What Are We Pursuing?

When I was in middle school, I changed my hairstyle quite often. Like every other middle school student, popularity and what other people thought of me mattered more than anything. So my hairdresser, bless her soul, changed the way I looked several times over the course of a few years. One month, I’d want it short, the next, I’d want it longer, the next, I’d want my hair styled in the front. Now, none of these haircuts looked good. None. Not a single one made me feel better about myself, and not one of them gained me a single friend. So why did I do it?

Because I was pursuing a certain kind of image, namely, the image set by my peers and the culture around me. I wasn’t satisfied with who I was. I wanted to be who others told me to be.

Culture creates and fosters the idea of an “image” that we all have to fit into. If you aren’t “x,” you aren’t cool like us. If you don’t have “y,” you can’t sit at the cool kid’s table. You need “z” to make you happy. The pressure is enormous to be like the rest of the world. Look at any makeup, cologne or clothing advertisement. It’s pretty ridiculous. And it changes everyday!

And even if we manage to not give in to cultural expectations about who we should be and what we should do, we set up our own image of what we want ourselves to be, and we don’t even live up to that. For example, if I want to be more athletic, and believe that would make me happier, I chase that, when the truth is, while I should definitely get in shape and take care of my body, I will never be the first guy picked in a pick-up game, in any sport. While I can get better, it’s apparent if you’ve ever seen me play, I was not born to be an athlete.

We are all pursuing an image, a picture, of what we want our lives to look like, of what we want to be. Maybe that’s married with three kids living in a modest home in Birmingham, maybe it’s living in another country as an international businessman. Maybe it’s a professional athlete. Regardless of the details, we all are pursuing something.

The Bible has something to say about that. Let’s start at the beginning, in Genesis 1:27:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

So while we are pursuing our own self-made or culturally made images, God tells us we are made in His image. While we are busy chasing other, lesser images, God says, “You were made by me, to look like me!”

Now, what’s the problem? Same thing it usually always is—sin. We have decided that to reflect the image and glory of God, to walk in His ways and be like Him, is not good. We believe we can do better than God. Although He is our Creator, we have decided we want to make ourselves in our image—we want to determine where we should go and what we should be—we want to be our own gods. And we are terrible at it. It is not cute when a child talks back to his parents and the people and culture around him says, “Oh, he’s just so independent.” No, he’s not independent—he’s a sinner that rebels against God and the authority of the parents God has given him.

So, again, we all pursue an image, whether self-made or culture-made. We know that God has made us in His image and we should pursue it. But we also know that we are sinners, dead in our sin and not reflecting the image and glory of God.

So what do we do? This is where the gospel comes in. This is where we see that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ really is good news for sinners.

God made us to enjoy His presence, to know His love and provision and power and glory, to be like Him and model His excellence. We fell from that. But the beautiful, life-changing, world-rocking truth of the gospel is that God did not give up on His creation. He would not lose His loved ones. I’m convinced the reason we have stories that glorify and praise someone that will not give up on love, even in the worst of circumstances, is because we, being made in God’s image, are impressed and awestruck at someone who loves so jealously and so sacrificially. We find that kind of love first and foremost in the gospel. The gospel is the true story of the God who would not, does not, and never will give up on His people, no matter how far away they fall from Him. While we were still God’s enemies, we were also the objects of His love, and He gave His very life to show the magnitude of that love. God is holy, and He cannot tolerate sin that takes glory away from Him. But God, when we could not come to Him, came to us in the person of Jesus Christ and worked our salvation, and now effectively calls us to trust in Him, be saved, and follow Him. God had a purpose in making us, and He had a purpose in saving us—to bring us into His fellowship, enjoy Him, and be like Him.

What God is accomplishing in sinners through the salvation of Christ is not just about forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Those are really good and necessary things. I need to be forgiven, and of course I want to live forever with God. But if we read 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.”

Our sin keeps us from reflecting the image of God. But because Jesus died and rose again, we can repent, confessing our sin and our sinful state before God, trusting Christ to come be our Lord and Savior, and not only are we forgiven and righteous through faith, but we get new life, where the Creator begins creating us anew in Christ Jesus.

So what we pursue should be the image of our God. We have a higher purpose than to be what society says we should be, or what we say we should be. The God who created us alone has the true right to tell us who and what to be. And He calls us to be like Him, by finding joy in Him and reflecting His holy character and love, by being like Him in all we do. We do this not by our own strength, but by trust in the Savior’s grace to change our hearts and our desires, and by walking by the Spirit. Sanctification is by grace, too. Don’t forget that.

Now, quick clarifier here: This does not mean we are going to be divine in essence. We will not ever be like God in the sense of being divine and omniscient and all-powerful, etc. However, in His character, in His joy, in His love—-oh absolutely, yes, we shall be like Him in this way, if we are in Christ. This is the joy of glorification—the completion of our salvation, to be just like Jesus, who is the only good man that’s ever lived, to perfectly abide in God’s love, to find complete joy and satisfaction in Him, and to be the holy men and women God has created us to be. What a day it will be when this becomes reality!

