalization of self-preservation and decide to give without regard for your own safety, God’s freedom and power become clearly evident in your life. And if you forego comfort with a smile and a prayer, deciding to give instead, you will model Christ to the world, and God will look more beautiful to somebody.

But there’s a reason why Christians can give generously. In On Christian Liberty, Martin Luther writes:

“Who then can comprehend the riches and the glory of the Christian life? It can do all things and has all things and lacks nothing. It is lord over sin, death, and hell, and yet at the same time it serves, ministers to, and benefits all men. But alas in our day this life is unknown throughout the world; it is neither preached about nor sought after; we are altogether ignorant of our own name and do not know why we are Christians or bear the name of Christians.”

We have more riches and glory through Christ than we could ever give away or give up. Just calling ourselves “Christian” is a recognition of that. Calling ourselves “Christian” means we will serve as Jesus served and give as Jesus gave; it means we’ll suffer as Jesus suffered.

Let no rationalizations get between you and your Bible, and you will suffer–even in a country with absolute freedom.

And as you suffer–and yet lack nothing–you will be a spectacle indeed.


You might already know what you need to give, but if you need ideas, here are a few programs I recommend:

Do you want to remove all doubt about your sincerity?

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” -Colossians 2:15

It seems that God likes removing doubt about sincerity. From Noah, to Job, to Abraham and Isaac, to Moses, to Jesus and the apostles, God brings people into situations that cannot be faked. Anyone without faith would give up. But when someone does not give up, then their value is made known. No one can call them insincere.

Some people think Christians are insincere. Since our faith is unbelievably good news, our motives have to be unbelievably sincere. That simultaneously puts us in a vulnerable and a powerful position. Vulnerable because anything we do that might be, or appear, insincere will draw flack. Powerful because, if we are able to remove all doubt about our sincerity, we have a hope and a joy that nothing can rival and that everyone wants. Showing our sincerity beyond all doubt is perhaps the most powerful way to bring people to belief.

We should not chase persecution, I think. But we should, absolutely, live according to the standards of justice and mercy found in the Bible without regard for negative consequences to ourselves. Rather, when we see something bad coming, we should rejoice, because God will be glorified in our suffering.

Twice this year, the choir I’m in has sung a song called “In Christ Alone” by Koch and Craig. One of the stanzas goes like this:

And now I seek no greater honor
Than just to know Him more
And to count my gains but losses
To the glory of my Lord

The last two lines have been running through my head a lot recently: “To count my gains but losses to the glory of my Lord.”

Have you ever thought that your gains–your successes, your comforts, the extended length of your life–might actually be losses to the glory of the Lord? I love that Adventists are healthy enough to live on average 10 years longer than the rest of the U.S. population. Our health can be a testament to God’s power and righteousness. But I wonder if the fact that we actually do live longer–that we take our gift of health and stay in safe places, instead of using our health to go work in the hardest places where we might die sooner–I wonder if the fact that we actually do live 10 years longer is a greater testament to God, or to human security.

Would you rather live a life without problems, or would you rather take every opportunity you can to show people that God is worth everything to you?

Jesus made a spectacle of the powers and authorities by revealing his allegiance beyond a doubt. He came in order to do that.

As Christians, why have we come? Why have you come? What will you do?