Ambition – Directing it Where?

Chuck Colson was a self-made man. As a student, he arrogantly turned down a scholarship to Harvard. He joined the Marines, set up his own law firm and entered politics. By the age of forty he had become one of President Nixon’s closest advisers. Later, he described himself as ‘a young ambitious political kingmaker’. He was known as Nixon’s ‘hatchet-man’.

He pleaded guilty to his part in the Watergate cover-up scandal and was sent to prison. By then he had encountered Jesus. When he left the court after hearing the sentence he said, ‘What happened in court today… was the court’s will and the Lord’s will – I have committed my life to Jesus Christ and I can work for him in prison as well as out.’

Colson did just that. After his release, he set up Prison Fellowship and became directly or indirectly responsible for leading thousands to Christ. I once heard him say, ‘I was ambitious, and I am ambitious today, but I hope it is not for Chuck Colson (though I struggle with that quite a lot as a matter of fact). But I am ambitious for Christ.’

Ambition has been defined as the ‘desire to succeed’. There are ultimately only two controlling ambitions to which all others may be reduced: one is our own glory, and the other is God’s glory.

To Be Free

He had no one to help him become a lawyer or a politician. He was not interested in the army. He had no desire to be a doctor. Therefore, the only obvious career move in those days for a man of his background was to become a clergyman in the Church of England.

He tried to make himself acceptable to God by keeping the whole law, inwardly and outwardly. He got up early. He prayed. He denied himself. He tried to earn forgiveness and peace by increased effort. But he ‘groaned under a heavy yoke’.

On 24 May 1738, at 8.45 pm he heard someone reading a book by the great reformer, Martin Luther. He later recalled, ‘While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given [to] me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

John Wesley became one of the greatest preachers ever, preaching over 40,000 sermons centred on freedom through faith in Jesus Christ. He had, as he put it, ‘exchanged the faith of a servant for the faith of a son’. He was free at last.

‘Freedom’ is the word that best sums up the Christian life. You, too, are free. Therefore, refuse to be trapped by your past.

Your Life. Making a Difference

Alfred Nobel (1833–1896) is best known for the Nobel Peace Prize. Less well known is the fact that Alfred Nobel also invented dynamite. As well as a chemist, engineer and innovator, he was a weapons’ manufacturer.

In 1888, Alfred’s brother Ludvig died. A French newspaper erroneously published Alfred’s obituary. It condemned him for his invention of dynamite, stating: ‘The merchant of death is dead… Dr Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.’

Alfred Nobel was devastated by the foretaste of how he would be remembered. His last will and testament set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel prizes. He gave the equivalent of US $250 million to fund such prizes. Alfred Nobel had the rare opportunity to evaluate his life near its end and live long enough to change that assessment.

Have you ever wondered what difference your life might make? How can your life bring blessing to other people? How can you change the world for the better? How can your life be of ultimate lasting value? How can we lead fruitful lives?

Recognize Who We Are, part 2

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
‭‭John‬ ‭1:12-13‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Yes, I have kids. Every now and then I see a goofy side or serious reaction that seems all too familiar. My little ones have, and do, display aspects I’ve seen of me!

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:14-17‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Through Christ we have become children of god! This is more than just being a sinner saved; we are reconciled to God.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:17-21‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Yes, Paul has described us as ambassador. That’s certainly a role we play.

Yet, it’s deeper and more relational than that. We can, and should as we grow in our relationship with God, display aspects of our Heavenly Father.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
‭‭John‬ ‭15:4-5‬ ‭NASB‬‬

As redeemed and reconciled, we should grow in Him. We should recognize that God sees us as children, we are His. Though we may stumble and fall in this walk, His grace and kindness is there. We are sons who stumble.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭6:1-19‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Though we may have started separate from God, we have become children. Let us long for, love and grow in Him! We need to press and remain in Him to grow. While into realms and aspects we step as ambassadors, we can show that it’s more personal than a religion – it’s a relationship. Where I go I can represent my Father and put Him on display – hopefully. At least I desire to show an aspects of God my Father. I am a child of my Heavenly Father.

