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Category: God’s Word

Blessings of Flying First Class: Switching Places with Jesus

First class. How did I find myself with the blessings of flying first class?

I was flying to Minnesota, and I hadn’t anticipated a lesson on my identity in Christ. I had bought a normal airline ticket from Illinois to Minnesota, but when I walked down the center of the plane to my seat, someone was already there.

“I’m in 11D,” I said, apologetic but not really understanding how he could have sat in the wrong seat.

“Oh, you’re 11D!” He said. “Ok, so I’m supposed to be in first class, but I want to sit by my girlfriend. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind switching?”

Mind?? I didn’t even have to think about it. Who turns down an opportunity like that? “If you’re sure… yeah! I’ll switch.”

“Great. My seat is 3A.”

The aisle was full of people loading themselves and their carry-ons, so I kept walking toward the back of the plane. When the aisle was clear, I headed back up front. First class, really and truly.

A comfortable seat, plenty of leg room, a mini pillow and blanket set, my choice of snacks, the works. And I could have said no.

Alternative Story Endings (without the blessings)

I could have missed out on the whole first class experience.

The man could have preferred sitting in first class over sitting by his girlfriend, and never even offered the switch.

I could have told him that was very kind of him, but let’s each keep the seats we bought, and, hey, why don’t we be friends!

Also, I could have told the young man, “No, I paid for this seat and I intend to sit here, squished and uncomfortable. I did not buy a first class seat, so I will not sit in a first class seat.”

Or I could have accepted his offer but waited at the back of the plane and refused to take the seat I have been given.

Yes, I could have easily missed out on a lot.

And while I sat on the plane in my unearned seat, early in the morning, I realized just how much the whole situation reminded me of our relationship with Jesus.

Blessings in Jesus

Goodness, it was unexpected and comfortable to stretch out on the plane, to curl up in a small blanket and rest my head on a tiny, travel-sized pillow (which I did keep, by the way). But as I rested, I realized I was still hanging out in the back of the ‘spiritual plane’.  It’s like Jesus took my seat on the plane– my space on the cross– but I’ve been clinging to my sin, not willing to walk up to first class and accept what God has bought for me with his blood.

Jesus has given me his first class seat, and although I let him take my seat and agreed to take his, I hadn’t really gone up to sit in first class.

There are things Jesus has given me that I often forget about, blessings I refuse to take. Sometimes I do just forget. Sometimes I’m simply not aware. Other times, I know full well the blessings he has promised but for some strange reason I refuse to take them. Jesus didn’t just take my place in death, he opened to me a world of life.

Jesus:

 

That man gave me a far more comfortable seat than I deserved– and a spiritual epiphany.

There are far more blessings in Jesus than the 10 I listed here. In the comments, add your favorites to my list!

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The Day Pain Lost Its Power Over Me

In July 2016, I got a call from the doctor which should have scared me silly. I was on medication that required monthly blood work. The call should have crippled me, trapping me in its power.

“We got your blood work back,” the nurse said. “Stop your medication, call your primary doctor.” She told me it might be nothing, it might really and truly be nothing. It’s probably okay, just schedule an appointment with your doctor. Her words weren’t as encouraging as she’d intended them to be, but I wasn’t phased. “Your platelet count is down,” she told me, which wasn’t helpful since I didn’t know anything about platelets.

After a conversation like that, it would make sense for me to be scared. But I wasn’t.

Who has the power?

When the nurse called me, I had just finished slowly and thoughtfully reading 1st and 2nd Peter. For some reason, that summer day, I’d decided to sit down and read them both. And just as I finished, my phone rang. When the call was over, I was somehow still calm.

I was so satiated in God’s word the news didn’t bother me. I was too focused on who God is, and how powerful he is.

It’s like the wind and the waves of the world were after me, but I didn’t care because I was resting in God’s power.

Not his power to heal me– that’s not what I was counting on. I was calm believing that no matter what sickness came my way, God would never leave me.

It’s like the story of Peter walking on water.

