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Intention cannot lead…

The work I do requires results. I was brought in to lead now-three departments, each in need of a financial turn-around. Given three years to turn them around or shut them down, the only option for me was obvious–if I shut them down I would lost my own job as well. If for nothing else than self-preservation, I set out a three year plan to make a financial difference.

What I ran into throughout were excellent intentions without training in how to execute or make those intentions reality. My team needed a path on which to put their intentions. And more so, they needed to execute. They needed to take the steps necessary to achieve the success we sought. They needed guidance from someone who had been there before, had success before, and could assure them the steps we were taking together would get us where we needed to go. They intended for good, but they needed someone who could lead them there.

And we turned each program around in one year.

It seems so obvious to me in the work world. And yet, I find myself mixing up intentions with execution so frequently in my spiritual life. Paul shares the following in Romans:

“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented)…For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith…” –Romans 1:13, 16-17, ESV

Paul wanted to come to the Romans. He wanted to preach the gospel to them. Yet he knew that his obligation was to the gospel, not to his intention. Paul’s call was to preach where God called him to go–and if he kept getting way-layed in his attempt to go to Rome, the gospel must be preached wherever Paul was.

Paul put the preaching of the gospel as supremacy in guiding his intentions “for in it the righteousness of God is revealed…” Paul knew why it should be the guiding reason. And he stayed keen to that reason, kept taking steps in that direction, and didn’t get torn up when his intention to visit Rome didn’t pan out.

I have recently found myself choosing intention over the overarching truth when it comes to faith. In my work, the truth of financial turnaround seems simple to my business brain, and so laying aside intentions that are different comes easy. In faith, the same analytical business mind seems to spend too much time in analysis, worrying the details rather than remembering the overarching truth: I am called to follow where God leads. And when I do, I will find Him there showing me where to go and what to do next. I need not get tied up in my own intention, my own analysis, because following Jesus is where the power of God found in the gospel gets us.

So rather than over-analyze this life of faith, I need to spend more time stepping.

It’s amazing what silence will do…

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I didn’t mean to go radio silent on you. Life offers some interesting turns–nothing spectacular, nothing really all that new. But burblings emerging, breaking the surface, and popping in a way that old ideas shine in a new light.

Quietly, surprising in a whispering oh-look-at-that kind of way, confirmation after confirmation emerges. I wondered for many years if I walked the right path. And yet, in all the reflection that an over-analyzer can offer, I cannot see a different way. These confirmations, showing how the circuitous way I arrived here was instead setting a foundation from which to build.

I went into a hiding of sorts that last few months. Hired to achieve a particular goal and knowing it could take three years to do, I hid from the numbers–numbers only I reviewed regularly. The numbers I was brought in to fix, I hid from them. Reason combined with even my own I-can-do-anything approach said it would take three years. And three years was still an optimistic goal. But what I was seeing in the early numbers for the fiscal year had me wondering.

But the come-to-Jesus moment came. In preparing for a team retreat, I knew I had to bring the numbers out onto the table. I prepared for spending three days brainstorming how to keep fixing the numbers. Oh, those numbers. As I built the projections for the end of fiscal year, I had to stop. At first, the potential deficit looked bigger than I had hoped for the first of three years. But there was that big fish at the bottom of the list. And oh how I needed that big fish. I didn’t wait to get that far, I jumped to the bottom, ran some quick calculations, and dumped that fish into the barrel. It provided just a little more hope. I continued on, and not long later, I had to stop. I went back and double-checked, triple-checked everything to that point. I couldn’t believe it.

I took a lap around my office. How could this be? I dove back in and finished the report. Not only did we stop the hemorrhaging, we climbed out of the hole and were already building a new structure for the future. How could things turn in just a couple months? Well, when 70% of your business comes in during those months and each individual account saw growth, hiding from the numbers quickly becomes shouting them from the rooftop.

And inside, quietly all I could repeat was, “it worked.” And all the while, Jesus smiled. We have killed ourselves individually and as a team trying to start scratching back. And the news met with varied reactions. One, who is in the midst of closing his final accounts for the year, took a step back, leaned over on a chair, shook his head, and commented, “I really needed to hear that.” Another got teary-eyed. And a third laughed because neither she nor I believed she would be able to see it before she retires in a couple years.

