Just Keep Growing

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.

Jeremiah 29:5‭-‬6 ESV

Many times when we talk of Jeremiah 29, we focus on Jeremiah 29: 11 (For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord , plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.) And this makes perfect sense since Jeremiah 29:11 is such a hope-filled promise. There is great peace knowing God has a good plan for each of us. There is immense comfort knowing God has prepared for everyone a future and a hope.

Yet one thing we must remember is the book of Jeremiah was penned during a time when not all of God’s children were following Him. They were following man-made gods and looking to everything and everyone else except the one true God. This is what led God to use Jeremiah to prophesy repeatedly about Israel’s sin and God’s coming judgment for that sin. Yes, the judgment would be followed by God’s merciful restoration and ultimate salvation through Jesus, but the exile was coming first.

Which brings me to the verse at the beginning of this post. The exhortation above was not spoken to God’s children when they were prospering. It was spoken to them as instruction during exile. God commanded them to build their homes and their families during exile. He commanded them to live life and to care about the place they were in. In essence, God didn’t want His children to huddle in a corner for 70 years doing nothing. He also did not intend to destroy them. God wanted the exile to demolish sin and rebellion while He simultaneously rebuilt His children. God did not want to wipe the Israelites off the face of the Earth; He wanted them to grow–to grow physically and spiritually. He wanted them to come back from exile better than how they went in.

And no matter the situations we may find ourselves facing, God wants the same for us. He wants our welfare, not our destruction. He wants us to walk in hope, not in despair. He wants us to bloom where we’re planted, not hide in the dirt hoping for better soil.

In a way beyond our ability to fully comprehend, God, in His ultimate wisdom, designed the plans for our lives with full knowledge of the good, the bad, and the ugly. He foreknew every sin. He foreknew the times of discipline. He foreknew the times of refreshing. God foreknew all the devastating circumstances in our lives just as much as He foreknew all the pleasant ones. And He saw it all working for His good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). He knew we would not sail through this life on smooth seas with a consistent tail wind. He knew there would be rough seas, strong head winds, and devastating storms. Yet none of the events written in God’s book were designed to destroy us; as God’s children, we were created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared beforehand that we may walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). As God’s children, all the moments of our lives were ordained to bring Him glory. As God’s children, all the moments of our lives are also opportunities for growth.

I’m not sure what your life looks like right now. You may be singing from the mountaintop, crying out from the valley, or somewhere in between. Regardless, my encouragement to you today is the same: just keep growing. Yes. Just keep growing. Sing it to yourself the way Dory from Finding Nemo sings “Just Keep Swimming.”

Just keep growing. Just keep growing. What do you do? You grow!

Are your heart’s desires coming to life before your eyes and life is good? Be grateful, remember the One who is the giver of all good things, and keep seeking Him first in everything. Just keep growing. Don’t begin taking credit for the good things in your life; this will take your eyes off Jesus. And don’t begin taking your foot off the gas because you think you’ve arrived; you will soon slow down and eventually come to a stop.

Just keep growing.

Maybe you are looking at your life right now and thinking, “This doesn’t look much like a future and a hope!” Don’t despair! God knows you and He knows where you are. He also knows the purpose behind your placement. And no, not all unpleasant situations are a result of sin, so don’t begin beating yourself up or trying to figure out what you could have possibly done to deserve this, whatever “this” is. Sure, you may be where you are because of sin and disobedience, and if that’s the case, then repent. But you also may be where you are through no fault of your own. You could be where you are simply because we live in a broken world filled with broken people. Regardless, you can trust God has a greater purpose beyond your understanding.

And you can always just keep growing.

Yes, I am intentionally repeating myself. For no matter the situation you are in or the reasons behind it, God wants you to grow. He wants you to draw near to Him. He wants you to do everything as unto Him. He wants you seek Him, to serve Him, to love Him–wherever you are. God doesn’t have you where you are so He can destroy you; He wants to grow you. He wants to use you. He wants the world to see Him shining through you.