 “And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” “

Peter was fine and even walking on the water, until he saw the wind. When he saw the wind, he was afraid, and he began to sink.

Then, I began to sink

Those first days after the phone call, I was fine. I had my eyes focused on God, and I was not afraid.

But as the days dragged on between the call and the appointment with my doctor, I began to ‘see the wind’. What are platelets, anyway? What does it mean that they’re low? How many ways is that going to change my life? Am I doing something that’s making it worse?

When I started focusing on the problem instead of on God, my faith wavered. 

Our thoughts are important. When I was thinking about God’s love, power, and faithfulness, I was calm. But when I thought about all the bad things that ‘low platelets’ could mean, I was afraid.

In between

A year later, and there are still a lot of questions. We don’t know what caused my platelets to drop. We don’t know how to make the numbers rise.

There are lots of things we don’t know. But there are many things we do know. At this point, it’s still not dangerous, and it doesn’t change my life at all.

Here between the diagnosis and the healing, God is the same. God is good. God is near me. No matter what problems and obstacles have come, God’s not going anywhere.

And I’ve already seen God use it for good, because I trust him a lot more. Things happen in life. Bad things happen, and there doesn’t seem to be a reason. But pain holds less power over me now because I’m trusting God like never before. Because God is powerful, and God is good, and God is near.

 

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Why Reading Vs. Studying the Bible Matters

Reading the Bible is not the same as studying the Bible, and the difference is important. I know there is a difference because I’ve lived it. In my own life, I can tell when I’ve been taking shortcuts and just reading the Bible, and when I’m actually investing in my relationship with God. The two ways of approaching the Bible have many similarities, but they look different.

What Reading Looks Like

  • Of course, it’s easier to just decode the words and move on, glossing over things I don’t understand, over things that challenge my misconceptions. Just reading the words is a lot easier.
  • Similarly, reading doesn’t take much time. A quick read-through is just something to check off a list, it’s not spending time with God.
  • Reading doesn’t invite me to talk to God about what I’m encountering in the scriptures, or about my thoughts regarding what I’d read.
  • When I’ve simply read my Bible, I tend to forget the content, and any application I’d briefly thought of. And what good does that do?
  • When I go through the motions, I drift from God. I think about Him less, depend on Him less, and gradually invest even less in our relationship.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. A few simple changes and I’m noticing God again in my quiet time.

What Studying Looks Like

  • Studying takes more time because it’s more than a once-over of the chapter or passage I’m reading. I pray. I reread. I think about other passages that say similar things. I ask God to teach me. I journal, and more.
  • Studying involves praying through what I’m reading, “talking it out” with God. This goes for things I don’t understand, maybe don’t like, or things I’m simply trying to process.
  • Studying involves recognizing something about myself or about God. Likely it’s something God wants to change my mind or actions about, or at least remind me about.

It is a stark difference, and a transformational one. When we meet with God regularly like this, studying His word and talking with Him in prayer, He will mold us into the image of Jesus that much quicker!

Now, I need some help from you! When you study the Bible, what tools do you use? How have you noticed studying and reading differing for you in your own quiet time? Let me know in the comments below. Please and thank you!

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God Desires You. Do You Desire Him?

God’s opinion of you is no secret. He desires us, each one of us, and we can’t change His mind. His repeated desire through the prophets is that we would be His people, and He would be our God.

That’s a big wish. I wouldn’t have thought my all-powerful God could wish for anything, being God and all, but He does. He’s the creator and sustainer of the universe, yet He doesn’t force us into relationship with Him. He has the power to, but not the will. He would rather we choose Him, desire Him, ourselves. So He let’s us know that He desires us. He can claim us ‘till He’s blue in the face, but nothing changes until we claim Him back. Will we claim Him as our God? Will we live like it?

He desires us as we are

God desires us, His chosen people, independent of our actions. No matter my past or present— no matter yours— God claims us all.

He claimed the Israelites and longed for them even when they turned their backs on Him. Again and again, they turned away from God and tried to solve their problems with their own power, and yet God longed for them, just wishing they’d turn back to Him. He didn’t want the Israelites to fix themselves up before returning, He wanted them to return so He could fix them up.

