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God’s Vision for the Future – A Brief Reflection on Habakkuk

Today’s world is filled with great affliction, violence, and corruption. Habakkuk’s world, in the 7th century B.C., was the same in many ways. We, along with Habakkuk, might be tempted to look around and complain and cry out:

How long, Lord, must I call for help and you do not listen or cry out to you about violence and you do not save? Why do you force me to look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me. Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates. This is why the law is ineffective and justice never emerges. For the wicked restrict the righteous; therefore, justice comes out perverted. (Hab. 1:2-4, CSB)

From our vantage point, everything seems messy and, at times, out of control. Is there hope that things will change? From God’s vantage point, the great injustice and corruption that plague our world shall all pass away.

One day—in His appointed time—God will judge evil in all its forms. When it’s all set and done, the whole earth will know about God and what He’s all about (2:14). All of man’s injustices and corruption—and what he has accomplished through them—will come to nothing (v. 13).

Just like Habakkuk in his day, we are called today to walk by faith (v. 4) in who God is and what He has promised, despite the injustice around us. God’s vision for the future will come to pass (v. 3), even if it takes a long time. And when everything does not function the way it should, we can rejoice in the God of our salvation (3:17-18). He’s the one who will strengthen us and make us reach new heights (v. 19) in the midst of the chaos all around us. Why?

The ultimate righteous one, Jesus Christ, has dealt with the greatest injustice of all—our sin and rebellion against our Creator. By turning away from our sin and by following Jesus, we have and are coming to know God and this knowledge has, is, and will transform us for the better.

There is hope that this life-changing knowledge of God will spread throughout the earth, transforming countless individuals and families from every people group and language. As Habakkuk cried out, “Revive your work in these years; make it known in these years. In your wrath remember mercy!” (3:2)

We aim to live life in light of God’s vision for the future by knowing God ourselves and making Him know anywhere and everywhere by the power and love that He generously supplies to those who trust in Him.

God’s glory—the knowledge of the sum total of His attributes—will cover the whole earth and bring about His original plan to fruition, namely, to bless all the nations of the earth through salvation in Jesus Christ (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:13-14; Rom. 4:13-25).

Next time you’re in front of an ocean (or a large body of water), remember the promise that one day the knowledge of God’s glory will cover the earth in an unmeasurable and unfathomable way.

I want my life to point to God’s glory. Here and now. How about you? Is your life pointing to God’s glory and what He has, is, and will accomplish to redeem this world of ours?

P.S. For more on the life and book of Habakkuk, check out these free resources from The Bible Project here. You can watch their amazing animated video below:

 

 

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God’s Will for the Christian

Growing up I thought of the will of God in terms of job and occupation, or to sound a bit more Christian, “calling,” whatever that means. The fact that I did not know exactly what God wanted me to do for the rest of my life troubled me. “Are you calling me to be a pastor?” I often asked. “Am I called to full-time ministry?” If so, then when or how or where should I be a pastor? These are the questions that I have wrestled with over the years, leaving me with even more questions than answers.

I was in class the other day and the professor briefly brought up the topic of the will of God for the Christian. He mentioned how Christians, more often than not, think of the will of God as this warm, fuzzy, opening-of-the-clouds moment where God will “reveal” His will for their lives, whether it be becoming a nurse, getting married, applying for a particular job, living overseas, or buying a house, etc.

Please, do not get me wrong. These decisions are important; we need not to take them lightly. What we do with the rest of our lives is important to God and others, so we should definitely seek counsel from the Word of God and the community of God in order to make wise decisions that will bring about the greatest impact for the kingdom of God during our brief time on this earth.

But the more I think about the will of God for my life, and the more I read and study Scripture, the more I realized that it is not this warm, fuzzy, opening-of-the-clouds moment where God tells me in a thunderous voice: “Jonnathan, you are to become a pastor at this church and at this time and in this city.” I have realized that, for the most part, God does not work that way (even though I am open to working that way). I am no Saul about to have a Damascus-like encounter with God and His will for my life, and, perhaps, neither are you. And that is okay.

Looking back at some of the decisions I have made, I have always (if I am honest) wanted God to give me some kind of sign or clue, letting me know if I was making the right decision or not. “Lord, just tell me what you want me to do, please.” I often worried that my decisions would take me this way or that way or put me on the wrong path; or worse, prevent me from what I believed God was really “calling” me to do. Can you relate?

