Living on Purpose–Unity

The best secular job I have had so far in my life was serving as an officer in the United States Air Force.  The clarity of mission and common purpose, everyone living the value of service before self, the camaraderie and closeness of the unit…there was a lot of great aspects of being an Airman. I say that, because as I think about living on purpose for God and being a Christian (part of a local congregation), I should find those same elements in my service and the same unity in service.

As Christians, we are brothers, sisters, and fellow workers for the Lord.

 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. (1 Peter 2:17; NKJV)

25 Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; 26 since he was longing for you all…  (Philippians 2:25-26; NKJV)

42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42; NKJV)

We are serving a Father and have an Elder Brother…we are a family with a clear and common purpose of service before self to one another to the glory of God.

15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15; NKJV)

As I think about this and I examine the state of my relationships with my brothers and sisters, the health of my local church, the emotional/spiritual well-being of my fellow soldiers, the clarity of purpose and our zeal for loving and saving souls…I need to be honest with myself and my God and consider what I am doing and the results I am getting.  It is my responsibility to be what God has called me to be in His family.  It is my responsibility to live on purpose for Him and live towards unity.  I can’t do that for others and what others are doing can’t be a distraction or an excuse for my not living the way God expects and doing the things He has commanded me.  God does not move and He will not forsake me.  Knowing that, I can be grounded in Him and allow myself to be filled with His love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, patience in such a way that I will be full and able to pour that out on others.  Only God can fill me like that and expecting my brothers or sisters to do that will cost me and it will cost them and it will not unify.

God wants us to start with Him and be united with Him.  Starting there, we can afford to be vulnerable and to serve because no matter what others are doing or saying, we can be sure God is the same and expects the same and we can go to Him for strength and to be fulfilled and refreshed.  To say it another way, if we take confidence in God’s unwavering love and security for us, we can then live in such a way that we can invite others to come along us when they are ready. This takes away the threat for all parties and provides an environment for unity.  A way for us to become of one mind, able to receive each other, not be divided…to join ourselves together against the wiles of satan and to God’s glory.

5Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.  (Romans 15:5-7; NKJV)

 10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10; NKJV)

Living on Purpose

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:31-34; NKJV)

But Daniel purposed in his heart (Daniel 1:8; NKJV)

There are couple of thoughts rattling around in my head this morning.  One points to Jesus and His teaching in Matthew and Luke (12:31) regarding worry and the importance of choosing Him.  The second points to Daniel and his example as a man (child of God) who above all else chose God and purposed in his heart to do what God required of him.

There is a prayer I often pray, especially when I am struggling with something in my life and/or I am talking to God about the man I need to be and calling on Him to help me be that man.  It has to do with purpose.  It has to do with putting things into perspective.  It deals with focusing on what is important and working on what really matters.

My prayer:  “God and Father in Heaven, please help me to be the man you have called me to be…to be a good husband, father, brother in Christ, and evangelist of the truth.  Please help me to make Your work my most important work.  Please ground me in Your love which never fails so that I will be filled up with Your love for others and be a blessing to them as You have called me to be and serve in the kingdom with the talents, abilities and experiences You have blessed me with.  Amen”

Disciple–Husband–Father–Brother–Evangelist.  That is what I want to be focused on.  What is not in that list are all the other things that can get in the way…my job, my health and fitness, my “stuff”, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, there are other things that are important in life and things to be enjoyed…but they are not the most important (see 1 Cor 15:3-4) and Jesus doesn’t want me worrying about them.

He wants me to seek Him first and to purpose in my heart to be faithful and be working on what matters.  He wants that for you too and as we focus on Him, our families, our brethren and sharing the gospel with lost souls…we will feel purposeful and the worries of the day will be eclipsed by the promise and every spiritual blessing of Jesus.  May He fill you up and lift you up in the life and purpose you are blessed to live.

Eagles’ Wings

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, 31 but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31; NKJV)

I encourage you to take some time and read all of Isaiah 40 if you get time today, but I wanted to bring the last 4 verses of the chapter to your attention as you start the week.  I need to be continually reminded to see my current life on earth from a Heavenly perspective.  This allows me to see God’s majesty and in seeing that I can have confidence that God knows my situations, will provide for me to deal with any short-term difficulties and will deliver me in the end.

I pray you have a wonder week and that you feel God’s influence and care in your life.