He does the same for us. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It is mind-blowingly freeing to live in the truth that Jesus wanted me and saved me while I was still living it up in my sin. And if I didn’t have to fix myself up to be desirable then, I certainly don’t need to start now.

Repentance

Although we don’t have to fix ourselves before (re)turning to God, we do have to repent. It’s not a prerequisite to coming to God, but evidence of it. We turn back to God by repenting. God desires that we would recognize our sin, repent of it and turn back to Him, and go on living as His children, claiming Him as our God.

“Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the LORD; I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the LORD your God… I said, How I would set you among my sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage most beautiful of all nations. And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me… Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness.” (Jeremiah 3:12-13, 19, 22)

Can you hear His aching longing to be in day-to-day relationship with you? His yearning toward when “they shall be my people and I shall be their God”? He promises to heal our faithlessness, and I for one plan to take Him up on that promise. I will claim Him as my God, my Father, and I’ll live like it.

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5 Game-Changing Benefits of Peace with God

As Christians, we enjoy peace with God. Instead of being enemies with God or wondering if He’s out to get us, we know we are at peace. We weren’t always at peace, though. At one point, we were quite hostile. God decided to fix our relationship before you or I even wanted a mended relationship, much less tried to do something about it ourselves. Now that we are at peace, God blesses each of us in many ways. Here are some:

Relationship

This is the clearest, most pressing benefit facing us when we step into peace with God. When we are God’s children, rather than his enemies, we begin ‘doing life’ with God. We talk to Him, listen to Him through His word, obey Him, prioritize Him… all sorts of things that build relationship. When we are confident of how we stand with God, we are less likely to miss the point and get distracted by works. [Here I write about skipping relationship with God and just doing works].

Righteousness

Before we had peace with God, we were slaves to sin. And sin is not a great master. But now that we are in a relationship with Jesus, now that we live in peace with Him, we can choose to be slaves to righteousness. That’s a much better living situation! Paul points out that, as slaves to sin, we were working toward shame and death, but, as slaves to righteousness, we are working toward sanctification and eternal life. Quite the contrast!  [Here I write about the journey toward righteousness, and some bumps along the road during a 20 hour car ride!]

Newness of Life

Paul says that, as believers in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we now walk in newness of life. He also says that we are a new creation. Here, when he talks about our peace with God, he calls it reconciliation.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).

No Longer Slaves

The discord in our relationship with God started because of our sin. We were slaves to it, trapped, hedged in, and made to obey. But because of Jesus’ sacrifice and our peace with God, we are no longer slaves to sin and are free to walk in that newness of life. [Here I write about what it’s like to stop dragging sin around– spoiler, it’s freeing, like unhitching a trailer.] “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6).

Peace Despite Suffering

Rather than fearing God is punishing us when we go through difficult times, we can be confident that our standing with God hasn’t changed– in fact we can actually rejoice through the suffering. Right after Paul tells us we have been made right with God and have peace with Him through Jesus, He tells us we can rejoice through our suffering because it is through our suffering we gain endurance, build character, and bolster our hope. [Here I write about four results of suffering we don’t mind.] God uses our suffering for our good.

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I only wrote about five blessings that God gives us when we take His gospel of peace to heart. I know I missed some! In the comments, what are some of these other blessings?

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Relationship with God, and the place of works

Christians through the centuries have agreed that works absolutely cannot get us into heaven. Works have no power over our eternities. Indeed, our relationship with Jesus is the only thing that holds sway: is it there or isn’t it?

Jesus makes this point in a parable about some people who are ready to come into heaven. They list off some works they’ve done, and Jesus turns them away. He tells them to leave. Why? Despite the miracles they performed in His name, He did not know them. (Matthew 7:21-23)

Please note, Jesus is not giving us liberty to turn our backs on doing good deeds and miracles. No, Jesus expected those of His disciples. For example, Jesus gave his disciples authority to cast out demons (Mark 9:1). The good deeds and miracles were evidence to the world that the disciples were genuinely following Jesus.