I wonder how the reaction would have changed had I not avoided the numbers for those couple months. And I have spent (wasted?) much time wondering the same about my life choices. What if…what if…what if…

But the truth of the matter is this: had I seen the numbers creeping up, oh so slowly, I wouldn’t have felt the relief I felt when it broke through this week. The end result is the same–nothing I could have done would have changed that. But the relief, oh the relief. And I see my life in similar terms now. I can question and second-guess, but I keep coming back to the reality that regardless of my choices, I would have ended up right where I am. And any other path I would have chosen would have only brought heartache.

Regardless of where you are in life and what decisions you’re questioning in hindsight, remember this massive promise–post is on your wall, your screen saver, and every social media page if you need to:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” –Romans 8:28, ESV

But wait, there’s more! Yes, the cheesy infomercial tagline is true here too. Often overlooked, the prior verses take Romans 8:28 from a lovely sentiment to a battle cry:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” –Romans 8:26-28, ESV

You’re not alone in the battle. The working together for good is not because of you. In fact, it is predicated on your weakness and the Spirit’s prayers. Your weakness plus the Spirit’s prayers for you means that everything will work out.

Purpose replacing boredom…

blog--2014-10--purpose from boredomJohn Ortberg wrote a number of years ago about disappointment. He described how disappointment was missing an appointment. Specifically, he described that he was disappointed in missing his appointment from God. Even more so, he described how disappointed he was that he wasn’t more disappointed with his disappointment.

Boredom sneaks in from time to time. I realize how I wander about, mentally or actually, without taking advantage of the time laid before me. Tonight was such a night. With hours to invest, I cannot say I necessarily invested them well. Yes, rest was necessary. But more than that, purpose could have reigned my hours.

But where lies the line
between trying to prove myself
and resting in the justification of my Savior.

How much is enough?
How much is too much?

And where is the line drawn
in the sand of the shore
where what is done is washed away
and what is done remains?

What sandcastles will be rocked by the tide,
and which will stick around another day,
for another “generation”, another day of sand-castle builders
to expand,
to grow,
to tear down some walls,
to make it their own?

You never know what might stick.
A toddler claims a favorite song,
and sings it wherever she goes.
A plane full of passengers hears
as adorable “awww”s take the place of “r”s,
and the unabashed joy of singing
fills the cabin with praise.

A little girl
asks for a particular pair of sunglasses
because the young woman at church
who draws with her during worship
wears the same kind.
And the parents agree,
for their young child choosing such a one to follow
makes them smile.

A Sunday School teacher
shows love
every single week
to the second graders in her class,
not knowing that years later
those students still remember.

Every moment.
Every day.
There is opportunity.
We cannot know what will stick.

What we can know is
as we follow Jesus,
as we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength,
impact happens
whether we see it or not.

What we can know is
He makes all things work together
for good
for those who love Him
and are called according to His purpose.

So though the act may seem small,
or large,
or mundane,
how we spend our time matters.

It matters to Him.
And it just may change a life.

The Jesus Project: He Brings Good News…

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“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news…” –Isaiah 61:1a, ESV

He brings good news.

Jesus doesn’t come empty handed. He arrives with the anointing of the Spirit, His purpose from God, and carrying with Him the best of all things: the good news. But what is it, exactly?

You are created

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…The God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” –Genesis 1:1, 26, 27, 2:7, ESV

But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.'” –Isaiah 43:1, ESV

You are loved

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?…Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  -Romans 8:31, 33-35, 37-39, ESV

You can be forgiven

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” –Luke 24:46-47, ESV

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” –John 3:16, ESV

 

You can be saved

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believe in Him is not condemned…” –John 3:17-18a, ESV

You can be made new

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” –2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV

“‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'” –Revelation 21:5, ESV

You can have peace

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” –Ephesians 2:13-15, ESV

You can have life

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” –1 John 4:9, ESV

and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” –Ephesians 3:19-21, ESV

You can have purpose

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.” –1 Timothy 1:15-16, ESV

What do you feel you lack? If it is forgiveness, He’s already done the work–you need only to ask for release. If it is salvation, He conquered death that you may have life. And if you salvation question is already sealed, that you know you’re His, do you need a reminder that you were created with purpose? Maybe your praise pants are in a bunch and you need a little peace. The good news brings all you need for life and liberty in Christ.

…all because He came bringing the good news.

“Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” –Proverbs 25:25, ESV

And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” –Revelation 21:6, ESV

Drink deeply. Quench the thirst. And keep coming back for more.