Actions Get Results

38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”  41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10: 38-42)

We can all be very busy and often times we are.  I know I am.  I sometimes get so busy and am doing a lot of things that I lose track of time and can get off track of what I really need to be doing.  For me, that manifests itself in fatigue, a short temper, less communication with loved ones/brethren, reduced prayer/bible study, a higher dependence on “tomorrow” instead of “today”, procrastination, etc.  These are the results I get when my focus turns from what I need (Jesus) and either what I want and/or think I need to do.  It is what I call a death spiral…I get so focused on something other than Jesus that I begin to lose altitude and gain speed subtly and before you know it I am about to crash.  I have become distracted with much serving and the fruit/results I am getting are not leaving me at peace.  That is not where our Abba Father and Elder Brother want us to be.

They want us to bear fruit of the spirit which is a result of living a life for Jesus.  22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23).  These don’t all come at once.  It is a sustained life for Jesus…consistent behavior over time…that produces these fruits and gets us the results God (and we) desire.  5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1: 5-8)

We can examine the results we are getting from our actions/behaviors and know if we are on the right path and focused on the one thing we need.  We must do this…it is a continual process and if we are not self aware and/or continually check ourselves against the scriptures, eventually others will and we might lose an opportunity to serve and share Jesus.  I know that is not the result we are looking for.

 

Wants and Needs

38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”  41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10: 38-42)

There is a continual battle I have and I think is shared by most if not all of you.  The internal battle deals with what I “WANT” to do versus what I “NEED” to do.  I had a brother once make a statement to me while I shared with him my struggles in wrestling with the direction my professional life was taking.  Without going into the long odyssey of that conversation/struggle, the basic advice was “Shane, there are things we want to do but more importantly there are things we need to do.  Start with what you need to do and be thankful you can get them done”.  I confess that was not what I wanted to hear.  What I wanted was for him to say something more along the lines of “you should do what makes you happy…what you want to do” but that wasn’t what I NEEDED to hear.  I am thankful for my brother and his words have stuck with me as I have encountered other similar dilemmas.

Over the next several articles, I would like to explore this idea of Wants and Needs and what God says in His word for our instruction.  Many if not most of you are familiar with the story that contains Jesus’ admonition that starts “Martha, Martha”.  Take a minute and read it again.  Ask yourself if you really understand what you NEED to do and/or what kinds of things shift your focus to WANTING.  The cares of the world, a busy schedule, selfishness…these or something like it are what promote what we WANT to do to the top of list and cause turmoil in our hearts and minds.  I know I am guilty of being there…WANTING instead of recognizing my NEED.  We all have and that is one of so many reasons why we are blessed to have a loving, merciful, graceful, forgiving and long suffering Savior and Father who continues to give us what we NEED in such a way that He is all that we WANT.  That transformation is what we will look at over the next several articles.  Have a blessed day!

Word in Action

19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hearslow to speakslow to wrath20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:19-22; NKJV)

Perspective and process.  God gives us His perspective and is teaching us how to see our world from an heavenly perspective.  He also provides us process for our lives and the order does matter.  Here, we are to be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath.  If we are swift in our hearing of His word then we will have a heart prepared to be swift to hear another while seeking to understand rather than be understood.  This requires us to listen first and not speak first.  It requires us to consider God’s Word, what another is saying, and then humbly respond.  In all of this, we need to remember that wrath comes last not first and that the wrath of man does not produce righteousness of God which should be our goal.

The focus really is us as individuals here and not others.   We are to lay aside filthiness and wickedness so that we can humbly receive His implanted word.  In elevating God and others in our lives, He will save our souls.  If that is the focus, then we can be Godly communicators and humbly maintain our cool.   If we leave evil behind and receive His word, then we will find salvation and share salvation.

All of this is active.  Though we receive and we react to God’s word, we do so deliberately and purposefully.  It might not be a lot each and every day but we focus on and we do what we can in in line with what God’s word says.  This changes us and changes our relationships.  We determine to listen…to God’s word and to others.  We determine to understand and apply it and allow it to work in our lives.  We purposefully turn away from evil and choose good.  In all of it, we are emboldened in our humility and God will work in our lives and our relationships.  Perspective and process do matter to God.  Reflect on His perspective through His word and work to maintain His process in your life.