Recognize Who We Are, part 1

Ambassadors, chosen very carefully, have all been trained in the art of diplomacy. They are skilled at representing their country by both how they act and what they say.

To be an ambassador is an immense privilege. An ambassador is ‘a minister of the highest rank sent to a foreign court to represent the… sovereign or country’. A British Ambassador is a minister who represents Queen and country wherever they are sent.

Paul writes that we are ‘Christ’s ambassadors’ (2 Corinthians 5:20). The Greek word translated as ‘ambassador’ shares the same root as ‘presbyter’, which is one of the words used to describe church leaders. Whether you are in a recognized leadership role in the church or not, you are an ambassador of Christ, with the extraordinary privilege and responsibility of representing Jesus in this world. You are God’s representative on earth.

Through you, God makes his appeal for others to be reconciled to God; to receive his forgiveness, love and grace. Appeal to them to become friends of God and ambassadors themselves. As royal ambassadors, act with diplomacy and skill because you are representing Christ on earth.

Yet, there’s a more endearing term in how we are viewed. I’ll continue the thought in the next post.

Fix Your Eyes on the Invisible

Do you ever get discouraged? Do you sometimes feel, ‘Is this all worthwhile? Are we actually getting anywhere?’ Are you ever tempted to ‘lose heart’? If you are, you are not alone. Paul was almost certainly tempted himself to lose heart, and he wrote to other Christians who were also tempted to do so.

Yet Paul wrote, ‘We do not lose heart’ (2 Corinthians 4:1,16). ‘We do not throw up our hands and walk off the job’ (v.1, MSG). Why not? Paul explains that it is because in Jesus we have received a ‘treasure’ (v.7). The treasure is the message of Jesus. It is because the message that Paul has to proclaim is so amazing that he starts and ends by saying, ‘Therefore… we do not lose heart’ (vv.1,16).

Yet the treasure is inward and unseen. Paul describes it as being in ‘jars of clay’ (v.7). Our culture emphasises the outward and the seen. The media is dominated by money, possessions, houses, cars, food, physical beauty and outward success. The Bible is very different. It stresses the importance of the invisible – the inward and unseen aspects of our character: the thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that determine our outward behaviour. ‘For what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal’ (v.18). The invisible is eternal.

Distractions – are you distracted yet?

My kids start school today, this time all of them. They were all excited to get on the bus and to start their first day.

They seemed well prepared. My wife and I saw them off after getting them breakfast, packed lunches and packed backpacks prepared and ready. It was only later that I felt I may not have been ready for this day.

It was a first! A first day at the start of elementary school year. A first for all of them together to get on the bus. It was a first for us to say goodbye to them – all of them – as they got on the bus for school.

We knew and had prepared for this days in advance; yet, in retrospect I found that I had not given thought to myself or my own preparedness for today. Yes, I well knew that this was a week full of change, but I hadn’t really considered much of my reaction and how I’d feel or react about all the changes. I got choked up, more than I expected.

I even had lost my train of thoughts, allowing them to be derailed last night and succumbing to a tangential sidetrack that wholly distracted my mind from the events of today. This distraction even threatened to take my attention away from the firsts that happened at the bus stop. Thankfully I’d recognized my mind and attention was being diverted and brought it back to focus on my kids. I nearly lost my enjoyment of those moments thanks to my distracted self.

Too easily I feel that I can allow legitimate things, that can be good in their own way, to become too much of a distraction of my life. This could include time and efforts at work, enjoying a hobby, exercise, a mental break with a phone app, or most anything. They each may have their usefulness and acceptable allotment of focus. Still, what’s the priority? In that moment and time, what should I be focusing on? The moment or moments I recognize that they are sapping energy, time and effort away from more meaningful life priorities are the moments I really need to self check myself to see what I am doing.

I say this of myself, since I know what can be a easy tendency. What about for you?

Being aware and mindful of present things is not always easy, yet I think it’s well worth it to recapture our attention to be more diligent at being present where we are.

