If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:13-21
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
~ Ephesians 6:19-20
I grew up the daughter of Christ ambassadors. I grew up learning how to be an ambassador myself, yearning to give my life in service of the One who calls.
Call me he did! Out of "my country and my father's household" to a place that he "would show me" (Genesis 12). Now I live the life of a nomad, settling here for a season, moving there for another, and yet another brief sojourn somewhere else, as God leads. Just last week I was affectionately referred to as a vagabond (a wanderer without a permanent home, who moves from place to place).
At times I wonder if there is a "promised land" season for me in this life, one of "permanent residency," or if it will be a perpetual cycle of arriving, serving, and forging deep friendships—only to have to move on again. This keen awareness of pilgrim status can be as unnerving as it is exciting, if I let it.
How to rejoice in the Lord's beckoning when friends' tears burden the heart? How to comfort when I am grieving alongside them? I am at a loss. So I rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15); and I am weak, yet He is strong. I know this. I have leaned and cried on His shoulder many times before, and He wipes away my tears, helps me smile again, both inside and outside.
Ultimately, I am not even a citizen of earth, but of heaven. This world is NOT my home! Why then do I long for a space to call my own? The promise remains: He has "gone to prepare a place for" me (John 14:3)! That I may be where he is, and see him face to face.
That's the hard part about not being with someone—the lack of face to face time. Technology lessens the pain of separation with live-time contact through phone, Skype, chat, instant messaging, and so on. But these interactions, blessings though they can be, are but seeing "through a glass, darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12).
I guess that's why there's the idea of being ambassadors in the first place. Jesus was the "exact representation" of God (Hebrews 1:3). He helped us know what God was really like. He came to earth to have some face time. Now we are his witnesses:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.~ 1 John 1:1-4
Being an ambassador is more than living in a foreign location. Representation goes much deeper than geographical presence. It entails an awareness of delegated reputation and responsibility, along with a mindset and lifestyle of submission to the commissioning authority. In this case, that authority is God.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~ Galatians 2:20
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves 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 evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. ~ Romans 6:4-7, 10-13
In the words of William R. Wallace: "Every man dies—not every man really lives."
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. ~ Romans 8:5-6
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. ....For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I...have become a servant.
~ Colossians 1:9-14, 19-23
Unrelenting focus. Real purpose. True fulfillment. Now that's a life worth living!
Have you ever felt this way?
Unlovable. Unacceptable. Unwanted. Not enough. Too much.
Many children in the foster care system grow up this way, with this unvoiced feeling of being "beyond acceptance." Some go to extremes to try to earn affection; others stop trying altogether and retreat into a shell of the person they could be. Still others act out in anger and hurt, certain that that is the only sure way to get the attention they so desperately crave.
As believers, we are called to look after the orphan and the widow. God cares deeply about these family-less kids, and he "sets them in families." (Ps. 68:5-6)
There is a powerful family film that was recently released onto DVD, called "Beyond Acceptance." It tells the story of Evans, a foster care child, and the Border family, who choose him as their first placement. The Borders quickly discover that Evans has deep-rooted issues that will try their patience and love past what they can take. It is only when they reach past themselves that they can find the strength to keep caring. But despite their efforts, Evans seems incapable of trusting them. (And I think I'll kinda stop there....because I don't want to spoil the ending!)
While I didn't work on this film myself, several very good friends of mine did. In fact, my brother and I had the privilege of attending the movie premiere in Kalamazoo, MI last August. It really impacted me.
Adoption is something I think God may call me to in the future. It is a beautiful picture of the way God chose us for his family, and loves us in spite of ourselves. Maybe God is calling your family to this magnificent path. If he does, he will also give you the grace to walk in it. But no matter where you are right now in your life, don't miss out on opportunities to help those around who may already be on that journey.
The struggles foster and/or adoptive parents and families face are real. They are tough. There is also real hope. Real joy! If you or anyone you know of is contemplating adoption, please see this film! It will touch your heart; it might even change your life.
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The Grace Of Giving
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us--see that you also excel in this grace of giving. ~ 2 Corinthians 8:1-7
The sluggard’s craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work. All day long he craves for more, but the righteous give without sparing. ~ Proverbs 21:26
Way back when God blessed the Hebrew patriarch Abraham, God blessed him so that he might be a blessing to all those around him, and to those who would come after him. As believers in Christ and following his lordship, we not only inherit the blessing given to Abraham, but the mission that comes along with it. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control...these harvest fruits of the Spirit of God transforming us from the inside out are not merely a state of being, but a way of living. They are meant to be expressed, a means of spreading the very grace of God so that others may taste of the blessing.
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.
~ 2 Corinthians 9:10-12
When we cultivate a giving heart, God is glorified in us. He delights in giving to us! When we give, we partner in this grace, in this offering of undeserved favor that points to the source of life-joy. And check out the side-effects of this soul protocol:
A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. ~ Proverbs 11:25
A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor. ~ Proverbs 22:9
"In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' " ~ Acts 20:35
More blessed! Isn't that what everyone seems to want? How fascinating that by taking the focus off of ourselves, our deepest longings can be satisfied.
We are accustomed to special days and seasons set aside for gift-giving. But it doesn't have to stop there! Giving from the heart can become a habit. According to the Giver of scripture, it's a good habit to have. Like any habit, it takes practice to get it going. Here are some gift ideas to get you started:
Seriously. Give it a try! :-)
Did You Hear About . . . ?