When it comes to knowing and doing the will of God, the clear teaching of Scripture is actually more refreshing, more liberating, more empowering, and more encouraging than we think. In his first letter to the Thessalonian church, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Finally then, brothers, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received from us how you must walk and please God — as you are doing — do so even more. For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality, so that each of you knows how to control his own body in sanctification and honor, not with lustful desires, like the Gentiles who don’t know God. This means one must not transgress against and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. For God has not called us to impurity but to sanctification. Therefore, the person who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who also gives you His Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, HCSB; emphasis added).

God’s will for our lives is, after coming to a saving faith in Jesus, our sanctification. In other words, God wants you and me, after responding to the gospel by putting our faith in Jesus Christ, to be holy, which means both to be set apart from evil and sin, and to be set apart for God and His purposes.

I am called to live a holy life before God and others. I am called to actively participate in my sanctification by living in step with the Spirit as He guides me in all truth through His Word. I am called to, as Paul says in Colossians, “put off the old self” and “put on the new self” (3:5-11), and “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Rom. 8:13).

God’s will for us Christians is our holiness. That is great, “but how exactly does God want me to use my gifts and talents for His glory and the good of others?” you may be wondering. I do not know, but I have confidence in the faithfulness of God to instruct me and you in all matters of life and faith through His Word and through His Spirit.

In this regard, I have found that God does not leave us in the dark. In His perfect timing, and in His perfect ways, God is gracious and kind to let us know how He wants us to spend our time, our money, and our energy to further His kingdom purposes on earth.

Truth be told, we may not like His answers, but we can rest assured that God will lead us and guide us through His Holy Spirit. And that is good news! Good news for all of us restless, anxious, and troubled souls who are often thinking about what God wants us to do next.

Here is where I think the local church comes in handy—by playing a vital role in the spiritual formation of our lives. The local church is not just a place for socializing and fellowship, but a place where we can grow, serve and live on mission with like-minded individuals who want to make much of Jesus, grow in grace, and love one another.

It is in the context of the local church that you and I will grow

At the end of his first letter to the Christian Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul says: “Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (5:16-18; emphasis added).

Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks. This is, along with our sanctification, God’s daily will for us as Christians. We do not need for God to “reveal” this to us, right? Or do we?

As we continue to grow in grace and in wisdom to make biblically-faithful, Christ-exalting, kingdom-advancing decisions in life, let’s not forget to live out these explicit, “this is God’s will for you” statements in the power of the Spirit.

May the Lord help us to know and practice His desires for our lives.

Giving Generously

What does new covenant giving look like? For starters, it is different from the old covenant in that it is not really tied to numbers or percentages anymore. New covenant giving, when truly done right—i.e., when one is motivated by the gospel and moved by eternity and what is to come—is characterized by generosity.

New covenant giving should reflect the all-transforming reality of the new covenant under the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The truth is God has done a new, refreshing spiritual work in the lives of us believers. Shouldn’t our giving be impacted as well?

But how is the believer going to be motivated to not just give, but give generously? First of all, it starts with a right understanding of what giving is. The act of giving is, as Paul calls it, an “act of grace” (2 Cor. 8:6-7). Second, believers are encouraged to follow other believers’ example of generous, sacrificial giving. In this case, the Macedonian believers modeled this powerfully:

1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5; ESV).

For the Macedonian believers, giving was not an obligation, but a joyful opportunity to participate in helping the saints in Jerusalem and supporting Paul’s ministry (8:5). The Macedonian Christians did not just give; they gave over and above what was expected of them—giving to the Lord, first, and foremost; and then, to the apostle Paul and his ministry colleagues. And what is crazy is that the Macedonian believers begged to participate (8:4). Believers today are called to imitate this great example of giving and to model it for others to see, especially in and among our local churches.

Now, there is one more reason why a believer should be motivated to give and give generously. What is it? The person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul states, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (8:9). Jesus, being rich, became a servant and gave of himself for the sake of others (this includes you and me!). He is the biggest reason why believers should give generously.

We are called to give generously as a response to the gospel and as an expression of our love and gratitude to the Lord for His atoning work on our behalf. Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead for us. The truth is Jesus is the greatest giver of all time! He gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

As believers—who have been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit—we should be moved to give generously to the Lord, the local church, the spreading of the gospel, and to other worthy and noble causes that glorify God and seek to promote the well-being of others, Christians and non-Christians alike. But our giving should be characterized by wisdom (i.e., investing in eternity), integrity (especially within churches and non-profit ministries and organizations), and gospel-centered joy. After all, the Lord “loves a cheerful giver” (9:7).