The Jesus Project: The Anointed Messiah

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Last session (found here), we explored anointing. We looked at what it is and what happens as a result of it. Our focus passage again is verse one of Isaiah 61.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.” –Isaiah 61:1, ESV

We started with the why last time, seeking to understand the because before we try to understand the Who. Today it is time for the Who. Isaiah’s ink flows with words describing the coming Messiah. The people of Israel believed, or maybe hoped is a mores accurate word, that the Messiah would be a conquering ruler to overthrow the nations that held Israel captive. What they received instead was a Messiah who overthrew the sin that holds all people captive. The nations would come later, but Jesus prioritizes. More concerned about the security of a soul, He came first to save the people from sin. He will come again to reign in the kind of power the Israelites expected of Him the first time.

But it all started with anointing. using our same learning points from last time, let’s turn our eyes away from the reference texts and toward the Messiah. What does it mean that our Messiah is anointed?

Making an instrument holy

We learned last time that anointing makes an instrument holy that it may be of service to God. Exodus showed us how each piece of the tabernacle’s service instruments needed anointing before being put into service. The instrument must be holy that it may come before God to fulfill its purpose.

We are made holy through the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice. We have exactly zero other ways to be holy. None. Zip. Zilch. There is one way to God, and that is through believing and confessing the blood of Jesus as the covering for our sins.

We rely on Him alone to be holy. So He better be holy Himself. If we cover ourselves with something that is not holy to get us to God, God will see that filthy thing and turn it away. A wolf in sheep’s clothing can get into the fold because the shepherd sees what looks like a sheep.

We are wolves. Our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and we can do no good thing on our own (Romans 7:18). But we seek the ultimate Shepherd, the God of the universe. The Shepherd only looks after animals that look like sheep. the difference between simile and truth here is this: we are not fooling God by showing up covered in the Lamb. He knows what is under that cover. And He loves us. He just cannot accept us without the cover of the One that is holy.

If our own salvation relies on the holiness of Another, then that Other has to be holy. Yes, Jesus is God (John 10:30), and thereby cannot sin. But we cannot grasp that in its entirety, it is too much. The people of Israel, and now to those who are not of Israel, we can understand cleaning something up so it can be put to good use. Even as I write, the dishwasher cleans the breakfast dishes that they can be used another time. We understand that. And the people of Israel, having lived in the life of the tabernacle, understood the purification of the instruments.

We can understand the need for cleaning. Anointing does that. So in proclaiming the Messiah as anointed by God, Isaiah tells us the One Who saves is already holy. Anointing is the evidence of a holy vessel. Praise God for Jesus’ anointing, for by no other way could we reach to throne of grace.

Sanctifying the anointed

Last session we learned how anointing and sanctification are not interchangeable concepts. However, wherever there is anointing, sanctification hovers nearby. Where holiness prepares an instrument for use in service, sanctification sets that instrument apart for a specific service specifically to God.

Jesus’ primary purpose on earth was to do the will of the Father (Luke 22:42). And we are the beneficiaries of that will. How do I know? Venture with me to some life-breathing, fear-eradicating, welcome-Home scriptures:

“(Jesus speaking) ‘And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.'” –John 6:39-40, ESV

Did that shake your theology for just a second? We are taught that Jesus came for us. Well, yes, kinda. He came to fulfill the will of the Father. Period. If the Father had asked Him to dance a jig, Jesus would have done it. If God wanted Jesus to write the next great cookbook to save the people from their gluttony, then Jesus would be cooking up a storm on the promotional circuit. We must, MUST get off of ourselves as the center of all things. We must set aside the notion that God is only fascinated with us and us alone.

We have to move away from we being the center. For if we continue to believe that we are the point, we will continue to miss the point. If I believe that Jesus’ sole purpose on earth was to save me, then I get fooled into believing that my sole purpose on earth is to either a) save me, b) save others, both of which set me up to be Savior. Jesus is our model, but He did not come to model how to be a Savior.

Read that: Jesus is our model, but He did not come to model how to be a Savior.

Is your ministry struggling? Maybe it is because you are focused on saving people. It is not your place to save people, for only the Savior can do that. Only a Savior can save. You are not the Savior. I am not the Savior. And I can tell you that the very moment I threw my hands in the air and gave up on measuring the results of my ministry by the numbers of changed lives, an immense pressure released from my shoulders. Are changed lives good? Sure. Am I pleased when people turn away from sin? Absolutely. But is that my role in ministry? No.