The place of works

Works have a place in the Christian life. God isn’t against the works that the people in Jesus’ parable did. They cast out demons, and Jesus also expected His disciples to cast out demons (Mark 9:1). They prophesied, and Paul says prophesying is just fine when done in love (1 Corinthians 13:2). Jesus isn’t against the works. In fact, He wants His followers to do good deeds. He just wants the deeds to be an works are merely a side effect of a relationship with Godoutflow of a relationship with Him.

When we follow God’s leading through life, we will be familiar with good deeds. The fruit of the Spirit
will grow in us, we will be attentive to Jesus’ prompting, and we will continue to learn to obey. But our focus will not be on our deeds. Works are merely a side effect of a relationship with God.

Priority: relationship

For Jesus, relationship is priority. When Jesus has a priority, it’s time to listen. This is important. If it’s important to Jesus, I want it to be important to me, too. So the question becomes, how can I make my relationship with Jesus my priority– today? I’ve thought of a few, but add your own in the comments below:

  • Pray through the ordinary daily things, like car rides, chores, and getting ready in the morning.
  • Read and study the Bible to learn what God is like, and then pay close attention to see how God reveals Himself in that way through your day.
  • Talk to other people about how God has shown Himself to you through Bible reading and through your day.
  • Go to bed on time so you can get up in the morning to pray, read the Bible, and seek God.

These are all ideas for keeping our relationship with Jesus central. The goal is to connect with God. But be careful! These are works, and they are not the goal. They are a path, if you will, a path toward meeting with God. Let us focus on the destination, not the path.

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Post 1 in this series: My misunderstanding about Jesus’ words

Post 2 in this series: Missing the point while calling Jesus Lord

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Missing the point while calling Jesus Lord

Jesus says that not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven, only those who do God’s will. We might think that God’s will revolves around the things we do, but that’s missing the point. So, what, then is God’s will? Jesus explains:

“On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did not we prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23)

These people had quite the resume! Prophesying, casting out demons, many mighty works… they’re on a roll! But Jesus tells them to leave. They had not done God’s will. That used to unsettle me quite a lot (read more about how I resolved that, here), but now I see that although they did good things, they utterly missed the point.

Jesus made it clear that ‘works’ of any kind are not God’s will for us. He’s not keeping an eye out to see which good deeds we’re doing, checking boxes in order to decide who He will let into His presence. And thank goodness- none of us would be capable of even getting close (Galatians 2:21, Romans 3:23-25)!

God wills, plain and simple, that you and that I would have a relationship with Him. I’ll write more about the other side of that, and the place ‘good deeds’ have in a Christian’s life, next week, so be sure to check back in.

Missing the point of ‘good deeds’

Doing God’s will is something wholly different from the things we do for God or things we do in His name. They are connected (James 2:17-22), but they are distinct.  God’s will for me and God’s will for you is that we would know each other. Fruit will come out of that relationship, but not without it, before it, or outside it (John 15:4-5).

The teachers of the law knew what the ‘fruit’ was supposed to be, so they mirrored it. They gave to the needy as God commanded (Deuteronomy 15:10), but gave so they would be seen by people (Matthew 6:1). They said prayers out in the open, and Jesus says they got exactly what they wanted—attention from people, not answers to prayer (Matthew 6:5).

So the danger with works is this: they can be empty. When not born out of a relationship with Jesus, our works are meaningless motions. Our works are done of our own strength. They are done in our own timing. They are done, if you will, in a sort of spiritual vacuum. It’s like trying to live in a sandcastle (Matthew 7:24-27) instead of a secure stone fortress. Sorry, but that’s not going to last long.

A relationship with Jesus, on the other hand, is like living in that stone fortress, secure (Psalm 18:2). Storms still come, enemies still attack and besiege, but when our foundation is Christ nothing can shake us. Nothing can separate us from Him.

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Post 1 in this series: My misunderstanding about Jesus’ words

Post 3 in this series: Relationship with God, and the place of works

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