Following Jesus

The call to follow Jesus as Messiah is a not an easy one. It is a costly and challenging invitation. Why? The call to follow Jesus is a call to die to self and to take up one’s cross. Then, and only then, can one truly began to follow the Messiah. We would be wise to hear and heed the heart-cutting, soul-penetrating, life-giving words of the Messiah Himself:

“If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34b-35, HCSB).

The radical call to follow Jesus only makes sense in light of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. In other words, apart from the person and work of Jesus, the call to live a selfless and sacrificial life sounds a bit scandalous, counter-cultural, and altogether, impossible for one to live out in his or her own strength or wisdom.

It is important to note that Jesus’ call to follow Him comes right after Mark 8:27-30 and Mark 8:31-33—two important passages that share a light on the identity and mission of the Messiah.

In Mark 8:27-30, we see Jesus asking His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (v. 27). After the disciples respond by stating the various opinions of the day, Jesus goes on to ask them directly, “who do you say that I am?” (emphasis added). Peter, standing up and speaking on behalf of the group, expressed the following: “You are the Messiah!” (v. 29). Peter got the right answer, but he—along with his fellow disciple buddies—misunderstood the Messiah’s God-given mission (at least during His first coming).

The predominant Jewish belief in regards to the Messiah was that he was to be a military/political leader, whose very coming meant the liberation from Roman oppression and the restoration of Israel’s kingdom.

But the Messiah had something else in mind. His primary purpose was not to bring about Rome’s demise, or the restoration of Israel’s earthly kingdom for that matter, but to bring about spiritual restoration. If this spiritual restoration was not going to come through military conquest, then how exactly was this going to be accomplished? The second passage will give us insight to this question.

In Mark 8:31-33, we read that Jesus began to teach His disciples the real purpose for His first coming. What was it? Mark puts it this way:

“Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days” (v. 31).

The Messiah was supposed to suffer and die? That cannot be right. This was God’s great plan? Yes, that is correct. Jesus taught His disciples that He must suffer and die at the hands of Israel’s religious leaders. This is what the disciples did not understand, let alone believe. The Old Testament alluded to the Messiah’s suffering (look at Isaiah 52 and 53, for example) but the majority of the people—including His disciples—was not able to discern what this meant.

Jesus is, as Peter exclaimed, the Messiah and His God-ordained task was to suffer and to die. But it did not stop right there. Jesus was going to rise from the dead on the third day. Jesus was going to conquer the grave through the resurrection. And this was the way in which He was going to bring about spiritual restoration to His people.

God, through the person and work of Jesus, was restoring people to a right relationship with Himself. And this was only made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Having said all of that, the call to follow Jesus, then, is a call to restoration; a call, indeed, to life—but life through the way of the cross. The call to follow Jesus is a call to be restored and to be part of the kingdom of God. For this, one must, as mentioned above, deny himself, take up one’s cross, and follow the Messiah.

But this is hard. We would be fooling ourselves if we say otherwise. It is our natural tendency to be self-centered. Jesus’ call to follow Him is a direct attack at our selfish nature. Jesus’ call to abandon our selfish way of living does not only sound outrageous and unappealing, but also foolish and out-of-this-world crazy, especially in today’s self-absorbed, self-obsessed society.

A call to die is not an easy pill to swallow. But following Jesus is also a glorious call. How? The fact that Jesus gives an open invitation to follow Him as Lord is an expression of God’s amazing grace. When was the last time you and I saw the call to die to self, take up our cross, and follow the Jewish Messiah as an expression of grace? But this is exactly what it is! The call to follow Jesus is an opportunity to experience the undeserved grace of Almighty God.

Many Christians today can testify that choosing to follow Jesus as Lord has been the most important decision they have ever made. The truth is one cannot be drawn—by the power of the Holy Spirit—to accept and follow the Messiah and not have his or her life radically transformed.

To follow the Messiah is—as challenging as it may sound and be—the single, most important, heart-changing, worldview-shaking, spiritually-satisfying, and life-transforming decision/commitment one can make in life.

The invitation is open. The call is challenging, yet glorious. Let’s follow Jesus as Messiah for the glory of God and for our joy. Amen.