Work & Weekend

Yay, the weekend started. Monday is a Labor Day, a day off from work for me.

The average person will spend approximately 150,000 hours at work in their lifetime – that is to say, about 40% of our waking lives are spent at work.

‘Is God interested in our work? Many people do not see God as a 24/7 God, but as a withdrawn actor confined to a Sunday show with a declining audience. There is a widespread view that God and work simply don’t mix: the competitive, cut-throat demands of the working world are seen as the obvious enemy of Christian compassion and love. But the God who created and sustains the world is also the God of the workplace. If the Christian faith is not relevant in the workplace, it is not relevant at all.’

– Ken Costa in his book God at Work.

Whatever kind of work you are called to, it will probably occupy a large proportion of your life. Work is an important part of God’s ‘economy’. It is part of what you were created to do, and will be part of what you do in heaven. Work has an intrinsic value. The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of our work.

Strong Families – A Devotional Thought

A busy father was looking for a way to entertain his young daughter. He found a map of the world in a magazine and cut it into pieces. He gave the pieces to his child and suggested she try to piece the map back together.

After a very short time, she said she had finished. He was very surprised by how quickly she had done it. He asked her how she had managed to do it so fast. She replied, ‘I noticed when you took the page out of the magazine that on the back of the map of the world there was a picture of a man and a woman. I thought that if I could put the man and the woman back together, I could put the world back together.’ 

Marriage and family life are hugely important. They are part of God’s natural order, and are a vital part of the fabric of society. Pope John Paul II once wrote that family is the ‘foundation’ of society and ‘nourishes’ society continually.

The Bible has a great deal to say about family life. Not only do we have a natural family but, as Christians, we are part of the church, which the New Testament sees as ‘the family of God’.

Psalm 102:18-28

Children and the next generation

Every generation has a responsibility to think about the future and to planfor it. We should be concerned, not just about what happens in our time but also about the next generation. The psalmist is concerned for the next generation: ‘Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord’ (v.18).

Jesus is the key for every generation. Interestingly, the writer to the Hebrews quotes verses 25–27 of this psalm and applies them to Jesus (Hebrews 1:10–12): ‘Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8). He ‘laid earth’s foundations a long time ago, and handcrafted the very heavens’ (Psalm 102:25, MSG). Jesus will be there forever: ‘Year after year you’re as good as new’ (v.27, MSG).

The psalm ends with this hope for the next generation: ‘Your servants’ children will have a good place to live and their children will be at home with you’ (v.28, MSG).

This is a hope, a prayer and, to some extent, a promise. Whilst everyone is responsible for their own lives, there is a sense in which God treats people as families. We can hope, pray and believe that our children, grandchildren and their descendants will live in his presence and be established before him (v.28).

Lord, I pray for my own family and for those in the church, that we will live in your presence and that our children will grow up to know, love, serve and be established before you.

1 Corinthians 16:5-24

Family and homes

Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, has a big sign outside saying: ‘Welcome Home’. The vision of Brian and Bobbie Houston, the senior pastors, is that everyone who comes to the church will be welcomed, loved and given the hospitality that we would give to a guest in our own home.

We need to recapture this New Testament vision of church as a home. Of course, the early Christians did not have church buildings. They met in homes (v.19). Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘If Timothy shows up, take good care of him. Make him feel completely at home among you’ (v.10, MSG).

The church is the family of God. God is our father. Paul sees the whole church as a family. He talks about other Christians as his ‘brothers and sisters’ (v.15). The church is not an organisation you join; it is a family, where you belong.

Paul, who was single and did not have his own wife or children, loves the Corinthians and sees them as his family. He found spiritual refreshment by spending time with them (v.17). He ends his letter, ‘I love all of you’ (v.24, MSG). He expects them to ‘love the Lord’ (v.22) and to love one another. They should express this love by greeting ‘one another with a holy kiss’ (v.20).