 

Father of Lights

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. (James 1:16-18)

Perspective and process is what we discussed in verses 12-15.  God’s perspective is heavenly and we can have confidence in what He is doing and has promised to do.  Jesus says in John 15 to “Abide in Me” and to faithfully serve Him despite the highs and lows of our life and the result is eternal life…the crown of life.  That is the process.

In that, the devil will try to mix all that up, sow lies, cause confusion.  But we read here to not be deceived.  To remember that all good gifts and things that come into our lives are from Heaven.  If something is not good, we know it is not from God and we can work to avoid it, flee from it or otherwise escape and resist.

Specifically, God is the God of light and there is no darkness in Him.  Again, a standard we can measure the things in our life by.  God is the God of light and there is no variation or shadow.  God is solid in that He does not move and that He is not empty but is and represents His supreme and awesome power and nature which is fully focused on our restoration and salvation.  He works to build up.  The devil works to tear down.  We can know that God has and is working to restore us…bringing us into the light as He is light.  Our objective is to stay there and remain faithful and we will prevail.

Let me close with a passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy and encourage all of us to move to the light and stay in the light no matter how hard the devil works to yank us back.

11 But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, 15 which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords16 who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:11-16)

Two Perspectives and Two Processes

12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (James 1:12-15; NKJV)

This passage provides perspective from which we can confidently serve our God and also from which we can investigate what is going on in our life and determine what the problem is.

Jesus promised a crown of life, that is eternal life, for those that love Him.  Jesus told us if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.  If we are faithful and obedient to Jesus Christ then we will be blessed as we overcome our temptations, will endure in this life, and be found approved by Him as we return to Him in spirit (crown of life). That is the process of God.

In that, we can be confident that God is not and does not tempt.  It says clearly in the verse that “evil” is what tempts and there is no evil in God.  There is no darkness but only light.  There is no bad, only good.  Our God is Holy.

So if God isn’t tempting us, where is it coming from?  Evil.  What is evil?  That which is contrary to God.  Who is contrary to God?  The devil is evil and he is contrary to anything God stands for and he is the one that appeals to us in our flesh and tempts us to act in a way that is contrary.  The devil is selfish.  We are at risk of being selfish.  Satin will appeal to that perspective while Jesus is saying deny yourself and follow Him.

If we give way to the temptation of the devil through responding to the desires of our flesh or our self-centered perspective, then we are in danger.  This desire, if allowed to take hold, will give opportunity for sin and if the sin is born and not taken care of will result in spiritual death.  That is the process of the devil.

So we have two perspectives and two processes.  God’s is heavenly and holy and results in eternal life.  The devil’s is fleshly and results in sin and death.

This provides us opportunity to reflect on our lives and consider what choices we are making, what sorrows we have, what fruit we are bearing and determine which perspective and process we are adhering to.

God loves us and wants us to be safe and secure as any Father does but He wants our heart and that requires our faithful and consistent choosing of Him.  He does not tempt us.  He only loves us.  And He does and will equip us to endure temptation by the devil and to secure an eternal and living crown.

 

Receive

17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. 20 Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. (Philemon 17-20; NKJV)

The good deed and importance is found in Philemon receiving Onesimus.  Before I start with Philemon, please recognize the Onesimus is returning.  He is determined to reconcile with Philemon though the worst outcome for him could be that Philemon doesn’t reconcile and he lose his life…a punishment that was given to slaves who were disobedient.  This was in the realm of possibility but Onesimus had a heart to go and to reconcile.  As much as Philemon had to receive him, Onesimus had to go.  This cannot be overstated.

Paul urges Philemon to receive him like he would receive Paul.  It seems they shared a close relationship so the picture here is of two dear friends reuniting.  That is what Paul is expecting for Onesimus despite the fact that he had caused Philemon harm.  This shows us what reconciliation looks like.  Forgiveness is not just a lack of retaliation but restoration.  It is about how we receive one another in all circumstances and how we build and develop relationships with one another.

This is how God receives us when we are forgiven.  We do not simply escape the wrath we deserve but He FULLY restores us into a relationship with Him.  Paul paints a clear picture of what this looks like for Philemon and we can glean what it needs to look like in our lives.  Receive one who has wronged you the same way that you would receive one of your closest and dearest brothers or sister.