And how can you do this? How can you let God’s light continue to shine even in the darkest of nights?

Just keep growing. Just keep growing. What do you do? You grow!

(For those who may not be a Finding Nemo connoisseur, here is a link to a clip of Dory singing: Just Keep Swimming)

Advertisements

His Reflection

Whether I look at my reflection in the bedroom mirror , the bathroom mirror, or the living room mirror, my reflection doesn’t change. Who I am doesn’t change, regardless the location of the mirror. Sure, the background reflected in the mirror may differ, but who I am does not. Even more, what I’m wearing, how I style my hair (aka try to tame the frizz, in my case), or how much make-up I wear (if any) doesn’t change my identity.

Because who I am is not defined by the world or the things of the world. And what happens to me or around me cannot change who I am in Christ. Read with me 2 Corinthians 5:16-21:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:16‭-‬21 ESV

Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. As a new creation, we must no longer define ourselves using definitions of the flesh, for we have been spiritually transformed. God has given each of us a new identity–one defined by His righteousness. It’s not an identity we earn; it is one we were given. For free. Out of love.

And once we’ve been transformed, our reflection is no longer one of the flesh or determined by the flesh; rather, our reflection is the image of God. As children of God in Christ, we become His ambassadors–His representatives in this life. Think about it this way. A US ambassador represents the United States. Whether he’s an ambassador to France or to Italy, he’s still a citizen of the United States. His location doesn’t change his citizenship. In the same way, when Paul calls us Christ’s ambassadors, he’s reminding us our life’s circumstances don’t negate who we are in Christ. Who we are in Christ becomes what’s reflected in all circumstances.

As God’s children, who we are–God’s image bearers and God’s reflection–does not change because of what we do or don’t do for a living. Who we are is not defined by the things and people of this world.

Remember this today: You are God’s child. He created you in His image. And if you’ve received His free gift of salvation, then that image is one of righteousness and reconciliation. It is one of beauty and of grace. And it’s one the world can never take away.

Therefore, wherever God has placed you today, ask Him for the understanding that location and vocation don’t define you. Whether your “mirror” is in the home, at school, behind a desk, on a construction site, or a combination of many places, you are not defined by any of it. And you most certainly are not defined by the opinions of those around you. You are who God says you are. And God says you’re His.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8‭-‬10 ESV

Little by Little

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Philippians 3:12‭-

Our identity–who we are–is the motivating force behind all we do. Who we think we are can give us the confidence we need to try new things or make us afraid to let go of what we know.

God reminds us throughout the Bible that we are not our own–we were bought with a price–and we are children of God. And as God’s children, we are to walk in the identity Christ purchased for us. We are not to walk in our own righteousness; we are to walk in His.

Go ahead and re-read that first verse.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

First of all, the “this” refers to the previous verses, in which Paul is talking about righteousness. He points out that he doesn’t want righteousness through the law; he wants it through faith in Jesus. Even more, he wants to strive to know God, God’s power, and the fellowship of suffering. Paul longs to be exactly the man God intended him to be.

Which leads into the verse we just read. So what is it saying? First of all, none of us is perfect. None of us has reached the finish line. None of us will be perfect or finish until Jesus returns to take us home. Paul never claimed nor expected perfection. And He often reminds us the only perfect one is Jesus. But being imperfect should never stop us from striving to be righteous.

Second, the point of pressing on is not to reach perfection. Striving for absolute perfection on earth is a recipe for disaster, for if we press on with the belief we can be perfect, we will continually fail, become discouraged, and eventually quit trying altogether. The point of pressing on is to identify with what Jesus has already done for us. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. We don’t have to try to obtain perfection because the Perfect One already achieved that for us. But we are to try to make it our own. We are to try to live a life set apart and holy because that’s what Christ bought for us. We could never achieve salvation on our own, but since Jesus bought it for us, we are called to press on in identifying with it. No amount of good works could ever do for us what Jesus did for us, but we sure can press on in making the salvation He bought for all the salvation He specifically designed for us.