This is not just a nice theory; it is very personal. He longs to see them (v.5). He knows that they will ‘help’ him (v.6). He does not want to spend only a short time with them; he wants to spend much longer ‘if the Lord permits’ (v.7). Paul’s message in his letters flows from his love and concern for the people in the church. He practiced what he preached when he wrote ‘do everything in love’ (v.14).

The only reason Paul is not coming sooner is that ‘a great door for effective work has opened to [him], and there are many who oppose [him]’ (v.9). (It seems that whenever God opens ‘a huge door of opportunity for good work’ we should expect that there will also be ‘mushrooming opposition’, v.9, MSG.) Do not let such opposition deter you from making the most of great opportunities when they arise.

He goes on to talk about Timothy, whom he describes elsewhere as his son in the Lord (4:17). He then speaks about his ‘brother Apollos’ 16:12) and goes on to talk about ‘the family of Stephanas’ (v.15, MSG). It appears from the New Testament that it was quite common for whole families to be converted and baptised together.

We also see in this passage an instance of a married couple having a joint ministry. Aquilla and Priscilla ran a church in their home (v.19). Here, Aquilla is named first. However, more commonly Priscilla is the one whom Paul names first (see Romans 16:3). It is clear that they ran the church together.

The family of the church is made up of single people like Paul, married couples like Priscilla and Aquilla, and whole households like those of Stephanas. Together we make up the family of God.

What Paul writes applies to us all: ‘Keep your eyes open. Hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute and love without stopping’ (1 Corinthians 16:13–14, MSG).

Lord, please give us such love for one another that whether we are single or married, we all experience the riches and refreshment of being part of the family of God.

2 Chronicles 24:1-25:28

Parents and children

Good parenting is a huge advantage in life. Joash’s father died when he was a baby and he became king at the age of seven. His mother ensured that he was ‘taught and trained by Johoiada the priest’ (24:2, MSG). He clearly received a good education and ‘did what pleased God throughout Jehoiada’s lifetime’ (v.3, MSG). Joash had a family of his own which included ‘both sons and daughters’ (v.3, MSG).

God had promised his blessing on David and his family. Kingship passed down the family line. However, although God’s love was unconditional, each person was responsible for how they responded to this love. ‘The book of Moses’ (probably a way of referring to ‘the Law’, the first five books of the Old Testament) is quoted in support of the fact that ‘parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each of you will die for your own sins’ (25:4). (‘We each pay personally for our sins’, MSG.)

We see this principle worked out here. Joash started out well. He ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (24:2). He ‘decided to restore the temple of the Lord’ (v.4). Everyone joined in: ‘All the officials and all the people brought their contributions gladly, dropping them into the chest until it was full’ (v.10). ‘They rebuilt the temple of God according to its original design’ (v.13). (Buildings for worship do matter and can be restored if everyone gets involved.)

Sadly, Joash’s reign did not end well (vv.17–27). It is so important not just to start well but also to finish well.

Tragically the same pattern was repeated in the life of his son, Amaziah. He started well (25:2), but did not finish well. He became ‘arrogant and proud’ (v.19) and ‘turned away from following the Lord’ (v.27).

Lord, help us to be good examples and to finish well. I pray that family life would once again be the foundation to nourish our society continually. May there be a reversal in the decline in marriages and a restoration of strong families.

Are you like a Mosquito?

The Night with a Mosquito

History is in many ways a story of influence. Leadership is about influence. Everyone influences someone. Therefore, in a sense, everyone is a leader. Sociologists tell us that even the most introverted individual will influence 10,000 other people during his or her lifetime. We all influence one another in all sorts of ways – from what to have for lunch and what films to watch, to more important matters of truth and ethics.

My life has been influenced by so many people – my parents, teachers, friends and family. Just as I have been influenced by others, inevitably what I do and say will influence others for good or ill.

As the African proverb puts it, ‘If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito.’ The mosquito makes a difference in an annoying way, but the principle is the same. One person can stop a great injustice. One person can be a voice for truth. One person’s kindness can save a life. Each person matters.

How can you maximise your influence and use that influence for good?