I know, I know—I already posted once tonight. But when you learn of a secret that's meant to be shared, don't you ache to share it? Actually, this secret has been out for a while, but sometimes it is what's hidden right in front of us that takes the longest to find.
How many times do we wish we had a power-boost button to push? For believers, it could be the solution is as simple as the search for the proverbial spectacles. ("Oh, lookey, they're on me head! 'Magine that!" <sheepish grin>)
Paul said he had learned a secret. A secret that led to "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13)
Here it is: "The joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)
Selah. (That is a Hebrew word used often in their poetry and psalms that means "now think a minute about what was just said and let it sink in before you rush on to the next phrase")
Now just in case you didn't Selah, I'll say it one more time: "The joy of the Lord is your strength." In the Greek, the word translated "rejoice" from Paul's letter is "chairos." It means to "rejoice, be exceedingly glad, to thrive." To thrive.
"Splendor and majesty are before Him, strength and joy are in His place." (1 Chronicles 16:27)
"But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, for You have been my stronghold and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my strength, I will sing praises to You; for God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness." (Psalm 59:16-17)
Do you get it? Are you GETTING THIS? This is huge! I have learned the secret!
"Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:18
"...always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father..." Ephesians 5:20
"...strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father..." ~ Colossians 1:11-12
Give thanks >> choose and receive joy >> renewed strength...to do all things!!
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near." ~ Philippians 4:4-5
Paul told the Philippian believers repeatedly to Rejoice. Why? What does that even mean, anyway? Okay, let's look it up.
(intransitive verb) To feel joy; be glad, take delight in.
(transitive verb) To make joyful; gladden.
So...it's a verb. What's the big deal? Well, for starters, it means it's not something that "happens to me." I am not a passive player in the process of awakening Joy. Just like the holiday season has to have a reason, so does joy. No, it doesn't depend on circumstances, on everything working out how we thought it should, on being in control, on having everyone think well of us, on anything that contributes to earthly "happiness." Joy is not an earthly phenomenon! Joy has a very definite, singular reason, and it's a reason I have to choose. The act of rejoicing is how I choose the reason that ignites Joy. I have to rejoice IN something.
Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Luke 1:47)
Rejoice IN THE LORD. Always. D'ya wanna hear it again? REJOICE!!
"It is not so much the joy of the Lord we are seeking as the Lord of Joy Himself." ~ C. S. Lewis
Rejoicing occurs in a posture of worship. It's surrendering to the glory of His splendor, delighting in the power and beauty of His grace. Falling head over heels. In Love. Delighting, drowning in Love-light that drives away all fear, all darkness, all pride...all dissolving in importance compared to giving ourselves fully to Him.
"Everywhere Jesus went, joy tagged along." (Michael K. MacIntosh, The Tender Touch of God)
Joy is not found stranded by itself in a forgotten corner, nor prancing amid glitzy thrill rides at life's amusement park, but flowing from a Person. To know this Person is to know joy in all it's resounding stillness and shouting glory. In his presence in fullness of joy, and my cup runs over with its sweetness.
"Joy is merriment without frivolity, hilarity without raucousness, and mirth without cruelty. Joy is sportive without being rakish and festive without being cheap. Joy radiates animation, sparkle, and buoyancy. It is more than fun, yet it has fun. It expresses itself in laughter and elation, yet it draws from a deep spring that keeps flowing long after the laughter has died and the tears have come."(Sherwood Wirt, "Jesus, Man of Joy") Thirsty, I drink, and my heart is quenched at this fountain. Planted by streams of living water, my soul-leaves will not wither. (Jeremiah 17:7-8) I draw my nourishment from this vine of which love is the life-blood (John 15:1-17), and joy-sap runs, circulating nutrients that burst into fruit. Much fruit.
Fullness of joy!
Count It All
Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~ James 1:2-4
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones. ~ Proverbs 17:22
And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
~ Acts 13:49-52
You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, ~ 1 Thessalonians 1:6
Trials of temptation that test our faith...persecution for proclaiming the Gospel...feeling weak from sickness. How do YOU decide what counts as an opportunity for joy? The key in recognizing these opportunities AS opportunities may be in realizing the true nature of joy.
Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes shall say, “All my springs of joy are in you.” ~ Psalm 87:7
Serve the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing. ~ Psalm 100:2
How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O LORD, they walk in the light of Your countenance. In Your name they rejoice all the day. ~ Psalm 89:15-16
Joy is not merely the result of a having a good day where everything went right. Joy comes from maintaining our focus where it should be: on God! No matter what happens to us or around us, if we keep our hearts and our minds set on Him, our joy will be full.
When something goes how it should, we are glad, and our thanksgiving for the blessings brings joy. When something seems to go wrong—even horribly so—we can still choose a response that leads to joy, because God is greater than any problem we can ever face. He is I AM! Our trust grows through these times as we take joy in His never-failing love toward us, rejoice in the full salvation obtained through His sacrifice, and give thanks in faith for God's power at work on our behalf.
Our joy has no cause for wavering because it is founded in the unchanging person of Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). NOTHING can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). And when the world does its worst, it will simply showcase over and over that the love of God is a sure anchor, His word is eternal truth, and His joy is a solid strength.
If you have the right perspective, it all counts toward joy!