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Proud of Me?

Proud of Me?

No, God couldn’t be proud of me.

He sees all my pettiness, my failures, my self-centeredness, my sins.  I look back at my life and it seems like one series of mess-ups after another.  I look at me now and I can’t believe how I keep making mistakes and end up not being the person I want to be.

God can’t be proud of me.  He’s probably proud of Billy Graham, but no way he’s proud of me.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever said words like those to yourself, but I sure have.  And if you look honestly at yourself, you think the facts are indisputable: no way God could be proud of you.

But if you are a child of God, if you through faith in Christ have been born again, then you are forgetting some other facts that are more important than all of your failures stacked up in a pile as high as Mount Everest.

Fact #1   God Created Me & Chose Me

Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world… Ephesians 1:4

God from the beginning chose you for salvation. 2 Thessalonians 2:13

Read these verses, slowly, and personalize them with your name.  “God chose John to be in Christ before He even created the universe.”  Think of that.  Even with all my frailities, God specifically created me and chose me.  I am His.  He made me.  Made me to be in Christ. 

When I have crafted an essay or a poem and step back and look at it, I am proud of my creation.  Even if I know it won’t win a reward, even if it might not be the best I’ve ever written, I’m still proud.  When my child scribbles a picture I put it on my refrigerator.  Does it belong in an art gallery? That doesn’t matter, it’s my child and my heart is well satisfied with their efforts.  So, how can we not realize that a perfect Creator does not step back from us, His creations and beam with pride?

Fact #2  God Has Forgiven Our Sins Through Christ

God will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)

All of the failures, all of the sins, all the mistakes that convince us that God cannot be proud of us— they are cast into the depths of the sea.  God has forgiven us.  Just picture this conversation:

God:  I am so proud of you.

You: I know you’re really not.  Think about how angry I got today at my friend and mistreated her.

God: Uh, I don’t remember that.

Well, yes, God actually can remember everything, but get the point: forgiveness with God is not just a mushy feeling: it is also judicial: all of our wrongs are forever not counted against us in any way.  Through Christ’s death God is free to forget our sins.

Fact #3   God Has Clothed Us in Righteousness

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  (Isaiah 61:10)

Not only does God forgive us, He does much more: he actually clothes us in Christ’s righteousness.  As Christ took our sins in God’s eyes, now we take Christ’s perfect righteousness in God’s eyes.

Fact #4  God Rejoices Over Us

The LORD your God is with you,
       he is mighty to save.
       He will take great delight in you,
       he will quiet you with his love,
       he will rejoice over you with singing.”  (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV)

It’s undeniable, it’s in the Bible: God delights in His children, He sings with delight over each and every one of us.  He created us, He forgave us, He clothed us, and now He can rejoice over every one of His children.

Fact #5 God is Pleased to Give Us Life With Him Forever

Even if this life was all that there was, all that God has done for His children would be proof of His affection for us.  But there’s more.  Much more.  Incredible, abundant life for all eternity:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ (Matthew 25:34)

What will I one day hear?  “Come, John, blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  I just let that sink in and it completely blows me away.  Jesus will one day invite me (me!) into a kingdom that God has prepared for me.  And the joy and the love will just keep growing forever and ever.

Whenever your heart is down, comfort yourselves with these truths.  If you are His child, you have a proud papa, one who chose you, who has forgiven you, blessed you, and who is preparing an eternity for you.

There in the stars or a smile of a child,
We glimpse how His joy fills eternity.
This is His pleasure to give us Himself, His glory, His heaven, His peace.
And soon all confusion will fade from our sight,
With wonder we’ll dwell in His kingdom of light.
Perfectly wonderful, mystical joy sings for creation’s great dance.
God bids us to join Him in all that He has,
Delighted to give us the chance.
God is delighted in all He has done,
Nothing can end all the joy He’s begun.
His children delight in Him through His own Son.
God is delighted in all He has done.  (Steve Green)

Not Revealed by Flesh & Blood

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. ( Matthew 16:13-17 )

Jesus, the master Teacher, asks his disciples a question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  He wants them to think, to go over in their minds all the crazy ideas, reasoned opinions, and hope-filled yearnings they have heard over the past few years.  He wants them to think of all these different answers that have come from “flesh and blood.”