Paul is a catalyst in this restoration and we can be too.  Philemon might have had a long list of grievances or wrongs and it might have caused him a great internal struggle with what Paul was asking.  But Paul steps in and offers himself to take that debt on.  He doesn’t stop there though.  He doesn’t want a list of wrongs from Philemon that are now a debt on Paul.  What Paul wants Philemon to remember is that we are all indebted to our Lord Jesus and in this case to the one who taught and led us to Him.  Paul simply wants to bring to mind how desperately Philemon needed salvation at one point in time and to return the same offering of grace and forgiveness and restoration to Onesimus which Paul offered to him.  Again, we all can understand what that looks like and at different points play our part as a Paul (catalyst for restoration), Onesimus (willing to go and restored), and Philemon (willing to receive and to restore).

We forgive because we are forgiven.  We erase other’s debts because we have a record of debts that others have against us and a debt we can never repay our God and Father.  We owe our eternal spiritual life to God.  We understand that, then it will be easier to forgive.  We forgive because we are forgiven and we work for restoration in whatever role or situation we find ourselves in.  We work because that is the action we must take in our faith and love for Jesus and each other.

 

Importance of the Good Deed

10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, 11 who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.  12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.  15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 10-16; NKJV)

The good deed that is presented before Philemon is to forgive and there is no good deed without reconciliation.  Without reconciliation, the opportunity for a negative attitude is a snare for Philemon.  He could have thought “Paul can keep that useless slave” even if it meant financial loss.  It would be worth it not to deal with him anymore.  That doesn’t sound like a good deed to me…even if it made him feel “better”.

If Philemon forgives and reconciles, then all three men are free to work together and Onesimus can be with Philemon and Paul.  Consider our own lives.  We have no problem staying away from people that we have problems with…steering clear of those who have wronged us and harmed us. The hard part is to come face to face with that person and do what is good for the other and not for self. This is what Paul is asking Philemon to do and where the value of the deed lies.

Paul can’t reconcile with Onesimus…there is no reason.  In fact, Paul is excited about how Onesimus has come into his life and the result through the working of God.  Paul offers that just might be the point.  Maybe the reason Onesimus didn’t remain with Philemon for a short period of time was so that they could be together forever.  Not as a useless or unprofitable slave but a brother and fellow worker in Christ.  Paul is offering a heavenly perspective and calling attention to God’s hand in our lives.  We see troubles and hardships, but God sees opportunity.  Many times, our own hardships must be endured for the benefit of others in a way we can’t see. We can, however, trust God’s hand in all of it if we keep a heavenly perspective.

Here, a relationship that was broken and a trust that was violated could be overcome and give way to a new and different relationship in Christ.  How often do our own desires, ambitions, or insecurities in the flesh hold back another?  How often do we act on what we think is right rather than consider God’s way?  Are we withholding spiritual forgiveness, blessings, and love to the detriment of others?  Paul is demonstrating that we can trust God’s hand and to be careful not to hinder His work.

Paul is providing both sides of the case.  Yes, Onesimus has wronged Philemon and that needs to be reconciled.  Paul also calls Onesimus a beloved brother and that much good has happened since Onesimus left and the potential for so much more if they are all reconciled and working together.  Paul has had much joy from Philemon’s love and faith and is encouraged that Philemon will do much more in reconciling with Onesimus.

As you consider this relationship in the context of your life, look to Joseph as well.  How did Joseph come to a point that he could forgive and reconcile with his brothers after all the betrayal?  Joseph recognized that evil done to him was used by God for good.  I am sure this was not an easy thing to come to terms with and it might have been tough for Philemon to reconcile with Onesimus.  We may have the same challenge facing us today.  Can we take a heavenly perspective?  Can we trust God’s hand in our lives?  Will we not give Satan an opportunity to drive a wedge further into the most important relationships we have with our brethren and with our Father?

The bottom-line is this.  We can confidently forgive and reconcile because we know the great power of God in our lives to accomplish good through our hardship. Further, we must forgive and reconcile any chance we get because we have been forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus every time we needed it and asked for it.  Finally, let’s not ever forget that we are all Onesimus in some way.  We are not perfect. We all sin.  We all hurt others and violate our relationships.  We need forgiveness and we need others to be willing to reconcile.  Therefore, lets open that door with our own attitude and with our willingness to forgive and reconcile.  Have a love and a faith like that.  Be confident that this will bring joy and refreshing to your brethren whether you know it or not.  Stomp on the devil’s head and forgive.  God is doing the heavy lifting…just look up and within and let Him.  Let go and let Him reconcile your life.  How important is that?  It is profoundly and eternally imperative!