So I urge you to turn around from sin and idolatry, confess the Lordship of Christ over your life and trust Him to save you, to forgive you and stand as your perfection before the Father. And let Him become your pursuit. What does that mean? It means instead of pursuing joy in this world, which will pass away, you pursue joy in who God is. Instead of pursuing worldly love, you pursue God’s love. Worldly love, like that of a spouse, is wonderful, but it pales in comparison to the sacrificial, eternity-changing love of God. Instead of pursuing identity in a society and culture that changes its standards every day, find identity in belonging to Christ, and living by God’s standards and ways, which are full of joy, life and peace.

The pursuit of God, of His love and His joy and His ways, is so much higher, better and rewarding than pursuing something lesser. The Creator is better than the creation.

Lord, may we pursue you because you have graciously pursued us in Christ. May that not just be a cute phrase that we say in church, but the desire of our hearts. May we spend time in your Word, to know who you are and find joy in knowing that you are who you are for us. May we reach others, to tell them there is something better than sin and this world. May we not fail to find our identity, purpose and joy in who you are and what you have done for us.

God bless,

Neal E.

Next week, I’ll talk about what it really means to be holy. What does being holy really mean and look like, practically? Hopefully, for my sake and yours, we’ll understand that more after next week.

If you have any ideas for this blog or my other blog (reporternealembry.wordpress.com), please feel free to email me at nembry@charter.net

Our View of God–Where We Go Wrong

How do we view God?  This is perhaps the most important question we can ask ourselves.  A.W. Tozer says that “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

And far too often, God is not God to us.  Too often, God is not God to me.  I fail to honor His authority.  I fail to rest in His supreme love.  And I fail to surrender my all to Him.  And before I begin this post, I admit my own failures, and submit to you, my reader, that the following words are meant for me as much as anyone else.

We live in a society where religion supersedes relationship.  We are too pleased with going to church on Sunday, giving change, and just simply “showing up.”  Woody Allen, the filmmaker, said that 95% of life is “just showing up.”  I heard that quote for the first time yesterday, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth.  I mean, seriously?  Is that what God wants from us, for us to simply “show up?”  We see God as someone who’s looking for a good effort, and that earns our place in His presence. 

I submit that we simply “show up” out of fear.  We’re afraid of going to hell, but there is no fear of a wasted life.  We fear eternal damnation, but not enough to surrender material things.  We fear God’s wrath, but we completely miss God’s amazing love for us in Christ Jesus, which is able to give us full, abundant life.

We live in a society where God is not God, but a means to an end.  Christ is able to give us full, abundant life, but that life is IN HIM, not FROM HIM.  It is through union with Christ, a trust in Christ, and Holy Spirit, grace-driven obedience, albeit inconsistent at times, to Christ that gives us full life.  It is when we are in God’s will, and in union with Him, that we have full, abundant life.  Christ is not a means to an end.  He does not intend to be used to a healthy, happy, successful life, apart from His will, but indeed, a God-exalting, Christ-honoring, and Holy Spirit-driven life IN His will.  This destroys the heresy of the prosperity gospel.  God’s greatest gift is Himself.  God is not a butler, ready to serve us with material things.  God, for believers, is a heavenly Father that intends to use us for His glory, giving us joy in Him, as we walk in relationship with Him.  We don’t use God.  We find joy in being used by Him, as we submit to His will for our lives, realizing that our hope is in Him, not in this world.

We live in a society where God’s authority is not respected.  We live in a world where it’s all about me, myself and I.  We have NO respect for God’s authority, and we try to fashion God to be who we want Him to be, instead of submitting to who He is.  We say that we’re cool with God, as long as He meets our expectations and our agenda.  This is the same problem the Pharisees had.  They expected Jesus to be this great king that would lead them from under Roman rule.  When Jesus didn’t meet their expectations, they crucified Him.  While this was God’s plan, it does not mean that the people were not responsible.  Peter tells them plainly in Acts 2 that it is Jesus “whom you crucified.”  The good news is, these people were “cut to the heart,” and looked to the one who defeated sin and death on their behalf for forgiveness and new life.  We must do the same. 

We live in a society where doing good things is not about loving other people or loving God, but about feeling better for ourselves.  We care more about our image than we do about God’s glory.  There’s a charity of some sort, whose name I can’t remember, and they have a trailer somewhere in the Alabaster/Montevallo area.  On it, their slogan says “Get that good feeling!”  That slogan disgusts me.  If we do good things just so we feel better about ourselves, that’s not love.  That’s selfishness and hypocrisy. 

We make Christianity out to be all about taking bad people and making them into pious people who meet once a week and do good things.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 about love.  Love is to separate us from the rest of the world.  Not an emotion.  Not a feeling.  Not just a general liking of other people.  But a love that takes up our time, our money, and forces us to humble ourselves and make ourselves nothing.  A love that ultimately leads us to the gospel, to God’s love.  If it isn’t heading towards the cross, then all we’re doing is being good philanthropists.  I can do all the community service I want, but in God’s eyes, if that’s done for anything else than His glory, and my motivations aren’t right, it’s sin.  If I’m not doing it with eyes open to opportunities to share the gospel, then I’m missing the point altogether.