Then He gets to the point:  “Who do YOU say that I am?”  Always impulsive Peter states what he knows to be true, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 

And then Jesus says the unexpected, “Blessed are you.”  Now, normally, when you tell a teacher the correct answer to a question, that isn’t his standard reply.  As a matter of fact, I believe this is the only time recorded in the Bible that Jesus directly tells a person that he is blessed.

What is Jesus getting at?  Is Peter blessed because his keen intellect figured out who Jesus was?  Or the years that he spent with the Master made the answer obvious?  Or that his intuition or his soul spoke the answer to him?  Or that he just had a lucky guess? Or maybe Peter was blessed just because he actually posessed the right answer: he had arrived, he had won the cosmic lottery “I know who Jesus is!”

No, none of those reasons is the cause of Peter’s blessing.  Jesus bluntly states, “Peter, you did nothing to receive this knowledge, it wasn’t your or anyone else’s cleverness or insight—you understand who I am because God revealed this to you.”

How humbling, both for Peter and for me.  I think because of my years of Bible study or the books I’ve read or my keen intellect or my spiritual experience that I know Jesus as the Christ, and yet here is Peter, a man who lived with Jesus, walked with Jesus, heard Him teach, saw Him heal and walk on water and still the storm, and yet Jesus tells him that all of that could not reveal Him as the son of God to Peter.  Only through the blessing of the Father could Peter know Jesus as Christ, and only through the blessing of the Father can I know Jesus as Lord and Christ.

The Fulfillment That Cannot Disappoint

We are creatures ever seeking fulfillment.

It is the continual quest of our lives, from our first cries for milk to our last gasps for breath.  We live to be fulfilled.

This continual longing takes many forms, all familiar to us. The apostle John divided them by three: the lusts of the flesh such as our desires for food, drink, sex, comfort, and drugs; the lusts of the eyes with all our devotion to materialism and possessions, and the pride of life with our searches for power, prominence, and significance.

We are all looking to all three daily to fulfill us.  There’s only one little problem: they all fall short.  Some turn out to be just temporary and fail us, and some turn on us and attack and enslave us, and some just fill us up part way or turn out to not be all that fulfilling after all. To some extent (take food, for instance), they can fail in all three ways.

Yes, every source of fulfillment we can possibly turn to will in the end be the “broken cisterns” that the prophet Jeremiah once warned us against.  Every source of fulfillment that we can possibly go after is doomed at some time, on some level to disappoint us.

Except one.  God.

God’s infinite wisdom guarantees that He knows what is best for His children. God’s infinite love guarantees that He will choose what is best for His children, and God’s infinite power guarantees that He will bring to pass without fail what is best for His children. And more than any other type of blessing God can bring to us, our most sweet and lasting fulfillment from God comes from God Himself, the gift of His perfect presence.

God is the one and only source of fulfillment that not only will not disappoint, but cannot disappoint by His very nature. 

That is how God is fundamentally and supremely different and superior to any other source of fulfillment we can look to.  God both is and will always be able “to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

If we know this to be the truth, then let us live it.  Let us take every longing, every desire for fulfillment in our souls, and turn away from every broken cistern, turn away from every source that can only end up disappointing in the end, and turn toward our Loving Father in faith and trust that He will never disappoint.

Bursting with Blessings

Have you ever had something on your mind so strongly that you just burst out talking about it?  “Man, did you see that pass by Manning last night in the 4th quarter?”  “Did you hear about Mrs. Smith being in a car wreck?”  “I got to tell you about the movie I saw over the weekend.”

I think that’s exactly what was going on in verses 3-14 of Ephesians 1.  Paul lived in the blessings of God, and he continually dwelled on the blessings of God.  And when you are thinking about something all the time, you’re just going to burst out and start talking about it.  Imagine Paul speaking these words with excitement and passion:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.  (Ephesians 1:3-14 ESV)

Whew!  Talk about bursting with blessing!  In the Greek these verses are actually one single run-on sentence where Paul just keeps talking and talking about the blessings we have in Christ.  He is so excited, so passionate, about the blessings he has been given and we have been given that he can’t stop talking about it.

Paul wanted to arouse that kind of focus, passion, and excitement for God’s blessings in our hearts as well.  In his commentary on Ephesians, John Calvin said that Paul’s words “are intended to rouse their hearts to gratitude, to set them all on flame, to fill them even to overflowing with this thought.”   To set them all on flame— no dry and dusty theology here, but a certain truth that set Paul’s heart on fire.

