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God's Real Plans For Us

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him ... that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself ... 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace ... (Eph 1:3-6 NKJV)

The first thoughts that came to my mind when I read this passage are regarding the true blessings of God.  When we become Christians, God doesn't promise us a trouble-free life full of prosperity and bliss as some well-meaning people preach.  When God says He has plans for us (Jer 29:11), His plans aren't what most people think, for as we know, God's thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways.  And while it is comforting to know that God does indeed have a purpose for our lives, we must remember that His ultimate purpose is for the advancement of His kingdom and for heavenly, not earthly ends.

So what does God promise then, to believers?  God promises us a future in heaven as adopted children of God and the power of the Holy Spirit working inside of us to enable us to be the men and women He wants us to be here on earth.  God's promised blessings to us this side of eternity are spiritual blessings, not physical blessings, as seen in Eph 1:3 above, so that we can be holy and without blame before Him.  The praise of the glory of His grace will be us living out our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us. 

But the fruit the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22 NKJV)

These are definitely spiritual blessings, all of which pertain to character, nothing more.  After all, is there really anything more important in our life than our character?  Remember, God looks at the heart of man, not the exterior.   If we aren't who God wants us to be, we cannot do what God want us to do.  God chose us for His glory, not ours, and for this reason provides us the means to build character, not kingdoms, on this earth.   Our "kingdom" will come when we get to heaven.  In the meantime, we must just keep pressing on and allow Him to change us as He so desires.

Lord, I thank you for who you are and for what you teach us through your word.  Thank you for your Holy Spirit and the fruit of character that only you can provide.  Show me how to live a life that is glorifying to you in every way.  Make me into the person you would have me to be, no matter how hard it is to change my attitudes or actions.  Thy will be done.   Enable me to be a blessing to you.  Amen.

Staying on Track

But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods.  But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? ... I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.  (Galatians 4:8-11 NKJV)

In reading through Paul's letters to the churches these past few weeks, I am relating in some way to how Paul must have felt when he expressed some of his concerns to his massive "flock".   Aside from Paul's thankfulness for the people of faith at these churches, a prevalent theme in his writings is an expression of distress over their apparent straying from the dedication to the faith that they had been taught.   Paul is perplexed at how they could have strayed from a rock solid faith because Paul knows how powerful the gospel is (Romans 1:16-17).   After all, why would someone stray from something so good?

I appreciate Paul's candor in telling the truth as he sees it.  We know that Paul loved these people.  However, it appears that his statement was not well received because he asks the question later in his letter:

"Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" - Gal 4:16 NKJV

The truth is hard to take and the truth is hard to tell, isn't it?  Generally speaking, these truths of which Paul writes also typify the church today.  We can read the passage at the top of this post (Gal 4:8-11) and be convicted even today, almost 2000 years later, of the state of our churches and the state of our hearts.  We have strayed from God because although we are known by God, we don't know God deeply because we are not in God's word enough to develop an unshakeable faith.  Poor Paul.  He was afraid he had labored in vain.   Pastors today who are passionate about equipping people with God's Word must feel the same frustration, but nonetheless they must keep pressing on to do the work that God has called them to do. 

So how can we keep from straying from our faith?  How can we protect ourselves from falling prey to false doctrine, fear and feeble worship?  We can continue in our faith by striving to know the mind of God through the daily reading of His word.   God's Word, when allowed to dwell in our hearts and bounce around through are minds, has the power to change our lives and enable us to live the way God intended us to live - in a way that will show others that Paul's (and other co-laborers for the gospel) labor was not in vain.   Let's dive in to its riches today.

For Further Thought:

1) How well do you know God?  Gauge this by how often you are reading His "mind", His Word.

2) In what area of your life have you slipped into false thinking or "idol" worship?  If you have, what do you think is the cause in your own life?

3) How do you react when confronted with the truth?  Is it the reaction that God would be pleased with?

Escaping the Past

But they were hearing only, "He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God in me. - Galatians 1:23-24 NKJV

If there were to be a "Top Ten" list of some of the most radically changed lives in world history, the Apostle Paul's life would definitely have my vote to be added to the list.  In Galatians 1:13, Paul recounts some of his past life in his letter to the Galatians by saying

For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.  (NKJV)

Yet, in spite of what Paul had formerly done, he was called by God to preach Jesus and to further the church he once so zealously tried to destroy.    I can only imagine how blown away Paul must have been to be allowed to serve God in spite of his past. 

We all have a past.  Some of our pasts are rather normal seeming and pretty uneventful when compared to others.  Others of us have lived lives we would rather forget.  All of us though, have regrets and wish we could have done some things differently.  However, no matter who we are or what we have done, through a relationship with Christ we have been given the power to change.   Each day when we wake up we are given a new canvas to paint our lives upon.  Sometimes we need to start over more than once throughout the day!  And we can when we confess our faults to God and sincerely vow to start "painting" once again.  I am so thankful for God's forgiveness and the fresh start He offers me every minute of every day.

Paul's life was a testament to an escape from the past.   Paul learned to embrace his past mistakes and declare them as proof that a life can change through the power of God.  Only God could have produced the remarkable change in Paul.  When I read Paul's words from Galatians 1:24 "And they glorified God in me.", I wonder if Paul had a tear in his eye when he penned those words.  I would think that he was truly humbled by the way God was using him.    I know I would have been.   I am humbled every day when I realize that God is using me in some small way.  It is my prayer that God can be glorified in me, no matter what I have or haven't done in the past.

For Forward Thinking...

1) How can the story of Paul's changed life give you hope as to how your own life or circumstance can change for God's glory?

2) In what situation are you having difficulty believing in God's power to change it? 

3) What element of your past have you not forgiven yourself for?  Confess it to God right now and know that it is now behind you.  You are now free to move forward.

Answering God's Call

But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. - Galatians 1:15-17 NIV

What do you do when you feel God is calling you into service for Him?  Do you confer with everyone you know?  Do you deliberate and try to figure out all of the "how's" before you say "Yes" to God?  Do you sometimes wait too long and allow fear and the objections of others to squelch your initial excitement of doing what you were being called by God to do?  I'm sure at some point I've done all of these things.  None of which are profitable to God's mission for us in this world.

Paul had it together most of the time.  At least from what we see written in this passage.  Imagine what Paul thought at the time of his conversion (Acts 9) when he was shown that he was to be sharing the gospel to the Gentiles.  I'm sure that Paul had to have had some "Who, me?" thoughts running through his head.  But nonetheless, Paul obeyed and answered God's call on his life and in the process God used him to change the world. 

What if Paul had consulted with some of his old friends with whom he had spent years persecuting Christians? What if Paul had asked his family what they thought he should do?  In Paul's case, I believe it is likely that had Paul talked with someone else before he acted upon God's call, he would have been talked out of it because the "call" was just too large for most people to understand.   What God was asking of Paul was definitely a God-sized goal! 

We can all learn from Paul and determine to act immediately upon God's calling on our lives once it is recognized, keeping in mind that sometimes it takes awhile through prayer and other confirmations to recognize a particular calling as what it is.  We must not let the seeds of doubt be planted by discussion or delay but rather determine to follow God wherever he may lead no matter how crazy or lofty the calling appears.  Remember, if God wants us to do something, he'll equip us to do it.  He did with Paul.

Calling all Saints:

1) What is God calling you to do for Him?

2) What in your life are you delaying because of being concerned about what others think?

3) What step are you going to take today to move forward for God?