Stick with this for just a minute more. Yes, I may have just exploded your concept of ministry. You might be feeling a bit unnerved by this and wondering if I’ve gone off the rails. I haven’t. Here’s why.

Jesus’ purpose was the serve the Father. Jesus was anointed that He could serve the Father. Anointing sanctifies in that it sets apart Jesus for a specific purpose in serving the Father. Jesus came to show us how to live by the Spirit serving the Father’s will. That is why He came. That is the model He provides. The root of it all is that it pleased the Lord to provide us an example of how to live. You are not the point of Jesus coming. And that should free you from the pressure that comes when we allow ourselves to be the center.

Jesus’ anointing shows that He is sanctified. And as all sanctified instruments, He is sanctified for service to the Lord. It is the Lord He looks to, the Lord He prays to, and the Lord He serves. If you want to get in good with Jesus, follow His example of serving the Lord.

“(Jesus speaking) ‘Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven.'” –Matthew 7:21, ESV

Jesus was sanctified for service to the Lord. And that example is one we can embrace.

Consecrating the anointed

We learned last session that consecration is not the same as being made holy or being sanctified. Consecration is being filled to overflowing that one can carry out the work set before them. Where does this power come from? Jesus tells us in Acts 1:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” –Acts 1:8, ESV

To quickly review, anointing comes with it being made holy, being set apart (sanctified) for service, and consecration by which one is filled to overflowing with power. That our Messiah is anointed means He was filled with power. Jesus needed the Spirit to fulfill His calling. How do we know?

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” –Matthew 3:16, ESV

“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” –Luke 4:1, ESV

“And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.” –Luke 4:14, ESV

In consecration, God provides overflowing power by which to accomplish any task He deems necessary. Jesus did not accomplish His ministry alone. He was filled by the Holy Spirit every step of the way. Jesus was consecrated, filled to overflowing, through the Holy Spirit Who was there in every step of His ministry.

That the anointed may minister to God

Jesus had a specific ministry. His time on earth was motivated primarily by serving the will of the Father. For each of us, the will of the Father likely differs. One person may be called to serve through teaching in a religious setting. Another may also be gifted with teaching, but called to serve in a secular forum, showing glimpses of Him though not able to teach specifically about Him. Another may be called to prayer as primary ministry, while still another is called to rely on those prayer warriors that they can go out and teach the gospel through all the earth.

Did you notice the difference. We all have the exact same primary purpose on this earth: to follow the Father’s will. Period. Let that settle in and become the foundation of how you see service to God. Before adding to it, let the primacy of  serving God’s will re-center as the core of your purpose. For if this moves off-center, you are frankly, up a creek in white-water rapids holding onto a twig and grasping for your last breath. Do not confuse your gifting with your purpose. Your purpose is to serve God and to follow His will wherever that may lead.

Jesus was a gifted Teacher. He was a gifted Scholar. He was a gifted Healer. He was a gifted Counselor. And at any given point, He could have used any one of those giftings. But did the woman at the well need a scholar? Or did she need a word of grace? Did the men in the temple need physical healing, or did they really need a scholar to show them the revelation of the very works they spent their lives studying? In each circumstance, Jesus relied on the will of the Father to carry out what the circumstance needed.

In carrying out the will of the Father, Jesus served the Father in each specific situation He encountered. His primary focus tuned to the Father’s will, and being fueled by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was able to carry out every will of the Father. Even the will that kept the Teacher speechless, the Healer wounded, and the Redeemer condemned with the criminals.

The primacy of the purpose allowed Jesus to do whatever was needed in service the to Lord.

So what’s the point? Jesus.

The model Jesus gave is not one of saving souls, but of following the will of God. Did Jesus save? Yes. Has He called us to save? No.

“(Jesus speaking) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” –Acts 1:8, ESV

We are not called to save, we are called to witness. It is not on you to save your neighbor, your friend, or your co-worker. It is on you to do the will of the Father. And if you want fellowship with Jesus, He tells us exactly what is necessary.

“And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” –Matthew 12:49-50, ESV

Jesus’ purpose is to serve the Father. Fellowship with Him requires that you both be looking at the same thing. Release yourself from any self-imposed other purpose. Focus on doing the will of the Father. Jesus did exactly that, and only that. For it was from that sole purpose that everything else He did stemmed. Return to the sole purpose, and the chaos and clutter will fade away.

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For all posts related to The Jesus Project, click here.
Interested in the reference texts used? Click here for the references page.