Let us look intently at the blessings that Paul describes in these verses, to understand the truth fully so that we can be as joyful and passionate and thankful as Paul.  As Barnes says in his commentary, “Let us approach word after word, and phrase after phrase, and verse after verse, in this chapter, willing to know all that God teaches, to believe all that he has revealed, and ready to say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for all that he has done.””

Paul starts verse 3 with God: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  God is to be blessed, to be praised, for all the blessings He has given us.  The Westminster Catechism reflects Ephesians 1 precisely when it says, “The chief end (or main purpose) of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  God created us to glorify Him, and that is exactly what Paul starts his letter by doing: glorifying God. 

And what is the first thing Paul glorifies God for?  For being the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul puts Christ front and center:  without Him, nothing else He writes about in Ephesians would be true or even make sense.  It astounds me how many Christian books and sermons have so little of Christ in them.  I have read some “Christian” books that if you took the few references to “Christ” out you wouldn’t even miss them.  Non-Christians end up thinking they are very “helpful” except for the parts about that Jesus fellow.  Not so with Paul— he will put Jesus in your face over and over and over again until you fall on your knees in adoration or walk away in disgust.  Paul knows that there is no middle ground in God’s eyes regarding what a person thinks of Jesus, and he is determined to leave you no middle ground to straddle either.

After naming Christ, he says that God has blessed us “in Christ.”  This is the first of many uses of “in Christ” by Paul in Ephesians, and this is the one that labels and ties all the others together.  Every blessing, every good thing that Paul goes on to detail, indeed every good thing that we can think of in our lives, is “in Christ.”  Why?  First, because Christ made the world (John chapter 1), so every good thing in our physical world we owe to Christ.  Second, because Christ rules the world and so directs every good thing that we encounter in this life. 

Third and most important, our blessings are “in Christ” because Christ saved His people, His life and death authorize Him to give us “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”  Paul first says we have “all” or “every” blessing, that God has held nothing back, that He has lavished every good gift upon His children.  Next Paul states that they are “spiritual”— having to do with our spirits, and “heavenly” (their source is in the heavens, where Christ is).  Paul wants to focus our attentions on the spiritual and on the heavenly, and so uses this unique Greek word five times in Ephesians which is translated “heavenlies” or “heavenly places” or “heavenly realms” or just “heavens” depending on your English translation. 

Paul is bursting with blessings for his heavenly God, for God is bursting with heavenly blessings for us.  As we read through Ephesians, verse by verse, let us join Paul in glorifying God by extolling Him for each and every one of His blessings in our lives.

Looking at the Sunrise in a Garbage Dump

In October I wrote a post entitled “Down In front, please!”—which was a word picture for one of the themes in C. J. Mahaney’s excellent book The Cross Centered Life . Here’s another somewhat similar metaphor:

I live in a fallen world. In many ways it is like looking around in a garbage dump. There are three kinds of garbage in my dump: past hurts, present trials, and future fears. I have a collection of past hurts, both big and small, which still hurt whenever I look at them. I have present trials, situations in my life that are difficult and discouraging. Finally, I have future fears, worries basically about how my life will “turn out”, whether the good hopes and dreams that I have will ever come to pass.

It’s not a lot of fun looking at all this garbage around me. In fact, it can really get me down.

But, I look up for a second, and I see the most breathtakingly beautiful sunrise on the horizon, far beyond anything I could ever imagine, far beyond words to express. It is the sunrise of Christ’s past atonement for my sins, his present mercy and grace in my life, and his future coming to burn all of the “garbage” of this present world in the fire of his brilliance.

Here’s the kicker: I can choose what I look at. I can choose to look at the sunrise.

Yes, I know that’s a simple answer, duh. But it’s still true. But so rarely done. Somehow we feel that we have an obligation to fix our gaze on the garbage—”But look at this, look how ugly and hurtful it is, this is real and big and stinky!” Well, yes it is, and I’m not suggesting living in denial. Wisdom would tell us that if there is a hurt in the past that can be healed, then let it be healed. If there is a trial that requires action on our part, the let us act. If there is something in the future that needs present preparation, then let us prepare.

But what do we gaze lovingly at all the while? What absorbs our constant attention? Do we acknowledge the sunrise but gaze at the garbage, or do we acknowledge the garbage but gaze at the Sun?