How do we do this? Well, one way is to keep stretching. Keep reaching forward. Keep being willing to try new things.

If we want to become more flexible physically, we must start stretching, and stretching regularly. We must commit to work at it. The first time we stretch, we may not be able to stretch much; we may feel like becoming flexible is an impossible task. Yet if each time we stretch, we try to go a tad bit farther, and if we don’t stop working at it, after some time, we’ll find what was once difficult now easy. We will become flexible.

Now apply this to our walk with God. If we want to go deeper in our relationship with God, and if we want to become more bold in our faith, then we need to be willing to stretch. We need to be willing to take steps forward, even if those steps are scary. We need to be willing to step outside our comfort zones, no matter how awkward it may feel at first. It may not be easy. Our first step, and maybe all of our steps, may be tiny. They may be filled with trepidation. But any step is better than no step, and we will never move forward standing still. Yet if we keep taking those little steps–if we keep inching forward–slow and steady–we will one day look back and be amazed with how far we have come.

Let me give you an example. I used to greatly fear praying aloud in front of people. I would avoid it like the plague. I was the one who, when the leader asked for volunteers, would look everywhere but in the direction of the leader. And oh, please don’t make me get in a prayer circle or partner me up with someone! That was horrific for me. I just couldn’t get over the fear of praying in front of others.

Until God stepped in and not only encouraged me to step out, but He also showed me the first steps to take. For me, the root of my fear of praying aloud is I am a writer, not a speaker. I can convey my thoughts well when given the chance to express them on paper, for paper allows me to read, reread, and edit as needed. Speaking, however, is a different story; it’s a one time event. I may be able to verbally correct a mistake I make while speaking, but I cannot erase it. Words spoken cannot be taken back. And did I mention that my mind often runs faster than my mouth, so often things can come out jumbled up and awkward? Nevertheless, in exhorting me to step out, God also gave me a way to do it: His Word. Each time I had to pray out loud, I’d ask Him for a verse to pray. I’d then pray that verse. And since I was praying His words, not mine, I was more confident.

Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that my growth in praying aloud was not instantaneous. It came with sweaty palms, increased heart rates, and the “please don’t let them ask me” silent prayer whispered many times. But little by little every day, I took baby steps. And today, I enjoy praying out loud. Sure, I still get that tinge of fear sometimes, and I still jumble up my words sometimes, but knowing how far I’ve come motivates me to keep pressing on. And I have learned that prayer is not about perfect words but about the attitude of the heart. God doesn’t ask for a well spoken presentation; He seeks genuine, heartfelt surrender.

Paul’s encouragement to keep pressing on in the things of God is meant to stretch us. It’s God’s reminder through Paul to keep moving forward, little by little, step by step. And if we slip, then we must get up, dust ourselves off, and keep pressing on. Most importantly, we are not to go back; to the degree we obtain, we should maintain. It’s easy to go from flexible to stiff; just stop stretching. It’s easy to go from an active, intimate relationship with the Lord to an ineffective, distant one; just stop seeking. Stop reading His Word, stop praying, and stop stepping out into what He calls you to do and you’ll soon find yourself spiritually stiff.

So I encourage you today in two ways. First, stretch. And keep stretching. God cannot fit into a box. And as His followers, we must not put Him or ourselves in one. We must commit to keep pressing on in the things of God. We must run the race set before us with diligent determination. We must seek to be the person God saw when He redeemed us on the cross. Second, know that striving after the things of God isn’t easy, success is rarely instantaneous, and you’ll never be completely perfect here on Earth. But oh what a glorious day it will be when Jesus returns to find you pressing on in Him–when He returns to find you faithfully striving to be what He called you to be. Oh what a glorious day it will be to one day hear our Lord and Savior say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

Little by Little
(Not sure the original songwriter)

Little by little every day
Little by little in every way
My Jesus is changing me
Since I’ve made a turn about face
I’ve been growing in His grace
My Jesus is changing me

He’s changing me, my precious Jesus
I’m not the same person that I used to be
Some times it’s slow going
but there’s a knowing
That one day perfect I will be.