We put social action in front of the gospel.  Human trafficking, AIDS, corrupt governments, and other social ills need to be addressed.  Hear me out.  Due to the influence of events like Passion, young people are more motivated to end human trafficking.  And that’s a great thing.  But if it’s not done for the sake of the gospel, it is worthless.  Again…if social movements and social justice are done for anything less than the gospel, it is worthless.  It will not last.  We are so focused on this life that we fail to remember that there is an eternal life that awaits all of us, either in hell or in heaven.  And even if we free women and children from the bondage of human trafficking, if we fail to share the gospel with them, it is meaningless.  We’ve freed them from slavery in this life, but we haven’t told them of the one who frees them from slavery to sin, from God’s wrath and from eternal damnation.  And too often, going back to my last paragraph, we do it out of guilt, or out of a need to confirm our own identity.  We do it to make ourselves feel better, with no true concern for other people.  It should disgust us when we hear people talking about doing “good things” because “it just makes you feel good about yourself.” 

Christ didn’t die so that I could feel better about myself.  He didn’t come to give me self-worth.  He came to rid me of dependance on myself for identity.  He came to give me a new identity in Him!  He didn’t come and die, paying for every sin that I ever committed and ever will commit, so that I can have my “best life now.”

No…Jesus came and lived a righteous life so that I could trust in Him, not my good works, to make me right with God, by His righteousness which I love and trust in.  Jesus came and died on the cross and took the wrath of God for me, not so that I can see Him as a means to an end, but so I may rest in His grace and love, that I may rejoice and worship Him for the great things He has done.  Jesus came to die and rise again so that I may follow Him as Lord, as Ruler.  His authority is a good thing.  It keeps me from going back to the old man.  It gives me joy in Christ.  It makes me new.  In the gospel, our view of the law changes.  The law, God’s authority, whatever you may call it, is now not a ladder we must climb, but a way in which we know God more.  We learn to love what He loves and hate what He hates.  We are free to follow and obey out of joy, in a desire to grow in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit, trusting that Christ first kept it for us to give us salvation.  We now have joy in walking it out in sanctification.

And a gospel-centered view of missions doesn’t stop at social action.  It sees social action, movements like the End It Movement and other similar projects, as a way to share God’s love with the world, that they may be saved, eternally.  Let us fix our eyes on eternity, and consider how we spend our days.  Let me do this.

So what is your view of God?  Is He a tyrant?  Is He someone you respect?  Is He Lord?  Part of following Jesus as Lord is confessing and repenting when we realize we have acted in such a way to say that He is not Lord.  Is God someone you trust?  Do you look to Him for a better life, or do you look to Him for life itself?

I’m tired of being lukewarm and cozy.  I’m tired of inconsistency.  I’m tired of hypocrisy.  I’m tired of seeing my own wrong views of God.  I’m tired of holding back.  And I’m tired of not pursuing God in everything I do.  I’m tired of not finding ultimate joy in Him.  I’m tired…just flat out tired of immaturity in my own life, where I fail to honor Jesus as Lord.  I know I’ll mess up again, and I’m trusting that Jesus will pick me up.  But I refuse to stay the same.  I refuse, and invite God to come and change me, once again.  I invite you to join me at the cross, where Jesus stands ready to forgive and make new, through His once-for-all sacrifice for all my sin.  I believe it.  I trust Him, that He did that for me.  And by His blood, by His grace, through this faith, because of what He has done, He tells me I’m saved.  But saved for a reason.  To follow Him.  Join me in this, dear reader.

Lord, I repent of my failures, of my sins, of my immaturity.  I have failed in so many ways, and honestly, find it hard to believe at times that you forgive me.  But you are God, and you ordained all things, and said that forgiveness is granted to those who ask it.  You took the punishment for my sin.  You took the wrath of God for me, and you truly paid it all.  I can trust that all my sin is paid for.  So I can confess boldly, knowing the payment has been made.  But may I never forget at what cost it came–Your blood, Jesus.  I ask you to come lead me as Lord, once again.  When I fall down, pick me up, remind me of the cross, and help me grow.  Lord, help me put off laziness.  Help me grow spiritually, and not be content with complacency, excusing it as struggles that everyone has.  Your authority is good, and I joyfully submit to it.  Make me right with God, Jesus, not because of anything I’ve done, but through your righteousness.  I trust in You.  Help me to love you and continue to follow you.  Come and work in and through me by your grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  None of this is possible unless you move.  Come, Lord Jesus.

May we never forget the cross, where Jesus made an end of all our sin, for those who will believe in Him and trust in His work.  May we be quick to confess our sin, and be diligent in putting it off.  May we seek to renew our mind, with the right view of God.  May we seek to love Jesus more, and make Him known.  May all that we do bring Him honor and glory.  May we always trust in Christ and the cross, and the empty tomb, where our salvation comes from. 

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”–Psalms 20:7

God bless,

Neal E.

If you have any questions, comments, or future blog ideas, feel free to comment on here, look me up on Facebook or Twitter (@NealEmbry) or email me at rembry@forum.montevallo.edu.  I’d love to hear from you!