Who you are is who you are in Christ.  So walk in this truth today, friend.  And keep walking.  Keep pressing on. Keep moving forward.  For one day, perfect you will be.

Giddy Up!

Read the list of action verbs below.

  • Stir up
  • Spur
  • Incite
  • Provoke
  • Motivate

At first glance, with the exception of “motivate,” one would think a riot was about to ensue. Yet in reality, these words are used in the context of encouragement, more specifically the encouragement to love and to do good works. Read with me Hebrews 10:24 from some common translations:

New International Version
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,
New Living Translation
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.
English Standard Version
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
New American Standard Bible
and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
King James Bible
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
Holman Christian Standard Bible
And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works,

Strong’s Lexicon defines the original meaning of the bold words above as follows: “Stimulation, provocation, irritation, angry dispute. From paroxuno; incitement, or dispute.”

Sounds a little violent, right?! Not many people think of encouragement as something harsh. Yet the use of such a word bears phenomenal wisdom! As believers, we have to stir each other up. Human nature is selfish. Our first instinct isn’t to love a neighbor or to do good works; it’s to serve ourselves. By human nature we gravitate towards the “What’s in it for me” principle. A simple sweet reminder isn’t necessarily going to snap us out of our selfishness; we need more.

Which leads to the above strong choice of words. My favorite word used to translate the original text is “to spur.” When I think of a spur, I picture those round pointy things used by cowboys to get their horses moving forward. The sharp jab doesn’t hurt the animal, but it certainly stings enough to get it moving forward.

And isn’t that what each of us needs? A little “ouch” spoken in love by a fellow believer to get us back on track, to get us moving forward in love.

Proverbs 27:6 states, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” How can wounds be faithful? Because true friends don’t coddle each other and allow each other to walk in self-centered oblivion. True friends throw the cold water on your face to say, “Hey! Snap out of it!” True friends pop your “My way or the highway” bubble to remind you your perspective is not the only one. True friends incite that desire within you to do God’s will.

Now in all honesty, does truth hurt sometimes? Yep. Can truth be spoken too harshly sometimes? Yep, again. So do we have to be wise in the what, how, and when of our words? Most definitely, for when God calls us to spur one another on, He doesn’t want us to be hateful about it; He calls us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Let me encourage you with this today: If you see a friend heading down a path contrary to God’s way, don’t be afraid to say something. If you see a fellow believer beginning to get off course or getting distracted by the things of this world, which are here today and gone tomorrow, speak up.   Stir them back up to love and to good works. Remind them of what God has called each of us to do:  to love Him and to love others.   Most certainly ask God first for the wisdom to know the what, the how and the when, but don’t just watch in silence. Don’t just smile and sugar coat the truth for fear of offending someone.  And certainly don’t begin whispering to others in self-righteous judgment.

God calls us as His children to incite one another, to provoke one another, to motivate one another to keep pressing on in the things of God. The truth isn’t always easy to speak or to hear; it may sting a little on both ends. Yet words spoken in love with the purpose of encouraging someone to love and good works will never be wasted. And they are necessary more often than we’d care to admit.

So spur on, my friend. Spur on!

And if today you read this and realize you haven’t been doing what God has been asking you to do–if you’ve been ignoring the truths of God’s Word–if you’ve felt the jab of the loving spur of a friend–then giddy up! Get into His Word and bow before His throne. Ask for forgiveness and then move forward in the way He has chosen for you. Don’t ignore the jabs. And don’t mourn them either. Don’t beat yourself up because you needed to be spurred on. Be grateful! For we all sin. We all make mistakes. We all go astray.  None of us will make it through this life without having stumbled several times.  The key is with Jesus, we can get back up (Proverbs 24:16).

God doesn’t ask us to do what He doesn’t think we need.  So if He is telling us to stir one another up, to motivate one another, to provoke one another, then He knows we need it. So let’s do it. Let’s walk in His Truth today. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).